Four Downs: Big-Time Players Making Big-Time Plays

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmail

So, it seems this college football season is heeding the words of former Miami Hurricanes tight end: C’mon, fellas, let’s get weird.

G-Reg’s alma mater warrants a kickoff mention in this week’s Four Downs. Miami snapped its seven-game losing streak to rival Florida State in dramatic fashion.

The U’s come-from-behind victory over the ‘Noles provided one of the most breathtaking finishes a college football fan can ever want — and it arguably wasn’t even the most jaw-dropping moment of the weekend.

This season’s getting kooky and I couldn’t be more excited. Welcome to Four Downs.

FIRST DOWN: PLAYOFF TREMORS

I wrote in this space a few weeks ago that the 2017 season was beginning to resemble 2007. The Saturdays that do not jump off the page with blockbuster matchups coming through with heart-stopping finishes and championship-shaking upsets defines any college football season, but it holds particularly true in a wild year.

Saturday started with Iowa State, a program fast solidifying its place as an uncanny championship-buster, stunning No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman. The Cyclones effectively denied the Sooners’ Bedlam rivals, Oklahoma State, a BCS Championship Game opportunity six years ago — but Saturday’s game was different.

This was a Saturday afternoon game, not a Friday night with Tess Magic on the call, against an opponent that has dominated both Iowa State and the Big 12 and its predecessor the Big 8 historically.

Nothing Iowa State outplayed Oklahoma. Back-up quarterback Kyle Kempt dissected the Sooner secondary, particularly on the game-winning drive. Joel Lanning keyed big defensive stands, doing enough against a Heisman Trophy front-runner in Baker Mayfield to disrupt the Sooners’ potent offense.

If there’s anything from which Oklahoma can take solace, it’s that the Sooners weren’t the only Top 10 team to lose at home. Previously undefeated Michigan’s anemic offense finally caught up with the Wolverines, manifesting Saturday with five turnovers in a loss to Michigan State.

What’s fascinating in the juxtaposition of Michigan and Michigan State is that, while Michigan has the historic lineage and the present-day buzz with Jim Harbaugh, Sparty has the substance. Michigan State’s been to and won a Rose Bowl in the last four years, and participated in a College Football Playoff in the past two. Michigan’s last Rose Bowl was more than a decade ago, and the Wolverines have fallen just shy of the Playoff in Harbaugh’s first two seasons.

By all recent measure, save last season’s strange dip to three wins, Michigan State has been the better program. Yet, Sparty needed Saturday night’s win to remind the nation again it isn’t Little Brother.

Michigan’s Playoff aspirations took a considerable hit Saturday with the offensive woes evident in previous weeks finally coming to a head.

Not every Top 10 tested Saturday went down. TCU continues to follow the Gary Patterson trend of rebounding from a middling season with a monster one, the Horned Frogs beating their second ranked opponent in the Big 12 in the past three Saturdays.

West Virginia put up a helluva fight on the road, but TCU’s use both of trick plays and a nail-biting final drive kept the Mountaineers at bay. TCU now moves to the front of the Big 12 pecking order, bringing back memories of that 2014 season when the Horned Frogs were dropped far down

SECOND DOWN: WINNING AT THE WIRE

Kenny Hill’s three-yard touchdown run to push TCU ahead of West Virginia for good Saturday in Fort Worth might be a headlining play on any other weekend.

This wasn’t any other weekend.

Five games involving Top 25 teams were decided by a single possession — only counting FBS. A Top 10 showdown between Missouri Valley Football Conference counterparts South Dakota and last season’s national runner-up, Youngstown State, came down to a 29-yard field goal by Ryan Weese on the culmination of a 41-yard drive.

Youngstown had just tied the game on a 15-play drive to threaten overtime, and extend the Penguins’ all-time undefeated streak against the Coyotes. Players and coaches say, and rightly, that historic records don’t matter; but the weight of precedent has an uncanny way of impacting future contests.

For Weese to come through on that kick and avoid overtime was clutch, but beating nationally ranked opponents is sort of becoming routine for South Dakota. Saturday marked the third consecutive Top 20 win for the ‘Yotes this season.

South Dakota might actually have the most impressive resume in the FCS as of Oct. 8.

A fellow FCS Playoffs contender delivered on a big win in the waning moments, with Eastern Washington quarterback throwing the third of three Greg Gubrud fourth-quarter touchdown passes with a little over a minute left, erasing a deficit that swelled to as much as 11 in the final period.

A terrific, game-winning catch to be sure, but the Play of the Day belongs to Darrell Langham, whose catch of a 23-yard touchdown pass from Malik Rosier answered an equally impressive 20-yard scoring grab by Auden Tate from James Blackman.

The back-and-back over the course of the game’s final minutes served as a reminder of the classics between these two programs over the years. Despite some struggles this season for Florida State, Jimbo Fisher has a program that year-in and year-out will compete for titles. That’s the standard to which Mark Richt is attempt to return Miami.

So is the undefeated U back? It’s difficult to say definitively at this point, though many will try to answer it with varying degrees of skill. But Kendrick Norton playing the air guitar on Blackman’s leg suggests that, indeed, The U is back.

THIRD DOWN: BIG-TIME PLAYERS MAKE BIG-TIME PLAYS IN BIG-TIME GAMES

Miami wide receiver Braxton Berrios said following the Canes’ 24-20 win, “Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games.”

Amen.

Saturday’s spotlight on big-time players shined particularly bright. Berrios’ touchdown catch in the back of the end zone against Florida State took second and then third billing, but Berrios’ performance over the evening’s course can be classified as big-time.

Obviously, the same is true of Langham, who participated in only two plays. To decide a game on 50 percent of your performance is pretty remarkable.

Similarly, Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate came off the bench and ran into the record books — quite literally. His 327-yard rushing performance in Arizona’s 45-42 win at Colorado set the mark for quarterbacks all-time, and he carried just 14 times, after starting the game on the sidelines.

Brandon Dawkins was thrown into the bench on a late hit in the first quarter, which turned the reins over to the surefire choice for National Player of the Week recognition. In addition to his 327 yards and four rushing touchdowns, Tate was 11-of-12 passing for 142 yards with a fifth score.

Tate’s performance perhaps overshadows a showing from Phillip Lindsay that, on any other Saturday…well, you get the drill at this point.

Lindsay finished with 281 yards rushing and three touchdowns, toting the rock an incredible 41 times.

FOURTH DOWN: THE POWER OF SPORT

San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny is putting together a season worthy of Heisman consideration. His 170-yard rushing, two-touchdown performance in the Aztecs’ win at UNLV kept Penny at No. 2 nationally carrying the ball, and put together his sixth 100-plus yard effort in as many games this season.

But as talk in his post-game interview focused on Penny’s pursuit of the Heisman, the running back instead used the opportunity to praise his opponents’ heart, playing just days removed from the tragedy that ripped through the Las Vegas community.

UNLV head coach Tony Sanchez said this week that three hours his Rebels were on the field with San Diego State would be a reminder of “the things that make this country so great.”

Football honoring the victims of the largest shooting in modern American history has been too frequent an occurrence. The past decade has seen the emotional presentation before Virginia Tech’s 2007 season opener against East Carolina.

Five years later, North Dakota State and Georgia Southern took the field in an FCS Playoffs game following the massacre of school children in Newtown, Connecticut. The Eagles wore Sandy Hook elementary stickers on their helmets.

Saturday’s game in Las Vegas was the latest college football game played under this terrible pall. The Rebels wore special helmets commemorating the murdered, as they will for the remainder of the season. Penny donned “VEGAS STRONG” eye black. The circumstances were terrible and the frequency is troubling, but these young athletes demonstrate the goodness in people.

Earlier this season, as hurricanes ravaged the Atlantic seaboard and Gulf Coast, college football teams around the country used their influence and resources to collected goods. Arizona State and Stanford joined together to use their Sept. 30 game as a spotlight on sexual and domestic violence awareness.

Jocks are doing tremendous good in uncertain times.