HOUSTON - DECEMBER 03: Quarterback Case Keenum #7 of the Houston Cougars is sacked by Cordarro Law #49 of the Southern Miss Golden Eagles in the fourth quarter at Robertson Stadium on December 3, 2011 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
The stats that mattered in college football's championship weekend, from LSU's first downs, to Case Keenum's dump-off passes, to Landry Jones' lack of weapons.
It's time for our last Numerical of the season. I hope you've enjoyed reading these this year. This might be my favorite (and most work-intensive) thing that I write on a weekly basis.
0: First downs converted by LSU in the first half of the SEC championship versus Georgia. They were down 10-7 at halftime after eight three-and-out possessions, and it very easily could have been 21-0; Georgia dropped two sure touchdown passes (they had to settle for two field goals on those drives, making only one), and on Tyrann Mathieu's exhilarating punt return touchdown, he flipped the ball to an official before he actually crossed into the end zone, and it should have been negated. Alas, it probably wouldn't have mattered -- the Tigers outscored the Dawgs by a 35-0 margin in the second half, gaining 225 yards in 24 plays and, in pure LSU '11 fashion, completely and totally destroying Georgia's will to live. The Dawgs were dominant on defense and decent on offense in the first half ... and they still lost by 32.
Northern Illinois pulled a similar feat in the MAC championship, only with quite a bit more margin for error. They generated just 110 yards in their first seven drives, punting three times, turning the ball over four times, and falling behind 20-0. But in the MAC, as in the NBA, everybody makes a run. The Huskies' final five drives ate up 290 yards (8.3 per play) and generated 23 points in a fun, MACtion-worthy 23-20 win that gave the nerds what they were wanting: an NIU-Arkansas State matchup in the GoDaddy.com Bowl. Ohio, meanwhile, gets sent to Idaho to take on another team that has enjoyed a few close games this year: Utah State.
4.8: Average yards gained per pass attempt (including sacks) by Houston quarterback Case Keenum in the Cougars' 49-28 loss to Southern Miss. Thwarted by both defensive end Cordarro Law (4.5 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, one sack) and an awesome Southern Miss secondary, Keenum was forced to dump off to running backs far more than normal; backs Michael Hayes and Charles Sims were targeted with 19 of Keenum's 67 passes. They caught 16 for 96 yards, but an explosive Houston offense was forced to move the ball five yards at a time, and that is incredibly difficult to sustain, even for Keenum. Three USM turnovers kept Houston in the game for a while ... but only for a while. The Golden Eagles eventually pulled away, and Houston was relegated from BCS status to the TicketCity Bowl.
7: Passes attempted by North Texas in their 59-7 win over a feckless Middle Tennessee squad. The Blue Raiders had no way to even pretend to stop Mean Green running back Lance Dunbar; in his final game for UNT, Dunbar rushed 40 times for 313 yards (!) and four touchdowns. In a way, Utah State one-upped the Mean Green, however. In their 24-21 win over New Mexico State (a team slightly saltier than normal in 2011, by the way), the Aggies did attempt 17 passes, but that didn't stop Robert Turbin, Michael Smith, Kerwynn Williams and quarterback Adam Kennedy for carrying the ball a combined 70 times. (They gained 382 yards.)
9.8: Average yards gained per pass attempt (including sacks) by BYU quarterback Riley Nelson in the Cougars' 41-20 win over Hawaii. Nelson was sacked three times for 18 yards but more than made up for that by completing 25 of 37 passes for 363 yards, three touchdowns and no picks. Nelson's re-emergence both made BYU a better team over the last half of the regular season and forced once golden-boy Jake Heaps toward the exits.
10: Passes broken up by Arkansas State in their 45-14 win over Troy. Darryl Feemster and Chaz Scales combined for seven of them. (Feemster had an interception as well, as the Red Wolves also forced four turnovers.) Now-former ASU head coach Hugh Freeze is known as an offensive guy, but the 10-2 Red Wolves made their bones with defense -- they rank 42nd in Def. F/+ and just 70th in Off. F/+. In hiring Freeze, Ole Miss is taking a chance on a young, relatively inexperienced coach. But the resume he does have is damn impressive. He took a somewhat underachieving ASU squad and made them overachieve almost instantly.
26: Length of the catch that, for all intents and purposes, sent West Virginia to the Orange Bowl.
Having the wind knocked out of you: briefly debilitating. All expenses paid trip to Miami: priceless.
After beating South Florida via last-second field goal, the Mountaineers still needed Cincinnati to beat UConn to win the Big East. Thanks to two defensive touchdowns, the Bearcats did their part.
31.8: Value, in equivalent points, of the six turnovers Texas committed in a 48-24 loss to Baylor. In the end, the game was seen more for solidifying Robert Griffin III's Heisman credentials -- he completed 15 of 22 passes for a whopping 320 yards, two touchdowns and a pick against the best defense he has faced this year -- but the game was won by Texas turnovers. The Longhorns outgained the Bears, 557-511, but Case McCoy threw four interceptions and Texas lost two fumbles, and it turned a possible win into a blowout loss.
Texas was hardly alone in the decimated-by-turnovers department. Oklahoma lost five turnovers (worth 27.9 equivalent points) in their 44-10 loss to Oklahoma State, and Syracuse lost six (worth 28.6) in their otherwise competitive 33-20 loss to Pittsburgh.
39.4: Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones' completion percentage in passes not directed at Trey Franks or Kenny Stills. He found marginal success throwing to those two -- he completed 14 of 17 passes to them, if just for 112 yards (as I've said all season, Oklahoma's defensive backs tackle incredibly well) -- but with Ryan Broyles hurt, no semblance of a running game and Jaz Reynolds playing incredibly tentatively, Jones indeed did not have the horses. He completed 13 of 33 passes for just 138 yarsd (4.2 per pass) to players not named Franks/Stills. Jones did his best in the first half, but by the third quarter, demoralization (and clumsiness) set in.
Like Jones, Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd was just as reliant on two receivers in the ACC Championship, but it worked out a little better for him. Passes to DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins found their mark 12 of 15 times for 172 yards and a touchdown. Other Boyd passes went 8-for-14 for just 68 yards, but it didn't matter. With the Clemson defense holding Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas to 5.5 yards per pass attempt (including sacks) and 2.4 yards per rush, the Tigers eventually pulled away to a startling 38-10 win.
40: Net passing yards (including sacks) gained by UNLV in their 56-9 loss to TCU. The Rebels put together some truly awful passing lines in 2011, and sadly, Taylor Barnhill's passing line on Saturday -- 4-for-12, 48 yards, one interception, three sacks -- wasn't the worst of the bunch ... but it was still pretty bad.
84.8: Kellen Moore's completion percentage in Boise State's 45-0 win over New Mexico, Moore's last on the Boise blue field. The Broncos took their foot off the accelerator in the third quarter, but that didn't prevent Moore from completing 28 of 33 passes for 313 yards and three touchdowns. Moore is the winningest quarterback in FBS history, but his career will wrap up in Las Vegas versus Arizona State after Boise State was passed over for a Sugar Bowl bid by both Michigan and Virginia Tech.
118: Yards generated by seven passes from Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson to receivers Jeff Duckworth and Jared Abbrederis in the Badgers' 42-39 win over Michigan State. Nick Toon was mostly invisible (seven targets, three catches, 34 yards), but Wisconsin still pulled out a win. The most important catch, of course: a 36-yard heave to Duckworth on fourth-and-6 during the game-winning drive that almost made Gus Johnson's head explode.
148: Total yards gained by Florida Atlantic in Howard Schnellenberger's final game, a shutout loss to UL-Monroe. Not exactly the best way for the crusty old coach to go out, but at least the 1-11 Owls got a win for him last week.
243: Yards gained by LaMichael James in 27 touches (25 rushes, two receptions) during Oregon's 49-31 win over UCLA. The Bruins broke out the trick plays and had the sheer force of Gus Johnson's will in their corner, but the Ducks had James. The Ducks won.
Meanwhile, the mid-major LaMichael James -- San Diego State's Ronnie Hillman -- wrapped up another solid regular season (1,656 yards, 19 touchdowns) with 29 carries, 178 yards and four touchdowns in the Aztecs' 35-28 win over Fresno State. SDSU seemed to make a habit out of starting slowly recently, but with Hillman in their corner, they are going bowling for the second straight year. (And let's be honest: if the rumors are true and SDSU is seriously getting a Big East invitation, they have both Brady Hoke and Hillman to thank. This program was in complete shambles not too long ago.)
293: Rushes (including sacks) by Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein in 2011. That's 24 per game. By a quarterback. He ground out 1,099 rushing yards (26 touchdowns) and 1,745 passing yards (12 touchdowns) and, in key moments at least, did a pretty startling Vince Young impression for the 10-2 Wildcats. He is far from explosive, but without Klein, KSU probably goes about 6-6 or 7-5 this season.