There are no excuses on Shakeout Saturday, no what-ifs or
yeah-buts or moral victories. At the midpoint of the college
football season, with the stakes jacked up and the first BCS
rankings a week away, seven teams remained unbeaten and ranked in
the Top 10 of the Associated Press poll. Fate was tempted at the
Orange Bowl in Miami and character tested at the Red River
Shootout in Dallas, with familiar results: Florida State found
itself consoling its kicker, and Texas was left to ponder how its
hopes had been dashed by Oklahoma. When the smoke had cleared,
however, one team still looked better than the rest.
Which is not to say that Miami didn't come away from its 28-27
victory over Florida State badly bruised. After watching the
Hurricanes blow through the first five games on their schedule,
we'd begun to think of the defending national champions as
unbeatable, indomitable, head and shoulders above the rabble of
college football. But after last Saturday, after they had to
fight their way back from a 27-14 fourth-quarter deficit....
"They ain't head and shoulders above nothing," said Seminoles
defensive end Alonzo Jackson, spitting the last word. "They bleed
just like everybody else--and today they should've died."
What ought to have been terminated, Alonzo was suggesting (we
hope), was not the Hurricanes themselves but their
best-in-the-nation winning streak. That run was extended to 28
games, dating to September 2000, only after Florida State's
19-year-old kicker, Xavier Beitia, sailed his 43-yard field goal
attempt a few feet outside the left upright as time expired in
the Orange Bowl. Beitia, last seen sobbing in the arms of the
team chaplain, shouldn't be so tough on himself--the snap was low
and the hold was unsteady. The kid had to kick the laces.
His teammates could only kick themselves for letting Miami back
into a game that the Seminoles, now 5-2 and out of the hunt for
the national title, had dominated. More shocking than the fact
that Florida State had the big lead late was the way it had built
it: by running the ball down the Hurricanes' throats. In addition
to providing the country with a crackling good game, the
Seminoles provided future Miami opponents with a template for how
to compete with the Hurricanes: Run the ball, and stop their run.
October 20, 2002
Yes, that was Florida State tailback Greg Jones rushing 31 times
for 189 yards against a defensive line often celebrated as the
nation's finest, a 10-deep unit stocked with such future pros as
tackles William Joseph and Vince Wilfork and end Jerome McDougle.
Running back Nick Maddox, the water bug to Jones's wrecking ball,
added 74 yards on the ground. "We were able to run the ball so
effectively that it wore down their pass rushers," said senior
tackle Brett Williams. "That's the key to beating the Hurricanes.
You've just got to come down here and run the ball on them."
Now salivating at that prospect are the Hokies of Virginia Tech,
a team whose signature strengths are--wouldn't you know it?--a
pounding ground game and a smothering defense. The third-ranked
Hokies visit the Orange Bowl on Dec. 7 and are likely to be
undefeated when they arrive. Are McDougle & Co. up to the
challenge? "They weren't any better than Louisville up front,"
said Williams, comparing the Miami defense with that of the other
team the Seminoles lost to this season. "We basically did
whatever we wanted."
That's right, pile on. Take your best shot. This sort of smack
was the inevitable fallout from a game that exposed the
Hurricanes as mortal. Here's what Florida State defensive tackle
Darnell Dockett had to say about Miami's offensive line: "Not as
good as everyone thinks." The Hurricanes are overly reliant on
double teams, said Dockett. "When it's a one-on-one block,
they're not that good--and they hold."
Yes, Willis McGahee's 68-yard run with a screen pass set up the
winning touchdown for Miami. On the whole, however, the sophomore
running back had a long day at the office: 95 tough yards on 26
carries. It was the Seminoles' audacious game plan, as it is now
likely to be Virginia Tech's, to force senior quarterback Ken
Dorsey to beat them with his arm. Dorsey did--completing four of
six passes for 126 yards and a touchdown on the last two scoring
drives--but just barely. Hurrying and hitting him on virtually
every pass play, Florida State forced Dorsey into his worst
performance in more than two years, one that included a pair of
interceptions that were very much his fault and several wobbling
throws unbecoming a Heisman Trophy candidate.
He had plenty of help putting his team in a hole. The Hurricanes
committed 14 penalties, including four offsides and a
fourth-quarter unsportsmanlike conduct that could easily have
cost them the game. "We played hard," said defensive line coach
Greg Mark. "We just didn't play very smart. We'll get things
fixed. If Virginia Tech wants to come down here and run the ball
against us, bring it on. We'll take that all day."
At a restaurant two nights earlier, a reporter had bid Mark
goodbye and wished him good luck on Saturday. "Luck's got nothing
to do with it," Mark said. "You make your own luck." After a
pause he added, "On the other hand, I wouldn't want to piss off
the luck gods. So, thanks."
Last Saturday's revelations aside, it won't be surprising to see
Miami in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 3. What's astonishing is that
the Hurricanes will have needed the luck gods to get there.
Here's what else was learned on Shakeout Saturday.
BEAMERBALL WILL GIVE MIAMI FITS
Don't begrudge Virginia Tech its favorable schedule leading up
to Dec. 7 (the only road game, at Syracuse, seems less daunting
in the wake of the Orangemen's loss last Saturday to...Temple),
because the Hokies earned a breather. This season coach Frank
Beamer's nonconference foes were not the usual cavalcade of
cream puffs. Gone were the likes of Akron, Connecticut and James
Madison, replaced by LSU, Marshall and, on the road, Texas
A&M--all Top 25 teams at the time. Playing the higher-caliber
opponents, and beating them, presumably has hardened Virginia
Tech for its showdown with Miami. (The teams have split their
last four games.)
More important, Virginia Tech has the thunder-and-lightning
backfield tandem of senior Lee Suggs and sophomore Kevin Jones,
who are better than Florida State's pair. In the Hokies' 28-23
win over Boston College last Thursday night, Suggs and Jones
combined for 298 yards rushing.
Like the Seminoles, Virginia Tech intimidates opponents with an
attacking 4-3 defense stocked with players who rely on speed more
than size. If you believe Florida State's Dockett, who says the
Hurricanes aren't always effective in one-on-one blocking
schemes, Miami will have to double-team the Hokies' Cols Colas,
an undersized (6 feet, 239 pounds) yet quicksilver end who's too
fast for one offensive tackle to contain.
Even though Virginia Tech yielded a season-high 298 return yards
to Boston College, one of the tenets of Beamerball, as the
coach's style of play is known around Blacksburg, is aggressive
special teams play. Specifically, the Hokies are adept at
blocking kicks, and that's where they may find another chink in
the Hurricanes' armor. Miami long snapper Joe Fantigrassi was
recently replaced by former walk-on Chris Harvey, whose final
snap against Florida State forced punter Freddie Capshaw to take
a step to the right. A flustered Capshaw got off a three-yard
shank that gave the Seminoles the ball at midfield with 2:05 to
play. The Hurricanes survived only because their opponent
extended its own history of kicking mishaps.
"The only area I thought Miami might be a little vulnerable in
was the punting game," said Connecticut coach Randy Edsall after
his team lost to the Hurricanes 48-14 on Oct. 5. "The problem
was, we couldn't get them to punt until the fourth quarter." At
which point the Huskies blocked Miami's punt and ran it back for
a touchdown. Virginia Tech's defense will force the Hurricanes to
kick earlier, and more often.
OKLAHOMA'S FORTUNES ARE IN THE HANDS OF A SHAKY QUARTERBACK
This much we knew going into last Saturday: The Sooners are
loaded on defense, stocked with speedy playmakers who live for
high-pressure moments. What we didn't know was whether Oklahoma
had enough offensive oomph to get to the Fiesta Bowl. Coach Bob
Stoops's off-season hiring of former Northwestern offensive
coordinator Kevin Wilson was supposed to rejuvenate the team's
rushing attack, which averaged 119.4 yards per game last season,
89th in the nation.
While Wilson's charges showed an impressive array of new
formations in the first five wins of the season, the ground game
remained erratic. A 378-yard rushing day against Tulsa was offset
by a minus-23-yard performance against Alabama. Oklahoma followed
up a 215-yard effort against UTEP with 45 yards against South
Florida. Asked if he thought the Sooners could beat Miami, South
Florida coach Jim Leavitt said, "All they need to do is figure
out a way to run the ball."
Just in time for their biggest game of the season, against Texas,
the Sooners came up with what appeared to be a successful
formula. A few tweaks, including motion from tight end Trent
Smith and several well-executed draws to senior tailback Quentin
Griffin, were the difference in the 35-24 victory. At 5'7",
Griffin can be difficult for opposing defenders to see, and he
squeezed between and darted around the Longhorns for 248 yards
and two touchdowns. But the tough little senior, who hails,
aptly, from Humble, Texas, steadfastly refused to be drawn into a
discussion of his heroics. "The only thing you'll hear from Q,"
said left guard Brad Davis, "is some heavy breathing in the
huddle. In games like this, his play speaks for itself."
While Griffin shone, Oklahoma senior quarterback Nate Hybl
revealed his potential to unravel under big-game pressure. Having
averaged a respectable 256.4 passing yards per game through his
team's first five wins, Hybl completed 12 of 29 passes for 131
yards on Saturday. The performance reminded fans of his dreadful
play in last year's upset loss to Oklahoma State--and explained
why he entered this season as a backup to junior Jason White
(who's out for the season with a knee injury he suffered against
Alabama on Sept. 7).
Going into the Red River Shootout, Hybl had thrown 148 passes
without an interception. He had four picked off by Texas,
including one that corner Rod Babers returned for a 73-yard
touchdown. "My footwork and decision-making were totally off,"
Hybl said. "Kind of in spite of me, our guys excelled. It was a
great game plan; I just didn't execute my part very well."
With a dominant defense, a newfound running game and the edgy
play-calling of Stoops, the Sooners should be able to handle the
lesser teams remaining on their schedule. But unless Hybl
recovers what had been, to this point, his best quality--not
making major mistakes--some team better than Texas (maybe even
Iowa State this Saturday) will come along and make Oklahoma pay.
"Hybl's a good thrower," said Texas defensive coordinator Carl
Reese, "but since we never got him to the point where he had to
win the game for them, it remains to be seen whether he can
perform when he has to."
NO PAC-10 TEAM WILL PLAY IN THE FIESTA BOWL
What's not to love about the Pac-10? You've got the San Gabriel
Mountains framing the Rose Bowl, with Keith Jackson calling the
action. You've got the USC song girls in those white sweaters
that don't quite cover their midriffs. You've got the best
quarterbacks in the country putting on the most impressive
What you don't have is a team with a hailstone's chance in hell
of getting to the national championship game. Yes, that includes
No. 7 Oregon, whose 31-30 win over UCLA last Saturday was a
typical Ducks-Bruins offensive orgy: eight touchdowns and 860
yards of offense. In a nutshell, that's why the Pac-10 is so
entertaining, and also why it has not had a team win an outright
national title since Southern Cal in 1972. Tough defense is the
exception in this conference (Washington's Steve Emtman-led
Purple Reign in 1991 was one of the last dominating units) but
one of the requirements for winning it all.
It's not so much that Pac-10 teams beat each other up, although
plenty of that goes on. It's that they knock each other off. In a
conference fueled by high-octane offense, even its more talented
members seldom make it through the league schedule unscathed.
(Congratulations, Cal, on your recent 34-27 upset of Washington,
your first win over the Huskies in 26 years.)
The 10 teams all recruit the same pool of West Coast talent. None
of them land enough blue-chippers to pull away from the pack and
build a dynasty, as USC did in the late '60s and early '70s,
before scholarship limitations were put in place by the NCAA.
Lately Oregon has been the class of the league, as UCLA coach Bob
Toledo graciously acknowledged not long ago. "It's a credit to
them," he said, "and the best owner in college football, Phil
Still, despite having the Nike chairman as their chief
benefactor, the Ducks have some flies on them. Their defense
allowed 477 yards on Saturday. Think Miami might be able to move
the ball on them?
EVEN GEORGIA, OHIO STATE AND NOTRE DAME ARE SURPRISED THEY'RE
STILL IN THE MIX
Out of nowhere, in coach Mark Richt's second season in Athens,
fifth-ranked Georgia has emerged as the best team in the SEC.
Last Saturday's 18-13 win over reeling Tennessee gave the
Bulldogs back-to-back wins over ranked opponents for the first
time in 11 years. In their previous game the Dawgs beat Alabama
27-25 despite the prediction of former Auburn coach Pat Dye that
they weren't "man enough" for the job. Dye's remark, followed by
Georgia's proving him wrong, gave rise to a briskly selling
T-shirt bearing the legend MAN ENOUGH, DAWG ENOUGH.
After clock-management fiascos cost him a pair of games last
season, Richt is clearly growing into his first college head
coaching job. Hired away from Florida State, where he spent 10
years, first as quarterbacks coach and then as offensive
coordinator, Richt knows from championship-caliber football. That
means he recognizes that his offense still has a few bugs to work
out. While quarterback David Greene is the triggerman for a
potent passing attack, the Bulldogs' rushing game is ranked 11th
in the SEC. The defense, on the other hand, is rock solid. While
it's unlikely that Georgia will run the table, win the conference
title game and get to the Fiesta Bowl, keep an eye on the Dawgs
In the unpredictable and underwhelming Big Ten, where the best
player (wideout Charles Rogers) plays on one of the worst teams
(Michigan State) and where the defensive backs aren't the only
ones with closing speed (did you see Joe Paterno run down that
zebra after Penn State's loss to Iowa on Sept. 28?),
fourth-ranked Ohio State is as close to a sure thing as there is.
True, the Buckeyes barely beat Cincinnati and struggled with an
atrocious Northwestern team, but they found ways to win those
games. Optimists in the Ohio State camp interpret their club's
50-7 dismantling of San Jose State last Saturday as a sign that
coach Jim Tressel's offense is finally hitting on all cylinders.
Tressel, who paces the Buckeyes' sideline in his trademark
sweater vest, has been pleased by how quickly sophomore
quarterback Craig Krenzel has picked up the offense, which
requires him to make quick reads and adjustments at the line of
scrimmage. Against San Jose State, Krenzel completed 11 of 14
passes for 241 yards and three touchdowns.
If Krenzel has been a pleasant surprise, freshman tailback
Maurice Clarett has been an out-and-out shock. Even with teams
crowding eight in the box to stop him, the Warren, Ohio, native
has averaged 141 rushing yards per game and scored 13 touchdowns,
tops in the Big Ten in both categories. Clarett may not stick
around Columbus for four years, but the man in the sweater vest
appears to be on board for the long haul.
In the movie Rudy the title character is carried off the field
after his moment of glory. The Fighting Irish's 2002 season will
not have a Hollywood ending. Newcomer Tyrone Willingham is a
deserving national coach of the year candidate, but a very
limited offense all but ensures him a loss or two. The Irish rank
113th of 117 in total offense, and former option quarterback
Carlyle Holiday has proved a rough fit for Willingham's West
Coast offense, having completed just 49.0% of his attempts and
thrown only two touchdown passes. The Irish's defense (third best
in the nation in points allowed, at 11.7) and special teams have
combined for 68 of Notre Dame's 137 points. Somewhere down the
road--maybe in the thin air of Colorado Springs on Saturday
against Air Force; maybe the following weekend at Florida
State--the Irish will run into a team that they can't keep up with
on the scoreboard.
So where does all this leave us? Outside the locker room of the
Cotton Bowl, with the fairgrounds looming behind. Davis,
Oklahoma's left guard, was all smiles as he made his way through
a crowd of reporters. He was extra happy, he said, because Miami
had lost to Florida State. Informed that that was not the case,
his smile disappeared. "Are you serious?" he said. "Someone told
us before we ran out on the field that they were about to lose,
and we assumed they had."
Nope. Halfway through the season, though they may be looking
shakier, the Hurricanes are still undefeated, still the team to
Who will play for the national championship in the Fiesta Bowl on
Jan. 3? Miami and Oklahoma have the inside track, but with major
hurdles remaining on their schedules, the Hurricanes and Sooners
are far from sure things. Here's how the Top 10 teams in the
Associated Press's Top 25 poll scope out for the rest of the
SCHOOL, RECORD BIGGEST WIN
1. MIAMI (6-0) Florida State, 28-27
At West Virginia, at Rutgers, at Tennessee, Pitt, at Syracuse,
Volunteers and Hokies pose threats, but the Hurricanes have the
horses to get back to the national championship game
2. Oklahoma (6-0) Texas, 35-24
Iowa State, Colorado, at Texas A&M, at Baylor, Texas Tech, at
Sooners have the best defense in the nation, and Bob Stoops's
teams are always well-prepared and step up in big games
3. Virginia Tech (6-0) LSU, 26-8
Rutgers, Temple, Pitt, at Syracuse, West Virginia, Virginia, at Miami
Hokies cruise to showdown in Miami on Dec. 7, with the winner
claiming the Big East crown and earning a trip to the Fiesta Bowl
4. Ohio State (7-0) Washington State, 25-7
At Wisconsin, Penn State, Minnesota, at Purdue, at Illinois, Michigan
Talented but young Buckeyes have plenty of competition in the
balanced Big Ten; coach Jim Tressel's team might be a year away
5. Georgia (6-0) Tennessee, 18-13
Vanderbilt, at Kentucky, Florida (at Jacksonville), Ole Miss, at
Auburn, Georgia Tech
With an offense that's been shaky at times, the overachieving
Bulldogs aren't likely to make it out of the SEC unscathed
6. Oregon (6-0) UCLA, 31-30
Arizona State, Southern Cal, Stanford, at Washington State,
Washington, at Oregon State
An easy nonconference schedule will come back to haunt the
Ducks, who are unlikely to run the table with a first-year
quarterback and a soft D
7. Notre Dame (6-0) Michigan, 25-23
At Air Force, at Florida State, Boston College, at Navy,
Rutgers, at Southern Cal
Fighting Irish aren't as good as record indicates; they'll come
back to earth swiftly with four of last six games against likely
8. Texas (5-1) North Carolina, 52-21
At Kansas State, Iowa State, at Nebraska, Baylor, at Texas Tech,
Loss to Oklahoma puts the Longhorns in a big hole; to reach the
Big 12 title game, they must win out and the Sooners must lose
9. Iowa State (6-1) Nebraska, 36-14
At Oklahoma, at Texas, Missouri, at Kansas State, at Colorado,
Seneca Wallace has a better chance of winning the Heisman than
the Cyclones have of getting through their brutal schedule
10. Washington State (6-1) Southern Cal, 30-27
At Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon, Washington, at UCLA
Having already lost to Ohio State, the Cougars must win the rest
of their games and hope that several of the seven unbeaten teams
THE NEXT BIG TESTS
Take a deep breath college football fans, because there are
plenty more showdowns in the second half of the season. Mark your
calendars for these defining games.
SATURDAY, IOWA STATE AT OKLAHOMA
There's no time to celebrate for the Sooners. Two weeks ago
Oklahoma couldn't contain a scrambling quarterback when Missouri
freshman Brad Smith ran for 215 yards in a game the Tigers
narrowly lost. Iowa State quarterback Seneca Wallace (box, page
48) is even more dangerous. If the Cyclones win, the two teams
could meet again in the Big 12 title game.
SATURDAY, NOTRE DAME AT AIR FORCE
This could prove to be an even bigger test for the Irish than
their Oct. 26 visit to Florida State. The Falcons run the
difficult-to-defend triple option and lead the nation in rushing
(339.1 yards per game) behind junior quarterback Chance Harridge
(615 yards, 15 touchdowns). A night game in the Rockies could
spell doom for Notre Dame.
NOV. 9, OREGON AT WASHINGTON STATE
In a classic battle of quarterbacks--the Ducks' Jason Fife and the
Cougars' Jason Gesser--this one could be for the Pac-10 title.
Question is, would an Oregon win earn the Ducks enough respect in
the eyes of poll voters to vault them past other unbeatens?
NOV. 23, MICHIGAN AT OHIO STATE
The Buckeyes' brash freshman tailback, Maurice Clarett, is making
history, but can he reverse Ohio State's fortunes against the
Wolverines? The Buckeyes have lost five of the last seven games
in the series, with two of those defeats costing them a shot at
the national title. Coach Jim Tressel beat Michigan in his first
attempt last year--but with a lot less on the line.
DEC. 7, VIRGINIA TECH AT MIAMI
Forget the Fiesta Bowl. If these Big East powers are still
unbeaten when they meet in the regular-season finale, this game
should be for the national title. The Hokies have the talent to
hang with the Hurricanes, but speed and experience give Miami an
Run for the Heisman
Sometimes all it takes is one play to propel a player into
serious Heisman Trophy contention. That happened last Saturday on
Iowa State quarterback Seneca Wallace's spectacular touchdown run
from the Texas Tech 12-yard line in the third quarter of the
Cyclones' 31-17 victory. So while some preseason Heisman
favorites dropped by the wayside--Rex Grossman and Chris Simms, to
name two--Wallace, who has completed 109 of 170 passes for 1,653
yards and 10 touchdowns and rushed for five more scores, became a
front-runner for the award.
Here's how Wallace's amazing scramble unfolded: "It was designed
as a three-step pass play," says Iowa State offensive coordinator
Steve Brickey. "Seneca had four receivers to choose from,
depending on what the defense was giving us. But the defense
played it well, and Seneca wisely chose not to force the ball
into coverage. At that point you want your quarterback to throw
it away, but he started to move around, buying time while waiting
for a receiver to get open. Sometimes we coaches just have to
look at each other and shake our heads. He's that good."
11:50 Takes snap
11:49 Looks left, pumps, pulls ball down in face of two leaping rushers
11:48 Stutter-steps left, pumps again, sees receiver stumble;
scrambles to his right across left hashmark
11:46 Looks downfield, pumps, pulls ball back down as two
11:45 Eludes sack, scrambles backward across right hashmark,
pursued by defender
11:43 Runs to right sideline, still pursued by defender
11:42 Streaks past defender, tightropes sideline for 15 yards
11:40 Avoids tackle by sidestepping left, then right, around
sprawling defender; cuts sharply left in front of three more
11:38 Released to middle of field by key block from center Zach Butler
11:37 Loops around crushing block from running back Michael Wagner
11:36 Sprints for left pylon, picking up wideout Jamaul
Montgomery as escort at left hashmark
11:33 Beats last defender to pylon for touchdown; nonchalantly
drops ball at ref's feet
"The only thing you'll hear from Q," Oklahoma's Davis said of
Griffin, "is some heavy breathing in the huddle."
"They ain't head and shoulders above nothing," Jackson said of
Miami. "They bleed just like everybody else."
"We didn't force Hybl to have to win the game," said Texas'
Reese, "so it remains to be seen if he can."