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Sunday Morning Quarterback

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The outcome was immediately obvious, so I missed the second half of LSU's beatdown of Virginia Tech for more productive pursuits. At some point after I'd stopped watching, I got this text message:

I am a better qb than sean glennon. And i am drunk

Glennon: Only wishes he was drunk.
- - -
Since the sender is not, nor ever has been (to my knowledge) a Division I quarterback, or a quarterback of any kind not involving an armchair, that can be racked up as hyperbole. But only to some degree.

Not that Glennon had a chance. Holy god, LSU's defense was hanging all over the poor kid from his first snap to his last, which only seemed like an eternity - it was actually about a quarter and a half, and by the time Tyrod Taylor came off the bench for his turn in the role of punching bag LSU had slammed the door shut, knocked it off its hinges in the process, replaced it with another door, and slammed the new door shut. With authoriteh.

Virginia Tech's offensive woes - seven points on 149 total yards, with eight punts - were entirely unsurprising. The Hokies weren't much better than that against East Carolina. But there is no accounting for Tech's defense allowing 600 yards to anyone. Five-hundred ninety-eight yards and 48 points. For real. It was ripped up front, it was ripped deep, it allowed long, sustained drives and big plays. It never had a chance.

So either Saturday night was the definitive exposure of a derelict team already burdened with popular skepticism, or LSU is a sledgehammer and the SEC is a big, fat  watermelon. It might turn out to be the former, and sincere condolences to Hokie partisans if the first two weeks are representative of the rest of your season, but for everyone else, I'd be prepping the plastic splash guards anyway.


...with various degrees of vigilance...

- - -
We have our answer: if Appalachian State was a mirage or aberration, its scarring effects on the Wolverine psyche will prove enduring, and have already wrecked 2007. Except nothing Oregon did Saturday seemed like a mirage:

Michigan Defense
2006 (Games 1-11) vs. Oregon Last 4 Games
Pts./Game 12.1 39 36.8
Yds./Game 231.5 624 488.3
Yds./Carry 1.3 6.5 4.9
Yds./Pass 5.5 11.3 9.1
Sacks/Game 3.73 1 1.4

It wasn't supposed to end like this.
- - -
The last two weeks could easily be chalked up to the departure of unprecedented all-American experience and talent in tandem with the youthful folly of its replacements. This was a ubiquitous preseason storyline, and obviously a correct one. But "youth," as you know, is a shallow scapegoat. Going back to Troy Smith's breakout game in 2004, in fact, the one that preceded Vince Young's breakout game in the Rose Bowl and the worst (full) season of Carr's tenure in 2005, it could be argued that the first, dominant two and a half months of last season was the mirage in a slow descent that hit bottom last week and plunged right through it, Wile E. Coyote style, in a very public display of confusion, mental lapse and plain physical dominance. It's this idea, which the rest of the country is only just beginning to realize, that had Michiganders seemingly irrationally close to the edge about the defense in the offseason, then plunging off it even before Saturday's debacle.

The only individual on the roster who has looked like a player from Michigan - rather than, say, Indiana or Northwestern - is the nigh-unstoppable Mike Hart, the put-upon engine who singlehandedly pushes the rest of the machine forward when it doesn't want to budge. That includes the quarterback whose fate has been intrinsically tied with Hart's from the beginning, and who ultimately might stand as the defining face of Michigan in their era. With Hart and Braylon Edwards, Chad Henne led Michigan to the Big Ten title and came within a point of outduelling Young in the Rose Bowl as a true freshman. He's started more games, thrown for more touchdowns, done more of anything else than any other Michigan quarterback, and has always seemed so uniquely poised to reach greater heights. He was making his 40th straight start Saturday, very possibly one of his last, and you couldn't help but wonder watching him against Oregon if the culmination of his career will be one of  personal regression.

Henne was erratic and threw a killer fourth quarter interception against Appalachian State. His first touchdown Saturday was an impressive, veteran throw up high to an ostensibly covered Adrian Arrington, but he had already been baited into an interception earlier on a presnap blitz read that led to a one-man route into double coverage and he continued to struggle with reads against heavy blitzing until the decision to keep in the locker room at halftime. At this stage of his career, is it still so difficult to find and man coverage when the defense sends six? On a desperate 4th-and-goal, is the best option a no-read lob to a receiver lucky to be listed at six feet even, as Henne unsuccessfully tossed at Mario Manningham on his team's last chance to remain in the game in the second quarter?

Even the innocent shall not be spared.
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And so, though it was due to injury rather than incompetence, the accession to Ryan Mallett in the second half seemed symbolic of Michigan's mindset: there is a future, at least, and the present anguish is best spent in its service. When Henne returns, if Henne returns, it will be only to salvage what's left of his legacy, not add to it, and even then, even with Notre Dame and the entire Big Ten schedule looming, it's apparent the next era of Michigan football is already moving into the offices as the old one moves out.

• Lost in the Wolverines' spectacular demise is the really frightening speed on display from Oregon, which looked fantastic again Saturday under any circumstances.The Statue of Liberty and Dennis Dixon's touchdown off the same action was just a little fun at the dying beast's expense, but Dixon was effortlessly running circles around the Michigan D as Jonathan Stewart was plowing through it and Brian Paysinger and Derrick Jones and Jaison Williams were pouring gasoline and throwing matches all over the highly flammable secondary.

But we've seen such fireworks from the Ducks before, haven't we? And we know they don't always last. The same offense did this to Oklahoma last year, right? And then went on to a losing record in the Pac Ten because Dixon and Stewart proved unfocused, inconsistent and gimpy week-to-week, and the defense was repeatedly trashed. And we saw that Saturday, too, didn't we? Michigan had 365 total yards, and Hart averaged five per carry, and long first half drives by the Wolverines ended in a missed field goal and a turnover on downs, and if not for the four Michigan turnovers - the kind that didn't go Oregon's way last year, when it was minus-15 in six losses - Saturday's game is much closer than it was.

So there's no denying how good Oregon looked and how tough that offense is going to be to defend over the rest of the season if it remains healthy, even if the evidence came against a defense in full-on retreat. But we'll have to judge over the next three weeks, culminating against Cal on Sept. 29, whether or not that appears more sustainable this time.

- - -
The Gamecocks' beleaguered offensive line deserves some praise for faciliatating a sustained running game in tough circumstances, but the story of the game is the resiliency of South Carolina's defense. USC couldn't stop Knowshon Moreno, but against the wall, it held every time:

Moreno averaged 7.4 per carry and maybe deserved more than 14 of them - after Mikey Henderson returned a punt 31 yards to the Carolina 47 with six minutes to go, with UGA down 16-9 and needing a touchdown to tie, Moreno broke off two straight first down runs to the USC 11...and didn't touch the ball again as three straight Matt Stafford passes fell incomplete and the Bulldogs had to settle for another field goal. Which proved worthless.

Georgia Drives in USC Territory
Plays Yards Result
1st Qtr. 12 44 Missed FG
2nd Qtr. 13 71 FG Good
3rd Qtr. 5 44 TO on Downs
3rd Qtr. 6 49 FG Good
4th Qtr. 7 38 FG Good
4th Qtr. 7 31 FG Good

But Georgia did the same thing, repeatedly forcing kicks of one variety or another - the difference in the game was South Carolina's touchdown drive in the second half, the one finished by a sweet Cory Boyd juke that literally provided the winning margin in the end, because it was the only drive either offense finished. If there's any criticism to be drawn of Georgia's defense that isn't equally deserved by Carolina's, it's that UGA allowed Boyd to rumble for three first downs on the Gamecocks' final drive, milking 3:16 off the clock before forcing a punt and thus putting Stafford in too tough a position - 80 yards for a touchdown in 1:14 - for a realistic comeback.

This might be the biggest win in Spurrier's short tenure at Carolina, moreso than beating struggling Florida and Tennessee teams in 2005, because it's exactly the kind of tense game his team lost again and again last year. The Cocks have never been a serious division contender, and breaking through on the road, off a lackluster effort in the first game, against one of the most impressive teams of opening weekend, lends real credibility to that ambition. For now.

- - -
The only question about Oklahoma coming into the season was its quarterback, and answering with a redshirt freshman is generally a fatal liability in the big picture. Two weeks in, the only question about Sam Bradford is his deep ball, because he's been perfect on everything else. He treated North Texas' defense like it didn't exist and was about as perfect in the system against a very fast, presumably very competent Miami defense Saturday. Coaches are only asking Bradford to hit a lot of quick throws right now, mostly slants and little flares, and his receivers have done a brilliant job of taking good throws and bad safety angles to the house - there was very little difference in any of Malcolm Kelly's three touchdowns Saturday, two of them slant-and-runs, and the 65-yard slant he broke against North Texas (watch #28 Willie Cooper's terrible pursuit on Kelly's second touchdown here).

Taking candy from a 'Cane.
- - -
Down the road, it makes sense that some defense will walk up on the receivers to take away the short, sweet stuff and force Bradford to make plays over their head. Right now, that looks like their only chance, and it's still not necessarily a very good one.

• Where OU's freshman was a sensation, the 'Canes' upperclassmen were regularly sitting ducks without a clue. Kyle Wright's first drive of the season - Miami's first touchdown drive - took up almost the entire second half of the second quarter and holds the early lead for Most Tortured Possession of the season. Eighteen plays, three third-and-long conversions, a fake field goal attempt that survived a botched snap, a goal line stand bailed out by the second end zone pass interference penalty in five plays, a fumbled option pitch and finally, mercifully, a touchdown.

At that moment, it looked like Wright possessed some rejuvenative powers the 100 percent ineffective Kirby Freeman did not, especially after Wright also brought the Hurricanes within eight points on a short field goal drive after a Sooner fumble early in the third quarter. It wasn't much of a reprieve, though: under Wright's guidance the rest of the half, Miami racked up a first down on its first snap of the third quarter and didn't gain another, going three-and-out on its last five possessions. Oklahoma scored after every one of them, and Miami's long offseason debate goes on in the most pessimistic fashion possible.

• Oklahoma punter Michael Cohen should have just kicked the snap that sailed over his head in the first quarter out of the end zone for two points rather than falling on it so the `Canes could have a shot at seven instead (they settled for a field goal, natch), but the worst part of that play is this: rather than count the botch as a turnover, new NCAA rules mark the yardage off as a fourth down loss against the offense - the play by play registers it as a "team loss" of 42 yards. So the Sooners' official rushing numbers - 116 yards on 2.6 per carry - are totally misleading; DeMarco Murray had 63 yards on 4.3 per, Allen Patrick averaged 6.7 for 47 yards, and OU moved the ball effectively on the ground against a defense that allowed 2.3 per carry last year.

You just don't get cameraman humor: Ron Franklin had no idea who he was, and thus ignored his cameraman's no doubt ironic shot in the third quarter of iconic, over-the-top pro wrestling announcer and OU alum Jim Ross. I only mention this because the comedic potential of having Ross introduce the Sooner starting lineups is about as great as that very limited format could allow - "Oh my god, here comes Jermaine Gresham at tight end...and he's got a steel chair!!" - and ABC instead went with the detestable Toby Keith. If you're going to go with a redneck homer, at least pick the one who doesn't bend the bill of his quasi-chic faux cowboy hat up like a girl.

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Officials missed the late, obvious fourth down pass interference penalty that would have extended Wake's game-tying/winning drive, but the Deacons blew this game earlier, after Sam Keller's awful pocket gaffe giftwrapped points for the Wake offense at the Husker 13. Poor Brett Hodges, playing okay in his first start, picked the only way to bail Keller out, throwing a terrible pick into double coverage in the end zone that negated an easy tying kick on fourth down and let the air out of the home crowd.

Otherwise, Wake might be more competitive than I had given it credit for (er, denied it credit for, actually), for two reasons that go beyond just keeping this close: one, it wasn't a turnover-driven fluke that the margin was only a field goal, like so many of Wake's wins last year - the Deacons' defense held an offense that ran for 400 in the opener to 115 on less than three-and-a-half per carry. And Wake also has a terrific weapon in wingback-type Kenneth Moore, who is some kind of blazer to average more than 14 per carry and singlehandedly keep the reverse-heavy running game afloat when regular runners Micah Andrews and Kevin Harris did very little.

• Sam "One Sleeve" Keller's favorite movies are Top Gun and Superbad, and this tells us a lot about his personality, I think. First, he's inevitably described as a "gunslinger," and has been known to emerge in public with heavily gelled hair, an image he obviously cultivates from one of the all-time cinematic paeans to cocksure bravado. I haven't seen Superbad, and I'm certain from its pedigree that it's a hilarious experience, but anyone who picks the flavor-of-the-moment that made him laugh last week very likely tends to be an impulsive, impatient sort, an optimist who looks for the immediate opportunity in all circumstances, who perhaps throws an interception that's returned for a touchdown one week and holds the ball in a passing position far away from his body even as defenders cascade over him deep in his own territory in the fourth quarter of a close game the next. Besides just not really giving a damn about movies.

(Now watch Superbad become the next Annie Hall).

- - -
• West Virginia in the first half at Marshall: seven possessions, 118 yards, six punts. In the second half: seven possessions, 393 yards, six touchdowns.

• Colt McCoy was not particularly impressive against TCU - the Frogs' only points came directly from his two first half interceptions, and he nearly fumbled away a key possession in the third quarter - but he contined to show that intangible instinct that defines so many less dominant quarterbacks who manage to improvise their way to wins. This most evident last night on the Longhorns' go-ahead drive, when TCU end Chase Ortiz beat a double team on 3rd-and-8 and came bearing down from McCoy's blind side for an obvious sack. There was no particular reason for McCoy to step up, with no other pressure, but he either felt Ortiz in that undefinable, instinctual way or had the internal alarm ringing that time was up, and subsequently took off at the last possible millisecond to leave Ortiz improbably grasping at air at the line of scrimmage. McCoy wound up out of bounds 22 yards later, setting up a one-yard run by Vondrell McGee that kept the momentum permanently in Texas' favor.

McCoy beats you one way or another.
- - -
Not that it didn't help to have Jamaal Charles (22 carries, 134 yds., 1 TD) obliterate TCU's 20-plus game streak of holding opposing runners under 100 yards, of course. After the opening struggles with Arkansas State, Texas desperately needed that second half.

• Officiating and other rule complaints:

 - The first overtime of the Texas A&M-Fresno State game was marred by a lengthy replay that overshadowed the eventual ending. Fresno, needing a touchdown to win after allowing an A&M field goal on the first extra possession, completed a wide open pass inside the TAMU five, which looked like a certain game-winner until the receiver stretched his arm out at the goalline and lost the ball into the end zone. A&M recovered for the win, but the nearest official marked the ball out of bound at the one. Replay showed this was obviously wrong: the receiver was clearly still in-bounds when the ball came out, so either he had stretched it out beyond the line for a touchdown or - more likely - he had fumbled it away. In either case, the game was over.

Except the official looked at it, for a very long time, and came back out to announce the play stood as called - Fresno ball at the one - which was not possible. After making this announcement, the official then went back to listen to the replay booth a second time, with no explanation at all what was going on, and Pat Hill somehow wound up all the way across the field (he obviously ran that distance, which tells you how long this replay lasteD) arguing his case side-by-side with an equally pissed Dennis Franchione in front of the A&M bench. Eventually, they came to the right decision: fumble into the end zone, A&M recovery. A&M victory. Crowd goes crazy. But, from nowhere, a previously unannounced flag was assessed against the Aggies for roughing the passer, negating the play and giving Fresno another shot with first down from the TAMU 13. From whence it kicked a field goal that eventually led to three overtimes that kept interested viewers' attention divided with the South Carolina-Georgia game.

A&M still won, 49-47, but it would have been a lot better for everyone if it could have just recovered that fumble and that been the end of it.

 - Colorado scored its second touchdown after a drive-extending 15-yard penalty against Arizona State, which was guilty of a "leaping violation" during a CU field goal attempt in the first quarter, i.e., a Sun Devil player went up as high as he could for the block and randomly came down on top of a CU lineman. The same penalty may have cost LSU a win against Auburn back in 2004 and, though ASU stormed back easily for 33 unanswered points, it remains one of the stupidest, most arbitrary rules on the books. Why can't the defense form a human pyramid to try for a block if it wants? Whatever tactic it uses will only come at the expense of allowing a successful fake. Who cares about leaping and leverage? Block that kick! This is a very NFL-style rule that makes no sense and needs to go.


SMQ was right about:  Argh, I only wish I was wrong about Southern Miss' chances at Tennessee:

Even if they were to somehow neutralize the significant size disadvantages along both lines, I still fear Ainge will have his pick of the Eagles' young and shuffled secondary...
...What actually will happen is a shaky start, some stabilization as the game descends into a taut defensive bog, and a late run by the Vols facilitated at least in part by a USM turnover as it shifts into must-pass comeback mode. I've seen this before.

Other than the "shaky start" and "defensive bog" part of that - USM led in the first half 3-0, 10-7 and 16-10 and schockingly hit a series of big plays through the air - I nailed the ending: Ainge had 276 with two touchdowns and no picks and the Vols outscored USM 22-3 in the second half. A fumble on Southern's first drive of the second half, leading to the touchdown that put UT up ten, was essentially the nail.

On Penn State and Notre Dame:

...the Irish offense is trotting out young Jimmy Clausen for trial by fire, and every expectation is he will be burnt crispy by the PSU defense, which is no more likely to be blocked than the Georgia Tech onslaught that poured through the ND line at will last week. Charlie Weis is not a bum, and thus I expect some fight from his team. His hopelessly young, outgunned team and its first-time, true freshman quarterback.

Projected points by Notre Dame's offense: 6. Actual points by Notre Dame's offense: 3.

Texas, UCLA, Arizona State and Rutgers all won by scores very near what I projected - in the latter case, I picked ASU to win 35-20, and the Devils came out over Colorado 33-14.

...and Contrition...
SMQ was wrong about: Michigan could have gone in either of two directions, and I definitely picked the wrong one:

I do not have confidence in Michigan's defense, and I can picture vividly the reality of the season-long downward spiral sinking in as Dixon traipses to his fourth touchdown in an Oregon blowout. ... But I do have respect for the Michigan "brand," and for the talent assembled there, and its ability to right itself at home against a team with a recent history of total unpredictability. I don't think Oregon will come close to stopping Mike Hart - the Ducks were obliterated for 300 yards on the ground alone by Houston last week - and the Wolverines will do what they have to do to salvage a chance at a meaningful season.

If only I'd stopped with the traipsing for touchdowns in a blowout. I saw it clearly, and defied common sense, and so I pay with the scorn of my peers.

I was right to see UGA-South Carolina as a tight defensive game in the teens, but wrong on the outcome:

At home this time, Georgia pushes the `Cocks around - again - and joins Florida as the early division favorite.

Washington over Boise State? Saw that, too, and met my vision of a triumphant Jake Locker as force of nature with denial:

The upset rumblings are loud here after Washington's "impressive" opening rout at Syracuse, and everybody's joining the Husky faithful's ongoing fawning over UW quarterback Jake Locker. Boise State is also not quite the same dominant team off the blue turf. But the Broncos still win, and still bring one of the half dozen most dangerous players in the country in Ian Johnson.

Johnson was held to 81 yards and no touchdowns, pretty easily his worst game as a starter. Locker accounted for 277 and two touchdowns, and the run on the Huskies' rocketing stock hits new heights.

And on the day's other chic upset pick:

Matt Grothe's laurels center on his all-purpose versatility, but Auburn is too fast on defense to let him escape for much damage as a scrambler. Make him throw, especially with Quentin groves screaming around the end, and it could get ugly. This looks like a carbon copy of the KSU game last week: close, but Auburn pulls away late.

Missing USF's overtime win doubles as my regret of the day. Grothe wasn't spectacular, but he gained 67 and a touchdown before sacks and threw for another without turning the ball over.

Stream of Consciousness
Thinking fast.
- - -
Minnesota dominated Miami, Ohio, on the line of scrimmage (306 yards rushing) but gave up 16 points in the last 6:31 of the fourth quarter and went to overtime with a MAC team for the second straight week. At least the Gophers won this time, unlike Iowa State, which followed up a nine-point loss to Kent State with an 11-point loss to I-AA Northern Iowa ... True freshman Peter Lalich may have taken the starting quarterback job from Jameel Sewell in Virginia's 24-13 win over Duke ... If we needed any more confirmation, Colorado State was willing to oblige: Cal's secondary is in for a long year ... N.C. State outgained Boston College, but here's a good recipe for losing: allow six yards per carry and throw five interceptions ... Allegedly "new look" Air Force brought the option back to Utah and ran for 324 yards ... Central Michigan and Toledo were tied entering the fourth quarter, and it wound up a Chippewa blowout ... Texas Tech outscored UTEP 28-3 in the second half for (another) comeback win ... It was only Tulane, but Mississippi State needed this kind of turnaround ... No turnaround for Syracuse: the Orange are just terrible ... Wisconsin trailed until the final two minutes before pulling out the win at UNLV.

Interesting/Not Necessarily Relevant Stats
- - -
Akron had three first downs and 69 yards total offense in a 20-2 loss at Ohio State ... Nevada outgained Northwestern by 110 yards and 12 first downs in a five-point loss ... C.J. Spiller and James Davis ran for 116 yards on just 13 carries against UL-Monroe ... So much for Temple's improvement: the favored Owls allowed 42 points and 414 yards to Buffalo ... Florida State and UAB combined for 24 penalties for 231 yards ... After two games, Notre Dame has negative-eight yards rushing for the season ... Missouri and Ole Miss combined for 1,100 yards and 55 first downs ... BYU outgained UCLA by 199 yards and lost by ten ... Rice allowed 412 yards passing and six touchdowns to Baylor ... Alex Brink threw for 467 and five touchdowns against San Diego State ... North Texas' Daniel Meager threw for 601 yards as UNT and SMU combined for 1,145 in total offense.