Sunday, September 10, 2006

Thoughts on the Weekend

There's awesome, there's totally awesome, and then there's seeing your favorite camper from your summer as sports director at a summer camp return an interception for a touchdown for your alma mater. Michigan opponents, fear Max Pollock:

The sports instruction at Camp Judaea in 1997 was top-notch. Here's Exhibit A.

Other, less important notes from the weekend:

The Dawgs

I wish I knew how many times I have picked against the Dawgs on the road in the Mark Richt era and then realized at some point during the third quarter "Mark Richt teams never lose road conference games." Georgia completely dominated on both sides of the line of scrimmage. I expected Georgia's defensive line to dominate and they did, especially Charles Johnson, who is benefiting from the attention paid to Quentin Moses. Moses and Johnson are giving me flashbacks to the Peter Boulware-Reinard Wilson tandem for Florida State in 1996 that dragged FSU to the national title game. (OK, Warrick Dunn also had something to do with that.) I did not expect Georgia's offensive line to be as good as they were, but they shelled the South Carolina defensive line time and again, opening holes for the running backs and giving Matt Stafford time to throw.

I came away very impressed by Stafford, although that's probably because I saw his terrific throws to Milner and Massaquoi, but missed two of his picks while watching the Texas game. The only pick I saw was the one thrown on a slant at the end of the first half and that was not his fault, as it was a well-thrown ball that was picked because the defender made a great play and also got away with interfering with Massaquoi with his off-arm. Georgia has only one test before the Florida game - October 11 against the Orange Horde from the North whose defenders apparently suck at assignment football (the open-ness [is that a word?] of Air Force's receivers on their drive at the end of the game was pretty astonishing). Matt Stafford will not stop being a freshman this year, which means that he'll be inconsistent (even late in the season), but he doesn't have to be great with this supporting cast. If Georgia can beat the Vols and split with Auburn and Florida, then this season will be an unqualified success. To be honest, though, if I'm going make fun of West Virginia for playing a bad schedule, I also need to note that Georgia lucks out in a major way by getting to play both Mississippi schools. With those two games, plus Vandy and Kentucky, half of the SEC schedule are guaranteed wins.

Ohio State-Texas and Penn State-Notre Dame

Troy Smith is the best quarterback in the country. I defy anyone to watch the tapes of the Texas-OSU game and the Penn State-Notre Dame game and then tell me that Brady Quinn should be the Heisman front-runner. Quinn was somewhat shaky for the first several drives for Notre Dame, including missing an open John Carlson in the end zone (which prompted me to claim "I could have made that throw," my wife to respond "you're insane," and then me threatening to take her to the back yard to be Carlson to my Quinn so I could make that throw - keep in mind that she's 38 weeks pregnant) and throwing a terrible ball over the middle that should have been intercepted at the goal line. Quinn was outstanding for the last 35-40 minutes of the game, but Troy Smith was outstanding for all 60 minutes against the defending national champions on the road. He's accuracy is simply outstanding, such that he does what Mike Vick ought to do, which is simply use his mobility to buy time to allow receivers downfield to get open. I'm not predisposed to hyping Ohio State players, but Troy Smith is too good for me to deny reality. And the funny thing is that, although he was a fairly big recruit, he was something of an afterthought when Ohio State recruited him because Justin Zwick came in in the same class and was supposed to be Craig Krenzel's heir apparent. Kudos to the OSU coaches for recognizing who their best QB was and then designing an offense that takes advantage of his talent.

As for Texas in the game, I had the same thoughts as Peter from Burnt Orange Nation: Texas's passing game was extremely timid and did not complement their running game at all. I've had similar criticisms of the Michigan passing game for years, but if your strength is running the ball, then your passing game ought to be designed to deny linebackers and safeties a first step towards the line of scrimmage. That means throwing the ball down the field. Maybe Colt McCoy isn't capable of making reads down the field, but how hard is it to look and the safeties and then decide which receiver running a fly to throw to? Why not do what Michigan did with Chad Henne when he was a freshman and let Limas Sweed be their Braylon Edwards. OK, Limas will never be Braylon and Texas fans are ill-positioned to disagree, but he could be a viable down-the-field threat on the few plays that Texas isn't handing the ball to Selvin Young or Jamaal Charles.

The good old days, when Michigan could complete a non-screen forward pass.

Come to think of it, Texas calling pass plays with those backs and that offensive line is like Hugh Grant soliciting a blow from a nasty Hollywood hooker when he has Elizabeth Hurley at home. I digress.

Notre Dame looked very good on Saturday, so instead, I'm going to complain about NBC's coverage, specifically their choice of shots. If I ever do an Notre Dame on NBC drinking game, it will be unfair if I order players to drink every time the ND band is mugging for the camera. We get the picture, NBC. Notre Dame has a band. It includes men wearing skirts. The band members are very excited all game. They play that song from the George Zipp scene in Airplane. Enough already. Additionally, NBC provides a fine illustration of Jon Chait's theory that TV producers can make or break a coach by deciding when to show his picture. NBC cut to their Weis-cam after every big Notre Dame play. While this did give me chances to quip about Charlie's otherworldly genius causing Penn State to flub a short field goal attempt or decide that lead-footed Anthony Morelli is Jamelle Holleway, it did get annoying after a while.

If you can't tell, I might work in the garden during the Michigan game this weekend...or watch one of the other outstanding games in the same timeslot. Seriously, what's a fan to do when the following games are all on at 3:30:

Michigan-Notre Dame
Clemson-Florida State

That's half the top 20 playing one another in the same timeslot. If the NFL ever had that lineup, they would surely show only Georgia Tech-Troy to the Atlanta market, leaving the 85% of the world without DirectTV waiting for highlights at halftime.

And speaking of media criticism and Troy, Kirk Herbstreit opined on Saturday night when Troy and FSU were 17-17 in the 4th quarter that Jeff Bowden would go from "hero to goat" if FSU lost that game. (I can't remember if Herbstreit actually said hero or merely implied it.) Only in the make-believe world of sports analysis where coaches are not incompetent, but rather the targets of angry bloggers could Jeff Bowden have been a "hero" on Monday night against Miami. He was a talent-squandering beneficiary of nepotism on Monday night when FSU squeaked by Miami and he was a talent-squandering beneficiary of nepotism on Saturday night when FSU squeaked by Troy. FSU might win the ACC. They might even have a very good season. If they do, Jeff Bowden will have as much to do with it as me or Jenn Sterger.

A gratuitous opportunity to show the Paris Hilton of college football.

And one encouraging thought as a Michigan fan after a weekend defined by huge wins for UM's two biggest rivals: neither Ohio State, nor Notre Dame outgained their opponents by any significant margin. The scoreboards were lopsided because of factors that tend not to repeat themselves, such as fumbles and assorted other miscues. If Phil Steele has taught us anything at all, it's that teams that win by big margins despite not outgaining their opponents are overvalued thereafter.


peacedog said...

I said it earlier (can't check email now) but Massaqoi gave up on one of the interceptions (2nd or third). I don't know that it turns into a completion if he doesn't give up, but it's probably knocked down when both guys contend for the ball. It really looked like he was surprised the ball went as far as it did during the game.

I still believe you could have made the Quinn throw.

peacedog said...

I'd also like to point out that this schedule was set in a time when Colorado wasn't mind numbingly awful (as they seem to be now), even if they were transitioning from solid to, well, not quite solid.

I've never liked getting both Mississipi teams at once, though. But that stems from the fact that they've mostly brought up the rear in the west for some time now. In 10 years, this could be the meat of the West schedule (I doubt it but still). It is a fortunate break for the Dawgs right now though, I agree. I can't recall who we rotate MSU off for next year; it's either Bama or LSU but I'm not certain.

Michael said...

I'm not blaming Georgia for intentionally having a weak schedule, but instead simply pointing out that the schedule is very favorable this year. Per the rotation, Miss State comes off and Alabama comes on next year, then Ole Miss comes off and LSU comes on in 2008.

Ed said...

You know what bothers me about NBC’s coverage, Michael? The fact that they show the ND players celebrating after they score a touchdown. Pure homerism. I would prefer they cut away to Bo Schembechler solemnly intoning his liturgy that Notre Dame needs God more than God needs Notre Dame.

And by God, of course, I mean the Big Ten.

By the way, you’re beginning to worry me. I want you defeatist and peevish about Notre Dame sometime around the 3rd quarter Saturday – not six days before kickoff. Cheer up. Remember the last time you went into Notre Dame Stadium against a No. 2 ranked Irish squad? Todd Collins made some plays that day that still leaves me weeping in my cups (okay, the fact we lost four other games that year helps…).

Besides, Michigan may surprise Saturday. ND’s offensive line still looks vulnerable against a good pass rush (I trust that, unlike PSU, you will blitz, won’t you?). Quinn is a topsy-turvy little thing right now, and the defense is not nearly as good as six quarters without a touchdown would indicate. If Tony Hunt can pick up nice chunks of yardage, then one positively dreads the much superior Mike Hart. And the corners are still ripe for the picking, until proven otherwise.

Will Carr be able to attack these weaknesses? Will Henne be able to make plays downfield? My hunch is no, but I’ve been wrong before. It helps that Carr is an underdog in this game – remarkably for the first time in his tenure at Michigan (7 previous games in which he was expected to waltz…a 3-4 record….perhaps I understand your pessimism.). Maybe we’ll see a new wrinkle or two – even a brilliant gamble. The game will be close: I think that’s a safe bet.

As to your Smith/Quinn comparison, I can’t really deny Smith’s superiority at the moment. So far, Quinn has intermingled brilliant throws with bad ones with maddening abandon. Bottom line: Quinn has to improve his play for the Irish to compete for the National Championship. Otherwise, the world’s plaudits (and the Heisman) will be Smith’s. Not bad for a guy who wasn’t even on the radar screen until the 4th quarter of the Michigan game last November….