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Two NFC teams were hit hardest by injuries last year. One already set the AGL record in 2016, while the other has a coach with the worst AGL since 2002. Also: the Rams' incredible bill of health in L.A., and Tampa Bay's questionable injury reporting.

09 Nov 2009

One Foot Inbounds: A Few Football Maxims

by Robert Weintraub

When it comes to football maxims, "You are what your record says you are" and "When you throw the ball, three things can happen, and two of them are bad" are well known. "Pick on the injured guy's replacement" is rather unsporting, and since it wasn't uttered by the likes of Parcells or Royal, it isn't quite as well known. Nick Saban and his staff know it all too well, and it won them the SEC West.

In last week's preview of the LSU-Alabama game in Seventh Day Adventure, I wrote, "there will be bruises." Indeed, injury played an outsized factor in the result. LSU lost quarterback Jordan Jefferson and running Charles Scott (for the season) in the third quarter, and dearly felt their absence. But it was a momentary loss of cramping cornerback Patrick Peterson that cut deepest. Seeing him on the bench, Alabama immediately went to a hitch screen for Julio Jones, the talented wideout the Tide have tried to feed all season without success. This time, LSU moved strong safety Brandon Taylor over to cover Jones in Peterson's stead. Taylor took a bad angle to Jones, missed the tackle, and looked up to watch Jones streak 73 yards for the go-ahead score. Jefferson's replacement, Jarrett Lee, made Tigers fans remember why Jefferson took his job last season, never threatening the Tide defense.

Peterson made it back on the field, and almost turned the game back to LSU. The future first-round pick showed inhuman speed, flashing in to apparently intercept Tide quarterback Greg McElroy late in the game. Somehow, despite a Mickelson-sized divot where Peterson touched a toe down, he was ruled out. As with Michael Phelps and that Olympic race where he lost to the mouthy Serbian dude but was given the gold anyway, no number of replays can convince me Peterson wasn't inbounds. There was no national pride or Olympic record at stake in Tuscaloosa, and Lee would have had to drive LSU to a winning score for the call truly to matter. Lee had a better chance of driving 500 miles at nearby Talladega Superspeedway.

Speaking of maxims, "Never throw from the painted grass" is rather passé, even in the Big Ten, the conference that originated, "Three yards and a could of dust." If only Iowa had channeled its inner Woody Hayes, the Hawkeyes might still be undefeated. Leading Northwestern 10-0 at home, quarterback Ricky Stanzi got strip-sacked in his own end zone, resulting in a touchdown that changed the game completely -- mainly because the sacker, Corey Wootton, took Stanzi for a crocodile-style death roll, severely injuring the quarterback's ankle. His replacement, James Vandenberg, was even worse at pretending to be a quarterback than James Van Der Beek in "Varsity Blues." A grotesque 9-of-27 for 82 yards was Vandenberg's contribution to Iowa's first loss of the year, 17-10. Faithful readers of this column know that I was a non-believer in the black and gold, but it's tough to lose with such direct cause-and-effect due to injury. On the bench, Stanzi's NHL-style playoff beard turned grayer with each woeful Vandenberg incompletion.

The pride of Keokuk is a redshirt freshman, the same as Stanford's Andrew Luck. The Cardinal quarterback is somewhat ahead on the developmental scale, as he showed by riddling six-day darling Oregon in a 51-42 hammering that wasn't that close. The Luck-Toby Gerhart combo was much better than the Ducks twosome of Jeremiah Masoli and LaMichael James. Luck, who received approximately 1/1,000,000th of the preseason hype of fellow frosh quarterback Matt Barkley, has had a much better campaign than USC's golden boy. This was everyone's upset special headed into the game, so I did the natural thing and made the Ducks my lock of the week. My prognostication is so off this season I'm even making the wisdom of crowds look Solomonesque. At least my Bengals took care of Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh's brother, head coach John Harbaugh of the Ravens, Sunday.

When my buddy Mark Sternman and I were young Strat-O-Matic obsessed geeks, we would create dice games that recreated Oklahoma-Nebraska matchups. We leaned heavily toward the offense, making sure that the likes of I.M. Hipp and J.C. Watts had huge games (the final scores of our recreations were more appropriate for basketball than football). I wistfully recalled those games while watching the punchless Huskers and Sooners finish with a score of 10-3 Ambien Bowl. Ndamukong Suh dominated the game in the trenches -- even triple teamed, Suh caved in the Oklahoma line. Harassed quarterback Landry Jones threw five -- count 'em -- five picks. Afterward, Barry Switzer and Tom Osborne split a fifth of bathtub gin beneath Memorial Stadium, and wordlessly sighed.

Barry and Tom should have been in South Bend or Atlanta, where the triple option wreaked havoc simultaneously. Navy took down Notre Dame, sparing a grateful nation of the Irish playing in a BCS game. While quarterback Ricky Dobbs, who says he wants to run for President in 2040, was his usual brilliant self in running the attack, two defensive plays that stood out. One was a fluke -- an interception that caromed off Michael Floyd's backside into the arms of a Middie defender. The other was a fourth-down stop at the goal line by Navy linebacker Ram Vela. It was Vela who made the single greatest defensive play I've ever seen two years ago on the same field, a full-extension leaping sack of Clausen that helped Navy end it's 44-year losing streak against Notre Dame. He does enjoy playing under the gaze of Touchdown Jesus.

Meanwhile, Georgia Tech was winning a stirring overtime contest against Wake Forest, 30-27. Down three in the extra frame and facing fourth and one at the five-yard-line, Tech coach Paul Johnson sent his offense out. They did the old try-and-pull-them-offsides routine, which you always see, and it failed. What you never see is the team, after the inevitable timeout, decide to go for it anyway. But Tech did. Wake inexplicably came out the second time with wider splits, leaving Tech's guards uncovered. Quarterback Josh Nesbitt never had an easier conversion. He scored the game-winner on the following play, keeping the Jackets in line for a probable rematch with Clemson in the ACC Championship game in Tampa, which should draw at least 15-20,000 people.

It was a tough loss for Wake, but it paled in comparison to Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane appeared to defeat Case Keenum and Houston when they stopped a two-point conversion with 20 seconds left. Leading 45-43, the ensuing onside kick (is there any other situation in life where one uses the word "ensuing"?) bounced right to freshman Dexter McCoil, who dropped it, and Houston recovered. With three ticks left, Keenum had the Cougars in range for a 51-yard field goal. As the announcer was opining that a kick was dumb, and Keenum should give it a heave, freshman kicker Matt Hogan hit a mortar that not only was good, it disappeared into a second-story window in the Tulsa Athletic Center adjacent to the field -- 46-45, Houston.

One more maxim -- "Staying up past midnight when you have two kids under two years of age is idiotic -- but not when the teams combine for over 1,200 yards of offense."


  • In stark contrast to McCoil's blunder was Purdue's Jaycen Taylor, who split a pair of Wolverines to get to a dangerous onside kick to seal the Boiler's 38-36 win. Taylor is a senior -- experience does matter. Michigan is in severe danger of not being bowl eligible despite all the early-season heroics of quarterback Tate Forcier. Their defense is atrocious -- obviously, the disastrous job Greg Robinson did as head coach at Syracuse has affected his defensive coordinator mojo.
  • Odd bit of scheduling in the SEC -- While the monster game in Alabama sucked up all the attention, the rest of the conference took a late-season trip to pit road. The tune-ups included Georgia wiping out FCS school Tennessee Tech, Auburn doing likewise to Furman, Kentucky rolling Eastern Kentucky, Ole Miss whipping Northern Arizona, Kentucky taking care of Eastern Kentucky, and Arkansas pummeling South Carolina, who were so bedraggled by injury and mediocrity that they resembled a FCS team. As for Florida, the Gators look like a team that needs a full spa treatment. Right on cue, those Gamecocks and Florida International appear on the schedule.
  • After the tragedy at Fort Hood, it would have been nice to see Army rise up and upset Air Force. Alas, the last team to give any sentiment to the Cadets would be a rival service academy, even if the Air Force was actually part of the Army during WWII. The Falcons won 35-7.
  • It would have been easy for Baylor to pack it in this season when star quarterback Robert Griffin III went down with a knee injury. But there were the Bears, shocking Missouri in Columbia 40-34 behind freshman Nick Florence, who threw for 427 yards, the most ever allowed by a Mizzou defense. Bill Connelly is still throwing up.
  • Miami has an impressive stable of running backs, but it was the offensive line that dominated Virginia in the Hurricanes' 52-17 rout, especially during a bludgeoning drive at the end of the third quarter that sealed the game.
  • Texas coach Mack Brown said the Longhorns blowout win over Central Florida was a chance to win the Heisman Trophy for quarterback Colt McCoy. Instead, they may have gotten wide receiver Jordan Shipley a trip to New York. Ship had 11 catches for 273 yards and an 88-yard score.
  • If Jahvid Best plays again this season after two nasty concussions in seven days, there should be arrests made in Berkeley.
  • The OFI Top 25

    Every week, Robert votes in the BlogPoll, hosted by mgoblog, and available on CBS Sportsline.

    Rank Team Delta
    1 Florida
    2 Alabama
    3 Texas
    4 Cincinnati
    5 Boise State
    6 TCU 1
    7 Georgia Tech 2
    8 Southern Cal 4
    9 Ohio State 4
    10 Miami (Florida) 5
    11 Oregon 5
    12 Houston 2
    13 Pittsburgh 4
    14 LSU 3
    15 Virginia Tech 3
    16 Iowa 8
    17 Arizona 2
    18 Utah 3
    19 Penn State 9
    20 South Florida 2
    21 Wisconsin 2
    22 Stanford
    23 Oklahoma State 1
    24 Oregon State
    25 Clemson
    Last week's ballot

    Dropped Out: Notre Dame (#16), Oklahoma (#20), California (#25).

    Lurking: Auburn, BYU, Temple, Navy, Nevada, Troy

    Posted by: Robert Weintraub on 09 Nov 2009

    33 comments, Last at 11 Nov 2009, 1:13am by robwein


by huston720 :: Mon, 11/09/2009 - 12:55pm

How do you rank Oregon below USC? first off let me state that I am an Ohio St fan, so I have no Oregon bias. Oregon just beat up USC two weeks ago. And as far as losses go certainly Washington is a worse loss even if USC was missing its starting qb. Oregon should be ahead of both USC and Ohio ST. I mean isn't the point of the blogpoll to avoid the same bias as the traditional polls where early losses are better even if they are to inferior opponents.

Please feel free to correct me if I've missed any glaring reason why USC should be ahead of Orgon.

by ChrisH :: Mon, 11/09/2009 - 1:28pm

I think the "One team beat another, so they should be ranked lower" is good to apply when they have 0 or 1 loss (such as Boise State-Oregon last week), but once teams get to 2 or more losses, I think that goes out the window (so I am not going to say Oregon State should be ahead of Stanford since they beat them weeks ago). However, I would agree that USC should be lower just because they looked awful the past couple of weeks. ASU isn't a good team and USC barely managed to beat them, while tOSU went to Penn State and won more easily than USC did. I'd probably go tOSU, Oregon, then USC when ranking them on how they're playing right now.

I also agree that if Jahvid Best plays again this year, Tedford and the rest of his staff should be fired for putting someone at that kind of risk. The fact that he was back playing less than a week after getting a concussion was bad enough, but once you get two, that should end your season, no matter who you are.

by huston720 :: Mon, 11/09/2009 - 1:45pm

I agree you obviously can't always use the head to head, but in the case of USC/Oregon it seems like you obviously should use the head to head, same thing with Boise ST/Oregon. As for tOSU/USC I am fine with USC being higher ranked, both teams have 2 losses, USC won the head to head, though it was obviously very close, and both have a loss to an average at best team. I think it should thus be Oregon-USC-tOSU.

by Anonymous146 (not verified) :: Mon, 11/09/2009 - 4:38pm

How about LSU being ranked behind Oregon when LSU's 2 losses were to the #1 and #3 teams in the country.

by huston720 :: Mon, 11/09/2009 - 6:05pm

Thats a fair point, LSU is probably rated too low, but I think that is a clear judgement call on whether to rate them higher than Oregon since we don't have any evidence one way or another, whereas we have clear evidence Oregon is better than USC, and Boise State is better than Oregon barring any further losses.

by Rover (not verified) :: Mon, 11/09/2009 - 11:27pm

On neutral field in a round robin, those 3 teams would be very close, I think, and you can order them however with good arguments on your side and against it.

For example, losing at home like Ohio St is much worse than losing on the road like USC and Oregon. USC has more quality road wins than anyone in the country, including Oregon (if you use the ranking at the time they played, which accounts for subsequent injuries but is questionable).

Why do people say USC is ranked higher than Oregon? Is 8 higher than 11?

by Eddo :: Tue, 11/10/2009 - 12:37am

"Why do people say USC is ranked higher than Oregon? Is 8 higher than 11?"

Well, it's because 8 is "higher" in the listing of top teams than 11 is. In terms of numerical value, yes, 11 is "higher" than 8, but generally, it is accepted that the better the ranking, the "higher".

by huston720 :: Tue, 11/10/2009 - 9:19am

You can make arguments for any order, but I'm not sure you can make good arguments for any order. We have direct evidence of how USC compares to those two teams. Perhaps you could rank OSU higher than USC because the game was very close and you could argue that it was essentially a tie and now you think OSU is playing better, but that doesn't work for USC vs Oregon. The game was two weeks ago and Oregon was by far the better team. So either way you have to rank Oregon higher than USC.

by Rover (not verified) :: Tue, 11/10/2009 - 9:37pm

Oregon has a couple of good home wins and nothing else. USC's body of work is far superior and it negates their road loss to Oregon (especially because the BCS forced the computers, and asked the voters, to disregard margin of victory).

It doesn't really matter, things will change. The Pac 10 is the deepest conference and you don't miss any of the teams (like the SEC, Big 12, ACC & Big East) and so every week brings challenges and beat downs. WSU is the only Tennessee Georgia Vandy virtual-bye-week opponent.

by jw124164 :: Mon, 11/09/2009 - 2:19pm

Phelps won that race - pretty clear on the replay.

by Viliphied (not verified) :: Mon, 11/09/2009 - 3:01pm

The divot was made before the defender had control of the ball. The dirt the announcer seemed so enamored with on the replay also exists out of bounds. There was no angle that conclusively showed that the defender's foot was 100% in bounds after he had possession of the ball.

by Jetspete :: Mon, 11/09/2009 - 3:52pm

not only was that a catch in college, that was a catch in the pros as the defender had both feet in bounds. the ball never moves in his hands as he is cradling it (which counts as control).

by ChrisH :: Mon, 11/09/2009 - 4:00pm

When I watched the replay I seemed clear to me that he had the ball when his left foot was making that mark in the turf. The announcers seemed to be under the impression that he didn't have control until it was cradled against his body (and the right foot tapped in-bounds), but as soon as he got his hands on the ball, he never lost control after that, so he clearly had it with the left foot down. Sometimes I wish they just had no replay instead of screwing it up continually.

by huston720 :: Mon, 11/09/2009 - 6:03pm

I agree, it seemed like me that he was actually penalized for tucking the ball away. It looked clear to me that the ball was firmly in his hands with the left foot inbounds, he never bobbled the ball after that, just simply tucked it naturally. To me if he didn't tuck it, and just held it with both hands while running out of bounds it would have been an interception. I think the problem is the replay officials are reluctant to overturn calls and make their colleagues look bad when there is any judgement at all to the call. To me that play should have been an easy reversal regardless of where the second foot landed (which was hard to tell).

by Dennis :: Mon, 11/09/2009 - 3:17pm

Everyone keeps talking about how Iowa lost because Stanzi was injured, but hardly anyone bothers to mention that Northwestern was playing with their backup QB as well.

by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 11/09/2009 - 5:51pm

That's because Northwestern's backup was much better than Stanzi's backup. Vandenberg was 9/27 for 82 yards, and even that doesn't completely capture how horrible he was.

by Packerpalooza (not verified) :: Mon, 11/09/2009 - 3:28pm

What slays me about the NW-Iowa game is that Northwestern ran for 130 yards and held the ball for 35 minutes. Iowa's calling card this season wasn't the scatter-armed qb; it was their defense.

And the defense couldn't stop NW when it needed to as the Wildcats converted 50 percent of third downs.

Also, if Iowa had gone all Barry Alvarez and just looked to play field position instead of winging the ball all over the place the Hawkeyes might have put themselves in better position.

by zlionsfan :: Mon, 11/09/2009 - 3:43pm

Oh, where to begin ...

-- Sometimes things that are "obvious" are simply wrong, as this site works so hard to point out. Michigan's defense sucks, but expecting Robinson to make this year's defense good is like expecting Jim Schwartz to make the Lions 8-8 this season. mgoblog has a very good post describing what has happened to the players who would ordinarily be playing on defense. (Hint: attrition.)

-- Oregon is more than a "six-day darling": they've actually been playing quite well the entire season. They struggled at Boise State (you know, the team you've ranked #5) and at Stanford (your #22 team). Also, they're still in first place in the Pac-10, which most people may not realize because the coverage the conference gets anywhere outside of the Pacific coast is a) USC and b) whatever game Carroll blows in conference each year.

-- Experience doesn't matter nearly as much as luck on an onside kick ... and in any event, it's special teams experience you'd need, and I doubt Taylor has much of that, although it wouldn't be a surprise, because his offensive experience isn't helping him any: he's backing up sophomore Ralph Bolden. You should have mentioned the missed extra point instead; if Michigan made that one, they could have kicked the next and been tied at 38, with no onside attempt necessary.

I agree about Best. Rest, young man. Heal. Nothing on the field is that important.

by Todd S. :: Tue, 11/10/2009 - 12:26pm

I'm still not convinced that onside kick was going to travel 10 yards before Taylor touched it. It was a great result for Purdue, and an aggressive play, but I'm not sure it was the right one. Still, those guys only have a split second to make up their minds, and he did recover it.

by Jetspete :: Mon, 11/09/2009 - 3:49pm

Has anyone looked at the BCS Standings? the at large this year could be a complete embarrassment. Penn State deserves to play in the alamo bowl, yet if they win out i predict they will play in a BCS game despite having beaten absolutely no one.

by huston720 :: Mon, 11/09/2009 - 6:00pm

The only way Penn State gets a BCS at large is if the loser of next week's tOSU v Iowa loses their last game, since they are not going to get picked over a team that beat them at home when both of those teams have fan bases that travel just as well. And even if that did happen there is still a chance that an undefeated TCU or Boise State could end up with the bid over PSU, though I would rate that as less than 50/50 of happening. Either way I predict they will be playing in the Capitol One Bowl if they win out.

by GMR (not verified) :: Mon, 11/09/2009 - 4:34pm

Guess you gotta be Canadian to know this, but "ensuing power play" turns up 489,000 hits on Google.

by AnonymousB10Fan (not verified) :: Mon, 11/09/2009 - 11:34pm

The nation should thank Northwestern from keeping Iowa from a BCS bowl, maybe even the national championship game, though I'm sure that anyone who has seen them play would manipulate the polls so they wouldn't end up there.

Although if they wouldn't have lost that one, the worst OSU team in a long time would have taken care of them this week.

by huston720 :: Tue, 11/10/2009 - 9:27am

Well the national championship was a longshot anyway, but I still think they are very likely to get a BCS bowl birth even if they lose to tOSU. After you take away automatic bids there will be 4 at large openings, with one of them going to either TCU or Boise St (assuming they don't both lose a game before the end of the season). That leaves 3 openings, one of which will almost certainly go to the loser of Fla/Bama, and the other will most likely go to USC (assuming Oregon wins the PAC-10). So that leaves one spot, with the following teams being the possible candidates:

TCU/Boise St - Unlikely that both would get at large bids over higher profile schools.

Cinci/Pitt loser - Neither team has the profile to get an at large bid most likely.

Miami - Has an outside shot, though it would be surprising for a team that didn't even make its conference championship game to get the bid.

Iowa - Has a large enough following to justify selection.

So it would seem to come down to Miami (if it wins out) versus Iowa (assuming they don't lose their last game). I think Iowa has the better shot especially since I doubt the Orange bowl would want to choose Miami.

by Eddo :: Tue, 11/10/2009 - 12:18pm

Nice analysis. I'd like to add a couple things.

1. Miami would have to win out to make a BCS bowl. There is a rule stipulating a team must have at least a 9-3 record to make a BCS game.

2. There's a very real chance that both TCU and Boise State make BCS bowls, if they both finish undefeated. What is the rule regarding the guaranteed berth for the #3 and #4 teams? If Texas falls from the top two, either TCU or Cincinnati will play the SEC champ for the title. It's feasible that TCU and Boise State both finish in the 2-4 slots, which should be guaranteed to play in a BCS bowl.

Additionally, if TCU finishes #3, and gets a game guaranteed due to the 3/4 rule, does that wipe out the non-BCS top-12 finish rule? Or if TCU is in the title game?

by Muldrake (not verified) :: Tue, 11/10/2009 - 9:30pm

Non-BCS conference schools can have at most 1 automatic qualifier conbined. If there are 2 eligible choices the higher ranked one is an automatic qualifier but the lower ranked one must be selected at large regardless of whether they would have otherwise automatically qualified.

The 3/4 rule only applies to BCS conference schools, and then only if the champion in that conference is not in the national title game and if there are still open spots remaining. I can't see the rule ever coming into effect, honestly. It would have to be something like a high ranked UConn team (for example) losing the Big East to a lower ranked team and bowls wanting to bypass them to get a USC or other name school from the at large pool since UConn isn't as likely to bring fans or TV viewers as USC. It certainly won't come into play this year.

by Eddo :: Tue, 11/10/2009 - 10:58pm

Thanks for the info.

by xLittleP :: Tue, 11/10/2009 - 12:21am

I have said this before, Rob, but you write the absolute best wrap-ups of my favorite sport. I don't have kids so I'll just have to take your word for it on staying up late (which I also did).

by robwein (not verified) :: Wed, 11/11/2009 - 1:13am

Many thanks. It's a great honor and pleasure to do it for y'all. Tell a friend.

by Travis :: Tue, 11/10/2009 - 10:07am

It was Vela who made the single greatest defensive play I've ever seen two years ago on the same field, a full-extension leaping sack of Clausen that helped Navy end it's 44-year losing streak against Notre Dame.

Evan Sharpley was the QB for Notre Dame that game, not Clausen.

by Rover (not verified) :: Tue, 11/10/2009 - 9:29pm

One thing about the internet is that it ruins great sports memories and stories by making the facts so readily available.

by robwein (not verified) :: Wed, 11/11/2009 - 1:12am

Imagine the internet in the days of "when the facts meet the legend, print the legend."

by robwein (not verified) :: Wed, 11/11/2009 - 1:10am

That's right it wasn't Clausen. My mistake.