Friday, September 18, 2009

Free Kicks: Return to Glory, to Complaining, and to the Orioles Edition

Thanks to Falco for covering last week. No intro to think of, so let’s line up for the kick…

Miami is Back
I am going to go out and say it and take whatever flack comes my way if they drop their next two games (both against ranked opponents). Last season they allowed over 400 yards rushing to Georgia Tech, and yesterday they held them to under 100. Without the running game, Tech simply doesn’t have an offense. Randy Shannon had his team prepared, and put up 33 points on a stout Yellow Jackets defense. Granted, they had an extra week to prepare for this game, but this team just took down two ranked teams to start the season- no warm-ups against the College of Charleston or Towson U (sorry, I had to), they dove right into this year with something to prove and the toughest schedule in the nation. This is the first team I have watched in some time in the ACC that played like a great team. I have seen a lot of good and very good teams in this league, but what has held this conference down in the eyes of many is the lack of a marquee upper-echelon team. Well, years after being added to the ACC to bring that cache to the conference, Miami may finally be turning into just that. Forget the hot seat; if Shannon keeps this up he is looking at Coach of the Year.

…and so is the Grumbling in Columbus
Yes, Ohio State lost to USC on a last-second drive. And it may be true that Jim Tressel’s offense hasn’t perfectly suited his mobile quarterback. However, I have been amazed at the amount of criticism being heaped on the coaching staff from Buckeye fans who expect to beat Top 5 teams all the time. Ohio State may be 0-6 in their last 6 games against Top 5 ranked opponents, but that is why they are ranked in the Top 5- they are hard to beat! Please show me the team that has a winning record against top 5 ranked opponents (that has played more than a couple games against them). Look, Terrelle Pryor went to OSU because he wanted to be a pocket passer. Only he isn’t a pocket passer. Tressel is just trying to fulfill his end of the bargain he made to this kid, who for whatever reason isn’t realizing that he is part of the problem here. The coaching staff will have to go back to the drawing board and find better ways to utilize Pryor’s athleticism, but let’s not kid ourselves- USC was higher ranked and a better team, and they won by a small margin. Isn’t that the way it was supposed to go? Going after Tressel for being conservative is a bit premature, especially given the incredible success he has had at that institution.

Jim Johnson Needs to Prove He Can Close
I looked at the recent blog posts, and it has been weeks since we talked about the state of the Orioles, the team that dominates coverage from April-August before the football season sets in. Remember them? As management starts to shut down their young players as they count down the days to the end of the season (Matusz being shut down, Reimold resting for increasing stretches, etc.) and piecing together starts from their various long relievers, there are still interesting things to watch- most notably Jim Johnson’s performance as a closer. He has struggled, needing Matt Wieters to rescue him the other day from being the goat after giving up the game-tying home run in the top of the ninth. The team is insisting that it is mechanical issues that are keeping Johnson from remaining as dominant a closer as he was as a set-up man, but we have heard this tune too many times before this season. Rich Hill, Chris Ray, Matt Albers all just needed to “tweak” something here or there, and then continued to watch their ERA launch into orbit. Johnson, if you recall, struggled in his few appearances last season in closer situations as well. Every player will tell the press that it is just like any other inning and that they can handle the pressure- who wouldn’t say that? But it seems to me that Johnson is just hanging on, not taking over when he gets the ball in the ninth. He has the rest of the season to prove me wrong.

Prediction for the weekend:
A lot of people have called the reverse lock on the Bears-Steelers game, thinking that the Bears will suddenly come alive and shock the defending champs. Look, even without last week’s performance I would have picked the Steelers. Pittsburgh doesn’t win flashy, so analysts are perpetually picking against them- and paying for it. Pittsburgh takes this one easy, 24-10.

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