Carolina and Ole Miss Win on Opening Night

As you’ve heard by now, South Carolina beat North Carolina 27-10 and Ole Miss surged late to beat Vandy 39-35.  I called both of these shots, but it’s a little early to start bragging.

There are two big stories worth following that come out of these games.  The first is how Jadeveon Clowney laid an egg and the second is the pressure put on Vandy because of the loss.

Clowney didn’t play well and there were two reasons for that.  The first is, obviously, his conditioning.  And, obviously, it wasn’t where it needs to be.  The second is that North Carolina obviously schemed to account for Clowney.  No surprise there, and guess what?  Every other team on the schedule will do the same, too.  Clowney is a great talent and I have no doubt he will wind up having a great season.  But the lesson learned last night is one so many before have also had to learn.  It really is hard to stay focused and motivated when everyone tells you all off season how great you are.

Vandy, meanwhile, has to dig out of an early hole.  The Dores have an easy one next week against Austin Peay and a likely loss in two weeks against South Carolina.  Wins against UMass and UAB should follow and the game against Missouri on October 5th should determine whether they head into their bye week 3-3 or 4-2.  Things get much tougher after that with games against Georgia, Texas A&M and Florida and Vandy could head into the final quarter of the season 3-6 or 4-5.  I think you see where I’m heading.  The final three games – Kentucky, Tennessee and Wake Forest – will determine whether they anchor down for a bowl or set sail for the post season.



Defending the HUNH

One thing I’m looking forward to this season is seeing how defenses across the country – and especially inside the SEC – will adjust and try and stop Hurry-Up-No-Huddle (HUNH) offenses, which are now all the rage.

I think many of us are especially interested in the match-up on September 14th to see what Nick Saban and Kirby Smart have cooking for Johnny Manziel.

First, though, we get to see what Vanderbilt coach James Franklin has worked up as his Commodores take on Ole Miss this Thursday to open the season:

“We’re going to run a tempo defense this year, which no one has ever heard of,” Franklin said jokingly. “You’re going to have to wait and see.”

A tempo defense, huh?

Commodore defensive lineman (and former Briarwood Lion) Walker May gives us a hint of what this “tempo defense” may entail:

Senior defensive end Walker May said Vanderbilt’s defensive linemen typically go four or five plays in a row as hard as they can, knowing someone will rotate in for them.

“We’ve been doing a lot of conditioning,” May said. “If that (substituting) doesn’t happen, we’re not worried about it. I like it when teams go faster. It makes it more fun for me.”

Franklin also notes another factor:

“When the ball is snapped, I want everybody set,” Franklin said at his Monday press conference. “We went back and looked at (film of the game against) Ole Miss last year and there was probably 10 to 12 plays when they snapped the ball, their offense wasn’t set. But the officials had a hard time keeping up with the pace to get in position to do that.

I think Franklin makes a good point – and, hey, it never hurts to work the officials a bit, but I’d be surprised to see this change much this year.

In fact, though these are both good points and make sense when defending the HUNH – good conditioning and the officials making sure all the players are set, I think there are other factors that weigh even more heavily.

First, you have to understand that the speed of play affects the environment, but you are still playing football.  At the end of the day, the HUNH will run “X” number of plays and have a certain percentage of run plays and a certain percentage of pass plays.  They’ll have tendencies for down and distance.  They’ll have tendencies based on field position.  In short, the first and main thing that changes is pace.

To defend this, defenses will have to change their pace as well.  That’s why you hear Franklin barking about players being set and why you hear coaches like Bret Beliema moaning about player safety.  Coaches want to do anything to slow the pace down just a tad.  If the officials can help, that’s great.  But for the defenses to really keep up – and truly run a “tempo defense” – the defensive players on the field are going to have to adjust quicker and be ready to play quicker.

In some ways, the HUNH is a direct response to a Nick Saban defense.  His defenses have not only been wickedly talented, they’ve also had plenty of intelligent players that could create defensive changes based on offensive sets and formation changes.  The HUNH has whittled this time for making changes down to just a few seconds.

So, if the officials aid in the offense’s hurried up pace, we’ll need players that can make defensive calls much quicker.

Once your just playing football, defending the HUNH is no different that defending any other offense:  control the line of scrimmage and get the offense off the field as quickly as you can.

Vandy’s May notes defensive linemen going “four or five plays in a row.”  Sure, you certainly have to plan for this, but in reality, if you’re having to rotate linemen once or twice on each drive, you’re in trouble.  Especially for a team like Vandy.

At the end of the day, if speed and pace are the main ingredients to bring teams like Ole Miss and Auburn back to a competitive state, I think the rest of the league will adjust.  The more teams that run the HUHN, the more experience your team will have playing against it.  And the more familiar teams become with it, the less special it become.

I’ll Bet You Would

Looks like Vandy is ready to scratch Ohio State off the schedule:

Vanderbilt is scheduled to open the 2013 football season at Ohio State, but athletics director David Williams would consider scrapping that if the SEC asks the Commodores to open with a conference game on national TV.

“I’ll put it this way: I love opening up on Thursday night,” Williams said Friday. “I think there’s some excitement that goes with being the first game of the year. That’s really cool.”

I think it’s cool to have a good game to open the college football season, but it’s not necessary.  After all, we’ve been waiting for more college football since January, so I think we’ll take what we get.  Towson and Prairie View A&M?  Cool.  As long as they are playing football, it’ll work.

But the SEC’s television partners apparently don’t feel the same way:

“My gut reaction is everything holds the same (with Ohio State), but I can’t say that for sure,” Williams said. “Clearly there is a desire from our TV partners to have more opening-week SEC games, and that has not been a tradition in the SEC.

“So they have to figure that out. If we need to have two opening SEC games, which four of you are going to give up your nonconference games so we can do that? Well, if it’s that important, somebody’s going to have to give those up. It’s still a work in progress.”

So there you have it.  A Vandy-Ohio State matchup would have been, um, interesting, but I guess not interesting enough for ABC to put on a Saturday night.  Instead, Vandy will play a Thursday night game against someone like Kentucky or Ole Miss so ESPN can fill up their SEC lineup.

SEC 2011: Review of the Preview

Way back in the pre-season, I predicted the order of finish for both divisions in the SEC, along with who I thought would meet next Saturday in Atlanta.  Now that the regular season is finished, let’s take a look at how I did.

SEC East

1) Georgia Actual 10-2 (7-1), Predicted  10-2 ( 7-1)

  • Preview: “Mark Richt will remain on the hot seat after the Bulldogs lose to Boise and South Carolina, but 10 straight wins later, his future in Athens is extended.  Georgia probably has the league’s best quarterback, at least for this year, and brings in hotshot freshman Isaiah Crowell, who will try to be this year’s version of Marcus Lattimore or Michael Dyer.”
  • Review: This is probably my best call of the season, although I thought South Carolina would wind up in Atlanta.  Crowell had a decent year, but never came close to Lattimore status.  Murray exceeded expectations and has a good shot to be the SEC’s offensive player of the year.

2) South Carolina Actual 10-2 (6-2), Predicted 11-1 (7-1)

  • Preview: “Steve Spurrier calls this his best team yet in Columbia.  If OBC can keep his troops clear of the buffet lines and cocktail parties he may be right.  Alshon Jeffery, Marcus Lattimore, Stephon Gilmore and yes, even Stephen Garcia make it hard to pick against the Gamecocks for a repeat.  They’ll stumble against Mississippi State, but earn another berth in the SEC Championship Game.”
  • Review: The Gamecocks successfully transitioned from Garcia to Connor Shaw and finally hit their stride when Shaw came up to speed.  Although the Gamecocks lost to Arkansas, it was a lackluster loss to Auburn that kept them from a repeat trip to Atlanta.

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Bama-Vandy Bullet Points

** This was my first game to watch live this year.  I had to buy an extra ticket and, as expected, demand was pretty soft.

** A night game following up two very emotional contests could have spelled troubled in the past.  The Tide look sluggish, but not uninspired, in the first half.

** Playing Vandy at home after big wins over Arkansas and Florida was quite a bit different than traveling to South Carolina last year.  Never underestimate scheduling.

** The Tide is now 6-0 and, therefore, bowl eligible.

** For the third week in a row, the Tide defense forces the opposing quarterback to the sideline.  Bobby Petrino took Tyler Wilson out of the game late to preserve his health, John Brantley was knocked out last week and Vandy starter Larry Smith came out of the game after running into Josh Chapman.

** Jordan Rodgers came on to play quarterback for the Dores and played fairly well, but assured himself a role in highlight footage after getting crushed by Mark Barron.

** With four touchdown passes, AJ McCarron became only the fourth Tide quarterback to throw for four or more in a game.  Gary Hollingsworth holds the record with five and Mike Shula and John Parker Wilson each threw four.

** Marquis Maze is clearly our go-to guy at wideout.  He caught nine passes against Vandy and is on pace for a great season statistically.  But most of his receptions seem to happen around the line of scrimmage.  That may be effective against most teams on the schedule, but I don’t think it will work against LSU.

**  Getting the ball to our wideouts was clearly something to work on heading into the Vandy game and the team responded.  By my count, the wideouts accounted for 18 receptions and three touchdowns.

** McCarron looks to be more and more comfortable each week, but his touchdown pass to DeAndrew White at the end of the first half shows the tight rope Bama is walking at quarterback.  The Tide had third and goal from the three and McCarron dropped back to pass.  He sensed pressure, moved to his left, then threw a pass to the back of the end zone that only White could catch.

** The problem?  Well, McCarron could have walked in for the touchdown while his pass to White was high, forcing an acrobatic reception along the back of the end zone.  I like his play-making ability, unless that pass falls incomplete.

** Jalston Fowler is a pile-mover.

** Do we really need all of the piped in music before every game?  The pre-game pageantry of college football apparently has turned into a hip hop concert.

Alabama – Vandy Thoughts

When Vanderbilt rolls around on the schedule, fear is not the typical reaction and that’s the case this year.  Vandy comes to town with a decent record – 3-1, which includes a 30-7 drubbing of the Ole Miss RBBs, but, barring some sort of emotional melt down, the Tide should handle the Dores pretty easily.

The Tide has won 19 in a row in this series the last loss coming in 1984.

While this series has been one-sided in Alabama’s favor, it has produced some memories for me as a Tide fan.

My first on-campus Alabama game was in 1982 to watch Alabama squeeze by the Dores 24-21.  A picture of the game program is included here.  I still have that program somewhere.

Although the Tide won that day, the atmosphere after the game was like we lost.  There was no celebrating.  I went to the game with a friend and his family and afterwards, we went by Bryant Hall to see who we could see and to try to get some autographs.  We got a few, but through the windows of the dining hall, we also caught a glimpse of Coach Bryant. It was the closest I had ever been to him – or ever would be.  He was sitting at a table with several other people around and his body language told the story of the day: he was tired and you could almost see the sense of relief of escaping with a win against Vanderbilt.  That picture stuck in my mind as the 1982 team began their slide to losing an unheard of four games in one season.

The day had other highlights as well.  On the way out of Bryant Hall, we hounded a few other players and former players for autographs.  Ol’ number 47, Byron Braggs, playfully put me in a headlock as he signed for us.

All-in-all, it was a surreal day.  I witnessed my first game in Bryant-Denny, but the atmosphere was very subdued and somber.

Other memories of Vanderbilt include the 66-3 drubbing by the Tide during the 1979 championship season.  President Gerald Ford was on hand in Nashville to witness that drubbing.

My dad and I rarely went to Bama games together, but we sat in the upper west deck to watch the 1992 champions kick off their season with a 25-8 win.

In 2006, the wife and kids and I witnessed the Tide beat Vandy 13-10 on a last second kick by freshman Leigh Tiffin.  That game was also a sign of things to come.

In 2007, we were so pumped over our new coach that the family traveled to Nashville to watch the Tide, led by Terry Grant, beat the Commodores 24-10.

The series with Vandy hasn’t produced very many, if any, memorable games on the field.  But it has produced a lot of memories of Tide football.  The family and I will head out again tomorrow to watch the Tide and hopefully some good memories will come back with us.