P.S.R. Heisman Watch: Week 5
By Paul Myerberg // Sep 28, 2011
September’s over, which means it’s about to get serious. Like trip-to-Manhattan serious, as it’s all well and good to tear apart Rice and San Jose State but quite another to excel against Oklahoma or Oregon. Heisman dreams have legs in September, true: you have Cam Newton as an immediate exception, but most winners are in the picture in August and solidify their spot during the season’s opening month. Countless candidates, however, have lit the world afire in September but disappeared once the calendar turned to conference play. Take last year’s examples of Kansas State’s Daniel Thomas and Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez: otherworldly in September, both quickly dropped out of the conversation once the schedule got a little meatier.
1. QB Andrew Luck, Stanford (Last week: No. 1)
Week 4 bye
Year to date 57 of 85 for 786 yards, 8 TD, 1 INT; 8 carries for 47 yards, 1 TD
Forget about San Jose State, Duke and the like. The year really kicks into gear… when? Luck and Stanford take on U.C.L.A., Colorado, Washington State and Washington over the next four weeks. Maybe the Huskies give the Cardinal a game; the first three won’t. Then it’s U.S.C., which is always entertaining, followed by Oregon State. Barring an upset or injury, Stanford won’t really be tested until the all-meaningful date with Oregon on Nov. 12. Ergo, Andrew Luck’s year won’t be defined until his team hosts the Ducks. Can he maintain his lead while others have one or more opportunities to make national noise? With his upcoming schedule, Luck can’t afford anything resembling letdown. Doing so would allow a fast-riser, like Robert Griffin III, to steal his thunder.
Next vs. U.C.L.A., Saturday
2. QB Kellen Moore, Boise State (Last week: No. 2)
Week 4 W 41-21 vs. Tulsa (23 of 29 for 279 yards, 4 TD)
Year to date 83 of 105 for 995 yards, 12 TD, 2 INT
This will be a running theme for a few quarterbacks on this list. More, equal, less: incompletions to touchdowns. You’ve heard the number recounted throughout the week, and no, Moore is not the one with more touchdown than incomplete passes. He’s awful close, however, and if it’s even possible, Moore looks even better in 2011 than he’s looked in the past. It’s only natural to get better and better with experience, but the thought was that Moore couldn’t get any better; he’d hit his statistical ceiling, in other words. Well, take a look at the numbers: Moore is completing 79.0 percent of his attempts, second-best in the country; has 12 touchdowns, tied for third; has a 192.6 quarterback efficiency rating, third in the country; and is averaging 331.7 yards per game, sixth in the country. And yes, Moore’s just getting warmed up.
Next vs. Nevada, Saturday
3. QB Robert Griffin III, Baylor (Last week: No. 6)
Week 4 W 56-31 vs. Rice (29 of 33 for 338 yards, 5 TD; 6 carries for 51 yards, 1 TD)
Year to date 70 of 82 for 962 yards, 13 TD; 24 carries for 167 yards, 1 TD
Here’s the guy with more touchdowns than incompletions: 13 to 12, to be exact. That’s a jaw-dropping stat, even if it comes over a small sample size. And even if it comes with the assistance of two joke games, against Stephen F. Austin and Rice, which mean very little in the big picture. Most games in September, on the other hand — with a few exceptions — mean little in the big picture. Hence Griffin III being here, not lower on the list. Remember those players that stormed to the forefront before disappearing during conference play? Griffin III could be the next in line should he and Baylor not win at least five games in the Big 12 — six, even. Griffin III can survive a loss or two to Oklahoma and the like, but he can’t afford a stinker: he can’t lose to Oklahoma when completing 11 of 25 for 155 yards, for example. It’s something to watch.
Next at Kansas State, Saturday
4. RB Marcus Lattimore, U.S.C. (Last week: No. 3)
Week 4 W 21-3 vs. Vanderbilt (20 carries for 77 yards, 1 TD; 3 receptions for 73 yards, 1 TD)
Year to date 107 carries for 611 yards, 8 TD; 12 receptions for 139 yards, 1 TD
It’s a matter of when, not if, South Carolina loses a game. The Gamecocks flirt with disaster far too often to escape more than another handful of games unscathed. It could happen this week against Auburn, in fact, should the passing game not start carrying its weight. You know what’s scary? Vanderbilt committed itself to stopping Lattimore, and even succeeded, to a degree. His 77 yards was a season-low. Lattimore still made an enormous impact, breaking the game open heading into halftime with a 52-yard touchdown grab and icing the game with a 22-yard touchdown run. But it’s a double-edged sword: Lattimore looks the hero week after week thanks to Stephen Garcia’s abysmal play, but sooner or later, the Gamecocks are going to lose a game. That could hurt Lattimore’s stock as other contenders continue rack up win after win.
Next vs. Auburn, Saturday
5. QB Russell Wilson, Wisconsin (Last week: No. 4)
Week 4 W 59-10 vs. South Dakota (19 of 25 for 345 yards, 4 TD; 5 carries for -2 yards)
Year to date 69 of 91 for 1,136 yards, 12 TD, 1 INT; 16 carries for 108 yards, 1 TD
Wilson has gone to classes, worked at home, studied with the tutor and taken all the practice tests at his disposal. That’s all September was: a training session. The training wheels come off on Saturday, when Wilson gets his welcome-to-major-football moment: Nebraska’s coming to town, and even if the Cornhuskers haven’t hit their defensive stride Wilson’s going to find there’s a wide gap between September and October. September was a walk in the park; October begins with one of the defining games of the season, one that might be a preview of the inaugural Big Ten title game. Chances are that Wilson is going to put some numbers, unless Bo Pelini and the Nebraska defense have been playing possum. Wilson needs more than that: there are so many quarterbacks jockeying for Heisman position that Wilson needs a win, not just a nice game. If he loses, perhaps Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez steals Wilson’s thunder.
Next vs. Nebraska, Saturday
6. QB Landry Jones, Oklahoma (Last week: No. 5)
Week 4 W 38-28 vs. Missouri (35 of 48 for 448 yards, 3 TD, 2 INT)
Year to date 88 of 122 for 1,022 yards, 5 TD, 4 INT
Jones has been a statistical disappointment. Does it matter? It does when Griffin III is making a historic run in your own conference. It matters now, at least, though if Oklahoma is perfect come December — and Jones is around 4,000 yards — you’ll see the O.U. quarterback in Manhattan. One thing that’s troubling are the turnovers: the two picks in Tallahassee weren’t a huge surprise, since Jones’ interceptions typically come on the road, but he tossed another pair in Saturday’s home win against Missouri. Oklahoma as a team was sloppy against the Tigers, but Jones needs to button things up. He will. He’ll end the year with more than 30 touchdowns, probably around 10 or so interceptions and, as noted, 4,000 or more yards. But I don’t think Oklahoma can lose a game in the regular season.
Next vs. Ball State, Saturday
7. WR Justin Blackmon, O.S.U. (Last week: No. 7)
Week 4 W 30-29 at Texas A&M (11 receptions for 121 yards, 1 TD)
Year to date 38 receptions for 450 yards, 4 TD
Blackmon had a terrible moment in the fourth quarter of Oklahoma State’s comeback win over Texas A&M: with an open path to the goal line, Blackmon played fast and loose with the football and fumbled into and out of the A&M end zone — touchback. It was a low point during a second half dominated by the Cowboys, Blackmon and Brandon Weeden, who once again flipped the table on the Aggies in bouncing back from a double-digit halftime deficit. Blackmon was a key part of the comeback, pulling in 7 receptions for 71 yards and a score over the final 30 minutes. But the fumble: that’s something I remember, and if A&M had eventually won the game it may very well have been the defining moment of Blackmon’s season. As is, it’s just a speed bump. If any receiver is going to win this thing, it’s going to Blackmon.
Next vs. Kansas, Oct. 8
8. CB Tyrann Mathieu, L.S.U. (Last week: N/A)
Week 4 W 47-21 at West Virginia (6 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 FR)
Year to date 30 tackles (3 for loss), .5 sack, 1 INT, 2 FF, 2 FR
There he is. He’s jawing. He’s talking all sorts of nonsense. He’s intimidating the heck out of you, even if he’s about 5’9, 170 pounds. Mathieu’s intimidating not merely because he’ll get in your head, as he did with West Virginia’s receivers even before the opening kickoff, but because he’ll back up all his jabber with big play after big play, officially breaking your heart in the process. Just against the Mountaineers: six tackles, an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Game-breaking ability. We saw that against Oregon, when Mathieu’s fumble recovery for a touchdown turned the game around. He does some work on punt returns, though not that much thus far, but it’s Mathieu’s penchant for the highlight reel that has pushed him into the Heisman conversation. Great news for Mathieu: there are several additional marquee games yet to be played. Do the same against Alabama, Arkansas and the like, and Mathieu is going to really put his name on the map.
Next vs. Kentucky, Saturday
9. QB Denard Robinson, Michigan (Last week: No. 8)
Week 4 W 28-7 vs. San Diego State (8 of 17 for 93 yards, 2 INT; 21 carries for 200 yards, 3 TD)
Year to date 35 of 72 for 623 yards, 6 TD, 6 INT; 71 carries for 552 yards, 5 TD
No quarterback since Eric Crouch has won the Heisman without doing anything in the passing game, and Crouch’s team played for a national title. Robinson, should he continue to complete less than 50 percent of his attempts with as many interceptions as touchdowns, would need to lead Michigan to a 12-0 regular season to follow in Crouch’s footsteps. That’s not going to happen in 2011. So while Robinson continues to make plays with his feet — he’ll always do that — it’s vital that he improve upon his lackluster passing numbers. Against Notre Dame and Eastern Michigan, a substandard completion percentage was offset by a few touchdowns. Against San Diego State, Robinson combined another sub-50 percent completion percentage with two interceptions without a touchdown. The passing numbers aren’t good. The running? Robinson has either hit his stride or Al Borges has seen the light, giving his junior quarterback more rein to stretch his legs. The key games for Robinson: Michigan State, Nebraska and Ohio State.
Next vs. Minnesota, Saturday
10. RB LaMichael James, Oregon (Last week: N/A)
Week 4 W 56-31 at Arizona (23 carries for 288 yards, 2 TD; 2 receptions for 15 yards)
Year to date 65 carries for 613 yards, 7 TD; 11 receptions for 159 yards, 1 TD
James is going to have a rough time making his detractors completely forget L.S.U. — especially those who nonsensically link L.S.U. with Auburn, which happened in the 2010 season — but his play over the last two games has gone a long way towards rebuilding his tarnished national reputation. First it was a 204-yard performance in a laugher against Missouri State. Then it was last Saturday’s epic, a 288-yard record-breaker at Arizona. James looked a little sluggish against the Tigers; he looked like greased lightning against Arizona, averaging 12.5 yards per carry with rushes of 42, 18, 19, 31 47 and 22 yards. That’s the LaMichael James we’re used to seeing.
Next vs. California, Oct. 6
QB Geno Smith, West Virginia (Last week: No. 9)
RB Ronnie Hillman, San Diego State (Last week: No. 10)
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Tags: Andrew Luck, Denard Robinson, Geno Smith, Justin Blackmon, Kellen Moore, LaMichael James, Landry Jones, Marcus Lattimore, Robert Griffin III, Ronnie Hillman, Russell Wilson, The Heisman Trophy, Tyrann Mathieu
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