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Every college football season brings its share of surprises and here are some of the early ones: Vanderbilt is 2-0 after winning two straight games on the road (it's the first time Vandy has won its opening two games since the '88 season – 1888, that is). Mack Brown and Texas actually beat Ohio State at Columbus (maybe the Longhorns will even take care of Oklahoma for the first time this millennium).
Notre Dame has defeated two ranked teams on the road (although I'll grant you that Pittsburgh obviously didn't deserve to be ranked). I don't know what's more surprising – the fact that the Irish are 2-0, or the fact that they've won two games after hiring Bill Lewis for their coaching staff. It's also surprising that the NCAA hasn't come down hard on Notre Dame for employing a defensive line coach who's named Jerome "Jappy" Oliver. If the NCAA is going to be so appalled at the use of Native American nicknames, they should really be outraged at the employment of a coach whose nickname is such a gratuitous slur against Asian-Americans.
And of course, there's Georgia Tech. We were all very aware of Chan Gailey's history of following a big upset win with a maddening loss to a team of inferior talent. I fully expected that pattern to hold against North Carolina, but happily I was proven wrong. Is it too much to hope that this year's Yellow Jackets will break out of their rut and win seven or eight games during the regular season? I'm beginning to think it's possible.
The North Carolina game was almost a mirror image of the Auburn game. Tech started strong by unleashing P. J. Daniels and scoring early, then let the Heels back into the game with some sloppy tackling that resulted in a long touchdown pass. Tech was unable to move the ball much in the fourth quarter, but held on to win by intercepting several passes in the waning minutes. Same script, different team.
It's good to see Tech's three key playmakers on offense – Reggie Ball, Calvin Johnson, and Daniels – continue their strong, consistent play. Reggie threw several passes that North Carolina could have intercepted, but they didn't, and Ball finished with a career-best 320 yards passing. At the risk of being too optimistic too early, it really does look like Ball is playing more within his capabilities and making better decisions in the flow of play.
The player who really blossomed – in his fifth year with the program – was Damarius Bilbo, who caught eight passes and made a Calvin Johnson-style takeaway for a touchdown. D-Bo has as many receptions as Johnson (10) and could have a breakout year at wide receiver. That would make Tech's offense even more potent by giving opposing defenders someone to worry about in addition to Johnson.
Kudos again to Jon Tenuta and the defense, which shut down the running attack for the second week in a row. Here's a telling statistic: P. J. Daniels gained as many yards rushing in one game against Auburn (111) as Tech has surrendered in its first two games combined (111). Auburn and North Carolina gained those 111 yards on 49 carries, which means the Jackets are giving up just over two yards an attempt. That will win a few games for you. So far, Tech seems to have overcome the loss of defensive linemen Darryl Richard and Travis Parker. Let's hope they have enough depth to avoid being worn down as the season progresses.
The secondary did the job with three late interceptions of Matt Baker passes, but it looks to me like Tenuta should put some of the DBs through some extra tackling drills. One of these days, Tech could lose a game by failing to wrap up the wide receivers.
It has been noted on the Hive message board that Gailey should have called more runs and fewer passes in the fourth quarter, when Tech was in dire need of burning some clock. I'd have to agree with that criticism. Gailey was quoted in Monday's Journal-Constitution as saying that he had to call the pass plays because the running game had bogged down, but that sounds like a CYA excuse to me. Even if Gailey had called the runs and they had gone nowhere, Tech at least could have taken another minute or two off the clock. As it was, North Carolina had a shot at winning until the very end of the game. They should not have been put in that position by Tech's play calling.
Enough griping. A win is a win and Tech should now be able to go into Blacksburg, Va. with a 3-0 record when they play the Hokies on Sept. 24. That game is looking more interesting every week.
Let's take some questions –
Q. Advice: stick to your "negative" GT football comments. What you know about terrorism, disaster relief and running a country could fit in a pee-wee oblong spheroid. Btw, what has been your contribution to the victims of Hurricane Katrina?
A. We had several negative reactions to last week's column from people who evidently did not like the comments poking fun at George W. Bush. That's fine. Different people have different concepts of what's humorous. As my spouse loves to remind me, I've told a lot of jokes in my life that bombed.
Q. I enjoy your column and respect your opinion, but I must take exception to the comment regarding Darius Walker and Coach Richt. The year Walker graduated from Buford, Coach Richt and his staff offered Thomas Brown, a running back from Tucker High, and told Thomas that he would be the only high school RB they signed should he commit to the University. Thomas committed and then suffered a season ending injury in the third game of this senior season. Brown stuck to his commitment to the University and Coach Richt stuck to his commitment to Thomas and did not offer or even recruit any other high school RB – despite the fact that Thomas sat out the majority of his senior season. If you ask Coach Richt today about the situation, he wishes Darius the best at Notre Dame. But those close to the program and the majority of scouting services agree that Thomas Brown is the more talented of the two.
A. I appreciate the civil tone of your question, but I must point out that there are some serious factual errors in your argument. You say that Richt only signed one running back out of high school in 2003, but that is not correct. Richt gave scholarships to two other running backs that year: Danny Ware of Rockmart and Brannan Southerland of Greater Atlanta Christian. If you want to say that all three of those running backs were more deserving of a scholarship than Darius Walker, then I'd have to take issue with your statement.
You say that "the majority of scouting services agree that Thomas Brown is the more talented of the two," but again, the facts don't support that statement. When Darius Walker was a senior at Buford High School, the scouting services considered him one of the most highly rated players in the nation. Walker was ranked 63rd on ESPN.com's list of the nation's top 100 players, 139th on the collegefootballnews.com list of top 150 prospects in the nation, and 75th on the Rivals.com Southeast Elite 88 team. He was named the Georgia prep player of the year for 2003 by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Gatorade player of the year in Georgia, and was a third-team pick on the Fox Sports Net All-South team. As a senior, he scored 46 touchdowns rushing, which broke the record set by a guy whose name you are probably familiar with: Herschel Walker.
Let's look at the numbers that Darius Walker and Thomas Brown put up in 2004. Brown gained 875 yards on 172 carries, which is a respectable total for a freshman. Walker gained 786 yards on 185 carries against a much tougher schedule.
Walker for two years in a row has sparked Notre Dame to upset wins over ranked Michigan teams, gaining more than 100 yards in each game. In 2004, Walker had 115 yards on 31 carries against Michigan, and followed that up with 104 yards in 20 carries against the Wolverines last week.
Thomas Brown gained the largest portion of his yards against the weaker teams on Georgia's schedule. Brown gained 359 yards combined – 41 percent of his total yards for the season – against Vanderbilt, Arkansas, and Kentucky. Notre Dame and Georgia both played Tennessee last year. Walker gained 70 yards to help the Irish defeat the Vols. Brown gained a grand total of two yards in Georgia's loss to Tennessee.
Walker gained 64 yards in only 11 carries against national champion Southern Cal last year. Brown gained 19 yards against Georgia Southern.
Darius Walker and Thomas Brown are both talented running backs. Barring serious injury, both of them will be playing on Sundays at some point in their careers. But your attempt to cover up for Mark Richt's short-sightedness in not offering him a scholarship is not supported at any level by the facts.
Besides, you're overlooking the best college running back in the state – P. J. Daniels, who has outgained both Walker and Brown this year.
The weekend picks –
Connecticut at Georgia Tech. Tech is a 16-point favorite as I write this, which seems a little rich to me. Connecticut has two impressive shutout victories this year, but you should take that with a grain of salt because the wins were against East Paulding High School and Agnes Scott. Even more interesting than a Jacket win will be the appearance of Connecticut Coach Randy Edsall, a former Tech assistant, at Bobby Dodd Stadium. There are some Tech fans who believe Edsall could be coaching quite a few games at Bobby Dodd in the near future, if you get my drift.
Louisiana-Monroe at Georgia. There were two major schools of thought among Georgia fans last week. One was that Georgia would score more than 52 points against Steve Spurrier and South Carolina to avenge Spurrier's runup in the 1995 Florida-Georgia game. The contrasting viewpoint was that Mark Richt would hold down the score because, you know, he's such a classy guy and a Christian and all that. Surprise, surprise. Georgia didn't come within five touchdowns of putting up 52 points against South Carolina and Mark Richt didn't have time to worry about holding the score down because the Gamecocks were on the verge of whipping his butt. In the end, South Carolina beat itself with its own mistakes: a missed extra point, a missed field goal, and a botched two-point conversion. Georgia escaped with a very lucky victory. I can't wait until Spurrier gets them up in Williams-Brice next year. As for Louisiana-Monroe, Georgia is a 38-point favorite. Anyone want to bet that Richt will hold the score down and not cover that spread?
Michigan State at Notre Dame. The Irish are playing at home for the first time this season and are also favorites at 6.5 points over the Spartans. It's tempting to think that they're going to have a letdown after the big win over Michigan, so I'll give in to temptation. Take the points.
Alabama at South Carolina. Here's an interesting stat from the Gamecocks' loss to Georgia: Blake Mitchell put up better passing numbers than D. J. Shockley, and Shockley was the one being touted, if only briefly, as a Heisman candidate. I like what Spurrier is doing at South Carolina – it'll be good enough to beat the Tide.
Tennessee at Florida. This is Urban Meyer's first big test as the Florida coach. He'll continue the Spurrier tradition against the Vols.
Miami at Clemson. Miami hasn't been quite so dominant for the last season or two, but even as crappy as they looked against FSU they should be able to out-thug the Tigers.
Mississippi at Vanderbilt. The Commodores are actually the favorite in an SEC game. Can you believe that? Me neither. I'll take Ole Miss.
West Virginia at Maryland. Have you noticed how big Ralph Friedgen's belly is getting these days? I mean, he is really morbidly obese. The oddsmakers have made the Terps a 3-point favorite. If Ralph can keep from keeling over dead on the sidelines, they may just do it.
Virginia Military at Duke. Since this game is off the board, I can safely predict that Duke won't have any problems with the point spread. This may be the only game Ted's team wins this year.
Ball State at Auburn. The Tigers will have considerably more success with this Ball than they did with Reggie Ball two weeks ago and cover the 37 points.
Dr Football - UConn Column
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