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12 Sep 2011

One Foot Inbounds: Dead Richt Walking

by Robert Weintraub

One is calm, the other fiery. One is deeply religious, the other works at a religious school. But one thing Mark Richt and Brian Kelly have in common -- they are both 0-2. The main difference between them is that, unless Notre Dame loses the next ten games as well, Kelly’s job is safe. Not so for Richt, who needs to run the table in order to hold off the dawgs baying for his head. After Georgia came up short in a thrilling, big play-laden, mistake-filled game against South Carolina, 45-42, the recriminations were loud outside Sanford Stadium. When a sprinkler system went off early and soaked dozens of departing fans, one wag noted that whoever set the timer was “the Mark Richt of irrigation.”

Hard to blame the coach for this one -- despite giving up a fake punt that went for a touchdown, a pick-six, and a strip sack that was taken to the house, UGA dominated for long stretches. Its offensive line showed life, as did true freshman Isaiah Crowell, who showed what all the fuss was about with 118 yards on the ground on 16 carries. Aaron Murray made several excellent throws, and by the end of the season could well be the best quarterback in the conference. But Steve Spurrier, to his credit, held nothing back from the gameplan, and the Cocks used several big plays to blunt the play-to-play dominion Georgia held.

Like last season, UGA couldn’t stop the brilliant Marcus Lattimore, who punished the Bulldogs for 176 yards (six yards shy of his total in the 2010 meeting), including the final few that iced the game on third-and-3. Lattimore is the main reason for South Cackalack’s resurgence, and, in a sense, Georgia’s decline. For although Lattimore is from in-state, he is precisely the sort of top-notch recruit that habitually left the Palmetto State to play for schools like Georgia. But when Spurrier roped him in, using whatever blandishments necessary, the worm turned. Good as Crowell may turn out to be, he’ll be hard pressed to match Lattimore’s production. That single failed recruitment may not be what costs Richt his job, but it’s a symbol of lost toughness on the field, and lost recruiting aura off it. That combo has allowed SC to move past UGA in the SEC East pecking order.

Any guesses on the number of expletives Brian Kelly let loose in the tunnel of Michigan Stadium after Notre Dame lost, 35-31, to perhaps its most hated rival? After letting that one get away, Kelly likely worked as blue as ND’s usual uniforms, while the game itself made him as sick as the green throwbacks the Irish wore Saturday night. Notre Dame controlled the action for three quarters, leading 24-7, and easily could have been up more. But they forgot that Shoelace is a nocturnal animal. Denard Robinson made the first ever night game at the Big House one that will go down with Anthony Carter’s fabled catch-and-run as time expired against Indiana in 1979 (Hoosiers head coach? Lee Corso.) in Wolverines history.

Robinson put up four scores in the final quarter, including a funky fumble recovery run and two passes. Said aerial scores came in the breathless final 1:12, when Michigan seized the lead, gave it back, then hit an absurd 56-yard pass to set up the winning play, a 16-yard pass from Robinson to Ray Roundtree that gave the Irish the final shaft. The ending gave new meaning to the word insane, but the cynic will note the blown coverages on both sides that allowed for the drama. Granted, Robinson unzips coverage schemes with the threat of his running, but there is no excuse for Notre Dame allowing Jeremy Gallon to be that wide open in the final seconds, the play that greased the skids for the win.

It’s the third straight year Michigan has beaten the Irish in the final minute. Look for Notre Dame to drop the Wolverines from its schedule within five years. Yet as fun as it was, Michigan followed the wild wins and scintillating streetball play from Robinson and Tate Forcier in 2008 and 2009 with mediocre performances against tough Big Ten defenses. And I’m certainly not convinced Robinson has Al Borges' new offense nailed yet. He scuffled mightily for 45 minutes. Still, 2-0 is better than 0-2, and while Notre Dame still has a shot at the BCS because of the name on the jersey, a remaining schedule that features Michigan State, Stanford, USC makes a ten-game winning streak seems unlikely. Especially after committing ten turnovers (five in the red zone) and 17 penalties in the first two games. Somewhere, Ty Willingham continues to smile...

Fans in Michigan would still be celebrating if the perfect storm had formed and Toledo finished off its upset bid at Ohio State, instead of falling 27-22. Fantastic-yet-unheralded wideout Eric Page dominated the Buckeyes secondary with 12 catches for 145 yards and 2 touchdowns. Page trails only Justin Blackmon of Oklahoma State in consecutive games with five or more catches. But backup quarterback Terrance Owens couldn’t quite finish a late drive, capping a game of frustrating errors and let-offs that obscured the fact that the Rockets outplayed OSU as badly as Utah State did Auburn last week.

Ah, War Eagle. Did anyone really think the Tigers would either lose to Mississippi State, or win comfortably, as they appeared poised to do, up two touchdowns midway through the fourth quarter? No, of course the Jordan-Hare faithful had to suffer through a seizure or two before Auburn stopped the Bulldogs about six inches from paydirt as time expired, winning 41-34. Backhoe-sized quarterback Chris Relf looked certain to tie it up on the final option keeper, but he was submarined by a perfect open-field tackle by safety Ryan Smith. Stud runner Vick Ballard was alone for the pitch and stroll in, but Relf kept it himself and came up juuuuuuuust shy.

That distance neatly encapsulates the difference between Relf and Cam Newton, who certainly would have gotten in the end zone under similar circumstances a year ago. It’s the distance between the two programs as well, as Auburn’s winning streak continues (17 straight) at the expense of an SEC West eleven that was poised to surpass them. Dan Mullen’s crew still might, but Auburn is in that magic zone last seen on the Plains during the glorious, if untitled season, of 2004.

Auburn head coach Gene Chizik will do well to remember these bountiful days. One day, maybe not soon but certainly over the horizon somewhere, he, like Richt and Kelly, also will be 0-2. And having to explain to angry alums and students how the dreams were dashed.

TOEDRAGS

  • Here’s your tenth anniversary of 9/11 Service Academy Rundown -- Navy blew out Western Kentucky, with John Howell running for 113 yards and two scores on only three carries, but Army fell short of a major upset of San Diego State 23-20, despite Trent Steelman’s three TDs on the ground. Air Force was whacked by a redemptive bunch of TCU Horned Frogs, 35-19.
  • Speaking of Texas, the Longhorns are in a deep funk, but perhaps UT: The Next Generation can revive them. That was McCoy-to-Shipley leading the Horns to a comeback win over BYU -- Case McCoy to Jaxon Shipley, that is. Sunday, let’s hope the little bros got together to watch their elder siblings tangle in the pros (it was Jordan over Colt as my Bengals destroyed the bumbling Brownies: details elsewhere on the site).
  • NCAA bureaucrats collided with Vegas wiseguys in Southern California. Utah, getting 8.5 points from USC at kickoff (-9.5 in our picks for Seventh Day Adventure), trailed by three late in the game. A field goal attempt to tie was blocked, and run back in for the touchdown by USC as time expired, apparently giving USC a miracle cover. Thankfully, there was no PAT try, or my Utah pick would have met a demise worse than last week’s pick-six that sunk Miami +4 vs. Maryland. Instead, the new rule wiping touchdowns off the board in the case of excessive celebration interfered -- the entire USC bench emptied onto the field during the runback. So for a while, the final was 17-14, and Utes bettors collected. But then the Pac-12 overturned the ruling, saying the penalty would be a dead ball foul, and the official final was 23-14. Money for USC backers, so long as they held onto those winning slips. Hopefully, this teaches NCAA rule makers a lesson similar to the one Ace Rothstein taught that hillbilly trying to cheat the house at blackjack in “Casino.”
  • Shout out to Dick Coffee, an Alabama fan who traveled to Penn State to catch his 756th straight Tide game. He hasn’t missed one since 1946. Bama gave him a nice show, squeezing the life out of the Nittany Lions and their raucous crowd 27-11.
  • Georgia likely was counting on Tennessee being an easy touch, but the sleeping giant looks ready to awaken behind quarterback Taylor Bray. He scorched Cincinnati for 405 yards and four touchdowns (he ran for a fifth) as the Vols demolished a pretty good Bearcats squad. Two words for all readers from Athens, Gainesville, and Columbia: uh-oh.
  • For a moment, the Stanford-Duke Entitlement Bowl got interesting, when Andrew Luck threw a pick-six, making it 10-7 Stanford. Duke recovered an ensuing surprise onside kick to try and capitalize on the momentum. But then reality set in, and the Cardinal won 44-14.
  • Illness caused me to miss a nationally televised game featuring Vontaze Burfict on Friday night, which shames me no end. Regular OFI readers will recognize my mancrush on the brilliant, unstable Arizona State linebacker. A man once described as “Ray Lewis after you kick his dog.” ASU and Burfict did fine without me, besting Mizzou in OT 37-30 in front of desert luminaries like Phil Mickelson, Steve Nash, and Larry Fitzgerald.
  • Opposite of a Lowsman Candidate: Oregon State punter Johnny Hekker managed to punt one four yards backwards, as the Beavers were gashed (innuendo!) by Wisconsin 35-0.
  • Florida Atlantic in two games against Florida and Michigan State -- outscored 85-3, 185 yards gained total.
  • Fitting that in a year when the newly revealed Cy-Hawk Trophy, inanely featuring a farm family huddled around a basket of corn, was wisely buried in an undisclosed location somewhere outside Dubuque, the Iowa-Iowa State game was one for the ages. The Cyclones won it in triple-overtime 34-31, taking home the interim trophy. Every game should have an interim trophy, in OFI’s opinion.
  • Finally, Syracuse is now 2-0 after demolishing Rhode Island 21-14. Make your reservations for the Orange Bowl now while prices remain low...

OFI TOP 25

1. LSU
2. Alabama
3. Boise State
4. Oklahoma
5. Florida State
6. Oklahoma State
7. Texas A&M
8. Stanford
9. Wisconsin
10. South Carolina
11. Arkansas
12. Oregon
13. Michigan State
14. Baylor
15. Virginia Tech
16. West Virginia
17. South Florida
18. Florida
19. Arizona State
20. Northwestern
21. Michigan
22. Auburn
23. Houston
24. Nebraska
25. Tennessee

Nothing major save Bama taking the No. 2 spot from idle Boise with an impressive road win. Mississippi State is a hard-luck dropout.

LOWSMAN TROPHY WATCH


1. Melvin Ingram, DT, South Carolina.
No-brainer here -- the former high school running back took a fake punt 66 yards to change the game completely, juking past one man and outrunning the rest in the process. Then he scooped and scored the putaway TD late in the game, before deciding to recover the onside kick attempt that Georgia needed to have one more shot for giggles.

2. Ryan Smith, S, Auburn. Another no-brainer--see above.

3. Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama. Two textbook helmet-on-ball hits forced fumbles that helped the Tide dominate Penn State for the second straight season.

4. Trey Barrow, P, Missouri. The Tigers fell in the Valley of the Sun, but don’t blame the field position flipper -- Barrow averaged 58 yards on four punts, including a 73-yard missile.

5. Justin Allen, LB, Rice. Allen blocked a field goal try at the gun, giving Rice a 24-22 win over Purdue. It was the first win over a major conference opponent after 22 straight losses.

Posted by: Robert Weintraub on 12 Sep 2011

7 comments, Last at 13 Sep 2011, 3:36pm by Kevin from Philly

Comments

1
by zlionsfan :: Mon, 09/12/2011 - 4:34pm

Stanford's nickname is singular (color, not bird), so Cards doesn't work for them as it would for Ball State or Louisville.

2
by Will :: Mon, 09/12/2011 - 10:15pm

"the Jordan-Hare faithful had to suffer through a seizure or two"

Poor choice of words considering what happened to Jerry Kill.

Will

3
by Anonny (not verified) :: Tue, 09/13/2011 - 7:40am

I love UGA fans' arrogance in calling for Richt's head... Who exactly do they think they are? Aside from a 4-year, Herschel Walker-driven run in the early 1980s, Georgia was nothing but a 2nd-tier SEC program before Mark Richt was hired. Sure, they might have occasionally won 10 games in a season, but from the mid-80s until Richt's arrival, they were basically a perennial 8 win team that went to the Peach or Outback Bowl. Without Richt, that would have been their station in life. With him, they suddenly became a powerhouse -- top 5 AP finishes, BCS bowls, etc. Since when did UGA belong in that strata of college football? Richt took them places they had never been before.

So it's hilarious to see the calls for his job early this season. Richt is the reason the fans have set the bar so high, but now they think it's their birthright to compete for a national title every season. Again, who exactly do they think they are? Reality check time: They were hardly a great program (despite occasional good seasons) before Richt, and they will go back to that if they fire him. It's amazing how quickly UGA fans have forgotten where they were under Ray Goff and Jim Donnan.

4
by dbostedo :: Tue, 09/13/2011 - 8:51am

So UGA fans can't expect to compete for the national title every year since they've never really been in that boat before? But I suppose (and excuse me for putting words in your mouth) that it's OK for Florida and LSU and Alabama to expect that every year since they have more traditionally been in that situation?

That presumes that there's something inherent about Georgia keeping them from becoming a team like Florida or Alabama or LSU. I don't see why they can't be in the same boat as those teams. Just because you've traditionally been a Peach bowl team, doesn't mean you always have to stay a Peach bowl team. (Of course, I also don't think they should get rid of Richt.)

5
by Monkey Business (not verified) :: Tue, 09/13/2011 - 10:52am

You're assuming that every D1 Football team has an equal opportunity to make it to the national championship game. That's obviously not the case. Unless Georgia wins every game by 20 points and dominates the SEC, they're not going to the National Championship game. It's just not how the system is built. A handful of teams can compete for a title every year; everyone else is left to fight for scraps.

6
by Brian Fremeau :: Tue, 09/13/2011 - 11:12am

I'm pretty sure Georgia is in the group of 20 or so programs that can reasonably consider themselves capable of winning an FBS national championship. Of those 20, only 5-8 or so are actually capable in a given year, and it is rare that any individual program would consistently be among those 5-8 for more than a few years in a row.

7
by Kevin from Philly :: Tue, 09/13/2011 - 3:36pm

"A man once described as “Ray Lewis after you kick his dog.”"

Oh, I don't care if this guy can play a lick - the Eagles HAVE to draft this guy when he's eligible, if only to put the Buddy Ryan crazy back in the front seven.