Short-yardage passing had a good year, except at the end of the Super Bowl. We look at the return of quarterback runs, the rise in pass-happy strategy, and 2014 success rates for offense and defense.
07 Nov 2011
by Robert Weintraub
The ball hung in the air for what felt like hours. It came down at the goal line, with two men fighting for possession. The result would either be first-and-goal at the 1, or an interception that would keep the game tied in the fourth quarter.
Rarely does a huge game like LSU-Alabama contain a single play that is so symbolic and encompassing, but this intense defensive battle was decided by the slimmest of margins. And when Eric Reid beat Michael Williams in a tug of war for the ball, LSU had not only turned back a major scoring threat, it had won the metaphor. The Tigers wanted the game just a little more, were just a little more physical, made just a few more plays than did 'Bama. And so LSU held off the Tide 9-6 in overtime, and maintains its number one ranking while holding the inside track to the BCS title game.
This was a particularly violent affair, with a pair of defenses as good as any from the past two decades. Surprisingly, there was a sizable chunk of the Twitterverse that found the game dull because of the lack of good offensive play. These are the same people responsible for the rule changes that have made the NFL ridiculously titled toward offense. The same people who are too impatient to read a book. The same people who think the Cardinals 1-0 win over the Phillies in Game 5 of the NLDS was boring.
In other words, idiots.
How anyone could not appreciate the defense being played last night is beyond me. There were 10-15 NFL players in the starting lineups, and who knows how many more in reserve. I often point to the 2006 rumble between LSU and Auburn, won by Auburn 7-3, as the primary example of a hard-hitting, low-scoring game that was monstrously entertaining because of the violence on display. This was even more intense. When 101,000 Tide fans are too nervous to drink, you know the game is worthwhile. Those who disagree, I give you Northern Illinois 63, Toledo 60 from Tuesday night. Sure it was fun, just like binging on my kids Halloween candy was fun -- for about 15 minutes. Then the queasiness sets in.
Speaking of nausea, that’s what the 'Bama special teams brought about for Rammer Hammer Nation. The old saying "if you have two quarterbacks you don’t have any" was disproven to a degree by LSU. But the new saying "if you have two kickers you don’t have any" was written in tears by Nick Saban. Cade Foster and Jeremy Shelley combined to miss four of six field goals, including three on the first three 'Bama possessions of the game, and one in overtime. Meanwhile, LSU kicker Drew Alleman was perfect on his three tries, including the winner, and punter Brad Wing was perhaps the MVP of the game, with several kicks killed deep in Tide terrain, and a huge 73-yarder that hit a TV cable and tilted field position after the Neil interception.
Dads in Alabama -- raise your football-mad sons to be kickers!
For the first eight games, LSU was the speedy playmaking defense while Alabama simply fractured teams with physical play, intimidating them and breaking their will. But Saturday night it was LSU that won the physical war, sending several Tide players limping off the field (important ones too -- Maze, Kirkpatrick, Jones). 'Bama star running back Trent Richardson was the best player on the field for large sections of the game, but every time he threatened to take over, the LSU defense would hurl him backwards. 16 of Trent’s 23 carries were for three yards or less. LSU has a second unit that would be a top-ten defense, and that depth was critical in the Bryant-Denny cauldron.
Jordan Jefferson may not be the most popular person inside a Marine Corps base, but he won’t have to buy drinks at Shady’s anytime soon. JJ came in to spell Jarrett Lee, who reverted to 2008 form at the worst time, throwing a pair of picks. Jefferson wasn’t great, but he made a handful of plays at big moments, perhaps none bigger than his rifled lefty option pitch while being creamed in overtime, a play that set LSU up for the chip shot field goal. Lee will have a chance to regain his mojo against Western Kentucky and Ole Miss, and LSU will need him to do so before the Arkansas game to end the season, not to mention the potential SEC and BCS title games. As Lee won’t be facing Alabama’s defense, I like his chances.
I was on NBC SportsTalk earlier in the week and said something about earthquake scientists needing to train their seismometers on Tuscaloosa, given the collisions sure to take place. Little did I know they would resonate all the way to Oklahoma. Kirk Herbstreit was on the air when Stillwater was rattled by an aftershock (here’s Bill Connelly’s upload). Where Al Michaels would have jumped in and gone all Peter Jennings on us, Herbie patiently let Chris Fowler finish his question before revealing that he didn’t hear any of it because, you know, the building was shaking. What a pro!
A little earlier, Oklahoma State had held off several cracks from inside the 5 to finish off the dying seconds and edge Kansas State 52-45 (another defensive void). Collin Klein was heroic in defeat, bleeding from several orifices (orifi?) while trying to lead his 'Cats to the upset. It didn’t happen, but you can blame the K-State defenders, who had a difficult time in coverage, tackling, and rushing the passer, for that.
That most certainly wasn’t the case in Tuscaloosa.
2. Oklahoma State
3. Boise State
10. Virginia Tech
13. South Carolina
15. Kansas State
17. Southern Miss
18. Penn State
21. Georgia Tech
25. Arizona State
I’ll give Oklahoma State the benefit of the doubt and move them past Boise, but Stanford doesn’t have a high-quality win either. Alabama probably whips all three, but I either keep them No. 2 or drop them to No. 5, and that can’t be done.
1. Both defenses, LSU and Alabama. 'Nuff said.
2. Brad Wing, P, LSU. The left-footed Aussie will be feted at the Baton Rouge Outback Steakhouse for the rest of his collegiate career -- or would be, if that place wasn’t so faux-Australian.
3. Jake Bequette, DE, Arkansas. Deep in the shadow of the LSU-Bama slugfest, the Hog with the Cajun-sounding surname destroyed South Carolina with three sacks, including a strip of Connor Shaw that iced the game for Arkansas.
4. Tommylee Lewis, KR, Northern Illinois. When a game gets to 123 points, you need some big plays. Lewis provided back-to-back touchdowns on kick returns for the Huskies, 100 and 95-yarders. The Double Jeopardy jokes write themselves.
5. Rodney McLeod, S, Virginia. The strong season by the Wahoos continues, as McLeod had three picks against Maryland in a 31-13 win.
20 comments, Last at 09 Nov 2011, 10:02am by Aaron Brooks Good Twin