September 29, 2009
Obsessing over the statistical anomalies and minutiae of close and closer-than-they-looked games that could have gone the other way.
• Boston College 27, Wake Forest 24. The Eagles gained more yards on their first possession Saturday (57) than in the entirety of the previous week's weather-delayed debacle at Clemson (49), so B.C. fans have to be breathing a sigh of relief that ex-minor leaguer David Shinskie looks like a viable quarterback and the team may not be automatically destined for the cellar despite a fractious offseason and a harrowing conference debut. In fact, B.C. controlled the vast majority of this game, moving ahead 24-10 early in the fourth quarter.
The Deacons could have been there, though, if not for a few of the usual blown opportunities, specifically a fumble in Eagle territory and a missed field goal in the first half. With its back against the wall, Wake drove for two long touchdowns in the fourth quarter to tie, using a grand total of three minutes to go 67 and 80 yards, respectively, to put the game into overtime on a Riley Skinner throw into the end zone with 11 seconds left; from there, following a B.C. field goal on its turn with the ball, the Deacons proceeded to move to the Eagle three-yard line with a chance to score for the win. Cue crushing fumble on first-and-goal, an Eagle recovery and a hard ending to one of the best comeback efforts of the day.
The desperately-needed B.C. win takes a lot of sting out of the Eagles' late defensive collapse, which couldn't get a stop at the end of regulation (and nearly failed in overtime, too) and gave up five passes longer than 20 yards, most in the second half.
• LSU 30, Mississippi State 26. The Tigers get a lot of credit for big plays here that turned the game, beginning with a Patrick Peterson interception return for touchdown in the first quarter, later on a Chad Jones punt return that pushed a two-point lead early in the fourth quarter to 30-21, and finally on the crucial goal line stand that won the game in the final minutes. Every time the Bulldogs were on the doorstep of an upset, LSU turned them back.
But here's a top-10 team, against a perpetual conference bottom dweller it's consistently dominated over the years, with a +3 turnover margin and touchdowns on defense and special teams ... and still this game came down to the final minutes, because the Tiger offense -- and the running game in particular, which averaged barely a yard per carry -- was borderline inept. Aside from one 17-yard scramble by Jordan Jefferson (who finished with six total yards on the ground), the Tigers' longest run of the game covered eight yards.
LSU has appeared in this space already this season, and doesn't appear to have made much progress since escaping Washington with a win in the opener. The next three games -- against Georgia, Florida and Auburn, three of the top offenses in the SEC so far -- will go a long way toward determining the Tigers' fate for the rest of the season, and it's going to be a rude awakening if they can't figure out a way to generate more offense.
• Michigan 36, Indiana 33. There are no secrets here: Indiana won the yardage battle and the turnover battle and didn't suffer any horrible implosions -- the Hoosiers' only turnover was the controversial interception that effectively ended the game, and the Wolverines didn't have any gifts; their shortest scoring drive covered 52 yards following a punt. IU didn't give anything away for free.
But the Hoosiers did settle for field goal after field goal after field goal after field goal -- four of them in all, all in the second and third quarters, a couple of them after long drives into the Michigan red zone. Two others came after the offense took over with excellent field position following Wolverine turnovers and weren't able to take advantage. Another field goal attempt, which might have ultimately represented the tying points, was no good in the third quarter.
The Wolverines, on the other hand, were extremely inconsistent on offense, going three and out or worse seven times. But when they mounted a drive, they finished it, taking the ball into the end zone five times and never settling for three. As for kicking, the Hoosiers may be kicking themselves the rest of the year for the points they left on the field in a very legitimate upset bid.
• Rutgers 34, Maryland 13. The Scarlet Knight offense gets credit for 34 points here, even though it's really only responsible for a pair of long touchdown runs by Joe Martinek in the fourth quarter. Rutgers wouldn't have been in the game by that point without an opportunistic defense -- and more than generous performance by Maryland quarterback Chris Turner, who accounted for four of the Terps' five turnovers for the day -- that scored directly on an interception return and a fumble and set up a short field goal by recovering another fumble. At one point, UMD committed four turnovers in six possessions spanning the second and third quarters, only leading to 10 points, but that was too rich for the blood of the Terp offense en route to a second half shutout.
It's bizarre to pick on Turner when his counterpart, Rutgers quarterback Dom Natale, was actually much worse on average -- filling in for injured freshman Tom Savage, Natale hit a dismal 4-for-12 for 42 yards and was sacked three times. But he didn't throw an interception or lose a fumble and therefore didn't get his team into any of the trouble Turner had so much trouble avoiding on the other side. Maryland is an awful, awful team right now, but "Come See Our Fifth-Year Senior Quarterback Try to Avoid the Killer Giveaway" isn't much of a selling point for Greg Schiano, who'd really like Savage to hurry back, please.