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Inside College Football
By Ivan Maisel, B.J. Schecter, and Alan Shipnuck
Posted: Wed October 13, 1998
The Aggies beat up Nebraska with a simple mix of smarts and muscle
"We controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball," A&M coach R.C. Slocum said on Sunday. "With Nebraska, you tend to get too much into, 'We've got to put on trick plays. We've got to do this and that.' A lot of those things backfire. Our plan was to run the ball." Slocum may not wow the coaching-clinic circuit with that plan, but it worked to devastating effect.
The Aggies knew firsthand what the Cornhuskers could do: A veteran Nebraska team had beaten them 54-15 in the Big 12 championship game last December. Slocum, a glass-half-full kind of guy, got something positive out of the rout. Before Saturday's rematch, he says, "we told our players that we have got to get into the game and not get knocked out in the first round." He might have meant that literally. Aggies head trainer, Karl Kapchinski, recalled that in last year's game, "Nebraska beat the crap out of us. We had people drop left and right."
This year it's the Huskers who have been dropping. Four starters on offense, including quarterback Bobby Newcombe and I-back DeAngelo Evans, have missed starts because of injuries. Moreover, not even Nebraska can defy one of the immutable laws of college football: The success of an offense is tied directly to the experience on its line. The Huskers have four new starters up front this season. Normally Nebraska rolls out All-America linemenfive in the last six yearsthe way San Diego Padres pitcher Kevin Brown strings up zeroes. Not this season.
The Huskers have rushed for 214 yards in their last two games, and they reached that paltry number only after an 83-yard burst in a frantic fourth quarter against Texas A&M. For the season Nebraska has averaged 237.8 rushing yards per game. Though that's good for 11th in the nation, it's abnormal in Lincoln. The Cornhuskers haven't averaged less than 287 yards since 1976.
Aggies defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz held the same job at Colorado for seven seasons, including the stretch from 1989 to '91, during which the Buffaloes went 2-0-1 against the Huskers. Last Saturday he frequently stunted his three down linemen. "Nebraska is a big, physical line, and we aren't," Slocum said. "We were not going to ask our guys to just sit in there." As a result, the Huskers never found a rhythm in their running game. In the third quarter, trailing 21-7, with fourth-and-two at the Aggies 10, Nebraska coach Frank Solich called a wingback reverse. A&M cornerback Jason Webster, who was blitzing, and linebacker Warrick Holdman dropped the ballcarrier, Shevin Wiggins, for a four-yard loss. Since when do the Huskers not run between the tackles on fourth-and-two?
"To run our offense you have to run on all cylinders, or you're going to show a weakness," Nebraska receivers coach Ron Brown said afterward. "We weren't running well inside, so they were flying to the outside."
Last season, with two all-conference linemen, including Outland Trophy winner Aaron Taylor at guard, Nebraska allowed four sacks. On Saturday the Aggies sacked Newcombe on three consecutive plays. On the last of those, noseguard Ron Edwards forced Newcombe to fumble the ball into his own end zone, where Holdman fell on it for the touchdown that gave A&M a 21-7 lead.
In losing the game, the defending national co-champion Cornhuskers also lost their 19-game winning streak, their 40-game conference winning streak and their running attack. Nebraska fans might take solace in the fact that in 1996 their inexperienced defending national champions fell to Arizona State 19-0. The following season the Cornhuskers won a share of the national title.
The prime victim of Nebraska's loss, after the Cornhuskers themselves, may be Big 12 rival Kansas State. The unbeaten Wildcats, ranked No. 4 after their 16-9 victory over Colorado, have waited what seems like all century to surpass the Cornhuskers in the conference, and beating Nebraska on Nov. 14 would constitute the biggest win in school history. But it would also be the Huskers' second loss, further dragging down Kansas State's already weak strength-of-schedule ratingpart of the Bowl Championship Series formula.
For a similar reason Florida State may have been the biggest beneficiary of Nebraska's defeat. Late in the fourth quarter of the Seminoles' 26-14 victory over Miami, Florida State coach Bobby Bowden looked up at the scoreboard, saw that the Huskers had lost and immediately felt better about the Seminoles' title hopes. "It puts us right back in the picture," Bowden said later.
Florida State beat Texas A&M in the Kickoff Classic and will be at home for its two toughest remaining games, against Virginia and Florida. If the Seminoles, 5-1 and ranked sixth, win the rest of their games, they will climb not only in the polls but also in the strength-of-schedule ratings. Florida State probably won't jump past UCLA or Tennessee if either of those two remains undefeated, but the Seminoles could very well gain enough to pass an unbeaten Kansas State in the Bowl Championship Series standings.
Everyone knew that UCLA, led by senior quarterback Cade McNown, would rack up points this year. Indeed, the Bruins scored 49, 42 and 49, respectively, in wins over cupcakes Texas, Houston and Washington State, and last Saturday they rolled up 52 against then No. 10 Arizona. Here's another thing that should give pause to Oregon, UCLA's opponent this week and the Pac-10's only other unbeaten team: Against the Wildcats, the Bruins' sophisticated passing attack was upstaged by a punishing ground game and a stingy defense.
In the 52-28 victory McNown threw two momentum-swinging touchdown passes, but for the second straight week his passing numbers were un-Heisman-like10 of 24 for 171 yardsand for the first time in 19 games he didn't throw for 200 yards. The star of the game for the Bruins, instead, was freshman tailback DeShaun Foster.
As a senior at Tustin (Calif.) High last year, Foster scored 59 touchdowns, an astronomical total, and on Saturday it was easy to see why. Playing in place of sophomore Jermaine Lewis, who was suspended indefinitely for having engaged in an off-campus fight, the 6'1", 205-pound Foster carried 20 times for 122 yards and two touchdowns. The quality of his yardage was even more impressive than the quantity: The 18-year-old Foster was a gliding, spinning, almost untackleable force. "Jermaine told me to run hard, hold on to the ball and get four yards every time," Foster said after the game. Reminded that he got a little more than that, he responded, "Yeah, I guess so."
When Foster tired in the fourth quarter, bruising junior Keith Brown came in for TD runs of 54 and 20 yards to finish off the Wildcats. For the game the Bruins rushed for 314 yards on 44 carries.
Meanwhile UCLA's young defense, which had given up 31 points to Texas and 442 yards to Houston, shut down high-powered Arizona. The Bruins' three-man line (so hamstrung by injuries that five players have started there at one time or another) and their linebacking corps (so devoid of experience that coach Bob Toledo named sophomore inside backer Tony White a co-captain for the game) dominated the line of scrimmage, holding slippery Wildcats quarterback Ortege Jenkins and the other Arizona rushers to only 90 yards. In the fourth quarter, which began as a 31-28 nail-biter, the Wildcats gained just 68 yards, and the Bruins blew the game open with 21 points in a little more than two minutes.
"UCLA was tougher and more physical," said Arizona coach Dick Tomey, whose team has been the bully of the Pac-10 in the 1990s. "When you can't run and the other guy can, that makes it hard."
Said Bruins senior guard Andy Myers, "We can pound guys on the ground, we can bomb 'em through the air, and our defense is just starting to wreak the kind of havoc it's capable of. I think you're just beginning to see how good this team is."
The game looked like a rite of passage for Tennessee junior quarterback Tee Martin, who had completed only 21 of 60 passes in wins over Syracuse, Florida and Auburn. Following his second interception of the first half against Georgia, he got a come-to-Jesus speech from offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe. After the tongue-lashing Martin completed 12 of 17 passes for 128 yards and two touchdowns. "I learned today not to try to win the game myself," says Martin.
Though after the game Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said, "To think we've overcome the loss of Jamal is a stretch," he understands that only the best teams dominate without their best players. "A sign of a mature program," he said, "is when you have other players who can step up."
Tennessee (5-0) plays four of its last six games at home, and the only currently ranked team it will face before the SEC title game is No. 17 Arkansas, whom the Vols meet in Knoxville on Nov. 14.
The SEC's contract with the Citrus Bowl forbids any bowl game involving another team from that conference to significantly overlap the television broadcast of the bowl in Orlando. That, in effect, knocks the Cotton Bowl out of the Citrus Bowl's New Year's Day time slot of 1:30 p.m. If Fox Sports had moved the Cotton to Jan. 2, that bowl would compete against the NFL wild-card slate on ABC. Instead, Fox will move the Cotton to 11 a.m. on Jan. 1.... North Carolina State leads the nation in interceptions, with 13, but has yet to recover an opponent's fumble.... Purdue quarterback Drew Brees tied the NCAA record for completions and set the record for attempts when he went 55 of 83 for 494 yards in a 31-24 loss to Wisconsin. Seven teams have fewer attempts and 16 have fewer completions so far this season.... The Rose Bowl has not pitted a No. 1 against a No. 2 since Ohio State played USC in 1969, so you'd think officials of the Pasadena game would be despairing over losing a potential matchup between the Buckeyes and UCLA for the national championship. Hardly. In fact, they're salivating at the possibility of Notre Dame's making its first appearance in the Rose Bowl game since 1925.... Since being picked off six times in a 24-7 loss to North Carolina State on Sept. 12, Florida State quarterback Chris Weinke has thrown 114 passes over four games without an interception.
Chris Claiborne LB, USC The 6'3", 250-pound junior wears the number 55 of Trojans All-Americas Junior Seau and Willie McGinest. With his speed and ferocity, Claiborne is in their class.
Barrett Green LB, West Virginia He moved from safety to outside linebacker this season, but the 6'1", 215-pound junior retained his nose for the ball. He leads the team with 70 tackles, 44 of them solo.
Andy Katzenmoyer LB, Ohio State Tremors from the Big Kat's monstrous hit on Missouri's Corby Jones last year are still being felt. The 6'4", 255-pound junior benches 450 and is as quick as he is strong.
Jevon Kearse LB, Florida Opposing backs marvel at the speed of this 6'5", 254-pound junior (above). A spectacular open-field tackler, he tops the Gators' list in "big plays."
Jeff Kelly LB, Kansas State This 6-foot, 245-pound senior drilled Texas's Ricky Williams 11 times during the Wildcats' 49-7 victory on Sept. 19, helping to hold Williams to a season-low 43 yards.
Corey Moore DE, Virginia Tech A 6-foot, 217-pound junior, Moore anchors the Hokies' dominating defense and has eight sacks in five games.
Anthony Poindexter FS, Virginia As a freshman playing on the scout team, Poindexter, now 6'1" and 220 pounds, struck fear in his teammates. Since then, he has 327 career tackles.
Montae Reagor DE, Texas Tech He forced a fumble on his first play as a freshman and now, as a 6'2", 254-pound senior, has 19 1/2 career sacks, plus the school record for tackles for a loss, with 39.
Ronald Seymour DE, Florida State The Seminoles knocked six QBs out of games in '97. The 6'4", 264-pound sophomore made several of those hits.
Virginia (5-0) at Georgia Tech (4-1)
The Yellow Jackets have knocked off highly ranked Virginia teams twice in this decade. In 1990 they outscored the then No. 1 Cavaliers 41-38. The win propelled Georgia Tech, then No. 16, to a share of the national title. Two years ago Tech stunned No. 12 Virginia 13-7 with a spectacular defensive performance.
Expect the score this time to fall somewhere between the above two. These Cavaliers don't produce points the way their 1990 forebears did, but they don't let anyone else score much, either. Led by safety Anthony Poindexter, seventh-ranked Virginia is both opportunistic (+10 in turnovers) and stingy (273.6 yards allowed per game).
The 25th-ranked Yellow Jackets play aggressive defense under new coordinator Randy Edsall, who worked for Tom Coughlin for six seasons at Boston College and then the Jacksonville Jaguars. Tech, too, is +10 in turnovers, and it has scored at least one defensive touchdown in each of its last four games. But the Yellow Jackets, with their new, gambling defense, are giving up 21.2 points per game. Getting a read on the ACC isn't easy, but this game will help clarify the picture. Virginia hasn't been tested by a quarterback as resourceful as Tech's Joe Hamilton, whose accuracy, brains and quick feet more than make up for his stature (5'10", 189 pounds). But it's too early for the Cavs to begin their November swoon. This is usually the time of year when Virginia peaks. That trend should continue.
Oregon (5-0) at UCLA (4-0)
These two might hang a hundred on the Rose Bowl scoreboard. The 11th-ranked Ducks (50.6 points per game) and the second-ranked Bruins (48.0) may threaten the Pac-10 scoring record of 127 points in a game. UCLA, however, will know how to score more than Oregon.
BYU (3-3) at Hawaii (0-5)
Before the Cougars lost to Fresno State on Oct. 3, only two WAC teams had beaten BYU at least twice in the 1990s: archrival Utah and the Rainbow Warriors. Cougars coach LaVell Edwards says the round trip to Honolulu is like "losing a couple of days." It's even longer when you lose the game.
Last Saturday, during Texas's 37-3 victory over Oklahoma, Major Applewhite connected with Wane McGarity for the longest touchdown pass in Longhorns history. Texas offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Greg Davis details the strategy behind the 97-yard scoring strike.
Because of Oklahoma's style of defensenine in the box, lots of blitzingwe knew they'd make some plays. But we told our guys to keep sawin' wood, keep your poise, and we'd make some big plays too. When our defense came up with the ball on a fumble at our own one-yard line, I flipped up our "Coming Out" chartthe plays we use when we're backed up to our goal line.
On first down, knowing they were in man-to-man, we sent twin receivers out on a zone play to see how the Sooners would react. They lined up the way we thought they wouldthe free safety cheated on the back side on the tight end. So on second down we called for maximum protection in case they blitzed, sent one receiver diagonal to the opposite flag and sent McGarity on a two-way post routehe could cut in or out, keying off the defender's move. He gets up on the toes of the defensive back before he makes that decision.
Typically we're trying to attack when we're backed up. We want the opposition to know we will pass there, so we can loosen the run up for Ricky Williams. I called the play and told Coach [Mack] Brown, "Hang on, something fun is about to happen." We were going for the score. The maximum protection was the keyMajor had plenty of time. Wane was wide open, and Major laid it on the dime.
Greg Davis, Texas Offensive Coordinator
Issue date: October 19, 1998
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