The Running Game Proves Its Importance: NCAA Week 6 Round Up

Adverse weather conditions caused by Hurricane Matthew stole the Week 6 headlines.

The much anticipated showdown between the Louisiana State Tigers and #18 Florida Gators was postponed. A decision that has caused Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey terrible issues as there isn’t an obvious gap in the schedule for the game to be replayed. Neither sides bye-week lines up and there is little wriggle room in the schedule to accommodate the conference fixture. The most likely scenario is for the game to be played on the 19th of November when both sides play out of conference opponents. However this will require both teams to buy out those opponents to recompense those sides losing a fixture.

For those new to college football, the reason that the out of conference games are less important than the inter-conference ones is that the inter-conference games are given preferred status when deciding the winners of each division within a conference. In the case of the SEC, this is split into a East and West divisions with one of each division being involved in this game. What this means is a team with a 8 and 4 total record can be ahead of an opponent with a 9 and 3 total record if the former team has more wins in division. Like the NFL, this number (inter-conference wins) is actually worked out as a percentage so a uneven number of games could cause some strange outcomes.

Some games did go ahead in the storm.

#17 North Carolina Tar Heels had a horrible offence display as the weather undermined the team who overturned Florida State last week. Multiple turnovers gave opponents #25 Virginia Tech Hokies short fields to work with. They took advantage of this in the second half once the rain’s intensity abated. The Hokies back to back touchdowns in their first two drives after half time, including one off a fumbled punt, effectively iced the game.

The big difference between the two teams was the duel running threat of quarterback Jerod Evans and running back Travon McMillan who were able to grind out some offence with passing all but impossible. The 34-3 final score was a fair reflection on those two’s dominance comparative to anyone on the Tar Heels side.

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By far the worst conditions happened outside the AP top-25 with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish splashing around against the North Carolina State Wildcats. It was certainly a spectacle to watch but the eventual 10-3 win for the Wildcats cannot be described as football as we know it.

Remarkably the worst of the weather had passed when #10 Miami Hurricanes welcomed their visitors #23 Florida State Seminoles to the Miami Dolphin’s Hard Rock Stadium. However there was unlikely to be a dry eye in the house as the Hurricanes blew an opportunity to take their long time rivals to overtime when Michael Badgley had his extra point attempt blocked with less than 2 minutes left on the clock.

The game had been dominated by the Hurricanes in the first half. The speed of their defence had stopped anything developing in the Seminoles passing game with only NFL prospect Dalvin Cook providing consistent offence. The pressure kept coming which led to rookie quarterback Deondre Francois out being knocked out of the game for a couple of series. This resulted in the back up throwing an interception to set up Miami for the only touchdown of the first half.

Another interception changed the game at the beginning of the second period. Brad Kaaya over threw his receiver going into the end zone when a minimum of another 3 points were for the reckoning. This error was compounded when the Hurricanes defence inexplicably let Cook slide into the flat and the presumed top 100 pick showed his speed and open field vision to take the ball 59 yards for a score. Florida State’s coaches then instigated a notable tactical change, concentrating on the moving the chains rather than big plays. This tired the Miami D who weren’t helped by the lack of offence being produced the other way. FSU scored on three consecutive plays to get their noses in front, only for Miami to muster a scoring drive late. However the aforementioned missed extra point would allow them to run the clock off and win 20-19 to really reignite their season. If the Seminoles run the table now, a playoff place could still be their’s if others also falter.

Two bouts of overtime was needed to separate #8 Texas A&M Aggies and #9 Tennessee Volunteers.

Once again the Volunteers allowed their opponents to get on top of them early as the Aggies scored three touchdowns in the first quarter. Once again, Tennessee had to pin their hopes on Joshua Dobbs. The quarterback has been one of the most exciting passers this year but has been overshadowed in the Heisman race by the rise of Lamar Jackson. He responded in the manner of a true Heisman candidate, eventually throwing for 398 yards (1 TD, 2 INTs). More impressively, he did it without main running back Jalen Hurd. Back up running back Alvin Kamara stepped up tp the plate producing 127 yards on 17 carries and another 161 yards in the air. It appeared inevitable that the Volunteers would over run A&M. However the Volunteers could not get to grips with the Aggies running game. Both quarterback Trevor Knight (239 yards, 2 touchdowns, 2 INTs, throwing, 110 yards and 3 touchdowns running) and Trayveon Williams (217 yards, 1 touchdown) kept the Aggies in front until the final 40 seconds of regulation play.

A&M even had once last chance to win in the normal time limit but their kicker missed from 38 yards. Overtime was then inevitable. Both teams looked strong offensively but failed to get into the endzone. Exchanged field goals set the second overtime. This time Knight would not be denied, overpowering a lineman from one yard out. Dobbs once again tried to respond but was picked off by Armani Watts for the end of this enthralling affair.

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This means A&M have finally broken their hoodoo of going 5 and 0 and then losing. They have done so in both 2014 and 2015 but now go to 6 and 0 on the year. Tennessee lose their doughnut but may still be in contention due to the close nature of this loss. A&M now go on to Arkansas and then Alabama. Tennessee face ‘Bama a week earlier and must address their slow starts and turnover problems to have a chance in that one. The 7 turnovers committed in this game was a key reason for their loss.

Elsewhere, all the top 5 ranked teams continued to show their dominance.

#1 Alabama Crimson Tide started quickly against #16 Arkansas Razorbacks, leading by 18 at the half. The offence spluttered a little in the second, committing a couple of turnovers, but the game was never really in question as they came away with a 49-30 victory.

Jalen Hurts continued to make big chunk plays with his arm. His 253 yards on just 17 attempts gave him a remarkable 16.9 yards per pass average. Couple with that with his awareness of space, he ran in two short touchdowns to match the two he threw, makes his marshalling of the  offence makes Alabama almost undeniable in the red zone. His opposite number Austin Allen showed remarkable poise, and maybe some NFL consideration, throwing for 400 yards (3 touchdowns, 3 interceptions) but was under constant duress as his offensive line was overpowered by the ‘Bama front. Had Alabama not scored so heavily early, his figures may not have been so impressive.

Indiana Hoosiers coach Kevin Wilson described #2 Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback JT Barrett as ‘the best quarterback in college ball’ after his side’s 38-17 loss. This was a particularly interesting quote as Barrett had his struggles against the Hoosier defence who’d upset Michigan State last week. Barrett was just 9/21 passing, for 93 yards with a single touchdown and interception. However the junior ran for 126 yards (and a touchdown) as the Buckeyes were able to dominate their opponents with a dogged run game and stiff defence that only gave up one score in the second half. It would not be unfair to say that the Buckeyes are a true team this year.

Another purple patch from quarterback Deshaun Watson killed the Boston College Eagles hopes of an upset in the ACC. The #3 Clemson Tigers quarterback masterminded a run of four touchdowns in a 13 minute period of the first half. This period showed every quality that has made him the presumptive number one pick for next year’s draft. However, Watson’s inability to sustain drives outside these periods are going to start concerning Tigers fans and scouts alike. Clemson had multiple 3 and 6 and out plays against a defence that had been clearly rocked. The final 56-10 score was bolstered by a late drive and an interception returned to the end zone but consistency will be on the minds of everyone in South Carolina.

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#4 Michigan Wolverines held the Rutgers Scarlet Knights to just 39 total yards in their 78-0 victory. Rutgers quarterbacks had just two completions for 5 yards as they were manhandled by their superior opponents. Once again, the running game was key for the Wolverines who had two 100 yard runners, one with 99 yards and safety sensation Jabrill Peppers added another 74 yards on his 3 carriers. It was a brutal display of the disparity that can sometimes happen in the college game.

Rutgers have had an ignominious two week stretch. Combining this result with last week’s 56-0 loss to Ohio State, the Scarlet Knights have conceded 136 points, scored nothing, thrown for a total of 38 yards and have 155 yards of total offence.

It had been 12 seasons, or 4723 days, since the #5 Washington Huskies had defeated the Oregon Ducks. This run came to an end on Saturday when the Huskies put up 70 points against a disappointing Ducks team who’ve now lost four in a row. Quarterback Jake Browning continued to increase his reputation, contributing 8 touchdown (6 throwing, 2 running) as the Huskies scored at least two touchdowns in every quarter. Myles Gaskin also had a big day. The running back had 197 yards on the ground as the Oregon defence failed to cope with anything the Huskies threw at them.

The biggest shocker of the week happened in Annapolis where the Navy Midshipmen overturned #6 Houston Cougars. Houston, a 17 point favourite heading into the game, could not cope with Navy’s triple option running game which saw the Midshipmen’s quarterback Will Worth continuously make plays on 3rd downs. Remarkably Worth had two touchdown throws on just three completions. A statistic that rather emphasises how important the run was against the team who were statistically the best at stopping the run coming into week 6.

This result shouldn’t be put on the back of Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. who has been, and should remain in, the mix for the Heisman trophy. Despite the 46-40 loss, Ward Jr. had 359 yards, 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions throwing and another 94 yards and a touchdown running in another dominant performance from the 3rd year starter.

An exciting shootout in the Red River rivalry game saw #20 Oklahoma Sooners squeak past the Texas Longhorns 45-40.

This was a big breakout game for running back Samaje Perine. An early draft darling, the power back had failed to gain over 100 yards in any of his first five outings. However the Texas D, clearly concentrating on stopping quarterback Baker Mayfield, was punished by the Pflugerville native. His 214 yards of 35 carries almost doubling his season total. He also showed an explosiveness that had been missing from his game which would suggest he has been struggling with an injury. No doubt, he will return to most people’s top 5 rankings at running back.

Texas also failed to account for senior Dede Westbrook. Another Texas native who went over the border, he had a career game (232 yards on 10 receptions and 3 touchdowns). Texas can’t claim to have not been warned of his potential as Westbrook had his previous career game last week against TCU (157 yards, 2 touchdowns).

To Texas’ credit, they remained within 10 points of Oklahoma for the vast majority of the afternoon as the Sooners also struggled to stop the Longhorns offence. When Texas pulled the game back to within a score and Oklahoma failed to run out the clock, it looked like the game could have an astonishing final act. However poor use of the ball and an untidy series of laterals on the last play saw the Sooners hold off their most hated rivals.

Its been a bad year for the PAC-12’s heavyweights. Both Oregon and USC fell from a reasonable early season standing to outside the AP top-25 and now the #15 Stanford Cardinals are joining them on that free fall.

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Luke Falk and the Washington State Cougars took their second big scalp in two weeks as they defeated the aforementioned Stanford 42-16 in Stanford. Taking the blue print from Washington’s win over the Cardinals last week, Washington State concentrated all their efforts on eliminating the threat of running back Christian McCaffrey. He was limited to just 8 carries for 35 yards a single reception of 5 yards out of the backfield. It showed once again that the Cardinals simply do not have another weapon on offence to compensate when McCaffrey is slowed. On the other hand, Luke Falk showed why his big arm is wanted at the next level as he threw early and often for 4 touchdowns (2 interceptions) and 357 yards on a Stanford defence that tired badly. Not that they should be blamed for this as their offence could not stay on the field.

The USC Trojans returned to .500 against #21 Colorado Buffaloes. USC dominated for long stretches of the game but were plagued with turnovers at inopportune times. This meant they were unable to get away from the PAC-12 rivals despite the one-sided nature of much of the game. A late push from the Buffaloes saw them draw level but a long reception from Darreus Rodgers gave USC prime field position late in the game. Sam Darnold’s 3rd passing touchdown put them ahead. Colorado nearly responded again but chose the field goal in a 4th and long situation and USC were able to run out the clock.

It’s an important win for USC’s bowl hopes but this is still a team with some major issues.

A dominating second half performance was enough for the #24 Utah Utes to overcome the Arizona Wildcats 36-23 in another all PAC-12 clash. The Utes had been their own worst enemy in the first half. The offensive line committed 8 false start penalties while the offence were unable to punch the ball in the end zone until the last few moments of the 2nd quarter. Perhaps this was the turnaround as the Utes had an explosive third quarter outscoring their opponents 17 to 0. The Utes will be looking past next weeks game at Oregon State to the double header of Cal and Washington which could well decide if they are in the PAC-12 championship game.

Unsurprisingly, #18 Boise State Broncos remain undefeated. Their 49-21 victory over the New Mexico Lobos was a predictable affair as the Broncos overwhelmed their opponents early. In fact, they put up 42 of their 49 points before halftime. Brett Rypien threw 5 touchdowns but was replaced like so many starters as the game dwindled to an end. It’ll be a bigger surprise if Boise don’t remain undefeated this year.

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