Andrew DeMattos/Icon SMI
I have to admit, it's tough to take in four games on the last Saturday before one of the calendar's biggest holidays. And a sick dog coupled with a Christmas-tree crisis (Too tall? Really?) didn't exactly help things. But, dear Readers, such are the sacrifices that I'm willing to make for The Sweep -- at great risk to both my marriage and the carpeting in my home -- not a game was played today that I'm not ready to blab about. Wake-Navy II? Check. The New Mexico Bowl (brought to you by an unflattering close-up of Gov. Bill Richardson)? Check. The magicJack St. Petersburg Barf-Carpet Bowl? Check. I've even checked in on the Las Vegas Bowl for you. And I don't even have a bet down on the game! (Honk!)
In other words, it's been a long day. But a good one -- a perfect kickoff to the 2008-09 bowl binge, in fact. So without further ado, let's get to it.
EagleBank Bowl, Washington, D.C.
Wake Forest 29, Navy 19
If only these games ended after one half, the Midshipmen would be 2-0 against the Deac's this year. Back when the two teams played in September, Navy jumped out to a 17-0 first-half lead, then held on to win 24-17. Today, Wake spotted the Middies a 13-0 lead in the opening 30 minutes before getting things under control.
One of the beauties of Navy's triple-option offense is the way it neutralizes star defensive players. The Deacons have two such standouts: linebacker Aaron Curry won the Butkus Award, and cornerback Alphonso Smith was a first-team All-America. Forced to play disciplined, positional defense back in September, the influence these two exerted on the outcome of the game was minimal. But today, for some reason, Navy decided to air things out in the first half. The results weren't bad, but quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada doesn't have the most accurate arm in the world. And when he lobbed a blooper down the left sideline late in the first half -- under pressure from Curry -- Smith settled under the ball at his own two-yard line as if he was fielding a punt.
Why throw the ball so much? Why give Curry a chance to tee off on the quarterback? Why put the ball up for grabs? Navy was running the ball fine at that point, but I guess first-year coach Ken Niumatalolo got a little too focused on keeping Wake Forest off-balance. It was too much of a pretty good thing.
And that, to me, was the game. Navy led 13-0 at that point and seemed in control of things, but that was over. Wake took the ball 98 yards for a touchdown and pretty much controlled the action from there on. Quarterback Riley Skinner, who threw four interceptions in that first meeting, completely redeemed himself, completing all 11 of his passes for 166 yards and a touchdown.
After 120 minutes of football, it's amazing how closely matched the Middies and the Deacs are (though Wake was just a little better). The cumulative score of their games was 46-43 in favor of Wake Forest. Total yardage: 718-596, Wake.
As if this season didn't provide enough Navy-Wake Forest action for all of us (for a long, long time), these two teams are slated to play each other again in 2009 and '10. Something tells me, I can wait.
New Mexico Bowl, Albuquerque, N.M.
Colorado State 40 Fresno State 35
St. Petersburg Bowl, St. Petersburg, Fla.
South Florida 41 Memphis 14
I list these two together because I watched large chunks of them at the same time, flipping back and forth almost every play. There was much to like about one, and much to loathe about the other.
Someday soon, I want to attend a game at University Stadium. It was hard, at times, to tell that I wasn't watching a game being played at the Rose Bowl. The light was perfect, the field was green and that blue sky and those mountains that ESPN kept showing looked just fabulous. It was a decided contrast to the horror show running on ESPN2. Oh, my stars and garters -- I'm not sure words exist to describe the true awfulness of the images flickering on my television screen.
Baseball, which is photographed mostly from field-level, treats Tropicana Field relatively kindly. But shown from above for three-plus hours, illuminated by the stadium's upper-dome klieg lights, it's a sickening sight -- two different shades of green (one used to patch the infield dirt), neither one of which even comes close to approximating the color of actual turf. And was that purple in the end zone? I was reminded of Bill Bryson's description of the carpeting in the casino at Caesar's Palace: "It was like woven vomit." And it was, like several different piles of woven vomit, woven together into one big sickening green-gray woven weave. I'm surprised to find myself nostalgic for Boise State's Smurf-Turf.
And unless you're a fan of South Florida, the game itself wasn't much to see, either, though I do enjoy watching Matt Grothe when he's got things working. I wonder how much of a Heisman Trophy candidate he would have made had he been running one of those wide-open Big 12 offenses. Just a fun, fun player.
Fun, luckily, was a good way to describe the New Mexico Bowl. And the game featured a performance that I guarantee you will wind up landing a certain running back on all sorts of unofficial all-bowl teams.
Rushing and receiving, Colorado State running back Gartrell Johnson -- he of the extremely high-flying arm-swing -- gained 375 yards (285 on the ground) from scrimmage. No Division I-A player has ever put up more in a postseason game. And, until he put the game away with a 77-yard scoring dash in the fourth quarter, he kept getting caught from behind. Maybe the dreadlocks were slowing him down. I don't know. But he made the Fresno State rush defense look even worse that the 104th-ranked outfit in the nation. Oof.
Las Vegas Bowl, Las Vegas, Nev.
Arizona 31 BYU 21
This one's just ending as I write this -- a fine game with several momentum swings and plenty of scoring … and the Arizona fans are storming the field! Party on, young turks! If you're going to grab some grass after a low-tier bowl victory, one that closes the book on an 8-5 campaign, you might as well do it in a town where the party can go on all night. Play a $5 Yo for me, if you get the chance.
Which reminds me, I was on the sideline one night at Camp Randall Stadium for a good old-fashioned field-storming five years ago after Wisconsin beat Ohio State (thus ending a long Buckeyes winning streak, I think). When the game ended, I quickly got out of the way by ducking down a stadium tunnel and sneaking back to the interview areas. After I'd visited the locker rooms and talked to as many coaches as I could fit in my notebook, I made my way back to the press box by crossing the (now empty) field. And it was there that I saw a stadium worker using a fire hose to methodically power-wash someone's lost lunch from the 20-yard line and out the back of one end zone. He did it just like he was pushing a broom. And it remains one of the saddest little sights I've seen in my time at SI.
But I digress…
All in all, a fine day of football. And if Mr. Gartrell's excellent Albuquerque adventure is any indication, we've got a lot of great things in store over the next two weeks. Happy bowling, folks. And happy holidays, too.