View from the Radio Booth: Teddy Allen-style
Sept. 25, 2017
by Teddy Allen
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Been there many times. You go walking through the chicken coop and, if you aren’t careful, you’ll step in something you wish you hadn’t.
If the coop is an SEC stadium, you really do have to watch every step. Every single one. One slip and...you step in something you can’t scrape off.
Which is basically what happened to Louisiana Tech in its 17-16 final-moments loss at South Carolina on a warm first-Saturday-of-autumn afternoon in Columbia. The Bulldogs, 11-to-8.5 points underdogs, were in control the vast majority of the game. Not dominating by any stretch, but in control. And with Gamecock quarterback Jake Bentley scrambling behind the line of scrimmage on a third-and-10 from his own 21, his team trailing 16-14 and only 42 seconds remaining, the odds had turned from that pregame point spread to heavily in Tech’s favor, not only to cover but to win on the scoreboard. Overwhelmingly in Tech’s favor.
But here’s where the tiny missteps caught up with the Bulldogs.
● Tech saw drives end at the Carolina 16, 26, 35, 9, and 8. From that, the Bulldogs got 16 points: one touchdown and a 3-for-4 day from their all-league kicker. You figure on at least one of those drives, on the road, against an SEC team (or any team), Tech has to make sure one of those field goals is another touchdown. Although Jonathan Barnes missed from 43 yards with Tech leading 3-0 late in the first quarter, he trotted back out on Tech’s next possession and squeaked a 52-yarder through, the second longest of his brilliant career. (You could have probably gotten a Kleenex between the ball and the goal post, but I doubt it.)
● That Barnes field goal came after an Aaron Roberson interception as Tech’s defense was in the middle of pitching a shutout for three quarters. But … on first-and-10, Tech dropped a pass. The field goal try was on fourth-and-3. Little things.
● Tech led 13-7, second-and-6 from the South Carolina 35, with under seven minutes to play. And then...5-yard penalty. A tiny thing: Tech was penalized only 3 times for 18 yards on the day; for a mid-major school in a Power 5 stadium, that is remarkable. However, that makes it 2nd-and-11. Jarred Craft for 8 and, on 3rd-and-3 on a slow-developing play with Craft lined up left and taking the handoff going right, he loses one. Punt to the Carolina 26 -- and the Gamecocks go 74 yards on a pass and a run to take a 14-13 lead. Just a five-yard penalty but … it’s the tiniest things.
● The biggie came with Tech leading 13-0, 3:42 left in the third, third-and-6 from the 9, and Barnes putting his helmet on, ready to put Tech up by two touchdowns and two two-point conversions. The way the defense was holding its ground, that 16-0 lead would have looked like 50-0. Many of the 71,821 who started the day all happy and Spurs-Up and all that had left. Another Tech score would have cleared out a few thousand more. They wouldn’t have been around to raise cane at the end. Except...instead of throwing it away and getting his field goal kicker on the field, sophomore quarterback J’Mar Smith threw an interception along the sideline and SC had the ball on the 3. Tech gets no points, and the Gamecocks begin their first scoring drive of the day, a 16-play, 97-yard march that took 7:36 and ended on a pass play that sent safety Sedrick Cooper to the sideline for the rest of the game, woozy, when Tech probably could have used him to help stop the improbable Gamecock goings-on that transpired with 42 ticks left.
So again, if not for those things, Bentley isn’t scrambling, a spying, supposed-to-stay-at-home linebacker doesn’t get antsy and go for the sack, and Bentley doesn’t avoid him and rush for 20-plus yards to just this side of midfield. And then Bentley doesn’t rare back and, with 25 ticks left and his team trailing 16-14, throw a semi-Hail Mary into a circle of four guys, only one wearing a garnet-colored jersey, and that guy, who is Bryan Edwards, does not catch it at the 14 for a 41-yard gain to the Tech 14.
It was a little lucky but, frankly, still quite remarkable: Tech corner Amik Robertson, playing for Thibodaux High last fall and in Williams-Brice Stadium at this particular moment, jumped. All 5-8 of him. He was about to intercept it: his elbows were a bit bent to receive the jolt of the ball. What he didn’t know was that Edwards was at full speed and he was about to jump too, all 6-feet, 3-inches of him, and that he would grab the ball just above the hands of Robertson, who was falling back into him. Edwards was turned in the air so that his back was to the line of scrimmage, lost the ball for a moment, then cradled it to his chest with his forearms.
You could make the argument that Robertson should have had his arms extended to bat the ball down. You could also make the argument that God should have given him eyes in the back of his head and that he shouldn’t have had a helmet on and then he could have seen Edwards behind him and made the play. As it is, though, Edwards has a catch he won’t forget.
That still wasn’t quite the ballgame. SC’s true freshman kicker, Parker White, was 0-for-4 on field goal tries in his college career with a pair of misses last week and a pair against Tech. He’s 1-for-5 now. His 31-yarder gave SC its 17-16 lead, the Gamecocks kicked off, and White’s teammates made a tackle, and there you go.
So you sweep up and here’s what you’ve got:
Tech needed to run the ball a bit better; they got 80 yards and probably needed around 120. Left guard O’Shea Dugas, hurt last week, sat out much of the first half and redshirt freshman Kody Russey spelled him. Ethan Reed now has four starts at center, 18 straight starts in his career. Hanner Shipley started at right guard for the second week and Michael Rodriguez at right tackle for the third week. Joshua Outlaw might have played every down at left tackle. They played hard but were at times a bit overmatched.
It can’t come as a surprise that you’re going to struggle somewhere as a double-digit underdog, and it’s a team game after all, so this week, the defense picked up the slack for the offensive line. Special teams helped with the 52-yard field goal.
Teddy Veal is a blessing inside and caught 9 passes last week, 10 Saturday. Smith had a career-high 23 completions and hit on 66 percent of his passes, up from his 50 percent average during the season’s first three games. Rhashid Bonnette caught six balls and Marlon Watts three and Kam McKnight scored again and if I can figure out who to pay off, he’ll get at least six touches in every other game he ever plays in.
The law firm of Robertson and Roberson are covering so well at corner that Tech can rush five people a good bit of the time, now and then six, as they did Saturday. The defensive line, the Rawhide Boys -- “keep them doggies rollin’” -- just keep rolling in and out in waves. Tech caused three fumbles, recovered one, didn’t fumble and turned it over once; true, it was that costly interception when Tech could have really penned up the Chickens pretty good. But the positives outweighed the negatives by a score of a lot to a little.
But...Carolina wins, and that’s why coaches preach that you have to play 60 minutes. You can’t take a play off. You’ve got to finish. So on and so forth. No matter how you say it, it’s the truth. Easier said than done, but still a cold reality of competition. Tech has lived that the past two weeks: won with two seconds left, lost with four seconds left.
Finally, consider this: South Carolina is 3-1, but...Carolina is 0-1 in the SEC after losing at home to Kentucky last week. The Chickens go to Texas A&M Saturday. Which means not much to you.
But this does: Tech is 2-2 but…1-0 in Conference-USA, and that win was on the road against the defending champs. This week Tech is home against South Alabama, a non-conference game and a timely opportunity to improve and better understand the high cost of small mistakes.
Tech lost Saturday. Sure, it was a game Tech wasn’t supposed to win but, once things began happening, the Bulldogs should have. If you’re a Tech fan or if you’re on the team, it’s a game you feel you ShouldHaveShouldHaveShouldHave won. Absolutely. Gave it away. Stil, the harsh reality is, South Carolina was the better team Saturday. The scoreboard says so, and that’s all the matters in the cold gray light of a team’s record.
But it’s not all that matters when you’re thinking of a body of work. That’s why there is almost every reason to believe that Tech has the better team. Would you trade the Tech team for the Carolina team? Didn’t think so. Keep chopping wood and carrying water and by December, you’ll see who benefitted most from South Carolina 17, Louisiana Tech 16.
If nothing else, the Bulldog’s loss to Carolina should keep Tech hungry and humble, which is not a bad way for any of us to be. The Bulldogs missed an opportunity Saturday, but they didn’t miss THE opportunity. Learn from it. When you fall, fall forward. You’ve heard it said and I believe it’s true: you can make chicken salad out of chicken you-know-what.
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