We begin this Thanksgiving week (and I give thanks for all of you) with the dog days of Georgia.
The Dawgs are in the throes of one of its worst seasons in recent memory, and if they lose to intra-state rival Georgia Tech, the Bulldogs will finish with an unacceptable .500 record. Things are so bad in Athens, that Georgia’s mascot UGA VII decided he had seen enough, and unexpectedly died last week, less than two years on the job. The 56 pound white English bulldog was 10-3 last year, but witnessing this season’s disaster must have been too much for his heart. “We are all in a state of shock,” said breeder Sony Seiler. “We had no warning whatsoever. We will miss him dearly.” A memorial wreath will be laid on his doghouse on the field’s sidelines. This weekend let’s see which teams lose its bite and play like dogs, and which bulldog (or, if you are from Dorchester, Golden Joe) its way to another victory.
Georgia at No.7 Georgia Tech (Ch.5, 8 p.m.)The situation in Athens is in a Fright-Night freefall. In fact the last time a group form Athens faced this much adversity, the Spartans were knocking at the door. Georgia lost its long-held exalted place as; the best team in the Peach State and the seat of Coach Mark Richt is in need of asbestos. The Dawgs mongrel offense, ranked seventy-third overall, is directed by its erratic quarterback Joe Cox (21 touchdowns – 14 interceptions) with assists from All-America receiver A.J. Green and starry tailback Washaun Ealey. The D performance featuring All-America backer Rennie Curran and ends Justin Houston and DeMarcus Dobbs has been reflective of its record.
The critics said Coach Paul Johnson’s triple option, the nation’s eleventh highest scoring offense, wouldn’t work against the ‘big-boys.” Wrong. They also said he wouldn’t be able to recruit kids to run the country’s second best (314 yards a game) rushing attack. Wrong. The Jackets are directed by its dual-threat Houdini quarterback Josh Nesbitt (8 touchdown passes – 4 interceptions – 46 percent completions) who has rushed for over 800 yards while scoring 16 TDs. The QB is assisted by a pair of roadrunners in Jonathan Dwyer (6.5 yards a carry – 11 TDs) and his partner Anthony Allen who is averaging over ten yards a carry. When Nesbitt does throw – (Tech is fourth from the bottom in passing) – he has a starry target in Demaryius Thomas who is averaging an eye-popping 24 yards a catch. The D, led by All-America end Derrick Morgan (12 sacks), and backers Brad Jefferson and Sedric Griffen, is solid, but struggles defending the pass which could be a problem against the Bulldogs. Maybe UGA VII did the right thing. It’s another scary game for Georgia, as Johnson’s Boys out-run the Dawgs.
Temple at Ohio The Owls have hooted to record heights. Temple, has won a school record 9 straight, is on the cusp of being nationally ranked, earning Coach Al Golden bonus points in the race for National Coach of the Year honors. What makes this transformation so remarkable is that TU almost dropped football a few years ago, when it was tossed out of the Big East Conference for lack of competence. It now finds itself a single victory from clinching the MAC East Division crown, which will earn the Owls an invite to the MAC Conference title game. Temple’s offense revolves around a powerful running attack led by the nation’s tenth leading runner, Bernard Pierce, who has rushed for 1308 yards and 15 touchdowns. He is assisted by dual threat QB Vaughan Charlton (9 touchdown passes – 7 interceptions), and when the QB does throw, wideout Michael Campbell is the primary target. The D behind end Adrian Robinson (12 sacks) and backers Jaiquawn and Alex Joseph, stones runners, but struggles defending the pass.
The Bobcats offense has as much firepower as the first and last letters of its home state; Ohio. QB Theo Scott (16 touchdown passes – 10 interceptions) directs a squad that has more holes than Mass Ave after a January thaw. This group is ninety-sixth in rushing, eighty-sixth in passing, seventieth in scoring, and one-hundred-third overall. The D led by backers Noah Keller and Lee Renfro struggles stopping the run, which is not the best recipe against the Owls. Coach Al Golden’s crew remains golden and cracks into the national rankings.
No.16 Clemson at South Carolina (ESPN, Noon) In Clemson, the C. J. Spiller show is outdrawing the Twilight Saga: “New Moon.” The Tigers versatile tailback (3rd overall in the all purpose yardage) is the offensive dynamo on a team that is rolling; winners of six straight and earning a first-ever invite to the ACC Championship Game. In addition to Spiller’s dazzling Heisman contending moments, quarterback Kyle Parker (16 touchdown passes – 9 interceptions) and wideout Jacoby Ford assist in sparking the nation’s nineteenth highest scoring eleven. Clemson has been anchored all season by its attacking twelfth ranked D, featuring backers Brandon Maye, Kavell Connor and tackle Jarvis Jenkins.
In Columbia, South Carolina the “Anti-Spurrier” has possessed the Old Ball Coach. The guy who loved to say, “We hung a half-a-hundred on them,” is now an offensive bottom feeder – sitting ninety-seventh in rushing, seventy-fifth overall, and a jaw-dropping one-hundred-one in scoring, averaging a Western Kentucky-like; 20 points a game. QB Steven Garcia (14 touchdown passes – 8 interceptions) directs this points challenged group with assists from tailback Kenny Miles, and a pair of quality receivers in Alshon Jeffrey and Moe Brown. The patience of Gamecock faithful is beginning to wane, as USC has once-again fallen into its annual late season (losers of 4 of 5) swoon. The punishing D led by All-America backer Eric Norwood, end Cliff Matthews, and fellow backer Shaq Wilson has been the glue keeping Cocks in every game. Last week Clemson coach Dabo Swinney was able to exercise the $1 million salary clause for reaching the championship game, this week in a tight game, he gets his ninth win.
Florida State at No.1 Florida (Ch.4, 3:30 p.m.) Nobody expects Florida to lose, after all this is Tim Tebow’s last home game. But the other significance of this game is on the visitor’s side, as Bobby Bowden makes his final visit to the Swamp. Even though the 80 year old icon is intent on coaching next season, the game next year will be played in Tallahassee. It’s been another swampy season of disappointment for the barely (6-5) bowl eligible Seminoles. The biggest shock in this dismal year has been the woeful play of its once proud and loud defense, which has more holes than a ballot box in an Afghan election year. It displays numbers: one-hundred-six in total D, one-hundred-fifth in stopping the run, ninety-second defending the pass and ninety-fifth in points surrendered (30 a game), that makes a Bernie Madoff client sheet look prosperous. That D, combined with the loss of its aerial wizard, quarterback Christian Ponder (shoulder surgery), makes FSU look like the team it was 34 years ago before the arrival of Bowden.
On the other side, the Boys from Gainesville continue to strut (21 in a row), and find themselves three wins away from a second consecutive national championship. The Gators core is its All-World leader Tim Tebow, (14 touchdown passes – 4 interceptions – 11 rushing TDs – 865 yards) with assists from tailbacks Chris Rainey and Jeffrey Demps. There are three cogs in the country’s ninth best rushing attack. The nation’s tenth highest scoring eleven also moves through the air courtesy of All-America tight end Aaron Hernandez, and wideout Riley Cooper. The Florida D which is America’s stingiest (9 points a game), has more vitality than a Cialis factory. Led by a quartet of All-Americas; backer Brandon (Pokey) Spikes, corner Joe Haden, safety Ahmad Black and end Carlos Dunlap; these guys are first in defending the pass, second overall, and seventh against the run. It won’t be a pleasant visit for the grand old man from Tallahassee – as Florida next prepares for its showdown with Alabama.
No.2 Alabama at Auburn (Friday, Ch.4, 2:30 p.m.) Is there any danger on the Plains? Possibly. The Tide’s offensive catalyst is its Heisman Trophy frontrunner tailback Mark Ingram – the nation’s fifth leading rusher (12 TDs) who is averaging 6.8 yards a carry. After a mid-season correction, quarterback Greg McElroy (14 touchdown passes – 4 interceptions) seems to have settled in, while focusing on a pair of starry targets in Julio Jones and Marquis Maze. The Alabama D is stronger than Tabasco on breakfast grits. This group, ranked numero-uno overall, punishes and disrupts for sixty minutes behind a trio of All-Americas; nose Terrance (Mount) Cody, corner Javier Arenas, and backer Rolando McClain, who is deserving of Heisman votes. These Tuscaloosa Titans are also second in stopping the run (2.4 yds. a carry), fifth in defending the pass, and the second stingiest (9.9 points) eleven in America.
Auburn has been one of the bigger surprises of the season. Newly minted coach Gene Chizik has instilled a surge of energy into the Plains. The nation’s fifteenth highest scoring team is directed by triggerman Chris Todd (19 touchdown passes – 5 interceptions) with help from the nation’s nineteenth best rusher Ben Tate, and a pair of field stretching wideouts Darvin Adams and Mario Fanin. The problem lies with a defense that is weaker than the field of the Massachusetts Senate race. War Eagle’s D, led by end Antonio Coleman, and backers Josh Bynes and Craig Stevens allows 27 points a game, and is eighty-eight in stopping the run – which is the wrong Thanksgiving ingredients against Alabama. This may be close for a while, but what becomes eminently clear on the Plain; the election winner is: Alabama.
Last week’s record: 2-3 Season record: 39-20.
Be sure to check out our weekly recap on Sunday afternoon.