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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Random Thoughts on FCS vs. FBS and a First Half to Remember

It's been tough to keep pace in the blogosphere lately, but a fantastic trip to Baton Rouge last weekend has driven me back into the game. (Again, if there is anyone who can get me out of this full-time job thing, I'll happily write more often).

In the first week of the season, seven FCS (Football Championship Subdivision, aka I-AA) teams beat FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision, aka I-A) schools on the football field. We'll forget for the time being that one of the defeated FBS schools was South Alabama. There was great outcry that FCS was catching up. Gaining ground. Creating a more even playing field.

A few weeks later, Louisville defeated Florida International (an FBS school) 72-0. Miami defeated Savannah State 77-7. Ohio State defeated Florida A&M 76-0. There was great outcry that FCS (or perhaps schools that really should be FCS) have no business playing against FBS schools. Bad games. No competition. Someone is going to get hurt.

In spite of this ESPN-driven schizophrenia, both are ridiculous arguments and both are dead wrong. The occasional upset doesn't mean the playing field is getting more level; but it also doesn't mean the games should be stopped.

While Appalachian State is the best-known of the giant killers, Furman and The Citadel kind of started the trend of making the "big boys" earn their money on their de facto bye week. For 30 minutes of playing time in Baton Rouge on Saturday, Furman threatened to do it again.

LSU wasn't exactly in a panic at halftime of their game against Furman. But a 20-16 lead (which should have been 20-all) drew at least a bead of sweat on the Mad Hatter's head. The massive advantage in size, speed, athleticism and depth swamped the Paladins in the second half. Still, when it was all said and done, Les Miles and Company new they had been in a football game.

That's the beauty of the FCS-FBS matchup. Furman got what it needed:  A lot of confidence, a chance to test itself against the best in the nation, and a huge paycheck. They put in a pretty good day's work, even for half a million dollars.

LSU got the same:  A "warm-up" game before the pre-Alabama bye week, a homecoming win, and a reminder that they still have a lot of work to do. Miles probably welcomed the chance to say to his locker room, "Do you think that effort will get it done against Alabama?"

For as much criticism as big schools take for scheduling these games, I have no problem with the matchups. Fans from small schools get to enjoy a big game atmosphere. It's a great opportunity for the little guys to play on a big stage and test themselves against Goliath. And occasionally, we get to see David win. What's so bad about that?

Some other thoughts from Saturday's LSU-Furman game:

-LSU was a terrific game day experience, with a beautiful and well-organized tailgating area, plenty of great food, and a live tiger. How can you beat that? The fans were certainly more gracious than they might have been towards an SEC opponent.

-It was eerily quiet in Tiger Stadium for the first 40 minutes of playing time.

-I've watched the Paladins play against FBS teams, even from the sidelines. It was stunning how physically superior LSU appeared; and even more stunning that Furman stood toe-to-toe with them in the first half.

-Furman's offensive line was eventually overwhelmed, but they did not back down an inch from a feisty and frustrated Tiger front seven.

-Of all their players, Furman's Dakota Dozier looked like the one who should have been on the opposite sideline. He absolutely man-handled several LSU defenders, particularly against the run. Dozier will most likely translate to a guard in the NFL, and LSU announcer Kevin Mawae could not say enough good things about his effort. Mel Kiper Agrees.

-Furman's game plan on offense was excellent, controlling the clock and mixing runs with short passes to neutralize LSU's speed and pass rush. But without any ability to go down the field, the game plan fizzled as the game wore on.

-One horrendous aspect of that game plan was the Wild Cat offense. The Paladins need to put those plays in the shredder. They are going to win or lose with Reese Hannon or Duncan Fletcher, and gimmicks do little other than break up their rhythm.

-Furman's defense is still young, thin and struggling. But eight turnovers and two scores in the last two weeks certainly is a sign of improvement, and one that will need to continue this Saturday at Georgia Southern.

-This game could be a springboard to a strong finish. Furman has been wildly inconsistent this season--not just from game to game, but literally from quarter to quarter. If they can put together 60 minutes that will rival the 30 minutes against LSU, they have a chance to make some strides.

-Better play-calling and halftime adjustments, particularly on offense, will be critical to helping that happen.

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