Saturday, November 04, 2006

College Football Week 10 Wrap up

I told everyone this weekend was Speedbump Saturday. Unfortunately some teams treated that speedbump like a teenager in his first sports car would- you know, gun the engine and try to fly over the yellow bump, only to bottom out and scrape his undercarriage so badly that he destroys any hopes at a tile shot.

Sorry for the mixed metaphors, but some of the top teams in the country treated this weekend like a vacation preceding brutal, title-deciding matches in the next 3 weeks. But rather than gently cruising through the safety zone of soft scheduling they tried to race ahead to the next game and nearly got caught on the outside looking in. Let's review:

Ohio State & Michigan almost blow the Game of the Year
Ohio State 17, Illinois 10; Michigan 34, Ball St. 26
Hey guys, wouldn't it be funny if the top two teams in the country both lost to bottom feeders two weeks before their marquee matchup in Columbus? No? Well that almost happened today as the Buckeyes & Wolverines clearly came down with a bad case of "looking ahead disease", nearly gagging to two teams that were a combined 5-13. Ohio State was cruising against the hapless Illini (over/under on how quick Ron Zook gets the boot after the season? 3 days) leading 17-0 at the half and holding Illinois to 72 total yards, 43 coming on 1 play. But in the 2nd half the energized Illini put up 161 yards and 10 4th quarter points as the Buckeyes were lucky to hang on in Champaign despite QB Troy Smith's Heisman-denting effort(13-23,108yds, no TDs, 1 pick.) As for the Wolverines, somehow they let David Letterman's alma mater hang in against one of the better defenses in the land; the 26 points were the most allowed by Michigan all year. If it weren't for the running of Mike Hart (154yds, 1TD) and Brandon Minor (108yds, 1TD) Michigan might have been crying over what could have been this season. Even the return of receiver Mario Manningham couldn't keep the Cardinals at bay, as Manningham finished with no catches after missing 3+ games. Want proof that these guys were looking down the road instead of at the speed bump in front of them? "I think that is a lot of the reason why we weren't focused," Michigan's quarterback Chad Henne said. "Coming into the game, people were reading too many press clippings." 'Nuff said.
Watch out guys, big clashes with Northwestern(3-7) & Indiana (5-5) await next week.

USF pounds Pitt, 22-12
MY PICK: Pitt 31-24
Wasn't it just like 2 weeks ago that Pittsburgh was one of the best teams in the Big East, possessors of an ultra-efficient offense and a stifling defense? All that seems like a distant memory now as the Panthers lost their 2nd straight game, today to an opportunistic Bulls squad. In a mistake-filled affair(both teams combined for 7 turnovers) USF took advantage of a fake punt on 4th down on their opening dribe an turned it into a 22-yd touchdown by Taurus Johnson for an early 7-0 lead. The Bulls defense harassed Pitt QB Tyler Palko into one of his worst games of the year (12-25, 189yds, 1TD, 3INTs), while USF QB Matt Groethe lead 2 first half scoring drives and had a 43-yard touchdown to Amarri Jackson late in the 3rd before leaving with an injury to his right foot. It was a great win for USF, who became bowl eligible with their 6th victory, and it was another disappointing loss for Dave Wannested's boys. Oh right, they're coached by Dave Wannested- that explains the late-season collapse!

19Clemson falls again, 14-12 at home to Maryland
The Tigers are in a situation similar to Pitt's, where just 2 weeks ago Clemson was coming off a 31-7 annihilation of Georgia Tech that put them at 7-1 and looking like the cream of the 1-loss crop. Then came a humbling 24-7 loss to the Hokies on Thursday Night Football and now a humiliating home loss to the suddenly surging Terps (7-2, 4-1 tied with Wake for 1st in the ACC Atlantic.) Looks like the cream has curdled. In the GTech beating the Tigers ran for 321 yards, 216 by James Davis. Today they could only muster 143 on the ground and Davis was held to 90 on 20 carries and no TDs. In fact the entire Clemson offense consisted of four Jad Dean (love that name) FGs, this from a squad that was the nation's top scoring offense two weeks ago. So the focus now shifts away from the Tigers and onto big Ralph Friedgen's Terps; Fear The Turtle!

BC denied on last minute rally, lose 21-14 to Wake
MY PICK: BC 24-19
A mistake-prone Eagles team ran into a jacked up Demon Deacon squad that was hosting one of the biggest games in school history. Three turnovers, including 2 interceptions in the end zone an a key 4th quarter fumble, coupled with 10 penalties for 70 yards helped doom the Eagles despite QB Matt Ryan's career day (40-57, 402, 1TD, 2INTs.) Trailing 14-7 at the half, Wake scored a back-breaking touchdown early in the 3rd: running back Kevin Marion faked a handoff on an end around, kept it, and scampered 81 yards for the 5th longest touchdown in Demon Deacon history. Wake's defense took care of the rest as they picked Ryan in the end zone with under a minute to play to snuff out any hopes of another BC overtime game (which I did predict, by the way.) The win places Wake at the top of the ACC Atlantic division, tied with Maryland, and wouldn't you know, the two end the season facing each other in College Park. But big games against the Noles & Hokies must be played first.

Noles finally score an impressive win, 33-0 over Virginia
Maybe this will squelch the Fire Bobby and/or Jeff Bowden talk for a week or so. The Seminoles(5-4, 3-4) finally went out and dominated a team from start to finish, something they have failed to do all season, in a 33-point thrashing of the Cavaliers. DB Tony Carter once again provided a spark, scoring on a 35-ytard interception return just over a minute into the game, and QB Xavier Lee (12-25, 184, 1TD, no INTs) did just enough to earn his first home victory as a starter; injured quarterback Drew Weatherford was in uniform and actually came in to mop up for Lee, so we'll see how that plays out. But the Noles have to be happy that they put together one whole football game of consistent, quality play, no matter who the opponent. They got 343 total yards of offense including 118 on the ground, and held the Cavs (4-6, 3-3) to just 190 total yards. So the Noles get a much needed win and perhaps a necessary QB controversy heading into the final 3 games of the year. it looks like Papa Bowden should at least make it till then. And it's always sweet to defeat the Cavs, still exciting payback for that crappy call in the Warrick Dunn Game in Charlottesville in 1995.


Friday, November 03, 2006

College Football Week 10 Preview

In ESPN parlance this weekend could be called 'Speedbump Saturday'. That's because it's as if the schedule makers are telling everyone to slow down, catch their breath after all the exciting games of the past few weeks and taste some cupcakes & creampuffs while biding our time until November 18th. There are so many big games that day (Michigan/Ohio St, Cal/USC, Auburn/Alabama, Florida/ Western Carolina) that the powers that be decided to throw a speed bump into week 10, just to take things down a notch before the hype machine ramps up again. I mean how else can you explain a schedule of winners like 1Ohio State at Illinois(2-7), 9USC at Stanford(0-8) and Michigan vs. Ball State(Ball State)?

As a matter of fact the irony of it all is that the best game of the weekend was probably played on Thursday night, the epic West Virginia/Louisville clash. Pretty sad when the best game on the slate happens before the weekend is even officially underway. And wouldn't you know we have no Little League game tomorrow due to a Majors tournament. Ay caramba.

So with this lull in the action I decided to take the time to post my first official Heisman Trophy candidate list. I like to wait until there have been enough games to weigh the contenders by their on-field accomplishments, not their pre-season press clippings and a bunch of bad guess-timations (hey experts, guess what?-Brady Heisman lock Quinn will not be going to New York for the ceremony.) But here's my 5 who will be attending:

1.) Troy Smith, QB, Ohio State(9-0)
Stats: 145-214, 1,898 yards, 22 TDs (4th in NCAA), 2 INTs;169 yards rushing,1 TD
Smith is clearly head & shoulders above all the other candidates right now. This kid is so electrifying that he is one of those players you watch with baited breath every time he touches the ball, a-la Reggie Bush or Mike Vick. Although he does have talent around him, without his arm & legs this team would be nowhere near the top of the polls right now.
vs. #2Texas, 9/9: 269 yards & 2TDs in the first 1vs.2 reg-season matchup in 10 years, won by the Buckeyes 24-7
@ #13Iowa, 9/30: 186 yards & 4TDs, his last with 4 minutes to go put a capper on a 38-17 OSU statement win
vs. Penn St, 9/23: 12-22, 115 yards, 1TD, 2 INTs (his only 2 picks of the year) Smith had his worst game against Jo-Pa's Nittny Lion defense in a 28-6 victory
GAMES LEFT: @Illinois, @N'Western, 2Michigan

Whenever the Buckeyes either get in trouble or need to score Smith has gotten the job done. He is talented, athletic, smart and above all else, clutch. If he goes on to have a big game vs. the Wolverines in two weeks he can start clearing a space on his mantle.

2.tie) Steve Slaton, RB, 3West Virginia(7-1)
Stats: 169 carries, 1215 yards (4th in NCAA), 10 TDs; 18recs, 242 yards
Many pundits are saying that Slaton lost the race when he fumbled on 2 consecutive possessions early in the 2nd half in that Mountaineer loss to Louisville; I say that's bull. How can a guy who has had a season like he has lose an award based on 2 plays? It's ridiculous. For my money this kid has been money all season, despite the 2 drops (which may have been caused by an elbow injury.)
vs. Marshall, 9/2: 203 yards on 33 carries, 2TDs in the first game of the season
vs. Maryland, 9/14: 195 yards, 2TDs
BAD GAMES:@ E. Carolina, 9/23: 80 yards on 24 carries, no TDs (only time kept out of end zone all year)
@Louisville, 11/2: 156 yards, 1TD, 2 fumbles
GAMES LEFT: Cincy, @Pitt, So. Fla, 15Rutgers
Factoring him in for his normal per game average of 151/ YPG and I would say he still has a very good shot at finishing 2nd to Smith, fumbles or no fumbles. Plus you have to account for the fact that he would have more TDs if it weren't for the presence of bruising fullback Owen Schmitt.

2.tie) Ray Rice, RB, 15Rutgers (8-0)
Stats: 223 carries, 1203 yards (5th in NCAA), 13 TDS(5th in NCAA)
It is safe to say that without ray rice the Scarlet Knights would not be ranked in the top 15 right now. heck they would not even be ranked if it weren't for this dazzling sophomore's hard-nosed, game-changing running. The kid has had 3 games of over 200 yards rushing, and his 150/YPG has gone down due to 2 subpar efforts in the last 3 weeks.
@ N.Carolina, 9/2: 201 yards on 31 carries & 3 TDs in season opener
@USF, 9/29: 202 yards on 35 carries, 2 TDs, basically single-handedly beat the Bulls at RayJay
@Pitt, 10/29: 225 yards on a monstrous 39 carries & 1 score-this monster game not only helped knock off a good Pitt squad, but it put him on the Heisman radar.
@Navy, 10/14: 93 yards on 21 carries, no scores for the only time this year; RU still won 34-0.
vs.Conn, 10/29: 79 yards on 22 carries for a meager (for him) 3.6YPC, 1TD
GAMES LEFT: 5L'Ville Thursday night,@ Cincy, 'Cuse, @W.Virginia
His stock dropped considerably after that stinker vs. the Huskies on national TV Sunday night, but with those two huge games still left on the schedule, Rice still has a very good chance at jumping into 2nd place alone, possibly-dare I say it-actually winning it depending on how everything else shakes out.

2.tie) James Davis, RB, 19Clemson(7-2)
Stats: 151 carries, 991 yards, 17TDs(2nd in NCAA)
Davis may not have as impressive numbers as the other guys, but anyone who saw him rip off 216 yards against Georgia Tech like he was playing in high school knows how impressive this sophomore is. Plus he has been splitting time with freshman phenom C.J. Spiller, who ran for 115 in that game, so his numbers have been reduced.
vs. Ga Tech, 10/21: 216 yards on just 21 carries for a whopping 10.3 average, including a 54-yd score, plus another TD in a 31-7 blowout.@ Temple, 10/12: 138 yards on 9 carries (15.3YPC!) and 3 TDs; granted it was Temple, but hey, 15 yards per carry is awesome against anyone
@ Va Tech, 10/26: 12 carries for 30 yards, but he was coming off an injury from the GaTech game
@ FSU, 9/16: 19 carries for 87 yards in a national spotlight game that Clemson won, 27-20
GAMES LEFT: Maryland, NC St, S. Carolina
Three games left to make a move, but if he is still injured he has no chance to climb over the other 2 guys. He will need another 200+ yard game, starting with the Terps today.
And that's my list. Only 4 candidates right now are deemed worthy enough by yours truly to make the trip to Manhattan for the ceremony. But a lot could change in the next 4 weeks, so I will be updating this list on a weekly basis from here on out. Here are a few guys who deserve mention & could move up in the coming weeks:
Garrett Wolfe, RB, N.Illionois- the nation's leading rushing leader(1479 yards) loses points for playing in the MAC, but his numbers(14 TDs, 21 catches for 221 yds) for his size (5'7"!)are hard to ignore
Calvin Johnson, WR, GaTech- exciting Yellow Jacket reciever saw his stock plummet like a boulder with his zer catch performance in that loss to Clemson; still has great stats: 40 recs, 627 yds, 9TDs
Brady Quinn, QB, ND- the preseaon fave has put up decent numbers(2233yds, 21TDs) but his performance in their painful loss to Michigan(28-48, 234yds,3INTs) really hurt him
There actually are a few decent games on tap today, so let's take a look at 3 games to keep an eye on:

Pittsburgh (6-2) @ South Florida (5-3) 12:00
This is an intriguing match because it features two of the best passers in the Big East, top-rated Pitt senior Tyler Palko (1,830 yards, 18TDs) and USF freshman sensation Matt Grothe (1,435 yards, 9TDs.) As these guys go so goes their offense as neither team runs the ball very well (USF is 5th, Pitt 6th in the 8 team conference), so it should be an aerial display over the skies of Ray Jay. Pitt is coming off that home stunner to Rutgers, 20-10, when the Scarlet Knights just punched them in the mouth. The Bulls know that feeling, having been punked by Ray Rice & Co. a month ago at home. The Panthers need this game in order to get a marquee bowl; USF needs a win to become bowl eligible. Have at it boys, just don't mess up the field too badly for the Saints/Bucs game on Sunday.
MY PICK: Panthers 31, Bulls 24

13LSU(6-2, 2-2 SEC West) @ 8Tennessee(7-1, 3-1 SEC East), 3:30 CBS
The Tigers are still licking their wounds from their 23-10 loss to the Gators a month ago, and although they've gotten healthy at the expense of Fresno St. & Kentucky(combined 87-6 score) they would like nothing better than to knock off a highly ranked team to regain some of their stature. But Tennessee is a little perturbed coming into this SEC clash: although they are 8th in the AP, the BCS bozos have them ranked at #11, closing them out of a big time bowl if the season ended today. So they need a statement win as well, but that could be difficult against that Tiger defense (8/PPG allowed) if QB Erik Ainge (2213 yds, 16 TDs, who sprained his ankle last week and has hardly practiced, can't go or is hobbled. If Ainge is unable to make it, and freshman Johnathan Crompton has to get in there against those snarling Tigers, things could get ugly at the giant Purina Checkerboard .
MY PICK: LSU 17, Vols 16

16Boston College(7-1, 3-1 ACC Atl) @ 22Wake Forest (7-1, 3-1 ACC Atl), 7:00, ESPN2
Who woulda thunk at the beginning of the year that this game would be a battle for supremacy in the ACC Atlantic Division? But that's just what this prime-time tilt turned out to be as the Eagles, who were expected to contend for the crown, battle the upstart Demon Deacons, who were not. Ever. I mean this is the start of college basketball season in Winston Salem, not time for big football games. But that's exactly what they've got on their hands down in tobacco country, thanks to an overachieveing bunch of kids led by QB Riley Skinner (1101 yds, 5TDs0 and RBs Kelvin Harris (344yds,4TDs) and De'Angelo Bryant(293yds, 3TDs), and an agressive defense that allows only 15PPG. BC will have their hands full, especially if QB Matt Ryan is still hobbled by an ankle sprain. Coach O'Brien gave him the week off last week against Buffalo to get him ready for this one, so hopefully he'll be able to go the whole game. If he does, look for a competitive game that might go to OT.
MY PICK: Eagles 24, Deacons 19


Bad news for Twins & their phenom hurler Liriano

Minnesota Twins rookie lefty Francisco Liriano, considered a front-runner for the Rookie of the Year award before he went down with arm troubles in August, has been told he will need Tommy John surgery on his elbow and is expected to miss the entire 2007 season.

This comes as a huge blow to the Twins, who had high hopes for the deadly combo of Johan Cy-tana and Liriano leading the way to playoff glory in the coming years. Once Liriano, a hard-throwing 23-year-old from the Dominican who went 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA before getting hurt, went down for good in September after attempting an aborted comeback the Twins rotation was exposed for being extremely thin. When Santana lost the first game of the ALDS against the A's the Twinks had no shot at defeating the deeply-staffed Oakland team.
So why do all these promising young hurlers become afflicted with serious arm ailments early in their careers? Todd Van Poppel, Jason Isringhausen, Kerry Wood, Mark Prior & Johnathan Papelbon, all hard-throwing young pitchers who have seen their careers derailed by devastating arm/shoulder/elbow problems. Some, like Izzy, have gone on to recover from their surgery 7 have a productive career. Other, like Wood & prior, seem unlike of ever regaining their once unhittable pre-injury form.

And still others, like Liriano and fellow ROY candidate Papelbon, will have to wait & see if they come through their dark times unscathed.

But all I know is someone has got to be responsible for preventing these injuries from ocurring so often to keep from destroying the careers of the games brightest young stars.


Thursday, November 02, 2006

Louisville Slugged: Cards drop Mountaineers, 44-34

We're Number 3, we're Number 3, we're Number 3!"

Contrary to what Public Enemy rapped so many years ago, when it comes to Louisville and West Virginia you most certainly CAN believe the hype. For the second consecutive season the Cardinals and Mountaineers played a thrilling slugfest: last year's 44-43, 3OT heart-stopper, and now this year's wacky & wildly entertaining 44-34 Cardinal victory. This game had it all, including numerous fumbles & players tripping over themselves, a power outage, punt returns for touchdowns, fumble returns for touchdowns and over 1000 combined yards of total offense.

With the win the 5th ranked Cardinals clearly moved ahead of the 2nd ranked Mountaineers and most likely jumped the 4th ranked Texas Longhorns(BCS) and Florida Gators(AP) for sole possession of 3rd place in both polls. But more than that it was a statement win for a team in desperate need of national recognition. All week long leading up to this game the talk was about West Virginia and their two phenomenal, Heisman-caliber players, QB Pat White & RB Steve Slaton. It was as if the Cardinals were an afterthought to the Mountaineers' march to the Fiesta Bowl, home of this year's National Championship game. The only mention of Louisville was to refer to their 17-point 4th quarter meltdown in the loss last year in Morgantown. I didn't hear one analyst pick "The Ville" in this one, but my buddy Ira tells me Doug Flutie did choose them; of course another Boston boy was smart enough to see what was going to happen.
In the words of Chicago Bob, "Coalmine, moonshine, West Virginia's movin' on down the line."

You can only kick a dog so much when he's down, and from the start it was apparent that the Cardinals were clearly ready for this tilt. They came out guns blazing, determined to give the high-powered Mountaineers the game of their lives, and they started on the opening drive. QB Brian Brohm(19-26, 353yds, 1TD), nursing his surgically-repaired right thumb, marched the Cards right down the field and appeared to be heading for a TD until a sack stalled the drive and they had to settle for a 39-yd FG. After the teams traded scoreless drives, WV got on the board thanks to a 42-yd TD run by Slaton-if you haven't seen this kid play then you are really missing out- he is a special player who has moves on top of moves & a 6th gear to blow by would-be tacklers, which is exactly what he did on this jaunt. That made it 7-3 Mountaineers after 1 quarter, but the lead would be short-lived.

Louisville started the 2nd quarter by scoring 10 quick points on yet another FG (they were stalling in the red zone all night) and a 10 yard TD run by Tampa's own Anthony Allen, a bruising 6'1" freshman who has jumped to second on the depth chart thanks to his strong running.

Anthony Allen is yet another talented Tampa product-and he's a frosh

That made the score 13-7 Cards, but in a game that resembled a heavyweight fight, Pat White & the Mountaineers landed the next big blow. They marched 81 yards in 2:12 behind White's 40 yard pass & run to Darius Reynaud and 3 straight QB keepers, the last ending in a 2-yd TD. The see-saw affair continued, now 14-13, but it would end up being West Virginia's last lead of the chilly night.

True to form the Cards answered with an 11-play, 76-yard drive of their own in a quick 3:00, highlighted by a 36-yd pass to Mario Urrutia(6recs, 113yds,1TD) and 4 runs by Allen. Although the drive ended in yet another field goal, Louisville took a 16-14 lead into halftime, and that would prove to be the last time the two teams were that close on the scoreboard.

The second half began with some of the craziest happenings in a college football game in years. The Mountaineers received the ball and Slaton ripped of a 30-yard run to get near midfield, but on the next play he was hit and the ball knocked loose; Louisville recovered and had the ball at their 41 after a personal foul penalty (there were 6 of them in the game combined.) Now it was the Ville's turn to gag, as Brohm found receiver Jimmy Riley along the left sideline for a 27-yard gain, but Riley, a seldom-used senior given a chance to play by Coach Petrino, fumbled the ball at the 12 to give it right back. This is when things really got strange. A power failure knocked out many banks of stadium lights. Now the irony is that the night was dubbed "Blackout Night", as the fans all wore black and the players wore their menacing black unis. Talk about divine intervention. What happened next was the stuff of ESPN Classic games. Slaton took the handoff again and proceeded to immediately fumble again, this time the ball scooped up Malik Jackson and returned 15 yards for a touchdown. All of this took place within the first 3 minutes of the half. But the real bad news was that Slaton apparently injured his left arm or hand and came out of the game. He was seen repeatedly flexing his hand on the sideline, and he missed the rest of the 3rd quarter with whast was described as a hit to the funny bone. WVU quickly went 3 & out, and the ensuing punt was short (27yds) & to the wrong side of the field (away from the Mountaineer coverage) and Louisville's Trent Guy scampered 40 yards nearly untouched for a backbreaking score that made it 30-14 and signified that the Cards were not going to be denied on this evening.

Slaton did return and the teams traded scores for a while, but it was too little, too late. The point was emphasized in this game was that although the Mountaineers are a devastating ground team, without their top gun Slaton their offense sputters and looks inconsistent, and their defense isn't good enough to stop a potent offense.White was a one-man show in keeping his team in the game despite a foot injury suffered in the 3rd, both with his legs (23 carries, 125 yards, 4TDs) and his arm (13-20, 222yds) , but without Slaton this becomes a very one dimensional team. Throw in the fact that West Virginia absolutely could not stop the Cardinals at any point in the game, and it really begs the question if the Mountaineers were truly the top 3 team they were supposed to be. And the Cards proved to be very deep at both running back and receiver. Check out these stats:
RB Kolby Smith-13 carries, 73 yards, several big runs
WR Mario Urrutia- hometown boy made huge catches (6recs,113yds,1TD)
WR Harry Douglas-6 recs, 116 yards

And even though they didn't run for nearly what they normally do (only 114 yards, 100 below their average), the arm of Brohm was more than enough to keep them moving the chains.

So the first time West Virginia faces a quality opponenet they fold like a house of Cards, and it wasn't due to the surprise blackout.

It was purely the result of an extremely good, underrated blacked-out Louisville team.

Brohm is most certainly the BMOC in the Ville


Top 5 throwdown will decide who's the Beast of the East

3 West Virginia (7-0) at 5 Louisville (7-0)
7:30PM ESPN Papa John's Stadium

The revamped Big East gets their first marquee matchup after 2 years of ridicule & doubt concerning the strength of the conference.
When Miami, Boston College and Virginia Tech fled the Big East like Wesley Snipes evading the IRS and were replaced with Conference USA cast-offs Louisville, South Florida and Cincinnati, most 'experts' believed the conference would be down for a long time.

Here we are two seasons later and two of the top 5 teams in the country reside in the Big East, and those two offensive powerhouses square off tonight in a showdown that is dripping with National Championship ramifications.

The West Virginia Mountaineers were the chic pick at the beginning of the season to have a monster year after coach Rich Rodriguez guided them to an 11-1 record including a Sugar Bowl victory over Georgia last year, and they haven't disappointed. They boast 2 of the most explosive offensive players in the country in quarterback Pat White, who is a threat to pass or run, compiling 1441 total yards and 15 TDs as a the dual threat captain that makes the offense go. Running back Steve Slaton is an electrifying 5'10" sophomore who has rushed for 1,059 yards on 151 carries, a eye-popping 7 yards/carry average, plus he's scored 9 TDs. The only reason he hasn't scored more is that after he gets done running the team all the way down the field WVU goes with bruising 6'4", 245 junior FB Owen Schmitt to do the dirty work at the goal line, much like the New York Giants do with Tiki Barber & Branden Jacobs; Schmitt has cashed in on 5 scores this season, plus one in the air. Thanks to all that running West Virginia averages 319 yards on the ground and they score an average of 41 points per game.

But as Lee Corso loves to say, not so fast my friend, because the Cardinals are no slouches themselves on offense. Despite losing stud running back Michael Bush to a season-ending leg injury in their first game Louisville has still managed to run for 216 YPG and they score at a 39 PPG clip, thanks in no small part to coach Bobby Petrino's system. But the players have a lot to do with it as well. Junior QB Brian Brohm missed 2 games with a thumb injury earlier this year but has still tossed for nearly 1300 yards & 4 TDs and is the unquestioned leader of the team; his favorite target is 6'6" stud receiver Mario Urrutia (29recs, 520yds, 4TDs.) But it's the guys who have filled in for Bush that who are most responsible for Louisville's success this year: sneaky 5'11" senior Kolby Smith (451yds,6TDs) & exciting 6'0" sophomore George Stripling (355yds, 5TDs) have more than adequately combined to make up for Bush's loss, and backups Anthony Allen & Brock Bolen have chipped in with 420 yards & 5 scores. In other words the Cards also like to run, but Brohm can also beat you with his arm as well. Just like West Virginia.

This battle will be won by whoever can neutralize the other team's strength. Louisville is 8th in the country against the run but haven't played anyone with near the ground arsenal that the Mountaineers posses; West Virginia allows only 12 PPG but haven't faced an offense anything like they will face tonight. Throw in the fact that these two teams played a triple OT thriller last year, when L'Ville blew a 17-point lead and eventually lost 46-45 in Morgantown and this one has all the makings of a high-scoring, vengeance-filled classic

Strap yourselves in, it's going to be a wild night at the Big Pizza Box (where the Cards have not lost since Nov 15, 2003, a span of 15 games.) My "inside the numbers" man Michael tells me that the line started at Louisville giving three but has shifted to even, which means everyone & their brother is betting on West Virginia. But with revenge on their minds and a National Championship in their sights I look for the Cards to win a shootout squeaker. Then it will have to face another hungry Big East unbeaten: 8-0 Rutgers next Thursday night.

MY PICK: Cardinals 35, Mountaineers 34


Bron-Bron does his thing- you know, taking over the league

Cavs 97, Wiz 94
How LeBron James did not win the MVP award last year when Steve Nash-ty won it for a second consecutive time will go down in history as one of the great blunders of all time. It was almost like the league decided "hey, this kid is too young, we don't want to bestow our greatest honor on him too soon, so just give it to the little guy again."

Compare the numbers the two put up last season:

LeBron: 79g, 31.4 PTS, 7 REBS, 6.6 AST, 1.6 STEALS, 48% FG, 34% 3-PT
Nash: 79g, 18.8PTS, 4.2 REB, 10.5 AST, 0.8 STEALs, 51%FG, 44% 3-PT
Okay so Nash won it on the strength of a 3% higher shooting percentage and 4 more assists per game? C'mon, that was highway robbery last year, and I hope LeBron decides to make everyone pay for his snub by leaving no doubt that he should win it this year.
He started his campaign last night in the Cavs rematch of last season's thrilling 7-game 1st round playoff series against the Wizards. Same teams, same results: Cleveland pulled out a thrilling last-minute victory, and of course King James (26pts, 10rebs, 5ast) was most responsible for the win. With the score tied at 93 and a minute left, LeBron got the ball on the left post and looked for his move. When Anderson Varejao (a dead ringer for the Clown on the Simpsons) set a pick at the top of the key, LeBron pounced; he stepped around the picked man, drove the baseline and headed toward the basket. But Antawn Jamison stepped in to take the charge- or so he thought. Like a bird in flight, Bron effortlessly slipped around him and into the middle of the paint, raised up and flicked the ball into the goal with a gentle movement of the wrist that he made effortlessly before anyone really knew what happened; dare I say it was MJ-esque.
Like his Airness used to do to the Cavs, Bron had just done again to Washington. He single-handedly won 2 games of that 7-game set last spring with last-minute, game-winning shots, and he did it again last night. During a timeout shortly after that move ESPN played a montage of his 2 game winners, and I couldn't help but think that next time these teams get together the shot he just made will be added to the clip. After the shot the gave the Cavs a 95-93 lead the Wiz still had their chances to win, but for some unexplained reason they allowed Jarvis Hayes to take 3 critical shots with the game on the line. Not Gilbert Arenas, who was obviously still intimidated by the foul shot curse Bron put on him in the series-clinching game 7, because he was a no-show on this night (7pts on 2-12 shooting); not Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, hell not even Antonio Daniels. Granted Hayes did have a decent game (12 pts), but to allow the seldom-used swingman to take 3 crunch-time shots with all those shooters on the team was another poor coaching decision from Eddie Jordan (great time to point out my favorite thing about Coach Jordan: he looks like a cross between the horrible comeidian Sinbad & the excellent actor Terrence Howard-watch next time.
But that's why the Wiz are becoming the Cavs' bitches, and why LeBron is building his MVP resume on the strength of making game-winning shots against a team powerless to stop him.

Great commercials, cool nickname, game-winning shots, eye-popping stats, magical smile- get the trophy case cleared out Bron Bron- the MVP trophy is yours for the taking this year.

Celts can't win one for Red on opening night.
They honored their beloved mentor, teacher & friend before the game in a moving ceremony that brought many in the Garden to tears, including the players. And with a bouquet of green roses & unlit cigar placed in the seat where Red Auerbach had sat for so many years, the C's displayed the heart, determination, and desire that were hallmarks of all of Red's championship teams.

Unfortunately for everyone in love with the Green Shamrock squad the end result was not what Red would have wanted nor tolerated. Despite a 29 pt, 19 reb monster effort from captain Paul Pierce the C's fell to the scrappy Hornets 91-87 in the 2006-07 season opener. Although PP did his share of the damage, other than Wally World Sczerbiak (26pts) & Al Jefferson (12 pts) the rest of his supporting cast just didn't measure up to the Red Standard: Delonte West, Sebastian Telfair, and Kendrick Perkins combined for a miserable 4-12, 9 pt night. That's just not going to get it done. Plus the highly-touted Telfair had a meager 1 assist- this from the Brooklyn schoolyard legend who is supposed to be a wiz with the rock?
Well at least they never gave up. The 4th quarter was a see-saw affair, with the teams trading leads right up to the final minutes. But Chris Paul (21pts, 10 ast) and Peja Stojakovic (11pts) hit big shots down the stretch to deny the C's an emotional victory on an emotional night.

And the cigar in Red's chair would remain unlit.


Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Hooray for Guillermo Mota- he's suspended for 50 games!

But it's not the fact that the one-time Red Sox property (for about 2 days) and current Mets reliever was suspended by MLB for violating the substance abuse policy that I'm cheering. No, it's the simple fact that the guy did what we as sports fans want Floyd Landis, Marion Jones, Shawne Merriman, Raffy Palmiero, Justin Gatlin and all the rest of those who have been busted by a positive test to do: admit you were wrong, accept responsibility, and take your punishment like a man(or woman, Marion.)

I mean how refreshing is it to hear a man who clearly knows he made an egregious error in judgement step up and acknowledge his stupidity? Listen to Mota's comments at the presser announcing his 50-game suspension:
"I have no one to blame but myself. I take full responsibility for my actions and accept MLB's suspension. I used extremely poor judgment and deserve to be held accountable."
Seriously, how awesome is that? As if accepting responsibility and admitting wrongdoing wasn't great enough on its own, Mota went on to apologize to a variety of people:

"To my teammates and the entire Mets organization, I am sorry. I truly regret what I did and hope that you can forgive me. To baseball fans everywhere, I understand that you are disappointed in me, and I don't blame you. I feel terrible and I promise this is the first and last time that this will happen. I am determined to prove to you that this was one mistake."

Okay, I'm not stupid enough to glorify an athlete who cheated and used performance enhancing drugs in order to gain an unfair edge on his opponents. But I am smart enough to give credit where credit is due; we are always so quick to rip athletes when they use their sorry "I didn't know the supplement contained Nandro" or "I thought it was flax seed oil I was rubbing on my knee" excuses, so I am here to congratulate a player for stepping up to the plate, admitting he was wrong and trying to move on from there.

After all, isn't that what we try to teach our kids?
So congrats, Guillermo- you may be a cheater, but you're also a man.


The NBA is underway: Heat spanked at home

The 2006-2007 NBA Season got underway last night with a 2-game slate on TNT. I didn't get to view most of the action due to the Halloween festivities, but I did catch some of each game. Here's what I gleaned from each one:

Bulls 108, Heat 66
Talk about Halloween horror night. As Sammy Davis Jr. would so eloquently put it,"ouch babe!" The Heat opened the season raising their Championship banner, collecting their rings, and basking in the adulation of their home crowd & national analysts everywhere. Then the game started and they proceeded to get blown off their own court by the new kids on the NBA block, the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls laid a 42-point beatdown on the stunned Heat, the worst opening loss for a defending champ in league history. All I can say to that is " I hope so." Because if a champ got beat worse than the listless Heat did last night they should take away their crown. Chicago led 59-30 at the half after throwing in 37 points in the 2nd quarter, Miami only scored more than 20 points in 1 quarter (21 in the 3rd) and were never in this game. It was ugly. Shaq looked every bit his 45 year old age (oh, wait he's only 34) as he struggled to a 3-10, 7 pt, 5 reb performance. Nice. Phenom Dwyane Wade was his usual 'bad self', leading the way with 25, but it was the Bulls who stole the show. Kirk Heinrich(26pts) the double Dukies Luol Deng (12pts) & Chris Duhon (20 pts) and new Bull Ben Wallace (11 rebs) set the pace for Chicago, which has been the fashionable NBA playoff pick for a few years now, but with the addition of the veteran rebounder & NBA champ Big Ben plus the maturation of all those Baby Bulls, these guys might just be ready to take the next step this year. But I guarantee that Miami, with an aging roster (Payton & Walker-combined 189 years old) and without that hunger to win, won't have to worry about collecting any more hardware. Now I see why Shaq usually comes up with an injury in training camp as an excuse to miss the first 1/4 of the season. Note to Shaq: look for a Rocket Clemens-type deal (play half a season, only home games)- it's that time, Big Fella.

Lakers 114, Suns 106
Even with Kobe Bryant (knee soreness) on the bench in stylish street clothes the Lakers still dispatched Phoenix, last year's feel-good team, and their 2-time reigning MVP Steve Nash in a rematch of last season's thrilling 7-game first round playoff series. So how did L.A. beat the Western Conference finalist with an unimposing starting lineup of Lamar Odom, Luke Walton, Andrew Bynum, Smush Parker & Sasha Vujacic? I'm not sure, but I do know that no team should EVER get beat by a team starting a 'Smush' and a 'Sasha'. But seriously the Lakers got huge contributions from Odom (34pts, 13rebs,6ast) and a career game from 19-year old 7-footer Bynum, who poured in 18pts and grabbed 9 boards replacing injured starter Kwame "Jordan's Bitch" Brown. Bynum is considered a raw-but-talented project at center (sounds like Brown) but if his showing tonight is any indication he might not be so raw anymore. As for Phoenix they did have stud PF Amare Stoudemire back in action after he missed nearly all of last season due to microfracture surgery on his left knee, but he only contributed 6 points in 12 minutes; they'll need him back at full strength if Phoenix has any hopes of making it to the Finals, because Nash (15pts, 13ast) can't carry the team by himself again. One side note from this game: Odom had to have been playing with a heavy heart after the sudden death of his 7-month old infant son Jaden this past July. Odom has had his share of troubles both before entering the league and after, mostly drug-related, but here's hoping that he is able to put the tragedy behind him, get on the straight & narrow, and have a terrific, career-defining season.

I'm not going to do a huge NBA preview special or anything because predictions go out the window in sports nowadays- they're just a bunch of blustery words with zero meaning & credibility behind them. That's because the sports landscape changes from year-to-year now in every sport, with the good teams from prior seasons going in the tank and the awful ones rising up to unexpectedly reach new heights. But here are a few things I will be looking forward to:

Celtics winning it all for Red Auerbach
Okay so that might be a bit much to ask, but how about a competitive team with a playoff berth at season's end? With their legendary coach, GM and president being laid to rest yesterday, this C's fan is hoping that Doc Rivers can somehow assemble this collection of talented but untested players into a contender. The roster is littered with talent, starting with leader Paul Pierce, new PG Sebastian Telfair and gunner Luke Jackson (a prototypical Celtic- slow, white, with a great jumper- the Garden fans will LOVE this guy in green.) Plus a load of youngsters like Gerald Green, Al Jefferson and Kendrick Perkins who should be ready to explode. Throw in heralded draft picks Rajon Rondo and Allan Ray, and this is a team with potential. Maybe with Red guiding them from above they can make a run to respectability. Maybe.

Magic rookie J.J. Redick silencing his doubters
Much was made about Redick's lack of a well-rounded game (he's just a shooter), his pre-draft DUI arrest (he's got baggage) and his 'oh no, he's another Dukie' label. That caused his draft stock to drop, all the way to the Orlando Magic at the Number 11. As an unabashed Duke fan, and also a Magic fan due to its close proximity to my Tampa-are home base, I really hope JJ proves to be what he was in college: a crafty, hard-nosed player who can score at will, find ways to get open, and use his desire & determination to make the Magic competitive . With Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson, Grant Hill and an improved Darko (you read that right), they might have a chance this year. Let's hope JJ will help lead the way.
He'll start tonight against the hopefully tired Bulls.

"The LeBrons" ads continuing all season long
Have you seen the latest installments of this clever and commercially successful ad campaign? You know the one with the 4 LeBrons, young, old, smooth and LeBron, all in hilarious situations with clever lines and catchy music? I can't get enough of these things. I'm still trying to decide which LeBron is the best- it's a flat-out tie between the smooth brother or the old man; both have the funniest lines and best appearances and neither one ever fails to make me laugh. Whatever marketing genius at Nike came up with this should be eating dinner at Phil Knight's compound on a nightly basis; this stroke of genius is going to drop a lot more coin in Nike's Swoosh-encrusted coffers. Oh and it will only help when King James is crowned the MVP this season.

Tonight there are 2 more quality games tipping off the ESPN schedule, starting with the Wizards/Cavs at 8 and then the Clippers/Suns at 10:30. Both are rematches of thrilling 7-game playoff series last season, and both should make for exciting viewing. Gilbert Arenas, LeBron, Nashty & Elton Brand are 4 of the best players in the league, and each team has high expectations for the season based on last years' performances (for whatever that's worth.)


Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween Horror Night: My Scariest Flicks

This is one of the best night's of the year. According to my son Halloween is second only to Christmas as far as fun holidays go. But after he is safely tucked in bed with a morning stomach ache waiting to happen, the wife and I do what we like to do best on this evening: watch a scary movie. I mean she's been geeked up about this for weeks. But it is up to me to pick the frightfest that will please her and set the proper spooky tempo for late Old Hallows Eve.

A year or so ago I made a huge faux pas in this department: I went with Italian horror master Dario Argento's Suspiria; you know throw a little foreign culture in there to broaden our viewing horizons. That went over like Snakes on a Plane at the Oscars. Although I loved the moody atmosphere, grisly slayings and ultra-creepy score, she was annoyed by the whole pretentious, confusing, weird thing.

So tonight I've picked out something a little more closer to home: the bloody, Appalachian cave dwelling chiller The Descent. That should do the trick. I'll have a full review of it tomorrow.

But all of this got me thinking about my all-time favorite Halloween Night choices. So here is my List in no specific order other than by genre, with my No. 1 choice at the end. As usual, this list is entirely subjective; if you have any different suggestions or comments on my choices, let me know.


Halloween (1978)
John Carpenter's seminal Halloween night flick stands masked head and shoulders above the rest. From the brilliant, tingly theme music to Michael Myers, the killer who spawned the first movie trick-or-treat costume- a spooky hockey mask- this flick has it all as far as horror movies are concerned. Want more? Okay, what about babysitters getting slaughtered, stupid, horny teens having sex then getting slaughtered, and Jamie Lee Curtis in her scream queen, jeans- creaming heyday. It simply doesn't get any better than this one. I must watch it every year- it's like a tradition.

Carrie (1976)
Sissy Spacek truly brought Stephen King's creeped-out clairvoyant to life with her silent-but-sinister portrayal of Carrie White. Tormented by classmates and tortured by her mother, Carrie lashes out at her bullies in the best payback scene in horror movie history. The flick is filled with indelible horror images: Carrie covered in pig blood; the doors of the gymnasium slamming shut, trapping the helpless students inside; and most disturbing of all, the end where the hand...let's just say I still never walk by a cemetery without envisioning that final image in my head. Now that's a powerful horror movie. The film was one the first of King's novels to be adapted for the screen and remains one of the best; it also launched the careers of Spacek, John Travolta, William Katt, Amy Irving and others.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Tobe Hooper's violent & disturbing groundbreaking original film is still to this day recognized as one of the best horror films in the history of the genre. It not only has been copied hundreds of times, but it has also spawned a remake plus a sequel & prequel to the remake. The driving force behind the terrifying aspect of the film is the ghoulish decapitator himself, Leatherface, one of the scariest villains ever to be put on film. Sporting a mask made of victims' flesh, standing about 7' tall and wielding a bloody chainsaw, the first time I saw him coming out of the woods and chasing down his victim I nearly shit my pants. Confession: I still do- well would, if I ever get up the guts to watch it again. Bloody, psychotic, horrific and nerve-racking, mainly due to the fact that the viewer believes that these backwoods cannibalistic freaks could be real, because according to the trailers, it was.

Honorable Mention: Rosemary's Baby;The Omen; The Amityville Horror (all original versions)


Saw (2004)
The original of the now seemingly interminable Halloween franchise was a landmark movie for its genre in that it not only grossed the viewer out of his snacks but it also kept you thinking right up till the very end. many movies had done either/or, and some did a little bit of both. But this reality game show/serial killer flick took it to another level. A mastermind locks victims in a room and tells them to find their way out. But the only way out of the trap is through self-mutilation or murder. Brilliant! Head-size bear traps, eyeball slicing and a CREEEPPPYYY clown doll set the tone, and an "I never saw that coming" ending was the bloody icing on the cake. It has often been imitated (especially by its own creators) but it will never be duplicated; Saw was the Texas Chainsaw Massacre for the XY Generation.

Devil's Rejects (2005)
With his second directorial effort, hardcore rocker Rob Zombie showed the world that yes, he could do horror with the best of them. This sequel to the overrated but sloppy House of 1000 Corpses tells a tight story about a group of societal rejects who kill for sport and torture for fun. The three main characters form a trio of most memorable screen villains, including homicidal Otis (Bill Moseley), beautiful & psychotic Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie, Rob's wife) and the killer clown, Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig.) These three carve a path of death miles wide as they try to run from the law (a terrific William Forsythe), all while capturing & slaying helpless victims along the way to vengeance. The mesmerizing, eerie cinematography, awesome soundtrack, and gritty, Chainsaw-like realism sends chills down my spine every time I watch it. Oh, and the ending- set in a old car blazing down a highway to disaster with the classic Lynyrd Skynyrd tune Freebird blaring in the background, is one of the best horror movie finales of all time.

Dawn of the Dead (2004)
The only remake on my list is there because it takes the George Romero original and expands on it, actually improving that timeless classic. I'm not usually one for zombie flicks, because they are slow & predictable (both the creatures & the films), but this new edition ramped up the terror by making the flesh eaters super-fast, and with a modern civilization constantly worried about infectious diseases like AIDS, bird flu and mad cow, the theme hit on a timely national topic. But it is the opening 20 minutes or so that hooked me and made me convinced that this was a classic: as Sarah Polley's nurse character comes to grips with the fact that not only is her husband infected by the deadly cannibal virus, but that the rest of her town, state, and the entire country are as well, we get to see a panoramic overhead shot of the wake of death & destruction caused by the newly formed army of undead killing machines. Shots of dead bodies, screaming victims and smoking cars & buildings portray a chilling vision of what our world could really look like if some kind of deadly virus were to infect our society. Plus there are some terrific-looking zombie kill-shots.

High Tension (Haute Tension, 2003)
Rarely has there been a more accurate title for a horror film, because this little French indie sleeper was honestly one of the scariest, most nerve-racking movies from start to finish that I have ever seen. It starts out slow-for about 5 minutes- as two French girlfriends travel to the country for one last summer together before they go their separate ways in life. But after they arrive at the home of one girls' parents things go downhill from there. It may have copped elements from various American slasher flicks, like TCM and Silence of the Lambs (i.e. the killer's van), but the brutal slayings, non-stop action and surprise ending make this one a must-see hidden gem for horror lovers. The villian is extremely unsettling, like a cross between Leatherface & Tiny from House of 1000 Corpses, and the foreign cinematic touches only make it that much more eerie (something about foreign horror flicks just do it for me- I might have to do a whole other post on my foreign faves.) Oh and don't worry,the movie still kicks ass whether you like the twist ending or not.

Honorable Mention: Wolf Creek; 28 Days Later


The Others(2001)
Not really a horror movie, but more like a spooky ghost story, this tale about a woman, played by Nicole Kidman (an obvious plus right there), who lives in a creepy old mansion with her two hyper-light sensitive kids. Much like the more publicized "I see dead people" flick, The Sixth Sense, things aren't always what they seem in the house, or with the main characters. When a trio of servants arrive to help care for the kids secrets are revealed that make for unnerving viewing. A big ole haunted house is always excellent fodder for terrific horror, and the performances of the two children plus Kidman's best outing since Dead Calm make this ghost story click. Oh and a surprise ending always does the trick as well.

Silence of the Lambs(1991)
No question one of the most disturbingly scary film of all time, not for the gore quotient or the "jump-out-of-your-seat moments, but just the sheer terror & believability that there could be a serial killer out there as evil as Anthony Hopkins' Dr. Hannibal Lecter. But as if that character weren't terrifying enough there is a serial killer within the serial killer flick- Buffalo Bill, an enormous, evil hulk of a man who captures innocent women and does unspeakable things to them. Top notch performances from Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling, the FBI agent who must go through Lecter to get to Bill, and of course Sir Anthony, who redefined the role of screen villain as an intelligent, savvy, Renaissance man with a heart of stone & mind of a madman make this film work. But it's the scene of Buffalo Bill trapping that innocent woman in his van by pretending to need help loading a couch that is giving me gooseflesh as I write this.

My Number 1 Horror Flick of All Time:

The Shining(1980)
Directorial mastermind Stanley Kubrick and horror writer Stephen King combined their ample talents to bring one of the creepiest, scariest, straight forward horror tales to the big screen, and to this day 26 years later it still stands as a masterpiece of modern horror. Where to begin with the elements that make this story spooktacularly great? How about a huge, unoccupied hotel on the side of a mountain in the middle of a spectacular Colorado winter. Throw in the fragile Torrance family, writer/father Jack (Jack Nicholson, at his eyebrow-raising best), nervous mother Wendy(Shelly Duvall) and young disturbed son Danny and you have a recipe for a horribly wrong winter. As the unending days trapped in the lodge creep by, Jack sees visions of the past caretaker of the Overlook, and those visions and conversations with people from the 'other side' turn Jack into a very demented family man. Numerous hair-raising images abound in this visual tour-de-force: elevators filled with blood, a sinister hedge maze where Danny runs from his twisted dad, twin little girls locked together in a death stare, and little Danny riding his Big Wheel all around the empty hotel corridors are enough to bring grownups to their knees. But the scene with Nicholson chopping at the bathroom door where Wendy has barricaded herself, and he breaks through and utters the infamous line "Hereeee's Johnny" is worth the price of admission alone. Perhaps I am biased towards this film because I actually visited the inspiration for the Overlook, a hotel in Greeley, Colorado where King stayed and got the idea for the story (although the actual filming took place in Oregon due to creative differences with the owners & the writer.) But let me tell you, while I was there they had a miniature version of the place on the massive front lawn, a mock-up that was being used for the ABC-TV remake, and damned if the hairs all over my body didn't stand on end as I imagined that mini-haunted house as a playset for the dead twins. Cree-py to the max, and my favorite all-time scary film.
Oh yeah, I nearly forgot to mention "Redrum"

Hope you enjoyed my list. Now find someone to cuddle with, pop one of these in, and get creeped out!

Happy Halloween!


They're Baaaacckkk! Pats massacre Vikes, 31-7

On Halloween Eve the Patriots played the roles of well-known horror movie characters in their 31-7 bludgeoning of the Minnesota Vikings. Let's take a look back in case you missed it.

Coach Belichick: "Saw" trilogy mastermind Jigsaw.
Like that sinister brainiac of terror, Belichick, in his menacing grey cutoff hoodie and steely blank gaze carved out a gameplan that completely caught his victims off guard and left them in a sea of purple & white carnage. So the Vikings were the top team against the rush in the NFL? No problemo the never-nervous genius said. The Pats came out throwing the ball(43 passes, 15 runs) like they were the next incarnation of the Fun & Gun offensive machine that was the trademark of the 1990's-era Florida Gators. Appropriate because 3 former Gator receivers (Chad Jackson, Reche Caldwell, Jabbar Gaffney) roam the field for New England, waiting for Brady to find them. And found Caldwell, who looks like his new go-to-guy (along with Predator Gabriel) to the tune of 7 catches for 84 yards & a TD. But seriously, how brilliant is it to just completely abandon a part of the game you know you can't win and just totally destroy a team using another aspect of the game at your disposal. Just as Jigsaw devises a clever puzzle for the potential victims to solve or else they face certain death, Belichick gave new Minny head coach Brad Childress a choice: "I'm going to beat you tonight, one way or another, so it's up to you to figure out a way to stop me." He couldn't. Brilliant & deadly.

Tom Terrific as Leatherface in Texas Chansaw Massacre
Now calm down ladies, this obviously isn't a facial comparison-I don't think Leatherface would look that good in a suit & be able to pull Bridgit Moynihan! But the way Tommy Boy sliced up the Viking secondary last night it looked like he was using a chainsaw and just hacking cornerbacks, safties & linebackers in half. Brady came out throwing, and then he threw some more. The second half started with New England leading 17-0 and Brady threw some more. Soon the Pats were up 31-7 and Brady threw some more. When the bodies were removed form the field the Pats had dissected the Vikings through the air behind a career day for Brady: 29-43, 372 yards & 4 TDs. It was the most yardage Brady had ever thrown for in a regulation game, and to think he had at least 4 passes dropped & a 33-yarder called back on a penalty, or this number could have been creeping towards the 500 mark. Brady had 257 yards by halftime, and he used 10 different receivers in the game- talk about picking your poison. Only the creepiest villain in cinematic history could have done more damage to the Viking tonight. And he's probably busy making a pre-se-quel.

The Patriots defense as the Dawn of the Dead zombies
Not the original, slow-footed creepies of the George Romero original, but the speedy, destructive killing machines of the excellent 2004 remake. The Pats defense played like those reanimated flesh-starved creatures last night as they had a singular mindset: bring down QB Brad Johnson and destroy any semblance of an offensive attack for Minnesota. Johnson was harassed, agitated, and uncharacteristically inaccurate in the game, ending up a meager 20-33 for 185 yards with no TDs & 3 horrible picks. Plus he was sacked and hassled every time he dropped back to throw. Tully Banta-Cain (a horror movie name if I ever heard one) had 2 sacks and terrorized both Johnson and his backup, Brooks Bollinger, who was sacked three times in a row when he entered in the 4th quarter. Rodney Harrison, Mike Vrabel (7tkls) & Chad Scoot had interceptions, and the unit held the Vikes to 284 yards; the Vikes only points came on a 71-yd punt return by Mewelde Moore. Like their cinematic walking dead counterparts the Pats defense kept coming at the Vikes, who had no answers as to how to stop them and could only lie there helplessly while the flesh-eaters rolled over them and picked their bones clean.

The Pats receivers as the swarm in The Birds
The re-vamped New England receiving corps resembled a flock of attacking winged creatures in this game, swooping in from all angles of the field and with an intensity that left Viking defenders swatting at the air in futile attempts to stop them. With Deion Branch now not catching passes in Seattle, Brady has found a way to replace his former number one receiver: spread the ball around to everyone and let them fight over who is going to have the bigger game. As I said before, 10 different players caught passes from Brady tonight: Watson, Caldwell, Gabriel, Maroney, Faulk, Brown, Dillon, Thomas, Jackson, Gaffney. That's waht you call spreading it around. And with Maroney limited on his carries due to the gameplan (8 carries, 34 yds) he found other ways to get involved, like 2 catches for 33 yds (1-20yder) and 2 kick returns for 91 yards, including a 77-yarder he nearly broke for a score immediately following Moore's runback.If the whole crew was a swarm, Maroney was the hawk, picking his spots and devouring the Vikings in a number of ways with accuracy, speed & skill.

All in all it was a terrifying performance from the Patriots, who moved to 6-1, second best record in the league behind 7-0 Indy & Chicago. If these guys continue their assault on the league it appears that another popular feature of the horror genre may be on the horizon for them: the Championship Sequel, Part IV.


Monday, October 30, 2006

Monday Night Preview: Pats @ Vikes

Finally the Pats get a Monday Nighter. But why the hell do the 3-time champs have to travel to the hinterlands of the Minnesota Metrodome to get on prime time? I mean shouldn't the Vikes, who haven't won anything since Fran Tarkenton was slingin' the rock for them, have to travel to Foxborough for this game? Anyway, the Pats are unstoppable indoors , and Tom Terrific is just that inside: he has a 9-0 record away from the elements.

The Vikings (4-2) are one of the surprises of the league this year (all the more reason to question the MNF gift) and are coming off of a 31-13 demolition of the Seahawks last week in the Pacific Northwest. But the Pats have been quietly sneaking up on the rest of the league: they started out slowly, with unimpressive wins over Buffalo & the Jets and an ugly loss to the Broncos at Gillette. But since that 17-7 defeat on Sept. 24th New England has rattled off 3 straight impressive wins, and a win tonight would serve notice to the rest of the league that the Patriots are back on the Super Bowl map.

This game has all the makings of a run-fest. Minny has been riding the strong legs of Chester Taylor all season long. Taylor has carried the ball 136 times, the rest of the Viking running backs have 16 carries combines. Taylor lit up the Seahawks last week for 169 yards, including this 95-yard TD jaunt. He also leads the Vikes in receptions with 21. Long gone are the days of Culpepper-to-Moss. Now Brad Johnson guides the Minny offense, and it is his pinpoint accuracy and ability to lead the team rather than carry it that has made Minnesota so successful since he took the reigns from Culpepper midway through last season.

The Pats have also relied heavily on the running game. RB Lawrence Maroney leads all rookies with 361 yards on 86 carries while splitting time with aging workhorse Corey Dillon(328yds.) That double-barreled assault has allowed Brady to settle in to his new offense, spreading the ball around to a new group of receivers including Doug Gabriel, Chad Jackson, and TE Ben Watson (leading receiver with 21 grabs for 271 yards.) But Maroney played his college ball in the very building the Pats will be playing in tonight with the Minnesota Golden Gophers and he will have plenty of friends & family on hand tonight. Look for him to try and have a breakout game in his old digs despite the fact that he will be facing the league's stingiest run defense(70/YPG).

It has all the makings of a slug-it-out affair with both teams relying on veteran steady, accurate passers and dazzling young runners. Are the Vikes ready to win a game like this, in their 1st appearance at home on Monday Night in 5 years? We shall see.

MY PICK: Pats 24, Vikes 20