#9 USC v. #1 Oklahoma
The game turned out to be surprisingly boring… aside from the team that was winning.
It didn’t look to be that way at first. Mark Sanchez’s second pass attempt was picked off – but the Trojan defense forced its second straight three-and-out. The next time the Trojans got the ball, Joe McKnight broke off a 40-yard touchdown run. Then Oklahoma coughed up the ball on a fumble and USC went on another 53-yard drive for another touchdown, and the Sooner crowd was silent the rest of the way. Sanchez kept the scoring going with a long pass to Patrick Turner that he managed to take in for a score early in the second. Oklahoma went into the half without having tallied a single first down and down 28-0.
The Sooners finally picked up a first down midway through the third… only to see their next punt be taken to the house. The Sooners also got on the board with a 57-yard rushing touchdown on the first play from scrimmage after the ensuing kickoff, but by that point they were already down 35-7 and no one thought any sort of miracle comeback was anything near possible – a near 5-minute touchdown scoring drive taking up the rest of the third quarter, with the touchdown itself coming in the fourth, made sure of that. The stands were sparse for much of the second half and virtually empty for most of the fourth, as college football pundits and Sooner fans alike found themselves scratching their heads. Yes, Pete Carroll had undoubtedly motivated his squad with the indignity of having to play in the freezing snow of Salt Lake City in the first round when they all knew they had deserved a first-round home game. Most of the questions involved the Sooners: What had happened that left them vulnerable to freaking Troy, and then left them as little more than the butt for another set of Trojans to whoop, in a replay of the 2004 Orange Bowl? And how had Joe McKnight gone completely ignored in the Heisman conversation this season?
Final score: USC 55, Oklahoma 14
#7 Texas Tech v. #2 Florida
From the opening bell, it was clear this was not going to be Texas Tech’s day. That became apparent when Jeffery Demps broke open a 51-yard run on the first play from scrimmage. Florida went on to score later in the drive, then picked up a field goal on the next one. The Red Raiders proceeded to pick up their first first down, but then Graham Harrell threw one of his two picks and that resulted in a touchdown-scoring drive. Texas Tech finally picked up a touchdown on a drive that spanned into the second quarter, but the extra point was blocked, and a good kickoff return allowed Florida to drive to another field goal.
The Red Raiders defense finally stopped Florida from scoring with a three-and-out, only for Harrell to throw INT #2, this time returned all 48 yards for the touchdown by Joe Haden. Florida went into the half up 30-6 and the Red Raiders never scored again. Tim Tebow didn’t look like a running quarterback – he ran 17 times for only 11 yards – but Demps and Chris Rainey picked up the slack, and while Tebow went only 5-8 passing, it was for 53 yards.
Final score: Texas Tech 6, Florida 40 (I’m assuming Florida keeps running with less than 2 minutes to play, picks up the first down, doesn’t need to kick a field goal, and doesn’t try to punch it in with goal to go)
#6 Cincinnati v. #3 Texas
In by far the greatest game of the Golden Bowl tournament so far, Cincinnati proved they deserved their seed that so many called unusually high. So impressive were they that Dominick Goodman, who caught 7 passes for 153 yards, was considered the player of the game.
Why was that impressive, besides that it was a wide receiver? Read on.
An early Texas drive that looked like the landslide many pundits had predicted was cut short when Colt McCoy, after driving his team to the Bearcat 30, threw the ball into the hands of Brandon Underwood. Tony Pike then went 4-for-4, every throw for a first down, culminating with Goodman making a running catch and winning a footrace for the endzone, a 30-yard play that served as a notice to the Longhorns. Cincinnati 7: Texas 0.
Although Texas went three-and-out, anyone who dismissed that drive as a fluke probably seemed vindicated when Pike threw an interception of his own, and after Texas went three-and-out again, promptly threw another interception on his very next play, this one taken back to the end zone by Earl Thomas for the game-tying score. After that, the Bearcats kept the ball on the ground, throwing the ball only three times on the ensuing drive on the way to a field goal to retake the lead. The Longhorns promptly struck back, as McCoy drove them 46 yards before Chris Ogbonnaya picked up a 24-yard touchdown run on a draw. Cincinnati doesn’t pick up a first down for the rest of the half, and the Longhorns add a field goal of their own before the half. The pundits’ halftime analysis: the Longhorns started slow, but they will now play much more like they played in the second quarter and will put the game away.
Not so fast.
Anyone thinking the Bearcats would go down that easy were shut up when John Goebel ticked off a 48-yard run all the way to the 2, setting up a subsequent touchdown run to re-tie the game. Cincinnati’s next possession ended in a three-and-out and the ensuing punt gave the Longhorns good enough field position to re-take the lead, but Pike managed to lead the Bearcats to the endzone himself on the very next drive. The Bearcats were not going away, and they would stay in it all the way to the end.
After forcing Texas to punt, the Bearcats got the ball back on their own 17 for their first drive of the fourth quarter, and after two plays, picked up a first down when the Longhorns were flagged for encroachment – only to be set further back by a holding flag the next play. Thanks mostly to a second-down pass to Goodman, the Bearcats still picked up the first down, then crossed midfield on a 13-yard pass to Ben Guidugli. Another second-down pass picked up another first down before the Bearcats stalled, only gaining two yards on each of the first two downs before Isaiah Pead, on one of only two rushes of the day (both for losses), got nailed for a five-yard loss and forced a punt. On the clock, the quarter was already half over, and the score remained 24-24.
McCoy proceeded to break the hearts of the Bearcat faithful by running for 17 yards on second down to the Longhorn 35, then handed it off to Cody Johnson who broke open for a 64-yard run, just barely being stopped short of the end zone. After two incomplete passes and a run got stopped, Mack Brown decided to roll the dice by going for it on fourth down. Had it failed, it could have ended up endlessly questioned – but it worked, and the Longhorns retook the lead. But before the Bearcat faithful could beat themselves up for very long, Pike threw a screen to Goodman, who proceeded to make a Heisman-like dash for 65 yards down to the 12, and Jacob Ramsey punched it in the rest of the distance. Cincinnati 31, Texas 31, 4:28 to play. Texas returns the kickoff to their own 30. Play sequence: Incomplete, 1-yard pass, incomplete, punt. Cincinnati gets the ball back on their own 38, 3:33 to play, chance to win the game and shock the nation by shutting the Big 12 out of the semifinals.
First play: Interception.
After an illegal motion flag against Texas, Ogbonnaya promptly breaks open a 46-yard run down to the 10. Two Foswhitt Whitaker runs later, McCoy hits Quan Cosby in the endzone. Cincinnati 31, Texas 38, 1:47 to play, Tony Pike – after a fantastic game – needing to redeem himself and not become the scapegoat.
Cincinnati gets the ball back on the 23. First play very familiar: Pike to Goodman, out of bounds, gain of 8, second down Ramsey gets a four-yard run for the first down. Bearcats call timeout, 1:32 remaining. Goebel runs east-and-west and manages to pick up a yard before going out of bounds. Pike throws… batted down. Pike completes it this time to Marcus Barnett, but he gets nailed immediately… can’t go out of bounds. Clock stops for the measurement and first down, but they have to get back to the line. Clock ticks down to 55 seconds. They run a draw to Ramsey… ends up out of bounds for another 1-yard gain. 51 seconds. Pike throws to the sideline to Charley Howard. Out of bounds, six-yard gain, 45 seconds left, they’re in Longhorn territory now. Third and 3. Pike throws it downfield to Barnett… just out of his reach. Fourth down, three to go. 38 seconds. This time the first down is most important. Pike pitches it right into the hands of Goebel.
Texas avoids an unmitigated disaster for the Big 12 and becomes the only Big 12 team still playing for a national championship. Cincinnati will have to settle for a trip to the Orange Bowl at least a week too early. Tony Pike and Brian Kelly will have that interception and final drive replaying in their nightmares for years. Bearcats fans are merely left to shake their heads and wonder what might have been. Dominick Goodman, though, gains a new level of respect around the country from people who might not have been paying attention to the Big East.
Final score: Cincinnati 31, Texas 38
#5 Penn State v. #4 Alabama
No sooner did the Cincinnati Bearcats get done scaring the Texas Longhorns than two of college football’s most storied teams managed to top it, in a game that proved to be surprisingly high-scoring.
Daryll Clark threw for three first downs on Penn State’s second drive of the game, and with the ball on the 25, Evan Royster – on his way to an amazing two-hundred-yard day – picked up a fourth on a 16-yard run, then proceeded to pound ahead another eight for the touchdown, the first sign that Alabama’s defense wasn’t in proper working order. Though Alabama had picked up the first first down of the game, the first sign that Penn State’s defense wasn’t working either might have been dismissed as a fluke: Glen Coffee pounding through it for 51 yards on Alabama’s second play from scrimmage on the ensuing drive, only getting stopped at the three, setting up Roy Upchurch for the equalizer.
After three more runs by Royster put the Nittany Lions in Alabama territory, the Tide defense seemed to bear down and get the stop, helped in no small part by a delay of game penalty, and a long punt return to the Lion 29 set up an 18-yard run by Mark Ingram and an 11-yard touchdown by Coffee, and Alabama took the lead heading into the second quarter.
Both defenses traded stops, though both teams penetrated their opponent’s territory, but then the Nittany Lions suggested that the Tide defense still wasn’t quite working the way it should have. Clark was the star of this drive, with three decent-sized completions early before, on 2nd and 11 from the 21, handing the ball off to Royster on a draw and setting up the Lions on the 2. Derrick Williams pounded it in from there to re-tie the game. Alabama struck back, with the help of another big run by Coffee and a slightly shorter one from Upchurch. The drive stalled after a false-start flag, but Kevin Kelly still made a 47-yard field goal – his only attempt of the game – to retake the lead. Penn State went three-and-out, a Tide first down was rendered moot by holding on the next play, and Penn State got the ball back with 17 seconds left and couldn’t do anything before the half. The pundits’ consensus: If the Tide’s defense could get more consistent they can put away the Nittany Lions during the second half and turn what’s been a close game so far into a laugher, because the Lions can’t stop Glen Coffee.
But the Tide’s defense doesn’t get more consistent. Instead the Nittany Lions, namely Royster, have a fantastic third quarter. After a three-and-out, they get help from the special teams with a punt return into Tide territory, and Royster tags on a 30-yard touchdown run. Penn State’s next drive is a three-and-out but the punt pins the Tide inside the 20, but Upchurch renders that irrelevant by leaving the defense in his wake for an 87-yard touchdown run – the only Alabama drive of the quarter that isn’t a three-and-out. Royster immediately takes the challenge and takes it 79 yards for a touchdown of his own on Penn State’s first play from scrimmage. The next time Penn State gets the ball, Clark takes over and leads the team on a five-minute drive that only gets stopped on fourth and goal from the 4. Penn State 31, Alabama 24.
The Tide’s defense buckles down in the fourth quarter, as both teams trade three-and-outs, and although Penn State does eventually pick up a first down, the defense sets up the Tide with what would seem to be a perfect opportunity to tie the game when Tyrone King picks off Clark and takes it to the 11. But the Nittany Lion defense is ready: after Coffee picks up six yards on a draw, they hold Upchurch to only one. On third and 3 from the 4, John Parker Wilson attempts to pass but finds no one open and ends up scrambling for a yard. Now it’s fourth and 2 from the 3, and Alabama needs the touchdown. Nick Saban calls a draw play to Coffee.
Stuffed after a yard.
One of the most memorable stops in the history of Penn State’s storied defense – if it holds. Penn State gets the ball back with 2:52 to play but on their own 2 – seemingly, with a lot of field to cover, a good chance to burn the remaining clock. A pitch to Stephfon Green gets two, then Clark – in a call that threatens to be questioned forever – throws an incompletion. Stopping the clock and gaining nothing. Finally Joe Paterno and Clark realize this situation calls for giving it to Royster (already at 200 yards) early and often, but on third and eight, a draw play only picks up one yard.
Alabama gets another chance, 1:38 to play with, and a full complement of timeouts – and the ball on the Penn State 30. The first call may seem somewhat questionable – running the ball, not with Coffee or Upchurch, but with Mark Ingram, and straight ahead instead of towards the sideline – getting only a yard and burning a timeout. Coffee gets the ball on second down and gets out of bounds after five yards. Another questionable run call, this time to Demetrius Goode, gets stuffed at the line, but this time Alabama converts on fourth down when Wilson finds Julio Jones, who strides out of bounds at the 13 with 1:02 to play. It’s the first first down Alabama has gotten since their first play of the quarter. Nittany Lions fans fear the worst – what if Saban elects to go for two?
The Lion defense quickly buckles down, and a forward flip to Marquis Maze gets nailed instantly for a two-yard loss, burning another timeout. 57 seconds left. Wilson tosses it again, this time to Travis McCall, who gets stopped at the line of scrimmage and doesn’t get out of bounds. Clock continues to run… 50… 49… 48… 47… Finally, at 35 seconds, the Tide takes the third-down snap. Wilson once again aims for McCall, but this time overthrows him. Clock stops with 31 seconds left. No more dilly-dallying: the Tide have to make fourth and 12.
Wilson takes the snap and steps back. Looks for an open receiver, in the end zone or even just short of it as long as it’s past the three-yard line or near enough. Looking… looking… he breaks out of the pocket and attempts to elude the rush. Looking… looking…
And steps out of bounds right at the line of scrimmage.
Penn State escapes with the victory despite a couple of close scares. Evan Royster is the breakout star, but despite allowing 24 points, mostly by not being able to stop Glen Coffee for the first half, the defense is the star of the game in a contest Nittany Lions fans will tell their children and grandchildren about, especially if Penn State can go on to win the championship. Nick Saban is questioned for most of the post-game press conference about some questionable calls, especially on the final drive, but truth be told, he was out of tricks after nothing else he had tried had gotten past Joe Paterno’s defense for the second half.
Final score: Penn State 31, Alabama 24
Rose Bowl: #9 USC v. #5 Penn State
Okay, so Alabama-Penn State wasn’t the defensive battle I advertised, but USC-Penn State could be. But with Joe McKnight playing at a Heisman-caliber level, Penn State might have trouble with him for more than a half. Because this is the real Rose Bowl, I won’t be simulating it.
Sugar Bowl: #3 Texas v. #2 Florida
Some may call this the real national championship game. There are some similarities with the real real national championship game. This one might be a battle of the last two Heisman winners, and it pits two able offenses against each other, but while the Big 12 team’s is most impressive, Florida boasts a fantastic defense, and we’ll see if Tim Tebow can make the difference in this one. This simulation will be announced after the new year.
Non-semifinal BCS bowls:
Cotton Bowl: Oklahoma v. Alabama
Orange Bowl: Texas Tech v. Cincinnati