Wha Happened? Bowl Season!

While we continue the interminable wait for Iowa's bowl game, there have been a number of other bowl games involving Big Ten teams -- some which went well, some which, um, didn't.  So... Wha Happened?

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Yes, you're Rose Bowl champions -- you still look like douchebags.

ROSE BOWL: Ohio State 26, Oregon 17
Sayonara, monkey!  The Big Ten -- and Ohio State in particular -- actually won a big game, so you can go away now.  Maybe go visit your brother down in Norman -- he's probably lonely.  (Yes, yes, they won the Sun Bowl -- repeat: the Sun Bowl.  Mister Big Game Monkey is going nowhere for another year.)  How long had this been in the making?  The Big Ten hadn't won a big-time interconference match-up since, um, 2006 -- when Ohio State whalloped Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl and Penn State outlasted Florida State in the Why Won't You Old Bastards Just Die Already Orange Bowl.  Obviously that was also the last time Ohio State won a non-conference match-up of importance.  And the last time a Big Ten team won the Rose Bowl?  Um, that would be 2000A decade ago.  So, yeah, this win felt just a little bit good, even if you spend the other 364 days a year hating the Buckeyes.  But that's just all frills: what about the game itself?  Well... that was a little confounding.

On defense, things went about as expected/hoped -- the Buckeyes rock-solid defense held Oregon to their lowest point total since LeGarrette Blount had to choke punch a bitch in Boise at the start of the season and the difference in simple fundamentals between Ohio State and most of the Pac 10 defenses the Ducks feasted on was startling.  It's amazing what happens when you wrap up on tackles and maintain discipline in your assignments.  Ohio State still got burned a few times on the edges (and their return coverage was a fucking horrorshow), but not nearly as much as most teams and the middle of the field was damn near impenetrable.  Jeremiah Masoli was harried into one of his worst games ever (9/20, 81 yds, 0 TD, 1 INT, 6 carries, 9 yds, 1 TD), but the most important defensive stat was probably this: 18:23.  That's the Ducks' time of possession on offense; hard to do much damage from the bench. 

But what of the Buckeye offense?  Well, that was the real mindfuck from this game.  After the epic failbomb Terrelle Pryor and the Buckeye offense dropped in the loss to Purdue, The Sweatervest & Co. salvaged their season by going full cro-mag on offense: run run run... and then run some more.  Pryor may as well have played the Penn State and Iowa games in a literal straitjacket; the figurative one he was in prevented him from doing much to hurt the Buckeyes on offense.  So, naturally, you'd expect the Buckeyes to keep on pounding the rock, particularly against a young, undersized Duck defense that's not particularly renowned for sure tackling, right?  Right?  WRONG.  The Buckeyes came out winging it (seven of nine plays on the opening drive were pass plays), and they let Pryor keep on tossing the rock throughout the game, including on the game-clinching touchdown drive.  Pryor responded with arguably his best passing game yet (23/37, 266 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT), spawning a litany of fawning "Pryor has arrived!" stories from the press.  But has he?  To be sure, he did make some fine passes (the deep out to DeVier Posey on the game-clinching touchdown was a very nice throw), he made more of the routine throws than he's typically made, and he largely avoided the ugly brainlock mistakes that have plagued him in the past. But... the interception he threw was ghastly and he narrowly avoided a few others like that; he looked utterly lost for huge stretches of the second and third quarters after Oregon made some defensive adjustments (he kept holding onto the ball for an eternity and eventually getting swallowed up by the Duck pressure); his fourth quarter success was helped out by the fact that the Duck defense looked exhausted; and, frankly, it was for the most part a young, undersized unit.  Can he do this against elite defenses?  Can he do this week in and week out?  Magic 8-ball says: "Future hazy; check back next fall."  And is The Vest a genius for wrong-footing the Ducks with a wholly unexpected offensive approach or one lucky motherfucker that his gamble paid off?  Well, crazy like a fox or just plain batshit, The Vest ended the Big Ten's big game drought... and for sparing us another off-season full of "BIG TEN SUX lol lol lol" inanity, we thank him.

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Perhaps the Citrus Bowl officials were just getting ready to film Tremors VI: Die Mickey Die after the game.

CAPITAL ONE BOWL: Penn State 19, LSU 17
On a field better-suited for World War I-style trench warfare (hey, give Navorro Bowman a gas mask, a carbine, and some mustard gas and he will fuck some shit up) than football, Penn State proved that PUNTING FIELD GOAL KICKING IS WINNING.  In a staggering display of competence for this bowl season, Penn State drove home four field goals, including the eventual game-winner with under a minute to go.  Of course, with a little better red zone execution they could have converted a few of those field goals into touchdowns and avoided any end-of-game drama... but then we would have missed another installment in Les Miles: Clock Manager Extraordinaire, which would have been a goddamn shame.  Miles, perhaps wanting to authoritatively reclaim his title after Mack Brown made a strong play for it in the Big 12 Championship Game, was up to his usual tricks, like calling for a slip screen in he middle of the field with 45 seconds to go and no timeouts left.  Keep on keepin' on, Lesticles.

Defensively, the Nittany Lions stoned the LSU running game (41 yards and one touchdown on 25 carries), and gave up a handful of big plays through the passing game (shock!), but ultimately kept Jordan Jefferson in check for the most part.  But what of the other dominant theme of the pre-game hype -- y'know, Daryll Clark's legacy.  Well, they won so he can finally say he won a big game.  He wasn't particularly sharp (18/35, 216 yds, 1 TD, 0 INT, 11 carries, 20 yds), but in Stanzi-esque fashion he made the passes he needed to make on the game-winning field goal drive.  So a slight tip of the ol' cap to Clark -- we'll miss seeing you in Iowa City, old bean.  But mostly we're going to remember the 2010 Capital One Bowl for being the best damn mud game since the Steelers and Dolphins mixed it up in the muck.  The turf was an absolute disgrace and thank god no one tore up a knee in that shit... but it did make for some pretty riveting theater.

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John Clay leaves a trail of bodies in his wake, even his own teammates.

CHAMPS SPORTS BOWL: Wisconsin 20, Miami (FL) 14
Oh, the perils of misleading final scorelines... Upon first glance, it would seem that the Champs Sports Bowl was a closely contested, hard fought game narrowly won by the Badgers.  This assumption would be wrong.  Miami showed off their blazing South Florida speed on the first play of the game (returning the opening kickoff of a score, only to have it negated by a silly late penalty that placed the ball at the Wisconsin 16; the 'Canes scored on the very next play anyway) and exploited a passive Wisconsin defense for one late touchdown drive.  But those two sequences were hardly indicative of the other 57 minutes of gameplay; rather, for the vast majority of the game, the Badger defensive line, led by twin man-beasts O'Brien Schofield and J.J. Watt, took turns waltzing by the turnstile-like "protection" afforded by the Miami offensive line and batting Jacory Harris around like a pinata.  Harris was sacked five times and pressured countless others and the only drive in which they had any sustained offensive success was near the end of the game when the Badgers had shifted into a lazy prevent mode.  After the 'Canes scored and recovered an onside kick and defensive intensity was required to seal the closer-than-it-should-have-been victory, the Badger defensive line dutifully went back to the work of making Harris' life a living hell and harried the 'Canes into an ugly four-and-out possession.

Sadly for the Badgers (and the Big Ten), the prevailing analysis after the game was "jeez, what's wrong with Miami" rather than "hot damn, maybe the Badgers (and, by extension, the Big Ten) aren't so terrible after all."  ESPN's excuses ranged from missing players on the offensive line (plausible) to the chilly 49-degree temperatures in Orlando (Miami had heaters on the sidelines and countless players made use of long sleeves and hand-warmers -- in 49-degree temperatures... yes, really).  While they may have found it a little bit chillier than they would like, the weather was a convenient smokescreen for the real reason the 'Canes played like ass: Wisconsin was better than them and they proved it by being far more physical and by not buckling under Miami's early onslaught.  Miami wanted to use a display of their speed and athleticism as a one-punch knockout; instead, Wisconsin absorbed the early blow, regrouped, and battered them on both sides of the ball for the rest of the game (sans that one late touchdown drive) and Miami wilted under that pressure.  They weren't (just) cold -- they were physically beaten up by a bigger, stronger, more complete team.  Indeed, Wisconsin didn't just stick to the "three yards and a cloud of dust" stereotype (though John Clay did mash the Miami defense for 121 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries... so technically 5.5 yards and a cloud of dust); they were also more adept through the air (260 yards on 19/26 passing), largely thanks to Miami's mystifying inability to defend the tight end: all-Big Ten tight end Garrett Graham and his back-up, Lance Kendricks, combined for 205 yards on 13 receptions and spent most of the evening sauntering through outrageously wide open holes in the secondary.  Yes, Miami, a school that produced such elite tight end prospects as Kellen Winslow, Jr., Jeremy Shockey, and Greg Olsen was completely baffled by the usage of the tight end in the passing game.  Somewhere, John Mackey weeps.

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TRY FIGHT FUMBLE GAME AWAY EXTENSION ANYWAY

INSIGHT FAIL BOWL: Iowa State 14, Minnesota 13
This was the most excruciating one-point game in the history of football and if you think that's hyperbole, you must not have the NFL Network and were thus spared from watching this debacle.  Even the box score is headache-inducing.  How many games have you seen with 800+ combined yards, but only 27 total points and 10 combined punts?  There was incompetence aplenty on display here, from Arnaud making Minnesota look like they had a defense full of Tyler Sashes in the first half to Minnesota hitting all the stops on the way to Idiotville at various points during the game.  Minnesota finished with more total yards (albeit just six more yards), far fewer penalties, and won the turnover battle... and still lost the game.  Adam Weber had the ugliest 300-yard passing day you'll ever see, missing countless open receivers and easy passes while nailing a handful of big plays to goose his totals into respectable-at-first-glance levels.  As usual, the Gopher running game was pretty much DOA (122 yards on 32 carries).  And, in inimitable Brewster fashion, the Gophers wound up losing the game after driving into field goal range with under four minutes to play... by letting supposed "quarterback of the future" MarQueis Gray carry the ball on a critical possession when all they really needed to do was take care of the ball and bleed clock.  Naturally, he fumbled and Iowa State recovered and ran out the clock.  We here at BHGP have only one final thought for Coach Brew: Sign that extension!  Sign it now, before that asshat Maturi gets second thoughts!

As for our little brothers to the west, kudos to them for finding the one bowl-eligible BCS conference team inept enough to let them win their first bowl game in five years.  Feel free to puff your chests out and walk into Iowa City brimming with confidence next year.  Why, yes, Tyler Sash will still be there... why do you ask?

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Sparty demonstrates some of the excellent tackling skills that led to them giving up a zillion yards.

ALAMO BOWL: Texas Tech 41, Michigan State 31
Pat Forde says overconservative playcalling cost Sparty this game.  I'm sure it had nothing to do with the fact that they gave up 41 points, almost 600 yards of total offense (including 472 through the air), and failed repeatedly to make key stops to get Tech's offense off the field.  The lesson, as always?  Pat Forde is an idiot.  The conventional wisdom before the game was that matching up Sparty's certifiably awful pass defense with Tech's nigh-unstoppable passing attack was a recipe for a massive bloodbath.  Conventional wisdom wavered when Mike Leach was fired (something you heard about roughly every forty-five seconds from ESPN's brain-melting coverage of the game... never before has an audience longed so badly to hear Mike Patrick's opinions on the current state of Britney Spears' affairs) and no one knew what to expect out of Tech.  But for once, conventional wisdom was 100% accurate: Tech's pass offense was lethal, Sparty's pass defense was pillow soft, and disaster predictably ensued. 

On offense, Sparty pulled out nearly every trick in the playbook -- on one series alone three different players completed a pass, including a kicker and a wide receiver.  Unfortunately, no matter what was called, Kirk Cousins could execute precious little of it -- until the last few series of the game, he had as many second-half completions as the aforementioned kicker and wide receiver.  In case you were wondering, that's typically not good.   Edwin Baker seemed slightly underused in the offense (102 yards and 1 TD on 12 carries) and Keshawn Martin solidified his status as a player to be concerned about for the next two years -- "just" 86 yards and a touchdown on four catches, but he looked like a threat to break a big play every time he touched the ball.

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Winning bowl games, making field goals: UR DOIN IT WRONG.

OUTBACK BOWL:  Auburn 38, just Northwestern 35 (OT)
Our blog-buddies at Lake the Posts and The Rivalry, Esq. may want to focus on the "positives" of playing an overtime thriller on New Year's Day (your friends wanted to talk about the game?!  No fucking way!), which suggests that they're well-stocked in denial-sauce, because let's call this what it was: a fucking failure.  Again.  For the 61st consecutive year, Northwestern will end the season without a bowl win.  The last time jNWU won a bowl game, Truman was president, NATO was in its infancy, a house cost $7450, and silly putty was invented.  They lost their seventh straight bowl game (the longest such active streak in the NCAA) and their second straight in overtime.  If the Wildcats had a competent kicker -- or a QB who wasn't so gracious as to gift the opposing team stellar field position and/or free points -- they could be riding a two-game winning streak right now.  But they don't have such a kicker (the best play Stefan Demos made in the game was getting roughed by an Auburn player, giving Northwestern a fresh set of downs -- which they ultimately squandered) and thus they remain an outfit made of pure unmitigated FAIL come bowl season. 

And after such a bizarro game one wonders when they'll ever get a bowl win; they can hardly expect their next bowl opponent(s) to be as mind-numbingly stupid (or just plain inept), sloppy, and undisciplined as Auburn (12 penalties for 140 yards, many of which resuscitated jNWU drives) .  Despite having a 14-point lead late in the fourth quarter, Auburn was bound and determined to not only give Northwestern opportunities to tie the game, but innumerable chances to win the game, all of which Northwestern took, examined carefully, and politely returned to Auburn with a thoughtfully-written thank-you note.  Most puzzling of all was the fact that Fitzgerald didn't trust Mike Kafka, who threw the ball a stupefying 78 times, converted four critical fourth downs, and did his best Stanzi-against-Indiana impression by throwing for five interceptions (including the rarely-seen 100-yard pick six) and still managing to lead his team back into contention.  No, rather than put the ball in the hands of his playmaking senior quarterback, Fitzgerald opted to call a trick play devised by their former coach years ago.  If this had been a Disney movie, it would have undoubtedly been successful and the Wildcats would have celebrated their gloriously ridiculous win with a slo-mo montage set to some stirring string music.  Unfortunately, this was not a Disney movie, the play failed, Kafka could do nothing but watch, and Northwestern's stupidly long streak of bowl futility was extended another year.  May you never change, LOLcats.

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