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» Futures: My Expansion Franchise

You've just been awarded an NFL expansion team and must build your personnel department. How would you do it? Matt Waldman takes on the exercise.

11 Oct 2010

One Foot Inbounds: Gamecocks Win

by Robert Weintraub

A few years back, I met a gal on an airplane. She met all the criteria prized by the superficial male, plus she was a huge college football fan! More to the point, she was from Columbia, so several times I found myself alongside her in Williams-Brice Stadium, cheering on South Carolina. It was a Sisyphean experience, as time and again, the Gamecocks seemed on the verge of big time victories over highly-ranked SEC foes, only to fall apart late and slink away.

Small wonder we stopped seeing each other -- I think she blamed me.

I thought of her Saturday, however, picturing her and the other thousands of long-suffering Rooster fans going crazy as their team jumped out to a big lead on seemingly unbeatable Alabama. Then having their hearts sink in terror as the Crimson Tide mounted a comeback. Then, having the familiar fear turn to shock as SC not only held on, but dominated the latter stages by making a series of big plays on both sides of the ball. And I certainly can imagine the party that erupted after the final gun -- I think I could hear it all the way to Atlanta.

In Seventh Day Adventure, I mentioned that Alshon Jeffery, Carolina's excellent receiver, would be tough for Alabama's young secondary to handle. Jeffery was outstanding Saturday, beating not only the kiddies but the All-American candidate, safety Mark Barron, for a pair of scores and an incredible snag late in the game to set up the icing touchdown. True, he did bobble one into an interception that seemed to usher in the traditional Alabama comeback/SC collapse. But the defense hurried Greg McElroy on two straight plays in the red zone, and a fake field goal pass was dropped. As in the BCS title game, Nick Saban, a supposed special teams guru, saw that phase of the game fail him in a big contest.

The Gamecocks won it from there, but they upended history earlier, after Alabama cut it to 21-14. The Cocks went on a 15-play, 82-yard drive, with three big third-down conversions. The second of Marcus Lattimore's three touchdowns put SC back up by two touchdowns. It was then that my female friend was probably thinking "I knew not having Rob at these games would pay off eventually!"

Carolina was the first team since Florida in the fourth quarter of the 2008 SEC Championship game to whip Alabama physically, and they did it something fierce, on both lines (I'm not sure Utah dominated Alabama physically as much as emotionally in the Sugar Bowl a month later). But it was a play Stephen Garcia made on his own, on fourth-and-2 in the first quarter, breaking tackles and converting when all seemed lost, that personified the game. The loose cannon outplayed the Steady Eddie at quarterback. Garcia missed on only three passes, and one was the drop-turned-interception by Jeffrey. Only his brain freeze on a bizarre safety when he threw a bad snap out of the end zone instead of going down at the two-yard line prevented a perfect game.

Meanwhile, it wouldn't be an SEC Saturday without unreal drama involving LSU and Auburn. Give credit to Les Miles -- his Lesters swing real low. After a week of anger directed his way after the Tennessee game, Miles called a fake field goal (that was this close to being a forward lateral) that set up the game-winning score against Florida. After missing on a flag route from the 3-yard line to Terrance Toliver, LSU went right back to the same call on the next play for six. The Greeks call that brazos -- guts. Typical LSU -- just when you're ready to write them off, the Tigers play their best game of the season, making clutch plays all over the place. A clearly hurt John Brantley didn't have any zip, which hindered the Gators trying to adjust the offense to less of a Tebowish spread.

Sometimes, a program just isn't the same when a top assistant departs. Florida has clearly struggled to replace Dan Mullen, the offensive mind who created the FrankenTebow and has been the top man at Mississippi State since 2008. Georgia has yet to rediscover the defensive intensity Brian Van Gorder (now Falcons defensive coordinator) brought to Athens. Florida State was never the same after Mark Richt left.

Auburn will miss spread wizard Gus Malzahn when he inevitably departs, but in the meantime, the Tigers are scoring in bunches and remain unbeaten. Unfortunately, Malzahn can't coach the defense, which was gashed badly by Kentucky's Randall Cobb. The Wildcatter of the Wildcats ran for two scores, caught a third, and threw for a fourth in a virtuoso performance. But Auburn quarterback/sledgehammer Cam Newton matched Cobb with four scores, all runs, and relentlessly pounded downfield at winning time to set up the game-winning field goal in a heart-pounding 37-34 win.

So just like that, Alabama is looking up at LSU and Auburn in the SEC West, and South Carolina is the odds-on favorite to capture the East, although winning at the Swamp won't be easy regardless of Florida's form. And as my former inamorata surely knows, when things look great for the Gamecocks, that's the time to worry most.

Toedrags

  • Other conferences played Saturday, too. Sparty exposed Michigan's vulnerabilities in the Great Lakes State showdown, winning 34-17. State spied Denard Robinson, forcing him to make plays through the air, which he could not, throwing three picks. Meanwhile, Michigan's defense was candy for MSU's potent rushing attack. Much as I like Robinson, I have a feeling we'll be looking back come Heisman ceremony time and wondering how he was the front-runner, given the cushy schedule he faced early on. The game was fortunately not close, good news for both Spartan coach Mark Dantonio, who was in the press box following his heart attack three weeks ago, and for the fan who elected to delay heart surgery until after the game. "Whatever happens, I want to see the game," he said. I feel you, my man.
  • The last time a Baylor-Texas Tech matchup got so much attention, Britney Griner was punching out a female Red Raider on the basketball court. Tech got some revenge in a wild 45-38 win. Baylor lost despite scoring on a bizarre play. Tech tried a surprise onside kick, which didn't go the required 10 yards. As a bunch of Techsters surrounded but didn't touch the live ball, a Baylor player swooped in, scooped it up, and ran it in for a touchdown. But Baylor had no answer for Taylor Potts, who threw for 462 yards and four scores.
  • Oregon turned it on after a typically slow start to whip Washington State 43-23. But quarterback Darron Thomas and runner Kenjon Barner were injured, Barner so severely he had to be taken off in an ambulance. Fortunately, the Ducks still had LaMichael James, who scored thrice.
  • Oregon State turned in a nice win as well, winning 29-27 in Arizona, but the team also lost a key player. James Rodgers, the superb wideout, hurt his knee and didn't return -- and he had just gotten back from a concussion. But his brother Jacquizz scored the clinching touchdown late in the game, and quarterback Ryan Katz held his nerve against a tough defense on the road. Funny how you won't hear any "that win helps Boise State" talk, unlike when Virginia Tech lost and all anyone cared about were the ramifications for the Smurf Turfers.
  • USC can give advice on teams looking to draft a quarterback at the top of next year's draft. Saturday, Andrew Luck took Stanford down the field to beat the Trojans on a last-second field goal, one week after Jake Locker did the same for Washington.
  • New Mexico State is state champ, slipping past New Mexico 16-14 despite being down to its third quarterback. UNM's hoops team plays in an arena called the Pit, which pretty well describes football in the state -- the pits.
  • In the bracket buster showdown, Butler beat Davidson 24-8, as the Gordon Hayward-Shelvin Mack combo proved too much for Steph Curry.
  • And my Orange finally beat South Florida, for the first time since the Bulls joined the Big East. Celebration at the Varsity as that banner is finally turned upside down! The 'Cuse were distinctly un-Cuseish as they drove 98 yards, mostly on the ground, for the winning score, then downed a punt at the 1-yard line with three minutes left to nail it down ... 4-1, baby!

The OFI Top 25

1. Ohio State
2. Boise State
3. Oregon
4. TCU
5. Alabama
6. Nebraska
7. Oklahoma
8. Iowa
9. Auburn
10. Utah
11. Arkansas
12. LSU
13. South Carolina
14. Wisconsin
15. Stanford
16. Florida State
17. Nevada
18. Florida
19. Michigan State
20. Oklahoma State
21. Air Force
22. Miami
23. Missouri
24. Michigan
25. Arizona

Lowsman Watch

1. Rodney Hudson, guard, Florida State. The senior anchored a superior line effort that gashed Miami for 298 yards on the ground in an easy 45-17 whipping of the Seminoles' in-state rival.

2. John Potter, kicker, Western Michigan. Potter hit a field goal and six PATs. More importantly, he had a tackle on a kickoff and recovered a fumble, then scored a touchdown on a fake field goal.

3. Tremain Thomas, safety, Arkansas. Thomas had a huge game in Arkansas' big win over Texas A&M at JerryWorld. He had two fumble recoveries, an interception, seven tackles, and was part of airtight coverage that held Jerrod Johnson to a horrifying 15-40 day.

4. Wes Bynum, kicker, Auburn. Hit three field goals, including the game-winner, which was the 51st of his career, a school record.

5. Missouri. Special team-wide shout out to the Tigers, who shut out Colorado 26-0, holding the Buffs to 61 rushing yards. Mizzou also blocked a punt, blocked a field goal, faked a punt for a 26-yard gain, and forced a safety.

Posted by: Robert Weintraub on 11 Oct 2010

9 comments, Last at 12 Oct 2010, 3:19pm by Will

Comments

1
by Will Allen :: Mon, 10/11/2010 - 1:06pm

Good point about the often overlooked value of assistants. Notre Dame's slide from the heights of the Holtz era began when Alavarez left to coach Wisconsin, and the Irish have never reclaimed those heights.

Minor quibble about about Alabama's pummeling at the hands of Utah, but at least you acknowledge it was a pummeling. SEC fans who pretend as if that game didn't happen, or should be heavily discounted, are tiresome.

3
by lionsbob :: Mon, 10/11/2010 - 1:51pm

It was an ass-kicking by Utah. Alabama got smacked in the mouth early and couldn't comeback from it.

Alabama's defense needs to get a clue fast. On offense, I love Greg McElroy, but he needs to learn to either throw it deep or throw it away, he seems too afraid to throw an interception.

Auburn's season begins this week with back to back games in which Arkansas and LSU come to town..I don't see them winning both games.

2
by zlionsfan :: Mon, 10/11/2010 - 1:50pm

I think I understand what you're trying to say, but I don't think you're saying what you mean. There isn't any question why he is the front-runner: he's put up huge numbers to this point in the season, even including the MSU game (where he had 301 yards of total offense), and prior to Saturday, his passing efficiency was excellent as well. As Houston quarterbacks have shown time and time again, strength of schedule isn't that important as long as you put up big numbers.

I think you mean that at the end of the season, you'll wonder why people were projecting him to continue putting up those numbers, or by extension, why people were expecting him to remain a front-runner. The Wolverines' remaining schedule is not conducive to 400-yard total-offense games: their weakest opponents, Purdue and Penn State, are both hosting Michigan, and there are home games against Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin prior to the season finale at Ohio State. (As to why they projected those numbers, I have two suggestions. One is that everyone wants to be the first to have called the 2010 Heisman winner, and the other is that if you've seen Robinson play, you can understand why people would pick him.)

Honestly, I don't think the strength of schedule is going to be the problem. I think it's the defense. With a better defense, Michigan could continue to run the balanced offense that helped them shred their early opponents, but given what they have, even an average team is going to put points on the board (see: UMass, Indiana), and a good team is going to put Michigan in mostly-passing mode at some point in the game. Robinson is much more comfortable in the offense now than he was last year, but he's also just a sophomore, and he doesn't have nearly as much pocket experience as almost all the other QBs who will be Heisman contenders.

4
by Flounder :: Mon, 10/11/2010 - 2:41pm

But his numbers for the MSU game could only be argued as huge if one doesn't count the 3 INTs. Those are part of the numbers. They were all bad throws.

6
by Will :: Mon, 10/11/2010 - 9:09pm

All this talk about the resurgent Michigan with an exciting, "perfect for the system" quarterback seems mightily reminiscent to Tate Forcier last season, and we know how that turned out. Forcier is probably the better passer, although definitely not as flashy as Robinson.

As far as I've seen from my (limited) viewing of Denard Robinson, his passing game consists of throwing it up to one on one coverage and having better athletes to go get it, or hitting a wide open slot guy on a streak route because the coverage guy incorrectly read run.

Let's also mention the fact that Robinson's numbers are a bit inflated because he generally has played all four quarters in every game this season, where the other top players are usually resting midway through the third against the weakest teams.

Will

7
by Andrew Cascini (not verified) :: Tue, 10/12/2010 - 6:34am

...eeeexcept that's not true - in fact he only played a few snaps over one quarter in Michigan's biggest rout game against Bowling Green due to injury.

9
by Will :: Tue, 10/12/2010 - 3:19pm

Still, he played four quarters against lightweights UMass, Indiana, and UConn. If Michigan's defense was anything resembling mediocre, he would have sat for a quarter and a half of each of those games.

Will

5
by Mike W :: Mon, 10/11/2010 - 3:31pm

Wisconsin at 14? You can't mean that.

8
by verifiable (not verified) :: Tue, 10/12/2010 - 12:56pm

Well they did beat the number 19 team MSU, no wait they didn't......