Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
28 Sep 2009
By Robert Weintraub
I spent the weekend with the in-laws in Florida and spent much of the endless drive down with two screaming kids in the back of the minivan fantasizing about a different life, one where I was the Big Man on Campus quarterback at one of the Big Three Florida schools. "What a great life that must be!", I thought, as my newborn projectile-spat on my shirt.
But this week, not so much. Florida's Tim Tebow, for a few blessed minutes, thought the Rapture had come and he'd been delivered to a better place. Unfortunately, it was actually teammate Marcus Gilbert's knee to the back of his head, and when Tebow realized it, he couldn't stop throwing up. Kryponite, thy name is (Kentucky defensive end) Taylor Wyndham. Luckily for the Gators, they have two full weeks to nurse Tebow's bruised brain back to 100 percent -- or at least enough to read the defensive end -- before visiting Death Valley. Meanwhile, they romped again, to stay the consensus No. 1 team in the land.
Not so fortunate was everybody's feel-good redemptive tale, Miami. The torrential rain in Blacksburg rinsed the renewed swagger right off the Canes. Quarterback Jacory Harris is cucumber-cool behind center, but his usually sun-drenched hands struggled to grip the slick ball, and Virginia Tech put serious heat on him. A sack and strip by cornerback Dorian Porch on the first series of the game pretty much ended matters right then and there. Miami tight end Jimmy Graham, a converted hoops star, didn't help matters by dropping a pair of passes just when The U seemed to be getting some momentum back. He's no Tony Gonzalez just yet. On the other side of the ball, running back Ryan Williams was superb, providing Virginia Tech with a replacement for the injured Darren Evans. A return to ACC title game, a prospect that seemed dicey, looks possible after Saturday's performance.
As for Florida State, I got a lot of stick from Warchant Nation for under-ranking the Noles after they pummeled BYU in Provo. Well, here's a ranking for you guys -- FSU is the No. 4 team in the state (and Florida International and T.Y. Hilton might give them a run). South Florida was supposed to be one dead torero after senior quarterback Matt Grothe went down for the season. But the Bulls rallied behind B.J. Daniels, who was ignored by Bowden and his staff despite starring right down the road at Tallahassee Lincoln High. Daniels made big play after big play, while Seminoles quarterback Christian Ponder continued to be the definition of erratic. In his defense, Ponder was harassed all game by South Florida's relentless rush line. George Selvie, you know about. Craig Marshall and Jason Pierre-Paul, you don't -- but you should. Pierre-Paul, in particular, could be phenomenal on Sundays -- he is quick, active, and has the wingspan of a California Condor.
If there was a defensive player of the week who didn't wear South Florida green and gold, it was Louisiana State safety Chad Jones. He personally rescued the Bayou Bengals from defeat at resurgent Mississippi State (I wanted to name check Cowbell Coach Dan Mullen last week after an impressive win over Vandy but ran out of room). First, C.J. conjured Billy Cannon with a scintillating punt return for a 91-yard score. Then, with the Bulldogs inches shy of the goal line and a probable upset, Jones leapt to deflect a third-down play-action pass that was wide open behind him. Jones bit, recognized, and went vertical in a blink -- it was an amazing play. Then, on fourth down, he was part of a posse that stuffed Mississippi State quarterback Tyson Lee shy of paydirt.
Another stud turning in a spectacular special teams play was Georgia's A.J. Green. The gangly wideout went up like a windsock to reject a would-be go-ahead Arizona State field goal, then hauled in a bomb to set up the winning field goal going the other way. ASU had zero offense in the game, but hung in thanks to an ultra-aggressive defense, led by fabulous freshman middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict. He didn't have the grades to get into USC, but he sure looks like a combination of Maualuga, Polamalu, and Charles Jefferson of Ridgemont High (who also didn't have the grades to get into USC). It's always a good sign when a linebacker is deemed special enough to get to wear jersey No. 7, as Burfict does. He was everywhere between the hedges, almost willing the Devils to victory. On one Bulldog fourth and 1, Burfict slammed into the umpire in his anticipation of the snap count. The play was blown dead, and the ref got chesty, thinking Burfict purposefully hit him. Cooler heads prevailed, no penalty was called, and then Burfict came flying in again, right over the top, slamming the ball carrier for a loss. It was an incredible play, lost in the field goal duel at the end.
Another freshman giving a great effort, again, was Michigan quarterback Tate Forcier. The young'un is getting the Favre treatment already -- he threw a late touchdown pass after getting smacked up pretty good against Indiana, cause the announcers to scream, "The legend builds!" Hey, he's played four games. Nevertheless, it was a dramatic win for Big Blue -- Forcier couldn't lift his right arm due to a shoulder injury, but he managed to go downfield for the winner. Two images stand out. When Forcier left the field, hurt, he interrupted his stagger to race over to replacement Denard Robinson and urge him on. Then, after Forcier's touchdown pass, a teammate on the sideline brainlessly gave him a smack right on that injured shoulder. Forcier winced in agony. Is that any way to treat a legend?
(Editor's Note: Every week, Robert Weintraub participates in the CBS Blogpoll. This is a copy of his ballot. In future weeks, arrows will appear next to each team's name according to their movement from the previous week.)
Lurking -- Ole Miss, Utah, Georgia Tech, Oregon, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Middle Tennessee State.
32 comments, Last at 01 Oct 2009, 3:08pm by Seb