RECTIFYING AN INJUSTICE
So far this season, across all divisions, the 550-yard passing barrier has been broken nine times. Eureka's Sam Durley set an NCAA Division III and all-division record on September 1, throwing for 736 against Knox, while on the same day Buffalo State's Casey Kacz had 579 yards against Cortland State. A week later, Michael Bates of D-III Illinois College threw for 580 against Grinnell, and David Piland of Houston hit 580 in a losing effort against Louisiana Tech. Last week, Taylor Heinecke of Old Dominion set the FCS record, barely missing breaking Durley's all-division record, with 730 yards against New Hampshire; Matt Brown of D-II Colorado Mines had 606 yards in the air in a loss to New Mexico Highlands, meaning that through September 22 every division had seen a 580-yard passing performance by someone, and two of the four NCAA divisions had seen their single-game passing yardage record fall by the wayside.
That brings us to this weekend, when Geno Smith had 656 yards and Nick Florence added 581 in the West Virginia-Baylor circus. And then there was the nearly-forgotten hero. No, Stephen Morris's performance didn't go unnoticed or anything, but his 566 passing yards against North Carolina State were horribly overshadowed by the Morgantown Massacre... and it's a travesty in some ways, since Morris averaged a ridiculous 21.77 yards per completion. So here's a shoutout for you, Stephen; you've earned it, and I'm sorry you had the misfortune to be up against a video game.
Miami had a 23-7 lead at the end of the first quarter, and the Hurricanes fended off a mid-game charge by the Wolfpack to maintain the lead. Mike Glennon tossed a couple of short TD passes in the second and third quarters to get North Carolina State within two, but as the third quarter ended Duke Johnson scored on a four-yard run to push the cushion back to nine.
Things then got interesting. Glennon hit Bryan Underwood from 28, and a missed PAT left the Wolfpack trailing by three. A couple of minutes later, Morris got that one back on a 13-yard toss to Rashawn Scott, and the kick pushed the lead to ten. But Glennon led the Pack downfield, hitting Rashard Smith from six yards out to get back within a field goal; they got that, a 50-yarded by Niklas Sade, with just under two minutes to play. It looked like overtime was imminent when Miami was forced to punt with just 1:03 to go, and the ball was downed at the North Carolina State four yard line. Shadrach Thornton immediately broke a 17-yard gain to get out from under the goal post, but on the next play Glennon aired one out... only to have Thomas Finnie pick it off at the Miami 39. A couple of plays later, Morris nailed Phillp Dorsett, who raced 62 yards for the go-ahead score. A poor decision to run the kick back from the goal line left the Wolfpack on their own three; Glennon hit Smith for 23, but with no time left on the clock he had to go for broke, and was picked off again by A.J. Highsmith to end the game.
Here's the thing: this game shouldn't even have been this close. The Wolfpack committed six turnovers on the day. The first four were lost fumbles in a span of five consecutive possessions in the first half, and Miami converted exactly none of those four into points; Miami turned the ball back over on Morris's only interception of the game following the first fumble, while the other three resulted in a punt and two missed field goals. The winning touchdown was the first time the Hurricanes capitalized on a Wolfpack turnover, but if they'd just done so once or twice in the second quarter the game would already have been over with.
Glennon threw for 440 yards himself, and four touchdowns to go with the two interceptions at the end. The Pack outrushed Miami 224-84, and actually outgained the 'Canes 664-651 as a result. It's just really hard to make heads or tails of the Hurricanes at this point. In some ways, they actually seem to resemble the 2011 Wildcats; they're now manufacturing ways to win games. They were only penalized four times for 20 yards on Saturday, which is very un-Miami and very Snyder. In other ways, of course, they are the antithesis of K-State; they're a passing team, and they have the unsettling tendency to get ahead big early and then let the opponent up off the mat. Their wins have not been against great competition, but there's one thing that cannot be ignored:
Miami is now 4-1, with their only loss coming against a top ten team, and they are already 3-0 in conference. They're a full game ahead of Virginia Tech with two games in hand, and it's not unreasonable to assume that their meeting on November 1 will effectively be for the Coastal Division title. Morris is a legitimate talent with the poise to lead a comeback. The defense is the problem, and this week is going to tell the story for the Hurricanes as they visit Notre Dame; if they can come out of that with a win against a team that hasn't impressed offensively, they're still going to move into the top 25 and suddenly their home date with Florida State on October 20 will have a ton of relevance. Don't get too excited about what our win over Miami means... but at the same time, don't assume nobody else is paying attention. We'll touch on that a bit after we talk about another opponent.
A MIXED BAG
Meanwhile, in Boca Raton, North Texas had a fairly easy time with Florida Atlantic, although the Owls did manage to make things interesting at the end. The Mean Green took a 10-0 lead into the locker room, and extended it to 17-0 with five minutes to go in the third, but the Owls scored twice in the space of a minute and fourteen seconds surrounding the quarter break to close to within a field goal. Damian Fortner scored on an 11-yard run with 59 seconds to go in the third, and then Keith Reaser intercepted Derek Thompson on the first play of the fourth; a personal foul against North Texas on the return gave Florida Atlantic the ball on the Mean Green 11, and Graham Wilbert immediately ran it in for another score. North Texas then proceeded to chew up 7:18 on a 16-play drive which ended with a 28-yard Zach Olen field goal, and the Owls did not record another first down the rest of the game.
K-State's game against North Texas is troubling now, because in the interim the Mean Green have lost a 14-7 affair to Troy and had this struggle with FAU. The highest scoring output for North Texas against an FBS opponent this year has been against Kansas State. It's easy to be panicked about this, but we can never be quite sure about the machinations of Bill Snyder. North Texas did push the Wildcats around on the line in the first half, but didn't really in the second. Was Snyder playing a little rope-a-dope with a team he knew his charges could handle when pressed? Could the Wildcats have buried North Texas in the first half if Snyder had simply engaged a gameplan that would allow for it? Or was Kansas State actually outplayed physically by a team desperate to prove their mettle?
We probably won't ever know, regardless of what transpires the rest of this season. However, if Snyder's going to remain the boss for awhile, he may want to rethink his position on bluffing early... because style points are going to start to matter when they start having an actual playoff selection committee.
DISSECTING THE POLLS
I've mentioned this in comments elsewhere, but it's time to take a detailed look at exactly what happened in the AP poll this week. The short version is that the AP voters quite clearly did three things: K-State benefitted from Miami's win, while West Virginia and, to a much lesser extent South Carolina, were punished to some degree for their transgressions on Saturday. That the media seems bent on pitching the narrative that West Virginia made big gains as a result of their ridiculous pinball win over Baylor is astonishing and stupid, as it's not the case at all. Allow me to explain.
In the AP poll, Kansas State did not move up, but did gain 56 votes. The value of a single position in the polls is 60 points (because there are 60 voters, you see). So while K-State didn't move up a position, they did gain votes equal to moving up a position. Meanwhile, West Virginia did slide up a spot, taking the eighth-place slot vacated by Stanford; one would assume their vote total would then also increase by 60 votes, if this were a vacuum. However, West Virginia only gained 21 votes... which means that in effect, they actually lost the support of 39 voters in a manner of speaking. Meanwhile, South Carolina gained five votes. Hey, that's positive, right? Except they gained those votes at the expense of Stanford, mostly from voters who'd had Stanford ranked higher than them (there were quite a few, as the South Carolina/K-State/Stanford/West Virginia/Notre Dame grouping was separated by only 144 votes last week -- five teams occupying two slots' worth of votes, with a big gap upward toward Georgia and a huge gap downward before getting to Florida).
Anyway, the net effect here was this: K-State extended their lead over West Virginia by 35 votes -- nearly half a poll position -- and are clearly a notch ahead of the Mountaineers on the average ballot, as they now have a 57 point lead. More importantly, the 80-point lead South Carolina had on the Cats has been reduced to only 29; in essence, even though K-State did not move up, they gained an entire poll position on the Gamecocks. They also gained a full position on Georgia; the Bulldogs were 178 points ahead last week, but are only 129 up now.
In the coaches' poll, things were a little different. K-State did not move, but gained 50 votes. Those votes were not at the expense of West Virginia directly -- the Mountaineers had the exact same number of votes last week as they did this week. However, the dynamic in last week's coaches' poll was also different, as the first Big Gap was in fact between the Mountaineers and Wildcats. Despite only being one slot back of West Virginia, K-State trailed them by 137 votes -- the equivalent of more than two slots. It's obvious that what happened here is simply that K-State picked up 50 votes from former Stanford voters who had the Cardinal ahead of the Cats last week. Still, that's basically a full position gain for K-State against everyone ahead of them in the coaches' poll, so that's nice.
One clear fact remains unquestioned, and it's the real reason I dug into this so deeply: the coaches were not impressed by West Virginia's win, and pretty much to a man decided to just leave them right where they were. The AP voters were actively displeased, and punished West Virginia directly. Pay heed: nobody likes it when you give up nine touchdowns in a game, no matter how many points you score.
And while we're at it, no disrespect to Geno Smith, but let's belay the "give him the Heisman now" talk. It's October 1, for chrissake. The season's only a third of the way done, and a lot can happen in the next two months.
AND ON THAT NOTE
I see no reason to make this wait until tomorrow's quick hit wrap, because it's that important. On Saturday, South Dakota State running back Zack Zenner ran for 182 yards, which was his worst yardage performance of the season. That puts him at 1077 net rushing yards on the season, and I will remind you that he did this before September even came to a close. He had a 99-yard run against Kansas. He had runs of 42 and 35 yards against Southeastern Louisiana (who happens to be leading the Southland Conference at the moment, hello). He had a 61-yard run against Cal-Davis. Runs of 57 and 87 against Indiana State, who was ranked #22 in FCS at the time. And this week, an 88-yarder against Missouri State. He's gaining 7.9 yards per carry. It's just ridiculous.
I'm saying this right now, and I hope everyone out there is listening (or, you know, reading) very carefully. If this kid keeps it up, he'd better be in New York in December, because he's going to come very close to 2,500 yards just in the regular season. If the Jackrabbits make the playoffs, he could break 3,000 by December.
Oh... and he's only a sophomore. Merry Christmas.