Tuesday, January 09, 2007

As they Say in Latin America...

Mea Culpa.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Ron Powlus will win three Heismans Wrong.

And now, to make myself feel better: Right. Right. Right.

The lessons I take from that review are as follows:

a. I do my worst analysis when Michigan is involved. I was fairly high on Florida for much of the year, save for proclaiming them overrated in August (and even then, I correctly identified the two reasons why I would be wrong - the defensive line and Meyer's record in year twos - so I at least have the insight to know why my predictions are going to end up embarrassing me). I stuck up for their strength of schedule and noted that their offense was pretty good when I did the yards per play analysis. Then, as soon as USC lost and I got visions of Glendale and a dancing Fox Optimus Prime with a block "M" on its chest jangling in my noggin, I lost my mind and did what most lawyers do: marshall every possible argument against the opponent. So feel free to completely disregard me in the future when Michigan is at all implicated by what I'm saying.

b. I can never go wrong ripping on Tommy Tuberville. How's that "no SEC team can make the national title game with our schedules" mantra working these days?

Other thoughts on the game last night:

1. As much as I want to beat myself up for deviating from one of my core beliefs - the SEC is very good and its teams and players don't get the attention they deserve - I'm not going to get too upset because the Florida team we all saw last night was a distant cousin of the Florida team from the second half of the season. Who could have rationally thought that the team that was outgained by Vandy, that barely survived at home with a healthy dose of luck against South Carolina, that limped past a struggling Georgia team, and that was tied with 6-5 Florida State in the fourth quarter would also be the team to hold Ohio State to 80 yards and seven offensive points? Florida played their best game since at least the 1/2/02 Orange Bowl against Maryland. For that, Urban Meyer and the team deserves full credit for raising their game, but let's not pretend that we had any inkling that this was coming.

2. Last night's game was also evidence that we ought not overrate the importance of a blow-out in a championship game. History is replete with teams that completely lost the plot in Super Bowls and national title games. The Bills of the 90s were never as bad as they looked in the Super Bowl. '04 Oklahoma was not 36 points worse than '04 USC. '96 Florida State was not 28 points worse than '96 Florida. '95 Florida was not 38 points worse than '95 Nebraska. '92 Miami was not 21 points worse than '92 Alabama. There is an observable phenomenon that teams: (a) get stale after long lay-offs; and/or (b) freak out when they fall behind on the biggest stage and have total meltdowns. Florida was outstanding last night and they are clearly a better team than Ohio State, but they aren't 27 points better and there's no way that Ohio State's offense is really that bad. This point incidentally doesn't so much have impact for the game last night as it does for historical discussions where a certain team's merit consists mainly of running up a huge score in a championship game.

3. Last night's result has to be the equivalent for Florida fans of what the Braves hypothetically winning a pivotal World Series game against the Yankees in large part because of a game-tying three-run homer off the Yankee closer would have for me: a cleansing of history. A re-writing of the most painful episode. For years, Florida fans no doubt remembered the Fiesta Bowl against Nebraska as the darkest night of their sports lives. Now, whenever they remember it, it will trigger memories of a complete reversal: a dominant performance over a favored foe wearing red in the desert. The fact that Florida won the game in large part because of an unstoppable pass rush and ended the game downing the ball inside the Ohio State ten, just as Nebraska did to them 11 years ago just adds to the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind effect.

4. I generally think that the "Big Ten = Slow; SEC = Fast" argument is in lieu of actual analysis. It absolves the advocate of actually figuring out what went right or wrong in a given game. For example, I don't think that Ohio State lost the game because they're slow on defense. If they were slow, then they wouldn't have defended Texas so well over the past two years. I do think that they (and Michigan) have excessively conservative defensive approaches and that was evident in both bowl games. Time and time again, SEC defenses showed that the way to limit Chris Leak was to pressure him relentlessly and force him into bad mechanics. There's a reason why Florida's offense produced such meager output in SEC games. (Incidentally, this is why you-know-who will be completely wrong when he inevitably claims that Florida won the national title because of their OMG newfangled scheme that left mouth-breathing SEC coaches in the dust. That and the fact that anyone with a pulse might note that Florida won because their defensive line was completely unblockable and scheme is irrelevant when you get whipped up front.) So how did Ohio State try to defend Florida's offense? With a three-man line and no blitzes. If you let Chris Leak sit in the pocket, he will murder you because he's accurate and his receivers will get open. This is true with most quality quarterbacks. Against Texas and the undercarriage of the Big Ten, Ohio State could sit back because the opposing quarterbacks weren't very good and the Bucks could get pressure with four. Against Florida, Ohio State couldn't get pressure with a three- or four-man rush and they allowed Leak to kill them.

5. The one thing that Jim Tressel got right last night was the decision to go for 4th and one from his own 29. Naturally, Anthony Davis (Unconventional! Does not compute!) didn't like the decision and kept referring to it even after it "led" to three points in a 27-point rout, but Ohio State needed to move the ball and their defense wasn't having much success stopping Florida. Given that context, the 75% chance of success was worth 30 yards of field position. The problem was a totally predictable call - run off-tackle from a two-TE, two-back set - and the fact that Florida was abusing Ohio State up front. With a mobile, senior quarterback and a spread offense, Ohio State should have had multiple receivers on the field to force Florida to delcare its intentions before the play and then let Troy Smith decide whether to run or pass. Hindsight is 20/20, but my thought at the time was that Tressel's risk-reward analysis was right and his playcall was wrong as soon as I saw the formation.

6. Last night got me to thinking that the SEC has a pretty damned good record in national title bowl games. Here's what I came up with, starting with 1980 because that's when I started watching football:

2006 - Florida over Ohio State
2003 - LSU over Oklahoma
1998 - Tennessee over Florida State
1996 - Florida over Florida State
1995 - Nebraska over Florida
1992 - Alabama over Miami
1982 - Penn State over Georgia
1980 - Georgia over Notre Dame

I also did the math for the Pac Ten in my head and they have had similar success:

2005 - Texas over USC
2004 - USC over Oklahoma
2003 - USC over Michigan
2001 - Oregon over Colorado (keep in mind that the winner of that game would probably win the AP vote if Nebraska had beaten Miami in the Rose Bowl)
1991 - Washington over Michigan
1984 - Washington over Oklahoma

Based on an admittedly small sample size, there's an argument to be made that the two conferences that feel most ignored by the media have a point that when their teams survive their relatively balanced conference schedules and make it to national title games, they do very well, as opposed to the teams from the top-heavy conferences like the Big Eight/XII and Big Ten.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

The Big TIN can just got kicked all over the field. The crushing of the Big TIN can was so complete that Coach Alvarez was stymied early in his effort to hype the Big TIN can as compared to the SEC. There were a lot of folks who follow the SEC who saw this coming. And do not forget that coach out in Idaho.
BTW, your mea culpa saved you a phone call.

BT

Michael said...

I figure that the renewed insult of Tommy Tuberville prevented this particular call.

You catch the Quayle reference in the title?

Chad said...

There is something to the SEC speed theory. Even in your denial, you acknowkedged it.

While OSU's skill position stars are as fast as the Gators' stars, they do not have the same team speed as Florida. They are slow on the LOS, and their linebacker's did not look terribly impressive either.

If the OSU solution becomes 'recruit the Southeast more heavily", as many other Midwest teams have done over the last 10-15 years, that is pretty much a concession that there's something to the idea of SEC speed.

The speed difference between the SEC and Big Ten becomes pronounced beyond Michigan and Ohio State, which puts those teams at a real disadvantage when they run into teams that can stay with them athletically. Florida sees comparable speed in almost every conference game, while OSU sees it once a year in conference.

Football is king across the South to a degree not true in any other part of the country. It gets first tier athletes at a much higher rate than in other regions, and those athletes get to play close to yearround. The South also has the nation's largest population demographically likely to produce top shelf athletes. It is to be expected that there will be a greater distribution of speed throught the SE's premier conference than the premier conference of the Midwest.

The funniest SEC speed denial is Fiu's repeated 'Florida's not faster than the Ohio State, but they're playing faster' in his steam of consciousness notes. Wilt's not taller than everyone else. He's playing taller.

densterk said...

nice blog about sports. let's always stay healthy and fit