adjectives like physical and smashmouth can be euphemisms for primitive and
unimaginative. Until Steve Spurrier took over at Florida in 1990, the SEC was a
notorious coldbed of offensive innovation. While the league's passing attacks
are far more sophisticated now than they were even a few years ago, one Pac-10
coach still described the SEC last August as "a dead conference that way,
the worst offensive conference in history."
During the Bears'
preparation for Tennessee, Follett described the Vols' offense as "basic
stuff. If you compare them to the offenses that we go against—'SC, Washington,
Oregon State—we definitely have a lot more film study to prepare for those
It didn't matter
how much time Michigan spent breaking down film of Oregon's spread--option
offense. The Wolverines were powerless to stop senior quarterback Dennis Dixon
from eviscerating their defense in a 39--7 win in the Big House on Sept. 8.
On that day the
Pac-10 was 7--0 against nonconference foes—its first perfect Saturday in nine
years. Going into last weekend, the Pac-10 was 13--3 against nonleague
competition. True, it lost a bit of luster with No. 11 UCLA's baffling 44--6
loss at Utah and Washington's 33--14, return-to-earth defeat at the hands of
Ohio State. The Trojans picked up the Pac-10 by subjecting Nebraska to the sort
of punishment the Big Red meted out, once upon a time, on a regular basis.
noteworthy in the victory was that a feature runner appeared to have emerged
for the tailback-rich Trojans. Sophomore Stafon Johnson, who starred at L.A.'s
Dorsey High, plunged down the depth chart in '06. "I was killin' it in the
scrimmages," he told SI last week, "but when it came to practices, I
was doing just enough to make the play go."
He didn't hustle,
failed to finish plays, had no fire in his belly. "He got beaten out,"
says Carroll. "We tried to make it really clear what we were looking for,
and it wasn't making sense to him for some reason. We knew he was a really good
player. We just weren't getting it out of him." The recollection brings a
tinge of exasperation to Carroll's voice.
How far down the
depth chart was Johnson? "I was basically at the bottom of the Grand
Canyon," he says. "The light went on for me over the winter. My
grandfather passed"—Larry (Big Dad) Mallory died of a heart attack at age
66—"and it felt like it was time to grow up and be a man."
Johnson tore it up
in the spring but still went into fall camp seventh on the depth chart. His
attitude adjustment combined with attrition at tailback—Emmanuel Moody
transferred to Florida; C.J. Gable, Chauncey Washington, Allen Bradford and Joe
McKnight all incurred nagging injuries—ensured that Johnson would get plenty of
work in Nebraska. He finished with 144 yards on 11 carries for a preposterous
13.1-yard average that nevertheless seemed slightly anemic beside the per-carry
numbers of Gable (four carries, 69 yards, 17.2 yards per rush) and fullback
Stanley Havili (two, 52, 26.0).
offensive line coach Pat Ruel seemed even more gregarious than usual in
victory, he had his reasons. "Oh, yeah," Ruel said with a smile. "I
got my ass kicked in here quite often." It turned out he'd spent nine years
as an assistant at Kansas. "I've been in here four or five times when Tom
Osborne was the [ Cornhuskers'] coach, and wow, the game couldn't get over fast
Ruel and the other
USC assistants had gathered a few hours before the game. Having created some
pretext to get Carroll into a meeting room, they popped in a DVD of uncertain
provenance. On the screen appeared Sutherland's Jack Bauer, who interrupted a
scene by turning to the camera and saying, "Happy birthday, Pete."