Look at Us Now
Powerful performances by Texas Tech's Kliff Kingsbury and Penn State's Larry Johnson give them Heisman heat
Good Heisman Trophy campaigns, like good bourbon, often get better with time, especially when the preseason favorites—Rex Grossman, Ken Dorsey, Dave Ragone and Chris Simms—go flat. With an eye-popping offensive output over the last month, Texas Tech senior quarterback Kliff Kingsbury has vaulted back into the Heisman race.
By torching No. 4 Texas for 473 yards and six touchdowns in a 42-38 win last Saturday, Kingsbury increased his flag-football-like season totals to 4,455 yards and 41 touchdowns, both best in the nation. "We were trying everything," said Longhorns defensive coordinator Carl Reese. "We were mixing zone and blitzes, but Kingsbury always had the answer."
Kingsbury's performance helped Tech improve to 8-4 (5-2 in the Big 12 South) and capped a five-game stretch in which he passed for 2,087 yards and 18 touchdowns and revived the Heisman talk that began this summer. In July, Tech distributed 800 promotional CD-ROMs to the media, had Kingsbury on a weekly telephone conference call with national reporters and created a website, www.kliffkingsbury.com.
But the conference calls ended after a 51-48 overtime loss to North Carolina State on Sept. 21 dropped the Red Raiders to 2-2. "It wasn't disappointing," says the 6'4", 210-pound Kingsbury, a three-year starter. "We had lost a couple of games, and that's just the way the award goes." Some have devalued his gaudy numbers as being a product of coach Mike Leach's wide-open offense, which features frequent five-wideout sets. But as Kingsbury showed in shredding Texas' secondary, he is a savvy decisionmaker. He has completed 68.1% of his throws and been intercepted only 10 times despite attempting 52.8 passes per game.
Like Kingsbury, Perm State tailback Larry Johnson has entered the Heisman picture on the strength of an explosive second half. As he ran for four touchdowns in the Nittany Lions' 58-25 win over Indiana on Saturday, Johnson set school rushing records for a game (327 yards) and a season (1,736). That capped a freakishly prolific five-game stretch during which he was the country's top back, averaging 25.8 carries and 223.4 yards while scoring nine touchdowns.
A bullish 6'2", 222-pound fifth-year senior, Johnson has thriven since coach Joe Paterno anointed him the feature back last spring. After spending his first three years as a backup, never exceeding 14 rushes or 94 yards in a game, Johnson labored this off-season to develop more endurance. Besides jumping rope and doing hurdling drills to improve his mobility, he ran religiously, roaming the State College area in his 1992 Acura Legend and hopping out to run hills that looked inviting.
Johnson will try to add to his credentials this week against Michigan Sate. But it's Kingsbury who has the big opportunity to impress voters with a strong showing on Saturday at No. 3 Oklahoma, in a game that will decide the Big 12 South title. "I don't know how much the Texas game helped my chances," Kingsbury says, "but I feel like this week's game will go a long way."
Terps Are Undefeated In a "New Season"
During a team meeting on Sept 16, two days after Maryland dropped to 1-2 with a 37-10 loss to Florida State, Terrapins coach Ralph Friedgen told his team to consider its next game as the start of a new season. "That really gave the guys a clean slate" says junior quarterback Scott McBrien. "It made guys want to play football again."