Two for the Show
Virginia Tech has leaped into the national championship picture
on the strength of its dynamic tailback tandem
In a week of stellar individual performances and last-minute
thrills, the most impressive result was Virginia Tech's 26-8
dismantling of much-hyped LSU in Blacksburg. The victory, which
pushed the Hokies to No. 12, was vintage Frank Beamer: His team
blocked two punts and played such physical defense that six
Tigers receivers dropped passes. But Beamer Ball's newest
wrinkle is what will keep the Hokies in the national title hunt:
Take two of the country's best tailbacks and convince them not
only to share the job but also to enjoy it.
If two years ago Beamer had told Kevin Jones, then the nation's
most sought-after recruit, that as a sophomore he'd have to split
tailback duties with senior Lee Suggs, "I'd be at another
school," says Jones. But as he proved against LSU, Jones is
content to share the job. He even enjoys punt coverage. "Made
four tackles [against Arkansas State]," he reported without being
It's rare that a tailback with 14 rushes for 70 yards can leave
an opposing coach agog, but that's what Jones did. "How many guys
can run the ball like that and then go out and play gunner on the
punt team?" said the Tigers' Nick Saban.
Jones can do it because sharing the tailback job keeps his legs
fresh. On the second play of the fourth quarter he showed how
much he had left in those legs when, bottled up at right end, he
reversed field and ran 34 yards to the LSU 2. Suggs scored on the
next play to give the Hokies a 24-0 lead. When running backs
coach Billy Hite later ran Suggs in for Jones on a third-down
play, Jones protested. "Once I explained that I pulled him so he
would be fresh for punt coverage," Hite said, "he was O.K."
Suggs, fully recovered from last year's torn left ACL, finished
with 22 carries for 91 yards and two touchdowns, looking a lot
like the guy who led the nation in scoring in 2000 with 28
touchdowns. Shortly after Suggs's injury Hite asked Jones a
question in a film session. "I didn't answer," Jones says. "I was
asleep." Hite threw him out of the room and began referring to
him by a multisyllabic profanity. Jones learned his lesson and
finished the season with 957 yards and five touchdowns. The
profanity evolved into a pet nickname.
The Hokies have been working on using their two backs together,
shifting Suggs from the backfield to a slot position. They showed
the formation a few times against LSU. "I like being out there
running routes, getting mismatches against linebackers," Suggs
said. Upcoming games against Marshall and at Texas A&M will
provide more national exposure for Tech's tailback tandem--and,
judging by the success of the job-sharing setup so far, more
reason to believe that these Hokies are for real.
A New Day For the Irish
Moments after his team's resounding 22-0 victory over a depleted
No. 21 Maryland in last Saturday's Kickoff Classic, first-year
Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham was asked to compare the
offensive style of last year's team with this year's. After a
chuckle and a pause Willingham responded simply, "Night. Day."
Though there were instances of the same maddeningly conservative
play that frustrated Fighting Irish fans throughout former coach
Bob Davie's five-year tenure (twice in the first half Willingham
opted for a field goal on fourth-and-one inside the 40-yard
line), it was clear as Willingham unveiled his West Coast
offense that this is indeed a new era for a program that has
averaged 200 passing yards a game just five times in its
115-year history. Fleet-footed sophomore quarterback Carlyle
Holiday looked surprisingly polished in his new role as a pocket
passer, throwing for more yards in the first half (150) than
last year's 5-6 Irish did in any entire game. The 6'3",
214-pound San Antonio native crammed all summer to master the
team's new four-inch-thick, pass-happy playbook--and it paid
off. Holiday connected with eight receivers and finished with
career highs in completions (17) and yards (226).
Willingham's debut wasn't perfect. The Irish had 11 penalties,
and the offense failed to find the end zone. But after Notre
Dame's first win over a ranked team in two years, there's reason
for optimism. "I hope this was a sign that we're getting back to
the business of being Notre Dame," Willingham said, before adding
a dose of realism: "We still have a lot of work to do." --Albert
Ann Arbor Nail-biter
Practice Makes Less than Perfect
At the end of every Michigan preseason practice, kickers Philip
Brabbs and Troy Nienberg would have to convert field goal
attempts to keep their teammates from having to run sprints.
"Half the team would pick one guy and half the other," special
teams coach Jim Boccher says. "They were all rooting for one and
heckling the other." In those situations neither Brabbs, a junior
who has the stronger leg, nor Nienberg, a sophomore, performed
particularly well, Boccher said, with two exceptions. Late in
preseason practice Brabbs made two "last-second" field goals of
47 and 49 yards.
Neither kicker did particularly well in the first 59 minutes of
the Wolverines' opener against Washington in Ann Arbor either.
Brabbs missed attempts of 36 and 42 yards in the first half and
was benched. Nienberg, facing a 27-yard chip shot from the middle
of the field with 1:29 to play, pushed the kick to the right, and
it appeared the Huskies would escape with a 29-28 victory.
Michigan got the ball back on downs with :57 left and moved it 16
yards to the Washington 42, but when a third-down pass fell
incomplete with six seconds remaining, the Wolverines seemed to
need a miracle. They got one: The Huskies had been trying to
switch from a dime (six defensive backs) defense to a nickel on
the play and were caught with 12 men on the field. The 15-yard
penalty left Michigan with a 44-yard attempt, and it was Brabbs
who walked onto the field to kick it. From a yard inside the left
hash, he made the first field goal of his college career to win
the game 31-29.
Boccher ended up deep in the ensuing celebratory pile, and so did
his sunglasses. After the game, he pulled the crumpled glasses,
sans lenses, from his locker to show them off, saying, "I'm going
to frame them."
Read Ivan Maisel's "Inside College Football" each week at
Amount Wyoming was paid by the Nashville Sports Council to move
last Saturday's game against Tennessee from Laramie to Nashville.
The Cowboys wore their home uniforms in the 47-7 loss, which
counts as a home game. The crowd of 67,221, a sea of Volunteers
orange, will be included in Wyoming's home attendance numbers.
The payout is about three times what the Cowboys normally net for
an entire season.
Head to Head
Florida RG Jonathon Colon versus Miami DE Jerome McDougle
In February 2000, Colon, a standout at Miami's Central High,
signed letters of intent with both Miami and Florida. The
Hurricanes' letter was later declared void, in part because Colon
inked it the night before signing day, 9 1/2 hours too early. Now
the 6'7", 311-pound Gators sophomore, in his second collegiate
start, must stop McDougle, the 6'4", 271-pound senior All-America
candidate expected to return from a pectoral strain that kept him
out of Miami's opener. A tough assignment for Colon, yes, but
overall he has come out ahead: If he'd gone to Miami, he would
have had to face McDougle every day in practice.