Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving...let's get drunk!

It's that time of the year again. No, not the time to break out your Perfect Strangers DVDs. Though that does sounds fun. No, not the time to appreciate all the blessings in your life and spend time with family. While that's nice and all, there's nothing that says you can't do that at in the middle of April.

I'm talking about the annual Thanksgiving weekend that also doubles as an excuse to get rip-roaring drunk for four or five consecutive nights. What's better than getting shitcanned, sleeping in/laying on the couch all morning and then gorging yourself on some of the most delicious, artery clogging food this side of Milwaukee? Not much. Except, maybe getting repeatedly shitcanned, sleeping in and devouring boatloads of leftover artery clogging food. That's my Thanksgiving wish for all of you out there today. Booze, food and football. I'm pretty sure, you won't get a more thoughtful gift all year long. Enjoy.

On a personal note, I won't be eating Thanksgiving with my family for the first time since my freshman year in college. While the lucky people who get to be related to me (Seriously, how envious are you?) are all in Tallahassee this weekend, I'll be back here with my girlfriend and her family for the holiday. That's right, not only am I missing Thanksgiving, I'll also be missing out on free tickets to the Florida-FSU football game. I guess I could drive up on Friday for the game but there's something else at work here besides me being the greatest boyfriend ever.

You see, I've never seen the Gators win at Doak Campbell. Never. Ever. I saw them tie once (ugh) but that's as close as I've come. When Florida broke the 18 year winless streak in Doak two years ago, I was working an event. So, I've decided, in the best interest of Florida football, to stay home and watch this game on TV. Lest I show up and cause the Mighty Gators to lose and ruin the faint National Championship hopes that they still have. While I'll miss the atmosphere of this rivalry. I won't miss the drive to Tallahassee, the smell of Tallahassee and the dim-witted residents of Tallahassee. Hopefully, my strategy works.

Finally, tomorrow is the annual Turkey Bowl game. This is a pretty big deal between my friends and I and always provides plenty of high (and low) lights for all. What else can you say about an event in which at least 50% of the participants are still drunk from the night before?

Disclaimer: This post sucks. I know that. Blame the half day that I'm taking today and the generous helping of Maker's Mark I drank last night for that. Or blame me. I don't care. I've got the next five days off. I've also got the following things on my agenda during that time: Get drunk, play football, watch football, eat, get drunk, watch basketball, eat, get drunk, watch Florida-Kansas (basketball), eat, watch Florida-FSU (football), get drunk, eat, get drunk(er), eat, watch more football. Happy Thanksgiving indeed.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Rambling, rambling, rambling...

Unlike every other sports-related blogger or journalist or pseudo-journalist today, I’m not going to discuss the Michigan-Ohio State game until your ears (or eyes, I guess) bleed. Maybe I’m the only one, but it’s starting to feel like this game can’t possibly live up to the hype that’s preceded it. I certainly hope it does, I mean I am planning my entire Saturday around it, but when people have been discussing every minute detail of a regular season game for over a week’s time it just starts to feel like we’re all being set up for a tremendous disappointment.

Anyway, because I’m not going to discuss tomorrow’s Game of the Century (alright I’m going to talk about it a little bit at the end of this post) I figured I would try and get to a number of topics that I’ve been thinking about as of late. It’s been quite some time since I sat down and collected my random thoughts in this space and there’s no time like the present right? Right?

- Since I haven’t done this in a while, lets start with something easy. Well, I guess its really not easy for anybody other than Josh Smith to do something like this. Well, Josh Smith and Jesus, maybe.

- By now most of you know that Michael Redd scored 57 points last weekend. Redd’s performance was one of the top 5 highest scoring games in NBA history. Now, do you know who he replaced at #5? Purvis Short…yeah I had no idea either. I mean, I know who Purvis Short is but suffice it to say I had no idea he had EVER dropped 50 in an NBA game. Shit, he wasn’t even the most famous Purvis around when he dropped 50+ for Golden State in 84/85.

The ONLY guy who makes Danny Ferry feel good about his NBA career.

- More randomness: Check out the name for Kobe Bryant’s old shoe from Adidas. Wow. I guess you can’t name a shoe the Alleged Rapist.

- By now, most of you have heard that Gerald Levert died last week. What I’m wondering is how his son, Khalid El-Amin, has been dealing with the loss.

It's so sad when children outlive their parents.

- I heard a lot of people bash the Spurs for not adequately replacing Nazr Mohammed and Rasho Nesterovic this summer. My first thought was, “We’re talking about the same two guys who couldn’t get off the bench in last year’s playoffs right.” After that, I began to think about the guys whom they did replace those two with and how I thought they might actually fit in better with San Antonio. The thing is, all the Spurs need out of their center spot is 6 fouls, hustle and a rudimentary concept of the proper rotations on both offense and defense within their system. Duncan is so good that he’ll draw enough double teams to allow a smart big man to get easy points through putbacks and cutting layups. Now look at who the Spurs brought in. Fabricio Oberto (ok, he was their last year but he never played) and Francisco Elson. Neither of them have much offensive game but they are both far more active and athletic than either of their predecessors. Furthermore, Oberto already understands so many of the little aspects of team basketball through his experience with the Argentinian national team that he actually makes the Spurs better defensively when he’s on the floor. To sum up, the Spurs spent less money this summer AND got better and more athletic. That, is why they are the best organization in basketball. I still can’t stand to watch them play for long stretches of time though.

- I’m a little biased here, but David Lee’s developing into a beast of a power forward. Exactly the kind of guy who could lead the league in rebounding a few years from now in an uptempo system. Don’t believe me, just look at his stats so far this year: 9 rebs in 23.4 minutes per game. Even I have to admit to being a little surprised by his level of productivity.

- I'm not really sure how this has slipped under the national radar, but it's come to my attention that Alabama big man Jemareo Davidson has taken a leave of absence from the basketball team after his girlfriend was killed in a car crash last week. Apparently, Davidson was sitting in the passenger seat of her car during the accident. Jesus, that sounds awful. I'm hoping to see him back on the court soon. (Note: I didn't mean to go all Peter King there but that's just a horrible thing for anybody to have to experience)

- Al Harrington has always been spectacularly ugly. I would even say cartoonish in his defining characterstics. However, now that he is rocking that mohawk, he looks positively ridiculous. I’m guessing thats why he torched the Magic last Friday night. It is awfully tough to play defense when you’re bent over laughing.

- As we all know, the NBA is a copycat league. So it comes as no surprise that a number of NBA teams are trying to replicate the Suns’ recent success by converting to uptempo offensive systems. In theory, this sounds great. Players love to run, the rules are currently set up for this style of play and any approach that allows teams to score more easily is always going to be welcomed by coaches. However, the system that the Suns employ is predicated on some specific parts that not many teams have. I watched a number of teams who have taken on this new, fast-paced approach and I have to say that the results (at least in the early going) are less than inspiring. I’m going to tackle three of these teams and point out why they are not cut out for this approach to offense.

Indiana: The first problem is Rick Carlisle. While he’s a fine NBA coach, he’s also the kind of guy who draws up plays during intramurals. The fast-paced approach needs a coach who’s willing to be hands off and let his players play fairly undisturbed. Rick Carlisle cannot do this. In fact, I’m pretty sure he wakes up at night in cold sweats thinking about Jamaal Tinsley directing his ball club unfettered. Beyond Carlisle, this system also needs a number of quality outside shooters who can spread the floor and open driving lanes. Indiana is woefully inadequate in this department. Name one consistent shooter on the Pacers. It’s okay, I have plenty of time. Jasikevicius qualifies but he can’t play more than 20 minutes a game, so who else does that leave the Pacers with? Stephen Jackson? I think you get my point.

Denver: Do you know why the Suns offense is so damn productive? Because Steve Nash is running it. Say what you will about Nash (no defense, stats inflated by the system, stupid hippie) but it’s tough to deny that he’s the perfect fit for the Suns’ system. Fast break teams thrive off of the play of their point guards. More specifically, players will run until their shoes fall off if they believe that their point guard will find them for easy layups and wide open jumpers. That’s Denver’s biggest problem. Their point guards are not suited to their system. Andre Miller is an average PG at best. He doesn’t have the jumpshot to keep defenses honest (and thereby open up driving lanes) and he’s a chronic over dribbler. Nothing can kill a fast break quite like a PG who doesn’t give up the ball at the right time. Miller may be averaging 9.5 assists/gm right now but all you need to do is watch him once to understand what I mean. He doesn't "find" people as much as he gets bailed out on his wild forays to the hoop.

Backup PG Earl Boykins is even more ill-suited to this offense. He is and always will be a shoot first PG. It’s not entirely his fault. He never would’ve made the NBA if he wasn’t such a prolific scorer. However, that doesn’t change the fact he just doesn’t work with what Denver’s trying to do. Additionally, Denver actually has less outside shooting than Indiana. Other than Carmelo (and Earl when he’s hot) they don’t have a single player on that team whom opposing teams fear as an outside shooter. For example, on Tuesday night in Orlando the Nuggets had this lineup on the floor for almost half the second quarter: Miller, Linas Kleiza, Carmelo, Reggie Evans and Marcus Camby. Can anybody say zone?

Washington: Here’s a team I think could actually be successful running this system. While Arenas is a shoot–first PG of the highest order, he does involve his teammates in the open floor. More importantly, the rest of the Wizards lineup is well suited to this style of play. Guys like Jamison, Daniels, Butler and Stevenson (even Thomas) all benefit from playing a more wide open style which accentuates their strengths (athleticism, speed) while also speeding up the tempo of play and covering up for some of their defensive deficiencies. While they lack an ideal number of outside shooters for the system, they probably have enough to keep defenses honest on the break. So what’s the problem? Well, Eddie Jordan publicly admitted that he had no idea how to run such a system. I guess that takes care of that then.

- Speaking of the Wizards, I commented earlier this year that I didn’t understand why DeShawn Stevenson would sign with the Wiz, basically saying that he didn’t fit in and would (likely) end up nailed to the bench. It seems as though I was wrong. Shocking, I know. He has not only been a starter since day 1 in DC, he also seems to have supplied the Wiz with some much needed defensive intensity. Furthermore, his willingness to get his offense without having plays called for him has allowed Washington to feed the ball to their primary offensive options without worrying about keeping him happy. While Stevenson is far from a perfect player, his toughness and unselfishness make him a very positive addition to the Wizards.

With that said, and I never though I’d say this, the Magic miss him this year. The Magic don’t have many natural “2s” on their team. Other than Bogans, all the other swingmen (Hill, Turkoglu, Ariza) are more natural “3s”. This has lead to some problems in matching up with some of the leagues better wing scorers. You don’t want Hill guarding the team’s best scorer for 35 minutes a night and at 6’10” Hedo is not athletic enough to keep up with most of these guys on the perimeter. As for Ariza, while he’s promising there’s absolutely no way he should be on the court for more than 10-15 minutes a night at this point in his career. Beyond the defense that he brought, Stevenson was also a primary facilitator of the Magic’s offense. He often ran the point in the halfcourt, which allowed Nelson/Arroyo to come off baseline screens for jumpshots and he was the Magic’s primary post feeder. While they are currently 6-3, the Magic also lead the NBA in turnovers (by a wide margin) and the absence of Stevenson is a primary reason for this. Its really too bad that Stevenson didn’t realize his agent was a total douchebag until it was too late, for both parties

- Finally, I wanted to give my two cents on the NBA’s recent attempts to clean up their image. I think we can all agree that the post-foul whining had gotten out of control in recent years and I have no problem with Stern and Co. trying to change the overall culture. However, the new rule has placed far too much power in the hands of the refs and thus has created a double standard among players. I’ve seen Tim Duncan throw his hands up in the air, walk away from a ref and then (with his back turned while walking upcourt) drop the ball as he was near midcourt. Do you know what happened? Nothing. Not a peep from any of the refs. If somebody like Stephon Marbury (Sheed was too easy) does this iis almost assuredly a technical, and possibly worse.

That’s only one example, there are plenty of more. Basketball is a sport. Sports are emotional and players will react when they feel as though they’ve been wronged. That is a natural part of sports. If you are going to punish players for minor offenses and gestures, it must be universal. Of course, we know this is impossible when human emotions are involved. So why not scale it back a touch? I’ve heard the argument that Michael and Larry and Russell, etc. were all emotional and they didn’t have this problem. That’s right, because they were given some rope by officials who weren’t both semi-incompetent and completely untouchable by any and all players and coaches. Do you know what else Larry, Michael and Russell did an awful lot of during their time in the league? Talked trash and got into fights. So does that mean we should bring all of that back to the NBA? Personally, I say the NBA could use a little more in-game vitriol these days as it’s becoming pretty antiseptic, but I think you get my point.

- What’s even worse than the “no whining” rule? This article in the New Daily News. I was already going to write about this based on Jermaine O’Neal’s recent fine for “wearing his wristband too high on his arm”. I realize that their has to be some regulation of uniforms in the NBA, but this is getting completely ludicrous. Me thinks David Stern needs to come down out of his ivory tower for a little while before he has a bigger (more racially driven) problem on his hands.

- Alright, now onto that game that everyone in the Western Hemisphere is so intrigued by( or so it seems). Here’s my extremely quick take:

Michigan’s D, (especially the front four) will give the Ohio State offense fits with the pressure they’re able to create. They won’t shutdown OSU but they will force a turnover or two. While I don’t believe in Chad Henne (never have, never will), I do believe that the Buckeye secondary is overrated, semi-untested and ripe for exposure. If Manningham is healthy ( I think so) they will have to play a lot of zone to avoid too many one-on-one matchups between OSU’s corners (the #1 is a former walk-on) and Michigan’s receivers. I think the Wolverines make enough big plays in the passing game and take advantage of a TO in OSU territory to win.


Michigan 26
OSU 17

Enjoy this...I always do. Oh, and have a good weekend.

Monday, November 13, 2006

How to Save a Season...

I’m not sure if you heard, but the University of Florida participated in a pretty closely contested football game this past Saturday afternoon. I was prepared for a close game, chock full of could’ve and should’ve beens on both sides of the ball going into this game. I was not, however, prepared for a game that would take approximately five years off of my increasingly short lifespan. Because I’m incapable of discussing Florida Football concisely without parameters under which to work, I’m going to break down my thoughts on Saturday’s win into various topics of note (Note: this is not meant to mean that this post will be concise. Far from it, in fact):

Frustration: This is, without a doubt, the most frustrating 9-1 team in the history of 9-1 teams. Most of my frustration with this team stems from the offense, or more specifically, the offense’s inability to establish any consistent rhythm. There is more talent at the skill positions on this offense than any Gator team since 2001. I would even submit that this team, while not as dynamic at the top of the depth chart as say 2001 or 1996, boasts even more depth at the skill positions than just about any Gator team in the past 20 years. This depth seems to be one of the problems. While this may seem strange, it’s struck me over the past couple of weeks that some of the problem with Florida’s offense is the constant attempt to involve all of Florida’s playmakers as opposed to sticking with the “hot hand”. Instead of punishing defenses with a steady diet of what’s working, Offensive Coordinator Dan Mullen too often tries to keep defenses off balance by changing up what is working. By doing this, Mullen allows defenses to regain momentum while also throwing his “hot” playmakers out of their rhythm. Evidence of this can be seen in the stats of DeShawn Wynn against USC. Despite averaging over 7 yards a carry, Wynn was limited to 13 carries for the game. While I’m not saying that Florida should abandon their passing game, it certainly wouldn’t have hurt Florida to call Wynn’s number a few more times on Saturday. Especially in the red zone, where he was completely ignored by Mullen on, not one, but two scoreless trips during Saturday’s game.

Chris Leak: I’m not one of the Florida fans who’ve been calling for Tim Tebow to play more. In fact, I think that the Florida coaching staff has done a great job of putting Tebow into situations that are geared for success. While nobody is denying Tebow’s talent, it should be stated that he is a true freshman with a rudimentary understanding of the passing game. To put him into too many varied situations would not only run the risk of damaging his confidence but also, possibly, result in a season changing turnover (see Shockley, DJ: 2002). For further proof of this, one need only look at Tebow's two passing attempts against USC. On both occasions, Tebow had a receiver open (Dallas Baker & Tate Casey) but focused only on his primary receiver. Thankfully, the result was a couple of incompletions. Things could’ve turned out much worse, especially on Tebow’s first attempt where he tried to squeeze a pass into double coverage in the endzone.

With all of this being said, Chris Leak’s inaccuracy as a passer continues to be his Achilles heel. Simply put, he too often forces his receivers to “make a play” when an accurately thrown ball would result in huge gains. He needed an unbelievable effort from Dallas Baker on his TD pass to avoid a disastrous turnover late in the first half. Beyond that, he badly missed on a couple of other passes that surely would’ve resulted in large gains for the Florida offense. Leak deserves credit for his gutsy running and play calling on the final drive (he checked into both of his draws on the final drive) and he did look more in control of the offense than he has in weeks but he’s still far behind what should be expected of a senior QB who has been starting since the 4th game of his freshman year. In an effort to curb some of these mistakes, I would suggest that Meyer and Mullen employ more basic routes such as shallow crosses and outs. Use of these routes have two positive offshoots, they allow some of Florida’s "playmakers” (Harvin, Ingram, Caldwell) to operate in space while also not forcing Leak to make a perfect throw into tight coverage. The use of these, and other, shorter more basic routes should be viewed as one of the primary reasons that Leak finished Saturday’s game 23-29.

“Cute” playcalling: This was an especially frustrating aspect of Saturday’s game. Nearly every time the Florida had the ball (Only 7 offensive possessions…this clock rule SUCKS!) the offense marched down the field with relative ease only to stall once within South Carolina’s 30 yard line. The main culprit for much of this wasn’t penalties or dropped passes as has so often been the case this year. Rather, it was the playcalling of Dan Mullen. On Florida’s first drive, after moving to the USC 4 yard line, Mullen called for a shovel pass despite the Gamecock’s complete inability to stop the ball being run directly at them. The result? A seven yard loss. This put Florida in a clear passing situation on second and third down and eventually ended in a missed FG by Chris Hetland. More notably, during the fourth quarter, Mullen called a reverse throwback pass at the South Carolina 13 yard line for Andre Caldwell that ultimately resulted in a 16 yard loss. This loss would eventually lead to Florida coming up short on 3rd and 2 and having to settle for a FG. Mullen called a very good game on Saturday, involving many players and keeping USC off balance. However, he nearly cost the Gators the football game by trying to trick his way into the endzone instead of simply lining up with superior talent and forcing Carolina to stop the Florida offense. While this sort of thing may have been somewhat necessary at Mullen’s previous stops, he must realize that, in most cases, his team has a talent advantage and he doesn’t need gimmicks to get 6.

Defense: The Florida defense is officially vulnerable. The loss of Marcus Thomas has been covered here. However, it bears noting that the Gators have given up over five yards a carry since Thomas was booted off the team. This shouldn’t be all that surprising when you consider that Florida is now starting three DEs on their D-Line. Additionally, Florida’s pass rush has suffered without Thomas’ push up the middle. Not only did Florida fail to record a sack for the first time all season on Saturday, they weren’t ever really that close. The loss of a consistent pass rush combined with an inability to stop the run (Siler’s injury could continue to be a BIG factor here) further exposes a thin Florida secondary that has had it’s hands full on numerous occasions this year. While no secondary can survive without an adequate pass rush, Florida’s secondary is absolutely cooked if front seven can’t find a way to put pressure on opposing passer and at least provide a mild resistance to runs up the gut.

Wow, that was awfully negative wasn’t it? It sure was, but what do you expect after a game that was so thoroughly given away by the home team? I can promise you that it would’ve been a whole hell of a lot worse if not for the fantastic hands on one Jarvis Moss. In an effort to at least appear positive, I’d like to specifically site the performances of the following people:

Jarvis Moss: Another in a long line of Jarvis’ at Florida, and now, perhaps the most famous of them all. Moss’s block(s) will go down in Florida history among the greatest moments that the Football team has ever seen. I was at the last game saved by a blocked FG (Auburn 2002) and that was absolute pandemonium in the stands. Considering the stakes involved in this game (on a number of levels) I would imagine that the scene in the stands after this block was somewhere between bat-shit crazy and, well…I guess I don’t have to imagine.

Reggie Lewis: He’s never going to receive enough credit, but for my money, Reggie Lewis made the most important play of the day by anybody not named Jarvis. His perfectly timed slap-away at Sidney Rice’s sure TD catch kept Florida in the game and completely changed the complexion of a second half that seemed to be quickly getting away from the Gators. I’ve watched the replay at least a dozen times and he could not have played the ball or the receiver any better than he did. The fact that he made the play against Sidney Rice made it all the more clutch and spectacular.

Urban Meyer: By now, nearly every Florida fan has commented that “Zook would’ve lost this game”, and they’re right. Personally I don’t think that it would’ve even come down to a FG if Towlie was still running the show in Gainesville. I’m not completely sold on all things Urban just yet, (His team’s still seem a little erratic and sloppy to me for a guy who pushes discipline so much) but he’s instilled a sense of pride and overall toughness in Gator football that I haven’t seen since the mid-90s and that alone is remarkable. His players believe in him and he reflects that belief in his players. He deserves a ton of credit for the changes he’s made in this program.

Florida fans: I wasn’t there but I’ve spoken to two separate people who were in attendance on Saturday who both said that the Swamp was “louder than I’ve ever heard it” on the final USC drive. I’ve been in that Stadium when its so loud that you think the ground is gonna open up right there at the 50 yard line, so it must’ve something special in that Stadium on Saturday night. Florida’s crowd never gave up. Florida’s players never gave up either. Pardon me if I think that there’s some connection there.

Thank god for Western Carolina this week...

Friday, November 10, 2006

Pants Party in Piscataway...everyone's invited!

Well, that certainly changes the National Championship picture doesn’t it?

I predicted earlier this week that Rutgers would pull off the upset against Louisville. To be honest, I was hoping for a Scarlet Knight victory as much (probably more) as I was expecting one. I hadn’t watched Rutgers play much this season, save for a quarter or two during lulls in some of the other, more “marquee” games that I was watching. While I knew they had talent, especially on offense, I didn’t know if they had enough talent and depth to overcome a very talented and well coached Louisville team. The one factor that I continually believed could swing this game in Rutgers’ favor was the same factor that so often changes college football games: Emotion. The emotion of playing the biggest game in school history could propel the Scarlet Knights to victory, if they could handle it. Conversely, the emotional hangover of winning the biggest game in school history might, just might render Louisville unable to play with the intensity and focus it would need to overcome the collective emotion of 60,000+ newly minted Rutgers fans.

While I’d like to say it was all emotion that carried Rutgers to victory last night, its simply not true. Sure it played a role, but to say the emotions of the moment carried Rutgers would be discounting the defensive adjustments made by Greg Schiano and his staff at halftime. It would overlook the yeoman’s effort by Ray Rice and the patience of Rutgers’ offensive staff. They never panicked, continually sticking with their game plan in order to wear down Louisville’s defense. It would ignore the brilliant call on the third down pass to Brian Leonard. A play that Rutgers’s offensive coordinator had seemingly waited all night to call. Rutgers won last night because they believed in each other. They believed in their coaches and the game plan set out in front of them. But most of all, they believed that they deserved to win. That all their hard work and sacrifice had prepared them for a moment like this. That belief is what made Jeremy Ito’s second chance FG possible (that and an awful offsides penalty) because all the emotion in the world can’t bring a team back from three TDs down if they don’t believe.

Now, the National Championship picture becomes much more muddled than it was just 24 hours ago. Over the next few weeks you’re going to hear an endless amount of talk about who “deserves” to play in Glendale on January 8. Only, you won’t hear any of that from me. Not one word. You know why, because there is WAY too much football still to be played. If last night’s game teaches us anything, it’s that we know nothing about college football. So sit back, shutup and watch what promises to be an exciting finish to an increasingly unpredictable season of college football. Speaking of which…

A big weekend is upon us. Actually, it’s a big weekend for the University of Florida. For the first time since he lost to Tennessee in December 2001, Steve Spurrier will be walking back into Ben Hill Griffin Stadium to coach a football game. Only this time, he’ll be doing it as the head coach of an opponent. To say this will be weird is a vast understatement. It was weird last year when he stood on the opposite sideline from the Gators and directed South Carolina to a victory. When he walks out of the tunnel on Saturday afternoon wearing black and garnet, it will be downright nauseating. As someone who enjoyed the final years of the Spurrier era as a student at Florida, the thought of booing SOS was near blasphemy. How could you ever boo the coach who made the University of Florida a national power in football? What could drive somebody to hurl insults at a man who rescued the Gator football program from a devastating probation? That same man trading his orange and blue for the colors of a division rival, that’s what. Make no mistake about it, I do not hate Spurrier. Far from it, I love him for all he’s done for the University and for the countless victories I reveled in that he was largely responsible for. However, that is now the past and he’s become just another opposing SEC coach for whom I want nothing more than embarrassment at the hands of the Gators. It’s that simple really.

If it weren’t for LSU’s last second victory in Knoxville last weekend, the Gators would be playing this game for the SEC Eastern Division title. As it stands, the Gators will play this game for two things: pride and national championship aspirations. Frankly, I think this is a good thing. A game against Spurrier in the Swamp is already rife with emotions for fans, coaches (don’t underestimate the shadow that Spurrier still casts over the football program) and players and will present unique challenges for all parties involved. To say nothing of the “revenge factor” involved in Saturday’s contest, which is significant (last year’s loss to USC kept UF out of the SEC Championship game). With all of that emotion to manage, the last thing that this team needs is the added dimension of playing for a berth in the SEC Championship game.

With all the hoopla and discussion of the head coaching matchup and Spurrier’s return to Gainesville, it can be easy to forget that there is an actual football game to be played. With that in mind, I’d like to touch on a couple aspects of this game that I’ve been mulling over the last few days.

Two QB system: Florida’s two QB system has been the talk of analysts all year long (even though it’s not a true two QB sysem). However, the real story is the re-emergence of a two QB system for SOS. The performance of Blake Mitchell last Saturday evening was nothing short of spectacular. He looked like a vintage Spurrier QB for the better part of the second half, throwing fades, deep outs and slants like he was under center in Gainesville, circa 1995. Not only did Mitchell re-establish himself as the starter, he also managed to resurrect the lost season of Sidney Rice. As my friend John said on Tuesday, Mitchell has an undeniable chemistry with Rice that can’t be overlooked. Mitchell looks for Rice and, more often than not, he is successful when throwing his way. This is huge for the Gamecocks. Rice is their most explosive offensive player and getting him involved is paramount to the success of their offense. Furthermore, Mitchell’s ascension back to the starting role will allow Spurrier to use Syvelle Newton in a number of ways throught Saturday’s game. He provides USC with a completely different look at QB than the more traditional stylings of Mitchell and should prove useful in frustrating Florida’s now wafer thin defensive line. Beyond that, I would also expect to see Newton line up at wide receiver and running back throughout the course of Saturday’s game.

Conclusion: By promoting Mitchell back to starter, Spurrier has added two weapons to an offense badly in need of playmakers while also making his offense much harder to effectively gameplan against.

Marcus Thomas: There’s much to say other than, goodbye. Thomas was unquestionably one of the two most valuable players on the Gator defense. His presence alone made the players around him, specifically the rest of the defensive line, more effective. He commanded double teams and created pressure up the middle, thereby disrupting opponents’ offensive schemes. Put simply, impact defensive tackles like Marcus Thomas don’t grow on trees and can’t be easily replaced. One of the best things about a player like Thomas is that opposing coordinators have to game plan around their presence. Losing Thomas leaves UF with only one such player on their defense, Reggie Nelson. While Nelson remains the marquee player on Florida’s D, it is much easier for an offense to gameplan around one difference maker than two and that alone makes Florida far more vulnerable than they were just two weeks ago.

Furthermore, Florida’s once deep D-line is now much thinner than when the season began, due to the dismissal of Thomas as well as the ACL tear of backup DT Javier Estopinan. Florida still has plenty of talent along it defensive front, it just happens to be talent that is a little lighter in the ass than most would prefer. Will this affect Florida come Saturday? Most certainly. The defense can’t (nor should it) expect to stuff the run as effectively as it has most of the season. Will this prove to be a fatal flaw for Florida (alliteration, mmm) come Saturday? It’s hard to say. If USC can manage to run at the Florida defense like they did in Columbia last year then that will set up the play-action pass for Spurrier. If SOS is emboldened by some early success running the ball, then the Florida secondary could be in for an awfully long day of chasing open receivers. Beyond Saturday, the absence of Thomas makes Florida’s trek towards a BCS Bowl and (possibly) the National Title game far more arduous than it was previously. For the record, I hold no ill will towards Marcus Thomas for his actions. He’s a young kid who had too many responsibilities for himself to handle. He was a very good player at the University of Florida and I wish him well in the NFL. I just wish he could’ve found a way to balance all the aspects of his life for another couple of months because the Gators really could’ve used him.

Other than the loss of Thomas, all the right things have been happening for this Gator team these past few weeks. However, this team still has a long road ahead of them before they can even begin to think of playing for a National Title. The first step on that road starts tomorrow afternoon against the only coach who’s ever guided them down that road before. Life (and college football) can be awfully strange sometimes.

A few last items:

- I can still like SOS for another 27 hours or so, right?

- Alright, this is not encouraging. It looks as if Florida may be without the services of their (now) second best defensive player as well as team leader.

- One last time: RUMSFELD!!!!

He'd like you to meet him at the "trap". Where, evidently, it's going down.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

You're probably looking at next week.

Somehow I managed to violently wrench my neck on Tuesday afternoon while lifting weights. I'm not exactly sure when it happened during my workout, but by the time I was done with dinner on Tuesday it had become quite apparent that I had done something seriously wrong to my neck. It was so bad that I ended up calling my Halloween celebration off early and heading home to bed. Of course, I wouldn't actually go to sleep once I went to bed. My neck was so out of whack that I spent the entire night trying to find a position (any position) that wouldn't make me want to howl in pain. I wouldn't be so lucky. To make matters worse, I woke up (if you can count what I did as sleeping) to a fever and a severly congested head. Most of that has subsided by now. Unfortunately, my neck is only slightly better than it was yesterday. I'm back at work this morning, if only because I didn't want to use two consecutive sick days on my damned neck. However, if things don't start to improve dramatically there's a very real chance that I'll be leaving work to go home and rest. It may sound like I'm being an enormous pussy (which I am) but I'm in genuine agony over here today and I don't care what you think about me and my threshold for pain. So, why am I telling you this?

What the fuck is she smiling about?

Because, there's no way that I'll be able to write anything today or (possibly) tomorrow. If I'm significantly better tomorrow I'll get something up. If not, you're looking at next week before I can contribute anything mildy interesting to the blogoshpere. Believe me, it hurts me far more than it hurts you.