We begin this week with a name.
Michigan coach Rick $Rodriguez wasn’t always so well known. The son of a coal miner from Grant Town, West Virginia, he turned down three basketball scholarships to walk-on to the Mountaineer’s football team. On the first day of practice his position coach yelled, “Gonzalez, go over there to safety.” When Rodriguez asked where he should go, the coach shouted, “I just told you.”
“You said ‘Gonzalez’ my name is Rodriguez.” “Ah, hell, – y’all the same anyway,” said the coach. “After that, I decided to get into a fight every day, so he’d have to learn my name to yell at me,” said Rodriguez. At the end of the season, not only did the coaches know Rodriguez’s name, they offered him a full scholarship. This weekend, let’s see which teams play so well, it can name the score, and which play like a bunch of no-name coal miners.
No.9 LSU at No. 3 Alabama (Ch.4, 3:30 p.m.) A victory and the Tigers are back in the National Championship conversation. The Bayou-Bengals roar loudest on the defensive side. The nation’s seventh stingiest (12 points) D attacks behind end Rahim Alem and a trio of punishing backers; Perry Riley, Kelvin Sheppard, and Harry Coleman. Unfortunately, for the LSU faithful, the offense directed by quarterback Jordan Jefferson (11 touchdown passes – 4 interceptions) with assists from tailback Charles Scott and touchdown maker, wideout Brandon LaFell (8TDs) has been as exciting as a monologue by Jay Leno.
Alabama needed its off-week in the same desperate way a vampire needs blood. The issue in Tuscaloosa has been the erratic play of quarterback Greg McElroy (9 touchdown passes – 3 interceptions) who directs the Namath-challenged 93rd ranked passing attack. The Tide’s offensive catalyst is its Heisman Trophy candidate tailback Mark Ingram, who is the leader of the country’s thirteenth best rushing attack. On the flip side, Bama’s D is stouter than Orson Wells, and has more quality than a Victoria Secret runway show. These intimidators are led by the All-America trio of backer Rolando McClain, corner Javier Arenas and nose Terrence (the block) Cody. These rip-Tiders are ranked fourth overall and the nation’s fifth stingiest, allowing 11 points a game. In a game that will have more hits than the ’68 Chicago Convention – we think a rested Tide sinks the Tigers.
No. 15 Ohio State at No.11 Penn State (Ch.5, 3:30 p.m.) The Boys from Columbus have sailed on the breeze of one of the country’s top defenses. The nation’s sixth tightest (11 points) D, stones runners and harasses quarterbacks behind ends Thaddeus Gibson, Nathan Williams, and backer Ross Homan. These opportunistic Pac-men rank third in interceptions hauled, and sixth in turnovers gained. It’s the offense that causes the agita in Columbus. For the Buckeye faithful, waiting for the Scarlet and Grey offense to finally explode, is like waiting for Obama to make a decision, on which direction he intends to take on Afghanistan. OSU’s dual-threat QB Terrelle Pryor (13 touchdown passes – 9 interceptions) is similar to the national health care bill, still very much a work in progress. But there is a growing concern in the land of the Horseshoe that the talented kid may never quite grasp it. When he does make a connection, wideouts DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher are primary targets.
How good is Penn State? Based on its pathetic schedule, the answer is about as clear as the vision of its iconic 82 year-old coach Joe Paterno without his coke-bottle glasses. JoePa’s Boys flunked its only other test earlier in the season at home against Iowa. It gets a second shot at Happy Valley redemption this Saturday. The offensive commander is quarterback Darryl Clark (18 touchdown passes – 7 interceptions) with assists from starry tailback Evan Royster (6 yds. a carry) and a trio of wideouts, Derek Moye, Graham Zug, and Chaz Powell. Unlike the coach’s vision, there is nothing fuzzy about the Lions D. Penn State has been Scrooge-like surrendering the nation’s fewest (9) points per game. The leaders of this Kryptonite group features backers Josh Hull, Sean Lee, tackle Jared Odrick and end Jack Crawford. For us, the lyrics of Johnny Nash ring true – “I can see clearly now…,” and we can too, as the Nits pass its second test.
No. 8 Oregon at Stanford (FSN, 3:30 p.m.) Oregon coach Chip Kelly (formerly of UNH) has his Ducks lined neatly in a row – 7 in a row. The catalyst directing the nation’s ninth highest scoring eleven is dual threat quarterback Jeremiah Masoli (6 touchdown passes – 2 interceptions), who is also second on the team in rushing, averaging 6 yards a carry. The rest of the Eugene firepower consists of tailback LaMichael James (15th in the nation – 7TDs) the leader of a running attack that averages 233 yards a game. When Masoli takes to the air, he has a pair of quality targets; Ed Dickson and Jeff Maehl. The D has also been a surprise. These Sons of Phil Knight are the nation’s nineteenth in points allowed, and feature backers Casey Matthews, Spencer Paysinger and end Will Tukuafu, but they have a tendency to display some fissures against the run.
The Boys on the Farm are – so far – enjoying a long awaited football renaissance. The Stanford offensive engine drives on the legs of the nation’s seventh leading rusher senior Toby Gerhart (13 touchdowns), who shares equal billing with his starry teammate quarterback Andrew Luck (9 touchdown passes – 3 interceptions), who operates as the country’s sixteenth most efficient passer. The D, behind backer Will Powers, and end Thomas Keiser, is pedestrian against the run, but has serious air sickness defending the pass, not a good recipe against the Ducks. In Palo Alto there will be no Duck on the Menu, as the Quack attack flies over the Cardinal.
No. 20 Oklahoma at Nebraska (Ch.5, 8 p.m.) In the halcyon days of Tom Osborne and Barry Switzer this game was must – see TV. For almost three decades the winner claimed the Big (8/12) Championship and an invite to the Orange Bowl. Unfortunately, as the Lincoln faithful are well aware, those days have reverted into a distant memory, and this contest has become about as exciting as a summer rerun. With Sam Bradford gone, the controls of the nation’s twentieth highest scoring team now rests on the arm of quarterback Landry Jones (17 touchdown passes – 6 interceptions). The QB has nicely settled into the Norman scene thanks to the assists from tailbacks DeMarco Murray, Chris Brown, and a touchdown making (10) wideout; Ryan Broyles. But it is the country’s eighth stingiest D (12 points a game) that puts the “Boomer” in Sooner. This group led by backers Travis Lewis, Ryan Reynolds, and end Jeremy Beal runs faster than an oil rigger running to the sound of another gusher. They also surrender points as often as the government distributes H1N1 vaccination shots.
In Lincoln, Bo Pelini’s D is becoming “Black Shirt” worthy. The Huskers are the nation’s fourth toughest eleven to score upon, and attack behind its suffocating tackle tandem of All-America Ndamukong Suh, and his partner Jared Crick. These run stoppers are equally efficient in harassing the quarterback. Unfortunately for the Big Red faithful, Nebraska’s offensive production has been as barren as a wheat field in January. Newly installed dual threat QB Cody Green, tailback Roy Helu and wideout Niles Paul represent a group whose stats are as mediocre as the design of the Rose Kennedy Greenway. This could be close for awhile, but OU has the superior team and eventually husks the Huskers.
Wake Forest at No. 11 Georgia Tech (Ch.5, 3:30 p.m.) As long as Jim Grobe is coaching Wake Forest there will always be some Demon in the Deacons. Wake doesn’t dash and flash – they simply play fundamentally sound football. The offensive triggerman is senior quarterback Riley Skinner (18 touchdowns -10 interceptions) who is also the nation’s eighteenth most efficient passer. The QB is nicely assisted by the tailback duo of Josh Adams and Brandon Pendergrass and the wideout combo of Marshall Williams and Devon Brown. The D is solid and features backer Dominique Midgett, end Tristan Dorty and tackle John Russell.
GT gobbles yardage with the ease of the Road Runner. And Paul Johnson’s Boys, now the best in the Peach State, have won six in a row. Tailback Jonathan Dwyer (8TDs) and dual threat QB Josh Nesbitt (13 TDs) are the main spokes in America’s second best rushing attack – 304 yards a game. Nesbitt, who completes less than 50 percent of his throws, does have a starry target in Demaryius Thomas, who is averaging an eye-popping 24 yards a catch. The D has some quality in end Derrick Morgan and backers Brad Jefferson and Sedric Griffin, but unlike its jaguar-smooth offensive partners, this group better resembles a speed challenged YUGO. The Rambling Wreck rolls on as the Jackets are getting fitted for an ACC Championship.
Last week’s record; 4-1 Season record; 32-13.