The Weekend Review
Vols are just one team that could be affected by Ainge's injury
Posted: Sunday November 7, 2004 10:25PM; Updated: Sunday November 7, 2004 11:24PM
It couldn't have been a more insignificant play at the time. With Tennessee leading Notre Dame 10-7, less than 10 seconds left in the first half and the ball on its own 32, Vols quarterback Erik Ainge lined up in the shotgun to try a Hail Mary. "In hindsight," said offensive coordinator Randy Sanders, "we should have taken a knee."
That's because center Chuck Prugh's snap landed at Ainge's feet and the ball began rolling away. Just as Ainge picked it up, he was thrown to the ground by Irish linebacker Brandon Hoyte, landing awkwardly on his right side, and wouldn't immediately get up. The prognosis: a separated shoulder, out 2-to-4 weeks. With fellow freshman QB Brent Schaeffer already sidelined by a broken collarbone, little-used Rick Clausen took the reins in the second half and, on his second series, threw a ghastly interception that Notre Dame's Mike Goolsby returned 27 yards for a touchdown, giving the Irish a 14-10 lead they wouldn't relinquish. And Clausen is now their quarterback for the foreseeable future.
It's hardly a stretch to suggest that Ainge's injury cost Tennessee the game and, with it, any hopes of a BCS at-large berth. If those were the only consequences, it would be big enough. But why stop there? Join me as we take a trip through imagination to examine how a single, meaningless play in a single game could potentially alter the entire college football universe.
By the time all is said and done, it could wind up ...
Allowing Georgia to reach the SEC championship game. Dawgs fans had all but given up hope of reaching Atlanta, what with the Vols needing to lose to either Vanderbilt or Kentucky. Suddenly, though, those games no longer seem like a given.
Sending Auburn to the Orange Bowl. Even if they lose a game, Tennessee will still reach the Georgia Dome if Auburn beats Georgia next week. But what would be the Tigers' last hurdle toward an undefeated regular season seems a whole lot less daunting if Ainge isn't back.
Keeping another school from getting Schaeffer. Ever since Ainge established himself as the Vols' clear starter, there's been speculation Schaeffer, a talented freshman in his own right, might look elsewhere after the season. But what if he recovers faster than Ainge and returns for the bowl game? What if he leads Tennessee to victory? Suddenly, the job would be up for grabs again next spring.
Saving Tyrone Willingham's job. Not that it wasn't already safe this year, but a 7-5 or 6-6 season would have put him on thin ice entering next season -- not a healthy situation. Now, having beaten two top 10 teams this season, the Irish have a chance to finish a respectable 8-4 (most likely losing to USC) and take momentum into next year, when they should be even better.
And, in a cruel twist of irony, helping Tennessee's nemesis, Florida, land its dream coach. It's no secret the Gators are hot for Utah's Urban Meyer -- Florida president Bernie Machen hired Meyer at Utah -- and have the ability to offer him more than three times his current salary. However, Meyer's dream job is Notre Dame (it's one of three schools for which he has an "out" in his contract). The rumor was Meyer might turn down the Gators in hopes of the Irish job opening up soon. However, if he sees the Tennessee game as a sign that things are turning around for Willingham, he may realize his best option is indeed Florida.
If only the Vols had taken that knee.
Player of the Week
Andrew Walter, QB, Arizona State: You were only supposed to break John Elway's Pac-10 career touchdown record, Andrew -- not play like him. In true Elway fashion, the Sun Devils star led his team on a last-minute, 80-yard drive against Stanford, throwing the game-winning touchdown pass -- his fourth of the day -- with nine seconds left to beat the Cardinal 34-31. It capped a 28-of-42, 415-yard performance in which Walter raised his career touchdown total to 80 (one of them a Hail Mary to end the first half), shattering Elway's mark by three.
But his most impressive accomplishment by far was the final drive, which began with 2:02 remaining after Stanford had surged ahead 31-26 with a 67-yard scoring strike. It began with Walter scrambling for a first down, then throwing for two others. After a sack and a holding call, he faced a daunting second and 29 from his own 43 with just 1:08 left but managed to completed consecutive throws to get to the first-down marker. ASU worked its way to the Stanford 14 with 28 seconds left. After spiking it on first down, it was Miller time for Walter -- he connected with tight end Zach Miller for 10 yards, then found Matt Miller in the back of the end zone for the clincher.
"Andrew made history tonight and I am just happy I was able to be there with him when he did," Matt Miller said afterward. "He really kept our heads in the game, told us what to do and we did it."
Notre Dame LB Mike Goolsby (14 tackles, two tackles for loss, interception return for touchdown) vs. Tennessee; Ohio State WR Ted Ginn Jr. (three TDs -- a 60-yard punt return, 58-yard catch and 17-yard reverse) vs. Michigan State; USC RB Reggie Bush (200 all-purpose yards, 65-yard punt return TD) vs. Oregon State; Washington State RB Jerome Harrison (42 carries, 247 yards, three TDs) vs. UCLA; Tulane QB Lester Ricard (18-of-19, 323 yards, four TDs, no INTs) vs. Navy; South Florida RB Andre Hall (29 carries, 275 yards, 2 TDs) vs. UAB; Virginia Tech RB Mike Imoh (31 carries, 236 yards, two TDs) vs. North Carolina; Texas LB Derrick Johnson (18 tackles, three TFLs) vs. Oklahoma State; Iowa State WR Todd Blythe (eight catches, 188 yards, 1 TD) vs. Nebraska; Eastern Michigan WR Eric Deslauries (14 catches, 207 yards, four TDs) vs. Central Michigan.
Gratuitous props to ...
Georgia QB David Greene, for breaking Peyton Manning's Division I-A record with his 40th career victory; Hawaii QB Timmy Chang, for breaking Ty Detmer's NCAA career passing record (15,303 yards) in a 34-23 win over Louisiana Tech; Tulsa's Ashlan Davis, for setting an NCAA mark with his fourth kick return for a touchdown this season with a 96-yarder against SMU; and Akron QB Charlie Frye, who, on what the mayor of Akron dubbed "Charlie Frye Day" last Friday, threw a pair of touchdowns in the final two minutes to lift his team to a 31-28 win over Marshall, lifting the Zips into a three-way tie for first in the MAC East.
Team of the week
(tie) Cincinnati, Clemson: What do the Bearcats and Tigers have in common? They've both made remarkable in-season turnarounds, including stunning road victories Saturday over ranked opponents.
A month ago, Bearcats QB Gino Guidugli called his team "the laughingstock of the nation" after losing 48-29 to Army, the Black Knights' first win in 19 games. All they've done since then is clobber Memphis, beat TCU and, on Saturday, go to Hattiesburg, Miss., and destroy No. 21 Southern Miss 52-24, led by Guidugli's 308 yards and five touchdowns. In an effort to make the trip easier on his players, first-year coach Mark Dantonio had student managers bring along the Victory Bell -- the trophy the team earned for beating rival Miami of Ohio. "We were going to do as many things as possible to indicate that this was going to be a home game for us," said the former Ohio State defensive coordinator. Suddenly, the Bearcats, once 2-4, are 5-4 and eyeing a bowl berth.
Clemson is also 5-4 after going into the Orange Bowl and handing 11th-ranked Miami its second straight defeat, 24-17 in overtime. It was the Tigers' fourth straight victory following a 1-4 start, marking the second straight season that oft-criticized coach Tommy Bowden has run off a long winning streak after it appeared both he and his team were doomed. Against the Hurricanes, Bowden dusted off a fake field-goal play he'd been saving for five years for the game-tying touchdown. "You really can't ask for better play after a 1-4 start," defensive end Moe Fountain told The State. "A lot of people wanted to pack it up for us. We came down here, and I believe it was us and our fans and our families were the only people that believed we could win."
If you had an under of 104 ... you lose
Louisville quarterback Stefan LeFors summed up the Cardinals' 56-49 victory over Memphis last Thursday in a language any American male under the age of 35 could understand: "It was like playing a video game on the easiest level with no defense."
The teams combined for 1,202 yards and three punts. There were nine touchdowns scored before halftime, and the lead changed hands 10 times, with the Cardinals ultimately winning on the simplest of plays -- a 1-yard Eric Shelton run with 37 seconds remaining. From nearly the opening kickoff, it was apparent neither defense had the slightest answer for the opposing offense. Memphis RB DeAngelo Williams carried 26 times for 200 yards, while QB Danny Wimprine threw for 361 and four touchdowns. LeFors, meanwhile, was his usual brilliant self, completing 24-of-34 for 321 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, while Shelton ran 14 times for 136 yards and four touchdowns.
1. How much fun would it be to watch a Utah-Louisville Liberty Bowl? In the wake of the Cardinals' game of trade-a-touchdown with Memphis, the Utes on Saturday raced to a 42-10 halftime lead against Colorado State en route to a 63-31 win -- their third straight game scoring more than 50 points and seventh of 40 or more. Liberty Bowl executive director Steve Ehrhart knows well what a bonanza it would be. That's why he attended the Utah-CSU game, along with scouts from the Fiesta and Orange bowls, and continues to remind anyone who will listen that the Mountain West is contractually obligated to send its champion to Memphis, BCS be damned. "The BCS can't come along and say 'All right, we want this team,'" Ehrhart told the Deseret News. "We've been backing the Mountain West since the day of its inception. The BCS hasn't done anything for the Mountain West." True, but the BCS does have $13 million more to offer the Mountain West than does the Liberty, which is why, if the opportunity presents itself, the league will do whatever it takes to free the Utes of their obligation. Still, a Utah-Louisville game on New Year's Eve would probably be a whole lot more entertaining than Utah-West Virginia a day later.
2. You've got to love Florida State QB Wyatt Sexton for his candor. After his breakthrough performance against Virginia three weeks ago, the sophomore told reporters matter-of-factly, "Yeah, I'd like to think I'm going to start from now on." That, however, would not be the case. After Sexton struggled in last week's loss 20-17 to Maryland, Bobby Bowden went back to the venerable Chris Rix for Saturday's home game against Duke. So what were Sexton's thoughts after Rix threw one of his classic back-pedaling INTs and staked the 'Noles to a gutsy 9-7 halftime lead against the 1-8 Blue Devils. "I was frustrated and felt like I could do a better job," said Sexton. "No offense to Duke and their football team, but we are Florida State and they are Duke. We were not handling business in the first half." Sexton did indeed get the call in the second half and went 11-of-15 for 220 yards and a touchdown as FSU pulled away 29-7. Granted, Sexton has not been the same player away from Doak Campbell Stadium, but why on earth do the coaches continue to think Rix is the better option? Sexton may not be the second coming of Chris Weinke, but at least show a little confidence and give him a chance to ride out his mistakes -- after all, you've been doing it for Rix for four years.
3. Iowa State has come full circle. Back on Sept. 28, 2002, the Cyclones beat Nebraska 36-14 in Ames in what was considered at the time the crowning moment of the program's rise from the ashes under head coach Dan McCarney. The nationally televised win lifted Iowa State to 5-1 on the season and on the way to a third straight bowl berth. Three weeks later, though, the Cyclones began a nosedive that would see them lose 16 of their next 17 Big 12 games, including an 0-3 start this season. They began to snap out of it, though, with wins over Baylor and Kansas, and on Saturday welcomed Nebraska back to Ames for the first time since that fateful day two years ago. Mind you, these are by no means your father or grandfather's Huskers. However, with a 34-27 victory, ISU improved to 3-3 in conference play, which, in the sorry North division, ties the Cyclones for first with Nebraska -- over whom they obviously hold the tiebreaker. Iowa State in the Big 12 championship game? Not likely, considering the Cyclones' next game is on the road against Kansas State, which is still very much alive in the race as well. But at least after two long, puzzling years, it appears McCarney has things headed back in the right direction.
4. Iowa's Kirk Ferentz, is once again coaching his mind out. The Hawkeyes won their fifth straight game Saturday, 23-21 over Purdue, to improve to 5-1 in the Big Ten, 7-2 overall, which is no small feat when you consider what Iowa has been through this season. This is a team that graduated nearly all its important offensive players from last year, and that was before losing its top four tailbacks and starting fullback since the start of this season. The Hawkeyes' only available rushing threat against the Boilermakers was walk-on Sam Brownlee. This is also a team that lost 44-7 to Arizona State the third week of the season and appeared dead in the water. "At times, I've wondered how in the heck we've ended up with seven wins at this point," Ferentz told reporters Saturday. They've done with an opportunistic defense that forced five turnovers and blocked two field goals against Purdue. And quarterback Drew Tate, the entire onus of the offense on his shoulders, has thrown at least 30 passes in every game and completed more than 60 percent of them. The Hawkeyes are all but eliminated from Big Ten title contention (Iowa lost to undefeated Michigan) but will have a big say in determining the champion -- they host Wisconsin in their last game.
5. Will this be the year Texas finally reaches a BCS game? Just as losing to Oklahoma has become an annual tradition for the Longhorns, so too has climbing back up the polls afterward. But something strange always manages to keep them out of the money, be it Kansas State upsetting Oklahoma in last year's Big 12 championship or Texas' own meltdown against Colorado in the 2001 title game. For the first 29 minutes against Oklahoma State on Saturday, it appeared this year's letdown would come a month early, with the Cowboys racing to a 35-7 lead on the 'Horns' home field -- until Texas roared back to score 49 unanswered points for the biggest comeback in school history. Say what you want about Oklahoma State's defense (it's not good), the 'Horns' offensive performance -- which included 401 yards of offense from quarterback Vince Young and five Cedric Benson touchdowns -- was something to behold. All of which begs this important question: Knowing what we know now about the Sooners' shaky defense, how in the world did Texas manage to get shut out?
Stewart Mandel covers college sports for SI.com.