Updated: September 25, 2006 10:54:35 AM PDT

Saturday featured rallies, revivals and surprises


REALITY CHECK

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- It's time for the reality check.

Notre Dame nation is still giddy about ruining Sparty's party with a 19-point fourth quarter to give the Irish a 40-37 win at Michigan State -- good enough for the time being to keep their BCS hopes alive.

"Last week was a team loss and this week was a team win," quarterback Brady Quinn said. "I don't want to say we were ever off track, but this definitely helps us out."

Brady Quinn
AP Photo/Al Goldis
Brady Quinn rallied the Irish with three second-half TD passes.

The positives
The Irish displayed a resiliency to get in position for the comeback. They also showed an ability to make the necessary plays to complete the deal and deliver a storybook finish that will make the highlights for weeks and years to come. No matter on which end of the Notre Dame polar opposite spectrum you fall, Saturday night's victory was the stuff that makes the Golden Domers what they are.

"This definitely showed we can come back," defensive captain Tom Zbikowski said late Saturday night in the tunnel outside the ND locker room. "Last week there wasn't much of a comeback, and this week it wasn't just a comeback to make it respectable but to comeback and win."

And save the season (for now)? "Definitely," he said. "Going 2-2 is going to hurt you, so this definitely helps."

With the win, Notre Dame improved to 7-0 on the road and 4-0 following a loss in the 16-game Charlie Weis era.

The negatives
The on-again, off-again Irish defense surrendered 388 total yards (but only 128 in the second-half comeback) to a high-powered offense (MSU's 476.75 ypg ranks fifth nationally) in weather conditions that weren't exactly made for running up and down the field. ND now ranks 80th in the nation in total defense (342.50 ypg), but three of its four opponents are average offensive units (44. Penn State, 51. Michigan, 53. Georgia Tech).

The penalty story is even worse. ND was flagged for eight penalties (58 yards) against MSU. While that's slightly better than the Irish average, they're now ranked 114th in penalties per game (9.0) and 111th in penalty yards per game (71.50).

The offense? ND did put up nearly 200 yards during the second-half deluge, but only 44 of the 366 total yards came on the ground. It got so bad that Weis pretty much abandoned the run in the second half; the Irish gained only five rushing yards in the final 30 minutes.

Despite Quinn's heroics (319 passing yards, 5 TDs) against the Spartans, the Irish were an anemic 1-for-11 on third down. For the season, ND is just 15-of-55 (27.2 percent) which is 113th in the nation.

The reason for false hope in the Irish camp is the upcoming schedule. The next seven games on the schedule before a Nov. 25 date at USC include five home games against the likes of Purdue, Stanford, UCLA, North Carolina and Army. The two road games are Navy (in Baltimore) and Air Force.

Draw your own conclusions about that comparative level of competition and what it could do for Notre Dame's standing in the polls and on the stats rankings.

An emotionally and physically drained Weis knows there are serious problems that need to be addressed, but he was too tired to do anything about it Saturday night.

"I'm not bringing them down until [Sunday]," Weis said.

Presumably that reality check has already taken place.

20 SOMETHING

The USC offense just isn't what it used to be.

But, so far, it's been good enough.

It was good enough to run some clock and tack on an insurance field goal after Arizona had cut the Trojans' lead to 10-3 early in the fourth quarter. And it was good enough to take advantage of the Wildcats' final miscue of the evening, thereby protecting a historical streak begun by the explosive USC offenses of old.

Pete Carroll
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
Pete Carroll's seen at least 20 points on the scoreboard for USC in 55 straight games.

The Trojans, up 13-3, were forced to punt the ball to Arizona with just under four minutes remaining, and it appeared the Cats would be able to take small consolation in becoming the first team to hold mighty SC under 20 points since the 2001 Las Vegas Bowl (a 10-6 loss to Utah). But a muffed attempt to field the punt gave the ball back to the Men of Troy inside the Arizona 10-yard line. Ever the opportunists, USC cashed in with Emmanuel Moody's 9-yard run on the very next play. The crucial PAT by Mario Danelo then put the magic number 20 on the scoreboard.

It was the 55th consecutive game with 20 or more points by the Trojans, which is far and away the major-college record for that category. USC actually took over the all-time lead near the end of the 2004 season and has just kept going … and going … and going. Saturday was the first time in recent years that the streak even seemed to be in jeopardy. Finally, it appears, the USC offense has become mortal again.

With 28 points against Nebraska and 20 against Arizona, the Trojans have been held under 30 in consecutive games for the first time since the 2003 season finale (a 28-14 Rose Bowl win over Michigan) and the 2004 opener (a 24-13 win over Virginia Tech). But still the streak survives.

It's an especially amazing accomplishment when you consider that all of the great offenses in college football history prior to 1995 -- from Army under Red Blaik to Oklahoma under both Bud Wilkinson and Barry Switzer to BYU under LaVell Edwards to Nebraska under Tom Osborne -- none of them ever had as many as 30 straight games with 20 or more points. The first team to reach 30 in a row was Steve Spurrier's Florida bunch from 1995-1997 (33 straight games). USC is one of five teams to do it since then, joining the likes of Virginia Tech (37), Boise State (37), Kansas State (36) and UCLA (31).

But nobody has ever done it like the Trojans. And depending on how much longer they go from here, perhaps nobody ever will.

REVERSAL OF FORTUNE

SEATTLE -- It was like going back in time, when Washington was a national power and Husky Stadium was a fearsome place to play.

That's the import of Washington's stunning 29-19 victory over UCLA, a game in which the Huskies were utterly dominated for the first quarter and a half, falling behind 16-0 while accumulating all of two total yards of offense.

Then quarterback Isaiah Stanback connected with Quintin Daniels for 17 yards on third and 12 from the Huskies 6-yard line. That sparked a 92-yard drive, which was capped with the first three touchdown passes from Stanback.

Isaiah Stanback
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Isaiah Stanback rallied the Huskies past the Bruins.

The comeback concluded with linebacker Dan Howell returning an interception 33 yards for a touchdown, which sent a crowd of 58,255 into hysterics.

Howell had missed the previous week's game while attending his father's funeral.

So there was poetry to the drama.

Stanback is suddenly doing his best Marques Tuiasosopo imitation, using swashbuckling improvisation and play-making ability to hoist his team on his shoulders. The Huskies had 249 yards of total offense. All but a single yard came from Stanback, who rushed for 48 yards and passed for 200.

And the defense? UCLA had 146 total yards in the first quarter. It had only 132 over the final three.

Suddenly, coach Tyrone Willingham's preseason claim that the Huskies would go to a bowl game doesn't sound so farfetched.

They are now 3-1, which means they equaled their combined win total from the previous two seasons. They've posted consecutive quality wins -- they slipped Fresno State 21-20 the week before -- and may well be a victory at Arizona on Saturday away from re-entering the national rankings for the first time since early in the 2003 season.

This is far from an elite team, but no one saw this turnaround coming. So who knows where it might be going?

DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- As the final seconds ticked off the clock Saturday afternoon at Michigan Stadium, Wolverines starting cornerback Leon Hall walked down the bench with a smile on his face and shook the hands of his starting front seven.

From defensive end LaMarr Woodley to linebacker Prescott Burgess, Hall stopped and congratulated each player on what could only be described as a dominating performance in a 27-13 win over Wisconsin to open Big Ten play.

The No. 6 ranked Wolverines (4-0) took a 10-10 halftime tie and suffocated the Badgers (3-1) over most of the game's final 30 minutes.

Prescott Burgess
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Prescott Burgess and the Michigan defense kept the pressure on Wisconsin.

Wisconsin freshman runningback P.J. Hill came into the game ranked sixth in the nation in rushing (138.3 ypg.). Michigan's defense came in ranked No. 1 against the rush, giving up less than one yard (0.97) per carry and just 20.7 per game.

Suffice it to say that the Wolverines strengthened their vice grip on that category.

Hill picked up a respectable 54 yards (20 carries) on the afternoon, but the rest of the UW rushing attack went backwards for -42 yards.

For the game, the Badgers had 27 carries and 12 yards.

"We knew they were going to run the ball," Michigan linebacker David Harris said. "It was just a matter of stopping it. We limited them to less than 20 yards rushing, so we did a pretty good job."

Pretty good? New defensive coordinator Ron English must be a tough grader, but whatever he's doing, it's working.

Michigan's defense has been much maligned over the past few seasons for its underachieving ways and uninspiring performances -- especially given the talent it puts out on the field.

But on the heels of a dominating performance in South Bend two weeks ago, Saturday went a long way in establishing that this edition of the Wolverines defense could be a premier unit.

As the game progressed, Michigan got stronger. And more physical. And more punishing.

In its first six possessions of the second half, Wisconsin ran 18 plays (as in six three-and-outs). And gained three yards.

"We wanted to keep [their score] at 10," Woodley said. "That's one thing about the defense, you can control the scoreboard. If you don't let them move down the field and keep them where they're at you'll give your offense good field position."

Even Michigan coach Lloyd Carr seemed somewhat impressed with the defensive effort.

"The way that our defense is playing, it's extremely difficult to run the football against us," he said.

Even Carr was smiling after the game.

FRESHMAN FOLLIES

As if it needed to be proved, Saturday was a prime example that coaches know more about football than fans do.

The names change every fall, but one thing remains the same. Fans always believe the blue-chip freshman QB will be the savior of the program and is the answer to all offensive problems. Across the message boards and call-in shows, they wonder how their head coach, who is paid so much money to win games, can keep a kid with such unlimited potential on the bench when the team needs him to win a championship.

Well, some of those fans have had their wishes granted this season. Due to factors ranging from injury to ineffectiveness of the original starter, three of the consensus top five QB recruits of 2006 found themselves starting under center on Saturday, and they showed us all why coaches prefer to bring along even the most talented of quarterbacks at a much slower pace.

Georgia's Matthew Stafford made his second college start and found the going fairly tough against a solid Colorado defense. After completing 8-of 16-passes for 76 yards and failing to get his team on the scoreboard, he was replaced by redshirt freshman Joe Cox, who ultimately led the Bulldogs to victory.

Mitch Mustain
AP Photo/Beth Hall
Mitch Mustain struggled, but the Razorbacks beat Bama.

Mitch Mustain of Arkansas made his third college start but was greeted for the first time by an elite SEC defense. Give him credit for throwing a TD that beat Alabama in overtime (a pass into coverage that was nearly intercepted), but he was 6-of-21 for 87 yards with three interceptions before that play.

And then there was Isiah "Juice" Williams of Illinois, who finished 9-of-32 with three interceptions against Iowa, although he did throw for 139 of his 161 yards and a TD with the game out of reach in the fourth quarter.

In case you're not adding it up, that's 24-of-70 (34 percent), 334 yards (111 per game), 2 TD and 6 INT. Even the fans with the rose-colored glasses can't be too pleased with 4.8 yards per pass attempt.

If you're curious, the other two of the consensus top five true freshman QBs are Tim Tebow at Florida and Jevan Snead at Texas. Tebow is the clear-cut backup to Chris Leak and has been given the opportunity to help the team in spot duty with his running ability while refining his passing skills in less critical moments of the games. Snead has seen action only in blowout wins.

Any of these five quarterbacks could be an All-American in a couple of years. Some of them might even be pretty darn good in a couple of months. But this is September, and each of these kids still has a long way to go to become a difference maker as a starting QB.

The coaches already know this. But don't expect the fans to believe it anytime soon.

COLLEGE GAMEDAY: SPEED DRILLS
Chris Fowler, Lee Corso and Desmond Howard run through Saturday's action.
FIVE SATURDAY OBSERVATIONS
IVAN MAISEL
NDCal 1. California and Notre Dame proved Saturday that there's life after a humiliating defeat (which is good news for Alabama and Boston College, no?) The Bears had the good fortune to lose at Tennessee on the first weekend of the season, which means that the memory of it may continue to fade as the season wears on. Notre Dame's second-half comeback Saturday night at Michigan State will be the stuff of Irish legend. Notre Dame proved it has adopted coach Charlie Weis' passion and attitude. But until the Irish more fully adopt defensive coordinator Rick Minter's defense, don't confuse Notre Dame with a national championship contender.

NC StateAlabama 2. As mentioned above, Alabama and Boston College have to bounce back from devastating road losses Saturday. We pair them together because of the conundrum they present. Alabama lost because coach Mike Shula settled for a field-goal attempt in the first overtime when his kicker, freshman Leigh Tiffin, clearly had lost his form. Boston College lost because Tom O'Brien didn't go for a field goal, instead attempting to convert on on fourth-and-two from the NC State 27 in the final minute with a 15-10 lead. The only thing they have in common is that they both made the wrong decision. Somehow, Shula's is harder to swallow. O'Brien assumed his defense could keep the Wolfpack from going 72 yards in 33 seconds. NC State needed only 25.

Matt Stafford
Stafford
3. Print this out and re-read it next February on signing day, and again next April during spring practice. Matt Stafford of Georgia: 8-16-0, 76 yards, minus-15 rush, one lost fumble vs. Colorado; Mitch Mustain of Arkansas, 7-22-3, 97 yards vs. Alabama. Their teams won Saturday, but not because of their play. Freshmen quarterbacks are not saviors. Keep that in mind as you read about the statues they will build of Jimmy Clausen at Notre Dame.

Purdue 4. Defensive backs, on the other hand, are a different issue. In the final seconds of the first half, Purdue led, 10-7, and Minnesota had the ball on the Boilermaker 4-yard-line. How did the Gophers get there? Three plays earlier, Purdue freshman nickel back David Pender nailed Gophers wideout Mike Chambers two steps out of bounds, earning a dead ball personal foul penalty. This time, Pender, surrendering four inches to 6-5 Minnesota wide receiver Ernie Wheelwright, leaped from behind and tipped a fade pass into the hands of Boilermakers linebacker George Hall. The pick preserved a 10-7 lead, and Purdue went on to win, 27-21.

Rutgers 5. Rutgers makes the AP poll for the first time in 30 years, which should be celebrated, as long as you don't look too closely at the No. 23 Scarlet Knights' schedule. Just focus on backs Ray Rice and Brian Leonard and enjoy Rutgers for what it is: a 4-0 team that finally, after three decades, pencil-whipped its opponents.

COLLEGE GAMEDAY RADIO: SATURDAY RECAP
Dave Revsine, Gerry DiNardo and Todd McShay break down Saturday's action.
FINAL THOUGHTS FROM THE FINAL CREW
RECE DAVIS
USC After four weeks, I've learned that there's no dominant team in college football this year. There are some very good teams, and there could even be some undefeated teams, but there's not anyone like Texas and USC were last season. There's not a team with so much talent at so many different positions that it's just a matter of time before they seize control of a game. Everyone's vulnerable, and that will make this season fun.

Helmet Stickers Go To:
Isaiah Stanback, QB, Washington
248 total yds, 3 TDs vs. UCLA
Jeff Samardzija, WR, Notre Dame
113 receiving yds, 2 TDs vs. Michigan State
LOU HOLTZ
Notre Dame When you're dealing with 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds, nothing is guaranteed. There are no safe leads, no easy kicks, and no automatic wins. These kids aren't professionals, and they all make mistakes -- sometimes when we least expect them. To me, that makes college football fun, and that's why you never give up … no matter how desperate things seem.

Helmet Stickers Go To:
QB Syvelle Newton and WR Sidney Rice, South Carolina
Connected on 5 TD passes vs. FAU
Daniel Evans, QB, NC State
Game-winning TD pass in first career start vs. BC
MARK MAY
Michigan State When you have a lead, you need to go out and stick the dagger into the opponent in the second half. John L. Smith and his offensive coaches failed to do that with their play calling. They lost the balance that had Notre Dame on its heels and totally abandoned the vertical passing game. By going into a shell in the second half, Michigan State opened the door for Notre Dame to come back and win.

Helmet Stickers Go To:
Joe Cox, CB, Georgia
10-13, 154 yds, 2 TDs vs. Colorado
Daymeion Hughes, Cal
10 tackles, 2 INTs, TD vs. Arizona State
LOOKING BACK: NOTRE DAME-MICHIGAN ST.
ONE OF A KIND
Forty years after their "Game of the Century", Notre Dame's improbable win over Michigan State provided another game for the ages, writes David Albright. Story
HIGHLIGHTS: IRISH-SPARTANS
The Fighting Irish rally from a 17-point deficit to beat the Spartans.
BREAKDOWN: IRISH-SPARTANS
Bob Davie, Kirk Herbstreit and Brent Musburger break down Notre Dame's comeback win.
LOOKING BACK: PENN STATE-OHIO STATE
SPECIAL DELIVERY
Troy Smith didn't have his best game for the Buckeyes, but he offered a signature Heisman highlight play in OSU's win, writes Bruce Hooley.Story
HIGHLIGHTS: LIONS-BUCKEYES
Troy Smith and a pair of picks returned for touchdowns lift the Buckeyes.
LOOKING BACK: ALABAMA-ARKANSAS
Joe Schad
While Leigh Tiffin and the Crimson Tide are left wonder what if, the Razorbacks' resorted to 'backyard ball' to claim the win, writes Joe Schad. Schad blog Insider
HIGHLIGHTS: WISCONSIN-MICHIGAN
The Wolverines move to 4-0.
HIGHLIGHTS: BOSTON COLLEGE-NC STATE
A late TD pass lifts the Wolfpack.


 

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