Tuesday, October 19, 2010
The Mad Hatter and Cam Newton
Two of the SEC's main figures -- this man and Cam Newton -- will lock it up on Saturday.
I was out with the USC Trojans this morning, so I apologize for the late jump on this blog. We're going to take a look at some of Week 8's biggest stories. I'm pretty sure the word 'Tigers' is going to come up fairly often in this entry.
'Miles Magic' vs. 'The Cam Newton Express'
Cameron Newton has taken the SEC by storm. The 6-foot-6, 250-pounder -- once Tim Tebow's understudy -- has transformed the Auburn Tigers into a BCS title contender and into the SEC's top offense. He's the flavor of the week (or is it month?) of Heisman banter. Newton leads the conference in rushing. (It's been 47 years since the last time a QB led the SEC in rushing for a season; that was Auburn's Jimmy Sidle in 1963.)
Newton's also been very solid throwing the football, completing 66 percent of his passes. He has a 13-5 TD-INT mark and ranks second in the nation in passing efficiency. I'm not shocked that Newton has been spectacular. The part that does surprise me is that he hasn't had more shake-your-head moments of disappointment and inconsistency -- just because the guy hasn't played much football at this level before this season. To not have so many ups-and-downs at this stage is really remarkable. But as great as Newton has been, he gets his toughest test thus far Saturday: The LSU defense, which leads this SEC and is third in the country in total defense (242 ypg).
The Tigers have standouts at all three levels of the D, especially with the way strongman DT Drake Nevis has emerged as a playmaker this fall.
"He runs hard. He gives a blow like a fullback," Miles told reporters earlier this week regarding Newton. "He's elusive like a tailback and he has a great touch on the ball and as capable as he is running, he's that capable throwing and he makes great decisions with the ball in his hands. Legitimately, he's a Heisman (Trophy) contender."
Last year, LSU held Tebow to 38 rushing yards on 17 carries. In all of 2009, it was the only game where he had at least three carries and didn't get a run of more than 10 yards.
The 'elephant in the stadium' here is this 'Miles magic' factor. You have no idea what's going to happen if this game is close late. It will be crazy, though.
The Blaine Gabbert factor
The game above is Tigers vs. Tigers. Another set of Tigers -- the Missouri Tigers -- hosts 'College Gameday' and the No.1 team in the first BCS, the Oklahoma Sooners. Gary Pinkel's squad has been blown off the field in most games with Oklahoma recently. Is this trend ready to change?
If so, they'll need talented QB Blaine Gabbert to play even better than he did last week, in Mizzou's first road game of the year at Texas A&M. Gabbert is in the spotlight this week and it'll be fascinating to see how he responds. He overcame some nagging injuries (sore ribs and a sore hip), a chaotic A&M defensive scheme and a hostile crowd in College Station to go 31-47 for 361 yards with three TDs and no INTs.
Gabbert has a chip on his shoulder the size of beer keg, and he seems to relish these kinds of moments. As I wrote over the summer, he is driven by the mantra: "FEPWDM," which means "for every person whoever doubted me." There were many doubters last week when he was matched against his pal Jerrod Johnson, the guy who came into the season pegged as the Big 12's top QB and there'll be even more facing OU and its budding star QB Landry Jones.
For more on the motivation of Gabbert, check out Dave Matter's blog:
Here's my thought: This was a pride thing. The Tigers wanted their leader on the field, especially once Gabbert went John Kreese on his teammates late in the game. (Google the reference if you have to. Hopefully, you don't.) "Blaine was the one who was on us all game to finish in the fourth quarter," Moe said. "He said, 'Step on their throat. No mercy. Don't let them breathe.' "
Gabbert's biggest concern figures to be how the Tigers cope with OU's superb DE Jeremy Beal, who is as good as there is in college football.
The Ducks are here (on Thursday night)
The Oregon Ducks are hosting the UCLA Bruins. Which UCLA team is getting off the plane in Eugene: the one that pasted the Texas Longhorns, or the one that went down by 28 to the California Golden Bears?
UCLA better be watching out for this guy.
A big key will be the Ducks' defense containing UCLA's Johnathan Franklin, who is averaging over 160 rushing yards in the Bruins' three wins -- but under 60 yards in their three losses.
Duck starting QB Darron Thomas' ailing shoulder healing up during the bye week so expect him to piloting Chip Kelly's attack. Pollsters will be watching closely to see if this Oregon team looks like a No. 1 team. Vegas has the Ducks a 24-point favorite. I suspect anything less than that will see underwhelming to pollsters given the way UCLA looked last time out.
Around college football
• The hits just keep on coming for UNC. Zack Pianalto, the team's stellar TE, fractured his right fibula in the second quarter of the Tar Heels' 44-10 win at Virginia on Saturday and will be out the rest of the season:
"It's really a shame," Davis said. "He's such a terrific kid. There's almost nobody in this program that puts his heart and soul into playing and practice and plays as hard as he does. It's certainly a loss for this football team."
As J.P. Gigio points out, Pianalto is the seventh player from the preseason depth chart that UNC has lost for the season to either injury or the NCAA investigation. An additional four starters have not played this season because of the NCAA investigation, and a fifth was sidelined after four games.
Meanwhile, the John Blake mess gets worse, reports Charles Robinson:
Former University of North Carolina assistant coach John Blake played a role in the signing of at least two clients of NFL agent Gary Wichard, according to two players who experienced the relationship firsthand. Two former Wichard clients -- linebacker Brian Bosworth and tight end Stephen Alexander -- told Yahoo! Sports that Blake was the conduit for their relationship with the prominent agent. Blake coached both players during his tenure at the University of Oklahoma. Wichard is currently under investigation by the NCAA, NFL Players Association and North Carolina Secretary of State for potential improper agent conduct. A third former Oklahoma player, defensive end Stirling Luckey, told Yahoo! Sports that he had knowledge of Blake's endorsement of Wichard to elite Sooners players.
• There may not be a better head-to-head match-up this weekend than the one awaiting Oklahoma State's standout WR Justin Blackmon, as Brandon Chatmon writes:
Blackmon is coming off a career-best 209 receiving yards and averages 159.2 receiving yards per game. And Blackmon, a sophomore from Plainview, could be the deciding factor. He will need to consistently win one-on-one battles with Nebraska's cornerbacks, particularly Prince Amukamara, who is rated No. 3 overall on the ESPN NFL Draft guru Mel Kiper's Big Board.
"I'm looking forward to it," Blackmon said of the challenge of facing an NFL-level cornerback. "And I'm sure the rest of the receivers are, too."
If Blackmon can force Nebraska to use an extra defender to stop him, it could open opportunities for the rest of OSU's skill position players, particularly Hunter. "I have a lot of confidence in Justin, and he'll challenge whoever he plays," OSU coach Mike Gundy said. "And I'm sure they're ready to challenge him, so it should be a good battle."
• Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly jumped the gun on what most coaches will own up to when it comes to preparing for an opponent, but Keith Arnold said that's a good thing:
Quietly, Dayne Crist and the Irish are marching towards a strong finish.
"This will be our fifth week now, that we have been running Navy's offense with our scout team," Kelly said Sunday. "We feel like we've been preparing for this offense for the last month. "When you're playing both Navy and Army in your schedule, you can't just take two days and practice against this offense. This was a decision we made last spring, preparing for both of those teams with our 'look' squads. It's only about 15 to 20 minutes each day."
This is one of the better decisions that Kelly's likely made, as the Irish defense's inability to stop the option run game has been the biggest reason why the Midshipmen have flipped the script on this series.
Looking back at the past three games, Navy ran for 257 yards against the Irish in 2007, 178 yards during the Irish's tense 27-21 victory in 2008, and a staggering 348 yards in the stunning 23-21 upset win over Notre Dame last year, a game where Ricky Dobbs only threw the ball three times.
• The comments of a fan helped spur USC's defensive turnaround last week, according to the LA Daily News:
When rain forced the Trojans to practice on the FieldTurf of Cromwell Field, which does not have fences to close the public's view, cornerback Shareece Wright said he heard a student pass by on his bike. "Someone on a bike said something about wrapping up," Wright said. "I thought, 'Oh, that's how people feel about us. We can't tackle.'"
Wright said the incident provided some motivation for calling last week's team meeting of defensive players.
• There's always plenty of bizarre stories of flip-floping when it comes to recruiting, and Kyle Veazey has the details on the "commitment" of Nickolas Brassell, the top player in the state of Mississippi, to MSU:
(It just so happens that he's arguably the top prospect in the state of Mississippi for the class of 2011.) The Mississippi State affiliate of the website Scout.com first reported late Sunday night that Brassell gave State coaches a non-binding, oral commitment to sign with the Bulldogs in February. If he followed through and signed there, this would be a big recruiting disappointment for Ole Miss. South Panola is, after all, just 24 miles west of here.
• Tweet of the Day: FRom Louisville coach Charlie Strong:
Show me a good loser, and I'll show you a loser.