September 05, 2011
Weekly notes from the undercard.
Kellen Moore and the offense get most of the hype, but the most impressive stat in Boise State's 35-21 win over Georgia? The Broncos sacked UGA quarterback Aaron Murray six times, as many times as any defense got to him last year, and did it by consistently forcing the Bulldogs into third-and-long. Nine times Georgia faced third down and at least seven yards to go; it converted once, and Murray was sacked three times.
That's nothing new to Bronco fans: Boise led the nation in sacks last year and had at least four QB takedowns in ten different games. The fact that it was able to sustain that pace in the absence of All-WAC types Ryan Winterswyk and Winston Venable up front is terrifying for the rest of the schedule — and reassuring for an attrition-ravaged secondary that gave up touchdown passes of 36 and 51 yards when Murray found a little time.
• THE CRIB SHEET. Elsewhere in mid-majordom…
• SMU quarterback Kyle Padron began the season with 20 consecutive starts under his belt and about a month's worth of work to go to become the school's all-time leading passer midway through his junior year. It took him two series Sunday night to find the bench, maybe for good. On five dropbacks at Texas A&M, Padron was sacked once, picked off twice and saddled with a —20.6 pass efficiency rating before he was yanked in favor of senior J.J. McDermott — who immediately led the Mustangs on a pair of sustained touchdown drives on his first two series. McDermott played the rest of the way, but those two scores were all SMU would get in a 46-14 shellacking.
• Hawaii quarterback Bryant Moniz, the nation's leading passer in 2010, actually racked up 121 yards and three touchdowns rushing in the Warriors' 34-17 win over Colorado, more than he gained on the ground in either of his first two seasons as a starter. Moniz didn't connect on his first touchdown of the year until the game was well in hand in the fourth quarter. "I'd rather throw for 500 yards and three touchdowns, but it's just one of those things that you need to make plays," he said.
• Outside of Hawaii, though, it was a terrible opening weekend for the newly Boise-less WAC, whose seven other members combined to start 0-6. (Nevada opens this weekend at Oregon.) Utah State acquitted itself well at Auburn — offensively, anyway — but with road trips to Oregon, Nebraska, Washington, UCLA and Minnesota on tap this week, the situation may not look much better by this time next week.
• GAME OF THE WEEK: Baylor 50, TCU 48
I usually try to restrict this space to more obscure thrillers, but nothing that happened over the first 96 hours of the season was nearly as much fun as the Friday night shootout in Waco: The Bears and Horned Frogs combined for 1,030 yards, 50 first downs, 16 plays covering at least 20 yards and one epic (albeit failed) fourth quarter comeback in the most stunning upset of the weekend — not only for the final score, but for just how thoroughly Baylor's offense dismantled the vaunted TCU defense on the way there. The Frogs tightened the vise during a 25-0 run in the fourth quarter, but the Bears were able to find just enough room to drive 60 yards for the game-winning field goal with a minute to play.
• PLAYER OF THE WEEK: T.Y. Hilton, WR/KR, Florida International
Facing legitimate expectations for the first time in the brief history of the program, the Golden Panthers ripped off four touchdowns in the first quarter alone en route to a 41-16 thrashing of North Texas, and the reigning Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year had a hand in all of them. For starters, Hilton returned the opening kickoff of the season 62 yards, setting up a short field for the Panthers' first score; a few minutes later, he hauled in a 60-yard touchdown pass for the second. A few minutes after that, he brought in an 18-yard reception on 3rd-and-2 to extend another eventual scoring drive, and capped the opening salvo by taking an end-around 31 yards to the UNT one-yard line to set up touchdown No. 4. When the smoke cleared, Hilton had accounted for 283 all-purpose yards, more than any other player in the nation on opening weekend.
Maybe by this time next year, he'll have a gig that actually lets him do all that in front of a few paying customers.
Honorable Mention: Ball State quarterback Keith Wenning lived up to his last name Saturday, hitting 23 of 29 passes with two touchdowns, a third touchdown on the ground and zero turnovers in the Cardinals' 27-20 upset over Indiana. … Colorado State defensive end Nordly Capi was credited with 3.5 of the Rams' 10 team sacks in a 14-10 win at New Mexico, a single-game high for the weekend. … Boise State defensive end Shea McClellin helped shut down Georgia's offense with three of the Broncos' six sacks, two of them coming on third down.
• CASE KEENUM STAT WATCH: 30 of 40 passing, 310 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT in a 38-34 win over UCLA.
Houston's human pinball machine didn't spark any wildfires against UCLA in his first game back from a year-long hiatus, but he didn't turn the ball over, either, and remains on pace to become the NCAA's all-time passing leader. To break Timmy Chang's career record, Keenum needs to average 264.7 yards per game through the air over the last twelve games.
• A SOMEWHAT ARBITRARY MID-MAJOR TOP 10.
1. Boise State (1-0). The Broncos have taken seven of eight games against "Big Six" conference teams since 2006, over teams from the ACC, Big 12, Pac-10 and now SEC. The only loss in that span: At Tyrone Willingham-led Washington in 2007.
2. Houston (1-0). The Cougars did just enough defensively against UCLA to keep Keenum's much-anticipated comeback from ending in a loss.
3. BYU (1-0). Defense kept Ole Miss out of the end zone and matched the offense touchdown for touchdown in a 14-13 win.
4. Hawaii (1-0). Yes, it was just Colorado, in the islands, but the Warriors controlled the opener from the beginning.
5. Northern Illinois (1-0). The Huskies' first time out under new head coach Dan Doeren was indistinguishable from the outfit that dominated the MAC last year.
6. Southern Miss (1-0). The Golden Eagles were sloppy on offense and special teams — especially on special teams — but managed to (narrowly) avoid an upset at the hands of a 17-year-old starting quarterback from Louisiana Tech.
7. Central Florida (1-0). The defending C-USA champs obliterated Charleston Southern, marching for eight touchdowns in ten offensive possessions in a 62-0 mismatch.
8. Florida International (1-0). FIU acted like a Sun Belt frontrunner with its second-most lopsided win since joining the conference.
9. Ball State (1-0). I don't expect to be giving much love to the Cardinals the rest of the year, but any MAC win over an instate Big Ten rival is worth a nod, even if the "rival" was only Indiana.
10. TCU (0-1). Respect for the rally Friday night and the resumé over the last decade under Gary Patterson. But this team isn't built for shootouts.
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Honorable Mention: Air Force (1-0), Navy (1-0), San Diego State (1-0), Toledo (1-0), Utah State (0-1).
• AT THE OTHER END OF THE BARREL…
• Nobody expects much from Western Kentucky against any SEC opponent, or against anyone else, for that matter. But the Hilltoppers' 14-3 loss to Kentucky in Nashville set the concept of offense back 25 years. Quarterbacks Morgan Newton (Kentucky) and Kewaun Jakes (WKU) combined to complete 14 of 39 passes with six interceptions, six sacks and a pass efficiency rating of 49.1. After penalties, both offenses netted a grand total of 217 yards between them. Unless the defense holds half the remaining schedule to a touchdown or less, it's going to be another very long year for WKU.
• Wasting no time to fulfill the many projections of doom this offseason, Memphis yielded 59 points on 645 total yards to Mississippi State while also turning the ball over three times. The Bulldogs connected on six plays covering at least 30 yards, tied for most in the nation, and the Tigers looked so bad they're opening up this week as a two-touchdown underdog to Arkansas State.
• Idaho turned the ball over three times and was outgained by nearly 200 yards in a 32-15 home loss to Bowling Green, a team that finished last season ranked 100th in both scoring offense and scoring defense en route to a 2-10 finish.
• STAY TUNED FOR…
This week, Florida International goes for its first ever "Big Six" win at Louisville. … BYU goes to Austin to brief Texas on the virtues of independence. ... And TCU doesn't have to worry about its shortcomings against spread passing attacks at Air Force.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.