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October 25, 2010

Monday with Mike: Texas is a mess

A week after its best performance of the season in a victory at Nebraska, Texas responded with arguably its worst -- a 28-21 home loss to Iowa State.

If you're Texas, losing at home to Iowa State is bad anyway. But losing to this Iowa State team? That's unacceptable.

This Iowa State team was coming in off a 52-0 loss to Oklahoma in which it had given up 672 yards. Two weeks ago, this Iowa State team was eviscerated 68-27 at home by Utah; the Cyclones surrendered 593 yards that week. Indeed, this Iowa State team came in having allowed at least 500 yards in three consecutive games, including an average of 231.7 on the ground in those three games.

Yet Texas could manage just 96 rushing yards Saturday. The Longhorns finished with 440 total yards, but 175 of those came in the fourth quarter after they had fallen behind 21-6.

"I know we lost the game, and I know we stunk," Texas coach Mack Brown said afterward.

Brown also questioned his players' attitude: "It changed in the fourth quarter when they thought they might get beat. I'm proud of the way they fought in the fourth quarter. If they played like that all day, it would've been a blowout."

The loss dropped the Longhorns to 4-3, and the other losses have come at home to UCLA (an embarrassing 34-12 beatdown) and on a neutral field to Oklahoma (a respectable 28-20 loss).

Texas still ranks No. 6 in the nation in total defense and No. 2 in pass defense. But the other side of the ball is stuck in neutral, ranking 83rd in rush offense, 71st in total offense and 80th in scoring offense.

Sophomore quarterback Garrett Gilbert has struggled mightily, and the drop-off from Colt McCoy to Gilbert has been precipitous (sort of like the drop-off Florida is encountering without Tim Tebow). Gilbert has thrown just six TD passes and also eight interceptions.

You hate to pick on a guy who has just seven career starts, but Gilbert looks a lot like Chris Simms. Like Simms, Gilbert has prototypical size and his dad was an NFL quarterback. But like Simms, Gilbert appears skittish in the pocket, and, like Simms, it always seems like it's just a matter of time before he makes a bad play.

Against Iowa State, Gilbert threw three picks and lost a fumble; Iowa State had picked off two passes in its preceding three games. Asked about his range of emotions after the game, Gilbert said, "It simply is just disappointed. We didn't come out with the energy we would have liked to, and it cost us."

To be fair to Gilbert, Texas' rushing attack is mediocre at best. Despite non-stop talk in the offseason about how the rushing attack was going to be improved, that hasn't happened. Saturday's game was the third time this season that the Longhorns have failed to rush for 100 yards.

If Texas plays like it did against Iowa State, the losing isn't over. The Longhorns have a red-hot Baylor offense coming in this week, and losable games also remain against Kansas State (which beat UCLA and Iowa State), Oklahoma State and Texas A&M.

"If you watch a game like this, it shows what happens when you do not play excited and you do not play hard," Longhorns defensive end Sam Acho said after Saturday's loss. "It is just something you have to do week in and week out.

"That is the only way to win."

Truly special special teams

Fake punts were game-changing moments in the two biggest Big Ten wins on Saturday.

On the drive immediately after Northwestern took a 24-14 lead against visiting Michigan State, the Spartans faced a fourth-and-6 at Northwestern's 31 with 13:56 left in the game. The Spartans looked as if they were going to go for it, but coach Mark Dantonio decided to take a delay-of-game penalty, presumably to give punter Aaron Bates more room for a coffin-corner kick.

Instead, Bates completed a 23-yard pass to Bennie Fowler for a first down at Northwestern's 13. The Wildcats kept most of their starting defense on the field, but standout CB Jordan Mabin got turned around on the play, and Fowler hauled in the big catch. Michigan State scored on the next play.

"They put their starting receiver in, and we had talked all week that there was going to be a fake punt and they were going to throw it," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald told reporters afterward.

Bates doubles as the holder on field-goal attempts, and he's the guy who threw the winning TD pass in overtime against Notre Dame on a fake field goal.

Meanwhile, about fours later in Iowa City, Wisconsin faced a fourth-and-4 from its 26 with 6:26 left against Iowa, which held a 30-24 lead at the time. Badgers coach Bret Bielema called for a fake punt, and junior Brad Nortman rambled for 17 yards on the first run of his college career. Later in the drive, Wisconsin converted on a fourth-and-5 from Iowa's 34 with 3:23 left. The march eventually ended on a winning 8-yard touchdown run by third-string tailback Montee Ball.

On the fake punt, it was up to backup guard Ryan Groy -- one of the Badgers' three up-backs on their punt team -- to make the final call for a fake.

"It was a check at the line of scrimmage," Bielema said. "We gave them the call. Ryan Groy, a second-string left guard, he's making that decision. A good kid with a good GPA; we trusted him."

Grid bits

One week after being benched in the second half of the loss to Texas (man, you think Huskers coaches, players and fans don't want to play that again?), Nebraska redshirt freshman QB Taylor Martinez responded with a marvelous performance against Oklahoma State. Granted, Oklahoma State's defense is a far cry from Texas' -- heck, it's a far cry from most anyone's -- but Martinez threw for 323 yards and five TDs as Nebraska won 51-41. Get this: Nebraska scored 51 points and didn't have a rushing touchdown.

Staying with that showdown, Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon had a huge day against Nebraska's touted secondary, with five catches for 157 yards and two TDs; Blackmon now has 14 TD catches this season after having 20 total receptions last season. Josh Cooper also had a big day, with nine catches for 103 yards, and Cowboys TB Kendall Hunter ran wild to the tune of 201 yards and two scores. Blackmon spent part of his day going against Nebraska star CB Prince Amukamara, and at times, Amukamara looked more like a court jester than a prince.

What has happened to Mark Ingram? He rushed for 308 yards and four scores in his first two games this season; he has rushed for 236 yards and four TDs in the ensuing four games. The Tide's running game as a whole is way down from last season. Through eight games this season, Alabama is averaging 186.8 rushing yards per game; that total was 217.6 through eight games last season. The passing attack is much more productive this season, but the Tide's offense is based on a power rushing attack and the lower numbers this season can't make Nick Saban happy.

Baylor is bowl-bound for the first time since 1994. The Bears won their sixth game by outlasting Kansas State 47-42 on Saturday. The Bears (6-2) haven't exactly been beating up on top-flight opponents -- K-State is the only foe with a winning record -- but third-year coach Art Briles still deserves a ton of credit. The Bears rolled up 683 yards of offense in beating K-State. Robert Griffin threw for 404 yards and four touchdowns, and TB Jay Finley rushed for a school-record 250 yards to go with two touchdowns. It was the Bears' seventh game with at least 450 yards of offense and their fourth in a row with at least 500. Baylor has Texas this week; the Bears haven't beaten the Longhorns since 1997, which was John Mackovic's last season as Texas coach.

Staying with K-State, the Wildcats are a prime example of why life as a bettor can be excruciating. They were one of three teams to score a garbage-time touchdown in the final 31 seconds to beat the spread. K-State scored a TD with 15 seconds left to lose by five; the spread was six. New Mexico State scored a TD with 31 seconds left to lose by 23 to Idaho; the spread was 23.5. And Ball State scored a TD with 18 seconds left to lose by seven to Toledo; the spread was 11.5.

One week after getting trounced at home by Pittsburgh, Syracuse bounced back and shocked West Virginia 19-14 in Morgantown. The aggressive Orange defense ruled the day, sacking Mountaineers QB Geno Smith five times and forcing him into three picks. LB Doug Hogue -- who began his Orange career at running back -- seemingly lived in the WVU backfield, and Mikhail Marinovich (Todd's brother), Chandler Jones and Shamarko Thomas made Smith's acquaintance, as well. Syracuse improved to 5-2 under second-year coach Doug Marrone, but because the Orange have two wins over FCS foes, they need to get to seven to become bowl eligible. They close with Cincinnati, Louisville, Rutgers, Connecticut and Boston College.

Another surprising Big East team has been Charlie Strong's Louisville squad, which shut out UConn 26-0. Syracuse and Louisville were picked to finish seventh and eighth, respectively, in the eight-team Big East, but both are at least in the mix for a top-four finish. The Cardinals are 4-3 but play a slightly tougher schedule than Syracuse from here on out as they attempt to gain bowl eligibility. Senior RB Bilal Powell gives Louisville a bona-fide offensive star, which is something Syracuse lacks. Louisville finishes with Pitt, Syracuse, USF, WVU and Rutgers. A bowl bid for either Syracuse or Louisville would be a huge achievement, considering where those programs were when Marrone and Strong took over.

After Saturday's victory over Notre Dame, Navy has won three of the past four against the Irish after suffering through a 43-game losing streak to them. This year's senior class at Navy is just the third to graduate with a winning record against the Irish, along with the classes of 1937 and 1964.

Two teams are making some history this season. Michigan State is 8-0 for the first time since 1966, when the Spartans finished 9-0-1 and ranked second in the nation. The one blemish that season was the infamous 10-10 tie with Notre Dame. Meanwhile, Stanford has started 6-1 for the first time since 1970, a season that ended with the Heisman for quarterback Jim Plunkett and a 27-17 upset of No. 2 Ohio State in the Rose Bowl.

Temple posted its first shutout since 1992 by rolling to a 42-0 victory at Buffalo. Junior QB Mike Gerardi made his first career start and threw three TD passes. If the Owls can come up with just a mediocre passing attack, they will be in good shape the rest of the way. They should win the MAC East and finish 10-2.

Utah thrashed Colorado State 59-6, the fourth time in five weeks the Utes have scored at least 56 points. Utah plays three of its next four on the road, and the only home game in that stretch is against TCU. Utah has been especially productive in the second quarter this season, outscoring its seven opponents 134-13 in that period.

Virginia whipped Eastern Michigan 48-21 for its first win over a FBS team this season. A crowd of just 36,600 showed up in Charlottesville, the smallest crowd at UVa since 1997.

Alabama routed Tennessee 41-10. It was the Tide's fourth win in a row in the series and the seventh time in a row Tennessee has scored 17 or fewer points against Alabama.

Finally, how about a hand for Western Kentucky, which snapped its 26-game losing streak by mauling host Louisiana-Lafayette 54-21. Western led 27-7 at halftime, then cruised from there. Western's first-year coach is Willie Taggart, who was Stanford's running backs coach last season.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.



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