Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Week 9 -- Fewer games, higher stakes [UPDATED 10/25 0900]

This week is the first week so far this year where we have had two teams with byes in the SEC, and as it turns out, we also have two teams with games against theoretically inferior out-of-conference opponents -- Vandy faces Miami (OH) and Arkansas hosts Florida International, while LSU and Alabama have the weekend off.

That pretty much leaves me only four games to talk about -- two today and two tomorrow.

Georgia at Florida [Jacksonville]

This game has become known as the "Worlds Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" (someone probably knows why, but I really don't), but the bitter rivalry between these two teams makes it an exciting game. The fact that the loser of this game becomes a likely non-player for the Eastern division championship makes it a huge in terms of conference standing, as well.

NOTE: Paul Westerdawg of Georgia Sports Blog has thoughtfully explained the "WLOCP" moniker to me in a comment below. Here it is so you don't have to hunt:

If you ever come to the Cocktail Party, you will understand how it got its name. Particularly, if you come with people who know how to handle the entire 4 days of the thing.

As Lewis Grizzard once said, another name for it would be the "Annual Celebration of the Repeal of Prohibition".

It's 84k people split equally. Most of whom have been drinking for 3 straight days. Hell, UGA schedules its Fall Break so the students can get down there in a safe and orderly fashion...to drink more.

If you've seen the absurdity of it, you'd understand the name.
Mergz at Saurian Sagacity has the statistics on how the teams have fared historically. Paul Westerdawg of Georgia Sports Blog has relatively low expectations for the contest:
I'm generally a sunshine pumper or at worse a realist. I rarely go into my dark cave of pessimism. But let's look at facts. In 2007, we have struggled with teams that have equal or lesser talent. The Gators are most certainly more talented than the Bulldogs, and you'll have to make one helluva argument that they aren't better coached right now.
Seems a lot of the Georgia bloggers are pessimistic about this game. Doubledawgs at Third Saturday in Blogtober is picking Florida in an ugly blowout. Senator Blutarsky of Get the Picture, however, is keeping the faith, sort of:
The Tennessee game was simply inexplicable. The tough thing right now is that no realistic observer of the Georgia program can say it won’t happen again. That being said, I wouldn’t put it past the coaches and players to put together their most complete effort in a conference game since Auburn last year, either - and, to be fair, under MR, there always seems to be one game every year like that when it all comes together. But I’m not gonna deny that I feel a little shaky about Saturday’s game.
Mlmintampa writing for Alligator Army worries that since Urban Meyer has let the world know about Tim Tebow's injured shoulder, the Dawgs will try to pick on that weakness in an effort to get him out of the game:

Meyer never should have admitted that Tebow has a sore right shoulder. If he had said "upper body injury" like a hockey coach, we wouldn't have to be concerned about things like this;

[Florida center Drew] Miller said there's no question opposing teams have been trying to knock Tebow out of the game, and he's been the subject of cheap shots all season.
"Oh, definitely," Miller said. "In piles, people are grabbing . . . it's just the way it is. They are trying to get any edge that they can have.
"You can't blame them, a guy like that who makes so many plays for us, they're going to do anything they can to get him off the field."
I expect the Dawgs will have a mental target drawn on Tebow's right shoulder, at least in the back of their minds. They know how effective Tebow is, and they also know that Florida without Tebow probably can't beat them.

I have said (and continue to say) that as long as Tebow represents 70% of the offense, the Gators are vulnerable. Unlike Kentucky, they can't just go to the ground game if their starting QB gets hurt -- Tebow is their ground game and their passing game. It is a very strange situation for the normally multi-dimensional Gators, and fraught with peril if Tebow gets hurt any more than a bruise or two.

South Carolina at Tennessee

Wow, what a weird game this is. Normally, we'd be talking about how big the margin is likely to be for the Vols, but not this year. Unfortunately, even with Tennessee's woeful showing against the better teams they have played this year, the Vols still have a chance to win the East. But as in the Florida-Georgia game above, the loser likely becomes lost in the crowd.

Chuck at The Cool Chicken thinks it's a coin toss between the two teams, but picks the Gamecocks to win a fairly close game. Scott Hood writing for Gamecock Central says that this game is "a test of leadership and character":
This week leading up to the Tennessee game in Knoxville is a stern test of the character and senior leadership of the Gamecocks. As Spurrier said at his weekly press conference on Tuesday, USC doesn’t have any players who scream and yell a whole lot. Cory Boyd may come the closest to filling that role.

A team’s psyche is a fragile thing, as USC fans have painfully discovered in the past. A series of unfortunate events can send team morale plummeting.
Garnet and Black Attack takes a look at some of the games both teams have played so far. He says the combination of the Gamecock's futility throwing the ball and the utter failure of the UT defense to stop anyone gives the game an interesting dynamic:

The formula established so far is relatively simple: To beat Tennessee, you need merely to outscore them.

The Gators rolled up 554 yards against Tennessee. California put up 471. On average, the Vols allow 249.0 yards through the air and 157.7 on the ground. The Gamecocks could have some succeess if they focus on getting yards out of Cory Boyd and Mike Davis, as Spurrier has suggested they will.

But the passing game will have to do much better than it did against Vanderbilt.

The closest passing offense of any Vol opponent, statistically, to South Carolina's is Arkansas State, which ranks 60th in the country with 227 ypg. The Gamecocks are 62nd with 225.5 ypg. That's right, South Carolina's passing offense is stastically worse than Arkansas State.

Bottom line -- Can the Gamecocks outscore the Vols with their relatively low-scoring offense? I don't know, but I suspect if Spurrier keeps playing this crazy Chinese fire drill with his quarterbacks, the answer may well be no. This illustrates once again the importance of having a balanced attack -- you never know where opponents will offer you opportunities to score. If UT manages to take away the run from USC, how will the Gamecocks get it in the end zone? Maybe the OBC can put on a helmet and show them how an SEC quarterback is supposed to do it. Barring that, I don't have a clue.

Then we have Tennessee fans, and a more grumpy group can hardly be found anywhere except College Station, Texas. Maybe Fulmer and Franchione should just swap jobs for the rest of the year and see how that works out. Lexvol at Vol Nation is ready to heave coach F under the nearest Greyhound:
The blog today is not some fabricated hack piece written to create a debate. To use stronger terms, this is no longer opinion. This is not a shot at CPF’s weight, or off the field issues. This is not intended to denigrate the body of work that he has amassed at the helm of the UT program. This is stone cold fact in classic Guitar Shots fashion. Phil Fulmer has lost this football team. Either we do not have the talent, or these players have no faith in the current system. The more probable answer is that we are witnessing a combination of both. Look no further than the Hardesty situation to prove this point. This football team needs leadership on the sidelines, and on the field. Until changes are made, the Volnation should realize that 1998 was as good as it gets.
I remember a time when the Volunteer fans used to actually talk about football before a big game. My, how times have changed.

Meyton Panning, a diarist at Rocky Top Talk, takes the opposite tack:
Give Coach time folks. He's proven he can do it. Or do we want to turn the Tennessee Coaching Job into the orange version of the pressure cooker hot seat of schools like Notre Dame or Alabama? Do you want to see Tennessee go through four or five coaches like ND and Bama did? We, the fans, are going to make the Tennessee job look way too daunting and miserably tough for a young hot shot coach to take as he looks to get into a big time program. Why do you think Urban Meyer passed up on his dream job at Notre Dame? Maybe it was because he took an objective look at how demanding and ruthless the ND job is and decided that he would rather seek greener pastures.
Unfortunately, the Alabama drubbing has thrown the Tennessee bloggers into a state of despair, and interest in the South Carolina game among the Vol faithful seems to have given way to ambivalence.

I have witnessed a similar situation at Kentucky during the latter days of Tubby Smith (basketball, I know, but ... Hello! Kentucky fan!). That worked out OK for everybody in the end, but not until a gigantic schism developed in the fanbase which degenerated into hundreds of thousands of vitriolic comments and blog posts, and that rift has yet to fully heal. The Alabama, Florida and Notre Dame quick-fire jobs are not really comparable -- none of those coaches had been their a long time like Fulmer has, and none of them had brought a national championship to their team. Fulmer's situation is frighteningly similar to Tubby Smith's, despite the fact that they coach different sports.

I sincerely hope our neighbors to the South do better than Kentucky did.

2 comments:

Paul Westerdawg said...

If you ever come to the Cocktail Party, you will understand how it got its name. Particularly, if you come with people who know how to handle the entire 4 days of the thing.

As Lewis Grizzard once said, another name for it would be the "Annual Celebration of the Repeal of Prohibition".

It's 84k people split equally. Most of whom have been drinking for 3 straight days. Hell, UGA schedules its Fall Break so the students can get down there in a safe and orderly fashion...to drink more.

If you've seen the absurdity of it, you'd understand the name.

BestofSEC said...

Paul:

A. Thanks for coming by.

B. Thanks a lot for the clarification. It helps those of us not steeped in Florida or Georgia football lore to get a handle on this game.

I'm moving your comments to the front page. Definitely worth it.