Cavalcade of Whimsy - What Went Wrong For OSU
USC RB Joe McKnight
USC RB Joe McKnight
Posted Sep 16, 2008

Besides Joe McKnight running wild, what went wrong for Ohio State against USC? The reason why neutral officials must be used in non-conference games, the five relative sleepers to watch out for, and much, much more in this week's Cavalcade of Whimsy.

Fiu's Cavalcade of Whimsy

a.k.a. Frank Costanza's Festivus Airing of the Grievances

By Pete Fiutak   
What's your beef? ... Fire off your thoughts  
Past Whimsies
2006 Season | 2007 Season
Preseason Cavalcade | Week 1 | Week 2

If this column sucks, it’s not my fault … I wasn’t paying attention and Notre Dame DE John Ryan crashed into me from behind.

“It takes a big man to admit he was wrong. And I am not a big man.” ...
Dressed in my tuxedo, I stand up and address all the parts of my brain after picking Ohio State over USC.

“Life goes on. (laughter fills the room). A man becomes preeminent, he's expected to have enthusiasms. Enthusiasms... Enthusiasms... What are mine? What draws my admiration? What is that which gives me joy?”

- Dames! (yells one part of my brain)

- Boozin'! (yells another)

“Baseball. (cheers and applause) A man...A man stands alone at the plate. This is the time for what? For individual achievement. There he stands alone. But in the field, what? Part … of … a  … team.

- (all parts of my brain nod in agreement) Teamwork...Teamwork

“Looks, throws, catches, hustles. Part of one big team. Bats himself the live-long day, Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and so on. lf his team don't field...what is he? You follow me? No one. Sunny day, the stands are full of fans. What does he have to say? l'm goin' out there for myself. But...l get nowhere unless the team wins.”

I then take a baseball bat and violently bash the part of my brain that allowed me to take the Buckeyes.

Yeah, I picked Ohio State to beat USC. And Cindy Crawford has a mole.

While giving all due credit to USC for the fantastic win, Ohio State has become a fascinating study in underachievement.

It’s like the program has become Chuck Knoblauch and can’t throw to first anymore. It’s a brain lock and a basic malfunction, and it wasn’t always this way. If you remember, there was a reason everyone handed the Buckeyes the national title before the 2007 BCS Championship game against Florida. This used to be a tremendous big-game program under Jim Tressel with a win in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl win over Miami for the national title, Fiesta Bowl victories over Kansas State and Notre Dame, and yearly wins over Michigan.

I’ll excuse the loss in the 2008 BCS Championship, LSU was the better team, and it was sheer hubris run amok against Florida as the Buckeyes got fat, lazy, and tattooed by a great Gator team, but this loss to USC was something different. Ohio State gave it a shot for about a quarter, realized it wasn’t going to happen, and failed to adjust. USC knew it was going to win, while Ohio State appeared to be hoping for the best.

Tressel said he has to give everything a hard look in the analysis of his program after the USC loss. Here’s what he’ll find after the year’s biggest non-conference game.

1) Terrelle Pryor.
The inside word leading up to the game was that Pryor was going to bring something special. The Buckeye coaching staff had been waiting to unleash the freshman superstar and was going to use him like Dennis Dixon or Vince Young, who had each beaten the Trojans by running wild. There was one problem with this: it worked. It’s forgotten in the post-game haze, but Ohio State moved the ball extremely well when Pryor was in. However, Ohio State had to know that the USC coaching staff was going to adjust. For some inexplicable reason, the Buckeyes took out Pryor even when everything was going just the way the coaching staff had wanted. You never mess with what works, and by halftime, the window to use Pryor as mainly a runner had slammed shut. USC was winning big and was going to be happy with Pryor as a passer in comeback mode.

2) Talent level.
These things always change on the fly after the workouts and the Combine, when everyone gets a chance to find the pimples on the beauty queens, but as of right now, even after the loss, if all the players who should leave early for the NFL end up jetting, Ohio State fielded around 12-to-15 players who will be taken in the 2009 NFL draft, not including Beanie Wells. Around seven Buckeyes are expected to go in the top 100 picks, and there are at least five others, like Pryor, who saw time and will someday be drafted. USC has roughly 7-to-10 players who’ll go in the 2009 draft, with the mother-load going pro in 2010 and 2011. In other words, it’s not a speed and athleticism issue. This Buckeye team will keep the NFL heaven packed with fresh souls.

3) Beanie.
It did matter, and anyone who makes some off-the-cuff statement about Beanie not being able to play defense is missing the point. USC didn’t take the Beanie-less Ohio State running game seriously unless Pryor was in. When Todd Boeckman was under center, the Trojan defense pinned it ears back and sent the house to get to the immobile quarterback, took its chances with its secondary, which didn’t work out well early on, by the way, and let the middle of the defense deal with the backup Buckeye running backs. If Beanie had played, USC wouldn’t have been able to bring the funk every time Boeckman was in. This is a running back who might be one of the first ten players taken in the 2009 Draft, if not No. 1 overall. Of course his absence, even as a decoy, played a role.

4) The lines. And this is why USC would’ve won even if Beanie had played, if Pryor had taken 80% of the snaps, and if Ohio State had its head screwed on straight. The USC offensive line that’s still trying to gel with a few new starters ended up dominating the Ohio State front four. As Mark Sanchez put it after the Virginia game, he had time to grill steaks back there. How many times was Joe McKnight running for four yards before getting touched? On the other side, Ohio State never adjusted to the USC blitzing or the effectiveness of the Trojan defensive line.

Ball game.

“An Army without leaders is like a foot without a big toe. And Sergeant Hulka isn't always

gonna be there to be that big toe for us.”… I’m not quite sure if Tressel is to be commended for keeping Beanie Wells out or if this whole situation is even more bizarre and curious than it appeared. For a guy with a bum hoof, Beanie looked awfully spry sprinting past half his team into the locker room at halftime.

What happens when you get your officials from a Buffalo Wild Wings ad …
Officials are a different breed of cat, and you don’t get to the D-I/FCS level if you’re not good and if you’re not fair and impartial. However, the NCAA has to mandate a rule that forces a neutral officiating crew to handle non-conference games. The integrity of the games and every bad call comes into question whenever there’s a blip on the radar.

The first thing everyone pointed out after the Jake Locker celebration fiasco against BYU was that the call was made by a Pac 10 officiating crew, as if to insinuate that a Mountain West official would’ve made a call he normally wouldn’t have to protect his conference’s team. Fortunately, a potentially bigger officiating controversy never came to light because of the final outcome of the Wisconsin – Fresno State game.

While several teams over the years have wussed out on their commitments to play at Fresno State, Wisconsin honored its home-and-home contract and played in a terrific watershed game for both teams late Saturday night. In the week leading up to the game, Badger head coach Bret Bielema called Fresno State head coach Pat Hill and asked if he wanted to use Big Ten officials for the game in Fresno and WAC officials for next year’s game in Madison. Hill said no, partly because this was the biggest and most important home game in the history of the program and he wanted every little advantage possible. He had seen his team be on the wrong side of way too many calls over the years in other people’s ball parks. So the tone was set from the start. If anything seemed the slightest big askew, this game with potential BCS implications was going to have a cloud of controversy.

Sure enough, with 3:17 to go in the third quarter of the tight battle, Wisconsin, up 13-7 but with all the momentum on Fresno State’s side, dealt a devastating blow by forcing FSU WR Devon Wylie to fumble on the Bulldog 18. The Badgers recovered and was already in field goal range. The play was reviewed, and as plain as the mustache on Pat Hill’s face, Wylie caught the ball, took one step, then another, was blasted, dropped the ball, and Wisconsin recovered. But the review was taking too long. The announcers in the booth were wondering why, and Ed Cunningham, the sideline reporter who was right in front of the play, commented that it was clearly a fumble.

Bulldog ball.

Not only had the replay official blown the call, but he reversed it without any sort of conclusive evidence to show it was a fumble. It was just the opposite; the camera had the perfect shot and the perfect angle. Fresno State marched to a field goal and it was game on for a tight fourth quarter.

Wisconsin eventually held on to win, but was flagged for seven penalties for 53 yards while Fresno State was tagged twice for 15. There’s no need for the hint of any impropriety or favoritism. Just use third-party officials from now on and fans won’t have to wonder every time a bad call is made.

Speaking of Badgers …
Five teams not to sleep on. These five aren’t getting a whole bunch of national play, but they’re looking sharp to start the season and have the potential to rise up and do what Missouri and Kansas did last season.

1) Wisconsin
– That win over Fresno State was good. Really good. There was a reason many were picking the Bulldogs to win, and it’s not because they were at home. Wisconsin needs better quarterback play, but the defense is getting healthier with the return to form of several players who were injured throughout last year. Helping out QB Allan Evridge is the return of All-American tight end Travis Beckum to full strength. The offensive line is as good as it’s been in several years, the backfield is loaded with good runners, and there’s enough speed and athleticism to hang with the biggest of the big boys.

2) Oklahoma State
– Fine, so beating up Washington State, Missouri State and Houston might not seem like that big a deal, but this Cowboy team is more than good enough to turn into more than just a fly in the Big 12 South ointment. The defense isn’t going to be a rock, but the offense will play with anyone thanks to a tremendous line, a steady quarterback in Zac Robinson, a deadly running game, and a playmaking receiver in Dez Bryant. There might not be enough in the bag to win the South title, but there will be at least one big win over a Texas or Oklahoma to make it close.

3) TCU
– It’s been all about BYU and Utah so far on national scale, but Gary Patterson’s club will have its shot to make some big-time noise over the next several weeks. There might not be the flash or dash of the Utes or Cougars, but the defense is aggressive and effective while QB Andy Dalton has been sharp so far. This is the type of team no one pays attention to until it’s 10-2.

4) Penn State
– Lost in the headlines of the suspensions and off-the-field troubles has been a dominant start by a loaded team with enough talent to win the Big Ten title. This team is eerily reminiscent of the 2005 squad that went 11-1 with an Orange Bowl win over Florida State, except that this year’s team has more explosion in the running game and the young, talented receiving corps is all grown up. Even with all the losses on the defensive line, Penn State is allowing just 250 yards and 12 points per game.

5) Oregon
Don’t dog the close call at Purdue. Yeah, the Boilermakers blew it by not getting a field goal in regulation to win the game, but Oregon showed heart in a gut-check comeback performance against a strong team with a tremendous quarterback in Curtis Painter. Nick Reed deserves All-America recognition as one of the nation’s best pass rushers, while Max Unger and the offensive line might be the best in the Pac 10. The Duck running game lost Dennis Dixon and Jonathan Stewart, but it’s better than ever averaging 323 rushing yards per game. If they can keep a quarterback alive for more than one game, they’ll have a legitimate shot at beating USC.

Maybe by then Michael Irvin will be able to break out of his shell after all these years …
Awwwww, poor Miami. Those soft and sensitive Hurricanes had their feelings hurt by that mean Urban Meyer when he allowed his Gators to kick a (gasp!) field goal in the final minute of the 26-3 UF win a few weeks ago. How dare Florida actually keep trying against an in-state rival with all those potential recruits watching?

Miami, the program known for its conservative, understated, IBM, button-down style over the last 25 years deserves better than to lose by 23 instead of 20. In future blowouts, maybe Miami can politely ask the other team if it wants to leave a bit early to go get blizzards at the DQ.

Oh, those Canes are going to get their comeuppance alright against that, as Warren Sapp called Meyer, “classless dirtbag.” Just you wait, because in 2013, when the teams are scheduled to play again, Miami will maybe get to kick a late field goal of its own. Ooooohhhhh, that will be a great day to be a Cane. Of course, by that point Meyer will be in year three of rebuilding the Cincinnati Bengals and head coach Bronco Mendehall’s butt will have to cash the check that Meyer wrote, but just you wait. Miami will have its revenge, and then everyone can meet in the middle of the field for a hug and everyone will be happy again.

Now if he had said “lipstick on a cougar,” then there would really be an issue …
I don’t like dumb people. More than that, I don’t like smart people who have to waste their time, and use poor judgment, to appeal to the stupid.

Michigan, we’re you really that upset about the “to Hell with Michigan” comment from Charlie Weis? If you really need something like that to get fired up and play your best, your team sucks. That was a polite kiss on the cheek compared to what many Wolverine fans had to be saying after the two early muffed kickoff returns that all but gave the queen to the Irish. At least the comment drummed up a little attention to what used to be the best matchup in the game not all that long ago.

The C.O.W. airing of the grievances followed by the feats of strength

Ten things I’m grouchy about this week.

10. John Parker Wilson

Did Alabama not run an offense under Bear Bryant? Not to dog QB John Parker Wilson, but 6,321 yards of total offense seems a tad low to be the all-time leader at a place like Alabama. Then again, it’s not like J.P.W. beat Joe Namath or Ken Stabler for the record. Brodie Croyle previously held the mark, and now Wilson is No. 2 behind Croyle for the most passing yards in school history. The great Andrew Zow is now No. 3.

9. Not flagging defenders for celebrating
Considering the response I received for thinking it moronic to agree with the flag being thrown on Jake Locker a few weeks ago for the celebration penalty against BYU, we have a large segment of the toe-the-line public that obviously never goes a mile over the speed limit and always gets water at the drink machine when it’s just as easy to hit the Sprite button. So why isn’t there any call to throw a flag on 99% of the big defensive plays? Every defender pops up and does a little dancy thing to call attention to himself after a big hit or a broken up pass, and it’s always party time whenever there’s a sack. I’m for letting the guys play and allowing them to express themselves as long as they’re not excessive, but I counted over 25 times defensive celebrations that were far worse than what Locker did.

8. The resurgence of the former play-callers

I was going to rip on a few one-time superstar offensive geniuses who relinquished their play-calling duties this year, but the three in my wheelhouse had great weekends. Charlie Weis blew out his knee and blew away Michigan, Maryland’s Ralph Friedgen pulled off the shocker against Cal, and Steve Spurrier, despite the loss, coached a masterful game against a far superior Georgia team. Of course, Rick Neuheisel might have a word of two with Norm Chow about that trip to Provo.

7. The G2 Life

After decades of pumping their sugar-water on the world and fattening up America’s youth, Gatorade has now come out with the lower-calorie G2 drink. The marketing campaign revolves around “living the G2 life,” which from the looks of it means a lot of sitting around doing nothing, and in the case of Alonzo Mourning, remembering when you had a career. “You’re always an athlete. Hydrate like one.” The slogan should actually be, “You’re too porky to drink the real stuff, so for now, drink the lesser version, heal up, and hit the treadmill.”

6. Penn State vs. Georgia in the 1983 Sugar Bowl

The Big Ten Network shouldn’t be able to include Penn State’s classic 1983 Sugar Bowl win over Georgia in its series of the Big Ten’s Greatest Games. Penn State was an independent team up until 1993. It’s like the ACC trying to take a little bit of credit for the national title Miami teams.

 Yet another Texas superstar
The University of Texas in Austin is widely acknowledged as one of the world’s leading institutions of higher learning. A top 50 school according to the U.S. News & World Report rankings, it’s more than just a place where people go to watch football. Even so, there has to be some concern that yet another superstar football player has turned out to be a little nuts. Ricky Williams set the bar high (with an ongoing attempt to get higher), Cedric Benson gave it a run, starting out by bawling on draft day, and now Vince Young quit on his team, got hurt, and then appeared to be mentally unstable to the point of people worrying about his safety. His press conference, when he explained how he “hurted a little bit,” didn’t exactly help the UT academic reputation. By the way, have Houston Texan fans formally apologized for dogging the Mario Williams selection?

4. Viva Viagra cougars
I’d like to go one commercial break during a college football Saturday without hearing the word erection.

So how does that first screening go for the real husbands of the trophy wife models in the Viva Viagra ads (excluding, of course, the woman whose TV husband dresses up in the bad tux) or the ads with the couples who end up in separate tubs?

“Uh gee, honey. Great job. Uhhhh, yeah, you were, um, great. Yeah, really believable. You seemed like you really wanted to, um, you know, with him … yeah, it seemed like you two were a real couple. Remember that time I got you those roses a few years ago?”

3. Waking up early  
Nice going, Cal. It’s not like the Pac 10 has this reputation for being a rough and tumble slobberknocker of a conference, and then the Bears go out and come up with a clunker against an inferior Maryland team partly because it was hot outside and the game started early. Apparently, some of the Cal players had been commenting on the heat and humidity at game time, but the bigger issue appeared to be the noon start eastern time, or nine on the left coast. College kids might be used to sleeping in late, but football teams are different. Most get up way early to start workouts or get to morning classes so they can go to practices in the afternoon, but for some reason, Cal appeared to be a bit lethargic and sleepy in the first half against the Terps. Cal’s Pac 10 brethren that got whacked by the Mountain West didn’t have any time change excuses.

2. Norv Turner 
A big hug and a balloon bouquet goes out to embattled NFL official,
Ed Hochuli, who’s generally acknowledge as one of the best in the game, but completely and totally whiffed on a late fumble call in the San Diego – Denver game.

Down seven with one last chance to score, Bronco QB Jay Cutler lost the ball in a clear fumble that would’ve sealed the win for San Diego. But Hochuli blew the play dead calling it an incomplete pass, and Denver went on to win. To Hochuli’s credit, he immediately took the blame for the missed call and apologized for his mistake. After the tap dancing done by the officials after the Jake Locker fiasco in the BYU-Washington game a few weeks ago, hiding behind the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the game, it was refreshing to hear an official own up to an error and admit he flat choked. It was a sincere mistake and an even more sincere, swift admittance of guilt, but that still wasn’t enough for San Diego Charger head coach Norv Turner who whined after that the situation still wasn’t acceptable despite the apology. It was a mistake and the man didn’t try to hide from it. End of story.

1. Notre Dame

Missing the Ohio State – USC pick is one thing, a Trojan blowout was hardly a surprise. The Notre Dame win over Michigan was the real stunner among the big games.

For all the weeping and gnashing of teeth, Notre Dame is on a living, breathing four-game winning streak. However, it’s a brutally ugly roll, and the Irish might be wide open for a cruel dose of reality soon.

Remember, we went through this before when the Ty Willingham era first started. The Irish wasn’t pretty, but it was winning thanks to a slew of takeaways, big plays from the special teams, and getting every conceivable break in the book. Of course, Notre Dame had something to do with creating the good fortune, but it was all a mirage. As soon as the breaks stopped, or started to go the other way, Ty’s group became exposed as a mediocre team. That’s why it’s still hard to figure out the 2008 Irish.

The offense is awful, averaging 301 yards over the first two games. The passing game is far more efficient than last year, but there’s no running game. The defense came up with a few stops against anemic San Diego State and Michigan offenses, but there’s been no pass rush and problems against the pass. However, the O line hasn’t allowed a sack, that was big against a strong Michigan pass rush, and the offense has taken advantage of almost every opportunity. It was a dream world for the Irish against Michigan. Two early Wolverine fumbles on kickoff returns, 14 points, and Michigan had to play catch-up with an offense ill-equipped to go on a big run with the passing game.

Even with all the problems, the 35-17 win has to be considered among the big shockers of a shocking weekend, and it could be even more amazing if the Irish beat a strong Michigan State team in East Lansing. This team is starting to find a way, and confidence could make up for all the other issues. If nothing else, Notre Dame football bears watching again.

Random Acts of Nutty … Provocative musings and tidbits to make every woman want you and every man want to be you (or vice versa) a.k.a. things I didn’t feel like writing bigger blurbs for.

 - Alright Big 10 bashers, if not this conference, then who? The SEC and Big 12 are the top two, the Pac 10 stunk it up this weekend and the Big East and ACC continue to be no big whoop. So isn’t the Big Ten the No. 3 league by default? There’s nothing wrong with Penn State, Wisconsin and yeah, Ohio State.
- Remember, roughly 117 other teams would’ve likely lost to a fired up and focused USC team in the Coliseum.
- There’s the classic line that the only person to ever stop Michael Jordan was Dean Smith. I’m starting to get that feeling with Matthew Stafford and Mark Richt. Against South Carolina, Stafford threw a ball to A.J. Green up the right sideline that maybe ten current NFL quarterbacks could’ve made. Stafford also showed off surprising straight-line speed on a key run. However, with this Bulldogs team, bombing away takes a back seat to the running game.
- Last week I said it was unacceptable for any man over 30 to wear a jersey. Check that. Convinced by a few of the seasoned e-mailers, yes, I’ll change the rule book to allow men over 65 to wear jerseys again. Then it becomes quirky, and not sort of sad. On a similar note, I’m still in negotiations with the wife to be allowed to date again when I hit 85. She won’t budge off of 90.
- Hopefully one of the fine family of networks sucks it up and shows the Temple-Buffalo game again. Like the classic 1984 Boston College Flutie game over Miami, the Bulls’ win over the Owls was fantastic even before the improbable game-winning Hail Mary to give UB the win. Bull head coach Turner Gill and Temple head man Al Golden will meet someday at different programs in a game of much greater importance and much more national attention. These two are among the brightest young coaching stars in line for far bigger gigs.

C.O.W. shameless gimmick item … The weekly five Overrated/Underrated aspects of the world
 1) Overrated: Tom Hammond and Pat Haden giggling during their call as they realized Notre Dame football might be fun this year ... Underrated: Kirk Herbstreit giggling when Ohio State was playing well in the first quarter, and then taking a “here it comes” tone.
 2) Overrated: Matt Leinart … Underrated: Matt Cassel
 3) Overrated: The Beanie Wells situation ... Underrated: Needing armed guards to move the KFC secret recipe as the company changed offices
 4) Overrated: Suspended players ... Underrated: Penn State’s first three performances
 5) Overrated: Lehman Brothers collapse ... Underrated: Not having any money to invest in the first place

It’s ridiculously early, but … what the heck. My Heisman ballot if I had to turn it in today would be: 1) Chase Daniel, QB Missouri, 2) Sam Bradford, QB Oklahoma, 3) Knowshon Moreno, RB Georgia, 4) Max Hall, QB BYU, 5) Colt McCoy, QB Texas

“You know I'm born to lose, and gambling's for fools/But that's the way I like it baby, I don't wanna live forever” … The three lines this week that appear to be a tad off. During these tough economic times, you can count on me going 1-2 each week. You’ll do better than in the stock market right now (I’m 3-6 after two weeks). I press on.… 1) West Virginia -3 over Colorado, 2) Ohio +11 over Northwestern, 3) Rutgers -5 over Navy

Last Week: 1) Western Michigan -7.5 over Idaho (Win), 2) Ohio State +11 over USC (Loss), 3) Michigan over Notre Dame PICK (Loss)

Sorry this column sucked, but it wasn’t my fault … I was trying to gleefully celebrate being done with writing it for the week and then East Carolina police ruined my fun.