Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Bowl Recap: Back on the Winning Track

Motor City Bowl
Central Michigan
31, Middle Tennessee 14
LINE: CMU -8 1/2
MY PICK: CMU 31-17

MY REC: 3-5

Crawling back towards the .500 mark, one bowl at a time.

That's my motto.

As I predicted yesterday the Chippewas had no trouble defeating the Blue Raiders of MTSU in the Motor City Bowl. Interestingly enough it was the first time a team from Michigan played in the game.

Although sensational CMU quarterback Dan LeFevour did not have his best game (16-26, 162 yards, 1TD; 15 carries, 69 yds, TD) he did enough on the Chippewas' first couple of drives to set the tempo for the game.

Central Michigan scored the first TD just 4 minutes into the game after a 9 play, 69-yard drive, then added another score on a 4 play, 78-yard drive culminating in a 29-yard TD pass from LeFevour to Ontario Sneed that took just :51 seconds and CMU took a 21-7 lead into halftime.

Any thoughts of a comeback were squelched when Central Michigan's Doug Kress intercepted MTSU QB Clint Marks on the first drive of the second half and returned the pick 56 yards for a touchdown, bulging the lead to 28-7 and it was all over but the partying around Ford Field.

I have now crept back to within 2 games of being even with the heart of the season just beginning.

There is only one bowl tonight (Emerald Bowl), but after that there will be a veritable plethora of games from here on out- 3 tomorrow, 5 Friday, 3 Saturday, one on Sunday (NFL takes priority) and then the 6 game New Years Day extravaganza.

Time to focus and redeem myself, so I can avoid earning the title of World's Worst Gambler for yet another year (we won't mention my horrendous NFL picks this week.)

Tonight's Game: Bowl #9
Emerald Bowl
FSU (6-6) vs. UCLA (7-5)
San Francisco, 8PM ESPN

Need to Know:
Although only one game separates these two storied teams they are on opposite sides of the spectrum as far as direction is concerned.

UCLA ended the season with 3 consecutive wins culminating in the world-shocking upset of then #2 USC on the final Saturday of the regular season. The victory knocked the bitter crosstown rival out of the national championship game and cemented the fact that coach Karl Dorrell's rebuilding effort at "the other L.A.-area" school is working.

Florida State meanwhile is staring down the barrel of Bobby Bowden's first losing season in his 30 years at the school. Despite playing in its 25th consecutive bowl game the school is more accustomed to playing on or around New Year's Day, not 5 days prior.

This game marks the earliest bowl the team has played in since the 1990 Blockbuster Bowl.

A lackluster offense, something the traditionally explosive 'Noles are not used to, is to blame for the fall from grace and resulted in offensive coordinator/Bobby's son/fan whipping boy Jeff Bowden to relieve himself of his duties following this game.

The numbers don't lie: FSU is ranked 80th nationally in yards/game (332), 39th in passing yards (236) and a staggering 103rd in rushing YPG (95); it is also averaging a mere 26 PPG, only good for 47th in the country. It's a far cry from the numbers posted by high-scoring Noles offenses of yesteryear.

But those squads had signal callers like Charlie Ward, Chris Weinke and yes even Chris Rix running the offense. This team has had the two-headed sophomore tandem of immobile Drew Weatherford (1829 yds, 11TDs, 10 INTs) and mobile-but-less-accurate Xavier Lee (885 yards, 7TDs, 5INTs.) Neither one has been able to find the spark that could light a fire in the offense.

UCLA's offense isn't any better than FSU's (22 PPG, 71st in NCAA), but recently inserted starting QB Patrick Cowan has provided a spark, especially with his ability to run, and his performance vs. USC (12-21, 114 yards; 10 rushes, 55 yards, TD) was the difference in the game.

It will be the defense that rules this contest, and both teams boast solid, star-studded units.

Players to Watch:
The Bruins defense is anchored by a pair of fierce defensive ends, Justin Hickman & Bruce Davis, who are tied for 2nd in the country with 12.5 sacks each. The pair were also 1-2 in tackles for loss in the Pac-10, Davis with 17 and Hickman with 18.5. Expect to see these boys in the NFL real soon.

The 12th ranked run defense is led by SS Chris Horton and LB Christian Taylor. In other words, don't expect the 'Noles' feeble rushing attack to come alive vs. this unit.

The Florida State defense was the highlight of the miserable season. Ranked 15th in the nation in total defense, the group is loaded with talent: LBs Buster Davis & Lawrence Timmons, DB's Myron Rolle & Tony Carter, and NFL-bound DT Andre Fluellen.

In the kicking game the Bruins boast one of the top kickers in the nation, Justin Medlock, who has misses only 4 field goals all year (26-40); he's money from inside 40 yards (2021) and can hit 'em from beyond midfield as well (2-2.)

Meanwhile Gary Cismesia has kept alive a long tradition of FSU kickers who fail in the clutch. Despite hitting a game-winner vs. Miami, he has missed 4 straight kicks and made only 11 of 17 all year. And don't ask him to make one from 40-49 yards- he's a miserable 2 for 7 from that range.

The game is being played at the San Francisco Giants stadium, AT&T Park, forcing both teams to occupy the same sidelines, a rarity in college football.

As I said this should be a defensive battle, one that is heavy on (attempting) to run with a few occasional passes thrown in for good measure.

Since the Noles absolutely cannot run the football (former RB phenom Lorenzo Booker had a mere 525 yards rushing and 2 TDs) the advantage goes to UCLA, whose capable running attack is led by junior Chris Markey (963 yards, 2TDs) and Cowan.

There should be plenty of hard hits to please the "jacked-up" crowd and my guess is somehow a field goal comes into play in this one. Being a bowl game look for Bobby to pull out a trick play or two.

But something tells me the Noles aren't going to be too pumped up to travel 3000 miles to play on a baseball diamond in a game named after the Diamond Walnuts product.
UCLA 17, FSU 13

No comments: