Stemming The Tide
UCLA's defense figured out how to stop Alabama and got the
Bruins a rare road win
You couldn't have blamed UCLA fans on Sunday morning if they had
trekked to Malibu to watch the sun rise over the Pacific. Their
Bruins won on the road the night before, and they won with
defense, two highly unlikely events in recent times. With the
20-17 win at Alabama, UCLA gave notice that after two mediocre
seasons it is ready to contend for the Pac-10 title again.
The victory was a testament to the benefits of experience. The
Bruins started 10 seniors, including five on defense, on which
cool heads were essential. UCLA could only guess how to prepare
for the offense installed by new Alabama coach Dennis
Franchione, and it devoted at least half its preparation to
solving the option Franchione used to devastating effect at TCU
last season. "We've been bombarded with information," cornerback
Ricky Manning Jr. said three days before the game. "It's been
confusing. We have a meeting today about TCU's offense and
Alabama's offense from last year. There's no telling what
Alabama will throw at us."
In fact, UCLA didn't know how little it knew. Last winter
Franchione took his staff to Clemson to study the Tigers'
offense and sent offensive coordinator Les Koenning Jr. to study
Northwestern's. Before last Saturday's game Franchione estimated
that 40% of Alabama's offense would be new. "We will have a
touch of option, but you won't walk away thinking we're an
option team," Franchione said. "UCLA will see a lot of things
it's never seen from us. We'll use a lot more shotgun."
September 9, 2001
Franchione hoped the shotgun would protect junior quarterback
Tyler Watts from mistakes by the two freshmen--Wesley Britt and
Justin Smiley--starting on the offensive line. The Bruins
struggled early against the amalgam of the option and the
shotgun, leaving wide receiver Antonio Carter uncovered for a
78-yard touchdown pass that staked the Tide to a 7-0 lead.
Bruins defensive coordinator Phil Snow adjusted by putting a
fifth man on the line, and Alabama didn't score another
touchdown until 2:13 remained.
Franchione, hailed in the preseason by Alabama players for the
discipline he instilled, watched his team commit a school-record
15 penalties (for 93 yards). Trailing 20-10 early in the fourth
quarter and needing two feet for a first down inside the UCLA
two-yard line, the Tide put three backs in the backfield and
Watts under center. In the sodden air of Bryant-Denny Stadium,
the formation looked like the ghost of the wishbone with which
Bear Bryant won 103 games and two national titles in the 1970s.
Watts took the snap, and the option flowed to the left. So, too,
did UCLA linebacker Brandon Chillar, strong safety Jason Stephens
and Manning, the latter shoving tailback Ahmaad Galloway
out-of-bounds inches short of the first down. Rarely has a
defense that allowed 458 yards been so effective. Of course, a
few of those penalties, plus two turnovers, helped.
UCLA won only its second road game in its last 12 attempts. The
Bruins had no penalties and no turnovers, remarkable on any
Saturday and unheard of in an opener. "We're a veteran team,"
said UCLA coach Bob Toledo afterward. "There's no nonsense."
Upstart Fresno State
There's Bite in Those Bulldogs
With his lineman's build and curling Fu Manchu, Fresno State
coach Pat Hill looks like a bouncer, which is fitting given how
his Bulldogs are tossing one big-name school after another on its
ear. After winning 24-22 at Colorado on Aug. 26, Fresno State
pounded Oregon State 44-24 in front of a record home crowd on
Sunday night. If the Bulldogs win at Wisconsin this Saturday and
at Colorado State on Oct. 13, Hill believes that his team can
make a run at the Rose Bowl, site of this season's national
The Bulldogs are part of the Western Athletic Conference, whose
champion is guaranteed a berth in one of the four BCS bowls only
if it finishes among the top six in the final BCS ranking.
That's why Hill front-loaded his schedule with name schools,
figuring he could give his team a boost in the
strength-of-schedule component used in the formula to determine
the BCS ranking. "Is there room for a Gonzaga of college
football?" he asks, referring to the West Coast Conference
basketball team that has reached the Sweet 16 three years
running. "Nobody wants to give the mid-majors a chance. If we
can win with our schedule, we should be considered a
major-college team trying for the same trophy everybody else is."
The 10th-ranked Beavers, who were SI's preseason No. 1, couldn't
stop senior quarterback David Carr, who completed 21 of 34
passes for 340 yards and four touchdowns. With Carr running a
pro set, multiple offense, Fresno State hasn't turned the ball
over this year. "He managed the game very well," Oregon State
coach Dennis Erickson said. "He threw the ball away when he had
to, and he made big plays." The Bulldogs defense did its part
too, sacking Beavers quarterback Jonathan Smith five times and
holding Heisman candidate Ken Simonton to 42 yards rushing.
Hill wants his players to dream big. Before the season, he told
them, "The table is set, not with paper plates, but with silver
and china. If you keep winning, guys, [the BCS] won't deny you."
Brandon Lloyd's Comeback
Illini Go Right to The Go-To Guy
Illinois coach Ron Turner scripts the first few offensive plays
of each game, and in last Saturday's opener at California he
wanted sophomore wide receiver Brandon Lloyd to feel comfortable
as soon as possible. Lloyd, who caught 30 passes for 511 yards
and two touchdowns as a freshman in 1999, was returning from a
broken left leg that he suffered last summer when he took a
misstep off a curb shortly before preseason practice. Instead of
being quarterback Kurt Kittner's go-to receiver for a Big Ten
contender in 2000, Lloyd missed the entire season, and the
Illini finished 2-6 in the conference, 5-6 overall.
Lloyd made a full recovery and looked good in the spring and in
preseason workouts. All Turner asked of Lloyd on his first play
against Cal was to run an out pattern from a formation that would
force a linebacker to cover him. "I ran it over and over in my
head last night," Lloyd said after the game. "I tried to imagine
every situation that could happen: dropping it, breaking it
downfield, having it intercepted."
Lloyd caught the short pass from Kittner in front of linebacker
Scott Fujita for a seven-yard gain. "It turned out to be a real
icebreaker for me," Lloyd said. On the next play he caught a
textbook fade for 28 yards. In the second quarter he hauled in a
49-yard touchdown pass. Lloyd finished with eight receptions for
178 yards and two touchdowns in the Illini's 44-17 victory.
Lloyd couldn't understand why the Bears focused on stopping the
Illini's running attack. "I thought they'd know about our passing
game," he said. "We have a Heisman candidate at quarterback. They
Toledo Strikes Again
Another Big MAC Attack
Minnesota learned last Thursday night what Penn State discovered
a year ago--being from the mighty Big Ten counts for nothing in
Toledo's eyes. The Rockets, snubbed by the bowls despite going
10-1 last season, stunned the Golden Gophers 38-7 in one of two
big victories for Mid-American Conference schools last week. In
the other, Bowling Green won 20-13 at Missouri, spoiling the
debut of Tigers coach Gary Pinkel, who was the coach last fall at
Though three MAC teams defeated Big Ten teams in 11 tries a year
ago, including the Rockets' 24-6 win over the Nittany Lions, none
of those victories was as lopsided as Toledo's domination of
Minnesota before a Glass Bowl-record crowd of 34,950--exceeding by
more than 8,000 the official capacity of the Rockets' stadium.
Toledo scored on its first drive and led 17-0 after the first
quarter and 31-0 at the half.
The rout vindicated the risky decision by new Rockets coach Tom
Amstutz to switch to a spread attack despite the return of eight
starters from the power rushing offense of a year ago, including
senior tailback Chester Taylor, first team All-MAC in 1999 and
2000. "I thought about the offenses that keep me awake at
night," says Amstutz, who spent 17 years as a defensive
assistant at Toledo, the last seven as coordinator. "The offense
I dread the most is the spread."
When the Gophers spread their defense in response to the new
formation, the Rockets, who had 512 yards of total offense,
wound up running the ball as often as they did last year. Taylor
rushed 18 times for 186 yards and three touchdowns and caught
five passes for 27 yards and a fourth score.
It was a day Amstutz will never forget. "It was my 46th
birthday, I sold my old house at 9 a.m. and had my first night
as head coach," he says. "A perfect dream."
For complete scores, schedules and stats, plus Ivan Maisel's
exclusive weekly Heisman Watch, go to cnnsi.com/football/college.
YA GOTTA LOVE THIS GUY
After Clemson sophomore defensive lineman Nick Eason tied for the
team lead in sacks last year, with seven, he tore his right
Achilles tendon in December during a practice for the Gator Bowl.
He pursued his rehab so aggressively that he started and made
four tackles in the season opener last Saturday against Central
Florida, albeit at a new position--tackle instead of end. But it's
off the field where Eason really shines. He is the first Clemson
athlete in any sport to receive the ACC Top Six Award for
community service three years in a row, in recognition of his
talks and reading sessions with grammar school children.
Moreover, he graduated on Aug. 11, needing only three years to do
so, another first for a Clemson football player. "He is what a
college player is supposed to be," says Tigers defensive
coordinator Reggie Herring.
An NFL scout assesses UNLV quarterback Jason Thomas, after the
junior completed 4 of 16 passes for 40 yards and threw three
interceptions in the Rebels' 14-10 loss to Arkansas last
"He's a big athlete who has a long way to go in terms of
grasping a total passing offense. I thought he would have a
stronger arm and be more accurate. He short-arms the ball,
releases it near his ear. There are running quarterbacks and
there are pocket passers. In the NFL, at some point, you have to
win from the pocket. He should stay in school and learn how to
"Seven days, 23 hours, 35 minutes.... We're going to be doing
A comment by Kentucky coach Guy Morriss that appeared in the
Louisville Courier-Journal and then was posted in Louisville's
locker room before last week's game between the Wildcats and the
Cardinals. Louisville, it turned out, did all the plucking,
HEAD TO HEAD
Kansas State wideout Aaron Lockett vs. USC cornerback Kris Richard
The 5'7", 165-pound Lockett gives up four inches and 25 pounds
to Richard, but the Wildcats senior is so quick that a defender
rarely gets close enough to body up on him. With 11 touchdown
receptions and an average of 18.1 yards per catch over the last
three seasons, Lockett is sure to be one of the main targets for
the new starting quarterback, sophomore Ell Roberson. The onus
to stop Lockett will probably be on Richard, a senior whose
effectiveness was diminished last fall after he dislocated his
right kneecap in the second game. In 12 games he made only 19
tackles and had no interceptions, compared with 44 tackles and
six interceptions as a sophomore. Judging by USC's 21-10 win
over San Jose State, Richard is at full speed. The Spartans
rarely threw in his direction.
1,000 Yards Or Bust
In this era of the spread offense, the emphasis on the running
game isn't what it used to be. Even Wisconsin, the Division I-A
team with the longest active streak of consecutive seasons with
a 1,000-yard rusher, is dabbling with the spread this year.
Here's our prognosis for the Badgers' streak--and those of the
next six schools on the list.
TEAM, YEARS BEST BACK
Wisconsin, 8 Ron Dayne (1996-99)
Good: Despite three new starters on the offensive line, scatback
Anthony Davis has rushed for 277 yards in two games. Playing 12
regular-season games, instead of 11, won't hurt Badgers' cause.
Iowa State, 6 Troy Davis (1995-96)
Good: Ennis Haywood, the top returning ground gainer in the Big
12 (1,237 yards last year), is the best back you might never
have heard of.
Texas, 6 Ricky Williams (1996-98)
Guarded: With Chris Simms at quarterback, defenses can't key on
the Longhorns' ground game. On the other hand, with talented
running backs Victor Ike, Ivan Williams and Cedric Benson
sharing the load, will any of them get enough carries to reach
Boston College, 3 William Green (2000)
Excellent: The Eagles' first four opponents (West Virginia,
Stanford, Navy and Army) didn't finish among the top 50 in
rushing defense last season. Green, who gained 1,164 yards in
2000, picked up 204 in the season opener against West Virginia.
Oregon State, 3 Ken Simonton (1998-2000)
Excellent: Simonton, a senior, started this streak and will
finish 4 for 4; he got off to a slow start with 42 yards at
Fresno State on Sunday night.
TCU, 3 LaDainian Tomlinson (1999-2000)
Guarded: Four new starters on the offensive line plus a new
tailback plus a new offensive coaching staff equals a streak
that's in jeopardy.
Virginia, 3 Antwoine Womack (2000)
Critical: Womack suffered a high-ankle sprain in the Cavaliers'
season-opening loss at Wisconsin and isn't expected back before