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Looking Back Before Moving Forward
by Scott Spreitzer - 10/25/2005
Roll Tide?: Alabama may be unbeaten, but young coach Mike Shula has not impressed with his play-calling the last two games. They barely beat Mississippi, then Saturday went ultra-conservative in a 6-3 win over Tennessee. With the game scoreless in the third, Shula didn't hesitate to kick a field goal on a fourth-and-short, preferring a 3-0 lead as opposed to the possibility of a "huge" (for this game) 7-0 lead. Then on the final drive, Alabama continued to run up the middle even in its own territory, setting up several third and longs. Great teams go for the jugular, while 'Bama seems to be in "playing not to lose mode." Four Tennessee turnovers, two deep in Alabama territory, saved the Tide. They may be a sentimental favorite, but the guess here is they don't run the table. Conservative play and too many close calls will eventually catch up with a team.
Defensive Troubles in Ann Arbor: Don't get fooled by Michigan's two straight thrilling wins, over Penn State on the final play and Saturday's comeback win in OT at Iowa. The Wolverines still have defensive problems. They allowed Iowa 430 total yards and 143 rushing. The last four games Michigan has allowed the following yards on the ground: 173, 264, 181 and 143. And that doesn't include the season opener when they allowed 211 rush yards, 6.6 per carry, to Northern Illinois of the MAC. Paging Charles Woodson...
Cat Scratch Fever: Northwestern has a devastating offense that upset Michigan State Saturday, 49-14, to throw its hat into the Big 10 race. However, the defense ranked 116th in the nation coming in and allowed Michigan State 480 yards of total offense. Don't look for the Wildcats to continue to be a Big 10 title factor with that kind of porous defense. Second prize will be a bowl berth, which should suit them fine after a 6-6 2004 season.
Not So Cavalier: North Carolina came into the game allowing 30 points, 122 yards rushing and 253 passing per game. The Cavaliers, off a huge upset over Florida State, were held to 199 total yards in a 7-5 Tar Heels win. The game before, UNC allowed 69 points to Louisville. After the Louisville debacle, North Carolina coach John Bunting gave his players a light week of work and a weekend off in hopes that they would have time to refresh and recharge. They responded by holding Virginia to three-and-out on its first four possessions.
And the Crowd Goes Wild: One of the more unusual sights Saturday was the Washington crowd cheering wildly in the final minute of the first half, when the Huskies forced Matt Leinart and the Trojans into a 3-and-out. Odd, in that USC was on pace for 74 points, leading 37-17 at the half! Actually, the fans were cheering the fact that USC only had an edge in total yardage at the half of 185-180. The difference was sloppy Washington play (a blocked punt) and turnovers. USC scoring drives in that first half started on the Husky 30, 30, 24 and 20-yard lines. Washington self-destructed any hopes of pulling off a miracle.
So Much for Ball Control: The halftime numbers of the Texas/Texas Tech showdown said it all. Texas Tech had the edge in pass yards 189-120 and close to a 2-to-1 edge in time of possession. The score: Texas 31, Texas Tech 10.
Big 12 Uglies? The Big 12 features some potential uglies this week. Revitalized Baylor still struggles offensively and has to duel pass-happy Texas Tech off a loss. Oklahoma State also struggles to find the end zone and has to host Texas! Texas is 9-2 "over" the total its last 11 games going back to last season. Missouri has to travel to Kansas and the Tigers are just 1-5 ATS the last 6 meetings with the Jayhawks.
The Eagles & The Gobblers: The first college football game of the week takes place Thursday with relatively new ACC members as Boston College travels to Virginia Tech. Virginia Tech (7-0 SU, 6-1 ATS) is on roll and against the Maryland Terrapins last week, Marcus Vick looked like his brother in rushing for 133 yards while completing 14 of 23 passes for 211 yards. Virginia Tech hasn't lost a regular season game since September 25, 2004, a one-point defeat to NC State. The Hokies lost 3 games last season, including a 3-point loss to unbeaten Auburn in a bowl and a 24-13 defeat to mighty USC, leading 10-7 at the half. They are currently outscoring teams by a 37-9 average.
Boston College wants to be healthy, of course, but they have several key defensive injuries. Senior defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka has a sprained right knee. Coach Jim O'Brien said, "I've got my fingers crossed, but I don't know if he'll make it on Thursday." Senior defensive tackle Al Washington (elbow) and senior cornerback Jazzmen Williams (quadriceps) are also ailing. Virginia Tech is 15-4 against the spread its last 19 games.
Breakout the Cocktails: Are the Gators healthy enough to keep their streak going against the Bulldogs in this SEC battle? The last 15 meetings, Florida is 11-3-1 against the spread against Georgia.