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Sunday Morning Quarterback

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While standing up and being strong...

SMQ WATCHED:

Michigan 27, Wisconsin 13
SMQ rated the Wolverines highly before the season because, among a clique of strong mythical title contenders bearing glaring weaknesses, Michigan had no apparent achilles heel. Almost a month into the year, this is proving more evident by the week, and - though they're almost certainly not going to top his year-to-date-based BlogPoll ballot - SMQ is more confident at this early stage about the Wolverines than any of the other current mythical championship frontrunners.

The main reason is that Michigan is the easily best at stopping the run: Saturday, its ungodly front seven allowed 23 yards to P.J. Hill on Wisconsin's first two snaps of the game, then held the Badgers over their subsequent 25 attempts to negative nine yards; even removing four sacks of John Stocco - which itself doesn't even tell the tale of the pressure applied to the poor, weary weaponless wonder - Wisconsin picked up about two yards per carry. LaMarr Woodley had one tackle and one sack, which is ridiculously misleading of the effect his consistent penetration and presence, requiring double teams, has on disrupting plays. This is almost moreso for Alan Branch on the inside, whose dominance makes the linebackers expendable for aid in passing situations. That combo could not have been more impressive Saturday.

Nor, one would think, could have Chad Henne and Mario Manningham, had one not also watched them one-up Saturday's two-touchdown effort against Notre Dame last week. Young Manningham, by merely running very, very fast, is already entering the Zone of Omnipresent Fear most recently embodied at Michigan by David Terrell and Braylon Edwards. Plus Mike Hart/big O-line/OMG Zone Blocking! forcing eight in the box every play again Saturday, leaving Manningham alone, etc. Who in the Big Ten can cover that kid if Henne's putting the ball where he's been putting it? This is a very good, complete team, and anyone who believes the "1" next to Ohio State is a sign of uncontested supremacy is not watching the same Michigan team as SMQ.

So when's the upset? At Penn State? At home to Iowa? Depending on what happens next week, Iowa may be as much a signpost "elimination" game as an upset. Certainly not Michigan State (see below).

* Chris Spielman, on Mike Hart after a second quarter run: "Below the waist, he's so big and thick." Whoa, Chris! Think of the children!

Ohio State 28, Penn State 6
Speaking of the Buckeyes, they will - as stated with final, authoritative certainty by a WWL head during an "In Game" Saturday evening - retain the top spot, and Troy Smith will likely continue as the center of individual-based hoopla despite throwing for 115 yards on 5.2 per attempt (9.6 per completion) and two interceptions because, seriously, did you see that one play? That was a pretty great run-throw for a touchdown in the third quarter, his readymade and marketed "Heisman Moment" to take the place of the actual overall performance. Saturday was really Antonio Pittman's game.

SMQ has no reason to be harsh on Smith and the Buckeyes for a perfectly quality win, though the wide margin came more at the hands of a confused young passer on the other side than OSU's own merit, and though James Laurinaitis has acquired equally annoying publicity and nickname (the "Little Animal," doncha know) mainly as the result of having passes thrown and tipped directly into his arms, and though Laurinaitis and his defensive mates allowed the Lions - as they allowed Northern Illinois and Texas - a big day running the ball (Tony Hunt had 135 on a 5.6 average). There's no reason to fear on the road against a multi-dimensional offense, like, say, Iowa, is there?

* Did anyone else worry for a second that Joe Paterno had possibly died when he had to go into the locker room during the game? That he had felt something go, give, pop, or just felt a little ill, and went in and bit it right there? SMQ was very concerned until it was cleared up by  - he thinks, is not certain - Bonnie Bernstein, who helpfully noted that the 834-year-old coach had just gone to "use the little boys' room." Thanks, Bonnie.

Arkansas 24, Alabama 23
Poor, poor Leigh Tiffin. First, given an otherwise acceptable androgynous name with the feminine spelling, then growing up looking at all those stupid paintings everyhwere in Alabama of his dad drilling that game-winning kick to beat Auburn, and then shanking any and all efforts to beat Arkansas on the road Saturday in a show of incompetence attributable only to Freudian "daddy issues." What internal rage does young Leigh levy at his heroic father?

What is the over-under now on the number of weeks before Leigh kicks a game-winner and is featured on a lone piano-backed feature on his 'redemption,' in which it's revealed he received death threats amidst his commitment to steely resolve to improve? Given that Jamie Christensen, hero of the Ole Miss, Tennessee and Texas Tech games last year, was standing on the sidelines with some vague injury that still allowed him to kick off but not kick field goals or extra points, and certainly now will return to stop Tiffin before he kicks again, it might be next season.


I'm not like you, dad, okay?!

Tiffin's repeated blunders took away from a terrific conference debut by John Parker Wilson, who compensated nicely for the Tide's no-go running game by completing 16 of 20 for three touchdowns and no interceptions. Contrasted with wunderkind Mitch Mustain, 7 of 22 for 97 with three interceptions his first SEC start, Wilson might have 'rising star' written on him - but not if 'Bama's young defense can't hold an utterly one-dimensional opponent below 5.6 yards per carry. Remember that Florida, Tennessee, LSU and Auburn are not such one-dimensional opponents.

SMQ gives Mustain credit for the winning overtime throw, which was as testicular a call as they come given the success of the running backs and the freshman's propensity for either clanging throws in to the ground or laying them softly in the hands of defenders before that play. Dangerously assuming an Auburn loss, in two weeks, Arkansas is still in position to win eight, possibly nine, with better - or at least less mistake-prone - play from Mustain.

Notre Dame 40, Michigan State 37
The fourth quarter was a microcosm of every stereotype about these two teams: Michigan State as talented, schizophrenic no-accounts who will inevitably seek and seize the most traumatic possible way to lose, and Notre Dame as scruff-of-your-neck winners with iron guts and four-leaf clovers falling out its earholes. Basically, given MSU's bullheaded drive to lose (see below), that was it.

SMQ isn't sure, for example, that Notre Dame can win a big game without fourth downs, as it hit two more critical conversions in its comeback in the rain-soaked yet defensively barren thriller Saturday night: when he says they have a very small margin of error, it's because the Irish always seem to be against the wall - on plays like the 27-yard fourth-and-one connection to John Carlson in the second quarter, immediately preceding a Jeff Samardzisosopo touchdown, and later the fourth quarter, fourth-and-five that Samaradzizjaija singlehandedly took 43 yards against flailing defenders to kick off the comeback - and delivering. ND was perfect on four fourth downs against Penn State, remember, and scored after all of them. Many teams wouldn't attempt or wouldn't convert those plays, especially not in such dramatic fashion, and difference in those teams and Notre Dame is often only that the Irish thrive on those crunch plays. Certainly they wouldn't have been anywhere near the victory without them Saturday.

This coincides and is heavily correlated, of course, to the horrific, soul-crushing loss in which Michigan State specializes, and which will commence the downward spiral towards, at best, a 4-4 finish in conference play. Saturday night's  collapse, in fact, could be the worst yet, even worse than the botched field goal that led to a 10-point swing before the half - and probably a three game swing in the final record - against Ohio State last season.

This is because, basically, Notre Dame never really stopped Michigan State from running the ball, which remains a sore point that's going to continue to plague the Irish defense. Instead, the horrible second half malaise by the Spartan offense comes from a fatal collaboration of miscues that could have been mere annoyances unto themselves: penalties, turnovers and the demise of the passing game. The first two are big deals, but up two touchdowns or more much of the second half, the latter shouldn't be that much when the running game is still working it. In fact, here are the Spartans' rushing totals for the second half, by drive:

 - One rush, loss of 4 yards, punt
 - One rush, 2 yards, punt
 - Four runs, 61 yards, touchdown
 - Two runs, 22 yards, punt (after holding penalty)
 - Four runs, 32 yards, punt (after a false start, two holding penalties, a sack and another holding penalty declined)
 - Three runs, 5 yards, fumble
 - One run, 7 yards, interception
 - Three runs, 12 yards, interception

That's an average of 7.2 per carry on 19 runs. The Irish never really consistently stopped them. But as much as it chewed and dominated the clock in the first half, the Spartan offense only averaged a little over two minutes on those eight possessions; the game basically in hand, MSU couldn't drain the clock the way it needed and wanted because it held and fumbled its way right out of the game.

Remember also that - aside from the steadily blown coverage, epitomized by the free run MSU allowed Carlson down the middle of the field in the third quarter - the Spartan defense bailed Notre Dame out of a third and 25 following an ND hold and intentional grounding by drawing a pass interference moments before the McKnight touchdown that cut the game to a field goal. This feels like much more of a Spartan giveaway than a Notre Dame theft.

* The Worldwide Leader immediately dubbed the Irish a virtual lock for the BCS, because no one has any hope of beating them until USC around Thanksgiving, and by then it won't matter because 10-2 is an automatic ticket through the velvet rope for Notre Dame (and only Notre Dame, really). This is wrong for many reasons, not least of which is the remaining presence of UCLA and Purdue, both perfectly capable of sticking it to the very vulnerable Irish defense on the road, but not as wrong as the declaration that Brady Quinn is definitely back in the Heisman race. Well, no question there: the guy was only massacreing drives with off target throws and tossing no-hassle interceptions for touchdowns for two and a half quarters before Michigan State's defense parted like the seas for his receivers. He did nail the impossible touchdown throw to McKnight, he did make the right (though obvious) read to Carlson down the seam. Quinn was good late - but only good, not overwhelming enough to erase the Michigan game from the Heisman resume: the fourth down touchdown to Samardzijjaszasasa was all Samardziasfjia and missed tackling, and it was the defense that made the plays to go ahead. His final stats are something, but Quinn, SMQ thought, was rattled and erratic most of the night, throwing here, there and everywhere, and was almost gifted the comeback by the Spartans.

WHAT WE LEARNED
Notre Dame is a BCS lock, y'all. Deal. The Heisman already has 'Brady Quinn' engraved all over it. Reality is strongly advised to cease and desist any future efforts to interfere with the inevitable march of history towards these inviolable events...Extra points, sadly, are gimmes no more. SMQ lamented the atrocious placekicking nationwide last week, and now we're subjected to Leigh Tiffin, Ryan Ohliger - again - and both kickers from Notre Dame and Michigan State blowing simple, important PATs? Please...Nate Longshore ain't no joke. He had four first half touchdown passes against Arizona State and currently ranks ninth in the country in passer rating after three straight huge games, which makes SMQ wonder why he had to wait to submarine the high, high projections for the Bears with his shellshocked routine at Tennessee before blowing up.

CONCEIT...
SMQ was right about...
Recalling last October's fourth quarter choke at UCLA, SMQ predicted karmic vengeance for Washington on its own field, and, sure enough, trailing 19-14 entering the final fram, the Huskies rallied for two touchdowns and a decisive 29-19 statement! win (though, as usual, the statement could be more applicable to UCLA than U-Dub).

SMQ was similarly prescient on matters of other upsets, namely about the "boost" effects of a new quarterback at NC State (though he too-cautiouslessly refrained from picking the 'Pack), about the overhyped chances of Kansas State against Louisville, about Penn State's ability to run on Ohio State in an eventual loss and about everything involving Notre Dame and Michigan State - right down to the dreadful, torpedo-to-the-hull way MSU would lose if it were to lose.

...AND CONTRITION
SMQ was wrong about...
The actual winner of the ND-MSU game, dammit. And only SMQ could spin a BC loss, in a game he said it would win by two touchdowns, into something he got right. Minnesota over Purdue and Navy over Tulsa, both correctly projected to be very close games, came out on the opposite side. But, for the second straight week, nothing egregious.

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

DAS GOAT
Everything was perfect until: Leigh Tiffin missed two straight up game-winning kicks, and a game-extending extra point in Fayetteville, thereby blowing a gimme game against a floundering true freshman QB and plunging Alabama into the loss-to-Arkansas abyss that's resulted in a collective 7-17 mark following the last three such defeats to the Hogs this decade.

WHAT? WHAT?!
Upset of the Week
SMQ nailed Washington over UCLA, saw the NC State "stunner" coming - even if he was too yella to pick it - and, given Georgia's offense, would not have been that surprised if Colorado had made one more play on either side to win that one, or even, for the same reason, if Cincinnati had refrained from implosion under the crushing will of Virginia Tech's defense and special teams to hang on there.

But no way could anyone have guessed lowly Kent State would go on the road, force six turnovers while giving none, and rout always respectable Bowling Green 38-3. No one - except Phil Steele! The obsessive mad scientist of the prognostication/gambling racket was the only savant completely unhinged enough in the preseason to pick the Flashes - the woeful, 1-10, lost-to-Buffalo-last-year Flashes - higher than fifth in the MAC East, and topped that by taking KSU to win the whole division. And so, now, at 2-0 in the league, over division rivals (BGSU and Miami, OH) with 17 straight winning seasons between them, it appears they might.


Steele! You insane, magnificent bastard!

Also in the MAC, another I-AA uprising, this time by North Dakota State over Ball State, extending the Championship Subdivision's perfect string of at least one insurgent victory every week this season.

JUST WHEN YA THINK YA KNOW A FELLA...
Time to Re-think...:
If not so informed otherwise by the Worldwide Leader, SMQ would say defensively-challenged Notre Dame as a sure BCS bet, but, having been set straight, he'll go instead with the future of Georgia quarterbacking, which previously had been secured in the pristine mitts of Matthew Stafford before being handed to - or fumbled, really, and picked up by - the pristine mitts of Joe Cox, who easily outperformed any Stafford display to date in leading UGA in its comeback against Colorado.

Cox will be appropriately hyped and lauded for his brief heroics, until he has a very average game against Ole Miss and then struggles against Tennessee, at which point some grumbling or conjecture will thrust the discarded Stafford back into the picture. This is not inevitable, as Cox could be a legit sensation, or at least the next David Greene, but these stellar off-the-bench performances tend to be adrenaline rushes of anomaly, not accurate predictions of the next four years. The short-term book on Cox for the rest of this season, at least, is out until Tennessee.

It's still out on Golden Child Stafford, too, of course - is he already done until Cox plays himself out of the role? Is it a controversy?

A FINE WHINE
SMQ Complaint of the Week
OK, SMQ's going to go ahead and admit that he is not a fan of what NCAA Football describes as the "Revolution" helmet, or its derivitive, as worn by every player on Penn State, or the weird three-vertical-bar thing displayed by Drew Stanton Saturday (did dig the old school Spartan helmet logo, though). This helmet design has been around for years now, it has had every opportunity, and, aesthetically, it falls well short. It's a step back. It just doesn't do it for SMQ. It's time to admit this grotesquery is not working. Why can't we keep everything exactly the way it is and stop anything from ever changing ever?


Morelli's helmet design is not great, either, but Richardson will take whatever else he can his hands on get at this point