North Carolina's rout of Florida State revealed the Seminoles'
Last Friday night Florida State coach Bobby Bowden tried to
explain to his sixth-ranked Seminoles that they could lose to 0-3
North Carolina the next day. The wisdom of his 408 games as a
head coach, however, was no match for the cockiness and
skepticism that he sensed in the team's hotel meeting room.
Twenty-four hours later the players got the message--too late.
"This [North Carolina] team had fumbled the ball," Bowden said on
Sunday, a day after the Tar Heels humiliated the Seminoles 41-9.
"This team had thrown interceptions. This team had missed
tackles. We were a young team that fell into a trap. I warned the
kids about it. What happens if [the Tar Heels] quit turning the
ball over? Sometimes, that goes unheard."
North Carolina, playing its first home game under new coach John
Bunting, threw two interceptions and still won going away, thanks
mostly to Florida State's five turnovers and 14 penalties. The
Tar Heels exposed the Seminoles' lack of experience, depth and,
surprisingly, leadership--all of which led to the worst loss a
Bowden-coached team had suffered in 13 years.
Florida State freshman quarterback Chris Rix completed only 8 of
21 passes, threw one interception and lost two fumbles. Trailing
17-9 midway through the third quarter, Rix threw an 85-yard
touchdown pass to Javon Walker that was called back because
junior tackle Brett Williams had held defensive end Julius
Peppers. The loss of the touchdown so unnerved Rix that he didn't
get the next play off in time, incurring yet another penalty.
With the score 20-9 in the fourth quarter, the rest of the
Seminoles lost their composure. On each of North Carolina's three
touchdown drives in the final period, Florida State committed a
personal foul. Bowden expressed concern that his veterans allowed
the younger players to panic.
After three straight years in which they made trips to the
national championship game, how could the Seminoles slip so
badly? They're so thin at wide receiver and inexperienced at
quarterback that Bowden uses his trademark shotgun offense only
in limited doses. On Saturday, Florida State ran the ball 37
times and passed only 25 times. Injuries have weakened the
defensive line, especially after senior end Eric Powell was lost
for the season after being shot in the back when two men tried to
rob him in Orlando on Sept. 16.
Despite the lopsidedness of the defeat, Bowden said he doesn't
feel as bad about this loss as he did after falling 24-7 to North
Carolina State in 1998, when Chris Weinke threw six interceptions
in his first road game, or as bad as when Florida State started
0-2 in '89. Those teams had veterans who should have known better
than to become overconfident.
This year's Seminoles need experience, and they got a bitter dose
of it on Saturday. "Are we ready to work?" Williams asked after
the loss. "We've got the talent. It's a matter of whether these
guys are angry enough to kick it into gear the rest of the year."
Penn State's Decline
No Joy in Happy Valley
It's the late winter of Joe Paterno's coaching career, and what a
cold time it has become. Following an 18-6 home loss to
Wisconsin, the Nittany Lions are 0-2 for the second consecutive
season. Their offense has produced a total of 454 yards and
scored two touchdowns. The defense has been nothing short of
terrible. Miami torched Penn State for 344 yards through the air
in a 33-7 rout on Sept. 1; Wisconsin racked up 320 rushing yards
and held the ball for 41:53. "Confidence has a shelf life and has
to be replenished," Nittany Lions defensive coordinator Tom
Bradley says, "and there's no question that our confidence has
In November 1999 Penn State was 9-0 and ranked No. 2 in the
nation. Since then, including three straight defeats to end the
'99 regular season, the Nittany Lions are 6-12. Linebacker U has
two former walk-ons starting at that signature position. Penn
State, which has had nine first- or second-team All-Big Ten
offensive linemen since entering the conference in '93, gave up
4 1/2 sacks to Wisconsin defensive tackle Wendell Bryant.
A lack of talent is at the core of the Nittany Lions' decline.
Penn State's recruiting classes year after year ranked among the
top 10 in the country, but its last two classes were rated 30th
and 21st, respectively, by SuperPrep. According to that
recruiting magazine, three of Pennsylvania's top six prospects
last February signed with Michigan, which had gotten only two
players from the state in the previous four years. To make
matters worse, the nation's top recruit last year, running back
Kevin Jones of Philadelphia's Cardinal O'Hara High, picked
Virginia Tech over Penn State, switching a Nittany Lions jersey
for a Hokies hat at his press conference. "[Paterno] kept saying
to me, 'How in the world does a kid from Pennsylvania choose
Virginia Tech?'" said Jones. "It wasn't easy, because he's such a
legend. He wrote me a three-page letter that I still keep, but I
felt more comfortable at Tech. I felt like I could talk to all of
the coaches, not just one or two."
"You get [from other schools' recruiters], 'He's not going to
last more than a couple of years,'" Mark Farris, a 6'6",
285-pound senior at Pittsburgh's North Hills High and
Pennsylvania's most hotly recruited lineman, told USA Today.
"It's in the back of your mind...but it's not the major thing
that sways your choice." Farris is considering Pittsburgh and
Florida as well as Penn State.
Paterno is so respected that opposing coaches and NFL executives
try to make excuses for the Nittany Lions' drop in talent even as
they point it out. "They haven't had a quarterback who's going to
play in the NFL since Kerry Collins left [in 1994]," says Colts
president Bill Polian. "You know what the problem is? The
standard Joe has set is the national championship. Penn State had
first-round draft choices for 30 years. If you decline slightly,
people say, 'What's wrong?'"
Much of the credit for the Nittany Lions' long line of
extraordinary linebackers, not to mention their many years of
stalwart defenses, went to defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky,
who retired in 1999 after 32 years in State College. "Most people
don't realize how much Jerry meant," says former linebacker
Brandon Short, a starter for the Giants. "He was just as much a
part of Penn State as Joe Paterno is."
According to another former Nittany Lion, James Boyd, who is a
rookie safety with the Jaguars, "When Jerry was there, [Paterno]
would only come by and look at the defense in practice, but once
the coordinator changed, he started working more with the
defense. He felt he needed to be more hands-on because of the new
coaches." Boyd suggests the players' effort, not their talent, is
what's in decline. "The problem is that some guys pick their
spots instead of playing hard every play," he says.
One coach seems to think something is seriously wrong with Penn
State. "Once again, we played like scared rabbits," Paterno said
after the Wisconsin loss. "We have to find some guys who are
poised and aren't afraid to make plays. We're playing awfully
right now. We've got to get better in every area."
At the beginning of last season Paterno, who gives no indication
that he intends to retire any time soon and, of course, will
never be asked to leave Penn State, had won 317 games, six short
of Bear Bryant's career record for Division I-A coaching
victories. Paterno still needs one win to tie Bryant. Because the
Nittany Lions' next four games are at Iowa, Michigan, at
Northwestern and Ohio State, the possibility of an 0-6 start
looms. Whenever Paterno breaks the record, the celebration will
likely be muted.
South Carolina's Secret
Old-fashioned, But It Works
Referring to the aesthetic quality of South Carolina's 16-14
victory at Mississippi State last Thursday, Gamecocks coach Lou
Holtz said, "You sure don't get to the beauty pageant with her."
Not this year, perhaps, but maybe in 1955. South Carolina is so
retro in its game plan that its cheerleaders ought to be wearing
poodle skirts. Against the Bulldogs, South Carolina got ahead
early, played mistake-free football, bled the clock dry and went
home with a victory.
If the Gamecocks defeat Alabama (2-1) this Saturday, they'll have
a good chance of going to Tennessee on Oct. 27 with a 7-0 record.
It's hard to believe that South Carolina went 0-11 two years ago.
"We were the laughingstock of the country," says defensive
coordinator Charlie Strong. "My coaching friends would call me
and say, 'Strong, y'all set football back 100 years.' We played
pretty good defense that year. We had something to build on."
The cornerstones then were cornerback Sheldon Brown and
linebacker Kalimba Edwards, who are now seniors. Brown leads a
veteran secondary that enables Strong to turn his front seven
loose on ballcarriers. Mississippi State tailbacks Dontae Walker
and Dicenzo Miller rushed for a total of 81 yards, their lowest
combined output since they were held to 75 yards last year by,
yes, South Carolina. The Gamecocks converted a fumble recovery
and an interception into 10 points and didn't turn the ball over
The 6'6", 260-pound Edwards, considered a sure first-round NFL
draft pick, gives credit for the defense's preparation to Strong.
"His knowledge borders on genius," he says. Strong, 41, wants to
be a head coach. His reputation in the SEC is such that he's a
prime candidate to be the first African-American to fill that
role at an SEC school. "If we can keep playing well," Strong
says, "something good will happen."
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
When he graduated from Bingham High in South Jordan, Utah, in
1996, the only offer 5'11", 155-pound wideout Kevin Curtis had to
play football was an invitation to walk on at Snow Junior College
in Ephraim. Curtis had 1,700 receiving yards in two seasons at
Snow but turned down scholarship offers from BYU and Hawaii to
serve a two-year Mormon mission in London. He maintained a
connection to the game during that time by sleeping with a
football every night. Last January, Curtis enrolled at Utah
State, and by the start of practice he had bulked up to 183
pounds. Still, no one expected him to do this: He leads the
nation with 10.7 receptions per game for the 0-3 Aggies and is
third in average receiving yards (130.0).
An NFL scout assesses Stanford's 6'4", 230-pound senior
quarterback Randy Fasani, who completed 17 of 26 passes for 295
yards and four touchdowns in the Cardinal's 51-28 defeat of
Arizona State last Saturday.
"He has a good arm and the strength to get out of trouble, but
he's not a precision quarterback. He's not meticulous. He's not a
guy who's going to tear [the defense] up. He's trying a little
harder, and he's trying to show he can do things on his own.
Sure, he'll be drafted, probably in the middle rounds or later."
"I'm not going to hit [Simms] hard. I want him to stay in the
game. If Applewhite gets in, he's smarter than Simms. We keep
Simms in the game, the Coogs win."
--A comment by Houston defensive end Adrian Lee that appeared in
the Houston Chronicle and was posted on the Longhorns' bulletin
board. Simms responded by completing 20 of 35 passes for 311
yards in a 53-26 Texas win.
--HEAD TO HEAD
Clemson middle linebacker Chad Carson vs. Georgia Tech center
The 6'3", 235-pound Carson draws raves from opposing offensive
coordinators not only for his speed and strength but also for his
smarts. They see evidence of his long hours of film study when he
gets his teammates lined up correctly one play after the next.
Though Carson will draw attention from every Yellow Jackets
lineman as well as from fullback Joe Burns, he'll be the primary
responsibility of Schmidgall. A former walk-on, Schmidgall makes
up for his relative lack of size (6'2", 275 pounds) with the
technical efficiency one might expect from the civil engineering
major he is. In the 14 games he has started, dating from the
beginning of last season, the offensive line has allowed only 20