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?
09 Nov 2009
by Robert Weintraub
When it comes to football maxims, "You are what your record says you are" and "When you throw the ball, three things can happen, and two of them are bad" are well known. "Pick on the injured guy's replacement" is rather unsporting, and since it wasn't uttered by the likes of Parcells or Royal, it isn't quite as well known. Nick Saban and his staff know it all too well, and it won them the SEC West.
In last week's preview of the LSU-Alabama game in Seventh Day Adventure, I wrote, "there will be bruises." Indeed, injury played an outsized factor in the result. LSU lost quarterback Jordan Jefferson and running Charles Scott (for the season) in the third quarter, and dearly felt their absence. But it was a momentary loss of cramping cornerback Patrick Peterson that cut deepest. Seeing him on the bench, Alabama immediately went to a hitch screen for Julio Jones, the talented wideout the Tide have tried to feed all season without success. This time, LSU moved strong safety Brandon Taylor over to cover Jones in Peterson's stead. Taylor took a bad angle to Jones, missed the tackle, and looked up to watch Jones streak 73 yards for the go-ahead score. Jefferson's replacement, Jarrett Lee, made Tigers fans remember why Jefferson took his job last season, never threatening the Tide defense.
Peterson made it back on the field, and almost turned the game back to LSU. The future first-round pick showed inhuman speed, flashing in to apparently intercept Tide quarterback Greg McElroy late in the game. Somehow, despite a Mickelson-sized divot where Peterson touched a toe down, he was ruled out. As with Michael Phelps and that Olympic race where he lost to the mouthy Serbian dude but was given the gold anyway, no number of replays can convince me Peterson wasn't inbounds. There was no national pride or Olympic record at stake in Tuscaloosa, and Lee would have had to drive LSU to a winning score for the call truly to matter. Lee had a better chance of driving 500 miles at nearby Talladega Superspeedway.
Speaking of maxims, "Never throw from the painted grass" is rather passé, even in the Big Ten, the conference that originated, "Three yards and a could of dust." If only Iowa had channeled its inner Woody Hayes, the Hawkeyes might still be undefeated. Leading Northwestern 10-0 at home, quarterback Ricky Stanzi got strip-sacked in his own end zone, resulting in a touchdown that changed the game completely -- mainly because the sacker, Corey Wootton, took Stanzi for a crocodile-style death roll, severely injuring the quarterback's ankle. His replacement, James Vandenberg, was even worse at pretending to be a quarterback than James Van Der Beek in "Varsity Blues." A grotesque 9-of-27 for 82 yards was Vandenberg's contribution to Iowa's first loss of the year, 17-10. Faithful readers of this column know that I was a non-believer in the black and gold, but it's tough to lose with such direct cause-and-effect due to injury. On the bench, Stanzi's NHL-style playoff beard turned grayer with each woeful Vandenberg incompletion.
The pride of Keokuk is a redshirt freshman, the same as Stanford's Andrew Luck. The Cardinal quarterback is somewhat ahead on the developmental scale, as he showed by riddling six-day darling Oregon in a 51-42 hammering that wasn't that close. The Luck-Toby Gerhart combo was much better than the Ducks twosome of Jeremiah Masoli and LaMichael James. Luck, who received approximately 1/1,000,000th of the preseason hype of fellow frosh quarterback Matt Barkley, has had a much better campaign than USC's golden boy. This was everyone's upset special headed into the game, so I did the natural thing and made the Ducks my lock of the week. My prognostication is so off this season I'm even making the wisdom of crowds look Solomonesque. At least my Bengals took care of Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh's brother, head coach John Harbaugh of the Ravens, Sunday.
When my buddy Mark Sternman and I were young Strat-O-Matic obsessed geeks, we would create dice games that recreated Oklahoma-Nebraska matchups. We leaned heavily toward the offense, making sure that the likes of I.M. Hipp and J.C. Watts had huge games (the final scores of our recreations were more appropriate for basketball than football). I wistfully recalled those games while watching the punchless Huskers and Sooners finish with a score of 10-3 Ambien Bowl. Ndamukong Suh dominated the game in the trenches -- even triple teamed, Suh caved in the Oklahoma line. Harassed quarterback Landry Jones threw five -- count 'em -- five picks. Afterward, Barry Switzer and Tom Osborne split a fifth of bathtub gin beneath Memorial Stadium, and wordlessly sighed.
Barry and Tom should have been in South Bend or Atlanta, where the triple option wreaked havoc simultaneously. Navy took down Notre Dame, sparing a grateful nation of the Irish playing in a BCS game. While quarterback Ricky Dobbs, who says he wants to run for President in 2040, was his usual brilliant self in running the attack, two defensive plays that stood out. One was a fluke -- an interception that caromed off Michael Floyd's backside into the arms of a Middie defender. The other was a fourth-down stop at the goal line by Navy linebacker Ram Vela. It was Vela who made the single greatest defensive play I've ever seen two years ago on the same field, a full-extension leaping sack of Clausen that helped Navy end it's 44-year losing streak against Notre Dame. He does enjoy playing under the gaze of Touchdown Jesus.
Meanwhile, Georgia Tech was winning a stirring overtime contest against Wake Forest, 30-27. Down three in the extra frame and facing fourth and one at the five-yard-line, Tech coach Paul Johnson sent his offense out. They did the old try-and-pull-them-offsides routine, which you always see, and it failed. What you never see is the team, after the inevitable timeout, decide to go for it anyway. But Tech did. Wake inexplicably came out the second time with wider splits, leaving Tech's guards uncovered. Quarterback Josh Nesbitt never had an easier conversion. He scored the game-winner on the following play, keeping the Jackets in line for a probable rematch with Clemson in the ACC Championship game in Tampa, which should draw at least 15-20,000 people.
It was a tough loss for Wake, but it paled in comparison to Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane appeared to defeat Case Keenum and Houston when they stopped a two-point conversion with 20 seconds left. Leading 45-43, the ensuing onside kick (is there any other situation in life where one uses the word "ensuing"?) bounced right to freshman Dexter McCoil, who dropped it, and Houston recovered. With three ticks left, Keenum had the Cougars in range for a 51-yard field goal. As the announcer was opining that a kick was dumb, and Keenum should give it a heave, freshman kicker Matt Hogan hit a mortar that not only was good, it disappeared into a second-story window in the Tulsa Athletic Center adjacent to the field -- 46-45, Houston.
One more maxim -- "Staying up past midnight when you have two kids under two years of age is idiotic -- but not when the teams combine for over 1,200 yards of offense."
|Last week's ballot|
Lurking: Auburn, BYU, Temple, Navy, Nevada, Troy
33 comments, Last at 11 Nov 2009, 1:13am by robwein