Friday, October 29, 2010

Georgia/Florida: Keys To Victory

It's been 31 years since Georgia and Florida meet on the gridiron and neither team was unranked. These teams seem to be meeting on different paths. Georgia started off the season 1-4 committing mistakes and turnovers at the worst possible time in every game. Since then Georgia has reeled off 3 straight dominant victories and appears to have found itself. Florida started off the season shaky but was able to navigate it's was to 4-0 before dropping consecutive games to LSU, Bama and Mississippi State managing only single digits in two of the losses. Florida comes off a bye and has re-vamped the offense and will get two offensive play-makers back (Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey). Can Florida right their ship or will they continue to fade as Georgia comes on strong? Here are my keys to the game.


The team that scores first has a big advantage. Florida has a bruised ego and they need something to go right early in this game to get them thinking they are back. Georgia is on a roll but when it comes to Florida they always have doubt in the back of their mind. If Georgia comes out firing like they have in their last 3 games it could give them the confidence and momentum they need to carry them to victory.


After ranking 118th last year in Turnover Margin, Georgia appears to have turned a corner this year and is ranked 17th Nationally. In the 4 games Georgia has lost it has lost the turnover battle by a total of 3 turnovers. In the games they've won they are +10. Over the past three weeks Georgia has been taking other teams mistakes and turning them into points. In Florida's 4 wins they are +8 in turnover and in their 3 losses they combined to post a -6. Looking at those numbers I think it's pretty easy to say that the team that wins the turnover battle will win this game.


Florida leads the SEC in KO return yardage but Georgia leads the league in least amount of yards allowed. Both teams have returned a KO for a TD this year. The big news might be that Florida kicker Caleb Sturgis will not play in Saturday's game. In his absence Chaz Henry has gone 0 for 3 in the last 2 games. Florida is only 4 of 9 on FGs this year. Georgia is 2nd in the SEC at 82.4% on FGs but Blair Walsh has struggled in the last couple of games missing a kick against Vandy and one against Kentucky. The team that makes the least amount of mistakes in the Special Teams game has a huge advantage in this game.


John Brantley has struggled a lot more than expected this year at Florida. A lot of fans just expected Urban to plug in Brantley and he would continue right where Tebow left off. In two of it's three losses this year Florida was held to under 100 yards rushing and were held to under 3 yards per carry. With the off-week Florida looks to plug in Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey and get their ground game going. In 3 of Georgia's losses it's Defensive Line has gotten controlled and time of possession has been used against the Dawgs. Despite these 3 losses Georgia somehow leads the SEC in Rushing Defense. Over the last 3 games Kentucky rushed for the most yards against Georgia posting a meager 70 yards. Since Georgia re-vamped their offensive line a few weeks ago they are getting better blocking up front and the runners are responding. Last week, Washaun Ealey tied a Georgia record by running for 5 TDs against Kentucky. Ealey is a little banged up but says he's ready to go and he will be joined by Caleb King who is back from suspension after being arrested for not paying a speeding ticket. Look for Georgia to try and establish the run and for Aaron Murray to look for A.J. Green and Kris Durham on play-action and look for Florida to look to the run game for big plays. The team that finds the run and stuffs the run should stand tall at the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.

As a Georgia fan it's hard to ignore Florida's dominance over Georgia in the last 20 years. Georgia has the momentum on their side as they have dominated their opponents during their 3 game winning streak and have a large amount of confidence on their side coming into this game. I think this game comes down to who comes out of the gate quicker. If Florida puts two touchdowns up quickly then Georgia will start to push and will turn the ball over. If Georgia can come out and establish the run and Aaron Murray can find his receivers and make plays with his feet then it could be a long day for Urban Meyer and Florida. I like Georgia in this game, especially because Dan Mullen and Charlie Strong are coaching elsewhere. Despite the records in this game this Saturday should be one to watch.

Prediction: Georgia 31 Florida 20

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Six Pack Games Of The Week: October 28-30

Every week, I’ll throw a spotlight on the six most interesting games of the weekend to tell you why these are the games you should try to catch, who’s going to win (and why), and what ramifications they could have on the rest of the college football landscape.
OVERALL: 27-15

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 28#16 Florida State (6-1, 4-0) @ NC State (5-2, 2-1) (7:30pm EST, ESPN)After the 47-17 beatdown that FSU took at the hands of Oklahoma back in early September, the Seminoles quietly rebounded to rattle off five straight wins and take control of the ACC's Atlantic division, opening up a multi-game lead on NC State and Maryland. Of course, much of that winning streak came on the back of some wins over unimpressive competition; Miami was not only the lone ranked team FSU dispatched in that run, they were the only team with a winning record that FSU beat. The schedule stiffens from here on out, though; every team left on FSU's schedule is (at present) at least a game over .500 and the second through fourth-place teams in the Atlantic (NC State, Maryland, Clemson) comprise three of their next four opponents. After a promising 4-0 start, NC State stumbled by losing two of their next three games (including an upset loss to East Carolina); if they want to have realistic shot at catching FSU in the division, they need to win this game. They key to this game is what FSU defensive coordinator Mark Stoops has whipped up to slow down NC State QB Russell Wilson; if Stoops is successful, this could be a cakewalk for the 'Noles. If not, this one could be a real shootout. I'm leaning towards the former.

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 30Louisville (4-3, 1-1) @ Pittsburgh (4-3, 2-0) (12pm EST, East football? Yep, Big East football. Hey, someone has to win this league and get the automatic berth to a BCS bowl. Through two weeks, Pitt is the only Big East team undefeated in conference play -- but they have three non-conference losses, including a blowout at the hands of Miami and close road losses to Utah and Notre Dame. They may very well be the class of the Big East this year -- although that isn't necessarily saying a whole lot. Louisville's already equaled their win total from a year ago and all three of their losses have been close games against decent-ish foes (Kentucky, Oregon State, Cincinnati). Sandwiched around that most reecnt loss (Cincy) are two blowout wins (over dismal Memphis and rapidly-disintegrating UConn). Charlie Strong is getting things turned around there and a fair bit faster than many expected. That said, they probably aren't quite ready to win a game like this and genuinely contend for the Big East title just yet.

#6 Missouri (7-0, 3-0) @ #14 Nebraska (6-1, 2-1) (3:30pm EST, ABC)For three straight weeks a top-ranked team has gone down (Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma). The results after that game for the upset-pullers has been mixed; South Carolina went on the road and dropped a weird game to Kentucky, while Wisconsin went on the road to Iowa and narrowly came out with a win. Fresh off their big home win over Oklahoma, now Missouri has to go on the road to face a tough road game against a good Nebraska team. Nebraska had a wild bounce-back game against Oklahoma State a week ago, winning a 51-41 shootout (apparently the vaunted Blackshirt defense was on vacation). Now Nebraska has a chance to wrest control of the Big 12 North from Missouri, to avenge a 52-17 drubbing they suffered the last time Mizzou came to Lincoln... and to give Missouri one final eff you on their way out the door to the Big Ten. Missouri's surprising success this season has come on the back of their defense, which is quite a change from a few years ago, when they just relied on their high-powered offense to put up a ton of points on teams. Still, it's hard to avoid a letdown after such a momentous win and going on the road to play Nebraska and Lincoln is not exactly an ideal follow-up venue.

#5 Michigan State (8-0, 4-0) @ #18 Iowa (5-2, 2-1) (3:30pm EST, ABC/ESPN)Every year there's a team that comes out of nowhere, rides some surprisingly strong play and good fortune to a gaudy record and national recognition. And more often than not, that team stubs their toe at some point. It's really, really hard to go undefeated in modern college football -- especially in one of the big six conferences. The weekly grind is intense, the pressure gets worse by the week, and all of your opponents start getting a little more amped to be the first squad to add a number to the loss column in your record. Teams that manage to navigate an entire season undefeated usually do so on the basis of having at least one truly elite unit (either offense or defense). The much-derided 2002 Ohio State team may have had only a patchwork offense, but they had a hellacious defense. The 2005 USC squad had a so-so defense, but one of the best offenses of the decade. And so on. After eight weeks you are what you are, and what Michigan State is is a good team -- perhaps even a very good team -- but not an elite one. Their defense is good, but not lockdown great. Their offense is good, but occasionally inconsistent. They've gotten exceptional special teams play and that can carry you a long way, but it's also not always a reliable means of scoring points. At least, this is what I tell myself as Sparty gets ready to play an Iowa team working with a make-shift LB corps and prone to some of the ugliest special teams breakdowns I've seen in the last decade of Iowa football. Iowa's back is against the wall -- a loss here and their high hopes for this season are officially toast -- and in spite of their now-obvious flaws, they do still have a very good defensive line (and the Spartan offensive line isn't the elite wall that the Wisco line was a week ago) and a surprisingly potent offense. They have the tools to win this game. At least, that's what I'm telling myself.

Florida (4-3, 2-3) @ Georgia (4-4, 3-3) (3:30pm EST, CBS)Prior to last week's much needed bye week, Florida was mired in by far the worst three-game skid of Urban Meyer's Florida tenure; they'd lost three in a row (including a home to loss to, of all teams, Mississippi State) and been held under ten points in two of those losses. The Florida offense has been a FEMA-worthy disaster area all season, but it reached new lows in the embarrassing 7-point effort against Mississippi State. So has a week off been enough to work out the kinks and get them back to a level of, if not good quality, then perhaps just passable quality? To paraphrase Rick Pitino, Tim Tebow isn't walking through that door. Neither is Percy Harvin. The Florida offense remains an oddball collection of players who are very inconsistent (most of the receivers and running backs), just not that good (Emmanuel Moody), or a bad fit for the offense trying to be run (John Brantley). Oh, and they're still coached by Steve Adazzio, who looks increasingly overmatched in his OC position. On the other hand, Georgia has rebounded from their disastrous 1-4 start to rattle off three straight wins and improbably give them a shot at winning the SEC East. They've scored 40+ in all three games; clearly getting AJ Green back from his suspension and the continued development of Washaun Early and Aaron Murray has done wonders for them. That said, the Florida defense has been pretty good this year -- outside two 30+ point efforts conceded to Alabama and LSU, they've held every other foe to 17 points or less. And there is the little matter of Florida absolutely, positively owning Georgia -- they're 17-3 in the last twenty meetings. And they've had a bye week to sort things out and prepare for Georgia. But still... it's hard to completely overlook a half-season's worth of futility. If Georgia can't beat this Florida team, when will they ever beat Florida?

#2 Oregon (7-0, 4-0) @ USC (5-2, 2-2) (3:30pm EST, ABC)A year ago, Oregon's 47-20 destruction of USC served as a clear statement that the era of USC dominance in the Pac-10 was over. A year later, Oregon's now the team with the target on its back and the team with conference and national title ambitions. With two conference losses already (and the sanctions that prevent them from going to a bowl anyway), USC's been reduced to the unfamiliar role of spoiler -- but it's also a role they seem to have embraced (at least against a foe like Oregon). Oregon's coming off yet another lopsided destruction, a 60-13 evisceration of UCLA. USC's coming off a bye and a 48-14 dismantling of Cal that was undoubtedly their best win of the season. Will two weeks of prep time enable USC to engineer a defensive gameplan that allows them to stop Oregon's ridiculously powerful offense? Doubtful. USC's best bet is to take advantage of their own potent offense (Matt Barkley, Robert Woods, Ronald Johnson, and Allen Bradford are all on a roll right now) and hope to get enough turnovers or stops to win a shootout. Winning a shootout against Oregon is easier said than done, though.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Georgia handles Kentucky; Awaits Florida

For the third consecutive week the Georgia Bulldogs have looked more like the team we thought they would be than the team that lost 4 straight. Georgia went on the road to play a dangerous Kentucky team and jumped on them 28-3 and Georgia put it in cruise control to pick up their first road victory of the season. The story of this game was Georgia's defense causing early turnovers and the offense capitalizing on them. Now that Georgia has discarded the SEC East also-rans of Kentucky, Tennessee and Vandy it looks to a much bigger fish, the University of Florida. Florida has long been a thorn in the side of the Georgia Bulldogs and Mark Richt. Believe it or not Georgia actually hold the lead in the all-time series 46-39-2. Despite their lead in the series, Florida has dominated recently and is 2-7 against Mark Richt with Georgia only winning in 2004 (31-24 behind David Greene's 3 TD passes) and 2007 (42-30 behind Knowshon Moreno's 188 rushing yards and 6 sacks of Tim Tebow).

This will be a different Georgia/Florida game than usual. It's been 31 years since these two teams met on the field and both were unranked. The momentum is in Georgia's corner as they are playing their best football of the year and things seem like they are coming together in Athens. The rest and preparation is in Florida's corner as they have had an off week for Urban to re-vamp the offense and get some players healthy and back with the team. Right now I'm leaning towards Georgia taking this one but I think this one could come down to the wire since both teams are truly fighting with their backs against the wall.

Georgia Notes:
- UGAXIII is now 2-0 since his debut against Vandy.
- Justin Houston picked up 2.5 sacks against Vandy and is leading the SEC with 9.5 sacks. Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said about Georgia "It's the best pass rush team we've seen, no question about that."
- Washaun Ealey ran for 157 yards and 5 TD against Kentucky (tying a Georgia record). Georgia's rushing attack is coming on as they've had a 100-yd rusher in the last 3 of the last 4 games.
- Aaron Murray continues to be one of the most impressive Freshman QBs in the land (not as jaw dropping as Tayler Martinez) but the most impressive thing is his TD to INT ratio. He has 12 passing TDs to just 3 INTs (it should also be noted that he has rushed for 4 TD on the year).
- Kicker Blair Walsh has struggled lately. He's going to need to hit some kicks in Jacksonville for the Dawgs to come out victorious.
- Branden Smith will play for the first time in 4 games. I like the combination Brandon Boykin and Sanders Commings at corner so hopefully Smith will fit in nicely at nickel as we've had trouble covering on 3rd down and long (not sure if it's the LBs playing too shallow or the Safeties playing too deep but we have to tighten down on 3rd down). Look for AJ Green to still get some shots at punt returns despite Smith being back in the line-up.

I will have more thoughts later in the week as the game approaches.

CFBZ Top 25

W-L This Week PR
1 Auburn 8-0 at Ole Miss (3-4) 2
2 Oregon 7-0 at #24 USC (5-2) 1
3 Boise State 6-0 Louisiana Tech (3-4) 4
4 Alabama 7-1 Bye 6
5 Mich State 8-0 at #19 Iowa (5-2) 7
6 TCU 8-0 at UNLV (1-6) 8
7 Missouri 7-0 at #12 Nebraska (6-1) 15
8 Wisconsin 7-1 Bye 11
9 Ohio State 7-1 at Minnesota (1-7) 9
10 Utah 7-0 at Air Force (5-3) 10
11 Oklahoma 6-1 Colorado (3-4) 3
12 Nebraska 6-1 #7 Missouri (7-0) 18
13 LSU 7-1 Bye 5
14 Stanford 6-1 at Washington (3-4) 13
15 FSU 6-1 at NC State (5-2) 17
16 Arizona 6-1 at UCLA (3-4) 16
17 Arkansas 5-2 Vanderbilt (2-5) 19
18 South Carolina 5-2 Tennessee (2-5) 20
19 Iowa 5-2 #5 Michigan State (8-0) 12
20 Oklahoma St 6-1 at Kansas St (5-2) 14
21 Virginia Tech 6-2 Bye -
22 Miss State 6-2 Kentucky (4-4) 23
23 Miami, Fl 5-2 at Virginia (3-4) -
24 USC 5-2 #2 Oregon (7-0) 25
25(T) Michigan 5-2 at Penn State (4-3) 24
25(T) Baylor 6-2 at Texas (4-3) -

Dropped Out: West Virginia, Texas

Also Receiving Votes: Nevada

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Three Intriguing Match-Ups This Week

On Wednesday Ross posted his "Six Pack Games of the Week" previewing and predicted the six best games of the week. Looking at the schedule I can't help but feel that this week deserves a look a little bit deeper and here are 3 more match-ups out there in college football land to keep an eye on this week.

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 23 Georgia (3-4, 2-3) AT Kentucky (4-3, 1-3) (7:00pm EST, CSS, ESPN 3) At first look this might not look like an interesting match-up but I feel it's the most intriguing match-up in the SEC this week other than LSU/Auburn. Kentucky is coming off of a win at South Carolina and Georgia is trying to resurrect it's season after blowout wins over Tennessee and Vanderbilt. This game is about one of these teams coming out of this game as a legit contender to the SEC East crown. This morning on Gameday both Kirk Herbstreit and Desmond Howard tabbed Georgia as the team that would come out of the pack of the SEC East and travel to Atlanta for the SEC East. I really need to know what they have been drinking. It's possible that Georgia can win the SEC East but there are so many things that have to happen (including Georgia beating Florida and Auburn). Now, onto the game....Georgia has throttled it's last two opponents. But they were Tennessee and Vandy and both were at home. Georgia has not won a game on the road this year (usually a trademark under Mark Richt). Kentucky comes into the game riding high after a home victory over South Carolina. Will the Kentucky team that beat the Gamecocks and came within 3 of beating Auburn show up or will we see the team that got dismantled by Florida 48-14 and lost to Ole Miss. I expect this to either be a blow-out win by Georgia (not likely but in the 3 games they've won they've won by an avg of 39 points) or a game that comes down to who has the ball last (Georgia's 4 losses have come by an avg of 8 points). Derrick Locke will not play for Kentucky so it's up to Mike Hartline and Randall Cobb against Todd Grantham and the Georgia defense.
THE PICK: Georgia 38 Kentucky 31 

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 23 Georgia Tech (5-2, 3-1) AT Clemson (3-2, 1-2) (3:30pm EST, ABC/ESPN) Georgia Tech has posted a 5-2 record by basically picking off teams that aren't very good (South Carolina State, Virginia, Wake Forest and Middle Tennessee are among their victims). That being said, Paul Johnson and Georgia Tech are very dangerous and this game is a critical game for both teams in the ACC. It's critical for Tech to win to have a shot at winning the Coastal with Virginia Tech and Miami coming up in the next two weeks and it's important for Clemson to win because they cannot afford another loss as FSU prepares to defend their spot on the top of the Atlantic division. This should be fun as it's a border-war and a must-win game for both teams. Expect to see a lot of offense. Georgia Tech has to be kicking themselves for losing to Kansas as they would be 6-1 and in the Top 20 if they had not have lost that game.
THE PICK: Georgia Tech 31 Clemson 27

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 23 #7 Michigan State (7-0, 3-0) AT Northwestern (5-1, 1-1) (12:00pm EST, ESPN) Michigan State is one of the pleasant surprises in college football this year. The play of the year might be the fake field goal to beat Notre Dame. The win over Wisconsin in Week 5 looks even bigger now that the Badgers have moved on to topple Ohio State. Northwestern has had two weeks to think about their 3 point loss to Purdue. I'm tempted to pick Northwestern but after looking at who they've beat I just can't bring myself to do it (Minnesota by 1, Central Michigan by 5, Vandy by 2, Rice and Illinois State). The Spartans move on and face Iowa next week in the huge Big 10 Showdown.
THE PICK: Michigan State 31 Northwestern 21

Friday, October 22, 2010

Alabama @ Tennessee: Unsolicited Advice & The Pick

Well, last week's 23-10 sleeper over Ole Miss wasn't quite the resounding bounce-back effort I wanted to see following the Tide's loss to South Carolina, but it was a solid, workman-like win that was never really in doubt. The Bama defense answered the challenge in the 1st half, but, perhaps predictably, let up in the 2nd, continuing the trend of not playing 2 consecutive good halves in the same game. (Maybe it was past their bedtime? It was awfully close to mine.) On the other hand, it was the worst offensive showing for the Tide since last year's 12-10 win over Tennessee.

Which brings us to this week's game against the Volunteers, the latest edition of Not Necessarily the Third Saturday in October.

The circumstances leading up to this year's game are almost identical to those that led to 2009's near upset, if not for The Hand of Cody. The Tide enters the game struggling on offense and just plain worn out all over, playing their 8th straight game (5th straight conference game). Meanwhile, the Vols have once again enjoyed a pre-Bama bye week to rejuvenate themselves and draw up schemes to slow the Tide. I actually think Bama is in WORSE shape this year with starting right tackle DJ Fluker out with a groin injury and several more key players like Marcell Dareus and Courtney Upshaw in desperate need of a week to rest nagging injuries. Even Trent Richardson has spent his off time in a protective boot for most of the season. And while he hasn't been listed on any injury reports, you have to imagine Dont'a Hightower's surgically repaired knee is starting to feel the toll of SEC play.

Fortunately, Tennessee is just much worse as a whole than they were last year. The 09 Vols weren't a very good team, but they had enough players to give you a game. But two straight years of coaching turmoil have stripped the cupboard bare of SEC-caliber talent, and the 10 Vols will be lucky to go to a bowl. That they even had a chance to beat LSU was a testament to their coaching staff (even if they did out-think themselves at the the end), and that's my main concern. What have they been dreaming up in Knoxville the past 2 weeks? Tennessee defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox (of Boise State fame) definitely has a reputation for putting extra prep time to good use.

With that in mind, here's my unsolicited advice for the Tide this week...

1. They need to get off to a good start on the road. Particularly the defense. Of the 90 points the Bama defense has allowed this season, 68 of those have come in the Tide's 3 road games. AND of those 68 points, an alarming 51 were scored in the 1st half. To put it bluntly: this young Bama defense has not responded well in hostile road environments. They seem to be easily rattled by rowdy crowds, and they go into a shell when things don't go right early. If an opposing offense gives them a shot or two on the chin in the form of quick scores, they're pretty much going to roll over, at the very least until Saban puts the fear of God into them at halftime. All this serves to put the Bama offense in a hole and take them out of their comfort zone. In the case of the South Carolina game, the quick 21 points given up by the defense forced Jim McElwain to scrap the gameplan and effectively took the ball out of the hands of the Tide's two best players. That's unacceptable. It definitely won't get the job done in Baton Rouge in two weeks. So if they're going to break the cycle, they better start now. Downtrodden Vols fans aren't likely to be as rabid for their 2-4 team as the crowds the Tide defense experienced in Fayetteville and Columbia, but it'll be loud enough early. A good start for the defense will make life much easier for the offense and hopefully short circuit the upset possibility.

2. THROW THE BALL DEEP. Stop me if you've heard this before. If you're a regular reader here, I've been screaming about it for at least 2 weeks now. Apparently, I'm not getting through to anyone. This is the ONLY solution to opening up the running game. Love the quick screens to Julio and Maze. Really, I do. But you're not getting guys out of the box until you throw it over their heads. The consensus on stopping the running game seems to be clear: stack the box and blitz a guy through every hole that opens up. South Carolina did it. Ole Miss did it. You can bet Tennessee will do it. As great as Mark and Trent are, even they're going to fail most of the time against such a brazen scheme. Make them pay. Don't be fooled by Tennessee's 67th ranked rush defense. When 9 guys are in the box, rankings don't matter. THROW THE BALL DEEP.

3. Don't be afraid to blitz. One thing that's struck me in the first half of this season has been the Tide coaching staff opting to "play it safe" with the defense on the road. I saw a lot of straight coverage with a 3 or 4 man rush against Arkansas and South Carolina, and both schools ate it up. They started attacking more in the second half against the Hogs, and won the game, but never really cut it loose in the loss to South Carolina. I understand not wanting to put some of these young secondary players in compromising positions, but it seems to me they're just as likely to bust coverage or get beat playing Cover 2 as they are one-on-one on a blitz call. If anything, the man coverage let's a guy like Demarcus Milliner rely on his natural athleticism and instincts instead of overthinking his assignment. I say, let's go on the road and turn the dogs loose early. The Vols' offensive line is perhaps the unit that's been hardest hit by attrition. They play a lot of freshmen there. I don't think there's any reason to fear their ability to pick up Saban's blitzes, or Matt Sims or Tyler Bray's ability to beat you in a blitz pickup chess match.

4. Be aware of emergent receiver Justin Hunter. All that said, keep an eye on this guy. The freshman's receptions through 6 games don't knock you out (10), but he averages 23.6 yards a catch. He had what may have been his breakout game 2 weeks ago against Georgia when he caught 4 for 110 yards and a TD. At 6'4", he's physically reminiscent of SC's Alshon Jeffery and Ole Miss' Melvin Harris, both of whom were used to make life miserable for Milliner the past two games. You can bet Tennessee will look to take advantage of a similar matchup on Saturday. Some safety help might be a priority.

5. Let's give Ingram and Richardson about 35 combined carries, m'kay? I know we usually don't talk about the running game here, what with that being one of the 3 tenets of the faith (run the ball, stop the run, don't turn the ball over), but seriously. What happened in South Carolina was forgivable considering the circumstances. But only 26 rushing touches against Ole Miss? It's closer to the ideal but still not good enough. These guys are engine of the offense. Put the ball in their hands, running downhill. The screen passes to them and the little check down throws are nice supplements to their touches, but that's not using them to their fullest potential. They need to be rushing the ball about half of the offensive snaps for the offense to be operating at optimal levels. Granted, you'll probably have to throw early to open it up for them (see #2), but once you've put the fear of the pass in their heads, give these guys the ball.


Prior to the season, I had this pegged as a 45-10 win for Bama. It wouldn't entirely shock me if the final score ended up being close to that. In fact, I'd welcome it. On paper, that's how it should play out. It would definitely up my level of optimism about the LSU game. But with the defense's chronic road struggles and the offense's recent woes, I'm going to have to adjust the margin of victory way down. Call it...

Alabama 30, Tennessee 13

Regardless of the score, the important thing for Bama is to just win the game, under any circumstances, and get to the bye week. That sweet, sweet bye week.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Six Pack Games of the Week: October 14-16

Every week, I’ll throw a spotlight on the six most interesting games of the weekend to tell you why these are the games you should try to catch, who’s going to win (and why), and what ramifications they could have on the rest of the college football landscape.


We took a break last week, but we're back and ready to go this week.

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 23#6 LSU (7-0, 4-0) AT #4 AUBURN (7-0, 4-0) (3:30pm EST, CBS)Another week, another Milacle? Neutral observers (and fans of chaos and random insanity) can only hope so (although Auburn fans probably disagree, as do LSU fans with weak hearts). LSU's improbable undefeated run continues as they face their stiffest test yet -- a road game against top-5 Auburn, better known as The Cam Newton Show, starring Cam Newton, with special guest star Cam Newton. All of which is to say: Cam Newton is really damn good, as evidenced by the fact that through seven game, he's thrown for 1278 yards and 13/5 TD/INT on 80/122 passing and galloped for 860 yards and 12 TDs on the ground. He's a superfreak. And while he hasn't faced any elite defenses yet, he did a pretty good job of carving up (16/21, 158 yards, 2/0 TD/INT, 176 yards rushing, 3 TD) a respectable South Carolina outfit. You have to figure that he's gonna get his against LSU; the real question is what LSU can do to answer him. The Auburn pass defense isn't so hot (see: last week's Arkansas game), but LSU isn't terribly well-equipped to exploit that (outside of stud WR Terrence Tolliver). The unstoppable force that is Cam Newton meets the immovable object that is the Year of the Milacle; call me crazy, but I'm siding with the Caminator in this one.

#13 WISCONSIN (6-1, 2-1) AT #15 IOWA (5-1, 2-0) (3:30pm EST, ABC/ESPN2)Thanks to the impending Big Ten divisional alignments, this series, which has been one of the most competitive in major college football (Iowa leads 42-41-2), will be going by the wayside to an extent. They'll still play, but not every year and possibly no more than four times in a ten year span. As an Iowa fan, that makes me a little sad, since the Wisconsin games have usually been close, exciting games, although getting an annual game with Nebraska is a pretty solid trade-off, too. Not that this particular game needed any of that "break in the rivalry" juice to make it any bigger than it is, because it's pretty damn big to begin with. Wisconsin restored their Big Ten contender credentials with an impressive 31-18 ass-kicking of then-#1 Ohio State last week, while Iowa went on the road to knock off an explosive Michigan team. Iowa remains one of only three Big Ten teams that's still undefeated (along with Purdue and Michigan State), and they control their own destiny for the league title (assuming someone knocks off Purdue, which seems like a safe bet). Their next three home games are against Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Ohio State; it's not really hyperbole to argue that the road to the Big Ten crown goes through Iowa City over this next month.

Iowa's played well since their disappointing loss to Arizona last month, but Wisconsin will pose a far different challenge than an inexperienced (and injury-riddled) Penn State team or an electric (but not very physically imposing) Michigan team; Wisconsin is all brawn and beef and very little subtlety. Fortunately, that's precisely the sort of team Iowa has long had success against. Throw in the letdown factor that Wisconsin will inevitably have to battle (see: South Carolina a week ago) and you can see why this will be a very difficult game for them. The key will likely come down to how well they can run the ball on Iowa's defense; if their massive OL can dominate Iowa's talented DL and open up holes for John Clay and James White, it could be a long day for Iowa. On the other hand, if Iowa can keep the Wisco running game mostly in check and force Scott Tolzien to beat them through the air, they should be in very good shape. On offense, Iowa could have trouble establishing a run game with Adam Robinson, but if the OL can provide Ricky Stanzi some decent pass protection (something they've been very good at all year, aside from the end of the Arizona game), he should be able to hit some big plays to Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and Marvin McNutt through the air. I think the Iowa DL makes some big plays and Stanzi has another good day.

#16 NEBRASKA (5-1, 1-1) AT #14 OKLAHOMA STATE (6-0, 2-0) (3:30pm EST, ABC)And now we come to perhaps the biggest "Prove Yourselves" game of the day. Nebraska has to prove that their 5-0 start wasn't a mirage built against dramatically inferior competition and that they can rebound from a gutting loss to Texas in a game that they'd had circled for months. Oklahoma State has to prove that their own 6-0 start isn't just the product of a really favorable schedule and that they can actually beat a good team. Oklahoma State was widely picked to finish near the bottom of the Big 12 South and for fairly understandable reasons: they lost a ton of talent, including multi-year starter Zac Robinson at QB and all-everything WR Dez Bryant. But they returned RB Kendall Hunter (who battled multiple injuries last year on his way to a somewhat mediocre campaign) and they've slotted in QB Brandon Weeden and WR Justin Blackmon to replace Robinson and Bryant and barely skipped a beat. Blackmon, in particular, has been a revelation -- he's leading the NCAA in receiving yards (955) and touchdowns (12) and, yes, he's put up those numbers in just six games. On the other hand, Nebraska will be by far the nastiest defense Okie State has faced this year and they've absolutely stifled passing games all season. The question for Nebraska is how well their own offense can move the ball and score points; Texas completely shut them down and extinguished Taylor Martinez's Heisman buzz. But the Okie State defense is not quite the same thing as a Texas defense coached by Will Muschamp that has two weeks to prepare for the Martinez buzzsaw. When in doubt, side with the elite defense.

NORTH CAROLINA (4-2, 2-1) AT MIAMI (4-2, 2-1) (ESPN2, 6:30pm EST)Before the season, there was some speculation that the ACC Coastal was going to emerge as the toughest division in college football. It had four ranked teams (North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, and Miami), loads of talent, and high expectations. Midway through the season, we now know that was a lie; the SEC West is unquestionably the top division. But while the ACC Coastal has endured some pratfalls along the way (UNC's ongoing scandals, Virgina Tech's loss to James Madison, Georgia Tech's loss to Kansas, Miami's homefield disemboweling at the hands of Florida State), they've also more or less righted the ship and emerged as solid teams; they're all sitting at 4-2 or better and getting ready for the brutal round robin of games they're going to face against one another over the next month. Despite dealing with massive suspension-induced losses from the ongoing scandals that have engulfed their program, North Carolina has been looking pretty solid after their 0-2 start. Miami has looked unable to compete against foes with talent on par with their own; they lost to Ohio State in a game that was only close because of Ohio State's miserable special teams and got blown off their own field by Florida State. Their four wins have come against Florida A&M, a bad Pitt team, a bad Duke team, and a so-so Clemson team. Suffice to say, I don't really trust them.

#1 OKLAHOMA (6-0, 2-0) AT #11 MISSOURI (6-0, 2-0) (8:00pm EST, ABC)Oklahoma moved to the top of the initial BCS standings on the back of a 6-0 schedule against a slate of solid opponents (outside of their loss to the Sooners, Oklahoma's opponents are 23-10). The results haven't always been pretty (see: single-digit wins over Utah State, Cincinnati, and Air Force), but wins are the thing and Oklahoma's got 'em so far. Meanwhile, Missouri has quietly gone about its business and also sits at 6-0 and hosting one of the biggest games in their program's history (even with their recent success). Missouri's resume lacks any marquee wins (their best win is... San Diego State? Texas A&M? Illinois?), but they've beaten a collection of teams that has emerged as if not quite "good," at least "perfectly decent." That said, Oklahoma is a whole different beast than any of the teams they've played, especially since they seem to be clicking now. Earlier in the season, they might have screwed around with a not-totally-awful Iowa State team; instead, they obliterated them 52-0, exactly the way an elite team should. That's bad news for Missouri. Strangely, Missouri's success this season has been built on the back of a surprisingly stout defense, rather than the shoot 'em up affairs that constituted their success a few years ago. Can they use that and some homefield mojo to slow down Landry Jones, DeMarco Murray, and the rest of the Sooner offense? That's tough. The history of the last decade is that Bob Stoops wins big games in the league (it's just those pesky BCS bowl games that give him issues, plus Texas the last few years) and Gary Pinkel rarely does. It's hard to bet against that.

AIR FORCE (5-2, 3-1) AT #5 TCU (7-0, 3-0) (8:00pm EST, CBS College Sports)It's been a while since we've checked in with the non-BCS leagues and this is unquestionably the game of the day from the mid-major ranks. It would have been a match-up of top 25 teams if Air Force hadn't stubbed their toe last week at San Diego State, but as it is, it's still the first quasi-test TCU has faced since the season opener against Oregon State (or Baylor five weeks ago, if you think the Bears are legit). Since their splashy opening week win over Oregon State, TCU has mostly been minding their own business and beating the piss out of teams, especially since they opened up conference play a month ago -- they're 3-0 in Mountain West play and they've outscored their foes by an aggregate score of 103-3 (BYU got a pity FG on them last week). On the other hand, Colorado State, BYU, and Wyoming just aren't any good this year, either. Air Force isn't a great team, but they've emerged as a solid team this year; until last week's slip-up against SDSU, they'd beaten everyone in their path except Oklahoma (who they lost to just 27-24). They also pose a unique challenge for the TCU defense since they run the triple-option. Still, TCU seems too good on both sides of the ball to trip up at hoem against Air Force; this one might be close for a half or so, but TCU should pull away.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Georgia Destroys Vanderbilt...Looks To Salvage Season

On Saturday afternoon UGA VIII debuted and watched the Georgia Bulldogs absolutely annihilate the Vanderbilt Commodores 43-0. The last time Georgia shut out an SEC opponent was against South Carolina (18-0) in 2006. The last time Vandy had been held scoreless came in 2003 when the Commodores fell to Tennessee 48-0. Aaron Murray once again showed that he is no longer a freshman as he completed 15 of 24 for 287 yards, 2 TD and no picks. The backfield had a strong day as Washaun Ealey rushed for 123 yards, 1 TD and NO fumbles and Carlton Thomas added 2 TDs. The duo of Kris Durham and A.J. Green added 7 receptions and 2 of those went for scores. Georgia outgained Vandy in the game 547 to 140. The best sign for the defense was holding Vandy to 1 of 11 on third down and winning the turnover battle 2 to 0. It should be noted that Georgia called off the Dawgs in this game or it could have been much, much worse.

Has Georgia turned the corner?
Georgia seems to have breathed new life into their program by destroying the SEC East's (some are calling it the SEC Least this year) bottom feeders. Can Georgia take these two games and translate them into a win at Kentucky on Saturday. I think Georgia can win on Saturday and could win big (but on that same note, this team has shown that they can also find a miraculous way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory). The biggest key for this team on Saturday against Kentucky is to keep their heads up, remain confident and don't beat themselves (like they've done in all 4 of their losses).

Is The SEC EAST Still Within Reach?
Is it within reach? Yes. Is it possible? Yes. Is it probable? No. First of all South Carolina would have to lose two games (which is possible as they still have Florida and Arkansas on the schedule). Secondly, Georgia would have to win out in the SEC which means beating Kentucky, Florida and Auburn. I honestly think Georgia can win all 3 of those games but I also thought they could beat South Carolina, Arkansas, Miss State and lowly Colorado.

- Georgia is ranked 20th Nationally in Scoring Defense at 17.4 ppg (2009 ranking was 63rd at 25.9 ppg)
- Georgia is ranked 18th Nationally in Rushing Defense at 105 ypg (this is baffling after seemingly not being able to stop South Carolina, Miss State or Colorado on the ground)
- Georgia is ranked 13th Nationally in Opponent Kickoff Returns yielding only 18.5 yard per attempt (2009 ranking was 117th at 25.7 ypa)
- Georgia is ranked 27th Nationally in Penalty Yardage at 44 yards/game (2009 ranking was 106th at 67.5 ypg)
- Georgia is ranked 30th in Turnover Margin at +0.57 per game (2009 ranking was 118th at -1.23 per game)
- Kris Durham leads the SEC in Yards Per Reception at 20.59 yards/catch
- Justin Houston leads the SEC in sacks with 7

- Freshman Safety Alec Ogletree continues to get more playing time and I think he's been very impressive in the time he's been on the field. He made a couple of strong one-on-one tackles against Vandy late in the game.
- Sophomore CB Sanders Commings leads the team in interceptions with 2 and continues to get more playing time with the absence of Branden Smith. I have been impressed with what i've seen of Commings at the CB spot recently. He's bigger than most of our other CBs and seems to have a physical presence to him that fits in Todd Grantham's defense.
- Aaron Murray just continues to impress. He has 16 TD (12 passing and 4 rushing) and only 3 interceptions and just seems to be getting better every week. Maybe he's getting better every week because he's playing Tennessee and Vanderbilt but he just seems to have that something that should translate into a fantastic college quarterback in the years to come.
- Kris Durham and A.J. Green both continue to amaze me with some of the catches they've made this year. They are one of the best 1-2 receiver combos in college football.
- The Tight Ends seem to be getting the football more over the last couple of games. Aron White has at least 2 catches in each of the last 3 games and Orson Charles made two catches against Tennessee and Colorado before being held to 1 against Vanderbilt. The TEs are a huge part of this offense and are two of the best receiving TEs in the country. They need to be utilized more to open up Durham, Green and King on the outside and to open up holes for the running game.

College Football Pick'ems Week Seven Results

Overall Leaderboard: Correct Picks: Bonus Points:
1. J Martin (CFBZ) 120 1486
2. Thomas Bates (Beach Bums) 119 1496
3. Ross WB (CFBZ) 119 1488
4. Brian Harrison (Orange 44) 119 1410
5. Roy Smith (BSUBOYZ) 118 1431

Week 7 Top 5: Correct Picks: Bonus Points:
1. Paul Polilli (BIGPALOOKA4) 16 209
2. RossWB (CFBZ) 15 185
3. Roy Smith (BSUBOYZ) 15 172
4. Terry Cummings (muckats) 15 15
5. 7 Tied with 14 correct picks

Zealot Rankings: Correct Picks:  Bonus Points:
J Martin 120 1486
Ross WB 119 1488
Kevin 110 1312
Brandon 109 1377

CFBZ Top 25

W-L This Week PR
1 Oregon 6-0 UCLA (3-3) 1
2 Auburn 7-0 #5 LSU (7-0) 3
3 Oklahoma 6-0 at #15 Missouri (6-0) 9
4 Boise State 6-0 Bye 4(T)
5 LSU 7-0 at #2 Auburn (7-0) 4(T)
6 Alabama 6-1 at Tennessee (2-4) 8
7 Mich State 7-0 at Northwestern (5-1) 11
8 TCU 7-0 Air Force (5-2) 10
9 Ohio State 6-1 Purdue (4-2) 2
10 Utah 6-0 Colorado State (2-5) 12
11 Wisconsin 6-1 at #12 Iowa (5-1) 23
12 Iowa 5-1 #11 Wisconsin (6-1) 16
13 Stanford 5-1 Washington State (1-6) 13
14 Oklahoma St 6-0 #18 Nebraska (5-1) 19
15 Missouri 6-0 #3 Oklahoma (6-0) 21
16 Arizona 5-1 Washington (3-3) 18
17 FSU 6-1 Bye 14
18 Nebraska 5-1 at #14 Oklahoma St (6-0) 4(T)
19 Arkansas 4-2 Ole Miss (3-3) 15
20 South Carolina 4-2 at Vanderbilt (2-4) 7
21 West Virginia 5-1 Syracuse (4-2) 22
22 Texas 4-2 Iowa State (3-4) -
23 Miss State 5-2 UAB (2-4) -
24 Michigan 5-2 Bye 25(T)
25 USC 5-2 Bye -

Dropped Out: Nevada, NC State, Florida, Air Force

Also receiving votes: Nevada, Virginia Tech, Kansas St, East Carolina

Friday, October 15, 2010

Alabama vs. Ole Miss: Half Way Home, the Tide Reaches a Crossroads

I'm foregoing the weekly dose of Unsolicited Advice for this one.

Why? Because this game isn't going to come down to any sort of strategy. If you look at where Ole Miss is at right now, on paper, there's no way they beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa. No matter how much strategizing they've done over the past 2 weeks, no matter how thoroughly they've targeted Bama's weaknesses, they just don't have the players to go on the road and defeat Alabama...IF the Tide shows up to play. And that's the great unknown here.

Are the players going to give up on being the best that they can be this season now that the undefeated streak is over and just sleep walk through this one? Or are they going to come back strong, perhaps even feeling liberated from the burden of that very streak, looking to make this game a statement as they begin forging a legacy separate from the 2009 team?

Unfortunately, no one's going to know the answer to that until the team steps onto the field Saturday night. I've done some digging to try to get a read of where the players' heads have been this week, but there doesn't seem to be a consenus. Some say it's been a lethargic week spent mostly on playing the blame game internally. Some say it's been a sharp, intense week of preparation with everyone focused on beating Ole Miss. So I can't say with any real certainty what we're going to get out of Alabama tomorow. But I can say that's what will determine the game.

And that's not to overlook Ole Miss at all. They do have some weapons on offense that have the potential to make it interesting, regardless of the Tide's mindset. I don't have much respect for Jeremiah Masoli as a passer, but he's a much more dynamic runner than the squirrely Stephen Garcia, who's own elusiveness caused a sloppy Tide defense problems last week. More poor tackling in the backfield could open up big plays for his legs. And, while not a high-profile guy, Brandon Bolden is a powerful back who will also exploit limp-wristed tackling. The Rebels even have a tall wide-out threat similar to Alshon Jeffery in the 6'6" Melvin Harris. (Granted, there is a lot more that makes Jeffery special besides his size.) On defense, they have big Jerrell Powe in the middle and one of the better minds in the game calling plays on that side of the ball, Tyrone Nix. But with their offensive line in shambles and their best defensive player (Kentrell Lockett) done for the year, it's just not going to be enough IF the Tide shows up.

And whichever Tide shows up on Saturday, that's going to be your clue as to how the rest of the season plays out. If they have their minds right and handle the Rebels like they ought to, then as John Rambo once said, NOTHING IS OVER. But if they show up flat and struggle, it's really difficult to seem them winning in Baton Rouge in two weeks, or against Auburn. A loss would even put next week's trip to Tennessee in question. It's THAT critical that they get their legs back underneath them in this game.

My preseason prediction for this game was a 35-6 Bama win. Since then, Masoli won his appeal to play this season, and the Bama defense hasn't progressed as far along as I thought it would. So my revised pick is...

Alabama 27, Ole Miss 17

Actually, you know what? I do have one bit of advice for the Tide this week...


Seriously, guys. Everybody from here on out is going to stack the box and then shoot guys through every gap to stop Ingram and Richardson. The only way you're going to stop them from doing that is to THROW THE BALL DEEP. When you finally did that against South Carolina, you hit a long touchdown pass. DO MORE OF THAT. Look, I love the quick screens out to Julio and Maze. I'm on the record with that. But as of right now, that's the only constraint you're using against these full boxes. And, sure, that does help the running game by keeping the backside defenders from crashing down. However, it also has the effect of drawing the safeties even CLOSER to the line of scrimmage to stop the screens. In essence, you're letting opposing defenses play the game within 8 yards of the line. They're practically begging you to throw it over their heads. SO DO IT. Try throwing the go route to Maze. That was McElroy's favorite play last year, but I've yet to see it this season. Where did it go? This would be a good game to break it out. You're going to have to throw deep to win the second half of this season.

That's all I got.

Monday, October 11, 2010

CFBZ Top 25 (or 26)

W-L This Week PR
1 Oregon 6-0 Bye 2
2 Ohio State 6-0 at #23 Wisconsin (5-1) 3
3 Auburn 6-0 #15 Arkansas (4-1) 8
4(T) Nebraska 5-0 Texas (3-2) 5
4(T) LSU 6-0 McNeese State (2-3) 11
4(T) Boise State 5-0 at San Jose St (1-5) 4
7 South Carolina 4-1 at Kentucky (3-3) 21
8 Alabama 5-1 Ole Miss (3-2) 1
9 Oklahoma 5-0 Iowa State (3-3) 10
10 TCU 6-0 BYU (2-4) 6
11 Michigan State 6-0 Illinois (3-2) 12
12 Utah 5-0 at Wyoming (2-4) 9
13 Stanford 5-1 Bye 17
14 FSU 5-1 Boston College (2-3) 25
15 Arkansas 4-1 at #3 Auburn (6-0) 19
16 Iowa 4-1 at Michigan (5-1) 15
17 Nevada 6-0 at Hawaii (4-2) 20
18 Arizona 4-1 at Washington State (1-5) 7
19 Oklahoma St 5-0 at Texas Tech (3-2) 16
20 NC State 4-1 at East Carolina (3-2) -
21 Missouri 5-0 at Texas A&M (3-2) 24
22 West Virginia 4-1 South Florida (3-2) -
23 Wisconsin 5-1 #2 Ohio State (6-0) -
24 Florida 4-2 Mississippi State (4-2) 14
25(T) Michigan 5-1 #16 Iowa (4-1) 13
25(T) Air Force 5-1 at San Diego St (3-2) -

Dropped Out: Miami (Fl), Kansas State, Northwestern

Also receiving votes: Oregon State, Kansas State, UTEP

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Virginia Tech's chances to win the ACC

So the same Hokies that started 0-2, losing to a last minute Boise State drive and a opportunistic underdog in James Madison currently sit 4-2 (2-0) after reeling off four-straight wins. While the loss to Boise was painful, and the loss to JMU will embarrass Hokies worldwide for the rest of their time on this earth, there can be solace in another ACC championship, which would be our fourth only seven years into the league. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let's look at the route the Hokies have to take to end up in Florida in early December for a date with an ACC Atlantic foe...which we hope will lead to another date in Florida four weeks later with another foe that won their conference.

The remaining schedule
Oct. 16- Wake Forest
Oct. 23- Duke
Nov. 4- Georgia Tech
Nov. 13- @ UNC
Nov. 20- @ Miami
Nov. 27- Virginia

As you can see, four of our remaining six games are at home. So that's a relief. We also have a Wake Forest team that is on a serious slide, perennial ACC cellar dwellers in Duke, a HIGHLY overrated and sporadic Georgia Tech squad, and a Virginia team that is starting to look like we all expected them to (bad). Those account for all of the home games, meaning if we don't come out of those four games unscathed, we can kiss our integrity and any chance at an ACC crown goodbye.

Although I said that if we don't go 4-0 against inferior competition at home it will be a complete disappointment, each team is completely capable of ringing our bell and landing a shocking knockout punch the same way that JMU did. Wake Forest has had A LOT of close calls in the last couple of weeks, losing to Georgia Tech and Navy on last second touchdowns. Additionally, at some points during those weeks, the Demon Deacons were down to their fourth-string quarterback, a converted wideout, who actually performed admirably. So to say that Jim Grobe and his crew have been unlucky is an understatement! The reason I won't sleep on any opponent is two-fold. One, JMU...'nuff said. Two, Wake has been in almost every game they have played, and something tells me that losing that close two weeks in a row is going to have them EXTRA-hungry. Additionally, they have some real talent at the skill positions in Pendegrass, Adams, and Givens, and Jim Grobe is an excellent coach (in that look at what he has done at previously lowly Wake) and has won an ACC title. However, I predict that the Hokies will run away with this one. I expect a fight initially, but the Hokies' depth will wear on the Deacs as the game goes on, so a 38-14 score is my prediction.

As for Duke, they are also a sleeper team. Yeah, yeah, they were trounced by Alabama, but so was Florida. They have an experience coach who has raised the profile of the program in both recruiting and play. Heck, Duke was almost bowl eligible a year ago, and that hasn't happened in A LONG time! Defensively, the Devils will be pressed to stop the Hokies. Offensively, they have some weapons in the receiving core to watch out for, and a QB who can get them the ball in Sean Renfree. Also, if anyone remembers last year, the Blue Devils were the closest to knocking the Hokies off of any team the Hokies didn't lose to. The Hokies barely fended off the pesky Dookies in Durham 34-26, in which they were the first team (and only the second team to date) to shut down Ryan Williams. So don't underestimate what they can do. However, again I will pick the Hokies by a similar margin.

Georgia Tech is the real mystery of the bunch. They are so inconsistent that it is puzzling. In fact, just as puzzling as the triple-option is to the Hokies' D. In the two meetings against Paul Johnson's scheme, the Hokies have been shredded on the ground, particularly by Josh Nesbitt...yeah, the guy who is still there. The real difference between this year and last is Georgia Tech's cardboard football player defense. If they are not actually cardboard, then they fooled me. It is therefore not surprising that the visionary of this defense is former beleaguered UVA coach Al Groh. So the Hokies are familiar with his defensive scheme. So the key to beating Georgia Tech is by stopping their triple-option attack...something I wouldn't put money on this Hokie defense doing. So although the Yellow Jackets are far inferior, I could actually see this being a loss if Tech can't outscore the Jackets on offense, and can't shut down the triple O.

UNC is a real test for the Hokies, as they were down big last time they were in Chapel Hill and just BARELY snuck away with a victory, and lost last year on the horrible decision making/play-calling of the Tech coaches. So, even in UNC's newest dilemma, don't chastise me for being at least a little uncomfortable with this matchup. This is the one team that can hold their own talent-wise, position by position against Tech in the ACC. A loss here would be a blow to the chances of Tech winning the ACC, but it would not drop them out of the race. The key is to go into the Miami game with 1 or less conference losses and win the head-to-head there. But, if we TCB, we could actually go in undefeated and still make our way down south to the ACCCG. This will be a bout with the Tarheels, who are still playing hard despite their current predicament, BUT I think the Hokies will come out on top. Why you may ask? Well, Frank Beamer's gameplan may be 20 years outdated and collecting dust, BUT Butch Davis doesn't seem to have a gameplan at all...unless you consider twiddling your thumbs on the sideline at the game, waiting to get back into your office to recruit a gameplan.

As for Miami, the Canes will be victorious if and ONLY if Jacory Harris stops playing monkey in the middle and throwing it right to the monkey. Virginia Tech's defensive backs are the best he will see (with the possible exception of those at Ohio State). The perceived weak link of the group (sophomore Jayron Hosley) is among the leaders nationally in interceptions, pass breakups and passes defensed. So although Miami has the athletes to run with Tech, they can't possibly expect to win if Harris is as careless with the ball as he has been...well, for the last year now. Where is that guy Robert Marve now? We may want him back!

And last but not least (well, actually, about that...) Mike London's UVA squad. They have lived up to everyone's expectations of their play, in that they have been more or less unimpressive (with exception to the USC game which they could have won). I am obviously picking the Hokies here. Marc Verica is going to have a VERY bad day against the Hokies. Again, I don't want to underestimate any opponent from here on out, especially not one with an up-and-comer in Mike London as their coach, but I have to admit that I am licking my chops for this date on the calendar...and so is the Hokie defense...because they smell blood!

In Perspective: Bama's First Loss

Now that the dust has settled on Alabama's first loss since January of 09, it's time to put it in perspective. I'll get the obvious part out of the way: Losing sucks, a'ight? I was as despondent as anyone while I waited for this game to just...end. But anyone with a realistic perspective on things knew that Bama wasn't going to go undefeated forever. And the Shula years weren't THAT long ago, so I'm still well versed in how to cope with tough losses. So this isn't going to be a blog for crying or moaning about the offensive playcalling or how McElroy needs to get benched or whatever else people are pouting about today. If that's what you're after, it's out there. Believe me, I've read it already. I'm just going to try and take the most objective look possible at what went wrong against South Carolina and what it means for the 2nd half of the season.

We'll start by taking a look at something I said before the season started in that thing I'm always linking to:

"And, as much as it might pain me to say this, it’s naïve to think the secondary won’t cost us at least one game this season. It’s also pretty naïve to think the kicking game won’t cost us a game."

I've seen this perfect storm on the horizon for a long time. I thought it was coming in Arkansas, but the kicking teams actually played well in that game, and I had hoped maybe it had passed us by. But, nope, it was just a little delayed.

Consider this: Placekicker Jeremy Shelly missed a chipshot field goal and an extra point. That's 4 points off the board for Bama. Then you had punter Cody Mandell's 1st quarter shank that set up South Carolina in excellent field position for it's 2nd touchdown of the day to go up 14-3. Now, let's say that the kickers, long snappers, and holders don't screw up those plays. That's an eleven (11) point swing in the game. Instead of a 35-21 game, maybe you're only looking at a 28-25 game. That's a very, very different situation that allows the Tide to keep the ball in the hands of Ingram and Richardson, it's best players, late in the game.

I realize there are a lot of if's, but's, and maybe's inherent in that scenario. And with the way Alshon Jeffery was abusing Bama's secondary, it's very possible, some might say "likely," that South Carolina would have scored to go up 14-3 with or without the shanked punt. I just point out these miscues to emphasize the critical impact they had on the game. Leigh Tiffin, PJ Fitzgerald, Brian Selman...we need you right now. (Not that Tiffin was above missing the occasional extra point.)

Okay, so now that we've established the myriad ways in which Bama suffered self-inflicted wounds in the kicking game, let's get to the defense. Apparently, rumors that these guys had "arrived," which may or may not have been propagated by this blog, were greatly exaggerated. In fact, maybe escaping from Arkansas with a win wasn't a good thing for them. Maybe it just reinforced some inner belief that they could skate through the SEC on that same level of play. Florida showing up in Tuscaloosa DOA couldn't have helped matters. And, if that's the case, they were wrong, in every possible way. They actually failed in EVERY area I highlighted in this week's Unsolicited Advice. Let's take a look at how that went:

1. The Team must maintain a sharp mental focus: A complete failure here. My main point of emphasis here was that Bama needed to at LEAST "let their strengths be their strengths." And by that, of course, I'm referring to running the ball and stopping the run. The Bama offense's running game was somewhat taken out of the game by falling into a deep, 21-3 hole early. But there was really no excuse for the defense to play as poorly against South Carolina's running game as they did. Their streak of not allowing a 100 yard rusher may have technically stayed intact, but the fact of the matter is that the Gamecocks mostly did what they wanted to on the ground, and if Marcus Lattimore had been in the game a few more plays, he likely would have hit 100. Also, the defense seemed to have learned nothing from the Arkansas experience, and once again came out flat and got shellshocked in a wild road environment. This time around, they didn't get it together in the 2nd half.

2. The Defensive Backs must win one-on-one matchups with South Carolina's wide receivers: I knew this was going to be the toughest task for the Bama defense. In particular, Jeffery HAS to be in the conversation for Best WR in the SEC now. I was having nightmares about Jeffery vs. Demarcus Milliner in the redzone all week. And if I was having nightmares about it, I knew Steve Spurrier was having wet dreams about it. Sure enough, HBC dialed it up early in the 2nd quarter for the Gamecocks' 3rd touchdown of the day. And it looked easier than I had feared. That said, all things considered, the Bama DBs acquitted themselves better than the front 7. On several of Jeffery's big catches (such as his 1st touchdown and the circus catch against Dre Kirkpatrick late), he was NOT open, he just made great plays on the ball. The secondary even stepped up to create the lone turnover that gave Bama the opportunity to tie the game late. So it wasn't a total wash. These young guys just aren't quite good enough yet.

3. The Defense must not allow South Carolina to score TDs in the redzone. An abysmal failure. The Gamecocks scored 4 redzone TDs and made it look easy. The word was that SC spent a large portion of their extra prep time on redzone offense, and it showed. They were ultra efficient. This was almost a no contest.

4. The Defense must get off the field on 3rd down. Another big time fail. The defense just couldn't get South Carolina off the field, especially in crucial situations, allowing the Gamecocks to convert 5 of 8 in the second half. In particular, I flash back to when the game was still in the balance, 28-21 in the 4th quarter. South Carolina had the ball, and the D needed just one lousy stop. They had at least 3 third down opportunities on that drive that I recall off the top of my head, but failed each and every time, allowing SC to march down the field and put the game away with a short touchdown run. But it really was about more than 3rd down. These guys failed on every down. The D's inability to stop the run kep the Gamecocks in manageable yardage situations, which in turn allowed Stephen Garcia to stay in his comfort zone.

And as I warned against beforehand, this game was another terrible example of Bama's linemen and linebackers failing to finish tackles in the backfield, and Garcia made them pay. It wasn't a 3rd down, but here's a perfect example: It's 4th down. Garcia drops back to pass. Bama gets pressure, so he bails on the play. Numerous defenders have shots to get him in the backfield, namely Mark Barron. None of them do. Garcia scrambles for the 1st down. The very next play, he throws a TD to Jeffery. If these guys would get their heads on straight and focus on their fundamentals instead of just running around as fast as they can (and jumping off sides all the time), maybe they'd be a pretty good unit.

So that's really where we're at with the defense right now. They played with no fundamentals, no composure, and really don't seem to be "getting it" right now. Maybe the offense failing to bail them out again will be their wake up call. Maybe it's something about going on the road, where they've played their 3 worst games by far. At this point, we can only guess.

Speaking of the offense...I honestly don't have a lot negative to say here. I know a lot of people are calling for Jim McElwain's head for the offensive gameplan, but what these people don't get is that when you go down 21-3 early, the gameplan goes out the window. My only knocks against him in this game were that he didn't attack the deep middle of the field when the Gamecocks were selling out on the run early (when he did this later, it went for a TD) and that he couldn't get out of the "throw, throw, throw" mindset when the lead had been cut to 28-21 and Bama was driving. The already-infamous calling of 2 throws from 2-and-4 really was as bad as advertised. But as far as the former goes, I can't say for certain that he didn't call throws over the deep middle and McElroy just decided to hold onto the ball for 10 minutes.

Aside from getting in a hole early, that was what sunk the Bama offense. A lot has been, and will continue to be, said about the Gamecocks shutting down Ingram and Richardson, but the truth is that Bama took them out of the game. (They only got 17 carries between the two of them.) And like I said, part of that was understandable and some of it wasn't. But, man, GMac routinely killed drives by eating sacks. He only took 7 but if felt like a dozen. And at least half of those were plays where he held onto the ball too long and had ample opportunity to just throw it away and save the lost yardage. I don't know if he was mentally slow or suffering tunnel vision from that sorta-concussion he got last week, but he was awful in clutch situations.

Really, this was like the anti-McElroy. He put up a fantastic stat line (27-34 for 315 and 2 TDs) but totally choked when it came to winning time.

Lost in the agony of defeat was Julio Jones stepping up on his bruised knee in place of Ingram and Richardson with 8 catches for 118 yards and 1 TD and no egregious drops. Going forward, Bama needs to get those numbers in sync with Ingram and Richardson's good days. That would be tough to beat.

So what does all this mean going forward?

Not as much as you might think, really. This was an interdivisional SEC loss, meaning that Bama still controls it's down destiny in the West. If they win out, they're going to Atlanta (maybe for a rematch with South Carolina with the way Florida is looking these days). And let's not forget that 3 of the last 4 national champions were SEC teams with at least one loss. In 2006 and 2008, the Gators also lost early/mid-season interdivisional SEC games, only to win out and get in the BCS title game. The goal of a repeat national championship is definitely on the backburner for now, but it ain't completely off the table. No teary-eyed speeches necessary.

And let's keep the context of this game in mind. Bama played it's worst game of the year, and South Carolina played by far it's best game of the year. This was a young Tide team, coming off back-to-back tough wins over good teams, going on the road against a very talented, well-coached team coming off a bye week. That's a tough spot to be in, and one they won't be in again. The opponent bye weeks won't stop coming, but there isn't another 3 game stretch this tough the rest of the year. As long as the Tide doesn't completely fall apart mentally, they should be able to handle Ole Miss and Tennessee heading into their own bye week where they can regroup before a perilous-looking road trip to face a dangerously-lucky LSU team.

From that game onward, it all depends on the defense developing some consistency and leadership. The latter being what disappoints me the most. The consistency would come with leaders holding the young guys accountable. But nobody on this year's defense seems willing to step up and take on the Rolando McClain role of rattling everybody's cages when the going gets tough. WAY too much head-hanging from the likes of Mark Barron. I hate to keep linking back to stuff I wrote before the season started, but this is what I was talking about way back then. The offense will sort itself out, but some of those 08ers on defense have to step up and be LEADERS instead of just really talented football players. If that happens, Bama will be alright. If not, they'll lose to LSU and Auburn. End of story, see you in the Outback Bowl. I'm not calling for that. I'm just saying it's a possibility.

In closing, I'll say this. Prior to the season, I projected Alabama's record through 6 games to be 5-1. Through 6 games...They're 5-1, the loss is just different. They're still on track for the 11-1 I called for. If you're a Bama fan, chill out on the doom and gloom. If you're anyone else, don't think you can write Bama out of the title picture just yet. The Tide has issues but it's nothing they can't work out, if they want it.

Nebraska/Kansas State Recap and Looking Forward

Nebraska 48 – Kansas State 13

A lot of people (namely the creator of this blog…) have wondered my feelings on Nebraska’s domination of the Kansas State Wildcats on Thursday Night, and I must say that I am very impressed. I was very impressed with the defensive display put on especially after the South Dakota State game which I described to a friend as, “The single worst performance in the history of my fandom.” Now, did I go a bit off the deep end with that statement? Yes. Yes I did. I stand by it, though since it was so utterly disappointing I was going into this game with very low expectations and this performance soared above it to a great degree. The defense looked great and actually shut down a pretty solid offense in Kansas State and it gives hope that they can keep doing it against even better offenses coming up.

What I do think we need to keep in perspective though is the fact that this is only Kansas State. This wasn’t Michael Bishop, Darren Sproles or Michael Bishop out there; it was an okay Kansas State team with a really talented running back. As happy as I am that Nebraska is back in National Championship discussion it needs to be remembered that it’s only one game and one game doth not a season make. That goes for individual players as well…

Which brings me to Taylor Martinez, and while I admit he had an amazing night on Thursday. It is also worth noting that he has not played from behind yet, nor has he had to use his arm much at all. While the stats may say he is averaging 17 Yards a completion it is also worth noting that a lot of these are based on YAC yards by the wide receivers. While I don’t want to see him HAVE to play from behind or have to throw 20-25 times in a game, I think that a tad more emphasis needs to be put on the passing game coming up just to see what he can do if called upon to do the above. I will, and forever (because I am stubborn) think that Cody Green was the right call going into this year because of his ability to run and pass, but if T-Magic can put them BOTH together then it was worth the risk. Poor Zac Lee, though…

What can Nebraska do to keep it up? Simple, keep pounding the ball and getting stops. It sounds simple, but against the superior teams in the Big XII who are coming up it is easier said than done. I think the game that can carry the rest of this season is coming up next Saturday, though and that is at home versus Texas. Nebraska has had three heartbreaking losses the past three meetings and hasn’t beaten Texas at home since 1933 and hasn’t beaten them period since the Big XII Championship Game back in 1999 for this season to be successful they simply HAVE to beat them. It sounds obvious to say that, but this is the hurdle that Nebraska has never cleared and knowing that it is the last season in the Big XII nothing would make me and the rest of the Husker fans happier to beat Texas and use it as a springboard to a National Championship run.


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