Articles By Rob Doster
A sure-fire way to lower scores is to improve your ball striking. Better yet — how about your efficiency rating with all clubs? Well, your balance is the first area you had better look at.
I like to use the analogy of the lifeguard spinning the whistle on the end of a string around his finger to the golfer spinning that club around his body. Keep that body in place, and your efficiency is going to go up. Greater movement around a fixed axis is the ideal; the more you’re able to stay still, the better. When lifeguards swing that whistle around their finger, there is speed and efficiency, the same components that all players are looking for.
Notice in photo one my setup is between two shafts. While making my backswing, I have a full turn yet have turned inside the shaft, with my right leg still in the same position relative to vertical. On the follow-through I have a full finish while turning inside the shaft once again (photo three).
There are many areas where I take issue with common instructional tips, but the thought behind “Hit Down on the Ball” is near the top of the list. If you look at the players on tour hitting divots and hear announcers declaring how they are hitting down, it is easy to see how this whole issue has been brought forward.
The problem is how golfers “interpret” the information. There are many moves in a professional swing that allow players to take a divot, but the main thing we should note is that they take a divot with the clubhead coming into the ball “On Plane.” As you can see in the photos, my body is rotating ahead of the clubhead with the club coming on a path that was established at my address position. With the club behind the body and on plane, a tour player will reach impact with the right arm still bent and under his left arm. As the tour player is applying power “through the ball,” the right arm extends and the club will take a slight divot.
You’ll hear that 70 percent of the amateur world hits the ball with cut or slice spin, and I believe that figure is correct. The main culprit is that the amateur swings the club from a more outside-in swing path. This outside-in path is usually caused by the upper body, mostly the hands and arms, starting down to the ball too quickly, producing a path that is now above swing plane. If you look at the photos, you can now note that a club coming into the ball from above swing plane is on a more descending approach angle than the club coming into the ball from on plane.
So my question is, if 70 percent of the golfers are coming into the ball from the outside, aren’t 70 percent of the golfers swinging into the ball with too much descent or downward angle of the club relative to the ball? I know from playing ping-pong and tennis, when you swing into the ball with a descending racket or paddle; you produce cut spin, which is NOT powerful. So the blanket statement for all golfers to hit down on the ball cannot be good because they will try to hit more from the outside.
Most of the top players who have written about the game will tell you that the goal is to deliver a blow into the “back” of the ball. In order for you to hit into the back of the ball you need to create a more shallow approach, not a more descending approach. The “divot” is overrated, and you have to know how to take a divot as a result of a proper swing. Having the goal reversed — trying to take a divot thinking that is going to produce a good swing — generally leads to more slices and swing problems.
The slice is almost a universal problem for golfers, but it doesn't have to be.
I’ve spoken at banquets and taught lessons all around the world, and the one common negative theme among amateur players is the slice. The slice is almost universal in golf, and I think when I can help a slicer hit it straight or draw the ball, I have accomplished a lot and made a friend for life.
To ice the slice, we need to overcome the average person’s tendency to try to turn the ball over by hitting with their right hand. Instead, I like to teach my players to rotate their left forearm to get the club to square up at impact.
In the photos, I’m demonstrating the proper clubface position using an item that I’m sure you’re familiar with — a ping pong paddle. In Photo 1, you’ll see the position that a slicer would be in at impact, producing a cut. Not what you want if you’re a slicer. I’ve reproduced that position in Photo 2, holding the paddle. Conversely, by reproducing the clubface position you see in Photo 3, you can put topspin on the ball and cause it to draw or hook — which makes it go a lot farther than a ball that is cut.
Notice that instead of using the right hand to achieve the proper clubface position, I’m using the rotation of the forearm — turning the paddle over to the proper position at impact.
Take your 58-degree wedge, your 52-degree wedge and a pitching wedge and his enough shots to get a good working knowledge of how far the ball's going to go with a half swing.
Don’t try to perfect a bunch of different lengths of swing until you perfect one of them. There’s no need to get ahead of yourself.
I want you to learn your half-swing distance with three clubs, then start to fill in the gaps.
Take three identical half-swings with three different clubs. If you want, you can use a 58-degree wedge, a 52-degree gap wedge and a pitching wedge. Perfect the same 9 o’clock swing with each club.
Take the club back halfway, arms parallel to the ground, then make solid contact, with a 3 o’clock follow-through (matching the backswing). Observe how far the ball travels with each club. Once you’ve hit enough shots, that knowledge should become second-nature.
Once you’ve perfected your 9 o’clock swing, you can work on other distances and longer and shorter swings. But won’t it be nice to know exactly how far the ball will go with your half-swing? That’s knowledge you can take to the course.
Too many times, people get their hands involved in their putting. The shaft wobbles, and the clubhead flips or delays. I want you to lock the position of your hands when you putt. Position the back of your left hand more toward the target, then lock it in.
Now that you’ve locked, you’re ready to rock.
The rock is the downward movement of your left shoulder on the backswing, then the upward movement of your left shoulder on the follow-through. Look at the photos; on my backswing, my left shoulder is displaying that downward movement, while on the follow-through, that left shoulder is moving upward.
But the hands haven’t moved one bit. That’s what we’re looking for — keeping the hands in position, where there’s no rotation, no flexing and extending. All the movement comes from a little rocking of the shoulders, and the body turning back and through just a little bit.
The grip is obviously the No. 1 fundamental in golf. I would say that 90 percent of the problems that amateurs have come with the position of the left hand.
When amateurs go to grip the club, they put the club in front of them, and then they look at their hand to grip the club. When they do that, their arm turns from its natural state, and the left hand ends up in the wrong position.
You need to borrow the method a Tour player uses to grip the club. Watch your favorite player prior to address. Chances are, he grips the club with his arm at his side, even slightly behind, in its natural state as it hangs next to the body.
Look at what I’m doing in the photos:
• I allow my arm to hang in its natural state next to my body.
• I take the club in my fingers, then grip it, with my arm still hanging next to my body. In this position, the clubhead should be just off the left foot.
• I then bring the club out in front of my body and add the other hand.
With proper setup, you bend in two places — at the knees and at the hips. Using your driver, you can get a feel for the amount of bend you need at the waist. Place the clubhead next to your chin, as I’m doing in the photos. Bend your knees slightly, finding the balls of your feet, as you would do in building your stance.
Next, bend at the waist until you feel the heel of the club pass your heels. That tells you the amount of bend you need.
Do this, and you’ll be balanced, centered and ready to hit a golf shot.
You can strike the ball solidly every time. Solid is the key word.
To accomplish this, you need to keep the shaft leaning toward the target prior to impact, as I’m doing in the first photo. Notice that the handle of the club is actually on the left-hand side of the ball before contact, then the shaft and the head catch up to the handle in front of the ball, so that the divot will be on the target side of the ball.
The shaft lean is a critical part of the golf swing, so I’m going to show you a little drill to help you make that happen consistently. It’s called the push drill.
Address the ball as I’m doing in the second photo. Then simply push the ball as far forward as you can. If it goes 20 or 30 yards, you’ve done really well. This will help you get a feel for shaft position prior to and just after impact.
Huskers Begin Farewell Tour With A Bang
Nebraska opened its farewell tour of the conference with no trace of sentimentality or fondness for those who have shared the brotherhood of the Big 12.
Never mind, either, that the Cornhuskers’ relationship with Kansas State dates back to the old Big Eight, well before what they perceived as a Texas takeover.
The Huskers, in their final scheduled trip to Manhattan and the opener to their final Big 12 season, ripped the Wildcats 48–13 in what had been an anticipated matchup of unbeatens.
Next up: Texas, which will be welcomed to Lincoln with much disdain, due to contempt Nebraskans feel has been preferential treatment poured upon the Longhorns by the league, as well as that final second — added second — loss to Texas in last year’s Big 12 title game.
“We are a motivated football team,” said Nebraska coach Bo Pelini. “We have goals but that (final Big 12 season) is part of it.
“We are going to play all of these teams in the Big 12 for one last time. There’s probably motivation on both sides.”
The Huskers looked plenty motivated against K-State, romping to a big early lead behind quarterback Taylor Martinez and their rugged defense. Nebraska ran for 451 yards, while the Wildcats mustered just 315 in total offense.
Now comes a clash with Texas that has been circled on the schedule since last December, when the Huskers thought they’d upset the Horns for the Big 12 championship, only to see officials put :01 on the clock, just enough time for UT’s Ryan Bailey to boot through the game-winning field goal.
Since then, Nebraska has also made a run for the Big Ten for 2011. And amid the planned departure, ill feelings concerning Texas’ exalted status in the Big 12 have leaked out of Lincoln, although Pelini is mum on all that this week.
“I don’t get caught up in all the personal reasons,” Pelini said Monday. “I have nothing against Texas. I have nothing against their fans. What happened in the offseason, you can only control what you can control. It’s just something that happened.
“What the motivation is, how our fans feel about it… hopefully our fans want to win every football game. This is the next one. I know one thing; they’ve got a heck of a program, a well coached team with a lot of talent.”
Nebraska 48, Kansas State 13
Oklahoma State 54, Louisiana-Lafayette 28
Utah 68, Iowa State 27
Missouri 26, Colorado 0
Arkansas 24, Texas A&M 17
Texas Tech 45, Baylor 38
Red Raiders Regroup
Texas Tech seemed to be reeling, coming off a road loss at Iowa State and standing 0–2 at the bottom of the Big 12 South, with a motivated Baylor bunch waiting next.
But the Red Raiders rediscovered themselves — their old selves — winning a wild one in the Cotton Bowl to shake their slumping ways.
Taylor Potts passed for 462 yards and four touchdowns, helping Tech to a 45–28 lead midway through the third quarter. Then it was hold-on time, as the Bears rallied.
“All week I was telling the guys this was a must win,” said Red Raiders running back Barron Batch, who rushed for 97 yards. “I haven’t lost three straight games since high school.
“When you play in the Big 12 and start losing, other teams smell the blood in the water. This was a defining point in our season.”
Baylor was hoping for a defining point in its Big 12 existence, still seeking its first winning season and bowl bid under the conference banner.
Robert Griffin III threw for 384 yards and two scores and put a pass in the hands of wide receiver Kendall Wright in the end zone, but Wright couldn’t hold on.
“We had a lot of missed opportunities,” Griffin said.
Still, many opportunities were made, as the teams combined for 39 plays of 10 yards or longer.
For the third straight year, Tech beat Baylor by seven points.
Missouri’s defense has rarely led discussions in recent years, with quarterbacks Brad Smith and Chase Daniel and Blaine Gabbert lighting up scoreboards.
Unless, of course, the Tigers are taking on Colorado.
Then the defense takes over.
Mizzou secured its first shutout since 2008 — yes, against the Buffaloes. And while this one wasn’t as bad as the 58–0 wipeout that year, the Tigers 26–0 shutdown of Colorado Saturday was impressive yet.
That’s because the Tigers leaned on their defense this time, with Gabbert and Co. struggling to get untracked. Mizzou dominated with defense and special teams, winning its fifth straight in the series by a combined count of 203–40.
The Buffs have been outscored 86–3 in the first halves of the past three meetings.
Before bearing down on Big 12 play the rest of the way, Texas A&M and Iowa State strayed outside the conference one last time.
The Aggies lost to Arkansas, while the Cyclones were clobbered by Utah, missing out on potential statement wins for the conference.
Oklahoma State avoided further shame, needing to rally before finally blowing past Louisiana-Lafayette.
Players of the Week
Taylor Martinez, QB, and Lavonte David, LB, Nebraska. A Husker sweep, as Nebraska dominated both sides of the ball in its rout of K-State. Martinez accounted for 369 yards, running for a Husker quarterback rushing record with 241 yards and four touchdowns. David totaled 16 tackles, including 10 unassisted stops, with a sack among two tackles for losses. It was David’s third time to post double-digit tackles and second straight game with 16 or more.
Game of the Week: Texas at Nebraska.
The game loses a bit of its appeal with the Longhorns coming in with back-to-back losses, but the subplots alone are enough to tune in. The Huskers still seek confirmation as a national title contender. And they’ll find out if their new option offense works against a decent defense. Texas seeks new life.
On the Spot: Missouri. The Tigers have quietly gone about their 5–0 start, winning yes, but notching no notable skins. Now’s the time, with a trip to A&M, where the Aggies have lost two straight, but are ever dangerous on offense.
In the Spotlight: Will Muschamp, defensive coordinator, Texas. Muschamp is considered one of the brightest defensive minds in America. And his work at Texas has been superb. Yet this year’s job, with a lot of youngsters on defense and limited help from a scuffling offense, remains a work in progress. And now he’s got to find a way to deal with Nebraska’s Martinez and the option.
Dan Bailey, K, Oklahoma State. First, Bailey kicked the game-winner against A&M as time expired. Then he followed that up with four field goals and 18 total points in OSU’s win at Lafayette, booting a pair of career-best field goals from 52 yards. Bailey is now 11-for-11 on field goals for the season and has scored 65 points.
Jerrod Johnson, QB, Texas A&M. The guy was the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year pick in the preseason. But after a solid start, he’s been shaky of late, throwing nine interceptions in the past three games, two of them losses.
By the Numbers
0 Touchdowns allowed by Missouri in the third quarter this season.
5 Consecutive games with a touchdown reception by OSU’s Justin Blackmon.
1,142 Combined yards of offense in the Texas Tech-Baylor game.
The Stephens at South Carolina deserve apologies. Both Stephen Garcia and Stephen Spurrier were told they couldn’t win a big game with the Gamecocks. Garcia’s in his fourth year at the school, Spurrier in his sixth. But they finally managed to make it happen (with some help).
If the Gamecocks had beaten No. 1 Alabama in any way — quirky turnover, fluke touchdown, etc. — it would’ve been incredible. But the way South Carolina manhandled the Tide in the 35–21 win is what you really take away from the weekend. Sure, Bama’s 19-game win streak is over. So it its 29-game regular-season win streak. But the Tide should be more concerned about some specific in-game details.
Things like Marcus Lattimore’s 93 rushing yards, the most against the Tide since Nov. 24, 2007. Things like the 35 points allowed, the most since earlier in that 2007 season. Things like Alabama’s 36 rushing yards, unthinkable considering Mark Ingram (41 yards) and Trent Richardson (23 yards) are in the same backfield.
Give the Stephens credit. Spurrier dialed up a great offensive gameplan, and Garcia executed it. Alshon Jeffery has made, and will continue to make, Garcia look good. But watch those throws again: They were on the mark. Garcia’s only interception was a ball Jeffery caught, bobbled and lost to a Bama defender. Nobody’s being too critical of Jeffery, though. He’s earned some slack.
South Carolina turned a corner with the win. It’s now the favorite in a very weak East.
The question’s still out there, though: Will the Gamecocks close? It hasn’t been their strong suit. Then again, neither has beating top-ranked teams. That had never happened before in the school’s history.
How about its first appearance in the SEC title game? You know Bama would love to see the Gamecocks again.
• Let’s give South Carolina another segment, here. Ellis Johnson’s defense was completely embarrassed at Auburn two weeks ago. Cam Newton was unstoppable most of the night, and the Tigers rolled up 334 rushing yards (492 overall). Johnson got his guys to believe it was a fluke, and they sure played like it against Alabama. Greg McElroy was sacked seven times and, as mentioned earlier, Ingram and Richardson were turned into non-factors. That just doesn’t happen.
• Kentucky lost to Auburn at the final horn, but Joker Phillips must be doing something right up there. After getting drilled at Florida and Ole Miss, the Wildcats could’ve folded down 31–14 in the second quarter to the Tigers. But they kicked a field goal before the break and Randall Cobb willed UK to a 31–31 tie after catching a score and running for another in the third quarter. As long as Kentucky has Cobb, it’ll have a shot.
• Mississippi State put up 47 points and 538 yards on Houston. Yes, it’s Houston, but the Bulldogs could use the confidence. Florida had better look out this week. This is Mississippi State’s Super Bowl, with Dan Mullen returning to Gainesville. The Bulldogs hung with Florida a year ago, and they’re better and the Gators are currently in an offensive crisis (see, below).
• Don’t really know what to make of LSU’s win at Florida. At face value, you have to credit the Tigers for getting a win, by whatever means necessary, in a very tough place to win. But then there’s the man who acknowledges his own nickname, the Mad Hatter. Les Miles’ fake field goal call in the final seconds was so dumb it was genius. The Tigers, with kicker Josh Jasper running, converted the first down and won. When does Miles’ luck run out? Does it?
• Could someone teach Counting 101 to Tennessee’s football team? Another week, another instance of the Volunteers playing something other than 11 on a play (or plays) during a game. After 13 on the game-losing play at LSU, the Vols had 10 in to block a Georgia field goal. (Same thing happened against UAB, earlier in the season.) That field goal didn’t make a difference, obviously, in Georgia’s 41–14 beatdown of Tennessee. But it is indicative of the consistent issues plaguing the team in Derek Dooley’s first season. The Vol Navy is a sinking ship.
• Officially halfway through its season, Florida’s offense is still a mess. The lack of an in-between-the-tackles runner is killing the Gators. John Brantley tried to play through injuries Saturday, too, and he’s yet to really take hold of the position the way many assumed. Then again, he’s still struggling to consistently get the snap from Mike Pouncey. At this rate, the wait for Florida’s offense to break out might last into the off-season. Frankly, the Gators are underachieving. There’s too much talent there for this to be the case, week in and week out. The offensive coaches, Urban Meyer included, aren’t getting the talent in the positions to succeed.
Stud of the Week
Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina WR
As we’ve said before, the guy is just flat-out uncoverable. A.J. Green and Julio Jones are terrific receivers, but Jeffery’s name belongs among them. Because, with 625 yards and four touchdowns in five games, he’s playing better than them right now. Oh, and his Gamecocks have already beaten both of their teams, even if Green didn’t suit up for Georgia.
Dud of the Week
Jim McElwain, Alabama offensive coordinator
You’ve got Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. Use them. You trailed big early, but that didn’t stop you at Arkansas. Ingram and Richardson combined for 17 carries at South Carolina, about half of what they should’ve had. Why would Bama choose to get away from what it does, until it absolutely has to?
West Virginia paid around $740,000 for UNLV to make a non-return visit to Morgantown this past Saturday. It was apparently money well-spent. The Mountaineers routed the outmanned Rebels of the Mountain West Conference by 49–10 and again gave the Big East a presence in the major Top 25 polls by re-entering both at No. 25.
WVU held a 35–0 lead at halftime and had four scoring plays of at least 28 yards. Sixty-eight Mountaineers saw action. Wide receiver Brad Starks had a career day with four receptions for 100 yards and three touchdowns as West Virginia improved to 4–1. Hampered by injuries all season, Starks had no catches heading into the game.
“He’s pretty much a matchup nightmare for a lot of teams,” said WVU quarterback Geno Smith, who completed 12-of-16 passes for 220 yards and the three scores. “Add in Jock (Sanders) and Noel (Devine) and Tavon (Austin) and everybody else and that’s a good mix to have.”
WVU’s lone loss of the season, 20–14 to LSU in Baton Rouge, also looks a bit better after the now-No. 9 Tigers defeated Florida in Gainesville.
Meanwhile, conference play got under way with a couple of Big East matchups — decided by a combined seven points.
Rutgers scored the league’s first conference win by downing Connecticut 27–24 on Friday night. The visiting Huskies boasted the Big East’s top-rated scoring offense, while the Scarlet Knights set out the league’s tightest defense. The story of the game, however, was the success of RU freshman Chas Dodd, who played because of an injury to Tom Savage. Dodd responded by throwing for 322 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. He also had a 52-yard touchdown strike to Mark Harrison that tied the game at 24 and hit Jeremy Deering for 45 yards to set up San San Te’s game-winning field goal with 13 seconds left.
“Those are the plays we haven’t made in the first four weeks,” said RU coach Greg Schiano.
Syracuse took a step forward by scoring a 13–9 win against South Florida in Tampa. The story there was SU’s defense, which held the Bulls to 219 yards of offense, recorded two interceptions and four sacks and blocked a point after touchdown. The 4–1 start is the Orange’s first since the 1999 season. Safety Max Suter had a game-high eight tackles with three tackles for a loss, a sack and a forced fumble.
In the highest profile game, Pittsburgh, the preseason favorite to win the league, fell 23–17 to Notre Dame. The Panthers did rally from a 20–3 third-quarter deficit to within six when Tino Sunseri had a touchdown run and connected with Jon Baldwin for another score. But the Panthers couldn’t get the go-ahead points on two possessions in the last 3:15.
Louisville and Cincinnati, meanwhile, blew out Memphis and Miami, Ohio, respectively. The U of L turned in its best effort of the season by rolling to a 56–0 win at Papa Johns Cardinal Stadium. The Cardinals, now 3–2, scored 28 points in the second quarter and, like WVU, held a 35–0 halftime lead. Running back Bilal Powell had 204 yards and two touchdowns and quarterback Adam Froman completed 12-of-16 passes for 235 yards and four TDs.
Cincinnati scored 45 points in the first half against Miami and held a 45–3 halftime lead in the annual Battle for the Victory Bell. It was the most lopsided result in the 109 meetings between the rivals, who first played in 1888.
Quarterback Zach Collaros was 14-of-17 for 216 yards and three touchdowns, while running back Isaiah Pead ran for 197 yards and a TD — all in the first half — to lift the Bearcats to 2–3 on the year.
Rutgers 27, Connecticut 24
Syracuse 13, South Florida 9
Louisville 56, Memphis 0
Notre Dame 23, Pittsburgh 17
West Virginia 49, UNLV 10
Cincinnati 45, Miami, Ohio 3
The count and the amount
With four Big East teams finished with their non-conference play, the league’s overall record is now 22-15. Against FBS opponents, though, it’s 13–15 and 2–11 against BCS conference teams. Against Top 25 teams, the record remained at 0–5.
Still a rush
The Big East now has three of the nation’s top 10 rushers. Connecticut back Jordan Todman registered his fifth 100-yard game of the year with 123 yards on 24 carries against Rutgers. He’s third nationally, averaging 152 yards a game. Louisville’s Bilal Powell is eighth, averaging 137.8 yards, while Pitt’s Ray Graham is ninth, averaging 134. Graham is first nationally in all-purpose running, averaging 207 yards.
Rutgers may have a quarterback dilemma in the future after true freshman Chas Dodd led the Scarlet Knights to their victory over Connecticut. On Monday, however, coach Greg Schiano said there is no controversy. Dodd will make the start against Army while the hand of Tom Savage, the previous starter, is healing.
Which way did he go?
After seemingly overcoming a case of homesickness early in the season, West Virginia backup quarterback Jeremy Johnson, a freshman, was nowhere to be found during the Mountaineers’ game against UNLV.
“I don’t know how to combat the mileage,” said WVU coach Bill Stewart.
West Virginia cornerback Brandon Hogan spent the second half of the UNLV game in street clothes after injuring his arm. Mountaineer coach Bill Stewart seemed to indicate Hogan would be ready for this Thursday’s game against South Florida.
Connecticut coach Randy Edsall said on Monday that defensive back Blidi Wreh-Wilson had surgery on his hand. Huskies’ representative Mike Enright said Wreh-Wilson is “week-to-week.”
A little trickeration
Louisville pulled out a double reverse pass for a score against Memphis. Running back Bilal Powell took a direct snap and handed the ball to Victor Anderson, who then tossed the ball to quarterback Adam Froman, who lined up at receiver. Froman hit a wide-open Josh Chichester downfield. The play resulted in a 48-yard TD.
Nice game, tough loss
South Florida was stunned when Syracuse visited Raymond James Stadium and walked away with a victory. One, however, can’t point a finger at USF defensive end Craig Marshall. All he did was post a career-high eight tackles and record three sacks. That was the most sacks in a USF game for a player since George Selvie had four in a 2007 game against Elon.
On a night when Stanford remained in the Pac-10 hunt with a last-second win over USC and Washington continued to prove it’s not quite ready for the big time, the news that most shook up the conference race took place on one play in Arizona Stadium.
That’s where Oregon State wide receiver James Rodgers, one of the nation’s most underrated players who sometimes appears to be unguardable, was hauled down awkwardly by Arizona safety Adam Hall as he caught an apparent 56-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. The score was nullified by a penalty, and Rodgers was helped off the field with a serious injury to his left knee.
The actual severity of the injury wasn’t immediately confirmed, but Oregon State coach Mike Riley acknowledged it was serious. Rodgers may have torn his anterior cruciate ligament, which would sideline him for the season.
Although the Beavers are just 3–2 overall, they are off to a 2–0 start in Pac-10 play. With Rodgers and little brother Jacquizz leading the way at tailback, Oregon State is one of the frontrunners to compete with Oregon for the conference crown. Throw in an always-solid defense sparked by talented defensive tackle Stephen Paea, and Oregon State is much better than its record indicates.
The Beavers’ two losses are at Boise State and at TCU, currently ranked third and fourth respectively in the Associated Press top 25. They are in perfect position to contend for the Pac-10 championship. But if James Rodgers is indeed lost for the season, it will significantly alter the shape of the Pac-10 race.
That’s not to say it would put the Beavers out of it. Sophomore Markus Wheaton is emerging at wide receiver. He had seven catches for 113 yards against Arizona and could help ease the potential loss of Rodgers. But clearly a season-ending injury to Rodgers would not make the Beavers as good a team as expected.
California 35, UCLA 7
Oregon 32, Washington State 23
Oregon State 29, Arizona 27
Stanford 37, USC 35
Arizona State 24, Washington 14
Another week, another opposing kicker getting mobbed by his teammates as time expires. For the second straight game, USC could only watch as an opponent made a field goal to secure a win as the clock was extinguished. This time, it was Stanford’s Nate Whitaker easily nailing a 30-yarder for a 37–35 win.
Last week, Washington’s Erik Folk made a 32-yarder as the clock hit 0:00 for a 32–31 victory over USC.
The Trojans really had nobody to blame but themselves for this one. Their offense, especially quarterback Matt Barkley and true freshman receiver Robert Woods, were dynamite all night and helped establish a 35–34 lead with 1:08 remaining after Allen Bradford’s 3-yard touchdown run. Woods caught 12 passes for 224 yards and three touchdowns. Barkley threw for 390 yards and the three scores to Woods.
But USC’s defense, continuing its troubling season-long ineffectiveness, was hurt further by an ill-advised late hit penalty on linebacker Chris Galippo. Galippo said he never heard a whistle, but he still put both hands to the face of Baldwin.
That helped Stanford quickly storm into field goal range, where Whitaker coolly nailed the game-winner.
The Trojans started the season 4–0 but are now 1–2 in Pac-10 play. They’ve also lost consecutive games for the first time since 2001, Pete Carroll’s first year at USC.
UP AND DOWN
One week after giving their fans hope, the Washington Huskies once again proved they were probably overvalued in the offseason.
Washington is now 2–3 after a disappointing home loss to Arizona State. A team that some had in the preseason top 25 now looks like it may be up against it in its quest for a bowl berth.
The Huskies eased the sting of earlier losses to BYU and Nebraska a bit by taking out USC on the road the week before. But Washington’s next four games are against arguably the top four teams in the Pac-10 — Oregon State, at Arizona, Stanford and at Oregon. If it hasn’t already, that stretch should say a lot about where the program stands in coach Steve Sarkisian’s second season.
Three weeks after getting obliterated by Nevada’s pistol offense, Cal made all the right adjustments to shut down UCLA.
The Bruins implemented the pistol offense this season, studying Nevada’s scheme to try to emulate the explosive results the Wolf Pack typically get. But UCLA obviously isn’t at the level of Nevada yet, and the Bears obviously learned from their mistakes.
Cal allowed 497 yards of offense in a 52–31 loss at Nevada on Sept. 17. Saturday, UCLA had just 144 total yards. The Bruins rushing attack, which entered the game ranked 10th nationally (262.4 yards per game), was held to just 26 yards.
Strong defensive efforts are becoming the norm at Cal under new coordinator Clancy Pendergast. In four of the Bears’ five games, they’ve allowed one touchdown or less.
There is no finer example of a coach who stressed the importance of an education and the fruits of a hard day’s work than Woody Hayes. But as great a man as Hayes was, he was by no means a good sport. When a reporter asked Hayes why he went for two against Michigan while already possessing a sizable lead, Hayes famously responded, “Because they wouldn’t let me go for three.” Classic stuff.
Bret Bielema, apparently, is not a good sport, either. Just a good coach, and someone who understands that in college football, being a poor sport is encouraged by the men who make the rules.
It’s hard to endorse Bielema’s decision to go for two when leading lowly Minnesota 41–16 with six and a half minutes to go. Regardless of what the card told Bielema to do, that’s just not the way coaches ought to handle such matters. But guess what? Bielema’s crime is petty as compared to what goes on in college football during an average weekend. Take this past Saturday, for example:
• Boise State took possession of the ball midway through the third quarter with a 43–7 lead over Toledo. After gaining a first down on the ground, Kellen Moore threw on first down for an 11-yard gain. Four plays later, Moore threw a 33-yard touchdown pass. It was only after that series that Boise State put a cap on its passing game.
• To open the second half of its win over Wyoming, TCU threw the ball on three of its first five snaps. The 91-yard drive put the Horned Frogs up 38–0. A four-yard touchdown pass on first and goal at the start of the fourth quarter ended the scoring at 45–0.
• Utah was running a balanced offense well after it reached the 50-point mark in its 68–27 win over Iowa State.
We’re hard on Bielema because we separate a conversion from play calling, but is there much of a difference? In each case, the team with the football could lay off the gas — stick to the running game or ignore what the scoring card says — but they’ve been taught differently. They’ve been taught that no lead is ever big enough, and that in college football’s poll system, the bigger the point total and margin of victory, the more votes a school can expect to receive come Sunday.
It’s all a shame, but that’s how college football is played.
The Week That Was
Badger backfield is double trouble for Gophers
John Clay captured co-Big Ten offensive player of the week honors for his 111-yard and three-touchdown performance on Saturday, but that was only half of Minnesota’s trouble with Wisconsin. Freshman James White contributed 118 yards and two scores in the victory. It was the second time in three weeks the two backs have both gained 100 or more yards in the same contest.
Purdue powers past Wildcats
Following a blocked field goal, Purdue took over the ball at its own 32-yard line midway through the fourth quarter trailing Northwestern, 17–13. From there, quarterback Ron Henry launched a 14-play drive that featured a heavy dose of fullback Dan Dierking. His seven-yard scoring run gave the Boilermakers their first conference win of the year. Purdue won the game despite gaining 110 fewer yards and losing the time of possession battle by more than eight minutes.
Illinois 33, Penn State 13
Wisconsin 41, Minnesota 23
Ohio State 38, Indiana 10
Michigan State 34, Michigan 17
Purdue 20, Northwestern 17
Team of the Week: Michigan State
Week after week, Michigan State belongs here. First it was the gutsy call over Notre Dame, then the win after coach Mark Dantonio’s heart attack, then the upset over Wisconsin, and now a win over in-state rival Michigan in Ann Arbor. On Saturday, the Spartans didn’t just beat Michigan; they outscored them 31–7 in the second and third quarters combined.
Disappointment of the Week: Penn State
Penn State is not supposed to lose at home, and certainly not to Illinois. But Saturday’s defeat showed just how far Penn State has fallen this season. The Nittany Lions collected just seven first downs and gained just 65 yards on the ground. Even worse, Joe Pa’s club failed to score a single point in the second half.
Offensive Player of the Week: Terrelle Pryor, QB, Ohio State
Entering Saturday, the Big Ten’s best passer had been Indiana’s Ben Chappell. Pryor may have changed a few minds by throwing for a career-best 334 yards and three touchdowns in the victory over the Hoosiers. The junior quarterback completed 80 percent of his passes without an interception.
Defensive Player of the Week: Joe Holland, LB, Purdue
Holland was part of a defensive effort that limited Northwestern’s running game to just 2.0 yards per carry. Holland led the Boilermakers with 12 tackles, including a sack.
Freshman of the Week: Nathan Scheelhasse, QB, Illinois
Scheelhasse guided the Illini to an upset over Penn State by completing 15-of-19 passes for 151 yards and gaining 61 yards rushing on eight carries. In all, Scheelhasse led Illinois on six scoring drives.
The Week Ahead
Upset Alert: Iowa
Michigan fell from the rankings after falling flat against Michigan State. Now, though, the Wolverines are in a position to climb back into the conference race with a win over a still-unproven Hawkeyes club. After Illinois dismantled Penn State, Iowa no longer has a “quality win” to its credit, and will enter a hornet’s nest this weekend in Ann Arbor.
Player to Watch: Greg Jones, LB, Michigan State
Facing a two-pronged rushing attack that includes quarterback Nathan Scheelhasse and running back Mikel Leshoure, Jones and his defensive mates must rise to the same level at which they performed last week. Jones has been a running game stuffer all year, and will need another encore this Saturday.
Michigan has a growing star in Cameron Gordon, who has blocked a kick, recorded two interceptions and averages 7.7 tackles per contest. Gordon is the only freshman to rank among the top 40 in the conference in tackles (he’s currently tied for eighth).
Purdue leads the Big Ten in both sacks (17) and sack yards (109). The next closest squad is Illinois, with 12 sacks for 88 yards.
So far, Ohio State’s Devin Barclay leads all kickers in scoring and field goal accuracy. But the Big Ten’s best kicker might be Illinois’ Derek Dimke. Earlier this year Dimke made a 52-yarder against Missouri; last week, he made kicks from 50 and 41 yards. The junior has only missed one of his 11 attempts.
Indiana 34, Arkansas State 17
Minnesota 20, Purdue 13
Michigan State 31, Illinois 10
Iowa 21, Michigan 20
Ohio State 27, Wisconsin 14
The ACC’s highly anticipated battle of Florida turned out to be no contest. Florida State blew out Miami 45–17 on FSU coach Jimbo Fisher’s 45th birthday, scoring a point for every candle on the cake.
The Seminoles (5–1, 3–0 ACC) looked like the best team in the conference and built some momentum heading into upcoming games against Atlantic Division rivals Boston College and NC State. The Hurricanes (3–2, 1–1), meanwhile, were unimpressive in front of their first home sellout crowd since 2004.
The condition of the two teams was most evident in the body language of their quarterbacks. Florida State’s Christian Ponder remained poised in front of the crowd of 75,115, delivering an unspectacular but solid performance with help from his teammates. Miami’s Jacory Harris spent much of the evening limping around with injuries to his groin and left shoulder as his receivers dropped passes that they should have caught.
Harris’ passing statistics were ugly for the second week in a row — he has completed just 32 of his last 79 throws — and his health appears to be a big question mark moving forward. Miami’s chances of winning the Coastal Division are equally uncertain now that Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and North Carolina have gotten back on track. The Hurricanes have played poorly in both of their games against high-quality competition this season, and each of their three wins came against teams that are under .500. That doesn’t bode well for a team that claims to have ACC championship aspirations.
The outlook is much sunnier at this point for the Seminoles, who rushed for 298 yards and got three touchdowns from tailback Jermaine Thomas against Miami. Florida State has run for at least 200 yards in four consecutive games for the first time since 1995, showcasing the kind of offensive balance that the team has lacked in recent years.
The Seminoles should handle reeling Boston College this week, setting up their showdown at NC State on Oct. 28. The winner of that game will have the inside track toward earning a trip to Charlotte, N.C., for the ACC championship game on Dec. 4.
N.C. State 44, Boston College 17
Virginia Tech 45, Central Michigan 21
Georgia Tech 33, Virginia 21
North Carolina 21, Clemson 16
Navy 28, Wake Forest 27
Florida State 45, Miami 17
Tar Heels gaining strength
North Carolina picked up another key player and then picked up another key victory. The Tar Heels (3–2, 1–1), who welcomed back All-ACC safety Deunta Williams from a four-game suspension, held on to beat Clemson despite generating a season-low 255 total yards.
“As I told the players in the locker room, there are a lot of ways to win football games,” said UNC coach Butch Davis, whose team has put together a three-game winning streak. “Some of them don’t always look like the blueprint you draw up sometimes. But when the kids compete and play hard the whole game, it gives you a chance.”
Investigations into UNC’s program concerning improper benefits and possible academic misconduct have robbed the Tar Heels of many of their best players, especially on defense. But UNC’s chances of making noise in the Coastal Division improve every time one of those players gets reinstated.
Williams, who showed some rust against Clemson by allowing a long touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, and fellow starting safety Da’Norris Searcy have returned in the last two weeks to boost a depleted secondary. All-ACC cornerback Kendric Burney, serving a six-game suspension, is scheduled to join them after this week’s game against Virginia.
In the meantime, senior quarterback T.J. Yates and senior tailback Johnny White continue to play better than they ever have. Neither blinked when starting fullback Devon Ramsay was held out Saturday for the first time this season because of the investigations. Yates registered his fourth interception-free game of the year, and White rushed for 89 yards and two touchdowns in addition to catching six passes for 90 yards.
The Tar Heels still have issues, of course, but they have bounced back from early adversity to contend in a league that doesn’t feature a truly elite team.
“It’s just a weight lifted off our shoulders,” White said. “It just didn’t seem like anything would go our way the first two weeks where we were a drive away from winning both of those games, and now finally things are changing and starting to go our way.”
Allen, Jackets run over Cavaliers
Anthony Allen hadn’t forgotten the location of the end zone. It only seemed that way. Allen, a senior B-back who went Georgia Tech’s first five games this season without a score, admitted that he had not been finishing runs as well as he should have. He finally broke out in a big way against Virginia, rushing for 195 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries.
“I didn't know what to do!” Allen joked about celebrating his first score. “It was good to get that first touchdown, and my second, and my third.”
Allen sparked a Georgia Tech offense that had struggled against NC State and Wake Forest. The Yellow Jackets (4–2, 3–1), who rushed for 456 yards in those two games combined, churned out 477 yards on the ground against the Cavaliers. It was the fifth-highest rushing output in school history and the most rushing yards ever for Georgia Tech in an ACC game.
The storyline entering the game involved Al Groh, the former head coach at Virginia who is in his first season as Georgia Tech’s defensive coordinator. But the Yellow Jackets were so effective on the ground that Groh’s defense was on the field for only 23 minutes against the team he coached last season. The performance was a relief for Georgia Tech’s oft-injured and much-maligned offensive line.
“As poorly as we have played and as blind as we have been, this was the game we needed,” center Sean Bedford said. “Not just from a confidence point of view, but also to get everything in gear and moving downhill.”
Deacs fall short late … again
As was the case the previous week, Wake Forest took the field needing one more defensive stop in front of its home fans to secure a victory. As was the case the previous week, Wake Forest’s opponent was an option-heavy team that had to resort to passing the ball because not much time remained. And as was the case the previous week, Wake Forest failed to get the stop.
Ricky Dobbs threw a 6-yard touchdown pass with 26 seconds remaining to lead Navy past the Demon Deacons, capping a 10-play, 64-yard drive. It was eerily similar to the 9-yard touchdown pass Joshua Nesbitt threw with 15 seconds remaining that led Georgia Tech past the Demon Deacons 24–20 the previous week.
Wake Forest (2–4, 1–2) has dropped four consecutive games after opening the season with wins over Presbyterian and Duke, putting its bowl prospects in serious doubt. The losing streak won’t be easy to end next week on a trip to Virginia Tech, which has won four games in a row after starting the season 0–2.
“I think the deal is for every young football team, there comes a point when they get tired of watching the other team celebrate after the game,” Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said. “And when that point comes, we’ll start winning games. Right now, we haven’t done that. I told the kids after the game that’s what has to happen. You have to get to the point where you get tired of losing.”
Hokies win where it counts
Some statistics from Virginia Tech’s game against Central Michigan:
Total yards: Central Michigan 401, Virginia Tech 394.
Third-down conversions: Central Michigan 7-for-20, Virginia Tech 0-for-8.
Time of possession: Central Michigan 35:47, Virginia Tec 24:13.
Turnovers: Central Michigan 1, Virginia Tech 1.
Those numbers hardly seem reflective of a 24-point victory, but that’s exactly what the Hokies (4–2, 2–0) enjoyed in their final non-conference game of the season.
Quarterback Tyrod Taylor was the key player for Virginia Tech, moving past Bryan Randall for the most wins (27) by any quarterback in school history. Taylor completed 13 of 23 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown, and he added 127 yards and two touchdowns on the ground in the sixth 100-yard rushing game of his career.
Wolfpack do it all
NC State did more than give Tom O’Brien his first victory against Boston College since he left Chestnut Hill in 2006 after 10 seasons as head coach. The Wolfpack scored touchdowns on offense, defense and special teams in the same game for the first time since a 49–21 victory over Texas Tech in 2003.
Cornerback C.J. Wilson completed the trifecta, picking off a pass from Dave Shinskie and returning it 28 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter. Wilson, who picked off a pass and ran it back 43 yards in his team’s 28–21 victory at Central Florida on Sept. 11, became the first NC State player to score on two interception returns in the same season since Greg Williams in 1966.
• Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich showed yet another example of his toughness over the weekend. Herzlich, who has returned after missing all of last season while recovering from cancer, played against NC State with a broken bone in his left hand. Herzlich wore a huge wrap that rendered his fingers immobile, but he still intercepted one pass and broke up another in addition to making three tackles.
• Clemson coach Dabo Swinney attempted to shield his players from blame in the aftermath of the Tigers’ third consecutive loss, but he gave plenty of ammunition to his critics in the process. “I’m extremely embarrassed,” Swinney said. “This team deserves better, Clemson deserves better, the fans deserve better. This is just not a very well-coached football team right now, and it’s my fault. I’m extremely disappointed in what I saw today. I saw a team that wasn’t very smart, I saw a team that wasn’t very disciplined. I saw a team get a lot of critical penalties, right from the beginning of the game on the first play. I saw a team give up a huge play that led to a score right before the end of the half. I’m embarrassed. I’m extremely disappointed in myself. I’m better than this, I know I’m better than this, and it’s my job to get it fixed. It’s nobody else’s job. This football team didn’t quit, the football team played, they tried as hard as they could, and it’s obvious they’re just not very well-coached.”
• Florida State backup tailback Chris Thompson rushed for a career-high 158 yards on 14 carries against Miami. Thompson gave his stats a huge boost late in the fourth quarter with a 90-yard touchdown run, the third-longest rush in FSU history and the longest run ever allowed by the Hurricanes.
• Georgia Tech posted consecutive victories over Virginia for the first time since 1990-91. The Yellow Jackets have won six consecutive games against their Coastal Division foes.
• Tailback Graig Cooper, Miami’s leading rushing each of the last three seasons, showed some burst in his first playing time since the season opener. Cooper, who had been out with an ankle injury after spending the off-season rehabbing from knee surgery, gained 22 yards on two carries and caught a pass for 11 yards against Florida State.
• North Carolina has played back-to-back games without a turnover for the first time since 1996.
*Virginia tailback Keith Payne, who rushed for 56 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries against Georgia Tech, had some unconventional help on his 1-yard TD run in the fourth quarter. Linebacker Darnell Carter, who tallied the first interception of his career earlier in the game, lined up at fullback to help clear Payne’s path to the end zone.
• Virginia Tech tailbacks Darren Evans and David Wilson filled in admirably once again for injured starter Ryan Williams, who missed his third consecutive game with a hamstring injury. Evans and Wilson each rushed for a touchdown against Central Michigan while combining for 119 yards on 14 carries.
• Wake Forest quarterback Tanner Price produced a record-breaking return to action after sitting out last week’s game with a concussion. Price completed 37 of 53 passes for 326 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions against Navy, completing more passes and throwing for more yardage than any true freshman in school history.
The First to Four
There are no unbeaten teams in the NFL, but three teams are sitting at 4–1. Of course, all 4–1 records are not created equal. In the AFC, the Ravens look like the Super Bowl favorites. As usual, Ray Lewis & Co. are stifling opposing offenses and zealously guarding the end zone, allowing only 14.4 points and 156.6 passing yards per game. Running back Ray Rice broke out of his mini-slump yesterday with 133 yards and two touchdowns in a 31–17 win over Denver, and Joe Flacco has thrown one interception in his last 12 quarters of football. In the NFC, the Falcons are riding a four-game winning streak and are an overtime loss to the Steelers away from being undefeated, thanks to a stout defense and the offensive one-two-three punch of Matt Ryan, Michael Turner and Roddy White. And then there are the Bears, an ugly 4–1 that only a mother could love. In the last two weeks, the Bears have turned the ball over seven times and surrendered 13 sacks. Yesterday, creaky 38-year-old Todd Collins stepped in for a concussed Jay Cutler and had possibly the worst day an NFL quarterback has ever had — 6-of-16, 32 yards, four interceptions, a passer rating of 6.2, the fourth game since the merger in which a QB has thrown four interceptions and averaged two or fewer yards per attempt. But the Bears are doing something right — namely, they’re forcing turnovers, 14 of them through five games. I’ve been tempted to dismiss the Bears, but I’d be doing so at my own peril. Lovie Smith has nine NFL lives, and he apparently hasn’t used them all just yet.
Save Us, Bill Cowher
Carolina Panther fans are casting a longing glance toward the NFL Today studio set, where Raleigh resident and possible franchise savior Bill Cowher shares his insight with millions of fans while he could be leading his home-state team out of the football wilderness. Cowher-to-Carolina is probably a long-shot scenario, but changes are clearly on the horizon in Charlotte. The Panthers are the worst of the three remaining winless teams. They’ve already been outscored by 58 points on the young season, they’re playing a rookie quarterback (Jimmy Clausen) who threw for 61 yards and an interception against the Bears, they suddenly can’t even run the ball, they’ve implemented a cost-cutting youth movement — in other words, the decks are cleared for a new regime to save this beleaguered franchise. It may not be Cowher, but the Panthers’ next hire had better be a home run.
Parity’s Poster Children
There’s a four-way tie for first in the AFC South. Or, if you prefer, a four-way tie for last. This quartet of enigmatic teams — alternately potent and inconsistent — is set to wage a season-long battle for supremacy. The AFC South is the poster child for this season of parity. It may not be the most talented division, but it’s the NFL’s most competitive foursome, thanks in part to the fact that the Colts have clearly retreated to the pack. Despite yesterday’s 19–9 win over the previously unbeaten Chiefs, the Colts are not what they’ve been in recent seasons. They already have division losses to the Jags and Texans on their ledger, and their characteristic struggles in the run game — they rank 28th in the league at 79.8 ypg — could finally prove their undoing over the long, difficult march to the finish line. The Jags and Texans are 3–2 despite having been outscored by their opponents, while the Titans have mixed flashes of brilliance with stretches of offensive futility. The season-long sorting-out process, which takes an important turn with Tennessee’s Monday visit to Jacksonville, should be fun.
Mistakes Doom the Chargers
On paper, the San Diego Chargers have everything — talent at every position, playmakers all over the roster, a strong-willed veteran leader at quarterback. They should be dominating their division, as they have done for the last few years. But something is clearly missing, and yesterday’s 35–27 loss to the Raiders, a team that the Chargers had beaten 13 straight times, revealed some shocking weaknesses. The obvious culprit is special teams; the Chargers have allowed four special teams touchdowns in their three losses, including yesterday’s disgraceful showing in which the Raiders blocked two punts, turning one into a touchdown and the other into a safety. Another issue is ball security; the Chargers have coughed it up 13 times in five games, including three turnovers against the Raiders — one of which, a Philip Rivers fumble, turned into a Tyvon Branch clinching touchdown. But let’s face facts. A fish rots from the head down, and the blame for San Diego’s start lies with Norv Turner. There’s still time for the Chargers to come back and win a shaky division, but if they don’t, it may be time for a fresh start.
The Niners Could Still Win Their Division
That’s not just me saying that; the 49ers owner, Jed York, came strong with a Namath-style guarantee. “We’re going to win the division,” he texted to ESPN Monday morning. Sounds crazy, but it’s not. This division is a bad joke; the 3–2 Cardinals, who sit atop the standings, have been outscored by their opponents by 50 points. St. Louis is coming off a 44–6 pasting at the hands of the winless Lions. Those same Rams had their way with the Seahawks the week prior. The Niners have five more games against this motley assortment of also-rans, and they also play Oakland, Denver, Tampa Bay and winless Carolina. Are you ready for a 7–9 division champion? Could happen.
Did that just happen? It was the instantaneous thought as you watched LSU flounder as only a Les Miles-coached team could in the final seconds of a tight ballgame. It was the thought, doubled, as you watched the Tigers get one more chance against Tennessee — and escape with a victory they hardly deserved.
And, yet again, it was the thought as you watched Miles attempt an explanation in his postgame news conference.
Miles supplied 10 or so minutes of unfiltered, uncensored color analysis of those final snaps. At no point did Miles come close to explaining what happened. We were all dumber for having listened to Miles. (Thank you, “Billy Madison.”)
He should trade in that giant bucket of an LSU cap for a clown hat.
Miles supplied dandies like this: “It wasn’t pretty, but damn it was fun.” And this: “The multiplicity of personnel …”
He said at one point LSU was “awkward at times.” Yes, Les, you are. Often, really.
The confounding thing is the Tigers are 5–0 — and have more SEC victories than any other team in the league, with three.
The train-wreck nature of this team, and specifically its coach, is mesmerizing. Inches from derailing, it managed to stay on the tracks without any help from its coach.
Miles, who periodically screamed during his news conference, said he called “bull(stuff)” on his own team after the game. The college football world, meanwhile, is calling it on Miles.
Nine times out of 10, the space above would be dedicated to what Alabama did to Florida. (Miles became the 10 percent exception.) But what the Tide did to the Gators certainly bears mentioning, clearly. This was supposed to be the conference’s premier game all season, and Alabama turned it into just another week.
The West is so far ahead of the East this season, it’s crazy. All the big, early games have gone the West’s way, and there’s no reason to believe that’ll change in the coming weeks. Alabama and Auburn appear to be on one heck of a collision course in late November. Bama didn’t even need to lean too heavily on its offense to beat Florida — and defense and special teams were supposedly the weak areas for the defending national champs.
On the upside for LSU, because there has to be some kind of positive to be found in a 5–0 team, Stevan Ridley has really carried the load despite teams knowing the Tigers aren’t especially effective putting the ball in the air. Ridley has been over 100 yards the past two weeks and three times this season. Again, that’s no small feat when people are trying to stop the run.
We dogged Ole Miss for a period of weeks, so it’s only fair to give credit now that the Rebels have punched the gas a bit, offensively. Ninety-seven points in two weeks is pretty impressive, regardless of the opponents, considering where the Rebs were. Is Ole Miss a world-beater? No. But it’s come a long way from the team that couldn’t score at home against Vanderbilt.
UGH-A. Just when it seemingly couldn’t get any worse, Colorado rallies past Georgia in Boulder. Did you think the Buffaloes had the players to make that happen? We sure didn’t. A.J. Green made a difference, but only enough of one for Georgia to stay in the game.
The Bulldogs are 1–4. That’s just stunning stuff nearly midway through the season. Where do they go from here? There’s too much talent for this to be a sub-.500 team. But what rights things in Athens, and especially for that defense? Got to keep harping on tackling and playing assignment football in the secondary. Far too many lapses, even against sub-par opponents. It’s well past ridiculous for the Dawgs.
Neglected in the end of that LSU-Tennessee fiasco is the fact that, if you’re the Volunteers, you obviously can’t put half of your available defensive players on the field at the same time. Just can’t do it, even if you were inadvertently baited by the Tigers. Then again, the Vols had 10 on the field a few times against UAB.
Seriously, though, Tennessee missed a real opportunity for a win it desperately needed. Those chances, on the road (and at LSU), don’t come along often.
Kentucky’s defense, to paraphrase Denny Green, is what we thought it was. The Wildcats finally faced some decent SEC offenses, and they’ve given up 48 and 42 in consecutive weeks. And it’s not as if Florida and Ole Miss have really proven consistent offensive forces this season. The secondary, particularly, is a mess.
Stud of the Week
Nick Saban, Alabama
Unprecedented to name a coach, but deserved. Look what Saban’s done, in short time, to distance the Tide from the rest of the league. Florida is second — and currently by 25 points.
Dud of the Week
Steve Addazio, Florida
Why not include another coach here? Baffling to see Addazio’s play-calling on the goal line to start the game. We all know Trey Burton is not Tim Tebow. We all know John Brantley is not Tim Tebow. We know those things. Right, Steve?
One certain Saturday in Dallas has a way of completely altering the landscape of the Big 12. And maybe more. So it goes again, after Oklahoma beat Texas 28–20 in the 105th edition of the Red River Rivalry.
The Sooners left the Cotton Bowl soaring in spirit, believing that last season’s five-loss debacle is behind them in their quest to rejoin the nation’s elite.
Meanwhile, the bad news — and results — keep coming for Texas. Taking shots from UCLA in an ugly home loss is one thing. But losing to dreaded Oklahoma, and losing their grip on the Big 12 South, and losing their place in the Top 25 for the first time in 10 years? That hurts.
And not only that — the Longhorns will have to stew on it all for a while, with an open week on deck.
“I wish we didn’t have the bye week,” said Texas linebacker Keenan Robinson. “I want to get out there right now.”
The Sooners breeze into their bye week, sitting 5–0 and facing a remaining schedule that doesn’t feature another Top 25 team until the season-ending Bedlam showdown with Oklahoma State.
Their win in the Cotton Bowl wasn’t flawless, with some unnecessarily tense moments late. Still, these wins are to be coveted, no matter how they’re claimed.
“That’s what you want,” said OU coach Bob Stoops. “To be criticized for winning. We’re back to Oklahoma football.”
Oklahoma State 38, Texas A&M 35
Oklahoma 28, Texas 20
Colorado 29, Georgia 27
Baylor 55, Kansas 7
Iowa State 52, Texas Tech 38
Pegged for a rebuilding year, Oklahoma State is making this look like more of a transition year. And a smooth transition at that.
The Cowboys, improving to 4–0, won a wild one in Stillwater, outlasting Texas A&M in a matchup made out as a measuring stick for both teams. In the end, the Pokes measured up against a team predicted by some to challenge in the Big 12 South.
“It’s big,” said OSU linebacker James Thomas, who had a 63-yard fumble return for a touchdown. “It gives us confidence and it was a great emotional win for us as well.”
Each team blew 14-point leads, before OSU cashed in a fifth takeaway of Aggies quarterback Jerrod Johnson to set up the game-winning field goal. Dan Bailey booted a 40-yard field goal as time expired to deliver the win.
Role reversal seemed to be the theme in Ames. Usually conservative Iowa State scored 52 points — the most ever by the Cyclones in a Big 12 game — getting a career-high four touchdown passes from Austen Arnaud to win a shootout over Texas Tech.
“I think it was just one of those nights,” Arnaud said. “We felt like we could take some shots downfield and we did and made the most of those opportunities. In the past, we haven’t.
“Pitch and catch is basically what it ended up being.”
While the Red Raiders might be used to wild-scoring affairs, this was all new for the Cyclones, who hadn’t scored so much in a conference game in 38 years.
Still, winning wasn’t easy. After bolting to a 24–0 lead, Tech rallied to tie it on the way to a fourth quarter that featured a combined 42 points. The Cyclones led 45–38 with 2:05 remaining, when Jeremy Reeves returned an onside kick attempt 42 yards for a clinching touchdown.
The talk around Waco — probably too much talk — has been about what Baylor must do to get back in a bowl game, ending an absence that extends prior to the creation of the Big 12. Well, talk is picking up after the Bears’ rout of Kansas.
In what was billed as a must-win, Baylor won big behind quarterback Robert Griffin III, who did it all in a record-setting day for the Bears. Baylor finished with school records for total yards (678), points in a Big 12 game (55) and largest margin of victory (48) in a conference outing. Griffin III’s 94-yard touchdown pass to Josh Gordon is a school record for the longest play.
“It was fun for the players, our fans, Baylor University and it was a much-needed victory,” said Bears coach Art Briles.
Buffs Hanging Tough
Don’t write Dan Hawkins’ farewell speech just yet. The Buffaloes are showing signs of life.
Colorado extended Georgia’s struggles, holding on for a 29–27 win that came with a large contingent from the 1990 national title team looking on.
The Buffs may not be ready to create any current title talk, not yet, but at least the talk isn’t the doom and gloom that has followed the program under Hawkins’ watch.
“There’s a saying that the pride and tradition of the Buffaloes won’t be entrusted to the weak,” Colorado linebacker Jon Major told reporters after the game.
Don’t look now, but the Buffs are 3–1 and own a reasonable home schedule for conference play.
Player of the Week
Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor.Known affectionately as RG3, the Bears sophomore set a school record with 444 total yards in Baylor’s rout of Kansas. He also threw for a career-best 380 yards and tied career highs with three touchdown passes, 26 completions and 36 pass attempts. He was also the team’s leading rusher with 64 yards on eight carries, including a touchdown.
Game of the Week: Nebraska at Kansas State.Don’t crown the Huskers in the North just yet, not until they’ve navigated successfully through Manhattan. This is throwback stuff, going back to the days of the Big Eight, only with the Wildcats much improved. Nebraska runs the option again, and the ’Cats pound Daniel Thomas in their own ground game, while passes are flying throughout the rest of the Big 12. The winner takes a major step forward in the North.
On the Spot:Tommy Tuberville, Texas Tech.Since arriving in Lubbock, Tuberville has talked tough, even taking some jabs at Mike Leach’s regime. Well, it’s time for Tuberville’s team to get tough, at 0–2 in the league and heading into a scary matchup with Baylor’s RG3 in the Cotton Bowl.
In the Spotlight: Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska.The Husker freshman has been dynamic for the most part, but looked like a rookie his last time out against South Dakota State. Don’t think K-State coach Bill Snyder won’t have a plan that forces Martinez to hit some throws — not to mention the fact that the Wildcats have the best athletes the freshman has faced so far.
Dan Hawkins, Colorado.OK, so Georgia isn’t Georgia, not the same Georgia, anyway. Still, the Bulldogs had A.J. Green back. And they’re still stocked with top talent. And for a change during Hawkins’ reign, the Buffs showed some talent, too. And played big in a big game. Looking ahead, CU could win as many as eight games and find itself in a solid bowl game. And keeping Hawkins, who for now has removed himself from the hot seat.
Longhorn playmakers. For all the premium-picked talent making up all those touted recruiting classes, Texas sure lacks guys who can make a play on offense. At running back and wide receiver and tight end and even quarterback, the Horns just don’t scare anyone the way they should.
By the Numbers
2100-yard rushers for Iowa State against Texas Tech, with Alexander Robinson (103) and Shontrelle Johnson (104) both cracking the century mark.
8Consecutive Big 12 losses by Kansas.
106Offensive plays run by Texas A&M — in a loss.
Few college football coaches work under as big a microscope as Ohio State’s Jim Tressel, whose job was once thought to be in jeopardy after he blew a second BCS Title game in three years.
Imagine that — the coach of your favorite school in trouble for finishing the year in the runner-up chair.
Ohio State demands BCS berths, and accepts nothing short of a Big Ten title. And, during much of his tenure in Columbus, Tressel has delivered. On Saturday, assuming things go as they normally do for the Buckeyes, Tressel will become the 13th Big Ten coach to win 100 games. And he’ll be the third-fastest to get there: Michigan’s Bo Schembechler and Lloyd Carr accomplished the feat in 119 games; if successful Saturday, it will have taken Tressel 121 games. And among conference coaches with 10 or more years under their belts, only Michigan’s Fielding Yost has a better winning percentage than Tressel’s .825.
One of Tressel’s most likeable qualities isn’t that he wins, but rather how he wins. His teams can go blow-for-blow with the power clubs of the Big Ten, and as evidenced in a win over Miami, Tressel’s teams can go step-for-step with the country’s finest finesse clubs. And Tressel-coached teams are always as classy as his sideline sweater vest.
At some schools, the legends of past coaches are so overbearing that no one can exist outside of their shadow. But Tressel has done nothing but embrace Woody Hayes and the rest of Ohio State’s rich history. That has helped him to build his own legacy, outside of Hayes’ reach. And on Saturday, Ohio State fans may have reason once again to embrace Tressel, and reflect for a day on the history he has helped to build for Ohio State’s program.
The Week That Was
Northwestern 29, Minnesota 28
Ohio State 24, Illinois 13
Michigan 42, Indiana 35
Michigan State 34, Wisconsin 24
Iowa 24, Penn State 3
Buckeye backfield continues to sputter
Ohio State has not found consistency out of any of its backs so far this season, and on Saturday got just 109 yards from Dan Herron and Brandon Saine combined (most of it coming from Herron). Through five games, neither back is on pace to gain more than 700 yards this season, and only Saine has a 100-yard game to his credit.
Chappell and Doss go to work on Wolverines
One of the silver linings in Indiana’s loss to Michigan was the success quarterback Ben Chappell and wide receiver Tandon Doss shared. Chappell completed 45-of-64 passes for 480 yards — all Hoosier records; Doss caught 15 of those passes for 221 yards. Somewhat overshadowed, Damarlo Belcher caught 10 balls for 91 yards. The receiving duo rank Nos. 1 and 2 in the conference.
Gophers find a weapon in Lair
One of the Big Ten’s fastest-rising prospects is Minnesota tight end Eric Lair, who last week caught seven passes for 94 yards against Northern Illinois. On Saturday, the junior caught three for 75 yards, two of them for scores.
Team of the Week:Michigan State
Even without coach Mark Dantonio, who returned to the hospital to take care of a blood clot, the Spartans stepped up in their Big Ten opener against fellow Top 25 foe Wisconsin. Despite committing early turnovers, Michigan State beat Wisconsin at its own game, with hard-nosed defense and a ball control offense (the Spartans actually out-gained the Badgers, 175 to 165 yards).
Disappointment of the Week:Penn State
Just three crummy points. The Nittany Lions converted only three of 13 third down attempts (although, it’s only fair to point out Iowa converted two of 10) and gained just 54 yards on the ground. It was one of the worst offensive performances by a Penn State squad in some time.
Offensive Player of the Week:Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan
Nothing out of the ordinary — just another 200-yard passing and 200-yard rushing day to help Michigan get to 5–0. The Heisman talk is starting to grow louder.
Defensive Player of the Week:J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
It’s rare to give defensive player honors to someone from a losing team, but Watt’s performance was difficult to ignore. He applied pressure to Kirk Cousins all afternoon, played thick against the run and even batted a couple of passes. He might be the conference’s most underrated player.
Freshman of the Week: James White, RB, Wisconsin
White was the best freshman for a second straight week. With John Clay noticeably hobbled by a bum ankle, White gave the Wisconsin offense its bounce back, averaging 9.8 yards on 10 carries and scoring two touchdowns.
The Week Ahead
Reeling from its BCS-busting loss to Michigan State, the Badgers are vulnerable against a hungry Minnesota club that gave Northwestern all it could take. The Battle for the Axe is a week before Wisconsin’s highly anticipated matchup against Ohio State. Possible the Badgers will peek past the Gophers? Sure. It’s also possible the Badgers are just plain overrated.
Player to Watch:Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois
Leshoure took a step back in last week’s contest (19 carries for 80 yards) and now must regroup in order to help Illinois in its trip to Penn State. The Nittany Lions currently rank fifth in the Big Ten in defending against the run, allowing 3.7 yards per carry. But the Illini’s 230-pound junior is as good as every back Penn State has faced thus far (with the exception of Trent Richardson) and could take Nittany Lions fans by surprise.
Only three schools in the conference are averaging better than 10 yards per punt return; thanks in part to its explosive player, Keshawn Martin, Michigan State is averaging a deadly 17.2 yards. Martin is averaging 18.5 yards on his returns, including last week’s 74-yard game-changing score against Wisconsin.
At present, three Big Ten quarterbacks are leading their respective schools in rushing. Both Denard Robinson (Michigan) and Terrelle Pryor (Ohio State) rank among the conference’s top 10 in the category, while Northwestern’s Dan Persa is not far off.
Penn State 20, Illinois 14
Wisconsin 28, Minnesota 24
Ohio State 36, Indiana 10
Michigan 34, Michigan State 31
Northwestern 21, Purdue 13
Stanford is considered the up-and-coming program of the Pac-10 Conference. Saturday’s game in Eugene proved just that — the Cardinal are coming, but they’re not there yet.
After shocking Oregon early by racing out to a 21–3 lead, Stanford simply didn’t have enough defense to ultimately stop the Ducks’ scoring machine. Behind 355 total yards from quarterback Darron Thomas and a career-best 257 yards rushing by tailback LaMichael James, Oregon sent a message that the conference crown still goes through the Pacific Northwest with a 52–31 victory.
The Cardinal dominated their first four opponents on both sides of the ball, and while they had quality road wins over UCLA and Notre Dame, Oregon provided a whole new challenge, unlike anything Stanford had seen so far. Stanford’s offense was still able to keep rolling, at least in the first half (the Cardinal were held scoreless in the second half). It just couldn’t keep up with the Ducks’ seemingly unstoppable attack.
The Cardinal had moved into the top 10 in the national rankings, and some were even beginning to mention Stanford as a possible national title contender. After the first quarter Saturday, that notion didn’t seem so far-fetched. But ultimately, the better team won.
It will now be interesting to see just where Stanford falls in the Pac-10 pecking order. If the Cardinal truly consider themselves one of the conference’s elite teams, they need to beat USC at home this Saturday.
As for the Ducks, not only are they solidly in the national championship race, but they may also have a situation on their hands similar to USC’s in 2005. Both Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart were in the thick of the Heisman Trophy race all season, with Bush ultimately winning and Leinart finishing fifth in the voting (as we all know now, Bush no longer has the Heisman).
They haven’t got a ton of attention so far, but it may not be long before Thomas and James move up the Heisman watch lists and earn the attention of voters across the country. Both are vital to making Oregon’s machine go, and the Ducks’ on-field success should keep both heavily in the mix.
Thomas added the running threat to his arsenal against the Cardinal, while James simply may be the best running back in the country this side of Tuscaloosa. James is second nationally in rushing at 178 yards per game.
UCLA 42, Washington State 28
Oregon State 31, Arizona State 28
Washington 32, USC 31
Oregon 52, Stanford 31
One week, UCLA goes on the road and cruises to a benchmark win against one of the top programs in the country. The next week, the Bruins stay home and have trouble putting away one of the worst teams in the country.
Call it a letdown or inconsistency, but UCLA’s 42–28 win over Washington State was both alarming and puzzling.
Sure, the Bruins win at Texas the previous week was partly a result of the Longhorns’ own follies. But the bottom line is UCLA capitalized on Texas’ mistakes, and its defense was sharp.
Just being competitive has been a struggle for the Cougars since the start of the 2008 season. And although Washington State has been making incremental improvements, it was stunning to see it lead 28–20 in the third quarter against the Bruins.
UCLA ultimately made the comeback to pull out the win — it needed a goal-line stand on 4th-and-1 from the 1 to prevent the Cougars from taking the lead once again early in the fourth quarter — but the game must have left Bruins fans wondering if their team was more like the one that was dominated by Stanford earlier in the season or the one that had its successful trip to Austin.
UCLA should have a good measuring stick game this week at Cal. Both teams were picked to finish in the bottom half of the conference but each has shown signs it could be better than that.
As USC was winning its first four games of the season, there was a sense that it wasn’t necessarily playing like an undefeated team. That sense was confirmed Saturday when Washington came into the L.A. Coliseum and left with a 32–31 victory.
Once again, the Trojans served a reminder that their defense isn’t what it once was. USC was sliced apart by Washington quarterback Jake Locker, who had a nightmare of a game the previous week against Nebraska. Locker threw for 310 yards and rushed for another 110, while also leading the Huskies on a final drive that culminated in a 32-yard field goal by Erik Folk as time expired.
It was the second year in a row Folk beat USC with a last-second field goal. The difference this year was that it just didn’t feel that surprising when it happened.
Much of the buzz last week surrounding the Big East had to do with expansion and a possible invitation to TCU. Odds are, that will continue to be the case this week, but the league’s teams did go a combined 4–1 in the last full week of non-conference games.
There were no matchups like the previous week, when league teams faced opponents like LSU and Oklahoma, but Connecticut managed a victory over the SEC’s Vanderbilt. For the second straight week, the Huskies found themselves tied at halftime before delivering in the second half in moving to 3–2 with a 40–21 win at Rentschler Field. Now it’s on to league play for UConn, starting with Rutgers on Friday.
“I think we’re heading into (league play) in the right frame of mind, in the right direction,” said Connecticut coach Randy Edsall. “I think in these last two games we’ve done things to get better.”
The Huskies scored the last 21 points in last week’s win against Buffalo and closed against Vandy with 26 unanswered points. Jordan Todman had a career-high 37 carries for 190 yards and two touchdowns against the Commodores.
The league’s biggest disappointment came via Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights suffered the loss of both quarterback Tom Savage and a 17–14 decision at the hands of Conference USA opponent Tulane, which entered 1–2. Green Wave coach Bob Toledo’s staff called a trick play — backup QB Joe Kemp threw a 10-yard lateral to wideout D.J. Banks, who then fired another pass back to Kemp for a 24-yard score — that left Rutgers coach Greg Schiano taking blame afterward. “It’s on me,” Schiano said. “I was unable to get our team ready to go... So as the head coach, everything falls on me.”
Savage didn’t return after being tackled out of bounds in the second quarter.
Otherwise, league teams had few problems against Florida Atlantic, Florida International and Arkansas State. South Florida, now 3–1, defeated FAU 31–3 at Raymond James Stadium. The Bulls registered seven sacks, forced three turnovers and scored a touchdown on a blocked punt return. Bulls QB B.J. Daniels threw for 155 yards and a touchdown while completing 14-of-19 passes. Running back Moise Plancher had 20 carries for 93 yards and two TDs.
Pitt had no trouble despite the absence of incumbent Big East offensive and defensive players of the year Dion Lewis and Greg Romeus, both sidelined with injuries. Panther tailback Ray Graham ran wild, rushing for 277 yards and three touchdowns — the second-best effort by a Pitt runner in school history. Graham added 78 yards on kickoff returns and 19 receiving yards to finish with 374 all-purpose yards in the 44–17 victory over FIU.
Louisville, meanwhile, raced to a 31–7 halftime lead on its way to a 34–24 win at Arkansas State. The Cardinals reeled off 575 yards of offense — their best performance in more than two years. Quarterback Adam Froman completed 20-of-33 passes for 308 yards and three touchdowns. The U of L had two 100-yard rushers in tailbacks Bilal Powell (157 yards) and Victor Anderson (108 yards).
Connecticut 40, Vanderbilt 21
Tulane 17, Rutgers 14
Pittsburgh 44, Florida International 17
Louisville 34, Arkansas State 24
South Florida 31, Florida Atlantic 3
A real rush
The Big East may not have a lot going for it this season, but it does have two of the nation’s top four rushers. The 277-yard outburst by Pitt back Ray Graham helped lift him to third among this week’s national rushing leaders, behind only Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson and Oregon tailback LaMichael James. He’s now averaging 164 yards a game. Connecticut’s Jordan Todman, meanwhile, is fourth nationally, averaging 159.5 yards. In all-purpose running, Graham is No. 1, while Todman is No. 5.
A grand return
South Florida’s Dontavia Bogan returned from an ankle injury in style against Florida Atlantic. Bogan caught a 38-yard touchdown pass on a flea-flicker, had five receptions for 66 yards and moved passed the 1,000-yard career receiving mark in the victory.
A grand return II
When Connecticut tailback Jordan Todman ran for 190 yards — two fewer than his career best — against Vanderbilt, it wasn’t just another day at the office. Todman missed last week’s game against Buffalo with a hyper-extended left elbow, but didn’t rest much against the Commodores, carrying the ball a career high 37 times.
Tag this a season of defense within the Big East. While offense usually grabs the headlines, three league teams have performed well on the other side of the ball. West Virginia is ranked eighth nationally in total defense, allowing an average of 249.25 yards. In scoring defense, Rutgers is fourth, allowing an average of 12 points. Connecticut, meanwhile, is tied for seventh in interceptions (nine) and ninth in tackles for loss (8.2 per game).
A sigh of relief
When Louisville held off Arkansas State on Saturday, it snapped a 10-game road losing streak that had been going on since defeating Memphis on Oct. 10, 2008.
Rutgers quarterback Tom Savage’s status is uncertain for Friday night’s game against Connecticut because of an injury to his throwing hand. On Monday, RU coach Greg Schiano said Savage would be a “game-time decision for sure.”
Connecticut offensive tackle Jimmy Bennett hurt his hand last week. Running back Robbie Frey had arthroscopic surgery on his knee Monday.
The Big East is the only league yet to start conference play. That changes this week when Connecticut visits Rutgers Friday for a 7:30 p.m. ESPN game. Syracuse returns from a bye to visit South Florida noon Saturday.
NC State was on its way to a special season. There was no other way to look at it. The team had a 4–0 record, a 17–0 lead over Virginia Tech at home and winnable games against Boston College and East Carolina upcoming. The Wolfpack were going to be 7–0 heading into their Thursday night showdown with Atlantic Division rival Florida State on Oct. 28.
It all sounded good in theory to many in the crowd of 58,083, the third-largest gathering in the history of Carter-Finley Stadium. But Virginia Tech ruined the dream scenario, rallying for a 41–30 victory to register the biggest comeback win in Frank Beamer’s 24 seasons as head coach of the Hokies.
“It was very impressive,” Beamer said. “I’ve had a lot of great moments, proud moments and great players. I don’t know if there is ever a time I’m any more proud of our players than tonight in this dressing room. With the way we started out, we hung in there and battled, we kept believing and never gave up.”
Virginia Tech (3–2, 2–0 ACC) had plenty of chances to quit early in this game — and early in this season. After all, this was the team that started the year 0–2 with a heartbreaking loss to Boise State and a head-scratching defeat at home to Football Championship Subdivision member James Madison. But the Hokies kept chipping away at NC State’s lead until they took the first lead of their own at 28–27 early in the fourth quarter.
NC State’s Russell Wilson and Virginia Tech’s Tyrod Taylor each made plenty of big plays in a matchup of two of the ACC’s best quarterbacks; Wilson passed for 362 yards and three touchdowns while Taylor rushed for 121 yards and passed for three scores. But it was Wilson, the closest thing the ACC had to a Heisman Trophy contender, who made more mistakes. Cornerback Jayron Hosley intercepted three passes from Wilson, including one in the final two minutes that set up Virginia Tech’s clinching score.
“Hopefully we can learn from this and get back on track next Saturday,” NC State coach Tom O’Brien said. “We’re 4–1. We’ve got to pick up our heads. Our goal now is to play these guys again.”
For that to happen in the ACC championship game, NC State (4–1, 1–1) must do what Virginia Tech already has done: Get back on track after an extremely difficult defeat. The Hokies have no chance at the national championship — the first two weeks dashed those hopes. But they served notice to the Wolfpack — and the rest of the ACC — that they are very much alive in the race for the league title.
Florida State 34, Virginia 14
Miami 30, Clemson 21
North Carolina 42, East Carolina 17
Virginia Tech 41, N.C. State 30
Maryland 21, Duke 16
Georgia Tech 24, Wake Forest 20
Notre Dame 31, Boston College 13
Hurricanes get big win
Virginia Tech-N.C. State was a big game in terms of early positioning in the ACC standings, but Miami-Clemson was just as important. The victory for the Hurricanes (3–1, 1–0) left them and Virginia Tech as the only undefeated teams in conference play in the Coastal Division. The Tigers (2–2, 0–1), meanwhile, now have less margin for error in their upcoming Atlantic Division matchups.
Miami quarterback Jacory Harris threw four touchdown passes in the first half — three of them to wide receiver Leonard Hankerson — but the difference in the game was the Hurricanes’ defense. Miami forced Clemson, which had turned over the ball just twice in its first three games combined, into six turnovers. The Tigers couldn’t overcome those miscues despite limiting Miami to just three points and 96 total yards in the second half.
Florida State has bounced back in fine fashion from its 47–17 loss at Oklahoma on Sept. 11. The Seminoles, who extended their winning streak to three games with a convincing victory at Virginia, have been solid on both sides of the ball.
Florida State was supposed to be explosive on offense this season, but credit goes to first-year defensive coordinator Mark Stoops for how that unit has performed in the aftermath of the Oklahoma embarrassment. The Seminoles (4–1, 2–0) entered the weekend with an NCAA-best 19 sacks, and they added six more to their total while shutting down Virginia.
Florida State was especially dominant in the first half, outgaining the Cavaliers 294-42 en route to building a 27–0 lead. Virginia ended up with 304 total yards, but just 25 of those yards came on the ground.
On the flip side, Florida State has run the ball so effectively with tailbacks Jermaine Thomas, Chris Thompson and Ty Jones that quarterback Christian Ponder hasn’t had to shoulder the burden. The Seminoles churned out 256 rushing yards against Virginia, rushing for at least 200 yards in three consecutive games for the first time since 2000. That production helped them reach the 30-point plateau for the third consecutive game — something they hadn’t accomplished since 2004.
Florida State’s ability to run the ball also has helped its defense — the Seminoles have possessed the ball more than 20 minutes longer than their opponents over the last three weeks.
“The offense ate the ball and kept them off the field,” Fisher said. “The defense got some three-and-outs. They played together. That’s what we keep saying: offense, defense. Here’s what you’ve got to understand. Defense is getting three-and-outs, and offense is taking six-minute drives, which keeps an offense out of whack for the other team.”
Eagles, Deacs still struggling with QB situations
Injuries and ineffectiveness at quarterback continue to plague Boston College and Wake Forest.
The Eagles started true freshman Chase Rettig under center against Notre Dame in place of struggling sophomore Dave Shinskie, and they were down 21–0 before they knew it. Rettig went three-and-out on the first three series of his career before offering some hope with a 58-yard touchdown strike to fellow freshman Bobby Swigert late in the first quarter.
The problem is that once Rettig got going, he had to leave. He suffered a sprain to his left ankle early in the second quarter — x-rays were negative — and spent the rest of the game standing on the sideline with his foot in a protective boot. Rettig completed 5-of-10 throws for 72 yards and the touchdown before giving way to Mike Marscovetra, who was 22 of 37 for 193 yards and two interceptions the rest of the way.
“(Rettig) looked like the guy we thought he was,” BC coach Frank Spaziani said. “He did some good things and made some freshman mistakes. Once again, I know we all want to talk about who the quarterback is and what the situation is, but there were other problems that were not the quarterback.”
The Eagles (2–2, 0–1) must begin fixing those problems, one of which was blocking for tailback Montel Harris in the running game. Harris managed just 28 yards on 15 carries against the Fighting Irish, almost 75 yards below his season average entering the game. With Rettig’s status in doubt and trips to Atlantic Division rivals NC State and Florida State on tap for the next two weeks, the Eagles need to give their quarterback position all the help they can.
The same is true in Winston-Salem, where Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe has been playing musical chairs at quarterback most of the season.
True freshman starter Tanner Price missed the Georgia Tech game Saturday because of a concussion he suffered the week before against Florida State. His backup, sophomore Ted Stachitas, started against the Yellow Jackets before departing in the second quarter with a back injury. The No. 3 QB, redshirt freshman Brendan Cross, left the game and didn’t return after injuring his non-throwing shoulder on a scramble. And the fourth quarterback, former wide receiver Skylar Jones, had to gut his way through a sore foot because the team had nowhere else to turn.
“I don’t know what it’s going to take to find someone that’s durable enough to make it through a football game,” Grobe said. “We went through three of them tonight. It’s hard to go through a week giving a third of the reps to each quarterback, hoping that one of them will come through and stay healthy.”
Jones completed 9-of-20 passes for 105 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions against the Yellow Jackets, avoiding the big mistake and giving the Demon Deacons (2–3, 1–2) a chance to win. But Georgia Tech’s Joshua Nesbitt made plays that Jones didn’t, throwing a pair of touchdown passes as the Yellow Jackets outscored Wake Forest 18–3 in the fourth quarter.
Tar Heels hit stride in running game
North Carolina’s first possession against East Carolina was nothing short of bizarre. After an incomplete pass on first down and a 3-yard run on second down, the Tar Heels acted out of character. Quarterback T.J. Yates turned and handed the ball off to tailback Shaun Draughn, who ran straight up the middle. On third and 7.
Draughn gained just 2 yards, and the Tar Heels had to punt. But they had established their offensive mindset for the rest of the day, and the plan paid off in a big way. UNC rushed for 263 yards on 46 attempts against East Carolina after totaling 258 rushing yards on 95 attempts in its first three games combined.
Senior Johnny White rushed for a career-high 140 yards on 16 carries, and Draughn tallied 137 yards and three touchdowns on 27 carries. It was the second time in the last 16 seasons — and the first time since 2004 — that two UNC players rushed for 100 yards in the same game. The Tar Heels were especially strong in the second half, with White rushing for 102 yards in the third quarter and Draughn rushing for 98 yards in the fourth.
“At halftime we said we were going to stick to the game plan, and our game plan was to come in here and run the ball on them a whole lot,” Yates said. “We just knew that could be a big strength for us coming into this game.”
• Atlantic Division teams had performed better than their Coastal Division counterparts through the first month of the season, but that wasn’t the case this weekend. The Coastal went 3–2 against the Atlantic in five interdivisional matchups.
• Clemson tailback Andre Ellington turned in another strong performance against Miami, rushing for 107 yards and a career-high three touchdowns on 17 carries. Ellington, who also caught three passes for 39 yards, now has 380 rushing yards this season. For the sake of comparison: C.J. Spiller, the 2009 Heisman Trophy contender whom Ellington has replaced as Clemson’s top offensive threat, had 288 rushing yards through four games last season.
• Georgia Tech overcame an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat Wake Forest, its first victory since 1998 when trailing by that many points in the fourth quarter. The Yellow Jackets improved to 11-2 under Paul Johnson in games decided by five points or fewer.
• Maryland improved to 4–1 heading into its bye week, doubling its win total from last season while picking up its 200th victory at Byrd Stadium. The Terrapins have been outgained by their opponent in four of five games this season, including Saturday against Duke, but they have a sparkling record thanks in part to their plus-8 turnover margin and two punt-return touchdowns by Tony Logan.
• Miami kicker Matt Bosher saw his streak of 105 consecutive extra points, the second-longest streak in school history, end in the second quarter against Clemson. Defensive tackle Jarvis Jenkins blocked Bosher’s kick after Mike James’ 18-yard touchdown catch.
• How much has North Carolina missed the players who have been held out as a result of the NCAA investigation into the program? Senior safety Da’Norris Searcy, who was cleared to play after missing three games, provided a quick answer against East Carolina. With his team trailing 14–7 in the second quarter, Searcy intercepted a pass and returned it 46 yards for a touchdown to ignite a 35–3 scoring surge for the Tar Heels. More good news for UNC: The team’s other starting safety, senior Deunta Williams, will be back this week against Clemson after completing his four-game suspension for accepting improper benefits.
• Wide receiver Kris Burd has caught a touchdown pass in each of Virginia’s first four games, becoming the first Cavalier to accomplish that feat since Heath Miller had a touchdown catch in the first five games of the 2002 season. Burd, who had four receptions for 118 yards against Florida State, became the first Virginia player with back-to-back 100-yard receiving games since Miller in 2003.
You Can Go Home Again
Donovan McNabb got what in Philly amounts to a ticker tape parade. The longtime Eagle returned to the scene of his many triumphant moments and received a warm welcome, then proceeded to earn a key NFC East win with the Redskins’ 17–12 white-knuckler against the Eagles. It was far from a thing of beauty, though. The anticipated McNabb-Michael Vick matchup evaporated in the first quarter, when Vick was sandwiched between Redskin defenders and left with chest and rib injuries, and McNabb was little more than a caretaker, throwing for 125 yards and handing off to a potent set of running backs. “The relief I got was that this is over, that the whole hoopla and coming back to Philadelphia is over,” McNabb said. The win, ugly as it was, was a nice cherry on the sundae.
The Bears’ Offense Is Offensive
Chicago has O-line issues. Well, duh. Might as well say water’s wet. Nine first-half sacks? The line was leakier than the Titanic, post-iceberg. It didn’t help that they were protecting a guy who held onto the ball like it was the Hope diamond — that is, when he wasn’t fumbling it away. The Bears dropped a 110-yard, three-turnover, 10-sack deuce on an unsuspecting viewing public in a 17–3 loss to the Giants. It was perhaps the worst offensive performance in the history of the NFL, and there’s plenty of blame to throw around. Jay Cutler looked confused even before a concussion knocked him out of the game. The running backs went nowhere. The line was a sieve. “It’s fun to watch our defense when they are doing that,” said Giants QB Eli Manning, who was essentially free to take the night off while Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck (three sacks apiece) had their way with Cutler. Fun to watch unless you’re a fan of competent offensive football. So much for the genius of Mike Martz serving as a cure-all for what ails the Bears, who are the worst 3–1 team the NFL has seen in a while.
It’s Panic Time in San Fran
Their division is so bad that the 0–4 49ers aren’t out of it — but what a heartbreaking, character-testing start to the season. Even Mike Singletary might not be able to evangelize his way out of this hole. The Niners’ 16–14 loss to the Falcons was especially painful, as Nate Clements made what appeared to be a clinching interception, only to fumble it back to Atlanta on the return, giving the Birds new life and leading to a Matt Bryant field goal with six seconds left. Ever the optimist, Singletary tried the happy-talk postgame approach: “As much as it hurts right now, I’m excited,” he said. “There were positives that came from this.” The main one being that they still play in the NFC West.
Ladies and gentlemen, your lone unbeaten, the Kansas City Chiefs. Start popping that champagne, 1972 Miami Dolphins; your record is safe. The last time a 3–0 team stood as the final unbeaten? 1971. So is it parity, or just bad football? A little bit of both. The Jets and Packers are strong. The Ravens and Steelers are typically tough. The Colts are 2–2, but there’s no cause for alarm, yet. The Chargers looked like they found a groove in dismantling the Cardinals. But there’s plenty of bad football being played. Exhibit A: The NFC West, where only the 2–2 Rams have outscored their opponents, and you know that can’t last. For the first time, a 7–9 team could make the playoffs, and that won’t be good for the league. Parity’s one thing; mediocrity is something worse.
Ravens-Steelers Is the NFL’s Best Rivalry
The Steelers were fighting for the improbable: a 4–0 record without Ben Roethlisberger. The Ravens were fighting for their second win at Heinz Field in 11 tries. The game, appropriately, was a fistfight, dominated by defense, with a late dose of offensive heroism from Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. For the fifth consecutive time, these two played a regular-season game decided by four points or fewer, and the win was as sweet as it was hard-earned. “We found a way to beat them at their place,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh. “That’s what makes it so special.”
• Jeff Fisher’s conservatism has served him well over the years. Yesterday it cost him a game. Fisher took the ball out of Vince Young’s hot right hand, shutting down the playbook in the second half and allowing the Broncos to score the game’s final 10 points of their 26–20 win over the Titans. “This loss is unfortunately an example of just not being able to make the play at the end to close this game out, and that is exactly what happened,” Fisher said. No, the loss is the result of an offense that produced 46 second-half yards and only one first down in the fourth quarter.
• Arian Foster is this year’s breakout star. After serving a 23-minute suspension for undisclosed infractions, Foster rushed for 131 yards and a touchdown and caught three passes for 56 yards and another score in the Texans’ 31–24 win over the Raiders. Foster is the NFL’s leading rusher with 537 yards.
• Appropriate that in a week when we lost George Blanda, who played until he was 48, 46-year-old John Carney was the hero of the Saints’ 16–14 win over the Panthers, kicking three field goals, including the game-winning 25-yarder with 3:55 left.
Florida (4–0, 2–0) at Alabama (4–0, 1–0)
7 p.m., CT
You get chills just typing that. These are the premier teams in the league, and everyone knows it. Even Steve Spurrier, with his team off this week, says he is looking forward to the game. (Granted, the Gamecocks play the Tide next week and the Gators in November.)
Florida is a relatively big underdog — more than a touchdown, according to Vegas. That hasn’t happened a whole bunch in Urban Meyer’s tenure — really, not since Meyer’s first season. Still, the Gators spent most of September looking for an offensive spark. It just might have found one in receiver-who-plays-quarterback Trey Burton, who rushed for five touchdowns a week ago.
But will the Wild Gator, with an undersized receiver, work against a fast, physical Alabama defense the way it worked against Kentucky? If it does, you have to figure it won’t work well consistently. The Gators have to throw to stay in this game. John Brantley must grow up, and on the road. Andre Debose seemed to make a move forward last week. He needs another, against a Bama secondary that can be had.
How have we entered the fourth paragraph without mentioning Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson? As long as Bama has one, or both, it’s in good shape. You saw that last week at Arkansas. In trouble, the Tide just kept running — and it worked out. It’s a pretty good philosophy to have, when you haven’t lost a regular-season game since 2007. Florida’s going to need a defensive score to win, and that might not be enough. Not in Tuscaloosa.
Player to Watch: Mark Ingram, Alabama RB: Sometimes you overcomplicate who you should watch. Ingram’s the best player on the field. Watch him work, wearing Florida down for the fourth quarter.
Louisiana-Monroe (1–2) at Auburn (4–0)
Alcorn State (3-0) at Mississippi State (2-2)
11 a.m., CT
TV: ESPNU; FSN
New rule: If you start your non-conference game before noon local time, you get a half-preview. And, so, Auburn and Mississippi State both get a half each. (Yet both are televised. That ESPN deal is sweet magic for the league.)
The goal for each team is to sustain momentum. Both had big, big wins for their respective programs last week (Mississippi State beat Georgia, while Auburn rallied past South Carolina). Do what you’re supposed to do and dispatch these teams. Keep everyone healthy for the grind ahead.
Player to Watch: Cam Newton, Auburn QB. He’ll be the Tigers’ player to watch until further notice. The guy is sensational, does everything. He leads the SEC in rushing and passing efficiency through four games. That’s just stunning.
Vanderbilt (1–2) at Connecticut (2–2)
TV: Big East Network
You remember the last time UConn met up with an SEC team, don’t you? All right, maybe not, unless you’re in South Carolina. The Huskies beat up on the Gamecocks in the bowl formerly sponsored by Papa John’s. The lopsided contest, evidently, was enough to evict “Papa” from the house.
UConn was to have competed for the Big East title this season, and in theory it still can, but the Huskies haven’t looked good, particularly in losses to Michigan and Temple. All this is said to float the notion that Vanderbilt can be very competitive in this game, even if it is in New England. Vandy’s been in every game so far, and it’s had a week to prep for UConn. Slow Jordan Todman, get Warren Norman going on the ground, and the Commodores could get back to .500.
Player to Watch: Warren Norman, Vanderbilt RB: Look for Norman’s impact in the return game, in particular.
Kentucky (3–1, 0–1) at Ole Miss (2–2, 0–1)
11:21 p.m., CT
TV: SEC Network
A week ago, you would’ve predicted a Kentucky romp — and the fact the game’s in Oxford would’ve only helped. But Ole Miss got things going last week, scoring 55 points to beat an all right Fresno team.
Kentucky, meanwhile, was obliterated on the road at Florida. (What’s new?) The Wildcats’ D, which you thought might be suspect, was in fact suspect. If Kentucky can stop big back Brandon Bolden, the Rebels will be forced to throw to win. And that hasn’t worked out all that well so far this season.
Kentucky’s a slight underdog on the road, but you’ve got to like the Wildcats’ chances with Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke presenting challenges for Ole Miss’ defense.
Player to Watch: Randall Cobb, Kentucky: No position to note here, since Cobb does it all. And Kentucky will need that to continue to be the case.
Tennessee (2–2, 0–1) at LSU (4–0, 2–0)
2:30 p.m., CT
Style points haven’t been part of either team’s repertoire this season. Wouldn’t expect that to change when facing one another.
Tennessee is an absolute mess, evidenced this past week with the overtime win against UAB. The fact that the Volunteers allowed almost 550 yards to the Blazers is still a fact that baffles. LSU doesn’t have a lot of firepower on offense, relying on back Stevan Ridley, but surely the Tigers have more in the cupboard than UAB.
The book is out on Tigers return man and corner Patrick Peterson. Hint to Matt Simms: Don’t throw Peterson’s way. Hint to Derek Dooley: Don’t kick to Peterson, either. Don’t create another Heisman moment for Peterson. Please. That pose last week, premature and all, needs to be retired. Now.
It’s difficult to believe this game would be close in Knoxville, and it’s not in Knoxville. Come to think of it, it’s Tennessee’s first road game of the year. Yikes.
Player to Watch: Russell Shepard, LSU WR: Surely there will be opportunities for Shepard against this suffering Volunteers defense.
Georgia (1–3) at Colorado (2–1)
5 p.m., MT
Reeling, on an unheard of three-game September losing streak, Georgia now has to travel two-thirds of the way across the country. Maybe that’s a good thing for the Bulldogs and coach Mark Richt. They can’t hear the critics nearly as well with about a dozen states sandwiched in between.
The Bulldogs struggled in Boulder in 2006, when the team was, you know, good. No reason to believe this one won’t again be a struggle, even if Colorado is pretty horrendous. Georgia does get A.J. Green back. That’s a boost. UGA’s season, though, is already in salvage mode. That’s for sure.
Some teams would prefer Georgia turn it on now: South Carolina’s signature win, back on Sept. 11, has gotten sourer and sourer by the week.
Player to Watch: A.J. Green, Georgia WR: No question about it. Let’s see what Green has pent up after a month on the pine, watching his teammates fall repeatedly.
Arizona State at Oregon State
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. PT
This will be a measuring stick game for both teams. Are the Sun Devils really the competitive team that gave both Wisconsin and Oregon a run for their money? How good (or bad) are the Beavers? They are 1–2 but both of their losses have come to top-10 teams (TCU and Boise State). There are a couple important things to note with OSU. Most important is the condition of explosive wide receiver James Rodgers, who was knocked out of the Boise St. loss last week with a concussion. His status for the game is up in the air. Also, can tailback Jacquizz Rodgers return to form? After averaging 1,347 yards over his first two college seasons, the junior has amassed just 253 in the first three games of 2010. He will be tested again against the Sun Devils’ stout run defense.
Stanford at Oregon
Saturday, 5:00 p.m. PT
This suddenly is one of the games of the year in college football, so much so that ABC moved the game to prime time. It was originally scheduled to begin at 11:15 p.m. EDT. The Ducks remember last year’s loss at Stanford well. Oregon was coming off a stunningly easy 47–20 rout of USC the week before but was rolled by the Cardinal, 51–42. The Ducks would like to atone for that loss, which at the same time would give them the upper hand in the conference race. Both teams are coming off strong road wins, although the Cardinal looked a lot more efficient in dispatching Notre Dame than Oregon did against Arizona St. The Ducks needed the benefit of seven turnovers to notch a nine-point win over the Sun Devils.
Washington State at UCLA
Saturday, 12:30 p.m. PT
While the Oregon machine kept pumping and Stanford abused Notre Dame on the road, it was still UCLA that was the talk of the conference after last weekend. Left for dead two weeks earlier, the Bruins stunned the college football universe by stomping No. 7 Texas on the road, 34–12. UCLA’s defense, which features a high level of talent, has finally played to its potential the past two weeks. Meanwhile, UCLA’s pistol offense is slowly coming around, especially the running game. Running back Johnathan Franklin had 116 yards rushing against the Longhorns, who entered the game with the top-ranked run defense in the country. Backup Derrick Coleman added another 94 yards on the ground. The Cougars? Well, they continue to be the Cougars. They lost at home last week to USC, 50–16.
Washington at USC
Saturday, 5 p.m. PT
This will be a good test to see where these teams stand. The Huskies, considered by many to be one of the sleeper teams in the country, are 1–2 after getting embarrassed at home by Nebraska two weeks ago. The Trojans, meanwhile, are 4–0 but still haven’t won too many converts. Washington quarterback Jake Locker, coming off a horrible 4-for-20 performance for 70 yards and two interceptions against Nebraska, needs a bounce-back game badly, not only for the team’s sake but also for his NFL draft stock. The Trojans simply displayed too many flaws in their first three victories against Hawaii, Virginia and Minnesota. And it’s always hard to evaluate any team against Washington State. A quality win over Washington might start finally winning some critics over.
Vanderbilt at Connecticut
Saturday, noon EST
Connecticut hosts the biggest non-conference game the Big East has to offer this week. After a week in which league teams fell to Miami (Fla.), Oklahoma and LSU, it’s now up to the Huskies against 1–2 Vanderbilt of the SEC.
No, it’s not a big game nationally. But it is a big game to UConn coach Randy Edsall. After losing to Michigan and, surprisingly, Temple, Edsall made some changes that paid off last week in a win over Buffalo. He’s hoping that the changes provide a spark as the Huskies bear down on the upcoming Big East schedule.
Cody Endres has taken over at quarterback. After being suspended for the first three games, he came off the bench against Buffalo to throw for 139 yards and two touchdowns. Also, Robbie Frey entered the game in the second half and rushed for 112 yards. This week, however, Edsall is hoping to get team leader Jordan Todman back from an arm injury. Todman is ranked fifth nationally in rushing, averaging 149.33 yards.
Vandy is 1–2 overall, but 1–1 in SEC play after defeating Ole Miss 28–14. The Commodores also had a week off afterward. They bounced back after losses to Northwestern (23–21) and LSU (27–3).
“They show a lot of different looks on offense,” Edsall said. “They play hard on defense.”
Vanderbilt quarterback Larry Smith has completed 36-of-68 passes for 383 yards and a touchdown with one interception.
Tulane at Rutgers
Saturday, 2 p.m. EST
In the last two games, 2–1 Rutgers hasn’t topped 19 points. (The 19 were managed against Florida International.) The team’s best running back, Joe Martinek, has a bad left wheel. And quarterback Tom Savage, expected to be one of the Big East’s best, hasn’t cracked the top 100 FBS passers in efficiency. There was fear, however, he did crack his ribs.
On Tuesday, though, Savage pronounced himself ready to play Saturday after taking a shot to those ribs. RU, meanwhile, hopes this is a shot to fix a sluggish offense.
There’s reason for hope. Tulane fell to 1–2 last Saturday via a 42–23 loss at Houston. The Green Wave, in fact, has yet to allow less than 21 points — and that includes a win over Southeastern Louisiana.
RU’s defense, on the other hand, has been more than fine. The Scarlet Knights are second nationally in scoring defense, allowing an average of 10.3 points.
Florida International at Pittsburgh
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. EST
Pitt came into the season an almost unanimous pick to win the Big East. Now the Panthers are looking to avoid their first 1–3 start since 2006 after an embarrassing 31–3 home loss to Miami (Fla.).
“We’ll have to make improvements from last week, that’s for sure,” said Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt. “We need to clean some things up.”
It hasn’t helped that standout defensive end Greg Romeus is shelved and starting linebacker Dan Mason is out for the year. “We have to make adjustments,” Wannstedt said. “We have other guys that have to step up.”
The Panthers are next-to-last in the Big East both in total offense and defense. Quarterback Tino Sunseri has completed 48-of-77 passes for 520 yards and three scores with two picks.
Florida International is 0–3 after a 42–28 loss at Maryland last week. The Panthers have also fallen to Texas A&M and Rutgers.
Syracuse transfer Jeremiah Harden has rushed for 191 yards on 54 carries for FIU coach Mario Cristobal.
Florida Atlantic at South Florida
Saturday, 7 p.m. EST
As a first-year coach at South Florida, Skip Holtz has his first true test. And it’s not 1–2 Florida Atlantic of the Sun Belt. It’s finding a way to turn back the clock to the first half of his team’s loss to Florida. In the second half, the Gators scorched the Bulls. Last week, USF nudged past Western Kentucky, losers now of 24 straight games, by 24–12.
Holtz is hoping a spark provided by running back Demetris Murray lifts his team. “He has a smile on his face; he’s upbeat; he’s into it,” said the coach. He’s also hoping a return of standout wideout Donatavia Bogan, coming off an ankle injury, will help.
Florida Atlantic is coming off a 21–17 loss to North Texas. The Owls also lost at Michigan State by 30–17 and defeated UAB 32–31.
“I’m impressed by what I’ve seen,” Holtz said of the Owls. “They’ve got some weapons. It’s a pretty good offensive team.”
Louisville at Arkansas State
Saturday, 7 p.m. EST
Louisville coach Charlie Strong tried this week to build up his team’s opponent: Arkansas State of the Sun Belt Conference. He talked about how the Red Wolves disguise defenses. He pointed out this would be State’s Homecoming. He said quarterback Ryan Aplin is in “total control.”
Louisville, however, should be in control of this one. The Red Wolves are 1–3. They are coming off a loss to Troy. Auburn drubbed them 52–26.
The 1–2 Cardinals, meanwhile, are coming off a bye after a cross-country trip and 35–28 loss to Oregon State.
Strong’s strong suit has been defense, but his offense is ranked third in the Big East, averaging 386 yards. Quarterback Adam Froman has hit 51-of-90 passes for 634 yards and two touchdowns with three interceptions.