Our offseason Four Downs series ends with a look at the NFC West's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. The Rams and 49ers have to kick-start their passing games, Arizona's offense lacks a big dimension, and the Seahawks continue to rely on Russell Wilson's magic tricks.
31 Oct 2011
by Robert Weintraub
The game of the day, at least for me, took place at historic Legion Field in Birmingham. Alabama A&M stunned the number one team in the SWAC, Alabama State, 20-19 in the Magic City Classic. The deciding point was a blocked extra-point attempt midway through the fourth quarter. The good news for the Hornets? The ASU marching band, "The Miracle Band," outpointed A&M’s "Showband of the South" in the Battle of the Bands at halftime, thanks in large part to the Honeybees, a dance team comprised of amply proportioned ladies doing some sizzling moves.
As you may have guessed, I was in The Ham for the game in a production role, and didn’t return to Atlanta until late at night. Therefore, the only FBS action I saw live was the tail end of Stanford edging USC in triple overtime. I had the Trojans and 7.5 points -- when SC pick-sixed Andrew Luck with three minutes to play to go up by a touchdown, there was virtually no way I could lose -- unless the game somehow reached triple overtime, when the teams had to go for two, and USC failed to respond to an eight-pointer from the Cardinal.
Making it worse was that USC was inches from scoring in the third frame, as Marqise Lee dove in but touched the sideline with 1/64th of his shoe. On the next play, Curtis McNeal fumbled (he had a heroic game until that point, with 145 yards and two touchdowns), and Stanford escaped with a 56-48 win, its unblemished record still intact.
I went back and watched a portion of the earlier action, and while Luck is clearly an excellent player, and may well be a super-duper pro, I still have a handful of questions. More to the point: if we have learned nothing else about the college-to-pros transition, we know that those shoals are littered with the shipwrecked careers of "can’t miss" prospects. Any time the media meme emerges that it would behoove a team to tank in order to draft a particular player, said player rarely delivers. Luck may be an instant success: a smart and physically gifted athlete who turns the fortunes of his new team 180 degrees. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t.
Also? He’s not the Heisman frontrunner, not based on his play and Stanford’s schedule in 2011. In the conversation, but not the leader.
Meanwhile, the Georgia schools are taking up a collection to send me out of town every weekend. The last time both UGA and Georgia Tech won on the same Saturday was October 8, and I was in Tallahassee that day. Hmmm. Mark Richt coached like his job was hanging on the result of the Florida game, which it probably was, going for it on a pair of fourth downs in the red zone. Touchdowns were the result both times, and the Dawg D squashed the Gators in the fourth quarter to win 24-20. The Bulldogs are noticeably fitter than a year ago (they did change strength and conditioning coaches after a flurry of second-half collapses last year), and have been sturdy late in games during their six-game win streak. UGA now has three straight winnable home games (only Auburn is a threat), then comes into town for the annual season-ender with Tech. 10-2 is certainly within reach, as is the SEC East title. It could prove hard to dump Richt if that is the result, much as AD Greg McGarrity may wish him removed.
Over on the Flats, the brainiacs at the Institute provided the answer to the problem that is the Clemson offense. It starts by establishing the quarterback run, which Tech had been unable to do against Virginia and Miami. Clemson is much softer up the gut, and Tevin Washington ran wild, with 27 carries for 176 yards and a score. His 56-yard run in the third quarter on third-and-six just after the mandatory Sammy Watkins touchdown closed the gap to 14 points was the game’s biggest play. After that, Tech executed the other part of its plan: forcing turnovers. The Tigers had four, which is an old bugaboo the team had avoided during its hot start to the season. Same old Clemson -- it’s unfair, but the cynics who insisted this game was coming were proven correct.
And they didn’t even get a chance to offset the loss in a Battle of the Bands.
3. Boise State
4. Oklahoma State
10. Virginia Tech
11. South Carolina
13. Kansas State
17. Arizona State
20. Southern Miss
21. Penn State
23. Georgia Tech
1. Gerald Hodges, LB, Penn State. The Nittany Lions have been mostly unwatchable on offense this season, but the defense has been stellar, especially (natch) the linebackers. Hodges recorded an insane 19 tackles, along with a sack, a forced fumble, and a pair of deflections, as Penn St. beat Illinois in typical fashion, 10-7. JoePa’s Division I record 409th win as a head coach.
2. Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College. With a dozen tackles (and a pick) in a win over Maryland, the brilliant Kuechly actually was under his average (16.9), thus hurting his chances of recording 200 tackles in a single season, which would be the equivalent of Bob Beamon shattering the long jump record in 1968 by nearly two feet. Kuechly now has 130 tackles in eight games. 70 more in four games would be Bigfoot territory for anyone else, but 17.5 per isn’t out of Kuechly’s realm.
3. Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia. For all the attention given UGA’s to "dream team" of recruits, it was a transfer from USC that has been the biggest addition. Jones demolished Florida’s blocking with four sacks and a huge forced fumble as UGA drank the last cocktail.
4. Jerry Franklin, LB, Arkansas. The second straight week for Franklin, as the Hogs defense is making the crucial plays to keep their BCS hopes alive. Franklin turned around a likely loss to Vandy with a 94-yard fumble return for a touchdown. Oh yes, ten more tackles for Franklin as well.
5. Tyron Carrier, KR, Houston. Lost amid the Keenum frenzy was Carrier’s 100-yard kickoff return for his seventh career TD, tying C.J. Spiller for most ever in FBS.
15 comments, Last at 02 Nov 2011, 6:08pm by Arkaein