Tuesday, September 30, 2008

table this thing, would you?

Interesting note before we start this week's roundtable: I just saw LeRon McClain make a big catch for the Baltimore Ravens on this morning's Sportscenter. And also, I saw Jarrett Johnson drill Big Ben during last night's game, too.
(Random question: do you think LeRon ever watches himself in college, just muttering obscenities over and over again? I mean, he was one of the keepers from the Shula era, and he was just wasted. And not in a good way.)

Anyway, we move on -- this week's Crimson & White Roundtable comes on the heels of the biggest win for Alabama's football program since 2005 (and with no one losing the lower half of his right leg to boot). For the record, we at the DP are changing our approach slightly: since I'm moving off the sports desk, I have fewer reasons to keep the fan side of me repressed. Even referred to the team as "we" a few times Saturday night.
So the sky's the limit from here. Let's get to it, because the grass still has to be cut, editor or no.

1. What are your feelings on Alabama's current position in the polls? Are we overrated? Underrated? Just right?
Read my entry from Sunday for my complete feelings about the ranking situation. I keep telling myself we can't be that good, there's just no way. But you keep winning, more people will take notice, eventually you can't stem the tide of positive press (no matter how hard Nick Saban tries).
Also, there's this: according to the guys at BCS Guru, guess who'd be #1 if the standings came out today. So maybe #2 is OK, for now.

2. What aspect of the game did Alabama control that shocked you the most? What aspect of the game was Alabama dominated in that shocked you the most?
Not this game inparticular, but one stat from the first five weeks has stood out: Alabama has outscored its opponents 74-0 in the first quarter thus far this season.
What does that mean? Simply, it means this team has been impeccably coached to this point. Saban, McElwain, Kirby Smart, whoever -- someone is putting together outstanding game plans week-in and week-out, and it's been working to something close to perfection. And it's huge for Alabama's offensive plan, since the Tide gets to play from ahead and pound people with that rugged offensive front.
The Tide wasn't dominated in any aspect of the game, but Matthew Stafford had an incredible second half. I don't know if it was obvious to people who don't know a lot of football, but Stafford made some incredible plays after halftime -- many of the throws he made were made on the run, into double and triple coverage, and he made them anyway. That dude is scary. Can he graduate, please? Pretty please?

3. Name your player of the game on Offense. Also name one on Defense.
For defense, I'm going with the tired line of Terrence Cody. In 2007, Moreno and Thomas Brown tore 'Bama's defense up, mostly because the defensive front was being held together with gum and twine. Not this time around.
Offensively, I'm tempted to go with Stafford -- I don't think people realize how good he actually is. But, since you're probably interested in Alabama's offense, I'll say Travis McCall and Antoine Caldwell. Caldwell calls many of the blocking schemes at the line, and McCall -- as Todd Blackledge pointed out during the broadcast -- is the guy who's doing the lead blocking much of the time.

4. The Wildcats are a very quiet 4-0 with lackluster wins over Louisville, Norfolk State, MTSU, and Western Kentucky. Obviously every game in the SEC is going to be a tough one and the Tide could be in danger of a letdown after such a huge win, so are you at all worried about UK? Why or why not?
I'm worried, and you should be, too.
Look, I'm not saying the first five weeks have been a mirage -- however, this team has yet to face a squad that can match it in physicality up the middle (as good as Georgia is at the skill positions, they've always been somewhat soft up the middle, and it's why they typically struggle against more physical opponents like Tennessee and Auburn).
Kentucky, defensively, may not be able to match Alabama physically. But they'll hit, as they showed against Louisville, and they absolutely won't back down or be intimidated. And as the Tide hasn't yet played a nip-and-tuck affair, it's tough to know how they'll respond in such a situation.

5. John Parker Wilson is a new man this season, looking like the kind of savvy game manager that can make just enough throws to keep defenses guessing we need in this offense. What's your take on his sudden emergence, and are you comfortable with him under center in clutch situations?
John Parker remains a riddle, wrapped inside a mystery, rolled up in an enigma. Obviously, the team's propensity for taking early leads has allowed him to play without pressure, as has that run game and that rugged offensive front. His tendency to be erratic, of course, still has to scare most Alabama fans, particularly in the SEC, where every game is bound to come down to a handful of plays. But even Saturday night, with the score at 31-17 and the crowd ready to explode with one more stop, he made the necessary plays to get one more score and put the game back out of reach.
There's a parallel from recent history here: Jason Campbell at Auburn, who played for three coordinators (Petrino, Ensminger and Borges) his last three seasons and was considered as much a liability as an asset until sometime midway through his senior season (2004), when it became obvious that the light bulb had finally clicked on for him. John Parker doesn't have Campbell's raw talent -- I doubt you'll ever see JPW play in any uniform besides Alabama's -- but it does seem as though that elusive bulb is slowly growing brighter. Like Campbell, he's completely comfortable in his current system, he's made the right read in every situation and he's putting every throw exactly where it needs to be.
And if we're going to stay up around the top-5, he's going to have to keep doing it.

wlh

Monday, September 29, 2008

the love-fest continues ...

Into Monday.
Breaking coach Saban's hallowed "24-hour rule," columnists and bloggers throughout the land are making a concerted effort to pump as much air as possible into Alabama and its fan base (I abhor the term "Bama Nation" and will post a video of myself shooting nails into my feet if I ever use it again). Perhaps it's more fun that way — you know, so that when the balloon pops, there's that much more of a fallout. Or perhaps I should stop being such a fatalist and just enjoy the ride. Whatever.
Whatever the case, a LOT of love is in the air for 'Bama today, from the polls to the national writers. A quick rundown ...

— According to BCS Guru, guess who'd be #1 if the BCS were released today?
— John Parker wins SEC Offensive Player of the Week. Also, blood starts pouring from the sky.
— Al.com examines the reason behind the Tide's high ranking.
— And finally, EDSBS gives us gratuitous animation showing poor Matthew Stafford in Final Destination.

Some other links ...
— Because it is Monday, read Peter King. Also Norman Chad, who discusses the BCS this week.
— ESPN destroys tasteless Gameday signs? Deadspin has the story.

wlh

Sunday, September 28, 2008

dread hangs over us all like a big, black cloud

Saturday was one of those days you wish you could bottle up and put away for one of those lousy mid-winter days, when you're stuck watching Big 10 basketball and watching freezing rain fall sideways. We spent the night in Shelby County, woke up early and did farm work, made it back home in time to watch the balance of the afternoon's games, then made our way over The Rogue Booster's house for brats and 'Bama-UGA.

Like most true fans going into a game like this, I'd made up my mind in advance not to expect too much. Since the Clemson game, I've repeated coach Saban's mindset to myself over and over again: this is all a mirage; it's a process; it doesn't happen overnight; etc, etc, etc.
So I was anticipating a Georgia victory going away Saturday. I saw their skill set, saw the night game on the road, saw a road team that would hang tough, but ultimately fall short.
Sometime around the :58 mark of the second quarter, when Julio Jones hauled in a TD pass from John Parker and Leigh Tiffin drilled an extra point to make the count 31-0, two thoughts dawned on me simultaneously:
  • Holy #@&%! Alabama's whooping the third-ranked team in the country, on national television on the road!
  • Dammit ... I bet we'll be ranked too high next week.
Maybe you can sympathize. You were prepared for Alabama to be better than people though, to improve steadily behind the staunch play of the talented youngsters, to pull an upset here or there with the combination of youth and experience.
But you weren't expecting this. How could you have? How could any of us? And now that it's happened, suddenly all of us as fans -- the rational ones of us, not those idiots who fill up Finebaum's afternoon with inane blather -- are afraid to poke our heads too far out of the ground, for fear of getting them chopped off, again.

The folks at tidesports.com understand how I'm feeling. That's why this was their centerpiece art late Saturday:



That, of course, is the maddening thing about the doubts being carried around, by me and everyone else. Cecil Hurt nails it correctly in his column for today.
The Bulldogs changed the margin. They didn’t change the verdict. Alabama was better, tougher and stronger. Yes, there are still areas where Alabama needs work. No, the process is not complete. But there is no arguing with the position that Alabama finds itself in this morning.
It's a little scary, isn't it? With trips to Tennessee and LSU remaining, and dangerous home games left against the Mississippi schools -- not to mention the annual November Armageddon against the team our boys haven't vanquished since the Dennis Franchione era -- Alabama is suddenly in the national discussion, ranked second in the nation for the first time since (take a deep breath) 1993. Frankly, I don't even like thinking about it.

The problem with obsessing about Point 2, of course, is that it minimizes Point 1.
Let there be no doubt: even if the Georgia Bulldogs aren't the national powerhouse they were expected to be in preseason, UGA is a good, good football team. They proved it after halftime, Matt Stafford inparticular -- many of the throws Stafford made in the second half were made against a heavy rush, into tight coverage, and he made them anyway.
And here's the thing: like they did against Clemson, Alabama dismantled that very good team. The running backs who killed them a season ago were rendered irrelevant. The fronts that bedeviled the Tide in Bryant-Denny last season got pushed around like they were on rollerskates.
Even in the second half, when one more UGA stop might've given their offense a chance to make a game of things, Alabama systematically marched down the field, pushed the lead back to three scores and that was that. We've said all season that we don't know how good our team really is. We've got a pretty good idea now.

Some other notes ...
-- It can't be overstated the job Alabama's front did Saturday night. This is the best offensive front Alabama has had since 2004 (when Wesley Britt, Justin Smiley and Evan Mathis were all seniors), from the standpoint of coaching and experience. And they've played like it.
-- The draw play to Upchurch that made the score 24-0 was the exact same play -- in nearly the exact same situation -- that Major Applewhite called on the goal line last season vs. Tennessee.
-- I'm not here to complain about officiating, particularly not after a win like that one. But it is worth noting that UGA's punt return TD was aided by at least two illegal blocks. Although I was happy the UGA students who painted themselves black got something to be excited about.
-- I can't wait to read the blogs this week talk about how UGA was overrated the whole time, and they knew it. Keep talking, guys. You can't take this one away from us.

Elsewhere ...
-- Thus far in 2008, I've watched all of two Auburn games -- at Miss. St, vs. LSU -- and bits and pieces of two others -- Southern Miss and that 14-12 borefest vs. Tennessee -- and I've yet to understand the upside to Chris Todd, starting QB. I keep hearing that his arm is superior to Burns, and that he's a superior decision-maker. I don't know for sure. I can say this: as an Alabama fan, I'm terrified of Burns. Todd? Meh.
-- That Ole Miss went into Florida, pushed the Gators around and made the game closer than it should've been wasn't a huge surprise. That Ole Miss WON? Huge surprise.
On the other hand, maybe it shouldn't be such a surprise, because that's what Houston Nutt does: uglies things up and makes you earn everything you get. At Arkansas, every season he won one game he shouldn't have, and every season he lost one or two games he shouldn't have. That's just the way it is. And if you don't think 'Bama and Auburn are already losing sleep over Ole Miss, you don't understand much about SEC football.
-- USC's upset at the hands of Oregon St. was more of a shocker. Oregon St. lost to Stanford. Oregon St. got housed at Penn St. Oregon St. is awful. For them to beat the team I christened Team of the Decade a few weeks ago ... that's inexcusable.
-- The Mets missed the playoffs again. This makes me strangely happy.

That's pretty much all I got. Always read Dr. Saturday, EDSBS and BSR.

wlh

Friday, September 26, 2008

a "Lost" Friday: I didn't believe it either, and I saw it

In honor of last night's unbelievable USC choke job, we're posting one of the more ingenious moments in "Lost" history.



More unbelievable: the Sox winning the Series? Or USC gagging like choking dogs on Thursday night against a truly awful Oregon St. team? It's a toss-up, right?

One more note: Starting soon, this blog will no longer belong to a sportswriter but a former sportswriter. I'm moving over to Pell City to take over The St. Clair Times, our company's free weekly located in the fastest-growing county in the state. So I'll still be newspapering, just not in a sportswriting position.
Not only does it mean better hours and different assignments -- I finally get to be an honest-to-God 'Bama fan again. Which means, really, we're all winners here.
Roll Tide Roll. Have a great weekend, everybody.

wlh

Thursday, September 25, 2008

lines form just to the right

We're adding an image to today's lines, courtesy of my brother Whit.


Pretty cool, no? Although I have to admit, it's a nervous moment when your brother messages you at work and says, "Can I send you a picture?" Scary.

Anyway, there's a hound dog at my feet making bizarre faces, so I'd better throw out these lines and make this quick. Our lines this week are courtesy of NCAAFlines.com.

Thursday
USC (-26.5) at Oregon
Friday
UConn (+3) at Louisville
Saturday
Maryland (+11) at Clemson
North Carolina (+8) at Miami
Michigan St. (-8.5) at Indiana
Northwestern (+8.5) at Iowa
Virginia (+7) at Duke
(Note: That's right -- Duke is a seven-point favorite, in a football game. Ken Smith is fired up! Wake up the echoes!)
Minnesota (+18.5) at Ohio St.
Ole Miss (+22.5) at Florida
Army (+28.5) at Texas A&M
Wisconsin (-6.5) at Michigan
Fresno St. (-7) at UCLA
Houston (+11) at East Carolina
Colorado (+6) at Florida St.
Tennessee (+7) at Auburn
Arkansas (+28) at Texas
Marshall (+14) at West Virginia
Purdue (PICK) at Notre Dame
Navy (+16) at Wake Forest
Oregon (-21) at Washington St.
TCU (+19) at Oklahoma
UAB (+25) at South Carolina
Mississippi St. (+24.5) at LSU
South Florida (-9) at N.C. State
Alabama (+7) at Georgia
Illinois (+15) at Penn St.
Va. Tech (+7) at Nebraska


wlh

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

wednesday youtube can't follow yesterday's post

It's a little like "The Who" coming on after Hendrix -- it's not that this post isn't good, but how do you follow yesterday?
(Note: A few of my Auburn friends were concerned because they said they didn't realize how much Alabama fans hate Georgia. In actuality, they don't -- but if you're raised a Tech fan, I mean, how can you not? Georgia isn't like Alabama, where two fan bases basically share the state -- UGA fans dominate that state to the point that some of them buy Ga. Tech season tickets, just so they can have prime seats when the 'Dawgs visit there each November. I'm not kidding, by the way -- I recall covering a Thursday-night home game against Maryland where a number of them showed up just to heckle the Teckities. Not cool.)

In any case, we'll soldier on here -- it's Wednesday, which means Youtube nostalgia. People don't realize it, but Alabama and Georgia have played some memorable games over the years, beginning with (as far as I can recall) with a 1965 season-opener in Athens, won by Georgia on a hook-and-lateral where the first receiver lateraled on his knees (the first game of the Vince Dooley era, incidentally). And of course, UGA has claimed two memorable victories in Tuscaloosa in recent years -- 2002 and 2007.
Today we'll focus on two of 'Bama's more memorable wins in the series, beginning with the season-opener in 1985.



(And yes, that's Mike Shula throwing the game-winning TD. He had a knack for that.)

Then there's one of my favorite 'Bama games of all-time: the 1994 win in Tuscaloosa, the night Jay Barker became the talk of Sunday School classrooms around the country.



Late add: The following vid was taken from youtube, via tidesports.com. If you're at work, keep the volume low, but listen for the line halfway through:



We'll see if this Saturday can be as memorable as either of those games. Lord knows, this post won't be as memorable as yesterday's.

wlh

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

hate-blogging, UGA week

Note: In my continual effort to find new and various ways to explore varying degrees of popular sports stories, I asked my buddy Peter — born a Tech fan, bred an Alabama grad, now a practicing United Methodist minister — to list all the reasons everyone should hate the University (sic) of Georgia. Be warned: it gets a little apocalyptic in here for a moment. If this entry makes you crave more from Peter (or his wife), check out their blog. Many thanks to Peter for taking time out of his ... whatever it is pastors do during the week to write this up for us.
Disclaimer: The following is what happens when someone gets a theological education who was raised to be a Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket, whose brother, father, and grandfather all graduated from Tech, and who was unable to see a live football game until deemed old enough to hear his father scream "to hell with Georgia." Scripture taken completely out of context, bile spewed at U(sic)GA, and anyone fighting against Georgia portrayed as the eschatalogical hope of the world. And I didn't even have to call Mark Richt the whore of Babylon. Enjoy.

Acts 17:16 - While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.

Athens was once the center of the Greek world, a center of knowledge and wisdom. Even as the Greek empire fell and the Roman Empire replaced it, Athens maintained its cultural influence. That influence, however, faded into mere imitation as brighter minds saw that there were far better places to live, leaving only the ignorant and the incompetent behind. Since then, other places have taken the name Athens, but like their namesake, they too are simply poor imitations of outdated modes of thought, where anyone sensible will simply move to a better locale.

Athens, Greece had the crime and moral deficiencies of many cities, so when it completely lost any intellectual capital it once had, it became a place to see strange architecture and leave. Thus, it is entirely appropriate that this weekend, when the Georgia Bulldogs meet the Alabama Crimson Tide in the city which like its namesake remains a den of idolatry, debauchery, and moral depravity, that the home team will be wearing black. Confronting sinfulness and moral failures is one of the duties of a Christian, those who follow the "Great Light of the World." As noted by C.S. Lewis in his Screwtape Letters, one of the most common tactics of evil is to mask itself as good, so it is in some ways surprising to see U(sic)GA embracing the dark side. This darkness seems to be embraced not only by the seniors, but by the entire fan base as well. For those who have watched the program, however, it is only the latest in a long line of decisions to walk away from the light.

This is a team whose proudest moment in recent memory was a thuggish team-wide celebration penalty. A quarterback whose greatest achievement is a keg stand in Talladega. A team who is highly rated simply because Atlanta sportswriters have children too dumb to get into Georgia Tech, so they take their HOPE scholarships and go to U(sic)GA, where they can get four more years of high school education and a faux college degree out of the deal. Now that their team has beaten Georgia Southern and Arizona State, these writers are hoping to help their children feel some semblance of pride at this glorified high school.

Perhaps they're hoping their flea-ridden mascot will attempt to bite one of our receivers. Or maybe pass on hookworms to them (as a newspaper once reported that its ancestor had done to former quarterback Quincy Carter). They worship an inbred dog, a redneck quarterback, and a thuggish team. This over-hyped group of thugs and rednecks should enjoy the darkness they so enjoy while they can, because a new day is dawning. I look forward to Saturday.

Because on Saturday, a team in white will show up. A team of light. And, as we are reminded in scripture, "the Light shines on in the darkness, for the darkness has never overpowered it" (John 1:5). It will be on that day when the powers of darkness will be met by the crimson perpetual tide, and all will be made right. The darkness will not overtake the light. It cannot. So be it.

a bit of sad news

A bit of UGA-related news from yesterday: longtime Georgia radio man Larry Munson officially announced his retirement yesterday, at age 85. Like most great radio personalities, Munson is an institution with the UGA fan base, even if he's not the greatest technical announcer (particularly these last few years -- if you're not familiar with the plays he's describing in the video below, you'll have no idea what's going on). Still, in a sports radio world that's becoming increasingly more bland and sound-alike, Munson stood out, and very few personalities still do.

Below, some of Munson's greatest calls. Back later today with the Roundtable.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

thoughts, Week IV

During this past week, I caught part of ESPN's Scott van Pelt Show, where I was flabbergasted to hear Nick Saban's voice doing a live interview with van Peazy and Mike Tirico. I was surprised because a) I didn't realize the Saban hate-fest at ESPN was over and b) Saban rarely does those kinds of appearances.
In any case, like most such interviews with athletes and coaches, Saban's segment on ESPN Radio was predictably cardboard for the most part. But there was one aspect of this particular interview that struck me: Saban, it seems, is gradually becoming more and more annoyed with Alabama fans.
"Every time we do anything positive, the fans want us to be back," the coach said. "After the Clemson game, we drank the Kool-Aid a little bit, and it showed -- we didn't play well the following week.
"We've been trying to help everyone understand that it's a process: you have to play every week."
(Note: This is an approximation of what he said. The audio archive -- which I'm sure is available on ESPN.com somewhere -- would likely betray me in some way.)
The message was obvious: championship teams play at a championship level all the time, and Alabama won't be one until it can take care of business in games it's supposed to win.

The mood hadn't changed much after Saturday's 49-14 win at Arkansas.
Even after a quality win on the road in the SEC opener, a game that was never in doubt, a game that featured two interceptions for touchdowns and a goal-line stand -- after all that, Alabama's second-year head coach still seemed irritable.
"Look, I'm pleased and happy with our team. I don't want anybody here to say I'm not pleased and happy with them. I don't want our team to think I'm not pleased and happy with them. I'm very pleased and happy with the way we played."

But?
"If we get full of it, if we drink the Kool-Aid too much, as I say, which I think we did after the Clemson game - everybody got all over me being Attila the Hun for saying it, but I was right."

If it seems somewhat strange that the head coach of a team that just won a game 49-14 would speak in that fashion, that's the mentality necessary for a team if it's going to have a chance to win a championship. There are no plateaus. We all enjoyed the Clemson game, we all enjoyed Saturday. But for the players and the coaches, each week has to be given its due diligence.

As usual, Cecil Hurt put this best (and yeah, the link was dead the last time I tried it, too -- I'm posting on the assumption that someone fixes it) in his column: we don't know what kind of team Alabama has yet, because Alabama has yet to face adversity this season. We know Alabama can be a very good defensive team; we know Alabama has an experienced front and some explosive players on offense; we know Alabama has an up-and-down senior pulling the trigger.
But we don't know much else about them, because we haven't seen them put in difficult situations. In 1992 -- and everyone forgets this now -- the eventual national champs endured narrow escapes against Tennessee, Mississippi State and Florida before reaching the Sugar Bowl. They faced down adversity and responded in kind.

This coming week will tell us a good bit about what Alabama does when confronted with adversity. Georgia is playing at home (in black jerseys, of all things); Georgia is third in the country; Georgia has scary athletes to put all over the field. Suffice to say, it will be an adverse situation for the Tide.
So we'll find out if we can answer the questions coach Saban keeps publicly asking.

Some other notes from Saturday in Fayetteville ...
-- Biggest drive of the game: Alabama's TD drive in the second quarter to make it 28-7, the one that ended with JP finding Julio to cap it off. That was the moment when Arkansas might have climbed back into the game; to wrest the momentum back at that point was huge.
-- Kudos to Javy and Justin Woodall to understand that the other team's quarterback can't tackle you in the middle of the field. Two years ago, Simeon Castille had a potentially-game-changing INT in Knoxville, but hugged the sidelines the entire way and let himself get forced out by Erik Ainge (Alabama wound up settling for a field goal and losing by four). So I'm glad that at least those two guys understand that Casey Dick stood absolutely no chance with them unless he used the sideline as an extra defender.
-- Speaking of those picks, we may want to investigate Arkansas to make sure Casey Dick isn't shaving points. I've watched the replay of that last pick-6, and I still have no idea where he was throwing the ball on that play.
-- One leftover note from the week: Gregg Easterbrook is one of my favorite ESPN columnists to read on a weekly basis, if only because I enjoy his style and willingness to digress into subjects that have absolutely nothing to do with football. But every time he attempts to include something college football in his column, his relative ignorance of the sport shines through. In last week's column, he made an off-hand reference to this week's game between Saban's and Petrino's team as "The Weasel Bowl" and then went out of his way to mention that Saban's, Petrino's and Rich Rodriguez's -- all either first-or-second-year head coaches taking over programs that need complete overhauls -- were a combined 13-8 coming into this week, essentially imply that all three have been failures.
Every time TMQ attempts to address college football, his observations have that "drive-by" feel that besets many national columnists: you read part of a story online and automatically assume you have an educated opinion on the subject. Problem is, you don't know 80 percent of the story. And the people who do will respect you less because of it.
-- Alabama's goal-line stand before the half was my favorite moment of the game, if only because afterwards Nick Saban smiled briefly.
-- Take that back: my favorite moment of the game was this one:



Moving on to Auburn ...
As I've said in this space before, I'm often puzzled by the culture of fandom. It's not that I don't get having a team and being a fan -- I just don't get the Kool-Aid drinkers, the ones who think it's a sin to either criticize your own team or compliment anything about your rivals.
For example, for most of last week, the Kool-Aid drinkers on the Auburn side -- my friend Kurt, for example -- spent the entire week explaining away the performance of Auburn's offense against Mississippi State: the coaching staff didn't want to show too much (a ridiculous argument, by the way), State's defense is better than people realize -- the "real Auburn" will show up for this Saturday vs. LSU.
Quietly, however, more honest Auburn fans -- my friend Zach among them -- wondered if what happened against Mississippi State was the real Auburn, and the offense wasn't going to get much better.
The good news from Saturday vs. LSU: Auburn played about as well as it can on offense -- 14 points, 320 total yards, 29 minutes time of possession.
The bad news: LSU simply played a better game. The Bengal Tigers racked up nearly 400 yards of total offense, kept the ball for 31 minutes and put up 26 points, all on their own.
And on the game's biggest possession -- with Auburn cinging to a one-point lead and the ball with 4 minutes to play -- the home team simply couldn't get it done, going three-and-out quickly and following that up with a shanked punt that set up LSU's game-winning drive.
Not all of this is Tony Franklin's fault, of course -- the punt is the responsibility of the special-teams coach, and the game-winning drive was the result of LSU's offense putting together a great drive (the game-winning TD was about six inches from being a game-ending interception). But these things do happen when you have an offense that's simply not equipped for your personnel, which is the biggest problem Auburn's facing at the moment.
Other notes ...
-- Remember when watching a football game just meant watching a football game? Did anyone tune into last night's game to listen to Mike Patrick cackle like a girl, or find out where Todd Blackledge went for Todd's Taste of the Town (which ESPN injected into a one-point game in the fourth quarter)? Do we have to keep listening to Big & Rich (or the completely unbearable Rascal Flatts on Raycom)? Can't we just watch the game? Please?
-- Which reminds me: Lee Corso celebrated his pick of Auburn to win Saturday night's game by putting on a helmet with no facemask, then covering himself with toilet paper. Just kill me. I'm not kidding. Shoot me in the head.
-- I still don't understand the appeal of Chris Todd. He's a decent quarterback if you're trying to win Conference USA. And he played about as well as he could have Saturday night. But you're not winning the SEC with Chris Todd as your QB. You're just not.
-- Speaking of quarterbacks, I can't believe no one mentioned that Jarrett Lee played a great deal better when Andrew Hatch went out of the game, and he became LSU's only option. Sometimes kids play better when their backs are to the wall.
-- Even though LSU's offense still resembles something drawn up your backyard, their staff called a great game in the second half Saturday night. They took advantage of the one place where they had an advantage -- their receivers vs. Auburn's secondary -- and kept in enough people to keep Auburn's rush off Lee.
Which brings us to the most important thing Auburn fans should take away from Saturday: LSU is a better team that played a better game. Auburn didn't give it away; LSU simply outplayed Auburn in the second half. It happens. Move on.

And that's about all I can do at the moment. For the best and worst from Saturday, read BSR, EDSBS, Dr. Saturday and Awful Announcing.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Le Batard, Fulmer ... sadly, there were no incidents or anything

Here's a bizarre story out of Miami, where Dan Le Ba Tard -- one of the more acerbic personalities on the planet -- cries on-air about having to interview Phillip Fulmer, then essentially acts like a jerk once the coach is on his show.
Le Batard never mentioned the UF-UT game, instead asking Fulmer if anyone ever accused him of running up the score, his thoughts on Tommy Bowden’s man crush on Nick Saban and Fulmer’s relationship with Steve Spurrier.
The only thing Le Batard left out was the coach’s thoughts on the notorious Fulmer Cup, which may soon be renamed the Paterno Chalice.
So as you might guess, Fulmer tired of Le Batard’s line of questioning rather quickly and asked the host after about four minutes, “You wanna talk some football?”
Le Batard replied, “not really coach,” and hung up.

This is pretty typical for Le Batard, who hasn't stopped taking potshots at Nick Saban (many of them deserved) since he left Miami.
To me, though, this is indicative of a disturbing trend in sports radio, where on-air "personalities" either stroke their guests or antagonize them, with no in-between.
I listen to a good bit of sports talk radio -- and I've appeared on a few local programs as well -- and in general, the people doing the interviews go out of their way to accommodate the guests. Particularly when they have football coaches on their shows, they typically address them as "Coach," and essentially grovel at their feet (I'm sure you can listen to Scott van Pelt's interview with Saban earlier this week and get an idea of what I'm talking about).
(Note: Here's the part where I admit that I despise Phil Fulmer, and take a partiular amount of glee in anything that paints him in a negative light.)
On the other hand, Le Batard's "personality" -- both in radio and in print -- continually comes off as one of a petulant child to me: I didn't want Fulmer on my show, so I'm going to avoid asking him about the one thing anyone wants to know about -- ya know, the game he coaches.
I just hope this isn't the direction we're headed in for sports media. It is possible to do your job without being a boot-licker. I know, hard to believe. But it's true.

wlh

a "Lost" Friday: linus or chigurh?

A savvy Youtuber gives us the old-fashioned creep-off: Ben Linus or Anton Chigurh?



After careful examination, I'm going with Ben. Anton is a ruthless killer, yes, but at least we know his motives (sort of). With Ben ... I'm not sure we know anything about him.

wlh

Thursday, September 18, 2008

lines on the mirror, lines on your face ...

And lines on a Thursday.

As with last week, this week's lines come courtesy of NCAAFlines.com.

Thursday
West Virginia (-3) at Colorado
Friday
Baylor (+12.5) at UConn
Saturday
Central Michigan (+10.5) at Purdue
Mississippi St. (+8) at Georgia Tech
(Note: Scary game if you're a bettor. State's defense is good enough to cause Tech problems. On the other hand, they can't score any points against any competent defense, which it appears Tech has.)
East Carolina (-7.5) at North Carolina St.
Alabama (-10) at Arkansas
(Note: Really?)
Central Florida (+10.5) at Boston College
Arizona (-3) at UCLA
(Note: If you're betting on any game Pac-10 game this season that doesn't involve USC, well ... you could save time by just lighting your wallet on fire.)
Notre Dame (+9) at Michigan St.
Florida (-7.5) at Tennessee
Virginia Tech (+3) at North Carolina
Wake Forest (+4) at Florida St.
Vanderbilt (+7) at Ole Miss
LSU (-3) at Auburn
Georgia (-7) at Arizona St.

wlh

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

wednesday youtube on Thursday

As promised, I can't let this week get away without giving some special mention to the Auburn-LSU meeting, which rarely fails to deliver the goods.

This game in 1988 turned into a very important night in my life, since in the process of watching I managed to stab myself with a blue-lead pencil (ultimately resulting in my first major surgery).



That game, amazingly, not the most famous in the history of the series. There was, for example, this moment at Jordan-Hare in 1994.



I actually remember hearing the first INT on the radio and thinking, "Great ... two more of those and they're right back in this thing."
(Sorry about the music, by the way.)

Amazingly, I couldn't find any video anywhere of the famous "Fire Game" in 1996, when LSU defeated Auburn 19-15 at Jordan-Hare.

Ten years after that crazy interception game in Auburn, the two teams played another incredible contest -- the defending national champs against a team that eventually finished undefeated.
(Again, you'll have to ignore the music.)



Not only was that Jason Campbell's coming-of-age moment (after only 19 short years at Auburn), it also marked the end of one of the weirdest games ever played -- seriously, LSU should've put that game away at least a dozen times in the fourth quarter and didn't.

But it's not even the weirdest moment in the series. The very next season, poor John Vaughn had the reverse of Jason Campbell's 2004 game.



Incredible.

Then there was 2006.



Comparisons between that game and last week's Auburn-Mississippi State game are somewhat peurile -- the defenses may have been comprable, but those two teams matching up in '06 were quality offensive squads as well. The fact that the game ended 7-3 with LSU only three yards short of a potential victory was pretty incredible.

And, finally, there was last year, as Les Miles continues to give us the question, "Is it still a stupid idea even if it works out?"



Simply stunning.

All that sets up this Saturday. Logic says LSU has the advantage -- just as good a defense as State, with more playmakers on offense. But expect it to at least be fun to watch.

wlh

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

wednesday youtube features some barbecued hawg

Following the Clemson game, we covered the failures of Alabama football since 2000 -- with a few exceptions, it's been a horror show for the Tide on the biggest stages.
Remarkably, one of the opponents that's consistently provided fans with big moments has been Arkansas. For example, everyone remembers Shaud Williams' smoke draw in Fayetteville in 2002.



That was the same night -- and they make brief mention of it in the vid -- that Brodie Croyle arrived as an Alabama QB. Arguably, it was one of his better games while he was in Tuscaloosa (and one of his best ever, given how his pro career has gone to this point).

And, of course, everyone remembers this:



Since I don't think I can get away without posting some AU-LSU youtube, look for that tomorrow, as well. The SEC delivers the goods on a weekly basis anyway, but those two always make for something extra-special.

wlh

Monday, September 15, 2008

come to the table


Welcome back to another edition of the Crimson & White Roundtable, something we started participating in this year because ... well, because every blog needs a few gimmicks to keep the entries rolling out. Anyway, as always, we remind everyone that we're doing this for fun and probably don't represent the blogosphere at large. This week's host is 3rd Saturday in Blogtober, one of my favorite sites.


1. What are your feelings on Alabama’s current position in the polls? Are we overrated? Underrated? Just right?

Top-10 rankings have always made me nervous. I recall in 2005, when a worried-looking girl in my office asked me in October (after the Florida win), "Is Alabama overrated?" And the answer was "of course," but it was because Florida was overrated, and Alabama thumped them on a national stage.

The same thing holds true this season. Clemson was more than a little over-hyped -- in fact, their #9 ranking was a result of some bizarre obligation pollsters feel to put at least one team from each major conference in the top 10. And when Alabama whipped them, that automatically made the Tide the team to take over that spot.

Time will tell whether the rankings are deserved. The next two weeks, specifically, will prove a great deal.


2. What aspect of the game did Alabama control that shocked you the most? What aspect of the game was Alabama dominated in that shocked you the most?

Alabama's defense continues to impress me, if only because they're much better than I'd anticipated. Of course, to paraphrase John Madden, when you're playing Western Kentucky, that means Western Kentucky is the team you're playing. But Alabama's defense is tougher than previously believed, and that's a good thing.


3. Name your player of the game on Offense. Also name one on Defense.

Not necessarily related to this particular game, but I'm going with Nick Walker on offense. One of my father's many football adages is this one: the tight end is always open. Always. And to see John Parker throwing to him on a daily basis is heartwarming.

Defensively, it's hard not to be impressed with Rolando McClain. Alabama has a long list of impressive linebackers -- this kid can be one of them. That's the highest praise I can give.


4. Who on each side of the ball has been the biggest surprise to you so far?

Andre Smith has been impressive, not just for his ability, but because of what he means to the offensive line. With him in the starting lineup, Alabama has racked up remarkable numbers in two games -- in the one game he's missed, the Tide looked like a junior varsity.

Keeping with that theme, you can't help but get excited when watching Terrence Cody. Saban's 3-4 defense simply won't work if you don't have a beast to occupy the centers and guards and allow the linebackers to move. And he's the guy.


5. The last three weeks were fun, but now it’s time for conference play. What area of play concerns you now that we’re getting into the more physical stretch of the schedule?

At the risk of sounding like an alarmist, pass rush is the biggest problem at the moment. I never thought Wallace Gilberry was that good, but in the first three games without him, the DLs have generated very little heat on opposing quarterbacks. One thing I learned from '04-'05: if you can generate a big rush up front, then it makes up for a number of deficiencies in other places.

And if you can't, well ...


wlh

a Monday thought, plus links

The most disturbing patterns of the college football blogosphere is the tendency of its proprietors to be more obsessed with their rivals than themselves. Capstone Report, much as I love him, spent so much time talking about Auburn this summer that Auburn ads starting popping up around the rails of his site (he's calmed down a little since then). And since football season began, my friend Kurt at Warblogle.com has wasted much of his blogging energy trying to run down Alabama, instead of marveling at how good his own team might be this season.
None of this is new, obviously — I grew up an Alabama fan living in Opelika during the Stallings era, so I understand what it's like to be harrassed on an almost-daily basis because my favorite team failed to cover the point spread or lost a game it shouldn't have (my personal favorite story: on the same day Alabama lost to Arkansas in 1997, my dad attended a party with my mom centered around Auburn playing at LSU; when they got there, one of the ladies at the party immediately crowed, "We're already ahead 10-0!" prompting my astonished father to quip, "Oh hell ... I forgot y'all were even playing today."). It's part of the gig of fandom, I understand, even if it's not particularly my bag — I learned a long time ago to stay away from my Auburn friends after an Auburn defeat (and most of them know how to return the favor ... most of them).

I say all this to say that the primary conversation since I've arrived at work has been Auburn's offense — or, rather, the lack of it. And it's with good reason. At this point, the Teagles' O is really no different than it was in 2007 — there's no downfield threat in the passing game, no game-breakers in the backfield (Lester's the closest they have, and it's good that he's OK) and no real running threat the QB spot. Basically, to score, Auburn has to grind it out for 15 or 16 plays, or it has to hope for the other guys to make a mistake.
Maybe the strangest thing from Saturday night's game in Starkville was Bob Davie's insistence that Chris Todd is the best guy for Franklin's offense because it's the system he ran in high school and in JUCO, so he knows it and understands it better than Kodi Burns. Which would've been fine, except Todd looked completely lost at times, and his arm looked so weak, Auburn's only real downfield passing threat lay in the hopes that their receivers would run into MSU defenders, drawing pass interference flags (and it even worked a few times).

Of course, here's the rub: the Tiger defense is so good, they may actually be good enough to win games by themselves. As Joe Cribbs opines:
That's almost OK, because it's a hell of a hope. Walt McFadden was supposed to be something of a question mark: he only made, particularly given the timing, one of the best interceptions I can ever remember by an Auburn player. Sen'Derrick Marks has shouldered the burden of being a potential first-round draft pick and the best player on one of the country's best defenses, the one that seemed to haunt Q. Groves all season long last year: instead he's been even better than expected, the wrecking ball around which everything else our opponents have attempted has crumbled. Blackmon finally looked liked Blackmon. Tez Doolittle, back from the football dead. Powers. Stevens, Johnson, and Evans. Gabe friggin' McKenzie.
Can they beat the likes of LSU by themselves? Could they beat Georgia? The Tide? I don't know. But after what they did in Starkville, I don't think it's only my burnt-orange-and-navy-blue glasses that makes me think they might. They're that good. They offered us all a lifeline last night, and I'm going to cling to it this week--and probably longer--like a football-crazed man drowning in his worry.
Of course, Auburn fans can point to last season as evidence that things can get better on offense, as well — in '07, the offense was bad enough to lose games at home to South Florida and State, before rallying to win on the road at Florida and eventually finish 9-4.
Thinking back, one of the things that helped Auburn get back to the winning side was a home game against New Mexico State, where Cox found his stride, the defense kept playing like the defense and Auburn eventually got back into its groove. They won't have that luxury this time around — screw around against LSU and you'll be in a 14-0 hole, quickly. And with the way LSU's defense can play, there may not be any crawling out of it.

Since it's Monday, here are your requisite staples:
• Dr. Saturday gives us profiles in disillusionment, including the Pac-10, Michigan and Ohio St.
• Peter King has the Monday Morning Quarterback.
• Norman Chad dissects Matt Cassel in Couch Slouch.

wlh

Sunday, September 14, 2008

thoughts from Week 3 ...

Nothing much to say about the Tide -- they played the way an SEC team is supposed to play against Western Kentucky, got an early lead and stepped on the gas when it was necessary to remove all doubt. That's the way it's supposed to be.
As Todd opined today, and something Cecil Hurt echoed, Alabama fans still don't know a great deal about their team just yet. Except they would almost certainly win the ACC. Then again, so would Vanderbilt.
Maybe the most interesting wrinkle from the last two weeks of listening to Alabama on the radio has been CTSN's rather bizarre decision to replace Kenny Stabler in the booth through some sort of odd ex-player committe. Last week, Eli -- a consummate pro as a play-by-play guy, no matter what else you think of him (and I could go on for days) -- was forced to share the booth with Roger Schultz, who's a nice guy and a fun personality, but not the sort of person you want describing a football game over the radio. Needless to say, the broadcast was as disjointed as the game itself.
Yesterday, Schultz was out -- in his place was the immortal Prince Wimbley. Honestly, this threw me. Prince Wimbley? I had no idea Prince was even still living in Alabama, much less interested in broadcasting. Prince sounded over his head for most of the afternoon, and had a hard time getting in any words through the always obtrusive Tom Roberts (a decent studio host, but someone who should be reading from a script at all times).
So that was pretty much the game. The season starts for real again this week at Arkansas. And ohbytheway, I have two tickets to that one that I'm trying to unload. So let me know if you're interested (wheath7848@charter.net).

For a complete recap of Saturday's Alabama game, check out BSR. And for the rest of the games that mattered, read Dr. Saturday.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Saturday in the blog, Week 3

12:20 a.m., CDT: Thanks to any and all who may have read this today -- it was my first live-blogging attempt, and it went OK (though it probably should've gone better).
Anyway, here are some scattered thoughts from what we saw today:
-- If I see that Volkswagen ad one more time, I'm going to stop liking Brooke Shields.
-- Here's what's weird about Auburn's offense: their vertical passing game plan appears to be the following: "Throw the ball up for grabs and hope we get a pass interference call." Maybe that works in the Sun Belt.
-- I nailed my Alabama prediction and my USC prediction. Two out of three ain't bad.
-- Speaking of USC, the highest praise I can give them is this: when historians look back on this decade, they'll think of USC. In the history of college football, one team springs to mind with every decade -- it doesn't mean there weren't other good programs at the same time, but one program put its stamp on the period by being a consistent winner, showing up in every national conversation and generally being loathed by the rest of the country. In my head, here's what I think of for each decade:
  • 1970s: Alabama.
  • 1980s: Miami.
  • 1990s: Nebraska.
Which brings us to Pete Carroll's Trojans. Since starting the Carroll era 2-5, USC has lost exactly nine football games, visited the Rose Bowl every season except 2004 (and that was because they were playing for the national title in the Orange Bowl) and won at least a share of the crown twice. And ohbytheway, they've lost in those big bowl games exactly once: against Vince Young and Texas in the '06 Rose Bowl.
Which, of course, brings me to my point: what would cement USC's legacy the best would be to face the SEC champ for the title. Florida, Georgia, LSU ... someone like that. Because, honestly, if they don't -- if they wind up crushing Oklahoma again, or knocking out some upstart like Missouri -- we'll go to our graves wondering how those Trojans would've played against the boys from the South.
And that'd be a shame.

Back with more tomorrow, I suppose. At some point, I'm going to have to cut my grass.

5:50 p.m., CDT
: Poor, poor South Carolina. They've absolutely out-played Georgia in the second half of this game today, and it's gone begging -- a fumble at the goal line, a monster punt from UGA and a failed fourth-down attempt. Sad, really.
Elsewhere, apparently Notre Dame beat Michigan. I don't know how, of course, because I spent much of today watching Ga. Tech on my second screen. I'll say this: the biggest problem with Paul Johnson's flexbone is that it can't move the ball very far very fast. So when they get behind late in games, well ... it's trouble.
Predictions for tonight: Auburn scores a late touchdown for the cover in Starkville; Alabama scores a flurry early and lays off the gas; and USC beats Ohio St. by 21.

4:45 p.m., CDT: Ian Rapaport just wrapped up a predictably bland session with Tom Roberts in the Alabama pregame. He's a very good writer. And that's about it (and that's no knock -- I'm not even the first one, so I should shut up).
Anyway, cruddy weather has become the story across much of the Midwest and Southwest today. Driving rain made the FAU-Michigan St. game look miserable, and it's just picked up in South Bend, also. Nasty. And that's not even mentioning the fact that the replay of TD Charlie's injury gave me sympathy pains (sadly, no video at this point).
In other coaching news, it appears UGA's defensive coaches just started screaming at one another prior to a crucial third-down snap. Of course, UGA got the ball back, so maybe it wasn't that big a deal.
Tight games all over, so I've gotta split. Back in a bit.

4:05 p.m., CDT
: Business has picked up significantly. South Carolina is going to the locker room with a lead against UGA; Va. Tech blocked ANOTHER extra point (they're leading 14-9 at half over Paul Johnson's crew); and not only is Notre Dame handling Michigan, but Touchdown Carlos is on crutches after getting his legs cut from under him by one of his players ("he got Lee Ziemba-ed").
Also, I just found the 'Bama pre-game on the Internet. Although I won't say where, because I don't want storm troopers coming to my office.

3:10 p.m., CDT
: We've shifted venues for the rest of the evening -- we're now coming to you live from The Daily Home offices in Talladega, Ala. Some observations since last time:
-- Listened to the Stanford-TCU game on the way in via Sirius. The Cardinal suffered an incredible turn of events early in the fourth quarter, when an apparent punt return for a touchdown was reversed on review (he stepped out of bounds at the 13). The drive ultimately ended with an interception in the end zone.
-- Ga. Tech-Va. Tech is currently showing on ABC -- the Hokies elected to wear one of the oddest uniform combos I think I've ever seen (if you haven't seen it, I don't think I can describe them).
-- The officials in the Georgia-South Carolina game just made one of the oddest calls I think I've ever seen, calling pass interference (on a USC interception) and a block in the back (during the INT return) and ruling the fouls "offset," causing the down to be replayed. Isn't interference an automatic first down?
OK ... so they conferenced and got it correct.
-- One more thing from this game: Steve Spurrier has to be on the verge of either retirement or an aneurysm.

12:06 p.m., CDT
: Currently, Maryland is whipping Cal, Michigan St. & FAU are trading fumbles in the rain and Tennessee is pushing around UAB. Not a strong start Saturday III in college football.
Also, I know I'm infringing on Awful Announcing's territory here, but the fact that ESPN keeps foisting Pam Ward onto the college football audience is one of the great ongoing tragedies in sports. Not only is she not good, she's just as bad now as she was when she first started. And yet ESPN keeps running her out there every year. Is it possible they just do it for the amusement of jerks like me? I wonder.
UAB is cooked, by the way -- not only are they already behind 14-0, but Aaron Johns -- yes, the same guy who started at TB for 'Bama in the '04 Music City Bowl -- is apparently done for the day with a rib injury. Yikes. This seems like a good time to mention that UAB's head coach is the same guy who called the majority of the plays for Alabama during the disastrous 2000 season. Just saying.
Two other things:
-- I know this is a strange place to put such a thought, but this morning I got sucked into Ben Affleck's "Forces of Nature" on TBS, which always happens because the movie itself is so bizarre. If you've never seen it before, here's a quick recap: Affleck's character is supposed to be on his way to his wedding to Maura Tierney (in Savannah, of all places), but his plane is involved in some kind of trouble, causing him to somehow get hooked up with the completely crazy Sandra Bullock; the two of them drive to Savannah, quickly bonding as the viewers wonder which moderately attractive actress he'll eventually choose. I don't know what it is about this movie -- Affleck's acting? the bizarre plot? -- that sucks me in, but it happens every time. Should I be admitting this in print?
-- If you're ever looking for an incredible TV viewing experience and live around Birmingham, check out WOTM and their myriad replays of local Friday-night football action. It's always worth the watch, if only to hear each local announcer. Some of them genuinely make an effort to be professional and call the games, and some of them just rant and rave and generally make asses out of themselves. Needless to say, I love it.

10:30 a.m., CDT
A few years ago, I was watching ESPN's College Gameday and realized the aggravation far outweighed whatever enjoyment I was getting from the telecast. Honestly, how much hard analysis do you get out of your average Gameday broadcast?

Here are things you learn, in order:
-- Lee Corso makes some funny sound effects.
-- College students sure can come up with creative posters.
-- Kirk Herbstreit went to Ohio State and has 19 children (or something).

Now I watch Gameday for only a few minutes each Saturday -- long enough to discern where they are and pick out the funniest posters in the crowd. Here are the ones I see this morning in Southern California, in order ...

  • MY FOOT HURTS (a reference to Chris Wells, I guess, unless the dude's foot actually hurts).
  • USC PWNS N00BS.
  • WE DON'T PLAY CUPCAKES (actually, you play in PAC-10).
  • JON BUCCIGROSS FOR PRESIDENT.
Pretty tame in comparison to some other campuses (my personal favorite was from 2005, at Penn St.: "AJ HAWK PLAYS WITH MY LITTLE PONIES"). Still not bad, though.

wlh

Thursday, September 11, 2008

a "Lost" Friday: mapping out what we know

Today, in a further attempt to understand ABC's "Lost," we're posting a map of the island -- the map came to us courtesy of Strange Maps, forwarded along by The Rogue Booster (you may remember his thoughts on Brett Favre from last month).



For more from TRB, check out his livejournal.

We'll try to do some live-blogging tomorrow. Wouldn't hold my breath, though.

Also, if anyone's interested in two tickets to the Arkansas game, please let me know quickly.

wlh

we DO promote gambling on this site

As it was this week 7 years ago, we're resolving not to let the terrorists disrupt our lifestyle. And that includes blogging and Thursday lines.

Before we get to those, two things:
  • I finally saw "No Country for Old Men" the other night. If someone can please explain to me what's going on at the end of this movie, please let me know.
  • Per RBR, I discovered a new 'Bama blog today: Tower of Bammer. They're a slightly edgier blog, evidenced by their weekly previews, which are f-bomb-themed. As someone who loves blogs that make an attempt to provide something different, I recommend it to the un-sensitive reader/fan.
And with that, we move on to weekend spreads. This week's spreads come courtesy of NCAAFlines.com.
Thursday
North Carolina (+6) at Rutgers
Friday
Kansas (+3.5) at South Florida
Saturday
Cal (-15) at Maryland
Navy (+1.5) at Duke
NC State (+18.5) at Clemson
Iowa St. (+14) at Iowa
Washington St. (PICK) at Baylor
UAB (+30.5) at Tennessee
Stanford (+13) at TCU
East Carolina (-13) at Tulane
Oregon (-8.5) at Purdue
Georgia (-7.5) at South Carolina
UCLA (+8) at BYU
Georgia Tech (+7) at Va. Tech
Michigan (-2.5) at Notre Dame
Auburn (-10.5) at Mississippi St.
(Note: Really?!!!)
Rice (+7) at Vanderbilt
Oklahoma (-20.5) at Washington
Ohio St. (+11) at USC
Wisconsin (-2) at Fresno St.

wlh

...

Like most people in America whose sentiments aren't blinded by politics, I struggle with how to handle Sept. 11. I sometimes wonder how, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, I can properly consecrate, dedicate and hallow the event, without abusing it (and, as some are fond of doing, turning it into a political weapon, a despicable approach that sullies the memory of what happened).

In any case, I won't try. I will say that Stacey & I visited Ground Zero in late July, and it was too much to handle -- yes, even for me, a kid from Alabama who has visited NYC exactly once since he was in the fifth grade. The raw nerves are personified by the gaping hole in the middle of the city.

Anyway, here's the best way I know to memorialize the day -- this video is taken from that day, when a joint gathering of Congress met to stage a press conference. Don't ask me why I remember this, but I recall seeing this happen while waiting on my food at Milo's in Tuscaloosa.



Back with weekend lines later on.

wlh

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

wednesday youtube has highlights

Yeah ... there weren't many.





Videos courtesy Tidesports.com. Now we can all forget about this and move on. OK? OK.

wlh

midseason roundabout, Week 3


Should've gotten in on this last week, but unfortunately I'm a slacker.
(Note: Actually, I'm not a slacker -- I got a job and stuff that takes up most of my time. But if it makes you all feel better to call me slacker, then go ahead. You remind me of your father when he blogged here -- he was a slacker, too.)

This week's host is BSR, arguably one of the better Tide blogs on the planet. As always, I'm participating in this as someone who doesn't consider himself a "'Bama blogger." I hung up my crimson-colored glasses when I finished college and started working in the real world. Still, it's a fun thing to do, and I'm hoping I can bring a little extra to the (round)table. Without further ado ...

1. What are your feelings on Alabama’s current position in the polls? Are we overrated? Underrated? Just right?
At the risk of being boring, top 15 seems about right for 'Bama at the moment. As my Auburn friends have gone out of their way to remind all of us relentlessly, Clemson was overrated, overhyped (and by the way, the Aubs knew it all along, in case you don't remember ... or so they say, anyway). In any case, this team does have a chance to be pretty good, but -- as Saban has reminded us -- so did last year's team (and if we want to get picky, so did the team in 2006). For now, 'Bama's ranked just about where they belong.


2. What aspect of the game did Alabama control that shocked you the most? What aspect of the game was Alabama dominated in that shocked you the most?

In a weird way, even though the game was 13-3 for most of the night, it never felt like they were in danger of actually losing. I started thinking about the 1992 team -- everyone remembers the beating of Miami, but most of them forgot that Alabama needed a second-half rally to beat Tulane (in New Orleans that year, weirdly enough), and a David Palmer punt return to solidify a win over La. Tech at Legion Field. As I said the other day, winning ugly is still winning, and the good news is that the Tide played poorly but still pulled it out.


(Note: I skipped question #3 because I didn't watch enough of the game to answer it adequately.)


4. John Parker Wilson has been called a number of things - most of them not so nice. What do you see in your crystal ball for #14 for the balance of the season?
Honestly, JP didn't play poorly in the Tulane game. He wasn't nearly as sharp as he was against Clemson, but it's not as though he was an apocalypse against Tulane the way he was against Monroe last season, or against State, or the majority of the FSU game. Had he been, this game might have been lost.
Alabama fans have a tendency to be wayyy too hard on their starting QBs, and Wilson is no exception. While I can't forecast his senior season, I can say the following things:
* He's playing behind the best offensive line in his three years (assuming Andre Smith and Marlon Davis come back healthy by Arkansas week).
* He's playing with an offensive coordinator who actually has the trust of his head coach (supposedly, Saban never really trusted Major fully last season, one of the reasons he left treadmarks leaving town).
* Because of the two aforementioned things, he'll be asked to win games less than he has been in his previous two seasons.

5. Considering that we rushed for 6.5 yards per carry against Tulane, and only averaged 1.6 yards on pass plays, why do you suppose that we passed 27 times and only ran 22 times?
Ah, you've hit upon my personal cause! Honestly, if I have to watch too many more games in which a team with a clear advantage up front pitch the football all around the stadium for four quarters, I may take up protesting in the street or something.
Tennessee -- a team which I openly loathe -- is easily the worst case of this. On Labor Day night, the Vols simply refused to run the football against the Bruins, choosing instead to put the game repeatedly in the hands of Jonathan Crompton. And Crompton did OK, but the game would never have been in doubt if UT had simply just run the ball.
My theory, taken from Gregg Easterbrook at TMQ: passing the football is considered more sophisticated (and it’s more fun to watch, supposedly), so coordinators fall in love with it because it makes them look smarter (no one ever called Tom Osborne an offensive genius, despite the fact that his Cornhuskers flattened every team they played by just playing smashmouth football).
Here’s hoping we don’t say the same thing about Jim McElwain at the end of this season.


wlh

Monday, September 8, 2008

Link-away

First things first: coach Saban called every error from the Tulane game "correctable." Let's hope so — having Andre Smith on the field would be helpful, obviously (he's currently listed as day-to-day).

And with that, we're back with a healthy Monday edition of links.
— For starters, one of the positives from Saturday: Javy Arenas got tabbed SEC Special-Teams Player of the Week. Alabama will definitely need him healthy if they're going to win any of their bigger games in the meat of the conference schedule.
— Now on to the game itself: BSR has comprehensive looks at the offense and the defense from Week 2. Interestingly, the biggest difference from Week 1 to Week 2 on defense was number of plays — per-play averages from Tulane and Clemson were exactly the same (3.9). But Clemson's offense was rarely on the field, while the Green Wave O spent the bulk of its time out there.
— I've mentioned this before, but the best Auburn blog I've run across thus far is the Joe Cribbs Car Wash, which should always get hits just based on its name. Anyway, he's got a comprehensive look at Auburn from Saturday, in case you were curious.
I've said it before and I'll continue saying it: Auburn and 'Bama both look salty on defense, and both appear to be well-coached. The offenses for both teams remain the wild card. We'll see.

— Because it's Monday, here are a few staples for me:
• Dr. Saturday examines fan bases on the collective ledge.
• Norman Chad examines the English language in Couch Slouch.
• Finally, Peter King goes through Week 1 of the NFL with MMQB. Hey, did you hear Tom Brady is hurt? No, seriously! The quarterback from the Patriots! Apparently, he's pretty good.

wlh

Sunday, September 7, 2008

OK, so not everything has changed


Brother Whit texted (text'd? messaged?) me during halftime Saturday to let me know a Gene Stallings tribute was taking place on the field at Bryant-Denny Stadium at halftime of Alabama's game against Tulane.
Few things could be more appropriate, I thought. The Stallings Era was filled with these sorts of games.
Fans of rival schools, along with national pundits and columnists, want desperately to paint a picture for the world of an Alabama fan base that's craving a return to the 1970s, to the days when Bear Bryant roamed the sidelines in Tuscaloosa (wearing houndstooth, as PMR delineated in painstaking detail last week) and Tide teams were considered a disappointment if they lost 2 games in a season. Those days are over, they say, only the irrational Alabama fans don't believe it.
The truth is much more mundane. Alabama fans are some of the more knowledgeable football fans on the planet -- whether you like it or not -- and they understand that the 1970s are in the past. What Alabama fans want more than anything is a return to the days of Gene Stallings.
Stallings doesn't get much credit for being great at Alabama because his teams weren't pretty. They had a tendency to muddle through mid-season games against the likes of La. Tech and Central Arkansas, always winning, but rarely doing more than that, and always giving fans plenty to grumble about on their way out of the stadium.
In fact, it was apropos that the pay-per-view announcers mentioned that Alabama's last meeting with Tulane was 1994. That '94 team, for what it's worth, won 12 games, won the Citrus Bowl and possible could've shared the national title that year but for an heroic performance by Danny Wuerffel in the SEC Championship Game.
The score in that '94 Alabama-Tulane contest? Alabama 20, Tulane 10.

I went through all that to say that I don't put much stock in Saturday's supremely-ugly 20-6 victory over the Green Wave. The stats aren't pretty to look at, of course -- the replay on CSS wasn't much better. But winning ugly is still winning, and no matter what this team did last week against Clemson, this sort of thing is bound to happen during even the best of seasons.

Some other thoughts from Saturday ...
-- Let's not get so caught up in complaining about the offense that we forget about the performance of the defense, which still hasn't surrendered an offensive touchdown in 8 quarters of football thus far this season. Chirp as much as you want -- Clemson was overrated and Tulane may turn out to be lousy, but keeping the opposing jersey out of the end zone will generally win you a game. Just saying.
-- One player who's been much better than I'd anticipated: Cory Reamer. The prospect of the Hoover junior starting at linebacker told me Alabama wasn't likely to be very good on D (something about him just looks wrong). But I was wrong about him -- he flies around and brings a load when he gets there.
-- The only person who had a chance to catch Javier Arenas on his punt return TD? Marquis Johnson. Unfortunately for Tulane, Marquis plays for Alabama. Let's hope Arenas' head injury isn't anything that can't be healed with a week off.
-- Watching the replay from Saturday, everything right about the offense in Week 1 seemed wrong in Week 2, right down the play-calling -- against Clemson, the offense dictated to the D from the opening snap; last night, the opposite seemed to occur. Also, for everyone prepared to pile on JPW, lay off: he was victimized by some bad drops, and he didn't throw a pick, something he undoubtedly would've done last season.

That's really all I can say about this one. My friend Kurt Branch wants desperately for me to say something that will start a trash-talking blog war, but I'm not 9 and this isn't third grade. The only thing we know about either Auburn or Alabama at this point is that both of them are pretty salty on defense and both of them are pretty well-coached.
In a sense, the two of them had parallel games on Saturday, and when both of them got comfortably ahead (comfortably, in this case, is more than one score), they both got bored and eased up. In both cases, it showed in the offensive execution -- Auburn couldn't run the ball and Alabama couldn't really do anything -- and also in both cases, the defenses for the home teams were too good to let the lapses hurt too much. The difference is that Auburn hasn't had a "Clemson game" experience yet for comparison's sake. They'll get theirs this Saturday with a revenge game against the Fighting Crooms in Starkville.

So we'll see what else is going on this week.

Also, is Ohio State playing someone important this week? Did I miss something? And also, is their starting TB hurt? Shouldn't ESPN be talking about this?

wlh

quick hits from Saturday

Got in a little late last night, and headed out early this morning. But before hitting the road, here are some quick, very scattered thoughts from Saturday ...

-- Not a huge surprise, what happened in Tuscaloosa last night. Ironically, they played a Gene Stallings tribute at halftime -- ironic, of course, because Saturday night's result was one Bebes' teams were notorious for playing.
-- Here are my friend Zach Alsbrook's reactions to the notion that Chris Todd claimed Auburn's starting job on Saturday: "(Expletive) ... (expletive) ... he (expletive deleted, expletive) ... and I hope he dies. Is that blunt enough for you?"
-- Lost in the furor over the silly celebration foul called against Washington: what about BYU storming through to block the kick? Really, that kick wouldn't have been good no matter where they tried it -- the Cougs stormed through and slapped it down before it ever left the kicker's foot.
-- Game of the night: South Florida over Central Florida. And you think I'm kidding.
-- Apparently, we have to re-assess this whole "Ole Miss" situation. That Snead kid has a chance to become Houston Nutt's Matt Jones 2.0: ugly as hell but somehow effective. Just saying.
-- Speaking of that game, not only did the color analyst in that game use the word "laterability" at one point, he briefly drew something on the screen that looked an awful lot like a phallus. And then his play-by-play guy agreed that "laterability" was a great word to use.
-- Maybe the most impressive performance of the day: Georgia, who crushed a pretty decent Central Michigan team one week prior to opening SEC play (when they seemed ripe for an upset or at least one of those "we're looking ahead and this game is closer than it should be" games, like Ohio St. played).
-- Of course, that's leaving out East Carolina. They're really good, whether we like it or not.
-- And finally, and I know I do this at least once every year, but ... I mean ... VANDY!!!!

More later. As always, the standards for every Saturday are AA, Dr. S and RBR.

wlh

Friday, September 5, 2008

a "Lost" Friday: taking some initiative

Today's "Lost" questions to explore: what is the DHARMA Initiative? What were they actually doing on the Island? Do they have any connection to Mr. Paik, or Charles Widmore? Were they brainwashing people with those weird videos?



And why, exactly, did Ben feel the need to purge the Island of them all?

I'll leave that to you. More (perhaps) coming later.

wlh

Thursday, September 4, 2008

doin' some Thursday lines

Some work's gotta get off my desk before supper, so I'll keep this as brief as I can — here are some lines for this weekend, courtesy of Yahoo!

Thursday
South Carolina (-10) at Vanderbilt
Saturday
Tulane (+30) at Alabama
(Note: Not feeling a cover here. Just saying.)
Stanford (+14) at Arizona State
Georgia Tech (+7) at Boston College
BYU (-9) at Washington
Cal (-13.5) at Washington St.
Miami (+21.5) at Florida
UAB (+13) at Fla. Atlantic
Central Michigan (+23.5) at Georgia
(Note: Scary, scary pick. I mean, really scary.)
Northwestern (-6.5) at Duke
(To steal Orson's line, BULLY FOR FOOTBALL!!!)
Ohio (+34) at Ohio St.
Oregon St. (+16.5) at Penn St.
South Florida (-14) at UCF
Texas (-27) at UTEP
Mississippi (+8) at Wake Forest
West Virginia (-8) at East Carolina
Marshall (+21) at Wisconsin

wlh