WEEK 7 Football Fodder - Editor's Insights
  By Dave Hershorin
NationalChamps.net Managing Editor


October 15, 2003

Well, well, well…NationalChamps.net comes to you after our huge throwdown in Pittsburgh this past weekend. It was a great time, except for the misinformation we got from the Panther's front office as to when the lots would open. They told us 10 a.m., so we were there, along with thousands of others who were evidently told the same.

The end result was that we all had to wait until 1 p.m. for any lots to open. It was a huge damper to the proceedings, as hundreds of patrons looking for us were confused and deterred. The real kicker was that the authorities shoved us into a nowhere corner of our lot, and in between two huge RVs. So there was no ability for other party-going-wanna-bees to find us easily. The ultimate outcome is that NationalChamps.net will never again choose University of Pittsburgh for our annual party.

But we made the best of it. Football and music flowed while we gave away food and beer to whomever showed. The games were broadcast via our satellite hook up, and the friends we made make the process all worthwhile. It just won't happen in the Steel City next time.

And there were other subtle observations about the game atmosphere we noticed. It really was a college game, but it was hard to tell from the social feel of things. See, all the games the Panthers play are off campus, at Heinz Field - home of the city's professional team, of course the Steelers. This means everyone has to leave campus and congregate in vehicle after vehicle on concrete under bridge overpasses. The end result is a sterile feel to the game's scholastic atmosphere, and this ostensibly objectified any advantage the home stadium brings, especially against Notre Dame.

With a third of the attendance comprised of Irish fans, it was more of a neutral, bowl-type atmosphere, and the opportunistic crowd responded accordingly - any noise seemed rather low for the close situations presented. Complacency is the best way to describe it. The Pitt contingency either remembered the last 20 struggling years (as Notre Dame evidently took control), or they reflected the objective nature of the locale, or likely both. After having such a strong showing at Texas A&M - where the 12th man dictates audience participation levels, this team needed just a little "oomph" from their own to make it over the hump they (eventually) couldn't. A few dropped third quarter passes made it an evening of "fair weather" in more ways than one (mid-60 degree range by games end).

But what it all really showed me was how second-tier University of Pittsburgh football actually is. Rob Rutherford, Larry Fitzgerald and Gerald Hayes have done what Tony Dorsett, Hugh Green and Dan Marino did - prop their Pitt squad up on their own, individual accomplishments for ultimate team success. This is not a formula that speaks well for recruiting, let alone the immediate supporting cast (other team members). And with Hayes now gone, Rutherford and Fitzgerald seemingly lack the running depth they need to make their effort(s) enough for victory. Teams easily identify these two and adjust, as ND did. These Panthers will not scale up the rankings any farther as long as the Toledos and severely lacking Irish squads of I-A beat them. Look for VT and Miami to handedly beat the Panthers, that is unless something drastically changes. And don't look for dangerous recruiting classes to emerge from the Alleghenies while the current climate holds. This, along with our own experiences, makes a strong case outlining Pitt's needs so that any permanent "next step" to be in their future.

And that climate indicts the defense, in particular. The Irish ran the same three rushing plays at Pitt all night, and the Panthers balked at stunting, blitzing or even adding an extra man to the box. The result was the greatest rushing total ever for a Notre Dame player. As site-president Todd Helmick mockingly shouted half way through the Irish final drive (of over nine minutes that ended the game, due to Pitt using all its timeouts in the third), "They're gonna run it." He was too far up for anyone to hear; that is, if they didn't realize it themselves, which was hard to tell if they did or not. See, we threw our huge wingding and couldn't get graced with the media credentials deserved, so we could not be heard by the needed coordinators (joking, somewhat).

What may have been the most "criminal" result of our Pittsburgh tailgate debacle was our inability to watch the FSU-Miami game in any manor. Having started that game at noon, the ever-changing timing logistics precluded us from being able to set up any kind of viewing station. Not that it mattered much (with hindsight), but it was its own pitfall for those of us (NC.net site founder/president Todd Helmick and myself, both former FSU students) who are alumnus of either school, as well as any fans of great college football.

Hey, speaking of that FSU-Miami sludgy mud fest, did we tell you, or what? Again, Bowden led his team to an anemic showing in the day's top showcase. The score doesn't tell of the multiple moments in just the opening quarter that spelled out how the game would result. From the Rix-Wilfork fumble play (poorly called) to the inadvertent whistle that came from the Miami student section which led to a punt play (unblocked) being blown dead and then retried, only to be blocked the second try, it seemed everything went the Canes way. Yes, I am a huge FSU fan, and, no, these aren't sour grapes. But it does accurately tell of how volatile the entire contest was. Many intangibles could have gone either way, but Miami, who could have won much bigger after getting only six points on three first quarter red-zone possessions, was the better team (especially since they were in Tallahassee).

And what about FSU's running game, where did that go? Give credit to the penetrating Cane linemen, but the Nole efforts to establish any such dimension were woefully lacking. Too many plays where FSU's chosen back had to move laterally invited trouble. But Rix' poor decision-making when flushed proved to be the marginal factor that kept FSU from competing. And this isn't from the numbers that I say this, but in watching Rix' downfield focus disintegrate anytime the pocket collapsed. There was no standing in there to get a good one off as he took a shot, nor intelligent improvisation that froze the Cane defenders. There was just the same scared boy-commander that wore on his sleeve his inability to beat his biggest rival. Rix seems to lack any development from his freshman season in his literal performance levels.

Now, onto Ohio State, whom I just last week told you would lose. The mediocrity they still call Big Ten football produced another average game that's only verve was in the fact that the defending national champion's were finally beaten to end the nation's longest winning streak at 19. The rest was, which I readily admit can be a waste of time, fodder. OSU needs to make this a rallying point, or risk falling a few more times before their campaign is through.

Five of the nation's top ten teams were struck down, each for their first loss of 2003. What happened to LSU? Didn't Nick Saban's experiences tell him about having a Top 10 defense that actually is only in the Top 40 for pass stopping? The Gators only got 229 air yards (only 29 yards or so above LSU's former average), but UF's Chris Leak going 18-for-30 - offset by 27 (chosen) runs for 144 yards - made for unstoppable efficiency (Florida was 7-for-18 on third downs).

Auburn is back. Now that they are motivated, and with only six (five SEC) games left as they sit undefeated in the conference, the Tigers should be considered odds-on favorites to take the west. But they have their work cut out, going into the Red Stick (Baton Rouge) and Athens as they lay in wait for Ole Miss, Mississippi State and 'Bama at home. By holding Arkansas' powerful, seventh-ranked rushing game to only 160 yards, Auburn served notice to all coming that their early season road-bumps might as well have been decades ago. Both away games should be two of the nation's best all year.

The Virginia Tech Hokies got revenge for two-straight losses to Syracuse in their final matchup before departing next year for the ACC. CB/PR DeAngelo Hall had two returns for scores and a 24-yard catch for another. But his valiant efforts were upstaged by North Carolina State LB Freddie Aughtry-Lindsay. Freddie scored on a fumble and an INT-return as the game ended, the latter his team's game winning play. Both deserve recognition, as you now see.

And did Oklahoma separate itself from the Big XII pack, or what? Mizzu, another Football Fodder called-out watch team, joins Oklahoma State as their likely closest games until the Sooners play for the titles (Big XII and BCS) Down 17-3, Northern Illinois rebounded to win the rest of the way 37-7 for a 40-24 final against Central Michigan. They are not playing like a dominant team, but they do deserve more respect for the character they displayed so far in all their games, each wins TCU could be another smaller-conferenced team vying for respect as another perfect season is ignored by the BCS's wild-card selections. The Horned Frog's schedule, though, has more cupcakes than my niece's birthday party B.J. Symons, Phillip Rivers - so, like, can anything stop either of these guys? And just who are these mystery teams, Georgia Tech and Clemson? Purdue needs to step out of their impish-Big Ten mold and represent their conference with exceptionally bankable play. If not them, who else? So, since I am checking my past claims, notice how Tennessee QB Casey Clausen's (in)abilities are costing his team its competitive edge against competitive opponents? After fumbling on the goal-line at the end of the first half as he tried to go ahead 14-13 (but instead Sean Jones ran it back for a 92-yard score and a 20-7 Georgia lead), he evidently deflated in the second half. Georgia made the Vols one-dimensional by allowing only 61-ground yards to force Clausen's marginal hand - to speak of another claim I have made about the Vols concerning their play-choice balance And speaking of off-balance offenses I've called out, I'll give Washington the nod for running it 48 tries (for 103 yards) compared to passing only 37 (for 337). I guess we now know why they play it the way they do - they still rank 78th in rushing even though they run it 40 times a game And someone fire Jackie Sherrill, sheesh. If he isn't disciplined by someone for his intimidation of Memphis coach Tommy West, it will send the wrong signal to those nearly 100 kids on scholarship who take Sherrill's actions as mentoring. And as we mention Sherrill, it actually all comes back around to Pitt mistakes, huh.