Three teams underachieved by double-digits, and three more flirted with disaster for a while versus FCS opponents. This was not the best weekend in the history of the Big East. I was skeptical about South Florida heading into the season, but ... they've been in either the "Exceeded Expectations" or "Just About Right" category in each of the first two weeks. That alone might make them the favorite now, eh?
Rutgers (Proj. Scoring Margin: -11.3 | Actual Scoring Margin: -2 | Diff: +9.3)
Fun with catch rates: Mohamed Sanu had 13 catches for triple-digits yards! Great game! Right? Not so much. Sanu was targeted an exhausting 22 times overall and managed just 119 yards (5.4 per target) in Rutgers' 24-22 loss to North Carolina. (Once you see him make catches like this, you wonder how he has anything less than a 100% catch rate.) Of course, he was still the best thing Rutgers had going for them -- the line could neither open up holes nor protect Chas Dodd (4.4 yards per pass attempt including four sacks), and the next leading receiver was Jeremy Deering with 23 yards. This was a poor offensive effort by what is probably a poor offensive team. Khaseem Greene (12.0 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1 FF) led a defensive performance that was a little hit-or-miss (UNC averaged 14.3 yards per play on their three touchdown drives, but the Scarlet Knights still picked off three passes and recovered two fumbles), but in the end, RU was almost able to steal a road win. And they overachieved in a conference full of underachievers, so it could have been worse.
Just About Right
South Florida (Proj. Scoring Margin: +28.1 | Actual Scoring Margin: +30 | Diff: +1.9)
USF did exactly what they were supposed to do against Ball State, beating the Cardinals, 37-7. They once again opened up the scoring with a fumble return touchdown (this one just eight seconds into the game), and they dominated on both sides of the ball. Three Bulls had at least two tackles for loss -- DeDe Lattimore, Elkino Watson and Claude Davis -- and including sacks, Ball State quarterback Keith Wenning averaged just 3.4 yards per pass attempt. Meanwhile, 10 Bulls caught a pass, B.J. Daniels completed 72% of his passes for 8.8 yards per attempt, and for at least one day, running back Darrell Scott showed some of the five-star potential he was supposed to always display coming out of high school (11 carries, 82 yards). This was domination against a team that beat a BCS opponent (okay, it was only Indiana) last week.
Connecticut (Proj. Scoring Margin: +9.5 | Actual Scoring Margin: -3 | Diff: -12.5)
As I mentioned yesterday, the offenses were completely overmatched in this one, combining to gain as many yards (452) as some offenses average. That means strong defensive performances -- UConn's Sio Moore had 3.5 tackles for loss and a forced fumble, Teddy Jennings 2.5 tackles for loss and a PBU -- and some truly awful offensive numbers. Johnny McEntee was sacked four times and picked off three, averaging just 2.6 yards per pass attempt. Running back Lyle McCombs was the default star, rushing for 118 yards, albeit at just a 4.4-per-carry clip. Yuck, yuck, yuck.
Louisville (Proj. Scoring Margin: +8.9 | Actual Scoring Margin: -7 | Diff: -15.9)
Louisville came into the 2011 season with virtually no experience, and it showed in this one. They completely lost Florida International star T.Y. HIlton twice in the first half, and he burned them for two long touchdowns, placing the Cardinals into a hole from which they could never quite escape in their 24-17 loss. For the game, Hilton had seven catches for 201 yards over nine targets and threw in two kick returns for 67 yards. He was everything Louisville coaches feared he would be. Meanwhile, FIU just dominated up front. They produced an 11.7% sack rate on UL quarterback Will Stein and held Cardinal runners Jeremy Wright and Vic Anderson to 83 yards on 28 carries (3.0). Either Louisvile's offensive line is atrocious, or FIU's defensive line is strong. Or both, I guess. Receiver Josh Chichester was solid, catching six of the ten passes thrown his way for 111 yards. FIU gained just 108 yards on 33 plays (3.3) over their last six drives, but they did more than enough damage in the first half.
Cincinnati (Proj. Scoring Margin: +0.6 | Actual Scoring Margin: -22 | Diff: -22.6)
When opponent adjustments are not yet part of the equation, it is easy for the F/+ ratings to overreact to Cincinnati's 72-10 destruction of Austin Peay, and they actually came to Knoxville slight favorites according to F/+. No dice. Isaiah Pead (14 carries, 155 yards, 1 TD) was great, but Tennessee's offense was explosive, and the Vols built a lead and forced Cincy to pass. Zach Collaros and D.J. Woods hooked up nine times for 111 yards on ten targets, but the Bearcats didn't really have a No. 2 receiver. Collaros was 12-for-24 for 119 yards aiming at everybody else. Meanwhile, linebacker Walter Stewart (5.5 tackles, 2.5 TFL/sacks, 1 FF) came to play, but he was about the only one. Tennessee gained 531 yards, 405 through the air.
Played an FCS Opponent
Pittsburgh only beat Maine by six, 35-29, and though it wasn't really that close (it was 35-15 with under four minutes left, and Maine scored a touchdown with just three seconds left) ... Pittsburgh, an F/+ Big East favorite, barely beat Maine. That's not good. Ray Graham did Ray Graham things, grinding out 121 yards over 28 carries (just 4.3 per carry) and scoring three times, but Tino Sunseri was sacked SEVEN times. He completed 21 of 35 passes for 224 yards, but including sacks, he averaged just 4.3 yards per pass attempt, which is only about two-thirds of what Maine quarterback Warren Smith managed (6.5). Todd Graham is finding it a bit difficult to get his offense rolling with Dave Wannstedt's parts.
Syracuse beat Rhode Island by a meager 21-14 score, but at first glance it is difficult to see why. Ryan Nassib averaged 7.5 yards per pass attempt despite three sacks, Van Chew (10 targets, eight catches, 134 yards) and Alec Lemon (12 targets, 10 catches, 94 yards) are a nice 1-2 receiver combination, Phillip Thomas intercepted two passes, and on a per-play basis the 'Cuse outgained URI, 5.7 to 4.2. Also: Rhode Island advanced into 'Cuse territory just once in the second half. And yet ... it was tied at 14-14 heading into the fourth quarter. Field position was URI's friend (10 of Syracuse's 12 drives began inside their 35), and ... that's all I've got. This should have been worse, but it wasn't.
If you just glanced at the final score -- West Virginia 55, Norfolk State 12 -- you would have no idea how alarmingly close this game was for a while. Halftime score: NSU 12, WVU 10. But then the second half happened.
WVU's First Six Drives: 35 plays, 158 yards (4.5), 10 points
WVU's Next Seven Drives: 39 plays, 404 yards (10.4), 45 points
NSU's First Seven Drives: 42 plays, 207 yards (4.9), 12 points
NSU's Last Seven Drives: 25 plays, 28 yards (1.1), 0 points
Six WVU receivers had a catch of at least 30 yards, and this one ended up how it should. It just took a while to get there. But hey, even if they disappear for large swaths of time, Dana Holgorsen's squad is ahead of Todd Graham's at this point, so there's that.