SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel shares his commentary, analysis and random tidbits on the latest developments around the country.
10/04/2007 01:02:00 PM
Showcase: Woodson vs. No. 1 Pass Defense
Kentucky QB Andre Woodson threw for 289 yards and a touchdown in a 24-17 loss to South Carolina last season.
When Steve Spurrier talks, people listen. The guy’s entertaining. When Steve Spurrier talks quarterbacks -- people listen and take notes. The guy knows a thing or two about that particular position. He’s also notoriously critical of his own QBs. So it’s got to mean something that he paid this ultimate compliment to the signal-caller his South Carolina team faces Thursday night:
"He's a beautiful passer," Spurrier said of Kentucky’s Andre Woodson. "I told somebody the other day he looks like Carson Palmer."
Palmer, as you know, won the Heisman Trophy as a senior at USC and became the No. 1 overall pick in the following spring’s draft. As unlikely as it would have sounded just a few months ago, both those prizes are suddenly in reach for Kentucky’s record-breaking, 6-foot-5, 230-pound QB. And the nation will get a perfect opportunity to decide for itself tonight, when the eighth-ranked Wildcats (5-0) play the first of three consecutive highly ranked opponents, No. 11 South Carolina.
After flying under the radar as a junior despite putting up huge numbers (3,515 yards, 31 touchdowns, seven interceptions) and leading Kentucky to its best record (8-5) since 1984, Woodson has shot to the top rung of every Heisman list in the country this season. The only caveat is that his impeccable numbers -- 67.1 percent completions, 1,309 yards, 16 touchdowns and just one interception (which ended an NCAA record streak of 325 attempts without a pick) -- have come against a schedule of Eastern Kentucky, Kent State, Florida Atlantic, Arkansas and Louisville. The latter two were nationally ranked at the time but have since fallen from the polls in large part due to their pass defenses, ranked 81st and 103rd nationally.
Where does Thursday night’s opponent rank in that category: First. That’s right -- numero uno. The Gamecocks, led by pass-rushers Eric Norwood and Casper Brinkley, safeties Emmanuel Cook and Darian Stewart and corners Carlos Thomas and Captain Munnerlyn, have allowed just 532 passing yards in five games. Opponents are completing just 46.2 percent of their passes, with two touchdowns and six interceptions.
If Woodson can conquer these guys, the sky’s the limit (though it won’t get any easier the following week when No. 1 LSU comes to town, followed by No. 9 Florida). That said, a major reason for the Wildcats’ early success has been their offensive balance. It’s possible the Wildcats could knock off South Carolina even without a big game from Woodson if running backs Rafael Little (109.4 yards per game) and Tony Dixon (nine carries for 78 yards against Arkansas) can slash through the Gamecocks’ defensive front the way LSU did two weeks ago (290 rushing yards in a 28-16 victory).
Woodson, when asked about the Heisman this week, issued the standard candidate’s line. "It’s a privilege and honor to be mentioned with some of those players ... honestly, I don’t care about winning the Heisman right now. We still feel like we have a lot to prove."
Woodson is definitely one of the best players in the nation. I've heard Kentucky beating USC would be an upset? I don't think so. Like Coach Spurrier said, he thinks the teams are evenly matched. Honestly, if Kentucky goes in to Columbia tonight and plays their type of football, they will beat USC by 14. Coach Brooks just needs to make sure that the CATS play their style of football and don't let USC speed up the game by keeping it on the ground the whole game. Kentucky will win this ballgame, and people will still say Kentucky hasn't played anyone yet. How about beating the defending SEC West Champs.
Name the great passing teams that South Carolina has shut down this season to earn that #1 ranking in pass defense. None of them are in the top 50. C'mon Mandel. You can't just pick one category to spin your story.
We'll see . . . but I'm putting my faith in the South Carolina D, the home field advantage and, at this point, it appears the Gamecocks have played a tougher schedule than Kentucky. Should be a good game - and it just kicked off.
Stew, what's gonna happen when USC climbs up to #3 in the polls and plays the banished, unranked Michigan team in the Rose Bowl? Is that going to finally expose the ranking system as the biggest joke/crime in all of sports? With all the upsets this season, the teams are making it hard for the writers to keep the money making teams ranked in the polls. Hopefully we get two Big East teams playing for the National Championship and the country finally gets angry enough to stage a massive hunger strike until we get a play off system!
Hart for Heisman! Seriously, I don't get why he doesn't get more hype. You wrote that he doesn't have break away speed but doesn't that really fall into the job description of a wide reciever? Seriously, he's a RUNNING BACK!!!! All the things that you listed as negatives about him are actually positves, just ask Barry Sanders! His job is to chew up the field 15 feet at a time and not fumble. He's #2 in the nation, #1 in school history (which is saying something given that UM ran the ball for 20 years straight under Bo) and hasn't fumbled in about 1,000 carries! Come on Stew!!!! Jump on the band wagon Baby! Give the man a serious look. He plays in a tougher conference (to rush in, obviously not overall) and everytime he touches the ball, everyone KNOWS he's going to get it and he still averages 162 yards a game! What more do you want?! Oh, and you are dead wrong...he's gonna make truck loads of money on Sundays.
I have an outrageous "what if" type question to account for all the wailing and gnashing of teeth regarding certain "lofty college teams" that have suddenly gone into either crisis mode, or straight down to the depths of despair. What if these formerly highly ranked and regarded teams weren't all that hot BEFORE they came to ruin? What if ALL the sports pundits--sorry this includes S I too--aren't really so wonderful at scouting out who's on the way up and who's not? That would mean that the mighty who have recently fallen were nothing more than puffed up pretenders--creations of all too fallible media moguls and rating voters--just ripe to get some half-sharp needle shoved into their guts to get deflated. Wouldn't that explanation account much more easily than any I'm reading for what has recently happened to many of the darling teams of college football? Tell you what along the same lines. Watch out, those Big 12 teams you folks hype so much for no reason I can fathom are the worst of the lot for avoiding playing any decent teams outside their own conference. It's a good bet that those Big 12 guys aren't nearly as good as you make them out to be either. You heard it here first.