Survival of the fittest
You knew it was only a matter of time before Survival Saturday would arrive. And boy, did it come full force in Week 4.
Six of the nation's top 10 teams survived challenges. Texas and Arkansas were not as fortunate. But hey, surviving is better than losing. Although the results might not have looked pretty, in this grind of a season, every team will face a test. Maybe two or three.
It is the surviving that counts.
We began in Fayetteville, Ark., where the Razorbacks had the defending national champions on their heels and on the ropes. Arkansas led 20-7 in the third quarter, and Ryan Mallett looked every bit the Heisman Trophy contender. He stood in the pocket with nary a scratch, carving up the inexperienced Tide secondary like a Thanksgiving turkey.
Razorbacks coach Bobby Petrino looked like a play-calling genius. Then the world reverted to form. It was Saban who looked like the genius with his halftime adjustments. Alabama's defense started blitzing more, Mallett got rattled, and the Tide pounded the ball with Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. Alabama remained poised and calm. No. 10 Arkansas did not.
Mallett threw his second interception of the day with time winding down in the fourth quarter and Arkansas' precarious lead looking shakier each minute. Alabama inevitably capitalized when Ingram scored on a 1-yard touchdown run to go ahead 24-20 with 3:18 left to play. Mallett threw his third interception on the next drive, ending Arkansas' upset hopes and his shot at a Heisman Trophy.
Arkansas has no killer instinct. Alabama has it in spades.
In Boise, Idaho, the No. 3 Broncos found themselves tied with Oregon State after the first quarter following James Rodgers' punt return for a touchdown. The Beavers stayed close because the Broncos seemed intent on allowing them to, with senseless penalties and special-teams breakdowns.
You never got the sense that Boise State would lose. But in its 37-24 win, you also never got the dominating performance many had expected, and that could hurt the Broncos in national perception. Close wins no longer will be good enough when you are an outsider trying to bust into the national championship picture. Just ask TCU, which was less than convincing in a win over local rival SMU on Friday night.
No. 5 Oregon trailed for most of the first half at Arizona State before its usual scoring onslaught ensued, thanks in part to seven turnovers by the Sun Devils in a 42-31 victory. No. 6 Nebraska looked less than impressive in a 17-3 win over FCS opponent South Dakota State. No. 8 Oklahoma survived Cincinnati's furious fourth-quarter comeback, its third close call of the season, in a 31-29 win over the Bearcats.
It was the Texas Longhorns, the Sooners' Big 12 brethren, who could not find a way to survive at home against a team many had left for dead just two weeks ago. UCLA wait, UCLA? Yes, UCLA ran for 264 yards on the No. 1 rush defense in the country in a 34-12 win in Austin. The Bruins forced four first-half turnovers and were well on their way to reliving their 66-3 upset win over Texas in 1997.
Texas has to find answers for its anemic running game -- fast. Without any semblance of a run, UCLA was able to pressure Garrett Gilbert and take away the deep ball. But that clearly is the blueprint for success to beat the Longhorns, as it would be for any team that can't run and has an inexperienced quarterback. Gilbert has four touchdowns to four interceptions this season and is averaging just 6.4 yards per pass attempt.
The Longhorns' loss and the Sooners' erratic play take a bit of the luster off next week's crucial Red River Shootout. Nonetheless, we are headed for another Monster Saturday, Conference Edition, with Florida at Alabama and Stanford at Oregon also on the slate.
Who will survive? We will have an answer this time next week.
Shock and awe for Texas after ugly loss
AUSTIN, Texas -- If anyone had heard Texas coach Mack Brown say "It should have been out of hand at halftime" after Saturday's game against UCLA, most would have figured he was chastising his team for a lackluster win over a 1-2 opponent from the Pac-10.
But he said it, and he said it in regard to his own team's deficit after it turned the ball over four times in the opening half and lost 34-12 to the 16-point underdog Bruins, halting any hopes the young Longhorns had of making a repeat trip to the national title game.
Brown said his team prepared well. The loss shocked him. His players said the same thing.
"I'm very upset. Being here at the University of Texas, we're demanding to win. We're coming in to win every game," junior cornerback Aaron Williams said. "Since I've been here, I've never had a loss at home or a loss that bad before. The expectations here are so high; having a loss like this, I'm really angry inside."
Said safety Blake Gideon: "We didn't come to Texas to lose, and lose like this especially."
But the Longhorns did. Now the task is fixing whatever went wrong, the details of which eluded Brown on Saturday night. The turnovers were obvious, but he liked the week of practice he had gotten from his team and its attitude entering Saturday.
"Just like after a win, it's the 24-hour rule," defensive lineman Sam Acho said. "You look at the tape and get better. Go back to work, regroup and get a good week to prepare."
The Longhorns may not know exactly how to fix the problems that arose against UCLA, but they do know this: They have to do it fast with a top-10, 4-0 Oklahoma team showing up to Dallas for the annual Red River Rivalry on Saturday.
"We've just got to go back and rally the troops," defensive coordinator Will Muschamp said.
Perfection can wait; Tide satisfied with win
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Top-ranked Alabama wasn't perfect Saturday in its come-from-behind 24-20 win at Arkansas.
In fact, the Crimson Tide were far from it.
But junior running back Mark Ingram has been around this program long enough to know that the Tide will be better moving forward because of all the things they didn't do right in what was the first of three straight games against nationally ranked teams.
Arkansas was only Round 1. Round 2 awaits Saturday at home against Florida, and Round 3 will come two weeks later on the road at South Carolina. The Gamecocks will be the first of six straight SEC teams to have byes the week before facing the Crimson Tide.
Ingram can't see that far ahead, but he knows what to expect on the practice field this week.
Back to basics
|Alabama used its bread and butter to rally and beat Arkansas on Saturday. Heisman winner Mark Ingram had a 54-yard TD run to answer Arkansas' early score. It was Ingram's third run of 45 or more yards this season and, at the time of the run, his 12th carry of the season. During his Heisman Trophy campaign last season, Ingram rushed the ball 271 times and had two runs of 45-plus yards. QB Greg McElroy finished the final period 6-of-9 for 57 yards and is now 17-of-23 with a 194.6 pass-efficiency rating in the fourth quarter of games in which Alabama is trailing.
-- David Bearman, ESPN Stats & Info
"This will be a great lesson for us, all the things we did wrong," Ingram said. "We're a mature team, but we're also a relatively young team. We'll learn from the mistakes we made, and I don't think you'll see us making the same mistakes. We shot ourselves in the foot a lot, and that's something we don't normally do."
In particular, Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy threw two first-half interceptions -- one in the end zone -- and the defense had several blown assignments that allowed Arkansas receivers to get wide-open in the first half.
"But we showed our heart when we had to," Ingram said.
His heart has been out there on full display ever since returning from arthroscopic knee surgery last week. In two games, he has 308 rushing yards and four touchdowns and is averaging 9.3 yards per carry.
Having Ingram back in the lineup and having him fresh for the Crimson Tide's next two games may be just the kind of boost they need to get through unscathed.
They've now won 17 consecutive SEC regular-season games, the kind of streak that just doesn't happen in this conference.
At least, not in this era.
And, sure, the odds are against Alabama to make it through unbeaten for a third straight regular season. But the odds were also against the Crimson Tide's overcoming a 13-point second-half deficit on Saturday in one of the most hostile environments imaginable.
"It wasn't perfect, but we got through it and got the win," Alabama receiver Julio Jones said. "We'll be better the next time, too."
Oregon's win won't seem as ugly the morning after
TEMPE, Ariz. -- It took three hours and 45 minutes. Oregon and Arizona State combined for more than 1,000 yards and 17 penalties for 172 yards. The Sun Devils offered up seven of the game's nine turnovers.
It was sloppy and, yes, sometimes a bit hard to watch.
When the clock mercifully struck zero, No. 5 Oregon had prevailed 42-31. It wasn't a work of art, but the Ducks won their Pac-10 opener on the road and now can turn their attention to a marquee showdown with Stanford, which will visit Autzen Stadium on Saturday.
"It's great when you have teachable moments after a W," Ducks coach Chip Kelly said.
There are plenty of areas for attention. The Ducks entered the game ranked No. 1 in the nation in scoring and total defense. They will yield their defensive ranking on Monday after giving up 597 yards, the most yards the Sun Devils have accumulated in one game since 2000.
"We didn't have a our best game," Ducks defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti noted.
Of course, it's hard to say your defense had a terrible day when it forces seven turnovers, including an interception that safety John Boyett returned for a touchdown.
The offense was its flashy self at times, particularly when it needed less than two minutes to put together a pair of 80-yard drives late in the first half that turned a 10-point deficit into a 28-24 halftime lead -- an advantage the Ducks never surrendered.
"I had 100 yards?" he said. "It felt like 100 carries."
James called the Sun Devils' defense "the best I've faced in my whole career at Oregon."
Did we mention that Arizona State had seven turnovers? That's how a team that outgains Oregon 597 yards to 405 loses by double digits.To read the rest of Ted Miller's story, click here.
Three weekend observations
1. NC State redshirt junior Russell Wilson is too short to play quarterback in the NFL. Besides, the Colorado Rockies already have dibs on him. Wilson will have to settle for being the quarterback whom defensive coordinators least like to see when they sit down on Sunday to watch the next opposing offense. Wilson proved against Georgia Tech that he doesn't rattle, he knows when and where to get rid of the ball and he knows how to make plays. The Wolfpack are 4-0, and Wilson is the reason.
2. Texas and Oklahoma have spoiled us during the past decade. One team has been in the top 10 in every game, and in four years, both teams have been in the top 10. But the Longhorns' embarrassing loss to UCLA and the Sooners' escape in Cincinnati took the luster off the red in the Red River Rivalry. No rivalry lasts forever, in case you've forgotten last week's Florida-Tennessee game. But that doesn't make it any easier to swallow.
3. Auburn beat South Carolina 35-27 on the centennial of the birth of the Tigers' late Hall of Fame coach, Ralph "Shug" Jordan. A video tribute before the game at, yes, Jordan-Hare Stadium earned warm applause but nothing like the frenzy at Bryant-Denny Stadium when the face and voice of Bear Bryant appear. The reactions fit the legendary personalities. Bryant created a larger-than-life persona. Jordan had little use for the spotlight. Based on Saturday night, Jordan is as understated in death as he was in life.
Highlights: Oregon State-Boise State
'GameDay' crew final thoughts
Despite Oregon State's loss, this was a great week for the Pac-10. We found out that UCLA has not only a pulse but also life in the conference. Stanford now has a chance to prove itself as a national championship contender next week versus Oregon. And Arizona State proved that it's powerful offensively and can play with anybody. The Pac-10 is vying with the SEC and the Big Ten as the best conference in the country.
Every week you have a different team, and that's how you get knocked off. Sometimes you just have to be lucky. There are lots of teams in a big pit in the Big Ten, and all of a sudden Michigan State joins the fight. You have Ohio State, Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan already there. Who would've guessed that Auburn would be undefeated right now? The games are the same every season, but the teams are different every week. I'm disappointed in the Big East, with the exception of West Virginia, which has put on a good showing.
Alabama showed the intestinal fortitude, grit and determination to come from behind in a hostile environment and win. The Tide showed America what champions are made of. Cam Newton: What can you say about a guy who scores five touchdowns in an SEC game? And Arizona showed a lot by coming back after slopping around all game, putting it together at the end to get the job done.
Blog Network: What we learned
The ACC is better than the Big East. If there had been any doubt, the ACC erased it this week with wins at Pitt and at Rutgers.
It's good to have a zero in the loss column. Take deep breaths and don't worry about style points, you unblemished Midwestern squads.
If there were a theme song for the Big East's 2010, it would be Green Day's "Wake Me Up When September Ends."
Lopsided scores are common in September, but the Big Ten had stayed away from the really insane points totals until Saturday.
Arizona and California found new ways to feel just like they did last weekend, while UCLA has gotten off the carpet.
Alabama is still the most physical team in the SEC, and it's not a close race. Also, don't count the Gators out.
Boise State and TCU may not have gotten the style points they wanted this weekend, but they kept their national title hopes alive.
Brian Kelly has talked all along about putting some toughness into his program. But it was Stanford that had every bit of that toughness on Saturday.
Highlights: South Carolina-Auburn
Blog Network: Helmet stickers
Every week our bloggers will hand out helmet stickers to the week's top players, coaches, teams or anything else worth this honor.
Odds & ends
• Denard Robinson has been the story all season for Michigan, and it was no different in the first quarter versus Bowling Green. However, after injuring his knee on a long run, Michigan used Devin Gardner and Tate Forcier as replacements. The three quarterback combined to go 23-for-26 in the game (88.5 percent). In the long history of Michigan football, 88.5 percent is the second-highest completion percentage in school history, topped only in 1991 when Elvis Grbac completed 20 of 22 passes (90.9 percent). Tate Forcier, who was Michigan's primary starter last season, completed all 12 of his passes, becoming only the third FBS player since 2004 to complete all his passes with a minimum of 10 attempts. The Wolverines improved to 4-0 for the second consecutive season, something the school had not done since 1995 to '97.
• NC State has its first 4-0 start since 2002. It's the fifth time in the past 20 years the Wolfpack have started 4-0. The previous four all ended with at least eight wins, something the Wolfpack have not done in Raleigh since 2003. Out west in Nevada, the Wolf Pack earned their first 4-0 start as an FBS school. Back in 1991, Nevada went 11-0 and lost in the second round of the FCS playoffs.