Ah, sweet November.
That’s what’s inspired me today.
Día de los Muertos
The state of Washington might stop recognizing football as a sport soon.
In losses to USC and Stanford, respectively, Washington and Washington State were outscored by a combined 125-0. They totaled 409 yards together, which was less than either opponent racked up. They committed eight combined turnovers and forced zero. Neither team has a win over an FBS opponent this season, and Wazzu’s lone win was over Portland State, currently 3-4 against its fellow FCS competition.
Their two coaches, WSU’s Bill Wulff and U-Dub’s Tyrone Willingham, are a combined 12-40 in their tenures in the Pacific Northwest. Thankfully, that record will get at least one game better by the end of the year.
But only because there’s a little game called the Apple Cup where these two meet.
Georgia celebrated last year.
This year, the Gators remembered that well.
In a steamrolling that was never even competitive after Florida scored to go up 21-3 early in the third quarter and never looked like a potential win for Georgia after Brandon Spikes slammed Knowshon Moreno to the ground on the Bulldogs’ second snap and delivered a literal message to Moreno and a figurative one to the Red and Black, the Gators avenged last year’s loss and established themselves as the scariest team in the Eastern Time Zone and possibly the nation.
The Gators’ defense set the tone from that Spikes tackle, and never let up, stymieing three first-half drives of 50 or more yards and forcing three field goal tries; Blair Walsh missed the first and last, the latter banging squarely into the left upright with a satisfying thud that was probably the sound of Georgia falling to Earth. The Dawgs’ patchwork offensive line, so good this year despite missing multiple NFL-quality players, was unable to open the lanes Moreno is accustomed to, and the back’s usual brilliance was only good for a handful of six- and eight-yard runs as a result; without big-play potential in the running game, Georgia had to take to the air.
And while Matthew Stafford played admirably, he was battered by the Gators’ front seven all day, and he threw three interceptions, two the results of good coverage and followed on the next offensive play by touchdowns, and one on a twisting, awesomely athletic move by Dustin Doe. The Dawgs also fumbled once, on a toss that went off Moreno’s hands.
Equipped with short fields by those turnovers and a failed onside kick after Georgia’s field goal made the score 7-3, Florida’s offense was less beautifully explosive and more brutally efficient. Tim Tebow ran for 39 yards and three touchdowns, looking like the decisive power runner he was last year; Percy Harvin, Jeff Demps, and Chris Rainey all had slicing runs to keep drives moving, but no breakaways; the passing game was highlighted by a gorgeous touchdown on a perfectly placed ball to Louis Murphy, but mostly shredded the Dawgs underneath. All of the above was made possible by an offensive line that continued its great protection of the last four weeks, keeping Tebow upright and opening creases when necessary.
And though Florida benefited from a few questionable calls, on an early Tebow run that was ruled a first down after a replay, an interception wherein Joe Haden threw an arm out and used A.J. Green like Gene Kelly used light poles, and the Murphy touchdown, where a shirt pull went unseen and uncalled, the Bulldogs shot themselves in as many paws as possible, with penalties wiping out an early interception and creating long downs on offense. It was fitting that a 54-yard completion to Green, the Dawgs’ longest offensive play of the game, was immediately followed by an Ahmad Black interception: Georgia squandered opportunities and made Florida’s better all day.
In the end, with John Brantley throwing a touchdown in garbage time and Urban Meyer calling timeouts so Emmanuel Moody could accrue enough yardage to be the game’s leading rusher, Florida savored their handiwork. This was a demolition, a great team laying into a merely very good one.
That great team, after other events Saturday, has the clearest road to Miami it’s had since its loss to Mississippi. On Halloween weekend, that should scare their potential opponents.
Michael Crabtree’s only a sophomore, but he’s already one of the best receivers the Big 12′s ever seen. Graham Harrell’s a senior, and he’s put in the time and compiled the stats to make him one of the best quarterbacks, statistically, the NCAA’s ever known.
And on Saturday night, they connected in one moment that validated Texas Tech as a national contender and sent word to the nation that, finally, the Red Raiders are veterans in the game.
The Harrell pass, set exactly where only Crabtree would catch it, was the product of the twosome’s great chemistry and work ethic; the touchdown was all on Crabtree’s magnificent athleticism, a great pivot after his leap to make the catch and excellent balance down the sideline allowing him to score with one second left on the clock in Lubbock, putting Tech up to stay in their mammoth matchup with Texas.
Despite their fans making the we’ve-never-done-this-before mistake and rushing the field twice, forcing the Red Raiders to kick off from inside their own 10, Mike Leach’s Dread Pirate Dreadnought was better than advertised all night, shutting down Texas’ running game and building a 19-0 cushion that was a necessary firewall when the brilliant Colt McCoy rally inevitably came. Texas was flustered to begin the game and flustered when it ended, taken aback by a surprisingly stout Tech defense in the first half and a gutsy Tech offense in the dying moments of the final quarter.
The Red Raiders had one timeout and 1:29 when they began their final drive; that timeout went uncalled, and the clock stopped just once, on a nearly catastrophic interception in the red zone, as Leach called routes that moved chains and chewed up yardage in a hurried flurry; it was reminiscent of the LSU-Auburn game of 2007, except the entire drive was as incredible as Les Miles’ final play and seemed like controlled chaos.
Leach may be crazy. But it’s the vulpine kind of crazy.
And Texas Tech survives, on a week-to-week basis, by going a little crazy.
The ACC and Big East are awful. Terrible, horrible, no-good, awful.
If a team in either conference was ranked in the AP Poll heading into a game this weekend, it lost, No. 24 South Florida falling to Cincinnati on Thursday, No. 16 Florida State succumbing to Georgia Tech; the same curse applied to the BCS rankings, which will lose the last entrant in last week’s top 25, Connecticut, after the Huskies failed to realize they needed to play two halves of football against West Virginia.
The two teams that escaped the Numeral Nightmare were North Carolina and Maryland. It’s probably because even ACC and Big East teams haven’t figured out a way to lose to BYE yet.
Now, Maryland is the only ACC team without two conference losses, North Carolina is the highest-ranked team in either conference, and West Virginia, which has lost to East Carolina and Colorado, is the Big East’s last, best hope at a BCS berth.
Of course, they will probably all lose next weekend.
The ACC and Big East will be eating at the children’s table this Thanksgiving.
Guy Fawkes Day
The Big Ten woke up on Saturday and decided to revolt against perception.
So all Minnesota and Northwestern did was combine for 270 yards rushing from quarterbacks Adam Weber and Mike Kafka, and stage a contest that wasn’t decided until Weber tossed a pick-six in the final minute of the game to give Northwestern the victory.
Wisconsin chose to be the collapse of the day as Michigan State stormed back in the second half with a passing attack that could have been a full-scale fusillade if Spartan receivers didn’t soak their hands and gloves in anti-Stickum, though the Badgers extracted some drama from the game with two unfathomably stupid timeouts to set up Michigan State’s winning field goal.
And Purdue and Michigan just ignored that whole “defense” thing, combining for 90 points in a shootout at the Big House that was only decided by a hook and lateral late in the fourth quarter.
None of the teams involved was playing great football. But they were entertaining, the first flares in what became the fiery Spectacular Sendoff Saturday.
Oh, and those lights in the distance? Too-early effigies for Bret Bielema and Rich Rodriguez. Consider them symbolic for now.
There’s a lot of very good undefeated and one-loss teams in the country right now.
USC is allowing four points a game since their loss to Oregon State. Texas Tech is undefeated has beaten the No. 1 team in the country, and in dramatic fashion. Penn State’s undefeated and shut down their biggest competition in the Big Ten. Alabama’s undefeated, crushed Georgia for a half and has taken care of the rest of their SEC schedule. Oklahoma only lost to Texas at a neutral site, and has yet to be held under 35 points this year. Boise State and Utah are undefeated, though largely untested. TCU destroyed BYU and has just one loss, to Oklahoma. Texas has wins over two of the best teams in the country and lost to a third on the road, fatigued by a four-week gauntlet of games and an attack designed to deplete a defense.
But the most beautiful monster out there is Florida.
The Gators’ loss was due to inopportune turnovers, a blocked extra point, and one bad play call, and those problems have been nonexistent since. Florida’s committed just three turnovers over four games since coughing up three fumbles against Ole Miss, their offense has been both balanced and explosive, their defense has been steely and opportunistic, and their special teams units have been dangerous in the return game and blocking and consistently effective in coverage.
Florida’s the only one-loss team on the list above that was the best team on the field in their loss; Texas was outfoxed by Texas Tech, Oklahoma outclassed by Texas, USC out-toughed by Oregon State, and TCU outscored by Oklahoma. And they’ve got more impressive wins than the undefeateds, eviscerations of top-ten teams both at home and at a neutral site.
The Gators, for years and years, have been knocked, and rightfully, for playing down to their opponents. This year, save one perplexing loss, they’ve smacked down opponents indiscriminately, every win coming by more than 20 points.
Florida will still need help to get into the BCS Championship Game, because, even with a chance to beat Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, unless the Gators obliterate the rest of their slate while Penn State and Texas Tech are undewhelming in going unscathed, they won’t jump an unbeaten in the polls.
But this team won’t lose another game this year.