A Very Special Friday Night Four Downs: Down Goes USC

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Purists may recoil at college football on Friday night, but who could not love this slate the Gridiron Gods blessed with to kickoff the weekend?

TGIF, indeed! Friday night TV hasn’t been this loaded since Cory and Topanga went off the air. Teams came dressed for the special occasion with some alternate duds, too.

While Illinois was the only one to sport a look consistent with the bright motif of Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night” video, Penn, Duke and Washington State all managed to make various shades of gray look festive.

Wazzu also saved gray from an 0-for Friday; without the Cougars’ 30-27 upset of USC in this weekend-starting edition of #Pac12AfterDark, teams wearing Friday alts might have had to start considering some Katy-inspired neon pink and key-lime green.

FIRST DOWN: SEISMIC ACTIVITY IN THE PACIFIC RIM

Rolling to nine wins that closed out the 2016 season, including a road defeat of Pac-12 champion Washington and come-from-behind Rose Bowl victory over Penn State, positioned USC as the odds-on favorite to win the Conference of Champions in 2017. Boasting a 13-game winning streak heading into Friday, the Trojans stood as the Gypsy Danger of the Pac-12.

The Trojans could still win the conference; a road loss on Sept. 29 hardly dooms USC, particularly with this coming against a North division opponent. Nevertheless, the overwhelming favorite out West went down, and the complexion of the Pac-12 shifts dramatically heading into October.

Washington State now sits at 5-0 and 2-0 in the conference, alone in first pending Saturday’s results, the surprising Category 5 kaiju wreaking havoc on so many early College Football Playoff projections.

While Mike Leach’s tangents have made him a favorite among media, perhaps over-blowing the significance of his offensive acumen, the use of a more aggressive rushing attack to supplement the pass-happy air raid proved effective. But the more important facet to this contest was Washington State defensive coordinator Alex Grinch outmaneuvering USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin.

The Cougars’ “Speed D” rattled Sam Darnold, preventing USC from getting into a rhythm offensively. Grinch continues to solidify himself as one of the best in the game with his unique and ever-changing blitz packages.

Leach’s offense may get all the attention, but Grinch’s defense is what could very well make Washington State a surprise Playoff contender.

SECOND DOWN: THE U BACK?

Mark Richt’s first season as head coach of his alma mater showed promise. But let’s be honest: For more than a decade now, we have all fallen for the MIAMI’S BACK okie-doke at one time or another.

So, it is with the utmost caution I praise The U’s 31-6 rout of Duke in Durham. The Blue Devils came in 4-0, but with wins over opponents — Baylor, North Carolina and Northwestern — with an overall combined record of 3-8.

It’s with that necessary disclaimer Four Downs celebrates a stifling defensive effort from the Hurricanes, the game plan of wildly underrated coordinator Manny Diaz coming to fruition. Add a nice balance in the passing attack, complete with running back Mark Walton making a ridiculous play off a reception early to set the tone, and there’s a quality about this Miami bunch the Canes have lacked for several years now.

What’s more, for The U to be back, there’s a certain aura the Canes must possess. Simply winning isn’t enough; Miami wins with style.

Sideline gimmicks are quickly jumping the shark, with goofy props like the Texas A&M Cane, or the downright embarrassing of Tennessee’s Turnover Trash Can. Miami’s Turnover Chain, which debuted this season, would qualify as goofy…had Mike Pinckney not completely redeemed it Friday with some true Cane swagger.

THIRD DOWN: WHAT IS UP WITH THE BYU OFFENSE?


Shortly before LaVell Edwards pupil Mike Leach oversaw a potentially Playoff-shaping upset, BYU limped through yet another offensively anemic loss. The Cougars’ 24 points and 210 yards rushing in Friday’s matchup for the Old Wagon Wheel against Utah State both marked season-highs, but BYU quarterbacks Koy Detmer and Beau Hoge combined for four interceptions and just 185 yards passing.

Losing quarterback Tanner Mangum certainly hindered what BYU could do in the passing game, but even before his injury, the Cougars managed just 20 points against Portland State (BYU’s lone win on the season), went scoreless against LSU, and had 13 in the loss to rival Utah — BYU’s seventh straight in the Holy War.

When Kalani Sitake replaced Bronco Mendenhall as head coach before the 2016 season, the defensive-minded Sitake reached out to BYU legend Ty Detmer to be offensive coordinator. The hire was a gamble; though Detmer won the Heisman Trophy in 1990, his coaching experience was limited to a private league in the Texas high school scene.

BYU’s offense struggled in the early going last season, but picked up steam as the campaign went on. Without Jamaal Williams at running back or Taysom Hill quarterbacking, it’s badly regressed. The look Detmer’s overseeing now does not much resemble the potent attack on which Edwards staked his identity, and through which Detmer won the Heisman.

FOURTH DOWN: DARTMOUTH DEATH MOBILE

Faber College of Animal House fame was filmed on the campus of the University of Oregon, following a script Dartmouth alum Chris Miller based on his time as a member of the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity.

It’s fitting, then, that the Dartmouth Big Green won Friday over Ivy League rival Penn on a final drive that was one part vintage Oregon zone-read quarterback play from Jared Gerbino, one part the Delta House Death Mobile.

Yes, it would take a brilliant mind not unlike that of Eric Stratton to make the gutsy decision to pass on an overtime-forcing field goal kick with mere seconds remaining, and instead go for the win on fourth down. Call it the Otter Offense.