While contemplating Virginia Tech ahead of Arkansas...because of that big Hokie win?
Saturday, inadvertently = SEC Day at the SMQ Compound:
Arkansas 27, Auburn 10
The story line here, predictably, is a stunning, shocking, major upset over a team that failed to get out of bed, which SMQ would have agreed entering the game because of the teams' previous affairs with LSU and USC, but it definitely didn't feel like an OMG moment watching the game. Certainly no fluke. This was pretty much an out and out butt-kicking.
One of the reasons a few people were pegging big things from Arkansas is that we knew the Hogs had skillz: offensively, in fact, Arkansas' speed guys are a match for any in the SEC. Who was surprised by Darren McFadden's big day, or his touchdown burst up the gut of the Auburn defense? Felix Jones' huge contributions as a general change of pace/all-purpose/reverse weapon? Little supporting evidence has been offered to confirm the alleged talents of Marcus Monk, but his first quarter touchdown - besides accounting for almost 60 percent of Wonder Boy Mitch Mustain's entire passing total for the day, on a ball that probably should have been at least swatted - was a pretty good Exhibit A regarding his overall ridiculousness and lank. In that regard, it was just putting all the very fast pieces together in one game.
But the "stunner" is that both of Arkansas' veteran lines thoroughly wore Auburn out Saturday - McFadden, you'll note, was not touched on his jaunt, while, hobbled Kenny Irons or not (he still picked up five per carry on 15 carries with a steel inset), the consistent pressure on Brandon Cox kept the Tigers out of many third and short situations - and virtually erased the indicting, Mustain-less opener at USC. Average, or even subpar, as the kid may be at this point, he's been killer mistake-free enough to win four straight starts, beat "The Number Two Team in the Nation" on the road and - with LSU beaten twice and Auburn suddenly an underdog against Florida and still with Georgia left - open up a wide margin of error between Arkansas and the SEC Championship Game. Nobody who's watched the likes of Sam Olajabutu doubts any more its ability to get there.
And on that note, it must be said: Phil Steele made three utterly insane, unjustifiable predictions in the preseason, namely tabbing most recently 5-6 Pittsburgh ahead of 11-1 Sugar Bowl champion West Virginia in the Big East, 1-10 Kent State to win the MAC East, and 4-7 Arkansas ahead of LSU in the SEC West and 13th in the nation. Halfway through the season, Pittburgh - though not "ahead" of WVU - is 5-1 and momentarily atop the Big East at 2-0, Kent State is in sole possession of the MAC East lead at 3-0 in-conference and Arkansas, with its should-have-seen-it-coming upset and four upcoming games against Southwest Missouri State, Ole Miss, Louisiana-Monroe and South Carolina, might wind up in a month somewhere around, say, thirteenth.
Florida 23, LSU 10
A convincing win for Florida, which made all the plays during the decisive ten-minute stretch ending the first half and beginning the second, but the momentum for this short span - in which UF scored all 23 of its points - came via a couple crucial calls that prevented LSU from being in front at the half.
Bob Griese Gary Danielsen made a big deal about the "roughing the passer" call that gave the Gators a first an goal late in the half, on a possession eventually punctuated by Tim Tebow's sublimely awkward touchdown flip to Tate Casey (that was almost up and down! Ahh, they never call the traveling stuff these days, anyway), but this was a run of the mill terrible roughing call, trickled down from the NFL. Much more damaging was the phantom hold that brought back a Craig Davis touchdown on a well-executed screen that would have put LSU up 14-7 after an epic march in the second quarter; SMQ and father of SMQ - along with, briefly, Griese Danielsen and the very sad Verne Lundquist, who quickly forgot the call and didn't return - were both incredulous that the instantaneous, non-hindering brush of a jersey sleeve that drew the flag could bring back a touchdown. Three plays later, having made up the hold for a first down, deceptively fast Jacob Hester appeared to score on a nine-yard run; he was ruled down at the inch line after a replay (this is not a wrong call, SMQ should note, but a crucial one), setting up the dramatic, game-turning fumble by JaMarcus Russell, the first of three fumbles - the other two coming on special teams, the one area where LSU was really decisively outplayed - that would tilt the score to the Gators. These little, momentum-changing plays make very large differences in the outcome.
In other news, the Tebow Effect makes so little sense to SMQ, and yet remains a delight because it's so stupid and basic: Here comes recognizable player who doesn't see many snaps. When he does get the ball, he runs behind a pulling guard off tackle. Pretty much every single time. You cannot even begin to think about stopping this, no matter what. It's like oversized junior high ball every time TT steps on the field, like Refrigerator Perry on the '85 Bears, just this guy who doesn't know all that much about what's going on, barreling ahead as hard as he can, with baffling success. When he does the rare quarterback thing, like complete a pass, and reminds everyone of an actual potential every down starter, it's even a little jarring (and, for opponents, totally terrifying). SMQ can't wait to see he and Leak back there at the same time, and the subsequent blood spurting from the earholes of defenders' helmets.
The persistence of the Tebow Effect continues to elude scientific analysts
? Nice job by
Griese Danielsen on pointing out the element of sheer, bed-wetting terror UF safety Reggie Nelson strikes into the hearts of opposing offenses. Orson has extolled Nelson on a consistent basis, and Griese Danielsen pointed out why this a correct and proper reaction: in the first half, JaMarcus Russell floated a ball down the sideline that was picked off by Ryan Smith, just as Nelson arrived from the middle of the field to uncorrect Dwayne Bowe's LASIK surgery. In the second half, Griese showed, Russell threw the same pass, again picked by Smith, only it was much, much shorter this time because Bowe - who was behind Smith - was again in the crossfires of Nelson, who Russell avoided, to his demise (though, humanitarianly, to Bowe's long-term health).
? Solid catch of an errant ball by Lee Corso on the sideline in the third quarter, redeeming himself for allowing Kirk Herbstreit to snatch a similar pass from his grasp in the second quarter, casually holding it above a flailing Corso's head as "Scooter" leapt for it like a second grader trying to get his hat back from the middle school kids at the bus stop. Good times.
Tennessee 51, Georgia 33
Entering Saturday, Georgia had allowed 34 total points in five games, nine combined to two SEC opponents, and was barely topping two touchdowns per in three games against teams from BCS conferences. So of course, they score 33 and allow 51.
Actually, the offensive explosion is somewhat exaggerated, both by turnovers (four, all of them by Georgia) and special teams (UGA ran a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns, and Tennessee blocked a punt for one), but Tennessee laid the hammer beginning with its last possession of the second quarter: at the start of that drive, with 4:50 left in the half, the Vols trailed 24-7, having given up scores on all three of Georgia's offensive possessions and allowed the punt return by Mikey Henderson. From that point, Tennessee scored on five straight possessions (not including the blocked punt), maximally efficient drives of 65, 19, 72, 36, 55 and 44 yards that ripped the beating heart from Sanford Stadium and served notice - Lord of the Flies, head-on-a-stick style - to beloved and wildly successful defensive coordinators across the SEC. It was like watching the evolution from the league's bite-and-hold, trench warfare approach to stunning blitzkrieg and air assault, coldly war-gamed by David Cutcliffe and executed by dive bombing ace Erik Ainge.
And Georgia's offense? Er, six second half possessions covering 105 yards - well over half coming on a 75-yard drive that resulted in a field goal - and four turnovers. Tennessee never really stopped Kregg Lumpkin (6.0 per on 13 carries), Thomas Brown (7.1 on eight) or even Brannon Southerland (4.3 on four), but Georgia got caught handing the ball off once or less on five of its six second half possessions - the one exception being the run-heavy, 75-yard drive that was its only semblance of offensive life after the break. Well as they ran, the Bulldogs couldn't - or wouldn't - commit to running to control the clock.
Even when your defense rocks, you can't hold on to the ball, Oklahoma, but at least say this: it don't get any more American than a beauty queen woodenly leading cheers at a football game from the front of a makeshift Conestoga wagon...Adrian Peterson returning kicks is not fair...On air, Washington's failure to get off a snap for an end zone heave to beat USC was attributed to "the new rule," but the rule after picking up a first down is the same as it's always been; the clock has always started when the official whistles it ready for play in that situation. The dreaded 3-2-5-e had no direct effect in this case, unless you count the start of the possession with a minute and a half, when U-Dub lost maybe six to eight seconds before its first snap of the drive. Far more important was the three seconds it lost by the failure of the clock official to stop the ticking when the receiver's knee hit the turf after what turned out to be the last play. He was down clearly with five seconds left, but Washington was left without the option to spike because the clock kept rolling all the way down to two seconds before it was stopped. This is not "home cooking," because an official (if it's like high school, a rookie official) who's part of the on-field crew controls the clock, but may have been the reason Ty Willingham was protesting on the field, the action was hung up and delayed, and the offense still wasn't lined up when the unchanged time was restarted and then expired...Stunning stat of the day: Texas A&M's win at Kansas on a late touchdown was the Jayhawks' first home loss in two years. KU had a nine-game winning streak at home, and it should have been longer: the last loss was in 2004 to Texas, when Vince Young first began displaying his Vince Youngosity to convert an impossible fourth and long on the eventual winning drive that snatched victory from the deserving `Hawks, who had also been hit with a couple iffy calls. Also stunning: the Lorenzen-like proportions of A&M tailback Jorvorskie Lane, who's listed at 265 but looked like he was only a couple thighs shy of entering defensive tackle territory on the Aggies' winning touchdown...SMQ is slightly vindicated in picking Cal at two in the preseason. Since the embarrassment at Tennessee, the Bears are money, and the quartet of big, big wins over Arizona State, Minnesota (apparently jobbed on a fourth down pass interference in overtime Saturday against Penn State, without any of the usual protest or fanfare as far as SMQ saw), Oregon State and now the big, um, feather, Oregon, is as about as good a resume of wins as anyone's, save possibly Ohio State and Florida. If Arkansas can be a different team from the one that played on Day One, so can Cal. But why couldn't they make SMQ look like a genius then?
WHAT WE LEARNED
Arkansas is a different team than a month ago, but so are the squads at Auburn, California, Michigan State and Fresno State (see below)...The very logical certainty of the predictable nature of the Tim Tebow Effect can only lead to physical frustration and strategic embarrassment...Georgia may be nothing like they had appeared...When you've got special teams and turnovers, offense is very overrated
SMQ was right about: Since Friday's preview was abbreviated, there isn't much official to log, but SMQ goes way, waaaaay back to August, in his preseason top ten, to his justification of dumping Auburn at nine when most had the Tigers in the top five:
...and then, on the same note, when assessing the SEC:
And so, Saturday, it was, when Arkansas averaged 6.2 per carry while holding Auburn under two per pop and sacking Brandon Cox five times.
Aw, you totally called it way back, SMQ! Not specifically, but you know!
SMQ was wrong about: Georgia. SMQ was on target when he called Georgia "an overrated team that hasn't done anything impressive yet," but went on to extrapolate that against Tennessee, therefore, UGA
Actually, Georgia lost time of possession by about seven and a half minutes and turned the ball over four times in a barnburning loss. Sorta close.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
A couple Heisman guys had big days against terrible teams, but considering the competition, Darren McFadden (28 carries, 145 yards, 1 badass touchdown) is The Man for this weekend.
Staying in the SEC, and maybe a week late because of his game at Alabama, Reggie Nelson (2.5 tackles, one pass defensed, one blocked kick, perpetuation of fear) didn't have great measurable numbers but did draw the highest praise from father of SMQ, a former high school coach who doesn't know Reggie Nelson from Reggie Lewis but watched most of Florida and LSU and noted, "That number one'll hit ya, boy." This kind of comment about random (to him) players has previously been reserved for the likes of Ed Reed in the 2003 Orange Bowl.
In the "speed kills" category, there's Mario Manningham and DeSean Jackson, who collectively touched the ball eight times and produced 237 yards and four touchdowns. That sophomore pair has scored a combined 19 touchdowns in 12 games.
LSU goes up a touchdown at the end of a 17-play, 75-yard drive in the second quarter at Florida if JaMarcus Russell hangs on to the snap on a quarterback sneak. Instead, Florida recovers and - though initially stopped from its own end zone in the short term - scores 16 unanswered while picking Russell off three times, twice as LSU scrambles late in the fourth quarter to cut the lead facilitated in large part by the exchange gaffe.
JaMarcus Russell and Les Miles got one foot in the hole, one foot gettin' deeper...and the bottom drops out?
Georgia Tech narrowly averted the classic Tech letdown against Maryland, the kind of game that raised the Jackets to auteur status in the under-appreciated "upset victim" genre, but unavoidable was the official notice of "collapse" stapled to Al Groh's office door, complete with skull and crossbones, after Virginia not only lost but was waxed 31-21 at East Carolina, a game in which UVA gave up 430 yards and trailed 24-7 at the half.
No defeat, however, could be as bitter as that suffered by Fresno State, first victims this season of Utah State after allowing a 30-yard touchdown pass with 55 seconds remaining to lose, 13-12. Previously, USU had failed to score an offensive point in its first four games before getting on the board in its big loss to Idaho last week and had allowed about five touchdowns per game; Fresno's fourth straight loss drops it to 1-1 in the WAC with Boise, Hawaii et al remaining. Not good times.
JUST WHEN YA THINK YA KNOW A FELLA...
Time to Re-think:
Southern Cal and Auburn as top five locks. Auburn, obviously, will drop after its stunning home defeat at the hands of complete nobody Arkansas, known to date only for being dismantled by SC in its opener. With LSU's uninspired visit to the Swamp and the near-hit at South Carolina (the Cocks their own selves were not overly aflame at Kentucky), the Tigers' previous "marquee" wins are thrown into an uglier light, too. Southern Cal, for its part, is at least still winning. But if the Create-a-Team 2005 version couldn't win a mythical championship in the end, how is this bunch supposed to compete on that level when its hanging on for all its worth on last minute drives by Washington and Washington State? Cal, save that ruinous Tennessee game, has been by far more impressive against comparable, maybe slightly better competition.
The transference between the teams and common opponents is interesting, too, because it cuts both ways: SC crushed Arkansas, who crushed Auburn, yes, but the Trojans also struggled at Washington State, who its own self was crushed by Auburn. Therefore, Washington State, SMQ presumes, would probably play Arkansas within a field goal if given the opportunity, just to emphasize the extreme lack of worth in such sadly necessary conjectures.
A FINE WHINE
SMQ Complaint of the Week
SMQ again calls for the institution of an NFL-style replay system based exclusively on coach's challenges, the one aspect the pro game does do better than the alleged amateurs. Way, way too many plays are being reviewed under the current willy nilly system, often obvious plays that have no chance whatsoever of being overturned (though, to be fair, even on "obvious" calls, history has consistently proven there is no way to predict what any official is actually going to decide after staring at the most conclusive video evidence for a minute or two, the most damning element of replay being how often refs still get so many calls, important calls, completely wrong), and it's used too often as a crutch. Saturday, officials stopped the second quarter of the Auburn-Arkansas game to review an incomplete pass call on a deep throw to Courtney Taylor, who had protested the ruling despite having not possessed the ball for one fraction of a microsecond before it bounced off the ground and rolled away incomplete; later, SEC officials also stopped the Georgia-Tennessee game late to look at an obvious Joe Tereshinki III fumble that basically sealed the UGA loss. At least the calls after replay came out right, but they were already obviously correct and not in need, after a replay official has already looked at them before the next snap, of further review on the field. If shortening games is such a priority that we're cutting the actual play to get people to traffic jams more quickly, maybe cutting the number of plays reviewed - while also adding the strategic element of challenge limits and punishment via confiscated time outs - could achieve the desired result instead.