Ohio State (Barely) Survives in Ann Arbor

  When you have two college football combatants competing in a rivalry that is as old as the hills, a lopsided victory on the field is unexpected regardless of rankings. Ohio State’s 31-20 win over Michigan was a testament to this tradition, which is substantiated by team statistics.

            Perhaps, the leading indicator was provided by time of possession. The Buckeyes finished the contest with a slim margin of 31:17 to the Wolverines’ 28:43. Ball control by either offensive unit was a myth.

            Essentially, separation of both teams was illustrated by the passing and rushing attacks. Michigan led the passing category 195 yards to OSU’s 124 with 17 completions out of 32 passing attempts. Conversely, Ohio State did manage a tactical advantage by rushing for 226 yards (48 attempts/4.7 yards per rush) to the Wolverines’ 100 (36 attempts/2.8 yards per rush).

            For OSU, the insipidness of their rushing attack under the guidance of quarterback J.T. Barrett IV, which he ran with conviction until an injury in the second half. Unfortunately, Michigan’s defense was not overly concerned about Barrett IV’s arm as much as his legs; the Wolverines were not forced to defend a balanced offense of the Bucks for most of the game.

            As the Buckeyes’ second-string quarter quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. entered the fray, his passing ability (along with Michigan’s coaching staff not having a long book on him) was a much needed intangible that propelled OSU to the win. Haskins Jr. completed six passes out of seven attempts for only 94 yards, but his throwing capabilities were efficacious in spreading the Wolverines’ defense enough to assist the running to a higher level of proficiency.

            Nevertheless, the Ohio State Buckeyes earned kudos for their diligence in victory but little else. OSU just does not appear to have the mastery necessary in 2017 to truly compete against the likes of Alabama, Miami, Clemson, Auburn, and Georgia. The Buckeyes cannot expect to gain ingress into the College Football Playoff after being outscored 86-40 in flagellations by both the Oklahoma Sooners and Iowa Hawkeyes.

            OSU could still find themselves in a decent bowl, though. Of course, a generous payday can only be reached if the Bucks manage to defeat the undefeated Wisconsin Badgers in next weekend’s Big Ten Championship Game. Hopefully, the Buckeyes will be prepared for action because they are not even close to being a juggernaut. For Michigan, redintegration may be a year or so away until Harbaugh can get the (experienced) materiel he needs.

Rough Ending for Saskatchewan in Toronto

  The Saskatchewan Roughriders disappointing 25-21 defeat at the hands of the Toronto Argonauts was a dolorous end to a promising season. Like many road warriors in professional football history, the Riders entered the Eastern Final at BMO Field as the underdog crossover playoff participant from the other division, and the team packed to be away for three consecutive weeks in hopes of reaching the Grey Cup in Ottawa.

            Initially, Saskatchewan’s defense appeared to let the sizeable Toronto crowd know that the issue of which franchise was headed for the championship game would be settled quickly. The Argos gambled on a third and inches play and lost when the Roughriders forestalled running back James Wilder Jr.’s effort to gain a first down.

            Rider Nation observed what they believed would be a harbinger of success as quarterback Kevin Glenn was able to make completions with wide receiver Duron Carter and friends into Toronto’s territory. The drive ended without a major, but Saskatchewan was able to salvage three points from placekicker Tyler Crapigna for an early advantage with approximately 8:45 remaining in the first.

            Moments later, another Roughrider drive failed and opted to punt the football from deep on their side of the field. The television commentators seemed willing to lambaste Head Coach Chris Jones for not conceding the safety in lieu of better field position on the next kickoff. All the conjecture was meaningless as Argos quarterback Ricky Ray completed a pass to running back Anthony Coombs for a short gain, but he fumbled the ball after a collision with two Roughriders that was recovered by Saskatchewan.

            The contest turned dramatically when Glenn threw an interception at the 4:55 mark of the opening quarter to linebacker Terrance Plummer who expediently scored a touchdown as the Argonauts led 7-3 prior to conclusion of the first quarter. Glenn began feel intense pressure upon him from Toronto’s defense, especially after defensive lineman Shawn Lemon earned three sacks in the first half alone.

            As the Argonauts’ defense began to assert itself, Jones elected to rotate quarterbacks Glenn and Brandon Bridge akin to the method of the late Tom Landry did with Roger Staubach and Craig Morton in the early 1970s. Unfortunately, the alternating experiment by Jones was almost as unsuccessful for him as it was for Landry during the second and third quarters.

            The Roughriders’ offense was stuck in neutral following numerous interceptions and a plethora of two downs and out series. In fairness, both squads were equal with ten two downs and out failures each into the third quarter. Offensive futility for much the game was more of a testament to execution of defensive stratagem than feckless offensive units.

            Nevertheless, the Toronto Argonauts managed to increase their lead with a major and a field goal following Saskatchewan infractions that extended drives and a Glenn interception on the Riders’ side of the field with less than 30 seconds remaining in the first half for a 17-3 advantage. When the snow flurries began to fall as the second half commenced, the Argos attempted a 43-yard field goal attempt by placekicker Lirim Hajrullahu that off-target to the right, but the ball was deep enough into the end zone of the Riders to surrender a rouge (single point); Toronto’s lead expanded to 18-3.

            At 12:00 in the third quarter, the Roughriders averted a disaster by not fumbling a punt return inside of the ten-yard line. Bridge returned as quarterback for the preponderance of the contest. He used his legs to avoid the rush and ran for significant yardage deep into the Argo’s side of the field.

            Bridge hit Carter for a touchdown at 8:47. The pivotal scoring drive provided light in the darkness for the Roughriders as they proved to themselves an ability to sustain drives in Toronto despite defensive pressure or dissonance from the clarion calls of fans of the Argonauts. Carter was so willing to impact the game that he even substituted as a defensive back at times for an injured teammate.

            Perhaps, another factor in Saskatchewan’s resurgence was the all over the field presence of linebacker Henoc Muamba, especially in the second half. Muamba played an integral part tackling players and preventing them from advancing the football for first downs.

            The Roughriders’ specialist Christion Jones scored a potential game winning punt return for an incredible 79-yard touchdown. Following a successful completion by Bridge for a two-point conversion, the Riders led Toronto 21-18 with only 2:44 on the clock in the fourth quarter.

            At 1:16, the Argonauts faced a third down that could have given the victory to the Roughriders, but Ray managed to fire a poniard at Wilder Jr. down the seam for a first down inside of the 20-yard line. Ray followed this effort with another completion to receiver Armanti Edwards at the one-yard line.

            Head Coach Marc Trestman inserted backup quarterback Cody Fajardo for short yardage. Fajardo successfully scored the game winning major after a second lunge into the line. After a Saskatchewan fumble from a failed lateral on their last possession, Toronto ran the clock out for the 25-21win to punch their ticket to Ottawa to face the Calgary Stampeders in the 105th Grey Cup next Sunday.

            Rider Nation was left to deal with the realization that the valiant effort of their team concluded as a hardscrabble without the spoils of victory. Fortunately, the Saskatchewan Roughriders will have another opportunity to fortify the team additional talent to accompany the added experience of a youthful roster.

Elliott’s Suspension Might be for the Best

 During the afternoon hours of Thursday, November 9, 2017, fans of the Dallas Cowboys wondered if the inevitable suspension of running back Ezekiel Elliott would commence before their road game against the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium this Sunday. To the surprise of some, Elliott’s injunction was denied, and his protracted suspension began immediately; we do not know if it will last six consecutive games, though.

Nevertheless, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell have been in a constant stare down since summer when Elliott’s suspension was announced.  Jones, whose franchise has not won a world championship since MC Hammer’s dubious Pumps and a Bump was released about two years prior, has seemingly become more agonistic at the prospect of Dallas falling short becoming more likely without Elliott on the field. Now, there are unsubstantiated rumors about Jones attempting to thwart the NFL’s negotiations with Goodell in negotiations for a new deal.

While it is understandable why Jones would be willing to usurp the commissioner’s authority, it is a mistaken premise. This fact was illustrated succinctly by the venerable sportscaster Dale Hansen of WFAA last month on Dallas/Ft. Worth Metroplex television.

Essentially, Hansen warned Jones against perceived unwavering support of Elliott without being cognizant of all of the circumstances related to this investigation by the NFL. Since it is extremely improbable that any of us will ever know what happened in Elliott’s relationship, one must be careful not to make assumptions about any alleged domestic violence situation without evidence for or against him.

Nonetheless, the NFL was in a precarious position qua to how to reassure its fans that the organization is steadfast against even the appearance of domestic violence. The National Football League still recovering from the nightmare of incidents such as video substantiation of punches being thrown inside of an elevator and a narrative purporting that a former player allegedly body slammed a woman.

There is no doubt that Goodell wants to convey an unequivocal message that these types of incidents will not be tolerated even if an athlete is not indicted jurisprudentially. The NFL cannot be seen as being insensitive on this issue and must walk circumspectly henceforth.

Also, Jones should avoid being characterized as a coxcomb by not adopting a whatever it takes to win mantra without displaying a modicum of character in how victories are achieved. Jones’ splenetic disposition of late could create a schism with some of the other franchise owners in the NFL in the future. Indeed, he does not want to endure the series of litigation that the late Al Davis experienced in his later years.