Month: August 2014

Week One Observations of Florida State

The Seminoles opened last night against Oklahoma State in Dallas, the site of the 2014 National Championship game.  The defending champions have been candid about their Dallas to Dallas ambitions, but last night’s 37-31 win suggests the road back to Dallas for the title game will be more perilous than widely accepted.  Here are my thoughts. 

JAMEIS WINSTON

The Heisman trophy winner truly sucked in the Spring Game, and in game one he showed enough of his shortcomings to raise at least a yellow caution flag.  Winston held the ball too long and displayed a lack of awareness in the pocket that resulted in a few long sacks and a lack of fluidity when he decided to run.  Bear in mind, his 28 yard touchdown run was fantastic, but it was a draw bydesign and required no read on his part.  When he tried a similar play on a subsequent drive, he ran into traffic for a negligible gain.  Winston forced throws particularly to Rashad Greene which resulted in a turnover, and he had significant difficulty identifying defenders dropping underneath FSU’s crossing routes (his second pick in the red zone and a near pick in the 4th quarter).  One of Winston’s strengths was his seemingly effortless ability to spread the ball different receivers all over the field.  His decision making and rhythm must improve for him to reach or surpass his 2013 level of play.

Jameis still accounted for over 400 yards of total offense and was good when he needed to be with his two second half touchdowns.  It is mindful to remember that a quarterback is often defined by his ability to make plays in the fourth quarter of close games during a subpar night as much as anything.

THE RUNNING GAME

The veteran offensive line did not consistently control the line of scrimmage against what is not believed to be a vaunted front seven from Oklahoma State, but they were not helped by Karlos Williams who ran tentatively, dancing about for open running space instead of claiming chain-moving yardage.  This is a step back as Williams gift as a runner last season was his decisive, runaway freight train going downhill approach.  He must not lose his identity as he is not a gifted, space-finding runner.  Mario Pender was much better as he hit the holes at speed and made the most of what was available.  It will be interesting to see who the coaches trust as we go forward.  The running game was hurt by lack of usage that could be attributed to negative plays, Winston’s lower than expected completion percentage or a lack of commitment on the part of the coaches.

PENALTIES

Too many and some of them from a lack of discipline, but it must be said that the hypersensitivity of officiating unsportsmanlike conduct is reaching a unacceptable level of pussification.  Football is a visceral and violent game.  The people that enjoy football are aroused by visceral violence or have a significant gambling problem.  Neither of these types of people are likely to be offended by exuberant, emotional celebrations or mild taunting.  Know your customer and throttle back the bullshit.

DEFENSE

Nate Andrews pick six was an outstanding play and typified the energy and awareness of the Seminole defense in the first quarter.  They controlled the line of scrimmage, swarmed to the ball and made things difficult for Oklahoma State.  That evaporated over the remaining three quarters of the game as the team controlled the line of scrimmage only sporadically while conceding running lanes and losing people in coverage.  It was unclear if this was due to fatigue, adjustments by Oklahoma State or a lack thereof by Florida State, but it was clearly an unbecoming performance on the whole.  When the Noles blitzed it frequently came off the edges and seemed telegraphed, but not in the panic-inducing, holy shit they are bringing the house and we don’t have enough people to block them way that actually induces panic and creates bad plays and turnovers.  Oklahoma State was entirely too comfortable for most of the night, and it is disconcerting that few if any adjustments seemed to have a positive impact. 

FINAL THOUGHTS

FSU is fortunate to have won this game.  The offense was mistake prone and generally inefficient for the better part of three quarters, and the defense was lost energy and effectiveness as the game wore on.  FSU benefitted greatly by two mistakes in the punting game, and a fortuitous fumble in the fourth quarter.  FSU must honestly assess it’s performance and make meaningful improvements or this season will be a bitter disappointment.

 

 

 

Football….My First Love

It’s Friday night and I’m sitting in my car  under dark skies and sporadic rain drops hoping that lightning doesn’t ruin my night.  Lightning is about the only thing that will stop a football game, and I am in the mood for some football.

Over the last several years, I have continued to watch the game, but for a variety of reasons my passion has not been what it once was.  My sons have chosen different paths, and my favorite team provided over a decade of disappointment.  I am at peace with the paths my sons have chosen, and last January my favorite team climbed back to the top of the mountain.

Maybe it’s something else entirely, but I am excited to see some football.  The type of excitement that surges through and enlivens the body making it feel indestructible.   The type of excitement that wants to test that feeling of indestructibility by hitting someone as hard as I can. So hard I feel the air leaving the body as it falls to the ground from a hit so perfect that it doesn’t hurt in the slightest bit.

That’s what makes football special.  I can play basketball or soccer at age 43 and do all the things inherent to the game, but football is different.  It’s defined not by mere physical contact, but hitting, a violently, explosive form of physical contact that can only be done in pads.  It measures your strength and speed, but also and far more importantly, measures that dark place in your soul where you either want this or you don’t.

NFL Quarterback

The other night, I was drawn into a discussion of the Miami Dolphins.  The discussion began, and in truth,  never got far from Ryan Tannehill.   Tannehill is entering his third season, and has been the starter for the better part of two seasons.  He offers a prototypical package of size and arm strength.  The sense from everyone, but me was that Tannehill had been through a couple of coordinators,  played with bad talent and was somehow inevitably poised for a breakout season.  

I do not feel the inevitabily of Tannehill’s ascendence.  Two years as a starter is a significant body of work, and leads me to believe that if all the circumstances fall into place, he could quarterback a playoff team, but ultimately he does not move the needle.

He is not alone.  Quarterback is the most difficult position in team sports, and elite quarterback play is a rare and valuable commodity.   An elite quarterback assures playoff relevance in any season he is healthy enough to play.  Elite quarterbacks come in various shapes and sizes, but the common denominators are competitiveness,  poise and decision making.  Quarterbacks are almost presidential in the sense that they are measured as much by the feeling they convey in crisis as they are winning.

The qualities at the elite level, if not fully realized, would be readily apparent in the amount of starts given to Tannehill thus far in his career, and his play has almost lacked definition.  He is imminently replaceable and leaves the Dolphins mired in a morass of mediocrity. 

Landon Donavan’s Emblematic Run as Talisman

Landon Donovan arrived in the United States soccer consciousness during  our quarterfinal run at the 2002 World Cup which ironically still stands as the USMNT’s greatest accomplishment.  LD was 20, skillful, precocious and seemed destined to carry us to genuine success in the beautiful game.  For the next decade plus, he was our talisman, leading goal scorer, most recognizable player and an enigma.

In 2010, he scored an iconic goal against Algeria to advance to the knock out stage in South Africa.  It was vintage LD, a goal produced by his special blend of speed, tenacity and timing.  Speed, tenacity and timing though do not dictate matches or craft a style of play, and Donovan’s skills served not to revolutionize soccer in the United States, but rather as part of a longer evolution.

For all of his accomplishments,  his career will be defined as much by what didn’t happen.  With the exception of a genuinely scintillating ten week loan at Everton, LD never gained a foothold in Europe. 

More tragically, he was excluded from the USMNT in Brazil.  This was evidently the result of a personality conflict, but still bitter to accept as LD seems a respected teammate and I for one would have favored him doing more than Wondolowski in the dying minutes against Belgium.

2014 3 v 3 National Champions

2014 Champs

For a multitude of reasons and even more bullshit, the soccer summer of 2014 will not be well remembered, but it is heartening to have found some measure of redemption in the familiar confines of 3 v 3. As recently as the Spring of 2013, the five man core of Mikey Lynch, Eric Brody, Braden Kemp, Bryson Pink and Randall Congreaves played together at FC America, but When they won Nationals a year ago, the dynamics of the splintering were already underway, and the weekend had the inescapable feel of a farewell. The boys now play on five different teams in two countries, and only two of them even attend the same school.

The friendship of the core and their respective parents exercised a gravitational pull that brought the Sharks together again for another run at 3 v 3 glory. Until Wednesday night, there was considerable uncertainty over whether all the boys would be available and committed to the cause, but on Thursday at 10am they all took the field at Hunter’s Creek for the first of two training sessions. As parents, we all had things to do that day other than stand talking in the sweltering heat, but for a good long while nobody left. We talked and watched the boys play. Over the last 12 months, they had played against each other and/or barely seen each other, but now they smiled, joked and test each other on the field. The parents gradually left, and the boys trained, nearly got kicked out of Gatorland and most certainly got kicked out of Sports Authority, trained again and slept over at the Brody’s house.

The tournament started at 8:30 Friday morning, rather poorly as we conceded a 2-0 lead to SC United, the team we beat in the final last year. Slowly, we came back into the game, and took our first lead at 3-2 when Bryson scored a scrappy goal. We won 6-4, and in our second group game, drew a cupcake and put a 12-1 beating on them, but a few things were apparent; Mikey and Eric were nursing injuries, and Randall was out of shape.

On Saturday Morning, we played a solid team from South Carolina, but Eric made them pay for there flat and wide defensive set up with 4 goals from the point as we lead 4-0 in the first half. We played some really good soccer winning 6-2. Our second game of the day against the Poison Iguanas was our most competitive. The scored remained tied 2-2 into the second half, before Bryson scored a hat trick to give us the 5-2 win. We won our group, and drew an easy quarterfinal match up against the Hi-Lighters, who were dispatched with a 10-0 ass kicking. Going into Sunday’s final four, Randall had gained momentum, and Eric and Mikey were playing successfully through their injuries.

The semifinal was a rematch against the Poison Iguanas, but our tight group game was valuable in establishing a game plan to negate the effectiveness of their mentally unstable star and exploit the limitations of their role players. We scored early through Eric and Bryson added a critical second goal before the half. In the second half, Mikey and Braden scored, but this was if nothing a defensive master class. The Poison Iguanas created almost nothing of consequence in losing 4-0, and grew visibly frustrated as the game wore on.

The final will go down as an utterly boring game. We won 2-0. The Hat Trick Heroes chose to engage us in a methodical high possession, low mistake game, and had no plan B available when we took the lead. Again, though our defensive solidity was astounding, and while our attack was lacking in creativity, we did not lose the ball in any vulnerable situations.

We outscored our opponents 45-9, and did not allow a goal in the knock out stage of the competition, which by the standards of 3 v 3 is an incredible accomplishment. The Sharks have now won 29 competitive matches in a row during a stretch that covers five total tournaments including Worlds in 2013 and three straight Nationals 2012-2014. In this tournament, the team achieved unique balance among the core five players that it literally did not matter which combination of players was on the field at a given time the standard of play and results were a constant.

We move again into a period of uncertainty as to the future of the group, but as always we do so as small family.