Friday, December 28

The Independence Bowl: something to watch during MSL's offline qualifiers

(disclaimer: if you don’t follow Starcraft, there’s going to be some comparisons that make no sense. But this game sucks – we had to do it to keep ourselves entertained.)

The Independence Bowl holds the distinction as the post-Christmas bowl most likely to slide into the ocean without anyone really caring. It's held in that bastion of civilization known as Shreveport, LA (population: you, if you're there) and routinely features teams that would travel well if they were actually good. Instead, the teams that end up here are often the kind of teams whose seasons not only derailed, but they plowed into the town center and killed a few innocent pedestrians along the way. (Remember Nebraska playing in the snow here a few years back? Yeah, it's like that.)

Occasionally they get lucky and run across some team that should've overachieved to get to where they are, but most of the time those fans are disappointed too. Bottom line: nobody really wants to go to Shreveport. Can you blame them?

Anyway, this year's teams fall into the first category; Alabama should've gone 9-3 if you listen to their fans, but realistically 7-5 was the likeliest outcome. Saban the sAviOr needs some time to take another job, rebuild the program. That's no excuse for losing to Louisiana-Monroe, though – they’re the 910 of 1-A. On the other hand, Colorado beat Oklahoma and spent the rest of the past three months spinning its wheels. Seriously, it's like these guys shouldn't have even played the season. They started the season at .500, and that's where they are after the end of the season.

Fun fact: if Colorado wins this game, Alabama finishes the season 6-7 - the same record that got Mike Shula canned. Bet Saban won't get the same treatment.

Fun times: bring up Alabama’s bowl record from ’68 to ‘75 to a long-time fan. Then run like hell – they went 0-7-1.

Alabama (by Coach Pendley)

By the numbers, this team should probably be 8-4. Of course, by the numbers, six teams outscored them, so them's the breaks. It didn’t help that the Crimson Tide went into a crater like – fittingly – sAviOr v. Bisu, losing their last four in a row, none by more than a TD. The glass-half-full optimist will tell you that the team didn’t lose a single game by more than 7 points; he’s probably the same guy who keeps thinking Reach’s dynamite PvT is finally going to win him another starleague. Meanwhile …yeah, they lost four in a row. Thanks for showing up, guys.

QB John Parker Wilson is A) one hell of a honky and B) the fourth-leading passer in the SEC, provided you just look at his ypg. However, he has accuracy issues (54.9 completion percentage) and only a 15/11 ratio, putting him at 11th in passer rating in the SEC ahead of only MSU’s Wesley Carroll. Their running game is led by redshirt frosh Terry Grant, who averaged 4.95 ypc and scored 8 TDs. Personal favorite Jimmy Johns was a non-factor running the ball, spending most of his time blocking. The only truly dangerous player on the Crimson Tide offense is WR D.J. Hall, who was 2nd in the SEC at 78.9 ypg.

While DB Simeon Castille is the leader of the secondary, he passed the title of Ball Hawk on to Rashad Johnson, who pulled down 6 picks. DT Wallace Gilberry finally started living up to his billing, picking up 9 sacks on the season. Yardage-wise, they’re good but not great, but their peripherals aren’t spectacular – they allow 39% success on 3rd-down conversions, 65% success on 4th-down conversions, and 89% scores/possessions in the red zone.

Keys to Victory:
1: Win 3rd down. Colorado has a pitiful rate of conversions to begin with (only 34% success), so it’ll be up to Alabama to at least hold them to their season average (Colorado’s, not ‘Bama’s). They’re not a great punting team, either. On the other side of the ball, Alabama needs to get at least 40% of their conversions; if they can’t do that, then they’re putting it on the leg of P.J. Fitzgerald, who …sucks. 38.25 yards per punt.

2: Spire tech – go to the air against Colorado’s corners. Terrence Wheatley is an excellent corner (including his 5 picks on the season), but they allow 260 yards a game in the air. Their road pass D allows completions at a 60% rate, which is a full 8% better than their home D, so they can be beaten away from home. Wheatley defends Colorado’s main well, but their expansions are vulnerable; WR Matt Caddell should see some success.

3: Get it in the red zone. Yeah, I know that’s an obvious one, but as bad as Alabama’s D was in the red zone, Colorado’s was worse (91%). Since Colorado will likely score on ‘Bama once they hit the red zone, it’ll be critical to keep the scores even. Trade expansions if you have to, but they’ll need to trade the useless expos for Colorado’s valuable ones; if they can get TDs while limiting CU to FGs, that’ll add up.

Colorado (by Coach Lawrence)

With his crazy hook n ladders and assortment of other trick plays, Colorado coach Dan Hawkins, aka “The Dreamer,” recently stepped up from coaching at Boise State to a position in the Big 12 powerhouse Colorado MagicNs. Okay, if you consider that to even be a lateral transfer... well, good for you. Walking into a disaster scenerio, CU didn’t have the personnel to run Hawkins’ offense and didn’t even make it out of Big 12 North group play in 2006, finishing 2-10.

If you want something done right, do it yourself... and it you’re a few decades past eligibility, bring in your son. Since Cody Hawkins came in to take over the CU quarterback position, Colorado has... scored points on offense. Yeah, I know. The scarabs are pathing better and the storms are right where they should be, as Colorado has improved their passing totals from 118 ypg (!) in 2006 to 227 this season. A 2-0 conference start with a shocking upset of Oklahoma had CU thinking golden mouse, until they lost to both Kansas teams, got 5-pooled by Missouri, and blew a close one to Iowa State. It came down to their classic rivalry game with Nebraska, neither team defended well but Colorado used a big running game, trick plays, and +3 turnovers to win a 65-51 shootout. And with that, CU advanced to the elimination... oh wait no.

This is a very creative offense, using big plays and misdirection to eek out a near 4 ypc average on the ground (Hugh Charles averages 5.4) and compliment that with an adequate if non-stellar passing game – with no 50 ypg receiver. It’s come down to turnovers – 21 takeaways and 25 giveaways... when those have happened has pretty much determined win or lose. CB Terrence Wheatley has been absolutely huge in that department, picking off five passes on the season. The other player to watch out for has been inside linebacker Jordon Dizon, seemingly involved in half the defensive plays and returning a pick the distance himself.

Keys to Victory:
1. Protect your expansions... and the ball. In 6 victories Colorado is +4 TO; in 6 losses they’re -12. When you’re not great on offense and alright but not great on defense either, that’s going to be a pretty critical stat.

2. Stork-style pressure game... go 9/10 and keep the zeals coming. Colorado simply doesn’t have the talent to go Bisu-style FE into delayed harassment against the sAviOr’s Bama team. CU has the talent at cornerback to make a few big plays on defense if Wilson’s making hurried decisions, and this will help their rush defense which has at times been manhandled by the more physical teams (165.5 ypg allowed in losses).

3. Cannon-whore! Against Bama, it’s all about your defense. Whether the Swarm... er, Tide... wins or loses, their defensive stats stay about the same against both the run and the pass. However, they run for 68 more yards in wins than in losses, and pass for 64 more yards in wins than in losses. A Big 12 team not named Oklahoma might not know much about defense (Kansas doesn’t count since they faced only one offense), but that’s what it’s going to come down to. Don’t give Bama extra possessions, and limit them on the ones they do have.