College Football Overtime (cont.)
We knew it would happen the day the rule was first announced nearly 18 months ago: Some unfortunate player would have a touchdown nullified for taunting on his way into the end zone. But who would have predicted the first perpetrator would be a punter?
Executing a nifty fake punt late in the first quarter against Florida, LSU's Brad Wing was on his way into the end zone on a 44-yard touchdown run when he briefly glanced at the two nearest Florida defenders and spread his arms in a boastful gesture. Out came the flag. Wing's run was ruled dead at the eight-yard-line, and 15 yards were tacked on to push the Tigers back to the 23. They settled for a field goal.
The reaction across the Twittersphere was predictably indignant and irate.
"Based on what was seen on the television replays, the LSU player turned towards two Florida players and made a taunting gesture," Steve Shaw, the SEC's director of officials, said in a hastily issued release. "The rule as stated in the rule book was accurately applied."
Indeed it was. Even Les Miles agreed. But why is this rule on the books in the first place? It seemed completely over the top from the minute it was announced, and this didn't make me feel any better about it. What exactly are we trying to curb here? Why does it seem like a more restrictive rule gets put on the books every year to help make football just a little bit more sterile?
And really, how is the punter supposed to know?
If any good came from the incident, it's that it brought attention to Wing, a redshirt freshman from Australia who's emerged as one of LSU's most valuable players. Forget the fake punt. He pinned six punts inside the 11-yard line against West Virginia, and Saturday he placed one at the two-yard-line. As we inevitably look ahead to Nov. 5, Wing could well prove to be as much of a difference-maker as Courtney Upshaw or Tyrann Mathieu.
Assuming, of course, he doesn't look at anybody the wrong way.
On Saturday afternoon, Seattle Seahawks linebacker Aaron Curry tweeted the following: "Wake beating FSU, things are back to normal!" Winning in general was fairly normal during Curry's time in Winston Salem, including a 2006-08 span in which the Demon Deacons went 28-12 and earned an ACC title and three straight bowl berths. But it only took two losing seasons, including a 3-9 debacle last year, for Jim Grobe's program to return to the realm of the forgotten.
"It's always nice to sneak up on people," Grobe said Sunday after his team's aforementioned 35-30 upset of Florida State sent Wake to its first 3-0 ACC start since ... well, ever.
In order to win at the smallest school (4,569) in a BCS conference, Grobe, now in his 11th season, built his program around redshirting as many freshmen as possible and developing strong senior classes. Last season, however, a rash of injuries and a small senior class forced him to ditch the script, with often disastrous results including a 52-21 loss to Virginia Tech and a 62-14 loss to Maryland.
"We had too many young guys play last year. We just can't do that at Wake Forest," said Grobe. " We got embarrassed in a handful of games last year but felt we had some talented young kids. And then coming back this spring, it felt like there was something special about the chemistry these guys had."
One of the youngsters forced into action last season was then-freshman quarterback Tanner Price, who is now blossoming into one of the ACC's top passers. Price, a product of the same Texas prep power (Austin Westlake) as Drew Brees, Nick Foles and others, was 21-of-35 for 233 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions against the 'Noles. His importance goes beyond the numbers. Wake's sole loss came in the opener at Syracuse, when Price went out with a minor knee injury and the Deacons blew a 29-14 lead.
But much like those 2006-08 teams, which featured stars like Curry and cornerback Alphonso Smith, Wake is surprisingly athletic on defense. Cornerback Bud Noel, who like Smith is from Pahokee, Fla., had a game-high eight tackles and notched one of four interceptions on the day. Undersized nose guard Nikita Whitlock, another Texan, came after FSU quarterback Manuel. "We played a little bit over our head [Saturday] and got a big win over the Noles," said Grobe.
Wake gets no time to celebrate the victory. This week, Virginia Tech comes to town. Grobe is 66-61 at Wake Forest -- the school's first coach in 61 years with a winning record -- but he's 0-3 against the Hokies. "You hope that would be something this football team takes to heart," he said. "But these young guys, they don't know the history we've had."
They think this is normal.
Mini-previews for three of this week's big games:
Michigan at Michigan State, Saturday (Noon ET): Here we go, Denard. The oft-dazzling, oft-frustrating Wolverines quarterback is averaging 341 yards of offense, but he also has a 10-to-nine touchdown-to-interception ratio. He can't afford to be destructive against the Spartans' No. 1 defense (173.4 yards per game).
Arizona State at Oregon, Saturday (10:15 p.m. ET): It's a strange but true possibility that these teams could meet again in the same stadium in December for the Pac-12 championship. In the meantime, an opportunistic ASU defense (18 forced turnovers) looks to frazzle Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas.
Oklahoma State at Texas, Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET): If he hasn't already, Cowboys receiver Blackmon is going to watch tape of Saturday's Red River game, watch Ryan Broyles repeatedly torch 'Horns freshman corner Quandre Diggs, and drool. Texas will need a big game from freshman running back Malcolm Brown.