Wild Weekends: Conference Play Really Gets Underway

By Phil Clark


Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

No college football season is truly underway until the beginning of conference play. Despite in-conference games being sprinkled throughout the schedule for the opening month, conference play doesn’t truly begin until that first weekend when it comprises the majority of the schedule. This past weekend was that weekend for this season.

The most exciting game in the weekend of big conference games was the Florida State Seminoles passing their first major test of the season with their win over the Clemson Tigers. It was Tajh Boyd versus EJ Manuel, passing versus running, a team without defense versus a team with defense. In the end, offense ruled the day as what little control over the game the two defenses may have had was completely relinquished in the second half. At that point it became more about which offense would run out of steam first. Turns out it was the Tigers’ as FSU continued to pour on and ended up with 35 second half points in making their opening statement to the ACC.

The biggest statement to the country may have been made by Bill Snyder and his Kansas St. Wildcats who upset the Oklahoma Sooners in Norman on Saturday. Unlike FSU, the Wildcats made their voices heard with their defense, forcing three turnovers including one of the best I’ve ever seen, as far as how smooth the play went. Early in the second quarter, Justin Tuggle of the Wildcats was able to strip Sooner quarterback Landry Jones on his second attempt of the play to get to him. Tuggle had blitzed, but missed and was able to get to Jones and make a textbook perfect strip when Jones couldn’t find an open receiver. Jarell Childs ended up with the ball in the end-zone for the touchdown, but the Wildcats still needed a fourth quarter offensive surge to gain the upset.

What can be said about the Wildcats’ offense is that for as good as quarterback Collin Klein is and how crucial his performance is to the Wildcats winning or losing, the passing game needs to improve. Klein is a great running quarterback, but the Wildcats have John Hubert for most of that. What Klein needs to become is more of a throwing quarterback, not one who completely ignores the running aspect of his game because that’s part of what makes him great, but one who increases his passing output because in the Big-12, you need to have a consistent passing game to survive.

The biggest disappointment of the weekend for me was the inability of the Arizona Wildcats to score inside the red-zone and thus make a game of their meeting with the Oregon Ducks. The 49-0 Ducks victory was both a stab in the heart to Wildcats fans everywhere, but was also a stab in the heart to those who wanted to see this game as an important one that could be close.

In committing three turnovers on downs, two other turnovers (both interceptions), and missing a field-goal inside the Ducks’ 20 yard-line, the Wildcats illustrated that they are not quite there yet when it comes to competing with the best in the Pac-12. I still don’t consider them to be a forgone conclusion game for anyone other than the Ducks or the Stanford Cardinal since the Wildcats get the USC Trojans at home this season and that may create a “trap game” situation.

I wrote an article last Friday about South Carolina Gamecocks‘ quarterback Connor Shaw and the painful season he had been going through leading up to Saturday’s game against the Missouri Tigers. Shaw’s throwing shoulder had kept him out of one game, got him shared duty in another, and is an overall concern for the team.

This past Saturday, however, all looked well with Shaw and the Gamecocks. The Tigers stood no chance as Shaw completed twenty straight passes after his first attempt of the game went incomplete. And these weren’t all five or ten yard passes as many of them were over fifteen yards and at least one completion went for more than thirty yards.

The game shouldn’t be looked at as a standard for Shaw to meet as the season goes along because the Gamecocks’ schedule shows that it’s going to be next to impossible for Shaw to recreate this past weekend’s performance on a weekly basis. Rather, Shaw’s latest outing should be looked at as an example of what the Gamecocks’ offense looks like when it is fully functioning.

The one bit of big college football that didn’t involve conference play this past weekend involved a rivalry that is nearing its final days. Less than a week after their 13-6 win over the Michigan Wolverines, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish announced that they are opting out of their rivalry with the Wolverines, effective in three years. Gone then will be one of college football’s underrated rivalries.

On Saturday, however, the game was dreadful. Yes I am a big Wolverines fan so it was hard to watch regardless, but as a whole, the game wasn’t entertaining or intriguing, it was just awful.

There was some great play and plenty of turnovers forced by both defenses, but even they became examples of opportunities wasted by both offenses. Neither offense played well in any sense of the word and it didn’t matter whether they started their possessions on their end of the field or their opponents’.

For Denard Robinson, it was a sad, sad, ending to an otherwise dominant few years against the Fighting Irish. Robinson either threw or ran the game-winning touchdown in his sophomore and junior years at Michigan, but could only throw interceptions and run away from pressure on Saturday night.

It was a rough viewing experience for those familiar with the rivalry’s rich history, both past & recent, but thankfully it was just one bit of football crammed in with other big match-ups that proved more worth the hype they received and the time needed to view them.

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