Sunday, November 22, 2009

Monday morning links: Auburn Week edition

Before we get into this week's links, I couldn't get away without mentioning the incredibly bizarre ending to Saturday's LSU-Ole Miss game, part of which is encapsulated here.

Most people who read anything I write on a regular basis know that I'm usually loathe to criticize coaching, and that I do the best I can to look at things in a fresh way (instead of just regurgitating what you read everywhere else). But in this case, the majority is right — LSU bungled that end-of-game situation about as badly as one team can.
Just for fun, let's count all the bad coaching that took place in that end-of-game situation:
• First, Ole Miss failed to put the game away on what turned out to be its final possession up 22-17, despite having first-and-goal at the LSU 4. We'll give them a slight pass on this since LSU's defense is tough, but it's worth noting that Dexter McCluster didn't touch the ball once on three straight plays. Instead, they settled for a field goal to make their margin eight points, which isn't a terrible thing since LSU's offense had barely moved the entire second half.
• Well, LSU finally put a few plays together, culminating in Jordan Jefferson finding Ruben Randle in the end zone all by himself because the CB on his side STOPPED PAYING ATTENTION TO HIM COMPLETELY. 25-23, Ole Miss.
• Needing a two-point conversion to tie the game, LSU throws a low-percentage fade pattern to Terrance Toliver, then gets bailed out by a pass interference call that moves the ball to just outside the 1-yard line. For most decent-to-good college football teams, the chances of scoring from the 1-yard line are pretty solid — your best run play should be just as effective as any pass play. Instead, LSU has Jordan Jefferson throw THE EXACT SAME EFFING LOW-PERCENTAGE FADE PATTERN, which comes down in the general vicinity of the end zone and falls incomplete. Houston Nutt, wisely, has his players refrain from celebrating because he knows the onsides kick is coming.
• Here's where LSU deserves a little credit: the onsides kick by Josh Jasper was sneaky-good, and only because Ole Miss' players were all waiting on it to take a big hop ... only it never did. Instead, Brandon Lafell caught it in stride and missed running it for a touchdown by two guys. Then, knowing Ole Miss was planning to blitz the house, Gary Crowton called a savvy "zip" screen to Lafell, who broke two tackles and ran to the Ole Miss 32-yard line.
• Miles & Crowton aren't to blame, of course, for Jordan Jefferson failing to understand the situation on second down and taking that horrendous sack, though it's worth noting that well-coached teams never make that mistake there.
• Crowton is to blame for the no-chance screen pass on third down that lost yardage, and Miles is to blame for not owning the situation by taking his timeout in that situation. However, that was a mere warm-up.
• OK, so let's just forget everything else we've talked about up until now. Forget about the failed fade, the poor execution on third down, forget all that. Instead, concentrate for a moment on the situation at hand. It's fourth-and-26 for LSU, with 9 seconds to play, at the Ole Miss 48. And you don't have a timeout. Not ideal. Your only real option, obviously, is to heave the ball and hope for a miracle catch or a pass interference foul. Both are longshots, obviously.
However, when I played baseball in Little League, my coach used to always tell us the same thing: before every pitch, say to yourself, "If the ball is hit to me, what am I going to do?" If you're the head coach, you have to think that way: "If we, by some miracle here, make a catch for a first down, and we're inbounds, what are we going to do?" You have to know you can't spike the ball — really, you have to either a) have the field goal team ready to sprint on the field at a moment's notice (note: It's almost impossible to run a completely different team on the field, line them all up, get the kicker set and snap the ball in the amount of time allotted) or b) have a play called and take your chances heaving the ball in the end zone.
The main thing, though: you can't spike it. You won't have time. Period.
I know it's wrong to say this, but I'm going to anyway: Nick Saban would've been prepared for that contingency in a similar situation. Miles, on the other hand, seemed as perplexed as the rest of his team when Tolliver came down with the ball ... and so the game ended there.

I sent this in a text and in a tweet last night, but I can't imagine what I would've done had Alabama lost a game this way. I might be in prison right now. Seriously.

Anyway, you're owed some links and Monday is going to be busy, so here you go.
— I do have a hard time with an Alabama player being even mentioned for the Heisman Trophy. But it was inevitable with Mark Ingram's season to date: he even looked good against UTC, and he barely saw the field. And he remains the consensus frontrunner in many circles.
(Note: I can't remember the last time either Auburn or Alabama had a legitimate Heisman hopeful playing in the state's biggest game. Shaun Alexander wasn't in consideration by the time the Auburn game rolled around because of injuries; Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown were never considered because of ... well, one another. So I guess it's ... Jay Barker? Really?)
— I mentioned two weeks ago about the disparity in fourth-quarter scoring between Alabama and Auburn but had no data to back it up. Chris Low obliges with this post. Chris also has the SEC bowl projections — currently, he has Georgia coming to Birmingham next month (if that happens, Peter von Herrmann and I may buy tickets, just to go pick a fight with somebody).
(Note: My dream of UAB being the opponent for that game probably died Saturday in the loss to ECU. The Blazers can still get to 6 wins by beating Central Florida Saturday, but it's hard to believe a 6-win team from Conference USA is getting an at-large invitation from anybody, even if "anybody" means the Pizza Bowl on Greymont.)
— A few defensive notes: apparently Alabama's defense had to adjust on the fly last Saturday vs. UTC, something they'll almost definitely have to do this week (since Gus Malzahn is likely to empty the bag, particularly with two weeks to prepare). Also, Terrence Cody and Eltoro Freeman are apparently engaging in a little trash-talking.
— For the Mutual Admiration Society, coach Cheez-It had some nice things to say today about our football team. And, since we're all being civil, let me say that he's done a fantastic job at Auburn this season.
— Of course, we'd be remiss not to mention Javier Arenas' punt-return record, a tribute for a guy who's been one of the most consistently brilliant players at Alabama during a tumultuous four years there. Just for that, here's his highlight video ... going into this season.

— For those who weren't sure, the seniors on this team are a special bunch. Since the deflating November collapse in 2007 (culminating in the loss at Auburn), Alabama has lost exactly twice: to eventual national champ Florida and undefeated Utah. Moreover, they've carried themselves with class and shown a good bit of heart. I'm proud to say, this is my team. It wasn't so long ago, that wasn't necessarily the case.
One other quick story and then we're done: Saturday we snuck back into the stadium after most everybody else had left, so we could snap pictures of those seniors, who were out on the field snapping pictures of one another. It was a goofy moment — here are a towering group of young men, whose mere presence would make most people cower ... and they're posing for pictures like 12-year-olds at a rec hall dance. But theirs is a special experience, and it's why most of us love college football so much.

Back with some 'tube later on. Roll Tide.

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