Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Thoughts on College Football's Opening Week

By Matt Chandik

Games watched this week: Ohio State-Akron, Michigan-Western Michigan, Notre Dame-South Florida, LSU-Oregon, Georgia-Boise State, Maryland-Miami.

Georgia is still not good. Image courtesy of Dr. Saturday.

I hate Boise State.

There, I said it. I can't stand the Broncos, so I'm not going to pretend like I'm going to be unbiased on the subject. I hate their uniforms. I hate their schedule. I hate the fact that everyone rallies around them. I hate that they're the flag-bearer for all the little schools. I hate that ESPN rides Boise's collective dick every fucking year. It drives me nuts.

After this weekend, my hate for Boise was increased exponentially. I have no problem with them beating Georgia, or rather, making Georgia look like a bunch of inept high schoolers who had no business being on the field with Boise State. Kellen Moore is one of the nation's top-five quarterbacks, and he showed why against the Bulldogs. 28-34 for 261 yards, three touchdowns and only one interception when his running game was shut down – Doug Martin only garnered 57 yards on 24 carries – and while replacing his top two wide receivers in a hostile environment is more than impressive. Boise dominated both lines of scrimmage as it gave Moore all day to throw and disrupted the Georgia offense. All in all, Boise looked the part of a top-five team.

Which they always do when they play their overrated BCS team of the year as part of their schedule that would make some high school athletic directors blush. Yes, Georgia is a big name. The Bulldogs had their share of All-Americans, they're a big program in college football and they've got some decent players. So of course, Boise State is going around parading like it just downed a program ranked right near the Broncos and a program that's been ripping off 10-win seasons for the past decade.

In the words of Lee Corso, not so fast, my friend. I don't know how to put this, but uh, Georgia's, y'know, not very good. The Bulldogs were 6-7 a year ago with losses to the likes of Colorado, Florida and Central Florida. That was with All-America and No. 4 draft choice A.J. Green, first-team All-SEC pick Justin Houston (11 sacks in 2010 before being drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs), running backs Washaun Ealey and Caleb King (1,241 combined rushing yards and 13 TDs), first-team All-SEC guard Clint Boiling and a host of other key players. To be rather blunt, this is a pretty crappy team.

Perhaps no big-time program does as little with as much as Georgia does. Its home state is one of the most fertile recruiting areas in the country and the Dawgs have as much talent as most teams. What it boils down to, essentially, is that Georgia head coach Mark Richt is a mediocre coach. Yes, I know he's a got a pretty winning percentage when he's playing stiffs who can be intimidated by playing Between the Hedges, but really, show me some marquee wins for Richt. He continually loses big games and it's excused because he beats the likes of Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Southwest Alaska State Tech A&M for the Blind every year. Cornerback/return man/running back Brandon Boykin touched the ball once against Boise State – and promptly took it 80 yards for a score and led the team in rushing. That touchdown run – where Boykin displayed blinding speed and left everyone on Boise's roster in a different zip code – occurred with 8:39 to go in the first quarter. For the next 51:21, nobody thought it was a good idea to give him the ball again. I'm sorry, Mark Richt, but if I have a guy who fires off an 80-yard touchdown on his first touch, you can be damn sure that I'm giving him the ball again.

Anyway, back to Boise. Sure, it's not the Broncos' fault that the Bulldogs are in the midst of a down cycle right now, one that should and most likely will cost Richt his job. However, let's stop pretending that this is a big win. It's not. It's a three-touchdown win over a team that might not make a bowl this year. Boise tries to get as much mileage out of its “big” out-of-conference wins, but the two marquee wins have been this one and the Virginia Tech game last year. Ah, yes, we fondly remember that VT game at Redskins Stadium, don't we? The Broncos won 33-30 against a team that promptly...lost by more than that to Division 1-AA member James Madison the next week. Let's repeat. Boise beat VT by three, JMU beat VT by five. I'm not a fan of the transitive property in college football, but seriously, we're going to gloat about beating a team that lost to a 1-AA school? Come on. I know the Hokies rolled through the ACC (woo, big accomplishment there. A step above the Big East, 12 steps below the SEC.) thanks to a schedule that included zero good teams, but I can't take you seriously if you lose to a 1-AA school, no matter the circumstances, and I'm a Michigan fan.

Listen, Boise. If you want to be taken seriously and actually have a reason to bitch if you're left out of the title game, play a real schedule. Join a real conference, not the one where the Disney All-Stars are your biggest competition. You want props for scheduling a marquee out-of-conference game? Schedule Alabama. Schedule LSU. Want to see what a real schedule looks like? Scope out LSU's slate this year. A neutral-site game against No. 3 Oregon, road dates at Mississippi State, West Virginia, Alabama, Tennessee and Ole Miss. That doesn't count home games with Arkansas, Florida and Auburn. Think it's just an SEC thing? Michigan's 2012 schedule includes a neutral-site game in Arlington, Tex., road games at Notre Dame, Ohio State and Nebraska and home games with Iowa, Michigan State and Illinois. That's a schedule. Take notes, Boise. Play more than one team with a pulse every year and you'll have more of a case.  

The University of Oregon football team's new logo. Image courtesy of Charmin Toilet Paper.

The Oregon Ducks are officially the Indianapolis Colts of the college football world. They're fast, they'll score in bunches, but when push comes to shove and they're matched up with a physical team, they'll fold because they are a soft team. We saw it last year against Stanford in the first half before Stanford was worn down from the speed of Oregon. We saw it in the BCS national championship game where Auburn's defensive line held a pow-wow in the Ducks' backfield and we saw the shining example Saturday night in Arlington. True to form, LSU didn't do anything too crazy in terms of formation or trick plays. The Tigers simply pushed Oregon around. Oregon's sweeps to the wide side, its option plays and its complex offense was no match for LSU's rough-and-tumble defensive front. I don't know if there's a factory down in Baton Rouge where Les Miles breeds enormous defensive linemen who can run, but a strong DL has been the backbone for LSU's successful teams, and this year is no different.

I'm not a believer that the box score tells the whole story, but it certainly does in this case. LaMichael James averaged a paltry three yards per carry and had a long of 13. Kenjon Barner couldn't crack two yards per carry and muffed a punt that led to an LSU touchdown. DeAnthony Thomas looked like a freshman with two costly fumbles. All three of these players are small, and unlike the likes of Maurice Jones-Drew and Ray Rice, they're small and soft. Oregon can't line up and blow other teams off the ball. It relies on too much misdirection and finesse. That stuff might fly when you're facing Washington State, so the Ducks will win quite a few games. However, finesse doesn't work against elite teams, much like the Indianapolis Colts have learned with just one Super Bowl in the Peyton Manning era.

Congratulations, Akron. You let this...thing slap you around. Image courtesy of cleveland.com

Ohio State-Akron
Let's preface everything with this: It was Akron. A horrible, putrid, atrocious, terrible Akron team. Getting to Joe Bauserman with just four guys, even with three of those guys being new starters, was never an option. Their coverage guys couldn't cover my grandmother, let alone an overgrown wide receiver in Jake Stoneburner or a guy like Verlon Reed.
Joe Bauserman looked good at avoiding whatever pressure Akron was able to bring and he made some solid throws, but again, it was Akron. No one on Akron's defense would crack Ohio State's third string. It's not a test in the slightest.

One player that really impressed was cornerback Dominic Clarke, who got the start because of Travis Howard's one-game suspension for taking impermissible benefits. Clarke was thrown at more than Bradley Roby, but acquitted himself very well when Clayton Moore was able to put the ball in his receiver's zip code, which wasn't very often. He had a pair of pass break-ups, but it was more how he broke up the passes that was impressive. He read the ball well and came out of his breaks very well. Clarke displayed good athletic ability and timing and should be a very solid No. 3 corner for the Buckeyes behind Howard and Roby.

Im in yur bakfieldz...kilin ur kwarterbak. Image courtesy of Detroit News.

Michigan-Western Michigan
WMU isn't very good. The Broncos are better than Akron, but they're still not a good team. What was concering as a Michigan fan was the inability of the front four to get a pass rush. The opening drive of the game brought up visions of the Rich Rodriguez era. The defensive backs were lined up in the parking lot and were late on breaking on the ball. While it was just one game, sophomore cornerback Courtney Avery seemed to regress from last year. He broke late on the ball and appeared scared of getting roasted deep. Mind you, Michigan lacks a safety who can take away the deep ball and I'm sure part of the alignment was thanks to Greg Mattison, but Avery needs to improve more. J.T. Floyd is still J.T. Floyd. He's not a good corner. He's simply too slow. He might make a passable strong safety, but as a corner, he's so slow.

Mattison turned up the pressure in the second half with great results. Redshirt freshman linebacker Jake Ryan split a double-team in the red-zone and hit Alex Carder as Carder was attempting a pass. Brandon Herron picked off the pop fly and roared 94 yards down the sideline for the score. Later, strong safety Jordan Kovacs registered his first of two sacks as he came in untouched from the right side and forced a fumble. Herron picked it up and brought it back for his second touchdown of the game.

In the entire Rich Rodriguez era, the Wolverines scored four defensive touchdowns in three seasons. In one game under Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison, they hit half of that, and a big reason why was the defensive adjustments made by Mattison. After watching the “sit in Cover 3” defense go nowhere, Mattison brought the defensive backs a little closer and turned up the blitzes. He had a pair of blitzes that had Kovacs come in untouched and led to Carder doing a happy dance in the pocket all game. It should be interesting to see how Mattison handles Notre Dame's wide-open offense this week with Tommy Rees at the controls.  

Dude, you are literally purple. Simmer down. Image courtesy of Dr. Saturday. 

Notre Dame-South Florida
Speaking of the Irish, well, that didn't go so well against the Bulls. Jonas Gray might be the softest “power back” in the NCAA. His fumble cost the Irish a 14-point swing and jumpstarted South Florida. It was a great forced fumble by Jerrell Young and a good scoop-and-score by Kayvon Webster, but honestly, it never should have been at that point. Gray is terribly indecisive, has poor vision and looks scared of contact. Not exactly traits you want from your power back.

I understand the point of a power back, but honestly, there's no reason Cierre Wood can't have his cake and eat it, too. This guy is a stud. He racked up 104 yards on 21 carries and 44 yards on three catches. Those numbers are good, but not out of this world. However, it wasn't so much the stats that were impressive but how he got them. Wood has exceptional agility and wiggle and displayed some solid top-end speed. There were quite a few times where he wiggled free for more yards after he appeared trapped. He's a viable threat to be Notre Dame's first 1,000-yard back since Darius Walker did it in 2006, the last time the Irish went to a BCS game.

Defensively, I still think Manti Te'o is a tad overrated. He's still a top-five inside linebacker in the nation, but he doesn't get quite as dirty and doesn't shed blockers like Vontaze Burfict and Luke Kuechly do. Burfict gets in the middle and tries to kill offensive linemen who get in his way, whereas Te'o would rather run around them. His worst games always come against teams who single out a blocker for him every game. I'm biased, but go watch Te'o against Patrick Omameh last year. Sure, Te'o posted 13 tackles against the Wolverines last year, but most were downfield stops. Omameh destroyed Te'o on a lead block to spring Denard Robinson for an 87-yard touchdown run and also wiped him out on Robinson's game-winning TD run. If he's allowed to roam free, Te'o can do some serious damage. If there's a guard that accounts for him every play, he turns into a pile jumper.  

What in the fuck is going on here? Image courtesy of ABC News.
The most impressive quarterback in this game was Stephen Morris. He didn't throw for more yards than Danny O'Brien and didn't get the win, but he was very impressive compared to where he was a year ago. Morris threw a pair of interceptions, but one was a Hail Mary at the end of the game. The other, though, was Jacory Harris-esque. He dropped back on 4th and a mile and tried to squeeze in an out route on the near side of the field that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. Clearly, not a throw he should have attempted, but it's a tough situation. Other than that, though, Morris was solid. He displayed a much livelier arm than Harris ever did or ever will and he was able to fit the ball into tight windows. He took deep shots, but he wasn't reckless with them like Harris is. Morris flashed solid mobility and should be the starter for Miami.

Lamar Miller was the best player on the field. He rushed for 119 yards and a score and added 100 more yards on kick returns. Miller showed his top-end speed when he pulled away from the Maryland defense, but at the same time, he also displayed toughness with how he finished his runs. He's not afraid of anyone or anything and it definitely shows in his running style.

Danny O'Brien wouldn't have had such a productive offensive night if it weren't for horrendous playcalling from Miami's defensive coordinator. The bubble screen was open whenever the Terps wanted it. There's not much skill needed to make that throw. I know that the 'Canes were short on depth because of the suspensions stemming from their tumultuous offseason, but that's really not a reason to not take on Maryland's unproven receivers. However, Miami was perfectly content with giving up bubble screens all day. The scarier part for the U, though, is how soft the defense was. The line got pushed off the ball a little bit, but the linebackers and defensive backs just seemed scared to tackle the ballcarrier. It's a far cry from the days of the old U and I think that the Miami alums in the NFL, including Ed Reed, who made an appearance in College Park last night, would be ashamed of what the current Hurricanes program looks like. The U was a lot of things back in the day, but soft was never one of them. Other than Vaughn Telemaque, there weren't many impressive defensive players yesterday.

Matt Chandik is a contributor to the Bilo College Football Report/Power Rated Sports. He can be reached at matt.chandik@gmail.com or on Twitter @MattChandik.

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