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SUNDAY QUARTERBACK FINDS A WAY

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The huge illicit ticket trade isn't usually considered a part of that great bastion of Americana, the black market - Eric Schlosser will probably never write a book about scalpers, for example - but this is only because it's generally a nonviolent, white collar economy that doesn't exploit immigrants, or something. In fact, what's best about any underground market is the way people move seamlessly above and below the table, usually without thinking about it or drawing a distinction, working cooperatively without regulations, receipts or taxes, to everyone's mutual gain. You want a ticket? I got your tickets. Milton Freidman would weep with joy outside of every stadium in America.


One? No, no, man, I can't do one.
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Here is an example, then, of capitalism in action: through no fault of my own (actually, not to put too fine a point on it, through every fault of my own), the presumed tickets to Saturday's Nebraska-Texas game in Austin, secured through legitimate means from a large organization (to remain unnamed) in a transaction that non-ironically included the term `handling fees,' turned out to be not so much actual "tickets," per se. There's no need to go into details, except to say that, by the time we were in sight of Darrell K. Royal, less than a half hour before kickoff, we had no legal entry to the game. We knew for certain we had one option - to find said organization's representative at the game and buy three seats from him, at face value  - but we also knew the certainty of that deal probably wasn't worth the price. Personally, I think everyone should buy from scalpers; briefly, after taking on one more ticket than we needed because our man didn't want to be left with a single (dead ticket, you know, can't sell just one), our upstanding became scalpers our own selves. Scalpers are businessmen. Maybe there's a risk involved - fraud, police, extortion, I dunno - but it was the black market that secured three tickets for the price the official brokers were offering for one, after a little negotiation, and the fourth was snapped up for a small profit in minutes, and we were in better seats than I thought I was originally buying before kickoff.

This is not an easy trick to pull, but it's also a conventional trick that people pull every week. Everybody who's been to a handful of games as done it, very various levels of negotiationg skill, but always coming away with what they want, if they want it enough. It's no big deal at all. Which is just more proof that you can't learn any of the fundamentals in school.

Onwards...

SMQ WATCHED...

Texas 28 Nebraska 25
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As long as Texas was focusing its offense around Colt McCoy's passing ability, or (as it more often turned out) lack thereof, Nebraska's blitz-heavy scheme was paying off: through three quarters, the Huskers had UT to field goals by routinely sending seven after McCoy when he was the shotgun, only logging one sack but keeping large men in his face and forcing erratic throw after erratic throw after erratic throw. The Longhorns' long gain through the air was a 36-yard sideline go route to Quan Cosby, on a poor throw that Cosby acrobatically tipped away from the defender and hauled in against all odds. Beyond that, the long was 14 yards, on a little down-the-line swing pass Nate Jones turned upfield on the first play of the game. McCoy was staring down his primary receivers, missing other open men, eventually either throwing incomplete into coverage (see above) or just lobbing the ball out of bounds when his first option wasn't available, and next to Nebraska's precise, mostly well-protected timing scheme, Texas' passing game looked altogether unsophisticated and broken.

The adjustment on Texas' part at the start of the fourth quarter was obvious - in some people's opinion, possibly accidental - and especially effective because the defense never did adjust. Maybe because the Huskers were still leading and expecting to see more passing, and/or Texas hadn't shown any special commitment to the run to that point, the Blackshirts increasingly turned to the defense they had used most of the game to come after McCoy in obvious third down passing situations, sending seven or eight men charging upfield in one solid wave, stretched across the line of scrimmage like a picket fence, or the Maginot Line, and about as effective when penetrated. With every defender either tied up with a blocker or actively running himself out of the play by flying out of control into the backfield, there was no second level - or, more accurately, the second level was pushed all the way back to the secondary, which was spread out itself out of concern for Texas' multiple receiver sets. Once Charles broke free of the line, he was gone.


Hey...I think they like it.
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And break free he did: after back-to-back 25-yard runs to open the quarter, the first one a real momentum-building touchdown, Charles responded with the 86-yard go-ahead run down the sideline and then another shot right up the gut on 3rd-and-3 for a 40-yard score, without a Nebraska hand coming anywhere near him. So after three quarters of the best defensive football it's played all season, we found the Nebraska defense really is what we thought it was: a crippling, undisciplined liability. The Horns finished with 364 on the ground, 249 in the fourth quarter, the third straight team to rush for 300-plus on the former Blackshirts. Over its last seven, Nebraska is allowing 520 yards per game, a lot of it against the read option. It just took Texas a little longer to figure that out.

• I was significantly more impressed with Nebraska's offense, which opened up in tight formations, pounding out a few first downs at a time to set up play-action later on, and briefly looked dominant when they paid off in back-to-back touchdowns to Nate Swift at the end of the second/beginning of the third quarter, on what looked to be identical routes between Texas' safeties. Unlike McCoy, Sam Keller had time most of the game and was occasionally outstanding at looking defenders off (see the second touchdown pass, when he led a safety to the sideline with his head and came back to a wide open Swift in the vacated middle) and finding open receivers in zones.

The Huskers wound up with a solid, balanced line - 447 yards, 25 points without the benefit of any short fields - and really can only be criticized for falling into a deep funk beginning in the third quarter, as the momentum first began to shift to the Longhorns. For that, even if most people in attendance probably don't remember it at all, I largely credit ex-blue chip Sergio Kindle, who made one of the plays of the day when he shed a lineman and tackled Lucky alone in the open field on a 3rd-and-1 attempt with a little over two minutes to play in the third quarter. "Shed" is the conventional term - what Kindle actually did is shove an impossibly massive tackle out of his pursuit lane and continue on to the ball without missing a step to slam Lucky down short of the sticks, a perfect individual effort on an important snap. The score at that point was 17-6 and the mood still glum; after that stop, Texas rattled off 24 points on its next five possessions while Nebraska went Punt-Punt-Punt-Fumble. By the time the Huskers put together a nice two-minute drill to cut the margin to three, there was no time to swing the pendulum back.

• I've never been to a Texas game, and I'm not going to judge its fans based on only this one. But this particular crowd came across to me as relatively docile for 85,000 people, in the same way you usually see attributed to Michigan fans: smart, into the game, mostly patient, but not very loud and certainly not crazy in any noticeable way. Even my dad thought this. Put another way, prior to the entire team lining up to sing "The Eyes of Texas" after the game (which was cool), the most memorable non-football moment of the day concerns some very conventional - in this case, I would say possibly hyper conventional, nearly to the point of unintentional parody - high-fiving.

The crowd was at its best (i.e., at the heights of collective bloodlust) in the second quarter, when the officials made a pair of annoying, game-delaying gaffes in the span of a couple minutes: first, they threw flags for two separate penalties on a Nebraska punt, talked about it a while, announced both flags against Nebraska (weirdly, since on was announced as "holding" about 30 yards downfield - on the kicking team?), spotted the ball, talked some more, then announced that, in fact, no, the holding penalty was on Texas. Offsetting, let's kick it again, after an approximately 8-10 minute delay. On the next possession, on McCoy's aforementioned sideline lob to Quan Cosby, Texas lined up and ran an off tackle play to Charles for about a yard on the subsequent first down - no whistle, no stoppage, no time outs, nothing out of the ordinary. Just an off tackle run for minimal gain. Somehow, officials announce after first down, "the previous play is under review," obviously refering to the more controversial catch by Cosby, who had pretty clearly stepped out of bounds and come back in to make the grab. Confusion was followed by appropriate booing as the catch was upheld (Cosby was forced out, and so allowed to come back in, which sounds like an NFL rule to me, not college, but whatever) but the first down run was taken off the board; after Texas had run a valid play that was never stopped, the down marker was reset to first down and the run wiped from the books. Good thing Charles waited until later to start breaking the long stuff, I guess. (UT later missed a field goal on the possession, for the record).

Altogether, both incompetent stoppages probably extended the game by about 20 minutes, at least, one of the reasons it lasted just shy of four hours from kickoff to coaches' handshake.


Mangino: Wears his sunglasses and his track suits at night. Never deny a man his comfort.
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Glimpses
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Tennessee 27, South Carolina 24: I don't care who wins, but endings like this one almost make me sick for the utter randomness of it all. It's one thing to lose a game in which you outgain your opponent by 200 yards, hold the ball for almost an entire quarter longer and earn twice as many first downs - Carolina did, after all, turn the ball over four times, and that's what happens to a team that turns the ball over four times no matter what other good it does. But to lose because one of your opponent's linemen flinched before its kicker badly missed a field goal in overtime and nobody happened to break any rules when your kicker missed...that's the kind of ending that would drive me insane if I was Steve Spurrier. I'd so much rather be beaten by 40 points and know my team was soundly whipped than earn an unmitigated `L' on the timing of yellow hankies. The Ball Coach somehow was able to just take off his headset and glasses and go on looking composed in spite of the universe's cackling scorn, but if this ever happened to my team, the ensuing press conference would live in infamy for decades. Phil Fulmer would sue for slander and defamation of body type. Talk show hosts, Mike Gundy and various local car dealers would send me `thank you' letters. I couldn't handle it.

• Mangino...velour track suit...whaddaya gotta problem wit dat?

Box Scorin'
Making sense of what I didn't see.
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Oregon 24, Southern Cal 17: The difference in this game seems pretty clearly to be the 3rd-and-1 fumble by Stanley Havili in the third quarter, which Oregon turned directly into a 16-yard touchdown "drive" to go ahead 17-10, and then an interception by Mark Sanchez on the ensuing Trojan possession, ending a solid drive that had moved inside the Oregon 30 and setting up another, personal foul-aided touchdown drive by the Ducks. UO didn't pick up another first down on its last three possessions, but it didn't matter much with Sanchez slightly out of his depth in comeback mode on the road.

For all its recruiting stars, USC's offense does appear officially "mediocre" by the stat sheet, especially in the running game. A lot of injuries have gone into making that the case, but SC didn't break a run longer than 11 yards Saturday against a frankly average run defense, one that gave up 352 rushing on the same field to Houston at the start of the year. It's the third time in four games since linemen Chico Rachal and Matt Spanos were injured against Washington that SC has finished below four yards per carry as a team (they were averaging 6.2 through the end of that Washington game), the one exception being lame duck Notre Dame last week. Such a waste: all those blue chip backs, and no one to block for them.

Arizona State 31, California 20: ASU gets credit here not only for beating a presumably still-quality Bear outfit, its best competition to date, but for overcoming comical gaffes and subsequent 13-0 and 20-7 holes in the first half to completely dominate after the break. The number that jumps off an otherwise even-looking page is time of possession, 37:30 to 22:30 in favor of ASU, a direct result of the Bears' touted, pick-your-poison offense's inability to get anything done over the last two quarters. Cal had 269 yards of total offense in the first half, then proceeded to run 23 plays for 90 yards through the entire second, throwing two interceptions in the process; it held the ball for less than ten minutes as a result, and its running game failed to net 100 yards for the second week in a row.

The Devils, on the other hand, turned to Keegan Herring and Dimitri Nance and pounded out three touchdown drives in four possessions, covering nine, ten and eight plays, respectively, then ran the final six minutes off the clock on a twelve-play drive that ended the game. If you're keeping score, that's 51 plays for Arizona State and 23 for Cal in the second half and a score that reflects it - where the total numbers (144 yards on 2.7 per carry) suggest the Devils may not have run the ball effectively, much of the reality is obscured by early sacks and penalties that made running a non-starter. Once ASU settled down, Herring and Nance each averaged four per carry and kep Cal's weapons on the bench.

This may be just another conference win for Arizona State, which is still looking at Oregon, UCLA and USC over the next three weeks, but it's the Hammer of Illumination for Cal. In a must-win game, the Bears let a significant advantage slip away by being apparently manhandled down the stretch and now are staring down a third tier bowl in Las Vegas or someplace after three straight losses, and if not for the last second fumble by Oregon at the goalline at the end of UCB's win in Eugene, it might very well be four straight, in which case Cal would be wondering if it could secure any kind of bowl.

Next week: fairly monster collision between Ducks and undefeated Devils in Autzen for the Pac Ten lead and the inside track on the mythical championship pecking order alongside Boston College and LSU (and, damn, I guess Kansas). Is that the Underachiver Bowl, or Overachiever Bowl?


And the rout is on....now!
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Ohio State 37, Penn State 17: No alarms, no surprises here: OSU's defense dominated Anthony Morelli and the Buckeye offense ground out a balanced, efficient win. Really efficient, actually: I imagine the "White Out" sections of Beaver Stadium were rabid after the Lions' went 78 yards to go ahead in the fourth first quarter, but it's a testament to OSU's killer instinct that it responded by immediately marching 80 yards to retake the advantage, then taking it 91 yards in the second quarter to extend the advantage, then taking it 87 yards to basically force the door shut midway through the third. Everything about the numbers here - 200 yards rushing, 12-16 on third down, 16-minute time of possession advantage - bends to the will of Tressel Ball at its most unstoppable.

Georgia 42, Florida 30: This looks like a pretty standard butt-kicking, courtesy Knowshon Moreno - I mean, 10 of 13 on third down? A direct result of patient pounding - and a singleminded, Tebow-thumping defense. On Florida's end, aside from being run over, allowing 84 and 53-yard touchdown passes has the defense bordering on "bad." The Gators have lost three of their last four.

Also, I don't think I could love this any more:

As long as it doesn't become a trend. Desperate poseur coaches ruin everything.

West Virginia 31, Rutgers 3: I texted a friend of mine when I saw the score on a video screen during the UT-Nebraska game to confirm that the Mountaineers really beat Rutgers that badly, and he replied that, yes, Mike Teel had sunk the Knights. It appears this is true to an extent - Teel threw two interceptions in the fourth quarter, both of which killed good-looking RU drives, and Ray Rice certainly was not a culprit, having run for 142 - but he did not mention the chances the Knights gave WVU (especially on a second quarter fumble on a punt return that the Mountaineers convereted into a short touchdown drive) and the chances it missed itself; Rutgers punted in West Virginia territory on its first drive, missed a field goal after a 56-yard drive in the third and turned it over, as mentioned, after 62 and 48-yard drives in the fourth. It also only had three possessions total in the second and third quarters. So where West Virginia was pretty clearly better in this game, but it took the right circumstances to make the Mountaineers four touchdowns better.

Boise State 34, Fresno State 21: More evidence against its toughest intraleague test to date that Boise remains a death machine in the WAC - the Broncos are 43-1 in the conference since 2002 and have only Hawaii between them and a seventh WAC championship in seven years in the league - and one seemingly impervious to time or tide or any number of coaching and personnel changes. No Ian Johnson? No problem: anonymous, bite-sized freshman backups Jeremy Avery (5-9, 173) and D.J. Harper (5-10, 185) tore up the Fresno defense for 277 yards and four touchdowns between them Friday, on 7.5 per carry. Not that the Bulldogs have stopped anyone from running this season (Texas A&M and Oregon each went over 300 against FSU, and even Idaho had 279), but Fresno was the single greatest threat to the Broncos' totalitarian grip until the finale in Honolulu, and it was casually brushed off by second and third-teamers.

Give it up for the offensive line, the one, unheralded constant in BSU's unabated offensive dominance, but don't try too hard to pin that on anyone in particular, either: the current o-line coach is former all-WAC lineman and first-year assistant Scott Huff, who graduated from Boise in 2002, which makes him probably 27 years old. It takes a village, I guess. A nauseatingly blue village.

Upwards...

Conceit...
SMQ was right about: I picked nine of twelve games correctly Friday, straight up, but only one of them reads like a very prescient prediction:

The line here is only 3.5 in the Buckeyes' favor, which strikes me as almost laughably low. Penn State is at home, but it's facing a legitimately punishing defense , and with Anthony Morelli this time, not Michael Robinson. Fans doing the "White Out" thing will look good, briefly, but won't be able to do anything to stop Chris Wells from pounding the clock away while the Lion offense does its damndest to get into good punt position.
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That was closer than I was able to get to the score; the closest I was to picking a final this week was Oregon 27, USC 24 (actual final: UO 24, USC 17), though I did also put non-obvious winners Arizona State, Tennessee, West Virginia, Kansas, Clemson, Boise State and (more obviously) Texas on the right side of the `W.'

...and Contrition...
SMQ was wrong about: This line stands out:

Georgia has a shot if it can generate a consistent running game, but that seems like too much slack for Knowshon Moreno to have to pick up.
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Well, yes, in fact, UGA did have a shot if it generated a running game, but it wasn't too much slack for Moreno by any stretch, if his 188 yards and three touchdowns are any indication. And I think they are.

Otherwise, South Florida and Texas Tech disappointed in losses, and Texas didn't hammer Nebraska nearly as badly as expected. Good thing I didn't pick UCLA or Kentucky...


Oh no! We suck again!
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The Crunch
Interesting/Not Necessarily Relevant Stats
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Michigan State outgained Iowa by 185 yards, held Jake Christensen to 53 yards passing, and lost, 27-20. . . . Purdue had 176 yards in the first 44 minutes against Northwestern and trailed 17-14, then gained 220 yards in the last 16 minutes and won 35-17. . . . With 62 pass attempts in Texas Tech's loss to Colorado, Graham Harrell has attempted 131 passes in two weeks, eight of them intercepted. . . . Delaware and Navy combined for two punts in the first quarter and didn't punt again for the final three in the Blue Hens' 59-52 win. Eighteen of the game's 22 non-half-ending possessions ended in scores, including 14 of the last 15, and at one point the offenses scored touchdowns on seven straight possessions. . . . Did Iowa State find its running back? True freshman Andrew Robinson ran for 149 yards on 7.1 per carry and helped ISU outgain Missouri in his first start. . . . How in hell did Arizona and Washington, eighth and tenth in the Pac Ten in total offense coming in, combine for 89 points in regulation? That kind of thing happens when the defenses allow 1,137 yards. Willie Tuitama passed for 510 yards and Jake Locker had 493 all-purpose (336 passing, 157 rushing) in Arizona's come-from-behind, 48-41 win. . . . After allowing 350 yards rushing to Mike Hart-less Michigan, Minnesota has allowed 701 yards on the ground in two weeks. Two teams, Oregon State and Boston College, are on pace to allow less than 700 yards rushing over the entire regular season . . . And, holy god, Northern Illinois allowed 812 yards and ten touchdowns in a 70-21 loss to Toledo.