Wednesday, January 06, 2010

It Turns Out That the Big Ten Wasn't Crap. Who Knew?

Thoughts on the Orange Bowl:

1. My lingering takeaway from the Orange Bowl will be the performance of the Iowa defense. Unlike Ohio State and Boise State, Iowa didn't do anything particularly new and fancy. Norm Parker rolled out the same cover-two that is his trademark, with the outside linebackers deployed a little wider than normal to account for Tech's A-backs. (In a world of constantly changing, diverse formations, it was quite the experience to watch an offense and defense oppose one another with the same formations on most plays.) Iowa tackled extremely well and they showed that Paul Johnson's offense, like any other offense, is vulnerable against defenders playing at a high level. The cover-two works when a defense has a stand-out safety or two that can cover a ton of ground, a middle linebacker who can tie the whole defense together, and a holy terror defensive end. Iowa has all three. Tech fans will remember Adrian Clayborn the way that Georgia fans remember Steve Slaton. The Hawkeyes didn't do anything revolutionary, but they have excellent personnel and they tackle really well. On both sides of the ball, they're like a meal at Eatz: basic and well-executed.

2. Even after a bowl season in which the Big Ten performed very well, I feel compelled to make one complaint about the style of coaching in the conference: Big Ten teams struggle to deliver a knock-out punch. Wisconsin, Penn State, Ohio State, and Iowa all jumped on their opponents early and dominated the first halves of their games, but they never established decisive leads, such that they all had to hang on for dear life at the end. (Ohio State is a slight exception here, but the Rose Bowl was very much in doubt for the first half of the fourth quarter.) Wisconsin outgained Miami 430 to 249 and won by six. Penn State outgained LSU 340 to 243 and won by two. Ohio State outgained Oregon 419 to 260 and won by nine. Iowa outgained Georgia Tech 403-155 and won by ten. More to the point, how exactly did Iowa lead by one score at the half when they had outgained Georgia Tech 241-32? Cheers to Iowa for dominating in such a comprehensive fashion, but jeers for not turning that dominance into a result on the scoreboard. I had the exact same feeling when watching Wisconsin, Penn State, and Ohio State. (It's a little unfair to compare these teams to Florida, but look at what the Gators were able to do in the first half when they had Cincinnati on the ropes.) I'm at a loss to explain the phenomenon. With Ohio State and Penn State, their red zone issues kept them from getting big leads. Wisconsin and Iowa had some turnover issues, but nothing obscene. I'm all ears for explanations.

3. My obligatory dig at Fox: the keys to the game were points per possession for Iowa and time of possession for Georgia Tech. Isn't points per possession the key for, oh, I don't know, every football team on the planet? Short of a Jamie Howard meltdown, how is it possible for a team to lose a game in which it scores more on a per-possession basis than its opponent? If ever there was an instance of an important stat being paired against an unimportant one, this was it.

4. The new question for Paul Johnson is going to be whether his offense will be a liability in bowl games when talented opponents have a month to prepare for it. Upon reflection, one of the downfalls of the option offenses at Oklahoma and Nebraska were high-profile bowl disasters. I suspect that too much will be made of Johnson's two bowl performances. After all, we are talking about a sample size of two. If we expand the sample size to include his career at Navy, Johnson's team put up big numbers against bad bowl opponents (7-4 New Mexico and 6-5 Colorado State) and middling to poor numbers against Boston College and Georgia Tech. Then again, Johnson had Navy talent, which gets me to my point. I suspect that Tech will do better in bowl games once they have a quarterback who can run the triple option and also present a passing threat. Josh Nesbitt is a good runner, but his passing...yeesh. Last night showed his limitations when he doesn't have the "jump ball to Thomas" option. Jimmy Johnson (a guy who knows a thing or two about stopping a triple option offense) pointed out at halftime that Iowa was using their corners against the run to create a nine-man front. When Chris Rose asked whether Tech could throw their way out of this problem, Johnson replied "that's not their game." There's your answer. (It's too late to make this request, but why couldn't Fox have put Johnson, a national title-winning coach, in the booth for an Orange Bowl?)

5. Wasn't there a point at which bowl games were all shootouts and I opined that giving offensive coordinators a month to prepare led to carnage for defenses? I take it all back.


Anonymous said...

The Orange Bowl and Tangerine Bowl had record low temperatures this year, and the Capital One Bowl was cold (don't know if it was a record) and the field was pathetic. Do you think that positively affected the Big Ten's performance, or was it irrelevant?

Navy, who still runs a flexbone-option offense, put up great numbers against OSU (6 yards per play, 27 points) who had 9 months to prepare, and Missouri (a decent defense) in the bowl (35 points, 6.4 yards per play).

Frankly, Iowa's a good defense, but put Tommie Frazier or Eric Crouch at QB in that game and Iowa loses by 10+. Nesbitt made the wrong read so often that its a little surprising that he wasn't taken out for a series or two.

Anonymous said...

I think there's a massive overlap between the people who wanted Iowa to win last night and the people who think that it's a good idea to induct Andre Dawson into a hall of fame.