September 17, 2007

Monday Morsels: Irish eyes not smiling

Rivals.com Players of the Week
ACC
Boston College senior QB Matt Ryan threw for a career-high 435 yards and a TD in a dominating 24-10 win over Georgia Tech. Ryan carved up a solid Tech defense with his second 400-yard game of the season; he threw for 408 in a season-opening victory over Wake Forest.
Big East
Louisville WR Harry Douglas had 13 catches for 223 yards and a touchdown in a 40-34 loss to Kentucky. Douglas has three consecutive 100-yard games this season and has four TD receptions in those three games.
Big Ten
Ohio State LB James Laurinaitis had eight tackles, two interceptions and a sack as the Buckeyes downed Washington 33-14. Ohio State forced four turnovers and for the most part kept the Huskies under wraps.
Big 12
Iowa State K Bret Culbertson tied a school record with five field goals, including the game-winner with one second left, to account for all of the Cyclones' points in a 15-13 upset of Iowa. Culbertson kicked four field goals in the first half, then won the game with his 28-yarder. He also missed a 47-yarder early in the fourth quarter.
Conference USA
Tulsa QB Paul Smith might have a common name, but he had an unreal game in leading the Golden Hurricane to a 55-47 upset of BYU. Smith threw for 454 yards and five TDs as Tulsa outlasted the Cougars in an offensive orgy.
Mid-American
Ball State QB Nate Davis threw for 277 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another score as the Cardinals upset Navy 34-31 in overtime. Davis guided the Cardinals to 539 total yards.
Mountain West
Utah QB Tommy Grady threw for 246 yards and three touchdowns as the Utes shocked UCLA 44-6. Utah had scored just 19 points in its first two games, losses to Oregon State and Air Force, before pounding the Bruins.
Pac-10
USC TB Stafon Johnson ran for 144 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries as the Trojans whipped Nebraska 49-31. USC finished with 313 yards rushing.
SEC
Kentucky QB Andre' Woodson threw for 275 yards and four TDs and outdueled Louisville counterpart Brian Brohm as the Wildcats upset the Cardinals 40-34. Woodson threw a 57-yard game-winning TD pass with 28 seconds left.
Sun Belt
FAU QB Rusty Smith threw for 463 yards and five TDs as the Owls shocked Minnesota 42-39. FAU finished with 580 yards of offense in its first-ever victory over a BCS-league team. Smith was 27-of-44.
WAC
New Mexico State WR Chris Williams, who is 5 feet 8, caught nine passes for 221 yards and two TDs as the Aggies beat UTEP 29-24. His touchdown catches covered 59 and 82 yards.

I'm not a Notre Dame fan, but I think college football is more fun when the Fighting Irish are good.

When they're good, there's talk about how they have their own network, how they're guaranteed a BCS bid, how they're fawned over by a majority of the national media. All that talk keeps things interesting and, yes, fun.

Well, the Fighting Irish certainly aren't good this season. But you know what? Everyone still is talking about them. Specifically, about how horrible they are.

They're 0-3, they rank last (120th) in Division I-A in offense (115.0 yards per game almost 65 yards worse than No. 119 Florida International) and they've yet to score an offensive touchdown.

This is Notre Dame we're talking about, not UAB or FIU or Rice. Again, they're 0-3, they rank last in I-A in offense and they've yet to score an offensive touchdown.

The Irish's offensive ineptness after two games was somewhat understandable because they had gone against tough defenses from Georgia Tech and Penn State. But Saturday the Irish were shut down by Michigan, which had allowed 1,011 yards in its first two games. The Irish managed 79 total yards against the Wolverines, including minus-6 on the ground. That puts their season rushing total at minus-14.

None of this is funny to Irish fans. And it sure isn't funny to coach Charlie Weis, known as an innovative offensive mind. The Irish are 0-3 for just the second time in school history (the last time was in 2001, under Bob Davie who was fired after the season), and they've lost five in a row dating to last season.

Weis met with the media for almost 25 minutes after Saturday's loss "Hey, I'll take my beating like a man," he told the assembled media folks. He very matter-of-factly pointed out his team had suffered "three lopsided losses," that he had tried "every aspect of X's and O's" in the first three weeks, that the players wouldn't watch any film from the game and that he was convinced the only way out of the malaise was to start over and treat this week of practice as if it were the first week of fall camp.

The Irish lost their quarterback, their tailback, their two leading receivers and three starting offensive linemen from last season's 10-3 team. Again, though, this is Notre Dame, and each of the new starters was a highly recruited player. But something sure has gone wrong, starting with abysmal play from the offensive line. That means the running game can't go anywhere. That, in turn, has put a ton of pressure on true freshman QB Jimmy Clausen, who's gifted but can't throw when he's on his back. The defense actually has been OK; it simply has wilted because it has been on the field so long.

Weis' reputation is taking a hit. He had taken a program that had one winning season in its previous four to BCS games in each of his first two seasons. He had been hailed as almost a savior of the program and was rewarded with a big contract extension. But some of that luster is gone, and fans who were crowing in 2005 that Notre Dame got the better of it when Urban Meyer chose the Florida job over the Irish in '04 haven't said much lately.

And as bleak as it has been so far this season, it could get even bleaker. The next five games are against Michigan State, Purdue, UCLA, Boston College and USC. That quintet's combined record: 13-1.

The Irish started playing football in 1887, and they've suffered through just 11 losing seasons. That number, realistically, should just be nine because 1887 (0-1) and 1888 (1-2) shouldn't count. The worst marks: 2-8 in 1956 and in 1960. Interestingly, though, if the Irish finish below .500 this season, it'll be the fourth time in nine years that has happened.

If you go to Notre Dame's official athletics Web site, there's a "Countdown to Kickoff" graphic in the upper left-hand corner, ticking off the days, hours, minutes and seconds until the next game. These days, though, it's almost as if that countdown clock is merely counting down to the Irish's next embarrassment.

Blowing 'em out

You see the final score USC 49-31 over Nebraska and figure the Huskers gave the Trojans a small scare.

Well, in the first half, that was true. But the second half was USC domination, and two late scores by the Huskers just eased their pain a bit.

The Trojans who may have felt they needed a rout to make a statement because of all the attention focused on LSU and Oklahoma last week built a 49-17 lead midway through the fourth quarter before letting their foot off the accelerator. The Huskers then scored twice in the final 4:32, including a TD with 51 seconds left. And they had 168 total yards on their final two drives or 40 percent of their 420-yard total.

"Once we got going, geez, we just took control," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "Everything we wanted to get done we were able to get done."

Presumably, that means impressing the folks they wanted to impress. The Trojans won't really get a chance to impress in the coming weeks against less-than-stellar competition, but should be 7-0 when they travel to play Oregon on Oct. 27. After that, there also are road games against California and Arizona State and a home game against UCLA, though the Bruins don't look that formidable given Saturday night's blowout loss at the hands of Utah.

And that leads us to this: How in the world could UCLA get blown out by Utah, a team that came in winless and with all sorts of offensive problems (19 points in two games)? This was supposed to be a big season for the Bruins. Now, there is doubt. Good news for Karl Dorrell's crew is that of their four toughest remaining games (Arizona State, Cal, Oregon and USC), all but one are at home.

Simply offensive

You want to know why Auburn, despite being ranked 20th in the nation in total defense, is 1-2? It's simple: It's the Tigers' offense.

The problems are simple to figure out, too: The Tigers can't throw the ball, lack a go-to receiver, have a rebuilt line and don't have a breakaway threat at tailback. Other than that, they're loaded with offensive talent.

Week 1 was bad enough, a 23-13 victory over Kansas State that was far closer than the final score indicated. Then came last week, a 26-23 overtime loss at home to USF. But Saturday was like some kind of nightmare: a 19-14 loss to Mississippi State.

Auburn allowed only 213 total yards, including just 41 through the air. And the Tigers still lost.

Senior QB Brandon Cox was benched for ineffective play in the first half, then returned for Auburn's last drive of the game. That last-ditch drive ended with him tossing a wounded duck into the end zone on fourth down a wounded duck that landed about 5 yards from the nearest Auburn player.

Cox is 37 of 75 for 436 yards, with two TDs and six interceptions this season. His first pass of the game Saturday was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. His second pass also was picked off, and he trotted off the field to a torrent of boos.

"It bothers me," Cox said Saturday of the booing, "but I'm not going to let it bother me after today."

True freshman Kodi Burns played most of the game at quarterback for Auburn. Might it be time to give him the starting job? Burns is far more mobile and gave the offense somewhat of a spark Saturday. But offensive coordinator Al Borges wasn't biting at least not yet.

"I'm not going to commit to anything," he said. "We'll look at it and talk to the head coach and make that decision."

Not that score comparisons have any value other than, hey, they're fun, but consider this: LSU beats Mississippi State 45-0 in Starkville, then the Bulldogs win in Auburn.

Auburn, which has committed 10 turnovers in the past two games, hosts New Mexico State this week the Tigers' fourth consecutive home game. Good news is that New Mexico State's defense is giving up almost 370 yards per game. Can Auburn take advantage?

Grid bits

If Arizona coach Mike Stoops wasn't on the hot seat before, he is now after a 29-27 home loss to New Mexico. It was New Mexico's first victory over a Pac-10 team since 1979 and Arizona's second loss to a Mountain West school this season (it opened with a loss at BYU). Three of Arizona's next four are on the road, including trips to California and USC.

All hail mighty Duke. The Blue Devils won 20-14 at Northwestern to break a 22-game losing streak. "It's been a long, long time," WR Jomar Wright told The Herald-Sun of Durham, N.C. "We all deserved it. We prepared and went out and executed when it was on the line and got the victory." Though it was a road game, about 300 Duke students tore down the goalposts at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham. Florida International now has the ignominious honor of the longest losing streak, at 15.

Louisville leads the nation in total offense (617.0 ypg), but the Cardinals' national-title hopes are gone because of an atrocious defense. Kentucky beat Louisville 40-34 on Saturday night on a 57-yard TD pass with 28 seconds left. UK WR Steve Johnson was wide open down the sideline as the result of a blown coverage. The game was on ESPN Classic, and ESPN analyst Bill Curry who usually isn't that critical was almost apoplectic that a wide receiver could get that open at such an important time in the game. Louisville has allowed 82 points and 1,015 yards in its past two games. The defense will get well against Syracuse this week the kids in your neighborhood could hold the Orange under 250 total yards but coordinator Mike Cassity and his assistants need to find some playmakers soon on that side of the ball.

Sticking with UK-Louisville, it was puzzling when Wildcats coach Rich Brooks didn't go for two after the Woodson-Johnson TD pass. The score put UK up 39-34; why not go for two there and try for a seven-point lead?

Boise State beat Wyoming 24-14 to improve to 12-0 against Mountain West Conference members since becoming a I-A school in 1996. We mention the perfect record only because Boise State president Bob Kustra told the Idaho Statesman last week that he still wanted his school currently in the WAC to become a MWC member.

Stanford beat San Jose State 37-0. Big deal, right? Well, it was the Cardinal's first shutout since 1996, a 38-0 victory over Michigan State in the Sun Bowl. And get this: It was Stanford's first home shutout since 1972 yes, 1972 (24-0 over Washington).

Give it up for the Sun Belt Conference, whose members won two games over BCS-league opponents over the weekend (host Troy over Oklahoma State on Thursday, and host Florida Atlantic over Minnesota on Saturday). The league's two non-conference victories this season over BCS-league opponents/Notre Dame is one less than the ACC and SEC. The Big Ten leads with six such wins, with two of those over Notre Dame. The Big 12 and Pac-10 each have five, and the Big East has four. Worth noting: Two of the Big Ten's and one of the Pac-10's have come over Syracuse.

S.B. Thomas known as "Sarah" to her friends became the first female official to work a Division I-A game Saturday night. She was the line judge in the Memphis-Jacksonville State game. Thomas, who works as a pharmaceutical salesman, is a longtime Mississippi high school official. Under Conference USA rules, officials aren't allowed to speak to the media, so Thomas' thoughts on making history won't be known for a while.

In case you're wondering, the first BCS standings of the season come out October 14.

Under-the-radar games

At first glance, these games don't jump out at you. But upon further review, they look a whole lot better.

Clemson at N.C. State: Clemson always has had problems living with prosperity. The Tigers (3-0) should be able to run all over the Wolfpack, who are giving up 216.0 rushing yards per game. But if NCSU can somehow 'bow up with its run defense, this one could get interesting. We're still not total believers in Clemson's defense.

Air Force at BYU: Going into the season, Air Force looked like one of the three worst teams in the Mountain West. Instead, the Falcons under new coach Troy Calhoun, an Air Force alum who had been offensive coordinator with the NFL's Houston Texans are 3-0, with victories over Utah and TCU. A win over BYU (1-2), whose defense was shredded last week by Tulsa, puts the Falcons in the driver's seat in the league. It'll be the league opener for BYU, which has found a quarterback (Arizona State transfer Max Hall) but still needs to find a running game and a defense.

Texas Tech at Oklahoma State: Remember that preseason talk that because of a powerful offense, Oklahoma State was a dark-horse contender in the Big 12? Yeah, we don't, either. The Cowboys (1-2) are coming off a loss to Troy, and their pass defense has been atrocious (265.7 yards per game). An atrocious pass defense is not a plus when you play Texas Tech. Still, if the Cowboys can get their offense going and they have too much talent not to eventually break out this could be an entertaining, high-scoring game.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.



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