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1. Remember when we thought the last weekend in late October was going to be all about football? So much for that. The Houston Rockets hijacked the weekend when they scored James Harden from the Oklahoma City Thunder. In return, OKC will get Kevin Martin, rookie Jeremy Lamb, and two first round picks (acquired from other teams).
The Rockets did something incredible. Not only did they finally establish a solid game plan for the future building around Harden (who wants to sign long term and be a star in Houston in his prime), Jeremy Lin, and Omer Asik, but they did the rest of the Western Conference a favor. Kevin Martin is no scrub, but he isn’t James Harden. Oklahoma City is now no longer a favorite to reach the Western Conference Finals. They fall behind the LA Lakers and San Antonio Spurs in terms of championship aspirations during the 2012-2013 season.
Even though Harden was coming off the bench, he was still their 3rd best player. He was a major part of what made them successful during the playoffs and the regular season. His 4th quarter in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final in San Antonio still haunts Spurs fans to this day.
But his disappearance in the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat is one of the reasons that OKC wasn’t particularly competitive. He scored in double digits just twice and shot 37.5% from the field in five games.
At the same time though, Oklahoma City just picked up a solid shooter in Kevin Martin, who won’t be counted on to carry the offense the way he had to in Houston, and a promising rookie in Jeremy Lamb who will add some much-needed long-term depth. The Thunder also have two #1 picks to include in a package deal in the future for another star. So while the short-term future of OKC takes a hit, the long-term future looks strong as the Thunder quietly set up for another big move for themselves.
Photo courtesy Orlin Wagner/AP
2. Texas Tech had a great first half against the highly-ranked Kansas State Wildcats in Manhattan, Kansas. They held Colin Klein to about 100 total yards, had the lead throughout most of the half, and moved the ball well. While they were down 13-10, six of KSU’s points came following a fumble return on one drive and a tipped field goal on another. It looked like it would be a game.
And then the Wildcats exploded on both sides of the ball in the 2nd half to win 55-24. They created turnovers, pressured the quarterback, and, most importantly, Colin Klein had lots of time and big holes to run through. There were some big plays made in the 2nd half, especially on defense. But the offense did what we expected them to do when we previewed this game in Friday’s Daily Six Shooter. They played like the grinders they are, sustaining drives and executing so well.
That’s why this KSU team is so dangerous. Klein is great at taking what the defense gives him and he’s got a great offensive line that can make adjustments and create big holes in the 2nd half after they were constantly stuffed in the first half. There’s no reason that they shouldn’t win their next four games and (OSU, TCU, Baylor, Texas) and clinch the Big 12 championship and a trip to the national championship game. They’ve played and beaten two of the best teams in the Big 12 already and the best two teams left on the schedule are home games (OSU and Texas).
As for the Red Raiders, they’re out of the Big 12 championship picture, but are still in the running to possibly go to a BCS bowl game if they can win out and that challenge begins this coming Saturday when they host the Texas Longhorns.
Photo courtesy Reed Hoffman/AP
3. Speaking of the Horns, they won on Saturday… and that’s about one of the few good things you could say about their victory over the Kansas Jayhawks. Yes, Kansas was at home, but having one just one win all season, they were in control throughout most of the game and nearly pulled out the upset before allowing Texas to score on their final two drives. The Longhorns barely escaped with a 21-17 victory.
Admittedly, the defense had some bad drives where their tackling ability appears to be getting worse and the continue to have drives where they get dominated on the line of scrimmage. But give them credit, despite the offensive ineptitude throughout the game, they held Kansas to just three 2nd half points and 75 2nd half yards, most of which came on the Jayhawks field goal drive to go up three late in the 4th quarter.
KU was able to successfully slow the pace of this game way down. Their top three backs collectively averaged more than 5.5 yards per carry. But the Texas running game was still better. Johnathan Gray averaged more than six yards per carry on 18 rushes, and Marquise Goodwin and Joe Bergeron had key runs as well. The difference between the offenses was the quarterback play.
The Texas backs played well enough to win and so did the wide receivers. But David Ash was awful. After all the growth he showed this season and all the heart he played with, he was a complete no-show in this game. He played worse than Kansas quarterback Michael Cummings, a freshman making his first start. Ash averaged less than four yards per attempt and threw two really bad interceptions. It sucked the life out of the offense and eventually Texas had to make a change because they couldn’t afford to lose this game.
I heard a lot of Case McCoy criticism even after he led two scoring drives to win the game. Everyone said the same two things: 1) The Texas running game carried the Longhorns, not McCoy. And 2) McCoy threw a really bad pass on his first attempt that should have been intercepted.
But there are two things you need to remember: 1) The Texas running game was carrying Ash and the offense all game. The change at quarterback may have affected the KU defensive play-calling so that they may have been playing the pass a little more, allowing the Longhorns to keep running effectively. 2) Ash threw way more bad passes than McCoy and never followed them up with strikes like the one Case threw to Jaxon Shipley on 4th down and the one that Mike Davis caught to set the Horns up in the red zone for the game-winning touchdown.
McCoy isn’t just a game manager. He can be a playmaker too. Last year, he made some great plays against Texas A&M to beat the Aggies and even matched Robert Griffin III throw for throw in the first half of their loss to the Baylor Bears.
But don’t take my defense of his performance the wrong way. There shouldn’t be a quarterback controversy in Austin (again). Ash is still the quarterback of the future. His ceiling is much higher than McCoy’s. Ash is still only a sophomore. It’s just a very nice luxury to have a guy come in when the starter has a game like this one and bring home the win. Remember, this even happened to Vince Young when he was a freshman. Down late against at home against the Red Raiders, Chance Mock subbed in in the final two minutes and made three huge plays to get the go-ahead touchdown and win the game.
Chance Mock and Case McCoy. Backups, and still legends for their game-winning drives.
The week after that Texas Tech game, Vince Young was back in at starter, just like David Ash should be.
4. As for Texas A&M, the Aggies started their three-game road trip with a whooping of the Auburn Tigers. No surprise here. But contrast their game with the way the Longhorns game. They were in very similar positions.
Think about it. Both teams came into this game with two conference losses playing on the road against bad teams, that had just one win, with really tough games after this one. The Longhorns nearly lost. The Aggies took care of business and dominated. Auburn had just one meaningful score all game, which was a touchdown to tie the game 7-7 and then didn’t do anything the rest of the way. By the time they got on the board again, much of the Aggies first team wasn’t even playing anymore as A&M rolled 63-21.
I mean, look at this. It was just too easy for the Aggies on the road.
The win was hardly meaningless, though. The Aggies needed this one after the way they gave away last week’s game against the LSU Tigers. But the next two games are going to tell us everything we need to know about the Aggies this season. Sure, they played good teams close at home in Florida and LSU, but what about hitting the road to play top-ranked team in the SEC? Up next for the Ags are South Carolina and #1 Alabama.
Right now, the Aggies are a 2nd tier conference team. That’s certainly better than anyone expected at this point, but they can still be shoved close to the bottom of the barrel if they lose to both of their remaining ranked opponents. And ultimately, all they would have to show for is what could have been. If the 2012 season finishes with that sentiment, then nothing has changed in College Station.
One win can change everything, but it’s not going to be easy.
5. Wrapping up the weekend in college football action, the Longhorns were actually the only Lone Star State Big 12 team that won this weekend. TCU lost to Oklahoma State 36-14 and Baylor lost to Iowa State 35-21.
This effectively ends the season for both the Horned Frogs and the Bears. TCU has five wins and two conference victories, but it’s hard to picture a scenario where they even get to a bowl game because of their backloaded schedule that we’ve talked about constantly. Check out their next four games: at West Virginia, KSU, at Texas, and OU. With how much TCU slid this season, they’ll be lucky to just be in one of those games let alone win one. Their best shot is on the road against West Virginia, whose had a week off to recover and figure out what’s been going wrong with them the last two weeks.
As for Baylor, they’re 0-4 in conference with just three wins on the season. Playing the Mountaineers and Longhorns close seems like a distant memory now that they’re riding a four-game losing streak. They might beat Kansas this coming weekend, but their schedule to finish off the season looks just as tough as TCU’s: KU, at OU, KSU, Tech (at Cowboys Stadium), and OSU. They need three wins out of that group just to be bowl eligible.
This weekend served as sort of a “separation Saturday” in the Big 12. A lot of teams dropped out of the middle and fell to the bottom. Next week, we could see more fall. The loser between the Longhorns and Red Raiders will fall. The Cyclones will likely fall after hosting Oklahoma (although I wouldn’t count out ISU at home). Same for the Cowboys when they travel to play Kansas State.
The Big 12 picture is looking much clearer after this past weekend. The only murky team that could go either way appears to be the Longhorns.
6. Finally, congratulations to Hunter Pence. The San Francisco Giants right fielder, acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies before the deadline, got another big hit last night helping the Giants sweep the Detroit Tigers for a World Series championship. Pence, and Arlington native who started his career with the Houston Astros, really stepped up his game in the World Series. He didn’t hit well after arriving in San Francisco and that continued through into the postseason. As we talked about last week, Pence was a great clubhouse guy. He inspired his teammates and stepped up as a leader.
All of that finally paid off in the World Series. In the last three games, Pence had four hits, a walk, three runs scored, and an RBI. Last night in Game 4, his leadoff double turned into the first run of the game. Detroit was not only lucky this was a ground-rule double and not a triple, they were lucky it was cold enough to hold this hit inside the park.
Watch the slow-motion replay. See how the bat rattles after it makes contact? The impact time and area is minimized by the temperature. In a warmer climate, the bat doesn’t rattle and follows through likely making that hit a home run. In any case, Pence scored in the inning and went on to win his first championship as a major leaguer. He certainly had fun with that group in the locker room after the game.
Way to go Hunter. Houston misses you.