Fisher DeBerry – Does it get any better? Here is a man who can flat out coach, and he continues to run the option when common group-think says, "You just can't win with the option anymore." Nebraska should have crawled over broken glass, eaten pig intestines on Fear Factor, or done whatever else it might have taken to lure him to Lincoln. With lesser athletes but greater discipline, this man has embarrassed more than one big time football program. Saturday, Washington added their name to the list. Sure, Washington might not be a top ten team right now, but there is no question which sideline had the more gifted athletes.
Wisconsin Run Blocking – You can't be a fan of college football and not get a charge watching Barry Alvarez's team maul a Bowling Green defense. It was simply mano y mano in the trenches, the feathers flew, and the Badgers ate the Falcons in a single bite. Most Buckeye fans won't miss Alvarez or his 3-1 record against Jim Tressel, but his retirement will be a void in the sport. Of all head coaches at major programs, he is the only one to continue to legacy of Woody Hayes in its purest form. An assistant of Lou Holtz at Notre Dame who was in turn an assistant at Ohio State in 1968 under ‘the old man,' Wisconsin does what Ohio State did for nearly three decades: line up, look their opponent in the eye, and then beat him into submission running the football.
Illinois and Ron Zook – This was an outstanding come from behind victory. Frankly, Illinois probably has less talent than Rutgers and was clearly outplayed until the third quarter. Trailing 27-7, Zook rallied his team and the comeback commenced. The overtime win might be one of just a few the program has this season, but it will serve them well in recruiting and building character.
Tommy Bowden and Chan Gailey – Two coaches on the hot seat dumped a large bucket of ice on detractors this weekend. In both cases they upset ranked teams expected to handle them without too much difficulty. Clearly Tubberville has a larger rebuilding job than anticipated with a green starting quarterback instead of a senior, and Dennis Franchione's squad has a week off to look at film, evaluate, and improve before taking the field against SMU.
The Big Ten. The conference went undefeated in out-of-conference play. Michigan, Iowa, and Ohio State looked impressive in wins over lower level competition, and even lowly Indiana and Illinois managed to pull out victories. This weekend will determine just how much hype the conference receives for much of the rest of the season. Games against Texas, Notre Dame, Iowa State, Hawaii, and Colorado State could springboard teams into the spotlight or back into the shadows.
Ed Orgeron – First, the Ole Miss defense played with greater effort and determination than in recent years by limiting DeAngelo Williams to 85 yards on 24 carries and intercepting a pass to salt the game. Second, with his team trailing and a missed field goal in the rearview mirror, he decided it was time to gamble. On fourth down and 5 he shunned the opportunity for a field goal and rolled the dice. His team converted with the starting quarterback scrambling into the end zone. The margin between being named a genius or an idiot was slim, and he has Michael Spurlock's nifty moves to thank for it.
Oklahoma – If Saturday was not simply an off day for this team, they are staring down the barrel of at least four and possibly as many as six losses. The game was simply ugly in most every way from their perspective. They were whipped on both sides of the line of scrimmage, looked a step slow, and the quarterbacks lack "it" whatever that is. Adrian Peterson is now being welcomed to the real world of college football where defenses are set up to stop him and not Jason White. Stoops may have his least polished squad since 1999 and could be headed for a true rebuilding season. He appears to have made the decision to take his lumps already by naming Rhett Bomar his starter over the older and slightly more polished Paul Thompson who won the job in camp. The real issue here is an offense that is a leopard trying to change its spots from a pass first spread attack to one that relies upon a gifted rusher like Peterson. Transitions of that nature don't happen overnight; ask Jim Tressel, whose offense moved in the reverse direction in 2004 and lost three games before reaching offensive proficiency.
The Big 12 and Big East – Here are two conferences licking their wounds. All but two ranked teams that took the field for them walked away with a loss. Of those two, Louisville managed a meager 7-point win over toothless Kentucky, and Texas played one of the worst teams in all of D-IA football in the University of Louisiana-Lafayette; a scrimmage against their own scout team might have been more useful. For the Big East, Cincinnati scraped by Eastern Michigan, Rutgers lost a 20-point lead to Illinois, South Florida was easily handled by Penn State, and Pittsburgh was simply routed by Notre Dame. The Big Twelve fared a little better but upset losses on the part of Texas A&M and Oklahoma clearly hurt its image and even the conference's victories didn't come as easily as hoped over the likes of SMU, Florida Atlantic, Illinois State, Maine, Montana State, and Florida International. The Big Twelve and the Big East need their marquee teams (Texas and Louisville) to go undefeated until at least October to deflect a wave of criticism.
Florida State/Miami Game – If there is a sloppier game all season, I don't want to watch it. This was ugly not because it was both teams' first game but rather because it contained the loads of showboating, cheap-shotting, over the top celebrating, and just overall plain dumb football. On special teams, there were three missed field goals and a blocked punt. Twice offences had the ball inside their opponents' five yard line with a first down and managed no points for their trouble. The play calling for Florida State looked like something from a Woody Hayes era Ohio State team, and the quarterbacks can barely be called that based on their performances with a combined 24-53 for 306 yards, 3 interceptions, 6 of 30 on third down conversions, and just one touchdown. About the only unit on both squads deserving of any praise is the Florida State defense – which registered 9 sacks against a porous Miami offensive line. Even they accounted for one of the more ridiculous displays however when Marcello Church sacked Miami quarterback Kyle Wright, and the ball came loose from the pile to wobble around not two feet from his face. Church was too busy jumping up to hot-dog it for the crowd to notice, but Wright fought for and came up with the loose ball before being ruled down anyway. Had the ball been ruled live, Church would have thrown away a golden scoring opportunity for his team so he could do his little airplane dance. The good news for both squads is that they have a few weeks to regroup before facing a decent opponent.
If I were ranking teams today, my top five would be:
2. Ohio State
Ohio State and Miami
Antonio Pittman. A year of work in the weight room, a better attitude, and the desire to increase his toughness has apparently yielded results. He displayed a wicked stiff-arm, knew when to bounce the ball outside, and even stuck his nose in between the tackles for a few tough yards. He will need everything in his bag of tricks to gain 100 yards against Texas this week.
Santonio Holmes. Get used to seeing his name in the box score. With teams focusing most of their attention on Ted Ginn, Jr. and bracketing him with a safety and cornerback, Holmes and Gonzalez will frequently find themselves enjoying single coverage. This will make for big plays if Buckeyes quarterbacks can deliver (especially Holmes) the football.
Bobby Carpenter. With enough capable players playing behind him, Ohio State fans can't help but be jazzed at the thought of Carpenter coming screaming off the edge at an unfortunate quarterback. In one-on-one drills open to the media since 2003, no player other than Will Smith was able to hit the quarterback tackling dummy more consistently.
Jim Heacock. After watching a merry-go-round of defensive coordinators during his tenure at Ohio State, the defense is finally his. He appears to have picked up a little from each one if the first game is any indicator.
Josh Huston. Four years and one petition to the NCAA after losing the kicking battle to legend Mike Nugent, he is making the most of his second shot at the job. With two clean field goals to start the season it appears Ohio State found its kicker for 2005. Huston has always had the leg; he has simply lacked the mental toughness in pressure situations. Perhaps he has matured enough to settle his nerves and will get his shot at the NFL with an outstanding season. What appeared to be a weakness could turn into a strength for the 2005 Buckeyes.
Donte Whitner. Not since Mike Doss departed have any defensive backs donning the Scarlet and Gray shown the penchant for being able to blitz and reach the quarterback before they released the pigskin. On Saturday, Whitner changed that by knocking over Betts (and picking off a pass for a touchdown). He will have to show better tackling skills against Vince Young, but he might play a large role blitzing if the Buckeyes are to be victorious Saturday night.
Quinn Pitcock. This young man is simply a bull wrecking a china shop. On one particular play he fought off a double team, plugged his gap, and then forced the run to slow while other defenders finished off the Miami offensive attempt to gain positive yardage. The Buckeye defensive line continues to turn out fantastic prospects maximizing their talent; Pitcock looks to be the latest Buckeye with a bright future in the NFL.
Brandon Schnittker. Losing pounds and gaining a position is a pretty decent trade for most players. A tailback out of high school, Schnittker never looked fully comfortable in his role as a fullback, but he appeared to take to being a tailback/fullback (in that order) extremely well against Miami. His size and versatility should allow offensive coaches to challenge defenses in 2005 and add another dimension to an already dangerous unit.
Justin Zwick. He did a nice job distributing the football to the numerous weapons at his disposal. Six different players caught passes with Ginn and Holmes having the greatest impact. When necessary, he also pulled the football down and scrambled five times for 25 yards – pressuring defenders to account for his legs as well.
Justin Zwick. Old habits die hard, and nothing could be more representative of this fact than Zwick's continuing penchant to throw off his back foot. Picked up in high school playing behind a line that allowed him to be routinely pummeled, Zwick still falls backward and tries to complete long passes. The net result is less zip on the ball and a quick interception for the defense. He did this yet again Saturday; Texas will make Ohio State pay dearly for this type of mistake. Zwick either needs to step into the rush, take the hit, and complete the pass, or he needs to throw the ball away.
Defensive End. Ohio State is still not getting consistent pressure on offensive backfields rushing only four players. If the Buckeyes are forced to blitz to reach Vince Young, they better tackle him; he will make them pay if the linebackers are in his rearview mirror instead of blocking his path to the end zone. Ask Michigan if you have any doubts.
Defensive Back Depth. The second team corners look very much look like
second team defensive backs. A 34-0 shutout turned into a 34-14 comfortable win
with them in replacing Everett and Youboty. The Buckeyes need to bring in at
least one and probably two top shelf cornerbacks in the next recruiting class.