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Under the radar

CU's Brown, nation's top rusher, isn't into Heisman hype

Posted: Tuesday October 29, 2002 4:00 PM
Updated: Tuesday October 29, 2002 4:12 PM

Chris Brown and Colorado have turned things around since a 40-3 loss to USC in September. AP
 1    Oklahoma
 2    Texas
 3    Colorado
 4    Kansas State
 5    Iowa State
 6    Nebraska
 7    Texas Tech
 8    Texas A&M
 9    Oklahoma State
10   Missouri
11   Baylor
12   Kansas
Pancake blocks by Nebraska’s offensive line in the Huskers’ 38-31 victory over Texas A&M, a school record.
“They waited for us to stand there and wet our pants, apparently,”

-- Texas Tech coach Mike Leach , when asked what Colorado did to shut down his team’s long passing attack.
By Tim Griffin, Special to

Web surfers who stumble to expecting to find some mention of the nation’s leading rusher will come away disappointed.

No flash introductions, game highlights or streaming video will be found there.

Instead they will be directed to snapshots of a cute suburban family, complete with pictures of an entirely different Chris Brown’s young daughter, wife and his recent trip to Fenway Park in Boston.

Somewhere, the humble Colorado running back of the same name who deflects praise to his teammates has to be chuckling to himself about that.

It would seem that Brown’s bruising rushing style, as well Colorado’s recent success, would have pushed him into serious Heisman contention.

Brown leads the nation with 1,303 yards this year, including a 6.9 yard per carry average, and 14 touchdowns. The total already stands as the fourth highest single-season total in Colorado history.

Almost painfully shy, Brown prefers to deflect attention from himself to his team. The Buffs’ comeback from a 1-2 hole to the Big 12’s North Division lead heading into Saturday’s game at Oklahoma is more important to him than individual honors.

“I’m not worried about that,” Brown said. “It’s not that big a deal for me. I’m more interested in having success as a team than worrying about that kind of stuff. I’m not even thinking about it.”

Colorado coach Gary Barnett feels the same way, realizing that the structure of the award makes it difficult to campaign for.

“The Heisman is completely decided by the media, and the winner ends up being who they hype up,” Barnett said. “We don’t have any control over that, so it’s something we don’t spend much time concerned about.”

Brown’s best advertisements come from other Big 12 coaches who have struggled coming up with game plans to keep him in check.

“He’s a remarkable player,” Kansas coach Mark Mangino said after Brown ripped the Jayhawks for 309 yards and two touchdowns. “He can take a couple of stutter steps and bring a linebacker or safety to his knees in a second. And then he runs with those high knees and has such lower body strength that he’s really hard to bring down.”

Baylor coach Kevin Steele said Brown’s strength as a ball carrier is his most notable attribute.

“He brings a whole lot of carries with a whole bunch of yards,” Steele said. “When you get a chance, you better tackle him, because the thing you notice most is that first contact isn’t good enough with him. He can make you miss with good, solid licks, and his yardage after contact has got to be off the charts.”

Brown rushed for 149 yards last week to power the Buffs’ 37-13 triumph over Texas Tech. It marked his fifth straight 100-yard game and helped the Buffs remain the North Division’s only unbeaten team halfway through the race.

“While records are nice, they’re meaningless if you don’t win,” Brown said. “Anything I do is a group achievement. They just attach the numbers to my name.”

The offensive line struggled early in the season, failing to jell during a 1-2 start. It bottomed out when the Buffs rushed for 37 yards on 35 carries – including a season-low 44 yards by Brown – in a 40-3 loss to Southern California.

Quarterback Craig Ochs left the team during that span, leaving untested senior Robert Hodge as the Buffs’ only quarterback option. Barnett went back to the basics and Brown became the focal point of the offense.

“We’re back to playing Colorado football,” Brown told the Topeka Capital Journal. “Basically, just running the ball right down the middle until [the defense] is exhausted. That’s how it should be.”

Since his redshirt was removed four games ago, Nebraska freshman I-back David Horne has provided a much-needed infusion of speed for the Cornhuskers’ ground attack.

Horne rushed for 128 yards and scored four touchdowns to boost his team to a 38-31 comeback victory over Texas A&M. It was the most rushing touchdowns in a game ever scored against the Aggies and marked the fourth straight game that Horne has improved his rushing total over the previous game. After four games, Horne has gained 422 yards on 80 carries, an average of 5.3 yards per tote.

“He’s given us a boost and made some plays out of things that a lot of backs aren’t able to make,” Nebraska coach Frank Solich said. “When you have a back like that, it gives you some added punch and gives everybody a lift and an opportunity to know you have an offense that can score from far out or you have a guy who can help you keep a drive alive.”

Horne’s talents have neatly meshed with senior I-back Dahrran Diedrick's, giving the Huskers a potent one-two punch at the position. The two backs complement each other well, with Diedrick’s power running combining with Horne’s breakaway abilities.

“David has a great ability to make people miss one-on-one and has good speed,” Solich said. “There’s a way to utilize them both, but there’s no question that David has made things work when he’s got it.”

HOT: Texas RB Cedric Benson

Benson rushed for 199 yards and scored two touchdowns to lead the Longhorns to a 21-10 triumph over Iowa State. Benson’s big game, which included six runs of more than 12 yards, came after the sophomore tailback produced only 113 yards in his past two games.

NOT: Baylor’s offensive line

This group allowed nine sacks, contributing to minus-37 yards of net rushing against Kansas State in the Bears’ 44-10 loss.

HOT: Colorado P Mark Mariscal

Mariscal dictated field position with three 60-plus-yard punts and a 57.8 average for four punts in the Buffs’ 37-13 triumph over Texas Tech. The punts kept Mariscal ahead in the national punting list with a 49.6-yard average – nearly three yards ahead of No. 2 Matt Payne of Brigham Young. Mariscal also added three touchbacks on his seven kickoffs as Tech’s average field position after kickoffs was the 23-yard line.

NOT: Texas Tech QB Kliff Kingsbury

Kingsbury struggled with a career-high four interceptions, a season-low 268 passing yards and was blanked without a touchdown pass for the first time in 13 games in the Red Raiders’ 37-13 loss to Colorado. Additionally, Tech’s point production was a season low.

Texas Tech coach Mike Leach has waged a season-long one-man Heisman Trophy campaign for his quarterback, Kliff Kingsbury. Leach used the Big 12’s weekly teleconference this week to tout his quarterback’s performance against an unforgiving schedule that he called the toughest in the country.

“The names of the teams on the schedule speak for themselves,” Leach said. “With that said, the numbers he’s posted to dominate this conference, I think it makes it pretty clear-cut.

“Is this [award] for the best player or the best team? We have a national championship we give to the best team. Are you going to give it to whoever you project at the point at Thanksgiving who will be national champion, or do you give it to the best player? Then, I think there are enough front-runners out there who won’t pay attention to anything but some player who’s playing on a team that’s undefeated. Just compare their numbers and see who has produced the most.”

Leach’s diatribe was well-intentioned, but it could have come at a better time. Kingsbury was coming off his worst performance of the season after throwing four interceptions and a season-low 268 yards in the Red Raiders’ 37-13 loss to Colorado. He should hope that Heisman voters don’t compare the numbers -- at least for last week.

Nebraska coach Frank Solich

Solich willed his team back from a 34-17 third-quarter deficit against Texas A&M by not junking his game plan. Instead, he went back to Nebraska’s power-running option roots. Solich showed guts by going for fourth-down plays twice in the second half while trailing as the Cornhuskers charged back for a 38-31 victory -- the largest comeback victory in his coaching tenure.

Kansas State DE Andrew Shull

Shull tied the school record with four sacks and added a blocked field goal in the Wildcats’ 44-10 triumph over Baylor.

Colorado DT Tyler Brayton

Brayton harassed Texas Tech QB Kliff Kingsbury with six tackles, a sack, five quarterback hurries, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and two passes broken up. Brayton converted every defensive lineman’s dream by making a sack, recovering a fumble and scooting 14 yards for a touchdown -- all on the same play.

Colorado and Oklahoma will match up Saturday in Norman in a meeting of the Big 12’s two divisional leaders.

Both teams have overcome the loss of starting quarterbacks since the start of the season. Colorado QB Robert Hodge has led his team to five straight victories, including four in the conference. Oklahoma QB Nate Hybl has picked up after Jason White’s season-ending injury in the second game of the season. The Sooners haven’t missed a beat, charging to a 7-0 start for the third straight season.

“I think it shows you have some depth at quarterback and that winning is more than one guy,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “There are solid teams around them.”

Colorado coach Gary Barnett agreed that both teams have picked up the slack after losing their starting quarterbacks.

“I think it’s a credit to the mentality of your program that somebody is always going to step up and play,” Barnett said. “No team in college football should ever feel like success or failure is based on one guy.

“You could look at OU and say their defense has made the difference in their team. I think you look at us and say our running game’s come on and been our strength and we’re playing better defense.”

Oklahoma will be coming off a bye week and has enjoyed strong success when Stoops has had extra time to prepare. The Sooners are 10-1 under Stoops when the Sooners have more than six days to prepare for a game – including season openers, bye weeks and bowls. The only loss came in the 1999 Independence Bowl, when the Sooners lost to Ole Miss, 27-25.

All of Texas Tech QB Kliff Kingsbury’s 10 interceptions this season have been thrown in road games. … After missing the past seven games with a torn knee ligament, Colorado TB Marcus Houston is listed as probable for Saturday’s game against Oklahoma. … Oklahoma TB Quentin Griffin already has rushed for a career-high 822 yards and was called the Sooners’ most valuable offensive player so far this year by coach Bob Stoops. … Nebraska brings a 26-game home winning streak into Saturday’s game against Texas. The Longhorns were the last team to beat the Cornhuskers in Lincoln, snapping a 47-game home winning streak in 1998. “I don’t see any burden on our shoulder as far as the streak is concerned,” Nebraska coach Frank Solich said. “Worry about the streak? We’re worrying about the next game.” Brown is one of only three active college coaches who have won at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln. The others are Penn State’s Joe Paterno, who won in 1981, and Florida State’s Bobby Bowden, who claimed victories there in 1980 and 1985. The Cornhuskers rushed for 243 of their 381 yards in the second half against Texas A&M, a team that was allowing a conference-leading 76.9 yards rushing per game coming into the game. The Aggies had not allowed an opposing runner to gain 100 yards in 20 games before last week, but Jammal Lord (30 carries, 159 yards) and David Horne (24 carries, 128 yards) both topped the mark. ... Struggling Kansas continued two negative trends in the Jayhawks’ 36-12 loss to Missouri. Kansas receivers dropped six passes in the first half, and slumping K Johnny Beck missed two field goals -- giving him seven straight misses this season -- and an extra point. ... Texas rushed for 245 yards against Iowa State, making the Longhorns 20-0 under Mack Brown when they top 200 yards and 38-0 when they outrush their opponent under their current coach. … Missouri WR Justin Gage’s four receptions against Kansas gave him 176 for his career, breaking the former Big 12 career receiving record of 174 set by Texas’ Kwame Cavil from 1997-99. Gage needs 10 more receiving yards to break the conference career record of 2,389 yards set by Aaron Lockett of Kansas State from 1998-2001. Missouri hasn’t committed a turnover in the past three games and ranks 12th nationally with a plus 1.25 per game turnover margin. … Texas A&M WR Bethel Jackson needs 11 catches to become the school’s leading receiver, currently held by Keith Woodside in 1984-87.

Tim Griffin covers the Big 12 for the San Antonio Express-News. His "This Week in the Big 12" column appears Tuesdays during the season.

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