After soundly beating USC 31-15 last Saturday, Arizona is 4-1 and 2-0 in the Pac-10. The Wildcats' success can be attributed in part to the play of a pair of freshmen from Houston. Cornerback Michael Jolivette intercepted two passes against the Trojans and has four for the season, one fewer than Arizona had a year ago. Tailback Clarence Fanner, whom coach Dick Tomey started relying on heavily in the third game, responded with 95 yards against San Diego State, 116 against Stanford and 134 against Southern Cal.
Arizona has never gone to a Rose Bowl, and getting there this year still looks to be an uphill battle. On the one hand, the Wildcats have only two road games remaining. On the other, they are at Oregon (2-0, 4-1 overall) and at Washington (1-1, 4-1). But lowered expectations seem to be just what Arizona needs.
Ohio State Rebounds
Last Season Was a Mirage
You didn't expect Ohio State to be down for long, did you? After averaging 10 wins per year from 1993 through '98, the Buckeyes last season showed the effects of losing eight starters to the NFL: They went 6-6 and missed going to a bowl for the first time since '88.
This season the Buckeyes are back to playing like their old selves. After an impressive 23-7 victory at Wisconsin, Ohio State (5-0, 2-0) remained, with Northwestern (5-1, 3-0), one of only two unbeaten teams in Big Ten play and jumped to No. 6 in the AP poll. Two principal reasons for the Buckeyes' resurgence are the improved play of junior quarterback Steve Bellisari and a staunch defense.
Bellisari, who completed only 45% of his passes last fall, has learned to be more patient in the pocket. In five games he has thrown for 875 yards and six touchdowns while lifting his completion rate to 54%. After finishing sixth in the Big Ten in total defense last year, Ohio State leads the conference in that category. The Buckeyes sacked Badgers quarterback Brooks Bollinger nine times, giving them 24 this year compared with 29 for all of '99.
Ohio State and Northwestern don't play each other this fall, and should both teams win the rest of their games, the Buckeyes would get the bid to the Rose Bowl—unless they go to the Orange Bowl to play for the national championship—because they would have the better overall record. Before that happens Ohio State has to play Purdue and Illinois on the road and finish with Michigan at home. (Northwestern plays those three teams at home.) Whether or not they make that journey unscathed, the Buckeyes have shown that last season was a mere bump in the road.
Mississippi State Delivers
Defense Clamps Down on Auburn
Mississippi State lost eight starters from the defense that allowed only 66.9 rushing yards per game last season, best in the nation. Good riddance, if the Bulldogs' performance in their 17-10 defeat of Auburn is any measure. After limiting Rudi Johnson, the SEC's top ground gainer, to 26 yards on 18 carries, Mississippi State is giving up only 24.4 rushing yards per game, again best in the nation. The previously undefeated Tigers didn't make a first down in the opening half and finished with 164 total yards. "It looked like we got a little intimidated early in the game," said Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville.
For instance, on the first play of the second quarter, when Auburn faced third-and-two at the Mississippi State 49-yard line, all 11 defenders crowded the line of scrimmage—and Johnson was stuffed for a two-yard loss. "Their heads weren't in the game," linebacker Mario Haggan said of the Tigers. "They were watching for the blitz when we weren't blitzing. They didn't see it when we were. You have to wonder what they were looking at."