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30 Nov 2009

One Foot Inbounds: Intrastate Rivals

by Robert Weintraub

Nothing can turn a mediocre season around quite as fast as whipping your archrival at home in front of your fans -- especially when the hated foes are having a better season and are ranked. Suddenly, the alumni remember where they have hidden their checkbooks, the coaches don't feel so guilty when hitting the ATM, and the mamas of prized recruits dish out homemade pie during home visits.

No less than six teams enjoyed home dog status and made a good account of themselves, with four winning outright. Mississippi State, North Carolina State, Oklahoma, and South Carolina all go into the offseason with a smile, having taken down hated intrastate rivals.

Two teams came close not just to enjoying some braggin' rights, but crashing the Ponzi scheme called the BCS as well. Thanksgiving night, Texas A&M nearly went point for point with No. 3 Texas, undone in the end by the brilliance of Colt McCoy and horrid special teams. The Aggies gave up a crucial kickoff return for six then missed a had-to-have-it field goal in the final minutes. The Longhorns now need only gore Nebraska in the Big 12 showcase to reach the BCS title game.

The next day, a national audience hauled out the turkey sandwiches and tattered remnants of the pecan pie to witness a typically intense Iron Bowl between No. 2 Alabama and Auburn. War Eagle Nation has been quietly rooting on their hated rival all season, just for the chance to ruin an undefeated campaign, and damned if they didn't almost pull it off.

The Tigers were up 14-0 before Nick Saban could utter his fifth profanity, and the fans were in a frenzy on the Plains. But henceforth, save a broken coverage touchdown bomb to wideout Darvin Adams in the third quarter, the Tide simply didn't allow Auburn to do a thing on offense. It was a strangling reminiscent of Florida against South Carolina -- when winning time arrived, the defense totally crushed out any chance of an upset.

Auburn linebacker Josh Bynes had a superb afternoon, almost single-handedly taking Heisman hopeful running back Mark Ingram out of the game, even before he limped off in the second half. Ingram was held to just 30 yards on 16 carries, but his understudy, freshman Trent Richardson, was on hand to make several big plays down the stretch.

"Down the stretch" of course refers to Alabama's season-saving touchdown drive to win the game -- 15 plays and 79 yards worth of heroics, culminating in the winning touchdown pass by quarterback Greg McElroy. Greggie was big-time on the drive, as was receiver Julio Jones, who had underwhelmed this season, given his jaw-dropping talent. Jones had four grabs for 33 yards on the drive, moving the chains and allowing Richardson room to operate as well. Rest assured, they'll be recreating that march down at Dreamland BBQ for decades to come.

The dirty secret Tide fans whisper to each other in dimly lit Tuscaloosa speakeasies (password for entry: "Rammer Jammer") is that, for all of Ingram's excellence, Richardson might be better. The frosh has better hands and can run outside as well as between the tackles. In the epic SEC title showdown on Saturday, Florida will have its hands full regardless of who totes the rock.

The Gators may just have sent Bobby Bowden out to pasture with a 37-10 trampling of FSU that wasn't nearly that close. The only thing that might bring Coach Dadgum back is the prospect of Tim Tebow taking shots from NFL linebackers next fall. It was an emotional farewell in Gainesville. The Swamp crowd wore Tebow's Bible-thumping eyeblack patches in tribute to their hero. Fortunately, those didn't smear when the tears started to fall.

Alabama's secondary will be under the microscope -- CBS did a nice job of isolating how Urban Meyer's scheme just abuses defensive backs. First, Tebow shoveled a pass to Aaron Hernandez while Korey Mangum went for the quarterback -- result, touchdown. Later in the half, Tebow faked that shovel, and when Mangum went for it, Tebow kept it and swept untouched into the end zone. That said, the Tide defense is a quantum leap removed from the confused bunch in maroon and gold, so the yards and points will be at a premium in the Georgia Dome. We'll preview it in detail Thursday in Seventh Day Adventure.

God rested on said seventh day, but apparently LSU head coach Les Miles spent the Sabbath studying Clock Management 101 after last week's debacle against Ole Miss. With Arkansas leading by three in Death Valley, the Tigers drove for the tying field goal without any timeouts, calmly working the boundary and the first down chains. LSU then won in overtime. Congrats, Les; now Cajun Country won't take the Golden Boot and boot you in the ass with it.

Speaking of seven days changing things, USC coach Pete Carroll ordered a touchdown bomb in the waning seconds while leading UCLA by two touchdowns. That's after irately quizzing Stanford's Jim Harbaugh for similarly running up the score on the Trojans last Saturday. Half the Bruin roster charged out to midfield and challenged the Men of Troy to some combat, but peace was restored before Vic Mackey and the Strike Team had to be called in (Lord, how I miss "The Shield").

Harbaugh had an interesting encore after humbling Carroll -- escorting Charlie Weis out of our college football lives for good. Notre Dame put up a tough fight against the Cardinal and their overmatched cornerbacks. Golden Tate looked like Lynn Swann out there. But Touchdown Toby Gerhart continued his Heisman march with 205 yards and three scores on the ground, including the game-winner in a 45-38 Thrillathon.

The game-tying score came via a Gerhart pass, a fourth-and-4 halfback option that was either the greatest or dumbest play call in recent memory. Surely, it was the gutsiest. Gerhart made it look good by lofting one that Ryan Whalen made a super grab of, bailing out Harbaugh and his staff.

Toedrags

  • Of all ways for Georgia Tech to lose to Georgia, I never imagined throwing deep on the game's critical possession would be the way it went down. Tech appeared on the verge of driving for the winning score, trailing 30-24, but threw three straight incomplete bombs from the Georgia 46-yard line. On fourth-and-10, Demaryius "Bebe" Thomas, by far the best receiver on the team, and perhaps the ACC, dropped an easy pitch and catch that would have been a first down. Talk about dumping the chick you brought to the dance, Paul Johnson. And exactly where has Georgia's offensive line been all season? Not flipping pancakes all over the field, as they did Saturday night in Atlanta, that's for sure. I guess Tech just isn't meant to be top dog in the Peach State.
  • The referees are part of the game, sure, but have you ever seen an umpire have such a prominent role in the action as during the Alabama-Auburn game? The ump was either hit by a pass or collided with a runner three separate times.
  • What the hell was up with Florida State's offensive line remaining frozen solid on false start/offsides plays? If you didn't see it, there were several times when the play would continue to run while the front five remained locked in their stance. I've never seen that before. On one non-penalty play, quarterback/sacrificial lamb E.J. Manuel scrambled for at least fifteen seconds while his right tackle Zebrie Sanders stayed immobile in his stance, unmoving.
  • Two USC notes -- Malcolm Smith looks like Southern Cal's next great linebacker. Former Trojan and current Giants WR Steve Smith's little brother was sideline to sideline for the second straight week, notching double digit tackles and returning a pick-six for the game's first score.
  • Meanwhile, at the end of the first half, USC kicker Jacob Harfman was brought in to attempt his first ever field goal, a 50-yarder. UCLA called time out to ice him. But wasn't Harfman already iced? He'd never kicked a field goal before! Needless to say, he missed it.
  • Great moments in broadcasting No. 1 -- before Auburn's final Hail Mary, CBS' Steve Beuerlein admonished to remember "Doug Flutie to Brian Brennan" as proof anything could happen. Um, Steve? It was Gerard Phelan on the receiving end. Not that it's the most famous play of the past quarter century or anything.
  • Great moments in broadcasting No. 2 -- Erin Andrews noting that, after Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett tossed what looked like the winning touchdown pass against LSU, he looked over to the glamorous blonde and said "Told you!" Andrews then said that she hadn't spoken to Mallett all week, so she wasn't sure what he was talking about.
  • Great moments in broadcasting No. 3 -- In an apparent sly reference to the revival meeting feel to Tim Tebow's swan song in Gainesville, Verne Lundquist acknowledged the end of a report by sideline sabra Traci Wolfson by saying "Mazel Tov, Traci."
  • A hearty Boomer Sooner! goes out to Oklahoma, who spared us all the prospect of an inferior Oklahoma State squad crashing the BCS by flattening the Pokes 27-0.
  • Wake Forest supposedly beat up on Duke, but since Al-Farouq Aminu and Kyle Singler weren't actually involved, no one cares a whit.
  • In a weekend full of outstanding receiver play (Mardy Gilyard, Jeff Fuller, I'm looking at you two), the best moments were Mississippi's Shay Hodge's incredible leaping tip to himself and snare while flat on his back in the Egg Bowl, and Golden Tate's Tecmo Bowl-style cross-field weave to score against Stanford.
  • Despite Hodge's heroics, the Rebs took a beating in the Egg Bowl. When Mississippi State took a knee to end the game, the crowd booed, wanting the rub-it-in score. Now that's what Rivalry Week is all about.

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 TCU
5 Cincinnati
6 Boise State
7 Ohio State 1
8 Oregon 1
9 Virginia Tech 2
10 Oregon State 3
11 Stanford 3
12 Iowa 4
13 Miami (Florida) 8
14 Pittsburgh 4
15 Georgia Tech 8
16 Penn State 1
17 Southern Cal
18 California
19 LSU 3
20 Houston
21 Nebraska
22 Central Michigan 3
23 West Virginia
24 Wisconsin
25 Ohio
Last week's ballot


Dropped Out: Clemson (#12), Oklahoma State (#15), Utah (#19), Nevada (#20), Brigham Young (#23), Temple (#24).


Lurking: Navy, Utah, East Carolina, Tennessee, Troy

Posted by: Robert Weintraub on 30 Nov 2009

18 comments, Last at 02 Dec 2009, 1:37am by Will

Comments

1
by ChrisH :: Mon, 11/30/2009 - 2:34pm

When you mention the USC play, you need to mention that UCLA called a timeout the play before, after USC took a knee, so UCLA still thought they could score and get back into it somehow. If UCLA thinks the game is still in reach, then USC should play like it is as well.

Also, LSU got very lucky in their FG drive as on one play, the runner was clearly downed in-bounds on the replay, short of a first down, but the ref ruled him OOB and stopped the clock. That saved LSU a good 10 seconds at minimum and without that, they probably don't get in good range for the kick in time.

Go Oregon State!

6
by huston720 :: Mon, 11/30/2009 - 4:44pm

That's a fair point about the USC play, but I think the overall point is that Carrol shouldn't be complaining about someone running up the score on him one week, and then doing the same to an opponent the next chance he gets.

2
by sundown (not verified) :: Mon, 11/30/2009 - 3:16pm

"It's one thing to screw up the country for eight years, Condi, but don't ever mess with getting Weis out of our hair again." I realize the point of this was the political jibe, but what were you trying to say in the last part of that sentence? It reads like you want Weis in your hair.

The "wasn't he already iced" line about USC's kicker was said verbatim by the announcing crew during the telecast.

"E.J. Manuel scrambled for at least fifteen seconds while his right tackle Zebrie Sanders stayed immobile in his stance, unmoving." That'd be an amazingly long play to begin with, but to think that a lineman would stay locked in his stance for that long is even more incredible. You'd think he'd eventually stand up just to see what was taking so long.

3
by shah8 (not verified) :: Mon, 11/30/2009 - 3:16pm

Georgia Tech was playing with an injured Josh Nesbitt. He was out for a quarter, stopping a probably TD drive, which resulted in a field goal, and Jaybo Shaw did a disastrous stand-in during that second quarter. Josh's lack of mobility played a pretty big role in preventing Jonathan Dwyer from having big runs up th middle.

Oh, and yeah, check out *how* Nesbitt got injured.

Georgia didn't have a prayer of winning otherwise.

4
by myteam.gt.yourteam (not verified) :: Mon, 11/30/2009 - 4:02pm

I'm a Tech grad and fan, but this is just not true. Tech lost because the defense (shaky all year) was simply AWFUL. It reminded me of the Miami game: everybody knew exactly what was coming, but the Jackets still couldn't stop it.

If they played again tomorrow, Georgia would win. If Georgia was a good team they would have won 44-24.

5
by Trevor (not verified) :: Mon, 11/30/2009 - 4:35pm

+1, I'm a Tech grad but i feel that a team that gives up over 200 yards running in 1 half of football to a not-shit squad deserves to lose. the D has been a liability all year (check the Fl. State game)

10
by shah8 (not verified) :: Mon, 11/30/2009 - 7:56pm

First, the defense has always looked like that in the begining of games, and they've won almost all of them. They've also handled two teams with good offensive lines and good running attacks (VT and Miss St) fairly well. Georgia is simply a fairly undisciplined if physically talented team (we almost beat them spotting a quarter of ineffectual offensive play). The defense would have been bad, but it was always the Skinners and the Ponders that really does us in. With Cox? Bend, don't break, give up field goals and win TDs.

I mean, it's nice to rag on the defense, and they did not play well, but GT would have had at least two more touchdowns and probably more than that without the injury. At the end of the game, you, if you are a tech fan, know this. Bad to good-enough defense, elite offense. I didn't exactly throw out something nonsensical in my op.

7
by huston720 :: Mon, 11/30/2009 - 4:51pm

I agree that we should all be thankfull for Oklahoma knocking out OK St so that Boise St can take their place, now the question is if Texas wins who gets the second Big Ten spot and where does everyone play. I'm hoping the Fiesta steps up and gives us a "what could have been" game between TCU and Cinci (assuming Cinci wins) which would probably also lead to a Sugar Bowl with Boise St versus the runner up and an orange Bowl with the ACC champ versus the Big Ten number two.

The real fun will occur if Nebraska can find a way to beat Texas. If that happens who moves up to number two, I'm guessing TCU but it will be close between them and Cinci.

8
by bubqr :: Mon, 11/30/2009 - 5:37pm

Rob's lock of the week strikes again ?

9
by Antique Furniture (not verified) :: Mon, 11/30/2009 - 7:41pm

WVU do that freeze play if the OL is going on a hard count. Maybe it's so the refs have no doubt that there was no OL movement?

I think it's a mistake, as you lose that "free play" option, but then again if the DL has a jump through the hole, then maybe you're risking a hold or something as someone tries to make the play.

11
by t.d. :: Mon, 11/30/2009 - 8:17pm

What if Alabama beats Florida,, and Florida stays high enough in the computers to stay at #2? I actually think that would be a worse travesty than the fact that we're looking at five unbeatens this year.

12
by Eddo :: Mon, 11/30/2009 - 9:21pm

Voters would punish Florida enough, I'm sure. Should Cincinnati win, I'd say Florida falls to fifth, at least. They might even get bumped down below Boise State.

With this many undefeated teams, including two from BCS conferences (Texas and Cincinnati) and another that received a first-place vote last week (TCU), there's no way the voters want Florida to play for the title with one loss.

13
by ArizonaCardinalsFan (not verified) :: Mon, 11/30/2009 - 9:30pm

You missed the Territorial Cup game between Arizona/Arizona State. Not a high profile game by any means, but you have to feel for Kyle Williams. He had just caught the game-tying TD pass and the defense had held so the offense could get the ball back and possibly set up the all-world kicker for a game winning FG, but Williams inexplicably tried to field a punt and muffed it, giving the ball back to Arizona with a minute left. This kid will remember that play for 365 days, that's for sure.

14
by Will :: Tue, 12/01/2009 - 2:52am

My meaningless BCS Projection, assuming Texas wins the Big 12 Championship game. Feel free to swap Florida/Alabama, Cincy/Pitt, Clemson/GaTech and Oregon/Oregon St as you see fit.

BCS Championship - Florida (auto) v. Texas (auto)
Orange Bowl - Georgia Tech (auto) v. Cincinnati (#3)
Rose Bowl - Ohio State (auto) v. Oregon (auto)
Fiesta Bowl - Iowa (#2) v. Boise State (#4)
Sugar Bowl - Alabama (#1) vs. TCU (#5)

At Large Pick Order:
1. Sugar Bowl - Alabama
2. Fiesta Bowl - Iowa
3. Orange Bowl - Cincinnati
4. Fiesta Bowl - Boise State
5. Sugar Bowl - Texas Christian

If Nebraska somehow pulls the upset, it's bye bye Boise. Feel free to swap Cincy and TCU based on the fickleness of voters.

BCS Championship - Florida (auto) v. TCU (auto)
Orange Bowl - Georgia Tech (auto) v. Texas (#2)
Rose Bowl - Ohio State (auto) v. Oregon (auto)
Fiesta Bowl - Nebraska (auto) v. Iowa (#3)
Sugar Bowl - Alabama (#1) vs. Cincinnati (#4)

At Large Pick Order:
1. Sugar Bowl - Alabama
2. Orange Bowl - Texas
3. Fiesta Bowl - Iowa
4. Sugar Bowl - Cincinnati

Will

15
by Jetspete :: Tue, 12/01/2009 - 10:33am

To Will

Remember BCS is about money, and i can't believe Iowa would mean more to a bowl from a financial perspective than my Nittany Lions. That is not say Iowa is not deserving, but with a golden goose out there, why would the Orange or Fiesta committees pass up a team known to travel well.

Also, has anyone noticed the three letter monkey wrench that could be thrown into the at-large projections: USC. Currently they stand at 18 in the BCS, but 12th in the computers. Should a few teams in human polls in front of them lose, they could sneak into the top 14 in the BCS which would make them eligible for an at-large. One of those teams is Houston, so there is a small chance that the Conference USA title game could be vital to Boise's BCS chances! As it stands, should USC beat Arizona, they are likely to finish no lower than 16 in the BCS but with a convincing win could jump other teams. And you'd have to believe that the Fiesta, sans Texas would love to have USC to anchor their bowl.

16
by huston720 :: Tue, 12/01/2009 - 12:09pm

I'm not sure PSU is that much of a better draw than Iowa, likely it depends on which bowl is picking. I'm guessing the Fiesta is more likely to take Iowa, while the Orange is more likely to take PSU. Iowa hasn't been to a BCS game in a while, so i'm guessing its fans will travel pretty well. I'm still hoping though that the Fiesta picks TCU and then gets Cinci. TCU wouldn't be a bad pick either for the Fiesta since it isn't too far geographically and there are historic ties between TCU and the current Big 12.

The USC scenario is an interesting one, but I'm not sure they would definitely be a great anchor for a bowl considering the year they have had. But I wouldn't be surprised if they are eligible and bump out Boise St.

18
by Will :: Wed, 12/02/2009 - 1:37am

Iowa travels and draws pretty well - not as well as PSU, but well enough to be a good at large team. It's one thing to snub a small school in a lesser conference, but it's another thing entirely to snub the #2 Big Ten team to take the #3 Big Ten team. Especially when Iowa beat Penn State on a nationally televised night game in Happy Valley by double digits.

Penn State will likely take on LSU in the Capital One Bowl, if I understand my conference tie-ins properly.

Will

17
by Scott D (not verified) :: Tue, 12/01/2009 - 11:36pm

I don't understand the point of Florida State's motionless OL either, but I know it's not the first time they've done that. I don't know how many games they've done it in, but I was at the FSU-UNC game and they definitely did it several times in that one.