NCAA – What Chris Is Watching – 08/31/14 – Oklahoma vs Florida State

Oklahoma vs Florida State – 2:00 PM

I don’t think anyone in their wildest dreams had expected this one to be the top match of the day before the season started, but Oklahoma has made an astonishing start to the season with wins over Oklahoma State and Florida on their record. Those alone have made the Sooners shockingly viable candidates for an NCAA Tournament berth after just one and a half weeks of the season. OU will be looking to claim the biggest scalp of all on Sunday afternoon in Norman though, when College Cup contender Florida State comes calling. As you might expect, the Sooners’ win over Florida on Friday was more of a smash-and-grab effort than anything, with OU putting up just two shots on goal in the run of play but still prevailing after jumping all over the Gators early before sealing the deal with an Abby Hodgen penalty kick in the second half. UF tried to mount the comeback but could only get a solitary Savannah Jordan strike. Considering the Gators had been scoring for fun on opening weekend, for OU to hold the club to just five shots on goal was impressive. Of course, Florida State is no less deadly, though the Sooners may like their chances in the Oklahoma heat after FSU needed extra time to polish off Oklahoma State. The odds are decidedly against Oklahoma pulling the upset…but then again, that’s what we’ve been saying the past few weeks to no avail.

Florida State made awfully hard work of Oklahoma State on Friday night, going down 1-0 in the first half and taking until the eighty-first minute to claw back level before netting a golden goal winner less than five minutes from the end of extra time. This all despite bludgeoning the Cowgirls’ goal for the better part of the match, having outshot OSU, 38-5 and 16-2 in shots on goal, including a 21-1 shot disparity in the second half. The winner was off a Megan Campbell long throw, the Irish international again proving how deadly those throws are to opposing defenses. The offense hasn’t quite found its scoring rhythm yet, but clearly from the volume of chances created, there’s so much potential here. However, the defense clearly isn’t as bulletproof as it has been in past seasons, evidenced by the just one clean sheet kept in three games thus far. You’d guess that FSU’s odds of shutting out Oklahoma aren’t bad, but overlooking the Sooners would be a mistake, as FSU’s rivals Florida can testify. A win here would be another solid step towards a #1 seed come November and would keep the momentum coming before the Noles’ big showdown at home next Friday against Florida.

Stephen F. Austin vs Arkansas – 12:00 PM (from Austin, Texas)

Stephen F. Austin’s reputation as a program took a mighty step forward on opening night when they bounced Oregon State, even if OSU looks to be a pretty poor side this season. A loss to Texas A&M a few days later was a hard fought one, but SFA bounced back in style on Friday against Nevada, winning 3-0 in a weather delayed match. Megan Dunnigan was the heroine on Friday with a pair of goals, while the rest of the offense was a bit less explosive than usual. If SFA holds out hopes of being in the mix for an at-large bid though, they need one and perhaps two wins in their next two against Arkansas and LSU. The battling display defensively against A&M last weekend should help them ahead of the match against the Lady Razorbacks, especially considering Arkansas was dragged through extra time on a long night in Austin. They might be catching Arkansas at just the right time for an upset, and a win on Sunday afternoon would go a long way in proving this SFA program has turned a corner after so many seasons of promising to do just that.

On the one hand, Arkansas finally kept a clean sheet in their third match of the season, but the bad news is that the offense dried up against Texas in a 0-0 draw. Texas was limited to just four shots on goal against the Lady Razorbacks, one of those coming from goalkeeper Abby Smith off a set piece. Arkansas though found no way through the Texas defense themselves, especially with Ashleigh Ellenwood, so crucial to the gameplan, not logging a shot on goal. With Arkansas now possibly gunning for a national seed after such a successful opening weekend to the season, they’re going to need every win they can get, especially with two very difficult games next weekend in North Carolina. Coming away without a win on Sunday afternoon would totally take the sheen off Arkansas’ start to the season, but it would perhaps put a damper on things after two wins last weekend. The Lady Razorbacks will probably find SFA’s defense more pliable than Texas’, it’s just a matter of making chances count.

Notre Dame vs USC – 1:30 PM

The good feeling surrounding the beginning of the Theresa Romagnolo era in South Bend came to a bit of a crashing halt in the second half against Texas Tech on Friday, when Tom Stone’s Big XII contenders hit the Irish with a rapid fire double blow at the beginning of the half to emerge with a 2-1 win. Notre Dame had taken a lead at 15′ when Katie Naughton had headed in a corner but were unable to add to that lead before being pegged twice in the second half. While both Morgan Andrews and Lauren Bohaboy both looked threatening, Notre Dame couldn’t find an equalizer in defeat. The Irish defense didn’t exactly let the Red Raiders run wild in the attack, but the lapse out of the half was telling in the end. There are worries in goal as well, where Kaela Little was guilty of an awful clanger for the second TTU goal, with the shot bouncing right through her hands and into the back of the net. It’ll be interesting to continue to see how Romagnolo fares in situations like these. This was by far the most high profile match of her head coaching career thus far, and it would appear that wily veteran Tom Stone got the better of her on Friday. Sunday should not be any easier against a USC side that has made a solid start to 2014 under a new head coach of their own.

USC themselves were tested greatly in their first match of the weekend, going down in the third minute to an unfancied Iowa State side but storming back to equalize with a rocket shot after the half hour before tacking on a pair of second half goals to run out comfortable winners. Katie Johnson looked to be dangerous as the leader of the line up front, but the Women of Troy still seem to be finding complements to their center forward, though Megan Borman did assist on one of USC’s goals on the afternoon and has looked sharp in other matches. Giving up the early goal is probably a little concerning, but Keidane McAlpine’s side is probably a little more worried about hammering out a consistent attack by the time they reach the rigors of league play. Going against a well drilled defense like Notre Dame’s certainly won’t hurt in those efforts. The non-conference schedule is mostly downhill for a few weeks before Pepperdine visits for a crunch showdown, so a win here would be a huge feather in USC’s cap as they chase an NCAA Tournament bid.

Kansas vs Wake Forest – 2:00 PM

Yes, this one is shockingly relevant at the moment, though that may be more through Wake Forest’s disappointing form at the moment. Kansas hasn’t exactly been pushing itself in non-conference play, but they’re still 3-0-0 and with a chance to potentially pick up some possibly NCAA Tournament bid making wins the next week or two. Colombian Liana Salazar has been the shining light in midfield, leading the attack thus far with three goals, taking up more of an attacking role than in years’ past. The club has also gotten some big contributions form newcomer Lois Heuchan, the other Jayhawk with multiple goals, though she doesn’t seem to be a ninety minute player at the moment. Getting French full-back Aurelie Gagnet back into the fold this weekend is certainly a bonus as well, though she may need to be eased back into the starting lineup after a grueling U20 WWC. With Wake Forest making the long flight to Lawrence after a Friday loss, Kansas may be catching their opponents at just the right time. An upset on Sunday would go a long way into answering questions about Kansas’ potential this season.

Why Wake Forest chose to schedule a trip to Lawrence after playing Friday at home in Winston-Salem is anyone’s guess. The Demon Deacons might be asking the same thing after a loss to James Madison on Friday night that probably brought back awful memories of the second round NCAA Tournament loss in 2008. While the ACC side rolled right through Wright State in their opener, JMU was a much different story. Neither side’s offense really found traction, but Wake looked to be good to go after scoring the opener in the ninth minute through Kendall Fischlein. James Madison would score right before half-time and right out of it to claim the win though, and Wake’s defense perhaps was a bit too fragile for their own good contributing to their own demise with a turnover leading to Katie Hyland’s winner. With Georgetown and UCLA still to come in non-conference play, Wake best take advantage of winnable matches in their sight. Then again, what looks easily winnable on paper now and what did at the beginning of the season may be two different things entirely, and WF could be ripe for another upset if they’re on weary legs after the plane ride to Lawrence.

Oklahoma State vs Florida – 2:00 PM

Oklahoma State’s torrid start to the 2014 season continued in heartbreaking fashion on Friday night when the club took an early lead against College Cup contenders Florida State. OSU had taken the lead early against the Noles and seemingly were withstanding a devastating barrage of shots until conceding a late equalizer. They’d be undone by a Megan Campbell long throw in extra time, but the Cowgirls still won plaudits for their effort and bravery in defeat. Moral victories don’t add up to much at the end of the season though, and the cold truth is that OSU now stands at 0-3-0, with the schedule not exactly easing up at the moment. The hope has to be that the offense can get on track with Courtney Dike back in the fold, and the Nigerian youth international could make a potent combo with Madison Mercado on the frontline. Florida’s rearguard wasn’t exactly airtight against Oklahoma on Friday, but they’ll still provide a stern test to an OSU side still finding its feet defensively and desperate for a win.

The Gators were rocked by their upset defeat to Oklahoma on Friday, something that could put a serious crimp into their hopes of a high national seed when all is said and done. After two confident wins to open up the season against major conference opposition, Florida’s attack looked shockingly impotent against, on paper, a very beatable Oklahoma side. The Gators didn’t seem to handle going down a goal very well, and the experiment in putting Jillian Graff in the #10 role was a total bust and didn’t last long at any rate until Pamela Begic was brought back on for the bulk of the contest. Savannah Jordan still got her goal with a coolly timed finish, but the rest of the offense lagged. Perhaps most worryingly, the Gators struggled for traction when OU shut up shop late trying to close the game out. The offense really needs to do better against an OSU side on Sunday that showed they will give up a lot of shots against top clubs in their loss to Florida State.

LSU vs Rice – 7:00 PM

OK, now perhaps we’ll get a truer picture of where this LSU club is at after a pair of non-conference matches of underwhelming import, where the Tigers trounced Troy and Northwestern State. It’s really hard to make heads or tails of the Tiger attack against such overmatched opposition, but Summer Clarke is at least on form with two goals and a team leading five shots on goal thus far, while transfer Natalia Gomez-Junco is another of the four players with two goals for LSU. It’s also tough to discern anything from LSU’s defensive displays, though you’d think they’ll need to do better than the form that saw them concede twice to Northwestern State, especially with Rice packing dangerous forward duo Holly Hargreaves and Lauren Hughes. LSU’s non-conference schedule is frustratingly sparse with real challenges until the heart of September, so this is a chance to at least make a minor statement with a positive result. Rice will undoubtedly see the chance for a big scalp though, and the Owls are used to playing against high powered offenses, having run stride for stride with Dayton last weekend.

Rice have been dogged this season in battling big teams, taking Baylor to extra time (though that looks less creditable now considering the Bears lost to Utah Valley since). They also, as mentioned above, battled to a 2-2 draw against high powered Dayton last Sunday before picking up a 2-0 win against Lamar on Friday. Realistically, the Owls are probably going to have to beat either LSU or Arkansas (possibly both) to stand a realistic chance of an at-large bid, and even then, it’s pushing it a bit. Rice will be the less talked about of the two offenses going into Sunday, but the Tigers best be wary of Holly Hargreaves, who has started out the season on fire with two goals and two assists. With her running mate Lauren Hughes, the Owls have a potent one-two punch that could give an LSU defense, which has been seldom tested this season, real problems. Whether Rice can hold back the Tiger attack is the real question though and one likely to determine if they stand a chance of escaping Baton Rouge with a result.

Other Matches To Watch That Might or Might Not Get Previews Later:

Texas A&M vs Illinois State – 2:30 PM
Pepperdine vs North Carolina – 4:00 PM
Ohio State vs Virginia Tech – 7:00 PM
UCLA vs San Diego – 8:00 PM

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