Archive for year 2006

Oregon Quacks Under Furious Cougar Pressure

The score was 31- zip in favor of BYU with just over eleven minutes to go in the fourth quarter of the Las Vegas Bowl when play-by-play announcer Brent Musberger relied on one of his trademark clichés to put the game into context for a nationwide audience of ESPN viewers:

“Folks, this is just a good, old-fashioned butt kicking.”

It was that and more before a Nevada state record crowd of 44,615. Playing with a patchwork secondary, Brigham Young’s defense surprised everyone but themselves by pitching a shutout against the 8th ranked offense in the nation for fifty minutes into the contest.

So dominating were the Cougar defenders that Oregon didn’t pass the 200-yard mark in total offense until the remaining eight minutes of garbage time with the scoreboard reading 38-8 in favor of the Mountain West Conference champions.

This was a BYU team that Oregon head coach Mike Belotti had claimed the day before couldn’t compete with the Pac-10’s best teams. Gee, nothing like defining your own program by comparison with a presumably inferior opponent that whacks you up and down the gridiron.

Prognosticators, including yours truly, had forecast a high scoring shootout in the desert, but the Cougars were the only ones that came with their guns loaded.

After an uncharacteristic blank first frame, only the second time all year BYU had experienced such a drought, the Cougar offense took a deep breath and then revved into overdrive, racking up scoreboard and a list of record-setting individual accomplishments along the way. Quarterback John Beck finished his stellar career with 375 yards and 2 TDs, breaking his own Las Vegas Bowl passing yardage record (set last year against Cal).

Beck’s passing yardage was the most compiled this year against Oregon’s Pac-10 leading pass defense—and 219 yards above their average yield of 156. Were it not for six dropped passes by Cougar receivers in the first half, Beck would have easily surpassed the 400-yard milestone. He also threw two interceptions, however one of those picks came at the end of the first half on a 60-yard Hail Mary pass attempt.

Senior running back Curtis Brown rushed for 120 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries, adding 55 more yards on seven receptions. He passed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the second consecutive year and became the first Cougar running back in the program’s history to accomplish that feat.

All-American tight end Jonny Harline hauled in nine passes for a personal best and Las Vegas Bowl game record 181 receiving yards, and one touchdown. For his efforts, he was named the 2006 Pioneer PureVision Las Vegas Bowl MVP.

Down by 17 points at intermission, the Ducks took the second half kick-off and continued shooting blanks at their opponent. BYU promptly drove deep into Oregon territory before Beck was intercepted inside the red zone. That would prove to be the last Duck opportunity to make a game of it, as Justin Robinson intercepted Brady Leaf at the 7-minute mark of the third quarter and three minutes later the Cougars reached pay dirt on a 4-yard Curtis Brown scamper to make it 24-0.

Oregon’s Belotti had failed to name a starting quarterback until game time and he continued to waffle back and forth between Leaf and the more nimble Dennis Dixon throughout the contest. Neither signal caller had time to get into any sort of rhythm.  Dixon re-entered the game on the Ducks’ next series and drove his team 40 yards before Robinson notched his second pick of the day at the BYU 17-yard line.

The Cougars licked their chops and proceeded to march down the field once again with the stealthy efficiency of a big game mountain cat ready to finish off its dazed and confused prey. This time, BYU mounted a scoring drive that was powered by the longest run from scrimmage of the night, a Curtis Brown 47-yard shake and bake thru the Ducks’ front seven and down the left sideline. Two plays later, Beck scrambled in from fourteen yards out and the PAT made it 31-0.

By this point, Musberger and color commentators, Craig James and Bob Davie, had already engaged former UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian in conversation from the announcer’s booth for several minutes, having long ago run out of superlatives to describe the slaughter taking place on the field below.

The Ducks’ were baffled at every turn and dominated by BYU on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Brigham Young’s front seven consistently plugged up any rushing lanes that appeared, holding the vaunted Oregon rushing attack to a net 97 yards (with feature back Jonathan Stewart registering his lowest output of the season, 20 yards on seven carries).

Oregon’s offensive line had only given up 14 sacks in 12 games entering the match-up, but BYU registered nearly one-third that amount in the first half alone, ending up with four sacks on the night for negative 30 yards.

The Cougars’ injury and suspension depleted secondary was supposed to have been their defense’s Achilles’ heel, but aside from Dennis Dixon’s 48-yard scoring strike to Brian Paysinger at the 10:27 mark of the fourth quarter, the Cats only gave up 118 yards thru the air the entire night. At least three of BYU’s four sacks were coverage related with Robinson, senior Cole Miyahara (playing cornerback for the first time in his career) and safeties Quinn Gooch and Dustin Gabriel shutting out star receiver Jaison Williams and limiting Oregon’s two other biggest receiving threats, Jordan Kent and Dante Rosario, to 45 yards on four catches.

The only facet of the game that the Ducks took flight in was on punt and kickoff returns. Jonathan Stewart logged 117 yards off five kick returns and Patrick Chung picking up 51 yards on three punt returns.

When the final seconds had elapsed from the stadium clock, thousands of blue-clad fans swarmed onto the field, engulfing their Cougar heroes with a season-ending celebratory zeal that had been dormant since the 1997 Cotton Bowl.

For the record, Brigham Young held Oregon to a total offensive output of 260 yards and 23 points below their average output of 31 points per game.  Conversely, the Cougars racked up 548 total yards, scoring 13 more points than the Ducks’ average 25-point yield.

“I’m disappointed. I’m shocked,” Bellotti said afterward. “We didn’t play well. We got out-played and out-coached.”

When asked to reflect on Belotti’s comments from the day before regarding his lack of respect for the Cougar football program, BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall said, “I have the utmost respect for Coach Belotti and his staff. I will not address another coach’s comments about our program.”

Perhaps Duck running back Jeremiah Johnson summed up best when he said, “That was a Mountain West team that wasn’t supposed to be as good as us, but they clobbered us.”

How to Prognosticate the Rose Bowl Game

Earlier this week, the Michigan and USC football teams met on separate nights at Lawry’s The Prime Rib, a posh 69-year-old Beverly Hills restaurant, to be honored in the 51st Annual Lawry’s Beef Bowl for their stellar regular season accomplishments and forthcoming participation in the 2007 Rose Bowl Game.

During the course of their respective Beef Bowl events, Michigan consumed 613 pounds of prime rib and USC downed 630 pounds, making it the first time the Wolverines had lost in the legendary event since 1988, which, incidentally, coincided with Bo Schembechler’s last Rose Bowl victory in his coaching career on Jan. 1, 1989.

Las Vegas oddsmakers have to be envious of the Lawry’s Beef Bowl track record of predicting the Rose Bowl Game winner. Thirty-five Beef Bowl winners in the previous 50 years of the event’s history have gone on to win “The Granddaddy of Them All” for a .700 winning percentage.

Will it hold true this year? Strangely, Michigan is the only Big Ten team with a winning record in the Beef Bowl and a losing record in the Rose Bowl, so it came as a bit of a shock to local Los Angeles media covering the event when their Trojans staged the improbable prime rib upset.

Of course, this tradition is just as much tongue in cheek as it is beef in mouth, even though an official tally is conducted by the restaurant’s general manager, Todd Johnson.

“The event is a celebration of champions and not one of gluttony, as the media are sometimes wont to portray it,” says Johnson. “However, it reached legendary status long ago–back in the Seventies–with the players and the media, so we play along with it enough to keep it fun for everyone.”

The event originated in 1956, prior to the 1957 Rose Bowl Game, with the intent of honoring the student athletes who had won their respective conference championships. It was made possible because the Big Ten Conference and Pac-10 (back then it was the Pacific Coast Conference) already had a 10-year existing relationship with the Tournament of Roses Association and the Rose Bowl Game, and both conferences agreed to participate in the pre-game event.

Over the years, all sorts of enhancements have been made to the event’s program. The Rose Queen and her Royal Court are special guests at every event, and the players and coaches now receive limited edition trading cards, mini-footballs and pins, that are among the rarest Rose Bowl Game collectibles each year.

The Sporting News calls the Lawry’s Beef Bowl “the best tradition” of the college bowl game season. During its 51-year history (which happens to make the event older than 28 of the 32 bowl games staged this year) 159 consensus All-Americans and 12 Heisman Trophy winners have participated in the tradition.

A “who’s who” list of college football’s greatest coaches have led their teams to Lawry’s on their road to the Rose Bowl, including Joe Paterno, Don James, Duffy Daugherty, Barry Alvarez, John McKay, John Robinson, Hayden Fry, Terry Donahue, Bob Stoops, Pete Carroll, Mack Brown, and even Woody Hayes.

However, Hayes only let his Buckeyes participate one time during his reign. That was the 1957 Beef Bowl, prior to the 1958 Rose Bowl Game. Ohio State won at both the training table and on the gridiron that season. Woody’s win-loss record in five other Rose Bowl Games when he wouldn’t let his players participate in the Lawry’s Beef Bowl? Yep, you guessed it. A dismal 1-4.

In total, 17,300 student athletes have been feted since 1956 in Beverly Hills and since 1983 at its sister Lawry’s Beef Bowl event in Dallas for the Cotton Bowl’s participating teams.

Last year, during the Golden Anniversary celebration of Lawry’s relationship with the Tournament of Roses Association and the Rose Bowl Game, Richard N. Frank, the chairman of Lawry’s and founder of the Beef Bowl event, was inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame.

So, when you’re kicked back in front of the tube today, watching the Rose Bowl Game, keep in mind that history dictates that as winners of this year’s Beef Bowl, USC has a 70 percent chance of winning “The Granddaddy.”

Jim Harbaugh’s Keys to 2007 Rose Bowl Game

I had the opportunity yesterday to sit down with Stanford’s new head coach and former Michigan quarterback Jim Harbaugh to get his insights on the USC-Michigan Rose Bowl Game match-up tomorrow. Here’s what he had to say …

This year’s Michigan and USC teams are mirror images of each other in many respects.  They both have dominating defenses and explosive offenses. Both team’s defensive units are among the best in college football, but hands down, there is nobody better than the Wolverines’ front seven. They only give up 1.9 yards per carry, while the Trojans yield over 3 yards per carry.

The only team that was successful this year against Michigan’s defense was Ohio State, and that’s because the Buckeyes were able to spread out UM’s front seven by running 4-receiver sets and sometimes even lined up with 5 wide receivers. The Trojans are very familiar with running empty backfield sets and will follow Ohio State’s cue in trying to spread out the Blue front seven.

Look for both teams to utilize 2-deep (aka Drop 2) defensive alignments as much as possible.  They both have great confidence in their front seven to stop the run and put enormous pressure on the opponent’s QB. Consequently, both team’s offenses will look to force the opposing defense to put more people in the box by establishing a successful running game.  Once that happens, they’ll jump at the chance of exploiting the opposing cornerbacks left on their island with man-to-man coverage situations. The tight ends can play a crucial role in the outcome and the team with the most productive tight end in this type of game will usually prevail.

Since Michigan and USC are so similar, the keys to winning the 2007 Rose Bowl Game are virtually the same for each team:

  1. The team that can run the ball the most effectively and control the clock while eating up yardage should have the upper hand in this contest. Third down conversions are a must to win the game.
  2. Big plays will be important in this game, in terms of capturing momentum and establishing a psychological advantage. Since the teams are so evenly matched, it could very well be that the special team units will be the deciding factor in this game.  The team that places the most emphasis on this facet of the game should be rewarded at some key moment of the game.
  3. Regarding big plays, the team that uses a trick play first—and is successful with it—will gain an instant advantage.
  4. As always, winning the turnover battle is a must. It can’t be emphasized enough that turnover advantages win games. Statistics bear out that if you win turnovers by +1 you have a 70% chance of winning. +2 in turnovers yields an 80% advantage, and +3 equals a 90% victory margin.
  5. Most of Michigan’s yards come from Hart and Henne. Protecting Henne is a major key for UM because a solid passing game opens up the field for Hart to start chewing up clock time [see key #1].  The same can be said of USC protecting Booty, establishing the pass, and opening up their ground attack.