Memo to No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Miami: Don't count the Florida Gators out of the hunt for the unofficial state championship, which this year may be the equivalent of the national title. The Gators were red-faced after stumbling against Syracuse 38-21 on Sept. 21. However, they've played as well as anybody in the country since then, the most recent and impressive example of their prowess being a 35-18 win over previously unbeaten Tennessee in Gainesville last Saturday. That victory moved the Gators to 5-1 and put them in excellent position to win their first Southeastern Conference title.
The defeat of the Vols was a near total reversal of last year's fiasco, when the Gators got skinned 45-3 in Knoxville. Florida quarterback Shane Matthews, who passed for a season-low 119 yards against Tennessee in 1990, threw for 245 yards and two TDs this time. He outshone his top competitor, Tennessee's Andy Kelly, for all-SEC honors. Kelly lost two fumbles and threw three interceptions, all on passes intended for star receiver Carl Pickens. Pickens finished with seven catches for 145 yards but didn't score, mostly because of the defense of freshman cornerback, Larry Kennedy.
"Tennessee embarrassed us last year," said Florida safety Will White. "Now, like the James Brown song says, this was the big payback."
While Florida was restoring its credibility on Saturday, both Florida State and Miami extended their unbeaten seasons, in subpar fashion. At the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida State overcame stubborn Virginia Tech 33-20, but it took two interceptions by Seminole cornerback Terrell Buckley, one of which he brought back 71 yards for a touchdown, to overcome a weak performance by the offense. Seminole quarterback Casey Weldon rated his performance "sorry" after getting sacked five times and completing only 13 of 31 passes for 186 yards. Virginia Tech quarterback Will Furrer posed the day's best question, though, when he asked, "When is somebody going to draft Terrell Buckley and get him into the pros, where he belongs?"
In the Orange Bowl, Miami had its hands full with Penn State before pulling out a 26-20 victory. The difference was the amazing speed the Hurricanes flashed on three big second-half plays—an 80-yard TD pass from Gino Toretta to Horace Copeland, a 91-yard punt return for a touchdown by Kevin Williams and a 42-yard scoring pass from Toretta to Lamar Thomas. But the Hurricane offense was often sluggish, and coach Dennis Erickson said he was "concerned" about the number of penalties his team incurred—11 for a whopping 124 yards—which keep Penn State in the game.
"We're not good enough right now to beat Florida State," said Erickson, looking ahead to the Hurricanes' Nov. 16 showdown with the Seminoles in Tallahassee. Miami doesn't play Florida, but the Gators and Seminoles meet in Gainesville on Nov. 30.
A Bubbly Time in Champaign
When Illinois redshirt freshman place-kicker Chris Richardson converted a 41-yard field goal attempt with 36 seconds remaining for a 10-7 win over previously unbeaten Ohio State in Champaign last Saturday, he did so despite a cold wind and a lot of hot air, the latter coming from the Buckeye defenders. "They were saying I couldn't kick it," said Richardson, who had missed a 23-yarder in the third quarter. "They were saying uncomplimentary things about my mom. They knew I was from Dallas, and they told me to go back there. They knew how much I weighed. Everything about me, they knew."
Well, if the Buckeyes are so omniscient, perhaps they can explain why their coach, John Cooper, jerked starting quarterback Kent Graham in the third quarter and replaced him with backup Kirk Herbstreit. When Graham was asked why, he said, "I have no idea. I thought I was playing well." Herbstreit was upset, too, because, while he was in the game, Ohio State stalled on two drives—on a costly fumble by running back Butler By'not'e on first-and-goal from the three with 9:53 left and then when Herbstreit panicked and threw an incomplete pass on fourth-and-11 at the Illini 48. "I bailed out a little too quick," said Herbstreit.
Cooper brought Graham back when Ohio State regained possession with 3:39 left, and Graham quickly guided the Buckeyes into a 7-7 tie on a two-pass, 64-yard touchdown drive. For the day, Graham connected on seven of 11 passes for 130 yards, yet 53 of Ohio State's 69 offensive plays were rushes. "I thought we might throw the ball more," said Graham.
And what about that, coach? "I thought we called the right number of passes," said Cooper, "but we just didn't complete the right number."
Graham indicated he might request a meeting with Cooper and offensive coordinator Elliot Uzelac this week. Herbstreit added that he was "almost fed up" with the quarterback controversy.
In the Illinois locker room, coach John Mackovic was more emotional than anybody had ever seen him, perhaps because it was his fourth consecutive win over Cooper—and never before have the Illini won that many games in a row from the Buckeyes.
Better Than Advertised
The bowl scouts, who last weekend began attending games in search of candidates for the postseason, had better put Greenville, N.C., on their itineraries. That's the home of East Carolina, which just may have the nation's most underrated team. The Pirates are now 5-1 after their 23-20 upset of Syracuse in the Carrier Dome and might be unbeaten were it not for a controversial call in their opening loss to Illinois on Aug. 31 in Champaign.
Trailing Illinois late in the game 38-31—the final score—East Carolina recovered an onside kick, only to be penalized 15 yards for violating the new rule against excessive celebrating. Instead of first-and-10 on their own 46, the Pirates had first-and-25 at the 31. Their bid for the first down fell five yards short.
Against Syracuse, East Carolina's leader, as usual, was senior quarterback Jeff Blake, who went into the game ranked third nationally in passing efficiency and 10th in total offense. Blake riddled the Orange for 324 passing yards, and he also showed some nifty footwork he might have learned from his godfather, Chicago White Sox speedster Tim Raines.
With 12:45 left in the game and the Pirates trailing 20-16, Blake was forced out of the pocket by a heavy pass rush, but he turned the busted play into a 43-yard touchdown run. "I felt somebody at my heels—that's what made me run," he said.
The lead held up, but only after John Biskup, the most accurate placekicker in Syracuse history, missed two field goal attempts, from 27 and 42 yards, in the fourth quarter. "We played our butts off," said Pirates defensive tackle Greg Gardill. "This proved we can play with anybody in the country." Did all you bowl scouts get that?
Does anybody understand what's going on in the wacky Southwest Conference? Just when Baylor seemed to have established itself as the league's best team, doggone if Rice doesn't go into Waco and hand the Bears their first loss, 20-17. "I don't even know when the last win like this was," said the Owls' coach. Fred Goldsmith. And guess who is now leading the league? None other than Arkansas, which beat woeful Houston, the preseason Southwest Conference favorite, 29-17 and now stands 3-0 in its final season in the conference. The Razorbacks join the SEC next year....
By beating Michigan State 45-28 in East Lansing, Michigan completed its revenge of all three teams that the Wolverines lost to last season (the others were Notre Dame and Iowa)....
Tip of the Hat Dept.: Cincinnati, which was taken to task by some observers (blush) after its 81-0 loss to Penn State, now has won two in a row—a 30-7 upset of Louisville two weeks ago and a 38-19 defeat of Kent State on Saturday....
And while we're congratulating underdogs, how about Kansas State, which is off to its best start (4-1) since 1969? Unfortunately, the Wildcats' 16-12 win over Kansas last Saturday was tarnished when winning coach Bill Snyder lashed out at reporters for not giving his team the respect he thinks it deserves. "When they do something decent, give them credit for it, will you?" he growled. Lighten up, coach. After all, Colorado, Nebraska and Oklahoma are coming up on the next three Saturdays....
When Missouri visited Colorado for the first meeting of the teams since last year's controversial game in which the Buffaloes scored the winning TD on a fifth down, a couple of Missouri fans ran through the stadium carrying a sign saying cu TAKHS THE FIFTH. But this time the Tigers took the gas as Colorado won 55-7....
Trailing Wyoming 36-22 in the second half, Utah ripped off 35 consecutive points on the way to a 57-42 victory. The Utes, whose victory was their first at Laramie since 1972, had been averaging only 19.5 points a game.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Michael Lerch, a junior split end for Princeton, set Division I-AA records for all-purpose yards (463) and receiving yards (370, on nine catches) and scored four TDs in the Tigers' 59-37 win over Brown.
Defensive tackle James Patton, a senior at Texas, had eight tackles, including two sacks for nine yards, caused a fumble and deflected a pass in the Longhorns' 10-7 upset of Oklahoma (page 42).
Zed Robinson, a junior tailback for Division II Southern Utah State, ran for an 80-yard touchdown on his first carry and finished with 343 yards on 32 rushes in a 37-31 defeat of Santa Clara.