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?
05 Dec 2011
by Robert Weintraub
Poise. Patience. Power.
As I sat in the Georgia Dome stands, these were the alliterative words that came to mind watching LSU storm past Georgia 42-10 to win the SEC Championship and prance into the BCS title game, to be held a short Second Line march from Baton Rouge. The Dome was cracking as UGA took a 10-0 lead and totally dominated most of the first half, making the 80 percent of the crowd wearing red and black very happy. The Dawg defense was outplaying its more ballyhooed opponent, controlling the middle with Jonathan Jenkins, bringing blitz overloads off the edge, and shutting down LSU’s four-man running back attack. LSU had zero, count ‘em, zero, first downs in the half. It was as good a 30-minute defensive effort any team has given all season, including LSU.
But unfortunately for Georgia, instead of leading 17-0 or even 21-0, which was possible, especially given the touchdown drops by Malcolm Mitchell and Tavares King, they only led 10-7. That was because UGA made the cardinal sin of punting to Tyrann Mathieu, and the Honey Badger made them pay. His 62-yard return touchdown completely stifled the momentum Georgia had built up, and led to many foreboding statements in the bathrooms and breezeways of the Dome at halftime, as pretty much everyone foresaw what was coming.
That would be 35 unanswered second-half points, 204 second-half rushing yards, three second-half UGA turnovers, one big rout. For the second straight week, LSU fell behind by double digits, and quarterback Jordan Jefferson was on the brink of being pulled. And for the second straight week, Les Miles stayed patient, trusted his athletes, running game, and his defense, and the Tigers wore out the opponent and smothered them in the final 30 minutes.
Remember just before the season started, when LSU was preparing to face Oregon in an opening week showdown? They lost their starting quarterback and No. 2 wideout to suspension, their best offensive lineman to injury, they got put on (slight) probation, and they found out their offensive coordinator, Steve Kragthorpe, had Parkinson’s Disease. A lot of teams would have folded, but not this group. Just as they showed plenty of faith in their ability to buckle the opposition after getting behind early, LSU knuckled down and walloped all comers. Whatever happens in the BCS title game, it’s been one helluva season for The Lester and his team.
Afterward, the hardy few in purple and gold were chanting "We Want Green Bay!" -- at least it was a break from the standard "S-E-C!" chant usually heard in these parts. I’m guessing most of the country will be sick to death of Mike Slive’s conference when LSU meets Alabama in the BCS title game, as predicted here several weeks ago. Six straight championships for the SEC is now guaranteed. In 2008, Slive proposed a four-team playoff system, and the other big conferences, led by Jim Delany and the Big Ten, blocked it. Can’t say they weren’t warned.
Give Oklahoma State credit -- they had to make a dramatic statement against Oklahoma, who generally treat State like Nelson Muntz treats Milhouse, and they certainly did. State briefly got T. Boone Pickens dreaming of something other than wind power by blowing out the Sooners 44-10.
Sunday morning there sure seemed like a pro-Cowboys sentiment was brewing, but that was among people who reflexively want to see something new. While I wouldn’t have been upset if OK State had gotten in, I think Bama is better and stands the best chance of beating LSU. But that’s just me -- I can certainly see the T. Boone argument. And if he has some sort of juice that can make a playoff a reality (see below), then this will be a good result. I doubt he does, but anything to blow away this hypocritical nonsense.
A Tide win on January 9 would leave a bit of a hollow feeling everywhere outside Tuscaloosa. After all, that would mean LSU will have won in Alabama, and Bama will have won on a neutral field -- albeit one in Louisiana.
After this depressing, difficult, groundshaking year of college football, perhaps an ending rife with disquiet is appropriate. But if LSU completes an unbeaten season, the lasting memory of 2011 will be that of a team for the ages.
Kirk Cousins was fantastic, and Russell Wilson was even better. Montee Ball scored four more times, to give him 38 on the season, one shy of Barry Sanders’ record. Just as in the first battle, the Badgers started fast and built a two-touchdown lead. Just as in the first battle, the second quarter was Wisconsin’s Waterloo. Back in October, Sparty scored 23 points in the second fifteen. Saturday, they put up 22. In total, MSU outscored Wiscy 45-0 in those two frames.
But they play the whole game, and just as in the first battle, Wilson led his team back. Several times Wilson made Randall Cunningham-esque maneuvers to avoid the rush and complete big passes downfield. He also hit a fourth-and-6 bomb to Jeff Duckworth late in the game that set up the go-ahead score, a play that elicited the biggest "OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH"
of the evening from Gus Johnson. With the clock showing two minutes left, Wisconsin was forced to punt. Keyshawn Martin returned the kick inside the Wisconsin 5, but MSU was whistled for running into the punter and the Badgers ran out the clock. Payback and a Rose Bowl berth for the Big W.
Noon -- (6) WISCONSIN @ (3) ALABAMA (ESPN - Tessitore/Gilmore)
3:30 -- (7) CLEMSON @ (2) OKLAHOMA ST. (ESPN - Nessler/Blackledge)
7:00 -- (8) WEST VIRGINIA @ (1) LSU (CBS - Verne/Gary)
8:30 -- (5) STANFORD/BOISE @ (4) OREGON (ABC - Brent/Kirk)
It's otherwise known as the greatest day in sports, even with one or maybe two rematches. The winners would clash on December 17 in a doubleheader, one in Glendale, Arizona the other at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. Both of them would be broadcast on FOX, and somehow Gus Johnson will call both games. And the Championship Game would take place two weeks later, on January 2 (New Year’s Day is a Sunday, otherwise that would be the date) in New Orleans.
Sure, LSU could potentially have three rematches in this scenario en route to a title, but them’s the breaks. It surely wouldn’t happen every season, as few teams are as balls out as the Tigers when it comes to playing non-conference foes. Just let that opener simmer for a minute. Wisconsin coming to Tuscaloosa at high noon.
Instead, enjoy the Beef O’Bradys Bowl, everyone. I know Syracuse won’t, not after gagging four straight games down the stretch to be ineligible. Tough month and change for my Orange, on many levels.
5. Boise State
6. Oklahoma State
10. South Carolina
11. Kansas State
13. Virginia Tech
18. Southern Mississippi
19. Michigan State
22. West Virginia
24. Northern Illinois
25. Penn State
1. Tyrann Mathieu, CB/S, LSU. Touches the ball three times, on two punt returns and a fumble recovery, and earns the SEC title game MVP. Now that’s efficiency. Just don’t go all DeSean Jackson on us in the big game and hold the ball until you actually cross the goal line...
2. Offensive Line, LSU. We give all the love to the LSU defense, and rightfully so, but LSU is just as much about pounding you up front on offense. T. Bob Hebert is my favorite, even though he might not be the best of the LSU front line, and in fact, he didn't even play against Georgia. But he has the most representative Cajun name, that’s for sure (even though he’s a Georgia boy, the son of former Falcon Bobby, whose big mouth may be the reason T. Bob is suddenly out of favor). Remember, LSU lost its best lineman, Josh Dworaczyk, to a knee injury before the season started, making this unbeaten season that much more amazing.
3. Furious Bradley, DB, Southern Miss. Bradley’s blocked punt and touchdown return put some serious distance between the Golden Eagles and Houston. And, also? His name is Furious Bradley!
4. Stephone Anthony/Andre Branch, LB/DE, Clemson. The Tigers clobbered Virginia Tech 38-10 to capture their first ACC Championship in twenty years. Coming off a hammering at the hands of South Carolina a week ago, the Tigers revivified themselves on the very first play, when Anthony knocked the ball from Logan Thomas and Branch fell on it. Clemson was off and running to the Orange Bowl after that.
5. Oklahoma State Defense. If you force five turnovers in Bedlam to snap a ten-game losing streak to Oklahoma and blow out the Sooners 44-10, you wind up here. Sure, OU was a comedy of errors and helped the Cowboy defense out on some of those turnovers, but nevertheless.
And now, the moment we’ve all been waiting for -- ballot time. The 2011 season will be remembered for the lack of dominant Heisman trophy candidates, as Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III, and the other quarterbacks all had poor or mediocre games when it counted most. The running backs -- Trent Richardson, Montee Ball, David Wilson -- were good, but not 1998 Ricky Williams transcendent.
So rather than force the award on a skill guy, its high time the rest of the college football world come around to my way of thinking and reward the Lowsman Award winner with the Sir Stiffarm. There are plenty of candidates worthy of recognition, but unlike last season, it isn’t particularly close. Tyrann Mathieu of LSU is the clear winner, as he wrapped it up in the last two weeks. Sure, he isn’t even the best corner on his own team, but no one has a more incredible ratio of big plays to touches than he does. Congrats to Honey Badger, and hopefully he gets the big trophy in the real world as well.
I mean, when we look back at this season in 10 years, who are we going to remember? Andrew Luck or Tyrann Mathieu? Ty, no question.
And with that, One Foot Inbounds will step aside for a few weeks. Back to recap the bowl bonanza in early-January! Enjoy your holiday season, everyone.
8 comments, Last at 06 Dec 2011, 1:29pm by glen55