Eyeing national respect, Notre Dame gets a key road win at Oklahoma

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Earlier this week, Berry Tramel of the Daily Oklahoman wrote that Notre Dame’s famous “PLAY LIKE A CHAMPION TODAY” sign may have originated from former Oklahoma coach Bud Wilkinson in the late 1940’s. The slogan may (or may not) have been born in Norman, Oklahoma, but Notre Dame will take it, metaphorically, back to South Bend, Indiana, as its own.

When you go on the road and defeat a top-10 team 30-13, you deserve to be called champions.

Notre Dame (No. 5) answered the biggest question facing the team all year: how would the Irish score, especially without George Atkinson III, against Oklahoma (No. 8)? Well, like most things on offense, it starts with the ground game. The Irish ran the ball effectively for 215 yards. And quarterback Everett Golson, who has struggled mightily at times over the past few weeks, had arguably the best game (and undoubtedly the best throw downfield of play-action) of his young career.

Considering how stiff the competition was compared to other games for Notre Dame this season, this is arguably the best and most balanced the Irish offense has looked so far in 2012, and it came together in the biggest game. The final touchdown for Notre Dame was simply window dressing.

When was the last time you could say that about this offense? It hasn’t alwaysbeen pretty for Notre Dame this year, but they’ve won games their way.

Notre Dame’s defense, for which this team is more highly-regarded, played as well as it has all season. The Sooners had six offensive possessions in the second half. One resulted in a score, two in turnovers and four did not extend beyond 30 yards. Though the Irish allowed the first rushing touchdown of the year thanks to Blake Bell, they only allowed 50 yards on the ground before sacks.

We spoke earlier about Alabama (which is rolling over Mississippi State), Oregon (which ran over Colorado) and Kansas State being  the three most dominating teams to date this season. After tonight, it’s tough not to add Notre Dame to that list or to think it wouldn’t have a chance against any of them. Win big games and you’ll be considered big-time. That’s a perception Notre Dame has fought uphill against for the past two decades. Until this team shows they shouldn’t be taken seriously, though, they’ve earned the right to be.

The Irish were supposed to have a ridiculously difficult schedule this year, but Michigan State, Michigan and Stanford haven’t quite panned out to be as fierce as they were projected before the season. Looking ahead, Notre Dame shouldn’t have any trouble with Pitt, Boston College or Wake Forest before ending the year at USC. But if Notre Dame can keep winning — the BCS computers like the Irish right now more than Alabama and Oregon — it will very much be in the discussion for a BCS championship appearance.

Love Notre Dame or hate Notre Dame, college football is better off when the Irish are in the national discussion.

No. 11 USC needs special teams trickery to help hold halftime lead over UCLA

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The city of Los Angeles came out to the Coliseum expecting a high-scoring blowout but what most of the crowd came to see was a good old fashioned Pac-12 slugfest between No. 11 USC and their crosstown rivals UCLA. In a battle between two of the best college quarterbacks in the country, it was the Trojans’ Sam Darnold who managed to secure the lead 14-7 going into halftime but needed a little help along the way from his teammates to get there.

The signal-caller in cardinal and gold finished the first two quarters with 132 yards passing in another efficient —  if unspectacular — performance behind center, combining with tailback Ronald Jones (88 yards, one touchdown) to help rack up most of the offense for the home team at the Coliseum. Despite being able to move the ball up the field fairly well, USC needed a little help from the third phase of the game in order to jump out in front on the scoreboard.

That came on an amazing special teams play in the first quarter that included a little trickeration on the part of the Trojans, shifting the return team to the right with a decoy return man while Michael Pittman fielded the punt along the left sidelines and went 72 yards nearly untouched for the touchdown.

The Bruins responded however and marched right down the field for a touchdown on a Josh Rosen pass. The potential first round draft pick had the better half of the two quarterbacks outside of a late strip sack, hitting several big plays down the field and finishing with 228 yards at the break. The running game wasn’t much to write home about to the surprise of nobody on the UCLA sidelines but it was an encouraging effort for a team that hasn’t had many the past few weeks.

We’ve seen some surprises on both sides of this rivalry game and it’s not hard to think we could be in for another close, fun second half based on how these two teams played the first two quarters. Whoever manages to make halftime adjustments will likely emerge victorious but both teams are very much in this game to the dismay of the home crowd.

Love quiet as Stanford leads Cal at the half

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Stanford is halfway to keeping its namesake Axe. The Cardinal leads Cal 10-6 at the break in Palo Alto.

Stanford broke a 3-3 tie by moving 70 yards in 10 plays, the last 17 on a K.J. Costello pass to Kaden Smith. Costello hit 11-of-20 passes for 131 yards with a touchdown and an interception on the final play of the half.

Cal moved inside the Stanford red zone with a chance to tie, but the drive stalled at the 9-yard line and Matt Anderson booted a 26-yard field goal to pull the Bears within 10-6 with 2:43 left in the half.

On a night when he could win some points back in the Heisman race, Bryce Love has carried just six times for 17 yards.

Cal will receive to open the second half.

Report: Virginia’s Bronco Mendenhall a person of interest in Oregon State coach search

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This is an intriguing potential development.

With Gary Andersen abruptly and unexpectedly stepping down earlier this season, Oregon State finds itself on the hunt for a new head football coach.  On the same day the Beavers fell to 1-10 on the lost season, a new name surfaced as a reported possibility: Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall.

At least, according to John Canzano of The Oregonian, who lists Mendenhall as a person of interest in the search.  Canzano writes that Mendenhall “interviewed for the job in 2014 and was the runner-up when Andersen was hired,” then goes on to put him on OSU’s short list, along with Cal offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin.

Mendenhall, should he decide to jump ship, certainly has ties to that area of the country — and to the university.

Born in Utah, Mendenhall began his collegiate playing career at an in-state junior college before transferring to, you guessed it, OSU for his last two years of eligibility.  He then began his coaching career with the Beavers as a graduate assistant and defensive line coach in 1989-90.  He then returned to his alma mater in 1995 as line coach, spending the following season as defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach.  Nearly a decade later, he became the head coach at BYU, spending 11 seasons with that program before abruptly leaving for the Virginia job after the 2015 season.

After going 99-43 with the Cougars, and after a 2-10 first season in Charlottesville, Mendenhall has the Cavaliers bowl-eligible for the first time since 2011.

Tennessee fumbles its way to a halftime deficit vs. LSU

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If only Marquez Callaway could catch a punt. Callaway’s two fumbled punts handed LSU 10 of its 17 points as Tennessee trails 17-10 at the half at a windy, rainy Neyland Stadium.

Callaway’s first fumble came at his own 15 yard line, which LSU’s Russell Gage hopped on. The Tigers gained only two yards on the ensuing possession, but it was enough to allow Connor Culp to knock through a 30-yard field goal.

Tennessee answered with a 14-play, 53-yard drive that killed over half a quarter. The 7-minute, 39-second march ended at the LSU 27-yard line, allowing Aaron Medley to tie the game with a 45-yard boot with 13:59 left in the second quarter.

LSU’s offense went three-and-out again, but Callaway again fumbled the ensuing punt, which Michael Divinity, Jr. grabbed at the Tennessee 19. LSU’s offense capitalized this time, as Darrel Williams rushed in from 10 yards out to put the Tigers up 10-3 with 11:31 left in the frame. 

Tennessee strung together another double-digit play drive that ended at nearly the exact same spot as the previous one — this one was the 28 — but swirling winds pushed Medley’s 46-yard field goal (far, far) wide left.

But as the weather picked up, both offenses came alive.

LSU closed the half by putting up its first self-made points of the night. The Tigers needed only 28 seconds to move 61 yards as Danny Etling hit Derrick Dillon for a 12-yard completion, Williams rushed for 36 yards and Etling carried for a 13-yard touchdown with 2:08 left in the first half. Etling conected on 8-of-12 passes for 50 yards, and Williams led all rushers with 50 yards on three carries. Derrius Guice mustered only four carries for 10 yards.

The Vols struck back after LSU’s score, moving 75 yards in four plays and 45 seconds. Jarrett Guarantano hit Callaway for consecutive long passes, one for 26 yards and another for 46, which Callaway caught through pass interference and turned into a touchdown with 1:23 left in the first half.

hit 10-of-12 passes for 144 yards, and John Kelly led the Vols with 17 carries for 29 yards.

A 53-yard Culp field goal clanged off the right upright as time expired.

Tennessee will receive to open the second half.