Sunday Afternoon Quarterback: Week One

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Sunday Afternoon Quarterback: Week One

IconWe’ve waited nine agonizing months, and endured gambling in the NBA, dogfighting in the NFL, and dare I say it, hockey in the NHL...but college football is back .

And for some reason, I can’t stop screaming, “Hooray for Appalachia!”

We in College Football Nation are still stunned that a “Football Championship Subdivision” team—albeit a two-time national champion of that “Football Championship Subdivision”—took down a BCS title contender in its own house. 

Surely Michigan didn't do its research on Appalachian State, a public school in Boone, NC, with an enrollment of over 15,000 students. 

The school's programs cover a wide range of disciplines, but the Walker College of Business may be its best. And the value! Appalachian State is consistently ranked among the top 10 Southern universities in terms of affordable tuition. 

Contrary to conventional belief, State of Appalachia is actually located in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Mountaineers currently have a 27-game winning streak at their own Kidd Brewer Stadium (also known as “The Rock”)...so when they aren’t beating up on the likes of the Michigan Wolverines, they’re winning at home, too. 

I can’t go on without mentioning the State fight song:

 

Hi Hi Yikas

Hi-Hi-y-ike-us

Nobody like us,

We are the

Mountaineers,

Mountaineers,

Mountaineers,

Always a-winning

Always a-grinning

Always a-feeling fine

You bet, hey

Go Apps!

Fight Apps!

Go, fight, win Apps!

 

Just think: A real mountaineer would probably kill a real wolverine, so consider Michigan lucky—it could have been worse.

(We are of course excluding the comic book Wolverine, who would slash and embarrass the poor Mountaineer—probably what Michigan thought it was going to do this Saturday.)

As for me—I was on the road down I-64 East to watch the “Arch Rivalry” game between the Missouri Tigers and the Illinois Fighting Illini at the Edward James Dome in downtown St. Louis. 

This matchup rekindles the fire between the two Midwestern universities by playing at a neutral site halfway between them. I first called a buddy who goes to Illinois about a month ago—and after giving up hope because the tickets were too pricey, we scored free seats from the school a few days before the game.

Who says big organizations can't be benevolent?  Bravo, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, bravo.

Surprisingly, Saturday marked my first trip to a big-time D-I game, proving that I am indeed the ultimate armchair analyst 

20 minutes before the start time, the stadium was relatively empty for a rivalry game, but the stands were pretty full at kickoff. There were many more Missouri fans at the game, most of whom chose to talk trash about their perennially average football team. 

Our tickets were nosebleeds, but we moved down to the front of the section and cheered with the other Illinois students. As we yelled our heads off for the Illini, I was struck by the group's collective man-crush on sophomore quarterback Isiah Williams, also affectionately known as “JUIIIIIIIIIIIICE!!!” 

People love Williams for his size, his arm strength, and his athleticism—and how can you not root for a guy named Juice?

On the field, Juice went 6 of 9 for 59 yards...and then got hurt after a head-to-head collision with a Missouri defender.
 
Illinois had scored the game's first touchdown after a blocked punt, but Juice’s injury swung the momentum in the Tigers’ favor. Mizzou got help from QB Chase Daniel, my new dark horse Heisman candidate, who completed 37 of 54 passes for 359 yards, 3 TDs, and no INTs. 

Things took a turn for the worse when tight end extraordinaire Martin Rucker lined up at quarterback and ran a draw for ten yards. Later, tight end extraordinaire number two Chase Coffman (all 6’6” and 245 pounds of him) took an option pitch from Daniel and “scampered” eight yards after stiff-arming one defender and hurdling another. 

I know I haven’t been around as long as some, but I've NEVER seen a Tight End Draw or a Tight End Option in my life.
 
Juice’s replacement, redshirt freshman Eddie McGee, didn’t get off to a great start—as Illinois was poised to go up 13-7 in the second quarter, McGee fumbled near the goal line, and MU safety Pig Brown returned it 100 yards for a Missouri touchdown. 

McGee wound up with four turnovers—two interceptions, two fumbles—on  the day.

The game looked like blowout when freshman sensation Jeremy Maclin took a punt 66 yards for a touchdown early in the third quarter. That put Missouri up 37-13 —and I'd be lying if I told you there was still hope amongst the Illinois fans. 

But that wasn't all she wrote.

Illinois scored to make it 37-20—at which point we figured the final score would at least be respectable. Then McGee engineered another scoring drive to make it 37-27, and there were ripples of optimism among the Illini faithful. When McGee followed a Mizzou fumble with a beautiful 41-yard pass to Kyle Hudson, we were beside ourselves. 

A Mizzou field goal pushed the margin to 40-34, at which point McGee drove the Illini 48 yards to the Missouri 22 yard line. The drive included a fourth-down play on which McGee hurled a 20-yard post to freshman sensation Arrelious Benn after trying and failing to get a timeout.

It seemed, at the time, like destiny.

Almost, anyway.

With a little over a minute to go, McGee dropped back, threw to the end zone...and was picked off at the goal line, ending the comeback and giving the W to Mizzou.

The defeat was disappointing for Illini fans, but a six-point loss to a probable Top 25 team without your starting quarterback is certainly a moral victory, if that means anything. 

As for a QB controversy—McGee's late pick nipped that kind of talk in the bud. For the next week, at least, the name Juice still reigns supreme in Illini country.

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