Monday, November 20, 2006

Herbstreit Ignores Convention...So Surprising for an Ohioan

I was generally impressed by Kirk Herbstreit for maintaining objectivity about his Ohio State Buckeyes. Most Michigan fans and I would be all too prepared to jump on Herbie for any perceived injustices to the Maize and Blue, but he was extremely professional in his comments towards the Wolverines. (LD is right that Herbstreit spends way too much time picking and analyzing games based on intangibles like "emotion" and "focus," but I suspect that he is doing so under the whip of his corporate masters, who dumb down Gameday and just about every other program designed for mass consumption. The assumption is that your average fan will glaze over if he hears that USC's pass defense allows relatively few yards per pass play, but allows a lot of yardage per game on an aggregate basis because opponents throw so much on them. I digress.)

I thought that Herbstreit's best moment on Saturday was when he compared Troy Smith to Drew Brees, presumably because both quarterbacks are slightly undersized (by quarterback standards), but they're extremely accurate in a spread offense, they make good decisions, and they're both mobile. (Brees was a good runner at Purdue, but didn't get credit for being "mobile" or "athletic.") Herbstreit's comparison was jarring in its originality because he broke the first rule in comparing quarterbacks: he compared a black quarterback to a white one. This tendency is most pronounced in the lead-up to the NFL Draft, when black quarterbacks are pigeonholed into certain categories so NFL fans can easily digest their abilities. Call this the Plessy v. Kiper Maxim:

Small, mobile, and destined to play receiver = Antwaan Randle El

Small, mobile, and destined to hold a clipboard = Shaun King or Seneca Wallace

Average size and mobile = Michael Vick

Large and mobile = Vince Young, Steve McNair, or Donovan McNabb (depending on whether the quarterback in question went to a small school or a big school and what sort of offense he ran in college)

Large and average mobility = Daunte Culpepper

Large and no mobility = Byron Leftwich (although black quarterbacks are never described as immobile)

Any size, not a college star, and a game manager = David Garrard (Garrard is the Rosa Parks of the "he won't screw it up" genre. He's broken down the barrier where once only Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson dared to tread.)

Any size, not a college star, and not a game manager = Aaron Brooks

The best illustration of the Plessy v. Kiper Maxim will be in the treatment of Troy Smith. Because he's black and 6'0, he'll be compared to Michael Vick. (The ability to play well on the biggest stage will cement the comparison.) However, Smith has nothing in common with Vick as a passer. Smith is accurate, he makes good decisions, and he has a sixth sense for how long he has to get rid of the ball. Vick has none of these qualities. Additionally, Smith is prepared for the NFL by virtue of having run an offense that forces him to make multiple decisions on every play. Vick was groomed with "look at first option and then throw or take off" at Virginia Tech.

If you can't tell, I'm extremely high on Troy Smith right now. I know that this seems like a knee-jerk reaction, but I said last year that he's miles better than Brady Quinn and this year has confirmed that. Part of my lack of anger or sadness after Saturday is based on the fact that Michigan was beaten by a great player on top of his game. Rationally speaking, there's no shame in that. I doubt that his height will present a major problem in the NFL, provided that there are offensive coordinators willing to re-design their systems in the same way that Jim Tressel did, but I might need to think about that argument this spring.


jim said...

As a corrollary to Plessy v. Kiper, you wouldn't believe how many times D.J. Shockley was compared to Quincy last year. At least in South Georgia.

Fox said...

I love the Troy Smith-Breed comparison. Everyone keeps saying that Smith isn't actually that good, and attributing his numbers to their weapons (like they did with Brees and the system) or, I think, because he doesn't look the part (same with Brees). The thing I love most is that he seems to know when to use his mobility to run, when to use it to buy time, and when to just hang back there, something lots of people with his speed, take forever to figure out.

Anonymous said...

why, pray tell, are mobile and athletic in scare quotes?

Michael said...

DD, didn't Quincy throw more picks in the '00 USC game than D.J. threw all of last year?

Fox, Smith is a terrific decision-maker. His sense of how long he has in the pocket and how to move in the pocket to create more time reminds me of Tom Brady.

Anon, I use "mobile" and "athletic" in quotes because the terms have no meaning as they are misused by analysts who don't see farther than race. Leftwich is described as "mobile" even though he's slow as Christmas (and got a number of votes by NFL players as the slowest man in the league in a recent SI poll). Meanwhile, Rich Gannon was "heady" and "cagey" even when he was leading NFL QBs in rushing.