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Bounce Backs and Let Downs
by Al McMordie - 11/08/2009
College football is littered with weeks where teams are soaring high off big wins, only to fall flat on their face the next week. This is the classic example of emotion taking too much out of a club that they are out of gas the following game.
Penn State has been in two of those already. After a 3-0 start against weak teams, the Nittany Lions had a showdown with Iowa, their Big 10 opener. The Lions laid an egg in a 20-10 loss at home. The next week the Lions were a 7-point favorite over Illinois and crushed the Illini, 35-17. Penn State had another big showdown this past weekend against Ohio State, with the Big 10 title in the balance. Penn State stumbled again in a 24-7 loss as a favorite. Even more remarkable when you realize Penn State is 32-4 SU, 20-13 ATS its last 36 at home. Heaven help Indiana next week, who come into Beaver stadium. By the way, defensive-oriented Penn State is 8-1 under the total.
Is there a better example than Oregon? Last week the Ducks had their biggest win in years, a show stopping 47-20 rout of rival USC that put them in the driver's seat for the Pac 10 title. Coach Chip Kelly is in his first season as head coach and the players talked about the intense focus that Kelly has preached to his team, particular last week after the tremendous high from beating USC. Kelly wasn't worried about a letdown against the Stanford Cardinal.
"It's a special team," Kelly said. "Their mindset is really good right now. We all live in the moment."
Well they were living out of the moment Saturday, with the defense having an out of body experience in a 51-42 loss at Stanford as a favorite. The loss by Oregon (5-1 Pac-10) just a week after beating Southern California opened up the conference race and cost the Ducks any shot at a berth in the Bowl Championship Series title game. Oregon had 575 yards, but allowed 505.
The Oregon pass defense was leading the Pac 10 while giving up a paltry 5.1 yards per pass, and then Stanford smoked them. From sitting pretty one week to having so many things unravel a week later is tough for some teams to swallow. How they respond and react during the week is important to keep tabs on.
For the record, reports are that Oregon handled things fairly well after the loss. There were some upset people in the Oregon locker room after the game -- and plenty of loud calls for more focus -- but no sense of panic. "Of course there are some things we have to clean up," linebacker Spencer Paysinger said. "But it's not like this is a big red flag for us. We bounced back after Boise, and we're going to bounce back after this."
Iowa, the team that stunned Penn State earlier in the year, is now in the same boat after Saturday's surprising 17-10 home loss to Northwestern, their first defeat. Even more alarming, junior QB Rick Stanzi (15 TDs, 14 picks) was knocked out of the game with an ankle injury. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said Stanzi had a "severe" ankle injury and he'll likely be out the next couple of weeks. Freshman QB James Vandenberg was just 9 of 27 for 82 yards and couldn't lead the Hawkeyes to any points after Stanzi left the game. The Hawkeyes have already lost RB Adam Robinson, the top running back, is out for the year. Emotion is great to have on your side for a game, but having star players out injured are probably more important to the outcome.
Ohio State (8-2 SU, 7-3 ATS) is off a big win at Penn State, 24-7, Saturday. The Buckeyes had 228 yards rushing. Ohio State's hopes for a fifth straight league title look much brighter. They are in a let down spot this coming weekend against Iowa, but at least have home field (unlike Oregon had). Ohio State is 52-5 SU, 33-20-1 ATS their last 57 home games, including 7-1 ATS the last 8 meetings against Iowa, plus 5-0 ATS the last 5 at the Horseshoe.
And what about wacky Notre Dame? Their offense gets a big test against a great Pitt defense this weekend, but the Irish come off another surprising loss, this time to Navy, 23-21, at home. Notre Dame allowed 348 yards rushing to Navy, a problem all season. Even in a wild 33-30 win over Michigan State, the defense allowed 459 yards. The Irish face four top 40 rushing offenses in November and the run defense is a major problem, which could hurt here, too.
Jimmy Clausen threw for 452 yards, the Irish didn't punt, but still lost because of three Notre Dame turnovers (a fumble at the goal line, an interception inside the 5) and two missed field goals. Think the Irish fans will be a little angry this week?
"There's never been a Notre Dame team that lost to Navy twice in the past 50 years," said linebacker Brian Smith, who obviously did his research before his post-game interview. "We beat them 43 straight times and I've lost to them twice already. It's frustrating." Sports bettors take note: Notre Dame is 1-6 ATS the last 7 games.