LAS VEGAS — Hail to the Rams. They took a huge step Thursday night toward winning the NFL’s battle for Los Angeles.
When my buddy Dick Vermeil coached the Rams to their only Super Bowl victory back in 1999, Sean McVay had just turned 14. Now nearly 18 years after Mike Jones tackled Kevin Dyson to save the game, McVay at the age of 31 is the youngest head coach in NFL history. He is wise beyond his years.
After doing an excellent job with the Washington Redskins and particularly quarterback Kirk Cousins, it is clear that McVay has been able to get the positive results out of Jared Goff that Jeff Fisher could not. Let these numbers sink in: Goff – against a decent 49ers defense – went 22 of 28 for 292 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
McVay also made an excellent move in hiring Wade Phillips as his defensive coordinator. Just two years ago it was Phillips who orchestrated the Denver Broncos defense that devoured Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50.
How about all those shots of McVay sitting back on an ice cooler Thursday night studying his offensive play chart? He was paying no attention to what was happening the field, because he knew Phillips could be trusted running the defense.
General manager Les Snead and the Rams organization also deserve credit for signing perhaps the most important free agent during the offseason. That would be 11-year veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth. This move greatly impacted two franchises – both the Rams and the Cincinnati Bengals. Ask yourself why the Rams are 2-1 while the Bengals are 0-2. If you took notice of Whitworth’s work protecting Goff’s blind side, that will go a long way toward answering your question.
You already know that I do not approve of Thursday night football because of the health of the players. I am hoping that Rams wide receiver Sammy Watkins and center John Sullivan are able to play next week when the Rams travel to Dallas. Watkins went into concussion protocol, and it was clear that Sullivan tore his groin. Memo to bettors, especially with regard to center Sullivan: keep an eye on the injury report.
The only thing the Rams did not do Thursday night was cover the 2½- to 3-point spread, depending on when you made your move on the 49ers. It was a fun game to watch, but don’t get too carried away. As my VSiN running mate Ron Flatter posted on Twitter on Thursday night: “#LARvsSF was entertaining. But that does not mean it was good.”
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Turning our attention to the college football Saturday, Clemson suffered a major loss when place-kicker Greg Huegel suffered a freak injury that will sideline him for the season.
At the end of Wednesday’s practice, when teams rehearse the two-minute drill and rush the field-goal team out at the end, a defensive player accidentally rolled up on Huegel’s kicking leg and tore the ACL. Last week Huegel booted two field goals against Louisville, including a career-long 49-yarder. Last year he was a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award. His replacement is junior Alex Spence, who has a big kicking shoe to fill. Clemson is a 33½ -point favorite Saturday hosting Boston College.
The team that the Tigers beat for the national championship – Alabama – rolls into Nashville to play a tricky bunch from Vanderbilt, which is catching 19½. The Commodores have not given up that many points all season. But this is a huge step up in class from wins over Middle Tennessee, Alabama A&M and Kansas State. At the same time we will also get a better idea of where ’Bama is at this point. Having failed to cover two spreads after dismantling Florida State in their ballyhooed opener, the Tide is poised to again flex its muscle.
It is not just the ACC and SEC. Conference play begins throughout the country, and both the Big Ten and Pac-12 have grabbed our attention.
Out west USC travels to Berkeley to play vastly improved California. Under Justin Wilcox the Golden Bears have traveled east to beat North Carolina, and they have beaten Ole Miss at home. So beware backing the Trojans and laying the 17.
I am also leaning toward UCLA catching 7 at The Farm against Stanford. I am suspicious about the Cardinal this year after last week’s loss to San Diego State. I am not alone, since that line moved down from 7½. And don’t overlook Washington at Colorado. This is a rematch of last year’s conference championship that the Huskies won by 31. UW is gearing up for another title run.
Over in the Big Ten, I never thought I would be saying this, but the Purdue Boilermakers are a live underdog – getting 10 points hosting Michigan. The results that Jeff Brohm is getting in his first year coming over from Western Kentucky mean that if any marquee jobs open up in the SEC (I am looking at you, Tennessee and LSU), Brohm is going to be at the top of the list. He will become the poster child for college coaches on the rise if the Boilermakers find a way to beat the Wolverines this weekend.
But buyer beware. This is a situation where I have watched Jim Harbaugh drop the hammer. Remember the game at the Los Angeles Coliseum eight years ago, when Coach Khaki and Stanford beat Pete Carroll and USC 55-21? Here is a bit of advice for Brohm. Don’t go up to Harbaugh after the game and ask “What’s your deal?”