All hail the SEC West.  Eight weeks into the season, the seven-team grouping is 28-1 against the rest of the world (a loss by Arkansas to Georgia the only blemish).  Four of the top five teams (including #1 Mississippi State) hail from the SEC West while LSU is in the outer reaches of the top 25…and Texas A&M is also receiving votes because the Aggies have had three straight games (all losses) to teams in the division all currently ranked in the top 10.  November appears to be a round-robin shootout for the valued berth in the SEC Championship game– with Ole Miss and Bama coming out ahead on the scheduling front:  the Rebels host Auburn and Mississippi State while the Crimson Tide entertain the Bulldogs and Tigers next month.  Another benefit of being in the SEC West?  Crossover games with East Division teams like Vanderbilt (winless in the league with a 1-point victory over Charleston Southern).  How soft is the East?  Longtime doormat Kentucky is in third place with a chance to finish over .500 in league play for the first time since 1977.  National titles and unbeaten seasons are one thing…but the Wildcats having a shot at the SEC Title game?  Now that’s an achievement.

 

Alma Mater Update– a collective sigh of relief in Orange Nation as it’s learned that Wake Forest is the worst team in the ACC this year…as SU dominated the Demon Deacons 30-7 by tallying two defensive touchdowns.  Freshman quarterback AJ Long in his second start for the injured Terrel Hunt didn’t throw any interceptions and the defense tightened up:  after allowing a 91 yard drive for a Wake TD, they held the Deacons to 79 total yards the rest of the game.  Bring on Clemson!  In Death Valley!  The pursuit of 6 wins never looked so much fun…

 

Maryland made a major move by rallying past Iowa 38-31.  A fifth win puts the team one victory shy of bowl eligibility–and a second conference triumph keeps them in the East Division conversation while standing on the cusp of the top 25.  Terrapin Triumphs– the ground game pounded out 212 yards rushing while the defense held the Hawkeyes in check after the first quarter–notching 4 three and outs plus an interception over their first 6 second half drives… Stefon Diggs caught 9 passes for 130 yards-including a screen pass from Perry Hills he took 53 yards for a TD… Will Likely added to his highlight reel with a 45 yard interception return for a score…and coach Randy Edsall showed some athleticism catching a stray sideline pass.  Terrapin Troubles– once again the defense allowed a pair of first quarter scores-just like in the West Virginia and Ohio State games…the team was held to 4-16 on third down… and whiffing on a late onside kick could’ve come back to haunt the Terps but didn’t.  Next:  Saturday at Wisconsin.

 

Virginia came up short on the road…losing at Duke 20-13.  UVa’s first ACC loss drops them into a three-way tie for first in the Coastal Division with the Blue Devils and Pitt.  Here’s Blue Devil respect for you:  despite a 6-1 start, the defending division champs remain out of the top 25.  Cavalier Congrats– Miles Gooch caught 6 passes for 129 yards and didn’t bully the diminutive Arnold Jackson or his friend Dudley…the defense held Duke to under 8 yards per completion…three players threw passes Saturday, but two were wide receivers-meaning Mike London didn’t shuttle quarterbacks.  Sanity!  Cavalier Concerns– 2 penalties handcuffed a 4th quarter drive, including a delay of game on 4th and 7 that preceded an incompletion…Matt Johns completed less than 50% of his passes…and with Duke kicker Ross Martin kicking a pair of field goals and two extra points, nobody made a Wild, Wild West connection.  Next:  Saturday vs. North Carolina.

 

Virginia Tech over the years has prided itself on smoked turkey legs, a stout running game and dominating Thursday nights (20-7 entering this year).  After a 21-16 loss to Pitt, the Hokies finds themselves on the outside looking in regarding the Coastal Division race–with a ground game that is rather light and a Must See TV night record that’s 1-3 since 2012.  I don’t want to ask about the current quality of smoked turkey legs.  Hokie Highlights– Cam Phillips caught 7 passes for 59 yards and the team’s only TD… the defense tallied three takeaways… Joey Slye connected on all three FG attempts.  Hokie Humblings– instead of a stout running game the ground attack was rather starving:  26 yards on 22 rushes…the offense converted just 2 of 14 third downs…and gained 19 yards on its first 24 plays from scrimmage…the defense was burned twice by Panthers QB Chad Voytik:  a 53 yard TD pass that began the scoring and a 49 yard run that set up the Panthers’ final score.  Next:  Thursday night vs. Miami (you know, the Hokies are 20-8 on Thursday night ESPN games…)

Now that is how you awaken your fan base!  Or maybe not.  The Redskins 19-17 split decision win over Tennessee was hardly one that instilled confidence–but it’s better than losing to a bad Titans team at home the day Mark Rypien goes into the ring of honor.  A few thoughts about homecoming:  first, do we have to call it that?  I understand the concept–and it’s very cool to have the ex-Skins lined up on the sideline before the game–but homecoming sounds more like a Saturday when Tennessee-Martin is coming to town.  Homecoming brings to mind backbiting fraternities and sororities complaining about inappropriate floats for the parade…or teenage kids wearing ill-fitting crowns and smiling awkwardly.  Call it “Burgundy and Gold Day” or “Honor Day”…”Homecoming” just sounds ill-fitting for the NFL.  Second– can the Fed Ex Fans give all the ex-Skins a little love?  You’re standing up anyways–can’t you shout when they say Otis Wonsley or Brad Edwards just like you do for Darrell Green?  Lastly– Florida State wants their jerseys and pants back.

 

Public Service Announcement:  Belated Birthday wishes to Billy Zabka/William Zabka, aka “Johnny Lawrence” in the “Karate Kid” (as well as the arrogant bullies in “Just One of the Guys” and “Back to School”)…the inspiration for a big chunk of the weekly analysis of Kai Forbath’s goings-on.  Anybody not in the Griswold household who gets a vote for Family President gets our vote.

 

Realignment, anyone?  The victory makes the Skins 2-1 against the AFC this year–and 4-3 since the 2013 season which translates to a .571 winning percentage that would prorate to 9 wins over a 16 game season.  The team is 1-15 against the NFC in that time.  Is anybody thinking what I’m thinking? 

 

Kirk replaced on the Bridge by McCoy– when your offense is falling out of orbit, of course you call the ship’s doctor.  Kirk Cousins played his way to the bench in the first half with a pair of delay of game penalties, a lost fumble and an interception.  Worst thing was–one felt it could have been worse.  Enter Colt McCoy– after throwing one pass in 2013– and on his first pass of 2014 he connects with Pierre Garcon on a simple hitch pattern that #88 takes to the endzone (aided by the Titans inability to tackle).  McCoy completes 11 of 12 passes for 128 yards and that TD–while driving the team the length of the field for the game-winning TD as the 4th quarter was winding down.  More importantly, no turnovers.  Even though he looks 18 years old, McCoy is actually older than both RG3 and Cousins.  Replacing a midwesterner at the controls by a southerner who by all intents an purposes is a third-stringer doesn’t happen often:  DeForrest Kelley rarely got a chance to outshine Shatner…now Colt McCoy gets a chance on the Monday Night stage next week in Dallas.  What does this make RG3?  Spock, of course.  Live long and prosper..

 

Alfred the Emphasized– So he didn’t get 100 yards.  So Mr. Morris only gained 3 yards a carry.  At least they’re using him now as an option…18 carries for 54 yards on a day where they actually went to him on first down.  Just like another Mr. Morris who’s all about making sure Jessie doesn’t ruin her father’s wedding–#46 provided solid support throughout the day.  One concern- his losing the ball on the first drive (even though it wasn’t ruled a fumble) only enhances his reputation as the guy who can’t hang on to the football (much like Zack earned the rep of using the brick phone in the early days). Roy Helu Jr was held to -9 yards on three catches (including one extremely ill-advised screen that looked like it was intended to hit the O-Lineman’s back) but his 15 yard run on the final drive set up the game-winning march perfectly.  Break out the Buddy Bands.

 

Wideout Weapons– one benefit of bringing in Colt McCoy in the second half– Pierre Garcon coming to life with 4 catches for 82 yards after intermission.  While DeSean Jackson caught all 3 of his passes for 49 yards before the break–the Skins did take a deep shot with under a minute left to draw a pass interference call that set up the game-winning field goal.  Add in the TE duo of Jordan Reed and Niles Paul, this team isn’t devoid of targets.  They just need the right triggerman…

 

Third and At Least We’re Not Tennessee– the Skins went 3-of-11 at moving the chains against the only team in the league that’s worse on third down (Titans also went 3-of-11).  Kirk Cousins went 2-of-6 at moving the chains, Colt McCoy 1-for-5 .  While Cousins completed all 4 of his third down attempts for 49 yards, take away the shot to DeSean Jackson and it’s 3-3=16 with a lost fumble.  McCoy’s (1-2=5 with no conversions and a sack for -7) best third down was the pass interference call against the Titans.  Yardage breakdown:  1-for-2 on third and short (3 or less), 1-for-2 on third and medium (4-6 yards needed) and 1-for-7 on third and long (7+).  After 7 weeks, 44% of the team’s third downs are by 7+ yards…and the Skins are converting just 2 of those 36 attempts.  That isn’t a dropoff– it’s a major cliff.

 

From the Stoppable to the Moveable– yes, the Skins defense allowed just 17 points and held the Titans to 236 total yards.  Keep in mind that Tennessee was minus their first string quarterback and runningback…and the Skins still couldn’t sack the highly immobile Charlie Whitehurst more than once.  But at least they got an interception from Bashaud Breeland–and four of the top six tacklers were linebackers (Breeland and defensive lineman Jarvis Jenkins the exceptions.  Nice job by ILB’s Keenan Robinson and Will Compton getting to the ball (the duo combined for 20 of the team’s 49 tackles).  Now if only the secondary can avoid breakdowns– like the help that EJ Biggers never received on Whitehurst’s 38 yard TD pass to Derek Hagan.  Stop smiling, Tony Romo.

 

Will no BO make the Defense Stink?– Brian Orakpo’s done for the year with pending surgery on an injured right pectoral muscle (an injured left pec wiped out a previous season, so at least now he’s balanced)…likely ending his days in Burgundy and Gold.  The franchise tagged outside linebacker managed 24 tackles (7th on the team) with half of one sack (tied for 6th)…no interceptions and no fumbles forced or recovered this fall.  While he may have underperformed his 11+ million dollar contract, Orakpo’s light years ahead of Trent Murphy–whose 9 tackles this year are overshadowed by his 3 penalties (including a punt return offsides on 4th and 5 Sunday that moved the chains for the Titans).

 

Flying flags– only 7 penalties for 50 yards…as the team is finally under the 8 penalties per game average (55 for the season).  Sunday’s infractions featured four offensive:  2 delay of games and an intentional grounding on Kirk Cousins plus a holding against Tyler Polumbus, 2 defensive:  illegal contact calls against Bashaud Breeland and Keenan Robinson, and the punt return offsides against Trent Murphy.  Two loom large:  Cousins first delay of game turned a 3rd & 5 into a 3rd &10–and with more pressure he fumbled which led to the Titans first score.  Robinson’s illegal contact turned a 2nd & 15 at the TEN 26 into a 1st & 10 at the 36…and the Titans would wind up scoring on that very possession.  After 7 weeks, the Skins have the 8th most flags and 2nd most penalty yardage in the league.

 

Cobra Kai– SWEEP THE LEG!  Four field goals for Mr. Forbath.  NO MERCY!  The prized pupil of the Dojo kicks the gamewinner after “being iced”.  I’LL LET YOU KNOW WHEN HE’S HAD ENOUGH!  When you’re kicking for an offense that ranks near the bottom of the league in third down conversions, competence is crucial. GET A BODYBAG!  Defensive End Jason Hatcher joked on Comcast Sports Net that they’d now let Forbath in the locker room after he made the kick.  Really?  That’s like Dutch telling Johnny he can’t hang out at Golf N’ Stuff.  With all the lack of pressure Hatcher and the D-Line generated…he’s lucky Forbath is letting him back in the locker room.

 

Division Discussion– Pittsburgh’s Monday Night Football win over Houston places the AFC North (15-10) percentage points ahead of the NFC East (16-11)…although Cleveland’s loss to Jacksonville has to crush their RPI.  The NFC South lost all three of its games to fall to 8-17-1 on the season…creating some distance with second sloppiest AFC South (11-17).  Both of the Redskins wins are against AFC South teams…hmm.

 

Dissecting the Division– Dallas with its win over the NY Giants improves to 6-1 and moves past idle Philadelphia to not only take first place in the division but the top seed in the NFC…as the Eagles remain half a game behind the Cowboys.  The Giants at 3-4 slip to 10th in the conference (losing the conference games tiebreaker to Chicago)…and the Redskins win means the Burgundy and Gold move ahead of Tampa Bay into 15th place in the NFC.  They battle the 1-5 Bucs in their next home game November 16th.  Can they hold another homecoming?

Okay…so I’ll wave the white flag.  Thursday Night Football is here to stay in the NFL…no matter how many players might get hurt on short weeks or how sloppy the play might be, TNF is an entity that won’t go away (much to the dismay of “Big Bang Theory” fans).  Which is kind of a shame, because now the NFL Ratings Freight Train (5 of the first 6 TNF games were in the top 5 watched programs of the week) steamrolls the college prime time games into an afterthought.  I’ve long thought the college game is better suited for and handles Thursday night football better.  First, there are over 60 games to choose from each week…so even taking a marquee matchup away from Saturday doesn’t destroy the schedule.  The NFL, with bye weeks and Sunday/Monday night commitments, takes away one more potentially worthwhile matchup from a shrinking slate by having the Thursday game.  College football also solves the overworked/underprepared complaints many are lobbing at the NFL’s venture into Must See TV night:  most schools have the previous weekend off (like Virginia Tech)…and even if they played the previous Saturday are coming back after 4 days off instead of just 3 (like Pitt).  Some even schedule consecutive Thursday night games (Virginia Tech this week and next).  That extra day–or seven–makes the game that much safer and better.  Once the NFL institutes a system of having the Thursday night teams take their byes the weekend before, I can focus my futile energies on eliminating the Pac-12’s 10:30pm Thursday game.  You guys robbed me of watching Arizona-Oregon, for heaven’s sake.

 

Memo to the Pac-12:  I love you guys.  The wide-open football and athleticism.  The fan bases that for the most part don’t have ridiculous expectations.  The fact that winning and losing are great in places like Eugene, Tempe and Boulder but it’s not the end of the world because there are other things you spend your lives on.  I like how your name actually aligns with the amount of teams in the conference (Sorry Big-10 and -12).  I appreciate how your division setup doesn’t have a North division school south of five schools in the South (sorry SEC).  I enjoy how you’re kinda letting USC and UCLA wear their home colors for their annual game (so does Kodak).  But can you please get rid of that Thursday night 10:30 game?  The 10:30 Saturday night game is a nice dessert to a great meal– but for the life of me I can’t handle a 10:30 Thursday game.  Bump it back to 9pm and I’m yours…but you’re throwing away what’s been a pretty good game (UCLA-Arizona State and Arizona-Oregon were both top 25 matchups, Stanford and Utah were ranked as well) into the phantom zone of football otherwise.

 

Alma Mater Update– this is the floor game for the Orange…a loss to 2-4 Wake Forest would sentence SU to the Atlantic Division cellar.  Both teams have as equally unimpressive wins (SU over Villanova in double overtime, Wake by 3 over Army) and discouraging defeats (Orange on a Friday night to Louisville, Demon Deacons at Utah State).  This is the only remaining team with a losing record on Syracuse’s slate–the remaining slate is 21-11 on the year and a 3-win season is a dark possibility in the Salt City.  Like an order of wings with no drumsticks, this isn’t looking good.

 

I already start 0-1 as for some reason I didn’t recognize that Virginia Tech would be traveling to Pitt minus its ground game: 26 yards on 22 carries?  Not awesome, Hokies…a 21-16 loss that will give me plenty to chew on for the next few days.

 

Maryland entertains Iowa– homecoming at Byrd Stadium brings another huge offensive line to town.  Trouble.  The Hawkeyes’ left tackle Brandon Scherff weighs 320 pounds…and the Terp D coughs up more than 200 yards a game.  Trouble. Even thought the Terps are rested after their bye week, can a 3 man front keep these corn-fed kids contained?  With Cole Farrand manning a fly to the ball linebacking corps, yes.  Keep an eye on #47 Saturday–the senior happens to be a magnet for the football.  Offensively, the Terrapins have to get their ground game in gear–against FBS teams they’re rushing for 111 yards a game at under 4 yards per carry.  CJ Brown can’t make the mistakes that have plagued his early season..but he also can’t carry a team by himself.  Iowa is a very shaky–they’ve posted one-possession wins over Northern Iowa, Ball State and Pitt while posting a less than convincing sweep of Purdue and Indiana.  Terrapins triumph, 21-16.

 

Virginia visits Duke– another clash for first place in the ACC Coastal…this time against the defending division champs.  Which should give Coach Mike London’s team the idea “hey, if DUKE can win the Coastal–why can’t we?” (probably because your remaining opponents are 26-11).  The Blue Devils bounced back from a tough defeat at Miami (Anthony Boone threw 2 INT’s and the team went 2-16 on third down) to hand Georgia Tech their first loss of the season (thanks to a turnover free game).  While the Cavaliers cause a lot of turnovers (17 takeaways over 6 games)…they’ve coughed up the ball a lot this fall.  Quarterback Carousel Update– Greyson Lambert looks healthy enough to play…meaning he could see a play, series or indiscriminate quarter running the team.  Wait on the Magic Eight Ball.  Cavaliers come up short, 31-26.

 

Howard handles Florida A&M, Towson tumbles to Delaware, William & Mary slips to Villanova, Richmond rips Rhode Island, Morgan State tops North Carolina Central.

Last Week: 6-1.

Overall: 51-16.

The Burgundy and Gold may be back from Arizona, but the franchise remains wandering in a different kind of wasteland.  The Oasis of 2012 seems as distant as Oasis’ “Morning Glory” CD (still listenable but almost 20 years old).  Right now the team resides in a desert of desperation– with 25+ new players on the roster this year the rebuilding (nobody likes to say that word but it’s reality) is underway.  Thanks to a 30-20 loss to the Cardinals, the maiden voyage of the SS Gruden appears to be bound for a familiar port–last place in the division.  In the NFC East’s glory days (the 1986-95 stretch saw the division-winner take the Super Bowl 7 times with Philadelphia’s Randall Cunningham and Reggie White enjoying stretches as the most dynamic players at their positions) the St. Louis/Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals were the last place team everybody liked to face first.  Those Cardinals finished last 5 times in that span–a feat these Redskins have surpassed with 7 last place finishes (2004, 06, 08-11, 13) in a similar span.

 

Captain Kirk’s Crazy Eights– the 354 passing yards looks nice.  The 3 fourth quarter interceptions?  Not so much…and this is with his weapons available as Jordan Reed played a full game for the first time all year.  He’s growing and learning (just his 8th career start)…but he can’t continue to make multiple mistakes late in games while windows of opportunity begin to close.  EIGHT interceptions over 5+ games is close to Kenny Stabler 1978 stuff.  Perhaps it’s the fact he’s wearing #8–I thought we retired that for Turnoverasaurus Rex.  At the very least, they should have kept it out of rotation a year or two.

 

Minimal Morris– the good news is that for the first time all season, Alfred the underused didn’t gain fewer yards than he did the week before (an achievement like trying to fold a paper in half repeatedly–you can only do that six times).  The 13-41 effort represented the majority of a ground game abandoned after halftime– Morris gained 18 yards in the 1st quarter, 13 more in the 2nd, and just 10 after intermission.  Three carries after halftime in what was a one possession game for most of the contest.  Are they using the old Kyle Shanahan gameplans?   About as useful as “Our Miss Bliss” scripts.

 

DeSean & Garcon– the high-flying crime-fighting duo solved the occasional mystery of the Cardinal secondary…as both caught touchdown passes.  Jackson (3-115) posted his 3rd century game of the year (in the other three games combined he’s caught 10 passes for 89 yards) while Pierre averaged less than 8 yards per catch for the second time this fall.  Between the two, neither caught a pass on third down and only Jackson was targeted (3 times).

 

Three R’s:  Reed, Roberts and Receptions– Jordan Reed after being on the shelf with a hamstring injury for the first four and a half games of the season, caught 8 passes for 92 yards.  That’s progress.  Andre Roberts added 5 catches for 55 yards…motivated no doubt by facing his former team.  If Jackson and Garcon continue to receive prime attention, these two will continue to reap the benefits.

 

Third and Doubt– the Cardinals D ranked in the bottom third of the NFL in getting off the field…until the Redskins went 2-10 at moving the chains.  On all 11 plays Kirk Cousins passed (4-10=21 yards with 1 interception and another INC wiped out thanks to an AZ penalty).  He threw to 3 players:  Reed (5 targets, 1 catch and conversion), Jackson (3 targets, 1 defensive penalty) and Andre Roberts (3 targets, 1 catch and conversion).  Yardage breakdown:  1 for 4 on 1-3 yards needed, 1 for 3 on 4-6 yards necessary and 0 for 3 on 7+.  That means no Morris runs on third and short–and not even a draw play on third and medium.  Abandon the SS Ground Game!  To your passing game lifeboats!

 

Diminishing Defense– only 317 yards allowed…5.4 yards per pass…7-17 on third down…but no takeaways.  The oomph that helped sell the bill of goods on the shift to the 3-4 four years ago was the short fields and takeaways this team would tally…and they’ve yet to do so.  The four takeaways this fall?  Tied for fourth worst in the league.  While they didn’t allow a second half touchdown, the D surrendered 2 field goal marches of 7:23 and 4:50 to start the second half.  Is the pass rush just not good enough to mask a suspect secondary or is the patched up secondary not sharp enough to make an underwhelming front seven shine?  There’s definitely a hole in the bucket.

 

Flying Flags– after being ticketed only 3 times last week, the Skins still fared better than the opposition with only 6 infractions for 62 yards (yet they’re still the 7th most penalized team in the league).  Arizona did their best Seattle impression with 14 (!) flags for 108 yards.  Three were on offense (all false starts–the Skins now have 9 on the year, 3 short of the league lead)…two on defense (pass interference against Bashaud Breeland-his second PI and 5th flag of the year-and encroachment against Jason Hatcher) and one on special teams (holding on a punt return against Akeem Jordan).  Two penalties stunted drives while two others jumpstarted Cardinal scoring possessions.  Logan Paulsen’s false start dug a 2nd and 15 hole the team had to punt out of two plays later.  Chris Chester’s false start turned a 1st and goal from the 10 into an eventual field goal.  Breeland’s PI moved the Cardinals from their own 17 to midfield…and they’d reach the endzone six plays later.  Hatcher’s encroachment turned a 3rd and 8 into a 3rd and 3…one Arizona would convert before settling on a field goal eight plays later.

 

Cobra Kai– Mr. Forbath connected on attempts from 28 and 43 yards while his first three kickoffs reached the endzone for touchbacks (he chipped one to the Arizona 9 to end the first half and the other kick was onside).  Just like last year when he wasn’t missing and the team wasn’t winning.  Tress Way continues to be the Bobby to Forbath’s Johnny…averaging 47+ yards per punt in another lost cause.  With FOX going all prequel on “Gotham”, what’s to stop a “Karate Kid” origin story about the early days of Johnny Lawrence before the sensei turned him into a leather-jacket wearing bully?

 

Dissecting the Division– Philadelphia’s win keeps the Eagles atop the NFC East at 5-1 over Dallas thanks to a 2-0 division record…with the NY Giants at 3-3 all alone in third place.  Which means the Redskins are almost halfway home to another last place finish.  At least the NFC East is more SEC than SBC (Sun Belt) this year:  the composite 14-10 mark is a whisker behind the AFC North’s 13-8-1.  Worst division?  The NFC South (8-14-1) although the AFC South isn’t far behind at 9-15…thank goodness Tennessee comes to Fed Ex next Sunday.

 

Bye weeks have a strange rhythm of their own:  usually each school has to fit 12 games over 14 weeks (Navy has a few more bye weeks because their game with Army is the Saturday after the conference championship games).  Sometimes an early week off is created when a non-conference foe drops out (like Syracuse in week 2– although part of me thinks they needed 2 weeks to prepare for Central Michigan)…and often a week off is necessitated when a school plays on Thursday night.  (NFL, THAT is your Thursday Night Solution:  set it up so teams that play are coming off byes–you’ll thank me later).  As fate would have it the bye hits Maryland, Virginia and Virginia Tech at the same time this year–and each school is 4-2 midway through the 2014 campaign.    With a little luck each could wrap up bowl eligibility by the end of the month…and we haven’t seen all three play in the postseason since 2007.  Seven years bad luck, eh?

 

Alma Mater Update–when you burn your bye week to prepare for Central Michigan after needing double overtime to defeat a I-AA school, there’s concern.  When you allow a pair of 80+ yard touchdowns at home, there’s concern.  They’re minus Terrel Hunt for a month and have switched out playcallers midway through the year.  The remaining schedule for the Orange?  Top-ranked Florida State leads off a slate of schools with a combined 24-14 record.  The annual dream of a pinstripe bowl isn’t as promising…

 

Maryland (4-2, 1-1 Big Ten) has looked good (road wins over Syracuse and Indiana), bad (losses at home to West Virginia and Ohio State) and ugly (somehow they won despite 6 turnovers at South Florida) this fall…with their six remaining opponents posting a combined 22-10 record.  Four (Iowa, Penn State, Michigan State and Rutgers) have lost just one game–while once-mighty Michigan (2-4) is the only remaining foe with a losing mark.  Causes for Confidence:  the Accounts Receiving Firm of Diggs & Long (combined 63 catches for 957 yards and 4 TD’s) stretches the field…Will Likely is absolutely electric and can’t be ignored on defense or special teams, causing opponents to gameplan around him…Brad Craddock is 11-11 on field goal attempts, including a school-record 57-yarder (the Aussie pulling his best Paul Hogan “NOW THAT’S A KICK”).  Causes for Concern:  the offense has had issues from time to time on 3rd down (40% for the season and 9-28 in their two losses)…13 giveaways places the Terps 105th in Division I-A…the defense allows 212 yards rushing per game, never a good thing in a league that likes to stay on the ground like the Big Ten. 

 

Virginia Tech (4-2, 1-1 ACC) also faces just one school with a losing record from here on out–although there are a pair of 3-3’s (Pitt & Miami) that aren’t that much better than Wake Forest.  Remaining opponents record: 19-15.  The Hokies have showed a high ceiling (an upset win at #8 Ohio State) and their cellar might not be as low as originally perceived;  their losses have come against East Carolina and Georgia Tech, two schools that are both ranked right now.  Causes for Confidence:  the defense holds opponents to 24% on third down and just 3.4 yards per carry…Chase Williams is an absolute beast on D (57 tackles and 3.5 sacks)… runningback Trey Edmunds is healthy again (the sophomore’s averaging 5.1 yards a carry).  Causes for Concern:  lack of downfield presence in the passing game leaves too much traffic in the box–as the running game has yet to find itself… Michael Brewer’s thrown 11 interceptions… Joey Slye’s missed 5 of 14 field goal attempts… 57 penalties are the 8th most in D-I…and WR Willie Byrn is only averaging 8 yards per catch.  His name is Willie Byrn!  How do you not send him deep on every play?

 

Virginia (4-2, 2-0 ACC) controls its own ACC Coastal Division Destiny, but the Cavaliers also face the toughest remaining schedule of the three:  23-9 combined mark that includes unbeatens Georgia Tech and Florida State plus defending division champ Duke.  Causes for Confidence:  their two losses came against ranked opponents that were unbeaten until last weekend… the defense allows 2.7 yards per carry thanks to a pass rush led by Henry Coley (6 sacks), while Quin Blanding (61 tackles) and Anthony Harris make standout plays in the secondary…and RB Kevin Parks is heating up after a slow start (gaining over 5 yards a carry each of his last two games).  Causes for Concern:  lack of gamebreakers on offense (10.4 yards per completion) contributes to a sputtering offense (44% on 3rd down)… the team turns the ball over too much (9 interceptions, 5 fumbles)…and then there’s the Quarterback Carousel:  the reason why Matt Johns has been taking all of the snaps lately at QB?  Greyson Lambert’s injury.  Who’s to say Coach Mike London doesn’t return to his QB carousel when Lambert’s healthy again?

 

Navy entertains VMI– I refuse to use the terms “right the ship” and “stop from sinking”…but after three straight losses this team is looking to salvage what began as a promising 2014 campaign.  The 1-5 Keydets used to have Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson as one of its instructors… VMI’s defense not exactly a stone wall as they’ve coughed up 42, 48, 63 and 55 points this fall.  Keenan Reynolds is already warming up…  Midshipmen turn the fleet around in the right direction, 27-10.

 

Howard slips at Bethune-Cookman, Georgetown loses at Lafayette, Towson tops James Madison, William & Mary falls at New Hampshire,  Richmond loses to Albany, Old Dominion falls to UTEP.

 

Last Week:  7-3.  If I were coaching at a football factory, I’d be fired by now.

Overall: 45-15.

It certainly didn’t feel like a ten point game.  The Redskins 27-17 loss to defending champ Seattle felt resembled that of a mouse being caught by a cat who proceeded to lose interest in completing the kill.  At one point the Seahawks had more penalty yards (45) than the Redskins offense total yardage (27 on the first 18 plays from scrimmage).  The team’s 1-4 start matches last year’s opening stumble before they “got hot” with 2 wins in 3 weeks before finishing the year with 8 straight losses.

 

Kirk Beams Up– after a rough first half where he was held to 7 of 17 passing, Captain Cousins completed his first six passes of the third quarter…finishing 14 of 19 after halftime.  Coach Jay Gruden says Cousins sometimes makes the tough throws look easy and the simple throws look difficult.  He looked sharp on 57 and 60-yard passes to DeSean Jackson…but looked suspect while misfiring or checking down repeatedly on third down.  Of the 11 possessions that mattered, 5 were three and out and 2 more saw punts after the fourth play.   He was sacked just once despite a furious pass rush by the Seahawks D…although he looked like he was going to be planted into the Fed Ex Field turf on more than one occasion.  Hopefully they can keep Kirk out of sick bay for the time being…

 

Mayday for Morris– remember when Jessie’s stepbrother moved in and blackmailed Zack for cutting school to go to a Dodger game while pleading Rosh Hashanah?  Just like that Alfred Morris was turned from actor to reactor Monday night– held to 29 yards on 13 carries (including a 2 yard loss and fumble that napalmed the team’s first possession).  Granted, Seattle came into the game ranking 2nd in the league at stopping the run and surrendered just 2.8 yards per carry–but if you don’t want Lisa Turtle to go see Casablanca you can’t expose yourself by fumbling or catching a foul ball.  What is concerning is that Morris’ yardage has decreased each week this year, from 91 to 85 to 77 to 63 to now 29 yards.  But don’t worry about the Seahawk D, much like Jessie’s stepbrother they won’t make another appearance on the Redskins viewing schedule this year.

 

Feast and Famine– DeSean Jackson caught 5 passes for 157 yards and a touchdown–GREAT!  Pierre Garcon caught 2 passes (one in super garbage time) for 23 yards and an evening of ire from Richard Sherman–NOT AWESOME! Jackson stretched the field with 57 and 60 yards catches to help keep the Skins in the game.  I’M FULL!  Garcon was accused of pulling Sherman’s hair.  I’M STARVING!  The Legion of Boom’s Big Mouth then said that Garcon “didn’t matter in the league”.  I guess if Jackson rips apart the rest of the secondary it’s okay to blab all you want…I know Sherman is one of the top cornerbacks in the game but I’d just as soon hear him say “scoreboard” and move about his business.  The Tight End presence to keep the secondary honest?  No standing pat– Paul & Paulsen will not be running for President on 3 catches for 17 yards.  The Seahawks didn’t even need to use their special “Smothers Brothers” coverage.

 

Third and Forgettable– after the 1-for-10 nightmare against the Giants, the 3-for-12 bad dream against the Seahawks saw Kirk Cousins complete 7 of 11 passes for 32 yards and three conversions–all three on short passes to Andre (two short right, the other short middle).  Two of the passes took place on the first drive and the other occured on the Skins final possession of the night.  Meaning that with the exception of an illegal use of the hands penalty against Seattle, the Skins came up empty on the money down.  Breaking down the yardage:  1-4 on 3rd & 1 to 3 yards needed, 2-4 on 3rd & 4 to 6 yards necessary, 0-4 on third & 7+.  Nice to see 3rd and long in the minority though…meaning they’re at least doing something on 1st and 2nd downs.  

 

Defense gets the runaround– Russell Wilson turned the Skins D inside-out with 122 yards rushing and a touchdown while the third year pro also passed for 201 yards and two more scores.  Positive points?  Three sacks and the fact that five of the six leading tacklers were by players in the front seven.   Negative nuances?  LB Perry Riley is a question mark after injuring his knee against Seattle– they’ll miss his solid play (10 tackles) if he can’t go at Arizona.

 

Flying Flags– only 3 penalties for the Redskins this time.  Major Burgundy and Gold Star for the fridge!  One came on Special Teams (hold on a punt return by EJ Biggers) that turned a 1st and 10 from the 20 into a 1st and 10 from the 10…before the Skins would go three and out.  The two defensive penalties both sparked 4th quarter scoring drives:  Perry Riley’s defensive hold turned a 3rd and 3 into a 1st and 10 from the Skins 41  and Seattle would reach the endzone 11 plays later;  Jarvis Jenkins facemask jumpstarted the Seahawks game-clinching field goal drive.  What got me Monday night were the 13 penalties called against Seattle– 3 wiping out Seahawk touchdowns and others either slowing down one of their drives or sparking a Skins’ possession.  That doesn’t give me confidence long-term as Seattle tries to repeat.

 

Cobra Kai– Forbath drilled his lone attempt…a 27 yard field goal early in the third quarter when the Skins opted not to go for it on 4th and 1 from the Seattle 9.  That’s like having Bobby jump into Daniel LaRusso’s knee…he could have beat him (!) just as a Skins offense that was heating up could have gotten that yard.  Instead they settle for three and we have to watch Mr. Miyagi “magically heal Daniel’s knee with his touch” (something out of an ABC afterschool special).  In reality, Bobby was probably the toughest matchup for LaRusso…he was the most deliberate and thoughtful of the Cobra Kai and would’ve smelled the crane kick coming from a mile away.  Tress Way averaged almost 50 yards per punt– which is good because he had to kick 8 times Monday evening.

 

Dissecting the Division– the loss places the Burgundy and Gold two full games in last place of the NFC East.  Philadelphia owns first place thanks to the division tiebreaker (1-0 vs 0-0) over Dallas–both are 4-1 to start the season.  The NY Giants (3-2) are all alone in third.  Good news for the quartet:  the NFC East’s 12-8 combined record is percentage points behind the AFC North (11-7) for best division honors, an award that doesn’t generate a trophy, banner or plaque.  Worst division?  The AFC South is 7-13...but 1-1 against the Skins.

Ole Miss and Mississippi State aren’t supposed to be this good.  The two Magnolia state schools aren’t supposed to beat Alabama or Texas A&M…these two wallflowers of the SEC West were supposed to be exhibits A & B to refute anyone who declared that the Southeastern Conference wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.  Both schools have had spotty history over the years and although each has had its moments– the fact that both are unbeaten and tied for the #3 spot in this week’s Associated Press Poll.  Both are coming off signature Moving Month wins…the Rebels rallying past then-#3 Alabama 23-17 and the Bulldogs torching then-#6 Texas A&M 48-31.  This isn’t like Joey becoming the star of “Friends”–it’s like Gunther stealing Rachel away from Ross.  Unbeaten in October– or even September– isn’t something I associate with either school.  When I think of the University of Mississippi I think about an overmatched Archie or Eli Manning, “The Help” and James Meredith.  When I think of Mississippi State I think about Jackie Sherrill castrating a bull, the 1980 Bulldogs denying Alabama a chance to three-peat, and MSU being looked down on by the Ole Miss community (the two schools’ relationship reminiscent of North Carolina and NC State).  Both teams have struggled in the shadows of an SEC West that’s dominated the college football landscape recently– while Ole Miss has just one 10-win season since Hall of Fame coach Johnny Vaught’s last game in 1973, Mississippi State has one double-digit victory campaign since World War II.  For years teams in the SEC East would hope to get the “double-Mississippi” when getting their crossover division schedules as opposed to the Alabama-Auburn or Bama-LSU double-doozy.  It’s fitting these two schools emerge from the rubble on an upset-filled weekend (five of the top ten schools losing)…and lets allow the Magnolia state to enjoy this early October bloom while it lasts.  You see, Mississippi State visits #2 Auburn while Ole Miss travels to #14 Texas A&M.  Where’s Jackie Sherrill and the vet when you need them?

 

Alma Mater Update– there isn’t enough wings and bleu cheese to negate the empty feeling of Friday night’s 28-6 loss to Louisville.  It reminded me of the 2007 loss at home to Washington where I realized that maybe the light at the end of the tunnel for Greg Robinson was an oncoming train.  Lack of speed in the secondary.  Lack of talent at the skill positions.  Mismanagement in critical situations.  Adding injury to insult, quarterback Terrel Hunt is out 4-6 weeks with a broken fibula.  Coach Scott Shafer (gives a great press conference) responds by stripping Offensive Coordinator George McDonald of his playcalling duties heading into Saturday’s showdown with #1 Florida State.  Remember, this is a team that switched defenses to a 3-4 for their game with Georgia Tech and lost 56-0.  Another reason for me to dislike the Bills– Doug Marrone should be coaching this team right now.  Instead a seemingly unprepared administration had to fill the head coaching job with a Scott Shafer (gives a great press conference) who may have been promoted one level above his skill set.  A coaching hire misfire at a private school in the northeast?  Deadly.  When does basketball begin again?

 

Maryland had its Big Ten rude awakening with a 52-24 loss to #20 Ohio State.  Sloopy was doing a lot more than hanging on:  the Buckeyes served a reminder to the Terps that while they may be playing in OSU’s conference–they’re not in the Bucks’ league.  So is a big chunk of the Big Ten.  Terrapin Triumphs-- Cole Farrand notched 17 tackles while Andre Monroe added a pair of sacks…Caleb Rowe provided  spark off the bench by throwing for 173 yards and a touchdown in the second half.  Terrapin Troubles– Rowe threw 3 interceptions while CJ Brown tossed another pick in the first half… the defense allowed over 5 yards a carry and gave up touchdowns on the Buckeyes first two possessions to set the tone.  Next: October 18th against Iowa.

 

Virginia Tech wasted no time separating itself from North Carolina…taking a 24-3 halftime lead en route to a 34-17 thumping of the Tar Heels.  Granted, UNC is rebuilding (allowing 42 points a game) but a road conference win is a nice way to start Moving Month.  Hokie Highlights– the defense held the Tar Heels to 2 for 13 on third down-and forced 3 key turnovers that led to 21 points…Ken Ekanem notched 3 of the team’s 5 sacks…special teams held ballyhooed punt returner Ryan Switzer to 7 total yards on 6 returns.  BEAMER BALL!  Hokie Humblings– minimal happy returns as VT averaged 13.5 yards per kickoff return and -2.5 yards per punt return… the offensive line allowed 3 sacks… Michael Brewer was intercepted again.  Next:  Thursday October 16th vs Pitt.

 

Virginia held on for dear life in the second half…almost wasting a 21-point lead in their 24-19 win at Pitt. There’s a lot of football to be played, but UVa is one of 3 ACC teams that have unbeaten conference records.  Wake up whenever you want, Cavs faithful.  Cavalier Congrats– Kevin Parks rushed for 169 yards and a TD…Anthony Harris notched 15 tackles and a sack… Max Valles’ interception was the team’s 19th of the season.  Cavalier Concerns– six second half drives netted just 87 yards on 26 plays from scrimmage…  Matt Johns reminded fans why he was unable to take the starting job away from Greyson Lambert (9-16 passing for 93 yards, a TD and an INT).  Next:  October 18th at Duke.

 

Navy saw its season continue to go south with a 30-21 defeat at Air Force.  While the Commander in Chief’s Trophy not out of reach (Navy needs to beat Army after the Black Knights beat Air Force), a 2-4 record means there’s minimal margin for error as the upcoming slate includes a date with #6 Notre Dame and a trip to Sun Belt Conference leading Georgia Southern.  Midshipmen Medals– Chris Swain rushed for 103 yards and a touchdown…the defense held the Falcons to 6-15 on third down.  Midshipmen Miscues– the offense went 3 & out on three of its first four second half possessions… two turnovers in Air Force territory and a missed field goal took points off the scoreboard… the defense allowed 3 TD passes by Kale Pearson.  Next:  Saturday vs VMI.

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