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SUNDAY MORNING QUARTERBACK...

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Am I the only person who is almost as surprised by Syracuse’s upset of Louisville about as much as I was by Appalachian State over Michigan’s? The historical and organizational semantics of I-AA and the Bowl Subdivision polls and Michigan’s history and so forth, etc., made the latter a possibly once-in-a-lifetime coup, which Syracuse beating Louisville certainly is not. But even after the breakdowns Louisville had defensively against Middle Tennessee and, to a much lesser but still fatal extent, Kentucky, I have seen Syracuse’s offense, an offense that is very representative of the huge suck of the Robinson administration over the last years, and that offense couldn’t block or pass its way out of the proverbial paper bag. This makes such little sense...

Syracuse Offense Under Greg Robinson
2005-06 2007 (0-3) Saturday
Points 15.7 10.7 38
Total Offense 260.8 198.1 465
Passing 154.1 167.0 423
Comp. % 48.8 56.8 65.4
Yds./Attempt 5.7 6.2 16.3
Rushing 106.7 31.7 42
Yds./Carry 3.01 1.02 1.2
Sacks Allowed 3.7 6.0 2

...that it doesn’t compute even in light of Louisville’s defensive implosion, unless I have completely underestimated its unspeakably black depths. Mentally, something serious has stricken the Cardinal defense, something unprecedented and probably demanding immediate medical attention. After Saturday, there is no other explanation unless UL has actually replaced its secondary with overgrown eighth graders. Brian Brohm deserves tenth graders, at least.

Onwards...

SMQ WATCHED...
...with various degrees of vigilance...

GEORGIA 26 • ALABAMA 23
Live by man coverage, die by man coverage: Alabama triumphed with an end zone lob for its first big SEC win, and was slain by the same for it first big SEC loss. As I always strain to point out, the margins in glory and defeat are razor-thin, and they even out over time. In this case, it was just a very short time.

I will give the Tide points for continued resiliency. Down a touchdown in the fourth quarter against Arkansas, John Parker Wilson put together two drives that won the game, sandwiched by a crucial defensive stop. Down ten in the fourth quarter in a game its offense had accomplished little - Bama's only touchdown before the final possession of regulation was a short field score following an easy, badly thrown interception by Matt Stafford - Wilson put together drives of 61 and 88 yards on his team's only possessions of the final quarter to extend a game it felt like it shouldn't really have been in at that point. Todd Blackledge summarized the home crowd's insanity after Brandon Coutu's potentially winning field goal missed by inches at the gun: "Hooray, we didn't lose!" The Tide were beginning to develop a kind of indomitable streak.

It was still fitting that Matt Stafford laid the knock out blow masterfully into Mikey Henderson's hands, though, because - ongoing efforts at sabotage by his receivers notwithstanding (hello, Tripp Chandler) - Saturday was the first time I've looked at Stafford as an entrenched leader instead of a man-sized kid still feeling his way. This is not his first big win, or first big road win - see Auburn, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech to close last season - but it is the first one that he was put in a position to win rather than merely not lose until the defense came up with game-changing turnovers that took him off the hook, as was the case in all of the above wins from last season. Stafford did throw two picks, one of them, as mentioned, a bad, potentially game-changing overthrow into coverage that led to Alabama tying a game UGA had under control in the third quarter. But overall, he was sharp against an aggressive defense: adding about half a dozen blatant drops to his completion total, Stafford was at least a 70 percent passer, helping his team control the ball for more than 34 minutes on five drives of four minutes or longer, and he couldn't have delivered a prettier ball to win the game.


Yea, it is but a lone defeat, children, from which the flock shall grow only stronger.
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This is very clear, though: behind Florida and LSU (see below) nothing is going to come easy for anyone in the SEC.

• Georgia faced three straight third-and-long situations on its opening drive of the game, and picked up the first down on a screen pass against an Alabama blitz on every one of them. The screens went to three different players - Sean Bailey, Knowshon Moreno and Thomas Brown - and contributed 44 of the drive's 70 yards, including the final ten on Brown's catch-and-run to the end zone on 3rd-and-8. Fool me once, shame on you, but three times? Even with a short field to defend in the red zone, the Tide kept right on blitzin'.

• Terry Grant went 21 yards on Alabama's first play of the game, and broke a 30-yard run in the third quarter to set up the Tide's first touchdown from the UGA one. Still, he only finished  the game with eleven carries.

LSU 28 • SOUTH CAROLINA 16
LSU toyed with every sort of look offensively, spreading the field, barrelling up the middle from the I, bringing in Ryan Perrilloux to do the read option thing ("11-on-11 football," as Gary Danielson calls it), bringing in Trindon Holliday for some spectacular misdirective gashing. It ran the kicker for a touchdown on a fake field goal a few plays after hiding Holliday for a fumblerooski-type play on the quick change after an interception. It's nice to get everyone involved, but none of Gary Crowton's strategic wankery really mattered. Matt Flynn completed 8 -f 19 for 70 yards and an interception. No matter. Including Perrilloux, who only attempted one pass, six LSU running backs carried the ball for 275 yards, five of them for more than five yards per carry (the only one below that, Keiland Williams, averaged 4.7). This was not inflationary in any way - the long run was 33 yards. It was outright dominance by the Tiger offensive line. Down the road, particularly next week against Florida, that's going to matter.

I mentioned LSU's 40-pound-per-man advantage over Carolina's defensive line Friday, and maybe losing Jasper Brinkley in the first half had some minor effect, but the inability to stop the run is a long-standing albatross to the Gamecocks' wider ambitions:

...USC hasn't made much progress to stopping the run in years - opponents have averaged a little more than four yards per carry every season since 2002, which never happens at Florida, Georgia, LSU, Auburn or Alabama (or Tennessee, for that matter, which gave up 4.1 last year after a long run of dominance in run defense) - and that's still the biggest gap between the Cocks and the league's elite.
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That was my preseason assessment and it holds until further notice.

• The difference in these teams was pretty clear in the first quarter, on each teams' first scoring drive. South Carolina's took 12 plays to go 67 yards, took almost six minutes off the clock, required a 3rd-and-16 conversion and 20 yards in LSU penalties and came down to an intricate little game of rock-paper-scissors on 3rd-and-4 at the LSU eight. The Tigers crept eight guys within five yards of the ball, playing both corners and a safety loose against three-wide, and ultimately sent six of those eight as a pair of linebackers held in the middle of the field. Seeing plenty of space against three-deep, Blake Mitchell repositioned his receivers before the snap and hit Kenny McKinley on a wide open quick slant to set up 1st-and-goal at the one; LSU tried to adjust to USC's audible, but safety Danny McCray, coming from the end zone, was screened by the outside receiver and arrived way late on McKinley. Mike Williams put Carolina up 7-0 two plays later. Fairly exhausting stuff, all of it necessary to penetrate the Tiger defense.

LSU answered its first deficit of the season by scorching 69 yards in four plays, consecutively hitting an open tight end for 24 yards, opening up a run by Holliday for 11 and blocking the hell out of Holliday's 33-yard trot into the end zone. Nothing short of demoralizing.

Game-changing play: Every South Carolina partisan spent halftime praying for a tide-turning lightning bolt like Eric Cook had in his hands on the first possession of the third quarter, when he stepped in front a of a third down pass by Matt Flynn en route to the end zone, where he would put Carolina back within a touchdown of tying the game. This is the play that makes an upset Instead, Cook dropped the potential equalizer, LSU pinned USC's offense at its own 21, and LSU subsequently stopped a rather desperate 4th-and-1 attempt at the Carolina 30. Aaaaaaaannnd...the rout was on.

  • The official box score (seen here on the NCAA site and here at ESPN) lists this rather odd rushing line for McKinley:
# Player No Gain Loss Net TD Avg. Long
11 Kenny McKinley 2 16 0 16 0 8 7

So if McKinley gained 16 yards on two carries, and the longer of those two carries went for seven yards, then the other was for...

Oklahoma State 49 • Texas Tech 45
Oh, This Modern Game: At one point in the second quarter of Texas Tech-Oklahoma State, with the Red Raiders facing a 4th-and-2 in OSU territory, Oklahoma State's defense came out with zero down linemen and dropped eight into coverage. Graham Harrell scrambled and hit Danny Amendola in the flat for a first down, then tied the game on a quick timing throw to Michael Crabtree from the OSU three.

At halftime of this game, Texas Tech led 35-28 with 388 yards and four touchdowns on 40-plus passes and two players over 130 yards receiving. The teams combined for nine touchdowns on the game's first ten possessions and 42 points in the second quarter alone, capped when
Crabtree caught his third touchdown after a Marino-esque fake spike by Harrell a few seconds before the break.


Sometimes, even pirates need a little defense. Yarr.
- - -

Most of that yardage remained through the second half - Harrell finished with one of the highest passing totals in NCAA history (646) and there were 62 first downs altogether - but for Tech, the points did not, largely due to a couple of old problems: the main culprit, obviously, was its defense, which carries a huge share of the defeat for giving up 610 total yards and 6.9 per carry to the Cowboys' top three runners. Offensively, though, the Raiders managed to outduel OSU in total yardage, and had a chance to close out the game when they got the ball back up three with 2:44 remaining. If Mike Leach's offense is the perfect system to come back at the end of a game, it's the worst for holding a lead: Tech went three-and-out in a little less than a minute, gained four yards while stopping the clock on an incomplete pass and - its defense being what it is - immediately allowed a 54-yard, go-ahead touchdown in a pathetic display of open-field tackling on the first play of the Cowboys' ensuing possession.

The momentum change was so fast, Tech still had plenty of time (roughly a minute and a half) to move back into position to win, which it promptly did on a long heave to Crabtree that helped move the ball inside the OSU 20 with almost a minute to play. Here the spread ran into its other chronic caveat, trying to throw into a constricted, zoned-out end zone in scoring position. Earlier in the second half, the Raiders had fumbled, turned the ball over on downs, missed a field goal and settled for another field goal in OSU territory. Needing a first down or a touchdown to win from fifteen yards out, the final four of Harrell's 67 passes wnet incomplete, complete for two yards, incomplete, incomplete.

• To be fair, the last of those passes should have been the winning touchdown to Crabtree. Watching him here, it's hard to believe the staff had the patience to redshirt Crabtree as a true freshman last year. Not that the passing attack was short of productive options, but Crabtree is visibly the first-rate physical weapon the Tech receiving corps has lacked under Leach, a big, fast leaper with great instincts and breakaway ability that can lead to numbers like 14 for 237 and three touchdowns in this offense. But for all that, Mike, catch the game-winner! Crabtree had the route on the post, split the safeties, and the ball came in at his facemask. Of all the ones Saturday that could have gotten away, this one cost Tech a division win.

Glimpses
- - -
• ESPN2 switched from West Virginia’s blowout of East Carolina with about three minutes remaining in the third quarter, just after Syracuse capitalized on an interception to go up 31-14 and anything construed as conservative by the UL offense initiated a cascade of boos.

For all the reasons listed above and the unmitigated blowouts on every other front, I was interested in Louisville’s inevitable comeback effort. The Leader obliged for part of the Cardinals’ next drive, but cut away as UL moved inside the Cuse ten and missed a touchdown that cut the lead to ten. It came back to show Syracuse drive into the Louisville red zone, then cut away for good before another Orange touchdown, showing, among other things, East Carolina’s meaningless final touchdown in the closing minutes, then the slow, uneventful march to handshakes in that six-touchdown blowout as the Cardinals scored twice more to make the game interesting inside of a minute to play. Infuriating move by the Leader.


If you think he needs a helmet, well, you’re just the latest person to underestimate Mike Hart.
- - -
• I love Mike Hart for so many reasons – he’s an all-time great among the small, slow, intangible runners, a la Emmitt Smith, and the Wolverines do not beat Penn State and are not remotely Big Ten contenders from the start without their tiny engine revving up 44 times against one of the country’s most fearsome defenses – and not least among them is the fact that he introduced his freshman quarterback, to whom he gives up almost a foot in height, during ABC’s starting lineups as Ryan "Rachel" Mallett. It could be a nickname, or an unfortunate middle name, but I’d prefer to think Hart made it up for no reason at all. Just because he has that sort of vision in the moment.

• Don’t be fooled by Pat White’s numbers – he completed 18 of 20 "passes," virtually every single one of them quick flips along the line of scrimmage to a flaring running back or a slot receiver being given loads respect by the East Carolina secondary. This was taking candy from a baby all afternoon, because ECU – either fearing the Mountaineers’ speed or the off-the-line blocking ability of their receivers on the edge – never made an adjustment and was repeatedly gashed on such long handoffs. For all intents and purposes, West Virginia did not throw a pass, and had no reason to.

• I swear to god Matt Ryan is kitschy, catchy piano rocker Ben Folds. If only there was some way to prove it...

• More good evidence that, while penalties do not matter in bulk, they will kill you in the situational: Arkansas' misfortune to rough the kicker with an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter – a few plays after a 15-yard personal foul on the Razorbacks - essentially put four extra points on the board for Kentucky was the catalyst of 21-point UK barrage in the final eight minutes.

Upwards...

Conceit... SMQ was right about: I hit South Carolina at 16 points and Alabama at 23 on Friday, and with one more touchdown by LSU or one less by Georgia, I could have nailed both finals. I went out on a limb that Notre Dame would score an offensive touchdown, and somehow, against every odd, the Irish found the end zone. Twice, even. Such is the titanic will of Our Lady.

...and Contrition... SMQ was wrong about: Pretty much everything went horribly wrong – not only did my blowout of the week find a way to lose while making conquering heroes of one of the half dozen worst offenses in the country, but among the 14 games I picked straight-up Friday, a full half of them went the other way: Georgia did not score one less touchdown, Andre Woodson did Kentucky though the woods (again) at Arkansas, Ryan Mallett (backed by Hart, anyway) proved more trustworthy than Anthony Morelli, UCLA’s offense re-emerged against Washington, Oregon State did not (despite a quick 19-0 lead and a big advantage in total yards) upset Arizona State on the road and anyone who followed my advice to take the points with Texas Tech at OK State is a poorer person as a result. Not that anyone would put money on anything I said, of course. Right? Of course not.

The Crunch
Interesting/Not Necessarily Relevant Stats
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Clemson ran up 608 yards against N.C. State, 340 of them rushing, to the Wolf Pack's paltry 202. I know the Tigers ran 32 more plays, but seriously, aren't these teams that far apart? ... Illinois' Rashard Mendenhall ran for 214 against Indiana and is now averaging 6.96 per carry on the season ... Temple went over 400 yards total offense for the first time since 2004 in a loss to Bowling Green ... Kent State outgained Akron by 130 yards and lost ... Ball State racked up 610 total yards at Nebraska and quarterback Nate Davis combined with Sam Keller for 860 yards passing ... Duke scored 36 points in the first half against Navy and topped 500 yards total offense for the first time since right after the 9/11 attacks, and lost in overtime ... Virginia Tech scored 44 points on 287 total yards against William & Mary. Of the Hokies' six offensive scoring drives (they also scored on punt and interception returns), five began in W&M territory ... Wyoming outgained Ohio U. of Ohio by 150 yards, allowed one touchdown on defense, turned the ball over seven times, and won by one point ... Northwestern ran 33 times against Ohio State for zero yards. OSU's Chris Wells ran 12 times for an even hundred ... Colorado controlled the clock for nearly 41 minutes and had three players over 90 yards rushing en route to a 42-0 drubbing of Miami, Ohio. CU's 634 yards was its best offensive output of the decade ... In 13 games as a redshirt freshman, Wake Forest's Riley Skinner threw five interceptions. After returning from injury for his second game Saturday against Maryland, he's thrown six picks already as a sophomore ... Central Florida scored touchdowns on its first seven possessions in a 56-20 rout of Memphis ... Defending MAC champ Central Michigan lost by 30 points to a I-AA team ... Baylor, which ran for 486 yards in all of 2006, had 229 yards rushing in a 13-point win at Buffalo ... Arkansas State's top two running backs averaged 8.4 per carry against Tennessee ... Sacramento State had as many penalties as first downs (six apiece) in a 58-0 loss at New Mexico ... Minnesota held Purdue to 338 yards passing in a loss, the first time in four games the Gophers have allowed less than 400 in the air ... Stanford scored 28 points in the second quarter in an eventual loss to Oregon, a touchdown better than the Cardinal scored in all but one game in 2006 ... Oregon State jumped to a 19-0 lead at Arizona State but had six turnovers and allowed 31 ASU points in the second half in an eight-point loss despite a 118-yard advantage in total yards ... Okay, WTF? A week after hanging 44 on UCLA, Utah was shut out at home by UNLV, while the Bruins hung 44 on Washington. I told you not to trust that score.