College Football Overtime (cont.)
As I wrote Saturday, I'm not sure I've seen a more depressing postgame image than that of Notre Dame's coaches and players singing the Alma Mater after a 28-27 loss to Tulsa. In the past, fans around the country reveled in the Irish's misfortunes, but unless you're a Tulsa fan, you'd have to be pretty heartless to take pleasure in the once-storied program's latest embarrassment, coming as it did just days after the death of student manager Declan Sullivan.
Among the faces NBC's cameras zoomed in on were Dayne Crist, the quarterback who suffered his second straight season-ending knee injury Saturday, and several members of what is now the losingest senior class in school history. And then there was first-year coach Brian Kelly, who ... well, who's got a lot to deal with right now.
As sportswriters, we're at least marginally qualified to criticize a coach's play-calling, including Kelly's decision to have freshman quarterback Tommy Rees throw to the end zone with 42 seconds left rather than protect the ball and let the ultrareliable David Ruffer kick a game-winning field goal. Rees threw into double coverage and was intercepted. Said Kelly: "We're going to call that play again and again. We didn't make it today. But in time we'll make that play."
What we're not remotely qualified to do is try to assign blame and responsibility for a young man's death without yet knowing all the facts or the results of a pending investigation -- but of course, that hasn't stopped some from rushing to judgment and doing that very thing.
In his first remarks since the accident, Kelly spoke after Saturday's game about his decision to practice outdoors Wednesday despite forecasts of heavy winds: "I made the decision that I felt it was productive and safe. We have systems in place to make certain and that deal with issues of safety. Clearly in this instance, they failed. We are in the process of examining all of those systems that are in place and looking for those answers."
Sullivan's death could have been avoided. On that, we can all agree. But right now it sure seems more important for the school and the public to support Sullivan's family, and for all schools to reexamine their safety procedures regarding those scissor lifts, than for people to immediately start calling for firings and resignations.
Nothing against the cheering faithful back home, but Syracuse coach Doug Marrone is enjoying life away from the Carrier Dome right now.
"It's almost been a little bit easier to play on the road," said Marrone, the former Syracuse offensive lineman whose team has won consecutive conference road games over USF, West Virginia and Cincinnati to improve to 6-2 for the first time since 2001. "A lot of the people that love you the most distract you the most."
A lot of folks back in Syracuse are loving their second-year head coach right now. In an otherwise miserable season for the Big East, Syracuse's surprising breakthrough after winning just four league games the past five seasons has been an extremely encouraging sign for the conference, which badly needs the school of Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, Don McPherson and Donovan McNabb to become relevant again.
The Orange are doing it with defense, allowing an average of just 10 points in their three conference wins, including Saturday's 31-7 win over the two-time defending league champion Bearcats. Syracuse ranks 13th nationally in total defense and is allowing its fewest yards per game (298.5) since 1997 thanks in large part to veteran linebackers Derrell Smith and Doug Hogue, both of whom are converted running backs with a good mix of size and speed. Smith intercepted a pass near the goal line Saturday and returned it 60 yards.
Syracuse needs one more win to become bowl eligible because it beat two FCS foes (Maine and Colgate), and its success in the downtrodden Big East must be taken in proper context -- it got crushed 41-20 at Washington in the second week of the season and 45-14 to Pittsburgh two weeks ago. But, "We are 6-2, and we are what we are," said Marrone. "We haven't really accomplished our goal yet, which was to have a winning season and go to a bowl game. Are we close? Yes."
Closer than they've been in six years.
Mini-previews for three of this week's big games:
TCU at Utah, Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET): Sit back and enjoy as two of the fastest teams in the country duke it out in what could be the difference between a BCS bowl berth or a Maaco Bowl berth. Both teams will try to establish the run, but it might be rough sledding against two of the nation's top 15 rushing defenses.
Alabama at LSU, Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET): Want to get all those pesky fans off your back, Les Miles? There's a simple solution: Beat Nick Saban. Miles has been living in Saban's shadow for five years, but has come close to derailing the Tide each of the past two seasons. The matchup to watch: Julio Jones vs. Patrick Peterson.
Arizona at Stanford, Saturday (10:15 p.m. ET): While we're rushing to anoint Oregon, don't forget that the Wildcats still have a chance to play for the Pac-10 title on Nov. 26 in Eugene. But they'll need to win this one first, which is no small chore considering the way Stanford's been playing. A possible BCS at-large berth remains in play as well.
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