I was going to write a little baseball for today’s commentary. But I decided to watch most of the Thursday night football game between Washington and USC. I subsequently changed my mind on the topic.
Anyone who says it’s the players who decide the games rather than the coaches would be well advised to watch a replay of this game, as that old axiom is clearly not always correct. There’s no question in my mind that while Stave Sarkisian might not have lost the game, the USC head coach sure did his best to prevent his Trojans from winning it.
Tre Madden, Ronald Jones II and Justin Davis combined to carry the football 32 times in this game and the USC trio turned those attempts into 212 rushing yards. That’s 6.6 yards per carry. Washington could not contain the Trojans running backs.
But apparently Sarkisian and his assistants don’t have access to in-game stats, or they just chose to ignore them while also turning a blind eye to what was taking place on the field. In spite of the fact that USC was shredding the Huskies defensive front virtually every time they ran the football, the Trojans just couldn’t resist trying to air it out. I understand Cody Kessler is a very talented QB. But he was not having a good night throwing the ball, and even when he did find the intended target, the guys who were supposed to catch the football just weren’t able to do so.
The nadir of the evening for USC was its final drive. Sure enough, they’re rumbling down the field on the ground. And just like that, Kessler throws a long ball that falls harmlessly to the ground and USC finds itself in long yardage. Then, with only one time out remaining and down five, Sarkisian inexplicably decides to try a 45-yard field goal that ends up short.
Bad play calling, failure to capitalize on what’s working, horrible late game strategy in terms of risk vs. reward as far as clock management is concerned…. strike one, strike two and strike three. This was a really bad job by Sarkisian, and as a result the Trojans are now dead as far as having any shot to get the playoffs goes.
One other noteworthy mention here. Lest you think I’m picking on Sarkisian for one off night, consider this. The Trojans have been double digit favorites six times against power-five conference opponents since Sarkisian arrived (thanks to @McMurphyESPN for this tidbit). USC is 2-4 straight up in those games. That’s not good. Neither is Sark, I’m afraid.
A small profit here on Thursday as the Jets were NHL winners while I coughed back a half unit on the 76ers in an NBAx game. Philly rallied at the finish line to win by one, but the number had gone to -1.5 by the time most of my subscribers received it and it’s therefore a loss on the grading sheet. Nevertheless, another plus night and now the big weekend gets underway. I’ll be all over the college board, I’ve also got at least one MLB play on Friday and I’m excited about trying to maintain a nice little positive flow.
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Winnipeg fell behind early at Boston, but the Jets eventually gained control and ended up skating pasty the Bruins in comfortable fashion as the Thursday free play. Let’s head to the MLB playoffs for the Friday comp.
CUBS (Lester) @ CARDINALS (Lackey)
Take: UNDER 6.5 -115
In case you haven’t noticed, runs have not been easy to come by thus far in the baseball post-season, and home field has been a big disadvantage out of the gate. Not only have all four visitors been winners, none of the home teams have even enjoyed a brief lead. I imagine some of that will change today, but my focus as the Cubs and Cardinals get started is on the Total.
This is a matchup of two veteran pitchers who have each tasted a good deal of success in October. Former Boston teammates Jon Lester and John Lackey will now be adversaries, and I look at this game as one where scoring has a great chance to again be at a premium.
The big stage will not be an issue for either guy. Both Lester and Lackey have experience this atmosphere many times and each has managed to flourish more often than not. I make both pitchers favorites to do so again today.
There’s no way I can document this, but there’s no question in my mind based on all these years of viewing that veteran pitchers, especially high level ones, usually get a great strike zone in the playoffs. If that’s the case here as I suspect it should be, that’s bad news for the batters and great news for Lester and Lackey, who are each quite adept at avoiding the center of the strike zone.
The two starters are in solid form heading in, with Lester enjoying a stellar September and aside from a shaky tuneup start to close the regular season, that’s a ditto for Lackey. The Cardinals are not exactly robust against good southpaws and Lackey doesn’t figure to be a treat for the Cubs.
There’s even some small sample history here, for what that’s worth. The Under is 3-1-1 when Lackey starts vs. St. Louis and it’s 4-0 when Lackey faces the Cubs. Of course, for every positive trend one can usually balance the sheet with a negative one. In this case the Over has been a big winner recently when the Cubs play the Cardinals at St. Louis.
My main take here is that I trust the old pros to come up big like they usually do come playoff time. I’ll look for Lester and Lackey to put up their share of zeroes while avoiding the crooked numbers and I’ll take the Cubs and Cardinals to keep this one Under the number.