All's Not O.K.
Preseason No. 1 Oklahoma suddenly has some major problems to
If second-ranked Oklahoma hopes to have any chance of winning its
second national championship in three years, the rest of the team
must catch up to the defense. The good news to come out of last
Saturday's 37-27 victory over Alabama was that the Sooners'
defense allowed the Crimson Tide only one drive longer than 39
yards. The bad news is that in other aspects of the game,
Oklahoma looked average to poor. Among the major flaws Alabama
--A nonexistent running game. The Sooners finished with minus-23
rushing yards, the worst showing in school history. Oklahoma
tried to rectify problems in its rushing game (119.4 yards per
game last season) by hiring former Northwestern offensive
coordinator Kevin Wilson, who designed an attack to enable the
team to run effectively out of the spread offense. After senior
Quentin Griffin rushed for 237 yards against Tulsa in a 37-0
opening win on Aug. 30, it appeared that Wilson had done his job.
On Saturday, however, the Crimson Tide defensive front dominated
the line of scrimmage, sacking quarterbacks Jason White and Nate
Hybl six times and limiting Griffin to three yards on nine
carries. Wilson was particularly bothered by the Sooners' three
three-and-out performances at the end of the third quarter and
the beginning of the fourth.
--Uncertainty at quarterback. Oklahoma was expecting big things
out of White, a junior, who missed five games with a torn left
ACL last season. But late in the first quarter on Saturday he
went down with a torn right ACL and is expected to miss the rest
of the season. Hybl, a senior, performed ably, especially with
the game on the line. Trailing 27-23, he led the Sooners on their
only sustained drive of the day, going 80 yards to give them the
lead for good with 2:11 to play. Hybl is steady, but he has slow
feet and an average arm, and it's questionable whether the
Sooners can win the title with him under center. Backing him up
are three freshmen, the best of whom, redshirt Brent Rawls, is
out for a month with torn ligaments in his right thumb.
September 15, 2002
--Holes on special teams. Alabama special teams coach Mark
Tommerdahl noticed last week that Oklahoma left itself open to
an onside kick. At a team meeting on Friday, coach Dennis
Franchione announced that if the Crimson Tide opened the game
kicking off, it would deploy the Gomer Pyle ("Surprise!
Surprise! Surprise!"). Sure enough, the Tide won the toss,
recovered an onside kick and made a field goal for a 3-0 lead.
Alabama also blocked two punts--returning one for a
touchdown--and a field goal and recovered a Sooners fumble on a
kickoff. As a capper, the Crimson Tide executed a textbook fake
field goal when holder Lane Bearden scored on a three-yard run
with 10:16 left that gave Alabama a 24-23 lead.
Oklahoma showed the resilience of a champion by coming back
against the Crimson Tide, which entered the game unranked. But
will the Sooners have what it takes against better teams?
McGahee Flies To the Rescue
This summer, while vacationing in Paris, Miami running backs
coach Don Soldinger purchased a statue of Clark Kent tearing off
his reporter's clothes to reveal the Superman S on his chest. The
statue is in Soldinger's office, and when sophomore tailback
Willis McGahee walks in, he always pretends to start unbuttoning
his shirt. Before the season that may have seemed cocky for a guy
who had 314 rushing yards and one career start. But in gaining a
career-high 204 yards on 24 carries in the Hurricanes' 41-16
victory over Florida at the Swamp last Saturday, the 6'2",
230-pound McGahee showed that he can indeed play the superhero
The Miami native spent most of last year backing up Clinton
Portis before moving to fullback to replace the injured Najeh
Davenport in the Rose Bowl. "In 20 practices we taught him how to
play fullback, and he went the whole game," Soldinger says. "How
many guys can you do that with?" After sophomore Frank Gore tore
his right ACL midway through spring practice, McGahee moved into
the starting tailback spot. With the Gators and a national
television audience awaiting on Saturday, McGahee told his coach,
"Don't take me out. This is a big-time game. I want to be the
guy." Now he is.
UCLA Gets on Track
Bruins Put Focus Back on the Field
UCLA senior cornerback Ricky Manning will never stand accused of
false modesty. Of his most memorable play in the Bruins'
season-opening 30-19 win over 19th-ranked Colorado State, he
said, "It was a great hit. It was the turning point of the game."
He was right. With 8:56 remaining, Manning drilled Rams running
back Cecil Sapp, who coughed up the ball. UCLA recovered and
scored the winning touchdown on the next play.
The victory took some of the heat off coach Bob Toledo, whose
program has been having problems on and off the field. Since the
Bruins' disastrous late-season meltdown against Miami in 1998,
Toledo, now in his seventh year with UCLA, has presided over two
stunning collapses; the Bruins lost five of their last seven to
finish 6-6 in 2000 and four of their last five to end up 7-4
last year. Worse, his players have brought embarrassment upon
the university. Eleven days before the Colorado State game,
Manning was charged with felony assault in connection with a bar
fight last spring. (He will be arraigned on Sept. 17.) Manning
was the third UCLA player to be arrested in the past year.
Toledo says he's taking a tougher stance with his players, and he
didn't coach against Colorado State like a man worried about what
anyone thought of him. With the game on the line in the fourth
quarter, he replaced erratic senior quarterback Cory Paus with
Drew Olson, a true freshman, on two critical series. The gamble
paid off: On his second series Olson drove the team 52 yards for
Moments later, the Rams called that ill-fated screen to Sapp.
After derailing Sapp, Manning was asked if the hit had provided
a measure of redemption. "I don't really believe in that
distraction stuff," he said. "Stuff happens. Players get in
trouble. There's no perfect team out there." While they are far
from perfect, the Bruins are 1-0. --Austin Murphy
Read Ivan Maisel's Inside College Football each week at
Head to Head
Michigan WR Braylon Edwards versus Notre Dame CB Vontez Duff
Wolverines coach Lloyd Carr has anointed Edwards, a 6'3",
200-pound sophomore, as the next big-play wideout in the David
Terrell-Marquise Walker tradition. Edwards is averaging 19.2
yards per catch on his nine receptions, three of them
touchdowns. Duff, a 5'11", 194-pound junior, has shown some star
power as well. He has scored two touchdowns this season,
including a 33-yard interception return last Saturday that
sealed the Irish's 24-17 victory over Purdue.
It's hard to pick the more impressive aspect of North Carolina's
30-22 victory over Syracuse: junior Dan Orner's tying an NCAA
record by making three field goals of 50 yards or more, or that
after losing six fumbles in their opener and fumbling three more
times in their first 15 snaps against the Orangemen, the Tar
Heels ran their last 66 plays in the Carrier Dome without
dropping the ball.... Several Big Ten coaches suggested to
colleague Ron Turner of Illinois that the Illini buy their way
out of playing at Southern Mississippi last Saturday. After
losing 23-20, Turner wishes he had. Illinois's special teams and
defense each scored in the first quarter, but the Illini offense
was abysmal. Illinois ended up with no offensive touchdowns, and
quarterbacks Dustin Ward and Jon Beutjer, who are trying to
replace All-Big Ten selection Kurt Kittner, combined to complete
13 of 33 passes and commit two turnovers.... Louisville, bounced
from the polls after its upset loss to Kentucky, bounced back
with a 40-3 rout of Duke. Cardinals quarterback Dave Ragone
would just as soon you ignore his team. "We're a lot better when
people aren't focused on us and we're the underdog," he says....
What defensive worries? Tennessee, racked by the loss of six
starters from last year's team and knee injuries to two starters
in the last month, has allowed only 10 points and forced eight
turnovers in a 2-0 start. Freshman outside linebacker Kevin
Simon, who replaced the injured Kevin Burnett (torn left ACL),
made nine tackles and recovered a fumble in the end zone for a
score in the Vols' 26-3 defeat of Middle Tennessee State.