WEEK 6 Football Fodder - Editor's Insights
  By Dave Hershorin
NationalChamps.net Managing Editor


October 6, 2003

Thursday night's near disaster for Miami was another heartbreaker for West Virginia in their final chance at the Canes as a fellow Big Easter. Save the 45-3 home win for Miami in the 2001 game, the Mountaineers have played the four games before that in Coral Gables to within 14 points, even winning in '97, 28-17. The other three games were all winnable for WVU until the Hurricanes secured victory, late in the fourth in each.

To quote our site's founder Todd Helmick, "Why is it that every time someone has a choke hold on Miami, they let up in the end?" His keen observations on this one include WVU's biggest glaring mistake, a coaching faux pas at that. The boys from Morgantown played their hearts out as they defensively kept the play in front of them, closing in only when finishing against the better-abilitied Canes. But in the closing minutes, after playing the entire time successfully rushing only three or four, the Mountain Men blitzed multiple plays, including the 4th-down and 13 play that left sensational junior TE Kellen Winslow on a one-on-one island for the inevitable first down with under two minutes left. They had them, leading 20-19 against the nation's #2!!! It is too bad either sophomore WVU head coach Rich Rodriguez or defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel couldn't leave their well-enough-working philosophy alone, instead playing into a Cane strength (single-man coverage with their superior receivers). Miami QB Brock Berlin had to be salivating as he saw the extra men coming after him, obviously ready as he stood fast and delivered.

The season-ending ACL injury to RB Frank Gore, Miami's star ball carrier, has ample implications for this week's Tallahassee tussle. Number one backup senior RB Jarrett Payton, Walter's son, has size and some speed, but he doesn't match up well against the sizeable speedsters the Noles employ. My call (an evident one) - WR Jason Geathers needs to move back to tailback to inject the kind of speed that FSU will respect. He was the backup TB in '02 and averaged 5.9 per carry as he just missed 400 yards. The two backs should be employed together, switching up inconsistently to eventually catch FSU and their Top 10 defense for gains throughout each quarter.

Does anyone ever get the best of Kellen Winslow? Even when he gets tackled, the defenders - yes, often multiple opponents - get the worst of Winslow's physicality. This future Sunday pigskinner fears nothing, and his complete approach inspires as much in teammates, a true leader. He may not have the numbers, but Kellen is one of the nation's best five. This is a man amongst boys, really.

Utah showed why Urban Meyer was brought in, as their '03 offensive efforts have so far matched the strong defensive presence already established over the past few campaigns. The Utes were seemingly only missing the offensive insights Meyer has now established. Nothing too fancy, but his ball-control schemes allow for larger opponents to be burned in over-pursuit, which in turn keeps them somewhat flat-footed. Friday night's late tilt with Oregon proved how well his motivated troops achieve Meyer's poignant approach, making the Ducks look tentative for the second straight week. It was to bad the Ute special teams balked at the first half opportunities earned - Utah went into halftime down 13-10 instead of up 16-13 after two short FGAs were missed.

Utah set the defensive tone right off, hammering Oregon's opening running play for no gain. The Ute's spirited play stopped Oregon for 357 total yards (80 rushing) and a 17-13 final score. They were within three points (down 13-10) for the majority of the time, only letting it get to the final score at 13:07 in the fourth. Their 107th-ranked secondary was Oregon's Achilles heel.

Offensive lineman #76 for Utah, senior Thomas Herrion, gets my nod for complete player of the week. Herrion, a senior, plays drums and sings in his church and often for his teammates. His humanity is inspirational, showing the multiple dimensions we all possess within our humble earthly efforts. Herrion reminds us that it is just a game, and that we need to be much more than most expect to fulfill our legacy(ies) both on and off the field.

Colorado's troubles are evident after Baylor gave it to them hard. The Buffaloes' victory over the CSU Rams August 30th must seem like it was last season they are so far away from that level. QB Joel Klatt had an ineffective return from his off time, going 19-for-37 for 393, but with two INTs as CU played catch up all day. FSU has to discount their win over CU now, but anything that keeps the Noles from getting too big-headed as they head into the Miami game is a good thing to me.

The television access for games this weekend was limited in the central/western Pennsylvania region for the early slate. No judgements about the teams to be mentioned, but all we saw was UConn vs. Lehigh and Virginia Tech vs. Rutgers. With ESPN dedicating their presence to playoff baseball, week six gave us men a nice segment of early afternoon time to actually accomplish something this past Saturday besides picking up the dinner check. But, in case you are wondering, I spied the round-rawhide action and saw Pudge Rodriguez' game-ending, fullback-like tag out for the Marlin's win.

Speaking of the Sunshine State, what didn't Florida learn in their 17-14 '02 loss in Jackson? It says much that given the chance to get revenge on their own field, the Gators didn't properly prepare, neither their game-plan nor their head space. Ole Miss is no slouch, but the payback factor should have easily spelled a home win in Gainesville. Eli got the defense he needs to succeed, with the Rebels holding UF scoreless in the second half to give Manning another savory victory that his brother Peyton never tasted (Tennessee went 0-3 vs. UF during the older bro's days). "I didn't say anything after the first win. I might say a little something to him this week," Eli joked. FireRonZook.com will assuredly get some first-time visitors after this past week's 20-17 loss made Zook 11-8 since his tenure takeover. To boot, Florida hasn't lost two in a row at home in one season since 1988-89. Tailback Ran Carthon called a player-only meeting yesterday, explaining "We're 3-3 and no one knows what that feels like around here." Feel it, live it, and hate that feeling living inside of you, Ran…that's how you internalize something so as to avoid it the next possible time, never wanting that experience to ever be repeated.

Alabama went into Georgia for the first time in eight years to make 2003's first road game that much harder of a test. Being 2-3, 'Bama proved to play shaky at home, which made this year's first trip, to Athens, something to watch for all of us prognosticators. Like Ohio State, the Crimson Tide stacked a string of foes into Tuscaloosa early on for mixed success. This bodes poorly for when the team(s) finally step out into the football world somewhere else. Bama got theirs; look for OSU to find similar results sooner than later.

Georgia put their backup QB, #3 sophomore D.J. Shockley, in at sporadic moments to compliment struggling starter David Greene (two early INTs). Shockley looked so good on a play-call change at the line of scrimmage that produced a 10-yard, second-quarter TD (which made it 23-3) that Greene's eventual efforts (over the entire season) may be discounted just enough to keep Greene out of most Heisman conversations. As good as the Georgia defense has proven to be (ranked 6th), inversely the offensive line has flopped, and accordingly made Greene's season the uphill battle he has so far experienced. The Dawg special teams (especially #10 Thomas Davis) get the biggest nod of this contest - they made up for the LSU debacle by being the factor that gave the Tide fits. And the 30-10 score just before halftime was the predicted final tally in NC.net's EDGE preview of this SEC tussle, and 37 points represents the most points Georgia has ever scored on the Tide.

Special teams cost, just ask Michigan. The Wolverines ran several punt schemes that seemed to be designed to fail. In their Big Ten battle against Iowa, the Hawkeyes easily penetrated the overly-spread UM front-seven and then knifed past the next three sedentary blockers to get to the Michigan punter. The block Iowa earned proved to be the game's difference - the short field goal that followed represents the 3-point differential. But it was the fact that head coach Lloyd Carr didn't see any problems with this, ultimately forcing UM to take this failed approach, again and again, until Iowa figured out how to succeed, which they did with a block. It was as if each Wolverine punt was part of a scrimmage where UM was asked to do the same play over and over for Iowa's sake.

Iowa's #33, safety Bob Sanders, looked as marginally good as Wolverine QB John Navarre looked marginally bad. Navarre has numbers, but doesn't seem to be the team leader he needs to be for that championship step. Sanders led his secondary past their porous first-half performance with spirited play worthy of note. His TD-saving efforts on a long UM gain proved to also be just enough, as he single-handedly held UM to three (instead of seven) for his team's win.

More over, let's revisit a claim I am going to reiterate until proven wrong enough to stop. This UM/Iowa game, along with Wisconsin/Penn State and most of Ohio State's tests so far, show just how weak the Big Ten is this season. Michigan State, Purdue, and Minnesota all break the mold, beating both non-cons and conference lesser-thans as easily as they should. But the whole of the conference has proven weaker than other BCS conferences. The worst six Big Ten-ners, a combined 14-22, are 11-13 against the non-conference opponents. Inconsistent play, blown opportunities and coaching mismanagement seem to be the norm. Inner-conference battles consistently feature error-prone sequences and lack any lengthy durations of error-free efforts. Superior play is not the reason a Big Ten team beats another Big Ten team, save this weekend's above-mentioned few. Keep tabs on me with this one all the way through bowl play…let's see if I know whether my head and my butt are two different body parts.

Another item both entertaining and fun to follow is how teams like Washington try to win without attempting to establish any running attack. This season's 135 yards-per-game sure beats last year's 74, but 3.4-per-carry is not enough of an improvement over 2.13. Huskie QB Cody Pickett set all kinds of Pac-10 passing marks in 2002, but Washington forgot to adjust the running game enough to support their All-American. It all came to a head against UCLA Saturday. Washington blew a 16-7 halftime lead, making no attempt to pepper runs into their pass-heavy approach as UCLA easily held the Huskies scoreless with poignant adjustments that just begged Washington to run (the Bruins dropped eight into coverage over most of the final 30 minutes). UCLA's 39 unanswered points show what imbalance ultimately produces - not much against a decent defense. They do run it an average of 40 times per game, but effective Washington isn't. Just 40 more rushing yards per game, about one more yard per carry, would turn their 44th national total offense ranking into a Top 20 effort. The 29th-ranked passing game flanked by the nation's 78th-best running attack equals mediocre results, as scene in their 3-2 results.

Feel like this is an isolated case? Just analyze Auburn's balanced attack (or Tennessee's lack of one) to see this last point again. Auburn held the Vols to four rushing-yards, but the red flag here is that it was only on 16 tries. Hmmm, Tennessee averaged 188 ground-yards coming into the Auburn fray, so why try only 16 runs, especially with Vol's barely-proven QB Casey Clausen? Jabari Davis and Cedric Houston make for one of the country's best tailback tandems, which make it all that much more perplexing to see coach Fulmer's play selections. The Tigers reciprocated with 264 on the ground to amply tire the Vols. Any huge passing totals (Clausen's 355 yards, Navarre's career-best 389) seem at-best trivial when another L is the team's ultimate result.

Now, onto the anomaly which is contained both in players who wear their team's #1-jersey and players named Williams. It almost seems planned that several families with this common name must have once colluded to assure that anytime "Williams" is called out, it is for describing receiver success. And from USC's Mike to Texas' Roy to Washington's Reggie, the football family Williams will have impact on many Sundays to come. Then there is the significance of being at the numerical beginning of the roster. Reggie and Mike Williams join Pittsburgh phenom Larry Fitzgerald, Wazzu's Devard Darling, Miami's Roscoe Parrish, Auburn's Devin Aromashodu, Georgia's Reggie Brown, Michigan's Braylon Edwards, FSU's Craphonso Thorpe, Oregon State's Kenny Farley, Fresno State's Marque Davis, Oregon's Samie Parker, Tulane's Tristan Smith, Memphis' Maurice Avery, North Carolina's Derrelle Mitchell, Temple's Phil Goodman, and Baylor's J.T. Thompson as their teams' - and some of the country's - receiving elite. Obviously (joking) meant to describe and rank the evaluated best, #1 has rung true for most of those listed, with Fitzgerald the number one #1. But by being a Williams and wearing the #1 on their jerseys, Reggie and Mike share these most privileged of intangibles that any can have.

Now, for a few random thoughts (that last paragraph is trivial, not random): Northern Illinois bounced back from the Ohio Bobcat's effort to upset their Cinderella story's hopeful ending and stayed unbeaten and an outside candidate for a BCS bid. Give 'em some dap now, c'mon Troy State slept well Saturday night after taking the Cornhuskers deep into the third quarter of their match-up down only 10-0 USC looked much more mortal against Arizona State than when they plastered Auburn in the Tiger's home opener. Regardless, they seem to be flying high, that is until they take on (at) Washington, Wazzu, UCLA and then Oregon State within their final five-game stretch Oregon State's Steven Jackson ran amuck last year versus Cal for 239 yards in the Beavers win. So why didn't the Golden Bears see him coming again Saturday, especially since the All-American Jackson is at the top of every other defensive coordinator's priority list? Oh, well - 35 carries and 227 yards later, they may just review this games' film if Jackson returns for his senior campaign Papa Joe took my (and many others) advice to bench Penn State QB Zach Mills for fledging field general Michael Robinson. Robinson responded for Penn State's second highest passing total ever, going 22-of-43 for 379 yards, with two TDs and no INTs (ironically, ranking behind Mills' 399-yard effort against Iowa last year), but he couldn't earn the win as Wisconsin ripped PSU 30-23 Which North Carolina State team will show up on any given Saturday is obviously not known by anyone, especially the Wolfpack themselves. Georgia Tech was the latest 29-21 benefactor, so we'll guess starting two freshmen on the defensive line (which is already glaringly shallow) was not a great idea Shhh, Minnesota Special Teams Player of the Week has to be a guy like Oklahoma State's Darrent Williams, who brought back punts of 59 and 78 yards for TDs So, how good was Tommy Bowden's choice to parlay Tulane's perfect season into his head skipper's job at Clemson? Virginia Tech will earn it if they can run their gambit. Only Pitt and Miami are their only ranked opponents, but those other Big East foes (along with Virginia) stacked into their remaining seven games all want one last shot at the Hokies before their desertion to the ACC With their next game at Wisconsin and then at home with Iowa, as well as with Michigan State, Purdue, and (at) Michigan to end their slate, the defending champion Ohio State Buckeyes will also earn anything they get. And mark my words - someone will knock them off, sooner or later Oklahoma is good, but they, too, look rather volatile in that ever-tough Big XII Oh, and don't put any money on the FSU-Miami game, in case you know nothing about these two teams' histories Just get ready for the biggest weekend of the year so far. These mind-blowers will definitively (re)shape the national championship landscape, which is soon to be ultimately reflected in those BCS standings. Besides Miami-FSU, the tally of Oklahoma-Texas, Ohio State-Wisconsin, Auburn-Arkansas, Georgia-Tennessee, LSU-Florida, Virginia Tech-Syracuse and Michigan-Minnesota arguably make seven other contests that pertain to the title hunt But, of course, we NationalChamps.net college football gurus will all be assembled at our annual throwdown, which occurs this Saturday October 11th at the (6 pm E.S.T.) Pittsburgh-Notre Dame battle, in Pittsburgh at Heinz Field. Free beer and food accompanies our satellite coverage of the day's game-slate, so you can effortlessly enjoy your Saturday in the Allegheny Region on what promises to be a great time. Meet NationalChamps.net site-founder-and-president Todd Helmick, myself, and a few of the other NC.net bigwigs who bring you the best in college football… Regardless of where you are on this super Saturday, please, enjoy the splendor.