One week ago, the AP voters were sufficiently disenchanted with the performance of the Louisiana State Tigers to drop them in the poll despite a win. The beneficiary of that ambivalence was the Florida State Seminoles, who had through various means both logical and arcane convinced the mass media that they'd returned to dominance. As Saturday bore out, sometimes the voters are onto something... and sometimes, they're just on something.
Saturday's first victim was Louisiana State, ground down by Florida in an ugly 14-6 loss. The narrative here, of course, is that Florida's crushing defense totally dominated the game. Let's counter that, shall we?
You can ask pretty much any LSU fan this question, and you're going to get the same answer: "Is Zach Mettenberger any good?" Yes, LSU was held to 200 yards of total offense. No, LSU never found their way into the end zone. Yes, LSU was held to 1-13 on third down conversions.
And virtually all of this was a result of offensive incompetence on the part of the Tigers.
There was, however, one aspect of this game for which Florida does deserve tons of credit. LSU was held to a paltry 42 yards of rushing offense; Spencer Ware led the Tigers with a whopping 21 yards on eight carries. That part of the narrative can't be disputed, and we also can't ignore the impact that had on the rest of those stats above. You can't throw the ball if you can't run the ball; you're not going to score points if you can't run the ball unless you're playing pinball football; you're going to be held to a sub-10% third-down conversion rate if you're consistently facing third-and-long... which happens when you can't run the ball.
That said, a complete team -- which LSU is clearly not -- can find ways around these things. It's just as true that you can't run the ball if you can't throw it, and not only is Mettenberger just not a good quarterback, he's being protected by an offensive line that might even get Collin Klein murdered. We may rag on Geno Smith for not having played a real defense yet, but you can guarantee that if Geno Smith were LSU's quarterback and LSU had anything resembling a decent offensive line, LSU's running game would have opened up considerably.
Florida's offense is almost as dysfunctional as LSU's. The Tigers' pass defense, at least, is still stout, and held Florida to 61 yards, but gave up 176 on the ground. 146 of those came courtesy of the legs of Mike Gillislee having a career day.
This is not to say that Florida is a bad team. They're not; they're actually quite good, and totally deserving of a spot in the top five at this point. Then again, it's one of those seasons where hardly anyone is really "great". To put this in perspective, Florida doesn't look capable of stopping West Virginia from outscoring them, and they don't appear capable of outscoring Kansas State. (There is a distinction implicit in the wording of those two statements, and the clever reader will notice.) It's not that Florida doesn't have a good defense. It's that the lionization of that defense is not taking into account the limitations of the offense it was facing.
Good team. Awful narrative. Stop it, media.
Either Georgia or South Carolina had to lose, so it would have been hard to refer to the result as an upset were it not for the comprehensive beatdown Sakerlina handed out. There's actually not that much to say about this one, which is in itself a commentary. The Gamecocks leapt in front early, scoring 21 first-quarter points on two Connor Shaw touchdown passes and a 70-yard Ace Sanders punt return score. After that, it was mostly all on the defense and the legs of Marcus Lattimore, who had 24 carries and 109 yards; Shaw kept it 14 times for 78, and both scored second-half touchdowns to ice the cake.
And in contrast to some other punditry, what a defensive effort. Georgia was held to 224 yards of total offense, their worst effort since the
PeachChick-Fil-A Bowl against Virginia Tech. You know, back in 2006. Georgia had been gaining a ridiculous 9.6 yards per play on first down coming into the game; South Carolina held them to just over three, helped largely by a consistent presence in the Bulldog backfield.
Some will point to South Carolina's lackluster first half against Kentucky as evidence they're not elite, and to that criticism I can only gape in abject disbelief. Virtually every team in FBS has put forth a sloppy, uninspired first-half performance thus far this season, so it's a criticism that... look, I'm just going to say it. If you point at the Kentucky game as evidence South Carolina's overrated, you're a moron. Okay? Okay. Glad that's settled.
Finally, as the night wound down, Twitter exploded with a cry: "Turn on ABC, do it now." Why? North Carolina State was in the process of upsetting #3 Florida State, that's why. The third-ranked Seminoles had been widely expected to roll all over the Wolfpack, and for good reason. The casual observer might have noticed the score at halftime and expressed some concern, as Florida State only had a 16-0 lead. E.J. Manuel had found Nick O'Leary for a four-yard touchdown pass early in the second quarter, and two Dustin Hopkins field goals had given the Seminoles a lead at intermission which was comfortable yet at the same time somewhat concerning.
Unfortunately for the Seminoles, football games have two halves. In the first half, Florida State had controlled everything with precision. Though they weren't scoring a bunch of points, they managed the game offensively by grinding yards on the ground; defensively, they simply shut down Mike Glennon and rendered him ineffective. The third quarter was a slog, with the Wolfpack finally getting on the board midway through the period on a 27-yard Niklas Sade field goal, then finding the end zone just over a minute into the fourth on a 24-yard toss from Glennon to Shadrach Thornton.
Quietly, though, it was the North Carolina State defense stealing the show here, however. Through 27 minutes of the second half, the Wolfpack defense had shut down Manuel and the Seminole offense. The final key stop came with 2:34 to go, when the Pack forced Florida State to punt after a three-and-out. It seemed innocuous enough. The Seminoles were kicking from their own 33, meaning a pin deep in Wolfpack territory was possible, and the defense had been stout throughout the contest.
Mike Rose blocked the punt, which ricocheted out of bounds just ten yards downfield. North Carolina State had the ball in Seminole territory with 2:27 to play. The ensuing drive was torture for everyone -- players and fans of both teams, as well as the national television audience. Twice, Glennon had to convert on fourth down after multiple incompletions. The first was followed by a critical pass interference penalty on Florida State's Xavier Rhodes, getting North Carolina State to the 14. The second conversion was a 12-yard strike to Quintin Payton, whose heroic effort was stopped short of the goal line. Another incomplete pass was followed by a rush for no gain (with no timeouts!) and then yet another incompletion. With everything on the line, facing fourth-and-goal from the two, Glennon steeled himself and found Mike Underwood in the end zone. The game was tied, and then Sade punched the point-after through the uprights to give North Carolina State a 17-16 lead with only sixteen seconds to go.
Manuel tried. On the first play, he connected with Kelvin Benjamin for a 21-yard gain. After spiking the ball at his own 46 with eight seconds left to get some time to think, he sought out Kenny Shaw in field goal range, but Shaw was unable to hold on for the catch. That left only four seconds on the clock, and the only remaining option was a hail mary. The pass was short of the goal line in any event, but the Wolfpack defense had swarmed; with six red jerseys surrounding two receivers, the result was obvious. The pass was batted down, and the Wolfpack had -- for the fifth time in six tries dating to 1998 -- upset a ranked Seminole team in Raleigh.
Week Seven had brought us plenty of chaos, and in the end the national title picture has firmed up quite a bit. Alabama and Oregon continue to rule the roost, but the Tide have a legitimate threat awaiting them in Atlanta while Oregon will have to avoid the conference upset which seems to have plagued them every year they've been in position save 2010. More importantly, however, is that the hunters have been thinned. All three losers Saturday night are pretty much out of the race, barring a good bit of chaos at the top, and the potential field certainly looks to have been reduced to seven contestants.
Within two weeks, at least two of those will drop off as well. Hang on to your hats, kids.