- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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Unbeaten Nebraska, whose weak schedule has thus far kept it out of the No. 1 spot in the polls, gained a supporter in Iowa State coach Jim Walden, who I snarled after his team was blown out 45-13 by the Cornhuskers: "Don't give me that crap they ain't played nobody. They're good. They'll be just as good when they play a team that thinks it's 'somebody.' " That will come on Saturday, when the 8-0 Huskers kick off the serious part of their season by playing 7-1-1 Colorado in Lincoln.
The Huskers crushed Iowa State with such ease that they seemed to be using only half a playbook. Nebraska quarterback Mickey Joseph was allowed to throw only four passes (all completions, two for touchdowns). Most of the time, Joseph simply gave the ball to I-back Leodis Flowers, whose career-high 208 yards rushing on 25 carries included a 70-yard TD romp, the longest of his career, and two more scores from one and five yards out. Said Walden, "Nebraska passes only when it wants to give its pulling guards a rest."
Of course, Colorado's Buffaloes also love to roam, as they proved again in a 32-23 win over Oklahoma that left the Sooners with three losses in a row for the first time since 1965. As usual, tail-back Eric Bieniemy, Colorado's 5'7", 193-pound battering ram, led the way, this time getting 188 yards on 28 carries, including a 69-yard third-quarter gallop that gave Colorado an 18-14 lead. The Buffs never trailed again, partly because Oklahoma lost the services of quarterback Cale Gundy, who suffered a hip injury early in the third quarter. Before he left the game, Gundy completed eight of 14 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown while building a 14-12 Sooner lead.
The turning point of the game, though, came early in the fourth period with Oklahoma trailing 18-17. The Sooners opted to go for it on fourth-and-one at the Colorado 11 rather than have placekicker R.D. Lashar, who had missed three of his previous five attempts, try a 28-yard field goal. The gamble failed when tailback Dewell Brewer was thrown for a loss. Then on first down, Colorado quarterback Darian Hagan hooked up with Rico Smith on an 85-yard scoring pass. Later, Hagan scored again on a three-yard run after a 31-yard interception return by cornerback Dave McCloughan.
With the victory the Buffs had back-to-back wins over Oklahoma for the first time since 1965-66.
It doesn't take a Rocket scientist to figure out that Notre Dame's Raghib Ismail is the most explosive player in college football. Anytime he gets his hands on the ball, whether on a kick or a pass or a handoff, Ismail is a threat to go all the way, as he proved again last Saturday with a career-high 116 yards rushing, including a 76-yard touchdown blast in the fourth quarter that opened the way for a 31-22 win over surprisingly pesky Pitt.
The question is, Why did coach Lou Holtz wait until now to start giving more opportunities to his ultimate weapon?
Sure, Ismail looks a tad frail at 5'10", 175 pounds, but whenever he's on the field, rival defenses have to respect his presence, and that helps open up other parts of the Irish attack. Playing decoy should be the least of the Rocket's roles. At this point in his junior year, his all-purpose stats compare favorably to those of flanker Tim Brown's at the same point in his Heisman Trophy year of 1987. After seven games that season, Brown had rushed for 111 yards on 24 carries for a 4.6 average. Ismail, in his first seven games this season, had 391 yards on 42 carries for a 9.3 average. (Bear in mind, too, that Ismail played only one down in the Irish's lone loss to Stanford.) Brown might have been the more talented receiver, with 489 yards on 23 catches in those seven games, but Ismail had 380 yards on 20 catches after the game against Pitt. And, without question, Ismail is the superior kick returner, with a 30.0-yard average on eight returns; Brown averaged 18.2 yards.
As this year's Heisman campaign heats up, the Rocket will hone in on some rather tough targets, most notably the stingy defenses of Penn State and Tennessee. They had better be ready, or else, like Miami and Pitt, they'll be lit up by the Rocket's red glare.