Monday Morning Ramblings

OK, I know it's not Monday, but with big games going through Sunday and Monday, I needed to wait to see them all before reflecting back. Here is one man's take on some of the weekend's action.

It was the first weekend of action in college football which brought us a lot of unanswered questions and a long Labor Day Weekend full of football. 

Tivo is a blessing. I was able to watch four high school games, two Braves games, nearly 10 college games, and still get roped into painting the deck...

On second thought, Tivo is a curse.

Here is one man's take on some of the weekend's action.

I talked to a Georgia coach Friday night before the game, and I asked him what his thoughts were going into Saturday afternoon's Boise State game. He answered the way coaches usually answer, saying that you never know until they hit the field. I gave him a prediction of my own.

I told him that D.J. Shockley was going to have a huge game against a porous Boise State defense, and people would be ready to crown him a savior.

Shockley held up his end on Saturday, and the fans and media held up their end on Sunday. Why did everyone seem so surprised? Walk-on Cory Phillips threw for 400 yards and four touchdowns in his first start in 2000, and Phillips is no Shockley.

Shockley has shown enough over the course of the past three years to show us that he was capable of a day like he had against Boise State, but it's a little premature to be booking his travel plans for the Downtown Athletic Club just yet.

Great SEC quarterbacks are revealed on the road at Tennessee down by a score with two minutes left to play. They're revealed by showing how they respond when they get down two scores early in a hostile environment against an underdog South Carolina. They're revealed at the Cocktail Party and in the South's Oldest rivalry, not against a WAC team at home.

But the early returns sure look promising.

Shockley was very good on Saturday. He protected the football. He didn't force any passes into coverage. He ran when he needed to, and what was most exciting about seeing him play was the vertical pressure he put on the backside of a defense. Stretching out the defense with the long ball is something that the offense led by David Greene didn't do very often. With Shockley at the helm, Georgia is going to take more chances deep.

While Shockley getting his first start was the story for the past month, there were bigger questions on the team than how he would respond, including how his main weapons would develop.

Reggie Brown and Fred Gibson logged nearly as many starts as the departed Greene through their careers. There were big questions about who would step up at wide receiver, and several did. Sean Bailey showed in the game that he is going to be a weapon of Shockley. Kenneth Harris also showed flashes of why the staff was so high on him coming out of high school.

Leonard Pope was a known commodity coming in and he did not disappoint. Martrez Milner showed both sides of the coin. Dropped balls have plagued him in practice, and he dropped one early. Amazing physical ability has been granted to him, and he showed that off late.

One of the aspects that make the three headed monster of Georgia's tailback rotation so dangerous is that Thomas Brown, Danny Ware, and Kregg Lumpkin can all block, and they can all catch. Ware's touchdown catch on a beautifully thrown ball by Shockley showed off the versatility of the Georgia backfield. While Shockley led the team in rushing, Brown and Ware both looked terrific. Lumpkin doesn't look like he's ready just yet, as to be expected after an ACL injury.

The Offensive line of Georgia had a very good day. One of the things that surprised me was where they excelled though. The strength of the offensive line lies with the guards Nick Jones and Max Jean-Gilles. When Boise State was able to get pressure, it came up the middle. Tackles Dennis Roland and Dan Inman engulfed their men in pass protection.

While the offense got the headlines on Saturday, the most encouraging aspect of the game had to be the defense. Boise State isn't known for stopping a lot of people, but they are known for moving the ball up and down the field on them. Georgia made All-American quarterback Jared Zabransky look like he was making his first ever start in a hostile environment.

With four interceptions and two fumbles in the early going, Zabransky never gave his team a chance to be in the game, and Georgia nearly equaled their interception numbers from the entire 2004 season.

Tony Taylor had been as anxious as anyone to get back on the field, and he got into the game in a hurry with the first interception of the game.

Another much anticipated debut lived up to the hype; Dannell Ellerbe was all over the field. Ellerbe is a player that had been singled out as one to watch by the Georgia coaches since last spring. ESPN had a magnificent shot of Ellerbe cheating to the strong side in almost a safety look that led to his interception.

Mo Massaquoi is a player that had been getting a lot of talk as well, and he showed why he is going to be a special player for Georgia as soon as the ball was thrown at him.

Brandon Coutu had a terrific game kicking the ball. Not only was he perfect on his place kicks, his kickoffs were almost exactly what kickoff coach Jon Fabris looks for. While the philosophy of kicking it high and into a corner can be debated, Coutu's results can't be. He did exactly what was asked of him on Saturday, and he did it very well.

At 31-0 in the second half, the Georgia crowd was still into the game.

The weather wasn't a factor, and it never should have been an issue. A good SEC team shouldn't need the weather to beat a good WAC team.

Taking a look at Georgia's opponent for next week, Steve Spurrier made his return to the SEC with a victory over a scrappy UCF team.

South Carolina came out of the gate with a rush of adrenalin that made it look like they were going to blow out the Knights, but George O'Leary and his staff made some good adjustments to slow down the Gamecock offense.

A question on one of the message boards was asked if Spurrier was holding back after getting that lead to not reveal too much. No way. No part of Spurrier's plan on offense would involve Blake Mitchell taking the beating he took in that game.

Mitchell was 160 pounds coming out of LaGrange High School in Georgia, and he showed remarkable toughness. While UCF isn't the Georgia team that he will face this weekend, his debut was very impressive. He showed poise, plenty of arm strength, and again - toughness. One can't help but wonder what Bulldog defensive end Quentin Moses and crew are thinking watching the game tape this week.

While South Carolina doesn't have talent stacked up and down the roster to the liking of Spurrier, the strength of their team lies in the wide receiver corp. Ironic considering that Lou Holtz was never one to air it out, but it suits Spurrier's offense perfectly. Noah Whiteside, Syvelle Newton, and Travis Lee were all big time recruits, and Carlos Thomas is a freshman that could be a star.

I don't think we're going to see too many two point stances out of the defensive linemen in running situations against Georgia like we did on Thursday night against UCF. The unorthodox approach by John Thompson to mix up the looks might not be a good idea against Georgia's offensive line.

Mike Davis showed early why he got a chance to play early. While he didn't do much on the ground, getting playing time as a freshman running back has a lot to do with how well he will pick up a blitz. Davis was excellent in pass protection, and he added a nifty 64 yard screen pass as well.

There were several teams in the SEC starting with what could be considered dangerous opponents, not the least of which was the Blazers of UAB heading to Knoxville.

Tennessee got off to a fast start, but an experienced UAB team was able to hang tough and nearly pull off the upset. The fact that UAB was able to hang with a Top 5 team in the nation shouldn't have been a huge surprise; the fact that it was a 21 point spread should have been.

I love running backs that know how to use their off hand as a weapon, and Gerald Riggs does that as well as anyone. He has a very good stiff arm, and he is always pushing would-be tacklers to the ground to pick up extra yardage.

There was a fierce quarterback battle this summer in Tennessee, but looking at the stat sheet shows that battle may have been decided. Rick Clausen clearly outperformed Erik Ainge on Saturday hitting 17/24 passes and a touchdown, while Ainge struggled to complete passes at a 5/14 clip adding a touchdown of his own.

Tennessee gets to watch a week before their big test against Florida on September 17th.

Florida had one of those dangerous games as well. Wyoming was a team that was not to be taken for granted, and the Gators took care of business.

Chris Leak was the #1 prospect in the South in the Class of 2003, and Chad Jackson was the #1 receiver. While Leak is a known commodity to the football world, Jackson is set to have his breakout year.

While the week off for Tennessee may seem beneficial, Urban Meyer and the Gators are thankful to have another tuneup, this weekend against Louisiana Tech, to get ready for their big showdown in Gainesville against the Vols.

Tennessee, Florida, and Georgia handled their dangerous opponents with varying degrees of success on Saturday, but the defending SEC Champion Auburn Tigers were not so lucky against Georgia Tech.

When the ball falls off the tee before the game even starts in a windless Jordan-Hare Stadium, and the ensuing kickoff goes out of bounds, well, if one were inclined to believe in omens…

Tech seems to have a knack for catching Auburn at the right time. The last time the two met up, it was in the second game of the failed Nall/Ensminger offensive regime. A regime that took three games to score a touchdown despite having three players that would go in the first round of the NFL Draft 18 months later.

The second time around, the Jackets are caught first time starter Brandon Cox. A Jon Tenuta coached defense is not the most ideal of situations for any first time starter. Georgia Tech's attacking defense forced Auburn into too many mistakes.

Cox's four interceptions reminded me a lot of Auburn's last starter before Jason Campbell, Daniel Cobb. Both Cobb and Cox moved the ball well, but both had costly turnovers. One big difference though, Cobb was making the same mistakes as a sixth year senior. Cox was making his first start. While there weren't a lot of bright spots with Cobb at the helm, there was a lot of good to take away from Cox's first start.

Last week, I said this game would be decided by the play of the quarterbacks. Reggie Ball, the much maligned signal caller of the Jackets, wasn't spectacular, but he did what good quarterbacks do to win games. He kept his team in the game by limiting his mistakes, hitting a big play here and there, and letting his defense do the work.

Cox completed a higher percentage of passes, threw for almost twice as many yards, had two touchdowns as compared to one, but threw four interceptions to one for Ball.

A sobering reality for Tiger fans was that Auburn could only muster 50 yards of rushing against a depleted Georgia Tech defensive line. Tre Smith, while a solid spot player, is not going to cause any defenses to scheme for him. Carl Stewart showed good power, but to say that there was a significant dropoff behind Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams would be an understatement.

A dropoff is understandable when a team has two players go in the Top 5 of the NFL draft from the same backfield, but 23 carries for 50 yards?

First game jitters weren't just for the quarterbacks. David Irons had waited a long time to make his Auburn debut. From junior college to injury, Irons' time had finally come, and he got matched up with the best receiver in the country. Calvin Johnson had his way with Irons on the first series, but Irons' big hit early in the game helped energize the crowd and help him with his confidence. Irons ended up having a very good debut for the Tigers.

Georgia Tech's Calvin Johnson catches a touchdown pass in the first quarter against Auburn's David Irons (AP Photo/Todd J. Van Emst)

P. J. Daniels is one of the most under appreciated running backs in the country. The Tech coaching staff does a great job of getting him into space, and his vision and balance are second to none. He sets up would-be tacklers in the open field with subtle yet effective feints. Daniels finished the game with 111 yards on 23 carries, but each of his 111 yards seemed to come at crucial times.

Bob Davies and the ESPN crew kept lauding the depth of the Auburn team, and quoted Head Coach Tommy Tuberville as saying this was his most talented Tiger team yet. That depth either doesn't exist or wasn't used. Seven defensive linemen made the stat sheet. Most teams rotate at least eight defensive linemen, and the starting linebackers played virtually, if not literally, every down.

Auburn may have great depth, but it wasn't apparent in this game, and should not have been talked about so often as a factor in the game, especially on defense. 29 players came off the bench to play for the Jackets, 27 for the Tigers. In a tight game throughout, the depth angle was moot.

Devin Aromashodu looks to have a big year this year. He is a strong wide receiver that breaks a lot of tackles and is dangerous after the catch.

Both teams open league play this weekend at home. Auburn gets the dreaded 11:30 AM local kickoff against an improved Mississippi State team, and Tech hosts the Tar Heels of North Carolina.

Clemson was playing Saturday night at home as well in a game in which they found themselves as underdogs. Their win against Texas A&M was one of the most impressive of the weekend. The Aggies are a well coached bunch that returns a lot of talent. I did feel like I was watching a Georgia High School All-Star game as big plays kept coming from former Peach State Preps like Douglass' James Davis, Northside Warner Robins' Chansi Stuckey, Chattahoochee's Charlie Whitehurst, and Walton's Aaron Kelly among others.

While Clemson is going to have to get better in the redzone (obviously), the Tigers have had a hot summer on the recruiting trail, and this win could springboard them back to among the elite in the ACC.

Sunday afternoon is normally a time for the NFL game, but instead of boring Week 1 matchup, we got to see a spirited rivalry game between Louisville and Kentucky.

This was a game that looked like it was going to get out of hand early. When scouting quarterbacks, I would use Brian Brohm's footwork, release, and arm as what I am comparing the top notch signal callers to. His mechanics are nearly flawless. He is going to put up some ridiculous numbers in Louisville's offense.

However, despite the pass happy reputation of Head Coach Bobby Petrino's attack, this was a very balanced offense led by the rushing of Michael Bush. Bush was ranked the #1 Athlete on my then BorderWars 101 Team, because I knew he wasn't a QB, but with his size, I didn't know where he would end up.

Seems it took the Louisville staff found a home for him at running back, and he is a good one. He chewed up big chunks of yardage, and he kept the Kentucky defense honest. Louisville is one of the few teams recruiting Micah Johnson as running back, and to prove they'll give him a shot, I'm sure they'll have Bush has his host if/when Johnson makes an official visit there.

The 2004 version of the LaGrange Grangers out of Georgia was the hardest hitting high school team I've seen in four years, and Kentucky's starting middle linebacker was playing on that team just nine months ago, but he has taken the same hard hitting mentality to Kentucky. He met Bush in the hole early for a thunderous collision that Kentucky fans are going to get used to seeing out of Kelly and 2003 Granger alum Wesley Woodyard.

Wildcat Keenan Burton looks as good as any wide receiver in the SEC.

The Big East has been terrorized by undersized defensive ends that just plain killed other teams. Syracuse had Dwight Freeney. Virginia Tech had Corey Moore. Now the Big East has to deal with Louisville's Elvis Dumervil. Kentucky is glad that won't have to deal with him again after he torched their offensive line for a whopping six sacks.

Andre Woodson showed a lot of promise for Kentucky fans as well. A late fumble not withstanding, Woodson had a good game and showed amazingly quick feet in the pocket.

Sunday evening brought us a terrific ACC matchup in Virginia Tech and NC State. Tech is a Top 10 ranked team that had its handful with an improved Wolfpack team.

Georgia fans might make an argument, but it's harder to find a deeper, more talented group of running backs than what NC State will be trotting out there this year. Darrell Blackman, Toney Baker, Andre Brown, and Bobby Washington have the credentials to match or exceed any group of running backs in the country, and Reggie Davis was actually the #2 guy behind Blackman on Sunday.

Announcers listen to too many coaches and don't watch enough football. I can excuse the play by play guy to some extent, but I kept waiting for the former players or coaches to jump in and say that not everyone on the field runs a 4.2, 4.3, or 4.4 forty. No wonder every high school player in the country thinks he runs a 4.4, when I saw three defensive ends this weekend get referred to as 4.4 guys. The Tech/State ESPN2 crew wasn't the only one doing this, but they were the worst.

Sarcasm Alert - Nice 2 minute shot of Michael Vick walking steps.

Duane Brown was making his first start at right tackle for the Hokies. I have good news for you Mr. Brown, it only gets easier. Brown did an admirable job of dealing with who could be the #1 defensive end in the country in Mario Williams.

Now that I've hacked on the ESPN2 coverage, time to give them some credit. Showing how Chuck Amato dealt with Blackman's gaffe on fielding a punt on his one was a good job by the film crew, and it did a great job of showing Amato relating to his players.

Virginia Tech's Jimmy Williams can come play on my All-American Team.

Living in Atlanta, we heard a lot last year about taking the reins off of Michael Vick in his new offense. It seemed like Virginia Tech did just that with his brother Michael Vick in the second half of the game. Vick was free to create and roam, and he gave the NC State defense fits.

The running into the kicker penalty against NC State at the end of the game was the worst call I saw all weekend.

After a full weekend of football, what could be better on Monday than more football? Ole Miss and Memphis was an excellent primer for the prime time Monday Night event.

There were a lot of interesting sidebars in a game that is developing into quite a rivalry. Memphis had won two straight, Ed Orgeron making his debut as head coach of the Rebels, a former kickoff specialist quarterbacking Memphis, but the most interesting matchup to me was Ole Miss Offensive Coordinator Noel Mazzone vs. Memphis Defensive Coordinator Joe Lee Dunn.

Both had been lauded at the former jobs as great minds. I had called both after the 2000 season the most overrated coordinators in the SEC. Both were gone from their jobs within two years. Both would be facing one another on Monday afternoon.

Joe Lee Dunn did some very good things at Mississippi State, but his time had come and gone. Most teams had figured out ways to beat his all or nothing attacks, but one hadn't, Auburn led by Noel Mazzone.

Auburn's 2000 team went to the SEC Championship game on the legs of SEC Player of the Year Rudi Johnson, but this Auburn team could only manage 18 yards rushing and less than 200 yards of offense against a State team that gave up nearly 350 yards per game and over 24 points, including Auburn's paltry 164 yards of offense and 10 points.

So, I was curious as to how the new Ole Miss attack would look against Joe Lee Dunn's defense that was ranked #90 in the country in 2004.

The early returns for Ole Miss were very good. Michael Spurlock came out on the move and hit two wide open targets for big gains. Mico McSwain provided a burst in the backfield that was sorely missing when he was out. Ole Miss got a quick lead, but then things changed.

Robert Lane was in the game and not effective, Spurlock was sitting more in the pocket, and Jamal Pittman didn't look very good at the running back position. After a game swinging third quarter interception, Ole Miss runs two plays right up the middle, before getting bailed out on fourth and five by Spurlock's quick feet.

Ole Miss finished with 262 yards of offense. What has to be disturbing is the 55 yards rushing on 36 carries. Technically this was an improvement though, the Rebels only managed 240 yards in 2004, and more importantly, the Rebels came away with a win.

Sometimes I think Joe Lee Dunn is unconventional for the sake of being unconventional. With Ole Miss just trying to eat up some clock and put the game away, Memphis is lined up in a two man front. Predictably, Ole Miss gets a big chunk of yardage and sets up a 2nd and four. I guess it worked out though, because on the next play, Memphis sent seven players and dropped the rebels for a loss.

Jemarca Sanford made a spectacular debut for the Rebels. He was all over the field.

Linebacker Patrick Willis may be the best player that no one in the SEC knows about.

Sometimes camera work can be too good. Patrick Byrne obviously broke both bones in his leg after seeing the replay. Prayers on a speedy recovery for a quarterback's season coming to an end prematurely.

Replacing Byrne was Will Hudgens. Hudgens was a three-star recruit in high school, and he showed a lot of promise with big throws and a gutsy performance.

Ole Miss faces 1-0 Vanderbilt next.

While I didn't see the Vanderbilt game, the scores were being shown during the South Carolina broadcast, and it seemed to follow the Commodore script: a good lead late, fall behind late, and come up short in the end. This Commodore team found a way to win though. Congratulations, Wake Forest is one of the most underrated teams in the South year in and year out.

The weekend set up nicely for the ESPN/ABC combination as all of the weekend's action culminated with the big enchilada. The Noles and the Canes in Tallahassee.

Both teams would be breaking in new quarterbacks, and both teams showed no respect for the other's passing game early. Drew Weatherford of Florida State seemed to have a better feel for the game early than Wright, but Wright got in a comfort zone and showed much more promise down the line.

Tyrone Moss looked like the man to carry the Hurricane attack early as he was ripping off huge chunks of yardage.

The Florida State corners were going to be scrutinized with the loss of Antonio Cromartie, and it was a mixed bag for the Seminoles. Tony Carter got pushed to the ground like a child by Moss in the first series, but he recovered nicely and made several nice open field tackles and was solid in pass coverage.

Gerard Ross had a game that he would probably like to forget at the other corner. He was victimized several times, but came up with a big play in the second half to swat down an out pattern.

J.R. Bryant got called for a pass interference penalty that probably wasn't, but he was beaten so badly on the play, that he was going for the pass interference when the ball hit him just before he got to the receiver. Call it an "intent" pass interference flag.

Defenses shined in this game, and as always there were some outstanding individual efforts. It's easy to see why Miami doesn't have trouble recruiting tight ends. Every time I watch Miami, the tight end is the offensive star, and last night was no different. Greg Olsen has All-American potential.

It's hard not to believe in destiny when watching a Florida State/Miami game. So many times the Noles have come up short when they seemed to be the better team. Last night, Miami was clearly the better team, but it just didn't happen for the Hurricanes. Ironically, it was the kicking game that bolstered the Noles to a victory.


Florida State's De'Cody Fagg, center, celebrates Florida State's 10-7 win over Miami. (AP Photo/Phil Coale)

Ernie Sims had a mixed day as well. He showed his 5 Star ability on a one handed interception. He also may have been a victim of fatigue as Kyle Wright beat him to the corner on a scramble.

As a former wide receiver, I can guarantee that Sims is having a conversation with first time starter Tony Carter about crack back blocks. Sims was a victim of one of the best crack back blocks I've ever seen. Miami's Darnell Jenkins leveled Sims in the fourth quarter. Carter made the tackle on the screen play, but he's getting a little coaching from Sims on his responsibility to call out the "CRACK!"

On a side note, Sims was initially flagged for removing his helmet. He had his helmet removed for him, but he should have been flagged for jawing at Jenkins after the hit. Come on Ernie, you've hit enough people that hard to know how silly it looks if they get up talking to you.

Poetic Justice for Florida State fans to win on a botched kick.

All in all, it was a terrific first week of college football. Oklahoma and Miami have dug themselves a hole that they might not be able to get out of to get into the National Championship hunt, Georgia waxed a dangerous Boise State team. Steve Spurrier, Urban Meyer, and Ed Orgeron all had successful coaching debuts with Les Miles' put on hold. Georgia Tech gave notice to the ACC that they're still one to be contended with. Kentucky earned a lot of respect in a loss, and Florida State won the big one.

Until next time…


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