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Inside College Football

Oct. 30, 2000
Oct. 30, 2000

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Oct. 30, 2000

NBA Preview 2000-01

Inside College Football

Work in Progress
Virginia Tech's Michael Vick is often dazzling, but he's not
ready for the NFL

This is an article from the Oct. 30, 2000 issue Original Layout

Michael Vick may win the Heisman Trophy and he might lead
second-ranked Virginia Tech back to the national championship
game, but if there's one thing he has shown as a sophomore this
season, it's that he should return to Blacksburg for at least
his junior year. He's not ready for the NFL yet.

That was evident in the Hokies' 22-14 victory at Syracuse last
Saturday night, during which Vick was sacked eight times and
wound up with 84 yards of total offense, the lowest output of his
collegiate career. What's more, he netted that many yards only by
scoring an insurance touchdown on a 55-yard bootleg with 1:34 to
play. "We had him rattled," said Orangemen linebacker JR Johnson.
"We had him down. We heard Michael Vick this, Michael Vick that.
Michael Vick didn't do nothing."

Vick would benefit from playing more games before hostile crowds
like the one he faced at the Carrier Dome, which Syracuse
energized by taking a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. Virginia
Tech's other offensive players had difficulty hearing Vick's snap
count, quite a handicap against the Orangemen's speedy pass
rushers, especially junior end Dwight Freeney, who set a Big East
single-game record with 4 1/2 sacks. The Hokies' offensive
linemen, who call themselves the Secret Service, looked like a
bunch of overfed Barney Fifes. Given the lack of protection for
Vick, Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer abandoned the passing game
early in the second half.

Though Vick was pressured throughout the game and completed only
6 of 11 passes for 75 yards, at least he didn't turn over the
ball. In his previous three games combined, he had thrown three
interceptions and lost four fumbles. After a 48-34 win over
Boston College on Sept. 30, during which Vick was blitzed often
and completed just 5 of 17 passes, Hokies offensive coordinator
Rickey Bustle said, "Michael didn't handle himself very well. He
rushed himself. He didn't have his eyes in the right place."

On Saturday, Vick led Virginia Tech to a come-from-behind victory
mostly by not doing anything to lose. That is the kind of
maturity he needs to show more often. "It ain't about me," he
said after the game. "It's about this team and what we can do. We
went out there and got us a great win."

Last week Vick denied reports that he planned to turn pro after
this season and said that he would return to Blacksburg for his
junior year. Earlier this season Beamer had instructed the
school's sports information office to inform members of the media
that they're not allowed to ask Vick if he plans to turn pro.
That, as Beamer should know, is a sure way to get reporters to
ask the question.

Beamer also called Vick into his office earlier this month to
discuss the notion of leaving for the NFL early, and Beamer says
that Vick understands how inexperienced he is. "He's only played
18 college games," says Beamer. What's more, Bustle says he has
given Vick only 85% of the Virginia Tech offense.

Plenty of midseason pledges to remain in college have been
abandoned before the January deadline for underclassmen to
declare for the draft, but Vick would benefit from mastering the
entire Hokies offense before trying to learn the more complicated
schemes in the pros.

Colorado State's Can-do Guy
Injured Nelson Is Ram Tough

Over the last three weeks Colorado State sophomore Rhett Nelson,
a reserve cornerback and special teams standout, has used his
41-inch vertical leap to block two kicks in clutch situations and
to make a key interception for the 6-1 Rams. Unfortunately, he
has an Achilles' heel--or rather, a pair of weak shoulders--that
plague him in practice and in games.

Midway through last season Nelson's right shoulder started giving
him problems by sometimes popping out of its socket during hard
contact, but that didn't prevent him from contributing. He made
six tackles and returned an interception 41 yards in his first
start, a loss to Southern Mississippi in the Liberty Bowl. Four
months after surgery to repair that injury, he hurt the left
shoulder while attempting to make a tackle in the preseason. Now,
every time he extends his arms to make a tackle, Nelson fears
he'll hear that dread pop.

"The doctors tell me that some people just have loose tendons,"
says Nelson, who still has pain in his right shoulder and plans
to undergo surgery on his left during the off-season. "It's
frustrating. I'm trying to battle for a starting cornerback spot,
and I can't even do all the practice drills for fear of permanent
damage."

"He's doing tremendous things on special teams," says Colorado
State defensive coordinator Larry Kerr. "As a corner he's coming
on real strong, but because that job requires jamming receivers,
the shoulders hold him back a little."

Still, the Rams might not be leading the Mountain West Conference
without Nelson. On Oct. 7 he blocked a 41-yard field-goal attempt
late in the third quarter of a 17-14 win over New Mexico. The
next week he stuffed a game-tying extra-point attempt with 34
seconds to go in Colorado State's 20-19 defeat of UNLV. Last
Saturday against Utah, with the game tied 17-17 late in the
fourth quarter and Nelson on the field as part of a
third-and-long dime package, he returned his first interception
of the season 28 yards to the Utes' 42-yard line to set up the
game-winning touchdown.

While the blocked kicks have earned him a bag of Chips Ahoy! and
candy bars from special teams coach Brian Schneider, Nelson
hopes to earn a more satisfying reward: a starting job in the
secondary. "I've been injured a long time," he says. "I'd like
to see what I can do next season, after having a chance to
heal." --Kelley King

Oregon State's Edge
Beavers Tough To the Finish

When Dennis Erickson coached Miami from 1989 through '94, the
Hurricanes were known for their stamina, particularly at home.
The theory was that Miami was used to the humidity of South
Florida, and its opponents weren't. Now, in only his second
season at Oregon State, Erickson has built the Beavers to excel
late in games.

With four of its victories decided in the fourth quarter, Oregon
State stands 6-1 and 18th in the nation. The latest comeback
occurred last Saturday at the Rose Bowl, where the Beavers,
trailing UCLA 31-21, scored 23 points in nine minutes of the
fourth quarter and won 44-38. "They wore us down and beat us up,"
Bruins linebacker Marques Anderson said.

In Erickson's 19 games with the Beavers, only two teams have
outscored them in the fourth quarter: Stanford last season and
Washington this season. The main reason for Oregon State's
late-game dominance has been its ability to pound away at
defenses by running the ball.

When junior tailback Ken Simonton, the fourth-leading rusher in
the nation, aggravated a hamstring against UCLA in the third
quarter--after running for 100 yards on 24 carries--junior Patrick
McCall took over. McCall, who transferred from Michigan in 1998
after the Wolverines switched him from tailback to defensive
back, bolted 66 yards for a touchdown that put Oregon State ahead
44-31 with 1:52 to play. He ran straight through the end zone to
the bottom of the stands, prompting his mother, Patricia , to
leave her seat and run down to give him a hug.

With Oregon (6-1, 4-1) leading the Pac-10 and the Beavers a game
behind, the winner of the Civil War, as the annual intrastate
showdown is called, will earn bragging rights and possibly a trip
to the Rose Bowl. The 35,362 tickets to the Nov. 18 game at Reser
Stadium in Corvallis may be the toughest this side of the Subway
Series.

Tennessee's New Starter
Casey Gets His Turn at Bat

The talk at Tennessee all summer was that freshman Casey Clausen
would win the three-man battle to succeed Tee Martin at
quarterback. But Clausen threw so much before two-a-days that he
developed tendinitis in his right shoulder and fell to third on
the depth chart, behind sophomore Joey Mathews, who started the
opener, and redshirt freshman A.J. Suggs, who was first string
the next four games. Last Saturday, Clausen, who had played in
parts of three games, made his first start a memorable one,
completing 17 of 24 passes for 213 yards, two touchdowns and no
interceptions in a 20-10 defeat of Alabama. The victory was
Tennessee's first in the SEC this season in four tries.

The 6'4", 210-pound Clausen completed throws with Tide defenders
hanging on him and even after being hit by them. He also gave the
Vols something they'd lacked: a deep passing game. On Tennessee's
first play from scrimmage he completed a 44-yard pass to wideout
Donte Stallworth. In the third quarter he threw a 38-yard fade to
wideout David Martin to set up the Volunteers' second touchdown.

Clausen displayed the poise of an upperclassman, with the notable
exception of his yakking back at the Alabama defense, which TV
cameras showed him doing several times. Though Clausen often used
every bit of the 25-second clock, he had no delay penalties.
Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer, his Vols 3-3 overall, said,
"Casey offered us some pizzazz. I could have kissed him."

There's one more threat that Clausen evaded.

For complete scores, schedules and stats, plus more news from
Ivan Maisel and B.J. Schecter, go to cnnsi.com/football/college.

COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER Syracuse sacked Vick eight times and held him to a career-low 84 yards.COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Wideout Chad Johnson and the Beavers withstood all that UCLA dished out.

Fast Forward

--Nebraska (7-0) at Oklahoma (6-0)
This game could come down to whether the Huskers can defend
against the pass better than the Sooners can stop the run.
Blitzing Oklahoma quarterback Josh Heupel isn't a wise move. He's
in the shotgun and picks apart defenses with his quick reads. The
Sooners are giving up just 101.7 rushing yards per game, but they
haven't faced an offense like the Huskers', which leads the
nation with an average of 379.7 rushing yards. Give the
Cornhuskers the edge. They have been in more big games.

--Florida (6-1) vs. Georgia (6-1) in Jacksonville
After a three-game stretch during which they allowed 101 points,
the Gators yielded a total of 16 points in wins over LSU and
Auburn. The turnaround dates to when coach Steve Spurrier
challenged his players with the lyrics to a Lee Ann Womack song:
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance/I hope you
dance. In a game known as the world's largest outdoor cocktail
party, the Gators will dance.

--Ohio State (6-1) at Purdue (6-2)
The Boilermakers have momentum after beating Northwestern two
weeks ago and Wisconsin last Saturday. The Buckeyes lost their
steam after being upset by Minnesota on Oct. 14. For one more
week, at least, Purdue quarterback Drew Brees will continue his
drive to the Rose Bowl and the Heisman Trophy.

Ya Gotta Love This Guy

After 3 1/2 seasons at Nebraska, senior free safety Troy Watchorn
finally got his first start, on Oct. 14 against Texas Tech. It
didn't take long for Watchorn, a 200-pound former walk-on who had
previously been used primarily on special teams, to have another
reason to cherish that day. In the first quarter, he intercepted
a pass for the fourth consecutive game to set a school record.
While Watchorn's streak ended last Saturday in a 59-0 rout of
Baylor, his four interceptions put him in a tie for second in the
Big 12.

With the Cornhuskers beginning their stretch drive for the
national title this week at No. 3 Oklahoma, Watchorn has a
greater incentive than the rest of the senior class to win a
national championship. He didn't get a ring when the 1997 Huskers
were co-national champions, because he quit the team following
the death of his father, Keith.

extra points

After a 1-4 start, Penn State coach Joe Paterno has opened up his
offense, by giving quarterback Rashard Casey more freedom to move
out of the pocket and allowing him to spread the ball around
more. Casey accounted for 302 yards--208 of them passing--and three
touchdowns in the Nittany Lions' 39-25 rout of Illinois last
Saturday. "What the coaches have done is let Rashard move around
a little," says tight end Tony Stewart. "That has given him
confidence and given the offensive line confidence. It has
allowed him to make these big plays, and that gets everyone
pumped up." Penn State (3-5, 2-2 in the Big Ten) has won two of
its last three games and still has an outside shot at the
conference championship....

The charter plane carrying Arizona State home from its 23-20
overtime defeat of Washington State was struck by lightning
twice as it neared Phoenix. Although most interior lights went
out, the jet landed without difficulty. When the lightning first
hit, the onboard power outage blacked out the inflight movie,
Gone in 60 Seconds....

Texas sophomore quarterback Chris Simms, who has split time with
junior Major Applewhite this season, said last week that he may
ask to be redshirted next season, which would allow Applewhite
to play full time as a senior. What Simms didn't say is that he
could use the extra time to work on reading defenses....

When it coughed up a 17-0 lead and lost to No. 5 Clemson, North
Carolina dropped to 0-32-1 against opponents ranked among the
Top 5. The Tar Heels are the lone ACC team never to have beaten
a team rated that high....

Not only did Indiana junior quarterback Antwaan Randle El become
only the third quarterback ever to rush for 200 yards and pass
for 250 in the same game (finishing with 210 and 263,
respectively), he also recovered an onside kick with less than
two minutes remaining to seal the Hoosiers' 51-43 upset of No.
22 Minnesota.