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"The crowd noise made it hard to communicate with my receivers at first, and the Auburn defense was sitting on all of our curls," said Manning, who completed 6 of 10 passes for 39 yards during a first half in which Ole Miss failed to advance beyond its 42-yard line. In the second half—after "calming down and getting used to the speed of the game," he said—Manning completed 18 of 29 passes for 226 yards and one touchdown. Certainly on his 50-yard touchdown strike to Omar Rayford, and on his 35-yard pass to Rayford in the end zone that was mistakenly ruled out-of-bounds (the replay showed Rayford's toe had caught the sideline), Manning showed that there was more to like about him than the family name.
"Eli throws a very catchable ball" said older brother Peyton, the Colts' Pro Bowl quarterback, on a cell phone last week. "Still, experience is the best teacher."
Archie, who attended the game at Auburn, concurred. "Eli got a little banged up today," he said. "Last week was rosy, this week wasn't. You learn from both."
Randle El's False Start
The conversion of Indiana senior Antwaan Randle El, the best all-purpose quarterback in the Big Ten for the last three seasons, to a flanker-quarterback-punt returner got off to a spectacularly bad start in the Hoosiers' 35-14 season-opening loss last Thursday at North Carolina State. Randle El played 48 snaps at receiver, catching four passes for 30 yards. He took 15 snaps at quarterback, completing 1 of 2 passes for seven yards and rushing seven times for 37 yards. He returned three punts for 27 yards.
That left a whole lot of plays on which Randle El didn't touch the ball, which came as a tonic to Wolfpack coach Chuck Amato. He and his staff remained skeptical until game time that junior Tommy Jones, Indiana's purported starting quarterback, would play at all. "I bet it doesn't last past the first series," North Carolina State assistant Doc Holliday said on the field before the game.
The 6'2", 236-pound Jones had shown a strong arm in practice, and though he completed 18 of 31 passes for 163 yards with no interceptions against the Wolfpack, he was unable to get the Hoosiers into the end zone until the final six minutes. Moreover, Randle El lost a fumble while running the option and committed a motion penalty at flanker that killed a drive. The effect on Indiana's offense was obvious. Whereas the Hoosiers scored 38 points in a losing effort against N.C. State a year ago, they trailed 35-0 in the fourth quarter last Thursday.
It would be easy to blame Indiana coach Cam Cameron for making the quarterback switch, but he had little choice. When the 5'10", 194-pound Randle El heard from NFL scouts that his best chance of making it in the pros was at wideout, he threatened to leave school early to enter the draft unless Indiana played him as a receiver. What's to be determined is whether that threat comes back to haunt Indiana, Randle El or both.
While Cameron and Randle El were disappointed by the Hoosiers' performance, neither wavered from endorsing the multifaceted use of Randle El. "It would be easy to be critical of a lot of things," said Cameron. "I still have confidence in these guys. We can't panic." Added Randle El, "I have no doubts we were well prepared. We just didn't execute. It was very frustrating."
Before the game, Indiana offensive coordinator Hal Hunter compared the Hoosiers' unconventional offense to driving 100 mph. "If we wreck, it could be fatal," Hunter said, "or we could pull away from the pack."