College offenses keep pushing the envelope

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The Oregon Ducks are averaging an amazing 630 yards of total offense per game.

The Oregon Ducks are second in the nation in total offense…and it’s not close.

The previous two sentences should be incongruous, but they are not. They are merely a byproduct of the offensive revolution that has come to dominate college football of late.

Six weeks into the 2013 season, an astounding 19 teams averaging at least 500 yards of offense per game. The Baylor Bears lead the way with an absurd 780 yards per game. By comparison, just two teams finished the season averaging over 500 yards per game in 2009.

Granted, it is still in the early going so the numbers are partially a reflection of opponent strength (or lack thereof), but it’s worth noting that back in 2005 everyone went absolutely ga-ga over a USC offense that averaged 613 yards of offense through six games. The fact that the Trojans averaged 50 points per game that year was also supposed to be a big deal. Mind you, that was an offense loaded with arguably the best personnel ever on one unit — Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, LenDale White, a star-studded offensive line, two second-round receivers and so on. But that team’s production was primarily the result of USC out-talenting its opponents.

Baylor has a nice collection of players, with two legitimate Heisman candidates (Bryce Petty and Lache Seastrunk) and a budding Biletnikoff contender (Antwan Goodley), but it doesn’t have an NFL player at every position like that USC team did.  Its incredible offensive output — 71 points per game?? — can mostly be attributed to the schemes and machinations of head coach Art Briles. Without Briles, Baylor would be just another Big 12 doormat.

And it’s about time people recognize that. Football commentators like to say it’s all about the Jimmies and the Joes, but they’re wrong: The X’s and the O’s matter, too, especially in college football. It’s not like Clemson would be as proficient on offense if it ran out of a Power I formation, would it? Would Baylor be the only team without a three-and-out in college football if it utilized a pro-style attack? Would Oregon be what it is today if it had run the West Coast Offense all these years?

No way.

Scouring the top 20 teams in total offense, only three run what are usually referred to as ‘conventional’ offenses, meaning with the quarterback primarily taking snaps from under center and with the offense huddling before every play.

The evidence in favor of the effectiveness of spread-style systems is so compelling, it’s a wonder that more elite schools don’t go full bore in this direction (Florida was one that did and it won two titles). Imagine if the USC offense of 2005 — or even 2011 — had run the Briles scheme. Or if Alabama emulated what Oregon does on offense. Those two teams running those schemes with their talent level would rewrite the offensive record books and probably never lose.

Of course, we’ll never see that happen because programs like USC or Alabama want to win the way they’ve always won, even at the risk of not optimizing their production. In the meantime, college offenses keep improving to the point where teams that would normally be excluded from the national conversation — the Oregons, the Baylors, the Texas A&Ms, the Clemsons, etc. — are now dominating it.

Better get used to it.

Jim Harbaugh advises President Trump to ‘check the Constitution’

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The latest controversy surrounding President Donald Trump has reached college football.  And, of course, it’s Jim Harbaugh doing the reacting.

At a campaign rally in Alabama earlier this past week, the POTUS let loose on those NFL players who have decided to use the National Anthem as a vehicle for protesting social injustice.  In essence, Trump called for those who participate in the demonstrations to be summarily dismissed.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired. He’s fired!'” Trump was quoted as saying. “You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, ‘That guy disrespects our flag, he’s fired.'”

Suffice to say, that hasn’t even remotely happened as condemnation of the fiery rhetoric has been far and wide from the NFL community and beyond.  It was also condemned by a former member of the NFL community as Harbaugh, whose former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, played a significant role in a story that’s enveloped professional football over the past year, had some choice words on this latest kerfuffle.

“No, I don’t agree with the president,” Harbaugh said following Michigan’s win over Purdue. “Listen, that’s ridiculous. Check the Constitution.”

Harbaugh, who was already at odds with Trump over the slashing of one particular program, also stated initially that he didn’t respect Kaepernick sitting out the anthem before apologizing for misspeaking shortly thereafter.  In the spring, Harbaugh referred to the still-unsigned quarterback as a hero.

Notre Dame has no trouble with mistake-prone Michigan State

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Notre Dame probably would’ve beaten Michigan State on Saturday night if the Spartans pitched a perfect game. But instead the Spartans hit three batters, tossed a handful of wild pitches, aiding the Irish in a 38-18 blowout in Spartan Stadium.

The 20-point margin represents Notre Dame’s largest victory over Michigan State since a 36-14 whipping on Sept. 18, 1993 and the largest win by either team since a 45-23 Spartans win on Sept. 12, 1998. The Irish have now won four of the last five in a series that dates back to 1897.

The Irish (3-1) opened the game with a 7-play, 78-yard touchdown drive punctuated by a 16-yard Brandon Wimbush run, then immediately capitalized on a Michigan State (2-1) mistake as Julian Love returned a Brian Lewerke interception 59 yards for a touchdown.

Michigan State rebounded with its best drive of the night, knifing 75 yards in seven snaps for a touchdown. But another Lewerke turnover, this time a fumble in his own territory, set up Notre Dame with a short field, which Wimbush turned into an 8-yard touchdown pass to Dexter Williams. The Spartans threatened to pull within 21-14 until their third and costliest turnover of the first half, an L.J. Scott fumble at the goal line that took six points off the board and handed Notre Dame the ball at the 20-yard line. Notre Dame needed only five plays to push its lead to 28-7, where it would remain until halftime.

In addition to the three turnovers, Michigan State also committed nine penalties, dropped a handful of passes and lost a possession to a turnover on downs.

Michigan State opened the second half with a Matt Coghlin field goal, but Notre Dame answered that field goal and then some with a 9-yard Deon McIntosh touchdown run. Justin Yoon pushed the lead to 28 with a 46-yard field goal with 4:51 to play.

Michigan State completed the scoring with a cosmetic touchdown — a 25-yard toss from Lewerke to Gerald Holmes — and 2-point conversion with 3:09 remaining.

Wimbush was the star for Notre Dame, hitting 14-of-20 passes for 173 yards and a touchdown with eight carries for 52 yards and a touchdown. Lewerke carried the load for Michigan State, connecting on 31-of-51 passes for 340 yards — many of them junk — with a touchdown and an interception with nine carries for 56 yards and a fumble.

Michigan State will remain in East Lansing next week to host hard luck loser Iowa, while Notre Dame returns home to face Miami (Ohio).

Disaster averted as walk-off TD pushes No. 4 Penn State past Iowa

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Entering Week 4, the last three teams ranked in the Top Five entering Kinnick Stadium had exited with a loss.  In dramatic fashion, No. 4 Penn State flipped that script.

Trailing 15-13, Iowa scored on a 35-yard touchdown run by Akrum Wadley that put Iowa up, after a failed two-point conversion, 19-15 with 1:42 left in the game.  Penn State then proceeded to go 65 yards in 12 plays and 1:42 of game time, with Trace McSorley connecting with Juwan Johnson on a seven-yard touchdown pass with zero ticks left on the clock to secure a wild 21-19 win.

That fourth quarter also featured Penn State blocking a field goal… only to see Iowa return the favor 10 minutes later to set up what would’ve been the game-winning touchdown by Wadley.

If you simply looked at the box score, however, you would’ve thought this was a blowout that swung heavily toward the visitor.

The Nittany Lions outgained the Hawkeyes 579-273.  In fact, Penn State had more yards rushing (295) than Iowa had total offense. First downs?  PSU 29, Iowa 11.  The Nittany Lions held the ball for nearly two-thirds of the game for good measure.

In the end, however, it was Penn State that came out on top on both the scoreboard as well as the stat sheet as the Nittany Lions kept their perfect season afloat as, after games against Indiana and Northwestern the next two weeks, they get set for season-defining games against No. 8 Michigan (Oct. 21) and No. 10 Ohio State (Oct. 28).  And Saquon Barkley, who set a single-game school record for all-purpose yards — 211 rushing, 94 receiving, 53 returns — will get to continue to state his case as the best football player in the country and one of a handful of Heisman Trophy front-runners.

No. 7 Washington holds slim three point halftime lead at rainy Colorado

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Colorado was anxious to extract some revenge against No. 7 Washington for their blowout loss to the Huskies in last season’s Pac-12 Championship Game and certainly went toe-to-toe against them in rainy conditions Saturday night in Boulder.

It wasn’t enough to take the lead into the locker room at halftime for the Buffs but they certainly looked like they wouldn’t be going anywhere as Washington held on to a 10-7 advantage at the break.

Jake Browning threw for just 89 yards and tossed an interception as he was forced to move around quite a bit while also dealing with the nasty weather that swirled things up on the flat irons. Counterpart Steven Montez also threw two interceptions but posted a more respectable 129 yards on 15/19 passing, most of which were short and intermediate throws.

The flip side to the signal-callers struggling at times was that the ground game was the focal point for the offenses. Myles Gaskin carried the load for the Huskies with his backup out with an injury and scored a touchdown to go along with 64 yards. Buffs’ tailback Phillip Lindsay has a tough time going against that big front seven UW trots out but still managed 46 yards and a score.

While it certainly wasn’t the sharpest half of football in Pac-12 play this season, the two teams gave every indication things would be very interesting in the second half and not the blowout we saw the last time they met down in Santa Clara.