The Hangover Cure: Week 9

I’m not above a little cross-promotion.

Look here for the inspiration. (And read that.)

No Air

Colorado usually plays in the thin air of Boulder. Chase Daniel and Missouri’s defense left the Buffs breathless on Saturday.

Daniel returned from two weeks of tip-free service as the Quarterback Presented By Domino’s Oven Baked Sandwiches, going 31-of-37 for 302 yards with five touchdowns and just one interception in the Tigers’ 58-0 rout. But the more important and more impressive performance was the shutout Mizzou’s much-maligned defense pitched.

They held a young and somewhat shaky Colorado offense to under 200 yards of total offense, forced a turnover, limited the Buffs to 4-of-16 on third down, and ended one of the longest active scoring streaks in the nation, one that dated to 1988.

Missouri is not a national title contender at this point, and the Tigers are going to have an uphill road to playing in January, looking up at the four superior Big 12 South teams. But if their defense can key an upset in the Big 12 Championship, a berth this team should cruise to unless Kansas finds brakes for its own freefall, Missouri could be the key to another season of BCS chaos.

A Milli

Penn State, we thought, was different. We thought there was a fantastic offense, the wonderfully named Spread HD, to run roughshod on the plodding Big Ten teams, backed by a better-than-decent defense that would surprise by shutting down teams like Ohio State.

Uh, no: we’ve seen this production before, and it’s no different from the teams we’ve called the class of that conference in the last five years.

In a 13-6 game that was essentially an advertisement for the 1970s, Penn State’s spread was neutralized by Ohio State’s disciplined defense; it’s not a fast crew in scarlet and grey, but they are seasoned, and they shut down the Nittany Lions for most of the game, allowing a field goal after one big offensive play and a touchdown on a short field.

And Penn State’s defense figured out how to shut down Beanie Wells (uh, hit him?), and, by doing that, turned Terrelle Pryor’s run/pass options into sack/scramble/incompletion decisions. Ohio State’s offensive line was as porous as it has been all year, and Pryor’s mobility helped with that, but Penn State was basically able to set the tone of the game up front.

Blame the loss on Pryor, if you want, because his fumble, the result of poor ball security, was crippling, and his interception a minute from the final whistle was a product of poor decision-making and trying to do too much. But he did about as well as you could expect any freshman quarterback to against a top ten team; two turnovers, and enough offense to be able to send the game to overtime on the final drive; to expect more is to ignore the fact that program saviors past (Vince Young, Danny Wuerffel) and present (Colt McCoy, Tim Tebow) all had their stumbles early in their careers. I hold Pryor to a high standard because I think he combines some tremendous physical gifts with great instincts, but expecting him to never lose, or to be the sole reason Ohio State wins, is as much folly as laying all the blame for this one on his shoulders.

Ohio State lost this game because they’re not as good as Penn State. And Penn State couldn’t put Ohio State away because they’re not as good as, for example, the USC team that splattered the Buckeyes earlier this year.

We hope, every time, that the class of the Big Ten will be a different and nationally competitive team; instead, we were duped once more by one of the many pale imitations of the Ohio State team that used Maurice Clarett, the “phantom” pass interference call on Glenn Sharpe, and generally overpowering line play to make the Big Ten style something to ape.

And, every time some team tries to compare, the result is never better than fair.

Put On

It was Homecoming. It was a celebration of Mr. Two Bits. It was the one team that’s been a guaranteed W for a generation.

And so, the Florida Gators put on a show on Saturday.

Winning the field position battle is easy when your frightening special teams develops a new facet and puts two Tim Masthay punts five yards behind him, setting up two short touchdowns. Getting in the other quarterbacks’ heads is easy when the coverage is limiting him to dinks and dunks that result in a 3.5 yards per attempt for the game. Stomping a team is easy when the score is 28-0 at the end of the first quarter, and the field goal to staunch the bleeding at the beginning of the second is blocked.

The trip to the woodshed that was Florida’s 63-5 win over Kentucky looked so effortless, so free of actual exertion, that Nicolas Cage and Keanu Reeves are going to star in the movie.

Everything the Gators did on Saturday looked easy. Tim Tebow threw a pick and fumbled twice; but he picked up those fumbles and the defense turned that turnover into just a field goal for the Wildcats. Jeff Demps wasn’t used as often or as creatively as against LSU, but he still managed to turn himself from the fourth or fifth receiver on a pass play to the touchdown scorer, blazing past the ghost of Bob Hayes and the entire Kentucky defense on the sort of exhiliarating play Percy Harvin’s supposed to make. Harvin was an effortless scorer twice, on a sweep and on a perfect pass from a harassed Tebow, and, more importantly, he didn’t get hurt. Ahmad Black scored on a interception that was forced by pressure from both the defensive line and the linebackers. Tebow was more effective on the ground than he has been since last year.

Oh, and the offensive and defensive line, now becoming the maulers this team’s been lacking since 2006, pounded Kentucky on both sides.

The rap on UF during Tebow’s tenure as quarterback is that the team revolved around him on offense and rejected the very idea of defense.

This year, minus a baffling loss to Ole Miss that was unexpected then and seems like an homage to past teams now, that hasn’t been the case. Florida has been a diverse, Swiss Army Spread on offense, the R(ainey) and D(emps) Department’s vaunted Quantum Wing whirring at full blast as quark-sized speedsters slip through seams and burn turf en route to points, while the defense has been opportunistic at times and solid throughout, struggling only with gimmick formations and mobile quarterbacks.

Tebow’s been asked to make the plays he needs to in the passing game and resist the urge to ram himself into large and vicious men; he’s done that. The defense has been asked to shut down teams instead of hanging onto leads, and it’s done that.

This was a depleted Kentucky team, to be sure, wiped by a physical, emotional, comeback win over Arkansas last week and pockmarked by injuries all over both sides of the ball. But some of these same players factored into the scare that the Wildcats put into Alabama in Tuscaloosa. It was clear from early in the first quarter that the Gators would not be allowing the same thing to happen to them.

Friday night, the Steve Miller Band played Gator Growl, UF’s annual homecoming pep rally. Saturday afternoon, the show was in the Swamp.

And with Halloween on the horizon, these Gators are rounding into terrifying form.

All Summer Long

All summer long, we heard about how good USC and Ohio State were, that they were young teams who started clicking late last year and were putting their talent together to resemble the behemoths of yesteryear.

Nope. Wrong. Not happening, not even with assists from some of their past assets.

Ohio State’s line is Olsen twin-thin, and Terrelle Pryor’s mobility has been covering for that for a few weeks; it’s the Troy Smith Theory at Ohio State, that a mobile quarterback can cover for other things. And Beanie Wells is one of the better running backs the Buckeyes have had since Eddie George.

But James Laurinaitis is a pale imitation of Hawks and Katzenmoyers past, this offense doesn’t have anything like Ted Ginn or Terry Glenn.

Likewise, Mark Sanchez is more John David Booty than Matt Leinart or Carson Palmer. Joe McKnight, for all the wishes heaped upon him, is not Reggie Bush, and the stable of wide receivers in no way resembles Keyshawn Johnson, Mike Williams, or Dwayne Jarrett.

So it doesn’t matter that this is one of the best collections of defensive talent that’s been together for the Trojans, from Brian Cushing and Rey Maualuga to Taylor Mays. Against half-decent teams like Arizona, who USC edged 17-10, it’s going to take everything the defense has to keep the inconsistent and mistake-prone offense in the game. There’s not many of those left on the schedule, so USC is going to have as good a shot at Miami as any other one-loss team.

But we should remember that these teams are not what we thought they were.

Viva la Vida

Somewhere along the way this year, Florida and Georgia swapped brains.

Now, it’s the Gators who are on the warpath, while the Dawgs fight every week with explosive offense and exploding defense.

Darryl Gamble took Jarrett Lee’s first pass to the house to put the Red and Black on top, and it was an SEC shootout from there. Knowshon Moreno got loose for a touchdown; Matthew Stafford passed for 249 yards and two scores; Charles Scott thundered for 144 yards and two TDs; Jarrett Lee matched three picks with three scores.

The smoke clears, it’s a 52-38 win, and Georgia’s suddenly flammable defense has allowed 497 total yards. Daniel Ellerbe, Rennie Curran, and Asher Allen were supposed to be dominant, not yield 309 through the air to the sensational tandem of Lee and Andrew Hatch. Georgia’s grinding, ball-control offense has turned into a quick-strike assault triggered by Stafford and Moreno’s occasional breakaway run.

And this reminds me of the team that Florida was last year: all offense, all the time, and the defense plays well when it wants to. That team’s a good one, no doubt, but not one a fan can be confident about entering any big game.

Of course, it’s appropriate that Florida’s taken their script out of Georgia’s ’07 yearbook.

Behind a line that is opening craters where once there were holes and holes where there were defenders, Demps, Rainey, Harvin, and Tebow are compiling some absurd rushing numbers and transforming these Gators from the bomb-heavy spread they were last year to the Quantum Wing their head coach wants them to be. In the three games since the Ole Miss upset, Florida’s gone over 200 yards rushing and scored 11 TDs on the ground.

And the Gators have gone from a talented young defense to an impressive, fast, disciplined squad. There’s still little to no pass rush, but these Gators stuff the run early, let their offense build a lead, then cover beautifully for the rest of the game. Only on two short-field possessions and one end-of-half fusillade did LSU move the ball effectively and aerially, and theirs were the only successes in this three-week period.

This team is good. Really good.

Entering the week of The World’s Largest Outdoor Non-Alcoholic Beverage (And Certainly Not Cocktail) Party, Florida and Georgia are staring at funhouse mirrors that apparently bend space-time. C’est la vie, and viva la vida.

Disturbia

Joe Paterno has a national championship contender.

That means, as you know if you saw the Brandi Carlile-backed tribute to the craggy visage of the Penn State coach, that we will be hearing and reading no less than four trillion words between now and either the Nittany Lions’ first loss or an early January game in Miami.

I’m all for giving credit where it is due, but the most Paterno has done in the last few years is recruit, relax the rules on recruiting, and, uh, like, oversee some stuff, right? The man is a shell of the fiery guy who was truly a visionary leader in the football sense, taking Penn State from obscurity to notoriety, and, eventually, the Big Ten.

But we need to resist this. Talk about Penn State’s recent troubles with the law. Talk about the stellar cast of characters around JoePa. Talk about how good the players on the field really are.

Just don’t canonize the head Lion in winter this fall. I don’t particularly feel like drowning in a tsunami of superlatives.

I Kissed a Girl

In Northwestern’s game against Indiana, a touchdown was scored. Two Northwestern coeds celebrated the success of that play in their own way. And then Northwestern ended up losing that game, to a team that had no Big Ten wins coming in, and missing one more chance to be in love with winning or being a candidate for a New Year’s Day bowl.

Also not in contention for that sort of love: Vanderbilt, woefully inept on offense against Duke; Pittsburgh, getting torched by the immortal Mike Teel and Rutgers; USF, unable to run the ball against Louisville; Boston College, crushed by North Carolina; and Georgia Tech, falling to the somehow decent Virginia team that (gulp) leads the Coastal Division of the ACC. Hot and cold, indeed.

Closer

Texas was going to have to do this at some point.

Oklahoma was down by two scores when it came time to rally. Missouri was dead and buried by the second quarter.

But Oklahoma State stuck around. And, in the end, Texas gutted this one out.

Their defense stifled Zac Robinson all day and Kendall Hunter when they needed to, and the offense kept the ball long enough at the end of the game to make a comeback preposterous. Oklahoma State may be the most balanced team Texas has played, and they certainly played the best defensive game anyone has against the Longhorns all year. As good as they were, though, Texas was better.

There’s something about this team, the sort of moxie that flows out of a few leaders on either side of the ball, the sort of poise that makes the team better when the game is closer. And as this team proves itself time and again against some of the best teams in the country, in comeback and blowout and clenched-teeth fashion, Texas gets closer and closer to South Beach.

American Boy

No quarterback has been better for his team than Colt McCoy has been for Texas than, perhaps, Ken Dorsey was for Miami early this decade.

McCoy is a playmaker with pinpoint accuracy, a gunner who understands the importance of not throwing interceptions. He’s poised in any situation, mobile enough to avoid pressure, and is the emotional center of his offense. He’s the best quarterback in the conference with the best quarterbacks, the best player on the best team in the country. He doesn’t have the arm of Stafford, the physique of Tebow, the speed of Pryor, the height of Harrell, or the motion of Bradford.

It doesn’t matter. Colt McCoy is better than all of them, and it’s partly because, interception and second-half fumble on Saturday set aside, he doesn’t make mistakes. He’s about the best game manager a team could have, and he’s proficient in the other realms of offense (scrambling, throwing deep) that help him make plays while he’s letting Texas’ talent make plays.

He’s going to win the Heisman, barring injury or Hindenberg-level crash. He’s going to lead a team to the Big 12 Championship and perhaps a national championship, unless Texas Tech can score with the ‘Horns next week or a Big 12 North team can find a shipment of talent somewhere in the next month.

But, beyond all that, he’s definitely got the name for the part.

College football is just better when one of the biggest names for the Texas Longhorns is as Texas as Colt McCoy.

Paper Planes

Dynasties are fragile things. Ask Tennessee and Michigan.

The rain kept falling on the Vols and Wolverines on Saturday, in losses to Alabama, which choked the life out of Neyland Stadium with a punishing, methodical demolition in an SEC grinder, and to Michigan State, which rode Javon Ringer for almost 200 yards and avenged a half-dozen losses to the Maize and Blue this decade.

Michigan looks like a lock to miss a bowl for the first time since alum Gerald Ford was President; Tennessee has yet to score more than 14 points against an SEC team not named Mississippi State, and is staring an eight- or nine-loss season in the face if their offensive ineptitude lingers.

Just ten years ago, Tennessee was a year removed from Peyton Manning’s brilliance, and Michigan was the defending national champion; Big Blue had Charles Woodson in its immediate past, and “Rocky Top” was going to be played for a national championship not long from then.

And now, their banners are in tatters, their fan bases are angry, and coaches have burned through their goodwill or are trying to do so in one season.

It doesn’t take much rain to make a paper plane go down.

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2 Comments

Filed under College Football, The Hangover Cure

2 responses to “The Hangover Cure: Week 9

  1. Who’da thunk that a reference to an obscure portion of a proton would have carried all the way to EDSBS. Here’s hoping it goes mainstream!

  2. For the record, I wrote this Sunday, and Orson, independently, came up with it on Monday. But I emailed him, and he was gracious enough to share rights for it.

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