Snap Judgments: Shootout Saturday brings much fun, little clarity

Justin K. Aller - Getty Images

Saturday's college football-wide offensive outburst was the sort of day that sends writers to thesauruses for synonyms. Is smorgasbord of points right? Orgy? Bacchanal?

Was this astounding, stupendous or unfathomable? Do head coaches want to excoriate, draw and quarter, or expectorate on their defensive coordinators?

It'd be a better world in which writers went with the simplest, rightest answer: What we saw on Saturday was just a metric ton of fun football. We may not have learned a whole lot from Shootout Saturday, a day that Rece Davis told insomniacs was the "second highest-scoring day in the history of the sport" and one that Elias said was the second highest-scoring since 1937, but, by golly, it was a rush.

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The day's first tennis match disguised as a football game came from two likely suspects: West Virginia got enough aces and breaks to outlast Baylor, 70-63. Geno Smith threw for numbers that shattered all-time conference marks in his Mountaineers' Big 12 debut, completing 45 of 51 passes for 656 yards (with his 29 rushing yards, enough for a new Big 12 record for total offense) and a Big 12 record-tying eight touchdowns. Those numbers made an afterthought out of Baylor's Nick Florence's throwing for 581 yards and five touchdowns, enough to break the school record set by some guy named Robert Griffin III.

This was the sort of game made for stats, so here are several: The first two drives of the game, one for each team, produced zero points; the teams combined for 1,507 yards and 67 first downs, and converted 23 of 31 third downs; West Virginia went 59 yards on the shortest of its 10 touchdown drives; Baylor scored touchdowns on drives of 94, 63, 86 and 75 yards after trailing 56-35 in the third quarter; the first 5:48 of play was scoreless, and the 6:42 between WVU tying affairs at 14-14 and Baylor taking a 21-14 lead was the longest scoreless stretch of the game, as the teams averaged more than two points per minute and just north of .78 points per play; Terrence Williams had 17 receptions for 314 yards and two TDs for Baylor, and Stedman Bailey had 13 catches for 303 yards and five touchdowns, and Tavon Austin was the third-leading receiver in a game in which he had 14 catches for 215 yards and two touchdowns; Baylor tied the FBS record for most points scored in a losing effort.

Smith's a Heisman candidate, probably the Heisman front-runner, and a stat line that puts even the most dedicated NCAA 13 player to shame confirms that. West Virginia came in as a Big 12 contender with an unstoppable offense, and Baylor's inability to even sort of stress Smith (Eddie Lackey had one sack for a loss of three yards ... which happened on West Virginia's first offensive drive) certainly didn't wreck that narrative. But while both West Virginia (third nationally in pass offense entering Saturday) and Baylor (fifth) have elite passing games, their pass defenses (WVU was 107th, Baylor 116th) were rancid coming in and look even worse drenched in their own blood.

West Virginia will face better defenses than Baylor's: Texas's has better talent, and awaits the Mountaineers in Austin next week on their first Big 12 road trip. The No. 1 pass defense in the country, Texas Tech, actually lowered its miserly mark (85 yards per game) coming into Saturday by yielding 73 yards through the air to Iowa State, and will see the 'Eers in two weeks.

Today, Dana Holgorsen's band of demigods wrote their names in record books in Magic Marker. We'll know if they're going to etch their names on trophies before long.

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There was seemingly no way that any game in the afternoon would match what West Virginia and Baylor did in the midday window, but then Georgia and Tennessee played a bizarre game between the hedges.

Georgia opened on a 27-10 run that featured a 75-yard touchdown run from Keith Marshall and a 51-yard TD by Todd Gurley. The Vols answered with 20 points fueled by two Georgia fumbles and scored in 4:11 of game clock to snatch momentum from the Dawgs and the air from the lungs of thousands in Sanford Stadium who knew Tennessee would get the kickoff in the second half. And then Georgia wrung a field goal out of 42 seconds, sending the teams to the half at a 30-30 stalemate not far from the 35-35 deadlock Morgantown got earlier in the day.

Georgia scored the first two touchdowns of the second half, with Aaron Murray hitting Michael Bennett, who has nine touchdown catches among his 56 career receptions, but Tennessee answered with a dazzling Cordarrelle Patterson reverse ... which Marshall answered with another 72-yard dash. That got the Bulldogs to blackjack for the second quarter of the day, and was enough to hold off Tennessee, which scored again midway through the fourth quarter and lost after scoring 40 points for the first time in program history.

51-44 is not an "SEC score," but Tennessee's is not an "SEC defense" by any stretch: In two games against Florida and Georgia, the Vols have allowed 624 rushing yards and more than 7.5 yards per carry. They don't put themselves in position to make tackles, don't usually make the tackles they're in position to make, and virtually never force turnovers: The three first-half turnovers that led to 20 points seemed like manna from heaven, surely, to Derek Dooley. Sir Orange Britches' charges didn't have enough to knock off Georgia on this day without more help from the defense in the second half, thanks in part to Tyler Bray generously providing turnovers on Tennessee's final three offensive drives. Now, trudging on the road back to respect in the SEC East has to feel like walking up Sisyphus' hill to fans on Rocky Top.

Georgia fans don't have to worry about respect, but might be thinking their talented team is going to be just bad enough in one game to fall out of National Championship contention again. The offense is there, scoring 40 points in each game this year and teaming Gurley and Marshall for what looks like the SEC's best backfield, but the defense has weaknesses, and gave its worst performance of the year on Saturday despite the returns of Alec Ogletree and Bacarri Rambo from suspension.

The Dawgs play arguably the SEC's easiest schedule, ducking both Alabama and LSU, and meeting only South Carolina, Kentucky and Auburn on the road. Georgia gets the Gamecocks for a primetime game in Columbia next week, though, and Georgia's defense may find stopping Steve Spurrier's team a little more difficult than any offense it has seen thus far.

Or Georgia could play a lot better when its offense doesn't give the other team 20 points.

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Texas's defense was supposed to be one of the best in college football in 2012, with Will Muschamp's recruits maturing into Manny Diaz's monsters. That hasn't happened. But the development of the Longhorns' offense has made up for it, and it saved Texas on Saturday against Oklahoma State.

The Longhorns had to ride the seesaw expertly to beat the Cowboys 41-36: Oklahoma State scored in the first minute, Texas put up 14 points in short order, the 'Pokes tied things back up, and then Texas got a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to lead 21-14 ... after the first quarter. The 'Horns wouldn't lose the lead until the fourth quarter, when it changed hands four times, last when Texas got a touchdown on a two-minute, 75-yard drive that turned on David Ash finding Mike Davis for 32 yards through the air to get its final goal-to-go set of downs.

Ash completed 30 of 37 passes, threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns, and looked like a quarterback who can pilot Texas to a BCS bowl. Johnathan Gray ran for 68 yards on 12 carries, flashing the potential that could make him the ideal understudy to Malcolm Brown and the best fill-in if the injury that sidelined Brown on Saturday night lingers.

The defense, on the other hand, looked awful, yielding 576 yards and forcing one turnover. Had Quinn Sharp not missed a 53-yard field goal in the waning moments of the second quarter, Oklahoma State could very well have won on Saturday. (Oklahoma State could also have done itself a favor by saving its brilliant multi-step throwback play for a later date, and taking the first down it got easily on the game's final play and getting another play out of it, but I digress.)

Texas probably had no hope of fully shutting down West Virginia next week, even with a top-flight defense, but now it has a prayer of staying with the Mountaineers if its offense hits overdrive. Prayer and faith are better than uncertainty and doubt, no?

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Oregon's used to being the showstopper of college football's late nights, and the Ducks did their damage against Washington State in a 52-26 win that was a 23-19 game before three touchdowns in 4:12 in the third quarter.

The Oregon State team that has played a much tougher schedule and come out unscathed played the must-see game of the midnight hour -- and, unsurprisingly, it was heavy on offense.

The Beavers stormed out to a 17-0 lead on Arizona midway through the second quarter in Tucson, but Arizona scored 21 points in the third to take the lead heading into the fourth. The lead changed hands three times in the last nine minutes of play, with Sean Mannion finding Connor Hamlett for his third touchdown of the night to give OSU the 38-35 lead that became the final score. (Remember how West Virginia-Baylor had 67 first downs? This game had 58.)

Oregon State rolled up 613 yards of offense, with Mannion throwing for 433 yards and the impeccably-named Storm Woods running for 161 yards, but gave up 545 yards. That means Oregon State has won on the road at Arizona while giving up 545 yards, on the road at UCLA while giving up 444 yards and at home against Wisconsin while allowing just 207 yards. Being able to win three-point games that end 38-35 and 10-7 (the win over Wisconsin) is a valuable skill: It means that a team is able to handle both scoring and not scoring.

But the Beavers' undefeated September is impressive even without that context, considering that Oregon State hasn't been unbeaten entering October since 2000, earning a reputation as a crew that starts slowly and gets better as the year goes on, burnishing Mike Riley's reputation as a teacher along the way. In 2000, Dennis Erickson's Beavers went 4-0 in September, lost their first game in October to Washington by a field goal, and didn't lose again, finishing 11-1.

If an unbeaten September is the key to success for Oregon State, then 2012 could be a special year for the cadre from Corvallis. If September was just the month when close games went the Beavers' way, it could just have been a special start.

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