Saturday, October 01, 2005
SUNDAY MORNING QUARTERBACK
A Weekly Review
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Whilst SMQ engages in an undoubtedly fruitless effort to mentally prepare for another emotional bludgeoning at the hands of the "homecoming" New Orleans Saints...
Games on SMQ's Saturday slate:
Michigan 34, Michigan State 31: If college football is plagued by a culture of failure, this game was a pulsing, reeking buboe. Fumbles, penalties, missed easy field goals to win in regulation and overtime, and one incredibly ill-conceived overtime throw into coverage - which was dropped. The officials even tries to help Michigan in its active pursuit of losing by allowing a clearly incomplete pass to continue its existence as a fumble for a large Samoan tackle, raccoon tail flailing from the back of a helmet bearing a running back's facemask, to pick up and stumble down the sidelines with for a tying score, then failing to overturn the obvious mistake after a lengthy replay. They had a hard time giving this one away.
SMQ did come away impressed by a) Michigan's resiliency with its back against the wall, and with Mike Hart back in form, beginning the game with two impressive scoring drives, and b) Drew Stanton, who finished with exactly zero yards rushing but commanded such respect with his feet that, when he rolled left during the second quarter and pulled up to throw a flanker screen back to the right, the entire defense had abandoned backside responsibility to chase No. 5 and Kerry Reed was off to the proverbial races for a well-conceived and well-executed 67-yard score to tie at 21.
In the clutch, though, MSU made a ton of mistakes. Following a chip shot field goal at the end of the fourth quarter that would have won it for Michigan if not hooked right by overweight kicker Garrett Rivas, the Spartans surprised themselves by picking up big yards on a run designed to milk the clock down to OT. So, efficient movement to get into position for a potentially winning kick? Nope - penalties, a hopelessly failed gadget (the hook-and-ladder), regulation over. In overtime, the Spartans blew their first two plays and Stanton found himself scrambling on third and long - keep it and eat a sack, throw it away and make sure to get at least some points out of the deal? No - Stanton tosses it right into the chest of a Michigan defender, so stunned he dropped the perfect lob right at him. Then John Gross missed the 38-yarder to put MSU up, setting up the easy kick from Rivas and the Michigan vitory. The Spartans had plenty of chances, but it was a game the Wolverines deserved to win.
Virginia Tech 34, West Virginia 17: Bad omen: you run a no huddle offense, and still you get a delay of game penalty...before the first snap of the game. The rest of this one went accordingly for West Virginia. Marcus Vick: 15 of 17, at more than ten yards per pop. SMQ repeats: 15 of 17.
Texas 51, Missouri 20: Missouri, SMQ is here to tell anyone who is not aware, is not very good. The moments SMQ saw of this game reminded him of a playground free-for-all, and defenders - especially Missouri defenders - seemed to be playing two-hand touch. Early in the game, Missouri was even trying the "diamond" formation - four receivers lined up on one side, one on the ball, two on either side of him a yard or two off, and one more man about five yards off - and predictably threw a dinky screen throwback thing to the back receiver that didn't even make it to throwback stage. Anyway, the Tigers usually only laid one hand, if any, on Vince Young, in charge of improvising the Longhorn offense on the fly, it often seems, and weren't much better at handling the next Great Texas Back, Jamaal Charles.
Alabama 31, Florida 3: Writing about Alabama following this game, SMQ feels, is like writing about a town that's lived for years in tranquility with a ferocious beast who lives unmolested in the swamp just outside the town edge. The beast has the potential to destroy the town, everyone and everything in it, at will, and the town has always lived teetering on the edge of sanity and destruction at the thought of what may happen if it couldn't mollify the beast, what might emerge from the swamp and what carnage may ensue. Alabama has a consistent, balanced offense; the beast is awake.
Southern Cal 38, Arizona State 28: Did you believe? At halftime, did you think the Trojans were down and out? Arizona State was impressive enough through the first half, and really seized control late in the second quarter, but when USC took its opening drive down the Devils' throat to begin the second half, it was over.
SC did show some chinks in the armor: Leinart was hit, shaken a bit and had trouble finding any kind of receivers at all, much less big play options. But the versatility of the Trojans, to come out and blast away with those two stud backs when their first option on offense didn't work, and to limit the Devils' explosive options on the other side, leaves no doubt for SMQ that SC can beat anybody right now anytime it decides to.
Notre Dame 49, Purdue 21: There's nothing 'innovative' or 'sophisticated' about Notre Dame's offense, it's all blocking, route running and precision passing. Could Tom Brady have run that show any better than Brady Quinn? Does he have some legit weapons in Walker, Stovall, Samardzijajahdhvcndsj and Fasano or what? This was the 'prove it' game for the Irish, the test of their staying power, and they couldn't have passed it with higher marks. Impressive.
As for Purdue: take everything above and apply the exact opposite.
Oklahoma 43, Kansas State 21: SMQ watched some truly horrible throws from the K-State offense, which was expected, and some truly very good runs by Rhett Bomar, which was not expected, but only wishes he had been tuned in for this:In the first quarter, the Sooners grabbed a 9-0 lead when the Wildcats snapped the ball out of the back of the end zone on a punt attempt with [punter Tim]Reyer still on the sidelines.Reyer also boomed punts of eight (partially blocked) and 17 yards. Yikes.
Southern Miss 33, East Carolina 7 (Radio Version):
WHAT WE LEARNED
Alabama and Notre Dame are 2 Legit to Quit...If USC doesn't beat you one way, it'll beat you another...Mike Hart is the biggest cog in the Michigan offense, and the Wolverines will be in the Big Ten title hunt as long as the machine is revolving around him...Penn State is no longer "offensively challenged"...Thanks to fraidy cat analyst Bob Davie's handy pre-game graphic, the key to success for Purdue: "Execute."
SMQ WAS RIGHT ABOUT...
"SMQ thinks the desperate talent on the side of the Big Blue is worth the nod against a team that, final score notwithstanding, didn't completely bury its tendency towards inconsistency and stumbling following success with a single win over, ahem, Illinois. The sky is not falling..."
SMQ boldly stated that the Michigan panic was premature until the Wolverines lose their second league game. They're too talented for that yet. With Michael Hart back and appreciated now more than ever (should be at least), SMQ sees no reason UM can't still contend for the Big Ten title.
SMQ WAS WRONG ABOUT...
"'Bama's defense is too good for a break out-type day from Leak, but the Gator offense will make some hay and the Tide will give up some turnovers that can lead to points. Close for a while, but the game will end with Brodie being just pounded by the Gator pass rush while trying to lead a hopeless comeback. Fourth quarter=Croyle Injury Watch."
When SMQ turned over to watch this game, the very first words he heard were, "Chris Leak limping off." This while, he discovered, the quarterback was attempting to make a tackle after tossing a pick. Uh oh. Seconds later, it was 'Bama 14, Florida 0, and Verne Lundquist was informing the viewing audience that "Chris Leak looks hurt." It was downhill for the Gators from there.
Leak played the rest of the game a step slow and favoring his left shoulder, refusing to show pain but doubtless feeling it on many levels as the Tide rolled up an easy, easy win. Croyle, meanwhile, as far as SMQ can tell, wasn't touched by anyone in orange until closing prayer or whatever.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Two quarterbacks SMQ never thought would rise above the level of "hardworking, decent, within the offense" style passers had huge days in big wins: Brodie Croyle went 14 of 19 for 286 and three touchdowns (87 yards on his first pass, later hitting from 65 and 16 yards) without further injury to himself (though others around him felt the pain), and Brady Quinn shredded a not-so-hot-anymore Purdue defense for - really - 440 yards and three touchdowns. Both performances were things of beauty to behold, from players SMQ would not have guessed had it in them against the level of competition they faced.
Upset of the Week
Courtesy of Keith Jackson in the first quarter of the USC-ASU affair, we learn that, rather than "frolicking with starlets," Matt Leinart is actually dating a member of the USC basketball team (we'll assume it's the Trojans' women's squad). Check 'em out for yourself and see who you'd let in your door if you were an award-winning, golden boy quarterback on a championship team - perhaps the promisingly-named Jamie Funn, a huge (6-2) junior forward who models and averaged seven points per game last season?
On the actual field, it wasn't much of an upset that either Penn State or Maryland won Saturday, but that these two pedestrian clubs combined for 89 points in doing so was a shock. The Terps, aside from the Duke game, scored in double digits in all of one ACC contest last season (a 20-13 win over Florida State), yet somehow hit 45 against supposedly heavily-fortified Virginia. PSU went through the whole playbook and settled again and again on "Get the ball to Derrick Williams," a reliable strategy that resulted in 44 Nittany Lion points.
JUST WHEN YA THINK YA KNOW A FELLA
Time to Re-think...
...Steve Spurrier's impact on the South Carolina offense. SMQ will just paste the Gamecocks' stat line from their 48-7 loss to Auburn:
1st Downs: 7
3rd down efficiency: 2-10
4th down efficiency: 0-2
Total Yards: 197
Yards per pass: 5.3
Rushing Attempts: 28
Yards per rush: 2.5
Fumbles lost: 1
Interceptions thrown: 0
Play-by-play shows the Gamecocks entered Auburn territory once, down 48-0 in the fourth quarter, and proceeded to score on a 45-yard touchdown pass. Otherwise, not even close. It is a bad omen, indeed, when visor tosses outnumber points scored.
A FINE WHINE
SMQ Complaints of the Week
SMQ is all for instant replay, really he is, but the novelty has worn off under the onslaught of booth challenges. If the NCAA doesn't adopt the NFL's rules, which limit the challenges to two coaches' protests, SMQ will not be the only one calling for a review, or recall, of replay. Limit replay - end the madness!
On another replay note, the number of plays being upheld is really abnormally high. In the NFL, this is also true but makes sense because there are different people making the call between what is replayed (the coaches) and the result of the replay (officials on the field). But in college, where the same person (the booth official) both decides what will and won't be replayed and actually makes the call on the result of the replay, wouldn't it only make sense that about 90 percent of replays called would be overturned? Because why would the booth guy initiate a time-wasting replay on a play he's just going to uphold - unlike NFL officials, he's already reviewed the play when he calls for the review! If it's not going to be overturned, don't call for the replay! And yet about two-thirds of replays in college are upheld - about the same rate as the flying-blind challenge system of the NFL. There must be a better way, and SMQ thinks that way is to put replay in the coaches' hands, which not only limits the number of replays but also makes the occasion of their initiation more strategic.
SMQ TOP 25
1. SOUTHERN CAL: SMQ guesses the Trojans will lose some votes for sleepwalking through the first half again, but any team that can shift gears so quickly and hammer a good team like Arizona State at will, as SC did easily in the second half, is going nowhere at all in his poll.
2. VIRGINIA TECH: "Marcus Vick OMG," as they say.
3. TEXAS: Vick's still not as good right now as Vince Young, who's beginning to convince SMQ of his week-in, week-out worth as an all-around quarterback; can take the big leap in that regard this Saturday. Still, sloppy sloppy as a team in too many ways against similarly sandlot-esque and out-manned Mizzou.
4. ALABAMA: Rather than Mike Shula, as usual, it was instead the Gators looking perplexed on the Tuscaloosa sideline, as in, "My, what a perplexing ass-whooping Alabama is laying on us. No prior event, trend or prognostication could have predicted a fate so unfortunate for our well-regarded and highly paid coach. Nor could intense praise and predictions of grandeur for his previously innovative offensive system have been more misguided." Perhaps Alabama's defense deserves it's own revolutionary theory. The Tide look like a very complete team at the moment, though it remains to be seen how much the offense and return game will be affected by Prothro's apparently gruesome injury.
5. NOTRE DAME: Last week, SMQ said he would think about giving only California, and no one else, a chance to beat USC. Add the Irish. Charlie Weis looks like a genius, for now.
6. OHIO STATE: A week off, a spot lost. The Buckeyes can still play D.
8. FLORIDA STATE: Ho hum win over Syracuse. SMQ believes this Seminole unit is the lowest profile he can remember coming out of Tallahassee. SMQ continues to believe that the inevitable ACC Atlantic upset is coming in October, but if it doesn't, well, Drew Weatherford may be the next Thad Busby.
8. GEORGIA: At least the Bulldogs have that win over Boise State going for them. We find out a whole, whole lot this week at Tennessee.
9. WISCONSIN: Suddenly, Wisconsin's got a lot of weapons on offense. The Badgers' resume right now is probably better than Georgia's or FSU's, maybe even Ohio State's, but this team reminds SMQ too much of the one that started so well and finished so poorly last season to get carried away.
10. TENNESSEE: No one could have guessed UT fans would be thankful to have Rick Clausen starting in October. Routine win over Ole Miss for the Vols during a brief respite from Murderer's Row - with Florida and LSU behind them, up next is Georgia, then a much scarier proposition than originally imagined at Alabama.
11. CALIFORNIA: Other than Southern Cal - and the Trojans used a straight-up smashmouth game to overpower Arizona State when the 'innovative' stuff hit a wall, not that SC really counted to begin with - the Bears are the only "sophisticated" attack in the "Offensive Revolution" still standing. As that fact's had as much to do with playing New Mexico State and Arizona as actually being good, we'll see for how long.
12. MIAMI: Assuming their smacking Louisville still means South Florida is decent, Miami had it's best showing of the year to date. The 'Canes have played better every game than they did the game before thus far, which would mean some ugly, ugly scores down the road against North Carolina and Wake Forest and maybe, maybe Virginia Tech if the trend continues.
13. LSU: Beating Mississippi State isn't worth much, but LSU fans should be relieved their team didn't implode entirely after that Monday night meltdown. JaMarcus Russell: 20 of 23, which sounds like a line SMQ scoffs at during NCAA Football 06 computer simulations.
14. MICHIGAN STATE: Well, Drew Stanton is for real, at least, if the Spartans' Cinderella BCS hopes likely aren't anymore. MSU could have been blown out easily by a talented team that felt backed into a corner and came out swinging with everything it had, and fought back hard enough for SMQ to drop it only slightly (three spots from No. 11).
15. ARIZONA STATE: The Sun Devils move up a spot for a very, very good first half, and for gaining more ground in SMQ's mind with a tough loss to a good team than with a decent win over a mediocre one for the second time this young season. That won't continue, though, if they don't find a way to stop giving games away when the big boys are on the ropes; against LSU it was special teams mistakes, against USC it was interceptions of all stripes.
16. FLORIDA: Mighty big fall for the Gators (from No. 4), not just for losing - it was, after all, a tough game on the road against a good team - but for scoring only three, covering like bums and not looking remotely competitive at any point following their emergence from the tunnel. The win over Tennessee accounts for the stop in a slide that could have gone much farther down the list. Urban Meyer did not have his team ready to play.
17. PENN STATE: Not only do the Lions go crazy on offense against a (presumably) decent team for the first time in a couple years, the defense is as advertised in holding Laurence Maroney to 48 yards. Derrick Williams appears to be worth the hype. Shooting up the charts fast.
18. AUBURN: Ask South Carolina if the Tigers have bounced back from that season-opening loss to G-Tech. Ouch.
19. BOSTON COLLEGE: Routine blasting of Ball State; another chance for BC to prove it belongs in the ACC when Virginia comes into Chestnut Hill Saturday. The defense is giving up eight points per.
20. MICHIGAN: After watching him move piles against Notre Dame in the fashion of his more-celebrated teammate, SMQ had been thinking touted recruit Kevin Grady offered failry little drop off from Mike Hart. He was wrong. Hart was the difference in the win today and the previous two losses, though he shouldn't be getting caught from behind by white safeties who weigh more than he.
21. UCLA: Eh, needing two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to beat Washington at home is worth dropping a couple spaces (from No. 17), though it is significant, of course, that the Bruins got the touchdowns. This ranking also allows SMQ to add a picture of Drew Olson hurtling through the air.
22. NEBRASKA: The Huskers never needed double overtime to win whenever they were running for 430 yards. They'll take it, though, along with the title of "team to beat" in the Big XII Dwarf.
23. OKLAHOMA: Much better, Sooners, much better, though we did have to watch Adrian Peterson being helped off the field again. And who knew Rhett Bomar could run? We'll know whatever else we need to about OU in a week: the Big One looms with the division race still open.
24. GEORGIA TECH: On the bright side, the idle Jackets couldn't further destroy the fragile success they built through the first three games, but a week without Calvin Johnson highlight reel catches? SMQ sad...
25. OREGON: SMQ had tabbed the Ducks' trip to Stanford as a classic trap waiting to be sprung on their tender little beaks, but Oregon responded well from that USC whippin' to put a similar hurt on what appears to be yet another flaccid Cardinal outfit.
Out With the Old...: Minnesota (18), Purdue (20), Virginia (21), Iowa State (22)
...In With the New: Michigan, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon
Waiting: Texas Tech, Louisville, Oregon, Texas A&M, Colorado
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The other thing about the replay is that it is affecting how the referees call the game (when they blow the whistle, whether they throw a flag, etc.)
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