Saturday, September 24, 2011

Off and Running - Respect the MAC

I've been saying all week that we need to respect Western Michigian. This MAC representative goes bowling just about every year. And, they beat us in Detroit a few years back on Ford Field, knocking us out of a bowl game. Huge.

Not this year. The Broncos high-speed passing offense was stopped when it mattered most. Down 13-10 at halftime, the Chief came out after the break and shoved the rock down their collective little throats. Broncos couldn't stop our stable of runningbacks: Young, Pollard, Ford, and company. You just can have too many good backs in an offense like this. With a line like we have.

It wasn't pretty. We still put the ball on the ground too often. And, too many drives have fizzled in the red-zone, having to settle for field goals. Running game sputters at times. I don't like to see my guys dancing through holes and running East / West. Man up Zookers! The passing game isn't quite in sync either. The defense allowed 306 yards passing, but most of that came in the first half. When it mattered most, when we needed stops, we showed up and turned them down. On offense, we were efficient if not flashy - winning the time of possession battle 35 to 25. Nate went 14-20 and 133 yards with a TD. O'Toole had a few key pass completions in the second stanza as well.

But, it was all about Young and Pollard who combined for 233 yards on the ground on 26 carries. Donovan Young is turning into a real machine at halfback. And when the final whistle blew, we moved to 4-0 for the first time since 1951. Wow! No other BCS / AQ team has had a longer drought to 4-0 in the history of the game. Yes! And the last time we swept the non-conference schedule was 2001. This was a seminole win for the program any way you slice it.

Up next is Northwestern at home inside the friendly confines of Memorial Stadium. That will be our fifth straight home game. With Persa back in the line-up for the CATS, that is going to be a strong test. Fitzgerald's clubs are always physical, disciplined, smart, and effective.

Over the course of the season, I'll post a few thoughts of my own regarding conference re-alignment, the circus which it has become in 2011. Honestly, my first real impression right now is to take a deep breathe and let reason prevail. We need to avoid scenarios like TCU in the BIG EAST, WV in the B12, and Notre Dame in the ACC. Really, is that good for CFB? It can't all just be about the Benjamins. If that is the primary driver, the effort, the games, the teams, the fans, and the conferneces are doomed. Going forward, we should be looking to build meaningful confernces on solid bedrock considering geography, academic expectations, other sports, culture, and revenue sharing relative to TV networks / contracts. For now, I'm grateful the PAC-12 stands at 12, and not 14 or 16. It looks like the BIG-12 dodged a bullet for now, and may just survive in the years to come.

My TOP-10

1) LSU - TIGERS have played and beaten three TOP-25 foes arleady this year.
2) Alabama- Tide / Tigers, two arms of the same body.
3) Oklahoma - good victory tonight over a Mizzou squad who beat them in Columbia last year.
4) Boise State - Clearly not on the same level as 1-3 above, but they consistently win and are fun to watch. Kellen Moore is fantastic.
5) Wisconsin - Badgers round out my top-5 and should only move up this year. Might be the only team who can beat either Alabama or LSU in a title game.
6) Stanford - Cardinals probably the cream of the PAC-12.
7) Oklahoma State - how they canme back on the road in College Station still amazes me. Aggies were up 20-3 at the break. Ugh!
8) Oregon - back in the TOP-10 after destroying Arizona tonight.
9) Nebraska - just now sure how good or bad this team really is. We shall learn next week when they travel to Madison.
10) South Carolina - ripped through an undefeated Vandy team tongiht.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Chief - a Devil Killer!

Well, look who's back? It's been a while since I've penned my last blog, and for good reason. Sure, there was the TEXAS BOWL victory over Baylor (38-14). That was the announcement. But yesterday's win over #18 ASU on Zupke Field inside majestic Memorial Stadium was something bigger. It signified a change in culture for the Fighting Zookers. It changed how we view and play on the BIG STAGE and under the bright ligts in front of a national audience. We got a small taste of what it means to be on top, even for a week. And for the first time in a long time, the Chief is RANKED AGAIN #24.

Don't get me wrong, we're still a young team that makes a lot of mistakes. At times, the offense sputtered - especially on short yardages. Heck, we only had 246 total yards. We had almost 400 rushing yards last week alone against SDSU. Going forward, we will need to shore-up the short yardage conversions. 5 for 13 on 3rd down won't cut it. But, the Sun-Devils are not the Jack-Rabbits. Burfict is a beast. And that ASU defense can make plays at every positionl. In the end, we proved we can win a defensive battle. We showed that deep inside, there is a will to win.

The Illini defensive effort was amazing. I haven't seen an ILLINOIS squad play with as much determination and acumen in some 15 years. You have to go back tot he mid to early 90's when we had guys like Kevin Hardy and Simeon Rice. "They brought a lot of pressure tonight," Osweiler said. "Shoot, it seemed like almost every snap." For the night, we had six sacks of the ASU QB and 12 TFL's. Zook later remarked that we really did sell-out on the pash rush, forcing them to beat us with their running game which never happened. We may have the best 'D' in conference. Snap to whistle, not sure there is a better unit in the LEADERS division. We've only given up 32 points in our first three games. Holding an explosive ASU squad to just 14 points is showing up. The Devils will light-up opponents in the PAC-12 this year.

Yes, a momentum builder for sure. It was also our 4th win in a row and our first over a ranked PAC-10/12 opponent since 1995 (#16 Arizona). And with two more home games this month (Western Michigan is next), we have a chance to open at 5-0 before travelling to Bloomington to play Indiana. I'm not sure where this leaves us. The BIG-10 is looking somewhat soft to me at this point in 2011, save for Wisconsin who is looking more and more like a national-title contender under Russell Wilson. But, for now, we're 2nd best in the Leaders and maybe in the conference. And, that's not all bad.

My TOP-10:
1) Oklahoma - one of the best wins on the young season in Tallahassee last night.
2) Alabama - Tide continues to roll.
3) LSU - May be underrated at #3 after that defensive performance over the Bulldogs.
4) Boise State - for now, I respect the blue turf. It may not last.
5) Stanford - I have to put the Luckers at #5. Is this team deep enough?
6) Wisconsin - Badgers look scary good to the Chief under Wilson.
7) A&M - Balanced on both sides of the ball. Looking more like an SEC team each week.
8) Oklahoma State - Cowboys can score points. Can they play team defense?
9) South Carolina - Yes, I saw the Navy game. Letdown. Gamecocks are good. I think.
10) Virginia Tech - Hokies pull-down my last spot this week. Many teams worthy.

Putting out an APB:
a) What happened to BYU in the Holy War? Ouch!
b) Where was the vaulted Sparty rushing attack (29 yards on 23 attempts vs. ND).
c) And how bad is the QB situation in Columbus? Bauserman / Miller oh my!

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