Our offseason Four Downs series continues with a division-by-division look at each team's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. Does anyone in the NFC South have any pass rushers? Well, the Bucs might, but they still need more players to catch the ball.
04 Oct 2010
by Robert Weintraub
The helmet went sailing through the Bayou night, tossed in frustration by the junior center with the euphonically perfect name for an LSU Tiger -- T-Bob Hebert, the son of Bobby Hebert. T-Bob had sent his lid flying in a spiral approximating the best of the old man when it seemed his errant shotgun snap had ended LSU's unbeaten season.
Moments later, incredibly, T-Bob's helmet was off again, this time being sent skyward in jubilation. In one of the craziest endings in recent memory, at least since last season's advanced seminar in clock management by Les Miles,Tennessee let the Tigers slip off the hook.
Just before T-Bob hurled his helmet, LSU, sans timeouts, had let 25 seconds slip off the clock, indecisive about what play to run from the Volunteers' 1-yard line. Jordan Jefferson was the quarterback, although he had been so putrid he had earlier been yanked for backup Jarrett Lee. Jefferson is shiftier, so he was in for a potential run. It seemed like Miles and offensive coordinator Gary Crowton couldn't decide what personnel to have in the game, so they ran in a couple of different packages as the seconds bled away and the Death Valley fans screamed in terror.
As it happens, that was crafty strategery, because Tennessee's defense got confused about what personnel they needed to have on the field. Ironically, though the Vols are very young overall, it was senior defensive end Ben Martin who appeared to err, running halfway off the field, then turning around and coming back. He wasn't alone. As the snap sailed past Jefferson, appearing to end the game and perhaps Miles' career in Baton Rouge, the Vols had 13, count 'em, 13 defenders on the field.
In the ensuing chaos, the referees got the call right and awarded LSU an untimed down. Miles had to make the final play call. Stevan Ridley took a pitch and plowed over defensive end Corey Miller at the goal line, and LSU was somehow saved, 16-14.
But the natives aren't happy. My friend and LSU fan Josh texted afterward, "someone needs to get fired." It's safe to say the good will Miles built up after the BCS crown in 2007 is officially frittered. With Michigan's return to decency, Miles can't even count on scooting up to Ann Arbor anytime soon. And it's hard to take LSU seriously as a Top 10 team when the quarterback play is so awful. In Seventh Day Adventure, I compared Jefferson's popularity in Louisiana to BP. His 83-yard scamper on the game's first play was like the oil giant's initial claim that the plume of crude was no biggie. After that: 3-for-10 for 30 yards and two picks. Lee wasn't much better, but he did zip a dart to convert a fourth-and-14 on the eventual winning drive that was forgotten in the nutty finish.
Even if LSU had Bert Jones back under center, they would be underdogs in the SEC West to the dominant Alabama Crimson Tide, who toyed with Florida, winning 31-6. Most ominous for the rest of the country was the fact that the Gators actually had a good plan to move the ball through the air (and plays are there to be made against the Tide secondary). After a strong opening drive, Florida went for it on fourth-and-goal at the 1. Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart could be seen yelling to watch out for the jump pass, even though Tim Tebow is no longer in orange and blue. Sure enough, Trey Burton tried the old Staubach play, but Nico Johnson was there to intercept for Alabama. It was a huge momentum shift -- imagine if Burton hadn't come up inches short of the end zone on second down.
After that, the Tide's ground game chewed up Florida's five-man "heavy" front like a pack of hyenas, gashing the Gators for 170 rushing yards, while Alabama's linebackers controlled the action. Courtney Upshaw might be the least talented of Alabama's linebackers, but he was everywhere from the "Jack" position, with four tackles for loss, a fumble recovery, two pass breakups, and several big sticks. Not bad for a guy who was behind Ed Stinson on the depth chart a couple of weeks ago.
Alabama is clearly better than the rest of the nation at the moment, even if they should get tripped up along the way. The win was Nick Saban's 19th in a row, and his 29th-straight regular season victory. If they were to lose before the BCS game, one possibility is against Auburn in the Iron Bowl. The Tigers are the third unbeaten team in the SEC West, and they had a walkover against Louisiana-Monroe, 52-3. Quarterback/piledriver Cam Newton took the opportunity to practice throwing, and had three touchdown passes, including a 94-yarder. Auburn needs to prove it can pass against higher-caliber opposition before I'll believe in its upset chances.
The other monster game of the game of the evening was also a rout, although Oregon spotted Stanford a 21-3 lead before bearing down -- the Ducks outscored the lads from Palo Alto 49-10 after that. The spread attack led by quarterback Darron Thomas is absolutely relentless. Stanford's defenders were tripping over their own tongues by the third quarter. But the play of the game was made by Oregon's defense with the game tied at 31. Safety Javes Lewis blasted wide receiver Chris Owusu after a completion, knocking the ball and Owusu's senses free. The fumble was run back inside the 5-yard line, and the Ducks took the lead on the next play on a run by LaMichael James. That was a shawty, but James also had a 76-yarder for a score -- he has 29 runs of 20-plus yards since last season.
Oregon's reward for the bog win was jumping Boise State in the AP Top 25 (but not in my poll -- see below). All the Broncos did was destroy New Mexico State 59-0. As my mother would say: Life isn't fair -- now go bang your head against the wall.
2. Ohio State
3. Boise State
16. South Carolina
21. Michigan State
22. Florida State
23. Oklahoma State
24. Air Force
1. Courtney Upshaw, linebacker, Alabama. See above.
2. Jordan Holmes, center, Oregon. The Ducks O-line gets lost in the snazzy spread attack, but the front five blasted open holes for the skill guys all night. Holmes, as the senior center and Rimington Trophy short-lister, runs the show from the middle, calling the assignments and sight reads that make the offense work so effectively.
3. Kelechi Osemele, left tackle, Iowa State. The Cyclones had a pair of 100-yard rushers in swamping 52-38, and Osemele was dominant in both run blocking and pass protection.
4. Jayron Hosley, cornerback, Virginia Tech. Hosley had three interceptions of N.C. State's Russell Wilson, who previously had only tossed one interception in 2010, as the Hokies staged a big-time comeback win.
5. Adrian Clayborn, defensive end, Iowa. You were wondering when Clayborn, a preseason All-American, would crack this list, right? He does this week after terrorizing Penn State, to the tune of 10 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, and a sack.
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