Round 2 recaps
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As it had to against other foes like Notre Dame, Fresno State, Arizona State and Oregon, USC was forced to battle back from behind in its second round game against the eighth-seeded Miami Hurricanes in the Cotton Bowl.
Trailing 14-13 just before the end of the third quarter, Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush took matters in his own hands, leading the Trojans on a touchdown drive that began with a Dallas Sartz interception return and saw Bush juke and hurdle his way to one of the best 14 yard runs in college football history. The quick scoring drive proved more than enough to instill energy back into USC and propel them to what ultimately looks like an easy victory.
The Trojans kept their momentum in the fourth quarter, scoring 18 unanswered points on a Steve Smith TD reception, LenDale White one-yard plunge and an unnecessary late “statement” field goal by Mario Danelo. White’s touchdown improved his season total to a school-record 22 rushing touchdowns. However, it was the only bright spot in an otherwise poor day for the junior running back who finished with just five yards on seven carries.
The Hurricanes defense was actually quite stingy, holding the nation’s top offense to just 315 yards, less than the 316 USC averages through the air alone. But as has been the case with each of the Trojans’ opponents this season, Miami could not contain Reggie Bush. Bush accounted for 167 of those yards on 16 carries and four receptions. Senior QB Matt Leinart was efficient again as well, with 163 yards and two touchdowns passing on 19-of-26 passing.
It should be noted that, while the Hurricanes were moderately successful on defense, they could never get into rhythm offensively. Quarterback Kyle Wright continued his inconsistent play with five interceptions. The Trojans will move forward to play the winner of the #4 Ohio State vs. #12 Florida State contest.
Player of the Game: Reggie Bush (167 yards from scrimmage, 2 TDs)
No one would ever confuse the ACC Champions with Disney folklore, but Florida State’s bid to be the first December Madness Cinderella ended almost as quickly as it began as Ohio State controlled the tempo for most of the game and came out on top over the Seminoles.
Again though, OSU played its unique brand of football, focusing on field position and remaining mistake free. Former head coach Woody Hayes must be proud of this Jim Tressel squad that averaged just three yards (and a cloud of dust) a carry and was outgained 344-299, but never lost its edge or a firm handle on the game.
Offensively, the Buckeyes may have nickel-and-dimed FSU to its death, but defensive Ohio State was as strong as ever. First round stud Leon Washington became the second round’s dud as he struggled to gain just 15 yards on 14 carries against Buckeye LB AJ Hawk’s defense.
Never to underestimate the importance of special teams, Jim Tressel had his team prepared in all areas of the game as usual. Senior kicker Josh Huston continued a terrific season replacing All-American Mike Nugent with three more field goals to give him seven for the playoffs already and sophomore super freak Ted Ginn Jr. averaged almost 28 yards on three kickoff returns.
Quarterback Troy Smith earned Player of the Game honors for the second consecutive game with a solid, but not necessarily eye-popping, 240 total yards and a rushing touchdown. Fourth-seeded Ohio State will advance forward to play the #1 USC in the December Madness semifinals.
Player of the Game: Troy Smith (42 yards rushing, 198 yards passing, 1 TD)
In a game that featured two football’s all-time greatest programs and two of its best fan-bases, #3 Penn State reiterated what Ohio State had proclaimed earlier, that the Big Ten is the toughest conference in college football.
Continuously blitzing junior Quarterback Brady Quinn, the Nittany Lions flustered the Irish with many different defensive looks. Keeping Notre Dame out of the endzone allowed Penn State to control the ball on offense. The Nittany Lions passed on just 20 occasions, completing 14 for 204 yards and a score.
Conversely, Quinn was forced to pass the ball 29 times, only hitting on 16 attempts including two late desperate touchdown tosses to WR Maurice Stovall. It was not enough however, as Penn State had already locked up the victory with its solid rushing attack and timely interceptions from Anwar Phillips and Dan Connor.
Similar to his Buckeye dual-threat comrade, senior Penn State quarterback Michael Robinson garnered his second consecutive Player of the Game honors with solid numbers. Robinson rushed for 83 yards and one touchdown on top of the 204 yards passing. Joining him in the backfield, Tony Hunt wore Notre Dame, and the clock, down with 88 yards on 22 carries.
Some questions concerning the Nittany Lions have been answered, but more remain. Can they beat a team with a fast, athletic offense, unlike any in the Big Ten? We’ll find out in the December Madness semifinals as Penn State takes on the winner of the #2 Texas-#10 West Virginia contest.
Player of the Game: Michael Robinson (83 yards rushing, 204 yards passing, 2 TDs)
Pitched as the first real test for the Mountaineers since they faced Virginia Tech and an opportunity for Vince Young to exploit a young defense, West Virginia more than proved its mettle with an exciting nail-biter in the last quarterfinal matchup of the December Madness playoffs.
In fact, the heavy underdogs capitalized off of a phenomenal rushing attack and good kicking by Pat McAfee to sport leads of 3-0, 6-0, 9-7 and 12-10 as late as the fourth quarter. The game was a classic, given that neither team ever felt comfortable with a lead and seemingly neither defense could cave in the red zone.
And so, a field goal kicking battle became the Madness’ best game yet. Trailing 12-10 with 12:05 remaining in the game, Texas was able to put together its only sustained drive of the game, going 65 yards on nine plays and eating more than five minutes of clock to score on a Ramonce Taylor touchdown run and take the lead 18-12 with a Vince Young two-point conversion.
An ensuing West Virginia three-and-out may have spelled doom for the Mountaineers as Texas responded with another field goal to pull ahead 21-12. Down two scores, West Virginia made a valiant effort to come back, scoring on a 51 yard Steve Slaton run with 2:18 left. Faced with a tough decision and two timeouts, Mountaineer head coach Rich Rodriguez decided to kick-off deep to the Longhorns and hope his defense could hold out.
Texas All-American QB Vince Young put a quick end to that notion with a 14-yard run on second down to gain a first down and sew up a difficult victory. Things do not get any easier for the second-ranked team in the nation as they face the Big Ten’s best in #3 Penn State with a shot at the December Madness Championship Game on the line.
Player of the Game: Steve Slaton (159 total yards, 1TD)