Proof that defense wins games

St. Stanislaus HS (MS) and Poplarville HS (MS) staged a shootout for the ages on Friday night in Bay St. Louis, Miss.  Poplarville rallied from a 60-49 halftime deficit to win 82-80 in regulation. The 162 points eclipsed the previous of 145 points set in 2000. 

"It was pretty wild," former Itawamba Community College (MS) offensive cooradinator and current St. Stanislaus coach Gabe Fertitta told the Biloxi (Miss) Sun-Herald. "I've never seen anything like it. It was the perfect storm. The flow of the game is hard to describe."

St. Stanislaus opened the game with a touchdown and, playing without its top two kickers, attempted a squib kick that Poplarville fumbled and the Rockachaws recovered. St. Stanislaus scored on the ensuing possession, attempted another squib kick and again recovered after a Poplarville fumble. Another touchdown put the score at 18-0 before Poplarville's offense took the field for the first time. 

Plenty of players submitted a half-season's worth of offensive statistics in the game. Poplarville running back Jiquan James rushed 37 times for 401 yards and five touchdowns. As a team, the Hornets totaled 639 rushing yards and 846 yards of total offense.

In a losing effort, St. Stanislaus quarterback Tyler Allen connected on 25-of-37 attempts for 443 yards and seven touchdowns. The Rockachaws also had two running backs combine for 393 yards.

On a night when the final score resembled an NBA game, Poplarville head coach Chris Teal cited his defense's three forced turnovers in the third quarter that were pivotal to his team's comeback.

In holding the Rockachawks to just 20 points in the second half, Poplarville built a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter but didn't secure the win until recovering an onside kick with 54 seconds to play. 

St. Stanislaus, who is still searching for its first win in 2012, hopes that 80 points will be enough next week.

"We needed to score 83,'' Fertitta said. "We just didn't get the job done.''

Fitzgerald agrees to a pregame "nap time" for team

The Chicago Tribune did an interesting article last night on some of the changes that Pat Fitzgerald and the staff made to Northwestern's game day schedule for their 3:30pm ET kickoff against Nebraska in Evanston, which can be seen on ABC.

After what Fitzgerald and the staff felt like was a sluggish start against Boston College in week three (which was also a 3:30pm ET kickoff), Coach Fitz sat down with the members of his Leadership Council, and asked them what prevented them back from having a a fast start.

Players told him that the game clashed with their usual nap time.

Normally players show up at the football complex at 6:50am for meetings, followed by a practice from 8:50am to 10:30am, then they head to class and grab a nap in the early afternoon.

So Coach Fitz and the staff decided to rearrange the schedule a little bit to see if they can correct the slow start. For Saturday's match up, Northwestern will get in breakfast a little earlier than normal, and allow the players to take a brief nap at around 9:30am.

When asked about it, Fitz noted that he could hardly believe he agreed to allow a nap six hours before kickoff.

"Unbelievable. This is what I get paid to do. Seriously. Create nap time. It's pathetic."

How this one shakes out remains to be seen, but credit Coach Fitz and the staff on addressing why they started slow with the Leadership Council, and then taking their advice (however unconventional it may seem) on getting the issue resolved. 


"Offensive football is all about 11 guys doing their jobs"

After squeaking by Northern Iowa and Utah State, and losing a close to close game to Oregon State in their first three games this season, it seems that the Wisconsin offense is starting to hit their stride.

They have put up at least 31 points in three of the last four games, including their last two Big Ten games (Illinois and Purdue), and have held their opponents to 14 points in their past two conference wins. Last week against Purdue, the Badgers racked up 467 yards rushing, their highest rushing total since Bielema took over in 2006.

The Wisconsin State Journal points out that the Badgers (5-2, 2-1) have averaged 33.2 points over their past four games, after averaging just 16.3 points through their first three contests.

First year Badger offensive coordinator Matt Canada noted that all eleven guys were finally able to put it all together against the Boilermakers, as they averaged a gaudy 8.3 yards per carry.

"I say it in good days and bad days, offensive football is 11 guys doing their jobs. We ran the same plays, it's just 11 guys did their jobs. Nobody likes to hear that, like (there is) some magic potion, but there's not."

"I don't live in a box, but I try to in a sense. I'm very critical, good days and bad days. I think our players have understood that. We just have to keep going. You have to keep believing in the plan and where you are. You've just got to keep moving forward and grinding on the plan."

Bielema noted that one of the reasons that he hired Canada was his calm demeanor.

"One of the reasons I was intrigued to hire him, he's a pretty even-keel guy," Bielema said. "Probably reminds you of another guy that used to be in the same position." 

That approach looks like it's starting to pay off. We'll see how things shape up down the home stretch of their schedule. Their next two games are at home against Michigan State and Minnesota, and they wrap up the year at Indiana, at home against Ohio State, and then on the road at Penn State.

Inside Scoop: Todd Berry on the strength of the Sun Belt and the "Unhappy Triad"

With six teams currently sitting at or above .500, the 10-team Sun Belt hopes to improve upon the success of a 2011 season that saw four teams reach seven or more wins. With Ohio State, Penn State and North Carolina ineligible for this postseason, the Sun Belt could be in line for its best bowl haul in the league's 12-year history.

The Sun Belt enjoyed three wins over BCS leagues in September - ULM's much-publicized 34-31 overtime win over Arkansas, Western Kentucky's 32-31 overtime defeat of Kentucky and Middle Tennessee's 49-28 demolition of Georgia Tech. Equally important to the Sun Belt is the league's 6-0 record against geographic rival Conference USA (the leagues share both have schools in Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Alabama and Florida). In fact, each of the league's top six teams won a head-to-head matchup versus C-USA foes, and often in dominant fashion. The average score of the Sun Belt's wins over Conference USA was 44-21. 

Todd Berry's Warhawks were college football's national darlings in September with a win over Arkansas and near misses against Auburn and Baylor. ULM's 34-31 overtime thriller over the then-No. 8 Razorbacks was the Sun Belt's first victory over a top 10 team. Instead of succumbing to a lack of depth like many other mid-majors hoping to pull an upset, the Warhawks outscored Arkansas and Auburn by a combined 28-0 in the fourth quarter. Berry's team ranks in the top 20 national in total offense and rushing defense; even FAU's "Unhappy Triad" couldn't stop ULM's offense. 

Under head coach Willie Taggart, Western Kentucky has quickly become one of the most underrated programs in the country. The Hilltoppers are 12-2 over their last 14 games; the only setbacks in that span came to No. 1 LSU in 2011 and No. 1 Alabama earlier this season. Western Kentucky played its first Sun Belt season in 2009 and didn't win its first FBS game until 2010. Taggart's squad toppled Kentucky on Sept. 15 and defeated Southern Miss 42-17 one week later. Oh, and by the way, had you had the foresight, you could have gotten rich off of Western's success.



Louisiana - Lafayette's last-second New Orleans Bowl win was one of the highlights of the 2011 bowl season. With a 4-1 (2-0 Sun Belt) start, Mark Hudsepth's team is on its way to creating more December magic. The Ragin Cajuns' 41-13 win over Tulane on Oct. 6 pushed their home winning streak to eight games, the sixth-longest streak in the country. ULL will look to push its overall winning streak to three and move one step closer to its second straight bowl bid tonight at North Texas (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2).

After suffering a season-opening upset to McNeese State, Middle Tennessee has won four of its last five while averaging more than 35 points per game during that span. Rick Stockstill's team will hope to continue the Sun Belt's string of upsets against the SEC at Mississippi State on Saturday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2).

Defending conference champion Arkansas State stands at 2-1 in Sun Belt play and 4-3 overall. The Red Wolves defeated Memphis 33-28 in the second game under new head coach Gus Malzahn. Arkansas State's next game is next Tuesday at Louisiana - Lafayette (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2). 

Larry Blakeney and Troy sit at sixth place in the league (3-3, 2-2 Sun Belt) but stand more than a puncher's chance at bowl eligibility. With games against co-leaders Western Kentucky and Louisiana - Lafayette behind them, and games against Florida International and Florida Atlantic (a combined 2-11 on the season) up next on the schedule, consecutive wins would give the Trojans four chances to become bowl eligible for the fifth time in seven seasons.


"Strength of schedule only matters if you're playing for the national title"

James Franklin made a strong case during his press conference yesterday for one of the toughest early season schedules in the country, noting that teams that they have lost to (South Carolina, Northwestern, Georgia and Florida) are a combined 23-3.

The Commodores lone FBS win was a 19-15 win over Missouri earlier this month, who is 3-4 and 0-4 in SEC play.

At the end of the day, Franklin believes the only people that the strength of schedule really applies to are the teams that are playing for the national championship.

"I think it's clearly obvious though when you look at our season and what we're doing. We've played really good people. We've been competitive every week except you could make an argument once (against Georgia). The combined record of the four teams we've lost to is 23-3."

"I went over that with my team yesterday, telling them that we need to keep everything in perspective. We're doing some nice things, but we need to get better. We lost to a good team this past week, but for us to get where we want to be as a program, you can't make the type of mistakes that we made against that type of opponent." Franklin said.

Franklin noted that depending on how you approach the tough early season schedule with the team it, it could go one of two ways, depending on the mental make up of the team.

"It's interesting because it's all how you spin it and handle it with your team. If you still have really good chemistry and your kids still have a great attitude and they believe and they're passionate and excited about what the future holds, then I think it's a positive, and it's our job as coaches to explain that to them."

"To everybody else, I don't know. Last year we're 3-0 and the perception of Vanderbilt football last year compared to this year, I don't know how people perceive it. I don't think people really care. I think at the end of the season, people don't say, `well you were undefeated but you didn't beat a ranked opponent all year long.' No one cares because you were undefeated." he explained.

"I think the strength of scheduling only really counts if you're playing for the national championship. That's when it really figures in. Besides that, at the end of the year no one is going to say, `that was an ugly win versus Missouri.' Nobody's going to say, `but that win was against Presbyterian.' They're wins and they all count. Every single one of them count."

Franklin went on to explain that there are two perceptions of the program. There is the internal perception of the team, and how they handle everything during the course of a season, and the external perception and how people see the program and where they're at.

He added that the staff and everyone in the football building remain confident in the direction they're headed and the way that they're doing things. 




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