Big Red Alert
Iowa State's dismantling of Nebraska exposed the precipitous
decline in the Cornhuskers' level of talent
Even as Iowa State's players and coaches celebrated their 36-14
rout of visiting Nebraska last Saturday, they expressed
bewilderment at the one-sidedness of the game. "That was really
weird," Cyclones running backs coach Tony Alford said after the
game. "Going in, we didn't think we could run for 192 yards
against that team." Iowa State senior quarterback Seneca Wallace,
who needed little of his trademark flash to take advantage of the
Cornhuskers' shoddy defense for 270 total yards and three
touchdowns, said, "For us to come in here and beat them and
dominate in all areas, it's still surprising."
Surprising doesn't begin to describe the shift in power that has
taken place in the Big 12 North. Think of a guard dog suddenly
being attacked by its chew toy. After beating a team that had
crushed them the last seven seasons by an average score of 55-15,
the Cyclones (5-1, 2-0 in the Big 12 North) rose from No. 19 to
15 in the AP poll. Nebraska fell to 3-2, 0-1 in the conference
and dropped out of the poll for the first time since Oct. 4, 1981
(a span of 348 consecutive rankings).
The Cornhuskers, who'd had two weeks to fix the problems exposed
on both sides of the ball in their 40-7 loss at Penn State,
committed five turnovers and 10 penalties. Their renowned ground
game picked up 81 yards in a performance that coach Frank Solich
called inept. "We did not play well," said Solich, his face drawn
tighter than a size-16 collar on a 17 neck. "We'll either
splinter apart or we'll come together. There's no middle ground."
After producing four All-Americas in the defensive front seven
from 1993 through '97, Nebraska didn't have one in the past four
seasons. In fact the vaunted Blackshirts defense hasn't been as
fearsome since longtime defensive coordinator Charlie McBride
retired after the 1999 season. The drop-off in talent has been
equally dramatic on offense. Freshman tackle Richie Incognito is
considered one of the two best blockers in a program with a
tradition that no offensive lineman is good enough to play until
his third season.
Nebraska's most glaring problem may be at quarterback, where
junior Jammal Lord has struggled to replace Heisman Trophy winner
Eric Crouch. Lord is the Huskers' leading rusher, but defenses
don't respect his arm; Lord has completed only 48.5% of his
passes and thrown more interceptions (five) than touchdown passes
(four). "At times Jammal can take his ability and make something
work," Solich said. "When you play a good football team, he has
got to be more than that." In other words, Lord isn't skilled
enough to freelance.
For the past three decades Nebraska has dominated with a formula
that combined speed from the Sunbelt with local-grown talent.
It's too early to predict whether Solich will make staff changes
after the season to get the defense and recruiting back on track.
But judging from the Huskers' last two games, he may have to do
Is N.C. State for Real?
Unbeaten, But Untested
North Carolina State may be the only 6-0 team in the nation, but
if its No. 16 ranking is any indication, few people outside the
Atlantic Coast Conference, or even outside Raleigh, think the
Wolfpack is as good as its record. "We're still trying to erase
the doubts of people who consider us a shaky team," senior safety
Terrence Holt says. "We know it would be tough to play for the
national championship if we lost a game. We haven't earned that
N.C. State won't elevate its stature by beating up on Division
I-AA teams, as it did in a 34-0 rout of East Tennessee State on
Aug. 31 and a 56-24 drubbing of Massachusetts last Saturday. Of
the Wolfpack's four I-A opponents to date, only Texas Tech (3-2)
has a winning record, and N.C. State needed overtime to win at
Lubbock 51-48 on Sept. 21.
The soft schedule, though, has allowed a young offense to jell
around the nation's winningest junior quarterback, Philip Rivers,
who has thrown for 1,481 yards and 13 touchdowns and is second in
the nation in passing efficiency (177.4 rating). Another major
reason the Wolfpack is averaging 418.3 yards and 45.3 points is
freshman T.A. McLendon, an explosive 5'11", 214-pound tailback
who has rushed for 421 yards and 10 touchdowns. McLendon (the
T.A. stands for Tristian Akeen) has made a smooth transition from
Albemarle (N.C.) High, where he earned the nickname "Touchdown
Anytime" after setting national records for touchdowns in a
career (178) and a season (71 as a senior). "I never expected to
do as well as I'm doing," says McLendon. "I've come into college
and been able to do the same stuff I did in high school."
With the favorable schedule continuing, N.C. State is starting to
believe that it can go undefeated. The Wolfpack isn't likely to
play a ranked team until the season finale on Nov. 23, when it
hosts Florida State.
Ragone Just Flingin' in the Rain
By making the footing equally treacherous for both teams, the
torrential rain that Tropical Storm Isidore dumped upon Papa
John's Cardinal Stadium last Thursday night helped home-standing
Louisville in its 26-20 overtime upset of fourth-ranked Florida
State. The Cardinals won because senior quarterback Dave Ragone
adjusted to the wet weather conditions far better than did
Seminoles sophomore Chris Rix.
Ragone completed 15 of 27 passes for 182 yards and two
second-half touchdowns. He also rushed for 81 yards--albeit a net
of 43 counting six sacks and a total of minus 38 yards--as Florida
State gave him room to run in front of its zone defense. "In
their first four games they played a lot of man," said Ragone.
"Against us they dropped seven into zone coverage. When a defense
does that, there are holes to throw to, but you have to make sure
you have the velocity, and my grip wasn't good. I had to be smart
with the football."
Afterward, Florida State coach Bobby Bowden was singing Ragone's
praises. "[Ragone] made so many big plays," said Bowden. "We got
to him and got in his face, but he tucked it and ran for first
downs over and over. He just killed us. He's as good as any
[quarterback] I've seen this year."
Meanwhile, Rix, who completed 2 of 12 passes in the first half,
played better in the second--12 for 20 for 145 yards and a
touchdown--but faltered with the game on the line. His ill-advised
throw on the first play of overtime was intercepted by safety
Anthony Floyd. One play later Louisville tailback Henry Miller
ran 25 yards for a touchdown, touching off a celebration on the
field that spilled over and lasted, at least in Ragone's
apartment, until 5 a.m. on Friday. "We're still savoring the
moment," Ragone said on Saturday morning.
Louisville (3-2) had extra time to relish the big win; its next
game isn't until Oct. 8, at Memphis.
Read Ivan Maisel's Inside College Football each week at
Head to Head
Georgia T Jon Stinchcomb
Alabama DE Kindal Moorehead
The two seniors have been standouts since they were freshmen, yet
this is their first meeting. The 6'6" Stinchcomb weighs 297
pounds, which makes him a light heavyweight among the big uglies
these days. But he's a tough, efficient blocker who was All-SEC
for the last two years. The 6'4", 294-pound Moorehead is the
Crimson Tide's career leader in tackles for a loss with 30; he
also has 18 sacks.
An NFL scout assesses the draft prospects of three seniors
Michael Doss, SS,
5'11", 204, Ohio State
"He's tough. He's fast. He's a hitter. He covered the slot
receiver against Texas Tech and wasn't challenged. He can really
hit, but he misses low tackles occasionally. Because he's not
6'1", he won't go as high as he should. He'll go between the 20th
pick and the 35th."
Jordan Gross, T,
6'5", 306, Utah
"He hasn't gotten a lot of publicity, but he's a solid
technician. He moves his feet well and is a good athlete. Over
the last two years Utah has run the ball more than it ever has.
He's got a good chance of going in the first round."
Byron Leftwich, QB,
6'6", 240, Marshall
"He's going to go very high; the only way he falls is if he runs
a 5.2 40 at the combine. He's no scrambler; he stays in the
pocket. He's a better passer than Chad Pennington [the former
Marshall quarterback who was a Jets first-round draft pick in
2000]. Leftwich isn't ready-made, but who is? He can make all the