Monday, December 31

The Music City Bowl: They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

As I’ve gone through the bowl season looking at more games, I'm struck with a less-than-satisfactory conclusion: a lot of these games suck. Sure, some of them happen to be entertaining, but that's as much a function of two bad teams happening to gel at the right moment as it is two teams actually being good.

Of course, sometimes you end up with two teams playing but only one team actually being even decent. (This year, we call that the Emerald Bowl.) Those type of bowls are often clunkers; sure, sometimes the 25-point dog keeps it close for a bit to make it actually look like a contest, but it's just as likely they'll fold like deck chairs on the Titanic. It's even rarer that you'll actually see two good teams pitted against each other; even though that's ostensibly the whole point of the bowl season, it actually rarely happens. Heck, even the bowls that are supposed to be good don't have that happen every year (I'm looking at you, Orange Bowl).

What's the point of all this navel gazing? Because the Music City Bowl might've qualified for the 2nd level of bowl game before Florida State went and got its whole damn team suspended; now I'm halfway expecting the bowl to rescind its invitation and bring in someone more deserving - Appalachian State comes to mind. Seriously - FSU was going to have a tough fight on its hands anyway, and now it goes and decides to give itself a degree of difficulty? Way to go.

Kentucky (by Coach Pendley)

Kentucky’s already theoretically high-scoring offense added another touchdown this year to actually become high-scoring at 33.7points per game. QB Andre Woodson went from early-season Heisman contender to the leading passer in the SEC with a 36/10 ratio and over 3,300 yards passing on the season. His targets have been a combination of WR Keenan Burton (62 ypg, 6 TDs), WR Steve Johnson (77.3 ypg, 11 TDs), WR Dicky Lyons Jr. (48.1 ypg, 7 TDs), and TE Jacob Tamme (48.7 ypg, 5 TDs), so there’s some matchup problems to be found. When healthy, RB Rafael Little has been effective; however, he fought through some nagging injuries during the regular season. If he gets hurt, there’s not much on the ground; Derrick Locke and Tony Dixon aren’t much to call home about.

Kentucky’s non-existent defense was still not there this year, as they still allowed nearly 30 ppg this year. Their secondary was the only good thing about them, allowing just over 200 ypg in the air with a 23/15 ratio. They’re pretty much ineffective at getting into the backfield for either sacks (23 on the season) or tackles for loss (65 on the season). So that’s about the long and short of it – great on offense, shoddy on defense.

Keys to Victory:
1: 60% completion rate. Florida State’s defense will put them in a position to win if they can hold their opponents to under a 55% completion percentage (5-1 when that happens, 2-4 when it doesn’t). Aim for 60% to be safe – considering Woodson’s season completion percentage is 63%, this shouldn’t be too hard to do.

2: Make Florida State regret being smart about suspending players. Yeah, they should’ve suspended players without a doubt, but considering that most of the D-line rotation, a couple of LBs, and CB Patrick Robinson (6 INT) are all out – obviously among others – it’s almost like Kentucky has free rein to be a prick about things. I’d almost want Kentucky to adopt a ground-intensive gameplan; since the Seminoles won’t have any depth, grinding it out early means they’ll start getting huge runs in the 4th quarter.

3: Lock down Carr and Fagg. Drew Weatherford will be the Noles’ only QB this game, so if the Wildcats can lock down at least one of his favorite targets – especially Carr – that’ll make the win much easier. Of course, Carr is a 6’6” beast and even has a play named after him in the FSU playbook – “Jumpball Carr.” Okay, maybe he doesn’t, but that seems like half the plays to him.

Florida State (by Coach Lawrence)

FSU’s season started off with so much promise. Before the opening kickoff, they destroyed UCLA in the 2006 Emerald Bowl and then fired offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden. Check and check. Okay, so an opening loss to Clemson was tough... but they stood at 4-1 a month later. Really only the Miami game was an unacceptable loss, although Wake Forest was certainly a disappointment. Okay, another 7-5 season. At least it was a one game improvement despite a schedule with four road games against ranked teams.

But in the wake of a major academic cheating scandal, the Noles have suspended 36 players, including 18 from the 2-deep roster. Basically, Weatherford, Carr, and Fagg will all be playing and they’d better play damn well. I’ve never seen anything like this, but no sympathy for a team where cheating was that rampant. From Bowden to the other coaches to the other players, somebody should have known and put a stop to it before things snowballed. Two players from both the offensive and the defensive lines will be missing, both TEs, the leading interceptions cornerback, and a starting linebacker. It’s not hopeless, but this is basically what USC was facing when they lost to Stanford, and Stanford is no Kentucky nor for that matter does FSU have the depth of USC.

Keys to Victory:
1) Get on the same page. Each unit will be starting at least four new players and the subs may not have much game time. Illegal formations, false starts, miscommunication... that stuff will kill you in a game like this.

2) Weatherford, Carr, and Fagg must carry the team with leadership and yardage. The offense may not be as well-oiled (lol) and the defense may give up some plays. These three need monster games to keep the score close and they need to do everything else to keep the team moving forward. Particularly Weatherford – this is his team today.

3) Bowden needs to earn that paycheck with the pre-game and halftime speeches of his life. Let’s be honest, of everyone going to the bowl game (that is, aside from the suspended players themselves), the head coach gets the lion’s share of the blame for the systemic cheating that has left FSU in this situation. He’s going to need to say something to get the team he does have available fired up to play to 100% of their potential – they’re playing against a rather large handicap with literally half the team missing.