PFF's college football Week 2 roundup
Best team performance: Michigan State Spartans
The biggest match of the week was the return leg of the Oregon-Michigan State home-and-home series. The Ducks won in Eugene last year by doing what they do best — finding skill players in space and letting their speed turn space into points. This time around it was the Spartans’ turn to win by doing what they do best — playing defense.
Michigan State put pressure on Oregon QB Vernon Adams Jr. twice picking him off, and held the Ducks short on four fourth-down attempts. The previous week Oregon had averaged 9.4 yards per play on offense, but the Spartans held them to just 6.6 yards per play on Saturday. Michigan State leaned heavily on the running game offensively, with running backs Madre London and LJ Scott splitting 29 carries for 179 yards, with Scott twice finding the end zone.
It was a crucial win for Michigan State, one that firmly establishes them as playoff contenders at this early stage. For Oregon the result hurts, but defeat in East Lansing against a top team certainly doesn’t end their playoff aspirations.
Worst team performance: Auburn Tigers
Two wins in two games is how every coach wants to start the season, yet for Auburn those two wins have been far from ideal. Scraping your way to victory over Louisville is one thing, doing so again against FCS opposition a week later is another altogether. Particularly so when this was a tougher fight that went all the way to the wire — Auburn needed a last minute touchdown just to force it to overtime. In both games Auburn has been outgained by its opponents. Louisville gained 405 yards to the Tigers 327, while Jacksonville State edged it 438 to 401.
The good news for Auburn is that they still won, while the bad news is that SEC play begins next week. It is difficult to understand the malaise that has stricken the Tigers offense. Running back Peyton Barber (+2.2) and wide receiver Ricardo Lewis (+1.4) both played well against Louisville, and were once again the Tigers’ most productive performers on offense. Quarterback Jeremy Johnson does not look like the player who shone in a 2014 cameo against Arkansas, and star wide out D’Haquille Williams has been a non-factor, with just three receptions in two games. There is talent there for the Tigers — the question is whether they can get it to gel quick enough to avoid defeat, which is surely what will happen if they keep playing like this.
Best individual performance: Bowling Green QB Matt Johnson
Having missed almost the entire 2014 season with a hip injury, quarterback Matt Johnson has returned with a bang. He opened the season airing it out in a solid performance at Tennessee when he attempted 15 deep passes (those that travel 20 yards or more in the air downfield), more than any other FBS quarterback in the opening round of games. Johnson completed 46.7 percent of those deep balls for 249 yards — 57.5 percent of the Falcons’ total passing yards. He was at it again this week, lighting up the Maryland pass defense to the tune of 491 yards and six touchdowns, giving Bowling Green their first win of the season, and a Big Ten scalp. Johnson found wide receiver Roger Lewis 15 times, and the Terps couldn’t deal with it.
Worst individual performance: Hawaii QB Max Wittek
The Rainbow Warriors weren’t expected to put up much of a fight in this game, so a 38-0 defeat in Columbus is no surprise. Yet defensively, they may have exceeded expectations — they limited the explosive Buckeyes offense to 5.3 yards per play, much better than the 10.2 the Hokies managed five days earlier. Ohio State was just 17 points up at the end of the third quarter, and had the Rainbow Warriors been able to muster some kind of offense of their own, they might have made a game of it.
However, that proved beyond them, as neither running game nor QB Max Wittek’s passing attack could gain any traction. Wittek finished with a stat line of just 7-of-24, with two interceptions and two fumbles. Those four turnovers led to 17 points for the Buckeyes, undoing the good work of the defense. In victory over Colorado, Wittek had been able to get the ball out fast, taking an average of just 2.01 seconds with the ball in the backfield, but Ohio State made life extremely uncomfortable for the former USC QB.
Biggest surprise of the weekend: Toledo Rockets
When Bret Bielema was talking up Arkansas’s strength of schedule this week, it’s unlikely that he had this game against Toledo in mind. He should have though, as losing at home to the Rockets is exactly the sort of result that takes a team out of contention for the College Football Playoff. For Toledo, claiming a memorable victory in Little Rock was the perfect way to open their season. Running back Alex Collins gave Arkansas the lead late in the first quarter with a 21-yard touchdown run, but the running game faltered. Collins was held to just 54 rushing yards at 2.7 per attempt, having forced five missed tackles and averaged 7.8 yards after contact per attempt the previous week.
Even with the difficulties on the ground, the Razorbacks still had 515 yards of offense; moving the ball wasn’t the major issue, they just couldn’t move it all the way into the end zone. The Razorbacks finished four second-half drives inside the Toledo 20, three of them inside the 10, and yet came away with just three points — a terrific performance for the Rockets’ defense. Claiming victory over Arkansas in the marquee game on their schedule sets Toledo up well for the year.
Game of the week: Houston Cougars at Louisville Cardinals
The Cougars travelled to Louisville to take on the Cardinals, and the two teams traded blows all game long. Houston took an early lead when QB Greg Ward Jr. capped the Cougars’ opening drive by finding WR Steven Dunbar for the touchdown. The lead then changed hands six times, with Houston standing triumphant when the dust settled. Ward Jr. was the key man for the Cougars, passing for 236 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for a further 98 yards.
A former wide receiver, Ward Jr. uses his legs to great effect. His +3.8 rushing grade tied for third among all quarterbacks in the opening week. That skill set makes him a natural fit at QB for head coach Tom Herman, who enjoyed great success with mobile quarterbacks as the offensive coordinator at Ohio State. The final score came when Ward Jr. found WR Demarcus Ayers in the corner of the end zone to take the Cougars up 34-31. Louisville still had an opportunity to force it to overtime, but the 53-yard field goal attempt was blocked by LB Steven Taylor.