The Alphabetical, Week 3: Heart-Stopping Action (Literally) Despite Lackluster Slate Of Games

Spencer Hall recaps all that was Week 3 in college football, including the wild (and controversial) Michigan State victory, the Ole Miss mess, uncertainty surrounding teams living between 2 and 15 in the rankings, and OH SO MUCH MORE.

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A is for Aorta. Week three was supposedly a lackluster week on the schedule, but...it was, though not without its highlights.  For instance, this happened: 

...a play followed up by Mark Dantonio's celebratory post-game heart attack HAHAHAHA Mark Dantonio hates football joke--no really, a heart attack, a real, terrifying, chest-squeezing heart attack requiring the placement of a stent in a blocked artery. Dantonio is expected to recover nicely, and the Alphabetical wishes him all the best, but please mark this in the ledger under the category of "More Things Making You Suspect Michigan State's Football Offices Are Built Over An Evil Sorcerer's Grave." 

B is for Bleak. Road games are not all created equal. Take Florida's now familiar, comfortable jaunt up to Neyland Stadium, where even with a palsied offense and two defensive busts Florida, like a hungover office worker, powered through lunch with the help of some determination and the ease of the work ahead. We were there, and it really felt like that from row 2 on the 10 yard line. The two busted coverages were the two pressing assignments handed to you on short notice; the nine minutes of Gator possession in the fourth quarter were the grinding, steady work done to finish them; and the recovered fumble by Matt Elam with six minutes to go was your boss leaving early due to their kids being sick, allowing your discombobulated hungover self to duck out early, have a bloody mary, and count yourself lucky for surviving when you were at your less-than-best performance-wise. 

Point being; it may have been a road game, but it was a familiar one, and one set in a manageable situation.  In contrast, Iowa's road trip to Arizona seemed doomed from the onset: a night game out West for a team with a 1-7-1 record coming into the game in a hot and completely alien environment in an unexpectedly live crowd setting. (Don't act like you were surprised to see Arizona fans roaring with the ferocity of AC Milan fans. You used to be able to hear individual conversations in the stands on a tv broadcast there; on Saturday night with all the red it looked like a fevered cult revival.)

Iowa's offensive line evaporated at the end of the game primarily because of Arizona's defensive line playing the game of their collective life, but the heat, the dry, and roaring red did not help toward the end when Hawkeye offensive linemen, clearly gassed and overwhelmed, gave up three straight sacks to end Iowa's potential comeback. If Tennessee/Florida was a road team grinding out a win at a familiar branch office, Iowa's visit to Arizona was driving across the desert on business, running out of gas, and then being horribly abused and devoured by mutant hill people. 

C is for Charity. The generous souls of the week who may note tax-deductible donations to the less fortunate: Jerrod Johnson of Texas A&M, who threw four interceptions to the Florida International Golden Panthers in the Aggies' nigh-unwatchable effort Saturday. A corollary to this: FIU, having played Rutgers and TAMU to close losses, may not be considered good yet, but they've certainly acquired the skill of making you look just as bad as they are in games. That in itself is a kind of excellence. 

A runner up for the donor of the week: the combined efforts of Chris Relf and Tyler Russell, Mississippi State's quarterback tandem that generously contributed five interceptions (three and two, respectively) to the LSU defense in a 29-7 loss where the Bulldogs outgained the Tigers 268-264 and had 17 first downs to LSU's 16. If you see Les Miles at a casino craps table, remember to play his table as long as he's rolling, since he is the luckiest human being in the world. (He will also be attempting to bet with objects that aren't even recognized as currency, but that's part of the deal when you literally roll with Les Miles.) 

D is for Drift Net. Michigan's defense gave up 37 points to Massachusetts initially leading us to believe that in an act of fairness Rich Rodriguez had offered up Denard Robinson to play all-time QB.  As it turns out this was exactly what happened, with backup QB Tate Forcier playing the role of "Kyle Havens" for Massachusetts and leading the [looks up mascot] ...yes, the Minutemen to a valiant 42-37 loss against the Wolverines. Way to turn a potential FCS vs. FBS beatdown into a productive use of everyone's time, Rich Rodriguez. 

(The Michigan defense is just drift-netting right now: throw eleven players out there, and then hope they float into the ball or ballcarrier every now and then. When the mental focus is a bit fuzzy, drift net defenses like the Wolverines become turnstiles, which is exactly what happened on Saturday.)  

E is for Ersatz. Two different kinds of fakes came to the nation's attention Thursday night. First, that's not a real cave, sirs, and is in fact a castoff set from the original Sidd and Marty Kroft's Land of the Lost. 

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Second in knockoff goods would be the Cincinnati team that took the field against North Carolina and who then looked nothing like the Bearcats team that would have happily paved the Wolfpack anywhere and anytime in 2009. A horrible and contagious disease came to mind watching Zach Collaros scramble for his life: Krag1N1. If Cincinnati is found to have a case of it in the Butch Jones era, you're going to have burn the uniforms, the stadium, and everything that came into contact with it. It's easier than waiting around--just ask Louisville fans. 

F is for Fractional. The controversy essentially snuffed itself out before it began, but attending my first live game of the season did shed some light on the Notre Dame/Michigan State clock issue. Almost instantaneously, via Twitter and Facebook, pictures and replay did show an image of the clock reading zero as the ball was snapped. 

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I spent most of the day getting to or from Neyland Stadium for the Florida game, and the first thought when seeing this was "There's no way anyone saw this live." If one slows down the footage and watches, the exact margin between the clock hitting zero and the snap of the ball is something like a fifth of a second or so. An official is standing right over the play in full sight of a functioning play clock behind the offense. No Notre Dame coaches protested the call at the time, and none have protested it since. DVR has created a new, more exacting kind of viewer than those sitting in the stadium, where so much is going on at once that fine fractions like these go completely unnoticed. 

This is not without it's disadvantages. On Saturday night, we spent the night pausing and unpausing some of the funnier crowd shots in the Iowa/Arizona game. Deep in the background of one shot, an Arizona fan, overjoyed at the third sack of Ricky Stanzi, leapt up, spun around, tossed his shaker, and then capped the pirouette by raising two middle fingers to the ether and flicking off no one in particular. It was toddler giddiness, pure and simple, and just part of the endlessly reviewable game experience DVR affords the viewer. 

The downside comes with making the natural--and this next part is important--necessarily forgivable portions of game officiating. We're not talking about in bounds versus out of bounds, or what constitutes a catch, but the areas of officiating where even in game there are understandable buffers: a fraction of a second (see: Big 12 Championship Game 2009) or a shadow of an inch on ball spots. While it's not soccer and the card system, football officials do employ a certain amount of human error at all times in football. DVR makes it that much easier to spot those from the godlike eye of the camera, and--this will burn us personally later when Florida is screwed on a call, but here it comes--that much more necessary to forgive the truly imperceptible marginal errors. 

(If Notre Dame had stopped the fake in the first place this wouldn't be an issue, but when one guy blows up two blockers on a single play for Michigan State, the numbers get ugly fast in fake coverage.) 

G is for Godforsaken. Western Kentucky lost to Indiana, thus extending the nation's longest FBS losing streak to 33 games and counting. They lost to Indiana, feels a bit bad for you Hilltoppers. Read that again: in Western Kentucky Indiana pities YOU. 

H is for Heparin. The anticoagulant whose name you might have heard called out in various medical dramas, and a good suspect for whatever has been released into the bloody Oklahoma defense this year. Air Force left the field in Norman on empty after a 27-24 loss to the Sooners, having rushed for 351 yards on the team while coming within a single turnover of potentially winning the game. It wasn't like Air Force mounted 10 minute drives to keep OU off the field, either. Their longest drive on the day was 5:44, a speedy drive in option offense time. The Sooners join Florida, Texas, and USC as teams with glossy ViP status and pedestrian performance throughout one complete unit, something that will have to be corrected before they run through the Big 12 South's gauntlet of points-happy teams 

I is for Impedicus. The scientific name for the middle finger. 

J is for Just: Just suppose, though, that what we're looking at is a very different Big 12 South this year, one where three games in one might draw trends, trends like the following: 

  • Texas isn't that great offensively. Through three games they're 50th in scoring, and largely a defensive team thanks to the number one rushing defense in the nation. (See all entries listed under B is for "BOOM, MOTHERF#@#*$. a.k.a. Will Muschamp.) (Or as Bob Davie continues to call him, "Will Muscamp.") 
  • Texas Tech, now under the influence of Tommy Tuberville and shaking off the prosperous offenses of the Leach years, will regress to a very average offense backed up by a vastly improved defense. 
  • Oklahoma State: no change, and in fact possible improvement with Kendall Hunter spitting out 200 games and Brandon Weeden throwing for over 400 yards and 6 TDs in glorified but still impressive scrimmages. 
  • Baylor: continued forecast of endless sadness. 
  • Texas A&M: almost lost to Florida International okay so that's really the same let's move on--
  • Oklahoma: a slightly caffeinated version of last year's erratic squad. 
As wild as the purported Big 12 South stretch run has been, this really might be the year when Oklahoma State stands as good a shot as ever to sneak into the Big 12 Title game out of the South. This sentence has appeared associated with every OSU team since 2006, but seriously, this time we mean it. 

K is for Kaepernick. Bad things happen in Reno after 10 p.m. It is a rule of the universe, and is backed up again by Cal's sputtering defeat to Nevada. Early predictions of the Pac-10's impending misery this weekend were greatly exaggerated, but not in this case, as Cal gave the OLE! to Vai Tua and Kaepernick charging through undefended seams in their defense all night. Kaepernick does closely resemble an ostrich, and remember: ostriches will kick you to death if they get the chance. One odd note: if you play dead, they will sometimes triumphantly stand on top of you or sit on you afterward. As embarrassing as this might be, at least you survive and don't do anything as humiliating as die by the feet of the ostrich or (sakes alive!) lose to a WAC team on the road. 

 

L is for Living and Dying In 3/4 Time But Mostly Dying. A middle aged dude's reference for middle-aged sailors about to be stranded on the unforgiving shores of Completely Fired Island. It was a pretty good week for the walking dead of college football. Tim Brewster's Minnesota Golden Gophers had a respectable loss to USC, and afforded the crowd at Neyland some derisive laughs when the early 7-0 Minnesota score was announced at Neyland Stadium. Dan Hawkins and Colorado trailed Hawaii 10-0 at the half but ran off thirty one unanswered points to finish with a 31-13 victory. Ron Zook followed suit with a thrilling 28-22 win over interstate rival Northern Illinois. (The use of the term "rival" here is intentional, accurate, and yes, should be grimly humorous.)  

Fightin' Mike Locksley of New Mexico, however, lost 56-14 to Utah in an effort one might call punchless. All of these coaches are still completely fired. 

M is for Malodorous. Various reeking objects this week: The Georgia offensive line, which failed to protect Aaron Murray down the stretch in a 31-27 loss to Arkansas; the Texas Tech offense, who only gained 144 yards against Texas and scored zero points in the second half at home; the Wake Forest defense, who owes Jim Harbaugh an elegant thank you note for keeping it to only 28 first downs and 535 yards of offense in a 68-24 defeat, since it could have been worse; the Washington passing offense, for confusing a superb golf score with total yardage (71 yards on the day). (By Jake Locker.) (Still going to be pumped into a first round draft pick because METRICS METRICS METRICS.) 

N is for Nonsequential. Here are a series of sentences appearing in no particular order. Houston Nutt coaches at Ole Miss. Ole Miss fired David Cutcliffe after one bad season. David Cutcliffe was replaced ultimately by Ed Orgeron, a man with no D-1 head coaching experience who had 10 wins in three years. He was then replaced by Houston Nutt, who has lost to Jacksonville State and Vanderbilt thus far this season. It might be said that Ole Miss has a history of curious hiring practices. One might predict future behavior based on these. This has been a series of sentences arranged in no particular order. 

O is for Omitted. As in error or forgiveness, as in what Nebraska did to Washington that had Tom Osborne feeling so sexy he loosened exactly one button on his well-ironed oxford. Three Huskers rushed for over a hundred yards on Washington including QB Taylor Martinez, who had 137 yards  and 3 TDs on 19 carries, threw for 150 yards and a TD on 7-for-11 passing. To translate this for those who have just been watching Michigan without casting an eye to their future conference mates: Nebraska's a lot like the Wolverines, but with more than one guy who runs the ball, a defense, and someone named Pelini calling the plays. Rephrased: they're potentially terrifying, but Washington in the end may have been less of a test than their game against Idaho. October 16th versus Texas in Lincoln is looking more and more like required and extremely violent viewing. 

P is for Perforated. Case Keenum already had a mainframe issue from last week with a concussion, but the knee injury versus UCLA that most likely ended his college career seemed to be part of the script of Houston's complete and total misfortune bath. UCLA's clearly aggravated defense provided the explanation for Houston's stifled offense, as they abused Houston's receivers and battered anyone who dared touch the ball, but only pure random bad luck explains losing Keenum for the year and then backup Cotton Turner with a shoulder injury.  (Nothing explains Cotton Turner's name other than his parents' desire to name and then raise a future shady Southern Land Baron. That ambition remains alive and well with a name like that.) 

Q is for Quaint. Huzzahs and malteds all around for Wisconsin, whose quaint, old-timey insistence on finishing every play actually did add up in their 20-19 win over Arizona State. The Badgers were saved first by tackling ASU returner Kyle Middlebrooks a yard shy of the endzone on the final play of the first half, thus saving six points there, and then in blocking the extra point for overtime that Arizona State will be seeing in their worst, most spider-infested nightmares for years to come. It's that kind of old-fashioned razmatazz that wins football games, gents. (And just kidding about the malteds, since this being about Wisconsin we know you really want a beer and a shot. Happy to buy a round here.) 

R is for Rosary. Urban Meyer keeps a rosary in his pocket he consults before big moments in games. If the rosary is the special teams consultant for fakes, then the rosary is severely underpaid: Meyer is 8-8 on fakes, and often at huge times in games.

S is for Short People. Fighting involves so many rules, but ultimately if a short person attacks you, you're obligated to flee the scene to avoid being "the guy who kicked a drunk short person in their underwear." 

Poor form, Tennessee fan, though running away would have looked just as bad. Short people are fierce, and right at punching level with some extremely vulnerable assets during a skirmish. 

T is for TGV. Oregon has simultaneously solved any offensive problems in the wake of Jeremiah Masoli's departure and the demand for light commuter rail in the Eugene area with the innovative TGV attack, a bullet train made of running backs providing reliable-yet-lightning fast mass transit out of spread formations. Oregon's box score against Portland State was sheer football video game pornography: 21 in the first quarter, 24 in the second, 24 in the third, and then zero in the fourth. The zero is the really embarrassing part there, since it indicates a declared intention not to score so much as a field goal against you. Towards the end the Ducks were like a bored swordsman parrying away their opponent until they passed out from fatigue, but you have those luxuries when you're holding steady at the scoring speed of slightly over a point a minute for 2010. 

U is for Uncertainty. Outside of Alabama and Ohio State, everyone between 2-15 in the polls is an equally dodgy shade of inestimable and obviously flawed. Florida and Texas have offensive anemia, though Florida's remains more acute. Oregon has huge numbers against very inferior competition; ditto for Nebraska and Boise State, though Boise at least has a severely devalued win over VT in the portfolio. Three games in may give you the basis of a trend, but we're not much closer to clarity than we were last week. 

V is for Vitiate. Both Auburn and Clemson will find their functioning as a program severely compromised for the next week or to due to the helmet-cracking intensity of Saturday night's game in Auburn. The cart came out no fewer than three times, players were limping all over the place, Kyle Parker appeared on the verge of spitting up his pancreas in the second half due to a rib injury, and both teams finished the game as spent husks of their former selves. Auburn faces South Carolina and Clemson faces Miami next week. Both will be serious tests of the team's endurance after a full-fledged alleyway brawl this past weekend. 

W is for Winfraction. A neologism for "win/infraction," i.e. when a procedural penalty gives the other team a chance to win the game. See; Clemson's  mis-snapping the ball on the final field goal in overtime, lining up for the redo after the penalty, and then missing it wide. I called it before it happened, and are therefore am brilliant prognosticator of future winfractions. Then again, I also predcited Washington would be a top ten team, and am therefore none of the things I just claimed to be. 

X is for Xiphoid. Meaning "sword-shaped," and perfectly describing the West Virginia pass rush, which sliced through Maryland's offensive line for eight sacks of the Terps' quarterbacks. Maryland remains the opposite of good at football. 

Y is for Y'all need to calm down okay worry. Georgia is 0-2 right now. No team in the history of the SEC East has gone on to win the division from an 0-2 start. It's become a sport to move the yard marker designating "TROUBLE STARTS HERE FOR MARK RICHT" further and further into the future, especially since he has been so successful and has been such a good citizen overall as Georgia's head coach. The moment when things turn hasn't quite been reached, but if this were a relationship the words "Let's get counseling" are uttered. No divorce attorneys have been contacted, but the persistent lack of edge and aggression by Georgia (and particularly the failure of their supposed strength, the offensive line) does signal ongoing muddle at UGA. 

Z is for Zazzy. An admittedly lackluster Week 3 yields way to a solid Week 4: Miami/PItt, Oregon State/Boise State, Alabama/Arkansas, West Virginia/LSU, South Carolina/Auburn, and Oregon/Arizona State all roll out this coming week, with your fair correspondent making his way to Baton Rouge for the Cajuns versus Coalers Bowl. I'm taking cash, bourbon, and no weaponry, since no matter what I bring I'll be outgunned by the crowd assembled. Pray for me (and my liver) (and arteries) (nevermind it's a lost cause on all fronts).

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