The Opening Drive…
1. Missouri regenerates, bounces back. After three consecutive losses and a stretch of shaky play by senior quarterback Drew Lock, Missouri hungered for a win when Memphis came to Faurot Field on Saturday. And the Tigers summoned their best performance of the season in a 65-33 flogging. The Missouri offense dominated on land and in the air with 646 total yards and 30 first downs. Lock flung passes for 350 yards and four touchdowns. The MU rushing attack flattened Memphis for 273 yards. The defense came up with two interceptions — one a pick-six; and another that set up a touchdown. And Missouri was a plus two in the turnover ratio.
2. Barry Odom had a better day. Unlike the game at Alabama when he opted to have his team cower and punt in two fourth-down situations that required boldness, the Mizzou coach displayed audacity by going for it (and succeeding) on a fourth-down play from his own territory. This was a heavy moment. Memphis had crept to within 21-17 of the home team and the anxiety was growing in CoMo. But Mizzou converted Odom’s risky but welcome venture, proceeded to score, and re-established control of the game.
3. Sure Missouri got a break when Memphis lost Darrell Henderson — who is second nationally in rushing yards — to an injury after he’d made only four runs. And sure Memphis choked away a huge halftime lead last week in drooping to a loss to UCF. And sure, Memphis lost earlier this season to an uncharacteristically bad Navy team. But this was an impressive victory for the Tigers.
4. And what’s this? quarterback Kelly Bryant will make a recruiting visit next weekend? The Clemson transfer would be just what Mizzou needed as a starter for a season, until the coaching staff can firm up the position for 2020 and beyond.
5. Mizzou is 4-3 overall, but lagging in the SEC East at 0-3 along with 0-4 Vanderbilt. Kentucky (6-1 overall, 4-1 in the SEC) is up next. Needless to say, this is a big one for Mizzou. Visiting Kentucky, ranked 14th in the AP Poll last week, is having a breakout season under coach Mark Stoops. For Mizzou, this opens a season-closing stretch of five consecutive games versus SEC opponents. Kentucky (H), at Florida, Vanderbilt (H), at Tennessee and Arkansas (H).
6. Mizzou could be catching Kentucky at an advantageous time, with the Wildcats possibly looking ahead to a Nov. 3 showdown against visiting Georgia. Kentucky, Georgia and Florida are each 4-1 and tied for first in the SEC East. And Mizzou may have a shot to make it a game at Florida, because the Gators will be coming off the emotionally charged “Cocktail Party” rivalry game against Georgia.
7. Technically a win over Kentucky wouldn’t qualify as an upset; Mizzou opened as a seven-point favorite. But here’s another reason why Mizzou can triumph over Kentucky: the Wildcats have become increasingly one-dimensional on offense, ranking 123rd among 130 FBS teams with an average of only 19.6 passing attempts per game. And that average drops to 18 pass attempts per game when Kentucky plays on the road. In Saturday’s slug-it-out 14-7 home win over Vanderbilt, Kentucky quarterback Terry Wilson attempted only nine passes, completing three for a mere 18 yards. (But he did pass for a touchdown.)
8. Not that it will be easy to stop the driver of Kentucky’s offense. Tailback Benny Snell Jr. is one of the best in the nation, ranking sixth with an average of 124 yards per game. And his average of 22.8 carries per game is third highest nationally. Snell powered the ‘Cats to the tough win over Vandy by rushing for 32 times for 169 yards and a touchdown. In Kentucky’s only loss of the season, in overtime at Texas A&M, Snell had only 13 rushing attempts for 60 yards and was kept out of the end zone. Mizzou’s defensive assignment for this game seems obvious.
9. I believe the Kentucky-Mizzou outcome will be determined, one way or the other, by the Kentucky defense. Snell has received so much attention for his exceptional season, his stardom is obscuring the excellence of the Wildcat defense. Kentucky ranks second in the nation in scoring defense, allowing only 12.9 points per game. The Wildcats are 17th nationally against the run (112 yards per game), 31st against the pass (190 yards per game) and ranks 29th with 20 sacks. Pass rusher Jonathan Allen has been wrecking offenses all season on his way to the first round of the 2019 NFL draft.
10. If Kentucky’s defense continues to play at such a high level, this should be an entertaining matchup. Drew Lock, per custom, is sensational when playing at home. In four home games this season he’s completed 66.7 percent of his passes, averaged 8.6 yards per attempt, thrown for 12 touchdowns with only one interception that wasn’t his fault, has a passer rating of 164.14, and averages 314.5 yards per contest. In three road games Lock’s stats are weak by comparison — most notably a 53.% completion rate, with four touchdowns and five interceptions.
HEROES OF CFB WEEK 8
Purdue, for disassembling visiting No. 2 Ohio State in a 49-20 smackdown. It was the Boilermakers’ first win over a top-two team since 1984. Coach Jeff Brohm presented an evening of play-calling brilliance, quarterback David Blough passed for 378 yards and three touchdowns, and electric freshman wide receiver Rondale Moore caught 12 passes and zoomed for 170 yards and two touchdowns. On the other side of the ball, Purdue’s defense harassed OSU quarterback Dwayne Haskins unmercifully, and repeatedly shut down the Buckeyes in the red zone.
Michigan and Coach Jim Harbaugh. The torment is over, at least for now. Before an authoritative 21-7 win over hated rival Michigan State in East Lansing, Harbaugh was only 1-5 against Michigan State and Ohio State as coach of the Wolverines. This was the kind of bruising, smart football that Michigan fans have waited for since Harbaugh returned to his alma mater to revive the program. There was a strong running game, with Karan Higdon muscling to 144 yards on 33 carries. There were big plays (two touchdowns) from QB Shea Patterson. And the Michigan defense smothered the Spartans, who had only 94 total yards.
In the last two weeks Michigan’s defense held Wisconsin QB Alex Hornibrook and MSU’s Brian Lewerke to a combined 12-of-45 passing for 166 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. The Wolverines won the two games by a combined score of 59-20.
In defeating Sparty, Michigan broke a losing streak of 17 consecutive road losses against ranked teams. Michigan (5-0 in Big Ten, 7-1 overall) is a legitimate contender for a spot in the CFB Playoffs. The Nov. 24 game at Ohio State will be … extra large.
Washington State, and my favorite pirate, coach Mike Leach. Will college football fans and media finally pay some attention to the Cougars after their 34-20 win over visiting Oregon? Leach’s “Air Raid” offense was crazed and unstoppable early, giving Wazzu a 27-0 lead at halftime. With the Cougars controlling the ball for 22 minutes QB Gardner Minshew was 30-of-35 for 215 yards and three scores … in the first half! The Pac 12 has a remote chance of getting a team into the playoff, but Washington State (6-1 overall, 3-1 in the league) looks like the best team in the conference. The Cougs, 25th in last week’s AP poll, moved all the way up to 14th in the new poll.
Alabama. OK, I know it isn’t exactly a remarkable achievement for No. 1 ‘Bama (8-0) to go into Knoxville and smash Tennessee apart during a 58-21 demolition. But given the stumbles of so many top contenders, the Crimson Tide only continue to increase their level of supremacy. In this one, Tua Tagovailoa slinged his way to four more touchdown passes, giving him 25 this season without an interception. Alabama piled up 545 total yards and have surpassed 500 yards in every game this season. Alabama has scored a touchdown on every first possession of its games this season, and has won 23 in a row when scoring on first possessions. The Tide has outscored opponents 165-31 in the first quarter. At Tennessee, Alabama had two scoring drives last less than a minute in the first quarter; one lasted eight seconds and the other required 11 seconds. Twenty of Bama’s offensive touchdown “drives” this season have lasted less than a minute.
From the Nick Saban file: He’s 15-0 against Tennessee … as Alabama’s coach Saban has won 80 consecutive games against unranked teams … Alabama has won 23 straight games against SEC East opponents … and as Alabama’s coach, Saban remains undefeated (15-0) in games against his former assistant coaches.
Nebraska. The Cornhuskers (1-6) got their first win of the season for first-year coach Scott Frost, and there were no anxious moments in their 53-28 rout of Minnesota. The win was highlighted by 659 total yards, three different Husker running backs going over 100 yards, and 100-yard receiving day for Stanley Morgan. College football is more interesting when Nebraska matters. And Frost will bring the Huskers back to relevance.
Clemson rolls on and on: Before Saturday’s game, I was at a loss to understand why No. 3 Clemson was a 17-point favorite over No. 16 NC State. Why? Only because of NC State’s ability to play Clemson down to the wire in their previous two meetings. Well, never mind. The Tigers thrashed NC State 41-7, a week after mauling Wake Forest 63-3. The superb running back Travis Etienne rushed for three more touchdowns, giving him 14 in seven games, and he’s averaging 8.2 yards per carry. And true freshman QB Trevor Lawrence is as good as promised; in the last two wins he’s completed 72 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and no picks. As of now, Clemson looks like the only team out there that could give Alabama a fight. We’ll update that opinion after Alabama’s Nov. 3 road test at LSU. Clemson jumped to No. 2 in the AP poll after Ohio State’s loss.
Iowa: The Hawkeyes are a stubborn bunch; ignore them at your own risk. This season coach Kirk Ferentz has one of his best defensive units he’s ever put on the field during his lengthy term at Iowa. This was reaffirmed Saturday during a 23-0 skunking of Maryland when the Hawkeyes gave up only 115 total yards. It was the finest defensive defensive performance by Iowa in a game since 2010. And this was the fewest yards allowed by Iowa — ever — to a Big Ten opponent since Ferentz became head coach in 1999. The No. 18 Hawkeyes have yielded only 14.1 points per game; that’s fifth in the nation. At 3-1 in Big Ten action (and 6-1 overall) Iowa is in a four-way battle with Northwestern (4-1), Wisconsin (3-1), and Purdue (3-1) for the top spot in the Big Ten West.
THE VILLAINS OF CFB WEEK 8
Ohio State: The Buckeyes were exposed, every single flaw, by an aggressive and attacking Purdue team during the embarrassing 49-20 loss. You could have seen this coming given OSU’s mundane play against weaker teams this season. The Buckeyes’ defense — which came in as one of the worst in the nation in allowing big plays — was zapped for big gains all night, with Purdue amassing 539 yards and 26 first downs. Any chance of a comeback was ruined in the fourth quarter when the Buckeyes gave up touchdowns on three straight possessions. On offense, Ohio State couldn’t get into end zone until the fourth quarter, and came away with only two field goals on four red-zone opportunities. With Ohio State’s failure to run the ball with vigor, quarterback Dwayne Haskins drove up a high pitch count — 73 passing attempts! — to no avail. OSU had 546 yards in this one; it was akin to junk-food calories. The Buckeyes tumbled from No. 2 to No. 11 in the new AP poll. OSU can still make the playoff, but at 7-1 overall and 4-1 in the Big Ten they cannot fall again. There are a lot of problems here. What happened in West Lafayette was no fluke.
Dwayne Haskins: How is his Heisman Trophy campaign going? Answer: What Heisman campaign? It’s gone.
Pac-12: Eleven of the 12 teams have at least two losses; six of the 12 have lost at least three times. What a mess, except for Washington State.
NC State: What a timid effort at Clemson, and let’s cool off on the Ryan Finley hype. He had only 156 yards passing with two interceptions against Clemson.
Mississippi State: What a tease. When it seems like the Bulldogs are fading out, they unexpectedly win a game. And just when they jump back into the top 25 and we start to take them seriously, the Bulldogs get shut down offensively and slide out of the rankings. That happened again on Saturday night in a 19-3 loss at LSU; for the third time in the last for games Mississippi State sputtered to fewer than 300 yards. Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, who sits among the most disappointing players in the nation, was intercepted four times by LSU. For the season, Fitzgerald has completed only 47% of his passes with four touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Florida Atlantic coach Lane Kiffin: For a guy who makes so much noise, and is so adept at conning the media with his slick self-promotion skills, wouldn’t it be nice if Kiffin could actually prove that he’s a good football coach? Saturday, his Owls were slapped around in a 31-7 loss at Marshall. FAU was picked to win its division in Conference USA this season, but forget about it. Kiffin is 3-4 overall, 1-3 in conference play, and has a defense that’s been chewed up for an average of 38 points per game. And Kiffin — supposedly an offensive genius — has been unable to coach FAU quarterback Chris Robison out of a performance skid; Robison was intercepted four times by Marshall. And FAU had five turnovers. Hey, no worries. After the season, his name will be floated as an exciting candidate for open head-coaching jobs by the short-attention span dopes who couldn’t even tell you what his record is. But hey, Kiffin is funny on social media, and in our increasingly vapid culture that makes him a celebrity worthy of adulation.
TCU coach Gary Patterson: After TCU’s defense was trounced again, this time by a 52-27 count in a home loss to Oklahoma, we must ask the question … has Coach Patterson lost his touch at coaching defense? Probably not but this is shaping up to be a very disappointing season for the Horned Frogs. Once ranked as high as 15 in the AP poll this season, they’ve slumped to 3-4 overall and 1-3 in the Big 12.
Thanks for reading …