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The Streets Run Red With Sunday Morning Quarterback

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While realizing that, sometimes, it's nice not to have dog in the lethal championship hunt.

Hey, eyebrow-cocking Home Depot guy, rebuilding the deck Saturday? Well bummer, you yuppie bastard, because you could have had laid around in a pair of holey old nurse's scrubs and Friday's shirt, perversely reveling in top ten heads rolling around on the scaffolding, Rutgers-inspired underdog executioners wielding the bloody axe of a gruesome revolt destined to live in BCS infamy as the "Weekend of Terror." And consider SMQ among the loudest and most deranged among the cackling, playoff-demanding masses screaming "Off with their heads!"

A Saturday for the books!

An apparently routine three day-stretch instead resulted in unprecedented patrician massacre: the BCS' third, fifth, sixth and eighth-ranked teams all fell, the fourth bludgeoned within a six-foot-six defensive end's outstretched palm of its life.

It was also a day that tuned SMQ's more sympathetic tendencies to the cruelly incremental nature of a game, indeed, of inches, and also of split seconds: Florida won by the tips of Jarvis Moss' fingers, as related above, but also by the unusually speedy delay of game flag that took a 55-yard Ryan Succop field goal off the board earlier in the game; California, meanwhile, apparently made its big play to win on a sideline route and make-em-miss upfield burst by DeSean Jackson with two minutes left at Arizona, and had its victory drive upended by, literally, the length of Jackson's big toe. Yet Florida will rise, alive, while Cal falls into the murky "BCS hopeful" mire. Always remember such razor-thin margins when attempting to estimate "how good" any given team deserves to be measured.

DeSean Jackson in contemplation: If he wears the 10s instead of the 12s, the Bears win



Georgia 37, Auburn 15
No accumulation of mere inches could have saved the Tigers from the release of a month of pent-up Georgia frustration, embodied by Brandon Cox's stat line:

     4/12, 35 yards, 2.9 per attempt, 1 touchdown, 4 interceptions

All but the very last of those 35 yards, for the record, were gained on a single touchdown pass to Courtney Taylor in the third quarter, which made the score 30-15. Georgia's secondary, and really Tra Battle and his three picks/touchdown return alone, did better than that.

And Matthew Stafford, it turns out, did much, much better, this pounded-upon true freshman emerging from four consecutive dismal-to-horrendous starts to throw for 219, run for 83, account for two total touchdowns and commit nothing resembling a freshman mistake in the stadium of a contender that expected to grind his young bones to make its championship bread. Much was attributed to the also-young Georgia receivers for actually receiving the ball for a change, their earlier unsuccessful attempts at which SMQ can only partially vouch, but Stafford for this Saturday was a revelation.

And suddenly, with Georgia Tech and a bowl game and a defense that, we'd forgetten, really does rock - as the futile efforts of Auburn's rumored "blockers" should confirm -  the Bulldogs look like a good bet to emerge a nine-game winner again. What?

Game commentators made much of Georgia's road record under Mark Richt, which is pretty impressive, but that number - now at 22-3, technically best in the SEC - is skewed by the Dawgs' annual neutral field loss to Florida, which would conceivably add another three Ls to that mark; UGA's home record, in fact, while equally skewed, is just as impressive as the road mark. Since it wins at home at about the same rate, it's reasonable to say that Georgia wins so much on the road because it's just a good team no matter where it plays, as long as it's not Jacksonville.

Florida 17, South Carolina 16
Poor Steve Spurrier. SMQ still wants the guy on his sideline. But can a coach catch a break? Here the increments are brutal, and one-sided: SS has guided his team within a hair's breadth of beating Auburn, Tennessee and Florida, two of them on the road; the `Cocks are a couple plays from 8-2, but instead sit at 5-5 and on the verge of missing a bowl game. He coached his brains out again Saturday, in exactly the same fashion as he did at Auburn, here as there calling masterfully long, time-consuming drives that - without actually producing much of an overall time of possession advantage - achieve the desired result of "shortening the game" by limiting the number of possessions the more talented opponent has to exploit its advantages. At Auburn, the Tigers only netted six meaningful possessions; Florida Saturday only got seven. Even if you struggle to stop a team, as USC did to an extent in both cases, that's not many opportunities to score. At halftime, Urban Meyer expressed frustration over exactly this effect, but couldn't do much to turn it around in the second half (three real UF drives in the first two quarters, four in the last two).

Everything about this game's drive chart favored  the kind of game South Carolina needed to play. Its non-kneel down possessions Saturday:

8 plays, 30 yards, 3:46 elapsed, PUNT
13 plays, 80 yards, 6:04, TOUCHDOWN
10 plays, 48 yards, 5:08, PUNT*
6 plays, 59 yards, 3:01, FIELD GOAL BLOCKED*
12 plays, 51 yards, 6:13, FIELD GOAL GOOD
6 plays, 80 yards, 2:31, TOUCHDOWN*
 9 plays, 44 yards, 2:53, FIELD GOAL BLOCKED*

The * represents soul-churning, visor-flinging frustration, specifically here in terms of points left on the field. In this case, that's ten, because of the two missed kicks, the blocked PAT and the delay of game penalty on the third drive, which eliminated a perfect boot by Succop and forced a punt instead of a 10-0 lead.

It's also evidence that SMQ is not entirely crazy for leaving this one feeling Carolina had slghtly outplayed Florida, and legitimately, in the "made more positive plays resulting in an opportunity to win" sense, not the "scrappy underdog hanging in there" sense. It was only slightly, but things were going right for the `Cocks. Blake Mitchell was playing well - extremely well, sometimes - for the second straight week. The sticks were moving consistently, the clock running, Florida its own self making plays as expected but taking tons of time (Gator drives: 12 plays, 9 plays, 7, 9, 5, 11, 11, at considerable durations) while turning the ball over, missing its own field goal, snapping the ball high, into motioning freshman. Three of the stalwarts of the Gator front seven were suspended or gimpy, the SC running game was working and UF was at times severely off guard; Gary Danielson called USC's six-play, 80-yard touchdown march early in the fourth quarter "the best-called drive I've seen in ten years of watching college football," which is an exaggeration, of course, but not by that much.

And yet, and yet...Carolina allows two guys straight up the gut to block one kick, gets the delay of game that takes away the other, gets an extra point blocked. On the final drive to win, when the game should be tied anyway, a great throw-and-catch to set up a situation where the Gamecocks have timeouts and can afford to run for position to make a very short, makeable winning kick, is negated by an involuntary muscle spasm just before the play on the left guard, backing Carolina up and forcing a much longer kick in the end. And, of course, another block. Auburn recovered that onside kick. Tennessee ran a kickoff back for a touchdown. Damn special teams. And so you're 5-5.

Not that Florida should have lost or anything. But the game's pace and unfolding script from pretty much the opening gun favored an upset, SMQ thought it was inevitable all the way up to the go-ahead Tebow touchdown run at three minutes, and the Gators have to feel a little less than championship-worthy to escape. Or does it take a champion to get out of that situation with a win, to make that block? Possibly.

Good to see Sidney Rice so prominently involved. SMQ, frankly, had caught a lot more of Kenny McKinley making plays the other times he's watched South Carolina this year (Mississippi State, Georgia, Auburn), games the absurdly talented and fluid Rice combined for nine catches, 92 yards, no touchdowns, while McKinley had 13 for 242, one touchdown and a couple of very touch grabs in traffic. But Rice now has 24 catches and a couple of touchdowns in Carolina's last four games and defenses have to overplay him, at the expense of stopping other elements of the offense (McKinley, for example, or, like, the running game). His eighth catch against the Gators, though, the one called back on the final drive by the offsides penalty, would have been a pretty big one.

On a related note, SMQ has said off the record that Carolina's offense was much better with Syvelle Newton at quarterback, but Blake Mitchell has proved two weeks in a row now that's not the case. He's 34-49, 488 yards, two touchdowns in roughly a start and a half. He's also 0-2, but, considering the competition, that's a quibble (especially as he came in trailing Arkansas and led the team back from the brink of blowout, and he had nothing to do with the kicking miscues that cost Carolina Saturday's game). Newton remains a hell of an athlete, though, jumping right into the mix at safey after what, two days of practice at a position with a completely different set of pressures than faced by a quarterback or receiver, and played pretty well.

Chris Leak, runner! Again, SMQ maintains he's underrated as such, and maybe this is one of the reasons it's always such a shock when he takes off. Defenders run right by the guy because he never keeps the ball, but when he gets in the open, Leak has some wheels. Two big runs Saturday, one more for stretching third-down toughness (thought SMQ thought the spot on that critical play was generous and warranted at least a a prelude to another Tebow smash on fourth-and-one, so, you know, no big whoop).

Speaking of which: Tebow smash touchdown with three minutes? Into a five-man Carolina front. SC, apparently unprepared for Tebow to be in the lineup and playing the spread formation, only had three down linemen. That's a touchdown before the snap.

Both coaches benefitted from being aggressive on fourth down. South Carolina's first touchdown came following a fourth-and-one conversion at midfield, which SMQ thinks Mike Davis would have picked up regardless the facemask penalty that sealed it. Florida's final touchdown came as a result of a very gutsy fourth-and-one Tebow smash from inside the Gators' own 30; the drive before that had included a successful fourth down conversion by Tebow, but it ended in a field goal following some less successful Tebow-related aggression in the red zone (a reverse and a fake Tebow smash cum incompletion derided by Danielson as efforts to "gimmick its way to a touchdown" in lieu of actual execution in the running game).

SMQ has often pointed out the number of points Notre Dame gains from going for it so often on fourth down, and contrasts those and the above observations with another game Saturday, Iowa at Wisconsin. Facing fourth-and-one in Wisconsin territory, down 17-14, Kirk Ferentz allowed his offense to line up, but then called timeout when it failed to draw the Badger defense offsides (as it always does at this level). Drew Tate was obviously disgusted as he left the field, and rightly so, it turned out, because, although the Hawkeyes did gain some field position, they quickly allowed Wisconsin out of the hole, gave up a touchdown a few minutes later, and wound up dropping their way to a fourth loss in five games. Going for it on fourth down, depending on the game situation, is not always advisable, but it should probably be an option more often than it is. SMQ has no data to back this up.

Unless he coaches the field goal team, too, this man probably doesn't deserve this

Update [2006-11-13 10:29:22 by SMQ]: Reader D.J. Murphy writes in with some fourth down data.

Arkansas 31, Tennessee 14
Rece Davis or some such person late Saturday, after all the bloodshed, wondered alond whether Arkansas was actually a legit contender to play for the mythical championship now. What, man, you have to ask? Under the circumstances, how could it not be?

SMQ said a lot of good things about Arkansas' offensive scheme last week, and can't reiterate that praise enough after Saturday. He repeatedly finds himself thinking, "You have to put two or three guys on Marcus Monk, you have to take him out," because the guy is entering the upper levels of uncoverability and could redefine the terms as we know them with better quarterbacking or a passing scheme that didn't consist exclusively of lobs in his direction. But how, then, would a defense account for Darren McFadden, who continues to run not only straight ahead into eight-man fronts with tremendous success, but also mimicks Pat White on those deceptively simple, ridiculously effective speed sweep, option and reverse actions out of the shotgun. It would be easy to deride the passing game as one-trick ponyism, as it is Monk and Monk and Monk and pretty much nothing else, but that pony is probably the single most unstoppable dimension in any passing game in the country at the moment. As long as defenses have to commit the defenders to stopping McFadden and Felix Jones, and not Monk (and they do have to commit first to that running game), there is no reason Arkansas will be stopped unless it stops itself.

This on top of the fact the defense is lights out and always in the right position to make a play. The upcoming LSU game could be the league's game of the year, if bruised and battered Monk, McFadden, et al can get past Mississippi State in one piece. LSU's defense can give this talented crew a go, even off probably the unit's worst two overall performances of the year against Tennessee and Alabama.

Kansas State 45, Texas 42
Not a lot of insight into this one, as by the time SMQ's ABC affiliate switched from the abysmal Wake Forest demolition of the Artist Formerly Known as Florida State, SMQ was giddy with the prospects of the Longhorns - and, with USC still to play at that point, the Trojans - making a near-clean sweep of BCS spots 3-8 in one fell swoop. Most of the 20 minutes following the switch was uncontrollable laughter, propelled by the over-the-top enthusiasm of Gary Thorne, carrying over what makes him a good hockey announcer to puck ignoramuses like SMQ (he makes the boring and disorienting seem exciting) to a format that makes him sound like the old, geeky, excitable Thursday night Mike Tirico...on crrrrrack:

     - A Texas fumble, recovered by KSU
     - A subsequent touchdown pass by a huge Kansas State freshman
     - A blocked punt by KSU
     - A subsequent pass by said freshman to the Texas 1, and a hybrid sneak/draw to put KSU up 42-21 on the following play
     - A quick Texas touchdown drive (so quick SMQ didn't get back from another game during commercial until the `Horns were on the KSU 15)
     - A KSU fumble in the open field, recovered in a scrambling pile by the Wildcats
     - An scrambled double reverse pass by Texas, wrecked from the start by penetration by KSU, hurriedly and prematurely thrown under pressure by Quan Cosby and dropped by a wide open Limas Sweed
     - An interception thrown by KSU's huge freshman quarterback
     - A subsequent deep touchdown pass by Texas' freshman quarterback.

All this after the Wildcats scored on a drive featuring back-to-back tricky reverse/toss passes. Thorne reached his full-throttle vocal nadir at some point in the above mileu when he punctuated a run-of-the-mill incomplete shovel pass by Kansas State by screaming, "IT'S A FUMBLE!!!!"

Anyway, an absolutely fantastic sequence to watch. Unless, of course, you're Peter or any other partisan of Austin-based mega schools.

 SMQ could not believe Kansas State - up 3 with the ball and facing a third-and-six from the Texas 38 with 53 seconds left in the game and Texas out of timeouts - threw a pass. What? It worked, miraculously, for the first down, but only barely. If Jordy Nelson hand't hung on to the low throw, the clock would have needlessly stopped at least 30 seconds before it would have following a safe run, giving Texas enough time once it got the ball back to hit a big play and perhaps get into field goal range and tie. Running, letting the clock run and kicking with 20 seconds would have pinned the `Horns back with, after 3-2-5-e runoff, at most 15 seconds, from no closer than their own 20-yard line. This was construed as "gutsy" or something, but it was really stupid. Except that it worked, so, okay, gutsy!

Other Glimpses
Last week, EDSBS named Bret Bielema the site's "Man of the Year" for his exploitation of the dreaded 3-2-5-e at the end of the first half in Wisconsin's win over Penn State, and SMQ bestows similar honors this week on pioneering Oregon coach Mike Bellotti, who - unless SMQ was the vicitm of some giddy, late night, violence-drunk hallucination - hung a urinal in the gallery of instant replay by becoming the first coach ever to successfully challenge a call already overturned by the replay booth. What spectacular obstinance!

This really happened: with Oregon down 28-7 to USC and desperate on a fourth-and-goal early in the fourth quarter, Dennis Dixon rolled right and threw into a crowd in the end zone, which tipped the ball up and into the hands of Jonathan Stewart along the back stripe. The play was originally ruled a touchdown on the field. During a marathon review that stretched into a fifth minute, officials eventually ruled Stewart had stepped out of bounds and come back in, and was therefore ineligible to make the catch, giving the ball - and the win, basically, with its three-score lead intact - to the Trojans. Bellotti then called the officials to the Oregon sideline and incredibly used his lone coach's challenge to challenge the reversal, sending the officials back to the video for another look that shattered even the first review's longevity, from which they emerged and announced, beyond every logical odd, that the reversal had been reversed, and Oregon was awarded the touchdown. Pete Carroll, incensed, received an explanation from one ref - to whom he was caught on camera wishing a fond departure via a meticulously-enunciated "Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you" - but did not heed SMQ's calls to escalate and extend the absurdity to conventional sitcom length by challenging the reversal of the challenged reversal of the original call on the field. USC won, 35-14.

Bellotti: Instant replay is dead. Long live instant replay!

Bielema, for his part, did interject himself into a pileup following a P.J. Hill fumble in front of the Wisconsin bench in the fourth quarter of the Badgers' win, then challenged the call that Iowa had emerged from the pile with the fumble (he lost in short, probably record, order). A few minutes later, street-clothed quarterback Jon Stocco, reflecting his coach's spirit, drew a warning flag for wandering all the way out to the numbers to communicate something to his backup...In Arizona, after Jackson's ill-fated touchdown catch was called back on review, officials placed the ball at the 41-yard-line and ordered four seconds be put back on the clock. Um, DeSean Jackson is fast, but SMQ has his doubts as to whether he or anyone could cover 41 yards, in pads, with time to spare to slow down to taunt a defender and ensure an unnecessary dive into the end zone, in four seconds...Holly Rowe dubbed Kenneth Darby's reaction to his first touchdown of the season, a group prayer of thanks with teammates, "so cute." Kenneth surely would be glad to hear his personal faith described on the plane of a Care Bear commercial...Later in the same game, Mike Patrick took ultra-politically correct pains to point out that backup Alabama center Evan Cardwell, white, is "no relation" to injured starting center Antoine Caldwell, black. Did you double check that, Mike? Their names aren't even the same.

Unwittingly, gloriously, a nice crash course in pop chaos theory:

Just a small change in the initial conditions can drastically change the long-term behavior of a system. Such a small amount of difference in a measurement might be considered experimental noise, background noise, or an inaccuracy of the equipment. Such things are impossible to avoid...

Bwah ha ha.

SMQ was right about: A couple point totals in his Friday preview SMQ nailed: LSU scored 28, South Carolina put up 16. Wisconsin scored 24, one off the projected 25. In picking Arkansas 26, Tennessee 17, he was only eight total points off the actual final, a week after nailing the Arkansas-South Carolina score, and also said:

The surprising soft spot for Tennessee has been its mediocre run defense: since holding Cal in check, prior to Justin Harrell's season-ending injury, the Vols have allowed (not including sacks and kneeldowns) 281 yards to Air Force, 153  to Florida, 148 to Marshall, 152 to Georgia, 166 to South Carolina and, most egregious by far, 240 to an LSU committee groping for a shred of consistency. Arkansas is not groping.

No, no it is not.

Texas, pegged as a team with the "most to lose," indeed lost it; the other "most to lose" pick, Florida, came thisclose to exiting the mythical title premises. "Most to gain" was the aforementioned Hogs, who will be rocketed up the polls following their Vol-whomping. The score was off, but he also predicted - somewhat outside the conventional wisdom - a win for Arizona State, which delivered a 47-14 blowout of Washington State. LSU, Florida, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Southern Cal, Wisconsin, Maryland and Boise State were also winners, all but USC closer than expected. On Georgia-Auburn: "The Dawgs will put up a fight."

SMQ was wrong about: He just thought that fight would be in a two-touchdown loss rather than a decisive road blowout. Florida State karma, after weeks of futility, paid off with a new quarterback against Virginia last week, and led to a 21-18 pick over Wake Forest; this is forgivable, as the team in question in Tallahassee Saturday can hardly be an actual Florida State squad. SMQ declares his pick null and void by imposters and charlatans in the guise of Seminoles.

What? Why? Have a little perspective. It's not like Florida State's never been shut out before, at home, by more than four touchdowns, against Wake Forest, for its fourth loss in six games. Wait, what? Oh.

Big defensive games in the SEC from Tra Battle (3 interceptions, 1 touchdown, 3.5 tackles, 1 pass defended), who doubled his season pick total en route to leading Georgia's stunning romp at Auburn, and Arkansas end Jamaal Anderson (3 sacks, 8 QB hurries, 3 passes defended, 2.5 tackles), who will live on Jonathan Crompton's nightmares after the poor kid's first start. In the Big Ten, William Van DeSteeg (4 sacks, 1 tackle) similarly terrorized Drew Stanton in a 31-18 win for possibly streaking Minnesota.

Sticking with Arkansas, there's no way to deny Darren McFadden (30 carries, 181 yards, 2 TDs, 1 passing TD), who played every possible role and elevated himself into serious Most Outstanding Player contention against a Tennessee defense that was outmatched on all fronts for the second straight week, and didn't force the turnovers this time to keep it close.

JaMarcus Russell (18-21, 207 yards, 3 TDs, 36 yards rushing) don't need no sticking running backs. But all running backs would love Oklahoma State's offensive line, which paved the way for three different rushers to top 90 yards, and two others to get 40, in the process of rolling up 387 and five touchdowns on the ground in a 66-24 rout over usually competitive Baylor that was apparently not as close as that.

While he's going collective, let SMQ use this space also to give a shout out to the entire Southern Miss defense, beleaguered, put-upon, which held usually dangerous - or at least very competent - Tulane to 85 total yards and a field goal and ran a fumble in for a touchdown in a 31-3 win. For comparison, the Wave racked up 389 at Auburn and 373 at LSU. No one guy stood out statistically (SMQ didn't watch or listen to the game), but it comes off as the best performance by that unit, which has had more than a few good ones, in a couple years.

It's not so much his fault, but any of the three kicks RyanSuccop had blocked would have won a big, big game for South Carolina and knocked Florida from the one-loss horde. The first block, especially, was a terrible job by his protection, which allowed Joe Cohen and Ray McDonald inside for the swat. Block down on kicks, gentleman, never out. Never allow a guy to come through your inside shoulder. Much less two guys.

And Iowa wide receivers, too, who dropped three good first down passes from Drew Tate on the Hawkeyes' last gasp drive to beat or tie Wisconsin, including a wide open slant on fourth down botched by freshman Domonique Douglas.

Brandon Cox, well, see above.

Rutgers, Georgia, Kansas State, Arizona and almost San Jose State being the well-document fellers of giants, SMQ would like to point out that STANFORD HELD AN OPPONENT TO THREE POINTS ON THE ROAD for its first win Saturday at Washington. The teams combined for 18 first downs on 387 total yards, 59 yards rushing on 0.93 per carry; Stanford had been allowing about 5.7 a pop entering the game. Washington starter Carl Bonnell averaged 3.4 yards on 35 attempts and had an interception returned for touchdown in the third quarter; backup Johnny DuRocher averaged 0.4 yards on nine attempts and threw two interceptions. Stanford also scored on a 74-yard pass from T.C. Ostrander to Richard Sherman in the fourth quarter, which accounted for a full third of the Cardinal's total offense. The Huskies, seriously, a team that at one time was 4-1 and in most top 25 polls, against one of the worst all-time statistical defenses in PAC Ten history - consider that, now - averaged a little over 2.2 yards per snap.

Time to Re-think: Everthing we thought we knew about potential BCS scenarios. Rutgers, come on down! The Knights not only win, but every scenario allowing the Knights a potential mythical championship bid - Texas, Cal and Auburn weren't expected to lose any more, so among the presumptive top six this week, Ohio State and Michigan will play, Southern Cal and Notre Dame will play and Florida and Arkansas, we can assume, will play - is there if they can get by West Virginia (and Cincinnati and Syracuse before WVU, let's not be hasty). Say, Ohio State, USC and Arkansas win those games, and Cal beats USC and LSU beats Arkansas, leaving Michigan, Wisconsin, Louisville and maybe Wake Forest as the only one-loss teams and Rutgers and Boise State unbeaten. Is there any way to deny the Knights? Lord, this can go a lot of ways. Wonderful. More sorting later tonight in BCS Busting, but this we know: there's no rooting against juggernauts Rutgers and Wake Forest.

SMQ Complaint of the Week
Oh, no complaints this week, not this week, the most fun week of sheer football-obsession in 2006 to date. No regrets. No sympathy for the smoke beginning to waft from the BCS computers. No alarms and no surprises, please.