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26 Oct 2009

One Foot Inbounds: Do it for Johnny!

by Robert Weintraub

Every time a team wins one for a fallen teammate, coach, family member, or what have you, the talk is of destiny and the hidden hand of fate. So what Sniglet can we come up with for the empty sensation lodged in the gullets of the Connecticut program? The Huskies were on the verge of one of those memorable "Do it for Johnny!" victories, playing hard in memory of Jasper Howard, the cornerback killed in a bar fight last week. A deep slant from Cody Endres to Marcus Easley went for 88 astounding yards with four minutes to play, and UConn was ahead of West Virginia 24-21. The usually less-than-classy Mountaineer fans (of couch-igniting infamy) had given the Huskies a standing ovation as they ran onto the field, a touching gesture. Now, it seemed, they were to regret the show of sportsmanship.

But in an ironic twist that must make atheists like Bill Maher smile, not only was UConn not touched by an angel, the team was denied by the Devine. Noel Devine, that is. He sprinted 56 yards for the winning, and stunning, score. It's been a quietly excellent season for the hugely-hyped-in-high-school but underwhelming-in-Morgantown Devine -- he's third in the nation with 130 yards per game and has 10 touchdowns. He's not likely to score another sixer as bittersweet.

Down southern way, the story continues to be the officiating, somehow, rather than a conference sporting the top two teams in the land. Two more suspect instances Saturday involved Nos. 1 and 2.

Dan Mullen of Mississippi State used his inside information on the tendencies of Team Tebow to force a competitive evening in Starkville. The Cowbells couldn't budge the Gators defense, but a pair of pick-sixes off Tebow by Johnthan (no ‘a') Banks kept the Bulldogs very much in the game. But it was a Gator interception pick-6 that caused the contretemps. Dustin (John) Doe clearly coughed up the ball while stylin' before he crossed the plain. But the replay official upheld the on-field ruling. This was plainly incorrect, and Mullen has a right to be upset. On the other hand, he blew the game himself by faking a punt deep in his turf down by three late in the game. One thing no one ever talks about when an assistant coach faces his old team -- yes, Mullen knew plenty about the Gators' strengths and weaknesses, but Urban Meyer and his staff know Mullen pretty well, too. The Gators saw the fake coming, stuffed it, scored, then iced the game on that dubious Doe pick.

East a piece from StarkVegas, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and Tennessee played a throwback game so hard-hitting, the Bear should have been pacing the sidelines. Alabama survived 12-10 thanks to some old-school special teams. You know how the boola boola types still chant "Block that kick!" through those loudspeakers, even though few kicks are ever blocked? Credit the Tide cheerleaders, or Terrance (Mount) Cody, anyway, because he rejected two kicks, including the potential game-winner. Boy Wonder Lane Kiffin smarmily blamed the referees without actually saying so in the postgame presser. Lane has a future as a White House press secretary if he so chooses. Like Mullen, Kiffin should look in the mirror -- he played the final seconds content with a long field goal try, with a jittery kicker and a fiendish max block unit ready to leap. Kiffin has been enthusiastic and energetic in Knoxville, but also a bit complacent -- he acted as though he was still in the pro game at the end, and it cost him a program-defining victory.

Bigger picture, GatorTide II remains on target for December, but this is the most vulnerable the two programs have looked all season. "As an offense, we're not well right now," Meyer said about the Gators -- and that's putting it mildly. Alabama can still count on outstanding running back Mark Ingram, but his fourth quarter fumble almost cost them a shot at the title. The Tide's problems have come in the red zone. Its 44-percent touchdown conversion rating is near the bottom of the SEC, ahead of only LSU and Vandy. Alabama dominated Tennessee for 59 minutes on Saturday, but because they were unable to punch the ball in, they nearly lost a shocker.

Aside -- technically, Cody should have been called for unsportsmanlike conduct for ripping off his helmet after blocking the field goal, while the ball was still bouncing around. Discuss.

On the opposite coast, the top teams had little trouble scoring, in the red zone or anywhere else. USC and Oregon State played an even better game than last season's riveting upset in Corvallis. The Trojans built a big lead behind the bullying running of Allen Bradford. USC is like a shark's teeth when it comes to tailbacks -- when one falls out, another one revolves in to take its place, just like new. Joe McKnight dings his hands, Stefon Johnson's spotter takes an inopportune water break -- no worries, just rotate in another five-star recruit. Bradford banged for 147 yards, and the Men Of Troy led by 42-23. But OSU tore through the USC defense like it was 2008 (first half), led by Super Sibs JacQuizz and James Rodgers. Quizz missed an entire quarter with a bum ankle, but he still put up 113 yards and a touchdown. If the Beavers had gotten the ball once more, there is little doubt one or the other Rodgers would have scored the game-winner. But USC did a masterful job of keep away over the final five minutes and escaped with a 42-36 win. Next up -- a trip to Autzen Stadium, and a game for the conference title with Oregon. The Ducks waxed Washington in every facet, and "overmatched" coach Chip Kelly is now 6-1, running a team that looks as good as anyone in the country.

One team that might not look as good as others, but may be better than almost all of them, is Georgia Tech. Mad scientist Paul Johnson has his option attack running at top gear. The Jackets embody the old boxing maxim "kill the body and the head must die." They rained body blows on Virginia in the rain Saturday, with touchdown drives of 10, 10, 11, and a punitive 18 plays. That last Bataan Death March opened the second half, and when it was over, Virginia's offense had to reintroduce themselves to techniques like blocking and the forward pass. Tech doesn't use the latter too often -- only one ball was thrown on that long drive. He's too outside the box for it to ever happen, but a powerful argument can be made for Josh Nesbitt as the Heisman front-runner. He's cutting a swath through the ACC, one zone read at a time. And Tech appears BCS-bound, so attention should be paid.

Toedrags

  • You knew something was amiss in Morgantown when UConn got that nice ovation from the West Virginia crowd, got jacked up into a seething mass of emotion -- and then gave up a kickoff return for a touchdown to start the game.
  • The scouts came to see Jevan Snead battle Ryan Mallet in Oxford, but Dexter McCluster was the best player on the field. Somehow, Houston Nutt seems to have forgotten about Dex this season, but when he gets the rock, good things happen.
  • Pop quiz hotshot -- Who is the better out-of-nowhere star named Lewis? Duke quarterback Thaddeus, or Pitt running back Dion? I'd vote for Dion, if only because Thad gets to be coached by quarterback guru David Cutcliffe, while Dion has Dave Wannstedt's mustache.
  • Miami has been labeled "arrogant" in lots of situations over the years, but kicking to Clemson's C.J. Spiller at the end of the first half is one that came back to haunt The U more directly than usual. Clemson got away with playing for overtime at the end of regulation, a decision for which Dabo Sweeney should be getting intense heat. Instead, he's got the biggest win of his coaching career.
  • My Idaho Vandals fell back to earth with a Skylab-like thud. They were Kaepernicked -- Colin Kaepernick, that is. The Wolfpack quarterback ran for four touchdowns and 230 yards, and threw for another two in a buzzsaw attack: 70-45 was the final. The game mostly resembled the dice football games my buddy Mark and I used to play. We never could get the defense right.
  • Under-the-radar star of the week, brought to you by the folks who build the Predator drone -- Iowa State linebacker Jesse Smith, the only Big 12 player to average more than 10 tackles a game, and a sideline-to-sideline force. His interception ended Nebraska's turnover cavalcade in Lincoln, where the Huskers handed it over eight times and lost to the Cyclones 9-7. Smith was even better than Ndamukong Suh, who was his usual excellent self -- two blocked kicks in addition to the expected caving in of the middle of the line.
  • Paul Johnson may be gone, but the sea shanty remains the same at Navy. The Middies beat Wake 13-10 without throwing a single pass. They ran it 64 times for 338 yards. There's a landlubber joke in there somewhere, but I'd rather not look for it.
  • Iowa ran eight plays in the fourth quarter from inside Michigan State's 10-yard line, and the Spartans repelled them all. On the ninth, Ricky Stanzi hit Marvin McNutt with the game-winning touchdown pass with no time remaining. It was as excruciating a loss for MSU as it was for UConn, minus the emotional baggage. And Iowa continues to pull out games and win ugly, much like Ohio State circa 2002 -- a team that won a (referee-aided) BCS title. What could be more appropriate in this controversy-laden, aesthetically unpleasant season?

The OFI Top 25

Every week, Robert votes in the BlogPoll, hosted by mgoblog, and available on CBS Sportsline.

Rank Team Delta
1 Florida
2 Alabama
3 Texas
4 Southern Cal
5 Cincinnati
6 Boise State
7 Oregon
8 TCU
9 Iowa 1
10 Georgia Tech 1
11 Penn State 1
12 LSU 1
13 Virginia Tech 1
14 Ohio State 1
15 Houston 1
16 Oklahoma State 1
17 West Virginia 2
18 Miami (Florida) 9
19 Notre Dame 1
20 South Carolina 2
21 Pittsburgh
22 Oklahoma 2
23 Utah
24 Central Michigan 1
25 Navy
Last week's ballot



Dropped Out: Texas Tech (#18), Brigham Young (#21).

Lurking: Arizona, Oregon State, Temple

Posted by: Robert Weintraub on 26 Oct 2009

35 comments, Last at 27 Oct 2009, 10:46pm by Jetspete

Comments

1
by Mr Shush :: Mon, 10/26/2009 - 12:36pm

I love Sam Bradford as a prospect, but he must be absolutely mad to think it's a good idea to declare for the draft after essentially missing the entire season with one of the most worrying injuries it's possible for a quarterback to have. His talent should make him a sure-fire #1 overall pick, but for there to be any chance of that happening he would surely have to go back for his senior year.

5
by ChrisH :: Mon, 10/26/2009 - 1:52pm

By going pro now, Bradford is still as likely to be a first round pick as he would next year (since if the injury is that bad, all next year can do is serve to showcase that). What it really gives him is the benefit of being able to go and rehab, full time, anywhere that he wants starting now, and you'll have an NFL team that will have drafted you in April, and will dedicate their training staff and coaches to making sure you rehab as well as you possibly can.

I'm sure that OU has good trainers and staff, but an NFL team with millions invested in your long term health is probably going to be more beneficial. It also lets him start earning money one year sooner, and before a possible NFL Draft salary cap, or player lockout.

31
by Mr Shush :: Tue, 10/27/2009 - 7:10am

"By going pro now, Bradford is still as likely to be a first round pick as he would next year"

Ok, but where you're drafted is not a binary variable. It matters to him (or should) exactly where in the first round he is drafted. #1 gets a hell of a lot more money than #7, who in turn gets a hell of a lot more money than #19. If he went back to Oklahoma and turned in a strong senior season, he would go #1 overall in 2011. He will not go #1 overall in 2010. Admittedly, things could go wrong if he goes back: he might get injured again - the risk anyone who returns to college runs - or he might show that he has not recovered from the injury - which I guess is possible, but I don't think is hugely likely. So by coming out early, Bradford is transferring the burden of risk from himself to the team that drafts him, at the expense of radically reducing the potential benefit for himself. That is only rational if he really thinks there is a serious risk he'll never be the same again. I'm inclined to the view that he's being irrational, not pessimistic.

2
by Anonymousse (not verified) :: Mon, 10/26/2009 - 12:58pm

What solution are you proposing for the (incorrect) call for the Florida game? The ref was at the proper angle, and the review booth had time to review the plays. Do you want to give game-stopping time for the review booths to sync up the film ESPN style after every review?

Let's be real here, ABC/ESPN had a good 5 minutes to splice together the image. I don't want to give that sort of time 2-3 times per game, every game, merely to get the "quality" of the calls correct.

Or are you just playing the "favorites must have help to win" meme, because it's passe to say that holding a team to 6 offensive points is good?

3
by Viliphied (not verified) :: Mon, 10/26/2009 - 1:27pm

It wouldn't have made a difference in the game, because Alabama recovered the blocked kick. If Tenn recovered though, and it was called, well, yikes.

4
by sam :: Mon, 10/26/2009 - 1:43pm

#3

Agreed. The single-camera views are not conclusive because the camera's not on the goalline and there's parallax (I think that's the proper term?) and point of view angles to consider. Even if you say he 'probably' had dropped it before crossing the plane, 'probably' and 'indisputably' are not synonyms.

--
sam! or the original sam from the old FO

21
by peachy (not verified) :: Mon, 10/26/2009 - 4:07pm

Just so - don't underestimate parallax, people. I believe it was FO that had a detailed break-down of an NFL goal-line play from a few years ago, in which the standard angle made it look like a TD, absolutely no question... and the overhead view showed the ball was a good yard short.

To me, this seemed like one of those plays that was a toss-up on the field, and would have been confirmed whichever way the original call went because there was no conclusive camera angle. 'Spotting' calls are always tough to overturn for precisely that reason, unless the ball hits the ground while in the player's possession.

6
by zlionsfan :: Mon, 10/26/2009 - 1:53pm

I agree with Mr Shush on Bradford ... seems like the only thing worse than declaring for the draft after this season would be coming back for his senior season, missing the end of that due to injury, and then turning pro.

Yes, parallax is what you're thinking of, sam. It's the same thing that affects the view from the center-field camera in most baseball stadiums.

In general, I have liked college's version of reviewing plays better than the NFL's version, mostly because of the speed and the way it's run (where any play could be reviewed by the officials). Like the NFL's version, though, it really only works well when a call is clearly right or clearly wrong. If replay is used to review borderline calls, it's not doing either team or the game a favor.

I do find it odd that there seem to be more calls this year that are just wrong. Maybe that's just the speed at which bad news travels, though. I'm sure as many calls were blown 25 years ago as today; we just didn't find out about them all so quickly (or at all).

11
by Harris :: Mon, 10/26/2009 - 2:44pm

I don't really like either system, but I haaaaaaate the college replay system. Their dogged insistence on reviewing close play, no matter how obvious the call, drives me crazy.

Hail Hydra!

28
by sundown (not verified) :: Mon, 10/26/2009 - 6:47pm

They would be so much better served with a challenge type of system. Their current system has two fatal flaws: 1) They don't review all the plays like they claim, which is maddening because some reversible calls are simply skipped for no explanation whatsoever while a bunch of plays that don't need a second look get them anyway. 2) There's no consistency on what it takes to overturn a call and they frequently seem to be afraid of changing what was called on the field. I saw an obvious pick this past week get "confirmed" as an incompletion. Chris Fowler was doing the game and he started laughing at the ref's announcement because it was so obviously wrong.

7
by biles90 (not verified) :: Mon, 10/26/2009 - 2:24pm

Not that it will matter, I think that even if Tennessee would have beaten Alabama and the Tide won out and beat FL in the SEC Championship Game, they would still play for the MNC. However, the unsportsmanlike conduct happened before the play was over and so Alabama should have been assessed the 15 yard penalty and Tennessee given another shot at the field goal. Of course, this game being in Tuscalusa, that was never and will never get called.

16
by Viliphied (not verified) :: Mon, 10/26/2009 - 2:57pm

Again, not true. Even if they had thrown the flag, it would have been Alabama ball.

17
by Viliphied (not verified) :: Mon, 10/26/2009 - 2:58pm

Right from the rulebook:

"If committed while the ball is alive, these fouls are treated as dead-ball fouls."

8
by pkyle (not verified) :: Mon, 10/26/2009 - 2:24pm

I'm not sure that this is better, but Dabo SWINNEY wasn't playing for overtime. He mistakenly thought the clock had stopped for a first down (which Clemson had not gained). By the time he realized it, there was not enough time to play around with maybe throwing one towards the endzone.

9
by schroederlaw :: Mon, 10/26/2009 - 2:33pm

You had Iowa at #5 last week but dropped them to #9 this week, despite their win at Michigan State? And then you said they went up? That must be a mistake.

Fwiw, the computers rank Iowa #1 for a reason. Double digit wins at 7-1 Penn State and 5-2 Wisconsin and at home against 5-2 Arizona, a 35-3 win at 5-3 Iowa State, a win at Michigan State, a win against Michigan, etc.

10
by ChiTown11111 (not verified) :: Mon, 10/26/2009 - 2:39pm

I don't understand how the humans can hate Iowa so much. Yes, the big ten has been title-less since Maurice Clarett did his thing, but the computers say they should be number 1 and the voters have them at #8?

That is just mind-boggling. Don't people who get votes feel embarrassed that their subjective opinions are so radically different from the objective parameters they have said to put into the computers?

12
by Todd S. :: Mon, 10/26/2009 - 2:47pm

Watch QB Stanzi for one game (or even one half) and you'll understand the skepticism. I think the humans have it right in this case.

13
by Harris :: Mon, 10/26/2009 - 2:51pm

It's their own fault for scrapping out close wins against bad teams. Sure, beating Penn State and Wisconsin was impressive, but then they only beat Arkansas St. by three at home. A two-point win against Michigan playing most of the game without their starting QB and escaping a less-than-stellar Michigan State isn't going to impress anybody.

Hail Hydra!

18
by Alexander :: Mon, 10/26/2009 - 3:36pm

If that is what the voters care about they shouldn't have taken out margin of victory from the computer formula years ago.

They basically said, "We don't care how you win, just if you win." Then they turn around and vote the entirely opposite way. Same crap happened last year when Oklahoma went on a scoring tear against woeful Big 12 Defenses and made it to the title game over Texas.

22
by Harris :: Mon, 10/26/2009 - 4:21pm

You're probably right, but so what? Style points count and Iowa is about as stylish as a farm boy on his first night in the big city.

Hail Hydra!

23
by Tom Gower :: Mon, 10/26/2009 - 4:37pm

Let's not pretend margin of victory isn't important in the human polls. MOV in the computers just happened to be the convenient culprit one year when the BCS formula didn't spit out the top two teams in the AP poll as its end result.

If Texas was better than Oklahoma, as head-to-head suggested, why didn't Texas do the same thing Oklahoma did against those same B12 defenses? Like, say, beat Texas Tech 50-20 instead of losing to them?

25
by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Mon, 10/26/2009 - 5:37pm

MOV in the computers just happened to be the convenient culprit one year when the BCS formula didn't spit out the top two teams in the AP poll as its end result.

True, except for the fact that there's good statistical reason to eliminate margin-of-victory from a statistical ranking used to determine a champion. It's a good example of good luck - it gave the BCS a reason to eliminate something that should've been eliminated anyway.

Degree of victory should be important in human polls, since humans actually can tell whether or not a given 21-14 victory was strong or weak.

19
by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Mon, 10/26/2009 - 4:03pm

Beating Penn State wasn't even that impressive - I mean, you can say "double digit victory!" but Penn State was ahead until the fourth quarter when they blocked a punt and returned it for a TD. The remaining 10 points came off of turnovers that put them starting in Penn State territory - it's actually probably completely accurate to say that without that blocked punt, they might not win at all.

Now, PSU's defense is good, but it's hard to call a win impressive when the offense did absolutely nothing on its own. The only reason it's even slightly impressive was the fact that it was at Penn State, at night. Except for the fact that normally you think of offenses struggling on the road, and, like I said, it's not like Iowa's offense did anything on its own that game.

That's not to demean Iowa at all, because close wins are wins, period, but it's getting to the point of ridiculous how narrow these victories are.

34
by danb (not verified) :: Tue, 10/27/2009 - 5:50pm

Wait, Michigan played most of the game without their starting QB? Two drives=most of the game? And he was not playing because of a coaches decision.

If you're going to slam Iowa for close wins that's fine. But don't let Alabama, Notre Dame and USC skate for the same thing.

14
by grrigg :: Mon, 10/26/2009 - 2:53pm

I dont think that you can claim that computer rankings are objective, just because they are automated. It just means that there is an underlying formula, but the formula itself may be biased to favor some teams.

The bias may be trivial: always rank SEC teams ahead of Big 10 or highly non-trivial where the way you weigh components favors a certain type of team. But in any case automated!=unbiased.

20
by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Mon, 10/26/2009 - 4:06pm

Most of the statistical rankings are based on methodologies and formulas that have no idea what the heck "football" is. All they know is that there's some comparison between teams A and B, and the team that "wins" is likely to be better. Some of the methodologies are literally 300 years old. There aren't any "components" to weigh, since every ranking system (save one, see below) does not use the score or any statistics whatsoever.

Note that this excludes Billingsley, who is insane, and has a clearly biased methodology.

15
by witless chum :: Mon, 10/26/2009 - 2:55pm

...I'm now rooting for Iowa, but that one hurt. That's a third last-minute loss for the Spartans, plus the overtime win over our friends from Ann Arbor.

If Iowa makes it to the championship game, don't count them out. Ferentz has bucked the recent Big 10 trend and is 4-3 in bowl games.

24
by tsmonk (not verified) :: Mon, 10/26/2009 - 5:17pm

Aside -- technically, Cody should have been called for unsportsmanlike conduct for ripping off his helmet after blocking the field goal, while the ball was still bouncing around. Discuss.

Okay...

Because Alabama blocked and recovered the ball, Alabama had possession. The game can't end on a defensive penalty, but because of the possession change, Alabama wasn't on defense. We'll let SEC spokesman Charles Bloom take it from here.

"The foul for taking helmet off is a live ball foul treated as a dead-ball foul," Bloom wrote in an e-mail Saturday night. "That is, if it happens on a play where time does not expire then the penalty is enforced on the following play. However since the clock ran out on that play, then there is no next play, so there is no penalty to mark off."

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2009/writers/andy_staples/10/24/alabama...

It's discussed. You're welcome.

26
by Will :: Mon, 10/26/2009 - 6:04pm

Cody ripping his helmet off reminded me of Jake Locker throwing the football in the air last season. Locker got flagged, and Cody didn't - I don't believe either should have. If it's a huge moment like that, let the kids play. Jeez, most of them aren't even legally allowed to drink yet - let them have some fun.

Will

27
by Still Alive (not verified) :: Mon, 10/26/2009 - 6:32pm

I would take umbrage at the idea that only atheists would smile at the ignorance displayed by thinking supernatural forces would bother influencing the outcomes of sporting events. Particularly when you almost always have large numbers of people asking for divine intervention on both sides.

$.02

29
by navin :: Mon, 10/26/2009 - 8:01pm

Lane Kiffin is such a joker. He claims that he played for the long FG because he thought the refs were out to screw him:


Kiffin also said he decided to let the clock run down instead of trying to run another play before the kick because he was concerned about the officiating.


"You run another play and you throw an interception or they throw another flag on us - I wasn't going to let the refs lose the game for us there and some magical flag appear," Kiffin said.

Of course the other penalty he complained about DID NOT AFFECT THE OUTCOME OF THE GAME, as many other people have noted. Additionally, Tennessee got away with a *blatant* hold on the pass that got them into field goal range. The one thing that Kiffin does have going for him is that his father is an excellent defensive coordinator. Hopefully for Lane, Monte sticks around for awhile, because Lane's act is going to lack results to back them up once Monte Kiffin retires.

32
by Harris :: Tue, 10/27/2009 - 10:29am

I don't . . . Is he . . . THAT'S THE DUMBEST FUCKING THING I'VE EVER HEARD.

Hail Hydra!

30
by lionsbob :: Mon, 10/26/2009 - 10:57pm

Lane Kiffin is the new Mike Shula.

I agree, UT got flagged 8 times. 3 were false starts, 1 one was a delay of game. The other 4 were: Pass Interference that clearly was pass interference. Block below the waist on a punt return when the defender went low on the wedge. Roughing the kicker-which was pretty blatant. I guess the one penalty that could be questioned was the holding call (just because of the nature of the holding call in the game-that UT from the 17 to the 27 yard line early in the 4th quarter.

33
by horn2 (not verified) :: Tue, 10/27/2009 - 2:04pm

USC and Oregon both ahead of Iowa? I'm always on teh Big 10 zomg so weak! bandwagon but that's ridiculous.

35
by Jetspete :: Tue, 10/27/2009 - 10:46pm

iowa has two embarrassingly close home wins over northern iowa and ark state. it is completely fair to have usc and oregon ahead of them. gotta remember that the bcs is a marathon, not a sprint, at least in the computers, and they still have a buzzsaw game at ohio state.

Speaking of that game, look at the schedule that day. Lots of bcs ramifications, iowa at osu, tcu's last real chance to lose vs utah, west va at cincy the night before, Notre Dame at Pitt (Irish playing for potential bcs berth), the battle for Idaho, and florida at team spurrier. I'm so glad i just agreed to go to a day long seminar that day four hours away. FML

wow, there are a whole host of other intriguing games that day too. now i'm really going to go to bed angry.