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September 25, 2010

Winners and losers: Tide survives by getting defensive

Alabama's defense may not have as many big names as last season, but it still knows how to deliver in big games.

The top-ranked Crimson Tide erased a 13-point, second-half deficit to beat No. 10 Arkansas 24-20 behind a pair of Ryan Mallett interceptions on each of the Razorbacks' final two series.

"We knew it was going to be a 60-minute game," Alabama coach Nick Saban told reporters afterward. "I think our players did a great job in the second half. [We] played with a much greater intensity, much more of a sense of urgency, got a little more aggressive on defense and did a much better job. [We] got some turnovers.''

The biggest of those takeaways came from free safety Robert Lester.

Lester returned his second interception of the day to Arkansas' 11-yard line. Three plays later, Mark Ingram's 1-yard burst put the Tide ahead for good with 3:18 remaining. The Tide ended Arkansas' final hopes when Dre Kirkpatrick picked off a Mallett pass at the Alabama 35.

It shouldn't have come as much of a surprise that Lester made the game's biggest play. He already has four interceptions this season. The sophomore safety's fast start shows that Alabama still has plenty of big-play performers on defense even after losing Terrence Cody, Rolando McClain, Javier Arenas and Kareem Jackson, who all were taken in the first two rounds of the 2010 NFL draft.

Alabama's defense perhaps played well enough to squash Mallett's hopes of winning the Heisman Trophy.

Mallett seemed on the verge of delivering the type of performance that would make him a Heisman front-runner. He threw a touchdown pass and ran for a touchdown in the first half and helped Arkansas grab a 20-7 lead midway through the third quarter.

But he tailed off badly down the stretch and threw a career-high three interceptions. Even though Mallett threw for 357 yards, his two late turnovers helped turn a potential program-changing upset into a heartbreaking defeat.

Here's a look at other winners and losers from the fourth week of the college football season.

WINNERS

UCLA: The Bruins finally are showing signs of life in the Rick Neuheisel era. One week after they knocked Case Keenum out for the season in a 31-13 rout of previously unbeaten Houston, the Bruins stunned seventh-ranked Texas 34-12. Is this really the same team that lost 35-0 to Stanford two weeks ago?

Stanford FB/LB Owen Marecic: One of college football's rare two-way players scored a touchdown on offense and defense in the Cardinal's 37-14 rout of Notre Dame. And he did it on consecutive snaps. As a fullback, Marecic delivered a 1-yard touchdown run with 7:58 left in the game. And as a linebacker, Marecic returned an interception 20 yards on the Irish's next play from scrimmage. His two touchdowns were scored just 13 seconds apart.

North Carolina State: How many people could have guessed before the season that this would be the last remaining undefeated team in the ACC? Each of the past two weeks, North Carolina State has beaten a team that earned a BCS bid last year. The Wolfpack followed up last week's victory over Cincinnati by defeating defending ACC champion Georgia Tech 45-28 on the road. Russell Wilson threw for 368 yards and three touchdowns, and he also ran for a fourth score.

Virginia Tech's defense: One of the big preseason conversations in the ACC involved how Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster could have an inexperienced defense playing typical Hokies football. It took less than a month. Virginia Tech forced three turnovers, recorded five sacks and allowed only 39 second-half yards in a 19-0 victory over Boston College, which was shut out for the first time since 1998. This defense hardly resembled the same unit that couldn't stop Boise State down the stretch on Labor Day and couldn't beat James Madison the following week.

The "other guys" in Michigan's offense: Denard Robinson is the most explosive player in the nation, but Michigan proved it's no one-man show. Robinson got hurt on Michigan's third drive after getting off to a spectacular start, but the Wolverines continued moving the ball without him the rest of the day. Michigan rushed for 466 yards and gained 721 yards of total offense in a 65-21 rout of Bowling Green. The better news for Michigan is that Robinson's injury didn't appear serious. "He tweaked his knee a little bit," Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said. "If he had to come back in, he could've.''

Penn State RB Evan Royster: After rushing for more than 1,000 yards each of the last two seasons, Royster failed to exceed 40 yards in any of Penn State's first three games this year. He broke out of the early-season slump in a big way by rushing for 187 yards in a 22-13 victory over Temple.

Florida State defense: One of the most disappointing defenses of the 2009 season is playing at a different level under new coordinator Mark Stoops. The Seminoles followed their eight-sack effort against BYU by delivering a shutout performance in a 31-0 victory over Wake Forest.

Michigan State offensive coordinator Don Treadwell: He made sure Michigan State experienced no letdown without head coach Mark Dantonio, who suffered a mild heart attack shortly after the Spartans' overtime victory over Notre Dame last week. With Treadwell serving as Michigan State's interim head coach, Kirk Cousins threw for 290 yards as the Spartans breezed to a 45-7 rout of FCS program Northern Colorado.

Wisconsin RB James White: John Clay isn't the only effective running back on the Badgers' roster. Wisconsin's 70-3 blowout of FCS program Austin Peay allowed Clay to get an early breather, so his backup made the most of the situation. White, a true freshman, ran for 145 yards and four touchdowns on 11 carries.

Florida QB Trey Burton: Florida's do-it-all true freshman scored a school-record six touchdowns in the Gators' 48-14 victory over Kentucky. The reserve quarterback reached the end zone on each of his five carries and caught an 11-yard touchdown pass. And if that weren't enough, he also threw a 42-yard completion. Burton became the first SEC player to score six touchdowns in a game since Auburn's Cadillac Williams did it in 2003.

Auburn's comeback kids: One week after they rallied from 17 points down to beat Clemson, the Tigers erased a 20-7 deficit in a 35-27 victory over South Carolina. Auburn quarterback Cam Newton rushed for 172 yards and three touchdowns, while an opportunistic defense forced turnovers on each of South Carolina's four fourth-quarter possessions.

Arizona QB Nick Foles and WR Juron Criner: Arizona's offense had been shut down all night until Foles and Criner connected twice on the game-winning touchdown drive in a 10-9 victory over California. A spectacular 51-yard catch by Criner put Arizona in the red zone, then Foles found Criner again for a 3-yard touchdown on a third-and-1 play with 1:11 left.

LSU CB Patrick Peterson: He continued to build the case that he's the nation's best player, regardless of position. Peterson blocked a field-goal attempt, scored on a 60-yard punt return and helped limit West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith to 119 passing yards in LSU's 20-14 victory. Peterson even struck a Heisman pose after reaching the end zone on his punt return.

LOSERS

Texas: What the heck happened to the Longhorns? They committed five turnovers. Their run defense - which had been ranked first in the nation - allowed UCLA to run for 264 yards. That formula added up to a 22-point home loss in one of the most shocking results of the season. Life without Colt McCoy isn't going to be so smooth.

Notre Dame offense: In Brian Kelly's three years as Cincinnati's coach, the Bearcats never failed to score a touchdown before halftime. In Kelly's fourth game at Notre Dame, the Irish couldn't reach the end zone until midway through the fourth quarter.

Boston College's quarterback situation: Boston College has a quality defense, a solid offensive line and a great running back in Montel Harris, but the Eagles won't contend for an ACC title unless they get better quarterback production. Dave Shinskie went 11-of-25 for 130 yards, threw two interceptions and lost a fumble against Virginia Tech. He also made a huge error late in the first half by attempting to scramble for a touchdown instead of throwing a pass or running out of bounds. Shinskie was tackled at the 1-yard line as time expired to foil Boston College's best scoring opportunity. "He's a good quarterback," Virginia Tech cornerback Jayron Hosley told reporters, "but on film we saw that he folds under pressure." Boston College coach Frank Spaziani must decide whether to stick with Shinskie or switch to sophomore Mike Marscovetra.

Purdue's luck: The Boilermakers lost their top running back last spring when Ralph Bolden tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. They lost their top receiver two weeks ago when Keith Smith tore the ACL and medial collateral ligament in his right knee. Now they also have lost their starting quarterback. Robert Marve hurt his left knee and was carted off the field Saturday in the first half of the Boilermakers' 31-20 loss to Toledo.

Temple's luck: Purdue wasn't the only team wondering what might have been. Temple was leading Penn State before an apparent ankle injury sidelined star running back Bernard Pierce, who had rushed for two first-quarter touchdowns. Temple's offense wasn't the same without Pierce, and the Owls were unable to get their first win over Penn State since 1941.

UAB's missed opportunities: UAB outgained Tennessee by 184 yards but still couldn't pull the upset because Josh Zahn missed five field-goal attempts in a 32-29 double overtime loss. To his credit, Zahn regrouped and made each of his two field-goal attempts in overtime. Then again, the game never should have gone to overtime in the first place. UAB coach Neil Callaway also made a puzzling decision late with about five minutes left in the fourth quarter. With UAB facing fourth-and-2 from Tennessee's 37-yard line, Callaway could have punted or gone for the first down. He instead went for a 54-yard field goal, even though Zahn already was 0-of-4 at that point.

Pittsburgh: The preseason Big East favorite hasn't come close to living up to expectations thus far. Pittsburgh has dropped two of its first three games and was outclassed in every way Thursday as they fell 31-3 at home to Miami. The Panthers need better production from their best players. Preseason Biletnikoff Award candidate Jonathan Baldwin caught just three passes for 26 yards against Miami. An even bigger mystery is Dion Lewis, who ran for 1,799 yards as a freshman last season. So far this year, he has run for just 143 yards on 47 carries.

Cincinnati's hands: A couple of fourth-quarter fumbles cost the Bearcats dearly in a 31-29 loss to Oklahoma. Cincinnati trailed 24-22 and when a sack caused quarterback Zach Collaros to cough the ball up at Oklahoma's 44-yard line with 6:49 remaining. Less than two minutes later, D.J. Woods fumbled a punt at the Cincinnati 7 to set up the Sooners' final touchdown.

BYU: The Cougars have won at least 10 games each of the last four seasons, but that streak won't continue unless they run the table and win their bowl game. BYU's 27-13 loss to Nevada dropped the Cougars' record to 1-3.

The state of Georgia: Georgia fell 24-12 to Mississippi State and is on its first three-game losing streak since 1990. Georgia Tech lost for the second time in three weeks and hurt is chances of defending its ACC title. The only good news in the Peach State this season is coming from Bill Curry's Georgia State team, which got a last-minute field goal to beat Campbell 24-21 and improve to 2-2 in its inaugural season.

South Carolina's fourth-quarter execution: A program with a history of frustration had managed to establish a winning identity for the first month of the season, but South Carolina looked more like the Gamecocks of old in the fourth quarter at Auburn. Even a quarterback switch didn't help much. After starter Stephen Garcia fumbled the ball away in South Carolina's first two fourth-quarter drives, Connor Shaw threw interceptions in Auburn territory to end the Gamecocks' last two series.

Ohio's gamble: Ohio scored the apparent game-tying touchdown when Boo Jackson threw a 36-yard pass to Terrence McCrae with no time left on the clock Saturday at Marshall, but Bobcats coach Frank Solich went for the two-point conversion. Alas, Jackson's pass went through the back of the end zone, allowing Marshall to escape with a 24-23 victory.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.



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