A Col. Jessup-inspired look at the 10 snaps that have defined the season
Posted: Wednesday November 10, 2004 4:54PM; Updated: Wednesday November 10, 2004 4:54PM
Kyle Orton's fumble marked the start of Purdue's demise.
The strangest thing happened last weekend. I flipped the channel to TNT and they were showing A Few Good Men. I mean, what were the odds? Do you ever get the feeling that if they're airing A Few Good Men at TNT, that it must mean their other VCR is busy rewinding The Shawshank Redemption? And vice-versa?
Here's the thing about AFGM: If you think Col. Jessup (Jack Nicholson) lost everything on the witness stand ("You're damn right I did!"), you weren't paying attention. No, he squandered his career when he launched into his "you gotta ask me nicely" tirade down at Camp Gitmo. Jessup exposed his fatal flaw (pride) to Lt. Kaffee (Tom Cruise), who would later exploit it, win the case, and then -- and this is not in the film -- after being discharged from the Navy, migrate to southern California where he would become Rod Tidwell's sports agent.
Anyway, college football is just like AFGM. It's not the final scene that dictates your fate. You can blow your season, or salvage it, on any one play from the advent of the season through Advent season. Herewith, "A Few Good Plays" ... ten snaps that have helped determine where we stand through mid-November:
1. Oct. 9, Los Angeles -- Cal at Southern Cal: The Golden Bears face third-and-goal from the Trojan 14, less than two minutes remain, and Cal trails USC 23-17. Aaron Rodgers tosses a bullet into the end zone that whistles clean through Geoff McArthur's outstretched arms, untouched. It was Cal's best chance to score after getting first-and-goal at the USC 9. Final score: USC 23, Cal 17. The Trojans are 9-0, No. 1 in The Associated Press poll. Cal is 7-1 and No. 5, but might be ranked No. 1 today.
2. Oct. 30, Stillwater, Okla. -- Oklahoma at Oklahoma State: The Cowboys trail by three with just over a minute left. Quarterback Donovan Woods lets fly a pass from about midfield that scrapes off the fingertips of freshman wideout Prentiss Elliott at about the Sooner five yard-line. Elliott had the Sooner secondary beaten (who hasn't in the last month?). It would have been a fantastic catch, and it also likely would have resulted in an OU defeat. True, Cowboy kicker Jason Ricks missed a 49-yard field goal with 0:11 left, but this pass was the more consequential play. Final score: Oklahoma 38, Oklahoma State 35. OU is 9-0, No. 2 in the AP poll. OSU, had it won here and held on at Texas, might be ranked fifth right now. Instead, the Cowboys are 6-3 and No. 25.
3. Sept. 18, Auburn, Ala. -- LSU at Auburn: Auburn, trailing 9-3, faces 4th-and-12 at the LSU 28 with 3:07 left. Quarterback Jason Campbell eludes All-American Marcus Spears and hits Courtney Taylor for 14 yards and a first down. Auburn wins 10-9 (after a bizarre personal foul allows them a second-chance at the PAT). Auburn, No. 3, is 9-0. LSU, 6-2, is No. 17.
4. Oct. 16, West Lafayette, Ind. -- Wisconsin at Purdue: The Boilermakers lead 17-14 with 2:49 remaining, facing 3rd-and-3 at their own 37. Heisman frontrunner Kyle Orton runs a bootleg -- the type of clip they'd likely be showing at the Downtown Athletic Club come December -- but just as he dives for the first down, he is helicoptered by Badger defenders Robert Brooks and Scott Starks. The latter picks up the fumble and rumbles 40 yards for the game-winning score. Badgers, ranked 10th at the time, are now 9-0 and No. 4. Purdue, then No. 5, has become the Lt. Markinson ("Markinson is gone. There is no Markinson") of the 2004 season.
5. Nov. 6, Austin, Texas -- Oklahoma State at Texas: In short, Mack Brown's halftime speech. Brown told his Longhorns, who trailed 35-7 with less than two minutes to go in the first half, that they would win 42-35. Instead, Texas won 56-35. Texas, 8-1, is No. 6.
6. Oct. 30, Ann Arbor, Mich. -- Michigan State at Michigan: Following a Garrett Rivas field goal, the Wolverines trail 27-13 with 6:27 left. Rivas' onside kick is recovered by Brian Thompson, which sets the stage for the first of three touchdown receptions by Braylon Edwards in Michigan's 45-37, triple-overtime win. The Wolverines, 8-1, are ranked No. 9, while the Spartans are assured of finishing no higher than 2nd in in-state recruiting ... again.
7. Oct. 30, Chapel Hill, N.C. -- Miami at North Carolina: The 'Canes, 6-0 and ranked No. 4, are unlikely Homecoming lambs for the perennially week Tar Heels. That is, until freshman Connor Barth (wasn't he a character on Fernwood 2Night?) boots a game-ending 42-yard field goal for a 31-28 win. Miami, now 6-2 after losing to Clemson, is ranked 18th. The Tar Heels have their first victory over a top-five team in the program's history.
8. Oct. 23, South Bend, Ind. -- Boston College at Notre Dame: The Eagles trail 23-17 and face a 4th-and-13 at their own 45 with 1:13 remaining. QB Paul Peterson rolls out right and finds Larry Lester wide open for a 17-yard gain. Two plays later, BC scores the winning TD. BC is 6-2 and ranked No. 21. The Irish are 6-3 and ranked No. 24.
9. Nov. 6, Knoxville, Tenn. -- Notre Dame at Tennessee: The Vols, up 10-7 with 0:09 left in the first half, inexplicably line up in the shotgun from their own 32. Quarterback Erik Ainge fumbles a low snap and is sacked by Brandon Hoyte. Ainge suffers a separated shoulder and his replacement, Clausen the Younger, throws an interception for a touchdown early in the second half. The Irish win 17-13, perhaps saving coach Ty Willingham's job. Tennessee loses, dropping it to 7-2 and No. 15 in the rankings.
10. Nov. 2, (un)Happy Valley, Pa. -- Joe Paterno vs. a Conference Call: When a reporter asks JoePa if he deserves to return next season, the coach of then 2-6 Penn State pulls a Col. Jessup, saying, "I don't really appreciate that question, to be honest with you. After 55 years, to have somebody tell me that, I don't appreciate that." ("I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide, then questions the manner in which I provide it. I prefer you said thank you, and went on your way."). If JoePa becomes GoPa next month, this cross-examination will be remembered as one of the legendary coach's final stands.