The Hangover Cure: Week 7
It’s extra-potent and time-aged.
Inspiration is from here; you’ll need to read that to fully get these.
The Hole in the Dike
The Big Ten and PAC-10 are horrible this year; really, truly horrible, the kind that makes you wonder whether relegation would work in the NCAA. But at least there are two very good teams there as flagships in USC and Penn State.
All the Men of Troy did on Saturday was obliterate Arizona State 28-0 while committing five turnovers. Teams do not usually win games when committing five turnovers; they certainly do not often shut out the opposing team when the offense coughing up the ball to the opponent more times than there were end zone trips. But USC’s fantastic defense seems to have fully recovered from its Jacquizzing, allowing just 229 yards of total offense, harassing ASU quarterbacks into a 15 for 37 performance through the air, and forcing four turnovers of their own. USC shouldn’t lose another game this year if their defense plays like that, and though the PAC-10, with only SC and California in the rankings, is awful, the Trojans at least keep them above such excuses for conferences as the ACC and Big East.
Ditto for Penn State, which went into hostile Camp Randall and made music by House of Pain quite appropriate with a 48-7 throttling. Daryll Clark, unquestionably the best quarterback in conference at this point, had two TDs on the ground and one through the air, staking the Nittany Lions to such a lead that uber-recruit Pat Devlin got to play a little in the fourth quarter on the road against a formerly ranked opponent. Penn State’s a legitimate national title contender in the mold of Ohio State squads past (we won’t talk about this year’s pale imitation, highly overrated even as just a top-15 school), with a nice, solid defense, a serviceable bright game manager under center who can make a throw here and there, and a strong collection of talents in the secondary, linebacking corps, and at the offensive skill positions. There’s no game the Paterno Pride shouldn’t win down the stretch, though Michigan State will be a challenge, and considering their competitors in the race for a BCS National Championship berth all boast tougher schedules, it’s hard not to install them as an odds-on favorite to show up in Miami this year.
(It should be mentioned, too, that the flip side of the title applies to Wisconsin and Arizona State, two teams slip-sliding into mediocrity from high postseason perches. Perhaps Dennis Erickson and Bret Bielema are not quite what their predecessors were.)
Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What Do You See?
Jimmy Clausen is going to be a great college quarterback. And Notre Dame might just catch up to him.
Clausen was statistically wonderful against North Carolina on Saturday, throwing for 383 yards and two TDs and leading a potent Irish offense that seems to be finding the rhythm Brady Quinn’s team had as a senior under Charlie Weis. Of course, it’s a young, sloppy crew, as evinced by the five turnovers, including four in the second half. But, as the optimist points out, even with the Tar Heels committing none, the offense had a chance in the waning moments of the game to win with a touchdown. That’s not something that normally occurs with such a wide turnover margin.
Credit that to Jimmy Clausen. It’s Clausen who built Notre Dame’s lead in the first half and Clausen who kept the Irish in the game as UNC stormed back in the second. He’s the key to this team once again going bowling this year and looking like a BCS favorite in years to come. The defensive talent will congeal, and the running game will grow slowly, but Clausen already has the moxie and arm to lead ND to a surprising finish this year, and, maybe, an upset or two to be determined.
The Very Clumsy Click Beetle
You know how there’s things in life that you struggle at, and struggle at, and struggle at, until you finally just barely get it? That was Texas Tech on Saturday.
I can’t imagine this team in a Big 12 Championship Game; I can’t quite understand how this team is in the top ten. But I will say that they clicked at just the right time on Saturday, Graham Harrell finding Michael Crabtree for 47 yards on a late fourth and four, waterbug Eric Morris scoring in overtime on a sweep, and corner Jamar Wall sealing the win with a pick on the next possession.
Just wait until something big, bad, and scary visits Lubbock. Say, uh, Texas.
The Mixed-Up Chameleon
The team that was supposed to be able to do everything this year was having an identity crisis.
Georgia wasn’t the power running team they hoped to be, not without Trinton Sturdivant and half of the rest of the depth chart at tackle. Georgia wasn’t the balanced offensive team they thought Matthew Stafford and a clutch of good receivers would make them. Georgia wasn’t even the dominant defensive team that they could have been, not while trying to block out memories of their funereal blackout and how Alabama’s ground game churned the Dawgs into kibble.
Then, on Saturday, in their annual trap game against Tennessee, Georgia got some of its color back. The defense allowed one yard rushing. Matthew Stafford threw for over 300 yards. Knowshon Moreno went over the century mark on the ground. The offense kept the ball for 42:04 and recorded 29 first downs to the Vols’ 10. Even the 11 penalties for 76 yards weren’t that bad.
The showdown against Florida in Jacksonville to kick off November looms once more as a titanic clash, but only if the Bulldogs can wipe the floor with an offense-free Vanderbilt team this weekend and beat LSU with anything resembling the bell-ringing fury the Gators did. Should they do both, that’s the game of the rest of the year.
Do You Want to Be My Friend?
Oklahoma State is a legitimate top-ten team. Mike Gundy must be pleased.
The year after his coaching staff’s decision to switch from the talented Bobby Reid to the less-touted Zac Robinson set off the “I’M A MAN” firestorm, the Cowboys have quietly turned into the scariest non-brand name in the Big 12. They’ve proven better than Missouri, trammelling that vaunted offense by procuring three of Chase Daniel’s throws and winning a back-and-forth game in Columbia on Saturday night. I’d wager they’re better than Texas Tech, with a defense and a running game, and they may have the best chance of derailing Texas’ run to a Big 12 title.
But what’s more important is that this could be the sexy, Oregon-of-the-Midwest sleeper of 2008. There’s nothing to suggest that this team won’t continue doing what they’ve done offensively, and their big win came on the road because their defense grew up in a matter of hours.
The rest of the schedule may be brutal, but the Cowboys went from dangerous to BCS threat in one night, and yet they still won’t get the respect they deserve.
The Very Quiet Cricket
The other team from Oklahoma played a great game on Saturday. The Sooners only lost because Texas played a nearly flawless one.
Colt McCoy was every bit the gamer and poised passer he looked like against the nobodies of Texas’ early schedule, and his receivers were fantastic, especially with Quan Cosby’s blocking work and . The Longhorns’ Will Muschamp Boom MFer Doom defense (I’m trademarking that) shut down Oklahoma’s running game and made Sam Bradford just uncomfortable enough to make mistakes in the second half. And, most importantly, the team appeared forged of titanium, recovering from deficits throughout the game and never wavering. This was the biggest win of the season, a convincing, whistle-to-whistle victory at a neutral site over a very good-to-great team, just nipping Alabama’s destructive-cum-blase performance at Sanford Stadium. That, and Texas’ lack of a scare against a lesser team, makes the Longhorns #1 in my poll.
It’s not just the Big 12 that’s frightening this year. Look south of the Oklahoma-Kansas border.
There’s Texas at the helm, followed by Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech; that’s three of the last five BCS conference unbeaten and a former #1 team that will stay in the top ten all year. If any one of these teams wins out, it will be in the BCS Championship Game; Oklahoma and Texas would both have a chance at Miami with one loss.
You have Baylor, led by the wheeled and allergic-to-interceptions Robert Griffin III, definitely the best freshman quarterback in the country this year. At this point, I will be shocked if Baylor doesn’t have at least five wins against a murderous schedule that includes all four of the teams above, Missouri, Wake Forest, and a date at UConn, an unfathomable feat at the outset of the season when all and sundry predicted the Bears to be abysmal.
Even the vortex of fail that is Texas A&M at the moment cannot ballast the the unbelievable lightness that is the Big 12 South at this point. Here there be dragons, yes, and flying high.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Florida had a lot of demons to exorcise in The Swamp on Saturday night.
They did that so well it made my head spin.
The Gators made Bleauxout one hell of a headline by letting the speed around Tim Tebow run circles around LSU rather than by putting every egg in the Tebow Child’s basket. Percy Harvin, Chris Rainey, and Jeff Demps all made plays, combining for 331 yards and 3 TDs on 30 touches, streaking by and through an LSU defense that has experience and speed. The UF offensive line, shaky to this point this year, had just one bad play, on an ill-advised first down passing play that led to Tebow getting the ball stripped when the game was out of reach, and otherwise totally neutralized the scary LSU front four.
And the defense took any concerns about stopping the run and covering speed in space and made observers wonder why those were concerns in the first place. Charles Scott gained just 35 yards, and 18 of those came on a carry as time expired. Most of LSU’s ground game came on that play, a pair of trick plays to Trindon Holliday and Richard Murphy, and Andrew Hatch as the option quarterback; there was no cohesion whatsoever for the Bayou Bengals in the running game. Brandon Spikes picked off two passes and Janoris Jenkins emerged as a shutdown corner, and Florida finally got a bit of pass rush, harassing Jarrett Lee into a 23-of-38 performance.
Oh, yeah, and Florida controlled the field through special team, Chas Henry getting a couple of good punts, Demps almost completely neutralizing Holliday on kick returns, and Brandon James weaving his way by blockers for some magic of his own. Plus, the Gators discombobulated LSU to the point that the Tigers had multiple delay of game penalties, including one on a kickoff.
This was as complete a demolition of one supposedly good team by another as we have seen this year. (I say supposedly because LSU’s marquee victory was at home against what seems to be a putrid Auburn team, and they allowed more points to the Tigers, 21, than any other team not named Arkansas, Southern Miss, and Louisiana-Monroe.) And I rank it as the most impressive blowout of this season, edging USC’s crushing of Ohio State, because Florida did something most fans were shocked to see.
LSU scored touchdowns at the end of the first half with a 60-yard field after an odd ruling on a kickoff and to start the second half on their best drive of the night. Every Florida fan watching was waiting for the three-and-out-to-quick-TD move that would have swung momentum entirely to LSU and condemned the Gators of the Tim Tebow Era to another season of shrinking in the face of adversity.
The AP puts the next drive best:
Tebow hardly flinched this time around, responding with a 67-yard TD drive that included a perfect pass to Louis Murphy down the sideline and a few nifty runs.
“That was a huge drive,” Tebow said. “That’s the big difference between this year and last year. We knew we had to put a drive together. I think that’s where you see a difference now, a more mature team, a more poised team. We drove down the field. That was a huge touchdown for us. It gave us the momentum back.”
That pass to Murphy was one of the best of Tebow’s career, the drive assuredly his most timely. It wasn’t all about him on this night, with Florida’s awesome arsenal deployed to its fullest extent so far and him more comfortable at the controls than he’s ever seemed; it’s the synthesis of his unique skill set and UF’s startling speed that made UF morph from very hungry caterpillar to beautifully fearsome butterfly on Saturday night, and that drive was all that in microcosm.
And with that drive, he became more than Tim Tebow, Heisman winner; now, he’s Tim Tebow, leader of the most dangerous one-loss team in America, pilot of another terrifyingly good SEC juggernaut, and potential national champion on his own terms.
And on that note, I’m out.
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