SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST
This is an article from the Nov. 10, 1997 issue
Washington may be atop the Pac-10, but the underpinnings of the
Huskies' half-game lead over Washington State and UCLA are as
shaky as two pairs of crutches--the ones used by quarterback
Brock Huard and tailback Rashaan Shehee, who watched the end of
last Saturday's 27-0 victory over Southern Cal from the
sideline. Huard's left ankle hasn't healed since he sprained it
in the Huskies' 27-14 loss to Nebraska on Sept. 20, primarily
because he has reaggravated it in the last three games. "It
hurts worse than it did after Nebraska," Huard said. He hobbled
off the field four plays into the third quarter against the
Trojans and is listed as probable for this weekend's game
against Oregon. Huard is better off than Shehee, who will most
likely miss the rest of the regular season after suffering a
partial tear of the medial collateral ligament of his left knee
in the first quarter against USC. Without Shehee, who came into
the game leading the Pac-10 in rushing with 121 yards per game,
Washington finished with 31 yards on the ground.
Washington (7-1, 5-0), however, still controls its destiny
because the conference's first tiebreaker is how teams fared in
head-to-head competition. The Huskies, even with a loss to
Oregon, can reach the Rose Bowl by winning at UCLA and at home
against Washington State. Likewise, Washington State (7-1, 5-1)
can reach the Rose Bowl for the first time in 67 years if it
defeats Stanford and Washington. But the Cougars, who lost 44-31
to Arizona State last Saturday, haven't won at Washington since
1985. UCLA (7-2, 5-1) can advance if it beats Washington at home
and USC in the L.A. Coliseum, and if the Cougars lose one more
Arizona State has virtually no chance to return to the Rose
Bowl, which is too bad. The Sun Devils may have the best defense
in the Pac-10, despite allowing Washington State uberpasser Ryan
Leaf to throw for 447 yards and three touchdowns. Arizona State
also forced four turnovers, returning two fumbles for
fourth-quarter touchdowns to break open what had been a close
For all of Leaf's heroics, a prophecy by Sun Devils defensive
coordinator Phil Snow proved true. "We have to stop the running
back," he said last week, referring to Cougars senior Michael
Black, who came in averaging 104.7 yards. "If they get the
running game going, you may as well go home." On the Cougars'
second possession, Arizona State free safety Mitchell Freedman
hit Black so hard that he fumbled at the Sun Devils' 21. "I
think I got into his head," Freedman said after the game. "I saw
the effect in his running." Black finished with 28 yards on 14
Then, in the fourth quarter, with Arizona State leading 30-25,
Freedman closed quickly on Black in the left flat and knocked
him down at the Sun Devils' 23, three yards short of a first
down. On the next snap Freedman timed his blitz up the middle so
perfectly that he leaped onto Leaf before he could take the
third step of his three-step drop. Freedman slapped the ball
into the hands of defensive end Hamilton Mee, who returned it 69
yards for the game-breaking touchdown.
Afterward Leaf approached Arizona State coach Bruce Snyder and
said, "You've got a great defense and, man, can that 13 play."
Freedman not only wears number 13, but his nickname is Fright
Night, so when better for him to shine than on Halloween weekend?
DOG DAY AFTERNOON
In a season of crumbling icons, Alabama, Notre Dame and Texas
have been joined by Florida and its vaunted passing game. The
Gators not only can't humiliate a good defense any longer, but
they also can't beat one. Last Saturday, Georgia defeated
Florida 37-17 by playing a soft zone and daring the Gators'
triumvirate of inexperienced quarterbacks to pick it apart.
Florida completed only 19 of 44 passes and was intercepted four
times. "I obviously messed up, thinking we could throw the ball
around like we used to," Gators coach Steve Spurrier said after
the loss. "I'm almost convinced we can't."
In the last three games quarterbacks Doug Johnson, Noah Brindise
and Jesse Palmer have combined to throw 10 interceptions and one
touchdown, which has made onlookers feel as if they're watching
the Fun 'n' Gun offense through the wrong end of their
binoculars. Though Brindise played the best of the three
quarterbacks against the Bulldogs--the fifth-year senior came
off the bench and led the Gators to a pair of third-quarter
touchdowns that gave them a 17-14 lead--Spurrier is intent on
developing the two younger passers. He yanked Brindise in the
fourth quarter and reinserted Johnson, the sophomore starter,
and then went to Palmer, a freshman.
Georgia, meanwhile, got outstanding performances from
receiver-quarterback Hines Ward, who had 85 yards receiving, 27
yards passing and 21 yards rushing, and tailback Robert Edwards
(124 yards on the ground). The Bulldogs also proved that they
have long memories. Two years ago Spurrier called a
halfback-option pass in the final minute so Florida could be the
first visiting team to score 50 points at Sanford Stadium. Last
Saturday, when Florida turned the ball over on downs at its
25-yard line, Georgia didn't hesitate to score a rub-it-in
touchdown with 2:44 to play.
HEAD OVER HEELS
Luke Huard, one of the best high school quarterbacks in the
West, announced last week that he won't follow brothers Damon
and Brock from Puyallup (Wash.) High to Washington. Instead he
orally committed to North Carolina, and the Tar Heels'
basketball program is indirectly responsible.
When North Carolina reached the 1995 Final Four in Seattle, Tar
Heels football coach Mack Brown and his wife, Sally, were on
hand. While there, Mack watched a Huskies spring practice, and
Sally toured the Washington campus with Brock Huard, who was
then a high school senior and was visiting Damon, a Huskies
quarterback. The Huard family renewed the relationship last
summer when they stopped by Chapel Hill while vacationing in
Washington had offered Luke a scholarship--how could it
not?--but prefers Oregon schoolboy Taylor Barton.
RELOADING THE WILDCATS
With six defeats in seven games, including last Saturday's 30-27
home loss to second-ranked Penn State, Northwestern's fortunes
have turned as cold as the autumn wind off Lake Michigan. The
two-time defending Big Ten champion Wildcats are 1-5 in
conference play and 3-7 overall, with their two nonconference
setbacks at the hands of Wake Forest and Rice. Worse for
Northwestern fans, coach Gary Barnett's name has surfaced again
as a candidate for a high-profile coaching job, this time at
Although Barnett refuses to discuss any speculation about
his future, he denies that the Wildcats are sliding back to Big
Ten doormat status. Rather, he says, it's a matter of
Northwestern's retooling after a successful two-year run. "All
these struggles are going to help us down the road," he says.
In many ways the Wildcats' drop-off isn't surprising. They lost
linebacker Pat Fitzgerald and quarterback Steve Schnur to
graduation, and running back Darnell Autry left early for the
NFL. Northwestern's best returning offensive player, All-Big Ten
wideout D'Wayne Bates, suffered a season-ending leg injury in
the first game. What's more, the conference schedule got tougher
with the addition of a trip to Ohio State, which the Wildcats
didn't play in the last two seasons.
Perhaps the most telling sign that the Northwestern program is
stable, however, came after last Saturday's game. Although the
Wildcats had scored two touchdowns in the final 3:06 to reduce
the margin of defeat, Barnett wasn't satisfied. "You have to be
careful when you come back and go, 'All right, we made it
close.' That's a moral victory," he says. "You can't accept that."
A few years ago the Wildcats would have accepted it happily.
Four years ago Tim Murphy, then 37, was one of the hottest
coaches in the country. His Cincinnati team had just gone 8-3,
the Bearcats' best record in 17 years. He had performed a
similar turnaround at Maine, leading the Black Bears to their
first Division I-AA playoff appearance, in 1987. Murphy appeared
to be on track for a job at a big-time school. However, in
December '93, he chose the challenge of coaching at Harvard,
replacing the retired Joe Restic. "I don't know why, maybe I was
a frustrated student, but Harvard is the only Division I-AA job
I would have considered," says Murphy.
Harvard went 4-6, 2-8 and 4-6 in its first three seasons under
Murphy. Still, with 17 starters back from a team that lost four
games by seven points or less in '96, he was excited about this
season--and, as it has turned out, rightly so.
In a battle of Ivy League unbeatens last Saturday, Harvard
sophomore wideout Terence Patterson, a converted option
quarterback, caught 11 passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns
and scored a third TD on a 62-yard reverse as the Crimson shut
out Dartmouth for the first time in 56 years, 24-0. The victory
gave Harvard a one-game lead over the Big Green, which had its
15-game conference winning streak snapped, and Penn.
"There were times when the guys couldn't see the light at the
end of the tunnel, but I tried to impress upon them that I've
been through this three times now, and I could see it," says
Murphy, whose team could win its first Ivy title since '87.
"Beating Dartmouth is obviously a benchmark, and it's something
we have to build on." --B.J. SCHECTER
PATIENCE ISN'T ALWAYS A VIRTUE
With its 41-31 upset of Colorado last Saturday, Missouri (6-3)
qualified for a bowl for the first time since 1983. Eighty-eight
big-time schools have played in at least one postseason game
since Mizzou's last appearance, which was in the Holiday Bowl.
Here are the 13 teams that have waited longer than the Tigers to
earn a bowl berth.
School Season, Bowl How They're Doing
Cincinnati 1950, SUN Bearcats are 6-3 but unlikely to
get one of 40 bowl berths
North Texas 1959, SUN No chance for the 2-6 Eagles after
losing four straight
New Mexico 1960, SUN The 2-7 Aggies' only Division
State I-A victim: Arkansas State
New Mexico 1961, AVIATION The 7-2 Lobos have a shot at
Cotton, Holiday or Copper
Rice 1961, BLUEBONNET The 5-3 Owls may have to win the
WAC title to get a bid
Oregon State 1964, ROSE The improved 3-5 Beavers are at
least two years away
Ohio 1968, TANGERINE The 8-1 Bobcats have a shot at a
Motor City Bowl berth
Memphis 1971, PASADENA The 2-5 Tigers do play home games
in the Liberty Bowl
Kent 1972, TANGERINE This is the 3-6 Golden Flashes'
ninth-straight losing season
Iowa State 1978, HALL OF FAME The 1-7 Cyclones can hope: They play
Rutgers 1978, GARDEN STATE The 0-9 Scarlet Knights lost to Temple by
42; say no more
Temple 1979, GARDEN STATE The 3-6 Owls at least have won three Big
Vanderbilt 1982, HALL OF FAME The 3-5 Commodores have lost 18 straight
1. TENNESSEE Who's laughing now, Steve Spurrier? After Florida
lost to Georgia, the Citrus Bowl became the winter home of the
Gators, not of the Volunteers. Unless, of course, Florida slips
to the Outback Bowl.
2. ALLEN ROSSUM The Notre Dame cornerback stayed out of the
downfield scrum on Navy's game-ending Hail Mary pass last
Saturday and pushed Middies slotback Pat McGrew out-of-bounds
three feet short of a touchdown, preserving the Irish's 21-17
3. ROB THEIN The second-string Iowa fullback matched his
previous 1997 output by scoring three touchdowns--two receiving,
one rushing--in the Hawkeyes' 35-17 defeat of Purdue.
1. AUBURN'S GROUND GAME The Tigers finished with minus-three
yards rushing in a 20-0 loss to Mississippi State, the first
shutout they've suffered in five seasons under coach Terry Bowden.
2. STANFORD OFFENSE After committing eight turnovers while
opening the season with a 4-1 record, the Cardinal has had 14
over its last three games. You don't have to be a Stanford grad
to figure out why the Cardinal, which lost 27-7 to UCLA, is 4-4.
3. ROCKY MOUNTAIN CONFERENCE Their Oct. 25 game postponed by a
blizzard, Colorado Mines and Western State had to play a makeup
game on Election Day, sandwiched between games last Saturday and
this Saturday. --I.M.
MICHIGAN (8-0) AT PENN STATE (7-0)
Although still undefeated, the Nittany Lions look more
vulnerable each week. Wolverines cornerback Charles Woodson
should blanket Penn State wide receiver Joe Jurevicius;
Michigan's top-rated defense should do the same to tailback
Curtis Enis; and the Wolverines should pull a sheet over Penn
State's Rose Bowl hopes.
FLORIDA STATE (8-0) AT NORTH CAROLINA (8-0)
The winner has our permission to think about the Orange Bowl and
a possible national title game. Emerging Seminoles freshmen
tailbacks Travis Minor (61 carries, 376 yards) and Davey Ford
(54, 278) will take enough heat off QB Thad Busby to allow the
ACC status to remain quo.
LSU (6-2) AT ALABAMA (4-4)
The Crimson Tide has lost four of its last six games yet still
has a shot at repeating as the SEC West champion. Who says
American standards of excellence haven't been lowered? Louisiana
State doesn't throw the ball as well as Kentucky or Louisiana
Tech, both of whom beat Alabama, so the Tide can't be counted
out. Then again, Tigers tailback Kevin Faulk is up to speed--212
yards and five touchdowns against the Wildcats last Saturday--so
'Bama's chance is a slim one.
FRESNO STATE (5-4) AT COLORADO STATE (7-2)
The Bulldogs finished next-to-last in the nation in turnover
margin last season, at minus-20. This year Fresno State has
improved to plus-13, fourth best in the country and a big reason
that the Bulldogs are tied with the Rams for the WAC's Pacific
Division lead. Trouble is, Colorado State's Moses Moreno is the
league's best quarterback, and he doesn't make mistakes.
SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI (6-2) AT TENNESSEE (6-1)
After respectable losses to Florida and Alabama, the Golden
Eagles would love to make their mark against the SEC by
upsetting the Volunteers. But freshman Jamal Lewis proved he can
carry the Tennessee offense by rushing for 205 yards against
South Carolina. With Peyton Manning merely the second option for
the Volunteers, Southern Miss is likely to come up short again.
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