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?
09 Jan 2011
by Robert Weintraub
What a fantastic bowl season it's been. Who could forget Slingin' Sammy Baugh leading a plucky bunch of Horned Frogs past the far bigger Wisconsin Badgers, led by Alan Ameche? Hopalong Cassidy and the Ohio State Buckeyes squeaking past a spirited Arkansas team and its graceful receiver Lance Alworth? J.C. Watts and Oklahoma whipping, uh, Tate George's UConn Huskies?
OK, the point has been belabored beyond measure -- the gap between the end of the regular season and the meaningful bowl games is far too big for Evel Knievel to jump, even with a rocket cycle. It will be an astonishing 37 days between the time Auburn and Oregon clinched spots in the BCS title game and the actual kickoff tonight. And even when the margin wasn't pushing a month and a half, it sure seemed like every game required a re-introduction of the main actors.
Still, we'll remember this bowl season for several reasons, mainly the heaping helping of crow Big Ten President Jim Delany had for breakfast on January 2. The Big Ten's 0-5 to ring in the new year was an epic pratfall, only minimally helped by the Buckeyes' survival in the Sugar Bowl. Among the Leaders and Legends' wreckage were the two Michigan schools getting slaughtered by the SEC West. Northwestern did what it seemingly always does -- lose despite an entertaining comeback. And Florida not only beat Penn State, but covered the spread in about the greatest fashion possible, the late game pick-six (someone told Joe Paterno about the loss three days later).
But it was TCU taking down Wisconsin 21-19 in the Rose Bowl that spoke the loudest. Sporting a size advantage up front not seen since the Valley of Elah Bowl, the Badgers should have rolled to victory. But somehow, even with 19 weeks to prepare, Bret Bielema and his staff failed to account for the lone way the speedy Frogs defense could slow Wisconsin -- with backside pursuit. Linebacker Tank Carder lived in the backfield, chasing down backs from behind, forcing the Badgers into unwanted passing situations.
Meanwhile, TCU quarterback Andy Dalton had a terrific game, running and throwing with aplomb, making zone reads and deciphering the Badgers' schemes with ease. Yet for all the good play by Gary Patterson's bunch, Wisconsin should have at least sent it to overtime. After a sledge-hammering drive in which the Badgers finally seemed to wear down TCU, Montee Ball scored on a short touchdown run to close the score to two points. But for reasons passing understanding (pun intended), Bielema decided to abandon the run game his team is built upon and spread the field, trying to throw for two. Carder made a great play to swat it down at the line, TCU recovered the onside kick, and that was it.
Yes, the receiver was open -- had Carder not timed it right, the Badgers would have tied it. I don't even mind a pass play in that situation. But spreading the field and taking the run option completely out of the play not only makes it easier for the defense but spits in the face of Wisconsin's identity -- especially after the team had just powered right down the field (nine runs and one pass covering 77 yards). Alan Ameche can't be happy, wherever he is.
Big ups to TCU and the program that has emerged from the Fort Worth stockyards to become a dominant force in college football. Woe to the Big East when the Frogs join up in 2012 -- that will be a most unpleasant road trip for the likes of UConn, Pitt, and -- gulp -- my Syracuse Orange.
Meanwhile, Ohio State's Tattoo You Tour had a semi-successful stop in New Orleans, escaping with a 31-26 win over Arkansas followed by the team bus crashing through a cyclone fence and escaping across state lines with the robbery.
The Hogs hardly deserved the crystal, bobbling and fumbling away the ball as though it was covered in hog fat. The worst moment came right at the end, when a spectacular blocked punt woulda-shoulda-coulda been returned for the game-winning touchdown. Instead, five or six Arkansas players failed to scoop and score. Ryan Mallet was picked off two plays later by Solomon Thomas, one of the Columbus Five, and the Buckeyes ran out the clock. In a blocked punt situation, of course, there is no scenario that Arkansas would not have gotten the ball, so you have to do everything possible to pick it up and score -- you don't worry about fumbling it back to the opponent. Didn't happen.
That set up an interesting postgame interview with Terrelle Pryor. He answered a couple of questions about the game lucidly enough, but when asked whether he was actually returning to school, as he promised in the wake of TattooGate, Pryor responded with a unintelligible "Feeeeeehhhhhhhhhmeeeeeeenchhhhhhhhh." For those of you that don't speak Yiddish, that means "Depends on whether I can play quarterback in the pros."
On to the championship game, at long last!
24 comments, Last at 10 Jan 2011, 6:27pm by martial