The Alphabetical, Week 11: A Non-Defense Defense Of Low Scoring Games

TUSCALOOSA, AL - NOVEMBER 05: Drew Alleman #30 of the LSU Tigers celebrates after kicking the game-winning field goal in overtime to defeat the Alabama Crimson Tide 9-6 during their game at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 5, 2011 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

This week's Alphabetical says LSU does what you do but better, and that the MAC is the Toxic Avenger of football conferences.

A is for Arrival. This is the only way Les Miles shows up to a game: a bit late and rolling on the ground. This happened live on television. When it did you could hear LSU fans saying to each other "That's a good sign, no seriously, we're undefeated when Les trips over the plushy Mike."

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Whether that was true or not prior to the statement, it is certainly true now, as Coach Les Miles is undefeated when tripping onto the field. Expect LSU officials to deliberately place slow-footed children, bear traps, and fishing line tripwires in the way of Miles.

On a bonus note, Les Miles turned his celebratory Monday press conference into a digression on Latin America, his extremely tenure reporting about the NBA for the Michigan Daily, and his interest in going on walkabout in rural Australia. This is Les Miles. Until someone strikes him down, he is the pirate king of college football. You are already more comfortable with this form of tyranny than you should be.

B is for Bogged Down. This is not a defense of a 9-6 contest, or of the Game of the Century turning out to be anything but sort of compelling but maddening viewing. To say that 9-6 cannot be a good game is to discount an entire brand of football, albeit one I personally find as interesting as taxidermy. Some people love watching two great defenses suffocate all non-kicking movement on the field. Some people love cheese, too. I will never understand either.

Cue Big Ten Fans: Why, if this were two Big Ten fans, everyone would be talking about how awful and boring this was. Certainly, Person I Really Didn't Make Up, let's address that disparity. When two Big Teams play to a 9-6 game, it might be equally entertaining. It really might be. However, you never watch a game in isolation from hundreds of other games you assume certain things.

For instance, I know that if I'm watching the 11th and 12th ranked scoring offenses in the nation play to a 9-6 game, I know that something happened to change the usual path of the game for both teams. That obstruction? Two very good defenses nullifying much of what the offenses usually do, which you then appreciate by saying things like, "My, how Courtney Upshaw is capable of liver-punching Spencer Ware with such vigor!" and "Mo Claiborne could cover a zone if you fired footballs into it like buckshot." This was not Purdue/Illinois, and was more like a classic Ohio State/Michigan matchup, and that is a clarification worth making here.

C is for Circumspect. That said, there was a strong element of Big Ten convention at work, and with good reason. Both Miles and Saban's coaching bloodlines stretch deep into the conservative, run-first soil of Big Ten football, yet another reason why branding regional football is becoming an exceedingly vague exercise. Nick Saban got his start coaching in the NFL and the Big Ten, while Miles is directly from the Bo Schembechler Academy of Gritty Football And Mansome Manball.

D is for Digression. Please for one moment, listen to this and realize how hard-wired Schembechler is in the Les Miles machine. Do you hear the inflection? Do you hear the cadence? Do you know see why LSU runs the offense they run now, the smash-first, ask questions later run attack with over-the-top passing? And why that passing was dropped like a scalding pan out of a bare hand when Lee threw his second pick, with LSU happy to turn the game into a contest of feet, and not of hands and arms?

Tom Wolfe mentions in The Right Stuff that all pilots, no matter their upbringing and background, all eventually end up talking like Chuck Yeager. Everyone who coached under Bo Schembechler is an avatar of him, and Miles is no exception.

E is for Emulator. Historical avatars of Bo Schembechler aside, if you are going to play a 9-6 game and even attempt to evaluate it honestly, you have to start with a baseline assumption that if defenses succeeded to a great extent, then the offenses suffered a complimentary meltdown on the other side of the ledger. Alabama's offense came in for an especially brutal evaluation in the film room on Sunday: drops by receivers, an inability to run the ball in the manner they'd done all season against everyone else they faced, and most damning, an inability to pass on an LSU defense that had given up some substantial chunks of yardage against West Virginia.

The masterstroke, though, came in LSU's ability to do absolutely nothing on offense. This may be the most sinister thing about facing LSU: they have certain things they do well, but when it comes to playing you, oh, they bring out the special bidness. They trained the entire offseason to face Oregon, and the result was a suffocating defensive performance coupled with a masterfully economic offensive game. They grappled with West Virginia and counter-punched happily in a game where rapid scoring was necessary for survival. They eliminated Tennessee, Kentucky, and Auburn with workmanlike precision.

The scariest thing about LSU is its ability to flex to the situation no matter the opponent. Against Alabama, they decided the best opponent for Alabama would be ... Alabama. Do as little as possible on offense. Control the game with the run. Suffocate the opposing team's run game, and then hope crucial special teams mistakes and quarterback gaffes make the difference. Hold on your bets as long as possible, and get the opponent to fold before you have to show your hand.

F is for Flexibility. LSU did exactly this. It was unwatchable at times, and like most defensive struggles was a kind of Tarkovsky movie: so slow as to be almost compelling, yet still undeniably so by design. It wasn't what you or I wanted to watch, but it was what LSU needed to do to win against the Alabama defense. That's all LSU has been doing this whole season, and if they somehow end up playing against Oklahoma State, they'll score 52 if they have to, or plot out a balanced struggle somewhere in the mid-twenties against Stanford. At this point I am convinced they could adjust to the basic rules of the CFL and play the Alouettes to a competitive finish on a week's notice. 

G is for Game Of The Century Of The Week. After 1,000 words spent on a game with 15 points and so little action Jim Jarmusch would applaud its economy, let us then go to the other end of the spectrum for the Michael Bay of this past week's games: TOLEDO VERSUS NORTHERN ILLINOIS. Defense? Optional. Game difficulty? Freshman, please, and lower the DBs reactions to those of palsied retirees. Entertainment? To the tune of over 1100 yard of offense and 123 points, oh most certainly yes.  This is the box score of just the fourth quarter. It is by itself also an alternate definition of entertainment.

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I'm not saying it was great football. I'm also not saying that Hot Rod is great cinema. But I'd also be happy to put on the record that I'd rather watch this over the Russian existentialist epic Saban and Miles put together in Tuscaloosa, too.

H is for Haunted For The Rest Of Your Life.  The lesson is clear: don't ever be on television for any reason ever. You will appear on television, and then become a meme, and then people will laugh at you on the street and say, "LOL, there you go!" They'll probably also say "Ell-oh-ell," which will enrage you even more because that's not even a word, but there you are, frozen for all of time on the internet as Sad Bama Bro.

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There's nothing to be done but sell t-shirts of yourself on Etsy.com now, Bubba. Also, be prepared to be called out of retirement every time anything bad happens to Alabama for the next five to ten years. You are to Crimson Tide misfortune what "Adagio for Strings" is to our national days of mourning. Good luck, and may God have mercy on your soul. 

I is for Intensity Scale. Another name for the Mercalli scale, one of the measures of an earthquake's intensity later improved on by Charles Richter, the guy whose scale became more widely known to the general public. You want quality science disaster porn? Read the description for a Class XII earthquake and quake with fear and delight?

Total destruction – Everything is destroyed. Lines of sight and level distorted. Objects thrown into the air. The ground moves in waves or ripples. Large amounts of rock move position. Landscape altered, or leveled by several meters. In some cases, even the routes of rivers are changed.

Excuse me.

[Bangs head, puts fist in air, sort of wants to watch this happen on an uninhabited landscape from a blimp floating safely above this.] 

Oklahoma State's earthquake fortunately did not come close to this degree of power. It was a 5.2, enough to jostle something with a bit more force than you'd like, and certainly enough to merit this kind of on-air reaction.

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Let the record show that Kirk Herbstreit allowed Fowler to finish the question before calmly stating that there had been an earthquake

J is for Justin Blackmon. Terror is not the exclusive province of Les Miles. Does anyone want to face an Oklahoma State team capable of dropping 28 in a quarter on all but two or three defenses in the nation? The correct answer is no, but let's drive that point home a bit further by mentioning the 13 catches, 205 yards, and two TDs Blackmon had against the Kansas State Wildcats. The late switchover and contrast from the LSU/Bama slugfest was made even more obvious when Mike Gundy found out the score live, turned to the reporter, and then said "Maybe they should have been watching our game." Then an earthquake hit, presumably triggered by Dr. Saban and his Tectonicsizer 3000 in order to punish Gundy and Oklahoma for their cheekiness.

K is for Killing Floor. Lest we say too much kindness about offense, Tank Carder and TCU are busy recovering from a rough start against Baylor and upset loss to SMU by taking it out on Wyoming's quarterback. Those armbands aren't for decoration, son. They're bungee cords keeping all that muscle lashed in place on Carder's overloaded but deadly frame.

Poor Wyoming: not only do they end up on the wrong end of most highlight videos, but they have to wear rotten banana colors while doing so. (Rotten banana is the kinder of the two most common comparisons for the Cowboys uniforms. The other is more scatological. Go with rotten bananas.)

L is for Leisurely. Don't think of Will Muschamp's struggles in year one as a serious deterrent to people actually showing up and watching Florida football live. No, instead, think of it as the natural market correction for an overpriced product, or better still, as a stress reduction tool. Irksome neighbors jabbing elbows into you in cramped seating? Not a problem at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, my friend.

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To be fair, that is a few minutes before kickoff, so things did fill up a bit, though certainly not to the 90,000 reported by Florida for the game. This is for homecoming against Vanderbilt, and that might look bad, but when the Goo Goo Dolls  play the night before, you really can't blame people for not showing up after the raw power and excitement they bring. Replacements knockoffs do take the energy out of a concert-goer.

M is for Misadventure. Oklahoma did a superb job closing out Texas A&M on Saturday, but at a fearsome cost. Receiver Ryan Broyles went down with the kind of knee-jarring awkward landing that flashed the letters "A-C-L" on your mental display screen before he even landed, and left the field in tears. Linebacker Tom Wort also dinged his ankle. The Sooners, like everyone else, are racing the warranties on their players bodies as much as the schedule to the finish of the season.

N is for n00b. Watching Florida's secondary struggle with committing proper pass interference on Saturday, it is only correct to compliment pass interference that's done well and done with the right degree of panache. For instance, Marcus Roberson, you don't arm-wrap and hug the man where there's green on every side of you in the middle of the field. No, you do what Nick Saban and Bill Belichick's secondaries have been doing for years: grab your man at the line of scrimmage, beat the hell out of him with whatever you can grab from the bench for four and .99 yards, and then lean on him wherever he goes until he falls down and cries.

Now, the time to wrap the arm? The crowded forests of the endzone.

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It helps to do this while wearing a black and yellow uniform, aka "The Iowa Greenscreen." It's less like pass interference, and more like the field itself reaching up to give you a hug as the ball nears your outstretched hands. (Michigan fans, to be fair, are only blaming themselves and not the officiating, but still: that's the proper time and place and method of committing pass interference, and should be considered a masterpiece of the form.)

O is for Obolary. Extremely poor, as in the coverage provided by Colorado's secondary of USC's indomitable receiver Robert Woods and his rapidly ascending understudy Marquise Lee. Woods and Lee each caught 9 balls for two TDs against the Buffaloes and totalled 254 yards receiving between them. Yes, there is some correction to be done for the very low grade opposition Colorado offers anyone at this point, but the math for defenses gets very nasty when one receiver is worthy of double coverage, much less two. Have fun, Pac-12 secondaries! Your best defense may be the inevitable thinning of USC's roster due to scholarship limitations.

P is for Parathria. Incoherence, or the best reaction to a moment of extreme happiness.

Charlie Strong and Louisville were not supposed to beat WVU, especially on the road, and especially not in a year when Louisville fired their offensive coordinator, struggled to find anything like an offense, and had little recourse but to start the talented but very green freshman Teddy Bridgewater.

Q is for Quab. Something unfinished or immature, like the Texas offense. The Longhorns only passed nine times against Texas Tech, but one can do that when one has an opponent completely incapable of stopping one's run game. That opponent? Texas Tech, clearly bankrupt after borrowing points, effort, and luck from the universal bank of football assets in order to upset Oklahoma in Norman. The Longhorns rushed for 439 yards total, with Unknown Joe Bergeron rushing for 191 of them with 3 TDs along the way.  (His name is not actually Unknown Joe Bergeron, but it sounds cool and he is just a freshman coming on due to injuries to Texas' other backs, so "Unknown Bergeron" it is.)

R is for Refractory.  Stubborn, as in Steve Sarkisian. We told you not to play a third quarter against Oregon. Pull a fire alarm, call in a bomb threat, plead explosive diarrhea for every member of your football team, whatever you have to do, Pac-12 teams, but under no circumstances do you want to play a third quarter against the Ducks. A 17-10 game at the half became a 34-17 certainty after the third quarter, and the Ducks once again came out of the locker room with a well-annotated map of your weak spots and how to dynamite each one of them.

Stanford will surely think of something clever to avoid playing a third quarter against the Ducks. We recommend simply rolling in from the half, putting a "4" on the quarter counter on the scoreboard, and daring someone to notice.

S is for Suicide. We have reached the point in the season where some teams only real remaining potential lies in their ability to dynamite the hopes and dreams of bitter rivals. HATER'S CHRISTMAS IS HERE, GUYS! YAYYYY HATER'S CHRISTMAS!  

Shopping early this season:

Auburn. Having a better season than anticipated, but could yank a solid chunk of giddy redemption from a rebuilding year by beating Alabama and relegating a national title contender to Capital One/Outback status.

Notre Dame. Waiting there at the end of Stanford's schedule like a rockfish, just waiting on the beach to sink its spines in the soft, unexpecting flesh of the Cardinal's title shot hopes.

Arkansas. The Golden Boot is going to wind up in someone's ass. Bobby Petrino would prefer to be the boot-er, not the boot-ee. 

Oklahoma. There's a bit of self-preservation here, since OU has an outside shot at a national title, but if nothing else the Sooners can squelch a once-in-a-generation moment for the Cowboys, and thus put a down payment on decades of bitter rivalry tears.

T is for Troma. The ridiculously entertaining schlock factory that brought you all five Toxic Avengers, Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead, The Class of Nuke 'Em High, and Redneck Zombies. Think of them as the MAC football of horror movie studios. Are they good? In their own way, sort of, but not "good" on an absolute scale. Will you watch them? Oh, every day and twice on Tuesday, something we actually did last night thanks to not one, but two MAC games televised on the WWL. It's not always good football...

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...but if 66-63 in Tuesday night's Toledo/Western Michigan game does not entertain you in the slightest, you have sludgy cold gelatinous slaughterhouse leavings for blood and a lizard's brain. VIVA LA MAC.

U is for Untreasure. To despoil, which is what Case Keenum will do to the margin separating him and everyone else in the future seeking to break his passing records. Already the NCAA's all-time TD, yardage, and total offense leader, he faces 2-8 Tulane this weekend in the breezeless, accomodating confines of the Superdome. If you see something burning in New Orleans, fear not: it's either a really good party, or Tulane's secondary. Either one will not raise the eyebrows of locals a single millimeter from their normal stance.

V is for Visor. Steve Spurrier, after an injury to Conor Shaw, may have to start his third-string quarterback against Florida this weekend and play without Marcus Lattimore, whose knee injury ended the season. Florida may be the healthier team at this point, and if you are at all familiar with the plot of the 2011 season, this is a disastrous statement for South Carolina.

W is for Wilted. Because this is not 1993, let us remind you that Miami and Florida State play this weekend. You should get really excited about it if you still wear Oakleys, drive a Fiero, and are currently blasting Damn Yankees' "High Enough" through your Blaupunkt sound system.

X is for Xenomania. An unusual fondness for foreign things. Sure, you call him "Bor-jess," but we know a Spaniard when we see one, Al Borges. What sort of Spaniard, you ask? A surrealist, guessing from his insistence on taking Denard Robinson and things he does well and eliminating them from his offense at key moments in games. For an exercise in avant-garde doublethink, watch Illinois/Michigan this weekend, since Borges versus "Whatever Ron Zook Is Going To Do To Make Everyone Wonder If He Understands Basic Math" should be delightful viewing as long as you don't care about either team.

Y is for Yoko. Jeremiah Masoli will be remembered as the Yoko that broke up the Ole Miss Houston Nutt Recital Choir.

Z is for Zapp's. The best damn potato chip in the universe, a product of the great state of Louisiana, and the couch-snack of choice for this weekend's viewing in honor of LSU's excelsior 2011 season thus far. #JalapenoZapps4Lyfe

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