Wednesday, November 16, 2005
THURSDAY MORNING QUARTERBACK
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A weekly primer.
SMQ Will (and Will Not) Be Watching: Memphis at Southern Miss,
LIVE! Though only the promise of heavy drinking associated with an official reunion of old student newspaper types could get SMQ to Hattiesburg for a lackluster affair for second place in the Conference USA East...Hopefully, he can do lunch with Michigan and Ohio State and the much more respectable battle for second place in the Big Ten...Auburn-Alabama: love ya, guys, you're SMQ's totally favoritest rivalry (the certainly exaggerated broken engagement story tops all others), but you can only hope against hope this week to be a background supplement to old friends and cold Jager.
When it comes to SMQ's attention Saturday, Auburn-Alabama has its own rival.
Finally, We1ll Learn About:
You1d think beating Nebraska and Texas A&M would count for more, but these two middling victories don't answer SMQ's nagging questions about OKLAHOMA. If the Sooners -- and their abused secondary - are more or less "back" from their early fade job, they'll have to prove it by handling a team most voters still count among the top 25 in the nation, Texas Tech, and on the road.
Most to Gain
FRESNO STATE made leaps into the mid-teens of most polls with an impressive romp against a halfway decent opponent last week and still has that close call against Oregon to hang its hat on, too. A respectable showing against USC would do more for the Bulldogs' standing than anything else they've accomplished yet; a win is barely conceivable, but would start instant "BCS Buster" madness.
Most to Lose
For all its struggles, TENNESSEE can at least take home a few complimentary Independence Bowl duffel bags, unless it were to lose to Kentucky or Vanderbilt, which would be about as scarring in itself as missing a postseason date for the first time since 1987.
Inevitable Blowout of the Week
Even if Syracuse could hope to stop Notre Dame's fourth-rated passing attack, the Orange can't score any points against anybody.
Lame Game of the Week
Rarely at this juncture of the season are there fewer wins represented on the field than teams, but New Mexico State (0-10) at San Jose State (1-8) has no regard for convention, nor for its' viewers' gridiron sensibilities. You biased Eastern types, with your "winning"...
THE PICKS (rankings are SMQ1s)
Game of the Century of the Week
#9 ALABAMA at #10 AUBURN
What1s at Stake: The usual: AUBURN! ALABAMA! BEAR! SHUG! PUNT,
BAMA, PUNT! VAN TIFFIN! YEE HAW! Also, teams are combined 17-3; winner at least shares SEC West title.
Auburn Wants: To repeat last week's offensive plan: get Kenny Irons going out of the gate, thus establishing the play-action game that makes up the bulk of Al Borges' passing attack. Brandon Cox has been confident and on target when defenses have to respect the rushing attack, sporadic when it can tee off on him. The offensive line is top flight and good enough to handle 'Bama's awesome defense if it can keep it guessing a bit. A good start and early points could mean a lot, because Alabama's scored exactly two offensive touchdowns in four SEC games since Tyrone Prothro went down; the Tide are essentially a non-threat if they get two scores behind. The more scoring, the better.
Alabama Wants: To run the ball for about nine minutes every quarter. The knock on Auburn coming into the season was its undersized line, and while nobody's seriously gashed them badly, the Tigers have given up 100 yard games to P.J. Daniels, Bryant McFadden, Joseph Addai and Rafael Little this year; Georgia has over 100 as a team. Kenneth Darby may be better than anyone in that group, and SMQ knows all too-well how willing the Tide is to hand it to a stud back over and over behind a massive line intent on wearing down an outsized defense. As long as it's close enough to make long drives feasible - this defense pretty much guarantees it will be - 'Bama's best bet is to hold the ball and grind it out into a teensy nub.
The Pick: Teams moving in different directions: Auburn's low point was its first game, and the Tigers have steadily improved to peak last week in Athens; 'Bama whomped Florida, but its egg shell routine came to an end with no sign of recovery. Close, hard-nosed, low-scoring, etc., but Auburn has more weapons and is the more complete team right now.
AUBURN 13, ALABAMA 9
BONUS Game of the Century of the Week
#5 OHIO STATE at #14 MICHIGAN
What1s at Stake: The usual: OHIO STATE! MICHIGAN! WOODY! BO! SWEATERVESTS! MULLETS! BLOOD! GUTS! SNOW! FULLBACK DIVES! EXCEPT ACTUALLY THE GAMES AREN'T REALLY LIKE THAT ANYMORE BECAUSE THESE TEAMS HAVE ACQUIRED SOME SPEED AND SPREAD THE FIELD AND THROW IT QUITE A BIT WITH MOSTLY SUCCESS! ONE STATE CAN1T CONTAIN THE HATE! Also, teams are combined 15-5; OSU can win at least share of Big Ten title.
Ohio State Wants: To get Troy Smith running. Smith was one of three quarterbacks to torch the Wolverines with his legs last year, and Michigan's only had one chance against a decent offense that actively uses its quarterback as a runner this year (Penn State's Michael Robinson, who ran for 67 yards against UM in October); the Wolverines have consistently struggled containing good running backs, too. This offense is all about balance (194 rushing, 204 passing), but it all starts with making the defense overly concerned with Anonio Pittman up the middle and especially Smith on the corner and force it to give up players who could otherwise help cover barely coverable Ted Ginn and Santonio Holmes. The nation's second-ranked run defense must be trusted to do its dirty best to get Chad Henne into some uncomfortable long yardage situations.
Michigan Wants: To keep Henne out of uncomfortable long yardage situations. With Mike Hart, this could mean pounding, screening and play-actioning to keep A.J. Hawk's brain working as hard his body; judging from Mr. Hawk's pre-game interview with Jack Arute Saturday - "I don't know. It's just...overwhelming, I guess" - as well as the academic tradition of OSU 'backers typified by NFL bust Andy Katzenmoyer and frequently hollering announcer Chris Spielman, the more thinking by Hawk, the better for Michigan. Without Hart, or if he falters, there will have to be more undisguised first down passing, at least sometimes downfield, if Kevin Grady or Jerome Jackson is expected to gain more than two yards at any point. Defensively: contain, contain, contain. A straight-up shutdown isn't very likely; a lot of offenses - Notre Dame, Michigan State, Penn State, Iowa, Northwestern - have racked up impressive yardage on the Wolverines, but only MSU has scored 30. Force OSU to work hard for its yards, and reduce the number of opportunities it has to use all those weapons.
The Pick: Both teams have been peaking over the past month, but where John Cooper gasped and wheezed out on an annual basis, Jim Tressel has been icy: Buckeyes are 3-1 against Michigan with sweatervests on hand, including a couple out-of-nowhere blowout upsets in 2001 and 2004. Given Ohio State's won its last four games by an average of 44-12, without even taking into account the Iowa and Michigan State wins, and Michigan's best efforts thus far have been far below similar eye-popping blowout territory, the Buckeyes' peak is a tad higher. SMQ is not backing Henne against this defense, especially with an iffy Mssr. Hart.
OHIO STATE 30, MICHIGAN 20
#16 FRESNO STATE at #1a. SOUTHERN CAL
The Bulldogs displayed some impressive swagger, balance and explosive big play potential in exorcising its Boise demons last week, and might, in fact, represent an even bigger threat to this Los Angeles-based mega school than the other Los Angeles-based mega school. The Bulldogs still won't be close by the middle of the third quarter. May God help the deluded mind which actually projects a straight-up upset here.
SOUTHERN CAL 44, FRESNO STATE 23
#3 MIAMI at GEORGIA TECH
When last we saw the 'Canes, their secondary was locking down on Virginia Tech wideouts like Eddie Royal and Josh Hyman were Brinks trucks, or that daughter on the one Cingular commercial; a different strategy may be in order to handle Calvin Johnson, although Johnson, freak of the season's first half, has just four catches in each of the past four games, and only one score. No shortage of pressure should be levied against the arm and psyche of Reggie Ball; Tech's offense overall has bogged down to 75th in total yards (355) and 88th in scoring (21 ppg; only twice in its last six games has Tech made it out of the teens). Even if the solid defense keeps it close, that won't cut it against the 'Canes.
MIAMI 26, GEORGIA TECH 14
#8 VIRGINIA TECH at VIRGINIA
We've seen the Hokies do this late season fade thing before, right? Frank Beamer's teams have not always handled tough losses well, but Virginia hasn't done much off of decent wins, either; after beating FSU, the Cavs fell to North Carolina. Given UVA's secondary is not Miami's, attempts at lockdown mode this time favor V-Tech. No need to tab Marques Haggans over Marcus Vick.
VIRGINIA TECH 31, VIRGINIA 16
CLEMSON at #23 SOUTH CAROLINA
Both teams are emerging from their biggest wins of the season against highly touted north Florida-based mega schools with extra bragging rights for their respective coaches. But South Carolina is better on defense and, Chansi Stuckey's career performance against FSU notwithstanding, has the best offensive weapon on the field in Sidney Rice. SMQ, personally, just wants to see another bowl-barring brawl.
SOUTH CAROLINA 23, CLEMSON 17
#18 MINNESOTA at IOWA
Does it matter significantly if Laurence Maroney plays? Probably, but then, the Gophers have gotten more than 150 per game between Gary Russell and Amir Pinnix, too. Still, Iowa stonewalled Brian Calhoun last week, and Minnesota's more than likely going to be forced to throw it on the Hawkeyes' porous secondary, especially if Maroney is a no-go (or half-go). In Iowa City, against an iffy defense, SMQ will take Drew Tate, whose team is a mere four points from a six-game winning streak.
IOWA 33, MINNESOTA 24
It is not easy for SMQ to emerge from eviscerating a once-proud defense for allowing three straight career-high rushing efforts on its way to blowing a C-USA title shot and immediately have to deal with the thought of that same defense facing the nation's second-leading rusher. DeAngelo Williams has had two straight 100-yard games against USM, coming a couple feet shy of 200 in a dominating Friday night performance last year, and this edition of the Nasty Bunch run defense has been decidedly not up to the task of stopping even mediocre backs; it ranks (deep breath, count to ten) 76th against the run, and has yet to face anyone approaching Williams' ability since maybe its best effort of the year, given the circumstances, against Ken Darby in the opener. But the difference between this year and the last two years is that the Tigers absolutely cannot throw. The top two quarterbacks are both hurt, and Memphis has responded by giving Williams the ball every other play (just shy of 30 touches per game) and ranking 110th in passing. Plus, the Tigers are fairly awful stopping the pass, which is where Southern Miss' offense has not sucked for a change. Plus, Williams missed the Tennessee game completely and will probably be a tad gimpy. Plus, losing again would suck. Optimism, optimism, optimism!
SOUTHERN MISS 24, MEMPHIS 19
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