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The Mayor Supports The Senator Against The Pundit

On Saturday afternoon, I provided a brief overview of happenings in the blogosphere, but the fine work of Senator Blutarsky warranted a posting all its own.

On the playoff front, the Senator rightly has exposed Mark Bradley's shortsightedness and praised Ivan Maisel's wisdom. Since my opposition to a playoff and to a "plus one" B.C.S. bowl system is well documented, I was pleased to read such well-reasoned arguments from a fellow alumnus of the Joseph Henry Lumpkin School of Law.

The Senator doesn't like to brag about his extensive post-secondary education, which is why he doesn't wear a sweatshirt that says "Law School" on it.

That, though, is not my primary reason for praising the Senator on this occasion.

Not long ago, I mentioned the series of effective rebuttals offered in response to a certain self-proclaimed member of The Punditocracy whose bizarre theories I answered repeatedly before finally abandoning that enterprise last year.

In fact, I not only quit responding to him, but, after an exchange over at The M Zone, I quit visiting his site altogether, so it was only through the Senator's efforts that I learned "that the reason Florida's point production in [Nancy] Meyer's two years in the SEC has been middling is because Meyer has deliberately chosen to hold things back." As quoted by the Senator, this stunning circular rationalization was explained thusly:

If the spread works, why did it only score 21 points against SEC teams? Well, I think the answer is clear: it didn't need to score more. How long should a man's legs be? Answer: Long enough to touch the ground.

Going into most conference games, Meyer knew that the other team couldn't score against his defense, so why open things up? He played the percentages.

Let us leave aside the self-evident fact that such statements amount to an admission that defense wins championships. (If your defense is good enough to keep the other team from scoring, why do you need to open up the offense? If you can win without having to score a lot of points, shouldn't you do so? Indeed!)

By Jove, I think he's got it!

There is, however, rather a shocking indictment of Coach Meyer implicit in such declarations. It is one thing to praise a coach for refusing to run up the score; it is one thing to credit a coach for using only base formations and plain-vanilla play-calling in non-conference contests against overmatched opponents, in order to avoid putting too much on film . . . but it is something else again to claim that a football coach is guilty of deliberately minimizing scoring in league games in which the outcome is in doubt.

In two years in Gainesville, Coach Meyer has gone 13-4 in conference play. In his four league losses, his Gators have scored three, 17, 22, and 17 points, respectively. Eight of his 13 S.E.C. wins have come by margins of 10 or fewer points, including six victories decided by a touchdown or less. Among Coach Meyer's S.E.C. successes are one-point escapes against Tennessee and South Carolina in 2006 and a pair of nailbiters against Vanderbilt.

It is to Coach Meyer's credit that, despite the failure of his innovative offensive scheme to set the S.E.C. on fire the way Steve Spurrier's did a decade and a half earlier, he has found a way to win games with defense, using the model that historically has worked in the Southeastern Conference. It is ludicrous, though, to suggest that Coach Meyer has been holding back deliberately in the biggest games on the schedule because victory somehow was assured. Can it seriously be believed that Coach Meyer reined in his offense in Knoxville, intentionally kept his offense from scoring in the second half in Jacksonville, or handcuffed his squad against South Carolina so that the game could be decided on a blocked kick?

How good a quarterback was Chris Leak? In his junior and senior seasons, he was ordered by his coach to score exactly 14 offensive points in Jacksonville, and he carried out his orders to the letter both times.

Even if this novel and nonsensical theory were not laughably absurd on its face, the available evidence easily disproves it. In 2004, Coach Meyer guided Utah to an undefeated season in which his defense held Utah State to six points, New Mexico to seven points, North Carolina to 16 points, and Pittsburgh to seven points. Why, then, did he allow his offense to hang 48, 28, 46, and 35 points, respectively, on those four squads? He didn't need nearly that many points. Why was he so gauche in Salt Lake City if he was to be so giving in Gainesville?

In the Gators' 1996 national championship season, Coach Spurrier guided the Orange and Blue to lopsided wins over Kentucky (65-0), Arkansas (42-7), L.S.U. (56-13), Auburn (51-10), Georgia (47-7), and South Carolina (52-25). Why, precisely, would Coach Meyer have refrained from duplicating those dominant performances if he was as capable as the Evil Genius of running it up on the backward S.E.C.? Did Coach Spurrier want legs long enough not just to reach the ground, but to go down into the ground up to the knees so he could do his Dorf impersonation?

I simply cannot believe that any serious person believes that Coach Meyer believed all of the Gators' conference games, no matter how closely contested, were sufficiently safe wins that he could continue to play it close to the vest until he got to Glendale. If he did so, though, why do you suppose he ran the risk of not making it into the national championship game at all by allowing his team to lose at Auburn? I would have thought that a school that hasn't had an undefeated season since 1911 would have pulled out all the stops to win 'em all, but maybe that's just me.

I guess Coach Meyer was able to persuade the Trojans' offense not to score too many points, either.

Such an argument can only be offered as a massive rationalization, but, however unwittingly, that curious excuse contains a scurrilous accusation. If someone is claiming that Coach Meyer deliberately kept his team from scoring points in contests where the Gators had leads that were far from comfortable, the person making such claims essentially is accusing Coach Meyer of point-shaving.

How serious an indictment is that? This question was best answered by James "Caretaker" Farrell:

All I'm saying is that you could have robbed banks, sold dope, or stole your grandmother's pension checks, and none of us would have minded, but shaving points off of a football game? Man, that's un-American!

Perhaps the author of this specious argument intended it admiringly, but the only reasonable interpretation of it is as an accusation. I don't much care for Coach Meyer, but I would never level such an irresponsible charge at him for no better reason than to prop up my own disproven notions, even inadvertently.

Florida's head coach indicates the total number of points he hopes to see his team score each week.

It is true that the Gators' defense deserves the lion's share of the credit for Florida's 2006 national title. However, the Orange and Blue scored as few points as they did against Southeastern Conference competition not because Coach Meyer decided to hamstring his offense, but because the Gators' S.E.C. coevals play good defense, too.

To anyone who is not blinded by crackpot ideas about the demise of defense, the explanation is simple, straightforward, and consistent with the whole history of college football. Other teams found it hard to score against Florida because Florida played good defense. Florida found it hard to score against other S.E.C. teams because those other S.E.C. teams played good defense, too.

Could it be that defense matters? Could that be why the top 12 teams in scoring defense (Virginia Tech, Wisconsin, T.C.U., L.S.U., Ohio State, Florida, Auburn, Rutgers, Penn State, B.Y.U., Southern California, and Wake Forest) won 10, 12, 11, 11, 12, 13, 11, 11, nine, 11, 11, and 11 games, respectively?

Naaaaaah, that's just crazy talk. It makes more sense to suppose that Coach Meyer, a man noted for his easygoing demeanor, avuncular personality, and lack of ego, would tell his offense to take it easy because he only wanted to score as many points as he needed . . . right?

Go 'Dawgs!