Rob Lehocky

Postgame thoughts from Arizona

January 11th, 2011 at 1:23 pm by under FOX10 Sports

In one of the great BCS Championship games in recent memory, the Auburn Tigers used a last-minute drive and field goal to edge Oregon, 22-19 at University of Phoenix Stadium Monday night. Wes Byrum’s short field goal sent the Auburn faithful into a frenzy as the clock expired and the Tigers won their first national title in 53 years.  The finish was fitting for the Tigers, who have pulled out several games in the final minutes this season. Auburn had just watched Oregon tie the game in the final couple minutes before marching down the field — fueled by an amazing 37-yard run by freshman Michael Dyer.

FIVE IN A ROW FOR SEC
Auburn’s victory gives the SEC five straight BCS titles, and the Tigers are the fourth different team to win it.  Florida has won two, Alabama one and LSU one over that stretch.  The league is now 7-0 in BCS Championship games.
FAIRLEY DELIVERS AGAIN
Mobile’s Nick Fairley was the star of the game.  The junior spent the game in the Oregon backfield, disrupting the Ducks’ running game.  The Tigers defensive line held the Ducks to a season-low 75 yards and even got a safety in the second quarter that proved to be one of the biggest plays of the game.  A fourth quarter goal line stand also was a key moment in the game.  Fairley — and Cam Newton, too — will have a decision to make in the coming days.  The deadline to enter the NFL draft is Friday.  Look for both guys to leave school early and go pro.  Fairley will probably be the number-2 pick and maybe even the top pick.
AUBURN CROWD
Outside the stadium it seemed like there were more Oregon fans, but once we got into University of Phoenix Stadium, it was clear there were more Auburn fans.  I’d say Auburn had at least 60 percent of the seats, perhaps as much as two thirds, and they were loud.  The Auburn nation showed up big time, and I estimate there were several thousand more Tiger fans outside the stadium without tickets.
DYER DELIVERS
Freshman Michael Dyer showed why he was one of the top two running backs coming out of high school last year.  He rushed for 143 yards and nearly won the game with a 16-yard run to the half-yard line with 10 seconds to go.  He certainly will be a big part of the offense next season, especially if Cam Newton does not return.
CAM HURTING
Chizik didn’t know Cam Newton’s condition Tuesday morning, but it was clear the Heisman winner was hurting after Monday night’s big win.  He injured his back in the 4th quarter and was visibly hurting after the game.  He didn’t participate in the trophy presentation on the field and left the postgame press conference early to get treatment.  Chizik said they knew he was hurting, but said Cam is a tough kid and there was no way he was going to miss the final minutes of the game.
LOOKING TO 2011
Obviously, if the Tigers lose Newton and Fairley to the draft they’ll be losing not only their top two players, but arguably the best offensive player and best defensive player in the country.  The Tigers will have a tough time filling those shoes next season, but Chizik said recruiting is going well.  The Tigers are high on Barrett Trotter, who presumably would be the next quarterback on the plains.  But he’s no Cam Newton.
The Tigers will have a lot of players to replace on defense and they’ll lose a majority of their offensive line, including center Ryan Pugh and tackle Lee Ziemba. So it could be a rebuilding year of sorts next year.

Finally, Game Day is here!!

January 10th, 2011 at 8:44 am by under FOX10 Sports

SCOTTSDALE, AZ — Flags are flying all over the Phoenix area — Auburn and Oregon flags, that is.  The rental cars out here are filled with fans and car flags from both teams on the eve of the big game — and rental cars are completely sold out by the way.  At shopping malls, restaurants and the airport, you can hear fans shouting “War Eagle” or “Go Ducks,”  and it seems like both sides are pretty friendly with each other.

Thousands came out for the team pep rallies Sunday.  They were both held on the Scottsdale Waterfront across the street from Scottsdale Fashion Square shopping center in downtown Scottsdale, Arizona.  The Tigers went first, followed by the Ducks.  Word is, the Ducks pep rally was so crowded, they had to turn fans away.  Sunday night, a lot of the Auburn Nation went to parties. Auburn alum Charles Barkley, who lives in nearby Paradise Valley, hosted a couple parties this weekend.  I wasn’t invited.

COACHES HAVE LAST WORD

At the coaches’ press conference Sunday morning, cameras were at least six deep with everyone trying to get that shot of the trophy.  Auburn’s Gene Chizik talked about a wide variety of subjects, fielding questions covering just about everything.  He said the team is not only trying to bring home the title for this year’s team and fans but also for past teams like the 1983, 1993 and 2004 teams.   Oregon’s Chip Kelly said they’re playing for the University of Oregon, and it’s not about the conference.  Despite what Kelly said, Pac-10 fans and SEC fans have long debated which conference is stronger.  This will be their first bowl meeting in 22 years.

SUNDAY WALK-THRUS

Oregon and Auburn did their walk-thrus Sunday.  New grass is on the field since the Fiesta Bowl on January 1.   It’s interesting how they do that.   The field literally slides in and out like a drawer.  We heard the grass is slippery, so they may have to reconsider their choice of cleats.   Those walk-thrus were closed to media and fans, but, more than 74,000 people will fill the University of Phoenix Stadium (previously Cardinals Stadium) Monday.    A lot of fans are talking about how that will break down come game time (remember the ticket issues for some Auburn fans and rumors that Nike’s Phil Knight — big Oregon booster — bought up a whole bunch of tickets early on).

KOBE AND THE LAKERS

After walk-throughs, Auburn had a quiet team dinner.  It’s been a busy week for the Tigers.  They hit a Phoenix Suns/L.A. Lakers basketball game earlier this week — you may have heard Cam Newton was courtside doing interviews.  The Lakers’ Kobe Bryant (a Nike guy like Oregon) took time to talk to the Ducks before the game.

Tailgating and pre-game stuff start early Monday.  It’s supposed to be a pretty typical January day in Phoenix — sunny and temperatures in the 60s.  We could play this game outside and it wouldn’t be any problem weather-wise.  But, it sounds like the roof at the stadium is going to be closed, so we’ll just have to enjoy the weather early on.

LET’S PLAY FOOTBALL!!!

It’s going to be a long and busy day for us.  Our live coverage will start with FOX10 News in the morning and go on all day and through the game.  It should be a pretty good match-up.  Auburn’s a slight favorite as it tries to bring home the fifth straight title for the SEC — and, the second in two years for the State of Alabama.  The last time a Pac-10 team won was back in 2004 when USC beat Oklahoma 55-14.  The following year USC was the AP champ and LSU won the BCS — so they basically split the national title.  Too bad USC and LSU didn’t play each other.  That would have been a good game to watch.


BCS practice and more

January 9th, 2011 at 2:44 pm by under FOX10 Sports

The wait is nearly over for Auburn. Thirty-five days is a long time to wait to play a football game. Of course, this is not your ordinary football game.

Can you think of the last time you heard people spending around $4,000 on ONE ticket? That’s how big this BCS National Championship game is.

You have two passionate fan bases who have never been in a championship game like this. University of Phoenix Stadium only holds 74,000 fans and about half the tickets went to Arizona Cardinal fans. So, you can see why this is such a hot ticket for Tiger and Duck fans.

Oh, and you have two unbeatens and two offenses that will test the scoreboard at any stadium. This is going to be fun.

AUBURN WRAPS UP PRACTICE

Auburn is done practicing. The Tigers went through their final full practice on Saturday at Scottsdale Community College. They’ll have a short walk-thru at the University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday.

Coach Gene Chizik has praised his players and coaching staff all week for its focus and energy.

IT’S NOT A REAL UNIVERSITY

My colleague Hal Scheurich was wondering if this was the first time they’d played a championship game on a college campus.

University of Phoenix Stadium is actually just the name of the stadium. University of Phoenix is an online university and clearly paid enough money to get its name on the stadium.  You can get a degree from the University of Phoenix, but there is no campus near the stadium or anywhere for that matter.

I did get a good chuckle when Hal asked about it, though. It’s a little confusing, but a better name than the hockey arena across the street — Jobing.com Arena.

OREGON ROCKS OUT

Going to two practices in one day, it’s interesting to compare the two. Keep in mind, we’re only able to view about 15 minutes of each so you only get a short glimpse of each practice. That said, Auburn’s practice seemed much more business-like. Mobile’s Nick Fairley was the most vocal. He would probably enjoy Oregon’s practice.

The Ducks practice with loud music blasting the entire practice. At one point during the practice, I turned to a friend who works for the University of Oregon and said, ‘It’s kind of like a musical.” They were dancing and sometimes almost seemed to have a routine. As for the music, it was a wide variety to say the least — from rap to classic rock, even a song in Spanish.

The players seemed extremely loose. You certainly wouldn’t know they were going to play the biggest game of their lives in a matter of hours.

IS THE NATION CHEERING AGAINST AUBURN?

Based on Auburn’s reception at the Phoenix Suns basketball game the other night, I don’t think the Tigers will be picking up any extra fan support from the locals here. The Tigers got some boos from the Suns fans. Keep in mind, this is a Pac-10 town (Arizona State), so that may play a factor. Or perhaps some people aren’t satisfied with how the Cam Newton saga was handled by the NCAA. It may even be negative feelings toward the SEC — which has won the last four BCS National Championships. Championship-envy?

CAM AND NICK AND THE NFL

Most projections by NFL Draft analysts have Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley in the top-5 overall and quarterback Cam Newton as one of the top few quarterbacks — a first round pick. Hard to imagine either guy passing up that opportunity, even with an NFL lockout as a possibility. So, this is likely the final game for both guys in an Auburn uniform.

Fairley told me on Friday he’ll talk to coach Gene Chizik, his position coach Tracy Rocker and his family and figure out what is best for him. He and Cam have until Friday to declare for the draft.

My guess is they’re both going pro. We’ll see. The projected top pick, Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, passed on the NFL, so you never know.

CHIP’S BITES

Have to say, I like Chip Kelly. The Oregon coach clearly is not a big media guy, but he’s witty and has a quirky sense of humor. When asked about his reaction to Luck’s decision to stay in school for another season — making conference rival Stanford a serious contender in the Pac-10 next year, Kelly said,”I threw up.”

LINE OF THE WEEK

Kelly was clever, but the quote of the week goes to his defensive coordinator, Nick Allioti. When asked about trying to stop Cam Newton for the 1,000th time earlier this week, Allioti said, “People keep asking me how I’m sleeping, I’m sleeping like a baby. I wake up every two hours and cry.”

Auburn’s defensive coordinator Ted Roof, who has his hands full, too said, “At least he’s sleeping.”


Let the madness begin

March 16th, 2010 at 8:25 pm by under FOX10 Sports

Football season is great. It’s my favorite sport to watch. That said, the best sporting ‘event’ on the planet is March Madness.

It’s been a down year in the state of Alabama. Not a single team made the field of 65. However, both Florida and Florida St. made the tourney and so did Kentucky, led by a fabulous freshman group that includes Mobile’s DaMarcus Cousins and Birmingham product Eric Bledsoe.

For Cousins, the former LeFlore product, it’s a chance to finally breakthrough and win. The Wildcats are the SEC Champs, but they have a much bigger goal — a national title.

He came close to the state championship with the Rattlers, only to be denied in Birmingham — where for some reason a majority of people love to hate Cousins. He had an altercation with a coach up there a few years ago and ended up tranferring to LeFlore. It’s a long story, but the bottom line is, Cousins is a good kid. He’s made his mistakes, but who hasn’t?  He’s a smart kid. He has a good family. He is someone to cheer for. I’ll be pulling for him.

Kentucky is the top seed in the East and open against East Tennessee St. on Thursday in New Orleans.


NCAA is messing with wrong postseason

March 3rd, 2010 at 3:01 pm by under FOX10 Sports

So, apparently there is some serious talk about expanding March Madness to 96 teams. You must be kidding me. Who wants to see the 11th-place team from the Big-12 go up against Siena? Not me.

I’d ask why the NCAA is thinking about expanding the tournament, but I already know why. Money. Forget that it will just be adding mediocre teams to the tournament and extending it two more days. I mean, they added that 65th team a couple years ago and I have never watched that ridiculous ‘play-in’ game the Tuesday before the tournament starts. To me, it starts on Thursday.

It’s ironic that there’s such an outcry to change the postseason in football by dumping the BCS and having a playoff, and yet they are thinking about changing the postseason that is the best in the NCAA.

Leave March Madness alone and fix the madness that is the BCS.

If this is approved, have fun watching Iowa St. and Siena. Don’ t let me know what happens.


Regional at South needs changes

March 3rd, 2010 at 2:52 pm by under FOX10 Sports

The AHSAA says the South Regional basketball tournament at the Mitchell Center drew less than 10,000 fans over five days in late February, far less than the other three regionals around the state.

Not super news for the Mobile area after the regional was rightly returned to the Port City after three years in Troy.

However, some simple changes would probably double that figure next year.

One – and this is really simple — the tournament won’t have to deal with Mardi Gras as it did this year. It started on Fat Tuesday. So, by doing nothing, that one’s already taken care of.

Two, since the games are IN MOBILE, let the student bodies go to the games. I was at the LeFlore boys game that week against Greenville, and Greenville had MORE  fans because it brought a big group of students to the game. It felt like a Greenville home game in Mobile.

At the state championships last week in Birmingham, the Baker boys went up against Bob Jones AND its entire student body. It had a huge crowd and I remember thinking  to myself, these games should be in Montgomery because it’s more centralized than Birmingham. Mobile is four-plus hours away so it would be difficult and expensive to get students to the state championships. However, Huntsville is a decent drive, too, and it somehow got hundreds of students to the game.

So, that said, why can’t Mobile-area schools get their students to regional games in Mobile? Seems like we could get the kids away from school for a few hours for a big event, especially since its so difficult to get them to Birmingham.

Third, the LeFlore girls played at 9am and the boys at 10:30am. The Davidson girls played at 9am and the Baker boys at 10:30am. Why? Those four teams — playing in 5A and 6A respectively – need to be in the afternoon and evening sessions, not the morning.  Who can go watch high school basketball at 9am?

The AHSAA scheduled the Leroys and McIntoshes in the afternoon and evening. That makes no sense.

Those simple changes would make a huge difference.

Mobile deserves to host the regional tournament and hopefully next year it will prove it.


How fast is your 40?

March 2nd, 2010 at 8:41 pm by under FOX10 Sports

The NFL combine in Indianapolis is over. We can all breathe now.

Now the long wait until late April for the NFL Draft. But don’t worry, we still have each school’s Pro Day to look forward to. That’s when pro scouts descend on college campuses around the nation and watch each schools’ draft eligible players run through all the same drills.

Auburn’s is March 9, Alabama’s March 10 and former Florida QB Tim Tebow debuts his new delivery on March 17 in Gainesville.

What’s amazing to me is how much these players are poked and prodded, examined and analyed, broken down and interviewed and yet someone still drafts Ryan Leaf with the 2nd overall pick. Or even more recently, JaMarcus Russell.

It just goes to show, you can see a guy run 40 yards and how many times he can bench 225lbs, or how far his broad jump is (by the way, our own Joe Emer jumped 8’10″ in the newsroom the other night, which would put him 5th among the QBs), but you just don’t know.

One thing you do know if you’re one of these athletes is that a bad performance can cost you millions.

Florida CB Joe Haden might be one of those guys. He’s thought to be one of the top corners in the draft — if not THE best — but his 40 times of 4.57 and 4.60 are not fast enough to be considered a premier defensive back in the league. He could go from a top-10 pick to middle of the first round and that will cost him a lot of money. He’ll get another shot on his own turf on March 17.

But that’s a lot of money to lose in 4.57 seconds.


McKinney playing for grandmother

February 24th, 2010 at 2:57 pm by under FOX10 Sports

The Final 48 is upon us. That’s the AHSAA’s clever way of saying state basketball championships. Six divisions (1A through 6A), four teams still alive in each (for boys and girls). Hence, the final 48.

Of those final 48, several are from the Mobile-area, including both the LeFlore boys and girls teams.

The girls are looking to repeat as state champs and have a pretty good shot with 6-4 Shanece McKinney clogging up the middle. The senior is bound for LSU next season and is playing with a heavy heart this week.

McKinney learned that her Grandmother had passed moments after the team’s regional semifinal win last Wednesday at the Mitchell Center.  Her joy after the game quickly turned to sorrow when she was told the news in the locker room.

However, she was back on the floor two days later leading her team to a regional victory over rival Faith Academy.

McKinney says her Grandma was always there to give her a pep talk before and after games, although she could not attend the games because of her declining health.

McKinney won’t get that pep talk at state, but she’ll be thinking about her Grandma when they take the court on Thursday morning in their state semifinal game against Fairfield.  Best of luck Shanece.


South Regionals back where they belong

February 15th, 2010 at 8:48 pm by under FOX10 Sports

This week, the AHSAA South Regionals return to the Mitchell Center after a three-year stint in Troy. 

Translation: They are back where they belong.

And I don’t say that because we here at FOX-10 had to drive to Troy for 2-3 days the past few years.  The South Regionals belong in Mobile. The Mitchell Center blows away that high school gym they play in at Troy University.

More importantly, the kids down here used to have to drive to Troy twice, then if they were good enough to advance, they had to turn around and drive to Birmingham the next week. I guarantee nobody else in the state was doing that much driving.

Credit goes to the AHSAA for switching the regionals back to Mobile. This is the second largest city in the state with one of the top basketball facilitites in the state. They got it right this time.

Now we need to work on getting the state championships down here. That’s a joke, sort of!


Who Dat!

February 5th, 2010 at 4:27 pm by under FOX10 Sports

Super Bowl Sunday. It’s still hard to believe the Saints are in the big game after so many years of mediocrity. Remember the days of Saints fans with bags on their heads? That seems like a long time ago now.

Drew Brees and the Who Dat nation are clearly the underdogs against Peyton Manning and the Colts. That’s perfect if you pull for the Saints. That will make up for some of their inexperience in the big game. I’m sure they expect to win themselves, but when a majority of the nation thinks you’ll lose (and some say badly) it will only make you play looser.

New Orleans can win this game. But, the Saints will have to protect the ball and run the ball effectively – by that I mean keep Peyton off the field. If they do that, they can take down the Colts. I’ve been to every Saints home game the past three years and have watched them closely during that stretch. I truly believe this is their game to win.

And Reggie Bush is the X-factor. He takes so much criticism because when he came into the league four years ago the expectations were enormous. But, I really think he’s ‘got it’ the last half of the season. In the last 7 games of the season, he averaged around nine yards rushing a game. People rip Reggie because he doesn’t run for 100 yards a game. Well, that’s tough to do when you average 7-10 ‘touches’ a game – and that includes receptions and punt returns.

He’s shown the ability in the last half of the season to run it between the tackles, too. I’m sure he won’t get the touches again in the Super Bowl, but I’d love to see what he could do if he got 12-15 carries, 5-7 receptions and 3-4 punt returns in a game. With that many touches, I’m sure he’d break a big one for the Saints. He is still their greatest ‘home run’ threat.

Everyone talks about how tough the Colts defense is. Really? It’s certainly better than the last group they came to Miami with, but this defense still gave up 19 points a game this season – that’s two fewer points than the Saints defense, which most people consider to be average.

Another one I’ve heard this week: the Saints don’t have a great pass rusher. Well, Will Smith had 13 sacks this year — one-half sack fewer than the Colts’ Dwight Freeney.

Clearly, Freeney is going to be limited with his bad ankle. Reports say he didn’t even practice Friday. Not a good sign for the Colts.

I’m not big in making predictions, but I guess I’ll make one: Saints 35, Colts 31. Who Dat!