Friday, October 31, 2008

Voting: It Tastes Like Democracy

Vote cast. Democracy saved. Sticker acquired.

I was looking forward to casting my vote on Election Day, amidst all the pageantry the DeSoto, KS branch of the VFW can muster, but I've committed myself to volunteering in Missouri Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. So advance voting was the only option.

This was my first time casting a ballot at a polling location, with a voting machine. I mailed in absentee ballots in 2004 and 2006, and if you're thinking, "Hey, Andrew, didn't you go to college in Florida? Why did you vote in blood red Kansas when you could have had an impact in a swing state?", well, you've got the same thought process as the classmate and Gainesville Democratic operative I had a crush on at the time.

But we're veering off the highway of topicality here. I wanted to brag about my valiant participation in America's democratic experience, but I also wanted to do some housekeeping. As noted above, I'll be pretty heavily engaged Sunday-Tuesday, so blogging will probably be light. I might be able to write something on one of those days, but no promises. I hoped to do an Election Night liveblog, but that's probably off the table.

To make up for one of those absentee days, however, I'm giving you a double dose of the Distressed Reporter charisma tomorrow. Look for a write-up of the Florida-Georgia game and my official prediction for the election.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Party Preview

The Florida-Georgia game is always important, but this year's Cocktail Party is regarded as the most important in recent memory. The winner will occupy a commanding position in the SEC East race and probably elevate itself to the top of the list of one-loss teams hoping to sneak into a national championship game.

If you've been paying attention, of course, you know that Saturday's game is more than just a premier SEC showdown. SEC fans have long memories; Steve Spurrier ran up the score against Georgia in the early-90's because UGA did the same thing to the Gators and head coach Ray Graves in 1968. Everyone knows what the motivational video in the Florida weight room is this week:

I don't quite share the prevailing opinion in Gator Nation that this was the worst idea to come out of Athens since the invasion of Sicily. I do think it was a potentially dangerous stunt, and I lost some respect for Georgia head coach Mark Richt, especially considering the spectacle he made of castigating his team the previous week for taunting Vanderbilt after a close win. The SEC cravenly refused to discipline Richt, an inexcusable abdication of responsibility.

But Mark Richt's job isn't to win my respect, it's to win games without violating NCAA rules. If taking 30 yards of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties is the way to do that, so be it. Georgia won last year's game, and not because of the stunt; Urban Meyer rallied the troops after Knowshon Moreno's first TD and the Gators answered right back with a tying touchdown.

No, Georgia won that game because Moreno repeatedly gashed a battered, inexperienced defensive line and because Tim Tebow's shoulder was hurt just enough to throw Florida's offense slightly off its game. The Gators scored 23 offensive points (Wondy Pierre-Louis scored a touchdown after intercepting Matthew Stafford on a hilariously stupid throw) and picked up 343 yards, but Tebow was sacked six times.

Both teams are better this year; Stafford is finally playing up to his billing, while Florida features a more well-rounded offense and dramatically superior defense. The Gators have rebounded from the Ole Miss debacle with three straight blowout wins, including a 51-21 evisceration of LSU. The Bulldogs have held it together following an embarrassing defeat at the hands of Alabama between the hedges.

This should be the best kind of Cocktail Party: a shootout. I say this even though Florida ranks 13th in the country in total defense and Georgia clocks in at 21st. Stafford finally has a dynamic receiver in freshman AJ Green, and heretofore butterfingered receiver Mohamed Massaquoi has taken a step up. (Though I don't know if any Bulldog fan is truly comfortable with the idea of Massaquoi running across the middle on 3rd and eight in the fourth quarter) UF has managed to paper over the holes in its secondary with the addition of true freshman cornerback Janoris Jenkins and improvement from Joe Haden, Major Wright and the strong safety position. (Ahmad Black is making my skepticism look unwarranted, though Meyer is working freshman phenom Will Hill into the rotation) But this is still not a great coverage team; Haden still scuffles a little in that area and Wright has occasional brain farts.

Every quarterback looks brilliant, every receiver dynamic, every cornerback incompetent when a defense fails to pressure the quarterback. The Gators didn't do that last year, and they're only ranked 33rd in the nation in sacks per game this season. If Jermaine Cunningham, Carlos Dunlap and Lawrence Marsh can't make Stafford panic and shuffle his feet, he'll carve up Florida's secondary. And I haven't seen a lot of reason to suspect the Gators will generate intense pressure.

But they're not bringing a butter knife to a tank battle. Despite Georgia's stout run defense (6th in the country), I expect to see the Gators employ a run-heavy attack. You want to attack the other guy's weakness (the Bulldogs are 77th in the nation against the pass) and avoid his strength, but you also want to exploit your own strengths. And right now Florida's strength is on the ground with Tebow, Jeff Demps, Chris Rainey and Percy Harvin. UF's passing game isn't awful, really, but it is from time-to-time a little dysfunctional. Considering how easily Georgia ruptured a pretty solid UF offensive line last year, I fully expect to see Meyer ride those four runners (and, perhaps, Emmanuel Moody) all game.

You'll probably see some of the gadget plays Meyer's largely kept in reserve all year; reverses, receiver passes, two QBs on the field, etc. That's not an off-the-wall prediction. I do, however, have one Crazy Ass Prediction(TM): I think Meyer and offensive coordinator Dan Mullen break out I-formation plays with Tebow under center, a fullback, hell, maybe even two tight ends. Florida fans, desperate to dislike the spread, have been obsessed with the idea of Tebow stepping under center and running plays from pro formations. Meyer does occasionally use a stacked-I set in goal line situations, but only for two or three plays a game. I expect on Saturday to see (relatively) extensive use of such formations as change-ups to Florida's traditional shotgun sets. The first few such plays will likely be simple interior runs, maybe utilizing Moody in the role for which he's best suited. Eventually, Meyer and Mullen can use that I-formation to slip dynamic tight end Aaron Hernandez deep into the secondary and hit him on a play action pass.

That's just speculation, of course, as are any guesses pertaining to Florida's retribution for last year's celebration. Personally, I favor the excessive politeness tactic: after the first touchdown, Tebow shakes hands with every member of the offense, breaks out a tea set hidden on the field and elaborately bows to Richt on the sideline. The official's call on that would be fun. "After the play, personal foul, offense, excessive courtesy, 15 yards, enforced on the kick-off."

I haven't even mentioned special teams, where Florida will undoubtedly place emphasis on blocking kicks and springing Brandon James for big returns.

No predictions here; this game's a true tossup. It has the potential to be one of the series' classic games, though I'll certainly accept a 55-0 Florida victory.

A Note of Explanation

Sorry for the extended absence. I'm not dead, if my pulse is any evidence. My laptop's AC adapter conked out, and I ran the battery dead Monday. I just received my replacement from Dell, so things are up and running here at DR headquarters. Expect a full-length post shortly.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Florida 63, Kentucky 5 (LE)

At one point this fall, it looked like Jeff Demps might go to Beijing as part of the US Olympic Team's 100-meter dash team. That would have made it very difficult, probably impossible, for him to play as a freshman this season. At the time, I wrote on another board that it wouldn't be a huge loss. Sure, Demps was frighteningly fast, and it would be nice to have him as an occasional bolt of lightning. But considering his size (5'7, well below 200 pounds) and inexperience, and considering UF's stable of running backs (Emmanuel Moody, Kestahn Moore, Chris Rainey, Mon Williams), he wasn't a crucial part of the 2008 team.


Demps had yet another fantastic game, this time gaining 50 yards on seven carries and leading the Gators in receiving in their unholy rout of Kentucky. Demps picked up 67 yards on four catches, and broke a long touchdown after catching a five yard crossing route on third down.

There are a couple things worth noting here. First, this Kentucky team isn't particularly bad. They're not as good as the Andre Woodson teams of the last couple years, but they've got better talent than those post-Hal Mumme probationary squads. On the other hand, most of that reasonable talent was injured. Dicky Lyons Jr. and Derrick Locke are out for the season, and the Wildcats are down to second and third string linebackers at all three positions. So a win on Homecoming was never really in doubt.

What is in doubt is Kentucky special teams coach Steve Ortmayer's job. The Gators blocked three kicks, including two punts on back-to-back drives that led to quick touchdowns. Florida jumped out to a 28-0 lead in the first quarter and never came even remotely close to being challenged.

Once again Tim Tebow didn't put up huge numbers (he was 11 of 15 for 180 yards, and gained 48 yards on nine carries), but he did pick up four touchdowns- two rushing, two passing. The TD pass to Percy Harvin to end the first quarter scoring was particularly impressive; Tebow had a defender hanging on his right shoulder pad and threw a perfect strike to Harvin for a 33-yard touchdown.

The Gators managed to find some offensive balance for the third straight game. Harvin had just the one catch and ran the ball twice. Demps had seven carries, Tebow nine, Moore eight, Rainey seven. Demps caught four passes, Louis Murphy two, and Harvin, Rainey, Moore, Carl Moore, David Nelson, Deonte Thompson and Brandon James added one apiece. The offensive line didn't allow any sacks and opened up big holes for the running game., it wasn't much of a challenge. Kentucky had no offensive playmakers with Locke and Lyons out, and their QB play was uninspired. (Though I do like Randall Cobb, a lefty who came in after starting QB Mike Hartline struggled) Again, however, Florida couldn't generate much of a pass rush. They picked up one sack, split between Carlos Dunlap and Brandon Spikes.

Kentucky just played the role of sparring partner for a Florida team that has Georgia on its mind. The Gators should be as healthy as an SEC team has a right to expect at this point in the season. Harvin's ankles seem to be as strong as they're ever going to get. Linebacker Dustin Doe's hale and healthy for the first time since the Mississippi loss. Tebow's not uniquely sore for a starting quarterback. Janoris Jenkins did bruise his knee, and he's a huge part of Florida's revamped secondary, but there's no reason to suspect he'll miss next week's game.

Look for a preview of The Game Formerly Known As The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party next week.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Every day I ask myself a lot of questions. How safe is Pennsylvania for Obama? Did I make a mistake earning a journalism degree? If a Gummi Bear fought a Care Bear, who would win?

But the truly vexing question is this: who was the most important player on the 2005-2007 Florida Gator basketball teams that won back-to-back national championships?

The conventional wisdom after their first championship was that the Gators were a collection of unimpressive talent propelled to victory by great coaching and teamwork. After they won a second championship and three players were taken early in the first round of the NBA draft, that storyline faded away. It is true, however, that those teams were successful because the individual parts meshed with each other. While that made them beautiful to watch, it also has the effect of making a breakdown complicated. Remove one piece from the puzzle and the picture is much less impressive. So singling out one starter as the most important is difficult.

But as the Roman poet Horace once said, "Nothing is too high for the daring of mortals. We analyze national championship college basketball teams and vote for Sarah Palin in our folly." So let's storm some heavens. The candidates:

1. Al Horford, PF, 11.3 points per game in 05-06, 13.2 PPG in 06-07
The leading candidate because he was almost certainly the best player on those teams. He was the highest NBA draft choice (taken third overall in the 2007 draft), nearly won the Rookie of the Year award and should have the best NBA career of anyone listed here. Horford was the go-to guy in big situations; by the end of his career he had crafted a subtle and well-rounded offensive game. He could bull through defenders in the low post and hit perimeter jumpers from just inside the three-point line. His court vision and passing skills were outstanding. He was a key component in UF's last line of defense. The Gators' lone defensive weakness were the guards; Taurean Green and Lee Humphrey lacked the size and athleticism to stick with elite slashers. But Horford provided an emergency relief valve for Green and Humphrey; if they were beaten, they could still rely on their big men to block the shot.

2. Joakim Noah, C, 14.2 PPG in 05-06, 12.0 PPG in 06-07
My favorite member of this team, one of my two favorite athletes of all-time and generally one of my favorite people. I think the greatest compliment I can give him is to say that in some small way the world would be a duller place without Joakim Noah's existence. He's a strange dude off the court and a just slightly less duller place on it. You haven't lived until you've seen a gangly, pony-tailed, seven-foot-tall center leading the fast break. It's an experience. Joakim was the emotional heart of these teams (for what that's worth) and the second part of that stalwart defensive back line; together with Horford he succeeded in blocking and altering countless shots. UCLA head coach Ben Howland still has nightmares about Noah erasing every scoring opportunity in the 2006 Championship Game. But he was rather limited on the offensive end. He had no perimeter game to speak of, and John Wooden's eyesight never recovered after the first time he witnessed Jo's jump shot. (Though it should be pointed out that despite his pathetic form he was still a pretty good free throw shooter for a guy of his size; he hit 68 percent of his free throws during his time at UF, 73 percent in 05-06) Like Horford, he had exceptional vision and passing skills.

3. Corey Brewer, SF, 12.7 PPG in 05-06, 13.2 PPG in 06-07
A ferocious defender, Brewer was the guy Billy Donovan threw on the other team's best defender. Arron Afflalo sees Brewer and his absurd wingspan in his sleep. Corey was, in short, the defensive stopper on these teams. He clocked in at 6-9, tall enough to guard power forwards and the occasional center, but was fast and athletic enough to hang with guards. When Brewer played through mono at far less than 100 percent against Kansas in 2006, the Gators lost their first game of the season. When he sat out the game against Florida State, the Gators lost their second game of the season thanks to an explosive performance from Al Thornton. (They did win the games he missed against Providence and Southern but, know, I think you get where the "but" is leading in this parenthetical.) He was a dynamic and infuriating offensive player, nicknamed "The Drunken Dribbler" by his teammates. For every defensive stop followed by a fast break and rim-rattling dunk there was a defensive stop followed by an out-of-control careening around and through every one of the nine other players on the floor and an eventual turnover. The Corey Brewer Experience was certainly that.

4. Taurean Green, PG, 13.3 PPG in 05-06, 13.3 PPG in 06-7
Point guards on championship teams take on almost mythical airs. They're credited with supernatural powers of charisma and leadership; by the time Michigan State won the national championship in 2000 Mateen Cleaves was regarded as a cross between Gandhi and Optimus Prime. Taurean wasn't a glamor player, but he was given much the same treatment. Very few players could go 0-for-7 from the field, score two points, dish eight assists in a national championship game and get lionized for the performance. But this is reading as overly harsh. Green (barely) led the team in scoring in 06-07 and was behind only Noah in 05-06. He was a lethal three-point shooter, especially coming off screens. He did get a little too much credit for his "game-manager" skills; he wasn't able to put up 2-1 assist-to-turnover ratios in either season, and he didn't have the athleticism to penetrate and dish like the elite point guards.

5. Lee Humphrey Not Just A Shooter, SG, 10.9 PPG in 05-06, 10.3 PPG in 06-07
Lee's certainly got the worst case here. Donovan and various announcers were obsessed with insisting that Humphrey was "Not Just a Shooter;" he could barely touch the ball in an ESPN-televised game without having that phrase immediately uttered by some excitable commentator. Well, he was just a shooter, Donovan's laughable claim that he was a lockdown on-the-ball defender notwithstanding. In 2005-2006 Humphrey took 299 shots; 246 were three-pointers. In 2006-2007 he took 305 shots; 246 were three-pointers. (As a wonderfully dorky aside, Humphrey was 113-of-246 from beyond the arc in both championship season) He shot a total of 43 free throws in two seasons. Humphrey was just a shooter. He was also an extraordinary shooter, an assassin who played a huge role in Florida's offensive gameplan. Opponents had a difficult choice when the Gators threw the ball into Noah or Horford: try to guard two future NBA big men one-on-one, or double team and leave someone open on the perimeter. Noah and Horford had the smarts and vision to find the open player, and if that player was Humphrey, the inevitable result was a three-pointer. He was deadly in both championship games, but his performance against Ohio State in the second was extraordinary. Time after time the Buckeyes would pull the game closer, and time after time Humphrey drove them to the ground with a three pointer.

The answer to our original question, I think, is Brewer, largely because he was the Most Irreplaceable Gator. He had no real back-up in either season; when he sat out, either with the aforementioned mono or an ankle sprain the Gators went to a small three guard lineup. That was their default setting last year, when Donovan was rebuilding after the loss of these five players. Horford was a better overall player but could more credibly be replaced by back-up big men Chris Richard and Marreese Speights. Much the same could be said about Joakim. Green was equally hard to replace, but simply wasn't as good as Brewer. Unsurprisingly Humphrey lags behind in this discussion; his game was too limited to lift him into the same category as the other four.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Master's Degree From the School of Hard Knocks

You never realize how expensive a 42-cent stamp is until you buy 100 of them.

I was in that situation today because I needed to mail a handful of envelopes to old college professors. I needed to do that because I'm applying to grad schools. I'm doing that because I'd like to earn a master's degree in political science, and this one I made out of construction paper, Elmer's Glue and elbow macaroni is just not earning me the respect I deserve.

The nine schools:
  1. Colorado
  2. Kansas
  3. Missouri
  4. Iowa
  5. Illinois
  6. Michigan
  7. George Washington
  8. Florida
  9. Bad Ass Mamma Jamma U
I've realized for awhile how much I miss school. Not really the parties, the football games or the late nights with friends. There's a little of that, to be sure, but I've never been much of a social creature. No, as sappy as it sounds, I enjoy the atmosphere of a college campus. A lot of that is the Gothic and faux-classical architecture, for which I'm quite a sucker. John Dickerson would probably mock me for this (you know, if he had any idea who the hell I was), but I enjoy buildings fronted by Greek columns. (I might want to see about a degree in psychology while I'm at it) The architecture and the plant life leads to serenity; it's hard to be distressed when you're surrounded by red brick and evergreen trees.

And if you thought that was sappy, you'll love this: I enjoyed waking up every day with the knowledge that my only responsibility was to learn. That was the case in high school, of course, but for a lot of reasons it's more profound at college. College gives a student the chance to indulge his or her intellectual quirks. My favorite class at UF was probably "The Literature of German Knighthood," and really, there's no practical reason to take that course if you're not majoring in...well, the only acceptable major in this scenario is "The Literature of German Knighthood." If you're majoring in journalism, as I was, you're just taking that course for the fun of it. It's a peculiar brand of fun, to be sure, and it's easier to indulge those whims when your parents are paying for them (thanks mom and dad!), but it's nonetheless a pleasant situation.

There's certainly a measure of desperation in this process. I picked a horrible time to graduate with a journalism degree, and I picked the worst possible time to suffer a crippling bout of honesty. That godforsaken honesty eventually resulted in unemployment at a time when newspapers were cutting jobs by the truckload.

Obviously graduate school is a different beast than the undergraduate experience, but it's still education. It's a chance to learn, to grow, to contribute something to the academic marketplace of ideas. (No, I wasn't able to type that phrase with a straight face) And I'm looking forward to that opportunity.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


You know what? That didn't suck.

I'm referring, of course, to The Beast With a Billion Backs, the second Futurama movie and just broadcast on Comedy Central. Some of you may recall that despite my undying affection for the original series, I did not have a similarly sanguine reaction to Bender's Big Score, the first movie.

BBS had a self-consciously overcomplicated time travel plot, like something that was crafted by writers desperate to prove their Sci-Fi street cred. Fortunately, Matt Groening, David Cohen and the rest of the gang avoided that pitfall in Beast.

The feature-length movie is still not the best medium for Futurama. (For the broadcast Beast was broken up into four 30-minute episodes aired sequentially. Sorry, that's a movie) The action drags at points and it takes the writers too long to get to their central premise. Still, though it takes about an hour to reach, the story is tighter and more focused than it was in BBS.

In BBS, Groening and Co. seemed to labor under the pressure of squeezing every bit character and fan favorite into the two hour time slot. (This actually paid off a little, insofar as Al Gore was the highlight of the film) There were expectations to reach, years of anticipation that had to be satisfied. We needed to see everyone we loved from the series we loved. Free from that constraint, they were able this time to focus on the core cast and Fry's new love interest, voiced commendably well by Brittany Murphy.

Everything is just sharper than it was in BBS. I've written before that something was off in that movie; the animation was slightly different from that seen in the series, the colors were less vibrant and the voice acting was more amateurish. All are fixed in Beast. The colors are vibrant and the animation is sharp. Billy West, John DiMaggio, Katey Sagal and Futurama's other distinguished voice actors play their roles ably.

I don't want to go in-depth with plot details, but there's some real depth in this story of a Lovecraftian cosmic horror who comes to Earth and attempts to enslave humanity. One of the problems with BBS was its too-obvious attempt to tap into the surprising emotion and sentimentality seen in classic episodes like Jurassic Bark, Luck of the Fryrish and The Devil's Hands Are Idle Playthings. Beast doesn't reach those levels, but the sentiment's more subtle and less ham handed than in BBS.

I said awhile back that if you broke BBS into four, thirty-minute episodes, any one of those would easily be the worst episode of Futurama. I can honestly say that none of the episodes that compose Beast would fit in that Bottom Five list I assembled. To be sure, none of them would make a Top Five list. But this movie restored my faith in the Futurama staff and my willingness to shell out money for the next movie.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

An Unclean Slate

I read something yesterday that got me pretty mad. Not Attend-A-Sarah-Palin-Rally-And-Call- For-The-Death-of-a-Presidential-Candidate mad, but mad enough that I wanted to write an angry email to the person responsible. Unfortunately, Slate, which published the piece, didn't provide the email address for Rachael Larimore, who wrote the piece. I searched high and low for that address, and while gross incompetence is always a possibility when we're discussing me, I eventually came to the conclusion that it wasn't available on the site.

I fumed for awhile. Damnit, I had all this righteous rage to vent and no way to do it. I resigned myself to the reality that in this situation, I'd simply have to let it go.

And then I remembered: I have a blog and a captive audience of several people. I never have to let anything go! Plus, I didn't have anything else to write about today, who knows what would turn up Friday and the Gators have an off-day Saturday. I didn't want to run silent here for three or four straight days. So this is a perfect opportunity to rage like noble Achilles. If noble Achilles had a laptop. And a blog. And no life.

What angered me about the linked post on Slate's XX Blog was not Larimore's claim that Obama's words to Joe Wurzelbacher (aka "The Plumber") "sent chills down her spine," though I would argue that if Obama's statement really had that effect on her she needs to join Cindy McCain in some spinal insulation shopping. No, what riled me up was this paean to the nobility of Joe Wurzelbacher:

Can we look at a larger point about Joe the Plumber? Joe Wurzelbacher is, after all, a plumber. He didn't have his well-off parents send him off for his MBA or a law-school degree so he could get a cushy 9-to-5 job with an office and an assistant and good benefits. He's not a 25-year-old starting an Internet company with someone else's venture capital. He's gotten where he is today by unclogging our smelly toilets and fixing the pipes we probably should have had looked at before they burst.

It should be noted that the post you're reading has been building for awhile. I've been growing increasingly agitated with Larimore's constant deification of the Average American (TM) at the expense of Elitist Intellectuals (TM). It's usually in the context of defending the folksy, down-home, heartland appeal of Sarah "Community Organizing Is A Pathetic Endeavor Worthy Only of Scorn And Derision" Palin. (The heartland I live in honors those who work for the betterment of their community, but whatever)

Here, it's in the context of glorifying Wurzelbacher and his fear of Obama's tax plan. I don't want to talk about Joe The Non-Licensed Plumber or the details of Obama's proposals. Instead, I'd like to register my disgust at Larimore's greater point.

Let me be very clear: there is nothing inherently noble about working with your hands. Cleaning a toilet is not prima facie evidence of moral character. It's not a fast track to beatification. Nor, of course, is it evidence of a life gone askew or intellectual inferiority.

But we have this kind of Cult of the Working Man established in our political dialogue. We have this idea that everyone with a blue collar is more American than everyone with a white collar, that those who work on the side of the road or in strange bathrooms are simply better than those who work in offices or libraries.

We have serious issues in this country with wealth disparity. Politicians should address that. But we do not glorify the plumber by denigrating the graduate student. We can not turn a blue collar into a halo by besmirching a white collar. There is no courage in mocking those with MBAs, no nobility in perpetuating the idea that education is a straight road to moral turpitude.

And Larimore's rhetoric isn't just unhelpful, it's actively hurtful. There's an education crisis in this country, and while that has many causes, one of those is student apathy. And while that has many causes, I am convinced part of it derives from the national pastime of assaulting book learning.

In the middle of this national education crisis, we have a pundit class that uses the adjective "professorial" as a slur directed at Barack Obama. We have politicians who continually tar their opponents with the dreaded "Ivy League" appellation. We have an education crisis and we're telling our children that they shouldn't strive to attend our best colleges, shouldn't strive to achieve advanced degrees, shouldn't strive for a wide-ranging intellectual curiosity.

A character in Caddyshack famously said, "The world needs ditch diggers too." It's true; society doesn't function without plumbers, garbage men and cable guys. But the world needs guys in suits too, it needs guys who went to school for eight years to get that master's degree in business administration or accounting or Eastern European Zoological History. Rhetoric like that coming from Larimore (who, by the way, has a degree in journalism from Ohio University and has contributed to The New York Times) only serves to hurt the country.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Debate Live Blog #2

9:25 (Debate Over): McCain was on the attack all night, and Obama was on the defensive all night. By most accounts that means McCain won. It's never a good idea in politics to try and play prevent. I wouldn't be shocked to see McCain given a slight advantage by the pundit class tomorrow. But it won't be a big win. It won't be the kind of victory that erases Obama's advantages. Obama, again, looked calm, collected and in control. McCain was angry. He might want to ask his running mate for tips on how to stab a guy while wearing a pleasant smile. McCain walks out of Hostra University a happy camper, but Obama's probably sharing a few high fives with his staff.

Obama: I don't think America's youth are an interest group, I think they're our future. Why does John McCain hate America? Why does he want to destroy its future?

Obama takes a sip of water. Is his throat parched? Are McCain's hammer blows making him sweat? Will he collapse in a dehydrated heap?

McCain appealing to the pro life base: Obama's votes against late-term abortions.

Obama breaks out Ledbetter. "Hey, still-reluctant Clinton women: Look over here! Vote for me!"

McCain doesn't want a "litmus test," but he just said that a judge who supported Roe v. Wade wouldn't fit his criteria for a Supreme Court justice.

McCain just accidentally called Obama "Senator Government." As screw-ups go, you could do a lot worse.

I think the phrase "fundamental difference" has been used 87 times over these three debates, 60 times by Obama.

Obama's doing fine, but he's stumbling and pausing more today than he did in the previous two debates.

Joe The Plumber? Again? Joe's been a bigger part of this debate than William Ayers, Jeremiah Wright and Sarah Palin combined.

A lengthy healthcare discussion doesn't help McCain. It's just not an issue where people trust Republicans.

Hey, Hugo Chavez gets a shout-out from McCain. Nice little pivot to foreign policy.

McCain: You didn't support the Columbian Free Trade Agreement. Obama: But I supported the Peruvian Free Trade Agreement! Uruguay is left out in the cold, I guess.

McCain: I admire so much Senator Obama's eloquence. Sarcasm has always been the central theme of McCain's campaign.

Obama's looking at the camera. McCain's looking at Schieffer. (And Obama, which is an improvement for him)

Well, McCain certainly wore his attacking shoes to tonight's debate. Don't know if anything is landing.

Oh, interesting move by Obama there. Using Palin's Down Syndrome child to talk about the need for increased funding for autism and other related issues, thus criticizing McCain's spending freeze proposal. A fair point, but awfully dangerous.

McCain talking eloquently about special needs children. Serious question: what kind of history does he have on that issue?

Obama answering without mentioning the name "Sarah Palin" even once.

If that was the extent of the Association Attacks from McCain, there are going to be a lot of pissed conservatives. I don't see how McCain made any headway there.

Oh, fun question from Schieffer. "Senator Obama, why would the country be better off if your running mate was vice president than if Senator McCain's running mate was vice president?"

You know, it might not be a good idea for Obama to refer to Bill Ayers as "Mr. Ayers." Just a thought.

And here is Ayers. And here is the ACORN stuff.

Obama keeps parrying McCain's campaign-related points with a sentence or two and then pivots to talking about the economy.

McCain: I'm proud of the people who come to our rallies. He's carrying on his campaign's tactic of alleging that shaking your head at the remarks made at McCain's rallies is the same as attacking every attendee at those rallies.

No Ayers yet.

Obama: Let's not talk about the campaign. Let's talk about issues.

McCain's not playing the Ayers card yet. He is playing the John Lewis card.

And Schieffer's asking the Ayers question without using his name.

McCain is really pushing this across-the-board spending freeze. I don't think anyone's fond of that idea. Most importantly, he's being very, very aggressive, both in terms of words and tone. He's worked himself into a bit of a lather. Obama is smiling.

And the three million dollar projector for the Adler Planetarium is back. It was such a winner in the second debate.

Schieffer: Which programs will you have to pare down or eliminate because of the financial crisis? Specifically. Obama: I'm going to talk about energy independence. McCain: I'm going to talk about energy independence.

I don't know how it'll come off, but this "Joe The Plumber" routine is an interesting way of trying to personalize the "victims" of Obama's tax plan. Obama's been trying to talk up the idea of taxing Warren Buffet.

McCain just spoke extensively about Joe, an Ohio plumber who will be crippled by Obama's tax policies. He's clearly hoping "Joe The Plumber" becomes the star of this debate.

McCain talks to Obama! Directly! It's a breakthrough!

: The candidates just talked about their plans for the mortgage crisis. That's four minutes of my life I'll never get back.

Excuse the callousness, but is this the third straight debate where McCain has started the evening by expressing sympathy for some august personage sitting in a hospital?

Big question of the night: Is Bob Schieffer going to hector McCain and Obama to talk to each other?

: Brian Williams' backdrop includes a massive amount of Roman columns. John Dickerson is now deriding NBC as elitist and condescending.

Yes, it's that time again. We're about eight minutes away from the final presidential debate of the election season. If you can't feel the tension, you're not even human.




A little housekeeping, mainly directed at a certain anonymous commenter who had trouble figuring out the timestamps in the first live blog. My headquarters are in cosmopolitan DeSoto, KS. DeSoto is located in the Central Time Zone. Locations within the Central Time Zone are one hour behind locations in the Eastern Time Zone. So if the time stamps you see in this blog do not synch up with the time in your home, do not panic.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Same Bat Time, Same Bat Channel

The 961st debate of the presidential election season will be held Wednesday night at Hofstra University in New York. At this point you know well the participants: John McCain, the great American hero who spent five and a half years locked in a North Kansas City prison camp where he was forced to watch Neifi Perez take batting practice on a daily basis. He was only able to survive by repeatedly carving the word "maverick" into the bamboo of his cage. And then there's the Democrat Barack Obama, born in Hope Memorial Hospital in Hope City, the capitol of Hope Island, America's 50th state. In college, Obama majored in Sauntering Up To Attractive Women And Making Them Swoon By Saying "Hey, How You Doin'?"

Wednesday night they'll discuss the important issues. The economic crisis. Global climate change. That guy in 7th grade Obama ate lunch with one day who eventually racked up over $3,400 in unpaid parking tickets in...San Francisco. It's all going to be on the table when McCain, Obama and CBS anchor Bob Schieffer shoot the breeze. Seriously, they're going to be sitting down. God only knows what surprises that radical format will birth. Maybe McCain will light up a joint and invite Obama to take a hit. There's a glorious rainbow of possibilities.

You can find more witty insights like the ones you just read Wednesday night, when I'll be liveblogging the debate. It will be my second liveblog; I skipped the second presidential debate because I was generously volunteering at my high school alma mater, and I skipped the vice presidential debate because I wanted to.

But this affair's interesting in that I don't know what to expect. You may recall that I expected McCain to come into the second debate and attack Obama. He did attack, but not with any verve and not with any original lines. He didn't mention William Ayers. He later explained that the issue never came up "in the flow of the debate," and while that was kind of a pathetic post-debate rationalization, it had the advantage of being true. None of the audience members asked about Ayers. None of them asked a question that could conceivably be viewed as dealing with Ayers. McCain's not skillful enough to pivot away from the question and hit his (completely unrelated) talking points, and he's not shameless enough to ape his running mate's tactic of openly announcing that she's ignoring the question.

So we'll see what happens Wednesday. To put it bluntly, McCain is losing the election. If things stay on their normal course, with the remaining 20+ days sort of teeter-tottering in the usual fashion, with Obama winning one day and McCain winning the next, McCain loses. He needs something out of the ordinary. The other team is preternaturally poised and disciplined. They're not going to give you an epic mistake on a silver platter. McCain's going to have to manufacture a gamechanger out of whole cloth.

Wednesday's his best chance to do that, but it's not going to be easy. Obama's shown in two debates that he can appear calm and presidential, which is more than you can say for McCain. If McCain wants to do something with the Ayers or Jeremiah Wright cards, he has to do it Wednesday.

How and where to bring it up are the difficult questions. McCain's camp desperately wants Schieffer to ask about Ayers without prompting from their candidate. It would introduce the topic into the debate without McCain having to raise it. If Schieffer doesn't ask the question, McCain has to decide whether he gains or loses from raising the issue without prompting. He's been getting hammered for the frighteningly hostile nature of his recent rallies. If it's perceived that he's doing anything to rile up those supporters, the post-debate stories are going to be unpleasant. Which in turn will make his supporters angrier. Which in turn will make his rallies more frightening. Which in turn will make the stories unpleasant. Which in turn...

Obama's strategy is the same as its been for the past month: throw some jabs, parry the minor attacks and dance away from the big punches. He's winning. The entire structure of the race is in his favor. Some will demand aggression from him, but that's not Obama's style, and considering what the campaign has overcome to reach this point, I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt on tactics.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


The front page of the sports section in today's Kansas City Star was dominated by two stories: Missouri's upset loss to Oklahoma State and the revelation that all-world tight end Tony Gonzalez is asking for a trade to a contender.

It's obviously a big deal here. Joe Posnanski, one of my favorite writers, wrote a column. So did Jason Whitlock, who is not one of my favorite writers. It's a big deal because Gonzalez is the only effective weapon on a brutally dysfunctional offense. Larry Johnson may or may not be a good runner, but it's impossible to determine with this offensive line and lack of receiving threats. Tony Gonzalez is the only player who puts any kind of fear into opposing defenses. Remove him from the equation and there is literally no one on that offense worth watching.

What bone will Brodie Croyle break today? Will Jamaal Charles break that swing pass for three yards or will he be stopped for no gain? Dantrell Savage: Great Receiver or The Greatest Receiver?

On another level, it really doesn't matter all that much. The Chiefs are a very bad football team with Tony Gonzalez at tight end. They're going to be a very bad football team if Gonzalez is traded. The difference between three wins and one win is inconsequential, except insofar as it relates to the draft. It would be nice for the Chiefs to get the number one overall pick and have their choice of Michael Oher, Andre Smith or whatever elite player strikes their fancy. Trade Tony, keep Tony, nothing of importance will change.

But this just seems like it would be another hammerblow for a fanbase and a city that have suffered so much athletic misery. Kimble Anders in 1993. Steve Bono in 1995. Elvis Grbac and John Elway in 1997. Peyton Manning in 2003. The years between those postseason disasters have been filled with football that was usually boring, occasionally schizophrenic but always mediocre. And it's not like Kansas City has been able to turn to the local Major League Baseball team for excitement.

And Gonzalez was nothing if not exciting. Since being drafted in 1997, he's been Kansas City's rock. He fought through double and triple teams, reeled in wobbly, inaccurate passes thrown by a bevvy of undistinguished quarterbacks. No one fought harder than Gonzalez to bring the town a championship.

But his appeal extended beyond the playing field. Gonzalez wasn't really a Kansas City kind of star, but that's what made him special. It's not that the Chiefs lacked great players...well, OK, it is that the Chiefs lacked great players, but they did have a few. The thing is, guys like Trent Green and Priest Holmes, while fantastic players and good individuals, were very much Kansas City stars: they did their jobs well, went about their lives pleasantly, didn't provide any distractions or draw the spotlight. That fit in well with the town's practiced demeanor.

But Gonzalez was a New York or Los Angeles kind of star. He was a big city, coastal star in a small market, Midwestern town. He's handsome, charismatic and willing to speak his mind. He enjoyed the clubs, the bars and the women. He wasn't obnoxious about it and he was never in the police blotter, but he did bring a little bit of Hollywood to Kansas City. As much as Kansas Citians enjoy their conspicuous geniality, it's nice to have that spark, that tiny reminder of a lifestyle most here (politely) shun.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Florida 51,LSU 21

I went through a cynic phase in high school. It was nothing flashy or ostentatious. I didn't do the Goth thing, didn't write (much) angsty poetry about the futility of existence. I just made it a point to tell everyone who asked (or, really, didn't ask) that I was, at heart, a cynic, a pessimist. I said cynical things, smirked knowingly when others expressed optimism and generally looked down my nose at my less enlightened classmates.

It was a front, of course, the somewhat pathetic manner in which my teenage rebellion manifested. Some booze, some smoke, some have unprotected sex with multiple partners. I quoted Nietzsche. Safer for me, but probably more annoying to my teachers.

The reality is, I'm an idealist at heart. Not a foolish idealist, but still, I'm someone who generally expects good things to happen. So while there's a fair amount to nitpick about Florida's evisceration of the third-ranked LSU Tigers (no quarterback pressure, issues in the secondary, a somewhat schizophrenic passing game), I'm going to ignore them. And shout very, very loudly.

Because this was an extraordinary performance, a game that featured top-notch performances from multiple players and just about every unit. Maligned offensive coordinator Dan Mullen called the game flawlessly. The doubtful defensive line didn't get much pressure on QB Jarrett Lee but dominated LSU's massive offensive line on just about every running play. Florida's patchwork, struggling 0-line repeatedly pancaked a vaunted defense.

And most importantly, the Gators continually gashed LSU in the running game, and they did it with Percy Harvin running the ball just twice. The hero was diminutive speed demon Jeff Demps, who put up 129 yards on 10 carries, scored a touchdown and broke a long run of 42 yards. Demps is listed at 5-8, 176 pounds, and he's probably an inch or two shorter. And yet Mullen and Urban Meyer were able to repeatedly run him between the tackles for great yardage. His long run came on an option play, but Demps was no perimeter gimmick. If he's still not an every down, 20+ carry back, he's shown he can be used as a normal part of a normal offense.

Demps was joined by fellow diminutive speed demon Chris Rainey (listed at 5-9, 185), who gained 66 yards on 11 carries and also spent most of the night running between the tackles. Rarely seen senior Kestahn Moore added 23 yards on four late game carries, Harvin and Brandon James contributed solid yardage on two carries apiece and Tim Tebow, while gaining only 22 yards, consistently made the right decision on Meyer's beloved zone read plays. All of it was made possible by the aforementioned offensive line.

Tebow wasn't flawless, but he was energized and generally on his game. There are still some kinks to work out in Florida's passing attack; Tebow completed 6 of his 14 passes to Harvin, and misfired on a couple throws despite having superior protection all night long. Even his 70-yard TD pass to Harvin on the game's opening drive was a product of a stable pocket and a misplay by the LSU defender who tipped the ball right to Harvin. But that's nitpicking. He completed two passes apiece to Riley Cooper and Deonte Thompson and delivered an absolute strike to Louis Murphy on a deep ball in the fourth quarter.

The big accomplishment defensively was bottling up the heretofore unstoppable Charles Scott, who gained just 35 yards on 12 carries. Scott had no holes through which to run, no daylight toward which he could scamper. The Florida defensive line, buoyed by the addition of prodigal lineman Torrey Davis and Medical Miracle Brandon Antwine, pushed around LSU's offense all night long. As I mentioned, they didn't have much of a pass rush; the Gators picked up two sacks, but both game in the fourth quarter with the game decided and one of those came from a blitzing Janoris Jenkins. But Meyer will take that performance every Saturday if he can get it. He must be feeling a lot better about the chances of containing Knowshon Moreno on November 1.

The secondary's performance was iffy. Joe Haden, who has done yeoman's work all season and who can be forgiven a transgression or two, was consistently beaten by Brandon LaFell. Safeties Ahmad Black and Major Wright played no role, with the exception of one Reggie Nelson-esque hit from Wright in the third quarter. The Tigers racked up 241 yards of passing, and while a bunch of those yards came with the game out of reach, it's not a good statistic. Linebacker Brandon Spikes was Florida's best pass defender. He intercepted Lee twice and returned the second pick for a touchdown. (After which he punted the ball into the stands and drew a 15-yard penalty. On the plus side he got impressive hang time)

Florida still has issues on kickoffs. Considering Meyer's obsessive emphasis on special teams, it's unfathomable that the Gators consistently find themselves tackling opposing returners on the 35 or 40-yard line. UF tried three different kickoff men (Caleb Sturgis, Greg Taussig and Jonathan Phillips, though the latter has earned a safe conduct pass with his flawless place kicking), and none of them could do the job effectively.

The Gators jumped out to a 20-0 lead, but saw their advantage cut to 20-14 after LSU scored on the last drive of the first half and the first drive of the second half. It looked for all the world like a replay of last year's Baton Rouge Nightmare, where UF blew a 17-7 fourth quarter lead against the then-undefeated Tigers.

Tebow wasn't having it. He led the Gators down the field on the ensuing drive and ended it with just his third rushing touchdown of the season. He didn't put up the kind of numbers that would have rocketed him back into Heisman contention, but Chase Daniel and Sam Bradford both lost today, so the situation isn't completely hopeless.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Delayed Debate Reaction

As mentioned in a previous post, I missed the first hour of tonight's debate. I caught the final half hour on radio, locked myself in an isolation booth when it ended and watched the repeat on CSPAN. This post is written without any outside influence; I've deliberately avoided any debate reaction or spin so that I can write this up "clean."

The verdict: excuse me if I repeat my take on the previous two debates, but that was roughly a draw. Nothing important changed. No dynamics were shifted. And when the dynamic is so dramatically in favor of one candidate, that candidate is perfectly fine with the status quo.

I was wrong about McCain's strategy. He was tough and threw punches, but they were largely policy-oriented, standard Republican punches. Obama's a big-government liberal, he's inexperienced, he was wrong about The Surge (TM), etc. Nothing terribly innovative there. William Ayers wasn't mentioned. Tony Rezko wasn't mentioned. Jeremiah Wright's name didn't come within a country mile of Belmont University in Nashville. (And by the way, why are these three debates being held in Mississippi and Tennessee, two solid red states, and New York, a solid blue state? Ohio, Florida, Virginia or Pennsylvania don't have colleges to host these things?)

What I didn't take into account was the chilling effect the debate's format would have. It's easy to attack your opponent on the stump. You're speaking to huge crowds of enthusiastic supporters; there's no one to grimace when you tell a "Yo' mama" joke about the other guy. Even a traditional debate features questions from a stoic, stone-faced moderator. When the questions come from Joe Sixpack or Sarah HockeyMom, it's tougher to insult your opponent. You've got to look the questioner in the eye while you attack. The psychological effect is an important one.

There weren't even any moments on par with Obama's "You were wrong" list in the first debate or Joe Biden's emotional speech at the end of the VP debate.

Obama, for his part, is clearly playing a bit of Dean Smith's Four Corners offense. Stay disciplined, don't make mistakes, don't give the other side any ammunition when they've resorted to throwing their guns at you. It's not an inspiring performance, but it might be a winning performance, and right now that's more important.

Obama's goal is to make it obvious that he knows what he's talking about. He wants to show that America has no need to fear the prospect of an Obama Administration. And as I've posted before, it's not a difficult sell right now, given the economic climate and the low opinion most hold of the Republican party.

I'm now off to check out the pundit reaction and see where I'm wrong.

EDIT: And I've already found one thing I forgot to mention in the original write-up, this one brought to mind by the excellent Joan Walsh over at Salon. There was a strange moment when McCain was defending his votes on alternative energy by criticizing an energy bill that was festooned with pork. In doing so, he said, "And you know who voted for it? That one." I thought it was rather bizarrely condescending to refer to Obama like that. Not sure what McCain was thinking about there.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Wherein I Realize That Volunteerism Is A Sham

Both of you anxiously anticipating a liveblog of Tuesday's presidential debate will be, like my various math teachers, severely disappointed. I've volunteered to help my old high school debate team prepare for next weekend's tournament. Yes, I'm missing a debate to help prepare for a debate. It's irony worthy of Sophocles.

I suspect there'll be a TV or two at the old high school Tuesday (Go Shawnee Mission West!) showing McCain-Obama: Part Deux, but I won't be observing with my usual religious fervor. Expect a post after the debate once I get a chance to review the transcript and watch some video.

It's a shame I won't be able to give this debate the attention it deserves, because I suspect there will be some fireworks in this one. John McCain's entering the 11th round of this fight trailing on all cards. He needs a knockout, and he's going to come out throwing hay makers. Several published reports indicate that the McCain campaign, facing national tracking polls that indicate Obama's up anywhere from six to 11 points and a truly frightening electoral map, intends to dial up the attacks.

Those attacks are going to include the standard Republican attack lines ("Tax and spend liberal!"), but they're largely aimed at the details of Obama's past. Namely, his former associations and friendships. Sarah Palin, Alaska Governor and the most adorable scamp in the history of American politics ("Aw, Sarah just mocked community organizing as a worthless endeavor. What a troublemaker!"), fired the first shot Saturday with a particularly nasty attack focusing on Obama's relationship with William Ayers.

It's not going to end there. Tuesday's going to be the primetime rollout of that strategy. McCain's going to use this "townhall meeting," his preferred forum, to launch the personal attacks. The only question is whether he'll be able to look Obama in the eyes when he does so.

Obama, for his part, isn't going into the debate with any extraordinary ambitions. He was cool and cautious in the first debate, didn't wander far from his comfort zone and still won over most independents. This is just a guess, but I think most undecideds are looking for reasons to vote Obama. They're anxious to be won over. And so long as Obama doesn't give them any reason to doubt, he will win them over. He "won" the first debate by showing a solid command of the issues and, for lack of a better phrase, looking presidential.

He'll be a little more aggressive Tuesday, but not nearly enough to satiate the bloodlust of the liberal base. Whatever. We'll get over it. His challenge is going to be keeping his cool and remaining presidential in the face of McCain's attacks. And yet, he doesn't want to be too cool. If McCain attacks him, it won't do to just smile the insult away. He'll need to show a little fire.

But, again, not too much fire. He wants to convey "spirited," not "militant." That's his balancing act. Obama's in the dominant position right now, but his task for Tuesday is slightly more difficult than McCain's. The Arizona senator is just going to attack. He's not even going to worry about coming off as hostile; that ship sailed a long, long time ago.

Still, McCain's bar is higher. Another average performance, another "draw," and his hill gets a little steeper. He needs a big-time performance.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Florida 38, Arkansas 7

File this under "Good News/Bad News."

The good news was pretty abundant. Most impressive was Florida's offense, which had its most balanced and best overall performance of the season. Four players (Chris Rainey, Jeff Demps, Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin) received significant carries. Two players (Rainey and Demps) went over 100 yards. Eight players caught passes; Louis Murphy led the receiving corps with five receptions for 70 yards, Harvin and Brandon James both caught three, Carl Moore, Deonte Thompson and Aaron Hernandez all caught three and Demps and Riley Cooper chipped in with one apiece.

The Gators finally pivoted away from their "Tebow-Harvin-Harvin-Tebow-Harvin-Hernandez-Tebow-Tebow-Harvin" offense. Percy accounted for only 74 of Florida's 514 total yards. Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator Dan Mullen opened up the offense to take advantage of the bevy of playmakers Florida possesses.

Demps scored on a 36-yard touchdown run in the second quarter to push Florida's lead to 14-0. His was a pretty simple run: find a hole and run as fast as you can through it. When you're an Olympics-caliber sprinter, that works pretty well. Rainey put the game away in the fourth quarter with an extraordinary run that rivaled any of work of art crafted by Harvin during his tenure in Gainesville. Rainey bedeviled a couple Razorbacks with a spin move and simply blew away the remaining defenders. Demps would add one more long touchdown run to give the Gators their winning margin; it came late in the fourth quarter after I left the sports bar. I'm sure it was quite lovely.

Tebow was 17 of 26 for 217 yards and two touchdowns; he looked more comfortable than he did in any other game. He did throw his first interception in 204 attempts, but even that was less a matter of poor decision-making (he had Harvin streaking down the sideline) and more a situation where he just didn't put enough air on the ball to loft it over a linebacker.

He felt comfortable because UF's devastated offensive line did an admirable job in less than ideal circumstances. Left guard Jim Tartt was out with the same shoulder injury that's been tormenting him since 2006. Tartt's two back-ups, Maurice Hurt and Marcus Gilbert, were also out. All of that pushed redshirt sophomore Carl Johnson, a former big-time recruit, natural tackle and videogame star, into the position. He did his job, as did the rest of the line. Tebow was sacked only once, and I can remember only one other play where he faced significant pressure.

Jonathan Phillips nailed yet another difficult field goal.

So, the bad news. All of the above is somewhat mitigated by the fact that Arkansas is really damn bad. The Razorbacks' defense was ranked 65th in the country coming into the game. By comparison, their hated rival Arkansas State ranked 52nd.

But hey, the Gators still shredded that defense. More troubling was UF's relative inability to handle Arkansas' 73rd-ranked offense. The Razorbacks scored only once and put up a respectable 361 total yards, but Florida's defense didn't play as well as those statistics. Diminutive Arkansas running back Michael Smith gashed UF 20 times for 133 yards and a touchdown. They weren't able to tackle him for a loss once. That's not terribly encouraging with LSU and Charles Scott next on the schedule.

Casey Dick was 24 of 38 for 220 yards. While the Gators recorded an impressive four sacks, those were the only four plays where they were able to pressure the heretofore small-in-stature Dick. More often than not Arkansas' Dick was unmolested as he sat comfortably in the pocket, patiently waiting for a receiver to come open across the middle.

And the penalties! Oy, the penalties. Arkansas was flagged nine times for 75 yards, and several of those penalties killed their momentum on big drives. But that stat makes the Razorbacks look like saints compared to Florida. The Gators were penalized 12 times for 110 yards.

On one particularly infuriating set of plays, the Gators managed to commit a penalty on at least four consecutive snaps. Florida started its first drive of the second quarter on its own one-yard line. It took the Gators just four plays to push the ball to the 39-yard line.

Then the Gators were penalized for holding. First and 20 on the 29-yard line.

The Gators were penalized for illegal formation. First and 25 on the 24-yard line.

The Gators were penalized for holding. First and 35 on the 14-yard line.

Shockingly, Florida wasn't able to convert. But in a miraculous stroke of luck, Michael Smith fumbled the ensuing punt, giving the ball to Florida on the Arkansas 16-yard line.

The Gators were penalized for illegal hands to the face. First and 25 from the 31-yard line.

The Gators were penalized for a false start. First and 30 from the 36-yard line.

Demps bailed out his teammates with his first touchdown run, but LSU and Georgia aren't going to give up 36-yard runs to true freshmen.

Still, road games against unranked SEC West opponents have historically given the Gators fits. You'll take a 31-point victory every day. The only important downside to the game was another potential injury to Harvin, who sprained his ankle in the first quarter, played the rest of the game and sort of limped around the field at times. If he's not at 100 percent, the Gators have little chance of beating LSU.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

St. Louis: Full of Number Two

Yes, a poop joke. Have I told you about my deep-seated faith in the power of beautiful language?

Anyway, I think my pre-debate prediction was largely on target. (The accuracy of your predictions is always good when you're the judge) Nothing extraordinary happened tonight. Sarah Palin didn't look like a complete amateur and Joe Biden didn't call Palin "sweetie," "babe," "dear" or "dame." So it was a success on all fronts.

That said, I don't give either of them positive reviews. Palin still rambled at times, and though avoiding any Couric-esque failures, she didn't exactly seem like someone with an iron grip on the intricacies of issues. Her answer on the role of the vice presidency was, frankly, rather frightening. She expressed her support for Dick Cheney's philosophy, and I found that troublesome. She also completely avoided the issue of providing benefits to gay couples, and moderator Gwen Ifill let her get away with a standard conservative bromide about keeping marriage as a union between man and woman. Simply as a reporter I was disappointed with Ifill in that exchange.

She quite skillfully played the persecuted, put-upon down home girl card. It annoyed me, but as she's said before, she doesn't care what people with journalism degrees think. It'll probably play well overall, and that's what matters.

Biden was, above all else, dull, and perhaps he erred a bit too much on the side of caution. With the exception of one reference to the "Bridge to Nowhere" he restricted his jabs to John McCain and largely left Palin alone. It was dull, as I said, but it was certainly the safe option. He didn't give the McCain camp any ammo for an attack ad or a vitriolic press release.

He stumbled a few times with his wording, mixing up a couple names and having to correct himself once or twice. He was frequently left in the difficult position of having to use his 90 seconds to respond to three or four different allegations, which diluted his overall point. Biden did have an excellent moment at the end of the debate when he discussed the tragedy that had befallen his family. He showed real emotion and pathos.

In a lot of ways Palin's responsibility was similar to Barack Obama's in last week's presidential debate. He had to convince people that he had the bare competence needed to run the country. She had to convince people that she had the bare competence needed to be one heartbeat away from running the country. I don't think she did as good a job in that as Obama did, but she cleared the bar set for her.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Another Programming Note

I will not be liveblogging tomorrow's VP debate, for the simple reason that I don't think there will be anything terribly consequential said or done.

The McCain campaign is trying to drive expectations for Sarah Palin down to the 10th ring of Hell. Those stories coming out in The Wall Street Journal and other venues quoting anonymous aides as being terrified of what she might say seem way too convenient. Frankly, they're reminiscent of an episode of The West Wing from its last season when Leo leaked footage of his deliberately awful debate prep performances. Campaign journalists are smart enough to recognize what's going on, but even subconsciously all that spin is going to sink in. If Palin gets through the night without mispronouncing a foreign leader's name the performance will be hailed as a tour de force.

Joe Biden's staffers, for their part, are probably going to slip some Valium into their candidate's pre-debate bottle of water. He'll be so afraid of coming off as condescending and sexist that he'd probably hesitate to speak up if Palin talks about how the conflict in Georgia endangers the several million people who live in Atlanta. He'll take the standard shots at John McCain, try to link him to President Bush, but he'll probably just leave Palin alone and hope she repeats her performance from the Couric interviews. As I said above, I don't think that will happen.

And then there's the moderator, PBS' Gwen Ifill, a journalist I like an awful lot. The right is already wailing and gnashing its teeth over the book Ifill plans to release in a couple months. One of McCain's surrogates has ominously threatened unnamed punishment should Ifill dare to ask Palin "gotcha" questions. I don't know how all of that will affect Ifill's performance. I hope not at all. But you can never tell.

So no liveblogging. I will, however, have post-debate reaction here. So look for that if your life is sad and pathetic.