Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Like Joan Harris, the Sunday Splurge is Late

We’re all Serfs on Nick Saban’s Estate.

As I was watching Alabama emasculate Florida on Saturday night, I was reminded of a tweet from Chris Brown from earlier in the day.  Responding to a tweet from Bruce Feldman about Texas Tech’s poor performance against Iowa State, Brown wrote:

But it's the same offense, right? RT @BFeldmanESPN Midway thru Q2 and Iowa State shutting out TTech 10-0. Red Raiders have 58 yds.

Yeah, Texas Tech’s offense looks the same and they’re trying to do the same things that Mike Leach did, but they aren’t the same without Leach actually calling the plays.  Florida is in the same boat.  The offense looks like the all-conquering spread that they ran in 2007-08, but it isn’t working the same because: (1) there’s a major difference between Dan Mullen calling plays and Steve Addazio calling plays; and (2) there’s a major difference between Tim Tebow running the offense and John Brantley doing the same because the former was a running threat and the latter was not.  Spencer Hall made an interesting point about Addazio:

You also know that there is no way, websites be damned, that Urban Meyer will fire Steve Addazio, or limit his playcalling privileges, or anything else that might calm the rabble calling for his head despite a general downward trend in production. This is the man who helmed the program while Meyer was in limbo. This is the man who landed this year's recruiting class, perhaps the best one to ever come to the University of Florida. He's lost two games as an offensive coordinator ever.

First off, Urban Meyer strikes me as the sort of guy who is WAY too competitive to allow his program to regress as the result of a substandard offensive coordinator.  If Addazio is a good recruiter and manager, but a lousy caller of plays, then Meyer will do the same thing with him that Lloyd Carr did with Fred Jackson after Michigan’s fourth straight four-loss season in 1996: he’ll move him from offensive coordinator to “assistant head coach,” give Addazio a position to coach along with staff management responsibilities, and then bring in someone who actually knows how the Spread ‘n’ Shred works.  (By the way, Jackson was the one assistant retained by Rich Rodriguez.  He’s still on the staff in Ann Arbor.) 

The reference to recruiting is also interesting.  I’m not sure whether we should blame Meyer, Addazio, or both for Florida’s quarterback recruiting, but it’s painfully obvious that their recent strategy has been to go after the best available players, regardless of fit, not unlike what I used to do in my PlayStation college football dynasty era.  I got an e-mail from a Florida friend quoting a guy named Gator Sid.  I don’t have a link, but I have to quote this because it’s exactly right:

Why are we having this problem at QB? Oliver Stone captures it best in his Wall Street movies: GREED! Greed for recruiting. Because Meyer had a hard time passing up on 5 star Brantley and [Jeff] Driskel even though no other spread option major college program would have recruited these guys. It was being 5 star greedy.

Tebow, Newton, Burton, Tyler, Reed, and Denard Robinson are players you recruit hard to run this offense. Sanchez, Manning, Ainge, Sims, Mallet, Stafford, et al you pass on. They don't make your board. Stay disciplined and true to your offense. [Tom] Osborn[e] wasn't going to even waste a postage stamp on [Peyton] Manning. If Brantley wasn't here, Newton would be.

Les.  Oh, Sweet Les.

Spencer, tell us about that penultimate play:

Then the ball is snapped with the game on the line between two major college football powers with one team having 13 men on the field and another with a non-running running quarterback who watches in horror as the ball is snapped over his head and covered for a game-ending busted play. THIS ALL HAPPENED IN REAL LIFE.

I missed this when it happened live because I was enjoying the final moments of a Greg Robinson special (curled up in a fetal position in my living room, thinking thoughts I never thought I’d think about missing Julius Curry and Jim Herrmann), but a quick glance at the explosion that was my Twitter feed got me up to speed.  My kingdom for a replay with Gus Johnson calling the game.  (CBS, you have the rights to the most exciting, passionate conference in college football American sports, you employ the most excitable, passionate play-by-play guy in the Solar System, and you can’t put the two together?  You have Johnson wasting away calling Oakland-Houston while the immortal Craig Bolerjack calls LSU-Tennessee?  To quote Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler, really?)

If I were Les Miles and I were coming out of a 2009 season that was marked by a memorably inept ending to the Ole Miss game in which LSU demonstrated the worst time management skills in recorded history, I’m pretty sure that I would focus on ensuring that my team doesn’t screw up another end-of-game situation.  We’re five games into the season and LSU has managed to one-up the disaster in Oxford and yet they won the game.  If Football Outsiders ever needed a pithy way to describe the fact that records are often deceiving, then all they would need to say is “2010 LSU, 5-0.”

An Unrealistically Optimistic Thought about Georgia.

Isn’t this year’s team just the polar opposite of the 2002 team that went 13-1?  By the time that team had played five games, they had nipped Clemson by a field goal, survived South Carolina running a potential game-winning play from the two-yard line (all in a game in which the Dawgs never crossed the goal line with the ball on offense), and kicked a last-season field goal to beat Alabama after blowing a lead in the loudest game I’ve ever attended.  This team has fumbled away a chance to tie the game in Columbia (funny reversal of fortune there), blown a possession to beat Arkansas and then allowed a lightning strike that would have made Heinz Guderian blush, collapsed in the fourth quarter in Starkville, and then fumbled away the winning drive in Boulder.  Is there a huge difference between this team and the 2002 team other than the fact that this team has a tendency for fumbling at the worst possible time?  (Answer: the 2002 defense was 15th in the country and allowed 4.5 yards per play; the 2010 defense is 39th in the country in total defense and is allowing 5.4 yards per play.  Much as I’d like to say that the ‘02 team was lucky and this team is unlucky, I can’t.)    

The Lies we Tell Ourselves.

Here’s Brian Cook on the Michigan “defense”:

Stop it. I've defended the three man rush but good lord you have got to be kidding me. I defended the 3-3-5 but that's when I thought it would be used to create a wide variety of four-and-five man fronts with unpredictable blitzing. Michigan probably rushed more than three guys 10% of the time in the second half, and when they did that it was four. I can't support having Craig Roh and using him in zone coverage on every snap.

What's worse was the inane substitution pattern. Every Indiana run in the second half was a wasted down, and probably would have been a wasted down even if you replaced Banks with Roh and brought in a cornerback. One of this defense's few assets is the pass rushing ability of the outside linebackers, but Michigan is going out of its way to avoid using it.

I’d add to that the fact that the defense is completely predictable.  Without seeing coaching tape, I can’t say this with total confidence, but it looks like Michigan is running the same basic defense on most passing downs.  If I feel like I know what’s coming, then I’m pretty sure that an opposing offensive coordinator putting in 16-hour days knows what’s coming and can call plays accordingly. 

The game with Michigan State this weekend seems like another coin-flip game.  I spent much of Saturday evening trying to figure out ways that Michigan could ensure that it gets the ball last against the Spartans by controlling the pace of its offense.  This is not a ringing endorsement of the defense.  Then, the irrational optimism that gives us the mental illness called fandom struck and I thought: “Maybe we’re just sandbagging.  Maybe Robinson is going to change everything up on Saturday, Craig Roh is going to be put to his highest and best use, we’ll unveil a bunch of exotic zone blitzes, and Mark Dantonio will be left muttering about pride coming before the fall.”  This sort of Happythink is going to be a major reason why I’m pulling my hair out when Kirk Cousins goes up and down the field on Saturday.

Question Time with the Right Honourable Gentleman from South Ribble.

Can we please stop using the words “Terrelle Pryor” and “Heisman” in the same sentence?

Is anyone else rooting for Oregon to go unbeaten so we can get a Saban versus Chip Kelly national title game?  Alternatively, should I be rooting for Ohio State to play the Tide so Jim Tressel can watch a team play Tresselball better than he could have dreamed?  (What’s that, Bob Dylan?  I shouldn’t let other people get my kicks for me?  Bob, you’re a baseball fan.  Stay out of this.)

If Florida wins the East and Alabama wins the West, what’s the point of the SEC Championship Game?

Is FSU quietly becoming a, gasp, good team in the ACC?

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