After three NFL seasons of kicking off from the 35-yard line, what has been the impact on touchbacks, returns, field position, scoring and injuries? Also, is this rule responsible for a record number of big comebacks?
05 Dec 2010
by Robert Weintraub
Saturday was my fifth wedding anniversary, so instead of watching Oregon and Auburn battle down to the wire for the right to square off in the BCS championship game, I went out to dinner and saw The Social Network. I DVR'd the action, of course, but as it turned out, Cam Newton and LaMichael James took care of me. The Ducks and Tigers rolled to easy wins, setting up a collision of the two most exciting and voracious offensive teams in the country on January 10. Auburn averaged 42.7 points per game -- and fell well short of Oregon's 49.3. The Ducks and Tigers were first and fifth in the nation in scoring, respectively. They punted 36 times on the year, combined.
Auburn scored almost instantly against South Carolina in the SEC title game at the Georgia Dome, so it's tempting to say it was over right there. Cam Newton, a.k.a. "The Shoo-in," hit an early bomb to set up the score. On opening drives this season, Newton went 19-of-19 through the air for an even 300 yards and seven touchdowns (three passing, three rushing, and one receiving). The only words for that are "holy" and "s---."
But the opening drive of the second half was the critical series. Newton had hit a Hail Mary to close the first half and put Auburn up 28-14, but South Carolina was certainly still in it. The Gamecocks put together a strong drive, but they were forced to settle for a field goal. And Spencer Lanning missed it. Oh, if only Mr. Irrelevant, Ryan Succop, were still kicking for the Roosters!
Well, the life went out of the lads in red right there. Newton had Auburn in the end zone in about 6.2 seconds as punishment. He ran it in for his 20th running score on the season, joining Tim Tebow as the only players to both run and throw for 20-plus scores in a single season. Newton has accounted for 49 touchdowns this season, more than 87 FBS teams. Stephen Garcia threw a pick three plays later, and that was that. Auburn won 56-17, and the team carried Newton off the field and all the way to Glendale.
The Battering Cam demolished Gamecocks defensive back Antonio Allen on the run. Word from the Gamecocks locker room said that Allen offered Newton another $180,000 to go pro and spare the SEC more punishment. South Carolina's defense let the team down. The front four that has been the best unit on the team all year, leading the SEC in sacks, was overmatched against Auburn's unheralded offensive front.
It may be sacrilege to say this (literally), but Newton is better than the exalted Tebow. Now, Tebow did it for three full seasons, plus his situational, goal-line cameos as a freshman on Urban Meyer's first national title team. But Newton has reached greater heights, in my humble opinion, than Tebow reached. Remember, in Tebow's best statistical season, his sophomore year (2007), Florida finished 9-4 and lost in the Citrus Bowl to Michigan (the last relevant moment for the Wolverines). Newton is unbeaten and en route to the title game. We won't get into the off-field business, but purely as quarterbacks, I'll take Newton.
And Gary Danielson was right during the telecast when he said that Newton is not only a better passer at this point in his career than Tebow was, but Michael Vick and Vince Young as well. His arm might not have the pure strength of Vick's, but it's close enough, and he has accuracy and pocket presence that Vick didn't approach until this season. Vince as a senior was wondrous, but it wasn't until the several weeks of practice leading up to the Rose Bowl against Michigan as a junior that he displayed much command as a passer.
Oregon was in the Rose Bowl last season. They have upgraded to the BCS title game, thanks to the 4 x 100 relay team in the backfield and hellacious blocking by the front line and the wide receivers, an aspect often overlooked in Oregon's success. LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner broke out the stats - 134 yards, and 133 yards, respectively, and two scores apiece -- but it was the blocking on the edge that allowed it.
Saturday's Civil War against Oregon State was a rare occasion when the Ducks had the less ugly uniform in the game. They broke out an odd USFL looking silver and brown combo, choosing an strange time to sport unis without any of the school colors. But the Beavers chose to pay tribute to the 1967 team, the "Giant Killers" that defeated No. 1 USC and No. 2 Purdue (led by Messrs. Simpson and Griese, respectively). They looked like contestants from "Tron." And the '67 group didn't wear orange shoes with the ensemble. It was hard to watch.
While Oregon won comfortably in the end, 37-20, the Beavers fought hard, and it took some solid red-zone defense by the Ducks and a 64-yard rumble with a fake punt by upback Michael Clay to keep the upset nerves away. Oregon will have to show much more to beat Auburn, who, as I noted in Seventh Day Adventure, seem to have some magic dust sprinkled on them this season (see the final play of the first half in the Dome).
There seems little doubt that the game will be in doubt in the fourth quarter, anyway, unlike the respective penultimate games.
6. Ohio State
8. Michigan State
9. Boise State
10. Virginia Tech
15. Texas A&M
17. Oklahoma State
21. South Carolina
22. Central Florida
23. Mississippi State
25. Miami (OH)
1. Lee Ziemba, Mike Perry, Ryan Pugh, Byron Isom, Brandon Mosely, offensive line, Auburn. Cam & Co. get all the publicity, but if it weren't for the veteran offensive line (four seniors and a junior), the Tigers wouldn't be headed for Arizona. They had another sensational game on Saturday, dominating South Carolina's excellent front four and opening wide running lanes. As most won't be returning next season, don't count on Newton being back, either.
2. Dave Teggart, kicker, UConn. Teggart kicked the Huskies to the BCS with a 52-yarder, his fourth field goal of the game. To call this the biggest kick in program history is like calling a supertanker your average boat.
3. Derrell Acrey, linebacker, Boise State. Acrey blew away Boise's hangover after the Nevada loss by intercepting a pass on the game's first play and returning it 31 yards for a touchdown.
4. James Brooks, defensive end, Arizona State. See above. ASU's kicker, Thomas Weber, gets honorable mention for his five field goals under pressurized conditions.
5. Travis Lewis, linebacker, Oklahoma. His two fumble recoveries and an interception, all leading to 13 critical points, helped the Sooners beat Nebraska in a tough Big 12 title game.
Since the bowls are something of a separate season, this spells the end of the 2010 campaign in terms of awards. My Heisman vote, if I had one, would of course go to Cam Newton. Not close. As for the Lowsman Trophy, it comes down to Wisconsin offensive tackle Gabe Carimi, Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley, Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly, and LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson. The fifth invitee to my man cave in Decatur, Georgia, would be Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who isn't the fifth best non-skill guy but combines excellence with utter madness in a compelling way.
And the winner is ...
And with that, One Foot Inbounds steps aside for a few weeks. I'll be back writing with Bill Connelly and Brian Fremeau as part of the sort-of biweekly Seventh Day Adventure bowl previews, starting on December 17.
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