They waited until the last inning of the last day to get it done, but the Atlanta Braves finally clinched their playoff berth today, taking out the Philadelphia Phillies and setting up a series with the Giants in the playoffs. As you may have read many times on here in the past, I hate baseball but love the Atlanta Braves, thanks largely to the imprint that their constant games on TBS during the 1980s left on me. This is of course the last season for Bobby Cox and Chipper Jones, and it seems fitting that they would go out in style with a spot in the playoffs. However this edition of the Braves is not like those that you may remember from the past. While it has some talent, it is basically a pieced together team that has seen many injuries and at this point is essentially playing “eenie, meanie, miney mo” while trying to find someone to play 3B. But it is a likeable team, features a great pitcher (Tim Hudson), an all-star catcher (Brian McCann) and a future MLB star (Jason Heyward). They probably will get swept in the playoffs, but I dont care as it was exciting to see them reach the promised land today in Bobby Cox’s last go around. Many of you are cheering for the Reds and if you want to take that Communist path, that is fine. But I will say “Go Braves” and hope that they hone the spirts of Rick Mahler, Glenn Hubbard, Claudell Washington and Dale Murphy and make some 2010 postseason magic.
There has been little in the way of basketball news, so lets just get right to it today with the five key takeaways from the Battle in Oxford:
(1) Another Round With Mike Hartline: At this point, reasonable debates about Mike Hartline are hard to come by. The fanbase has basically split into two factions, the “we hate Hartline” and the “he is the best we have, shut up” camps. I generally find myself in the second group, although I must admit that the big interception in the first half has me wavering. Listen I understand what the Cats have in Mike Hartline. I dont expect him to make big throws down the field (although he has done it a few times this year when given the chance). I dont expect him to be perfect or not to throw interceptions. But I do expect decisions that dont cost the team the game. Kentucky was up 14-7 and was driving with a chance to take control of the game. Hartline then threw a near pick-six, off his back foot and on the same route that led to an INT for a touchdown last week to Florida. It was a dangerous pass, with little likelihood of success and a complete turnaround of momentum that took a UK-controlled game and made it an Ole Miss victory. In general I dont think Hartline played poorly for much of the rest of the game…he made some bad throws, some good and was generally a bit above mediocre. But the INT was brutal and was unacceptable. Two weeks in a row, his passes have been read by true Freshmen following his eyes. Senior QBs who are there to “manage” games simply cant let that happen.
(2) Defending Steve Brown: At this point the chorus that seems to get louder every game is the Brooklyn Tabernacle-like force of the anti-Steve Brown camp. Sometimes forgetting the last three years (where Brown produced a pretty good UK defense), the fans are upset about how the team is playing this year and taking it out on the Coach at every opportunity. Some of the criticism are valid and at this point, there should really be at least some explanation for this teams (a) unbelievably poor tackling and (b) inability to cover any WR one on one. The Defensive front gets almost no penetration at any point, blitzing is virtually non-existent and a QB scramble is greeted with the same perplexed look Rick Pitino has when he sees his wife on their “once every three months” lunch dates. With the exception of Danny Trevathan, I have little confidence in any of the players individually, I often wonder if Dequin Evans is still on the team and I become more frustrated at our “six guys cant stop one RB from moving the pile” scenario every week. Bottom line is the defense needs to be better and quickly. If you cant get a stop on a running play on 3rd and 19 at the end of the game…well complaints become much more valid.
(3) The Mysterious World of Situational Playcalling: I dont think you can totally blast the offense for Saturday’s game. The Cats put up 35 and could have scored more without mistakes. Some of the playcalling was actually very good and often we saw strong gains when Ole Miss seemed caught off guard, especially early. However I have no understanding of what was happening in the key possessions late in the game. Eight minutes to go and you are down 14 and you are running draw plays for Moncell Allen? Really? 3rd and 6 and you had off to Locke on a sweep that has been stopped the last three times it was run? 4th and 4 and you throw a 30 yard fade to Chris Matthews that needs to be virtually perfect for success? I just dont get it….its too conservative when aggression is needed and too bizarre when intelligence is needed. I know Randy Sanders has it in him because I was actually quite impressed in the first half at how open UK players were able to get…but at the end of the game, he looks more nervous than Bruce Pearl when his phone bill arrives. Hopefully that will get better with time, but I do wonder.
(4) Who Makes These Coaching Decisions?: I dont know whose fault it is…and I freely admit that. But whoever made the decision to have Danny Trevathan on the HANDS TEAM when he has a CAST ON HIS HAND seriously must look at themselves in the mirror. I know everyone makes mistakes but having a man with a cast on your hands team is like putting Casey Martin on your speed team or throwing one of the Turkey Hunter’s girlfriends in your Nickel Package. The onside kick was perfect and a man with use of his two hands might have made the play. But alas, that didnt happen and an opportunity to have a fighting chance went away.
(5) Learn from the Ole Miss Atmosphere: I loved Oxford. The Grove is amazing and the pre and post-game scene on campus is unmatched anywhere in the SEC. I know UK cant create the grove and that I can accept. However the actual game atmosphere was about 1,000 times better than a UK game and that I cannot accept. The band played music that you know PEOPLE LIKE! They didnt have to throw the latest hit from the Rap charts, but had the crowd dancing to “I Saw the Light” and Neil Diamond. Everytime they played, the fans were into it and through parts of the pieces, many sang along. The loudspeaker actually HAD SPEAKERS THAT DONT SOUND LIKE THEY CAME FROM MY 1966 DODGE I DROVE IN HIGH SCHOOL and you know, sound professional. Commonwealth Stadium’s speakers are outclassed by nearly every lowrider in a Shell parking lot and then play music that has the excitement level of a Jerry Tipton television appearance. Ole Miss plays popular music (DJ Khaled) and oldies people like (Bon Jovi) and a Jumbotron that looks modern and gives messages from former players to the fans during the game. UK does none of that and instead relies on the wave, beach balls being batted around and that one old guy that tries to start C-A-T-S chants. UK folks…..GO ELSEWHERE IN THE SEC AND WATCH WHAT THEY DO…only Vandy has a worse gameday in-stadium atmosphere than UK…and the school has a great deal of blame in that fact.
So there you go…lots to complain about. However if the Cats beat Auburn this weekend, we might be able to forget about the Ole Miss debacle…but that is a lot to ask. We will talk about this more all day and on the radio show linked below. Live on 1080 AM from 10 am-noon and on podcasts below soon after. More later today…..