Thursday, October 11, 2007

Sheetrock Scars and the Tears of Tebow: A Transcendent Steal in Tiger Stadium

[I'm writing this from a Holiday Inn Express in Pascagoula, MS. I'm still at the phase of my life-- and will probably continue to be for the next ten years or so-- where any kind of traveling is exciting. Everything's so clean in hotels, it's awesome. They have multiple pillow firmnesses? I don't even know what a Simply Smart (TM) shower head is, but I like it. I'm with two professors (one of them my adviser), and we're presenting some ideas to Northrop Grumman Ship Systems in the morning. It's my first real business trip, and I'd be a lot more excited if I didn't have to give a presentation on ideas that almost certainly will not be received well (But I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night! Albert Poo-Lols.). But still, like pancakes and hearing "The Good Life" on the radio, I'm going to enjoy it before it inevitably gets old.]

Last year, I made it a point to watch LSU at Florida by myself. I had arranged everything perfectly-- my spot on the couch where we torched Mississippi State 35-0 on our first five possessions the week before, my faded purple hat/gold "Fight for LSU" t-shirt getup, my mini-pregame consisting of "Drumline Cadences," "Pregame," alma mater, and "Hold that Tiger"-- and I confidently believed we'd start our one-loss march toward Glendale. Florida looked like asshole the week before in a "revenge" game vs. Alabama in Gainesville, and their offense was sputtering perhaps worse than it was in 2005. Hell, Urban Meyer cried the last time he faced our defense.

The shirt/hat combo is like 6-0 in home games and 0-1 on the road. It's won some big ones-- '05 Auburn, '05 Florida, '07 South Carolina, and '07 Florida.
It didn't matter where I sat; we played like shit. We had two separate 14-point swings due to JaMarcus turnovers (JaMarcus and everything related to Florida don't mix), the first of which I threw my hat so hard at the wall, the sheetrock fused a mark on the bill of my cap. It was one of those clean-up-the-apartment games-- you reserve an entire 4-hour block of your Saturday toward watching it, but there comes a point in the third quarter where it's more practical and healthy to just complete some chores instead of listlessly staring at the TV.

I've been wearing the cap since I bought it the day before the '05 Tennessee game -- an immediate red flag-- but it's by far my favorite post-Katrina hat. And I'll never forget why that mark is still so prominent after a full year; I let LSU's last loss smart just as much as the players did.

I've been guardedly proud of this team so far this season. We're almost expected to start 5-0 in odd-numbered years; the season was unreadable until some form of adversity came our way. And it most certainly did last Saturday night. With all this senior leadership, the clear mindset of One Goal, and the subsequent unselfishness of so much talent, I imagined it difficult for this team to just roll over at any point in the season. My dad always talked about senior leadership being the most important facet of a team's success, and no season is that more evident than this one. Frankly, the degrees of separation between LSU athletes and, say, Ole Miss athletes are not that vast.

A word on the environment in Baton Rouge. I can't ever remember a pre-game on the LSU campus with more. More cars, more people, more tents (some people were satisfied to stake claim behind Gatti's, for example, which is unheard of), more intangible buzz. The day was really memorable by 4:00. Every single fan brought their A-game, and often showed it by noon. It was a tailgate on steroids, perhaps with a spare smoked pig head lying around. I can only imagine how it was Friday night.

Save it for the Arkansas game.

Florida's had two #1 recruiting classes in a row, and it shows. Their pregame warmup was crisp and speedy-- and confident. They narrowly avoided stomping on the Tiger Eye after wrapping up what looked like a mini-walk-through, and then (probably accidentally) stomped right on the thing after their warmup. BOOOOOOOO! They looked like a team with nothing to lose, which is exactly what I didn't want. Thanks, Auburn.

They won the toss and chose to receive-- unheard of in recent college football-- and executed the Rick Clausen Memorial 8-Yard Drag Over the Middle about 5 times to Harvin while driving the field. It also didn't help that Jasper Jones or Andrew Crutchfield (it's hard to tell) pooched it about 20 yards too short on the opening kickoff, giving the Gators the ball at their 40. Brandon James isn't that good. We were lucky to give up a field goal. One thing I love about '00s LSU is the "L-S-U!" chant from the student section immediately following the opponent's first score.

And then one of those heart-stopping bubble screens backfired, which happens less often than you'd imagine, and it was Gator ball around the LSU 40. CBS brought their A-game, too-- they were averaging a commercial break per minute of game play in the first six minutes. Estimated conclusion of game: 1:15 AM. Probably Tebow's finest drive of the night resulted in a What The Fucker to Kestahn Moore, who looked like friggin' Archie Griffin for 45 minutes against our front seven. You can thank Tebow Overcompensation for that. 10-0, Baby Gators.

There only appeared to be two ways to go with Tebow: either he gets/gives teabaggings to other dudes, or he wears jean shorts. Either, or. I'll admit it-- if I were a Florida fan, I'd wear jorts to every game, tongue-in-cheek of course. LSU can't claim one clothing item their own, sadly.

(Side note on Timothy Tebow: a win helps this a lot, but I can actually stand the guy now. I used to think he overcelebrated even the simplest three-yard-runs-- especially for a white guy-- but he can do whatever he wants. There's no other player like him in college football right now. He's the most effective running quarterback since Vince Young, or maybe the App. State/Oregon type-- but only against Michigan. He can singlehandedly take over a game in the fastest, strongest conference in its most hostile environment... at the age of 20. We saw it happen at least twice. And the whole cellphone thing in the first quarter is completely understandable now. He seems completely true to himself and his upbringing; he's extremely religious and aw-shucks enough to let his dorky emotions take over whenever they have to. He better win the Heisman this season. And I'm saying this about a guy that was on the field for the '05 UF/LSU game on a recruiting visit to Baton Rouge and still chose the Gators. Eh, that was a day game.)

One of the most frustrating things about the entire game was the comparison of the scoring drives of both teams, in terms of effort: UF scored on what seemed like 5 play-75 yarders all night and rarely faced third downs; we needed fake field goals and 4th-and-Goals from the 3 to even stay competitive. That's all I said in the second quarter: Keep the damage manageable. Florida's playing a perfect half. That's how I held myself over to halftime. Halftime itself was a sour, parched, brooding, and cynical 20 minutes. The team didn't even look halfway motivated on their way out of the tunnel. So much for mental toughness and the never-say-die singular goal of the senior leadership.

Tank and I talked the day after the game, and he mentioned that it was as close to a Madden type of game as you could imagine, with all the fourth-down conversions involved on our side. And that's certainly true. I'd also add to the Madden theme by saying that these two teams, with their high-profile coaching staffs and recruiting classes, were satisfied to keep running the same six or seven plays over and over again. Actually, it was more like three or four plays. Florida fancied the Kestahn Moore delay to the left or right, the Harvin drag I mentioned, and of course the Tebow Dive. For us, it was left/right tackle with whoever in the Williams/Scott/Holliday troupe that happened to be on the field, the bubble screen to LaFell (who's officially the '04 Dwayne Bowe and is probably also legally blind), and of course the three-yard push up the middle with Hester. For massive, complicated spread offense playbooks, the same plays were really used all night, like I'd use the Wheel Route in NCAA '07.

The third quarter involved more brooding and silence on my part-- obviously, I wasn't quiet when Florida had the ball-- and I can't particularly arrange the sequence of external events very well after the fact. By that, I mean the announcement by Dan Borne'that USC had lost to Stanford 24-23. I remember not particularly caring, and for that reason, it must have been a low-momentum point in the game. But after the fact I read that it happened after we had scored to make it 17-14 in the third; I'm almost positive that wasn't the case-- I think it was 24-14. Either way, I remember a point in the third quarter where the crowd was yelling (as if Florida was about to run a play) throughout an entire commercial break. I can never remember anything like it.

Then Tebow led his 5-play, 75-yarder to make it 24-14. How many qyarterbacks in the country can do that? Three or four? Let Matt Ryan or Brian Brohm not only have aural trouble calling the play but hearing the coaches plan the play for him and see how they do. We weren't losing this game until Steltz-- who had not broken a coverage since the 22nd UF point of last year-- bit on a screen and left Caldwell (?) wide open. Colt David particularly continued the questionable legacy of LSU kickers. My God, a thirty-seven yarder at home? Those biweekly trips to Cabo haven't been helping his concentration much.

No homo. Three dudes and an air mattress raft in what looks like 1000 Flushes. No homo on "air," "raft," and "flushes."

The fourth-down gambles particularly confused me. Um, why wouldn't you kick the tying field goal with two minutes to go from your own seven? Am I missing something? I was the only one questioning this, until I realized hours later that that would be the definition of playing not to lose a game. The main reason we were back in the thing was because Florida's offense was off the field for nearly the entire 4th Quarter. Our offense had been sputtering on every drive around the UF 30. We would have lost in overtime, and the opportunity to win presented itself. Under normal conditions on paper, you kick the field goal, but these weren't normal conditions-- it was the best assemblies of talent in the country, one of which was defending a title, hitting harder and playing with more crowd-fueled passion than I've ever seen in a recent regular season game. You get lost in the moment, trust your seniors, and finish the other team off. A tip of the large, white, iconic hat to Les "Lesticles" Miles for knowing his players better than anyone else in the stadium, including a motley crew of Jerry Tarkanian, Rick Reilly, and James Carville.

The focus is there. The talent's been there. The senior leadership's there. We now know the coach is there. Will the ball continue to bounce our way? Will we get overconfident before games like Louisiana Tech and Ole Miss? What does Saban have up his sleeve to stop a lot of the offense he helped install? Who will we be playing in Atlanta if we make it there? These are common discussion topics in South Louisiana. Whatever happens, you reach a point in the season where you're proud of the team no matter what. My dad said you can never let the success of your team rest on having an undefeated season, and this season is more indicative of that. It's not healthy, it's not fair, and you're constantly going to be disappointed. This is the most unselfish, dedicated, focused, mature, and mentally tough LSU team I've ever experienced-- by far. And for those reasons, they're simply likeable. We haven't done anything to alienate the average college football fan, and we're colorful enough to provide stories like this, this, and this. Let's just take a step back and enjoy that. There's no Heisman candidate on this team, and I wouldn't want it any other way; during the South Carolina game, when Dorsey went down for a play, my dad said it was the first time he'd ever heard a player's full name being chanted by the crowd. Last Saturday, Tyson Jackson had a similar situation, and "Ty-son Jack-son!" resonated from the student section. Seemingly irrelevant, but tellingly symbolic; we greedy Louisianians have never liked cheering for just one player when there's a whole team of them right there behind him.


Now, I realize a lot of this is meaningless if we lose tomorrow in Lexington. The recipe for disaster letdown game is there, without a doubt, but I like our chances of settling down by the second quarter. The crowd will be sky-high (it's the biggest game in Kentucky since the '50s or '60s, I'd imagine), and we'll probably get off to a rocky start. It's comforting to know we have the personnel and mental toughness to remain calm about whatever happens in that first quarter.

Andre Woodson is JaMarcus Russell. Same size, throwing capabilities, everything. Right down to the crooked, awkward smile.

From an Xs and Os standpoint, we match up rather well with Kentucky. Our defense has shown signs of vulnerability against five-wide sets, and we'll certainly see a lot of that Saturday. But, unlike the Florida game, we won't have to spy a linebacker or safety on the quarterback-- Andre Woodson isn't going anywhere. We typically match up well with pocket passers, and the JaMarcus-like Woodson is certainly that. Their running game appears to have taken a hit with the injury to Rafael Little, who is at the very most limited for Saturday.

And their defense has given up 34 to Louisville and 38 to South Carolina, who was frankly lucky to score 16 on us. It's rare that I'm optimistic like this, and I might end up eating my words on Sunday, but I feel this team has too much leadership and focus to piss away a season defining win like last week's. And we have a running game, too. And Early Doucet is suiting up for us this week; although he'll be limited, he clearly takes our passing game from mediocre to decent. But that's if Flynn can throw it anywhere near the receivers, or if we even allow Ryan Perrilloux to throw a football without the pillow of a 21-point lead. But that's an entirely different column.

The prediction: LSU 38 Kentucky 21


Some errata on the team I'd been meaning to talk about:

- The story of Glenn Dorsey's handicapped youth is the new 10.02 100-meter dash, which was the new Herman Johnson is the Biggest Baby Evar, which was the new Dwayne Bowe is blind. Friggin' love this team. The sad thing is, with twenty more minutes of research, they'd uncover stories like Keiland Williams: Vegetarian? and T.C. McCartney: The Silver Spoon Quarterback. If Flynn was a Victory Cigar, T.C. McCartney is a Victory Hotbox inside a 747. That reminds me, my dad was so fed up with Flynn last weekend, he was calling for Andrew Hatch to take a snap or two. Hatch, with his Harvard background, can only be known as the Victory Tobacco Pipe.

- It appears X-man got himself into a bit of trouble-- pulling the legal equivalent of kneeling on his own half-yard line by voluntarily remaining on the lam from LSU PD for about a week ago. Certainly stackin' cheese overseas, no doubt. He eventually turned himself in, but faces legal charges regarding the vandalization of a university coed's automobile. Whatever happens, he'll still reside at the 187 Drive-By Lane of our hearts.

- I haven't really been able to experience it, but Hester must be having a record-setting season in terms of "Wait! He's white!" comments from play-by-play guys. If Ron Franklin was saying the word "deceptive" about twice a minute last season against Fresno State, then Verne Lundquist must've exploded. Oh, wait, he and Gary Danielson-- who will without a doubt be a joy to watch a game involving Andre Woodson with-- were too busy gloryholing Mr. Tebow all night. That's one of the main reasons I decided to just go to the game... my mental, emotional, and sanity states just couldn't have taken a game of this magnitude on CBS. Da-dadada----dadadada---dadadadadadada---dadadadadadada---DAAA! It's been programmed to induce ice-cold hands and a Bubis-level blood pressure in me; I need help.

- P.T.


Tank said...

Son of a bitch.

Nice column I guess.

Will said...

Pascagoula is a weird name