Friday, November 2, 2012

Score, score, score ... and I can't keep up

     People who have heard me rail about this know how I feel: I don't like high-scoring football games. Or, for that matter, high-scoring baseball games. Or the farce that is the NBA All-Star Game.
      So here's the contradiction: I like offensive football, I like the passing game. Always have, dating to my days at Woodlawn High and Louisiana Tech, when we had passing offenses ahead of their time.
      But I don't like track meets disguised as football games. A touchdown every minute -- or every two minutes -- doesn't interest me.
      Maybe West Virginia 70, Baylor 63 was entertaining to some. Not to me. Texas 66, Ole Miss 31 (well, it's OK if Ole Miss loses like that). Oklahoma 63, Texas 21. Texas 56, Baylor 50. (Gee, lots of Texas here).
      There's a limit to how much offense I like. I have to admit that if it's one of my favorite teams doing the scoring, well, it's not that bad.
      And one of my favorite teams is the second highest-scoring team in the Football Bowl Subdivision, the stupid NCAA name for Division I. Louisiana Tech is averaging 52.63 points a game; only Oregon (53.38) is better. Texas A&M (45.50) is a distant third.
       All three use the spread, no-huddle, hurry-up offense. I understand the philosophy (keep the pressure on the defense, keep the defense from making personnel substitutions, spread the field, make the defense cover sideline to sideline, and make it play man-to-man, open up the running lanes. Even the odds if the other team's linemen are perhaps more talented than yours).
       I should like it, but I just haven't warmed up to it. No more than I can ever warm up to 8-7 or 11-10 baseball games. I like pitching duels, with good defense, and scores of 1-0 or 2-1 or 3-2.
       I am writing this because the Oregon team orthopedist -- a long-ago athlete from Shreveport -- and I have been trading Facebook messages. When I told him I wasn't crazy about Oregon's offense, he politely -- really -- asked me to explain.
       OK, Don, I'm trying.
Colby Cameron and the Louisiana Tech offense
 have no trouble scoring points (The Shreveport Times photo)
       I'm looking at Oregon's scores this season: 57-34, 63-14, 49-0, 51-26, 52-21, 43-21, 70-14 -- all Ducks. No wonder Don loves it.
        And look at Louisiana Tech's scores: 56-49, 56-37, 52-24, 44-38, 58-31, 57-59 (loss to Texas A&M), 70-28 and -- what's this? -- 28-14 last week at New Mexico State. A mirage. (Explanation: three makeable field goals that missed, a drive to near the goalline that bogged down. That's 16 points wasted.)
        My old Tech friends love this offense; they find it exciting. Tech's 575.73 yards per game is second in the country (Oklahoma State's 586.14 is No. 1).
        My Tech friends thought the Tech-A&M game in Shreveport was a thriller, and maybe it was, with Tech falling behind 27-0 and then rallying, rallying, rallying -- and missing two two-point PAT tries near the end that could have forced overtime.
         Speaking of overtime: Texas Tech beat TCU 56-53 here in Fort Worth two weeks ago. But that was in three overtimes; it was 36-36 at the end of regulation, somewhat acceptable in my view.
         Of course, I am one of the few people in America -- maybe the only one -- who thinks overtime in the regular season is a crock. One thing it does is push scores higher and higher, out of sight, out of proportion.
          I feel that way, and it's been maybe 27 years since John James Marshall and I wrote pro and con columns in the Shreveport Journal debating overtime; it had been put in for colleges and high schools that year. I was the "con" guy (there's a laugh). I thought, and still think, ties would be fine. Save overtime for the playoffs or bowl games. But I'm a native European, so I'm used to tie games in soccer. Oh, well, overtime is another blog subject.
            Sorry, I digress. Back to my, geez, explanation.
            Did a little checking on the 121 FBS (Division I) football teams; 87 of them (71.9 percent) have been involved in at least one game in which one team scores 50 points; 19 more have been in games with at least 45 to 49 points by one team. Only nine teams have not seen a number higher than "39" on a scoreboard this season.
            Neither Rutgers, with a 7-1 record, nor its opponents have topped 35 points in any game.
            I'm a Rutgers fan now. Go Scarlet Knights (well, at least I like the nickname).
            OK, here's the point: I like balance. I like a more even pace, not a frenetic one. I like some offense, and I like some defense. I like defensive teams that can run, cover receivers all over the field, contain running quarterbacks and slow speedy running backs, and that can tackle in the open field. I like it when kicking games can make a big difference.
            Maybe that's old-school thinking. Maybe, because I'm a sportswriter who has tried to cover these games and tried to keep up with the statistics (as in many of the high school games I've covered the past two years), I don't like games that last 3 1/2-4 hours.
            You know I'm not an Alabama or Notre Dame fan, but I admire their defenses. They are Nos. 1-2 in the country in scoring defense (8.13, 9.88). LSU has the same type defense, but not as consistently.       
          Take LSU against Texas A&M a couple of weeks ago. A&M scored 59 against Louisiana Tech the week before and early on against LSU, it looked like the Aggies were going to go wild again. Then LSU adjusted to the A&M speed, and to sensational freshman QB Johnny Manziel's ability to make tacklers miss and hit his short passes. He still burned them some, but Aggies' turnovers and LSU's increasing pressure took the game away from Johnny Football and Co.            
It's OK when Kevin Minter (46) and the LSU defense jump all
over Texas A&M (LSU Football photo from Facebook).
       Oregon didn't fare as well against Auburn's defense in the national championship game two years ago (and it moved the ball at times against LSU in the season opener at Cowboys Stadium a year ago, but got hurt by turnovers). Of course, Cam Newton and Auburn's hurry-up, spread didn't run away from Oregon, either.
         If teams can play some defense, and run the football to take time off the clock, I think it's much more interesting.
         Last Saturday, I watched Georgia-Florida, a 17-9 game full of turnovers, and later Notre Dame-Oklahoma, a tight game until the final few minutes when the Irish pulled away. To me, those were two competitive, high-profile games that held my interest.
        I wouldn't expect a high-scoring duel this Saturday in Baton Rouge, although Alabama certainly has more potential to score than LSU has shown.
      I know many people thought LSU-Alabama a year ago in Tuscaloosa -- the Game of the Year -- was boring -- no touchdowns, all field goals, 9-6 in overtime, Tigers. I thought, from start to finish, it was tense and tight, and intriguing. And it wasn't hard to keep up with the score.
      They deserved to tie (remember, I'm not for overtime in the regular season) and that way they could have justified a national championship rematch with me.
      Instead, they made LSU play a team it already had beaten, on that team's home field.
      Bottom line: Both teams played football the way I like it. Hope Don in Oregon -- via Shreveport -- understands.      


  1. Remember Nico a tie is like kissing your sister!

    I look for LSU to play it's best game yet Saturday night and my tide boys ( I grew up in B'ham watching Bear beat everybody!) could stumble and fall.
    But in the end I will take Nick over Les in a tight fourth-quarter situation!

  2. From Jim Robinson: I totally agree with your article. If I wanted to go to a track meet, I would go to one. Give me a good old 14-13 duel anyday, without a bunch of turnovers. Now that is a good game!

  3. From O.K. "Buddy" Davis: I get tired of the high-scoring games, too, Nico. Well, covering 'em, anyway.

  4. From Ken Sins: I also appreciate balance. I'm a Football Giants fan. Eli can light it up, but I still consider them a defensive team (pressure the passer, force hurries and holding penalties, etc, which they've done to Tom Brady in each of the last three meetings). But I respectfully disagree with your dislike of the Ducks, a team I follow now that I live up here. They recruit kids who can fly, but are too small to be NFL stars. They get out on the edge with the option and force you to try and tackle them. Most defenses can't keep up with the no-huddle, and that makes them fun to watch. It creates a place at the highest level of college football for a kid who is fast, but too small to play on Sunday. Just my opinion. BTW, I also root for ND, which as you point out is a defense-first team. It takes all kinds...

  5. From Marty Mule': Nico, not a misstatement in the piece. Good stuff. I always thought ties served a real purpose: to a lesser team against a strong team it was like a victory. To a strong team against a lesser opponent, it was like a loss (and the consequences were often just that, like wins and losses in the W-L column. A main problem is that the longer a tied games goes, the more it favors the stronger team, and when its talent takes over (usually for a win), it detracts from the effort of the lesser team (completely if it loses). I'm not sure I thought I'd ever run across another scribe who thinks like me.

  6. From Dr. Leonard D. Ponder: I just read your blog on high-scoring football games. Like all your blogs it was interesting and well done. You shouldn't worry too much about the popularity of the spread, hurry-up offenses. It is just the natural evolution of football. The pendulum swings like pendulums do (there is a song in there someplace). Offenses get ahead of defenses for a while and then defenses catch up and we are back to low-scoring games. Even now good defenses slow down hurry-up defenses and beat them if the teams are near equal or if the hurry-up team is overmatched. For me, the hurry-up offense has saved football for a short time. I had become very bored with three yards and a cloud of dust football and I hate the length of time it takes for professional football teams to get a play off. Like you, I do not like 3 1/2 to 4 hour games, but at least the hurry-up offenses are maintaining action on the field. The official review of every close play contributes more to longer games than any other single part of football. It is now incumbent upon defensive coaches to find a solution, and they will. The current solution of faking injuries won't cut it. I also will drop football from my social agenda if the NCAA decides to change rules to force offenses back into three yards and a cloud of dust. The coach at Alabama is dead wrong to suggest (or perhaps he hinted) that solution.

  7. As a child, I was told Charley McClendon's philosophy was: "they can't beat you if they don't score." Don't know if he really said that, but I bought into it and still prefer a low-scoring defensive battle. However, like you, I did graduate from Woodlawn and I certainly enjoyed watching the great Knight teams (and their QBs) of that 60s/70s era. The occasional offensive shootout can be fun to watch, but I'm becoming increasingly concerned that high schools are simply not producing the type of players that can play defense at a high level. We have entered an era in which only a handful of teams at the college level can actually play great defense. For example, look at the Big 12! It's horrifying how little defense gets played in that league. With the entire state of Texas to recruit, Mack Brown can't produce a credible defense. I've actually begun to speculate that when Saban retires it will mark the end of college football worth watching. Once teams don't have to beat Bama to win the SEC it will all become 7-on-7 football...