Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Sunday Splurge's Wisdom is Conventional

1. The Jimmies and the Joes, Columbia Edition.

Is there any simpler way of describing the Georgia-South Carolina game than that South Carolina had the two best skill position players on the field? South Carolina's offensive line is nothing special, so how is it that the Cocks outrushed Georgia 189 to 61? Marcus Lattimore. It's as simple as that. (With that rushing disparity, not to mention the facts that South Carolina doubled Georgia in terms of first downs and outgained the Dawgs by 101 yards, means that Georgia fans shouldn't fixate on Washaun Ealey's fumble. South Carolina was a better team on Saturday, full stop.) When South Carolina needed plays in the passing game, Alshon Jeffery made them on a consistent basis. Without A.J. Green, Georgia's skill position players are pedestrian, which renders an above-average offensive line somewhat meaningless. The thinking about Georgia going into the season was that Aaron Murray just needed to avoid mistakes because he was surrounded by an excellent offense. One ill-advised sale of an Independence Bowl jersey has rendered that thinking erroneous. Hell, Murray was one of the bright spots on Saturday, which is odd to say about a team's quarterback after they were just held to six points, but there you go.

2. South Carolina in the Georgia Dome?

Don't laugh. If it happens that the Cocks clinch their first trip to the SEC Championship Game at the Swamp, then Steve Spurrier is going to be one vindicated SOB. Right now, the factor that seems to be the most likely impediment is Steven Garcia. Garcia was underwhelming on Saturday, even with a productive running game for the first time in eons. (In fairness, his protection left a lot to be desired. Todd Grantham may not have solved Georgia's tackling issues, but the new 3-4 does represent an improvement in terms of rushing the passer.) As I watched Lattimore run, I thought back to the last great Spurrier team: the 2001 Gators. That team scored at will as long as Ernest Graham was healthy. Lattimore fills the Graham role that is required in the Spurrier offense: the between-the-tackles runner to keep the safeties honest and the offense on the field. Jeffery fills the Jabar Gaffney role. What the team lacks is a triggerman to play Rex Grossman.

By the way, I joked before the season about the prospect of the Big Ten doing its divisions geographically, in which case Michigan State would be South Carolina: a mid-level program that never makes the conference title game because they are wedged in with three superpowers. Not so funny anymore.

3. Denard!

Speaking of better Jimmies and Joes making their coaches look smarter, Rich Rdoriguez took a major step towards season four in Ann Arbor on Saturday because he has a track star under center who also happens to be accurate as hell with his passes and tough as hell when running the ball. The win in South Bend was critical for Rodriguez for a reason other than the fact that it makes a 5-0 start and thus an 8-9 win season more likely. The win was huge because it reflected Rodriguez's strength, which is putting together a kick-ass offense. Michigan hired Rodriguez because he put won 32 games in his last three years in Morgantown with a team that depended on a successful spread 'n' shred attack. Rodriguez now appears to be on the way to recreating that attack in the Big Ten. It would be one thing if Michigan were winning in a flukish or non-replicable manner. It is another thing for Michigan to win in exactly the way that one would have predicted a Rodriguez team would win.

Let's put this another way. Let's say that Michigan and Auburn both go 8-4 this year with effective offenses covering for mediocre defenses. Which team is better off for the future: the team with an offensive head coach whose fans know that they will always have good offenses as long as they have the head coach in place or the team with a defensive head coach who is apparently dependent on an offensive coordinator who will likely get his own head coaching gig in the near future? In short, it's better for a team to be winning because of success in the head coach's strong suit. That's why the first two games have been especially encouraging for Michigan.

3a. The Counterpoint.

The safety situation is still bad. If Crist doesn't miss most of the first half, Michigan probably doesn't win. The team is dependent on Denard. If he gets hurt, then Michigan will be in trouble. The running backs are pedestrian at best, despite the fact that they are paired with a dynamic running threat in the backfield.

3b. The Importance of Pace

At first glance looking at the box score, you would see that Michigan allowed 535 yards of offense to Notre Dame and conclude that the defense was a disaster. In reality, because of the pace of the game, the defensive performance wasn't far removed from the performance against UConn. The defense wasn't as good as its numbers against UConn or as bad as its numbers against the Irish. Because Michigan and Notre Dame are both no huddle teams and they played a feast-or-famine game that lacked sustained drives, the Irish had a whopping 17 possessions on Saturday. In the opener, Michigan had a series of long drives that ate up clock and shortened the game, so UConn had only nine possessions. Michigan allowed 1.1 points per drive against UConn and 1.4 points per drive against Notre Dame. You wouldn't think that defensive performances in which a unit allowed 343 and then 535 yards would be consistent, but there you go.

4. The ACC: a Counterpoint to the Jimmies and the Joes

Let's posit that the ACC is not suffering a regression in talent right now. The conference typically does well on Draft day and I see no reason why that's changed. So why are ACC teams so mediocre? Why is it that the ACC Coastal started the year with four ranked teams and a none of those teams have beaten an FBS opponent? Why is it that Florida State can't play defense anymore? It surely isn't a lack of talent proximate to Tallahassee. The conference isn't replete with well-coached teams, with the primary culprits being Miami and Florida State, the teams that should be elite, but are anything but right now.

One counterpoint: ACC teams have played Oklahoma, Ohio State, Boise State, LSU, and USC. SEC fans shouldn't be pointing and laughing too much, as that does show some guts.

5. Didn't you once go by the name "Norm Chow?"

Just asking. Coaches have primes, just like players.


Anonymous said...

If Tim Brewster has a job at 5:00 pm central on Monday evening, my faith in meritocracy will be severely challenged.

Jesse said...

With the exception of Kansas and James Madison, the only defense left is that the ACC has been playing very good OOC teams. Regardless, it's getting tougher and tougher to defend this conference.

GT's problem is an overall lack of talent on the defensive side of the ball after losing six players to the draft in two years plus a few graduates. Add in a switch in scheme and zero recruiting for that scheme and it's easy to see where the biggest liability is. It's going to be one tough ride defending that ACC crown.