Rushing The Field, Week 1: Atlantic Coast Collapse

It wasn’t a good opening weekend if you happen to be a general ACC backer, unless your team happened to be chomping on some early dessert in I-AA or low I-A cupcake form (Miami, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Boston College.)

Clemson was more than happy to let Alabama drive a heart right through any attempt to do anything more than maybe win an ACC championship, and they still look ready to underachieve for the rest of their schedule. I know we are dealing with SEC vs. ACC, but not being able to protect Cullen Harper for shit and being so poor that James Davis and C.J. Spiller only got 20 yards from scrimmage combined is much, much more of a problem that any prognosticator had anticipated. (Most had flagged the Tigers’ O-line as a problem long ago.)  As for Nick Saban and his charges, I don’t know what to make of them yet since ABC decided Michigan State-Cal was what I wanted to see (not so much) and thus did not see the telecast — and there’s not much to go on until the Tide hits its SEC schedule.

It seems fitting that Frank Beamer is hoisted by his own petard, so to speak — on a late blocked punt by Skip Holtz’s East Carolina squad and what looks like an even poorer decision to redshirt Tyrod Taylor in favor of Sean Glennon, who may well be remembered as the white Reggie Ball. If you have a Virginia Tech squad with absolutely no returning skill players outside of the quarterbacks, why redshirt the QB with the potential to use his feet to make plays if the pocket breaks down? Then again, considering the state of the ACC, this was less of an upset than every analyst was claiming.

As for the rest of it? Maryland and UNC barely beat I-AA teams, Boston College won the weakest shutout known, N.C. State was picked apart by the Ol’ Ball Coach’s Cocks, and the aforementioned Wake and Duke were the only teams to eat their cupcakes in record time.

Virginia got absolutely destroyed by USC. Mark Sanchez is, for now, everything Pete Carroll and Steve Sarkisian were waxing on about and if the Tailback Factory can rotate effectively and take advantage of the skills of Stafon Johnson, C.J. Gable, and Joe McKnight like that, be very afraid. I do question the cornerbacks: it’s USC’s style to play aggressive with the other team’s wideouts, but they were doing things that were bound to get flag-happy refs to toss the yellow.

Michigan looks bad — very bad. Utah nearly gave that game away at the Big House, but the Wolverines don’t have the playmakers or enough familiarity with Rich Rodriguez’s spread offense to be able to take enough advantage of the late errors by the Utes. Eventually, Brian Johnson and the Utes offense will click enough to make a run at crashing the BCS party (if it ain’t them, it’s their hated rivals at BYU) — but it’s all about who will step up in what will be Michigan’s obvious absence from the top ranks of the Big Televen for the next year.

It could be Illinois, but the Illini are off to rough start after losing to Missouri (by much less than I’d expected.)  Gary Pinkel was losing defensive players of his (supposedly) much improved squad during the game, but that seems irrelevant as Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin, and Chase Coffman appear to be enough in and of themselves to outscore teams in shootouts.  That said, watching Juice Williams improve on the field (26-42, 451 passing yards, five TDs) and lead second half rallies, I’m thinking he’s in the process of turning himself into a very, very good quarterback.

Dave Wannstedt keeps renewing his status as the symbol of profound mediocrity since the early 1990s.  Pre-season assessments had Pitt RB LeSean McCoy as the star to fthe offense, but when he struggled, the Wannstache decided it would be best to throw 51 times and not even pretend to have a running game. Eventually’s Pitt’s athletic department will tire of this — how long it will take, we don’t know, but being upset by Bowling Green as a result of that hard-headedness will add some fuel to the fire.

Take The Skinned and Headless Bowling, III.

USC 49, Illinois 17 – Essentially, the Illini fucked themselves; Juice Williams got squeezed with sacks and INTs, and when the Trojans made their few errors on plays, Illinois couldn’t take advantage of the opportunities — thus, the rout everyone expected came to fruition, and only fed fuel that the BCS selection committee couldn’t get it right yet again due to the insistence on conference selection. The Trojans racked up an astonishing 633 yards of offense.

Georgia 41, Hawaii 10 – Thus, Bizarro College Football season ends appropriately, with no unbeaten teams in the mid-major and big-time conferences. That it happened in such ugly fashion is another matter (and probably expected as much as USC’s dismantling of Illinois.)  Carping about being robbed of the BCS championship aside from the Georgia players (win your conference and we’ll talk), they took it out on Colt Brennan, sacking him eight times and rushing him into throws while running all over the Warriors defense. I’d really like to thank the BCS for its lame selection criteria — if they hadn’t stuck to their guns, we could have seen USC vs. UGA, and no one would have wanted that.

Michigan 41, Florida 35 – There’s a reason Florida was a three-loss team. I just didn’t ffigure that Ron English had figured out how to get his guys to defend 21st century offenses.  That said, this rode on the arm of Chad Henne and the hands of both Adrian Arringotn and Mario Manningham — as well as the usual play calling of “run Mike Hart up the middle.”  Florida’s weak spot all season on defense has been the secondary, and it turned into a shoot out that the Gators couldn’t pull out. Nice way to go out for the senior class — which hadn’t won a bowl game — and for Lloyd Carr.

Texas Tech 31, Virginia 28 – 14 points in under 4 minutes in the 4th quarter. Such are the ways of the Lubbock Pirate Academy.  After being shut down by the Cavaliers’ defense (giving up two safeties in the process), Graham Harrell and the Red Raiders made their way back via late turnovers and crucial defensive stops. Harrell threw for 407 yards on 44 completions (out of 69 attempts!)

Missouri 28, Arkansas 7 – You’d have been right to wonder if the Heisman Trophy candidate playing running back in this game wasn’t on Missouri rather than Arkansas. Tony Temple rushed for more than 200 yards and four touchdowns in a performance that turned star QB Chase Daniel into an afterthought.  McFadden did get into the end zone, but came out in the third quarter.

Tennessee 21, Wisconsin 17 – Vols QB Erik Ainge finishes with 345 passing and two scores to end his college career, and Tyler Donovan made a few mistakes along the way, including a fourth quarter pick on an attempt on a late drive in the Outback Bowl. The future for the Vols will be questionable as ususal — not for coach Phil Fulmer, but he’ll have to revamp his offensive staff yet again with David Cutcliffe and Trooper Taylor both bailing out.

Photo: AP/Mark J. Terrill

Cue Your Pac-10 Football Jokes Now.

Even this bumbling by the Texas sideline, courtesy of Chris Jessie, stepson of Longhorns coach Mack Brown, didn’t even come close to costing Texas the game — they were already up on Arizona State by a couple scores and wound up destroying the Sun Devils (deceptive score, really, 52-34). If you only get 22 yards rushing on a questionable Big 12 defense, you’re not going to do much in the way of offense or winning.

Arizona State’s late season/bowl choke job without Ryan Torain in the backfield now makes the Pac-10 0-2 in bowls thus far, and there’s really no reason to think that by the time the Rose Bowl rolls around between Illinois and USC that the record for the conference this year will be any better than 1-4. UCLA losing was a given, considering QB injuries and general coaching turmoil against Brigham Young. I’m surprised the Cougars even allowed it to be that close.

There are three more non-BCS bowls with Pac-10 teams, two are on New Year’s Eve. Oregon is playing South Florida in the Sun Bowl, and this is a Duck team being led and run by Brady Leaf. I feel no particular need to emphasize further just how much Cal has sucked after losing to Oregon State; yes, Jeff Tedford’s teams always lose a crucial game or two, but the slide to 6-6 has been a painful thing to watch (if you chose to watch it at all). With that kind of collapse, who actually thinks Cal will beat Air Force with any sort of ease? Yes, the talent level in Berkeley is head and shoulders above what’s at the academy in Colorado Springs, but that doesn’t count for a hell of a lot when you’re losing that badly. The only game where the Pac-10 team looks to have a really good shot to pull it out is Oregon State, which takes on Maryland — both teams have dealt with QB injuries and it looks to be a running fest.

The problem is that the Pac-10, as a conference in and of itself, provides the second best football to the SEC these days — they just don’t do bowl games well as of late, unless said team in the bowl game is USC, and that’s only reinforcing the popular perception across the rest of the country that the Pac-10 in football is the Trojans and a bunch of hangers-on. I understand what Larry’s getting at when he griped about the Holiday Bowl being well before New Year’s Eve and/or Day for the Pac-10, but I sense the non-USC teams would do well to actually win the bowls they are tied to with some regularity before getting some changes going.