Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Yet Another "Fast" Team Gets a Taste of "Slow" Big 10 Defense [UPDATED]

Iowa 24, Georgia Tech 14.

That's a quite respectable 4-3 bowl record for the Big 10, including 2 BCS victories by Ohio State and Iowa. And I hate playing the "woulda, coulda, shoulda" game, but Northwestern and Minnesota should have won their respective games against Auburn and Iowa State. And Michigan State, after hamstringing itself with over a dozen player suspensions, put up a heckuva fight against Texas Tech.

All in all, some measure of redemption for the conference after last year's bowl fiasco. And look for Ohio State, Iowa, Penn State, and Wisconsin to make strong appearances in the Top 10 during the 2010 season.

... Considering that the Big Ten's one win in the 2008 bowl season was brought up repeatedly for an entire year -- along with the conference's overall struggles in BCS games -- the Big Ten's bragging rights should extend for at least that long. The conference had gone 4-11 in BCS games in the past nine seasons, but Iowa and Ohio State did their part in helping reverse that trend. Ohio State earned a marquee win with its 26-17 win over Oregon, which gave the conference its first BCS win since 2006.

Iowa cheered for Ohio State and the Hawkeyes aren't afraid to admit it.

"Not at all," linebacker Pat Angerer said. "If they're going to beat us, I'd rather have them win the Rose Bowl, you know?"

So would the rest of the conference.

Ricky Stanzi tossed two touchdown passes in his return to the Iowa lineup.

Penn State, Iowa, Ohio State and Wisconsin all defeated teams that were supposedly faster and more athletic. They were the myth busters of the BCS, scoffing at the "power vs. speed" plotlines. Georgia Tech and Oregon had the sexy offenses, but the Big Ten teams won with the time-tested formulas of defense, special teams and just enough offense...
(emphasis added)

Big Ten bowl winners do it with defense:
... Did anyone else get tired of hearing about Oregon's high-powered zone read spread or Georgia Tech's unstoppable triple option?

In the end, Big Ten defenses made those offenses look pedestrian. All four Big Ten bowl winners faced teams boasting high-powered offenses and/or supposedly superior skill players. And all four bowl winners played lock-down defense.

While the Big Ten received surprisingly strong quarterback play in the bowls -- more on that later -- it regained some national respect because of its defensive performance. Sound fundamentals and strong preparation trumped tricky systems.

Here's a look at how Big Ten defenses stepped up to win bowls:


Result: 20-14 win against No. 15 Miami in the Champs Sports Bowl

Opposing QB: Jacory Harris completed 16 of 29 passes for 188 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. He had nine rushes for minus-1 yard.

Defensive superlatives:

  • Recorded five sacks and nine tackles for loss as seven players contributed TFLs
  • Allowed only 249 yards (Miami came in averaging 412.5)
  • Allowed only 61 rush yards on 23 carries (Miami came in averaging 144.4 rush yards)
  • After Miami scored on its first play from scrimmage, the Badgers blanked the Hurricanes for the next 58 minutes
  • Held Miami to six drives of nine yards or fewer


    Result: 19-17 win against No. 12 LSU in the Capital One Bowl

    Opposing QB: Jordan Jefferson completed 13 of 24 passes for 202 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He had eight carries for 11 yards.

    Defensive superlatives:

  • Allowed only three points, 67 yards and two first downs in the first half. LSU gained 54 of those yards on just two plays, as Jefferson twice found wideout Brandon LaFell
  • Held LSU to 41 yards rushing and a season-low nine first downs in the game
  • Kept LSU out of the end zone for the first 44:47
  • Recorded two sacks and six tackles for loss to go along with two takeaways


    Result: 26-17 win against No. 7 Oregon in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi

    Opposing QB: Jeremiah Masoli completed only 9 of 20 passes for 81 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. He had just six carries for nine yards and a touchdown.

    Defensive superlatives:

  • Held Oregon well below its season averages in points (17 vs. 37.7), total yards (260 vs. 424.7), offensive plays (53 vs. 69.3), 20-yard plays (3 vs. 6) and possession time (18:23 vs. 28.12)
  • Held Oregon to season lows in passing yards (81). Oregon's total yards total was its second lowest of the season, and its 12 first downs marked a low for a Ducks bowl game.
  • Held Oregon to just 2 of 11 on third down
  • Forced two turnovers, giving Ohio State 35 takeaways for the season

  • IOWA

    Result: 24-14 win against No. 9 Georgia Tech

    Opposing QB: Josh Nesbitt completed 2 of 9 passes for 12 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. He had 20 rushes for 46 yards

    Defensive superlatives:

  • Georgia Tech had season lows in points (14), total yards (156) and first downs (9)
  • Iowa forced Yellow Jackets punts on their first six possessions after Tech had gone 22 consecutive possessions without a punt
  • The Hawkeyes held Georgia Tech to 32 yards of total offense in the first half, marking Tech's lowest first-half total in at least 20 years
  • Georgia Tech's scoreless second quarter marked just the eighth time in 55 quarters that the Yellow Jackets failed to score
  • Iowa recorded three sacks, five tackles for loss and an interception
  • (emphasis added)

    UPDATE #3 (7 January)
    NY Post: "Best and Worst of the Bowls"
    It only walked away with a 4-3 record, and perhaps that will keep the offseason buzz tempered, but what the Big Ten did during this bowl season should not be soon forgotten.

    “Too slow around the outside,” “too conservative on offense,” “not enough depth on defense,” pick your criticism of this beleaguered conference. But over the course of two weeks, seven of the league’s 11 teams did their best to change those images.

    “There’s been a lot of Big Ten bashing going on,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I think perception tends to get exaggerated a little bit.”

    He should know. After all, his Hawkeyes just capped a tremendous season — one in which many kept waiting for them to fall — with a workmanlike 24-14 victory over Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl Tuesday night.

    The Yellow Jackets? The ACC champions? With the unstoppable triple-option offense? How did the Hawkeyes stop them?

    “We had time,” said Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn, who had two sacks in the win. “We had a lot of time to prepare.”

    Perhaps the same can be said for Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin, who all took on speedy teams from the other BCS conferences . .. and walked away with wins:

    *** Ohio State, with quarterback Terrelle Pryor hosting his coming-out party, defeated Oregon, 27-16, in the Rose Bowl.

    *** Penn State, through the muck and mire of Orlando’s old Citrus Bowl stadium, let an early lead slip, but still had enough to defeat LSU, 19-17.

    *** And Wisconsin, with a deliberate yet dynamic running game, blasted Miami, 20-14, in the Champs Sports Bowl, in a game that was hardly as close as the score.
    “We needed this, just for the Big Ten as a whole in general because we battle each other all year long, but we're also playing for each other because it's a rep,” Pryor said. “We're playing for each other, and when schools like Penn State are playing in other bowls, we pull for them. It's a reputation for us. It was huge for us to get over that hump and win this game, and we've just got to keep on winning.”

    The bowl season wasn’t without disappointment for the Big Ten, however, as three programs came up short:

    *** Northwestern, in one of the season’s better games, dropped a dramatic 38-35 overtime decision to Auburn in the Outback Bowl.

    *** Minnesota, after a late fumble in the red zone, lost the Insight Bowl to Iowa State, 14-13.

    *** And amid suspensions, Michigan State, despite a fourth-quarter lead, lost to Texas Tech, 41-31, in the Alamo Bowl.

    But the conference could have easily posted a 7-0 mark, and with teams like Iowa and Ohio State — who should both be in the Preseason Top 10 — bringing back a wealth of talent next season, perhaps “The Little 10” will be no more.

    [Read more]
    (emphasis added)

    The Sporting News: "The Big Ten's Death Has Been Greatly Exaggerated"
    After the Orange Bowl, FOX's Chris Myers provided a fitting denouement to FOX's consistently condescending coverage of college football by asking Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi what this meant for all the fat, technically non-Canadian people in the middle of the country. As you've no doubt seen by now, Stanzi owned the moment.

    Stanzi now takes his place amongst the pantheon of Real American Big Ten Heroes next to Red Grange, Tom Harmon and J Leman.

    That brief exchange was a microcosm for the Big Ten bowl season, in which the much-maligned conference took down two conference champions and four top 15 teams en route to a -- gasp! -- winning record for the first time since 2002. You may be a slick-haired goof from someplace warm or rich or both, Chris Myers, but you have no idea what to do when you find yourself between some Faygo Redpop and a charging herd of rhinos who are technically not from Canada. Except die.

    While 4-3 might not seem world beating, the close scores obscured shocking domination on a down-to-down basis:

  • Wisconsin outgained Miami 430-249 and held the ball for almost 40 minutes.
  • Penn State held LSU to nine first downs and outgained them 340-243. they also held the ball for nearly 40 minutes.
  • Ohio State outgained Oregon 419-260, more than doubled the Ducks in first downs, and held the ball for over 40 minutes.
  • Iowa outgained Georgia Tech 403-155 and also more than doubled GT's first downs.

  • The only fluke in the Big Ten's bowl season is that they didn't blow out those four top 15 opponents. The four winners obliterated the opposition.

    Even the losses weren't particularly embarrassing. Minnesota lost to Iowa State by a point and played them essentially dead even in yardage. Northwestern outgained Auburn by 200 yards (!) but lost in overtime because of six turnovers (to Auburn's four; it was the season's craziest game) and their kicker's inability to hit two chip shot field goals down the stretch. And Michigan State led Texas Tech in the fourth quarter despite missing 15 players due to a team-organized, inexplicable assault on mechanical engineers. The Spartans would eventually lose by 10 and get outgained considerably.

    The final score is four dominating performances against excellent teams, a couple coin flips that went the wrong way, and one poor performance by a team missing 20% of its roster. The Big Ten has earned an offseason reprieve from the shallow end-of-the-Midwest column. Remember this gem from the aftermath of the Ohio State-Iowa game?
    The only less impressive "winner" than Ohio State on Saturday was the Big Ten, which is worse than anyone thought -- and most of us thought it was pretty bad -- if this squeamish, gutless bunch of Buckeyes is the best the conference has to offer. Maybe next year the Rose Bowl should court the champion from the MAC. Or the best team in Division I-AA. Anyone but the Big Ten, if this is what Big Ten football is all about.

    Suggestion for the Big Ten banner: a white flag.
    For the record, that's Gregg Doyel. But take away 50% of the vitriol and that's a sentiment expressed thousands of times by people of Doyel's ilk since Ohio State's televised disemboweling at the hands of Florida three years ago. Ohio State's back to back craters and USC's tendency to blow a game against a mediocre Pac-10 team set the conference up for a long run of poor bowl performances and goofballs chanting "ESS EEE CEE" when their midlevel team doesn't get hammered by, say, UConn. It got so bad that when the Big Ten announced it was looking to expand and I was trawling Pitt and Syracuse and Rutgers blogs for their takes on potential expansion virtually everyone was complaining about having to watch Big Ten football. Syracuse! Rutgers! Aigh!

    Since the last thing that happened is the thing that will always happen forever, everyone is required to leave us in peace until next year.

    Bleacher Report: "So, About That Whole "The Big Ten Is Slow, Weak, Ancient, Etc." Thing..."
    A funny thing happened on the way to the Big Ten embarrassing itself in the 2009-2010 bowl games.

    It didn't even come close to happening.

    Even the three "worst" teams repping the conference played well overall.


    UPDATE #4 (7 January)
    Mainstream Media to Big Ten Conference: "Our Bad":
    For three-years the mainstream media has treated the Big Ten like an inferior race, taking charge at every occasion to reinforce general stereotypes about the conference's competitiveness. And why not? The media hates the Big Ten and a conservative, punishing brand of football that rarely sends the scoreboard past 30 points. After all -- to the untrained eye -- it's a lot more fun to watch gimmicky, laser-light show offenses shoot up painfully undersized and undisciplined "defenses."

    Stereotypes turned to monikers (i.e. "Slow-hi-O"), and drew dichotomies (i.e. SEC = Fast, Big Ten = Slow) across the sport. "Team Speed Kills" became a lazy explanation for the Big Ten's bowl struggles.

    Nevermind that the conference's model most closely mirrored the NFL. Or that college football is perpetually cyclical.

    Guess what's being served in the ESPN Cafeteria today?

    Pat Forde predicted that we would go 1-6 in bowls this year. Colin Cowherd proclaimed that there was "no possible way" Penn State could hold its own against LSU.

    The pundits huffed and puffed, and now find themselves holding the bag after Big Ten teams stormed the bowl-season Bastille, kicking ass, taking names, and collecting the scalps of Top 15 darlings.

    Don't hold your breath. The media isn't about [to] it admit that it was wrong. But writers are starting to fall on their own swords the only way they know how: by saying nice things about the conference they threw under the bus.

    My Comments:
    I hope you'll forgive my force-feeding a little crow to all the Big 10 bashers (mostly Ohio State bashers) out there.

    Now, I don't want to be guilty of going to the opposite extreme to which all the bashers have gone over the past 3 years. The Big 10 record this year is one of a respectable showing. No more, no less. The 4 bowl wins against Top 15 opponents - including 2 BCS wins - is impressive, but the conference is not now some "super-conference" or "God's gift to college football" (as some other conferences out their proclaim themselves to be) on the basis of this showing. But what the Big 10 has done is to prove the so-called "conventional wisdom" regarding its alleged inferiority to be nothing more than a lot of hot air.

    Just remember: conventional wisdom is, by definition, nothing more than institutionalized intellectual laziness.

    Previous Pro Ecclesia posts on this subject:
    Dispelling Some Myths

    Buckeyes Win Rose Bowl

    Big 10 Defeats LSU

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