Houston at Temple | 12:00 p.m.
Houston is at Temple not to play, but to pray and thank the good Lord for the divine intervention rested upon their schedule. Their first season in the newly-renamed American Athletic Conference features games against Louisville and 11 teams that all entered the season with legitimate shots at going winless this year. College football fans couldn’t pick out these programs’ mascots in a police lineup of nothing but uniformed policemen. Much like the Temple mascot, when reading this list of opponents, people reflexively say, “Who?” It includes Southern Methodist, just plain Southern, South Florida and the almighty UTSA Roadrunners. Their most popular play is the one where they run into an image of an end zone painted on the side of a cliff. Going to games on this schedule is like showing up at Lollapalooza and finding out the headlining bands are Heaven 17, Cutting Crew and Haircut 100.
Snagglepuss (Houston): 37
Hootie (Temple): 17
Texas at BYU | 7:00 p.m. | ESPN2
The team with multiple spouses hosts the team with multiple louses. Two Texas receivers were suspended last week for the opener: Kendall Sanders was driving drunk and Cayleb Jones slugged a Longhorn tennis player. How drunk do you have to be to punch out a tennis player? Were there no badminton players available?
Blitzed Bevo (Texas): 31
We are NOT scientologists! (BYU): 13
Notre Dame at Michigan | 8:00 p.m. | ESPN
The highlight of this game will be after the contest is over and we get to see Brady Hoke try to hug Brian Kelly into submission. Again. The last time these two shared an awkward hug, it appeared as if Brady was trying to maneuver him onto a hoagie roll. Notre Dame almost lost to Pitt last year because Brian Kelly spent so much time with the school priests showing them on the doll where Hoke had touched him. I understand the loneliness, though. It must be difficult for Hoke to fit much of a social life around his coaching duties and his demanding schedule as body double and food taster for Chris Christie. But I suppose it’s no more taxing than Brian Kelly’s job as Peter Griffin’s stunt man.
Giant Gnome (Michigan): 24
Golden Dome (Notre Dame): 17
Oregon at Virginia | 3:30 p.m. | ABC/ESPN2
The Virginia sports teams are known as the Cavaliers, but their fans prefer and refer to themselves as “Wahoos.” One might think it is just a simple brainless derivative from a made-up noise in the school cheer – like rival Virginia Tech’s “Hokie”. However, the term “Wahoos” derives from an insult that used to be hurled at them by Washington and Lee, which is either a rival university or two of the more mischievous Sweathogs. They would mock and ridicule the Cavs’ students and fans by calling them “wahoos” and chanting “Wahoowaaa!” at their games. Why would Virginia students want to adopt as their school identity a personal insult to their intelligence and ancestry? Well maybe because the alternative is a supporter of King Charles I in the English Civil War wearing a silly Elizabethan hat and cape. Hard to imagine their mascot giving anyone a sense of cavalier. Isn’t that right, Oregon, trying to pass off a poor man’s Donald Duck?
Feathers on hats (Virginia): 13
Feathers on helmets (Oregon): 42
South Carolina at Georgia | 4:30 p.m. | ESPN
The last week of August was World Nostalgia Week (don’t look it up – just trust me on this, damn your eyes!). UGA went all out last Saturday to commemorate their ancient national championship by celebrating the historic year in song. On January 1, 1981 the Herschel Walkers won their one and only national title, and three days later the career of Marcel Theo Hall was born. He is better known as Biz Markie, the Clown Prince of Hip Hop. Against Clemson, Mark Richt – the Clown Prince of the SEC – said that Jawja “keeped it real” out there when they lined up for a field goal late in the third quarter. “Oh Snap! Guess what I saw!” A muffed snap ruined a chip-shot field goal that would have tied the score. Then, mid-way through the fourth quarter, Clemson got into the act. Remember that the Tigers won their program’s only national title at the end of the 1981 season, so they also wanted to celebrate The Biz. With first-and-goal inside the six yard line, “Oh Snap! Guess what I saw!” A snap was sent rocketing so far into the night sky that they may have been taken out of field goal range if they even recovered it. But a penalty negated the play. It’s as if it never happened – like the rest of Biz Markie’s career. Two snaps later, Clemson was in the end zone and Dawg Nation caught The Vapors. Georgia lost by the margin of that botched field goal and Aaron Murray lost his eighth game in nine tries against top-15 opponents. Mark Richt consoled him with a long, loving hug (although sources close to the program say he’s just a friend; they say he’s just a fre…).
This week, the battered and bruised bowsers face their old nemesis Steve Spurrier, who himself is feeling nostalgic for the nineties – his heyday as a head coach. In typical Steve Superior fashion, he has decided to mock Georgia’s snap troubles by celebrating the band Snap!, which took over the US charts in 1990 the same year that Spurrier took over the SEC and the Florida-Georgia series. Looking for his fourth-straight win over Georgia as Carolina’s coach, once again he is leaving messages on Richt’s voicemail singing, “I’ve got the power!” With a couple extra days to rest and prepare, Stevie’s going to hit Jawja “Oops up-side the head” Saturday.
Incidentally, August was also Medic Alert Awareness Month. And on the last day of the month named after Augustus Caesar, the Dawgs had an August seizure and whimpered in unison: “I’ve fallen (out of the national title race)…AND I CAN’T GET UP!”
It’s gettin’, it’s gettin’, it’s gettin’ kind of hectic (South Carolina): 24
Oh baby YOU….don’t got what I neeeeed (Georgia): 16
Florida at Miami | 12:00 p.m. | ESPN
So Gator fans are not happy with the ho-hum low-scoring domination of Toledo, claiming they miss all the blowout openers they used to enjoy. Gator fans apparently have a really bizarre memory disorder that allows them to remember games that happened 20 to 25 years ago, but nothing in recent history. Last year, for instance, when the Gators struggled with recognition – such as recognizing which end zone was theirs, or which color jerseys belonged to their teammates or visitors. That doesn’t ring a bell. Or their last opener, when Florida entered the fourth quarter clinging to a 3-point lead against lowly Bowling Green, a program so irrelevant that half the country thinks it’s located in Kentucky. They don’t recall. Gator fans are also foggy about the opener three years ago when quarterback John Brantley had to signal a fair catch for half the shotgun snaps against Miami University, another program that most of the country thinks resides in another state. But they remember like it was yesterday every play of a season opener when Kindergarten Cop was in the theaters.
Happy or not, the Gators move to week two to face Miami, Florida. I wrote an article in the current Gator Country magazine about all the important historical and contemporary reasons this rivalry is important, but let’s face it – this game is important because Miami simply needs a beating. Decades later they are still whining about the Florida Flop and spinning the moldy yarn about the Gators being scared of them. Even for a program named after temperate zone wind, that’s a lot of hot air.
I promised some actual analysis for this game in this week’s Picks & Pans, so here it is. For being such an intensely anticipated game, this matchup has fewer mysteries than any in recent memory. Both teams will try to establish a strong running attack and make big gains through the air if and when given the opportunity. Miami fans surely believe their quarterback is the better suited to do damage through the air, but I don’t know if the coaching staffs would agree. For all the disappointment expressed by Gator fans over Jeff Driskel paltry 153 yards passing last week while running a vanilla game plan, Miami’s star signal caller only threw for 160 against FAU – a far weaker team than Toledo. And unlike Florida, Miami was actually trying to go downfield throughout the game. Morris also only completed 55% of his passes, compared to Driskel’s 77%.
But the quarterback comparison is not the key Saturday. Whatever edge Morris may have over Driskel in comfort level in his offense is more than mitigated by Florida’s stellar secondary play and the excellent underneath coverage of the linebackers that was again on fine display against Toledo. This game will be won or lost in the trenches. Duke Johnson’s speed is not the issue, nor is Matt Jones’s health. The issue is whether Florida’s defensive line – which looked in the opener to be every bit as dominant as it was last year – can own Miami’s seasoned offensive line. Though a strength of the ‘Cane team, I think their O-line is good but nothing overly special. As always, when there is a great back carrying the ball and a capable OL, gap discipline will be a big factor for Florida’s defense. I look for Miami to use a heavy dose of misdirection with counters, traps and possibly a reverse or two to try to use the Gators’ great defensive speed against them. Last week the Gators were outstanding in gap discipline as well as assignment discipline, so the thinking here is that this strong execution will continue against Miami.
Florida’s offensive line must also be able to push the Miami front around and keep them out of the backfield on passing downs. Whereas Florida’s dominance will rule the day when the Gators are on defense, this matchup will go Florida’s way as much because of Miami’s defensive deficiencies as Florida’s improvement on the OL. Miami has not had even a serviceable defensive line the last few years and while improved in 2013, they are out of their depth against an SEC-level unit like Florida’s. And while improvement is expected, it is hard to forget that Miami only played three ranked teams last year: FSU, Notre Dame and Kansas State. Against those teams they gave up 33, 41 and 52 points, while yielding 447, 587 and 498 yards, respectively. Wow. That’s an average of 511 yards per game. Against utterly helpless and hapless FAU last week, Miami only managed 503. Oh yeah, and in the last game of the 2012 season Miami surrendered 432 yards and 45 points to Duke.
When Florida has the ball, it will be important for them to consistently make good yardage – three yards or more, preferably more – on first downs. The pass blocking is still not nearly polished enough to be trusted on long-yardage situations when the defense knows they are throwing it and the team does not have a significant comfort level with the 3rd-and-long pages of the playbook. Pause here for obligatory one-liners about those pages being torn out and eaten “Mission Impossible” style. They will also have to make every possession that crosses the 50 yard line count for points or at the very least pin Miami inside the ten yard line on a punt. Efficiency will be the buzz word for Florida, and they need to find some more big plays as well to take some pressure off both sides of the ball. Miami will present the Gators with opportunities to grab some interceptions because they will test the whole field and they will try to air it out some. Florida must grab at least two of those passes to keep the game from giving Gator fans heartburn. Pass rush will be key for the Gators in generating these opportunities. Florida is looking for pressure from its front four – pressure that results not just in disruption but in sacks and altered throws. It has been seven years since this team has had the defensive front capable of generating this pressure on its own. Since then, a lion’s share of the sacks and hurries have been registered by blitzing linebackers and defensive backs. Bullard and Fowler in particular need to generate pressure from the edges. When the front four can create pressure, that gives Muschamp and Durkin a lot more flexibility in their looks, disguised coverages, how many linebackers they can drop, etc. When you don’t have to routinely send a safety, cornerback or linebacker into the backfield to generate pass rush, there is one more body in coverage to bracket their best receiver, spy their quarterback or running back, and it gives the staff more room for creativity. Also, the more Florida defensive linemen who can demand the attention of a double team or a running back to block them, the more they will take one of Miami’s potential receivers out of the play in the form of a tight end or running back.
I think Florida will be able to do most, if not all of these things against Miami. Certainly enough to win the game, as long as they keep self-inflicted mistakes to a minimum. Meanwhile, the AP has punished Florida for their suffocating dominant win Saturday by dropping them out of the Top 10, and still drunk on spiked punch from the Sugar Bowl, most of the pundits this week have picked Miami to pull the big upset in South Florida. But giving the Gator players such large doses of dismissive disrespect and derision has only helped them.
More than they’ll ever know.
‘Cane Crushers (Florida): 27
War Canoe Thieves (Miami): 13