You’ve heard the spin from the big media outlets, now you can get the real stories. We spent Thursday through Saturday attending, travelling, and since analyzing to our first three games of the 2014 season. Come back for our stories as they will all be posted by Monday evening.
Carolina cheerleaders get their fans ready before kickoff.
Columbia, SC – (Aug. 28, 2014) You’ve heard all the “experts” (spin doctors) report on the domination of Texas A&M’s sophomore QB Kenny Hill over South Carolina in his successful debut of displacing former and controversial “Johnny Football” as he eclipsed the A&M game mark with 511 passing yards last Thursday as the Aggies throttled SC, 52-28. It was both the season opener and SEC opener for both teams. Hill, who Manziel christened “KennyFootball” during an ESPN interview, completed 44 of his 60 passes and threw for three TD passes. It was no shocker the way the Gamecock defense played that he threw no interceptions. His numbers are very impressive for a first-time signal caller no doubt. However, his competition was not! The Aggie passing game set up three short rushing TDs by Tra Carson who carried the ball in three times among his seven carries for only 30 yards. On the other side of the ball, Dylan Thompson was respectable completing 20 of 40 for 366 yards, four TDs, and one INT, but he was throwing into a defense that had some teeth compared to what Hill threw against.
A&M defender demonstrates tight pass coverage to WR Nick Jones of South Carolina.
Slant passes, crossing patterns, fade routes, all patterns – the Gamecock defense was never close to covering receivers no matter what patterns the Aggie receivers ran when Hill threw their way. Pass coverage was horrid – worst ever witnessed in the memory of our 460 college football games. One wonders what the Gamecock defenders have been practicing since the beginning of the spring semester. Maybe they conditioned themselves in the weight room for body building and ran so they could make the track team. However, weight training and running drills are supposed to condition football players, especially DBs, for hard hitting to punish a receiver when he puts his hands on a football and for covering speedy, quick receivers closely – at least once in a while. These “defenders” did neither. They embarrassed themselves never challenging receivers, never batting down any ball from a receiver’s hands, nor making any solid hits to make a receiver think twice next time the ball came his way. One, two, or even three would-be tacklers in the secondary slid off Aggie receivers on multiple occasions on many plays. It looked as if Gamecock defenders had “greased” themselves down to make tackling more challenging than what it should be. Aggie receivers slipped arm tackles throughout the game after catching the football. “Yards after missed tackles” don’t show up on any official post-game stat sheets. For this game I’d love to know what the total misses and yards totaled, but I’m sure the coaching staff at Carolina has been analyzing those numbers closely since Thursday night and figuring out changes to remedy those problems. Carolina fans felt particularly let down after the game. Another SC Dad on his way out of Williams-Brice after the game ended was overheard saying to his daughter, “I came all the way out from Chicago to see this?” I was shocked into the same line of question as I selected the Cocks with all their returning experience to win the SEC East and end up in the College Football Playoff (CFP). So much for that now. With key RB Mike Davis out of action and questionable for East Carolina this Saturday, they may not win a game in their first three as Georgia, winner over Clemson (45-21), comes to Columbia the week after.
What really kills me though is the spin put on by ESPN – Hill’s accuracy, laser passes, and big numbers. Granted, we saw those things, too, but no mention was made pertaining to the horrendous play of the Gamecock defense. Credit Steve Spurrier for his honesty after the game about being outcoached and outplayed by A&M all around on Thursday evening. His body language along the sideline during the game indicated disappointment and frustration. We could only imagine the look on his face from where we sat in the upper deck. He had to have that crooked sneer of disbelief on his face. During the postgame, he commented something along the line of “How’d you like that 3-4 defense?” 3-4? 4-3? 5-2? “Spur”? Seven in the box? Dime? Nickel package? Whatever you want to call the defense, if you can’t cover receivers to prevent them from catching the ball nor tackle them, the defensive alignment doesn’t make a difference!
Hardreck Walker and A.J. Hilliard put the pressure on Dylan Thompson.
Speaking of missing tackles, we saw and heard how well ESPN can spin things to favorably present their desires in a light favorable to them – like the overall strength of the Southeast Conference. Highlights shown for the 59-31 Western Kentucky win over Bowling Green showed replays of missed tackles by Falcon defenders by the numbers on one play to show their ineffectiveness. They could have been doing exactly that for most of the 44 receptions by the Aggies against the Carolina defense. That’s probably how they got the idea for the Friday night game they televised from this game on Thursday. They showed an angle of Hill’s 14-yard TD pass to Edward Pope that was described as a “laser” as it passed the defender who was ineffectively out of position to begin with. The highlight of his five-yard TD pass to Josh Reynolds to take a 38-14 lead on the first series of the second half made no mention that he caught it before going out of the end zone while the Gamecock defender watched flatfooted near the pylon on the goal line. What kind of pass coverage was that? Is that what they teach DBs at Carolina, or did he just quit on the coverage? Short passes turned into big plays for A&M, mostly to the credit of a very weak Gamecock defense. Don’t believe me? Go back and watch the highlights yourself on their website. Turn off the sound, ESPN’s great equalizer.
It was horrible display of defensive (or rather lack of defensive) football. It looks like the SC staff may change to the 4-3 this week to get ready for East Carolina who will be running a similar offense to A&M’s next Saturday. However, the Gamecocks look more like they need a solid week of tackling drills and pass coverage, things they should have been working on since spring drills started. You now wonder what they were doing during all that time aside from reading their press clippings (or more likely blogs, fan emails, and the World Wide Web now-a-days. Maybe they should read this one instead).
First of all in the aftermath, we give credit to Aggie HC Kevin Sumlin for being a very good coach who came up a highly effective offensive plan that had the Cocks back on their spurs starting with the very first drive. They kept it going from there scoring five of the first seven times they had possession. Give Spurrier and his staff no credit for having their defense prepared to start with or making any adjustments to improve the coverage during the game. The coaching staff can’t make tackles of course, but maybe they should add someone to their staff who can teach their players how to evidiently. Get ready possibly for some more big numbers from Hill against Lamar, Rice, and SMU during the next three weeks, but maybe these programs have actually taught ther defenses some of the basics. If not, you can understand why we are all seeing and wondering why there are so many record-breaking passing performances in college football in recent years. Are the QBs that much better, or are the skills to defend against them lacking more and more?
Extra points: Our pal, Dan Donnelly of Dan’s Tailgate blog, had an urgent medical issue and regretfully couldn’t attend his first Gamecock game at Williams-Brice Stadium with us. Thankfully, we hear he’s doing better and will be traveling from his northern California home this weekend to see a good one next Saturday when Michigan State visits Oregon. We’d sure like to be at that one, too. We won’t see Dan now until Army-Navy. Check out his blog in the meantime.
Dan was able to hook me up with a couple of his acquaintances we had planned to meet in Columbia when we were both there – Kevin O’Connor and Mike (whose last name I’ve forgotten). Kevin is an Arizona State grad and a die-hard Sun Devils fan. Mark’s an Iowa grad and early in his career in the early 80s coached football at Eastern Michigan. We shared stories about times had by both of us in Iowa City. Both were in town not just to see the blow-out we witnessed on Thursday night, but both came to Colombia to watch their daughters play for Gardner-Webb in the South Carolina Women’s Volleyball Invitational. All of us had adjusted to our travel and logistical issues we had all run into getting into town, so we met up at the Holiday Inn where Mark and his wife were staying. He brought his beer cooler down to the lobby, and when Kevin showed up, he had a blender and Margarita mix all ready to make. I admired their resourcefulness as we got together on a somewhat impromptu basis. I was coordinating a beer delivery from my daughter Alex for a later tailgate party that didn’t happen as others also got started late at the lot for the 6 pm kickoff. With Kevin, Mark, and some of their family members, we went to Wild Wing Café right down Assembly Street before heading off to meet others at Williams-Brice. I see that the Runnin’ Bulldogs Ladies’ Volleyball team lost three games in Columbia over the weekend, but I can guarantee that Kevin and Mark and their families made the most for a good time between matches!
Before the game, Medal of Honor recipient Kyle Alexander, a US Marine seriously wounded in Afghanistan in 2010 and now a student at South Carolina, was on hand before the game to lead the student body in pre-game cheers.
Medal of Honor Winner Kyle Alexander leads South Carolina Student body in pregame cheers.
Navy and Ohio State players meet for a pregame hand shake.
Baltimore, Maryland – (Aug. 30, 2014) Ohio State (1-0) overcame early struggles against Navy’s triple option that gained 370 yards on the ground, and prevailed with 21 points late in the game to win in the opener for both teams, 34-17. Ohio State’s redshirt sophomore QB J.T. Barrett filled in for injured incumbent Braxton Miller and threw for 226yards and two TDs while also rushing for 50 yards in his debut.
The Mids (0-1) led at the end of the first half, 7-6, thanks to a diving TD to the pylon by DeBrandon Sanders to cap a 75-yeard scoring drive. Before intermission, Navy HC Ken Niumatalolo fumed at his offense expending their final time-out with nine seconds remaining. He wanted a few more yards to move Nick Sloan’s subsequent attempt closer to add three more points to their halftime margin. Sloan’s attempt was long enough, but wide right. USNA was even more ineffective using its time-outs in the second half which limited their ability to compete late in the game.
Navy started moving the football effectively down field during the opening drive of the third quarter to the OSU 36 until DE Joey Bosa forced a fumble on a pitch by Keenan Reynolds ( 42 yards rushing, 1 TD) and strongside LB Darron Lee scooped it up for the Buckeyes and returned it 61 yards for a 13-7 lead. Navy shocked most of the scarlet-clad crowd of 57,579 as the Mids put together a four-play drive of 84 yards to retake the lead, 14-13, with Reynolds taking it over from the one. SB Ryan Williams-Jenkins (7 carries, 118 yards) sliced through the Buckeye defense to gain 67 yards to the OSU 17 to put the Mids in scoring position quickly. However, on second and goal, Navy called time out to avoid a 5-yard delay of game penalty. It would be at least one of two wasted time-outs. After an exchange of punts, Barret fired his first pass downfield to WR Devin Smith who beat the secondary badly and went on to score 80 yards on a one-play drive to take a 20-14 lead to go into the final period. Navy had taken a second time-out after a sack during its previous offensive series. For an option team in a close game late in the game, it is very difficult to control the clock for any late scoring comeback attempts.
Buckeye defense stops Keenan Reynolds short of the goal line.
Reynolds pitches to DeBrandon Sanders around Ohio State defense for a Navy touchdown on the next play.
Early in the fourth, Navy cut the lead to 20-17 with Sloan’s 32-yard FG. By this time, Buckeye HC Urban Meyer realized that his bigger but inexperienced offensive line was beginning to wear down the Naval Academy. His team rushed nine times among the next ten plays for an 80-yard scoring drive with Ezekiel Elliot scoring from the ten. OSU now led, 27-17. Niumatalolo put his team at greater risk by using its final time-out during the scoring drive. After a short gain on a third and three for a first down, he called time out hoping the play would be reviewed and reversed, but to no avail. This was truly a big mistake. His team that completed only two of four passes for 20 yards in the passing department now had no timeouts with time running out. Guest game analyst (GGA) Barry Rappe, an Ohio state grad and fan I attended the game with along with his son Mike and a friend Mike ( aka “Jeff’), a rabid Buckeye fan, questioned why Navy now ran the ball up the middle on all three plays of its next series in which OSU forced them into a three and out. He noted how well Navy optioned around the ends throughout and could only stop the clock now by running out of bounds. The Buckeyes took over from their 30. They overpowered Navy rushing the ball while eating away the minutes. Barrett finalized the score with a nine-yard pass to Michael Thomas for the OSU win, 34-17. Ohio State remained on the field with the Mid players to listen to the alma mater “Navy Blue and Gold” as part of a USNA tradition, win or lose. Navy returned the same respect in front of the Ohio State’s Marching Band known as “The Best Damned Band in the Land” while they played their school song, “Carmen Ohio.” The Buckeyes could and would never do this with Michigan! TBDBITL dotted the “i” in Script Ohio during their halftime performance.
Ohio State hosts Virginia Tech next Saturday. Tech bested William and Mary in its opener, 34-9. Navy goes to Philly for a 1 pm kickoff against Temple, a 37-7 winner over Vanderbilt of the SEC last Thursday, at “The Linc”. Navy will join Temple and ten other teams next season as a football member of the American Athletic Conference.
Extra points: Barry had gotten us tickets early and could only get them as part of a hospitality package with a pregame tailgate. We’re not complaining, however, there were plenty of empty seats available for a pretty good game at M&T Stadium. Plenty of seats were even blocked when Barry looked into the tickets. We wonder if a strategy to draw a big crowd backfired to scare a lot of potential buyers away. Crab cakes, macaroni and cheese, some kind of tortillas, and beer, wine and sodas were available under tents. We sat with a bunch of local Ohio State fans. I was the only one in Tent 23 wearing a blue jersey.
I stepped out for my interview on the radio with Pete Spadora on his show “Spadora on Sports.” I think Pete is impressed now with my analysis of this game. We will do it again on September 13 at 10:30 am the day of the Rutgers Big Ten debut at home against Penn State. I will be wearing blue among the red at that venue, too.
Had a great burger after the game at a downtown bar and grill (Pete’s? Gotta check with Barry) after the game. The bartender there hustled as she had no table help to serve food to customers sitting outside as well as inside. I’m keeping this in mind when we return on December 13 to Baltimore for this year’s Army-Navy game. I guarantee that we won’t be sitting outside because I’ll guarantee that it will be to coldest Saturday of the year there. That’s part of the tradition for the Army-Navy game!
Ohio State Drum Major leads Script Ohio at halftime.
Towson, Maryland – (Aug. 30, 2014) I left Baltimore around 5:30 that evening. With an FCS game a short distance away at 6 pm featuring last season’s FCS playoff runner up at Johnny Unitas Stadium for the first time, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity, especially with two days off for Labor Day coming up. In addition, their opponent, Central Connecticut State, despite a 3-8 record a year ago, starred a bona fide preseason All-American in All-purpose RB Rob Holloman. The Towson Tigers enter the 2014 season as defending Colonial Athletic Conference champs ranked No. 7 in the nation despite a lot of key losses to graduation. Their 2013 star RB, Terrance West, was drafted this past spring in the third round by the Cleveland Browns. HC Rob Ambrose in his sixth season returns with 29 wins, two CAA championships, and two FCS playoff entrants in the past three seasons. The Blue Devils of the Northeast Conference look to turn things around with Rob Holloman who rushed for over 1,000 yards the last two seasons and appears on the FCS watch list for the Walter Payton Award, the equivalent of the Heisman Trophy in the FCS. This looked like an interesting game to cap off my first weekend of college football.
I got to Johnny U. Stadium during the first minute of play and moved to the press box side opposite the “visiting” stands filled in substantially by the Towson student body and band primarily wearing bright yellow t-shirts for “Gold Rush” night. It sounds like pledge week for their frats and sororities. They had a great turnout to support the team through the first half any way.
The Central Connecticut Blue Devils get comfortable in front of the Towson University student section.
Both teams struggled early trying to establish an offensive rhythm in their first game as only a missed FG by CCSU was the only possession not resulting in a punt during the first quarter. Early in the second, Towson QB Connor Frazier raced for a 24-yard touchdown run on a QB draw play. Rob Holloman returned the ensuing kick 44 yards. The Blue Devil drive resulted in a 38-yard TD pass from Nick SanGiacomo (22 for 28, 273 yards, 2 TDS) to WR Tyrell Holmes ( 4 catches, 102 yards, 1 TD) to knot the score 7-7, and that’s the way things stood going into the second half as neither team mounted another scoring threat. The Towson band and dance team entertained at halftime before the band got the student body pumped up as part of the interactive festivities in the stands. It’s rare to see a visitor’s bench in front of the home student section, its band, and their cheerleaders, and everything else. It should be a supposedly intimidating factor at a small school venue with a capacity of 11,198 that gets a pretty good student turnout. Were the Blue Devils intimidated?
Both teams were still trying to overcome early season sluggishness on offense when CCSU started a drive at TU’s 49 midway through the third. SanGiacomo connected with Holloman on a drag pattern across the middle in the end zone for a five-yard scoring pass with 7:00 remaining in the quarter. A botched snap of the PAT left the Devils with a 13-7 lead. After a kick out of bounds, Towson started from its own 35 and was forced to punt from their 39, but a roughing the kicker call sustained their drive. RB Darius Victor (19 carries for 105 and 1 TD) bulled his way to the seven before he took it over right tackle for a seven-yard TD and a one-point Tiger lead. Both offenses seemed to finally find some life. All American candidate Rob Holloman ( 161 rush yards, 48 passing yards, 64 kickoff return yards, and seven punt return yards) blasted through the Tiger defense for a 74-yard burst to the three of TU before he took it over from there. The Devils converted a reverse end around with Willie Quarles running it around the left side for the two-point conversion and a 21-14 lead. Later in the period, Towson DE Drew Cheripko recovered a SanGiacomo fumble and TU took over at CCSU’s 19. On the very next play, Frazier (14 for 25, 125 passing yards, 1 TD, 80 yards rushing and 2 TDs) connected with TE Tanner Vallely who hauled it in about ten yards out to even the score 21-21 with 25 ticks left in the third. The game looked like it would go down to the wire.
Darius Victor (7) on the move for the Towson Tigers.
Holloman returned the next kick out to the 41. This drive resulted in a 32-yard FG by Ed Groth. Trailing now 24-21, Frazier took the snap at Central’s 49, broke off left tackle and ran unscathed the length of the field for a 49-yard score. The extra point was missed, but Towson seemed in control again on defense forcing Central to punt from the 33, but a roughing the kicker call against TU this time kept the Blue Devils on offense. Facing a staunch Tiger defense on a fourth and 13 at the TU 36 with 1:18 remaining, San Giacomo found Joey Fields for a 34-yard pass play to convert for a first down at the two of TU. At the: 36 mark, Holloman scored his third touchdown of the day from there to take the lead and go ahead, 31-27. Towson’s offense with the help of an interference call got into striking range at Central’s 30 for a last gasp pass into the end zone, but the ball bounced off someone’s hands and out of bounds as time expired. With no TV coverage at this game, the officials raced off the field to the locker room, and Central Connecticut pulled off their season opener upset over the No. 7 Tigers, 31-27. It was a fantastic finish to a three-game weekend. The lower divisions may not be as talented as the FBS, but playing amongst themselves, the game of college football is still exciting!
Rob Holloman moves the Tiger line for the final score.
Next week, Towson steps up for a money grab when it shows up in Morgantown to play West Virginia, loser to Alabama last Saturday, 33-23. What’s the sense (oh, cents!)? CCSU tries to build momentum for a successful season when they host a newer CAA squad, the Albany Great Danes, at Arute Field.
Extra points: For his performance, Holloman was named not only Northeast conference Player of the week, but FCS offensive player of the week. HE tallied 280 all-purpose yards and three TDs.
Johnny Unitas had three of his kids attend Towson. He was committed to the school’s fundraising as community liaison for the athletics department. In 1992, He passed away less than a week after throwing his last pass to celebrate the opening of Towson’s new stadium, which he was assisting in finding naming rights for. His wife Sandy carried out the fundraising in his place and supposedly quite successfully as she attained the sponsorships for the venue now named Johnny Unitas Stadium.
Besides Terrance West, Towson presently has three other former players in the NFL. For Giants fans like myself, here are two Towson grad of note who helped the Giants win a Super Bowl – PR specialist/RB Dave Meggett and P Sean Landeta.
Fantastic finish to our first weekend of the 2014 college football season!