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College Football
Mark Beech
October 02, 2006
A Changed Man Making the most of a second chance, Virginia Tech back Branden Ore has lost his bad attitude and found a starring role TO HEAR folks at Virginia Tech tell the story, there's little about the Branden Ore of 2006 that resembles the angry and undisciplined player who was such a disruptive force last fall. Gone is the malcontent who was consistent only in his tardiness (both for meetings and for classes) and who sulked over his playing time as he backed up senior tailbacks Mike Imoh and Cedric Humes. Gone too are the excuses Ore made to frustrated coaches for his behavior. Instead he's become a model teammate and a conscientious worker who takes responsibility for his actions. "I've never seen such a change in a person in such a short time," says running backs coach Billy Hite. "Every time I see him, I want to hug him."
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October 02, 2006

College Football

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Football fans in Texas are already aware, but it's time the rest of the country started paying attention to the revival that Bobby Ross is overseeing at Army. Playing in the Lone Star State for the second week in a row, the Cadets clipped Baylor, 27--20, in overtime last Saturday to improve to 2--2. That's the first time in 10 years that they had a record as good as .500 after four games. The highlight of the victory was Army's conversion of a fourth-and-one play in the extra period, a gutsy call considering Ross made it seven days after his team was stuffed at Texas A&M's two-yard line on the final play of a 28--24 loss. "We told Coach we could get [the first down]," said quarterback David Pevoto, after the win over Baylor. "We wanted to prove we could get it."

That's the sort of mental toughness Ross has been working to instill in a program that had gone 5--42 in the four years before he arrived in 2004, then lost 15 of its first 17 under its new coach. But since last October the Cadets have won six of nine, including victories on the road over Air Force and Akron. All four games this season have been decided by eight points or fewer. "It's rewarding in the sense that we're more competitive but frustrating to get as close as we did against A&M and not win," says defensive coordinator John Mumford, in his seventh year at West Point. "Our players have really bought into what coach Ross is doing."

Ross's hard-nosed style is evident on both sides of the ball. Because the 4--3 defense is manned mostly by undersized players who tend to be a step slower than the competition, Army employs a bend-but-don't break philosophy. "Trading five yards for a headache," is how Mumford describes it. Led by hard hitters such as defensive end Cameron Craig and linebacker Cason Shrode, the Cadets ranked 37th in total defense last year after finishing last in the country in Ross's first season. This year they rank 57th.

The most surprising aspect of the revival, though, is that Army is succeeding on offense without relying heavily on the option running game that has proved so successful at fellow service academies Air Force and Navy. Ross installed an offense with multiple sets, which has not only helped the running attack but also opened up the passing game. In 2003 the Cadets had the worst rushing offense in Division I-A, but they ranked 36th and 66th in their first two season under Ross and are 55th this season. Against Baylor, Pevoto, a 6'5", 229-pound junior who is in his first year as a starter, completed 15 of 22 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown.

Hoping to cash in on Army's first postseason appearance since 1996, the Poinsettia Bowl recently invited the Cadets to the Dec. 19 game in San Diego, on the condition that they win the requisite six games to become bowl-eligible. Yes, there are dates against 17th-ranked TCU on Oct. 21 and No. 12 Notre Dame on Nov. 18, but first come winnable games against Rice, VMI and Connecticut the next three Saturdays.


Huskies Show Some Bite

That roar you heard from the Pacific Northwest last Saturday was the sound of Washington turning the corner. After trailing visiting UCLA 16--0 late in the first half, the Huskies stormed back for a 29--19 victory. While that rally stands as the seventh-largest comeback in the school's history, it is by far the biggest win in the tenure of second-year coach Tyrone Willingham.

At 3--1 Washington has matched its win total from the previous two seasons combined. While Willingham won just twice in '05, there were subtle signs of a coming change. Facial hair disappeared—Willingham disapproved. Team meetings were held at 6:30 a.m. Focus and accountability became buzzwords.

And Willingham put the ball in the hands of spectacularly dreadlocked fifth-year senior quarterback Isaiah Stanback, a graduate of Seattle's Garfield High. A dazzling dual threat with 10.4 speed in the 100, Stanback was both exciting and erratic in 11 starts last season, throwing for nine touchdowns and six interceptions while completing 54.2% of his passes. While his completion percentage is only mildly improved—it is hovering just under 57%—he has thrown six touchdown passes and just two interceptions this year. (He has also rushed for 280 yards and a pair of scores.) Perhaps more important, when his teammates absolutely had to have his leadership against UCLA, he delivered. With the Huskies in that 16--0 hole, Stanback engineered a nine-play, 92 yard drive for a touchdown that gave them hope going into halftime.

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