A few years ago I was crashing with some buddies, when after a long night out, we woke up on New Year’s Day, and couldn’t find our friend Jerry anywhere. What was especially weird was that he’d gone to bed in my friend’s apartment just a few hours before.
We spent the rest of the day looking all over for him. Calling his cell phone. Calling friends. Nothing. Luckily, just as we were literally getting ready to call the police, Jerry called us, lost, from a pay phone. Where he found a pay phone in the middle of Connecticut, in 2007, is beyond me. But eventually we tracked him down, picked him up, and never let him live down that night again.
I was convinced that for the rest of time, Jerry would go down as having the worst New Year’s ever. Then the Big Ten happened yesterday. Five games. Five losses. Two that made us change the way we feel about the entire state of Michigan, plus Gordon Gee’s “Sisters of the Poor,” TCU team beating Wisconsin. Now the only thing left to save the credibility of the “Leaders,” and “Legends,” is Terrelle Pryor and Ohio State. Not good.
Still, despite most of yesterday’s games being over before halftime, it only felt right that I do a Sunday recap column. I did one every Sunday all year, and even a few beat downs and some more “Rich Rodriguez must go,” talk wasn’t going to keep from doing another one.
So enjoy. Unless you’re a Big Ten fan, in which case, have a cold one, and pray that for Christmas Pryor was given the gift of being able to read a cover two defense.
Now let’s get to the recap.
Rose Bowl: We need to start by giving a boatload of credit to TCU here.
Honestly, I think most of us came into this one unsure of how or if TCU would be able to matchup with Wisconsin’s offense, and as usual we were proved wrong. Yes the Badgers got their yards between the tackles, but whenever they tried to run to the outside, they were met by a wall of purple nastiness. In the passing game, Tank Carder got so many good shots on Scott Tolzien that by the end of the game, the poor guy looked woozier than my sister walking in the door on New Year’s morning.
But as well as TCU played, this game still comes down to two questions for me: Why didn’t Wisconsin use John Clay more? And what the hell were they thinking on the two-point conversion that lost the game for them.
To the first question, look, I get that Clay was hurt all season long. I understand that he was probably a bit out of shape, considering that he had a gut that made my buddies and I joke, “I wonder if he’s in his first or second trimester.” Still, I don’t care. It’s the last game of the year, and the biggest game of the year, and he’s the best guy you’ve got. I don’t care what Montee Ball or James White did in the regular season, John Clay is your big dog, and the big dog wanted to eat. Ok, maybe that’s the wrong terminology. But the point is, get him the ball. Which is why I don’t understand how Wisconsin barely used him until the last drive of the fourth quarter.
Then of course there was the two-point conversion. If not using Clay until the fourth quarter was a 4.5 on the “What the hell was Bret Bielema Thinking,” scale, than the two-point conversion call was about a nine.
Not only was it a bad call because the running game is your bread and butter. Not only was I a bad call because the Badgers took out Clay out after he’d run over TCU’s defense like an oversized Pop Warner back the entire previous possession. Not only was it a bad call because the Badgers offensive line seemed to finally be in a comfortable run blocking groove. But it was a bad call because TCU had been getting pressure on Tolzien all game in obvious passing situations, and if the coaching staff knew they wanted to throw, it shouldn’t have been over the middle. You know, since TCU had nine guys there to sell out on the run. Now I’m just a football fan and not an expert, but that call seemed very illogical to me on a lot of different levels.
Again, I want to make sure and give TCU their proper credit for going out and taking this win. But Wisconsin’s coaching staff needs a little blame too. It was not their finest hour.
Fiesta Bowl: Really, there isn’t a whole lot of analysis to put into this game. Oklahoma was the better team, and played like it just enough to win this game. Saturday wasn’t their best performance, or their worst, just a nice happy medium. For those who didn’t watch this game, Oklahoma reminded me of someone who buys a brand new sports car, but gets nervous the first time behind the wheel and doesn’t take it over 40 mph. The Sooners never kicked it into fifth gear Saturday night, but honestly, they didn’t really need to.
With that, here are a couple more thoughts:
Looking at how they closed out this year, anyone who wants to make Oklahoma their preseason No. 1 heading into 2011 will get no objection from me. Landry Jones seems to get better every game (Last night he became the first person in college football history to have a “quiet,” 400-yard passing game); the young skill position guys are studs (and Roy Finch didn’t even play); and the defense was reckless to the ball. Let me put it to you this way, if Ryan Broyles comes back next year, I don’t know how Oklahoma cannot be No. 1.
As for UConn, well I’ve got to admit that after one offensive series, I almost turned the game off. When you’ve got six weeks to prepare for a team that you know wants to throw the ball 50 times a game, and then come out with a defensive game-plan loosely described as “Let’s put no pressure on the quarterback, and give the receivers a 15-yard cushion,” well that makes AT a pretty angry guy. Truthfully, I’m just thankful that Connecticut has a 10 day wait to get a gun permit. Otherwise I might have been in the midst of an 11-state killing spree by halftime.
But after that first series, I’ve got to admit, it wasn’t all that bad. To me, it felt like the way I do after going to the dentist: Going in you know it won’t be fun, but you always end up leaving thinking, “You know, that could’ve been a lot worse.”
To UConn and Randy Edsall’s credit, the team played hard for four quarters, and athletically, this game wasn’t as much of a mismatch athletically as I’d expected. Granted, with a few bounces Oklahoma could’ve won by a much bigger margin. But with a few breaks and conversions the other way, UConn could’ve made things a lot closer too.
Most importantly, on a day when both Michigan and Michigan State embarrassed themselves and their conference, I didn’t feel like UConn did that. They just lost to a better team.
I don’t usually give Randy Edsall credit, but I thought after the first series, he handled his team pretty well.
Capital One Bowl: In an afternoon filled with beat downs, Michigan State gets the “I’m actually starting to feel bad for these guys, and wish the game would just end,” award. Seriously, whenever the first time you force a punt is after the other team pulls their starting quarterback in the third quarter, you know that’s not a good sign.
As for Alabama, well I’m guessing Tide fans are waking up this morning with mixed feelings. On the one hand, this was by far the best this team has played since the Florida game back on the first weekend of October. Greg McElroy was a stud, Mark Ingram morphed into “2009 Heisman Trophy winning,” Mark Ingram, and Julio Jones was in beast mode all game long. And the defense… I mean, wow. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kirk Cousins ended up breaking a few bones he didn’t even know he had yesterday. And Marcel Dareus, I mean, double wow. The only thing that would've slowed that guy down yesterday was a handful of roofies and a Taser gun.
At the same time, going against a Michigan State team that openly believed they should be in the Rose Bowl, it was Alabama that looked like the team that could be playing for a BCS title, or at least in a BCS game. Which is where they mixed emotions come in. I know a lot of the Tide’s struggles this year were due to injuries, but still. If Alabama put together four quarters against Auburn and LSU like they did Saturday, they might be the ones in Glendale next Monday, not the Tigers.
I guess it’s strangely fitting that we end the season saying the same thing we did about the Tide in the preseason: “Damn, when those guys play their best, I don’t think anyone can beat them.”
Gator Bowl: Much like the Rose Bowl, we need to start the Gator Bowl discussion by talking about Mississippi State. The Bulldogs were faster, stronger, more disciplined and better coached Saturday, and the scarier thing is that they bring back a ton of key talent in 2011. Just go ahead and put Mississippi State in your preseason Top 15 for next year, because that’s where they’ll be starting.
But to talk solely about the Bulldogs would be burying the lead here. Because for the 497th time this year, it’s time to discuss Rich Rodriguez’s future at Michigan (I guess there goes my first New Years Resolution of 2011).
Before we do that though, I want to give Michigan Athletic Director Dave Brandon the “2010 Coward of the Year Award.” Look, I know what the reasons were behind him holding off on an announcement on Rodriguez's future (Buyout money and playing coy with Jim Harbaugh). And honestly, I don’t care. You just don’t string people along the way Brandon did over these last six weeks with Rich Rod. It’s not fair to Rodriguez, his staff, the players or fans. If Brandon knew six weeks ago that Rodriguez wasn’t his guy, he should’ve manned up, grabbed his balls and done something then. Making Rich Rod flail in the wind like this is just cruel and unusual punishment.
And with all that said… I think Rich Rod needs to go.
Look, obviously this decision shouldn’t be based on yesterday alone. But still, if you’re Rodriguez, and you know your job is on the line, you need to have a better showing than what we saw Saturday. Even if you’re outmanned and you know you might not win, I don’t care, you’ve got try and do something. Run a few trick plays. Put your entire defense on steroids a month before the game. Kidnap Dan Mullen the night before kickoff. Again, I don’t care. But what happened yesterday was a travesty to end all travesties. Forget Bo Schembechler rolling over in his grave, I’m pretty sure my dead grandpa did the same. And he didn’t even like football.
The worst part is, that it’s one thing to be bad, but it’s another thing to spend six weeks preparing for a game, and show no progression at all. The defense was as bad as ever yesterday. Denard Robinson may be a worse passer on January 1 than he was on September 1. And the kicking game, my God. I’ll pay for a scholarship out of my own pocket just to never again have to see a display like the one we saw this year.
The Gator Bowl was 100 levels of hideous, and I hope Brandon goes ahead and puts Rodriguez out of his misery. Actually, truth be told, I wish he’d done it six weeks ago.
Chick-Fil-A Bowl: Maybe it was the six glasses of champagne I had during this game, but to me this one of one of the most entertaining bowls of the holiday season. Not to mention most violent. Honestly, I think there was less bloodshed in the three hours I watched Saving Private Ryan the other day than there was in the three hours I watched this game.
Speaking of which, South Carolina was just not the same once Marcus Lattimore went out. Now obviously, that’s not news to anyone. Even Mark May is smart enough to figure that out.
Which is why heading into 2011, I’m going to label Marcus Lattimore as the most valuable player in college football. Not necessarily the best player, Heisman favorite, or even most skilled player on his own team. That title goes to my man Alshon Jeffery, who will be the best receiver in college football once A.J. Green and Julio Jones exit stage left.
Still, when Lattimore went down against Florida State, South Carolina’s offense started to look eerily like, well, South Carolina’s offense circa 2009. Lots of stuffed running plays. Lots of 3rd and longs. Lots of Stephen Garcia stomping his feet, ripping his helmet off, and looking like he’s ready to choke one of his offensive linemen.
It’s really simple for South Carolina heading into 2011: Keep Lattimore healthy. I don’t know how, but you’ve got to do it. Keep him out of spring ball. Limit his carries. Don’t play him against lousy teams. I’m not sure.
This team can win another SEC East Championship with him at his best. They might be 7-5 again without him.
Outback Bowl: Credit here to Matt McGloin. You've got to be pretty lousy to make us forget just how bad Florida's quarterbacks are, and that's exactly what McGloin did. Bravo to him.
On a serious note though, I’ll close by saying farewell to Urban Meyer. He’s a guy that I’ve cracked quite a few jokes about over these last few years, especially with his “close,” relationship with Tim Tebow. But watching him this year, you could tell Urban’s heart just didn’t seem to be into coaching, and this retirement seems to have happened at the right time. Meyer seems like a good husband, father and man, and I’m glad he’ll be getting to spend more time focusing on those parts of his life.
And although I think Will Muschamp is going to be a pretty good coach, it just won’t be the same without having Meyer on the sidelines going forward. He was a great coach, innovator, you name it. And no one figure (other than maybe Tebow), shaped me more as a college football writer and thinker over these past few years than Meyer.
Good luck coach. You will be missed.
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