Each week, during college football season DPB’s Kyle Magin and Andrew J. Pridgen pour on the prose with Pints and Picks™. Who to wager and (sometimes) what to drink while doing it. This week: #smallconferencesbigresults
Do you remember the first time you saw a true running quarterback tuck it and go? I wasn’t old enough for Charlie Ward, but I’m keenly aware of the moment in 1999 when I gained a full appreciation of what Michael Vick could do to an opposing defense.
He was leading a last-minute drive against West Virginia wherein you could see the terror on the defenders’ faces. There’s no initiative on behalf of the Mountaineers’ defenders—their entire strategy is to read what #7 was doing and react. At the outset of a play at about the :36 second mark in the video linked above, you can see the down linemen rise out of their stances to watch Vick, almost like they’re dropping into pass coverage when what they’re really doing is letting him decide which edge he wants to slice them open from. The second and third levels of the Mountaineer defense are only half-watching the Hokie receiving threats, which is how Vick picked up his first 30 yards of the drive, and then boom, he’s gone. Vick cut up the right sideline, and, at a place where most leaden signal-callers would have stepped out, #7 tiptoes down the line for another 18 yards on what would prove to be a 20-plus yard game. In an instant.
I’d never seen the like of it before in my life. When done exceptionally well, having the ability to run at QB is like playing 12-11 in the NCAA football game. In the decade-and-a-half since then, I’ve seen and appreciated running quarterbacks of varying skill sets. Tim Tebow ran a power-option that challenged defenders to derail his Mack truck of a body with designed, north-south set pieces. Colin Kaepernick was also more vertical than elusive, taking off with long, galloping strides from the frenetic pistol formation, aka the only place in America where you can lose a 6’5” gazelle if you aren’t totally aware. Johnny Manziel played a transcendent scrambler at TAMU, using his legs to buy himself a split second to launch some off-balance rocket 80 yards downfield into the waiting hands of a receiver.
Over the past two weekends, I sort of wondered if I’ve seen the next step in the evolution. Louisville’s Lamar Jackson last weekend slashed Florida State to pieces, putting together designed interior rushes with spur-of-the-moment tuck-and-go streaks down the sideline. Jackson passes infrequently–he had just 20 attempts versus FSU, and connected on 13 of them for 216 yards and a score, though–because he doesn’t need to, with legs that are good for 146 yards and 4 TDs. Similarly, in Auburn, John Franklin III (a player on Netflix’s must-see Last Chance U) has pretty audaciously auditioned for the Tigers’ starting job. On the last three series in last weekend’s 29-16 loss to Texas A&M, Franklin shook things up, guiding Auburn to 159 yards over that stretch. Even when he wasn’t rushing four times for more than 10 yards a pop and completing two first down passes, Franklin had the Aggies’ defense looking out for him rather than his running backs, who torched them for a touchdown and long runs of 33 and 14 yards.
AJ, what I’ve taken the long way to get toward this point (unlike these guys), but we’re seeing, again, the impact these sort of athletes can have on the game. You see their impact in the spread (unranked Auburn is only a 3.5 pt dog to No. 18 LSU this weekend on rumors of Franklin’s impending start) and on their teammates, who watch a world of options open up in front of them when a fleet quarterback takes the snap. I feel like we’ve been waiting on the revolution–where many, many QBs across the country possess this skill set rather than just here and there–for years. Perhaps guys like Jackson and Franklin are still on the leading edge of a trend, or they’re just mutants, like their predecessors, freaks destined to bend the sport to their will for a few years before being square pegged into a round hole in the NFL. However it turns out, I wish there was more of their like, and I look forward to seeing what they do in this week and all the weeks to come.
That said, we’ll be keeping an eye on sorts of football this weekend, from the spotlight matchups to games a little further from the limelight. AJ, what are you looking forward to?
Wow, you’re bringing back some faint but indelible memories.
As far as the true running quarterback goes, I dial it back to Steve Young at BYU (and later with the 49ers, especially this Tecmo Bowl-inspired 49-yard scramble against the Vikings) as the genesis.
Along with Young, there was Flutie at BC (and later with pretty much every NFL team) who is oft-recalled for Miracle in Miami Hail Mary:
…but was better known up to that point for being the first college quarterback to be so slippery-aggressive that D-linemen couldn’t just stand around or roll over ankles anymore.
Andre Ware’s Heisman-winning 1989 season with Houston in which he threw for a career’s worth 365 completions in 578 pass attempts with 4,699 passing yards and 46 touchdowns — tying or breaking 27 NCAA records, was done so not on arm strength but because of his elusiveness, mobility and toughness. I hate going down the black quarterback to black quarterback comparison rabbit hole (an awful habit the sports media world ESPN on down is guilty of) but I do think Ware’s performance, along with the emergence of Randall Cunningham for the NFL Eagles around the same time, solidified the idea that the best athlete on the field plays quarterback, regardless of color, pedigree, background …or shoe sponsor — period.
So, like a junior high crush, those are my most lovably elusive guys.
And I too have been sucked into the Lamar Jackson show, begrudgingly as with all things college football, but I’m there. A talent so rich, so raw and yet refined, should be collecting a paycheck right. Fucking. Now. In the meantime, if I could spend four quarters cracking pilsners and watching Jackson and Christian McCaffrey perform — the pair is thus far showing at higher level than any college athlete since Bo Jackson at Auburn — it would be a fall day well-spent.
…Speaking of spending, well, suffice to say Kyle, I’m back in black with a reset week last week. Though I did fall partially to a “trap game” (betting that UNLV would cover on the road vs. momentum-rich and seemingly legit Central Michigan) in all I notched an .800 week to bring my season total to .500 for the first time. In the spirit of stuff begetting stuff, I’m gonna get right to a quartet of picks then will have a little bonus for you on the other side.
Utah -1 vs USC
Wow, has this line flip flopped from what it was shaping up to be pre-season. The no. 24 Utes, who are 3-0 and have only been tested by a so-so BYU at home, are the predictive favorite against the 1-2 USC Trojans for the Utes’ Pac-12 opener at Rice-Eccles.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham refused to give the Trojans any bulletin board fodder earlier this week when he showed his respect to the rebuilding juggernaut program out of Watts calling USC the “most-talented 1-2 team in the country.”
Notice how he didn’t say “best” or “most disciplined” or “most well-coached.” USC’s lone win was a decisive 45-7 victory against Utah State, but that was sandwiched by an absolute whoopin’ in Jerry World (52-6) at the hands of Alabama and a dismal scoreboard-didn’t-totally-reflect-the-one-sidedness 27-10 loss to Stanford last week. Granted — and Whittingham knows this — Bama and Stanford fans are already casually looking at Jan. 9 flights to Tampa which is 11 days shy of armageddon should you-know-who get elected.
Back to the present tense, this Utah/USC matchup simply comes down to coaching. Whittingham, as precise and measured and maximizing of his players’ strengths of any coach in the land, will have his Utes in mid-season fourth and fifth gear against the Trojans. Utah, which has mostly shed the moniker of a team that played a patsy Mountain West schedule and then overperformed during bowl season, is a legitimate contender, and perhaps favorite, for the conference’s south division crown. But there’s still an underdog spirit on the Wasatch front and look for this game, as ever, to be a statement one for fry-sauce-loving red machine.
Meantime, USC frontman Clay Helton, an interim coach after The Sark tanked, was awarded the permanent job last year by outgoing athletic director Pat Haden. He is 1-4 since trolling the sidelines full time and is garnering a reputation for doing less with more than any coach this side of South Bend. Last week, Trojans had a fourth and 6 at the 50, trailing the Cardinal by 17 points with nine minutes to go, Helton chose to punt.
Should his season continue to spiral, SC boosters will similarly kick Helton to the curb at season’s end. I like Utah by at least a touchdown and an easy cover of the seemingly low 47-point spread.
Final prediction: Utah 37, USC 23
Colorado +7.5 @ Oregon
Colorado is the most improved team in the conference (and maybe the nation) this season. Oregon’s only nearly indefensible weapon, running back Royce Freeman, left last Saturday’s game against Nebraska in the first quarter with an undisclosed leg injury. Though Freeman may be ready to go against the Buffaloes Saturday, he likely will see limited playing time and won’t be at full strength.
Oregon is also bereft of the services of Olympic hurdler and head field-stretcher Devon Allen who will reportedly miss the remainder of the season with an ACL injury as well as offensive line anchor Tyrell Crosby who hurt his left foot in Lincoln.
A bright spot for Oregon is the overall offense which is averaging 43 points per game with 296 rushing yards and 249.3 passing yards per game thanks to grad transfer Dakota Prukop. Prukop has completed 66.7% of his passes for 748 yards and 6 touchdowns for Oregon. But Oregon hasn’t yet seen a front seven as formidable (yes, you’re reading this right) as Colorado, who were more than serviceable against one of, if not the best D-line in Ann Arbor last week.
Colorado senior sensation Sefo Liufau is the PAC-12 south’s quarterback of note thus far this season (which is saying a lot considering Josh Rosen is in that pack.) Liufau has completed 71.1% of his passes for 768 yards and 6 touchdowns. The Buffaloes with Liufau under center were beating the Wolverines before he went out with an injury early in the third quarter. Liufau was 16 of 25 for 246 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions to that point.
Colorado also displays an impressive backfield. Running back Phillip Lindsay has rushed for 176 yards and 4 touchdowns, and back up Kyle Evans has rushed for 110 yards and a pair of scores.
The Buffaloes receiving corps should also give Oregon’s identity bereft secondary some trouble Saturday as well. Wideout Devin Ross has caught 18 passes for 202 yards and 4 touchdowns and speed burner Shay Fields has nabbed 9 passes for 256 yards and 1 touchdown. Including a second half at the Big House where things spiraled a bit, Colorado’s defense is giving up only 19.7 points per game with 119.7 rushing yards and 119.7 passing yards per game.
Besides the fact that Oregon still boasts the only indoor drinking facility adjacent to its stadium, I don’t see many advantages for the Ducks vs. the 2016 version of the Buffaloes.
But if you really need a reason to take Colorado, this week’s Oregon Duck mascot-themed uniforms can do nothing but backfire. It’ll be the moment in the alt-uni movement — you know, the time we wore orange Nikes to look like cartoon webbed feet — when things just went too far. Think the uniform equivalent of season five and beyond of New Girl. 68.5 is a reasonably high over, but I like both schools putting up points in the second half.
Final prediction: Colorado 47, Oregon 33
OK Kyle, take us away from the West Coast for a moment, would you?
Happily. I’m going to keep following the #MACtion in Kalamazoo this season until the wheels come off or the Western Michigan Broncos are upsetting some big league’s oxcart for a bowl bid or… I won’t even say it.
Let’s just enjoy this. Believe me, I am…to the extent that I make the Broncos my solitary, can’t-miss pick for week four:
Georgia Southern @ Western Michigan -7
Sun Belt vs. MAC. The 3-0 Eagles vs. the 3-0 Broncos. Friday night lights in Kalamazoo. Something’s gotta give, right? The G-S Eagles, who are a talented squad that hasn’t been through the competitive wringer the Broncos have, as WMU has been to both Evanston and Champaign this season on its march through the B1G’s entire Illinois contingent. The Broncos’ run splits are instructive here—the Broncos have gained 48 rushing first downs this season, while holding opponents to just 11. They convert on 45% of their third downs, compared to just 25% for opponents. They also roll the dice as successfully as any team in the country—luck being the intersection of preparation and opportunity—and have converted on 5 of 6 attempted fourth-down conversions in their first three games. There’s little P.J. Fleck’s bunch can’t wriggle out of. While G-S has a lot of similar, if not more impressive numbers in those categories, they show their warts on special teams. Both squads have returned 7 punts this season. The Broncos have converted those into 118 yards; while the Eagles have come up with just 48. The Eagles give up 14 yards per punt return, while gaining just under 7 themselves. Finally, the Eagles have (ironically) not been forced to take to the air—their QBs have hit on just 24 of 42 passes this season, while Zach Terrell and the Broncos have gone 50 for 72. If this turns into a shootout, WMU has the upper hand. Seven is a steal for this team in Kalamazoo. Take the Broncos.
One and done. I like that in a man.
For my final pick, I’m bringing it back to the rarified Central Coast, a spot I’ve been lucky to call home for the past half-decade…a place I like to refer as close to everything and home to nothing. Well, there’s a couple wineries here that make a nice stainless (see, not oaky) chard — if, you know, you’re into that kind of thing.
There’s also the matter of the bacon maple bar at SLO Donut Co., but that’s a story for a much later hour.
The Cal Poly campus is abuzz this week and not just because it’s the Week of Welcome (WoW, get it?) Where some five thousand incoming freshmen walk around campus and spill out into downtown wearing matching yellow shirts like some kind of zombie death cult clutching their devices looking for something that’s right in front of them and letting mom and dad know they’re still OK, just as they were three and a half minutes ago.
These super froshes are treated to a rare double header at Alex G. Spanos Stadium this weekend. First, a Friday night soccer showdown where the Mustang men try to redeem a thus far lackluster season on the pitch against perennial MLS-feeder UCLA. The Cal Poly men’s soccer team kind of runs the show in the land of farmers’ markets and 24-hour tri-tip and students turn out in kind with their vuvuzelas and face paint in droves.
Kyle, you and I have spoken recently about the rise to prominence of the “other” sports in California; and depending on what microclimate one is from, you have an array activities from which to choose when you’re an eight-year-old on the come up. The terroir from which I sprouted (Marin County) has done away with all but one of its Pop Warner programs and in its stead a proliferation of lacrosse is happening. In the East Bay, it’s all about what you can do in the pool, swimming or H20 polo, ditto most of the South Bay. Davis/Sac and north to Truckee it’s endurance sports headlined by cross-country running (and skiing were it to ever snow.)
San Diego is whatever the ocean tide doesn’t take out (I’m sure there’ll be a SUP league before too long) plus basketball and baseball especially in North County. Vegas is a baseball incubator (and in 20 years will be pumping kids into the NHL like nickels in a slot machine.) Los Angeles, what’s left of the inner-city anyway, is probably the only remaining fecund ground for five-star football recruits, but as friends and trends move away from the sport, and opportunity from it fades — so will it.
So even if the Bruins footy club’s emergence in the 805 this weekend is top billing, the Montana Grizzlies are coming to town Saturday to seek their revenge against the Mustangs. Last year, the Mustangs went into Missoula in the kick-off game and stole one from the Griz thanks to the leg of Poly’s Alex Vega who booted a 48-yarder to put the green and gold up 20-19 with four ticks remaining on the clock.
Cal Poly +3 vs. Montana
One year later, Montana (no. 6 1-AA) is 2-0 with convincing wins vs. Saint Francis and Northern Iowa. The Grizzlies roll into SLO off a bye week to face the Mustangs who return a league-leading 18 starters including seven on offense and seven on defense. Cal Poly (yet to crack the top 25) is a very strong 2-1, after barely getting nicked by the Nevada Wolfpack in week one and taking down San Diego week two and bolstering their collective Id week three on the road against then no. 9-ranked South Dakota State Jackrabbits (who were coming off a narrow loss week one to TCU.)
So it’s all happening for the Mustangs this season and Saturday looks to be a match to see who wants to be atop the conference. Cal Poly junior Joe Protheroe earned Big Sky Offensive Player of the Week honors with last week’s upset of SDSU. The 6-foot, 225-pound fullback rushed for a career-high 217 yards on 31 carries and scored two touchdowns including a 76-yard run in the fourth quarter that gave the Mustangs a 31-24 go-ahead.
Protheroe, who has rushed for 467 yards in three games this fall, leads the entire FCS coming into the Montana game as does the Cal Poly rushing attack in total (with 1,170 yards accumulated this season.)
Montana’s defensive line and the linebacking corps will be tasked with stopping Cal Poly’s triple option. And with a number 8 ranking in FCS for tackles-for-loss, the Griz should get in the Mustang’s backfield like a freshman through the back door of Bull’s Tavern.
Montana linebacker Josh Buss already has 16 tackles in addition to 1.5 sacks to lead the Griz defense. On the offensive side of the ball, Montana will see Cal Poly’s 3-4 front on defense and a speedy secondary which may be too much for the jet-lagged Missoulians (have you ever tried to fly into SLO? It’s effing impossible) to handle.
This may be a homefield bias, and I’ll be taking my son to his first college football game Saturday, ($6 tickets and all-you-can-drink warm brews in the Cal Poly tailgater…) yes, I’ve got friends in high places and I’m not just talking about Cal Poly’s most famous football alum Stef Djordjevic:
…But I think Poly is faster, craftier (never mess with engineers who know how to hit) and won’t let soccer steal all their mojo. Poly, the over 62 and the money line.
Final prediction: Cal Poly 41, Montana 38
Enjoy the weekend!
Last Week: 2 and 2
Overall: 6 and 6
Georgia Southern @ Western Michigan -7
Last Week: 4 for 6
Overall: 6 for 11
Utah -1 vs USC
Utah vs USC over 47
Colorado +7.5 @ Oregon
Colorado @ Oregon over 68.5
Cal Poly +3 vs. Montana
Cal Poly vs. Montana over 62