Tag Archives: football

Breaking Down (the most terrifying aspect of) Thursday’s Cackalacky Border War

Humans, the finest of all seasons is almost officially upon us. If you look closely, there are some leaves beginning to change, I wore a long-sleeved shirt the other day without immediately suffering heat stroke, and actual meaningful football games begin this Thursday at PM6, when North Carolina travels southward, into a den of garnet deviants who fight birds for sport.

UNC again finds themselves situated in a role of football prominence, opening the season in prime-time national television against a highly ranked SEC opponent for the second time in 4 years. The Cackalacky Border War has the potential to be, at the very least, a great deal of fun, pitting the demented genius Steve Spurrier against the younger, probably just as demented Larry Fedora[1], and the blazing Fed Spread against a very, very stout Defense.

Lots of eyeballs will be on this game, even outside of our fair state and the one below us. Fans across the country will have their eyes wide-open and glued to this game for the same reason that I will have mine covered: we are terrified of what Jadeveon Clowney, Gamecock’s defensive end/level-6 Kaiju, is going to do.

Because it could be anything. We’ve all been inundated with that clip from the Michigan game, to the point where we understand that Clowney is some kind of superhuman missile-person who can’t be stopped from getting into the backfield. If you told me that he would record 5 sacks, I’d believe you, and if you also told me that he would walk onto the field to WWE Superstar The Undertaker’s theme music and pop a football with his bare hands, I’d believe that too.

We tend, though, as a society of football fans, to think of Clowney as a separate being from the other players on the field, but he’s not. He’s an unstoppable force, sure, but to prove that he needs movable objects, and with those men lie my concerns. So without further ado…


Who Has The Most to Fear from The Clownpocalypse?

 5. James Hurst

Hurst bottoms out the list, which seems odd at first glance, since he’ll be the gentleman saddled with the most Clowney responsibility, and won’t have the luxury of some kind of exo-suit to help him (guys, Pacific Rim is really good). But here’s why he’s so low: no one expects anyone to be able to block Jadeveon, and the majority of people watching this game will have no idea how good Hurst actually is (really really really good is how good). All Hurst has to do is play to the level that he’s proven he’s capable of, and keep Clowney under some semblance of control for even the smallest majority of the game, and he will have exceeded the expectations of most of the country. He’ll have help, of course, as it seems reasonable to double-team the guy, and one thing that gets lost in the concussive grandeur of that play against Michigan is that Clowney is a mortal, blockable human being. His impact on that game was pretty minimal up until that point, and only a missed assignment let him get into the backfield untouched.

 4. UNC’s committee of running backs

Universally beloved tailback Giovanni Bernard’s departure leaves some size-infinity shoes to be filled, and that unenviable task will fall on A.J. Blue, Romar Morris, and freshman Khris Francis (who positively stole the show in the spring game). Blue is a bruiser, Morris brings more flash to the table, and Francis showed flashes in the spring game of that same kind of patient hyper-awareness that made Gio so good, so the best case scenario for UNC is that they’ll always have one of three fresh, differently skilled backs to rotate into the game. The problem with that is three separate bodies for Jadeveon Clowney to separate from their heads.

These guys have all probably seen the Michigan clip as many times as we have (and realistically, I’ve seen it 20 times without even searching for it; that’s how ubiquitous it was) if not more, given its particular relevance to them.[2]

Regardless, these are the three bodies that Clowney is most likely to collide with after getting a head of steam, and for that they all edge out Hurst on our list.


 3. UNC Fans

Physical pain heals. As the great Shane “Footsteps” Falco has said, “pain heals, chicks dig scars, glory lasts forever.” Maybe these guys get their bells rung, maybe they get the wind knocked out of them, but they’re young, and some time in an ice bath is going to placate 80% of what happens on a football field.

On the other hand, a state full of people will be watching this game, yearning for some kind of sign from the real Carolina that’ll signify actual football relevance, and by virtue of that yearning we take players and turn them into our heroes, unloading our hopes and dreams into them.

Now, by all accounts, Jadeveon Clowney is a humble, easygoing guy who rightly equates twitter with trouble and keeps out of the limelight (one conversation with Jay-Z notwithstanding) but because of the way stories and the human brain work, UNC fans will have no choice but to see him as a villain. If he puts a hit on anyone that takes them off the field for even, like, two weeks, he’ll occupy the same space as Bernard Pollard in Patriots fans’ minds, and he’ll seep into our nightmares.

I’ll put it this way, once, in 2011, I watched South Carolina play Arkansas, a team I am entirely apathetic toward, and I was scared of Clowney for two weeks after. I can’t imagine what I’ll feel when he’s charging towards…

 2. Bryn Renner

Renner, after a hit against Wake Forest that had him looking like the most concussed man on Earth, spent a lot of time last season finding creative new ways to get hit in the head every week. When he’s operating at full capacity, I honestly believe he’s the second best quarterback in the ACC (and not just because I’m hugely biased. If I were just hugely biased I would say that he’s better than Tahj Boyd, which is only true when Boyd is off his game). After South Carolina, UNC has a very forgiving schedule. They navigate the ACC without Clemson or Florida State, and are in the best position they’ve been in since the Mack Brown days to win 9 or 10 games. This can happen with a healthy Bryn Renner, but being the target for a transcendent, physics-defying, singularly talented defensive end is not the best way to stay healthy.

1. South Carolina Fans

I have this friend with a lot of theories, who is a USC fan and believes in what he calls the Chicken Curse. The Chicken Curse[3] is, as you’d expect, the malevolent force by which the University of South Carolina Football Gamecocks find themselves on the cusp, in recent years, of great success only to have it snatched away by evil forces, or Florida. The curse injured Marcus Lattimore twice, and I think there are more than a few in Gamecock nation who fear that Clowney will be the latest casualty, and that’s a special kind of acute psychic agony, and that trumps any fear that I or Bryn Renner or Larry Fedora have.

I won’t, even jokingly, wish any physical harm on a football player who doesn’t play for State, but I would have no problem with a manifestation of the curse that keeps Clowney hovering 6-10 feet off the ground for 4 hours starting Thursday at 6 (on ESPN).

[1] I don’t believe that Fedora ever speaks in an even, mellow tone. Between his initial press conference, seeing him on the sidelines, and the basketball games he’s popped up at, I think Larry is like Nic Cage in that all of his dialogue is either screamed or whispered. I also imagine him with a stopwatch at all times, watching people performing slow activities with the same mix of bewilderment and disgust that John Calipari has for players over the age of 20.

[2] If I’m Larry Fedora, I institute a ban on that clip in June. I install keyboard monitors on all of my running backs’ laptops. Either that or I loop it over and over again in the locker room until it loses all of its power, like when you say the word “room” over and over again and it just turns into a sound without meaning that you’re making.

[3] Not that you care, but my favorite active sports curse is the Curse of the Billy Goat currently setting teeth to their gnashing and garments to their rending in Chicago, Illinois, USA, because this is what the guy with the titular goat actually said: “them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.”

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Mighty Morphin Southeastern Conference

The SEC has become the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

Every kid from the 90’s remembers the Power Rangers – the average (and oh so perfectly diverse) group of high schoolers who were given super powers to protect the world from alien monsters.

Either you were still young enough to openly enjoy the weird Godzilla-esqe fight scenes or you sneakily watched them because you thought the Pink Ranger was cute.

Wether you admit it or not, you watched the Power Rangers.

As you well remember, in every episode the Rangers would be getting beat down by the random monster of the week. The monster would grow to giant size. The Power Rangers would call out their Voltron rip-off “zords” that would join together to become the Megazord and win the battle.

This is now the SEC. Continue reading

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Loss and the Ethics of Rivalry, or, Putting a Postitive Spin On Being Told Repeatedly to Go to Hell

The most brutal thing I’ve ever heard anyone say to anyone else was said by a girl to a boy in my tenth grade math class. “I don’t even hate you,” she said back then, “because hatred is a kind of love. I’m indifferent about you.” I won’t dignify the question, of whether or not that boy was me, with a response.[1]

I’ve been proclaiming my status as a future Tar Heel Dead for about as long as I’ve been eating solid food. So I hate Duke, yes, but I realized startlingly how close that hatred was to love sometime in the third quarter of this past battle for the Victory Bell (note to the confused: sometimes Duke and UNC play each other in the sport with the eggish-shaped ball instead of the spherical one). I had always thought of Duke fans in the same way that I imagine Superman probably thinks about Bizarro: as warped reflections of my own strengths and weaknesses, whose values would probably align with my own if they’d only been born on the right planet. Our thoughts on Tyler Hansbrough or Coach K probably couldn’t be more different, for example, but at least we’d both place a basically equivalent value on college basketball. Case in point: I hate seeing Duke lose to teams who aren’t UNC. In a way it reflects poorly on the school I devote so much emotional bandwidth to[2], to see their biggest rival fail to defeat an outsider.

Which is why it was not that surprising to me when I realized that, in terms of narrative payoff and an understanding of athletic victory as a reward for one team’s expenditure of superior effort, Duke had to win. I did not want Duke to win, I merely realized that they should. It was nauseating.

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The Spread Offense, Fedora-Style

Unless you’re a diehard football tactics junkie or Josh McDaniels, you probably think of the spread as Mike Leach, 45 points a game, and a fast running quarterback. In fact, let’s do a quick test: when I say, “spread offense,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind? If you’re like most people, you probably thought of one of the following:

  • 60 passes a game
  • 5 wide receivers every play
  • A correspondingly bad defense
  •  “System” offenses
  • Colt Brennan.

When UNC hired spread offense disciple Larry Fedora last week, a lot of UNC fans started to dissect the relative merits of the spread against what we’re used to here in Chapel Hill – a pro-style offense using a lot of motion and multiple packages. Fedora’s offense is decidedly not pro-style. Technically, it’s probably best categorized as a one-back balanced spread offense. The big question for most fans, though, is “what exactly IS this spread offense I keep hearing about?”

In this post, I’ll try to provide an overall framework for what Fedora is going to try to do here in Chapel Hill. I broke down the game tape of Southern Miss’ victory over the heavily favored Houston Cougars to illustrate some of the central concepts, so be forewarned: this gets pretty technical at times, though I’ve tried to coach the explanations in everyday language.

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Optipessimism Week 10: UNC – Virginia Tech

Duke fans, you actually might want to read this one.

A disclaimer as we get into it: I’m going to talk very little about the UNC-VT game. Want to know why? Okay, what was the score of the game?

If it took you more than a couple seconds to come up with the answer, VT 24 – UNC 21, well, that’s why. UNC played hard in this game for about the first eight minutes, folded the middle thirty, then decided to make the score respectable toward the end. I just can’t get excited about a team that seems like it has tuned out for the season, just as many Carolina fans have. The score wasn’t nearly as close as it looked, because let’s be honest – if you watched the game, you knew that all the Hokies had to do if they wanted to score was run jailbreak screen passes and send their phenomenal tailback, David Wilson, on stretch plays and wait for UNC to miss seven tackles.

So UNC sits at 6-5 on the season, with wins over most of the “bad” teams on their schedule except NC State (yes, they really do suck) and losses to most of the “good” teams like Virginia Tech, Clemson, and GT. With just one game left in the season – the annual Victory Bell game against Duke – it’s a fairly safe bet to say this has been an underachieving, mediocre edition of Carolina football. But really, who can blame them considering the events of the summer and fall? After all, they’re still going to go to a bowl game….

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Triangle Prophets, Week 12

Every Friday, a group of fearless webmasters and sports fanatics from around the Triangle will gather to predict five college football games against the spread. Every Duke, Carolina, and N.C. State game will be featured, along with a smattering of high profile non-Triangle games. As the season goes along, we’ll keep the standings updated and see who emerges as the one true prophet. Make your predictions in the comment section. Each week, we’ll feature any and all commenters who pick all 5 games correctly.

Current Standings

1. John Watson, The Devil’s Den – 31.5 points

2. The Devil Wolf, TRB – 26.5 points
2. Nate Friedman, UNC football correspondent26.5 points
Me – 26.5 points
2. Tar Heel Fan Blog – 26.5 points

6. James Henderson, Publisher, Pack Pride – 25.5 points

7. Jim Young, Editor, ACCSports.com – 23.5 points

8. William Earnhardt, Site Designer – 21.5 points

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(Just)Pessimism Week 10: UNC – NC State

Confession: I didn’t get a chance to start watching The Rivalry Game That Isn’t until about 2:45 on Saturday afternoon. I suppose that makes me a bad fan, but I was out doing good in the community (no, seriously, stifle your laughs because I was). I was thinking on my drive home, “How am I going to find this game? It’s on the ACC Network and isn’t televised here. Hmm.” On a whim, I fired up the Xbox and loaded ESPN3… and there was the game! Holy crap! So I got to watch the UNC game in full HD, on my own TV, while skipping commercials. By turning on my video game console. God I love technology.

I suppose I should explain why for a game that had a ton of hot air around it this week – UNC coach Everett Withers essentially called NC State a crappy academic institution, then later said “I was only referring to the academic facts” – I’m calling it the Rivalry Game That Isn’t. Because, as evidenced by the picture below, NC State really IS a crappy academic institution:

I mean, we should all just be impressed he spelled "Committee" correctly, right?

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The Triangle Prophets, Week 10

Every Friday, a group of fearless webmasters and sports fanatics from around the Triangle will gather to predict five college football games against the spread. Every Duke, Carolina, and N.C. State game will be featured, along with a smattering of high profile non-Triangle games. As the season goes along, we’ll keep the standings updated and see who emerges as the one true prophet. Make your predictions in the comment section. Each week, we’ll feature any and all commenters who pick all 5 games correctly.

Current Standings

1. John Watson, The Devil’s Den – 26.5 points

2. Nate Friedman, UNC football correspondent24.5 points
Me – 24.5 points

4. Tar Heel Fan Blog – 23.5 points

5. The Devil Wolf, TRB – 20.5 points
5. Jim Young, Editor, ACCSports.com – 20.5 points

7. William Earnhardt, Site Designer – 19.5 points
James Henderson, Publisher, Pack Pride – 19.5 points

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The Thirty-something Pledge

Each week, contributor and new parent Joey will post his thoughts as he undergoes the transformation from fanboy to father.

So I don’t think I’ve ever missed being to my seats at Kenan for a kickoff. If I’m going to the game, it’s just planned that we leave our tailgate in enough time to get to our seats before the kick. Most of the time, we’re there to see the team come out of the tunnel, but definitely by the time the opening kick is in the air.

I willingly jeopardized that this past weekend.

We got a late start up to the stadium. After a great tailgate of an old-fashioned pig-pickin’, it took a while to shut everything down. Nonetheless, our group meandered hurriedly through Kenan toward our seating section. We’d already been cut off by security as they escorted some hosted recruits to their seats. But none of those things actually made me late to my seat.

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Catching Up on Duke/UNC Fall Sports

Hey gang, wanted to check in this morning with a quick update on some of the fall sports reaching their climax in the Triangle.

Women’s Soccer

As you all could probably tell, I’ve become pretty obsessed with women’s soccer this year, which I never imagined would be so much fun to watch. In that department, UNC suffered its FIRST EVER LOSS in the ACC tournament last weekend, losing in the quarterfinals to Florida State. That’s a bit of a deceiving word formulation, because UNC has actually lost three times previously on penalty kicks, but still, it’s the first regulation loss for the team that’s won 18 of 21 ACC tournaments. UNC also set a new program low with five losses on the season, and they’ll need an at-large bid to even make the tournament. Strange stuff for one of the best teams in college history.

The Dukies, on the other hand, are in prime form. Ranked third in the country, they’ll face Wake Forest in the ACC semis tomorrow in Cary (I’ll be there at 5:30). Duke won just its second ACC regular season title a week ago, and are vying for their first ACC tournament championship. After that, they’ll attempt to make just the second Final Four in school history, and win the first championship. Their lone ACC loss this year came to Carolina, when they were missing freshman standout Kelly Cobb and conceded the deciding goal with two minutes remaining.

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