[Upchurch – MGoBlog]
A decade after Ohio State and Michigan met as the top two teams in the country, they faced off again with similarly high stakes – and again, Ohio State emerged victorious in a hard-fought classic. The playoff picture isn’t necessarily any clearer, though Michigan is probably now eliminated.
Onto the week that was:
--- The Game, which featured the two best teams in the conference, lived up to the hype, even though it was a game marred by critical mistakes on both sides. MICHIGAN gave up two regulation touchdowns on interceptions from deep in its own end of the field: one was returned by Malik Hooker for a touchdown, another was taken deep into the red zone and punched in on one play. OHIO STATE missed two field goals in regulation, including one from inside Michigan’s five-yard line (the Wolverines fumbled away a sure scoring possession earlier in the game from near the same spot), and JT Barrett was an ineffective passer all game. Still, the game went to overtime after the Buckeyes marched down the field for a game-tying field goal in the waning moments of regulation. In overtime, Michigan responded to an easy OSU touchdown with a tough completion into the end zone on fourth down; in the second overtime, Michigan settled for a field goal and managed to force Ohio State into fourth-and-one – of course, a controversial spot gave the Buckeyes a first down and they scored the game-winning touchdown on the next play. Wilton Speight was available to play for Michigan and, aside from the critical interceptions (one came on a bad read, another on a play where he was hit when he threw), he was capable and helped compensate for an ineffective UM rushing attack. Ohio State struggled with Michigan’s excellent defensive front and they were unable to get much-needed explosive plays, but the Buckeye defense provided just enough scoring to get the game to overtime.
[More on the week that was after the JUMP]
--- Neither of those teams will be playing in the Big Ten Championship Game, however. WISCONSIN will face PENN STATE next week for the conference title, as both teams won in tougher-than-expected fashion at home against MINNESOTA and MICHIGAN STATE, respectively – in fact, both trailed at halftime. Minnesota opened the Axe Game with a field goal and answered the first Badger touchdown with a long kickoff return and a touchdown pass on the next play; an improbable two-minute drill got them another touchdown and a 17-7 lead right before halftime. Mitch Leidner wound up throwing four second-half interceptions for the Gophers and two of them resulted in short fields and quick Badger touchdowns – in the end, the score was 31-17. PSU trailed MSU 12-0 at halftime before scoring touchdowns on its first three drives of the second half; Trace McSorely finished with four touchdowns and just six incompletions en route to a comfortable 45-12 win over the Spartans. It will be interesting to see who wins between Wisconsin and PSU next week and if the winner makes it into the playoff over (or with) Ohio State. Since there’s very little precedent, it’s anyone’s guess.
--- Rivalry week produced a few blowouts in the conference this week: MARYLAND and NORTHWESTERN each got their sixth win of the season with wins over RUTGERS and ILLINOIS, respectively. Perhaps the most surprising result of the week was IOWA routing NEBRASKA: LeShun Daniels and Akrum Wadley each ran for over 100 yards and combined for three rushing touchdowns and CJ Beathard added three passing touchdowns in what was the Hawkeyes’ most impressive offensive performance of the season; the defense was similarly good, holding Nebraska to just 3.4 yards per pass attempt and 2.9 yards per rush on the day.
--- A third Big Ten team got its sixth win and bowl eligibility on the last weekend of the regular season as INDIANA beat PURDUE on a fourth quarter comeback despite throwing four interceptions against the Boilermakers. After Devine Redding scored the game-winning touchdown with five minutes left, Purdue was able to drive the ball into Indiana territory before throwing an interception into the end zone on fourth down to effectively end the game.
[Lindsey Wasson – The Seattle Times]
--- The marquee game on Friday was a winner-take-all matchup between WASHINGTON and WASHINGTON STATE in the Apple Cup to determine the Pac-12 North Title; of course, with Washington sitting at just one loss on the season, there were also playoff stakes as well. The Huskies turned in their best performance of the season, scoring touchdowns on each of their first four drives to leap out to an early 28-3 lead – after most of the game was played in what was effectively garbage time, U-Dub finished with a 45-17 win over their in-state rivals and a berth in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Three of those first quarter touchdowns came on Jake Browning passes, two of which were caught by Dante Pettis. Backup running back Lavon Coleman also added two touchdowns for Washington. Wazzu found it difficult to move the ball with their Air Raid attack as they had just 334 yards and four turnovers on the day.
--- COLORADO had a more difficult time with UTAH in a must-win game to secure a berth in the conference title game, but the Buffaloes held on to win and finish with a ten-win regular season after struggling in the Pac-12 since arriving in the league about a half-decade ago. Sefo Liufau led the way offensively in the 27-22 win over the Utes, but the defense was the biggest factor in the win: they forced a fumble right in front of their own goal line to prevent a score, held Utah to a field goal on a possession that started inside their own five after a long kick return, and scored a touchdown of their own on a scoop-and-score to extend the lead to 27-16 in the fourth quarter. Utah finished with four turnovers on the day and quarterback Troy Williams completed just 13 of his 40 pass attempts against the impressive Colorado defense. A long scoring drive made it a one-score game with a minute and a half left, but Utah was unable to recover an onside kick and couldn’t stop Colorado on 3rd-and-one that could have gotten them the ball back with a little time left. The Pac-12 will be settled next weekend when Washington faces Colorado – the Huskies will doubtlessly make it into the playoff if they win but the Buffs might have a chance as well. At the very least, it’s already been a wonderful season for a proud program that’s fallen on hard times lately.
--- Two Pac-12 teams faced out-of-conference opponents and won easily. USC and STANFORD each got to nine wins on the season by defeating 4-8 Notre Dame and 3-9 Rice, respectively, and both games were essentially over at halftime. Both teams had strong finishes after poor stretches early in the season.
--- Oddly, there were three games between teams with losing records. ARIZONA STATE gave ARIZONA its first conference win of the season; the Wildcats passed the ball just eight times but still got to 56 points and almost 600 yards on the day. OREGON STATE defeated OREGON 34-24 to give the teams identical 4-8 records. UCLA finished its extremely disappointing season with an uncompetitive loss to CAL on the road.
[Timothy D. Easley – AP]
Each season, Rivalry Week features four games between the SEC East and the ACC. I’ll go through those games before moving on to each conference.
--- Surprisingly, the only winner from the SEC in those games was KENTCUKY, who beat LOUISVILLE on the road in a shootout capped by a game-winning field goal in the game’s waning moments. It only took Louisville five plays and two minutes to score the game’s first touchdown – one of four total for Lamar Jackson on the day – but Kentucky responded with a 75-yard touchdown from Stephen Johnson to Garrett Johnson on their first play from scrimmage to answer. From there, it was back and forth throughout: there were turnovers aplenty (Jackson accounted for four himself, though one was a pick on the last play of the game, one that didn’t have a chance regardless), both teams went well over 500 total yards of offense, and neither defense was capable of forcing many punts. Kentucky was up seven when Jackson threw a red zone INT, but had to punt; on the next drive, Louisville scored, followed by a UK fumble; but, in a tie game, Jackson fumbled inside the Kentucky ten with less than two minutes left, setting up the drive for the decisive 47-yard Austin MacGinnis field goal.
--- One rivalry that’s been fairly lopsided as of late is FLORIDA STATE vs. FLORIDA, and the Seminoles won their fourth straight with a 31-13 win over the SEC East champs. The FSU defense forced two turnovers and held the Gators to just 205 yards of total offense, while Dalvin Cook led the Noles with 153 yards on the ground in a game where their passing attack was largely ineffective. A long touchdown pass from Deondre Francois to Travis Rudolph put FSU up 17-6 midway through the fourth quarter and effectively put the game out of reach. GEORGIA TECH came back to beat GEORGIA in the fourth quarter: the Jackets had a long pass to set up the touchdown that put them down three with about six and a half minutes left, UGA QB Jacob Eason threw a pick, and Tech scored the go-ahead touchdown with thirty seconds left to give them the 28-24 win. CLEMSON destroyed SOUTH CAROLINA.
[Butch Dill – AP]
--- The biggest game of the weekend in the SEC was the Iron Bowl, of course: ALABAMA only led 13-9 at halftime, partially due to two Jalen Hurts interceptions, but coasted in the second half after scoring an easy touchdown on their opening drive of the third quarter and wound up beating AUBURN, 30-12. The Tigers were without starting quarterback Sean White for the game and backups John Franklin III and Jeremy Johnson were quite ineffective in his stead. The fearsome Alabama defense held Auburn to just 182 total yards and, even if they were put into bad field position by those interceptions or a long punt return, managed to hold the Tigers to field goals and didn’t allow a single touchdown. Aside from the interceptions, Hurts played well, throwing for two touchdowns and 286 yards; surprisingly Bo Scarborough got the lion’s share of carries for the Tide, though he didn’t manage to crack 100 yards rushing on the day. Needless to say, Alabama’s still the favorite to win the national championship.
--- A couple of surprisingly high-scoring affairs sprung up around the league in the final weekend of the regular season. On Thanksgiving night, LSU ran roughshod over TEXAS A&M, even without star running back Leonard Fournette. Some late A&M scores made the 54-39 final look closer than the game really was. Danny Etling threw for 324 yards and two touchdowns; Derrius Guice ran for 285 yards and four touchdowns; Ed Orgeron was named the permanent head coach in the days after the game. VANDERBILT, a team mostly known for its defense, came back to beat TENNESSEE 45-34 to get its sixth win and bowl eligibility; QB Kyle Shurmur threw for over 400 yards on the day. MISSISSIPPI STATE outscored OLE MISS 28-0 in the second half of the Egg Bowl to beat the Rebels, 55-20. Both teams finished 5-7 on the season.
--- MISSOURI came back from down 24-7 at halftime against ARKANSAS to win 28-24. The Razorbacks threw two interceptions in the second half and a critical holding penalty on the would-be game-winning drive put them in second-and-goal at the 20 – they were unable to get any closer.
--- A couple of victories got teams that elusive sixth win and bowl eligibility: NC STATE held on against NORTH CAROLINA to win 28-21 – after scoring two fourth quarter touchdowns to make it a one-score game, UNC got the ball back with a chance to tie but a holding penalty doomed the drive; BOSTON COLLEGE won a predictably hideous game over WAKE FOREST with a touchdown in the fourth quarter, though Wake missed a field goal that would have tied the game a few possessions later. An interception sealed the win with a minute left.
--- There were some blowouts as VIRGINIA TECH destroyed VIRGINIA to secure a spot in next week’s ACC Championship Game. MIAMI took care of DUKE to get to eight wins on the season. Some late touchdowns made this game a look a little closer than the outcome really was, but somehow PITT and SYRACUSE managed to combine for 137 points in a 76-61 (football) win for the Panthers.
--- As the Big 12 doesn’t have a conference championship game, there are still a few regular season games next week, most notably the clash between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State – both teams had a bye this week. Consequently, the games that were played were of little national importance: TCU routed TEXAS in Charlie Strong’s last game, TEXAS TECH handed BAYLOR its fifth loss in a row after starting out undefeated, WEST VIRGINIA wound up running away with a win over IOWA STATE (and has a chance to make it a ten-win season next week), and KANSAS STATE won over KANSAS. None of the games were particularly close.