New, young Syracuse fans in the Houston area. Possibly the coolest thing with which SB Nation has been associated all year. Endless kudos, Sean Keeley and the (growing) 'Cuse fan base.
Maryland wins in 2013. Head coach Randy Edsall still catches rather justifiable flack for the 2011 season, in which he inherited the remnants of a 9-4 squad, drove off a ton of players, and went 2-10. That was, and will almost certainly be, the worst coaching performance of Edsall's career, and it created a major question mark regarding his ability to lead a successful program.
But if you were going to fire him for 2011, you needed to fire him after 2011. All Edsall has done since then is rebuild, recruit reasonably well, and use smoke and mirrors to build Maryland's win total despite a morbid number of injuries. The Terps were destroyed by injuries at quarterback and elsewhere in 2012 but improved from two to four wins. They lost their two best skill position players and a host of others in 2013 and improved to seven wins.
We saw on Friday that this team is still a work in progress, but it's also really young. The Terps will be better and more experienced in 2014, though with a Big Ten debut schedule that features most of the conference's best -- Ohio State, Iowa, at Wisconsin, at Penn State, Michigan State, at Michigan -- we'll see if that win total can improve again.
Tackles for loss for Kyle Van Noy in his final game as a BYU Cougar. It's been fun, KVN. Van Noy capped an incredible career with a strong performance, stuffing Bishop Sankey for a huge loss near the BYU goal line and giving the Cougars some life after a tough first quarter. And in the end, the BYU defense as a whole performed just fine, limiting a solid offense to under 300 yards. But the D was simply dealt too tough a hand by its offense and special teams unit.
Dancing Oompa Loompas in Houston.
According to my book ($12.59 at Amazon!), that's the percentage of time you can expect to win when you've got a starting field position advantage of at least plus-16. Marshall was plus-19 in the Military Bowl. Not surprisingly, Marshall won, 31-20.
The Thundering Herd had plenty of stars in Annapolis, but punter Tyler Williams and the guys downing his punts were the most valuable players. Williams punted seven times and had four of them downed at the one, five, one, and eight. Half of Marshall's kickoffs were touchbacks, and the Herd didn't turn the ball over.
The result: Maryland's average starting field position was its own 18-yard line. Only once did the Terrapins start a drive beyond their 28, and that one came after Marshall had all but put the game away.
For a while there, you could have made the case that Marshall was almost too satisfied to win the field position battle, forgoing points to simply pin Maryland deep. Williams punted on fourth-and-one from Maryland's 40, on fourth-and-one from the Maryland 44, and on fourth-and-two from the Maryland 48. A good offense could have converted two-thirds of those opportunities, and while Marshall was controlling the field, the Herd still needed more points -- a 99-yard touchdown drive gave Maryland a 20-17 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Field position bought Marshall all sorts of time, but eventually the offense had to score. And when it needed to, it did. Quarterback Rakeem Cato completed six of nine passes for 88 yards on two fourth-quarter scoring drives, and once down 20-17, Marshall outscored the Terps, 14-0, the rest of the way.
Marshall coach Doc Holliday has put together a squad of athletes almost too good for Conference USA. (Almost. The Herd did still lose the conference title game to Rice.) The Herd are big and fast and deep for a mid-major, and in the end, they had too many play-makers, and a young Maryland squad couldn't account for all of them.
Running backs Essray Taliaferro and Remi Watson rushed 25 times for 123 yards. Leading receiver Tommy Shuler caught nine of 13 passes and drew a couple of early pass interference penalties. Big Eric Frohpnapfel made a couple of nice catches, and when Cato wanted to put the game away, he leaned on Gator Hoskins, who finished with six catches for 104 yards and two scores. And on defense, linemen Alex Bazzie and James Rouse were outstanding: six tackles for loss and three sacks. Maryland had its share of strong performers -- running back Brandon Ross, receiver Levern Jacobs, defensive tackle Andre Monroe -- but Marshall simply had more.
Washington's field position advantage, meanwhile, was plus-15 in the Fight Hunger Bowl against BYU. I said in my preview that if special teams mattered, that was probably good for the Huskies. Well, it mattered.
Net yards per kickoff: Washington 37.7, BYU 9.5. 9.5!
John Ross returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown early in the second quarter, and it spooked BYU something awful. The Cougars' next couple of kickoffs were pooch kicks; the first one was fair caught at the Washington 24, but the second was returned 47 yards by Jesse Callier to the BYU 35. And Ross returned another short kick to the Washington 33 to start the second half.
In all, Washington began four drives at the 50-yard line or further. Throw in a BYU missed field goal and two Washington punts downed inside the BYU 20, and you've got an incredibly dominant performance by the Washington special teams unit, one that refined a game that BYU could have otherwise easily won. BYU averaged more yards per play (a paltry 4.9 to an even more paltry 4.6) and ran 27 more plays than Washington, outgaining the Huskies by 154 yards. But they were starting from 15 yards behind all night. That catches up to you.
BYU points scored on six trips inside Washington's 40-yard line. You know what else catches up to you? Failing to take advantage of your opportunities. Despite field position woes, BYU created plenty of opportunities for itself, especially in a dominant second quarter that saw them drive into scoring position four times while Washington gained all of 37 yards. But the Cougars had to settle for three field goals, then settled for a fourth in the third quarter.
Averaging under about 4.0 or 4.5 points per trip inside your opponent's 40-yard line is pretty bad overall. In this sense, settling for field goals at all is a bit of a failure, since the most you can score on a field goal is, obviously, three points. BYU scored one touchdown in six trips, settled for four field goals (making three), and ran out of clock at the end of the game on a sixth trip. Washington, meanwhile, had its own issues, scoring only 24 points in six trips of its own. But the Huskies scored three touchdowns and got a fourth off of the aforementioned kick return. That gave them some leeway while kicking one field goal and turning the ball over on downs twice.
Drive starting on the opponent's side of the field in the Texas Bowl. Friday's bowls were an exercise in the importance of field position. Marshall and Washington won games almost entirely because of it. But in the Texas Bowl, both sides held serve in this regard for most of the way. There were only nine total possessions in the first half, and only one started beyond the offense's 30. Neither offense was able to get much going (as was expected), and Syracuse took a 7-3 lead well into the third quarter.
The game livened up late. Syracuse capped a 15-play, 86-yard drive with a touchdown that gave the Orange a 14-3 lead with about 18 minutes left. Minnesota responded with an eight-play, 72-yard drive, forced a quick three-and-out, then landed a huge blow on a 54-yard scoring pass from Mitch Leidner to Drew Wolitarsky. (Wolitarsky, a freshman, had himself a day: four catches, 94 yards; he had 11 catches for 165 yards before the trip to Houston). Minnesota was suddenly up 17-14 -- the Gophers' success coincided perfectly with head coach Jerry Kill's trip from the press box to the sidelines -- and looked in good shape to run out the clock.
But thanks to Brisly Estime, the Orange struck the only field position blow of the night.
Minnesota punter Peter Mortell outkicked his coverage a bit, and Estime took a 57-yard bomb back 70 yards to the Minnesota 14. Syracuse scored three plays later, then teed off on Leidner on the game's final drive. (That wasn't a new development. Leidner was under pressure all evening.) Minnesota almost … ALMOST … pulled off a miracle touchdown in the final seconds, but a desperate heave to Wolitarsky barely slipped through the freshman's hands.