Inside Read: Rice video may alter how schools deal with troubled players
In April, Missouri star Dorial Green-Beckham busted into the home of his girlfriend with such force that he broke through the drywall surrounding the door. He pushed one of her roommates down four stairs, according to a police report of the incident, and then the 6-foot-6, 225-pound wide receiver dragged his girlfriend out of the apartment by her neck.
Missouri kicked Green-Beckham off the team but he was never charged with a crime. His girlfriend’s roommate declined to press charges, saying she feared the backlash from fans and attention from the media. Police called Green-Beckham’s girlfriend “extremely uncooperative,” and police records show she texted her roommate: “Football really is all he has going for him, and pressing charges would ruin it for him completely.”
Three months later, Green-Beckham was accepted at Oklahoma, getting a fresh start with one of the most successful football programs in the country. It was a move that Sooners athletic director Joe Castiglione admitted the school would be unlikely to repeat today. “If someone presented a case like that now, I think you would be fair to say that he probably wouldn’t be at Oklahoma,” Castiglione said.
The video released last week of Baltimore Ravens star tailback Ray Rice punching his then-fiancée in an Atlantic City elevator has led to a heightened awareness around college athletics. It will be more difficult for schools to rely on the fact that a player wasn’t charged or preach that a player has “learned his lesson,” according to several college officials who spoke to The Inside Read.
Castiglione stressed that Oklahoma didn’t regret admitting Green-Beckham. His stance that OU may not take Green-Beckham now is simply reflective of how the scrutiny level has changed. “Just because of the attention and the cases now in the public consciousness, the university would have been unlikely to take on a situation like that,” Castiglione said.
Multiple collegiate officials echoed the notion of a heightened sense of awareness of domestic issues. Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said it was a “good question” whether a player like Green-Beckham could transfer to a high-profile school now, but also expressed skepticism that talented players will be left on the sidelines because of troubled pasts. West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck said schools need to double down on education about domestic issues.
“The sensitivity is at an all-time high,” Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw said. “Just as the NFL is under a great deal of scrutiny right now, the same is true in college athletics.”
Oklahoma may be the epicenter for this issue at the college level, as Green-Beckham isn’t the only Sooner who has been accused of violence against a woman. In July, freshman tailback Joe Mixon, a five-star recruit, was charged with punching a 20-year-old female in the face, fracturing her jaw, cheekbone and orbital bone. The incident occurred at a late-night eatery and was caught on tape, but police have not released the video. It was shown to approximately 40 media members in early September, and, according to reports, the female slapped Mixon and he punched her, and she stayed on the ground for about half a minute. He then left the scene.
Mixon faces a misdemeanor assault charge (he pleaded not guilty and has a court date later this month) and the university suspended him for a year, but many have questioned why he is still enrolled in school.
In January, Sooners linebacker Frank Shannon was accused of sexually assaulting a female student, an allegation that became public in April. The local district attorney declined to press charges, but Shannon is serving a one-year suspension for violating the school’s sexual misconduct policy. He’s maintained his innocence.
During a nearly two-hour discussion on Sunday, Castiglione sounded like a guy caught in between defending the university’s housing of several players accused of crimes against women and one acknowledging the new reality. Castiglione pointed out that Green-Beckham has behaved well at Oklahoma and he didn’t want his comments to make him feel unwelcome. “I don’t want to create the impression that you are here, but you shouldn’t be here,” he said.
At one point, he cautioned against comparing cases like those of Rice and Green-Beckham, as Rice was arrested, charged and later entered a diversion program for first-time offenders. Castiglione pointed out that Green-Beckham was never charged and also said Oklahoma officials, including the compliance office, researched Green-Beckham thoroughly. Green-Beckham has been involved in two marijuana incidents, one which he was charged in. “If we knew he had done something wrong,” Castiglione said, “I can assure you he would not be here.”
But Green-Beckham, who is sitting out this year as a transfer, clearly did something wrong or he’d still be at Missouri, and the details in the police report shed light on why the women who could have pressed charges against him did not.
There were a few days of bad publicity, but the story about Green-Beckham's transfer shifted from the ethics of whether Oklahoma should have taken him to his waiver request and his potential eligibility this season. The waiver was denied. The negative publicity died down and Oklahoma ended up with a player who was the country’s No. 1 recruit in 2012 and led Missouri with 12 touchdown catches last season as a sophomore.
“Whatever he may or may not have done,” Castoglione said, “he is trying to become a better person.”
As time passes, will anything really change in the long term? Bowlsby predicts that the Rice incident will not deter schools from taking talented players with troubled pasts.
“The fact is that if sometimes a person is a good enough player, institutions may overlook missteps,” Bowlsby said. “I’m not necessarily talking about sexual assault or violence, but they may be accused of stealing or academic problems. I’m guessing there would be a time that Ray Rice ends up in playing in the NFL again. There will be an organization willing to take him on because he’s a good enough player.”
From its remote location to its reclusive coach, Kansas State’s program is always shrouded in mystery. That’s just how Bill Snyder likes it. The man who dislikes surprises has been so adept over the years at pulling them on others. As the No. 20 Wildcats prepare to host No. 5 Auburn on Thursday night, Snyder’s team enters the game once again as an enigma.
Is this like the stealth Collin Klein team from two years ago that nearly burst into the BCS title game and finished 11-2? Or is this more like last year’s Kansas State team that lost to North Dakota State but recovered for an 8-5 season? There’s a quiet confidence at Kansas State that this team could look more like Klein’s team that finished the season as Big 12 co-champions.
“There’s a lot of similar attributes, similar people, similar leaders,” said Wildcats fullback Glenn Gronkowski. “We were looking at that, saying we have a pretty good chance this year.”
Beating Auburn on Thursday night would thrust Kansas State into the playoff conversation. And the onus of the upset will fall on senior quarterback Jake Waters, K-State’s leader and prototypical understated star. What can we expect from Waters and Kansas State on Thursday after a blowout of Stephen F. Austin and a narrow victory at Iowa State?
“We have everything,” Waters said. “We can go do the spread game, the zone reads, throw the attachments, or we can go put two tight ends, two running backs in there and pound it on the ground. It’s a complicated offense.”
After struggling with the offense last year, Waters finally has a good grasp of it and has emerged as a dual threat. He’s completed 61 percent of his passes this season and already rushed for four touchdowns. He’s averaging 5.2 yards per carry, and a big game running the ball will be needed for Kansas State to pull an upset.
“Once we get the quarterback run game going,” Waters said, “it puts a lot of stress on the defense.”
Waters is the classic Bill Snyder recruit -- and undervalued junior college star few other high-profile schools wanted. As so often happens under Snyder, he’s emerged as a star. Settled into the playbook and comfortable in the spotlight, Waters has a chance to showcase his diverse skills on Thursday night.
2. Pac-12 takes big hit after tough Saturday
It’s funny how storylines can flip in a single night. After a disastrous stretch on Saturday, the Pac-12 South division dissolved into a dumpster fire. No. 9 USC’s 37-31 loss at Boston College sparked the blaze. The Trojans looked overmatched on defense by BC’s run game, vanilla on offense and juggled more balls on special teams than a Ringling Brothers tryout. That loss is also an optical bruise for the Pac-12, as it devalues one of its brand-name teams and gives the league a loss to a BC team picked to finish sixth in the ACC Atlantic division.
With less than 65 available healthy scholarship players for the rest of the season, don’t expect USC to contend for the Pac-12 title. The biggest issue for Trojans was their inability to exploit their advantages at wide receiver. USC’s quarterback, Cody Kessler, is pedestrian. The Trojans' tailbacks aren’t elite and the offensive line, which gave up five sacks on Saturday, is below average.
Coach Steve Sarkisian made things worse by sticking with an up-tempo offense that only proved adept at handing the ball back to Boston College quickly. When asked about USC’s tempo backfiring, the smile on BC defensive coordinator Don Brown’s face said everything. “We were scared to death, I thought we did a good job all week playing against the tempo,” he said. “When it’s three-and-out now, the other guys are coming out on the field and their defense is stuck out there.”
On Saturday night, UCLA nearly lost at Texas, needing a 33-yard touchdown pass from Jerry Neuheisel to Jordan Payton in the final minutes to secure the 20-17 victory. Neuheisel was playing in place of starting quarterback Brett Hundley, who injured his left elbow. Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports reported Sunday that Hundley is expected back by the end of this week, as his injury is a slight hyper-extension. But the Bruins, despite being 3-0, appear to have serious issues on their offensive line, they lack tailback depth and they showed just how vulnerable they can be without Hundley. Even with him now, UCLA will have to be more conservative calling designed runs considering he’s already dinged up.
The most damaging long-term moment for the league may have come during Arizona State’s 38-24 victory at Colorado on Saturday night. Sun Devils star quarterback Taylor Kelly, who beat out Hundley for second-team all Pac-12 last year, injured his right foot. Kelly left the game in the third quarter and later was seen in crutches and a boot with a towel covering his head. Arizona State coach Todd Graham didn’t downplay the potential of the injury, telling the Associated Press he’s “very concerned.” The Arizona Republic reported that Kelly is expected to miss 1-2 games.
Arizona State and UCLA are off this week before the Bruins travel to Tempe on Sept. 25. That could be the most important game of the season for determining the Pac-12 South race. The status and health of Kelly and Hundley will be the biggest story leading into that game, as the league’s credibility may end up riding on the health of those two quarterbacks.
3. Clemson's Beasley: 'I feel like I'm better' than Clowney
Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley knows all about Jadeveon Clowney, the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL draft. Beasley spent the last three years at Clemson getting inundated with hype about his rival at South Carolina. He wants to make one thing clear: “I feel like I’m the better player,” Beasley said.
Beasley is considered a high-end NFL prospect after registering 23 sacks the last three years, which means he should easily pass Clowney’s career total of 24 career sacks. Beasley has a chance to back up his claims on Saturday when Clemson plays at No. 1 Florida State. It’s a game that just might be the closest thing to a test for the Seminoles in ACC play this season. And it’s a chance for Beasley to show off what opposing blockers fear so much about him. “I feel like I’ve got the best first step in college football,” Beasley said.
That first step highlights the differences between he and Clowney. The 6-3, 235-pound Beasley acknowledges the size difference between him and the 6-5, 266-pound Clowney. There’s also a contrast in styles. He’s more of a speed rusher, while Clowney is a combination of speed and power. Beasley’s speed rush has thrust him into the ranks of Clemson’s all-time greats, as he’s within six sacks of breaking the school’s career record that is shared by Michael Dean Perry and Gaines Adams at 28.
He’s also still eyeing Clemson’s single-season sack record of 15.5 owned by Da'Quan Bowers. So far, Beasley has a team-high two sacks, but he’s still haunted by last season. “I know a lot of sacks I missed last year,” said Beasley, who had 13 a year ago.
Determined not to let it happen again, Beasley focused on Xs and Os this summer. He pored through game tape to become more familiar with opposing offenses. In anticipation of a likely transition to outside linebacker in the NFL, Beasley also worked on dropping back into coverage. “I feel like I’ve gained an edge,” Beasley said.
Like Clowney, Beasley could have left early and entered the NFL draft. He even received a second-round draft grade from the NFL Advisory Committee. He thought the projection was fair, but says that he would have ended up being a first-round pick after his workouts. “The reason I didn’t go is because I wanted to get my degree,” Beasley said.
When he got his diploma last month in sociology, he became the first person from his family to graduate college. “It means a lot to me,” Beasley said. “It’s an honor just to be able to set an example for the young kids and the older people in my family. I know a lot of kids around the area that look up to me back home.”
In his hometown of Adairsville, Ga. (population 4,648), Beasley is already known beyond his accomplishments on the field. When he gets the chance, he plays the piano in his church, Bethlehem Judah House of God. “I’m no Beethoven,” Beasley said with a laugh.
Beasley started playing the piano at the age of 16 and has a passion for music, especially gospel songs. “It just relaxes me,” Beasley said. “Eases my mind.”
This weekend, the Seminoles tackles will be the ones on edge.
“It’s emotional because I was happy for them,” London told The Inside Read after the game. “This job is inherently pressure packed as it is, but for me it was more so because of the success and seeing the smiles and the celebration of the players.”
London is well aware of the pressure on him in his fifth season at Virginia, especially after last season’s 2-10 record. Saturday’s victory was the Cavaliers’ first in ACC play in 672 days and paramount even this early to their bowl hopes.
It was finally the moment London nearly had three weeks ago in a heartbreaking season-opening 28-20 home loss to UCLA, a game in which the Bruins scored three defensive touchdowns. “This was a long time coming,” London said.
When Virginia squandered a 13-point lead before kicking a game-winning field goal with less than four minutes remaining, London admits the Cavaliers probably would have faltered in the past. But he points out this squad has 22 seniors, compared to just four last season. “The difference that makes is just incredible,” London said. “We’ve got a strong leadership of older guys.”
Virginia is also stacked with young talent. Its most recent recruiting class was among the best in school history, headlined by defensive tackle Andrew Brown and safety Quin Blanding, who had a team-high nine tackles on Saturday.
London also stressed that his program has 20 commitments even after back-to-back losing seasons. “People inside the program see and like what’s going on,” he said. “They see themselves being part of something that can be significant or special. You don’t want to shout that to the rooftops, but if you’re inside and a supporter and you know what’s going on, the thing is being built very nicely.”
By the time London got back to the locker room after Saturday’s win, he realized he had lost something while navigating the swarms of celebrating Virginia fans. Gone was the U.S. Air Force cap he wore in the fourth quarter as part of Military Appreciation Day.
“I don’t mind it,” London said with a laugh, “not at all.”
• An NFL scout who visited Alabama and Auburn in recent weeks has a warning for the Crimson Tide. “They better watch out,” the scout said, “because Auburn is coming.”
While the Tigers are more known for their up-tempo offense under second-year coach Gus Malzahn, the scout said they appear to have more NFL draft prospects on defense than Alabama. He cited Auburn senior defensive tackle Angelo Blackson as one of his early breakout players nationally.
“It really shocks me,” the scout said. “Alabama’s not there yet defensively. If you want to play bully ball and smack heads with them, you’re probably going to be in trouble. But when those guys get in space, it seems like they’re heavy-legged. You’ve seen it against Auburn and Oklahoma. When they play a fast team that’s good in space, they struggle.”
• New SMU interim coach Tom Mason has been in this situation before. He was elevated from defensive coordinator last week after Mustangs coach June Jones abruptly resigned after an 0-2 start, citing personal issues. He learned of Jones’ decision 15 minutes before Jones made the announcement in a staff meeting.
Mason had a 1-9 record as Boise State’s interim coach in 1996. The Broncos ended up hiring Houston Nutt, but Mason got a token interview for the job at the president’s house over prime rib. “It was the last supper,” said Mason with a laugh.
Mason knows that he’s unlikely to get to keep the job this time. With SMU off last week, he spent time stabilizing the coaching staff and trying to take care of his players. “You can’t focus on, ‘Am I going to get the job?’” Mason said. “Then you let the rest of it fall apart.”
Mason expects to be more hands on with the players than Jones, is subtly altering the way the team practices and intends to incorporate some option into the offense. “You’ve got to make changes or things stay the same,” Mason said.
In addition to Boise State, Mason has interviewed for head coaching jobs at Nevada and Fresno State, which Tim DeRuyter and Brian Polian still hold. “It seems like I’m never the guy that kisses the bride,” Mason said.
Mason spent this past weekend watching college games, namely Texas A&M’s 38-10 victory vs. Rice, in preparation for his team’s game Saturday vs. the Aggies. That was after he figured out how to get a third television hooked up. “We’ve kind of reached rock-bottom here,” Mason said. “Now, we’ve got no place to go except up.”
• The lack of star quarterbacks in the SEC was one of the conference’s biggest storylines entering this season. But just three weeks in, Missouri’s Maty Mauk appears to be on his way to stardom and could make the argument as the league’s top quarterback. With four touchdown passes Saturday in a 38-10 romp of Central Florida, he’s now thrown for 647 yards and 12 touchdowns with three interceptions this season.
“This is only my seventh start,” Mauk told The Inside Read after the game. “I don’t think people really see that because I played so much last year. We’re going to get better.”
Mauk had a 3-1 record with nine touchdown passes and just one interception in four starts last season filling in for James Franklin. He’s been compared to another former SEC quarterback, Johnny Manziel, because of their dual-threat ability and Mauk’s arrest after wrecking a scooter with two coeds his first week at Missouri in 2012.
It’s a comparison Mauk has tried to distance himself from. Just like he did Saturday when asked if he’s the SEC’s best quarterback. He’ll have a chance to prove it in coming weeks with a string of games at South Carolina, against Georgia and at Florida. “I’m not worried about that at all,” Mauk said. “I could care less. I’m just out here to win football games and that’s my job.”
• Highly touted LSU freshman defensive tackle Travonte Valentine is still awaiting clearance from the SEC office about his high school academic standing, but he might not play this season even if he gets the go-ahead.
Valentine, who at one time was purportedly 6-3 and 325 pounds, showed up in Baton Rouge extremely overweight, according to a source. The combination of needing to lose weight and the SEC’s ongoing review of his academic credentials makes him a likely candidate to redshirt this season.
Valentine received approval from the NCAA Clearinghouse late last month, but the SEC is continuing to look into his academics from Champagnat Catholic School. He led the Miami-area program to the Florida Class 2A title last season.
Champagnat is a 247-student school for grades 6-12 and is located next to a used-car dealership. It’s drawing increased scrutiny in college football circles.
Another source familiar with Valentine’s academics is stunned that he received approval from the NCAA Clearinghouse. The source said Valentine had very few high school credits entering his junior year.
“If Travonte Valentine qualifies there’s something wrong,” the source said. “It’s not humanly possible."
• As the Florida Atlantic band played outside first-year coach Charlie Partridge’s office last week, he joked about his team’s back-to-back losses at Nebraska and Alabama to open the season. “We bought them some new tubas,” Partridge said.
Partridge calls both losses “million-dollar practices,” the amount each team paid the Owls for the games before he got his first career win Saturday in a 50-21 blowout of Tulsa. They also gave him an up-close look at three of the nation’s top running backs in Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah and Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry, a group he ranked for The Inside Read.
1. Abdullah: “He’s got all three, power, make-you-miss ability and speed. All at an extremely high level. He’s a great player.”
2. Yeldon: “He’s powerful and can run fast, but I don’t know that he’s got the make-you-miss near as much.”
3. Henry: “He’s a little quicker and can make you miss. He’s not as explosively a power back.”
Four In (and one out)
The Read's weekly playoff predictions
1. Oregon: Time to rule out any potential challenges from the Pac-12 South division.
2. Alabama: Biggest drama in Tuscaloosa this week: Will Nick Saban take it easy on former assistant Will Muschamp?
3. Oklahoma: Solid win against Tennessee will look better as the year goes on.
4. Florida State: The Clemson game is only relevant date until Notre Dame comes to town on Oct. 18.
5. Auburn: Trip to the “Little Apple” against Kansas State on Thursday will show if Tigers have legit national title aspirations.
Q&A with Pitt coach Paul Chyrst
My spies say your music selection in practice has ranged from country to hip-hop. Is it your iPod?
On the good days, we’re definitely going with mine. Shoot I don’t even know the names of a lot of the songs. I’ve adapted my own personal taste. There’s some songs I like on the field I don’t know if I’d play in the car.
Give me a little taste of one artist that’s popped up this year?
Not too many tailbacks moonlight as defensive ends like James Conner did for you last year. I know he’s been getting reps in practice. Any shot we’ll see him back there this year?
We haven’t played him yet this year, but he’s certainly been working at it. It’s one of those things where they’ll be times during the course of season that we need him on defense and we’ll play him there.
He looked difficult to drag down against Boston College. He’s 250 pounds. What makes him so dynamic?
He’s got size and certainly enough athletic ability and truly loves playing and competes. He wants to be really good and will work at it. I think he’s understanding of what we’re trying to do and what defenses are doing. He still has some areas where he can get better and grow. That’s our team in general. We’re doing some stuff and appreciate it. It’s a group that can and needs to keep getting a lot better.
I know how much you think of Russell Wilson. Has anything he’s done surprised you?
That’s a little bit of trick of a question. The answer can come off wrong. When I watch him and see what’s he’s doing, it’s nothing I haven’t seen him do. To think you can do it and have that success that early on a whole other level, it doesn’t surprise me that he’s doing it. But you have a new appreciation, though, even though it’s some of the same stuff that he’s done. Even to have the opportunity in talking to him, what I love about him is that he knows it’s a great fit where he’s at. What he’s done doesn’t surprise me, but you sure appreciate what he’s done and everyone around him to make it happen to where it is.
You grew up idolizing former Steelers center Mike Webster, right?
My dad was a line coach at Wisconsin. He recruited Mike Webster and coached him at Wisconsin. You can connect the dots pretty easy. My Steelers jersey is a Mike Webster jersey.
Where does Pitt football fit in on the landscape in Pittsburgh sports now?
I really believe is that Pittsburgh is a great sports town first. It’s also a great football town. Obviously the Steelers are the flagship. I’ve been able to go to Friday night high school games and they’re a big deal. It’s reminds me of when we were in Texas, and we’d go to games. Pittsburgh is a proud city and proud of the Steelers and high school football. There’s been some great Pitt teams in late 70s and early 80s. Coach Wannstedt had a 10-win team. I didn’t live it, but there was a lot of transition (before I was hired). That takes time. We want to be a meaningful part of the football weekend, with the Friday night games and the Steelers on Sundays. That’s the opportunity we have and the challenge, making Saturday relevant with Pitt.
What do you miss from Wisconsin and what culinary delights have you discovered in Pittsburgh.
I’m not real finicky but what I do love here, and I loved in Wisconsin, are just the local places. I don’t know if it’s necessarily a certain dish. Can’t get the fired cheese curds out here like you can there. But there’s some pretty cool places.
1. Marcus Mariota, Oregon: Next showcase is at UCLA on Oct 11.
2. Todd Gurley, Georgia: Blame Mike Bobo’s ineptitude for his lack of a signature moment. Averaged 6.6 yards per carry.
3. Everett Golson, Notre Dame: His pedestrian numbers against Purdue don’t account for him saving the Irish when they needed a spark.
4. Jameis Winston, Florida State: Showcase game against Clemson looms.
5. Kenny Hill, Texas A&M: His parents were busy trademarking “Kenny Trill” nickname. Should have been sending hand-written thank you notes to the person responsible for A&M’s putrid out-of-conference schedule.
1. Winston: Gets his turn in spotlight vs. Clemson, Saturday’s only matchup between ranked teams.
2. Mariota: He’s already doing his best to flip voters.
3. Gurley: “Mr. Gurley is the best running back in the country.” - South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward.
4. Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato: Go ahead and add this website to your favorites.
5. Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper: Dare we call his candidacy the Lane Kiffin effect.
The Pirates’ triumph shows why they are likely on a collision course with Cincinnati for supremacy in the AAC. But to finally beat Virginia Tech for the first time in four tries, Riley and his high-powered offense had to change their approach against Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster.
Their two previous losses were by seven points or less and the Pirates failed to score more than 10 points in either. So Riley last week emphasized a new mindset to his usually explosive offense.
“We had thought more about their defense than our offense, so we really needed to keep the focus on us,” Riley said. “We had to be more aggressive in getting the ball down the field and give our guys some chances to make some plays.”
Sounds simple enough, but it didn’t help that Foster and his defense were as intimidating as they’ve been in recent years coming off the upset they spearheaded at Ohio State.
“You’ve got to be aggressive back or you let them dictate the game,” Riley said. “I think we let them do that some the previous years. You can’t back down and let them bully you.”
East Carolina’s offense didn’t relent this time, taking deeper shots down the field, using more tempo and being more aggressive running the ball. It all paid off with redshirt senior quarterback Shane Carden dicing the Hokies for 427 passing yards and three touchdowns and scoring the game-winner on a 1-yard touchdown run with 16 seconds left.
“I’m not going to lie,” Riley said, “offensively our guys have been wanting this one for a while.”
As Riley exited the field after the win, he soaked up Lane Stadium’s eerie silence. Just minutes before during East Carolina’s game-winning drive, his headset shook because of the deafening crowd noise.
Said Riley, “It’s one of those where you kind of know that whatever happens the rest of your career, you’re going to remember it for a long time.”
• South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward’s unit has been much maligned after its season-opening blowout loss to Texas A&M. The criticism has been harsh for a young Gamecocks defense that lost Jadeveon Clowney, has just one returning starter on the line and only four seniors who start or contribute. But Ward is optimistic after Saturday’s dramatic 38-35 upset of Georgia.
“There’s no question we’re getting better,” Ward told The Inside Read after the game.
Many would cite that improvement in the goal-line stand Ward’s defense made late in the fourth quarter to stop Georgia’s comeback. Or Bulldogs star running back Todd Gurley’s 131 rushing yards and a touchdown on 20 carries, a pedestrian game by his standards.
But Ward is particularly encouraged by his defense’s improvement against short passes in space, an area that Texas A&M exploited in rolling up an embarrassing 511 yards through the air. “We’re doing a better job on the perimeter holding it to a minimum,” Ward said.
Yet Ward knows just how important Saturday’s game are for the confidence of his defense after weeks of negativity. He’ll need to build on both if the Gamecocks are to remain in the SEC East race.
“We’re a work in progress,” Ward said. “Our strength has to be in numbers. We don’t have a dominant superstar player on defense. We knew that going into the season. That’s why we play a lot of players. We probably play more players than any team in the country.”
• Boston College offensive coordinator Ryan Day summed up his task of overhauling the Eagles offense succinctly. “We lost eight starters,” he said. “We had to replace the all-time rusher, the all-time leading receiver and the fourth all-time leading passer in schools history.”
The departures of Heisman finalist tailback Andre Williams, slot specialist Alex Amidon and quarterback Chase Rettig have left the Eagles carving out a new identity. It emerged in bruising fashion on Saturday night, as BC trampled USC, 37-31, in a game where the Eagles completed just five passes. BC rushed for 452 yards, including 191 by senior transfer quarterback Tyler Murphy, and showcased the evolution of their offense.
What’s fascinating about Day’s task with the Eagles is the attempt to keep their power run mojo but blend it with spreading out the field. BC’s future is with a dual-threat quarterback. Murphy, a one-year rental, gives the Eagles some flash at the position they’ve been missing. He’s backed up by true freshman Darius Wade, a dual-threat talent expected to take over next season for Murphy.
“We may go five-wide and run the ball or go seven linemen and pass out of it,” Murphy said. “We try and go versatile on offense and keep the defense guessing and on their toes. Anything to slow them down is an advantage for us.”
Since arriving this spring, Murphy has been forced to adapt quickly. He baked his linemen chocolate chip and peanut butter cookies to get to help ingratiate himself to the team. “They like them soft,” Murphy said. “I can’t overcook them.
So far, BC has cooked up a great new look as evidenced by its signature win on Saturday night. Murphy’s deft ball fakes kept the USC defense confused and flat-footed. And the emergence of underclassmen backs Myles Willis (9 carries for 89 yards) and Jon Hilliman (two touchdowns) give BC a positive vibe for the future.
“We have a power run game that we feel great about,” Day said. “At Boston College, that’s what we should be. Also, we like the idea of making teams defend the whole 53 1/3. Last year we didn’t really do that.”
* Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee insists he’s in no hurry to be a head coach. But the 31-year-old will essentially have a nationally televised interview Thursday night during the Tigers’ game at Kansas State. One of college football’s brightest young minds, he and his boss, Gus Malzahn, who he played for in high school, share play-calling duties.
“I’ve still got plenty to learn,” Lashlee said.
Lashlee hasn’t discussed his coaching future much with Malzahn. But in the few conversations the two have had about it, Malzahn has told Lashlee he will know when he’s ready to be a head coach. Malzahn’s also given Lashlee simple advice that plenty of other once promising assistants haven’t heeded: don’t be so eager to be a head coach that you choose the wrong job.
“Obviously you’ve got to make sure it’s a good fit and a place you feel like you can win,” Lashlee said. “Somewhere you can be successful and have the support you need.”
Lashlee had his own revelation about his career three years ago when he was Samford’s offensive coordinator. A year later, he held the same position at Arkansas State under Malzahn, who he followed to Auburn nearly two years ago.
“The only way to be successful in this business is to really enjoy the moment where you’re at,” Lashlee said. “If you don’t do that, you’re not going to do a good job where you’re at. Ultimately, that’s the most important thing.”
Colorado State coach Jim McElwain’s favorite meal in Fort Collins is reflective of his childhood in Montana. It’s the cheeseburger with American cheese dripping down the sides and seasoned crinkle-cut fries at the Chipper’s Lanes bowling alley located just north of campus.
“It fits my diet and my waistline,” McElwain said with a laugh. “It’s something that can quench any appetite.”
That’s why McElwain doesn’t even know if the bowling alley even has dessert (it doesn’t). “If you’re still hungry, I’m sure they’ll fill it up again,” he said. “It’s a pretty good place.”