Peiser's picks: Autumn winds separate meek, strong

VandyMania's resident mathematician Howell Peiser suffered through his first losing weekend of the season last week, dropping his season record to a "mere" 33-14 against the point spread. He's back for more, however, and this week even submits a diagram for a trick play for Vanderbilt to use against Ron Zook and the visiting Florida Gators.

To borrow from ABC Sports Commentator Dave Johnson, "And Dooooooowwwn The Stretch They Come!" At this point in the season, we don't know if we are watching the football equivalent of Jaipur and Ridan in the 1962 Travers Stakes (two super horses who jumped to the lead at the start and stayed within a neck of each other for 1 1/4 miles, with Jaipur winning by a nose on the last stride).

Are Southern California and Oklahoma today's Jaipur and Ridan positioning themselves for a duel stretch run at the Orange Derby? Can Auburn, Wisconsin, Utah, and Boise State remain unbeaten? Can Texas, Tennessee, Georgia, California, or Michigan sneak into the Orange Bowl picture if the undefeated teams fall? We may not have the answers until December, but there are several games this week with serious implications and repercussions. Let's take a look at a few; some will surprise you.

Marshall at Akron: Can you believe the Zips could wiggle their way into the MAC East Championship with a win at home Friday night? Yes, a team that lost to MTSU could be bowl-bound. The Zips are 4-1 in league play, while Marshall comes in at 5-0. Akron plays at weak Ohio U. and hosts Miami of Ohio to close the season. If the Zips can pull off the upset against the Thundering Herd, they have an excellent shot at making the MAC title game. What a shock that would be!

Rutgers at Boston College: Boston College is 1-1 in the Big East and closes with four November conference games. Among the four is a visit to West Virginia. The Eagles are a legitimate challenger to the Mountaineers. Rutgers must win two of three to finish 6-5 and hope for a bowl bid. They finish at Navy and home against Connecticut. Saturday's game is a must win for B-C's title hopes and RU's bowl hopes. Expect some hard hitting and good chowder.

Pittsburgh at Syracuse: Call this a coach's elimination game. The losing team's coach can get in line for unemployment insurance. Pitt actually still holds slim Big East title hopes, and the winner of this game has excellent bowl prospects. Should Pitt pull off the minor upset, they could be playing for a BCS bid when they host West Virginia on Thanksgiving Day. If that happens, Walt Harris should tell the Panther followers to shove it and find a better job.

Georgia Tech at North Carolina State: I believe the loser of this game will slip under .500 by the end of the season. The Yellow Jackets handed the game to Virginia Tech last week, and I think they are on the verge of folding. The Wolfpack looked like they hadn't recovered from the Miami loss when they fell to Clemson last week. Both teams have remaining games against teams that should beat them, and with six ACC schools all bundled together at four overall wins apiece, this game is an eliminator.

Kansas State at Missouri: The Big XII North looks like the 1973 National League East pennant race. The winner could very easily end up 4-4 in conference play. K-State is 1-4 in league play, and they still have an outside shot at making the title game if they win three straight. I don't think it will happen. Missouri is just 2-3 after losing big at Nebraska, and they are still in the race. One of these two will still have a chance after Saturday, but both schools are suffering disappointing campaigns. As an added "bonus", the loser of this game is probably headed to a sub-.500 finish.

Nebraska at Iowa State: Now, how about something completely wacky? Iowa State could very easily find itself in the driver's seat for the North title if it can upset the Cornhuskers at home. It's no given that Nebraska can win this game. The Cyclones get Missouri at home the following week, before closing at Kansas State. By winning the next two, they could still lose the finale in the Little Apple and wind up in the Big XII Title game at 4-4 in the conference, 6-5 overall. Nebraska can practically wrap up the top spot with a win in this game, even if it loses to both Oklahoma and Colorado and finish 4-4/6-5. Just think of all those Texas fans if the Longhorns go 10-1 and watch a 6-5 team play Oklahoma for the title.

Arkansas at South Carolina: It's almost a given that the SEC will fail to furnish their required eight bowl-eligible teams. In fact, the league could easily come up two teams shy. The loser of this game will be staying at home in December and January. If Arkansas wins, it still has some work to do. The Razorbacks could win this one and still finish 5-6, leaving the SEC with possibly five bowl-eligible teams at the end of the year. South Carolina is bowl-bound if it wins this one. If they lose, then losses to Florida and Clemson would leave them at 5-6 and probably force Lou Holtz out.

The Debate Over The Trick Play

Much has been written on VandyMania's message boards about Vanderbilt's lack of utilizing a trick (or unorthodox) play every now and again. Several other teams in contention for either a conference championship or the national championship have used timely trick plays to break open games this season. I think Tommy Tuberville has gotten a lot of mileage out of his trick play repertoire this season. Against Arkansas, the reverse opened the floodgates. Auburn deflated a fired up defense after that play, and the points began to come rather easily. Last week against Ole Miss, Tuberville called for a double reverse midway through the second quarter in a scoreless game. It worked again, and the Tigers watched Ole Miss's defense play a little hesitantly the rest of the game, surrendering five touchdowns.

USC has used the handoff with toss back to the quarterback for a long pass play, erroneously called the "Flea Flicker," with much success. Even conservative, grind-it-out Wisconsin has resulted to a little trickery this year with good results. So, why not Vanderbilt, a team that looks like it could sure use a shot in the arm?

It's funny. Woody Widenhofer was practically ridden out of town on a rail for using failed trick plays. However, I think we are talking about two different birds here. Faking a punt at your own 20-yard line when you are leading in the second half is suicide. What Auburn, USC, and Wisconsin have done are sound misdirection and counter plays. Vanderbilt could very well benefit from the use of such plays. I think we haven't seen them try it because most of these plays require the offensive line to sustain its blocks longer than normal, and our coaching staff realizes the limitations with our line. There are some excellent surprise plays with sound football principles that might jar an opposing defense without taxing the offensive line. Remember that at one time the draw play, the trap, and the screen pass were considered trick plays. No offensive play with sound principles should be discounted just because it isn't standard fare, especially if it might exploit an opponent's weakness. I credit Titans coach Jeff Fisher as a genius in identifying such weaknesses.

Since it looks as though we will not see our beloved Commodores attempt one of these exciting plays, I have an idea that may still help the team. What if everyone at VandyMania who has some coaching experience submit a trick play? The word is that other teams have an assistant assigned to lurking around for any tidbits they might pick up. There is a good chance that Vanderbilt's coaches and players have visited here as well. We can plant the seed in the minds of all those opposing assistants by submitting a few dozen trick plays here. The opponents will have to spend time trying to determine whether someone at Vanderbilt has picked up an idea from this board and might spring it in a game. If we can force the opponent to spend even 15 minutes discussing this possibility, that's 15 minutes they lose in regular game prep. So here goes with my top trick play.

I used this play with much success in my 20 years as a coach. It averaged over 30 yards a try and scored a touchdown about 40% of the time. The offense aligns with a tight end, split end, and flanker in a normal pro look and the backs in an opposite alignment (FB behind QB and TB behind weak tackle). On the "set" call, the split end moves back a foot off the line of scrimmage, while the flanker moves up on the line, covering the tight end. This makes the tight end ineligible, while making the weak tackle eligible. On the snap here are the assignments:

Flanker: Run a deep out route taking the wide secondary defender out of the play.

Tight End: Even though you are an ineligible receiver, run a deep bend route. Most of the time, a safety will not recognize this fact and cover you deep taking him out of the play.

Strong Tackle: Inside zone blocking rule

Strong Guard: Inside zone blocking rule

Center: Inside zone blocking rule

Weak Guard: Pull and seal at the strong-side corner. Ignore the defensive end and contain man.

Weak Tackle: Pull with guard and follow closely behind him. Stay to the inside of the guard and a foot deeper in the backfield. Focus your eyes on the tailback expecting the ball. Split End: Run a deep post pattern trying to split the seam on your side.

QB: Reverse pivot, pitch to TB, and block downfield at the point of attack.

FB: Fill for the pulling weak side. Don't allow a crashing end to destroy the play.

TB: Catch pitch from QB and sprint to the strong-side perimeter without gaining vertical ground. As the linebackers pursue you, shovel the ball to the weak tackle who is three yards inside of you and two yards forward. If there is any doubt with the shovel, keep on the sweep. The tackle takes the shovel pitch behind the line of scrimmage (thus the ineligible TE is not creating a penalty). He follows the pulling guard and cuts inside the linebackers who have pursued wider than he.

The first time I used this play was in 1978 as a youth assistant coach. As a freshman at Tulane in 1979, I showed it during preseason drills to Green Wave Offensive Coordinator Lindy Infante. He thought the play was so good, he copied it down and planned to use it during the 1979 season. Wouldn't you know it, that was the year Rock Hontas, Alton Alexis, Rodney Holman, Reggie Regginelli, and Ed Murray chose to break all of Tulane's offensive records. TU went 9-2 and never needed to use the play.

This Week's Vanderbilt-Florida Game

Florida finds itself in an unusual position, one it hasn't had to worry about in 25 years. Florida's last losing season was the 0-10-1 debacle in 1979. The Gators have Vandy, South Carolina and Florida State remaining on their schedule and must go 2-1 to finish 6-5. Vanderbilt has a chance to pull off the upset, but it will only happen if the Commodores play a full four quarters, while Florida's defense lays an egg. If Vandy is going to win this game, it needs to score at least 30 points. Now, if the Gators somehow manage to get up for this one, then they will win by double digits. Talent-wise, when you pit offensive vs. defensive counterparts, Florida rates as 8-12 points better when you factor in Vanderbilt's small home field advantage.

This Week's Picks

Well, I finally suffered a losing week. The 2-3 record against the spread last week lowers me to 33-14-0 for the season. It could have been worse, but Michigan's big comeback picked up one win and Utah's emptying of its bench prevented the other win from becoming a loss. 2-3 is better than 0-5. For this week, I find myself hard-pressed to find much value. There are many games that could go either way, and I want to avoid playing those in any manner. I'm going to take a stab at some straight picks this week and forego the teasers and parlays. I've found seven games where I think I have identified some angles to play.

Minnesota at Wisconsin: This is the battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe. I think the Badgers will be chopping wood on Saturday. Wisconsin has had a week off to heal some wounds, most notably Erasmus James. Minnesota is beginning to fade as the season winds down. The Badgers are favored by 6, and I think they'll cover. The Badger defense has shut down the run this season, and the Gophers don't scare people through the air. Temple at West Virginia: The Mountaineers are favored by only 28 points over a Temple team that gave up 45 at UConn last week. This is Temple's third consecutive road game, and I look for them to lose big this week. WVU hasn't set the woods on fire, but I think they are due for a romp. Take WVU and give the 4 TD's.

Colorado State at Utah: This is one of those gut-feeling games. The Utes are favored by 27 over a Rams team headed for their first losing season in several years. CSU could still finish 6-5 by winning out, but that's not going to happen. However, the Rams will probably play their best game of the year, or at least their best until they realize they have lost. My instincts say that CSU could put a mighty scare in the Utes. Take The Rams and 27 points.

San Diego State at Brigham Young: BYU is a 9-point favorite. My raw ratings say that's exactly where they should be picked. So why am I playing this game? I think the Aztecs are a tired team ready to fold up the tent and go home. BYU is 4-4 with a game against Utah still lurking. The Cougars know they better win this one. I'm looking for a two-touchdown or more win from BYU. Take the Cougars and give the points.

Notre Dame at Tennessee: Notre Dame has had a week off to prepare for this game, while Tennessee has had to prepare for it minus one of its two freshman quarterbacks. You'd think the Irish were a good pick here, right? Wrong. Tennessee's talent across the board beats Notre Dame's talent. The Irish are making only their third road trip of the season and have only faced this type of speed and strength once this year; in that game, they lost by 25 at home to Purdue. Take Tennessee and give the 7 points. Arizona at Washington: Washington is favored by one little point. The Huskies had an emotional week with the news that Coach Keith Gilbertson would not be returning. Arizona has kept games close this year, having improved defensively, but they haven't been able to play four quarters of good ball. I think Washington will win one for the coach this Saturday. Take UW and give the point.

Oklahoma State at Texas: The Cowboys just have to deflate some this weekend. When a team plays a big game at home and then goes on the road for a big game, they almost always bounce at least a little. The Longhorns are favored by 12 1/2 points, which under normal circumstances might be a little too much. I think Texas believes they can snag one of the at-large bids to the BCS, and they could still sneak into the Orange Bowl picture if USC, Auburn, and Wisconsin were to lose. Texas could easily jump over Cal and Utah in this instance. This one has to be a big win for that to happen. Take Texas and give the 12 1/2.

Bundle up, Vandy fans. For those of you going to the game this weekend, watch out for that autumn wind. The autumn wind is a Raider, pillaging just for fun. He'll knock you around and upside down and laugh when he's conquered and won (by Steve Sabol and spoken by John Facenda, THE VOICE at NFL Films).

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