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?
05 Oct 2009
by Robert Weintraub
Why does any kid play football? Maybe there is parental or peer pressure for some, but I like to think that most get into the game to have fun. And while the number of people who take college football far, far too seriously is depressingly high, most kids who play are still in it for the fun of the game.
Which is why I’ve always hated celebration penalties. Sure, there is a line after which celebration becomes taunting, I suppose. But of the many "excessive celebration" penalties that I have seen called this season, maybe, maybe, one was just rubbing it in the opponent’s face. The rest have merely been properly expressed joy at scoring or preventing a score.
Which brings us to the LSU-Georgia game. You probably saw or heard what happened -- Georgia’s superstar sophomore receiver A.J. Green made a spectacular catch for the go-ahead score in a taut, extremely emotional contest played in one of the sport’s loudest venues. Georgia led 13-12 with about a minute to play. But Green was penalized 15 critical yards for doing what came naturally -- celebrating with his teammates while Sanford Stadium went ballistic. There was no taunting, no "dig me," no obscene gestures. Just pure joy.
Kicking off from its own 15-yard line, Georgia allowed a long return by LSU’s Trindon Holliday. Two plays later, Charles Scott busted a few tackles and ran in from 32 yards away for the real game-winner. He too, after jumping up and down with his teammates, was called for excessive celebration. The referees seemed determined to be noticed. It wasn’t necessary -- thanks to the game’s umpire and the biggest, beefiest striped shirt I have ever seen, they couldn’t go unnoticed.
Down here in the Dirty South, many dyed-in-the-wool Georgia fans believe SEC refs have been directed to toss flags whenever a Bulldog player so much as claps his hands, a direct result of the all-in celebration in the Georgia-Florida game from 2007 (after Georgia's first score, the entire team poured into the end zone to celebrate). Those of us who don’t see black helicopters hovering above Athens think it is simply enforcement of a bad rule.
So here’s a modest suggestion: If the NCAA competition committee is so worried about showboating and potential taunting, keep the rule in place. But reduce the penalty to five yards. That still sends a message that coaches will enforce in meetings, but it doesn’t affect a game so dramatically in the final minutes, as happened Saturday. Such a tense and hard-fought ballgame shouldn’t be remembered for a dubious call.
Give LSU credit. The Bayou Bengals proved to be a better survive-and-advance squad than their hosts. LSU has found ways to win for the last two weeks, perhaps a result of CBS executives putting their voodoo dolls to good use. Now next Saturday’s prime time battle in Death Valley with Tim Tebow, er, No. 1 Florida, carries major juice.
Unlike Georgia, Miami didn’t let a bad call cost them the game. Up 21-10 and partying like it was 2001 against Oklahoma, an inexplicable roughing the punter call gave the Sooners new life, and soon thereafter, a new number on the scoreboard. Just when it seemed Oklahoma would steal the game from the young Hurricanes, the unheralded Miami offensive line, led by A.J. Trump and Joel Figueroa, caved in Oklahoma’s defense, paving the way for a few first downs and a memorable clock-kill. Jacory Harris, out of the Virginia rain and restored to excellence, will get the glory for the key third-down conversion that sealed it, but it was the big uglies who really made it happen.
After a sloppy, near-disaster of a first half, Miami turned the game on a tremendous hit on the second half's opening kickoff. It was a blast reminiscent of the huge block Jordan Futch threw on a punt return in the Georgia Tech game, only more important. The swagger is back on special teams, anyway. Two plays later, Brandon Harris had a sack-n-strip of quarterback Landry Jones, and The U immediately stuck it in the end zone to take its first lead.
Speaking of swagger, TCU was struggling with SMU when freshman linebacker Tanner Brock threw a huge block on special teams -- minus his helmet. Brock may have more gumption than gray matter, but that’s what makes winning football teams. Horned Frog Jeremy Kerley scored on the play, a 71-yard punt return, thanks to the bare-headed de-cleater, and TCU kept the Iron Skillet Trophy. (Who plays for the Huddle House, Florida International and Georgia Southern?)
Wisconsin’s John Clay is a nationally undersung back, but he gashed Minnesota for three scores, and the Badgers edged the Gophers in the smallish mammal battle, 31-28, to keep Paul Bunyan’s Axe. Remember, Jahvid Best went for five touchdowns on the ground in Minnesota a couple of weeks ago, proving ... something, I guess. Mainly, the Gophers need to work on their run keys. Paul Bunyan’s Trophy, as opposed to his Axe, stays with Sparty for another year, but please don’t blame Tate Forcier. Last week in this space I goofed on the Michigan quarterback's instant legend, but after his fourth quarter in East Lansing, I believe!
Despite a rain that would have crippled Noah’s offensive game plan, and despite thorough exhaustion, Forcier led the Wolverines on a breathless 13-play, 91-yard drive with no timeouts. On several occasions, Forcier was forcie-d to improvise due to bad snaps, but he always made a positive play despite the conditions, both in the air and on the ground. He capped the amazing sequence with a touchdown pass to Roy Roundtree with two ticks left. But a deflected interception in overtime likely prevented an on-field presentation of the Heisman Trophy to Forcier. Instead, MSU got to trot around the field with the Bunyan Trophy.
Unfortunately for the Spartans, that was too much celebration for the NCAA, so they will begin next season’s game with Michigan by kicking off from the 15-yard line.
Every week, Robert Weintraub participates in the CBS Blogpoll. This is a copy of his ballot.
|Last week's ballot|
Lurking: Nebraska, Pitt, Ole Miss, Utah, Idaho
55 comments, Last at 24 Nov 2009, 7:57pm by zlionsfan