Out of the Woods
Oregon's teams moved atop the Pac-10 with victories over
Washington and USC
Saul Patu heard it through the grapevine. The word around
Seattle 4 1/2 years ago was that Washington hadn't recruited
Patu out of Rainier Beach High because the Huskies thought he
lacked discipline. (That rep may have stemmed from the fact
that, during the summer before his sophomore year, Patu bailed
out of a weeklong football camp on the Washington campus after
three days.) Patu, now a 265-pound senior defensive end at
Oregon, smiles as he passes on this hearsay, and not just
because he watches as much tape and pumps as much iron as any of
his teammates. He spoke after the Ducks' 23-16 win over the
Huskies last Saturday in Eugene, a victory in which he
spearheaded a defense that relied on strict execution of its
assignments to shut down Washington's option attack. Half of
Patu's six tackles were for losses as 20th-ranked Oregon
improved to 4-1 (2-0 in the Pac-10) by knocking off its second
No. 6-ranked opponent in two weeks. (UCLA was the other victim.)
But that was only half the reason that Sept. 30 was one of the
best college football afternoons ever in the Beaver State.
Thirty-seven miles north in Corvallis, unranked Oregon State
upended No. 8 Southern Cal 31-21. The Beavers, now 4-0, beat USC
for the first time since 1967 on the strength of 234 rushing
yards and three touchdowns by junior running back Ken Simonton
and a stout defense, which held the Trojans to 63 yards on the
ground. Oregon State coach Dennis Erickson was beside himself
with joy, declaring the victory "right up there" with any of his
other career wins, including two national championships at Miami.
Oregon was more subdued in victory. "Give us a B, I guess," said
quarterback Joey Harrington, after the Ducks won their 18th
straight at home. "We've got a lot of things to work on." To wit:
Oregon kicker Josh Frankel showed up on Saturday with a severe
Duck hook, blowing three makable field goals and an extra point.
Poor Keenan Howry had three punt returns totaling 128 yards
called back on penalties. As it was, the Ducks led 23-3 in the
fourth quarter before Washington quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo
put together two scoring drives to make things interesting.
"What does this win mean?" said Harrington, parroting a
reporter's question. "It means we have a game against USC in two
weeks. [Oregon is idle this Saturday.]" Forgive the Ducks if the
novelty of beating the Huskies has worn off: Oregon has won five
of the last seven meetings.
The glorified divot with bleachers that is Autzen Stadium more
than lived up to its reputation as a hellish place to visit.
Before the game one parking lot attendant was overheard
instructing another, "If they have Washington plates, park 'em in
the mud." The Huskies suffered from extremely poor field position
inside the stadium as well. Their average starting point was
their own 16-yard line.
The game goes in the book as an upset, but even Washington coach
Rick Neuheisel said that "the better team won." Making the Ducks'
start so remarkable is the fact that they had fewer starters
returning this season (nine) than any other team in the
conference. The closest Oregon comes to having a star is running
back Maurice Morris, a junior college transfer from Fresno City
College who pounded out 167 yards on 31 carries against
Washington, a week after having gashed UCLA for 139 on 37
attempts. Morris is from Chester, S.C., but has been spared the
pangs of missing his family in Eugene, where he has been joined
by eight of his 14 siblings, plus his parents and grandmother.
While Morris sat on the floor of the interview room after the
defeat of Washington, counting off his kin on the fingers of both
hands, Patu stood in the center of the room, natty in a leather
jacket and bowler. Up close he looked like Oddjob. From a
distance, he called to mind one of the many derby-wearing
characters that populate the paintings of Rene Magritte, the
Belgian master of the surreal.
What's surreal? Here's one definition: Oregon at Oregon State on
Nov. 18, with the Pac-10 title on the line. --Austin Murphy
Youth a Reason For Parity
The rash of upsets last Saturday, when seven members of the Top
25 lost to lower-ranked or unranked teams, emphasized the
volatility of the first five weeks of this season, during which
20 such surprises have occurred. Aside from a bunch of torn-down
goal posts, last week's upsets shared these characteristics:
inexperienced players in the starting lineups of the losing team
and the proliferation of the spread offense.
Recruiting promises, star players leaving for the pros early and
increased injuries have forced coaches to cut back on the
redshirting of freshmen and, instead, thrust many newcomers into
the starting lineups. It's no coincidence that five of the seven
upset victims lost on the road, where the noise can unnerve the
uninitiated. Florida's defense, which features five freshmen and
sophomores, surrendered 517 yards in a 47-35 defeat at
Mississippi State. Inexperience can be especially costly at
quarterback, as Miami, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Tennessee and
USC have already found out.
For example, the Volunteers, who had nine players taken in the
NFL draft last April, start more freshmen (three) than seniors
(two) on offense. Though freshman quarterback A.J. Suggs
generally has been poised, his inability to manage the clock at
the end of the first half cost Tennessee in both its losses. In a
27-23 defeat to Florida on Sept. 16, the Vols had the ball at the
Gators' 19 with two timeouts and 1:10 remaining in the first
half. Suggs ran only four plays before Alex Walls kicked a
19-yard field goal as time ran out. Just before halftime in last
Saturday's 38-31 overtime loss at LSU, Suggs drove Tennessee to
the Tigers' 16 but allowed the clock to run out without getting
off a field goal attempt.
As for the spread offense, Clemson, North Carolina State,
Oklahoma and Oregon State, all undefeated, have demonstrated that
the four-wideout set can make up for a lot of shortcomings. "If
you take a job [coaching at a school with a losing program] and
recruit speed on the outside, you can become competitive faster,"
says ESPN commentator Mike Gottfried, a former coach at
The spread may be here to stay, but many inexperienced teams
should come back strong next year. Baltimore Ravens scout Phil
Savage watched a recent Tennessee practice and came away
impressed. "People better get the Vols now," he says. "Next year
they're going to be something."
The Wildcats' Edge
Northwestern Smells Roses
When Northwestern junior quarterback Zak Kustok, a Notre Dame
transfer, said before the season that he believed the Wildcats
could win the Big Ten, no one paid attention. The conference is
all ears now. Northwestern's smashing 37-17 victory at Michigan
State last Saturday, on the heels of an upset at Wisconsin the
week before, reestablished the Wildcats as a Big Ten contender
for the first time since they shared the league championship in
1996. With six games left, Northwestern is in the driver's seat
to go to the Rose Bowl.
Consider: Northwestern (4-1, 2-0) has only two more conference
games on the road--at Minnesota (3-2, 1-1) on Oct. 28, for which
the Wildcats have two weeks to prepare, and at Iowa (0-5) on Nov.
11. As for the two other Big Ten teams that are unbeaten in
league play, Michigan (4-1, 2-0) must play at Northwestern and at
Ohio State (4-0, 1-0), and the Buckeyes must travel to Purdue and
Illinois, both of which have sustained upset losses but are far
stronger than either of the Wildcats' road opponents. The best
omen of all: Just as in 1995, when then coach Gary Barnett
fulfilled his promise to take Northwestern to Pasadena, the
Wildcats and the Buckeyes don't play each other this year.
Texas A&M's Grand Plan
Aggies Blitz By Red Raiders
Last year Oklahoma offensive coordinator Mike Leach watched his
quarterback, Josh Heupel, throw for 372 yards and three
touchdowns in the Sooners' 51-6 rout of Texas A&M. Now the coach
at Texas Tech and running the same spread offense that the
Sooners use, Leach hoped to have similar success against the
Aggies' young secondary last Saturday. But Texas A&M coach R.C.
Slocum devised a scheme to take pressure off his defensive backs
by taking advantage of the Aggies' experienced front seven.
"We have to be careful what we ask the secondary to do," Slocum
said before the game. "We can't play a bunch of different
coverages. We'll have to put a man on every receiver and blitz
the rest of our guys. Let's play man and put pressure on the
quarterback, and maybe he'll pick out the wrong guy."
Slocum had the right idea. The Aggies sacked Texas Tech
quarterback Kliff Kingsbury four times and intercepted him twice
in a 33-15 victory.
For complete scores, schedules and stats, plus more news from
Ivan Maisel and B.J. Schecter, go to cnnsi.com/football/college.
--Florida State (5-0) at Miami (3-1)
Hurricanes coach Butch Davis is 0 for 5 against the Seminoles,
with none of the losses by fewer than 10 points. Florida State
coach Bobby Bowden is wondering aloud if this might be his best
defense ever. It may well be, as Miami sophomore quarterback Ken
Dorsey will discover.
--Auburn (5-0) at Mississippi State (3-1)
The Bulldogs haven't won four consecutive games in this rivalry
since they held the Tigers scoreless from 1945 through '48.
They'll go for four in a row again on Saturday. Though Scott
Field is small, the fans there are loud. Auburn has played only
one road game and has 18 freshmen on its two-deep. The young
Tigers won't find playing in front of a hostile crowd to their
--Nebraska (4-0) at Iowa State (4-0)
The Huskers have attained that exalted status in which last
Saturday's 18-point victory over Missouri was greeted by the
question, "What's wrong?" Expect similar questions after Nebraska
plays Iowa State, a veteran team that won't beat itself. The
Cyclones have had only five turnovers in four games. The Huskers
will have to sweat into the final period before putting this one
--North Carolina State (4-0) at Clemson (5-0)
Freshman quarterback Phillip Rivers has averaged 332.8 passing
yards and led the Wolfpack to fourth-quarter comebacks in three
of its four games. His magic will run out against the Tigers, who
lead the nation in total defense.
Ya Gotta Love This Guy
North Carolina senior tight end Alge Crumpler caught his first
touchdown pass in three years last Saturday--a 59-yarder from
quarterback Ronald Curry--and had one other catch for 11 yards
in the Tar Heels' 42-28 loss to Georgia Tech. After missing the
1998 season with a torn left ACL, Crumpler made 20 receptions
last year and has eight this season, but catching the ball isn't
what makes him an integral part of the North Carolina offense.
The 6'3", 255-pound Crumpler is an outstanding blocker, and NFL
scouts love his athleticism and bloodlines. Alge's father,
Carlester, was a standout running back at East Carolina and was
drafted by the Buffalo Bills in 1974, and Alge's brother
Carlester Jr. spent seven years in the NFL. Some scouts think
that Alge may be the first tight end taken in next April's
draft. A strong showing at the scouting combine will help,
because he doesn't have many catches the NFL can study on tape.
At least one Maryland player could claim success against Florida
State. Senior tailback LaMont Jordan raced 74 yards for a
touchdown--the longest run against the Seminoles in four
years--for the Terps' lone highlight in a 59-7 loss. Jordan has
a history of success against Florida State: As a freshman in
1997 he went 44 yards for a touchdown, and last season he ran
for 169 yards in a game at Tallahassee, the biggest rushing day
the Seminoles have allowed in five years....
Ole Miss junior linebacker Eddie Strong, a preseason All-SEC
selection who broke a bone in his left foot in August, has been
told by doctors that he might be able to return for the last two
games of the season. Most players would sit out to save the year
of eligibility, but the 245-pound Strong is considering playing
this season, if doctors clear him to do so. He was a starter for
two years, and had he been healthy, most people at Mississippi
thought he would leave for the NFL after this season. One thing
is certain: The Rebels miss him. They are eighth in the SEC in
rushing defense (127.5 yards per game), even though they've
played Tulane and Kentucky, two teams that throw on almost every
After Purdue's stunning 22-20 loss to struggling Penn State,
Drew Brees, the Boilermakers' senior quarterback, pointed a
finger at the special teams. Travis Dorsch was unable to get off
two punts in the third quarter and missed a potential go-ahead
field goal with 2:27 remaining. "I'm not going to sit here and
harp on the special teams all day long," Brees said. "Everyone
in this room knows that it has to get cleared up before we can
compete." Senior wideout Vinny Sutherland fired another warning
at his teammates, saying that if 3-2 Purdue doesn't beat 4-1
Michigan on Saturday, "there are going to be some chins on