Tuesday, September 27, 2005

It's about that time....

Ah, the fall. There’s nothing quite like it, even in Florida. There is just something that I’ve always loved about this time of year and it has absolutely zero to do with leaves changing colors or putting on sweaters or any of that other crap that you’d find in the pages of a J. Peterman catalog.

When I was young, I loved the fall because the thermometer finally found the time to dip below 90 degrees and the weather was perfect for any number of sports that weren’t completely feasible during the summer months. As an adult, I enjoy the fall for a number of reasons, most notably (a) all those rat bastard kids that mock me all summer as they wander aimlessly to and fro are locked back up in their cages and (b) it is the greatest time of the year for a full scale sports overdose.

We’re still a week away from the MLB playoffs but there is certainly enough intrigue left in this season to hold me over until the Cardinals get moving towards the pennant and (hopefully) a World Series title. Of course one thing that none of us has to wait on is weekends full of football. Don’t your weekends seem eminently more enjoyable these days? There’s no wondering what you’ll do all day on Saturday. No making up excuses for why you can’t go to the farmer’s market on Sunday with your girlfriend. You can pretty much sum up each of the next 12-15 weekends with one word: Football. Or even better, two words: Football, Drinking.

That’s the way my weekends have been playing out during September and I see no reason why the good times shouldn’t continue. As I said yesterday, I had a few things that I wanted to discuss regarding the weekend that was, so away we go:

- I wanted to write about this last Friday. Why is it that the Patriots don’t get a mulligan? Is it because they’ve been so good that nobody knows how to react when they actually lose one? Do people really expect them to go undefeated? I mean, they haven’t yet and they’ve still managed to win three of the last four Super Bowls. Sure, they looked awful but it was only Week 2. When the Eagles lost on Monday night every writer/talking head universally agreed that they were still the best team in the NFC. So, how are the Pats any different? I know that the AFC is much better than the NFC but have any of these supposed powerhouses in the AFC beat the Pats when it matters over the last four years? No. Until this happens, the Pats should be the favorite to win it all, period.

- I have a good friend who is a die-hard Bengals fan. He’s even gone up to Cincy each of the past few years to watch his team. As somebody who suffered through the lean years with the Bucs, I admire this sort of dedication. There’s something to be said for consistently rooting for a team that hasn’t EVER been successful during your time as a true football fan. This young man called me on Sunday as the Bengals were finishing up and excitedly exclaimed, “We’re for real!!”. Now I didn’t want to rain on his parade or anything, but I’m not quite sold just yet. The Bengals haven’t exactly played a murderer’s row of opponents thus far. Carson Palmer looks great right now and both Chad and Rudi Johnson are proven entities at this point in their careers. What isn’t proven in any way is that defense. Yeah, I know that they’ve had two consecutive 5 int. performances but those have come against the NEW Daunte Culpepper and, of course, everybody’s favorite rookie Kyle Orton. You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t take this as a sign of a dominant defense. Even Marvin Lewis has come off as increasingly shaky over the last few years. I’m not disputing that he’s done a great job of changing the culture in Cincy, he absolutely has. I’m just not 100% sold that he is a good enough game coach to take this team to the next level. Tony Dungy changed the culture in Tampa Bay. You know what that got him? Fired. If the Bengals can keep this thing rolling and be looking at a 6-2 record at the season’s midway point, then I’ll hitch up to the Queen City bandwagon. Until then, it will just be me Takeo Spikes and Corey Dillon hanging out over by the pool cracking jokes about Cris Colinswrth’s shoulders.

- Have you heard that the Tampa Bay Bucs are 3-0? Of course you have, it was the blurb you heard before the media outlet you were watching/listening to went into a thirty minute dissertation about the Packers being 0-3 and what a shame it was to have to see Brett Favre go through something like this. As an aside, why do we always have to feel sorry for Brett Favre? It’s like the man is the world’s first autistic QB or something. Jesus, he’s a multi-millionaire with a hot wife who has never worked a day in his life, you’ll have to excuse me if I’m saving my tears for somebody else.

Anyway, the Bucs are undefeated and the #1 reason is none other than Carnell “Brian Griese better start calling me Cadillac” Williams. The kid is a beast. He has transformed the Bucs into an old style smash mouth football team within a matter of three weeks. Nobody would’ve guessed this could happen so quickly and definitely not with this level of success. Here’s my concern: John Gruden is going to wear this guy out before we reach week 10. Williams is 5’11” 205 and he is averaging over 27 carries a game. If the Bucs can’t find a way to get their offense going without running this guy 30-40 times a game then they are asking for him to fall apart (and their season with it) before we get to January. He was already banged up (sprained foot) heading into Sunday’s action, and he carried the ball 37 times, 37! I am not asking the Bucs to abandon the horse that they rode to a 3-0 start. Just pleading with the folks over at One Buc Place to consider the long term of future of the franchise and their new franchise player.

- I was going to bash Chad Pennington for his “water pistol” as Cris Carter referred to it on last week’s “Inside the NFL”. Yet, in light of the news that he has a torn rotator cuff and will miss the season I’ve decided to give the guy a break. He never had a great arm to begin with and had already spent most of this season looking like some rag armed hybrid of Shane Matthews and Danny Weurffel. Every throw he made had a pronounced loop to it and you just knew that the Jets’ Super Bowl hopes were going the way of the phonograph. Now, however, the Jets may as well go ahead and start playing for the #1 pick. They don’t have even an outside shot at the playoffs and Pennington’s career is in serious jeopardy. Frankly, I’d be surprised if he were ever a starting QB in the NFL again. It’s not often that I feel bad for a guy who makes millions of dollars but it’s quite sad to see a guy get cut down in what should’ve been the prime of his career.

- Does anybody think that Rick Pitino sat at dinner on Sunday night with a big bottle of vino and toasted Bobby Petrino and his boys’ monumental failure on Saturday night? Don’t you think all of this talk about Louisville being a football powerhouse just months after Pitino directed the Cards to their first Final Four in twenty years irked him a bit? With an ego like Pitino’s, you’d better believe it did. Now, I’m not saying that I think Rick was rooting against his own school on Saturday evening. However, I do think that he took some measure of satisfaction from the hot new coach who he shares office space with getting knocked down a few pegs.

I didn’t watch anything other than highlights of this game so I can’t really say anything other than the obvious:

(1) Louisville didn’t come ready to play. Teams that are used to success can often turn on the switch at some point in the game after they realize that they’re in a dogfight. Having never been in this position before (i.e. the hunted) the Cards began to panic once they realized that they were in for a full 60 minutes.
(2) USF was in no way intimidated by Louisville. Most of the guys at USF played with or against some of the top players in the country in high school (this IS Florida) so the thought of Louisville coming to town didn’t strike one ounce of fear in the hearts of the Bulls.
(3) USF is just as athletic as Louisville. Louisville is more athletic than most of the teams they face (especially in their old conference) but because of where they’re located, this doesn’t apply to USF. Louisville is definitely a more skilled outfit than the Bulls but they won’t run them off the field based on athleticism alone. When Louisville came in unprepared on Saturday night, they lost their one major edge over USF and, consequently, they lost the game.

- The Giants got their asses kicked on Sunday night. You can’t blame Eli Manning for that though. Manning looked like the real deal on Sunday. He made all the throws. He moved around in the pocket without abandoning the play (something Ben Roethlisberger could stand a little more of). He kept the Giants in the ballgame for a half even though their defense looked like the University of Kentucky out there for a good portion of the evening. I was surprised with how complete a QB the youngest Manning looked to be. Not that I didn’t think Manning would be a good to great NFL QB, I just didn’t think it would start happening so quickly. I figured he was at least another half season away from a performance like that against a legitimate playoff contender. It’s no secret that I don’t have any love for the Manning family but I can’t help but admire the tremendous strides that this guy’s made in a little over a year.

- The highlight of my weekend was surely the first half performance of the #5 ranked Florida Gators. At one point I called my old college roommate just so I had somebody else to soak it all in with. We sat on the phone as Chris Leak drove the Gators to their fifth touchdown of the half, marveling at how fluid the offense looked. Mind you, we were both keenly aware that this was Kentucky we were facing. It’s just that we hadn’t seen a Gator team take it to Kentucky (or anyone) like this in at least four years. This was a throwback performance. The kind of game that happened so often during the Steve Spurrier Era and has been so conspicuous by its absence since. These were the games that we would leave at halftime and head to The Swamp (Bar/Restaurant) for beers and to take in the second half (stress free) as we hit on every sorority girl in sight (to no avail). Of course, the second half showed that the Gators have a lot of issues with their depth and have no REAL backup QB of consequence. No matter, for the first time in years the Gator offense looked unstoppable through the air while the defense continued to look as dominant as any Gator unit on that side of the ball has looked in quite some time. Next up: Bama in Tuscaloosa on Saturday.

- As you can probably tell I’m limping to the finish like that British guy who tore his hamstring in the 200 of the ’92 Olympics. Like him, I’ll tough this thing out to it’s bitter conclusion (sans the help from my Dad). The final topic on the agenda is none other than last night’s classic SEC battle. It sure didn’t look like a classic when LSU took a 21-0 lead into halftime. Tennessee came out to start the second half with noodle-armed Rick Clausen taking over for Erik Ainge. Clausen may have a noodle for an arm, but at least that arm doesn’t try and throw softball pitches out of the back of his own endzone. The second half ended up coming down to a couple of factors. First and foremost among them being that UT finally slowed down LSU’s rushing attack, thereby forcing JaMarcus Russell to beat them. Good strategy. Russell is a physical marvel (did you see him throw the ball 75 yards…in the air?) but he is a long way from being a competent QB. That should be the blueprint for beating the Tigers until proven otherwise. Force Russell to beat you, then do it again, and again…then, and only then should you begin to stop putting 8 or 9 guys in the box on every play. Finally, and maybe more importantly, LSU wore down. Between all the emotion that they showed throughout the first half and the amount of conditioning that these guys missed out on in the last month or so, it was bound to happen sooner or later. Well, it happened among the 95 degree heat and humidity of Baton Rouge. It sure didn’t take Les Miles long to feel the hot seat at his new job. Get used to it Les, you ain’t in Stillwater anymore.

6 comments:

Jerry said...

My working theory is that the Gators' mini-collapse against Kentucky was a good thing. They were never in danger of losing the game, so that wasn't an issue. But it gives Urban a reason to put a boot in their ass this week. I could easily see them coming into this game with less than maximum focus and intensity -- on the road, not really a natrual rival, Bama has been down for a while, etc.

On the other side, this is the biggest non-Auburn game in Tuscaloosa in years. They're going to be jacked up. The Gators need every edge they can get.

Mark said...

I'm with you on the second half. It was never in doubt and Meyer will work them over about it all week. Plus, a ton of young guys got a good chunk of time in a game situation.

Definitely biggest game in Tuscaloosa in quite some time. I have been looking at this game as a possible trip up since this summer. Florida almost always manages to lose a mid-season game to an SEC West opponent (for many of the reasons you mentioned) and they've rarely been as good as this Bama team.

CFunk28 said...

Its nice to see the Jets mailed it in and signed Testaverde. I'm sure they could have snagged Patrick Ramsey for a 2nd round pick. "Coach" hates that guy.

Tell Cincy loving Dave that I'm suing him for choking me at the Dirty P.

And one more thing, root for the Braves. As a Turner employee I get playoff tickets. Which means I may have an extra one for a Braves vs. Cards NLCS matchup.

Mark said...

Calvin,

I'll pass it along to Dave that your lawyers are filing a deposition. As for the Cards, if you ahve an extra ticket then I'd definitely come up for a game or two. Seriously, let me know.

Not like the time you let me know about your fantasy football league either.

D.M., M.D. said...

My input is this:

I watched Florida struggle against Wyoming, then watched them beat a decent Tennessee team, and I watched Bama dismantle a crappy South Carolina team (even though by halftime I had cried myself into a stupor). But I also saw Bama play like absolute crap against MTSU and for a half against Southern Miss.

Florida should beat Bama, but for several reasons it could be a tough game.

1. Mike Shula. In the USC game, Shula might not have outcoached Spurrier, but he had his guys ready to play, that's for damn sure. This game will be huge, at home, and Shula will no doubt have these guys ready to go.

2. Brodie Croyle. This guy is good. He's not Rick "Poster boy for bad QB on a good team" Clausen or Erik "I like to throw balls underhanded into oncoming defensive linemen in the endzone" Ainge. He'll give the D a test.

3. Bama can run better than Tennessee, and are extremely physical on both sides of the ball. Florida's offense struggled a bit against UT, and will have an equally tough time against Bama.

That being said, Go Gators. And I've only said that once before in my entire life, when they beat UT a few weeks ago.

Mark said...

WOW. John Van Vleet in my comments section? It's getting a litle dusty in here.

The things that worry me the most are:

Bama's emtional level
Bama's run game
Florida's offensive line
Bama's crowd
Florida's defensive line
Brodie Croyle

Having games to play teams like this is exaclty what makes the SEC so tough. Bama is maybe the 4th best team (on paper) that Florida will play in the SEC this year.