Published September 23, 2013
| Sports Network
Philadelphia, PA – A month of football is in the books at the FBS level and the season is starting to take shape. While several teams have been pleasant surprises for their respective fan bases, others have us all scratching our heads.
Some teams have faced adversity in the early going and those that can overcome it will position themselves for a stretch run that should make for some entertaining matchups.
A STRONG DEFENSE DOESN'T MASK EVERYTHING: Michigan State' defense is scary good, with playmakers throughout. However, as good as the unit is, it wasn't enough to earn the Spartans a victory over a very beatable Notre Dame squad in South Bend this past weekend. The star-studded defense held the Irish to 224 yards of total offense, but unlike its first couple of games, was unable to help out on the scoreboard in an ugly 17-13 loss.
The Spartans managed only 254 yards against Notre Dame, with a mere 135 through the air. That simply won't get it done. MSU ranks first in the nation in total defense (188.8 yards per game), second in rush defense (58.3 ypg) and third in pass defense (130.5 ypg), but, unfortunately, 104th nationally in total offense (340.8 ypg).
As good as Alabama's defenses have been over the years, the Crimson Tide would not be seeking their third straight national title and fourth in the last five years if not for some offensive proficiency. Michigan State will not be taken as a serious contender both in the Big Ten and nationally until some balance is found.
A GOOD PROBLEM TO HAVE: Urban Meyer lost his starting quarterback a couple of weeks ago to injury, but what he has found behind the shadow of Braxton Miller is a savvy signal caller who knows how to lead and doesn't let the situation get too big. Career backup Kenny Guiton has made the most of his opportunity to play this season, including setting the school record with six touchdown passes (all in the first half) in Saturday's 76-0 drubbing of Florida A&M.
Miller is the unquestioned star in Ohio State's lineup and will get his job back as soon as his knee allows him to resume action. However, Guiton has been a good steward of what he has been entrusted with to date. He has been given the keys to a sports car and hasn't taken his foot off the gas pedal, completing just under 70 percent of his throws with 13 touchdowns against only two interceptions.
Of course, the real test will come this weekend when the Buckeyes open Big Ten play against Wisconsin. Miller is listed as questionable, but at least Meyer can take solace in knowing that if his star QB can't suit up, the team not only can survive, but can continue to flourish under Guiton.
MURPHY'S LAW: The Gator faithful all took a collective gasp of air early on this past weekend, as Florida starting quarterback Jeff Driskel threw an interception returned for a touchdown by Tennessee. What came after was even worse, as Driskel suffered a broken leg and will now be shelved for the remainder of the season.
In an early 7-0 hole, redshirt sophomore Tyler Murphy was thrust into action and gave the Gainesville denizen plenty to think about, as he completed an efficient 8-of-14 passes for 134 yards and one TD, while rushing for 84 yards and another score. Despite its starting signal-caller Driskel sidelined, Florida went on to post a 31-17 win over the Volunteers.
While the initial thought of losing a starting quarterback would leave most programs scrambling to save a season, the Gator Nation, which was often critical of Driskel's play, may be appeased in the short term, as Murphy showed poise and leadership qualities in his first action.
WOLVERINE WOES: What exactly is the problem in Ann Arbor? Were we all duped into believing Michigan was a national power again? The Wolverines looked strong in their win over Notre Dame, but Sept. 7 seems like an eon ago following back-to-back close calls against Akron and Connecticut. Against Akron, Michigan needed a goal-line stand in the waning moments to prevent an upset to the Zips (28-24), and then it had to come from behind late to earn a three-point win at UConn (24-21) this past weekend.
Quarterback Devin Gardner has all the tools necessary to be one of the nation's premier dual-threats and proved it against the Irish with 294 yards passing and four TDs to go with 82 yards rushing and another score. However, his penchant for turnovers has evened the playing field the last couple of weeks and made things extremely hard on his team.
Simply put, coach Brady Hoke needs better play from his quarterback. It hasn't cost the team a victory yet, but as Gardner goes, so go the Wolverines.
NO RGIII, NO PROBLEM: It has been two years since Robert Griffin III won the Heisman Trophy as Baylor's quarterback with a truly remarkable season. However, not much has changed in Waco, Texas, as the Bears are still finding smooth sailing in terms of offensive production.
While the schedule has certainly played a part in it, the numbers are mind- boggling as Baylor gets set to open Big 12 play in two weeks. The 69 points the team rolled up on Wofford in the opener is actually a season low for the Bears, who posted 70 in back-to-back romps over Buffalo and ULM.
Baylor ranks first in the nation in most statistical categories, including scoring (69.7 ppg), passing (444.3 ypg) and total offense (751.3 ypg), while ranking seventh nationally in rushing (307.0 ypg).
Art Briles' team is getting it done at a different level right now thanks to the play of quarterback Bryce Petty. The 6-foot-3 junior has completed an efficient 74.6 percent of his passes in three games, for 1,001 yards with eight touchdowns and no interceptions. Tevin Reese (116.7 ypg) and Antwan Goodley (123.3 ypg) are flourishing on the outside, while tailback Lache Seastrunk (139.0 ypg) is a difference maker in the backfield.
The offensive numbers will definitely start to even out as conference play gets underway, but the Bears have their sights on a Big 12 championship, and league opponents better pay attention.
TOP WEEKLY PERFORMERS:
It wasn't the high profile quarterbacks who took center stage this past weekend. Instead, slightly lesser known commodities stepped up, led by Fresno State's Derek Carr (460 yards, 4 TDs), San Jose State's David Fales (439 yards, 3 TDs) and Pittsburgh's Tom Savage (424 yards, 6 TDs). Other QBs of note included Georgia's Aaron Murray (408 yards, 4 TDs), Wyoming's Brett Smith (373 yards, 4 TDs), Oregon State's Sean Mannion (367 yards, 3 TDs), Arizona State's Taylor Kelly (367 yards, 3 TDs), Baylor's Bryce Petty (350 yards, 5 TDs), Washington State's Connor Halliday (346 yards, 4 TDs), Rutgers' Gary Nova (345 yards, 3 TDs), Missouri's James Franklin (343 yards, 3 TDs), Duke's Brandon Connette (323 passing yards, 4 TDs; 101 rushing yards, 2 TDs), Northern Illinois' Jordan Lynch (235 passing yards, 1 TD; 189 rushing yards) Ohio State's Kenny Guiton (215 yards, 6 TDs) and Minnesota's Mitch Leider (71 passing yards; 151 rushing yards, 4 TDs).
Western Kentucky's Antonio Andrews (213 yards, 5 TDs) and Toledo's David Fluellen (197 yards, 2 TDs) ran wild last time out. Following their lead were LSU's Jeremy Hill (184 yards, 3 TDs), UAB's Darrin Reaves (178 yards, 2 TDs), Memphis' Marquis Warford (173 yards, 1 TD), UCLA's Jordan James (164 yards, 2 TDs), Ohio State's Ezekial Elliott (162 yards, 2 TDs), Middle Tennessee's Reggie Whatley (154 yards, 3 TDs), Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon (147 yards, 3 TDs), Central Michigan's Saylor Lavallii (144 yards, 1 TD) and Baylor's Lache Seastrunk (142 yards, 1 TD).
Kansas State's Tyler Lockett (13 catches, 237 yards) and San Jose State's Chandler Jones (7 catches, 197 yards, 3 TDs) really stood out with their individual performances in the passing game. Others included Ball State's Willie Snead (9 catches, 175 yards), Arizona State's Jaelen Strong (12 catches, 168 yards, 1 TD), Washington State's Gabe Marks (11 catches, 146 yards, 2 TDs), Oregon State's Brandin Cooks (14 catches, 141 yards), Duke's Jamison Crowder (7 catches, 141 yards, 2 TDs), Baylor's Antwan Goodley (5 catches, 156 yards, 2 TDs), Pittsburgh's Tyler Boyd (8 catches, 154 yards, 3 TDs) and Pittsburgh's Devin Street (6 catches, 166 yards, 2 TDs),
SNEAK PEEK: Things begin to heat up this week as there are four Top 25 matchups on the docket. The two-time defending champion Crimson Tide will put their top ranking on the line when they play host to the 21st-ranked Ole Miss Rebels. Another premier SEC clash has sixth-ranked LSU heading to Athens to take on ninth-ranked Georgia. Big Ten action hits top gear as well with an Saturday evening clash in Columbus as fourth-ranked Ohio State hosts 23rd- ranked Wisconsin. Non-conference action jumps into the spotlight also, as 14th-ranked Oklahoma heads to South Bend for a showdown with 22nd-ranked Notre Dame.
Other games with strong appeal include 12th-ranked South Carolina at undefeated UCF, Arizona at 16th-ranked Washington, 10th-ranked Texas A&M at Arkansas and USC at Arizona State.