Sports often boil down to how well one team or one player can take things from others; the more aggressive actor is often the one that prevails because of it. Looking at the weekends Georgia, Notre Dame, and Kansas State had is proof.
Georgia came to Jacksonville for the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party against Florida as the underdog and the team that few expected to be the more calm, composed, and dominant outfit. Will Muschamp's Gators had just spent the better part of two months grinding all of their opponents to dust in one way or another; Mark Richt's Bulldogs had defensive players calling the rest of the team soft, and a running game that had gone flaccid against Kentucky, of all teams. But the Bulldogs set the tone against Florida from the first series: a flubbed exchange between Jeff Driskel and Mike Gillislee got the ball on the ground on the Gators' first offensive play; pressure produced a Driskel throw-cum-fumble on the third, one that set up the Dawgs just outside the Florida red zone.
One short drive later, the team that would be the taking things in Jacksonville all afternoon went up 7-0, never to relinquish the lead. And Florida just kept giving, hemorrhaging six turnovers -- four by Driskel, including one horrific interception at the end of the first half that prevented the Gators from taking the lead. The Gators weren't capable of taking over, just taking what Georgia's suddenly ferocious defense gave them; with the power running that had proved so effective against LSU failing to make headway against Georgia's stout front, Brent Pease's offense became one of screen passes and swing passes and comebacks that begged for broken tackles.
Jarvis Jones helped scuttle it, time and again, with relentless pursuit of the ball. Todd Grantham's Dawgs were fantastic on the day, making sure to secure the balls Florida dropped, stymieing an offense that had just gone six-for-six in the red zone a week before by allowing no touchdowns, and setting up their offensive counterparts with advantageous enough field position to keep the lead and bury the Gators deep.
When Florida did appear to have the taking thing down, after Georgia ripped off a touchdown drive in the fourth quarter to build the 17-9 lead that would become the final score, Jordan Reed attempted to take too much in an ill-timed, poorly-conceived attempt to Superman over the goal line -- and Jones punched the ball out, turning a potentially game-tying touchdown into a game-sealing touchback.
Georgia now controls the SEC East, and needs only to beat Ole Miss and Auburn to head to Atlanta for the SEC title game, presumably to meet death in the teeth of the Alabama thresher; the Bulldogs could, theoretically, upset the SEC West champion, and end up with a BCS title game appearance despite being curb-stomped by South Carolina. LSU's win over South Carolina (and the SEC scheduling gods that allowed the Bulldogs to dodge Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, and Arkansas from the West) gave Georgia this chance to reinsert itself in the East; Georgia took it.
Georgia's lesson, then: take opportunities when they come to you.
Notre Dame's is simpler still: take over. That's what the Irish did late against Oklahoma in their 30-13 win in Norman, and it's why Notre Dame's going to be part of the national college football conversation until the end of the year.
Oklahoma had just scored to tie the game at 13-13 with just over nine minutes to go when Notre Dame engaged the afterburners: Everett Golson found Chris Brown for a 50-yard bomb and squirted into the end zone behind an offensive line that pushed the Sooners into it to give Notre Dame a 20-13 lead; a spectacular diving Manti Te'o interception allowed for another field goal drive to build the lead to 23-13; the Irish's production of a rare four-and-out on defense gave them just 20 yards to travel for the final touchdown of the night.
The Sooners' only response: a pointless "touchdown drive" that had two touchdowns called back and ended in a sack.
Notre Dame's offense still isn't on par with the best in the country, but it doesn't need to be as long as it can avoid turnovers that put the Notre Dame defense in awful situations. Florida's six turnovers torpedoed the same game plan in Jacksonville; the Irish have committed eight all year, and only finished with a negative turnover margin once. Te'o is a Heisman candidate in part because he's responsible for a bunch of the takeaways, and one could inscribe his fall narrative with the urgency to make a memory for his team and honor the memory of his late girlfriend and grandmother if one wants an easy, heart-tugging column about holding what you're given close and taking nothing for granted.
The smarter, colder column would be about Brian Kelly doing that in building his ruthless defense. Kelly was renowned as a quarterback guru after building a pass-happy Cincinnati team that shredded the Big East with a quarterback you probably can't name now (it was Zach Pike), but hasn't had the same success with the passing game in South Bend; instead, he's amped up Notre Dame's recruiting, snagging a bunch of wildman defenders to add depth to a unit with Te'o and a few other good players who were let down by average ones.
Notre Dame has a championship-caliber defense now (remember defensive coordinator Bob Diaco's name), and will have what appears to be a championship-caliber C.V. to go with it if the Irish can win out. To paraphrase a couple of eminent scholars: for Notre Dame, the break from relevance is over.
Kansas State's win over Texas Tech is just another example of how taking things slow and doing them Bill Snyder's way is what will always work for the Wildcats. One game at a time, K-State's gotten better, and now the 'Cats have a chance to take a dream season away from two of college football's most prominent teams in the polls and the computers.
K-State's offense runs through Collin Klein, who has become a lethally accurate passer (over 70 percent for the season) and was always a bruising runner. John Hubert leads Kansas State in rushing yardage, but beats Klein by just under 100 yards and has just six more carries. If Kansas State finishes undefeated, Klein will be going to New York City to pick up his Heisman Trophy, not to attend the ceremony.
And he's led an offense that put up 55 on West Virginia like everyone does and put up 55 on Texas Tech after the Red Raiders had only given up 53 to TCU in triple overtime; Tech gave up as many points to Oklahoma and West Virginia combined as K-State scored on Saturday. Only Ohio's given up fewer turnovers than Kansas State, making the Wildcats dominant, efficient, and versatile on offense -- and though K-State isn't in the top 30 nationally in plays of 10+ yards or the top 15 of plays of 20+ yards, it doesn't really need to be explosive if Klein's lead foot is on the accelerator, because bulldozers don't need to hit top speed to be destructive.
But Kansas State has a defense, too, one that gave up more than 21 points for the first time on Saturday because it allowed a touchdown with less than three minutes to go in a 38-point game. The Wildcats are tied for third with Alabama and LSU for fewest plays of 20+ yards allowed, and K-State's played two of the top 20 total offenses in the country.
The portion of Kansas State's schedule that could give the 'Cats a loss isn't quite over yet: Oklahoma State's got the nation's best offense, and Baylor its third; TCU has been feisty even without Casey Pachall. And Texas might be playing to avoid a meltdown of epic proportions in its home finale. The Wildcats' path is clear, though: win out, and the 12-0 beside Kansas State in all those chyrons will probably be the hardest-earned, with three wins over teams that should finish in the BCS top 25 when all is said and done.
This weekend allowed Kansas State to take the inside track on No. 2; it'll be up to Oregon to take it back, because after Alabama took over No. 1 in the season's first week, no team has done enough to make pollsters take the Tide down a notch.
Oregon did its best to level Colorado on Saturday, scoring a TKO before the end of the first quarter in a 70-14 win over Colorado that also gave the world the splendor of a 56-0 halftime lead. Colorado is terrible, of course, but Oregon put up 443 yards on 43 plays in the first half, ripping off drives of 97 and 92 yards in that span, and might have had more yardage if De'Anthony Thomas hadn't decided to run back a punt for a touchdown.
Oregon will get to start impressing against better competition this weekend when the Ducks meet USC, but there's a lot less in beating two-loss USC one week after the Trojans choked on Arizona's offense than most projected there would be in taking down top-five behemoth USC at the season's sunrise. And Stanford and Oregon State have both risen into the top 10 and fallen out of it thanks to Washington, which hasn't won its rivalry game against Oregon on the field since 2003, but may have damaged the Ducks' strength of schedule enough to sideswipe a national title run.
Surely, the Ducks envy Alabama's position. LSU's offense is still a question mark, but the Tigers took care of business at home against South Carolina and on the road at Texas A&M to make this weekend's showdown in Baton Rouge another megafight Alabama should win handily. Mississippi State ran its record to 7-0, beating no team better than Tennessee, before getting mauled by the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa on Saturday. Teams building themselves up to get torn down by Nick Saban's colossus just seems unfair, and masks the fact that Alabama's got Florida's 2009 schedule (offense-deficient LSU headlining, all the traditional rivals down), which got those Gators to 12-0 with an offense coordinated by Steve Addazio.
Unfortunately for the rest of the world, 2012 Alabama's a lot better and deeper than those Gators were, and has turned X > 34, Y < 15 into the parameters of its season: every Alabama win this season has featured the Tide scoring 35 or more points and allowing 14 or fewer. 2009 Florida had four games like that before seeing 'Bama in the SEC title game and getting rocked to sleep, and they came against Charleston Southern, Troy, Kentucky, and Florida State in Bobby Bowden's last year.
The Tide and Ducks took all the good players and build the two most recession-proof programs in college football today, but only one can take its eye off the ball a little and still make it to Miami for a national title game. Oregon can take as much as it wants; it's still hoping that pollsters and computers give the Ducks the benefit of the doubt.
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