What a 'Bettor Better Know' - NCAA #2

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David Malinsky

Monday, September 11, 2017 2:01 PM GMT

Monday, Sep. 11, 2017 2:01 PM GMT

Week #2 across the NCAA landscape - The USC OL, Shane Morris and Jeff Brohm were great, not so for some DCs that are now unemployed, and the purgatory in Waco that Matt Rhule stepped into...

Point Blank – September 11, 2017

Saturday’s in the autumn are truly unique and it doesn’t take long each year to establish that – from the first bursts of Lamar Jackson through the North Carolina defense, into that bizarre late-night Boise State/Washington State circus in Pullman (if you missed that one good for you; it was some absurdly bad football, which strangely made it even more compelling), it was nearly 12 hours of game charting.

Why go through all of that? Because there is so much that can be found in terms of edges going forward, the sort of things that the box scores and various compilations of statistics will not produce. That means another long read ahead as some of those key items get sorted through, and to make it easier for you the jukebox will be in play most Monday’s.

This week begins with a particular favorite, Mark Knopfler always high on my list beginning with his years with Dire Straits, but it reached a special level when his music became the background for many of my annual road trips to British Columbia. It is when there are few distractions, and a lot of open spaces ahead, that the genius and elegance of both Knopfler’s song-writing and guitar player best shine, and one of those traveling classics is a good fit for today – let’s go to "Telegraph Road", closing out a show from Malaga a few years back on his Privateering tour -

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'cause I've run every red light on memory lane

If a better line ever gets written, please someone forward it over to me. Now on to some of the items decoded from the various telegraph send-outs of the Saturday NCAA action…

Item: Appreciating the USC Offensive Line

There isn’t any question that USC has a QB that you can with a national championship with, and the same can be said about a deep RB corps. The receivers are a work in progress, and may get there as well. But in what was a decisive 42-24 win over Stanford on Saturday, and one in which the Trojans offense could be envisioned matching up with any potential playoff opponent (if you go -2 in turnovers and beat the Cardinal that easily, there is a real statement made), there was something else that should become part of your handicapping consciousness with this team – the OL was damn good.

USC put up a double-300 vs. David Shaw’s defense, 316 overland and 309 through the air. It was a first, because until that night in the Coliseum no opponent had rushed for 300 or more in the Shaw era, which began in 2011. Naturally the focus goes on the skill players touching the ball on those plays, in particular Sam Darnold, but it was the way the OL created so many easy execution plays that stood out.

There were questions as to how good this group would be, with new starters at both tackle spots, but they were superb.

Clay Helton set an unexpected tone early, running Ronald Jones on six of the first seven snaps, and over the course of the game Jones rambled for 116 yards, while Stephen Carr added 119 . When will the next time be that a Shaw defense allows two different RBs to top 100 in the same game? Darnold because of both his OL, and his ability to move in the pocket and get the ball out, was sacked only once.

Had the Trojans made a few speed plays on the perimeter to beat the Cardinal with their athleticism, it would not have been a surprise. The physical play of that OL brought a different storyline, however, and they need to be in your mindset going forward, and not just the guys that got their names in the box scores.

There was one name in the Saturday boxes that may not have seemed familiar to you, but it should be…

Item: The return of Shane Morris

It would be easy to file Central Michigan’s 45-27 rout of Kansas as +3 on Saturday as simply “Kansas being Kansas”, which has been an easy way to grade Jayhawks games since Mark Mangino left. That might be a mistake. When you see in the box score that Shane Morris was 28-37 for 467 yards through with air, including five TDs with no turnovers, you need to take a deeper look.

Morris is a graduate transfer starting at QB for the Chippewas, after beginning his college career at Michigan as a 5* recruit out of Warren De La Salle High School. He was good enough to start a game for the Wolverines as a freshman, but after suffering a concussion vs. Minnesota the following season things got off track, Morris finally losing the job to Jake Rudock. But he stuck in out in Ann Arbor, and I’ll let his own words sum up the experience -  "I wish things would have gone differently, but everyone faces adversity at some point. Those four years there, I had an unbelievable time. I graduated from the No. 1 public university in the United States. I'm thankful for that. I had a great education.”

Then came a rather unique opportunity – to get back on the field; begin his Master’s in project management; and not insignificantly work with a football team that has plenty of playmakers at WR, including seniors Corey Willias and Mark Chapman, who helped last year’s CMU QB Cooper Rush play his way to the NFL, where he is #2 on the Dallas depth chart.

Morris wasn’t offered anything easy, as Chippewa HC John Bonamego set the stage - "Things didn't work out quite like he had anticipated at Michigan. When you add in a coaching change, numerous offensive coordinators, position coach changes, it's hard on a player at any position. … He wasn't promised anything (here), other than he'd have the opportunity to compete."

There may be something to see. Yes, Kansas is Kansas. But Morris is a big-time talent who is now stepping down in class against many of the opponents that he will be facing, and given where he was once regarded coming out of High School, this could get interesting as hell, especially with the experience and talent CMU has at WR.

Item: Trying to come to grips with: A. Oregon 42 Nebraska 14 First Half; and B. Nebraska 21 Oregon 0 Second Half

What happened in Eugene on Saturday is certainly something that you can’t just dump into a spread sheet, view the final score and stats, and walk away with something that you can trust. In the first half the Ducks exploded to a 42-14 advantage, rolling for 407 yards, and it likely had a lot of folks across the Sports Mediaverse digging into the records files, wondering if the Cornhuskers defense was about to play the worst game in the history of the program. Oregon really was making it look that easy.

And then the second half happened, the Ducks offense not scoring a single point, and on only five of seven drives of consequence could they stay on the field longer than three plays (I would not register the running out of the clock on the final possession). While that offense was sputtering it was Nebraska climbing back into the game, and beneath the pointspread, with a 21-0 run.

Was this the Oregon offense going too conservative with a lead? There was a degree of truth to it, but not entirely; it is so difficult to gauge when there are so many three-and-outs. Having not just watched that second half, but also the post-game comments to help sort through it, I came away with the impression that in terms of going forward it may have more to do with the Cornhuskers defense showing some fight, in their first season under Bob Diaco.

The opening drives were stunningly easy for the Ducks vs. a defense that also struggled vs. Arkansas State last week, part of what can happen when half of the two-deep chart shows underclassmen. Nebraska showed little resistance vs. the run or the pass, and the best that Diaco could spin that was – “It was just a sequential mess early, in a lot of areas.”

But then came this, and imagine a plaque being made of the following after a team surrendered 42 points and 567 yards in a game -  "We're so proud of the players. My gosh. They just played so hard. They never stopped. The players never quit. They never let go of the rope. They just kept pulling and straining and grinding.”

Through the first two games of the Diaco era, a defense that was called the Black Shirts in better times has allowed 78 points and 1,064 yards. Yet based on Saturday’s post-game take the DC may have them coming to practice this week with some energy and confidence. That is what good coaching can do, and it is also why we read between the lines constantly in the process of establishing power ratings.

Diaco now gets a chance to improve his defense this season; a couple of other guys around the nation won’t…

Item: At least Diaco wasn’t fired at halftime

There are new DCs on the way at East Carolina and Missouri, courtesy of abysmal starts to the seasons by at least one of those units, though it raises questions on the other.

East Carolina HC Scottie Montgomery canned Kenwick Thompson after the Pirates allowed 90 points and 1,233 yards through the first two games, at an alarming 9.5 yards per play. There were six opposing TDs of more than 40 yards, and it could have been even worse, West Virginia leading 56-13 in the third quarter on Saturday and backing off without scoring again.

The transition may not be a difficult one, however, with Robert Prunty, who had been given the time of associate HC when he was hired in the off-season, moving to DC. Prunty was the co-DC with Cincinnati the past three seasons. East Carolina will get pushed around by Virginia Tech this week, but then gets a bye to do some tweaking before entering conference play.

Let’s go to Motgomery for the details - “We have to become a little bit more simplistic in some of the things that we’re doing and help our back end and help our linebackers play better together. I didn’t necessarily think that we played well together. I thought we tried to fix some issues in the run game from the week before that stressed us a little bit too much in the secondary, and I think collectively we need to put together a little bit better plan to play together.”

Folks that were reading PB at the old platform last season will remember well tales of DeMontie Cross and the Missouri defense struggling, which got to the point at which HC Barry Odom took over the play-calling midway through the campaign, with no appreciable improvement. But has Cross mostly been thrown under the bus here? Though his title is listed as DC/ILB coach, he was not calling the defensive plays, it was still Odom.

The Tigers weren’t awful defensively in Saturday’s 31-13 loss to South Carolina, with the Gamecocks not reaching 200 yards either running or passing, but the defense did not come up with a takeaway in 67 snaps. SC scored two touchdowns in a span of 30 seconds in the second quarter, one on a kickoff return and the other a jet sweep after an interception set up positive field position, but the defense never broke.

Was this something to be blamed on Cross, or might this be an overmatched HC looking to take some head off of himself?

Now Odom has to figure out a way to defend Purdue, which is not nearly as easy as it used to be…

Item: It may be time to really like Jeff Brohm already

Let’s do a quick exercise here that you should be working through early in most NCAA seasons in terms of understanding the value of coaching changes – it isn’t just looking at how a mentor is doing with his new team, but also what is happening with his former one. That takes us to Jeff Brohm.

There is a lot to like about Brohm as you sort through the resume before he got his first HC job, the fact that he was with six NFL teams at various times as a QB, while also playing a couple of seasons of minor league baseball, helping a young guy to learn some of the realities of sport, especially in terms of “teaching moments”.

Brohm has worked his way up the coaching ladder quickly, and was considered such an emerging young talent that he was offered a job as an assistant with Nick Saban at Alabama a decade ago, but decided to stay at his alma mater of Lousiville. When he finally got his first HC job at Western Kentucky he inherited a good situation, the Hilltoppers having been built well by Willie Taggert, and then Maintained under Bobby Petrino in 2013, but Brohm seemed to maximize what was there, a 31-10 SU run across three seasons that included three conference championships and three bowl wins.

That was enough to earn Brohm the opportunity to come to the Big 10 with Purdue and he took the gig, despite the fact that the fifth-year Boilermaker seniors have gone an ominous 9-39, with four of the wins vs. non-board opponents. Yet here we stand with the Purdue opening 1-1 SU and 2-0 ATS, and note that the markets have not expected it – using the Pinny openers and closers, Louisville went from -21.5 to -25.5 in Week #1, and then it was Ohio down from -4.5 to -2.5 (-120) on Friday. The Boilermakers beat those closing lines by a combined 39 points, and what was a moribund offense rolled for 263 overland and 295 through the air in winning vs. Ohio.

That much you will see. What you might also want to be tracking is how much Brohm’s former Western Kentucky team has struggled, despite having Mike White back at QB. The Hilltoppers didn’t even score the spread in the opening 31-17 win over Eastern Kentucky (they were -39), and on Saturday managed just 266 yards vs. a mediocre Illinois team, getting their only points when trailing 20-0 in the fourth quarter. I mentioned in the previous paragraph that Purdue has gone +39 vs. the closing line through two games (some of that added market perception driving it); contrast that to the -43.5 for Western Kentucky, even taking the Game #1 with a grain of salt because the pointspead did not carry a high integrity. No, Brohm’s impact should not be that major, but he may well be a coaching star on the rise.

Matt Rhule was considered a coaching star on the rise for the work he did at Temple, but has he now entered a football purgatory…

Item: The new Rhules and realities at Baylor

Ordinarily there is a market tendency to play on a heavy favorite that got beat the previous week, the notion being that if favored heavily one team has a chance to control the opponent, and if they are off of a loss they may have reason to be going for the jugular. That was not the way the money flowed with UTSA/Baylor last week, the Bears opening at -16.5 and closing -11, and those involved in making that line move cashed easily.

There were some extenuating circumstances, like Baylor injuries at RB playing a part, but keying some of those in the marketplace was something that made my files, this quote from Rhule following the shocking 48-45 loss to Liberty in the opener – We didn’t really respond to the physical challenge that Liberty presented, and that was unfortunate, so we have to move forward.”

That game was a true stunner, because Rhule’s Bears were favored by -33.5 in his debut. But the realities on the field said that the score was not a fluke, Baylor trailing 31-22 in first downs and 585-532 in total offense. To say that Liberty presented a “physical challenge” was rather remarkable considering where the Baylor program has been. But the Bears were physically out-played, and then again by mediocre UTSA.

At this stage my power rating has changed about as drastically as it ever does for a team in a single season, the reality being that Baylor is starting from scratch in many ways. Rhule was solemn, but honest, in the Saturday post-game session - “I didn’t come here expecting this to be an easy job. I thought this would be a process. I came here because I knew it would be hard, and the kids needed a coach who would fight for them. We’ve got a lot of work to do to be a good football team. …We knew they were a physical team and we had some defensive penalties. We got better in the second half and our guys got stronger, but our offense wasn’t good.”

Rhule used the word “physical” after losses to both Liberty and UTSA. That is what triggers the alarms, and raises a real question as to what might happen when Baylor faces teams that will be much more physical ahead.

Item: You’ll need to work on your Mississippi State and Louisiana Tech stats

Louisiana Tech ran the ball well on the Mississippi State defense Saturday night, with RBs Boston Scott (13-96), Jarred Craft (18-83), Jaqwis Dancy (7-45) and Israel Tucker (3-25) combining for 249 yards on 41 carries, a crisp 6.0 per attempt. All four of those runners had at least one carry go for 14 yards or more.

The official game box does not reflect that properly at all, with a 50-152 getting recorded for the annals of time, the Bulldog offense, and opposing Bulldog defense, show a per-rush of less than half of what was the true reality. What happened? This happened -

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The game statisticians can’t help but record the play as an 87-yard loss. The stat sources that use automated compilations, which is just about all of them, can’t help but log it that way as well. It will have a staggering impact on both teams through the early part of the season, and even at the end will still be substantial. If you keep your own stats you need to simply throw the play out, it is of no material value in terms of understanding either the Tech offense, or the State defense. If you don’t and have to rely on other sources, be aware that they have some gibberish inside of the numbers.

Item: Charlotte’s offense has allowed more TDs (3) than it has scored (2)

Imagine Brad Lambert trying to instill some confidence in his 49ers. Through two games they have only 23 first downs and 448 yards, and have reached the end zone twice. Meanwhile there have been a pair of Pick Six’s and a Fumble Return for a TD while they were on the field.

In the Sights, Monday NFL…

If you listened to the opening edition of the “House of Yards” podcast you know this one is coming – part of an overall game plan to put into play through the early weeks of the season, but also in particular given tonight’s matchups. I believe that New Orleans is not only much better defensively, but that the Saints will be slowing down their tempo as well, which tells me the markets will likely be pricing their totals too high. Tonight we begin with #479 New Orleans/Minnesota Under (7:10 Eastern), with 48 or better the value point (and Nevada shoppers can pluck some 48.5 this morning).

If you want the details on those defensive improvements you can refer back to the Saints team preview from a month ago. This will not be a great unit, and likely not a good one, but merely playing NFL average, which they are capable of, is a major upgrade over where they have been. As for the offense, the loss of Brandin Cooks is something that they having been working around, but the suspension of Willie Snead is something they had not planned for. Remove those physical talents and there is a lot of tempo taken away as well. What will we see a lot of instead? New Orleans running the ball behind a deep RB corps, Adrian Peterson making his return tonight. The Saints were #2 in tempo in 2016; I don’t expect them to be anywhere near that pacing in the early part of this season.

The Vikings were #25 in pace last season and aren’t likely to change much. The hope is that a reshuffled OL corps and the additions of Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray can add life to a moribund ground game, so expect them to be methodical this evening. That opens the door at a good value level to get in play.

And need I remind you…

As noted in the comments threads throughout the weekend, as long as the markets keep chasing the Dodgers, and the Dodgers keep losing, there simply is no reason to not stay in play. Pinny has already gone from -177 to -202 this morning, a remarkable cycle in which the markets remain in play day after day, despite LAD being out-scored by 42 runs in a current 0-10 slide, and by 55 runs in a 1-15 demise.

Chris Stratton brings some interesting stuff, working to a 2.27 over his last five starts since being moved into the rotation full time, with 29 strikeouts vs. 26 hits allowed across that span, and on the first look a slumping offense is no guarantee for a break-out, hence why a little +1.5 on the Run Line is a fit as well at even money or better.

For your listening “pleasure”…

OK, so I do have to put “” out there for this one, but one of the nice additions to the SBR community is getting Gabriel Morency’s “Sports Rage” on board. Gabe does what he does better than anybody out there, and we go way back to the roots, the old days when he was on the air in Montreal.

Through the years he and I have always found the time to do something somewhere, and there is the return to Sports Rage this evening. I’ll paste a link here when it is ready to go, but I should be on the air with Gabe around 10:15 Eastern, just as Saints/Vikings should be heading to the 2:00 minute warning or so.

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