Saturday, August 30, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> The earliest observations of the season

Leader sports editor

The first weekend of the football season is here, but there are already a lot of interesting headlines and conversation pieces from high school to the pros.

High school scrimmage games have created a buzz and a Thursday night of SEC football on TV revealed a lot. The NFL handed out suspensions and announced set penalties for other things.

This being a regional newspaper, it’s prudent to begin with the local topics. The Sylvan Hills Bears look like they’re going to be hard to stop. The offensive numbers they put up in one quarter of play in their scrimmage at Robinson were incredible.

It started with a 70-yard run on the first play by quarterback Tra Doss. He ended up rushing for 94 yards and a score on three carries, and completing 6 of 7 pass attempts for 130 yards and a touchdown in the quarter. The Bears totaled 339 yards and scored five touchdowns.

Now the bad. They scored only once in the next quarter against Greenbrier and totaled 96 yards. That’s not a bad total for a quarter, but the reason why is troubling. The Bears simply looked tired. They were much slower in the second quarter than in the first.

Some have said that conditioning is lacking and it could be a team weakness. But consider this. It was hot. Greenbrier had not played yet and the Bears didn’t seem to stop running the length of the field against Robinson until the quarter was over.

Greenbrier won the quarter 14-7, but consider this. After getting blown out in their first quarter, the Senators beat Greenbrier 14-7, and didn’t allow a score until a big last play. Robinson had rested while Greenbrier battled Sylvan Hills, and they came back out and looked like a different team.

Even if Sylvan Hills is not in top shape right now, it shouldn’t be a problem later in the season. The Bears will get in better shape and real games won’t be played when the temperature is in the upper 90s.


Beebe’s offense looked almost as good, at least when it wasn’t fumbling. Neither Harding Academy nor CAC could stop the Badgers, but the Badgers did stop themselves. Again, the heat may have had something to do with that, and this was the first live contact in almost a year. The Badgers will get better at holding onto the ball.


Gus Malzahn has decided to be coy about when quarterback Nick Marshall will play. Leave it to the sleaziest coach in college football (and that’s really saying something. The college football head coaching profession has reached lawyer status in regards to disregarding all ethical behavior) to use what’s supposed to be a punishment as a strategy. Most people don’t have a problem with it, but those people are wrong. It really is, in comparison, one of the more innocuously sleazy things Malzahn has done, but sleazy is never excusable just because it’s not quite as sleazy as usual.


There were three SEC teams televised nationally in two games on Thursday. So what did we learn from them? First, we learned what we should have known all along, that Kevin Sumlin makes Texas A and M’s offense go, not Johnny Manziel. Everywhere he’s been and whoever his quarterback was, Sumlin’s offenses have been machine-like.

Many Arkansas fans had Texas A and M’s obvious regression without Manziel as the main reason for counting the Aggies as one of Arkansas’ potential wins. Some of those fans are still trying to assuage the fear Thursday’s rout of South Carolina inevitably instills in their hearts by saying that South Carolina just has no defense. But South Carolina was supposed to be a national championship contender this year. There are still some picking it to win the SEC East.

What Thursday’s game on the east coast proved is that Texas A and M is better than last year. The offense is just as good, and the defense is vastly improved. That porous defense is the secondary reason Arkansas fans felt comfortable counting it as a win, but that defense isn’t so porous. Other than a few deep pass plays, the Gamecocks couldn’t move the ball. And the deep pass is not a strength for the Hogs.

The performances by both of those teams were surprising. So final judgment of the Arkansas-A and M game will be withheld until there’s a chance to see Arkansas play. The Hogs might also surprise and delight their home fans.


The other SEC team in action was Ole Miss, who beat Boise St. 35-13 in battle of former Arkansas State head coaches – or as it might be better-stated, former head coaches who spent a year renting a room in Jonesboro.

What we learned from that game is that Ole Miss has problems. For all the recruiting victories won by Rebel coach Hugh Freeze (which itself should raise the Nietzschean hermeneutical eyebrow) his Rebels won that game through attrition, through the advantage of being a bigger, stronger team. The score was 7-6 at the end of the third quarter because the Ole Miss offense was inept. It then exploded for 28 points in the fourth quarter because the smaller and shallower Broncos were worn out, not because the Rebels finally started putting things together.

The problem arises in the fact that for most of the rest of the season, Ole Miss will be playing against other equally strong, deep or deeper SEC teams that won’t be worn out in the fourth quarter. There are lots of prognosticators foreseeing a banner year for the Rebels, too, but they’re probably wrong.


The final SEC team in action was Vanderbilt. What can be said about the Commodores 37-7 loss to Temple? Put simply, it can be said that Vanderbilt is back to being Vanderbilt. To go a bit further, remember what was said about college head coaches and attorneys? Former Vandy coach James Franklin is one of the reasons for that reputation. Franklin will make his mark as a another Bobby Petrino – a great coordinator who doesn’t recruit, makes millions of dollars off winning with other people’s players, burning down rosters, making objects of women and moving on to keep doing it all somewhere else. Penn St., however, may not even get to enjoy the brief success such coaches usually bring. Franklin is still not entirely cleared in the rape case involving several of his players in Nashville. It’s still alleged that he recruited the victim to help recruit players, asked her to collect 15 similarly attractive girls to help her, viewed video of the incident on his player’s phone and told the player to delete it rather than report it.

He denies all of this, but what he can’t deny is his 2012 quote in which he made it clear that he values women on physical appearance, and men on their “ability” to conquer them, saying he won’t hire an assistant until he’s seen whether or not he has an attractive wife.

It’s obvious, at best, that Franklin believes physical attractiveness is the most important attribute in choosing a lifelong mate, and that’s enough to make him sleazebag 1A with Malzahn.

The other side of this issue is Penn State’s side. How, for the love of Happy Valley, can that university, fresh off the worst sex scandal in the history of athletics, hire a coach mired in a sex scandal?