Tuesday was for the junkies.
Sure, we all know about this weekend's Game Of The Century Of The Year in Tuscaloosa, and we will be discussing it non-stop as the week progresses. But that game features something called "defense" (take your pick between unique brands of it -- Alabama's suffocation and LSU's annihilation). Tuesday night's game in the Glass Bowl did not. And it was glorious.
Here are some of my favorite tidbits from Northern Illinois' 63-60 (slight) upset at Toledo:
- The teams combined for 17 touchdowns. That is more than six teams have scored all season, including poor Kentucky.
- Four players scored more than one touchdown: Toledo's Eric Page (five), NIU's Nathan Palmer (three), Toledo's Adonis Thomas (two) and NIU's Tommylee Lewis (two, both on kick returns in the game's first five minutes). Poor Kentucky has four players who have scored more than one touchdown all season, and only one (La'Rod King) who has scored more than two.
- Toledo's Austin Dantin threw five touchdown passes and was easily the second-best quarterback on the field behind NIU's Chandler Harnish, who not only threw for six touchdowns, but tossed in 133 rushing yards for fun.
- NIU's Palmer caught four passes for 120 yards and three touchdowns and was somewhat easily overshadowed by Page, who caught nine for 150 and scored five times.
- Until Toledo's ill-fated final drive (one in which they still advanced to the NIU 25 in 15 seconds), the last eight times an offense took the field in this game, they left with points. Only once did they leave with less than a touchdown.
- Somehow, there were six punts.
- Special teams were bananas in this game. NIU's Lewis returned the first two kickoffs he saw for touchdowns, then a roughing-the-punter penalty gave NIU a mulligan on their first drive (which ended up a touchdown). In the second half, Toledo took the special teams advantage with two kick returns into NIU territory (including an Eric Page return to the 14) and the recovery of a fumbled pooch kickoff in the fourth quarter.
- Because of the result of this game, Eastern Michigan is now tied (in the loss column) for the division lead in the MAC West. Eastern Michigan! NIU and Toledo are both 4-1, EMU 3-1. Heading into this season, EMU was 3-18 in their last 21 conference games. EMU isn't going to win the division, mind you (they were already walloped by Toledo a few weeks ago, and they face NIU in DeKalb to finish the regular season), but what a great story this is.
- Perhaps the strangest tidbit is this: Toledo lost, in part, because head coach Tim Beckman trusted his defense. Granted, this was a Top 25 unit before yesterday's offensepocalypse, but they had clearly shown no signs that they would stop the Huskies with their backs against the wall. NIU took possession with 4:11 remaining, down 60-56. It took them just three plays to reach Toledo's 20, but as the clock ran under two minutes, Toledo refused to call one of their three remaining timeouts. Facing third-and-goal from the Toledo 4, NIU was able to run at least 20 seconds off of the clock, scoring with 19 seconds remaining instead of probably between 35 and 40. Had Beckman used his timeouts, the Rockets could have probably given themselves at least a minute or so to drive for the tie or the win. (And in this game, a minute was more than enough time.) It was sweet that he felt his defense could make a stand even though they had allowed five touchdowns in the last six drives; it was also his team's undoing.
The further we get into November, the more serious the games become, and the more likely we are to have to deal with high-impact matchups like Florida-South Carolina, Nebraska-Penn State and, of course, Alabama-LSU. These games will be intense and physical but lacking in things like "yards" and "points." That's why we must celebrate both Toledo-NIU and other remaining games that are high in point potential.
Using the same momentum-and-opponent adjusted numbers we used for yesterday's bowl projections, let's look at the remaining regular season games with the highest projected combined score (a potential Houston-Southern Miss CUSA title game would rank fourth if included, while a potential Alabama-South Carolina SEC title game would almost rank dead last). Most of the teams on the list below combine high offensive potential, high pace, and what we will politely call occasional defensive issues. They are our greatest hope for some more shootouts before the real football begins.
One thing you will notice immediately about this list: all four remaining Baylor games are on it. Robert Griffin III's Bears are a goldmine for those entertained by high point totals. Someone has scored at least 48 points in all but one Baylor game this year (Baylor four times, opponents three), and the one time that didn't happen, both teams still scored at least 35. (Another thing you notice: Big 12, Big 12, Big 12. No major conference combines such offensive skill with such pace.)
Texas A&M at Oklahoma
Northwestern at Nebraska
Missouri at Baylor
Houston at UAB
Army at Air Force
Oklahoma State at Texas Tech
Baylor at Kansas
Rice at Northwestern
Wyoming at Air Force
Oklahoma at Baylor
Texas Tech at Missouri
Kansas at Texas A&M
Arkansas State at Middle Tennessee
Houston at Tulsa
Toledo at Ball State
Baylor at Texas Tech
Florida International at Middle Tennessee
West Virginia at South Florida
Oklahoma at Oklahoma State
Army vs Navy