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Friday Morning Quarterback

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A weekly primer.

Kirk Herbstreit lambasted Virginia Tech and all things tangentially Virginia Tech in the fourth quarter of Tech's implosion at Boston College, striking out at the heart of the wounded Hokie spirit, but Thursday was a predictable extension of the major mediocrity SMQ, for one, spotted all the way back at VT's game with North Carolina. To the archives!:

One team here with a quarterback it's afraid to let throw beyond six yards, and another that should be.
Make no mistake: North Carolina's defense was up to the challenge Saturday. UNC outgained V-Tech by 44 yards due to an effort that allowed just 224, and just 107 passing, almost half of which came on a garbage-time, 41-yard touchdown from backup quarterback Ike Whitaker to former backup quarterback-cum-tight end Greg Boone, Whitaker's only pass; Glennon threw for 66 yards on 3.9 per attempt (and just 6.6 per completion). Most of that came on two screens to Branden Ore against a demoralized, suddenly shoddy-tackling UNC defense in the second half. He didn't make a big mistake (other than an early turnover on a fumbled snap), but given his performance was the textbook definition of "underwhelming," and the more athletic, Randall-Vick-like Whitaker electrified on his sole attempt, quarterback could be on deck. Because the Hokie offense under Glennon was a predictable, slow, all-holds-barred, weak sister Saturday.

Which brings us to an identical conclusion from Thursday's game (Glennon, for the record, was the quarterback whose team was afraid to let him throw beyond six yards, Joe Dailey the one who should have been banned from doing so). It wasn't necessary to go downfield to beat North Carolina, but it was to beat Boston College. The production Thursday was virtually identical to the UNC game, but without knuckleheaded mistakes by a double agent opposing quarterback gifting short fields, the scoreboard was turned around completely; the Cincinnati game was another forecast of big, big trouble for the Tech offense. SMQ thought Whitaker deserved a chance in the wake of Glennon's screen-based blandness against the Tar Heels, and if Glennon is going to be that shackled, can't be alone in thinking he deserves one now.

What else is new?


SMQ Will Be Watching
Not much, besides Southern Miss' inevitable thrashing at the hands of a dominant and unstoppable Houston juggernaut. It's Homecoming, so festivities on a weekend that plays out like the anti-Week Three can be focused elsewhere without wondering what other gridiron bliss awaits. If plans proceed as currently designed, it will SMQ's first Southern Miss game this year, and one filled with unbearable pain. See below. Whatever's available in the interim will be consumed with moderate interest.

Finally, We'll Learn About
Navy's not West Virginia or Louisville, or probably even Pittsburgh, but it does give Rutgers an opportunity against a team with a pulse to show some top 25 chops for a change.

Most to Gain
It lost to Akron and Southern Miss in back-to-back weeks, so of course three weeks down the road NC State can keep its unbeaten stranglehold on the ACC Atlantic. With Maryland and Virginia lined up next, NCSU could enter the Georgia Tech-Clemson part of the schedule (the latter being the more important division opponent) at 5-0 in the conference if it can get a third straight home win against Wake Forest.

Most to Lose
Either Florida or Auburn is going to watch its dreams - be they national or SEC - go up in flames, reminiscent of the library fire on the AU campus ten years ago - also the last time Florida was 6-0, for the record. Auburn's been responsible regularly for derailing the Gators' mythical title plans, but it's the Tigers who's postseason hopes shift downward, to Orlando or Tampa, or even Atlanta, with a loss here.

Inevitable Blowout of the Week
If one believes relatively low octane Miami is destined to destroy Florida International, winless but competitive in all but one defeat, that's your definite blowout. But with Clemson's entirely predictable shellacking of Temple passed, all other games are conceivably competitive on some level.

Lame Game of the Week
SMQ tries to avoid including Championship Subdivision teams in this category, but what place could be worse Saturday than Starkville to watch Mississippi State fans pray that their team - past losers to Troy and Maine - can at least get by Jacksonville State.

Buffalo Line Watch
Since joining Division I-A football in 1999, Buffalo has been favored to win only once, against Temple to open this season. This week, the Bulls, coming off a 55-25 loss to Ball State in which it allowed five touchdowns and a field goal on BSU's first six possessions as well as a punt return, are nine-point underdogs at home against winless Miami, Ohio.

Bouncing back...

Georgia - Anyone but Vanderbilt would offer potential for letdown, but, you know, it's Vanderbilt. The Commodores may only lose by a field goal, but they will lose, with brains and gusto.
Oklahoma - Will convince themselves to worry about Iowa State and sustain this stress until about the third quarter, when the skies part and victory becomes pretty much certain.
Oregon - As if the Ducks' reputation at home wasn't good enough, Karl Dorrell is winless against winning teams on the road.
Texas Tech - SMQ wants to pick Colorado for a win, a big first win for Dan Hawkins at home, but, much as he likes the spunky Care Bear coach, he like savant Mike Leach and, you know, talent, just that much more.
Washington - Oregon State's only beaten Eastern Washington and Idaho, and been trounced by Boise State and Cal, which makes the competent-looking Huskies, surprisingly, something like a lock in a PAC Ten game for the first time in ages.
LSU - Woe be unto Kentucky for drawing the Tigers after a tough loss. The total defense ranks here are 1 and 116.


Game of the Century of the Week

What's at Stake: Much in the way of championships, regional and otherwise. Florida's grand SEC ambitions don't hang on an interdivision game (they will against Georgia either way), but percolating mythical title aspirations boil over into hysteria with UF's first challenging road win. From a league perspective (though not a poll one), Auburn could have better afforded a loss to Mississippi State than to Arkansas, which would have to lose three SEC games of its remaining five to keep AU in the West race if the Tigers go down for the second straight week at home.
Florida Wants: Arkansas ran all over Auburn, and the Tebow Effect may have mystified enough pundits into believing Florida has a power running game, but UF's inconsistency in that regard and lack of actual running backs might make South Carolina's pick-your-spots passing game more of a model if Auburn runs a similar zone; given AU's most recent blitz and man-to-man-related scars, there is some likelihood this will happen. If Auburn is a reeling team - we're not sure about this yet - an early lead can be as demoralizing in a quiet-the-crowd sense as it can be in limiting what the Tigers are able to do strategically.

Brandon Cox, of course, should be made to throw, and without the benefit of the lethal play-action, which if Kenny Irons or any other back is making hay can result in embarrassingly wide open lanky dudes streaking to the sideline on crossing routes or sneaky tight ends alone in the flat off the waggle action - Arkansas did a pretty good job at containing both, and this was primarily because it was able to get on top and dictate by keeping hobbled KI out of the mix; other than a couple good runs on one first quarter drive that amounted to nothing, Brad Lester was not comparable in relief. Florida's front seven is notoriously fiendish, but its secondary has been very good, too, and Auburn's receivers have been very meh, at best, a recipe for some good old line stackin' and deep ball darin'.
Auburn Wants: Primarily, a healthy Irons whose name isn't also something that's used to stabilize his jankety foot. Whatever means have to be taken to establish the run (SMQ really likes underused fullback Carl Stewart, for example, who laid some really devastating blocks last week and can run if given the chance), the Arkansas debacle proved how essential being able to pound the hell out of the ball is to the entire Al Borges oeuvre. Without the stray big play or two from the passing game, for which the Tigers are not known in this sort of game, Brandon Cox is in for a much worse time than he had last week. And that was a bad time.

Tim Tebow, too, should be made to throw, though it might be worth patiently allowing him his four and five yard dives in the name of protecting against the big play; the crowd, for once, will not feed the emotional beast. Where Leak is concerned, the jury remains out on UF's offensive line, which held up well against LSU and Alabama the last two weeks but was less successful at stopping Tennessee's rush on the road earlier in the year; Auburn is equipped for pass rushing and should make getting in Leak's face a top priority, with a blitzer or two if necessary.
Variables: Irons' foot...The emotional crest and possible subsidence of the Tebow Effect, especially on the road...The emotional and psychological state of Auburn following the brutal stamping of its mythical title shot...Florida's offensive line on the road...Auburn receivers' hands of shale...Decapitation total by Reggie Nelson.
The Pick: The Tigers' defense has shown vulnerability the last two weeks against two very different offenses, one that couldn't consistently run and one that couldn't throw. Florida is more balanced, and more equipped via its front seven than South Carolina or Arkansas to keep the heat on Brandon Cox in third-and-long situations by making the essential Auburn run game a no go; the Gators are fourth nationally in rushing defense, and if Tennessee, LSU and Alabama are averaging under 60 yards per game on the ground - two of those games against a Marcus Thomas-less interior, a luxury Auburn will not have - SMQ doesn't see the possibly demoralized Tigers making their move.

If it were totally logical, it wouldn't be an upset
Navy opens roughly a field goal favorite based, presumably, on its statistically unparalleled rushing offense. Overlooked in that line, though, are the Midshipmen's generally mediocre defensive efforts, the Academy's close calls with East Carolina and especially I-AA Massachusetts (which actually played the triple option very well, from the numbers), and Rutgers' very stout defense against run and pass (ranked third nationally overall). Quarterback Mike Teel is always a turnover threat, but the Knights can pound away with it their own selves; this one is totally logical. With Brian Leonard and Adam Ballard, likely the NCAA's most fullback-centric game of the season.

There are teams that still use a fullback?

The most stunning statistic in the country at this point is two, the Bruins' improbable national rank in rushing and total defense; UCLA's giving up less than one-fourth what it allowed on the ground in 2005, when it was the lowest-ranked run defense anywhere. Outside of Arizona last week (negative 13 total), though, it hasn't been a complete shutdown: Utah had two players over 6.5 per carry; Rice got its top back well over five. Those are minor, minor quibbles in the big picture, but relevant because Jonathan Stewart and Jeremiah Johnson Saturday are challenges far exceeding what Washington, Stanford and Arizona were able to throw at the Bruins, with the added threat of Dennis Dixon. Not to be overly dour on an obviously vastly improved defensive group, but with Carl Dorrell's road record against winning teams (see above), and without Ben Olson (or a DeSean Jackson doppelganger), and with Oregon's home record being what it is (which is very good), it's impossible to go against the Ducks. Unintentionally, going back to last year, SMQ never picks UCLA and is consistently burned by his lack of faith in the Bruins (other than USC in '05, obviously, and nailing the Washington "upset" this year), but you know, what's an amateur prognosticator to do? They play a tough schedule out there.

El Presidente Rudy Carpenter, his glorious interception total rising like the noble populist swell that swept him into the quarterback position at ASU, has been ruthlessly betrayed by his disloyal defense and its weakness for allowing the big play of every variety; how could any progress be made when the infallible offensive program is facing 42-14 and 24-3 halftime deficits, as the Sun Devils have the last two weeks? USC, with a presumably healthy Dwayne Jarrett, is not exactly the ideal venue for a great defensive leap forward.

Anthony Morelli's overall numbers are not at all bad, but the Notre Dame and Ohio State games demonstrated that, against defenses of some caliber, the Lions' offense is essentially a one-trick pony - and a pony Michigan's well-equipped to handle. SMQ will give credits to Penn State for being at home for a raucous national TV game for the first time this year (the same environment that helped PSU down Ohio State last season), for not having to deal with Mario Manningham and for, he suspects, having the chops to run more successfully on Michigan than any Wolverine opponent to date - not that that's saying much. Michigan will run and move the ball, and with Morelli against this defense once a late UM lead neutralizes Tony Hunt, those credits don't add up to a Nittany Lion cover.

Some may be feigning respect for the "unpredictable" Spartans, but an uncompetitive mistake-fest against Michigan and any type of loss to Illinois is proof enough for SMQ that MSU is in fully predictable pack-in mode until at least Northwestern and likely beyond. Troy Smith gets to do Heisman stuff.

Wait, aren't these usually season-ending rivals for some sort of extremely dangerous weapon? Why are they playing in mid-October? Why is Wisconsin, ninth in total defense and coming off two blowout wins over league weaklings against the 100th-ranked total defense, only an eight-point favorite in many books? Don't they know Minnesota will be caught looking ahead to North Dakota State next week? Can SMQ be paid commission per rhetorical question?

Wake doesn't have much to hang its hat on following the fourth quarter meltdown that cost it a perfect record and some definite eyeballs against Clemson, but NC State at least has Daniel Evans and the completely illogical two-game home winning streak over Boston College and Florida State. It is true that FSU could be a borderline terrible team, and that Wake Forest could help dramatically expose this decline by taking out one of the teams that beat the `Noles, but for now count SMQ with one pinky toe in disguise on the Daniel Evans/Andre Brown bandwagon in this intense battle for first place in the ACC Atlantic!

One thing undefeated Missouri has not faced is a committed, moderately talented running game, which is exactly what the Aggies bring into this one - massive Jorvorskie Lane, Mike Goodson and quarterback Stephen McGee average about 150 together, evenly divided between them, and that doesn't account for the possible presence of gimpy Courtney Lewis. A&M actually sports one of the most balanced offenses in the country (204 rushing, 208 passing), with a relative homefield advantage that SMQ boldly projects will make the difference. Missouri at 7-0 will be believed only after it is seen.

ISU is that perpetually respected team that you always feel deserves a fair shake, but until the Cyclones beat someone in the Iowa-Nebraska-Oklahoma range, they'll remain a rung below. There may be some potential to stop Adrian Peterson for much of this game, but that, too, will have to be seen.

SMQ again states that Tyler Palko has almost as many touchdown passes his last three games (7) as he does incomplete passes (9). And none of those were intercepted. UCF, meanwhile, has been routinely torched through the air. Not a conference game, but whatever can be done to demoralize and, not, you know, injure, exactly, but maybe just...physically affect one of Southern Miss' main East Division challengers is A-OK with SMQ.

SMQ Homerism

Houston with Kevin Kolb at quarterback has been a consistently terrifying prospect, as the Cougars come out with this wild criss-crossing passing game that always winds up with USM defenders trying to chase down a wide open receiver in the flat - almost always Vincent Marshall, who, like Kolb, is drawing deep into the bank of eligibility reserves - who's turning up for a big gain. Kolb the past two years has thrown for 660 yards and three touchdowns against USM, with no interceptions, and Cougar backs have made career days out of facing the Eagles. It's a sorry story.

There is some comfort that, despite its huge yardage totals, UH blew a late lead and lost in overtime in 2004 and only won by a field goal at home against a limping USM squad last year. And that it inexplicably lost last week to UL-Lafayette. But there is none in the fact that USM's only two offensive "weapons," young Damion Fletcher and Shawn Nelson, are each suspended for the first half for curfew violations, or that Nelson and both terrible quarterbacks, Jeremy Young and Stephen Reaves, have nagging injuries that could keep them out or - as was painfully obvious to anyone who endured the horrors of the second half at Tulsa, when Nelson singlehandedly (literally; he's got a broken hand) led a shameful parade of Eagle drops - extremely limit their already very limited effectiveness. The third string quarterback is a walk-on even SMQ's never heard of. So the game is on the defense, and Kolb regularly scorches and chars USM's defense, so there is no chance Southern Miss wins. None. Oddsmakers make Southern a two to three-point favorite but are obviously deranged because there is no hope on the planet that Southern Miss can possibly hang with Houston in this game, and such fantasies should not be indulged. Homecoming disaster awaits. Bet the farm on Houston. Any and all hopeless expectations of the slightest Golden Eagles success and continued presence in the East Division championship picture should be extinguished by common sense and the march of history and low, low, low expectations of doom and grief.