Tuesday, January 16, 2007

TROUBLE IN NUTTISTAN

The revolt continues in Nuttistan.

LITTLE ROCK -- Arkansas quarterback Mitch Mustain, undefeated as a Razorbacks starter after a stellar high school career, has been given permission to transfer to another university, coach Houston Nutt said Tuesday.
The move came one day after offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, Mustain's high school coach, left to become assistant head coach and co-offensive coordinator at Tulsa. Mustain and Malzahn joined the Razorbacks a year ago from Springdale High School.
Mustain asked for permission to transfer and Nutt appeared to be holding out hope Mustain might decide to stay with the team even after receiving his release.
"I don't know for sure where we are right now," Nutt said. "Naturally, I don't want him to go. I want him to stay here." ...
Last month, parents of Mustain and two other freshmen met with athletic director Frank Broyles amid concerns that Malzahn didn't have enough control over the offense. One of the freshmen, receiver Damian Williams, has since transferred to Southern California, and now Mustain has asked for his release.
The third freshman was tight end Ben Cleveland. Nutt said Cleveland was in Kansas for a friend's funeral, so his status is unclear. ...
Arkansas hired Malzahn after the 2005 season, and Mustain eventually signed with the Razorbacks. But Arkansas relied on its running game this year -- tailback Darren McFadden was the Heisman Trophy runner-up -- and the spread, no-huddle offense Malzahn used at Springdale never became a fixture.


Also waiting for O.J. to find the real killer.

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SHULA TO DOLPHINS?

When you first hear something bizarre, like "John Kerry said only stupid people go to Iraq," your first reaction is, there must be an explanation for this. Politicians don't say troops are dumb. (Actually, Kerry did, but that's beside the point.)

That's what you think when you hear, "Mike Shula was interviewed by the Dolphins."

There must be an explanation for this. Certainly, it's just a favor to Don Shula.

"Mike is a very, very highly qualified person," Dolphins chief executive officer Joe Bailey said on his weekly radio show. "He's got a lot of his dad in him -- very, very smart, very assertive, very firm." ...
The Dolphins apparently believe the 41-year-old Shula might be ready to become an NFL head coach. He went 26-23 in four years at Alabama, but 0-4 against Southeastern Conference rival Auburn. ...
In a statement released by the Dolphins, Don Shula endorsed his son's candidacy.
"Everywhere he has coached, Mike has exhibited class, integrity and enthusiasm, all critical ingredients to run a successful program," the elder Shula said.

Except, of course, winning.

"He has spent his entire life around the game and understands what it takes to build a winner. He has a special feeling about the Dolphin organization and truly appreciates the opportunity to talk to the team's management about the future of the franchise." ...
Don Shula has advised management during the search, as has Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino.


He approves of the Miami Dolphins coaching search.

The CEO is praising Shula? The Dolphins are releasing the father's statement in support of the son?

Surely not.

Then again, John Kerry did call the troops stupid.

But at least that was meant to be a joke.

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REVIEWAPALOOZA -- South Carolina Season, Part III

Vanderbilt.

Poor Vandy.

They always seem to be so close. They always play everybody so tough. And then, in a year when they have Jay Cutler, they go and lose to Middle Tennessee State and fall one game short of bowl eligibility. Or, they just play everyone close and go 2-9. And life goes on.


Oddly still a better kicker than Leigh Tiffen. But I digress.

And so South Carolina got a good break when it went to face Vanderbilt in Nashville after the heart-breaking loss to Auburn and the hair-raising win against Kentucky. This was the time to rebound, and the Gamecocks did, beating Vanderbilt 31-13.

And then things got strange.

Two weeks of ricocheting balls, general bad luck and horrendous refereeing ended with a heartbreaking loss to Tennessee and, then, the most unlikely comeback of all. Not by a team, but by a person.


He might be a goat, but he's our goat.

South Carolina was down 23-6 at halftime. The Syvelle Newton Experiment was beginning to come apart at the seams. Arkansas had the offense discombobulated.

And then, Steve Spurrier, QB psychologist extraordinare, once again pulled his magic. He looked at the bench, saw Napoleon Dynamite's twin ready to go, and gave him a shot.

And Blake was brilliant. Two scoring drives later, the Gamecocks were down only 26-20. Then, late, they got the ball back with a chance to win the game. To down a consensus top-15 team. To finally overcome the hump of "Oh, they came so close!"

South Carolina was on the Hogs' end of the field. Mitchell threw.

And Darius Vinnett intercepted.

And in a hotel room somewhere in Warren, Michigan, I screamed.

So close.

So much like Vanderbilt.

And yet so far.

No time to rest, though. The Orange Crush was rolling on.

There was the game against Florida. And Clemson.

And in between that, a game against Middle Tennessee State.

The hope was that South Carolina wasn't like Vanderbilt in at least one way.

Meanwhile, the strangest part of the season was yet to come.

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Monday, January 15, 2007

COACHES TO HITHER, THITHER AND YON

--Dick Cheney is about compassion. The Sudanese government is about human rights.

And Nick Saban is about integrity. How do we know? He said so.



--Prediction: Minnesota's tight ends will be good next year. Real good. The rest of the team? Eh. --Arkansas OC Gus Malzahn to Tulsa, QB Mitch Mustain possibly in tow; McFadden will assume both roles.

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REVIEWAPALOOZA -- South Carolina Season, Part II

The good thing about the SEC is that, whenever you have a disappointing early-season game, there is always some hapless out-of-conference opponent waiting just around the corner. So, when South Carolina had a tough fight against, cough cough, the Wofford Terriers, all hope was not lost.

Bring on the Owls!


Florida Atlantic comes to town.

Now, the stage was set. South Carolina fans knew -- or at least hoped -- this was going to be a victory. All they needed was the stats.

And the stats were encouraging. Five TDs for Sidney Rice. From the quarterback, even. An offense that -- gasp -- scored points.

Why, the Gamecocks were beginning to look like a team. A team that could win games, even. A Steve Spurrier team? Okay, let's not get carried away here. It's Florida Atlantic.

And Auburn is coming.

Suddenly, South Carolina fans felt like bleating. And since the game was scheduled on Thursday, the humiliation would be nationally televised. Recruits -- avert your eyes! Now!


Whew! That was close!

But something unexpected happened. South Carolina put an offense on the field. And then the Gamecocks put a defense on the field. And an upset ... didn't seem so far-fetched at the half, with the score 14-10 in favor of the Tigers.

Then, it happened. The most bizarre set of events I have seen in football in a long, long time. And I once watched Lou Holtz run a fake punt from inside his own 30.

Auburn took the opening drive of the half and converted a FG, making the score 17-10. South Carolina fans anticipated. Auburn kicked off. And South Carolina fans watched in horror as Auburn recovered the on-sides kick.

By the time it was over, Auburn had controlled the ball for the entire third quarter and then picked up a TD right after the fourth quarter began, leading to a 24-10 advantage.

South Carolina was officially dead.

Then the Gamecocks scored. And got the ball back. And drove to the Auburn 6. And the fourth-down pass to Rice ...

... was incomplete.

It turned out that South Carolina fans had more to be relieved about in the end than Auburn fans. A computer stolen from the Tigers was not taken by a Gamecock.

Sadly, when your accomplishments over more than a century amount to an ACC title -- back when the ACC was even worse than it is now -- and a Heisman Trophy, you take what you can get. So Steve Spurrier had to shame the fans for clapping after a loss.

Normally, in South Carolina history, something good is immediately followed by something bad. So it was inevitable that the game against Kentucky would be an abject failure. Their passing offense, we were beginning to find out, was one of the best in the nation. And the game was in Lexington.

Fortunately, South Carolina didn't give this one away. Lord knows, the defense tried. But Kentucky wouldn't take the game.

And then ... Spurrier took the postgame press conference as an opportunity to interrogate his secondary coach.


You are going to tell me where the coverage broke down.

South Carolina was 4-2. Wins against Vanderbilt and any of the remaining teams -- Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida, MIDDLE TENNESSEE or Clemson -- would guarantee a bowl berth.

Nothing could stop that from happening.

Could it?

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IN & OUT: The Draft beckons

Despite Gamecock fans' disappointment -- mourning? -- over the loss of our beloved Sidney Rice, it's important to note that other teams are losing some of their treasured players as well.
Or, in the case of Hawaii, maybe not. (HT X 2: SMQ)
Not to be haughty, but the wishy-washiness of Brennan is one reason why I'm going to wait to analyze the draft departures until the window for deciding not to earn millions of dollars now when you can earn tens of millions of dollars later closes. (It's all about guaranteed money, boys, despite what the agents might tell you.)
But the ones who could make a dent in their college teams if they do go ahead and leave:
--Adrian Peterson. Just a monster. Nuff said.
--Antonio Pittman, Ted Ginn Jr., Anthony Gonzalez. Buckeyes fans hope Tressel has a few Escalades tucked away somewhere.
--Dwayne Jarrett. But Carroll will pull the next great WR from his butt.
--Calvin Johnson. Because Tech has no one else who can catch any ball anywhere near them.
--Reggie Nelson. Florida D is D-pleted by the D-raft.
--JaHulkus Russell. "JaMarcus angry. JaMarcus throw ball faaaaaaaaaaaaaar.")
And ... wait for it ...
--JARVIS MOSS!
Good play. Now, please, go to the combine.

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Sunday, January 14, 2007

REVIEWAPALOOZA -- South Carolina Season, Part I

Back in the Lou Holtz days, South Carolina fans got used to the inevitable up and down of the season. The up would happen over the first seven games. The Gamecocks would hammer (or at least defeat) some hapless out-of-conference foe, come close to Ugha, drill another few out-of-conference teams and cut a few calls too close, then come into November with a 5-2 or 5-3 record.

And then it would all fall apart in inexplicable fashion, a team that seemed bowl-bound imploding before our eyes in a fireball of mismanagement and exposed lies.


The first few months of a Lou Holtz season. The same results afterward.

The first few months of Steve Spurrier's first season? Not so promising. The Gamecocks went 2-3 before stringing together five straight conference wins and ending the season 7-4.

So maybe it shouldn't have been a surprise when the first three games of 2006 were ... well, a bit unnerving.


The first few months of a Steve Spurrier season.

Defensively, the Gamecocks weren't doing a lot wrong. In fact, they allowed just 9.0 ppg to their first two opponents -- Georgia and Mississippi State. Unfortunately, South Carolina was scoring just 7.5 ppg.

So after an uninspiring 15-0 defeat of MSU -- in which the sole TD pass was thrown by Syvelle Newton, when he was still a WR -- and an almost unwatchable 18-0 loss to Georgia, the jury was at the very least still out on this Gamecock squad.

And then, Blake Mitchell went and got stupid.

Not just dumb. Colosally stupid. Driving-with-your-infant-in-your-lap stupid.


Blake Mitchell, circa Sept. 13.

Yes, good ol' Blake decided he wanted to take an underage companion into a bar in Five Points. In fairness to Mitchell, he might not have been aware that it was illegal to take underage people into bars in Five Points, since the rule is, shall we say, sparsely enforced.

In any case, a bouncer at Pavlov's (why did he go to Pavlov's?) told Mitchell he couldn't bring the women into the bar. Mitchell responded by punching the bouncer in the face.

So there might have been a few more steps in there. But the long and short of it is, he punched a bouncer and cleared the way for Syvelle Newton to step in at QB.


And there was great rejoicing.

Fan favorite now calling the signals, a Division I-AA team coming into Williams Brice, the faithful could have been forgiven for feeling a little confident.

And as South Carolina staked out a 24-10 lead by halftime, they could have been forgiven for thinking the game was over.

But they should have remembered that this is South Carolina.

The Terriers rallied -- a phrase that's almost embarassing to type -- and pulled to within 27-20. Then, they drove to the South Carolina 9 with the game clock ticking down in the fourth quarter.
And, somehow, Dakota Walker got a hand on a pass/pitch from Josh Collier, Cody Wells ended up with the ball, and South Carolina was 2-1.

But, somehow, it felt like this was going to be a long, long season.

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