RUNNING ON EMPTY
Florida State coach Bobby Bowden was sitting in the locker room
after his team's 35-28 victory at Clemson last Saturday, one
white sock stuffed in the sneaker under his chair and the other
dangling precariously from his left foot. His Seminoles, led by
spectacular sophomore flanker Peter Warrick (eight catches, 249
yards, two touchdown receptions and a third score on a 90-yard
punt return) and an opportunistic defense, had just given him
his 200th win at Florida State, but Bowden was fretting about
one area of his team's performance. "Our running game? It's
awful," he said, his shirt soaked with sweat and his face still
flush with success. "We're going to have to look at it this week
and figure out what's wrong."
Like Bowden's feet, the Seminoles' offense seems to be only half
dressed this season. After amassing 31 yards rushing against the
Tigers, Florida State is averaging a paltry 72.6 yards on the
ground, way down from last season's 178.2. The passing game, by
contrast, is averaging 356.3 yards. "It's frustrating," says
junior tailback Dee Feaster, who is trying to fill the shoes of
Warrick Dunn, now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "But with the
passing game working so well, why change?"
Indeed, the Seminoles (3-0) have good reason not to change a
formula that has produced victories over Southern Cal, Maryland
and Clemson. Offensive coordinator Mark Richt has been content
to let quarterback Thad Busby air out the ball, punishing
opponents for putting seven or eight defenders on the line to
stop the run. With dazzling performers like Warrick and fellow
wideout E.G. Green on the offense, as well as with a big-play
defense, Florida State isn't without firepower.
September 28, 1997
However, Bowden knows the Seminoles will have to run the ball
against the better teams on their schedule, such as North
Carolina and Florida. He has tried simplifying formations and
reducing the variety of rushing plays to cut down on missed
blocking assignments, but improvement has been slow. The line,
with three new starters, can't seem to open holes. Take away
Busby's 16 yards of scrambling against Clemson, and Florida
State's backs accounted for just 15 yards on 12 carries.
The Seminoles aren't panicking. With a week off before facing
Miami, they have time to work on the running game. "We know
people are going to start saying, 'They can't run the ball,'"
senior center Kevin Long says. "They're going to start
challenging us. We've got to be ready, so we can make them
pay." --MARTY BURNS
PENN STATE DESERVES BETTER
Florida's 33-20 demolition of Tennessee and subsequent return to
No. 1 in the AP Top 25 poll demonstrates three givens about
college football: Defense is paramount; a good running game
helps; and the voters, of whom I am one, have the collective
attention span of a kindergarten class.
Penn State, which was voted No. 1 in the first four polls of the
year and fell to No. 2 on Sunday (18 points behind Florida), did
nothing last week to diminish its standing. The Nittany Lions
performed as a top-ranked team should, dismantling Louisville
57-21. Through three games against admittedly meager
competition, Penn State has yet to reveal a flaw, save for coach
Joe Paterno's refusal to run up the score. The Lions pulled
their starters after taking a 34-3 lead in three quarters
against Pittsburgh, a 42-10 lead in three quarters against
Temple and a 50-14 advantage at the half against Louisville.
Paterno's stance against running up the score played a role in
Penn State's failure to win the 1994 national championship. That
year a beaten Indiana scored two late touchdowns to make the
final score a respectable 34-28, and the voters jumped Nebraska
over the Nittany Lions and into the No. 1 spot. The Cornhuskers
never relinquished their advantage. After this year's game
against Pittsburgh, which coincided with Florida's 82-6 wipeout
of Central Michigan, Penn State's lead in the poll shrank from
73 points to 30. Paterno dismissed the vote totals that week. "I
owe it to everybody on the squad to try to get them in a game,"
he said. "If that ends up hurting us some, that hurts us some.
There's nothing I can do about the irrationality of other people."
Florida coach Steve Spurrier's penchant for running up the score
is not news, and it helped put the Gators in position to
overtake Penn State. But as impressive as Florida was in
defeating Tennessee, the Volunteers revealed a weakness or two
in their conquerors. The inexperience of quarterback Doug
Johnson showed in the second half, when he completed 3 of 11
passes for 76 yards. Johnson will be tested when the Gators play
before hostile crowds on consecutive Saturdays next month at LSU
and Auburn. Penn State's schedule ratchets up a few notches,
too. On the day that the Gators go to Baton Rouge, Ohio State
comes to Beaver Stadium. It will be the Nittany Lions' first
true test. If they win, the Lions will have to trust that the
voters will be as fickle then as they were last week.
THAT OL' KENTUCKY LOGIC
Kentucky coach Hal Mumme, on why he usually instructs his punter
to kick the ball out of bounds: "[The punt returner] is usually
the best athlete on the other team. In this league, that means
his future is NFL. The guy I'm sending to tackle him, his future
is CPA. That's not a good matchup."
CAUGHT IN A WEB OF INFORMATION
Southern Cal coach John Robinson understands his school and its
place on the crowded Los Angeles scene in ways that his
predecessor, Larry Smith, never grasped. One of the first
decisions Robinson made when he returned to USC in 1993 was to
open his practices. He wanted Trojans fans to reconnect to the
team. He wanted the neighborhood kids to wander to the sidelines
of Howard Jones Field, as they had in his first tenure at USC
This season Robinson closed practice. "I may never open it
again," he says. Too many fans crowding the sidelines? Kids
swiping Gatorade? Nope. The Internet. Details of the formations
and plays that USC worked on in practice in August appeared on
some independent Web pages devoted to the Trojans.
Coaches are a conservative lot. The exponential increase in
information on the Web--be it through established journalistic
organizations or electronic fan clubs with names such as Salute
to Troy and Trojan Football Online--has left coaches groping for
a way to regain control of what is learned about their teams.
Last year, before the Boston College-Virginia Tech game, a
correspondent for Eagle Action, an independently produced sports
newspaper for BC fans, posted a practice report on the Net that
was so detailed that then Boston College coach Dan Henning said
it included "things about our practice I didn't know." The
report noted that the long snapper had had trouble in punt
practice and that "the wide receivers are having their way with
starting cornerback, No. 26, Shalom Tolefree." A Virginia Tech
assistant said the report included information that "might be
useful" but "we're not changing anything." The Hokies won 45-7.
Most coaches have someone check the Internet daily to see what's
being said about their team and their opponents. Utah assistant
Sean McNabb, the designated Web surfer for the Utes, looks for
injury information and so-called bulletin board material. He
zeroes in on the sites of the hometown and student newspapers of
Utah's opponents. "Some people think if they aren't talking to
someone in our part of the world, it won't reach us," he says.
"If you say anything in your hometown, we're going to know about
Before the Utes went to play Louisville on Sept. 6, they learned
through the Net that Cardinals defensive end Kendrick Gholston
had been nursing an injured shoulder. "It's something we
wouldn't have ordinarily known," McNabb says. "If he had been
healthy, he would have influenced the game more than he did. We
weren't after him to hurt him. If he was in there, he wasn't 100
percent." The Utes rushed for 191 yards and passed for 205 in a
One thing is certain. No coach can erect a wall high enough to
keep information from seeping onto the Internet. The smart ones
are already figuring out how to use it.
THE PLACEKICKER GETS SIX
From his vantage point some 10 yards away, Dartmouth placekicker
Dave Regula felt a growing sense of dread as he watched Penn
return man Brandon Carson burst through a seam at the Quakers'
25. "It started to dawn on me that I might have to make the
tackle," says Regula. "Unfortunately, I was kind of standing
still, and this guy had a full head of steam. All I could think
was, This is a major pain in the rear end. It's the last thing I
need right now."
As Regula rather reluctantly approached Carson, he saw teammate
Dan Liebsch fly into Carson from the side, jarring the ball
loose. Regula scooped it up on one bounce at Penn's 32 and ran
into the end zone. NCAA officials believe it is the first time a
kicker has scored a touchdown on a kickoff play. For Regula, it
was the first touchdown of his life. While growing up in Akron,
he had played soccer and basketball. Not until his junior year
at Walsh Jesuit High did he join the football team, and then
only as a kicker. "I was never prepared for scoring a
touchdown," he says.
He also wasn't prepared to be on the field for such a long
stretch either. Just before scoring the touchdown, Regula had
kicked a 23-yard field goal. After scoring the touchdown, he
stayed on the field to kick the extra point and then to kick the
ball off again. "What I want to know is how guys play a whole
game," says Regula, who accounted for 17 points in the Big
Green's season-opening 23-15 victory. "I was dead, and so were
the other guys."
BUGGED BY A BUG
ABC Sports came up with a nice gimmick for its Florida
State-Southern Cal telecast on Sept. 6. It received permission
from Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden to tap into the line between
offensive coordinator Mark Richt in the coaches' box and
quarterback Thad Busby on the sideline. The network recorded the
conversations and then aired sound bites later in the game. The
ground rules: Bowden ruled out discussions of strategy, and all
other dialogue had to be vetted by Florida State sports
information director Rob Wilson before being used.
By tapping into the line, ABC attempted to skirt a rule that
stipulates, "No coach, player or assistant can be wired to
communicate with the media during the game." The NCAA was
neither impressed nor amused by the network's ingenuity and
banned the ABC gimmick after the one game. At a time when
college football is redoubling its efforts to promote itself,
the NCAA's decision was shortsighted.
Before Stanford's 27-24 win at Oregon State, the Cardinal had
lost four times in Corvallis since 1977. No other Pac-10 school
had lost there more than twice in that time.... The Collegiate
Commissioners Association, which meets in Chicago this week, is
likely to endorse a $2,000 cap on employment earnings by a
student-athlete during the academic year.
Check out more college football news from Ivan Maisel at
WINNERS & LOSERS
1. PETE GONZALEZ Pittsburgh's fifth-year senior quarterback, a
native of Miami, didn't realize his dream of playing for the
Hurricanes because they didn't recruit him. After his 187
passing yards and three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing)
led the Panthers to a 21-17 upset of Miami last Thursday at Pitt
Stadium, Gonzalez was asked what the victory meant to him. "It
means I'll be a stud when I go home," he said.
2. DUKE The Blue Devils ended their 15-game losing streak, the
longest in Division I-A, when Sims Lenhardt kicked a 27-yard
field goal in the final minute to defeat Army 20-17. Duke on
third-down conversions: 5 of 12. Duke on goalpost conversions: 1
of 2. Police surrounded the one in the north end zone before
students could reach it.
3. CECIL COLLINS While filling in for LSU's injured All-America
tailback Kevin Faulk, Collins, who's known as the Diesel, rushed
for 232 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-28 loss to Auburn.
1. JIM LAMBRIGHT The Washington coach ordered an onside kick
after the Huskies scored a touchdown to pull within 21-14 of
Nebraska in the third quarter. Randy Jones booted the ball out
of bounds at the Washington 47-yard line, Nebraska drove for a
field goal, and the Huskies never threatened again.
2. NORTHERN ILLINOIS Twenty-five miles from Wallace Wade Stadium
at Duke, the Northern Illinois Huskies lost 41-14 to North
Carolina State, extending their losing streak to 11 games, now
tops (or bottoms) in the nation, along with Iowa State.
3. PHILLIP FULMER Bear Bryant couldn't beat Notre Dame. Joe
Paterno couldn't beat Bryant. Now Fulmer, the coach at Tennessee
since 1992, is 1-5 against Steve Spurrier of Florida and 45-5-0
against other opponents. If it makes you feel any better, Phil,
Spurrier is 3-4-1 against Bobby Bowden. On the other hand he
beat Bowden to win a national championship. Never mind. --I.M.
USC (0-2) AT CALIFORNIA (2-0)
The Trojans didn't play last week, which is a good thing because
three offensive linemen and running back LaVale Woods were
banged up. The 5'7", 220-pound Woods has played fullback
primarily, but Tailback U is lacking at its namesake position,
so coach John Robinson announced that Woods will play more at
that spot this week. After holding Oklahoma halfback De'Mond
Parker to 81 yards, Cal's defense won't be a cure for USC's
ailing running game.
NOTRE DAME (1-2) AT MICHIGAN (2-0)
Here's what they're saying about the Fighting Irish: Notre Dame
is slow on defense, can't block and doesn't have a passing game.
Who are they? The folks from the Big Ten, and now they really
want the Irish to join their conference. The Wolverines haven't
allowed a touchdown this season, and Notre Dame (13.7 points per
game) doesn't pose a great threat after back-to-back losses to
Purdue and Michigan State. Next up in Bob Davie's nightmare: at
Stanford, on Oct. 4.
VIRGINIA (1-1) AT NORTH CAROLINA (3-0)
The two worst things to hit the Tar Heel State last year?
Hurricane Fran and Cavaliers defensive back Antwan Harris. His
95-yard interception return for a touchdown began a 17-point,
fourth-quarter rally, and Virginia won 20-17. The loss cost
North Carolina a spot in one of the alliance bowls. Hurricanes
may strike twice but not lightning: The Heels will get their
CENTRAL FLORIDA (1-3) AT AUBURN (3-0)
With their win at LSU and Alabama's loss to Arkansas, the Tigers
can be excused for dreaming of winning their first SEC West
title and a berth in the SEC Championship game. This isn't the
week to be looking ahead. Golden Knights quarterback Daunte
Culpepper will test an Auburn secondary that seems to be
catching on to the complex coverage schemes of second-year
defensive coordinator Bill (Brother) Oliver. Central Florida
figures to scare yet another power before becoming the best 1-4
team in the nation. --I.M.