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College Football
Ivan Maisel
November 22, 1999
The Hokie Pokie Virginia Tech danced past Miami and closer to the national title game
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November 22, 1999

College Football

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"It was a tough week, just hard," Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said on Sunday. "To see Clint Stoerner go through that, and thinking about Brandon Burlsworth...." Burlsworth, who died in a car accident in April, was the Arkansas All-America offensive tackle who inadvertently tripped Stoerner last year and caused the stumble on which Stoerner fumbled. "Brandon wanted Tennessee so bad last year," Nutt said. "I remember him taking that game pretty hard." Stoerner coped with the attention as best as he could. "A buddy of mine back home [in Baytown, Texas] gave me a football with a handle on it," he said on Sunday. "I thought that was funny. I'm the kind of guy that keeps everything in. I don't know if I realized how much had built up."

The goalposts came down at Razorback Stadium for the first time since 1981. The team remained amid the celebration on the field for 45 minutes. "I know last year's game is always going to be in people's minds," Stoerner said. "But now they can put this game in there with it."

Hawaii's Turnaround
June Jones to The Rescue

Last December when June Jones turned down a reported four-year, $3 million contract to remain as coach of the San Diego Chargers and chose instead to become the head man at Hawaii, one had to wonder if he was taking advice from Ryan Leaf. Hawaii was fresh off an 0-12 season, owned the nation's longest losing streak (18 games) and hadn't had a winning year since 1992. But Jones, who played for Hawaii in 1973 and '74 and was its quarterbacks coach in 1983, has quietly engineered one of the greatest turnarounds in NCAA history. Using 14 holdover starters from last season and his trademark run-and-shoot offense, he has led a team that was the laughingstock of the WAC to a conference championship.

With its 31-24 double-overtime victory over Fresno State on Saturday, Hawaii is 7-3 and headed to either the Oahu or Las Vegas Bowl. The Rainbow Warriors' seven-game improvement is the second biggest in Division I-A history, and with games remaining against Navy (4-6) and Washington State (2-8), Hawaii can still tie or surpass the record eight-game improvement by Purdue in 1943 and Stanford in 1940. "From the beginning we always said one team, one dream," says senior linebacker Yaphet Warren. "Our dream came true."

Hawaii had been thinking of shutting down the program within two years if it continued to hemorrhage money. This year football will finish in the black thanks in part to a 27% jump in home attendance. Fans have been eager to watch the team roll up points: Thanks to the run-and-shoot, the Rainbow Warriors lead the WAC in total offense (411.8 yards per game) and are third in scoring (28.6 points per game). Says senior quarterback Dan Robinson, who has already set a school single-season record with 2,992 yards of total offense, "There are two words for our success: June Jones."
B.J. Schecter

Short Backs Are In
Everyone's Downsizing

Many of this season's best tailbacks wouldn't be allowed on most rides at Disneyland. The second leading ground-gainer in the Big East, 5'8" junior Shyrone Stith of Virginia Tech, has rushed for 947 yards and 12 touchdowns, including two in Saturday night's victory over Miami. The second-leading rusher in the Pacific-10 is Oregon State sophomore Ken Simonton (126.6 yards per game), all 5'7" of him. The top two rushers in the Big 12 are 5'8" Darren Davis of Iowa State (131.3 yards per game) and 5'7" Hodges Mitchell of Texas (111.6). Their success comes as no surprise in a conference in which eight starting tailbacks are 5'9" or shorter, including Michael Thornton of Oklahoma, who may be the shortest Division I-A starter, at 5'5".

The increasing use of the spread offense (SI, Oct. 11) has reduced the need for big-bodied tailbacks. With defenses stretched from sideline to sideline, the rushing game has more room in which to work, and short, quick backs can be very effective. In describing Simonton, Oregon State coach Dennis Erickson could just as easily be explaining why other small backs are doing well: "He's got a lot of moves and quick feet. Besides being able to find a crease and break off blocks, he can make quick cuts—those guys get lost behind your blockers."

Last season, when Mitchell backed up the powerful Ricky Williams, he bulked up to 200 pounds. The weight only hindered him. "It took me away from being elusive, from moving side to side," Mitchell says. "This season I'm down between 180 and 185."

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