Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Week 7 in Review

I apologize for the delay in posting, and I'm ready to get back to business. This past Saturday affirmed my belief that college football is the grandest and greatest of sports. EVERY game was meaningful and closely contested.

USC-Notre Dame
There's an awful lot of hyperbole out there in the media about this game being the greatest game ever played, but it was an amazing game nonetheless. I didn't want it to end, but when it did I knew I'd seen something remarkable. The atmosphere was positively electric. You knew that USC was stepping into a lion's den, on the road against a surprisingly strong Notre Dame team coached by an offensive guru and cheered on by the Almighty.

ND Coach Charlie Weis put together a Bill Parcells-esque game plan that put the Irish in a position to win: control the ball, chew the clock, and keep USC's mighty offense off the field. Up 31-28 with two minutes left, Weis had to rely on his defense to ice the game. They came up big, forcing the Trojans into a fourth-and-nine situation.

Here, on glory's biggest stage, USC QB Matt Leinart took his place among college football's most storied legends by converting on fourth down with a 61-yard pass to Dwayne Jarrett. Leinart later scrambled down to the Irish 1-yard line before fumbling the ball out of bounds with 7 second to go. On the very next play, he plunged into the end zone with a little nudge from RB Reggie Bush.

What an ending! Instant classic. History will determine whether or not it was the greatest game ever played, but its place among the best is already secured.

Like oil and water (or Middle fans and soap), dropback Gator passer Chris Leak and his new spread option offense do not go together. It is said that quarterbacks in Coach Urban Meyer's system do not catch on until their second year, so he's got a ways to go. Still, it almost seems cruel to send a shaky field general into battle on the road against a monster defensive front like that of LSU. The Tigers battered him and hurried him into one poor decision after another, taking an early 14-0 lead and holding it until the final gun for a 21-17 duke.

Who would have thought that Florida and Tennessee both would look so mediocre halfway through the season? The Gators have a built-in excuse with their new head coach and his newfangled offensive attack. What's Tennessee's?

Penn State-Michigan
Snoozefest until the second half. I like Penn State's resurgence this year, but I knew they hadn't arrived yet when they scored with a minute left in the 4th quarter and proceeded to give up a 50-yard kickoff return to Wolverine burner Steve Breaston. You've got to make those plays if you want to take the next step to national title contention. A 3-3 Michigan team with losses to Notre Dame, Wisconsin, and Minnesota is always dangerous, and they were due.

Still, the season is not lost for either team. Penn State is still playing for the Big Ten title and a BCS bowl. Michigan is playing for a bowl and continuing to develop its second year backfield and spotty defense.

I thought this would be closer. Vince Young had probably his best outing as a Texas signal caller, going 25 of 29 for over 300 yards. Once Texas hung 28 points on the Buffs in the first half, I weighed my options. Stay with blowout, or toggle between the above three games and Louisville-West Virginia? Easy enough.

Louisville-West Virginia
If you asked me before this game if I would enjoy watching a triple-overtime shootout in the mountains, I probably would have said yes. Sadly, this scenario was entirely avoidable for the Cards, whose 24-7 lead in the fourth quarter did not hold up, and they went down in (couch-burning) flames in Morgantown by a score of 46-44.

Louisville is being assailed in the media for its shortcomings against South Florida and West Virginia, as though the team enjoys making fools of pundits who predicted buckets of easy wins in its first season in the Big East. Yes, they are going through growing pains. Yes, they have fallen short of expectations. No, you should not abandon them altogether. As I like to say about football, and Vandy football in particular: keep your expectations low, and they will always be met.

One more note: Terry Bowden was the ABC color man for this game, to my immense pleasure. I could listen to him talk about football each and every day. Count Bowden among the long list of capable college coaches who remain available for meaningful work between the sidelines.

Alabama-Ole Miss
Does Tide QB Brodie Croyle miss hobbled receiver Tyrone Prothro? Does its 13-10 last second win answer that question? Croyle looks solid as always, but he's suddenly without his top playmaker, and the upstart Crimson Tide isn't sneaking up on anyone anymore. Ole Miss was game for the fight, looking surprisingly strong at the line of scrimmage when it had the ball.

Ole Miss draws Kentucky at home this week in a matchup it should dominate in every possible way. Kentucky is coming off a bye week, against which it was a 7-point underdog.

To beat one of the SEC's big six (Tennessee, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Alabama, and Auburn), Vandy has to play flawlessly and catch a few breaks. Sometimes even that doesn't matter, like we learned in last week's prison-style beating by LSU. The recipe for beating Georgia was to shoot the lights out on offense and keep DJ Shockley off the field. I thought that the Dores had a solid game plan that put themselves in position to hang in there at the end.

It's too bad that they didn't execute very well. I counted five dropped passes by Vandy receivers, including a heartbreaker by Marlon White with no Bulldog defenders around and the end zone three whiskers away. That play alone aborted a touchdrown drive, and the good guys wound up settling for a field goal instead.

In the second half, on a key play where the Vanderbilt defense successfully flushed Shockley out of the pocket (for once!), he rolled left and tossed a line drive pass into the arms of a receiver in the end zone for a touchdown. Replays showed that the ball touched the ground before it was scooped up. So did the touchdown count? Of course it did! Game over right then and there.

I'm not into conspiracy theories, but it is widely believed that among black and gold faithful that Vandy winds up on the wrong end of more calls by SEC officials than it deserves. Whether or not there is a conscious bias, Vandy does draw the conference's worst refs week in and week out. Our success this season, coupled with the SEC's new replay system, should have guaranteed us a fair shake against Georgia. Still, when push came to shove, even the most concrete video evidence that a touchdown call was wrong couldn't overturn it. Hell, you're only screwing Vanderbilt.

One of these days, Vandy is going to be good enough to command respect from the zebras and beat some of the SEC's anointed programs. Until then, we're going to call bullshit what it is.

Other Developments
Does it even faze you anymore when you hear negative news about the off-field adventures of professional athletes? Of course, I'm talking about the Minnesota Vikings' ill-fated boat party, where members of this underachieving squad used their off week to organize and attend a yacht cruise/orgy on Lake Minnetonka. I mean, nothing surprises me anymore. I realize that pro athletes are not angels, and haven't been for a while, but still. Yikes. Couldn't they plan these kinds of activities AFTER they're out of the playoffs?

Baseball Playoffs
ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ. Call me when it's college baseball season.

Final Thought
I will come out with a preview of week 8 action by Friday, headlined by the Tennessee-Alabama slobberknocker down in Tuscaloosa. I wish I could be there to hear the venom and vitriol directed at Vols coach Phil Fulmer, who may well be a dead man if he doesn't pick up a security detail or three. You ought to know better than to rat out the Tide if you ever want to set foot in that state again, especially when you're heading an outlaw program yourself.


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