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?
06 Sep 2010
by Robert Weintraub
Last season, I spent the opening Saturday of college football trying to avoid my newborn son's projectile vomit. This season, I spent it in the press box of the Georgia Dome, watching LSU hold off the North Carolina JV team in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game. Upgrade!
Yes, One Foot Inbounds, the flavorful weekly gumbo of college football stats, opinions, and wisecracks from your friendly neighborhood columnist is back for another season of fun. We begin the year right down the road from my footy command center here in Decatur, Georgia, at the Georgia Dome, where FO assistant editor deluxe Dave Gardner and I had a good view of what almost became Les Miles' final game as LSU coach. (We commented on the game live through Twitter, and you can check out my tweets all season: @robwein.) I have little doubt Lester would have been strung up by his Buster Browns had North Carolina completed an unlikely comeback. Miles is roughly as popular as BP down in Cajun Country, and blowing a 30-10 lead on national TV wouldn't have helped his status.
The Bayou Bengals got that lead thanks to some extraordinarily shoddy special teams play by the Heels. Patrick Peterson, the wondrous Lowsman Trophy frontrunner (see below), racked up 244 return yards in the first half! That's a school record, and, as they kept reminding us in the press box, a Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game record. (It isn't too hard to set a record in a "traditional" game that has only been played three times.) UNC also botched snaps, required a remedial course in returning kicks out of the end zone, and generally looked like a team missing 13 players to suspension, including defensive linemen Marvin Austin and Robert Quinn, both potential top 10 draft picks next April.
Then, just as Gardner and I were about to slip into spicy-chicken sandwich-induced food comas, the Tar Heels found a passing attack out of nowhere. Quarterback T.J. Yates, was brutal in 2009 (S&P passing rank -- No. 103). But as his namesake, William Butler, put it, "Do not wait to strike until the iron is hot -- make it hot by striking." And strike he did, hitting Jheranie Boyd with a scintillating 97-yard touchdown pass, tossing a beautiful corner route for another score, and after a bizarre sequence that included a recovered onside kick, an LSU strip-and-sack, an LSU fumble as they were about to ice the game, and a stirring drive, Yates had UNC on the LSU 5-yard line with two ticks left. But his final pass went out of the hands of usually reliable tight end Zack Pianalto, and the Tigers held on for a victory that felt like a loss to the thousands of purple-clad fans on hand.
If Yates truly did find his inner Elway in the last eight minutes of the game, after 52 mostly futile ones, then Carolina may indeed have found a way to win without mashing opponents with a superb defense, strong even without the suspended stars (linebacker Quan Sturdivant is awesome with a capital AWE). But I would be surprised if that's the case. As we like to say around here, Yates' heroics represented a rather small sample size.
As for LSU, they have some fine athletes, including converted quarterback Russell Shepard, who caught a touchdown pass and bolted 50 yards for another score, but they are young, dumb, and without a coherent offensive identity. Oh, and they have the second-toughest schedule in the nation according to our projections.
Sunday, John Blake, the Heels' recruiting guru who has left programs in flames wherever he has coached, resigned in disgrace. Perhaps Allen Mogridge, the Special Teams coach, should follow Blake out the door (Mogridge also coaches the tight ends, so the drop by Pianalto is on him too).
It was almost a double disaster for the SEC West. Ole Miss didn't escape a late comeback, losing to FCS opponent Jacksonville State 49-48 in double overtime. The Gamecocks almost took out Florida State last season, so it wasn't shocking that they gave Ole Miss a game. And Houston Nutt's team had dropped six spots in F/+ maestro Bill Connolly's recalibrated preseason projections (25th to 31st).
But I think we can all agree that the loss was karmic payback for the cynicism involved in laying out the welcome mat for new quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who transferred one step ahead of the Oregon police under a dubious NCAA bylaw, and required an appeal last week to be allowed to enroll.
So good on Jax State and its twin-engined quarterback attack for pulling this one out. Marques Ivory and Coty Blanchard made amazing, improvisational plays at the end of regulation and in the second overtime, respectively, to shock the good ole boys in the Grove and get the well oiled alums in the house to call for Houston's Nutts.
Perhaps the problem is that the SEC needs to Nutt-up when it comes to scheduling. According to the Birmingham News, no BCS conference travels less than the SEC, no conference dodges teams from other BCS conferences like the SEC, and 56 percent of non-conference opposition comes from either the FCS or FBS schools that haven't had a winning record in at least four years. And folks in the south whine about Boise State's schedule!
Speaking of mid-major powerhouses, Utah gutted out a great win over Pitt to start the season off right ... on Thursday night (welcome to the Web's lone college football poetry slam). Utah hasn't lost at home on Thursday night since 1954, leading to the obvious question -- Who was calling the game for ESPN, Uncle Miltie? Utes coach Kyle Whittingham obviously saw this study about icing kickers -- with Pitt trying to send it to overtime, kicker Dan Hutchins was true, but Whittingham had called time. Then Hutchins missed -- but Whittingham had called a late time out again. The third time, the wily coach faked a timeout call, but let Hutchins kick, and it was good. I think I speak for all concerned when I say, Screw whether it works or not -- just let them kick the damn ball!
The Buzzkiller of the Week Award goes to Boston College quarterback Dave Shinskie. After an emotional pre-game ceremony marking the return to action of linebacker Mark Herzlich -- who beat bone cancer the way he beat down enemy running backs in 2008 before missing all of last year -- Shinskie led the jacked up Eagles on the field in front of a roaring crowd. Then he threw an interception on the first play. Weber State, being Weber State, could manage only a field goal, as Herzlich made two tackles and rejacked the crowd. BC went on to cruise 38-10, and are an underrated bunch -- 33rd in the F/+ projections this season, but with a bullet, it says here.
If Dominique Davis were still at Chestnut Hill, the Eagles might be generating BCS talk. Instead, the talented but, um, academically questionable quarterback flunked out and wound up at East Carolina, where he provided a stirring game Sunday. (Not to worry, you NFL worshippers -- college ball isn't encroaching on your sacred Sabbath turf ... yet.) Davis had five touchdowns, 383 yards, and a Hail Mary pass on the game's final play to stun Tulsa 51-49. The winner was caught by 6-foot-8 freshman Justin Jones from Conyers, Georgia, just down the road from OFI headquarters. The freakishly tall wideout is always a nice weapon to have in case of emergency.
East Carolina's new head coach Ruffin McNeill tried to play a little three-card monte during the preseason, insisting that the quarterback job was open while it was apparent to anyone with eyes that Davis would be under center. Still, it wasn't official until he trotted out for the first series. I think he'll be starting Saturday when Memphis comes to town. Look out for the next two games -- at Virginia Tech and at North Carolina. ECU is just the sort of giant killer that doesn't get Boise State headlines but can kill BCS bowl dreams for a team like the Hokies.
In more good news for new coaches, Tommy Tuberville got his first win down in Lubbock after replacing Mike Leach. Taylor Potts threw four touchdowns in a 35-27 win over SMU (an awesome backdoor cover for those of us who picked the Mustangs). "There's no lollygagging around and playing backyard football out there," Potts said about life under Tuberville. Careful, Taylor -- Leach may be gone, but I understand he took his shed for locking up unruly players with him.
And no roundup of new coaching ventures would be complete without some Lane Kiffin talk. The new man with the plan at USC went for two after each of the Trojans first three scores against Hawaii, going 1-for-3. New A.D. and program cleaner Pat Haden's face turned the color of poi. Matt Barkley and Ronald Johnson looked sensational out among the tradewinds, but a very young defense needs to take Tackling 101. Kiffin avoided full-contact practices during the summer, and it showed -- no one wearing cardinal and gold resembled Ronnie Lott or Rey Maualuga, that's for sure.
Because of the holiday and tonight's massive Boise State-Virginia Tech collision in D.C. (the pick -- Tech and the points), I couldn't do my inaugural blogpoll at "press time." It will be here in the coming weeks. Here's how I would have voted (top 10 only because the rest is folly this early):
1. Ohio State
5. Boise State
7. Florida State
10. Virginia Tech
Heisman Trophy watches are boring, obvious -- and ignore nearly 20 positions on the field. So here is the opposite of the Heisman Watch -- the Lowsman Watch (High, Low, opposites -- c'mon, work with the gimmick here). Every week, I'll rank the best of the non-skill position players, on the road to the trophy presentation in December, to be held at the nearby Decatur-DeKalb YMCA.
1. Patrick Peterson, CB-returner, LSU. Talked about him above. Only snag for LSU was that he couldn't cover everybody, and his fellow defensive backs need work.
2. Chad Manis, LB, Utah. Converted quarterbacks seem to be my theme this week. As the "Stud" linebacker in Utah's swarming unit, Manis and his mates held Pittsburgh star runner Dion Lewis to 75 yards (and 2.3 yards per carry) in the Utes' victory.
3. Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri. Two sacks, three tackles for loss, 10 total tackles, and countless hurries (get the game-charters working for me, pronto!). Smith looked like a man among boys against Illinois in the Mizzou win Saturday, and not just metaphorically -- he dwarfed the Illini players.
4. Lane Taylor, OG, Oklahoma State. The Cowboys have a new offense under Houston's old offensive coordinator, Dana Holgorsen, and four new linemen to implement it. Taylor is the only returning vet, and he anchored a dominant performance up front by OSU, who crushed Washington State 65-17. The unit opened massive holes for Kendall Hunter, who racked up 257 yards and four scores in little over a half.
5. Mark Herzlich, LB, Boston College. 'Nuff said.
21 comments, Last at 09 Sep 2010, 10:28pm by Robert Weintraub