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1. The playoffs begin tonight for the Texas Rangers. Sadly, the playoffs could also end tonight for the Texas Rangers. After blowing their division lead and allowing the Oakland A’s to sneak into the division title, tonight’s play-in game represents the first step in their journey back to the World Series. Although it’s going to be much tougher to get back because their offense hasn’t been able to support the pitching staff very well since the start of September.
Yesterday the Orioles announced that Joe Saunders will get the start on regular rest even though it’s Steve Johnson’s turn in the lineup. As we mentioned in yesterday’s Daily Six Shooter, Saunders has playoff experience as a former member of the LA Angels and Arizona Diamondbacks. His last playoff experience actually didn’t last long. In Game 4 of the NLDS last year, the Milwaukee Brewers put up three runs on Saunders in just three innings. In a must-win situation, the D-backs gave him a quick hook and went on to win the game. Back in 2009, as a pitcher for the Angels, Saunders pitched in two ALDS games against the New York Yankees. He pitched great in his first appearance throwing seven innings of two-run ball.
The Angels lost that game and he followed that up with a similar start to his sole postseason appearance with Arizona, where he gave up three runs in less than four innings and took the loss as the Yankees clinched a trip to the ALCS.
But all of that is in the past. The reason that the Orioles love Saunders here is that he’s thrown six straight quality starts and has gotten them into the 7th inning or beyond in five of those starts.
Yu Darvish is money at home. He’s got a 10-2 record at home and has struck out more batters in Arlington than on the road despite pitching more innings on the road. It’s not promising that the Rangers actually lost his last home start despite him having a quality outing, but that just shows that the Texas offense and clutch hitting is going to determine who wins this game because the Rangers have been short on that lately, which is why they’re the wild card team and not division champs.
Photo courtesy Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
2. The biggest college football game of the weekend in the Lone Star State will be played in Austin when the #11 Texas Longhorns host the #8 West Virginia Mountaineers. This is the first game of the big four that will determine how well the Longhorns finish the season. We’ve been talking about this for a while. The big four are West Virginia, Oklahoma, TCU and Kansas State. Although with Casey Pachall being arrested on a DWI and Baylor showing offensive explosiveness, the Bears may replace the Horned Frogs on this list quickly.
In any case, all the talk is on Mountaineers quarterback Geno Smith, who threw for 656 yards and eight touchdowns at home against Baylor last week. He easily won just about every weekly award an offensive player can possibly win thanks to that performance.
The reason that Smith was able to put up those gaudy numbers was poor coverage and the complete lack of a pass rush by a Baylor defense that had previously given up 42 points to a team like Louisiana-Monroe. Not only is the Texas defense better than Baylor’s but they’ll be playing at home, where it’s expected to be a sold out and loud crowd. As much criticism as DKR crowds get, they show up for the big games which is why Mack Brown has pulled off so many upsets at home.
The problem with the defense is that WVU offense makes their name on big plays. Early in the season, the Longhorn defense had a bad habit of giving up big plays but Oklahoma State turned that bad habit into a full blown problem of a bad play at the line and even worse tackling. Texas did get a turnover early but in the 2nd half of their game against the Cowboys, OSU’s drive chart looked like this: field goal, touchdown, touchdown, field goal, end of game.
You could make the argument that Texas didn’t win that game so much as Oklahoma State ran out of time. So the defense will have to play slightly better and I say slightly because the point I’ve been harping on ever since Saturday was that everyone was talking about Geno Smith’s day putting up 70 points, but everyone was also completely ignoring the fact that the Mountaineers, at home, allowed the Baylor offense to score 63 points.
The Texas offense has grown a lot in the past two weeks with David Ash looking better than he ever has at quarterback, but that development has come on the road. We haven’t seen him play that way in Austin yet, so the crowd is going to be juiced and confident knowing that the offense is set up for a really big game against a top 10 team. Malcolm Brown’s absence is going to hurt, but as we talked about earlier this week, Texas is incredibly deep at running back and they’ll be fine without him. In any case, all the big plays and points that Baylor scored last week were on the pass, so watch out for Marquise Goodwin and Jaxon Shipley to light it up against that West Virginia defense.
It’s incredible how attitudes have changed in just a couple of weeks. Before Texas played Ole Miss, most Longhorn fans were dreading Saturday’s West Virginia game and even we here at Playmaker thought Texas would lose it. We didn’t think it would derail the Texas season or reflect poorly on this young team, but the Mountaineers just looked too good. Now, everyone is primed for a Longhorn upset. We’ll see how it plays out on Saturday.
3. Speaking of Ole Miss, the Rebels hosted the Longhorns earlier this year and on Saturday they host the Aggies as Texas A&M looks to improve its SEC record. The Rebels shouldn’t be looking forward to this matchup because of the development of freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel. Last week, he broke Archie Manning’s total yardage record for a single game and now he’s getting to face a team that gave up 66 points to Texas.
But the defense is also stepping it up. The Aggies are 8th in the nation in points allowed per game, and that’s two games in to their SEC schedule. They held #10 Florida to 20 points and last week held Arkansas to just 10. Although the Razorbacks haven’t been impressive at all this season offensively. Damontre Moore should have a field day. He leads the SEC in sacks and tackles for loss. Also watch out for linebacker Jonathan Stewart, who is among the SEC leaders in tackles and is picking up right where he left off last year.
4. As for the TCU Horned Frogs, the rest of their season and their next game just became all the more difficult now that quarterback Casey Pachall has been indefinitely suspended after being arrested on a DWI. TCU hosts the Iowa State Cyclones on Friday and the ISU defense will be up to the task like they usually are. If this game were being played in Ames, Iowa, I’d outright guarantee a Cyclones victory, but TCU is the host so this should be a close matchup.
This season, Iowa State got a victory over Iowa, in which the Hawkeyes were expected to roll, by holding them to just six point and last week the Cyclones held Texas Tech to just 14 points through three quarters before the Red Raiders scored 10 in the final frame to win the game.
The TCU defense ranks just ahead of Iowa State in just about every major defensive category in the Big 12, but their running back injuries and Pachall’s absence is sure to make this a tough game that they’ll have to grind out if they want to get a win. Trevone Boykin is going to have to show some poise in his first unexpected start. I still like the Horned Frogs to pull out this win though because ISU quarterback Steele Jantz just has too much on his plate. The team isn’t taking the pressure of his shoulders. Jantz, while efficient as a quarterback throwing short has as many touchdowns as interceptions (7) and leads the team in rushing attempts despite two players averaging five yards per carry or better.
Photo courtesy Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
5. Even though it was quite boring and featured two teams that few people care about, there was an NFL game last night and the St. Louis Rams beat the Arizona Cardinals 17-3. Both teams struggled offensively and one of the reasons was the injury to The Woodlands native and Texas Tech alum Danny Amendola, who had just one catch and had to leave the game with a broken collarbone. Even with just one catch, he was 2nd on the team in yards. The team expects him to be back before the season is over, but the Rams are going to sorely miss him because he had a great relationship with Sam Bradford and was great at racking up short catches and turning them into big plays a la Wes Welker.
Butt one guy to keep your eye on is Rams backup running back Daryl Richardson. The rookie out of Abilene Christian is starting to be worked more and more into the offense since he filled in for an injured Steven Jackson back in week 2. In a win over the Washington Redskins, the former Wildcats standout ran for 85 yards on just 15 carries and caught another two passes for 19 yards. He fumbled in the game, but that hasn’t slowed him down.
Richardson ran for 35 yards on nine carries last night, which is actually pretty good when you consider that the Cardinals have one of the best defenses in the league and the Rams offensive line has been a disaster so far this year. Yesterday, the Rams announced that they would void the last year of Jackson’s contract so he could seek a free agent deal elsewhere (which is what Jackson wants) or sign an extension with St. Louis so he can retire a Ram. If he doesn’t came back to St. Louis, this could be a great audition for Richardson to take over after Jackson leaves.
6. Finally, the new Star Trek film Star Trek Into Darkness is coming out next summer and everyone is excited about this new and dark take in the revamped franchise directed by JJ Abrams. Abrams stopped by Conan last night and, even though he’s still in the process of shooting the movie, brought a really short clip of the new movie featuring Zachary Quinto as Spock. How short? Watch for yourself.
Best. Three. Frames. Ever.