The legal saying “The defense rests” applied on Saturday a lot more than fans in outposts like Columbia, Austin and South Bend would have liked. The defenses of South Carolina, Texas and Notre Dame were positively awful in big road losses that reshaped TheSportsNotebook’s BCS bowl projections. Here’s the rundown on the damage and the new-look bowl projections.
Georgia 41 South Carolina 30: Even though I picked the Gamecocks to win the national championship on the basis of their defense, but it didn’t shock me that Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray had a big game. What did disturb me was that South Carolina was also hammered in the trenches. Georgia running back Todd Gurley rushed for 134 yards on 30 carries. With two straight good games against good teams (including Clemson last week), Gurley has to be in the early Heisman discussion.
Gurley’s big game negated a strong running attack from South Carolina, who got 149 yards from Mack Davis. And with the battle in the trenches a wash, with each offense winning the battle, the war would ultimately be won by the quarterbacks on the perimeter. Connor Shaw is a good quarterback and he had a nice game on Saturday—16/25 for 228 yards, no interceptions. But Murray can win a shootout with anyone, and he was a razor-sharp, 17/23 for 309 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions.
The fact Murray’s 17 completions produced over 300 yards is a further indictment of South Carolina’s tackling in the secondary, or lack thereof. Shaw played well enough for the Gamecocks to win this game, if his team would have done the things they usually do well—win the battle of the ground game and be sure tacklers. But they didn’t.
Michigan 41 Notre Dame 30: There are no typos here, we really had the strange occurrence of Week 2’s two biggest games coming in with a 41-30 score. It reminds me of 1988 when Miami beat Michigan 31-30, and then turned around and lost to Notre Daye by the same score.
At any rate, Notre Dame has even more reason to be dissatisfied than South Carolina. The Irish had the problems with defending the pass, allowing Devante Gardner to go 21/33 for 294 yards, and Jeremy Gallon to catch eight passes and look like an All-American.
Notre Dame’s problems went deeper though, because the Irish failed to run the ball. They got only 96 yards on the ground, and if not for Gardner’s one bad decision, an ill-advised pass that created an ND interception in the end zone, this game would have been much more decisive.
I’m sure Irish quarterback Tommy Rees will catch some heat for his two interceptions, but the reality is he threw the ball 53 times and had to play from behind the entire night. Notre Dame won last year with defense and running the ball, and neither was present on Saturday night.
BYU 40 Texas 21: We go from bad to worse to simply inexcusable in the tour of South Carolina-Notre Dame-Texas. The Longhorns gave up 550 yards on the ground in Saturday’s road game. Quarterback Taysom Hill ran wild, 17 times for 259 yards, undoubtedly making Texas feel a little bit like the Green Bay Packers did in last year’s NFL playoffs against San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick. The running back Jamaal Williams went for 182 in the conventional rushing attack.
My disgust level with these three teams varies. With South Carolina, I’m annoyed, and even though they still can win the SEC Championship, I’m dropping them into at-large status. But that’s still in the BCS, which would ultimately be the standard of success for this year’s team. It’s also realistic to think they can win out between now and the season finale against Clemson.
Depending on how Georgia fares the rest of the way, the Gamecocks could still get a season-ending parlay of Clemson and the SEC Championship Game (presumably against Alabama), and if they end up 12-1, could still play for the national title.
With Notre Dame, my concerns are much deeper, that this team just isn’t good enough. Until I see them establish a running game, I’m keeping any thoughts of BCS bowl games on hold.
And Texas? How about we just demote them out of FBS level entirely?
Here’s the revised BCS projections. I’ve got Oklahoma taking Texas’ place as the Big 12 champ, Alabama and South Carolina reversing places as conference champion and at-large, and Wisconsin replacing Notre Dame. The Badgers have a big road test next week at Arizona State, but the ultimate key to their hopes are the eight games post-September, after the road trips to Tempe and Columbus are behind them.
Big 12: Oklahoma
Big Ten: Ohio State
American Athletic (old Big East): Louisville
At-Large (no more than one per conference): South Carolina, Oregon, Florida State, Wisconsin
Which, according to our bowl projections, sets up these matchups…
BCS National Championship: Alabama-Stanford
Sugar: South Carolina-Florida State
Rose: Ohio State-Oregon