Thursday, October 30, 2008

Mark Bradley, you Complete me

I've had this gnawing feeling in my gut for weeks. I couldn't put my finger on it, but something just didn't feel right in my life. I had pent-up feelings of...something. This morning, I figured out what I'd been craving: a good fisking. I figured this out when I read Mark Bradley's superficial argument that Matt Stafford is better than Tim Tebow. I read Bradley's piece and the words just came pouring out like they were written in my soul. Let the fun commence:

Tim Tebow is a great player. Tim Tebow is the Heisman holder. Come Saturday, Tim Tebow will be the second-best quarterback on the field.

I'm anxious to hear your reasoning, Mark. After all, ran the numbers two weeks ago and found that there was no comparison between Tebow and Stafford using, you know, objective data. Let's see what facts Mark has in mind to make his argument...

Matthew Stafford has become the Matthew Stafford Georgia fans envisioned when he arrived from Dallas. He has stopped throwing the ball to the wrong team, and he has long thrown the prettiest ball in college football. But throwing isn’t everything, and there have been times where we wondered if Stafford the quarterback would measure up to Stafford the arm. We wonder no more.

And the answer to my prior query is "none." When Stafford got on the bus to go to Baton Rouge, he had thrown five picks in his past three games, or three more than Tebow has thrown all season. After 60 minutes in Death Valley in which Stafford did not throw a pick, Bradley has now concluded he no longer throws the ball to the wrong team. On the same basis, I can conclude that Duke would win the SEC this year because they beat an SEC opponent last week.

He was the difference at LSU. Jarrett Lee’s first pass went to Georgia linebacker Darryl Gamble, and after 20 seconds the Tigers were chasing seven points. As hard as they chased, they could never get ahead. Stafford kept his team moving, kept making the throws that finally revealed the Georgia we thought we’d see.

Uh, Mark, are you aware that the LSU team that Stafford shredded is 9th in the SEC in total defense, 11th in scoring defense, 10th in pass efficiency defense? If you're trying to prove that Stafford is better than Tebow, then using a performance against LSU isn't the best idea. Tebow went 14 of 21 for 210 yards with two touchdowns and no picks against LSU. But anyway, you've decided to shift from arguing that Stafford is better than Tebow to arguing that Stafford had a good game against LSU, so don't let me stop you.

Two Stafford passes, both in the third quarter, that were the finest he has made as a collegian. Both times LSU, desperate to force a turnover, brought a blitz, and both times Stafford stepped into the rush and delivered down the left side. One ball went to A.J. Green - 49 yards and a touchdown. The other went to Aron White, the tight end who’d never caught a pass at Georgia - 48 yards and a vital first down.

Again, there is a reason why LSU is so bad statistically in pass coverage. Stafford wasn't exactly up against Alabama 1992. Or Alabama 2008, but I guess Matt Stafford has undergone a series of blood transfusions and is now a different quarterback than the one who led Georgia to a big fat goose egg for a half against the Tide.

“He’s standing in there when everything is flying around him,” Mark Richt said afterward, and never has Stafford stood taller than those 3 1/2 hours in Death Valley. And now, if you’re voting for All-SEC quarterback, who’s the pick? The Heisman holder and living legend, or the guy who leads the conference in yards passing and total offense?

Hey, actual numbers. Admittedly, Bradley is using aggregate numbers that would favor a quarterback with a lot more attempts (Stafford has 65 more attempts than Tebow), but I'm touched that Bradley is going to use some actual evidence to support his claim. In the words of Jules Winnfield, allow me to retort:

National rank in pass efficiency:

Tebow - 11
Stafford - 23

Yards per attempt:

Tebow - 8.63
Stafford - 8.5

Interception rate:

Tebow - one every 82 attempts
Stafford - one every 45.8 attempts

Touchdown rate:

Tebow - one every 13.7 attempts
Stafford - one every 19.1 attempts

As good as he has become, Stafford still needs a championship of some sort for full validation. All he has to do to win the SEC East is to outplay the most famous player in the land. The belief here is that John Matthew Stafford will.

Mark, rooting for the home teams is all fine and good, but your reputation as an oracle took a bit of a hit after you wrote these words on May 26:

Memorial Day arrived with the Braves in second place. They’ll be in first by the Fourth of July, and come Labor Day they’ll be pulling away.

You wrote those words after the Braves had impressively knocked Brandon Webb around. One would think that you'd learn your lesson not to get overly excited by one good performance. One would also think that the morning after the Phillies won the World Series, you might remember that you dismissed the Phils as unlikely to win even the division because they have "so few arms" and thus shy away from the bombastic predictions of glory for the local collectives. I guess not.

How exactly does one write about Atlanta sports and retain this sort of optimism, Charlie Brown?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Send Joe Victorious, Happy and Glorious

It's rare that a Stewart Mandel piece brings me to a moment of clarity (although I have to say that I've found Mandel's Mailbags to be better-reasoned than his efforts last year, hence the paucity of the Duel of the Jews feature), but this piece on Joe Paterno was telling, for me. It represented the mainstream media coming around to the notion that Paterno has almost nothing to do with Penn State's success this year, aside from the generalized notion that Paterno built a power in State College, the platform from which Tom Bradley and Galen Hall have turned out the #3 team in the country. Here are the money grafs:

It may sound sacrilegious to ask, but one can't help wondering how much, if any, Paterno has actually contributed to that success.

The "Spread HD" (The "HD" supposedly stands for "highly diverse"), with its mix of motion, four-receiver sets, power-I running and option pitches, was the brainchild of offensive coordinator Galen Hall and quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno, Joe's son. Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley has been largely running his own show for years.

JoePa still watches tape of the upcoming opponent (though more frequently from his home office) and offers suggestions, including over the headset during games from his new vantage point above the field. "My being upstairs, it's funny. I'm not sure that's not the best place for a head coach," he said recently. "I have a better view of the game from up there than I ever do on the sidelines. I can see more than half the field. Coverage things. I know who is covering."

However, he's no longer able to visit with the team at halftime ("It's too tough for me to go down and back up," he said), leaving him almost no interaction with his players.

I'd add in the facts that: (1) Paterno never seems to be, you know, actually talking on his headset when he is shown in the booth; and (2) Paterno's trip to Terrelle Pryor's living room was reportedly his first recruiting visit in some time.

I hope this doesn't come across as picking on Joe Paterno. He's on the Mount Rushmore of college coaches. If you asked me to choose between Paterno and Bobby Bowden, I'd take Paterno every day of the week and twice on Sunday. That said, I like Paterno for what he achieved in the past. In the present, he has as much to do with Penn State's success this year as Queen Elizabeth does with England's response to the credit crisis.

Drunken English fans still sing about the Queen when England take to the pitch. Tourists still flock to Buckingham Palace to take a look at the Queen's residence. English tabloids still obsess about the Queen and her progeny. Those factors don't change the fact that she's a figure-head. No one seriously thinks that she has a role in anything. Likewise, the overwhelming evidence shows that Paterno is in a purely symbolic role as Penn State's coach. Penn State fans might still dress like Paterno and celebrate him ringing up more wins, but they're no different than some lout from Sheffield shouting about the Queen as he knocks back pints after England beats Croatia.

This matters because, as Mandel's column makes clear, there's going to be a tide of Paterno-related sentiment supporting Penn State playing in the national title game. You could see the beginnings of this meme when ABC subjected the country to a treacly Paterno montage (naturally set to music) at the close of the Lions' win at Ohio State. Right now, Kirk Herbstreit is taking the position that Penn State is rightfully behind Texas and Alabama, but that they'll likely make the title game because their remaining schedule is easier. Watch that opinion change if we get into late November and Texas and Alabama are both unbeaten. Watch Michigan State get built up into a major roadblock on par with a trip to Baton Rouge or a neutral site game against Georgia or Florida. It is objectionable to support a team for the national title game for sentimental reasons; it's doubly inappropriate when the object of that sentiment has almost nothing to do with his team's success.

The likely victim of this prospective wave of emotionalism will be Alabama. Texas will have played far too tough a schedule to possibly be excluded from the national title game and they are probably going to have the Heisman Trophy winner under center. Alabama, on the other hand, wins games in the traditional Alabama style: tough, gritty, and defensive. The Tide also have a coach for whom members of the media will do no favors. Talking heads will no doubt cite to Paterno's unbeaten teams going uncrowned four times in the past. Something tells me that they won't remember that two-time defending national champion Alabama went unbeaten in 1966 and was deprived a third title in favor of the Notre Dame team that tied at Michigan State, nor will they remember that Alabama was out of the national conversation in 1994, despite being unbeaten up until the SEC Championship Game. Like Justice Scalia's law clerks, one suspects that the historical narrative will be a tad one-sided in an Alabama-Penn State debate.

Monday, October 27, 2008

My Top 25 Weeps for the Orange Bowl

1Texas --
2Alabama --
3Penn State --
4Florida --
5Southern Cal --
6Texas Tech 6
7Georgia 1
8Oklahoma State 1
9Oklahoma 3
10Boise State --
11Oregon 5
12Utah 2
13TCU --
14California 12
15Missouri 4
16Ohio State 7
17Ball State 4
18Brigham Young 5
19LSU 8
20Tulsa 6
21Michigan State 4
22North Carolina 4
23Minnesota 3
24Florida State 2
25Oregon State 1

Dropped Out: Kansas (#15), Pittsburgh (#17), South Florida (#18), Vanderbilt (#20), Georgia Tech (#22), Boston College (#24).
Thoughts on the Weekend:
The biggest loser over the weekend? The Orange Bowl. It was very hard this morning to pick out any ACC or Big East teams worth ranking. Florida State has a nice record and they ultimately made it into the poll, but we should not forget that by the end of its game with Virginia Tech, the Hokies were playing a third-string quarterback whom they had moved from wide receiver. (Shades of the Georgia-Florida State Sugar Bowl, perhaps?) Virginia Tech's offense was so hopeless, even by their standards, that they punted the ball with about 90 seconds left in a ten-point game. The Noles were the only ranked team from the ACC or Big East to win over the weekend. The Orange Bowl's best hopes for top 15 teams - Pitt, South Florida, and Georgia Tech - all went down to defeat. The Big East and ACC are so mired in mediocrity that just about every game in those two conferences can go either way, leading to the possibility that the Orange Bowl could pit a pair of four-loss teams without significant traveling fan bases. Try Louisville against Virginia on for size.
As I was trying to figure what exactly has happened to the LSU defense, it occurred to me that Les Miles did not do a very good job of replacing Bo Pelini. I like Les enough to have created an entire category of posts entitled "LesCrush" last year when it looked like he was going to be the next coach at Michigan (and even afterwards when he delivered that phenomenal "have a nice day" oration), but he is a CEO coach and CEO coaches are dependent on having top-shelf coordinators. The risk that CEO coaches run is that their coordinators are good enough to get head coaching gigs and then they're hard to replace. Or, as Tommy Tuberville is illustrating this year, their coordinators aren't the same when put into new surroundings. Hiring good coordinators is important for any coach. Pete Carroll needs a good offensive coordinator, Urban Meyer needs a good defensive coordinators, etc. The risk with a coach like Miles who is not an expert on either side of the ball is that the risk is doubled. He needs to have two good coordinators. There are two chances for a disastrous replacement instead of one.
My initial thought when reading Georgia's box score after the LSU game was that the Dawgs were a smidge lucky to win by two touchdowns in a game in which they were outgained. Then, I thought to myself that my complaint about the team last week was that they were not forcing any turnovers, so I shouldn't be complaining after a game in which the Dawgs were +3 in turnovers and returned two picks for touchdowns. Georgia's offense was outstanding and the defense was opportunistic. At the end of the day, it's hard to complain about a two-touchdown win in Death Valley against the defending national champions. Still, I don't get a great feeling about the game in Jacksonville this weekend.
[Update: as Peacedog points out, I shouldn't mention the final yardage totals without taking into account the fact that LSU piled up a lot of yards after Georgia had a big lead.]
Between Vandy losing at home to Duke and Auburn mailing it in in the second half against West Virginia, is it possible that the SEC just isn't that good this year? I'll put the top quarter of the conference up against anyone else, but it's hard to pick out any teams below Alabama, Florida, and Georgia that are deserving of any moniker more effusive than "decent." It's a little hard to point to out-of-conference wins to prove our usual assumption that the SEC is better than any other conference in the country. Seriously, what is the SEC's best non-conference win? Kentucky over Louisville? Alabama over Clemson? Florida over Miami?
OK, Texas Tech, you have my attention. Holding Kansas to 21 points in Lawrence is impressive.
After watching Michigan's wretched defensive performance in which it turned the underwhelming Brian Hoyer into Bernie Kosar, I have to admit that I enjoyed watching the Penn State-Ohio State game because it was nice to see two teams that can tackle and defend properly. That said, I wondered after the game whether Terrelle Pryor had his head in his hands because of his two fourth quarter turnovers or because he's playing for a coaching staff that have no idea how to properly deploy his talents.
I've waited years to type this, so allow me a little schadenfreude: Phil Fulmer, the bell tolls for thee. When Alabama took a 13-3 lead into the locker room at halftime, I told Der Wife that the Tide could down the ball on every offensive snap for the rest of the game and still win. I don't think I was far off.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Anything to Punish Jim Delany

I generally think that envisioning BCS disaster scenarios midway through the season is a waste of time because the landscape can change so much so soon. That said, Tony Barnhart has an interesting post on the subject this morning. His first scenario is the one I'm rooting for:

1. Penn State gets left out: No. 1 Texas and No. 2 Alabama both finish 13-0 and win their respective conference championship games. Like Auburn in 2004, a 12-0 Penn State, which has not played a game since Nov. 22, finishes No. 3 because it played a weaker schedule. Joe Paterno, 81, is denied the chance to end his career with a national championship game. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, one of the strongest opponents to a four-team playoff, gets an earful from Paterno.

I have nothing against Penn State. Of all the road venues to which I traveled in college, Penn State had the best, most reasonable fans. There's nothing especially dislikeable about that program. I'm even willing to acknowledge that Evan Royster might be an exception to the maxim that Big Ten running backs are perennially overrated because they get the ball 30+ times per game and they run against thick-legged linebackers.

With that caveat out of the way, the Big Ten and Pac Ten need to be punished for being the primary roadblocks against a plus-one playoff. Those two conferences will change their minds when there is sufficient pressure from their member institutions to do so. An unbeaten Penn State team sitting on the sidelines in January while Texas and Alabama duke it out for the national title would be exactly the tonic to cause the stodgy Big Ten to stop opposing evolution.

Penn State on the outside looking in would be nothing new. Penn State was unbeaten and uncrowned in 1969 as Texas won the national title. The Lions were unbeaten and uncrowned again in 1973 as unbeaten Alabama and unbeaten Notre Dame played a classic in the Sugar Bowl. It would only be appropriate in an election year in which Nixon's Ghost has made an appearance for college football to pay homage to the Nixon era by Penn State losing out to Texas and Alabama.

Getting back to the subject at hand, the better scenario for college football's long-term interest would be the following: 11-1 Florida blows Alabama out in the SEC Championship Game and jumps 12-0 Penn State and 11-1 Southern Cal to play Texas in the national title game. I'll admit that this scenario is a smidge unlikely because the voters' unconditional love for unbeaten teams from major conferences usually trumps the recency effect, but if the gap between Florida's and Penn State's schedules is significant and Florida can point to a big win over an unbeaten Alabama team at a neutral site, it's not impossible. The voters' love for teams with great offenses will also come into play, as will the recent history between the SEC and the Big Ten. (The latter factor would be totally unfair to Penn State, but who ever said that the voters are fair or can make distinctions like "Ohio State and Penn State are different teams?") If the long term goal is a plus one, then a pissed off Penn State and a pissed off USC would be ideal.

One note regarding the scenario above: I played it out with Florida instead of Georgia for two reasons. First, Georgia's case to jump Penn State and USC would be less compelling because the team the Dawgs would be beating in the Championship Game already beat Georgia in Athens. Penn State supporters could point out that Georgia was simply evening its account with the Tide as opposed to establishing that they are clearly better than an unbeaten, top two team. Second, Florida is more likely to put up the big number that would force voters to think long and hard.

[Update: it occurs to me that this post might hoist me by my own petard in the event that Michigan is in the running for a spot in the national title game in the (distant) future. If angering the constituents of the Big Ten is the key to a better post-season structure, then surely angering the fans of the bluest of the Big Ten blue bloods would be the ultimate.]

Monday, October 20, 2008

What's Ailing the Dawgs?

When I put fingers to keyboard for this post, my meta-theory on Georgia was that its inability to score touchdowns in the red zone is its major weakness right now. Saturday was no different: 425 yards of offense against a good defense led to only 24 points on the scoreboard, which allowed Vandy a chance to tie the game late in the fourth quarter. Then, I realized that red zone issues might not be the reason why Georgia is having to work so hard to score points. So, I looked at the NCAA rankings for red zone offense and did a little arithmetic for the top national title contenders (as subjectively defined by yours truly):

Yards per Red Zone Trip

Oklahoma - 6.5 (This number is amazing. Oklahoma has 33 touchdowns in 36 red zone trips.)

Texas - 6.2

Penn State - 5.7

Florida - 5.33

Georgia - 5.17

USC - 5.0

Alabama - 4.6

So Georgia hasn't been great in the red zone, but they aren't that bad when they get inside the 20. if we compare the Dawgs against the same set of teams in terms of yards per point (a Phil Steele stat), we see that my intuition that the Dawgs are having to work harder for points is indeed accurate:

Texas - 10.1

Florida - 10.5

Penn State - 10.6

Alabama - 11.4

USC - 11.4

Oklahoma - 11.6

Georgia - 13.5

So how do we explain this stat? How about the fact that Georgia is 108th in the country in forcing turnovers, having a paltry eight turnovers gained to its name. The Georgia offense simply isn't getting any short fields on which to work. Georgia is 57th in sacks per game and the inability of the defensive ends to get to the quarterback has been oft-discussed. So, the theory changes from Georgia having issues in the red zone to Georgia having issues with pressuring quarterbacks into making bad throws.

Finally, I thought I'd compare Georgia to the other six major contenders in the difference between yards per play on offense and yards per play allowed on defense. I don't agree with Phil Steele that turnovers are totally random; the link between Georgia struggling to get pressure on the quarterback and the fact that Stafford and company always seem to start their drives from their own 25 is not a coincidence. However, if yardage is really the key measure, then let's see how the contenders are doing in that department:

USC - +3.55 - this number is obscene. It reinforces the twin notions that USC is the best team in the country and that its no-show performances against teams like Oregon State have to be endlessly annoying for Trojan fans.

Penn State - +2.84 - this is an excellent number, tempered only by the fact that Penn State has played the weakest schedule of the seven major contenders. Incidentally, I did not include Ohio State in the group of national title contenders for two reasons: (1) it played one of the other contenders and lost by 32; and (2) its number is .87, largely because of a bad offense that is currently 92nd nationally in yardage per game. That said, Penn State hasn't scored more than ten points in Columbus since joining the Big Ten, so I'd be a fool to assume that the Bucks can't win this weekend. Even if Ohio State wins, it is not going to be in this upper echelon.

Oklahoma - 2.18 - not to make excuses for the Sooners, but if they don't lose Ryan Reynolds in the middle of the Texas game...

Florida - 2.05 - everyone who thought in August that Florida would be ahead of Georgia in both yards and points allowed, raise your hands.

Georgia - 1.99 - this is a good number.

Texas - 1.82 - this number isn't quite as good as I would have expected.

Alabama - 1.45 - one of these things is not like the other.

My Top 25 Digs 1978

1 Texas --
2 Alabama --
3 Penn State --
4 Florida --
5 Southern Cal --
6 Oklahoma --
7 Oklahoma State 1
8 Georgia 1
9 Ohio State 1
10 Boise State 1
11 LSU 2
12 Texas Tech 1
13 TCU 13
14 Utah --
15 Kansas 2
16 Oregon 5
17 Pittsburgh 9
18 South Florida 5
19 Missouri 4
20 Vanderbilt 4
21 Ball State 4
22 Georgia Tech 4
23 Brigham Young 11
24 Boston College 2
25 Michigan State 6

Dropped Out: California (#16), Wake Forest (#18), Virginia Tech (#20), North Carolina (#22).

Random Thoughts on the Weekend

The only legitimate criticism I've heard of the spread option offense is that it both depends heavily on the quarterback and it exposes the quarterback to an elevated risk of injury. For another illustration of that fact, Michigan was even with Penn State midway through the third quarter when Steven Threet got knocked out of the game. Penn State then teed off on hapless Nick Sheridan and ran away with the game in the second half. Michigan is a particular case because of its total lack of depth at the quarterback position, but the game did re-raise the concern that spread option teams are constantly at risk of coming apart from quarterback injuries. I'm hoping to have the time to devote a full-length post to the subject at some point this week. Brian at MGoBlog took a run at this question last week and ultimately threw up his hands.

The other question that seems ripe for a deeper look is whether the Big XII's offenses are that good or if its defenses are that bad. Conversely, are the defenses in the SEC that good or are the offenses that bad? I think we need to go into the non-conference results to come up with an answer.

There is no more overrated story in college football than Joe Paterno. My brother and I kept careful track of the number of times that ESPN showed Paterno in the booth on Saturday afternoon actually communicating. By the fourth quarter when we stopped watching for obvious reasons, ESPN had showed Paterno seven times and his lips were moving exactly once. (The instance in which Paterno was obscured by a beam was scored a draw.) Paterno literally does nothing as the head coach. Penn State's staff has evidently come up with a functional sharing of power arrangement that lets them run a major program effectively with zero guidance from the man at the top of the org chart. Penn State's decision in keeping Paterno or making Tom Bradley the head coach might affect Paterno's lifespan, but it will not matter on the field because Bradley is already the head coach.

Stats that interest only me: Saturday night's game was the fifth South Carolina game that finished 24-17 in the past two-and-a-half seasons. Also, South Carolina has played five SEC games this year and every single one has been decided by exactly seven points.

An illustration of why it's not especially useful to spend too much time fretting about schediling before the season: we all worried ad nauseam about Georgia's schedule before the season started, but the Dawgs have now played seven games and exactly one of those games was against a team in the Sagarin top 30.

Let's just preempt this argument now: Penn State has an excellent record in bowl games generally and against the SEC in particular. They should not be punished for Ohio State's poor performance in the last two national title games. That said, I'd have to think long and hard about whether an unbeaten Penn State team would deserve a spot in the national title game over a one-loss Florida, Georgia, or Alabama team.

I'm guessing I'm the only one who was thinking this, but there was an odd parallel on Saturday afternoon between North Carolina finding a way to lose in Charlottesville at the end yet again (the Heels have not won there since 1981) and Atletico Madrid finding a way to lose at home at the end yet again against cross-town rivals Real Madrid. In both instances, you could see teams realize that they weren't supposed to win and then playing accordingly.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Thank Goodness Frank Wren isn't Argentine

I shudder to think what the ESPN outrage machine would do with an American owner or GM saying something like this:

Bill Shankly once said football was much more than a matter of life and death, but the president of Argentinian Primera DivisiĆ³n side Rosario Central is not convinced. Horacio Usandizaga last week threatened to kill his players if the team are relegated.

Usandizaga, who is also a politician, was unwittingly caught on film earlier this month as he vented his spleen in front of the club's supporters. "Central are going to get out of this situation," he said. "We are going to move forward. We are going to kill the players, coaching staff and anyone else."

I can't imagine that Usandizaga's rant will do much for Rosario Central's ability to attract talent in the transfer market, but then again, how attractive could a club be when its nickname is the Scoundrels?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Five Belated Falcons Thoughts

1. I was wrong; Matt Ryan is very good. He made about five throws on Sunday against a very good defense that I haven't seen a Falcons quarterback make since Steve Bartkowski was under center. Ryan's last throw to Michael Jenkins was especially pretty, but it was not the first time in the game that he made a great throw to the sidelines with a defender in his face. Right now, I have no complaints about Ryan whatsoever. His decision-making is excellent for a rookie, his arm strength and accuracy are good, his teammates seem to like him, and he's stepped up in pressure situations. The only knock on him is consistency. He's been very good in some games and poor in two others.

2. I was also wrong about the effect that a good quarterback can have on a team. I like to act like a sophisticated fan who is far more interested in line play than quarterbacks. Let the cretins who don't understand football think that the quarterbacks decide everything; I'm a savvy fan who knows that the lines are far more important. While I still cling to that self-image, I'm willing to admit that Ryan is showing that that thinking has limits. The entire offense looks better now that it has a quarterback who knows what he's doing. The receivers look better because they are getting the ball on time and in the right spots. The offensive line looks better because the quarterback has proper drops and doesn't hold onto the ball all day. If not for our former starter's predilection for animal cruelty, we would not be able to say these things, so yay federal prosecutors!

3. If I had one criticism of the coaching on Sunday, it would be that the distribution of carries was totally out of whack. Michael Turner is an excellent runner, but Jerious Norwood deserves more than three carries when the Falcons are calling 28 running plays. Norwood brings a different dynamic because he's a little quicker than Turner. Personally, I'd like to see the Falcons work the Wildcat formation into the playbook with Turner taking the snaps, a la Darren McFadden, and Norwood coming in motion, a la Felix Jones.

4. OK, I have another criticism. The Falcons' defensive approach on the Bears' final drive was very passive. This defensive line simply isn't good enough to get pressure when the team rushes only three or four, mainly because opponents can isolate the one pass rushing threat - John Abraham - and take their chances with everyone else. (But Jamaal Anderson got a sack!) I guess the counter is that the secondary isn't good enough to cover in man coverage with the game on the line, so Mike Smith and Brian VanGorder have to pick their poison. The team's weaknesses on the defensive line and in the secondary are the major reason why we don't need to be getting ahead of ourselves by thinking that a 4-2 start means that the playoffs are a realistic possibility.

5. After six games, the Falcons are #1 in the NFL off of both left and right tackles. I'm not sure where to dole out the credit for this stat. Are the Falcons doing so well because Michael Turner runs well off-tackle? Do we credit the tackles for dominating their defensive ends? Do we credit the scheme? Whatever the case may be, the offensive line is much, much better this year. Kudos to Paul Boudreau. Thomas Dimitroff also deserves credit for acquiring Sam Baker and Harvey Dahl. Let's hope he can work the same magic with the defense this off-season.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Two Quick Post-Lunch Thoughts

1. Blutarsky is dead right in mocking Tony Barnhart's assertion that Georgia is lagging in the polls because of their penalties. Georgia is lagging in the polls because it isn't running up big scores on its opponents. While penalties may have a little to do with that, the Dawgs' issues in the red zone are the major reason. Georgia's dominance in yardage over Tennessee didn't translate to the scoreboard because the Dawgs kicked four field goals. 42-14 would have looked a lot better than 26-14. Conversely, imagine that USC would have beaten Ohio State 19-3 or Arizona State 16-0. The Trojans convert yards into touchdowns; the Dawgs convert yards into field goals. The question becomes this: are the red zone issues an endemic flaw of Mark Richt's offenses (I have no stats to prove this, but it does seem like Georgia consistently kicks a lot of field goals) or they are simply a function of an inexperienced offensive line?

2. I'll be interested to see if Tommy Bowden's sacking sets off a chain reaction of coach firings. If I'm making a decision on Phil Fulmer, I don't want to give Clemson a two-month head-start on finding a new coach. That said, Tennessee and Clemson should be looking in different directions. Tennessee's first call should be to Butch Davis, who might take the Tennessee job, but will not take the Clemson job. The ideal hire for Clemson would be Will Muschamp, unless there is something about Muschamp that I'm missing.

My Top 25 is Beefy

1 Texas 2
2 Alabama --
3 Penn State 3
4 Florida 4
5 Southern Cal 2
6 Oklahoma 5
7 Georgia 2
8 Oklahoma State 9
9 LSU 4
10 Ohio State 2
11 Boise State 1
12 Brigham Young 1
13 Texas Tech 1
14 Utah 1
15 Missouri 11
16 California 1
17 Kansas 2
18 Wake Forest 6
19 Michigan State 7
20 Virginia Tech 2
21 Oregon 4
22 North Carolina --
23 South Florida 2
24 Vanderbilt 8
25 Ball State 1

Dropped Out: Georgia Tech (#20), Auburn (#23).