The NFL playoffs finally heat up, as a wild finish in Dallas and a tight game in Kansas City go some way to making up for the blowouts that preceded them.
11 Oct 2010
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.
1. Ohio State
2. Boise State
13. South Carolina
16. Florida State
19. Michigan State
20. Oklahoma State
21. Air Force
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.
9 comments, Last at 12 Oct 2010, 3:19pm by Will