Ben Roethlisberger's ability to perform under a heavy pass rush remains critical to Pittsburgh's offensive success.
12 Oct 2009
by Robert Weintraub
The new season of the Metropolitan Opera began last month with a hugely anticipated production of Tosca, Giacomo Puccini's dark tale of jealousy and murder-suicide. But crowds hated the interpretation brought to the stage in New York and booed the director, actors, and production designers vociferously, causing much scandal.
In another story of entertainment falling far short of expectations, Saturday's sensational SEC doubleheader was, if possible, even more boring than opera. Florida and Alabama easily swept aside pretender rivals playing on the pretenders' home fields, behind suffocating defenses that strangled most of the life out of the two big contests.
Was anyone really surprised that Tim Tebow played, and played well, despite his concussion from two weeks ago? All week, the chattering class tried to sell us on a possible John Brantley start in Death Valley against LSU, but once CBS cut away to show Tebow's arrival at Tiger Stadium -- receiving hugs from coach Urban Meyer and, less importantly, mom and dad -- his participation was guaranteed. It was a small risk, given that LSU's hard-hitting defense knocked a pair of Kings, Tavares and Caleb, out of the Georgia lineup with concussions the week before. New offensive coordinator Steve Addazio has played his hands closer to the vest this season than predecessor Dan Mullen did, and he and Meyer dialed up a conservative game plan that could have been instituted by Woody Hayes. The Gators ran the dive play over and over, and LSU couldn't stop it. Tebow did toss a lone touchdown to Riley Cooper in the waning ticks of the first half. Cooper got open thanks to the "whip" technique -- he grabbed the defender's jersey and used it to propel himself forward. Quasi-legal, but successful.
Meanwhile, the Gators defense made LSU signal caller Jordan Jefferson look as bad as former Bayou Bengals quarterback JaMarcus Russell looks on a weekly basis with Oakland. Florida had five sacks, held LSU to under 3.5 yards per play, and was in such control the contest was never in doubt, despite LSU's being "in" the game most of the way. The Gators defense even scared Les Miles from going for it on fourth and goal from the 1-yard line in the second quarter. Lester had zero confidence in his underachieving offensive line to get a yard in that situation. In retrospect, that was the game.
Over at the Grove in Oxford, where they "redshirt Miss Americas" (credit to Tim Brando for that golden phrase), the Crimson Tide treated SEC West wannabe Ole Miss like Ike treated Tina. Quarterback Jevan Snead, who some had projected as the top overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft, looked even worse than Jefferson, throwing four picks. The game was such a disappointment in the state that epitomizes the Old South that Foghorn Leghorn reportedly marched down to the locker room after the game and slapped Snead across the face.
Florida and Alabama look predestined to replay their fantastic SEC Championship game from last season in the Georgia Dome, about six miles down Dekalb Avenue from where I am writing this. I've voted them Nos. 1-2 all season long, and it's hard to see (at this admittedly premature junction) how the winner of that game loses in the BCS title game.
Now that I've dismissed the next three months or so, not to mention the rest of the country, let's check out the rest of the weekend's action, shall we? I'm sure Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez is getting heat for his decision to play quarterback Denard Robinson on the final drive at Iowa, rather than Tate Forcier. Forcier was ineffective, but has been the collegiate Carson Palmer this season in the final minutes, working magic week in and week out. Robinson had rolled down the field on the previous drive, but I was still surprised "Shoelaces" got the nod with it all on the line. What's the consensus in Ann Arbor, Maize and Gold fans?
The Sundance Kid had a key weakness -- he couldn't shoot when standing still. But when he moved, he could knock the pull tab off a beer can at fifty paces. Jonathan Crompton apparently is the same way. Dropping back in the pocket, he's the worst quarterback at the FBS level. But once Tennessee started rolling him out and calling bootlegs, Crompton shredded Georgia for four scores and over 300 yards in the air, as the Volunteers blasted the Dawgs 45-19. Methinks this is more of an indictment of Georgia's once-mighty, now-flighty defense. Willie Martinez, the defensive coordinator between the hedges, may not last the season at this rate.
Bobby Bowden will last the season, but he's staggering to the finish line like that chick that seized up in the last stages of the Ironman Triathlon. His Seminoles started out like a house afire against Tech, but a long lightning delay drained some of the passion out of their play. (Even God wants Bobby to step down, I guess.) Worse than Mother Nature was the pounding effect of Tech's triple option, which slammed at FSU's dam walls until they breached. Led by powerful quarterback Josh Nesbitt, the boys from the Institute went on a 16-play, 80-yard drive that sucked more than nine minutes of clock -- and the life out of the Seminoles.
Two games turned on a dime -- Texas was sleepwalking against Colorado, leading by three but about to give up said lead, when quarterback Cody Hawkins threw a god-awful pass in the flat that was picked off by Earl Thomas and returned the distance. Hawkins made the critical error of throwing an out pass to the inside shoulder, and Thomas made sure to thank him as he flew past en route to the end zone. The Longhorns have yet to impress much this season, save sensational wide receiver Jordan Shipley, who should, but won't, be a Heisman finalist.
Auburn was atrocious in its first road (kill) game, falling behind Arkansas 34-3. But they reeled off three scores in six minutes to close to 34-20 and make it a game. On the final play of the third quarter, running back Dennis Johnson embarked on a long, twisting kick return of 70 yards to return Uncle Mo to his proper home, and the Hogs cruised to the finish. Quarterback Ryan Mallet gets all the media oxygen, but the Razorbacks have a strong stable of young running backs (Johnson is well down the depth chart), testimony to the fine "crootin" job Bobby Petrino has done in Fayetteville.
And while I loathe kneejerk worship of the armed forces, it was pretty cool of CBS College Sports to air the Army-Navy-Air Force triple-header. The Army-Vandy opener was the best of the three, with the Black Knights out-doinking the 'Dores. Vandy forced overtime with a field goal off the upright, but Warren Norman coughed it up millimeters from the goal line in the extra period. Army then ricocheted in a Figgie of its own, and won it 20-17. It was great to watch the Corps of Cadets, as well as General David Petraeus, salute the team on a perfect day along the Hudson after the win. Send those crew cuts down the river to the Big City, and let America's Finest fix all that is wrong with Tosca, I say.
|Last week's ballot|
Lurking -- Kansas, Central Michigan, Oregon State, Wake Forest, Wisconsin, Tulsa, Navy, Utah, Idaho
15 comments, Last at 15 Oct 2009, 2:53am by Large Johnson