1. DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH: SOUTH FLORIDA 31, UCF 24 (OT)
Every week, I select (with your help) a game outside the national spotlight to watch, analyze, and report on. This week’s Diamond in the Rough was the intrastate rivalry matchup between the South Florida Bulls and the Central Florida Knights in Orlando.
Eleven months ago, South Florida and UCF met in Tampa...and the result wasn’t pretty. The Bulls posted a 64-12 win that helped vault them to No. 2 in the BCS standings.
Even less pretty, at least in the minds of Knight fans, USF quarterback Matt Grothe was quoted as saying: “I hope they like what happened because we weren’t trying to run the score up on them. We’re that much better than them.”
The funny part about that game is it served as a turning point in the Knights’ season. Under Coach George O’Leary, UCF won seven games in a row to capture the Conference USA crown and earn a trip to the Liberty Bowl. That'll look good on anybody's resume. (Sorry, I couldn't resist the resume reference.)
After finishing 2007 with a 10-4 record, the Knights were looking for revenge against South Florida this weekend. Safe to say, this wasn’t going to be a 52-point game again.
It was obvious watching the ESPN2 telecast that these teams don’t like each other all that much. Maybe it was Grothe’s inflammatory bulletin-board comments...maybe it’s the fact that USF decided they didn’t want to play the Knights again after this year...who knows? Whatever the reason, we saw players jawing and skirmishing from the opening kick, and it went downhill from there.
One of the biggest reasons that the Knights competed so hard last night (in my opinion) was the amazing crowd. Bright House Networks Stadium was packed and the fans were loud...I’ve heard stadiums of 90,000 that don’t make as much noise as half that many did last night.
After a penalty-filled back-and-forth struggle (there was more laundry on the field than my college dorm-room floor), the Bulls seemed to have finally put things out of reach. Behind the play of star quarterback Grothe (think a poor man’s Tim Tebow), South Florida led 24-10 with three and a half minutes to play.
(I have to say, I was relatively impressed with Grothe’s arm and very impressed with his scrambling ability...he managed to turn sacks into gains consistently as the night went on).
However, UCF rallied late behind two touchdown passes from struggling quarterback Michael Greco; his metamorphosis and improvement in the final quarter reminded me of UCLA’s Kevin Craft on Monday against Tennessee. Greco’s only two touchdowns of the game came 66 seconds apart and raised the Orlando decibel level by a couple dozen.
I thought South Florida had a chance to win the game in regulation, but, due to some questionable time management (see “Maybe Coaching is Easier Than I Thought” later in the column), they settled for a 42-yard kick that missed. A game this competitive (you could hear the hits from miles away) was destined to end in overtime, and so it did.
Much to the delight of the home crowd, the Knights won the toss and elected to go on defense first, but they ended up on the wrong end of a 31-24 final score.
Fittingly enough for how sloppy and undisciplined the Knights were, their final offensive possession was dealt a fatal blow by a penalty that turned “fourth and inches” into “fourth and six.” The ensuing quarterback scramble came up inches short of the first-down marker after an official measurement.
UCF finished with 12 penalties for 149 yards; the worst and most costly of which always seemed to be drive-killing or drive-extending personal fouls. The moral of the story: playing with emotion can help you (after all, the Knights did almost upset a Top-20 team), but too much emotion can kill you (a team can only overcome so many stupid personal fouls).
Don't get me wrong: I love to watch an unsuspecting punt returner get laid out as much as the next guy, but those kick catch interference penalties do add up quickly.
Here are my random thoughts on this week’s Diamond in the Rough game:
-The player of the game had to be multi-dimensional UCF cornerback Joe Burnett. Burnett had a kickoff return touchdown, blocked a field goal, starred in at least one sensational break-up of a deep pass, set up the tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter with a 34-yard punt return, and posted some insane averages in the return game: 35 yards per punt return, 45 yards per kick return.
I love writing “Diamond in the Rough” because I find these “best players you’ve never heard of.” Makes it more fun to watch that team’s stat line next week...and I’ll certainly be keeping my eyes and ears open for Joe Burnett.
-South Florida DE George Selvie is the real deal. After posting 14.5 sacks and 31.5 tackles for loss a year ago, Selvie was named a first-team All-American and the Big East Conference defensive player of the year.
The man is basically unblockable, and when UCF tried to run inside, I termed it “somewhere between impossible and stupid” in my game notes. Talk about a player you’d want your favorite NFL team to draft...
-I like USF’s offensive formation with four receivers in a diamond on the same side of the field. Wonder if I can find that on Playstation (NCAA 09)?
-The difference between a great quarterback and an average one (Grothe and Greco): when a QB rolls out of trouble, I like to see him stop, set his feet, and deliver a strike like USF’s Grothe does, as opposed to continuing to scramble and throw while moving (often off his back foot) a la Greco.
-Grothe was actually more vulnerable to the UCF defensive rush in the two-minute offense. The Knights’ linemen were no longer worried about draws and scrambles, so they got a lot more pressure when the USF signal-caller became one-dimensional.
-Rocky Ross is the go-to receiver for the Knights. The only go-to receiver. Ross caught eight of Greco’s 17 completions, and singlehandedly kept drives alive late in the fourth.
-Want to see your team profiled in "Diamond in the Rough"? Shoot me an e-mail (email@example.com) and tell me which game and why.
2. MAYBE BROADCASTING IS EASIER THAN I THOUGHT
A couple of announcer quotes that made me laugh this weekend:
“His feet make him a better player.” by Rod Gilmore
“If Purdue can get through this schedule with seven or eight wins, they might be in a BCS bowl.” by Purdue alum Ian Allen (As a Purdue fan, this is a nice sentiment...but I’m also a realist, Ian. We won seven games last year and barely made the Motor City Bowl.) Maybe 7-5 doesn’t mean what it used to.
3. THAT CAN’T BE RIGHT
This category lists the weekend’s scores and stats that make me wonder if my television ticker is malfunctioning:
Arkansas State 83, Texas Southern 10: Really...should Arkansas State be scoring 83 points on anybody?
California 66, Washington State 3- There were a lot of blowout wins this weekend, but how about Cal by 63 in a conference game!?!)
One more: congrats to Michigan State RB Javon Ringer on FIVE rushing touchdowns.
4. THANK GOODNESS FOR MY DVR
In case you didn’t see them, here are the jaw-dropping highlights and plays that made me hit “rewind” this weekend:
-Florida punter Chas Henry’s kick that went out-of-bounds at the 1-yd line: punters don’t usually make my highlight section, but this punt, spinning out just before the pylon, was as good as you’ll see.
-Missouri’s trick play: Jeremy Maclin to Chase Daniel to Derrick Washington for a score
-And last, but not least, our first reader submission: Greg writes in to point out BJ Cunningham’s one-handed snag for Michigan State against in-state rival EMU.
-You could be in the column next week! E-mail me on Saturday with the highlight that blew your mind!
5. SINCE I DO LIVE IN OHIO...
In news from around the Big Ten (my hometown conference), Ohio State survived a scare from Ohio University and backup quarterback Boo Jackson on Saturday. The Bobcats came to Columbus to compete... and actually led going into the fourth quarter.
Two huge special teams plays will haunt them for the entire bus ride back to Athens: Ohio’s muffed punt and OSU’s punt return TD turned the tide and helped the Scarlet and Gray avoid a huge upset.
I guess five Bobcat turnovers didn’t really help anything, either.
While we’re on the topic, congratulations to Ohio State for the 800th win in program history. No. 801 will be a toughie in Los Angeles...but I’m guessing Chris Wells will be back in action, so the Buckeyes’ offense should be a bit more effective.
6. MAYBE COACHING/OFFICIATING IS EASIER THAN I THOUGHT
Coaching: Why would South Florida kick a 42-yard field goal...on second down...with 15 seconds left in a tie game (and a timeout in their back pocket)? C’mon, Mr. Leavitt. Plenty of time for a five-yard out route...even a draw or crossing pattern.
Use the extra time and the extra plays to get a higher-percentage kick...maybe the guy will actually make it then. (Of course, USF managed to win the game in OT after missing the potential game-winner in regulation...)
Officiating: The personal foul on Washington quarterback Jake Locker almost made me physically sick. Don’t talk to me about letter of the law...or judgment calls...or anything else. Watch as much football as I do in a weekend and tell me if Locker’s “excessive celebration” was one of the top 20...ok, 40 demonstrations or outbursts.
I don’t think so.
Ty Willingham and the Huskies are in for a tough season anyway, and they deserved a crack at overtime against BYU. No doubt about it. My sympathy to the UW fans...you got hosed.
7. EVEN THOUGH 17 IS A RANDOM NUMBER
Here’s the Top 17 ballot I submitted tonight for this site's poll. Feel free to e-mail me to argue for your favorite team before next week’s rankings.
1. USC (did you see what they did to Virginia?)
2. Georgia (I thought Central Michigan was decent...and the Dawgs demolished them.)
3. Oklahoma (They could have beaten Chattanooga 100-0 in Week One. Really.)
4. Ohio State (I dropped them because they weren’t very impressive...but if they win in the Coliseum, they’ll be No. 1 again...at least on my ballot.)
5. Florida (took care of business in the Swamp against the ‘Canes)
6. Missouri (their offense looks better than a few NFL teams I saw today)
7. Wisconsin (What did Coach Bielema say to turn a 14-0 deficit into a 51-14 win?)
8. LSU (Unscheduled off week due to Gustav. We’ll see how focused the Tigers are next weekend)
9. Auburn (I ranked them high to start the year, and they haven’t done anything to merit a drop...solid, but unspectacular)
10. East Carolina (the best pair of wins of any program in the country so far...they may not stay in the Top 10 all year, but they deserve to be rewarded today)
11. Penn State (I thought Oregon State would give them problems; credit to JoePa for keeping the team on task during all the suspensions, speculation, and dismissals)
12. Texas (I looked up late Saturday to see UTEP giving them a game...then a minute later, it wasn’t a game anymore)
13. BYU (They probably deserved to beat UW on Saturday...but we should have found out in overtime. See “Maybe Officiating is Easier Than I Thought”)
14. Kansas (Big-time test against South Florida coming up)
15. Texas Tech (Can Graham Harrell throw for 6,000 yards?)
16. Oregon (Hopefully the Ducks have gotten all their points out of the way before this weekend’s trip to West Lafayette. They hung 66 on Utah State)
17. Wake Forest (Sam Swank wins the “biggest kick of the week” award...and if you believe ESPN, the “singlehandedly saved the ACC’s reputation this week” award. Clutch kick from a clutch kicker keeps the Deacons undefeated)
8. COMING ATTRACTIONS
I don’t know why anyone would need a reason to be excited about the upcoming college football weekend. But if you do, here’s three:
a. “Worth buying a ticket for”: a matchup that deserves the hype...let’s go with Ohio State/Southern Cal. Duh. It's the most combined talent you’ll see on one field all year long (and that probably includes the national championship game).
b. “Heat check”: this team’s playing great, but faces a serious test. Fresh off a dominating performance over Marshall (which included 51 unanswered points), the Wisconsin Badgers face an extremely tough test when they head cross-country to take on Fresno State. Badgers/Bulldogs should be a great one.
c. “Diamond in the rough”: Oregon @ Purdue. Honestly, this is the game that inspired the whole “DITR” series to begin with. As a Boilermaker fan, an early matchup against a Top 20 team from a BCS conference is a highlight of the season.
The major media won’t care much...but I think this game deserves a closer look...and the Sept. 14 edition of “Carrying On About College Football” will profile the clash between the Ducks and Boilers. Don’t forget, after next week, the whole rest of the “Diamond in the Rough” schedule is open...e-mail me with which of your team’s games I should analyze and why!
Tim Cary (yes, Cary…as in “Carrying on”) is a resident of Springfield, Ohio, and a die-hard college football fan (especially when it comes to the Purdue Boilermakers). To submit thoughts, ideas, questions, arguments, or anything else for “Carrying On About College Football”, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Send in your ideas on Saturday...and check out the next installment of COACF on Sunday.