September 06, 2010
Learning from the weekend.
• This may be harder than we thought. Oklahoma had problems all over the field against Utah State – quarterback Landry Jones completed fewer than half his passes, threw two picks and was sacked three times – but with running back DeMarco Murray lifting the offense on an heroic 35-carry effort, the red-siren concern coming out of the Sooners' 31-24 escape is clearly the secondary. Aggie quarterback Diondre Borel lit up a pair of fledgling OU corners for 341 yards, including seven completions covering at least 25 yards, with a pair of long touchdown passes before the upset flame finally burned out in the fourth quarter.
Put it this way: When the starting secondary combines for 20 tackles on the night, and a top backup comes on to add 10 more, that is not a good night. Two of the victims, sophomore Demontre Hurst and true freshman Tony Jefferson, were starting for the first time. But the veterans – upperclassmen Quinton Carter, Jonathan Nelson and Jarrell Fleming – didn't do much to make Saturday's visit from Florida State anything less than terrifying.
• Mountain West > Big East (for now). Yes, there was the matter of MWC patsy New Mexico having its internal organs slowly removed one-by-one at Oregon, and Syracuse is no longer losing to Akron. At the top, though, three viable Big East contenders – Pittsburgh, UConn and Cincinnati – all dropped winnable openers on the road, the latter two in ugly fashion (and Pitt, outgained by 140 yards at Utah, put on a much uglier show than the overtime final indicated). Cincinnati, in particular, couldn't have looked further from last year's undefeated standard bearer in coach Butch Jones' first game, managing all of 23 net yards over its last eight offensive possessions at Fresno State. Louisville helped nothing by getting stomped by Kentucky at home.
On the other hand, the Mountain West's "Big Three" – BYU, TCU and Utah – came out way ahead against Washington, Oregon State and Pitt (see above), three of the league's marquee non-conference showdowns all season. BYU and Utah have dates ahead at Florida State and Notre Dame, respectively, and Air Force has to go to suddenly vulnerable Oklahoma (see below). But it's already taken the crucial step toward putting three teams in the final polls for the third year in a row, even if two of them are hitting the 'eject' button next year.
• This really is an anti-incumbent fall. Tate Forcier wasn't the only incumbent quarterback who found himself planted firmly behind a pair of more athletic upstarts on opening day: Senior Zac Lee, a full-time starter last year, was the last man off the bench in Nebraska's 49-10 bludgeoning of Western Kentucky, which took less than five minutes to turn into a showcase for the scrambly stylings of redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez:
Martinez made the most of his unlikely start by gashing the Hilltoppers for 127 yards and three touchdowns rushing (on just seven carries!) and avoiding an awful gaffe in the passing game. Sophomore Cody Green came on to lead two touchdown drives, one in the second quarter and one in the fourth, leaving Lee with a single garbage-time drive in the closing minutes and bleak prospects for reassuming the reins in his final season.
• Curb your enthusiasm If UCLA was hoping to make a significant move in Rick Neuheisel's third season, a 31-22 kneecapping at Kansas State put the torch to those expectations on all fronts: The offense died a slow death via three turnovers and an ungodly number of dropped passes, while the defense was busy getting ripped for 347 yards rushing before sacks, 234 by Wildcat bruiser Daniel Thomas, the Bruins' worst effort against the run since being torched for 430 yards by the Reggie Bush-led USC juggernaut in 2005. K-State was one of the two non-conference toss-ups (along with Houston on Sept. 18) that L.A. realistically needed to win to improve on last year's 6-6 regular season. With an effort like Saturday's, against this schedule, it will be lucky to make it halfway.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.