National Report: Baylor, Washington are point machines, but they can play ‘D’
BY STEVE GREENBERG firstname.lastname@example.org | @slgreenberg September 22, 2013 12:12AM
Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty scores a touchdown during the Bears’ 70-7 blowout Saturday of Louisiana-Monroe. | Jerry Larson/AP
Updated: October 23, 2013 6:49AM
The 2011 Alamo Bowl was much more than simply the night Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III ended his college career in style.
That game, a wildly entertaining affair in which Griffin’s upstart Baylor team topped Washington 67-56, was part last straw and part turning point for both programs. They’ve been largely redefined since.
America didn’t know it that night, but coach Art Briles was certain the Bears would continue to win post-RG3 — if they could begin to improve on the defensive side of the ball. Offensively, with Nick Florence at quarterback, Baylor was better than ever in 2012. Defensively, it was beyond terrible the first half of the season, but marked improvement came thereafter. The Bears won only eight games, down two from 2011, but they were whole new animals during a 4-0 stretch run.
Washington coach Steve Sarkisian blew up his defensive coaching staff after the embarrassing loss to Baylor. Under coordinator Justin Wilcox, the Huskies went from near the bottom of the national rankings in defense in 2011 to near the top of the Pac-12 in 2012. Now, after three straight seven-win seasons, they seem ready to break out as a team.
And Baylor — the most impressive team thus far in a wide-open Big 12 — seems capable of bigger things than it ever achieved with RG3.
The No. 20 Bears (3-0) beat Louisiana-Monroe 70-7 on Saturday, their second straight 70-point outing after putting up 69 in the opener. An offense led by another new quarterback, Bryce Petty, and running back Lache Seastrunk has put up staggering numbers. More eye-opening, the defense has been stout.
Last season, ULM opened with a win at Arkansas and followed with an overtime loss at Auburn before fighting Baylor to the finish in a 47-42 defeat. This year’s Warhawks were coming off a win over another BCS-league team, Wake Forest. They were overwhelmed from the start by a Bears defense that has allowed a total of 23 points in three games.
No. 17 Washington (3-0) has been no less impressive, dominating Boise State, Illinois and, most recently, Idaho State. The score on Saturday was 56-0.
On both sides of the ball, the Huskies are earning the right to be mentioned in the same sentence as Pac-12 North foes Oregon and Stanford. And their quarterback? It’s still Keith Price, who, most agree, just so happened to outplay RG3 that night in San Antonio. It was the game of Price’s life, no doubt, but he may be in line for some far more meaningful ones.
My top five if I were voting today:
1. QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M: Sorry, but you just can’t stop this guy from doing his thing. Another 346 yards of offense with three touchdowns against SMU, and he was wearing a ballcap by early in the third quarter.
2. QB Tajh Boyd, Clemson: The Tigers weren’t flawless in their victory Thursday at N.C. State, but Boyd’s next real mistake will be his first.
3. QB Zach Mettenberger, LSU: How does 14 touchdown passes against one interception sound?
4. QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon: The Ducks were off this week. Somehow, Mariota was still awesome.
5. QB Bryce Petty, Baylor: After three games, he’s already over 1,000 yards passing, with eight touchdowns and no picks. The system is friendly, but he’s the real McCoy.
QB TYLER MURPHY, FLORIDA
The junior was an afterthought as other quarterbacks battled for the starting job the last few years. Now he’s the man. Jeff Driskel broke his leg Saturday, and Murphy stepped in with an outstanding dual-threat effort in a 31-17 victory against Tennessee.
GAMES OF THE WEEK/WEAK
Week: Rutgers 28, Arkansas 24. Gary Nova, often inaccurate
and always inconsistent in his two-plus seasons as the Scarlet Knights’ starting quarterback, foiled Arkansas for the second consecutive season. He had the best game of his career in a victory in Fayetteville in 2012 and threw for 346 yards and three touchdowns, two of them late in the game, as Rutgers rallied from a 17-point deficit Saturday. Both teams are 3-1, but Arkansas fans will wonder now if new coach Bret Bielema has the juice to get them back to a bowl game this season.
Weak: No. 7 Louisville 72, Florida International 0. And the FBS team most likely to go winless this season is . . . coached by Ron Turner. Remember him? Of course, you do. FIU is 0-4 in Turner’s first season as coach, but Saturday was the low point, given the recent history between these programs. FIU, which went bowling in 2010 and 2011 under Mario Cristobal, was 1-1 against Louisville the last two seasons, and the Sugar Bowl-bound Cardinals won by only a touchdown a year ago.
Up: No. 20 Baylor. Voters have to realize just how up for grabs the Big 12 is.
Down: No. 15 Michigan. The least impressive 4-0 Wolverines team ever? Has to be.
In: Fresno State. The Bulldogs deserve some Top 25 love after finally knocking off Boise State. Out:
No. 23 Arizona State. The refs couldn’t save the Sun Devils at Stanford.
• It’s more than fair at this point to wonder just how vulnerable top-ranked Alabama will be in the Southeastern Conference. On its home field, the Crimson Tide (3-0) led only 17-6 against a bad
Colorado State team before pulling away for a 31-6 victory. Nick Saban has to be unhappy, but no more so than he was after his offense was awful in the opener against Virginia Tech. No one can quibble with the Tide’s second victory — at Texas A&M — but a few things seem to be missing from this team. The offensive line clearly was better last season, and the defense was, too. Meanwhile,
No. 6 LSU, which beat Auburn 35-21 in a matchup of 3-0 teams, has been locked in from the start.
• Go ahead and add No. 16 Miami (3-0) to the teams that have been even more impressive than advertised. Like Baylor and Washington, the Hurricanes show tons of promise. It was just Savannah State, but that 77-7 victory signaled continued improvement for a team that already has beaten Florida. Attention, Clemson and Florida State: The ACC Coastal has life.
Devin Gardner hasn’t been the same quarterback since his end-zone gaffe against Notre Dame, and Michigan hasn’t been the same team. What to make of successive near-losses against Akron and
Connecticut? One only can paint the No. 15 Wolverines (4-0), who eked past the Huskies 24-21 on Saturday, as the mess they are.
Everyone wanted to love Gardner heading into this season, but
Denard Robinson never looked so good. Gardner isn’t just a dual-threat quarterback, he’s a triple threat: He can run it, he can throw it and he can turn the ball over.
At UConn, there were two interceptions. Gardner was gassed throughout a fourth quarter Michigan was lucky to see go its way. Remember, the Wolverines were playing a rather hapless opponent. The Big Ten, down as it seems to still be, won’t be nearly as kind.