HIGHS AND LOWS
By Dave Hershorin
NationalChamps.net Managing Editor
 


September 5, 2006

This was one of the best kickoff weekends in quite some time. Within the many games we got to see mostly quality opponents take on NationalChamps.net entire top 25. There was enough action for teams to be exposed and a few revelations upon which I can espouse. As we have done every football weekend and will continue to do, here are the highs and lows as I see them.

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As many expected, Colt is the real McCoy. The freshman QB who has now taken Vince Young’s place seems like he has a handle on the many weapons the Longhorns possess. Freshman Colt McCoy’s numbers through the air were impressive (especially his three passing TDs), but even more so are his running totals (four carries for 38 yards with one TD), which mean good things for the Texas backfield. Defenses will have to respect his feet, which will freeze LBs and safeties just long enough for running holes to open up and receivers to get open. The Longhorns don’t appear to have a weakness after allowing only 95 yards on 47 total plays, but, hey…this was North Texas. It won’t get much better for viewers than when Ohio State rolls into town this Saturday.

Speaking of the AP No.1 Buckeyes, they won their 11th straight opener against Northern Illinois Saturday. But they allowed the Huskies 151 on the ground and 343 total yards. That kind of defensive effort won’t get the job done in Austin, though. The new LBs will be asked to step up more than they just did. A repeat performance by the new corps will have that balanced Longhorn offense waltzing into the endzone regularly. The Buckeyes are likely to try and win a shoot-out if their defense doesn’t have much luck, which seems inevitable with Texas’ latest developments. Still, McCoy hasn’t seen much besides the Green Meanies’ 94th-ranked defense. Ohio State and Texas will likely play a close game. It will all come down to Texas’ defense and how well they stop Troy Smith and Ted Ginn, and the possibility of coach Mack Brown suspending CB Tarell Brown could impact the proceedings.

Notre Dame let Georgia Tech go out 10-0 before finally gaining a lead with 6:33 left in the third quarter. Also the final score, the Irish took it to 14-10 when hometown guy Darius Walker (Lawrenceville, Ga) got them six on a 13 yard scamper to secure the win. Walker and the other Irish backs could only muster a 3.5 ypc average, and it seemed that the Yellow Jacket defense did its homework and was playing at mid-season form against Charlie Weis’ heavily favored crew. The tandem of QB Reggie Ball and senior phenom receiver Calvin Johnson seemed like they could keep Tech up to the task as the two succeeded against any coverage ND threw at them. Ball’s feet were another weapon Weis & Co. had trouble containing. But it was Brady Quinn and his top WR tandem of Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight that proved more valuable, combining for 14 receptions and 182 total yards to take the Irish downfield as needed. Quinn’s feet wound up part of the difference, too, with his five runs for 28 yards keeping many drives alive. Though a senior, the Irish’s first-time starting PK Carl Gioia kept it close by missing his only tries from 42 and 36 yards in the second and fourth quarters, respectively. It is lucky for Notre Dame that in most of their toughest upcoming challenges this season, they do not face a quality dual-threat QB like Ball. But home tilts with Penn State and Michigan in the next two successive weeks are not without their own challenges. The Ramblin’ Wreck get two more home tune ups before the ACC onslaught begins, though with Virginia also coming into Bobby Dodd, Tech has their first four at home before ending the month against Frank Beamer and Virginia Tech. If Ball can keep his play as consistent as he did this past week, GT can really go far.

Many saw the huge pile of Cal flop the Golden Bears laid during their trip to Knoxville. Tennessee proved that they are back with a vengeance (64 rushing yards allowed) and that last year was a fluke. California came in ranked ninth and left with their tails between their legs after the Vols went out to a 35-0 lead and then played mostly reserves late in the game. Tennessee lost no yards on 41 rushing attempts. Phil Fulmer’s men will surely shoot up the polls, at least passing the spiraling Bears around the 16-18 slot. Unlucky for Cal is that they get a Minnesota team coming off of a 44-0 win over Kent State. Lucky for them is that the game is in Berkeley, and that the Gophers gave up 132 rushing yards to KSU. Now, the vaunted Bear running game can likely find the bite it was lacking this past week.

USC didn’t lose a beat with new QB Josh David Booty and their new-look backfield. After former coach Lou Holtz picked Arkansas to win the matchup against the Trojans, the end result of 50-14 turned into a pig roast. Pete Carroll kept his hand close to the vest by running it 42 times out of their 80 plays, spreading the wealth amongst his RBs. Unknown freshman Emmanuel Moody had a team-high 58 yards on seven carries. The home team squandered five turnovers, basically giving the game away by asking their experienced defense to remain on the field for 35:19 against Booty. USC gets a week off before Nebraska comes to town. The Cornhuskers are more of a test, though their 49-10 win over Louisiana Tech says little.

Oklahoma has its work cut out for them after barely sneaking by UAB 24-17 in Norman. The Blazers held the ball for over 35 minutes, seemingly doing what was needed to pull off what would have been OU’s second consecutive season-opening upset loss. But the difference was all-American Adrian Peterson. Obviously poignant about getting ‘AD’ the rock, Peterson subsequently touched the ball 11 straight times in three different drives that covered OU’s entire third quarter output. The first drive started after the Sooners stopped UAB’s first drive of the half and got a great 27 yard punt return from Reggie Smith so they could start from their opponent’s 39. Peterson followed by carrying it six times in a row, ending with a four-yard romp for the score that put Oklahoma ahead for their second lead of the day. After Peterson lost a fumble on their next drive, OU then had a one play, 69-yard drive that was a completion from newly promoted starting QB Paul Thompson to AD that put OU ahead 21-17. They had a lead they would hold until the final gun. The Sooners go to Oregon for a game September 16th that will really test them, and the Oklahoma team we just saw barely get by an upstart C-USA squad will not even allow them to compete with the Ducks. Oregon, coming off of a 48-10 romp over Stanford, gets a stubborn Fresno State squad to tune up even more for the Sooner game. It just looks like a long, hard year for Bob Stoops and the boys.

The Monday night battle between FSU and Miami was one for the ages. The defensive struggle was another classic, with the Noles getting only one rushing yard on 25 carries and the Canes only getting one more yard than that on their 26 tries. The Seminoles came back from a 10-3 halftime deficit and won on a late field goal try, which is usually a situation that precedes a State loss (those who have followed the series know what I mean). The difference was FSU’s receivers, who came through with big catches in clutch situations in the second half. Miami could muster only 17 total yards after halftime. Dating back to last year, Miami has now lost three of their last four games, the worst span since they lost three straight in 1999, and they haven’t scored any points in the second halves of any of these losses. Still, with only one loss in 2006 and a schedule that looks favorable, the Canes only need to stay with just that one loss to remain in the national title hunt. FSU has the inside track if both teams finish with one loss, but that would mean they face each other in a rematch for the ACC title.

I have to apologize for not doing my homework. In my editorial last week concerning the new play clock rules, I went overboard with my opinions because I was misinformed about how many situations will now see the clock ticking away. The only times the play clock will run differently from past seasons are (1) when the ball changes possession on kicks, (2) after a first down, and (3) after penalties. It will not run after an incomplete pass, as I reported. My error was in not checking the actual rule book and then going by the word of other unofficial websites as my research. Games were not nearly as disrupted and/or altered by the new rules like I and others thought they might be. Hey, if I muddy the waters via my irresponsibility as a sports journalist, I had better do all I can to quickly clear everything up.

Lagniappe

Utah, which was touted as one of this season’s best mid-majors, had a rather weak showing versus BCS-aligned UCLA. Out-dueled 17-0 in the second half after going into halftime trailing only 14-10, the Utes showed that last year’s 38-10 Emerald Bowl win over Georgia Tech didn’t get them permanently back to anywhere near their quality of play seen under (now two years departed) head coach urban Meyer…Texas Tech looked good under new QB Graham Harrell in their 35-3 victory over SMU. His 34-for-49, 342 yard, five TD performance was as impressive in his first start as was the Red Raider defense in allowing only 189 total net yards to the hapless Mustangs…Colorado hadn’t played against a non I-A opponent since 1965, and after losing 19-10 to Montana State in Boulder, they might want to avoid them for another 40 years. Dan Hawkins was trying to become only the second Buffalo coach since 1932 (Rick Neuheisel was the first) to win his debut…Speaking of struggling programs, Syracuse has to be the one that has taken the worst dive of any former top contender. The Orangemen looked terrible in their visit to Wake Forest, losing 20-10 as they earned only 11 first downs, 136 total yards and went 1-for-11 on third down tries. The coaches can be blamed, but board members up there have to start looking further (at the athletic director) if this trend continues…Pittsburgh is a program that is teetering on the verge of respectability and detriment. The Panthers routed visiting Virginia 38-13, showing off a deep passing game that was nowhere to be found in last year’s 5-6 squad. But the Cavs are now rebuilding after struggling to 7-5 in ’05, so the jury is still out on whether this is the Pitt squad we will continue to see…Fresno State held on in a pivotal WAC matchup against Nevada to pull out a 28-19 win Friday night. After they almost beat USC last year, they kept losing and finished 2005 at 8-5 and with four consecutive losses. The Bulldogs have their work cut out as they have a home rematch with Oregon, the same powerful Duck squad that handed them their first loss a season ago…Fresno kept its awing punt game alive, allowing only one return yard on its four punts. In 2004 and last year, they allowed 27 and 40 return yards on punts, respectively…Keep an eye on the Georgia-South Carolina game - the winner takes the inside rail in the SEC East race…WVU TB/FB Owen Schmitt continued his yardage guarantee, gaining 38 yards (and losing none) on his six carries this past week to help his team win 42-10 over in-state rival Marshall. So far in his 54-carry I-A career, Schmitt has yet to lose a yard…Michigan continued its dominance over the SEC with a 27-7 home win against Vandy. The Wolverines are 22-5 -1 all-time against SEC squads. This week made 194 consecutive times that Michigan Stadium had more than 100,000 attendees…