December 04, 2011
Snap judgments on Saturday's best.
ECONOMICS • Russell Wilson and Jeff Duckworth, Wisconsin.
Recalling the emotional dagger Michigan State stuck in the Badgers' undefeated season on a last-second Hail Mary in October, Wilson and Duckworth paid the Spartans back and then some Saturday night on a fourth down, 36-yard heave into coverage with a little more than four minutes left in the Big Ten Championship Game. Duckworth's improbable grab set up the go-ahead touchdown run by Montee Ball on the next play, which turned out to be the game-winner for a ticket to the Rose Bowl.
THEATER • Brad Nortman, Wisconsin.
To put the title on ice, though, the Badgers needed less Ball and more ham. Still nursing a 42-39 lead with 1:40 to play, Wisconsin sent Nortman out to punt on 4th-and-3 from its own 26-yard line. Michigan State's Keshawn Martin settled under the boot at midfield, hit the left sideline and took the ball all the way down to the Wisconsin 3 — just enough to add a little extra sting when the Badgers were awarded a new set of downs for a roughing the punter penalty against MSU's Isaiah Lewis. Instead of first-and-goal for the Spartans, the flag allowed Wilson to calmly kill the final 1:25 on a succession of kneel-downs.
Afterward, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio refused to blame the refs ("no one play lost this football game… no one play, no one call"), but did concede that Nortman may have "flopped a little bit." You can't say it, coach, so I will: He dove like a submarine.
FILM • Clemson.
In a world… where the Tigers had lost three of their last four by double digits… no one ever expected them… to Do. It. Again. Two months after Clemson stole critics' and audiences' hearts alike in a 23-3 upset in Blacksburg, the Tigers released a virtually shot-for-shot remake on Saturday night, just in time to clinch their first ACC championship in 20 years. Coming in, the Hokies had ripped off seven wins in a row since their only blemish of the season, ending on a high note with a 38-0 rout at Virginia. Clemson had dropped three straight outside of Death Valley by a combined 59 points.
Out of a 10-10 deadlock at the half, though, it was the Tigers that hit the gas in Charlotte with the final 28 points of the game to secure the title. Suggested title: "The Clemsoning: Resurrection." This time, the point spread is even higher.
POLITICS • Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State.
Brazenly flip-flopping on his earlier position, Mike Gundy used Oklahoma State's 44-10 throttling of Oklahoma as a platform to stump for the Cowboys over Alabama in the BCS Championship Game:
"I think people have to decide whether they want to see a 9 to 6 game, or a 39 to 36 game. And I think this is the opportunity for people to find out how good the defense is in the SEC. We'd love to have that challenge. I think our defense is better than what other people say. Last week I said Alabama should be there. There's no question Oklahoma State should be No. 2 right now. No question."
TRANSPORTATION • Southern Miss.
The Golden Eagles brought plenty of ammunition to their showdown with the most prolific offense in the country, easily outgaining Houston and forcing Case Keenum into his worst game of the season. But USM found other routes to the end zone, scoring touchdowns on special teams — courtesy of a blocked punt by the scintillatingly named Furious Bradley in the third quarter — and defense, on a 26-yard interception return by Ronnie Thornton in the fourth. Thornton's score was the Eagles' eighth pick returned for a touchdown this season, a new Division I record.
FASHION • Andre Branch, Clemson.
Of all the championship trophies, t-shirts, caps and other accessories doled out Saturday, none could match the panache of Branch's ACC championship belt, on proud display after the Tigers' upset alongside the ACC championship trophy, a giant Clemson flag and Branch's best Legion of Doom impression. For the Orange Bowl, I expect those pads to have spikes, young man.
HUMAN RESOURCES • Arkansas.
Saturday morning, Razorback coach Bobby Petrino issued a statement wishing offensive coordinator Garrick McGee good luck at his new job, as head coach at UAB. The problem: More than 24 hours later, UAB still hasn't confirmed that McGee has been hired. Despite Arkansas' hasty congrats, the two sides are still finalizing the details.
GEOMETRY • Tyrann Mathieu, LSU.
The Tigers' resident ballhawk defied conventional angles on a pair of spectacular punt returns, one of them accounting for LSU's only points in an otherwise dismal first half, the other setting up another score after dropping jaws across America in the third quarter. But only the Honey Badger could successfully redefine the plane of the goal line itself.
Screw Pythagoras: The plane is where Tyrann Mathieu says it is.