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Football Thoughts – Week of 11/10

Posted in Sports - football, mostly, Uncategorized by EloiSVM42 on November 13, 2018

My beloved Oklahoma Sooners won a shootout – 48 to 47 – against a mediocre Oklahoma Aggies team that ranks eighth out of the 10 teams in the Big XII. Don’t ask.

We were damned lucky to win that game. The Aggies cut through our defense like a hot knife through butter. The game ended with the Aggies going for a two-point conversion that would have won the game for them. It took a good defensive stop, but also a poor offensive pass or the play might have succeeded.

That said, we almost always we always do find a way to beat the Oklahoma Aggies, even when they have had much, much better teams than this one. The Aggies used to win one about once a generation. They’ve improved. Now it’s about once in a little more than a decade. It must drive them crazy.

Oklahoma’s defense is absolutely terrible, statistically one of the very worst in the NCAA. I have never seen such a disparity between the excellence of an offense and the impotence of a defense on the same team.

Our defense is so bad that it is impossible to see how OU can move up in the rankings, let alone reach the playoff bracket, even if we win out, which is no foregone conclusion, as we still have to play West Virginia, a very good team, perhaps twice.

By not firing Stoops and upgrading our defensive staff years ago, as was obviously needed, we are squandering a truly excellent offensive year. (Come back, Brent Venables. All is forgiven.)

Well, son of a bitch. How ‘bout them Cowboys! They beat the Philadelphia Iggles on the road Sunday night. They played with spirit. It must have dawned on the coaches and players that everyone was playing for their job that night. Jerry Jones is obviously feeling the sting of his competence being criticized universally.

That said, this still looks like a 7 and 9 team to me. I can see them winning over the Buccaneers and the Falcons, the teams at the bottom of the NFC North. Anything more than that would be gravy. And if they do eek out another game somewhere, the Cowboys will only be adding another link to their chain of mediocre 8-8 seasons, which I don’t think Dallas’ management can stand any more.

Please note that Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield threw three touchdowns and won a third game for Cleveland. Mayfield, as every OU fan knows well, is the goods. He will win games for Cleveland on his own, and inspire his mediocre team to play better. Now all Cleveland has to do is get some decent players around him, which is not the case at present, to say the least.

I will be watching with interest when undefeated University of Central Florida (UCF) plays Cincinnati (9-1) this weekend. The game will be easy to find. It will be featured on College Game Day and televised nationally. UCF coach Josh Heupel is already being interviewed on national sports shows.

Football Thoughts 11-5-18

Posted in Uncategorized by EloiSVM42 on November 8, 2018

This was billed as a “shake out” weekend in college football, a weekend when titans would face off and shake the football rankings, but it turned out to go pretty much to form, with very few disturbances at all. More like a wimp out weekend.

There were a few upsets. Unranked Arizona State upset #15 Utah, who all the sportscasters were raving about until the Utes laid this egg. Mizzou upset #11 Florida, and Purdue upset #16 Iowa, although having already beaten #10 Ohio State the week before, should Purdue’s win even be considered an upset?

The most staggering upset was Auburn’s 28 to 24 victory over #20 Texas A&M. The Aggies had this game comfortably in the bag until the last three minutes, when they suffered a complete collapse. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it, and I think only the Aggies could have pulled off turning sure victory into humiliating defeat.

But for the most part things went as expected. #6 Georgia brought #9 Kentucky down to earth. #5 Michigan beat up on the perennially overrated #14 Penn State.

The “fake news” of the weekend had to do with the game between #4 Notre Dame and unranked Northwestern. Hypesters would have you believe that Northwestern was a threat to Notre Dame, which is ludicrous. Notre Dame, which I also think is overrated, won easily by 10 points.

By far the best game of the weekend, and the only one to live up to the billing, was #13 West Virginia’s win over #17 Texas 42 to 41. It was a terrific game.

But the real loser over the weekend was the officiating. It was on average terrible, and in particular in the Big XII games. Ironically, the worst officiated game was the great one between Texas and West Virginia.

The refs apparently forgot who and what the fans came to see. They insinuated themselves into the game and against both sides. If I were the supervisor of referees for the Conference, I would sit this crew down for a week at a minimum and let them think about what their job is.

UCF deserves a comment. They won again and remain undefeated, using the philosophy that head coach Josh Huepel learned from his mentor Mike Leach, i.e., score a lot of  points and don’t worry about defense, because UCF doesn’t have one. It is one of the two reasons UCF cannot get into the playoffs (which may also be OU’s problem), the other being strength of schedule. UCF doesn’t play anyone, and the way they are playing now, they may have trouble finding someone who wants to.

My beloved Sooners won a shootout over Texas Tech 51 to 46. I’m uncertain what to take away from this game. OU was able to hang a half a hundred on Texas Tech, and they had to overcome great adversity to do it.

Unfortunately, much of the adversity was self-inflicted. Tyler Murray threw two interceptions in the first eight minutes of the game, both near his own end zone, giving Tech an early, easy 14-point lead.

Throughout their catch-up, Oklahoma tripped over itself with penalties, miscues, even stupider penalties and poor clock management. Plus, the defense took a step backward against a good passing team.

I’m still thinking OU can outscore anybody, which would indicate they can win out. However, there are also hints that they could find a way to beat themselves with serious mistakes at a disastrous time. Think Texas.

And even if they do win out, I’m not sure the committee will jump Oklahoma, with its porous defense, over some teams ahead of them. It could be touch and go. The committee might find OU’s offense too good a draw to keep out of the playoffs. We’ll see.

I was wrong when I wrote that I thought the Dallas Cowboys could beat the Tennessee Titans at home, but that it still probably meant they would end up with a 7-9 record. The Cowboys couldn’t beat the Titans – not even close – so now I’m thinking they are going to end up 6-10. Oh, well, there’s something to be said for high draft choices.

The Cowboys were pathetic, apathetic, and every other kind of tic. They stank on ice, and if they ever had a game plan, it never became evident, and it certainly wasn’t effective.

I’ve said all I can say about this incompetent coaching staff, but now I have to call out the owner, who has let this mediocrity carry on for much, much too long. I thought I saw light dawn on Jerry Jones’ face from his box as he watched his team embarrass itself, and him. His ego has kept him from admitting his mistakes.  Maybe his bruised ego – he could hear Boos coming from the stands – will cause him to take some action, though it is too late for this season.

“God Save Texas,” by Lawrence Wright

Posted in Reviews - of books, mostly by EloiSVM42 on November 1, 2018

The complete title of this book is: God Save Texas: A Journey into the Soul of the Lone Star State. It is equal parts political commentary, travelogue and memoir, but the primary theme is the iniquity and the willfully squandered opportunities that make Texas what it is today.

Lawrence Wright is a particular kind of Texan, my favorite kind. He is steeped in Texas but thinks and feels more broadly (Wright writes today for The New Yorker). There are many such Texans, just not quite enough quite yet.

This book mirrors What’s the Matter with Kansas, by Thomas Frank, in a way. Both describe a hidebound political environment. They differ in that what the matter is with Kansas is ignorance and stupidity. What the matter is with Texas is ignorance and meanness.

Texas’ politics are a bigger influence on the nation than Kansas’ because Texas is, well, bigger. Texas is in a terrible place politically, and it is warping national politics with its influence. Texas is gaining population rapidly and with it more legislative representation. As Wright observes, Texas is “moving further rightward and dragging the country with it.”

But Texas’ population growth can be a good thing. I’d like to think that its politics will change with this growth, particularly among minorities and in-migration from more liberal states. I’m hopeful about this, because I need to be. We shall see.

An aside: Texans are already more enlightened and liberal than their government. We can blame rural/urban legislative imbalance and Gerrymandering for this. Gerrymandering is the most insidious form of voter suppression, because you can vote, and think your vote counts, but it doesn’t because of where it has been recorded. With other forms of voter suppression, you know you are being cheated.

I like Frank’s writings, but Wright is the better writer. (That was an odd sentence.) I enjoyed the writing in this book enormously. On the other hand, I think Frank looks at the political problems of his state, equally as odious, more squarely in the eye. Wright is sentimental toward his home state in a way Frank is not toward his erstwhile one.

Having lived more than half of my adult life in Texas, I agree with the subjects Wright has selected to explain Texas, among them: oil, Dallas, Houston (the city and the man), Austin (the city and the man), Big Bend Country, birds, Molly Ivins and Willy Nelson. They resonate with me also.

I think Wright characterizes Sam Houston correctly, but shortchanges Stephen F. Austin. He criticizes Austin for bringing slaves to his colony, and so slavery to Texas, which cannot be denied. However, were it not for Austin’s enterprise, bravery and diplomacy, there wouldn’t be a Texas, only a larger Mexico. Austin set the table for Texas. He is its most important founding father.

Football thoughts – 10-23-18

Posted in Sports - football, mostly by EloiSVM42 on October 23, 2018

I felt pretty good about my beloved Oklahoma Sooners’ play this weekend. They stomped TCU 52 to 27, and for three and a half quarters, looked good doing it. They had an inexplicable brain freeze for a little while, during which they couldn’t hit the floor with their hat and let TCU back in the game a little. But, they recovered and pulled away nicely. I think this team might be able to “hang a half a hundred” on anybody, which they may need to, given their still suspect defense.

Speaking of which, the defense showed some spark after what had to be done was done. They played with spirit and some effect. Playoff voters will want to see better defense from OU, and the Sooners may be able to provide it if they continue to improve from here.

The secondary got beat on some deep throws, but at least the players were in position to defend. You are going to lose some of those match ups in this conference. Every team has tall, capable receivers.

Unfortunately, OU isn’t going to have an easy time climbing back into playoff contention, setting aside that they will have to win out, because their opponents aren’t highly ranked. West Virginia, at #13, is the only other ranked team in the top 25, besides Texas, who sits above OU at #6, improbably. That doesn’t mean OU isn’t looking at some more tough games, and they will have to win them all.

But, If OU wins out, and meets Texas in the Conference Championship game and wins, which I would expect in a rematch, they may still have a shot at the playoffs.

I enjoyed two other college games this weekend. #25 Washington State upset #12 Oregon. Somewhere, Mike Leach stumbled onto a defensive coordinator and let him have some practice time with the team. It was the best defense I’ve seen from Wazzu since, well, ever.

And if you haven’t been paying attention, another Bob Stoops/Mike Leach product – Josh Heupel – is head coach of the University of Central Florida, which went undefeated last year, is undefeated this year, and ranked #10 in the big boy polls. I still don’t think they can get into the playoffs, due to their strength of schedule. Heupel is going to get some offers soon.

Don’t let the close score – 20 to 17 – or the exciting ending of Dallas’ loss to Washington fool you. The Cowboys were never really in the game and the offense stank on ice. As Tom Landry said, hold the opponent to 17 points and he will win the game.

The Cowboys’ plan this season was, or should have been, to run the ball with its excellent line and running back, and then throw over a defense sucked in to stop the run. Dallas lost one important player from its “vaunted” offensive line and the whole thing has fallen apart.

Dallas couldn’t run the ball against Washington, who did indeed sell out to stop the run with eight men on the line, and when they did, Dallas couldn’t throw over a potentially vulnerable defensive backfield. Mediocrity is Jason Garrett’s middle name, and I think we are looking at another 8-8 season.

When Jerry Jones stood almost pat in the off season, he all but guaranteed the same result as last year, and I think he’s going to get it.

Dallas acquired Amari Cooper in a desperate attempt to improve the passing game, but it may be too little too late, and besides, it is an expensive gamble…a first round draft choice. Dallas fans are getting impatient, and I think Jerry finally senses it.

If the Cowboys turn it around with Cooper, it will be a great deal, but if Dallas has another no playoff season, which seems more likely, it will have been a very bad one indeed.

Jones could have done better with his money and draft picks in the off season, but he chose to hold on to both, and here we are.

No mas, at least for a while longer

Posted in Politics and Justice by EloiSVM42 on October 21, 2018

In my last political blog, when I wrote that I was taking a news break, I said I would consider re-engaging in commentary around October 15. This is not going to happen. The news is actually more disgusting now than when I stepped back, and I want no part of it. Perhaps after the election, depending upon the results.

That said, I do have a few brief observations, due to the impossibility of evading the news entirely.

Saudi Arabia is not our friend, and never was. As with their own people, the family buys us, which with our current president is extremely easy. He is a more venal president than Harding.

Saudi Arabia is as primitive and barbaric and mendacious as North Korea, only with oil. The reason the Saudi Prince had a nuisance journalist murdered and dismembered on foreign soil is because he saw Russia do it and Trump not say a peep about it, so he concluded he could get away with it too. In Trump’s mind, this kind of extraterritorial assassination, particularly of media members and inconvenient opposition, is no biggie.

Our national debt rose 17% in the last fiscal year, thanks to Trump’s corporate tax cuts and gift to the wealthiest among us. The deficit will leap again next fiscal year, just as every respectable economist and fiscal analyst, or anyone with any common sense, predicted. Republicans will want your Social Security and Medicare to pay for it, and make you poorer still.

Susan Collins is the new Jeff Flake. She speaks with feigned sensibly then votes like an insensitive thug.

If you hire a workforce whose job requirements include that employees must be male and remain celibate throughout their careers and beyond, you will attract a large number of applicants with serious sexual identity and confliction issues. If you then put those employees in charge of working with young people, you will preordain the mess that the Catholic Church has created for itself. It’s beyond stupid and the solution is obvious, though non-biblical, apparently.

Immigrants and refugees are two different things. Those who exploit ignorant xenophobes and racists conflate the two.

Afghanistan is a pile of rocks. These rocks – the minerals nor the inhabitants – can be defeated or rehabilitated, and are not worth fighting over for a minute. The blood of every American soldier who has died there is on the hands of our government and ourselves, going back to the George W. Bush administration.

A pot dispensary is analogous to a liquor store, no more, no less.

Our president is a horse part.

 

 

Football thoughts the weekend of October 6

Posted in Sports - football, mostly by EloiSVM42 on October 9, 2018

Boy, what a lousy weekend for my favorite college and professional football teams. Both were exposed for what they are: each has a terrible coach.

Texas was lucky. They had the good fortune to play a lot better than Oklahoma, with an improved but hardly exceptional team. Although the game was exciting to watch and ended up seemingly close, Oklahoma was never going to win that game, and if they had, they wouldn’t have deserved to.

Oklahoma’s defense was unconscionably terrible. What happened to Mike Stoops should have happened at least two years ago. As it is, Oklahoma has squandered two years of outstanding offensive football talent with one of the worst defenses in college football.

OU gave up more than 500 yards against Texas, which averages out to about 6.8 yards per snap. Texas didn’t punt until the 3rd quarter, but hey, if you’re making 6.8 yards a play, why would you need to? Remember when OU coach Barry Switzer used to say OU would “hang a half a hundred on ‘em?” Well, Texas hung almost half a hundred (48 points) on the Sooners. 

To be clear, OU’s offense, the late, desperate rally notwithstanding, did not distinguish itself either. Of all the people I would not have expected to cave under the pressure of the Cotton Bowl crowd, Tyler Murray came down to earth, and was another reason OU lost.

OU had three turnovers, and Texas had none. Ordinarily, that would doom a team right there. But there are turnovers and critical turnovers, and Murray had two of the latter. He threw a pass to an open receiver that would have been a touchdown had he not thrown it short and into the hands of a Texas defensive back. Later, he fumbled close to the Texas goal line. You simply can’t win like that.

I don’t know exactly what is going to happen to these two teams the rest of the season, but I don’t think either one of them is finished losing.

The Houston Texans are a better football team than Dallas, which obscured the Cowboy’s fatal flaw in a close game. Dallas’ defense has improved, but it was painfully obvious that Houston’s defensive line is better. Clowney and Watts are both beasts. And, Houston has a primo pass receiver, which Dallas does not possess.

Dallas played gamely, but without a coherent offensive strategy, and when it came time for head coach Jason Garrett to walk on water in overtime, Garrett passed water instead. Dallas is on its way to yet another 8-8 range season, and it will be thus until Dallas gets a coach other than Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett.

Football Thoughts – Weekend of September 29-30

Posted in Sports - football, mostly by EloiSVM42 on October 1, 2018

My beloved Oklahoma Sooners beat Baylor University soundly Saturday – 66 to 33. It was a blowout according to the offensive stats, but I found it painful to watch. OU has a playoff caliber offense. Our defense ranks somewhere in the top 125, but just barely. It was terrible.

OU’s defense was terrible the last two years also, but they recruited some really good players, particularly in the defensive backfield, where they had been truly woeful, and things looked like they were getting tightened up early in this season, but they seem to be regressing.

In the Bob Stoops era, OU had a reputation for having recruiting classes not as impressive as some other schools, but developing their talent significantly better than other teams. The last two years, it appears more like we are recruiting better defensive talent and failing to develop it.

So far this year, the defense has been on the field so long, it has already played a whole season of bad football in just five games. Sad as it is to say it, I still think OU lost on the deal when co-defensive coordinator Brent Venables left OU for Clemson and Mike Stoops stayed. The comparative statistics between Clemson and OU pretty clearly bear this out.

Oddly, OU may be able to get through the Big XII with this defense (though I doubt it), because of the offense is so good, and because most Big XII teams have bad defenses, too.

Many Big XII teams don’t even make a pretense of trying to play defense. They just sling the ball around and hope they have more points than the opponent at the end of the game.

Texas’ defense seems to be improving, but the best defense may belong to West Virginia. They held Texas Tech to 34 points this week, a team that averaged 52 points over its first four games. Call it damning with faint praise. Still, I don’t look forward to playing West Virginia in Morgantown at the end of the season.

For a change, the top billed game between Penn State and Ohio State turned out to be the best one. But both head coaches made some really bone head calls. Neither of these teams frightens me.

I went to the sports bar Sunday morning and had Dallas Cowboy football for breakfast, my favorite kind. The Cowboys seem to be the inverse of OU. Their defense seems to have improved, but the offense is struggling. I thought they looked awful, but they won on a last minute field goal, and a win is a win. It occurred to someone on the coaching staff to put the ball into the hands of Ezekiel Elliott, which helped. He seems finally to have recovered from not playing all preseason.  

It is clear watching both the college and the pro game, however, that the new “protect the quarterback” rules are so confusing they make it almost impossible for the referees to call a game. They don’t know whether to shit or go blind. I saw call after call of roughing the passer and targeting that made no sense at all. At this rate, soon, shaking the quarterback’s hand at the coin toss is going to draw a flag.

 

Thinking of Robert Browning

Posted in Reviews - of books, mostly by EloiSVM42 on September 18, 2018

When I was young, and first read Robert Browning’s lines, “Grow old along with me. The best is yet to be,” I assumed it was a love poem to his wife Elizabeth Barrett Browning. (Spoiler alert: the poem is more complicated than that.)

Since Browning and Barrett were known to have a true love – they married secretly in 1844 against her father’s wishes, she was disinherited, and they left England to live in Florence – I took his supposed thesis on good authority.

As Cynthia and I were together into our 60s and me into my 70s, I interpreted the prescience of these lines clearly and personally.

What that couplet doesn’t convey, however, about graying, loving couples, is that for one of the parties, the worst is yet to be also.

At some point, one will die before the other, and the remaining lover will be left alone to grieve over the loss of a love that was growing deeper and richer with the years. It follows that the greater the love, the greater the grief.

It turns out that Browning wrote the poem on a more metaphysical theme and about the philosophy of Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra (1092-1167). It was published in 1864, not to Elizabeth, but three years after her death in 1861.

Robert and Elizabeth did not really grow old together. They were married 17 years when she died at 55, a little less time than Cynthia and I were together permanently. Browning lived another 28 years without her, until his death in 1889.

Still, I think that, though Browning’s poem may have dealt ostensibly with theistic paradox, his heart and mind were wistfully on Elizabeth when he wrote that first couplet.  His last 28 years had, I suspect, a mournful undercurrent.

 

 

Cowboys Season Kick-off

Posted in Sports - football, mostly by EloiSVM42 on September 11, 2018

I went to my favorite sports bar to watch the Cowboys play the Carolina Panthers, because game was blacked out in the Phoenix market for the Cardinals game, which aired at the same time. I felt pretty football wise after watching what of the Dallas Cowboys game I could stomach. It confirmed my predictions, expectations and worst case fears.

First of all, I never expected the Cowboys to beat the Panthers. The Panthers are simply a better team. I’m sorry, wishful Cowboy fans, but the Panther’s quarterback-running back tandem of Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey is better than the Cowboy tandem of Prescott and Elliott, in part because they had actually played in the preseason.

The Cowboys played almost exactly as I expected. The defense was markedly improved. Dallas held the Panthers to 16 points. Tom Landry used to tell his defenses that if they held the opponent to 17 points or under, his offense would win the game. He was always right. 

That said, like the team overall, the defense was undisciplined; jumping off side, crashing the quarterback when they should have been holding the edge, etc.) Lack of discipline is strictly a coaching issue. Good coaches don’t stand for it.

The offense was, how shall I say this charitably? Rusty. Uncharitably, they stank on ice (even my spell checker doesn’t know how to conjugate the verb “to stink” properly).

This is what you get when a team’s key players hadn’t played enough in preseason, or at all.  Penalties galore, a signature feature of an undisciplined Jason Garrett coached team.

I watched through three beers and the third quarter, until I just couldn’t watch any more, and came home. In the fourth quarter, after three scoreless ones, the Cowboys produced an 8 point whimper.   

And, it might have helped a little if the Cowboys hadn’t cut their great field goal kicker Dan Bailey, in favor of a misfiring rookie. 

I watched some of the Cleveland Browns game with interest. They were spirited, but hapless. They tied, 21-21. Ben Roethlisberger gave up three interceptions and a lost fumble, and all the Browns could do was tie. They had a chance to win with a makeable last second field goal, but botched it. I see Baker Mayfield, or a riot, in the Browns’ near future. Mayfield would have won this game for Cleveland. 

My beloved Sooners, on the other hand, are playing super. They just need to avoid too many injuries and the unexpected upset (remember the inexplicable Iowa State debacle) to have an excellent season.

 

 

NFL Kick-off 2018

Posted in Sports - football, mostly by EloiSVM42 on September 7, 2018

The NFL kicked off its season officially with a Thursday night game between the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles and the Atlanta Falcons, a team the Eagles defeated to get into the Super Bowl.

I respect both of these teams, and I expected a good game. It was exciting, but the game stank on ice. It was one of the worst exciting NFL games I ever watched.

The game was exciting only due to the teams’ mutual ineptitude. I stopped counting in exasperation, but the stats said the number of accepted penalties in the game was 26.

With one very notable exception – Julio Jones (10 catches for 169 yards) – everything about this night stank. The game stank, the players stank, the officiating stank, the replay officiating stank, the rules stank, even the weather stank.

To be fair to the officials and the replay people, the Rules Committee seems to be making the game almost impossible to officiate. Many of the new rules and clarifications of existing ones invite confusion. Julio Jones had an 11th spectacular, obvious catch under the new, nuanced but not improved, rules, which everyone, including the announcers and their rules expert in the booth said it clearly was, and the officials and replay officials debated at length before deciding it wasn’t.

Between the stops for penalties, challenges and official replays, not to mention the 45 minute rain delay, the game seemed to go on for the length of a Bible.

I think another factor contributing to this sloppy game is a change in philosophy among teams about use of players during preseason. Teams used to be cautious about risking injury to their key players by limiting their exposure, but all players got enough snaps to be ready for the season opener.

Today, many teams hold their key players out for most or even all preseason snaps. It’s not completely crazy. These guys are so costly, that you can understand why owners might not want to risk an injury to them. But, it will result in the kind of rusty play I saw last night, not to mention rendering preseason games, and their ticket prices, a sham and a scandal, respectively.

If I’m right about this, and, well, I am, we will see many more sloppy first games this coming weekend.

 

Oh, the Eagles won 18-12. zzzzzzzzzzz