Observations From Around College Football…
·Steve Breaston could not whiff Ted Ginn's dust with a hoover. Yes, he is a dangerous kick returner, but he was caught from behind by several Eastern Michigan players Saturday afternoon. We're talking several. He made one cut to buy himself time but he could not outrun the rest of them to the end zone. If he was truly all that and a bag of chips, then the Eastern Michigan Eagles wouldn't have been able to dive in for the kill.
·Michigan's Offense. One pundit asked where the offense they displayed this week was last week. First, it should be understood part of the problem against Notre Dame is the annual pucker job by Lloyd Carr. He is good for three such games per season, especially against the Domers. If you recall it was Michigan's 25-23 loss to ND in Tyrone Willingham's first season that started the "Notre Dame is back" chants four years ago. Second, Eastern Michigan is not Notre Dame.
·Vanderbilt. While I am not holding my breath for the Commodores to make a bowl, don't be shocked if it happens. Right now they are sitting on a 3-0 record with Richmond, Middle Tennessee State, and Kentucky still left to play. In fact, this team stands a more than realistic chance to make it to 5-0; the last Vandy team to do this was E.H. Alley's squad in 1943. A war shortened season left them undefeated at 5-0. Yes, LSU, Georgia, and Florida will probably put a whuppin' on them, but they might even give Tennessee (a rivalry contest) and South Carolina a game. A bowl (their first since a 1982 Hall of Fame Bowl loss to Air Force) would be a great reward for not only Coach Bobby Johnson and senior quarterback Jay Cutler but also the school administration. They are to be commended for sticking with Bobby Johnson. A stickler for ethical behavior and discipline, he appears to be part of what is right about college football.
·Smack talk with the referees. Dustin Dunning, Jr., the starting tight end for Vanderbilt, caught a critical 3rd and 8 at midfield. However, referees initially indicated it was an incomplete pass believing he had trapped the ball. Dunning popped up and pointed to the press box, clearly telling them they better take a good look with a replay. After a few minutes of reviewing the reception in question, the referees on the field were forced to reverse the call. This brings up a salient question – what will happen if this becomes commonplace? I.E., every player (convinced they made the play) starts pointing up to the press box. Will it become a penalty? Will the officials simply put up with it? Will referees endure it but penalize the team in other areas? What will the fans do? Will fans get used to it and begin to roll their eyes? Is this destined to be the future of on field whining like the traditional "It wasn't me, I didn't touch him!" on pass interference and the like? Nor was this the only game with such behavior. In several other contests on Saturday, head coaches actually pointed to the press box or called time outs to give referees a chance to rethink decisions. Instant replay has the makings of the most significant change on the college football landscape since the arrival of the BCS.
·USC unbeatable? As Lee Corso might say, "Not so fast!" Has it been just three seasons since the Miami Hurricanes were considered to be better than several NFL teams by many pundits and fans? What happened to that team in the desert? Clearly the Trojans are among the greatest teams of 2005 and perhaps of all time, but let's not crown them kings before they even ascend the steps to the throne. If championships were decided by popular sentiment in September instead of on the field in November, Oklahoma would have won four since 2000. Upsets are what college football is all about and why parity has made the game imminently more enjoyable to watch. On any given week, a top ten team not supposed to lose will do just that.
·Nebraska. How many times have we been told; "Nebraska crowds are different? They don't boo. They know sportsmanship. They cheer only at the right occasions." Apparently everyone has their limits. This past Saturday with the Huskers struggling to beat even a bad Pittsburgh team, the fans stood not to cheer but to express their displeasure at coach Callahan and his bumbling offense. What saved them was not a bruising running back but a punter. Sam Cook hit an 84 yard bomb. Granted, it was followed by a 73 yard pass play by Pitt, but even so – the Panthers would otherwise have ended up with a touchdown.
Ohio State and San Diego State Quick Hitters
·A.J. Trapasso. Lost in the loss to Texas and the underwhelming Ohio State offense is the performance of AJ Trapasso. Here is a lesson in the "good things come to those who wait" category. A grayshirt who patiently stood by for two years to join the Buckeyes, he appears to have been more than worth his scholarship offer. Just a freshman, he looks like he could be a nightmare for Buckeye opponents for the next three-plus seasons. He has averaged 40.4 yards per punt on 12 attempts with seven of those being placed inside opponents' 20. If he continues this type of performance, I'll make a not so risky prediction - he could be a candidate for the Ray Guy award as early as 2006.
·Josh Huston. "How will this team replace Mike Nugent?" Simple -- let Huston kick the field goals. Despite the miss late in the game against Texas, he has hit 9 of 10. He is 5 of 5 from 20-30 yards, 2 of 2 from 30 to 40 yards, and 2 of 2 on 40 to 50 yards. Further, his kickoffs look like they are being shot out of a howitzer. Opponents are faced with a choice; let the ball go through the end zone and start from the unenviable position of their own 20 or worse, risk coming out of the end zone and making it to only the 15.
·Playing time for Reserves. For the first time in the Tressel era, fans are witnessing the emptying of the bench on a regular basis. Expect it to continue. The defense for this edition of the Buckeyes is sufficiently dominant enough to hold down opposition's scoring, and the offense (while sputtering) is scoring adequate points against mediocre opponents. This translates into the second and even third team players for the Buckeyes seeing the field. It is generally thought to be a bonus for future seasons, but given several positions of possible need it is already paying off in 2005; expect the trend to continue and soften the blow for the loss of six defensive and two offensive senior starters in 2006.
·Donte Whitner. Despite being overshadowed in preseason magazines and press releases, Whitner might very well be having the best season of anyone in the defensive backfield. It is not merely the statistics (two sacks, an interception, and a defensive touchdown) but how he is compiling them. Instead of whiffing on tackles or hitting the offensive players and watching them break his grasp; he is taking them down on the first try. As a result, he has 11 solo tackles and is tied for second most on the team in that category; he trails only A.J. Hawk.
·Troy Smith Turnovers. Expect Troy Smith to throw the football right at defenders at least twice a game. Expect Troy Smith to either fumble or nearly fumble once a game. However, fans should also expect two other items. First, Smith's arm is such that the football arrives too quickly for defensive opponents to adjust to the ball and squeeze it home. As a general rule, there will be a greater risk for his passes to be intercepted when his receivers tip them up into the air on dropped passes than for a direct toss. Second, when Smith loses the ball on a fumble, he recognizes he has lost control of the pigskin and begins fighting like mad to get it back. The net result is he recovers most of his own fumbles.
·Dropped Passes. Part of the reason the Buckeye offense is sputtering (and at times dying) is dropped passes by receivers. Roy Hall, Tony Gonzalez, Ted Ginn, Ryan Hamby, and even Santonio Holmes have dropped balls that should have been caught. This kills drives and the confidence of quarterbacks that he can trust his receivers to get the job done. What was expected to be the offensive strength of this team has thus far been anything but as a direct result.
·Roy Hall. Here is a young man who is playing physical football. Large enough to be a tight end or linebacker but with the speed of a wide receiver, he has been doling out blows to anyone in his area. Aztec linebacker Joe Martin was unfortunate enough to be the recipient of one of those shots Saturday when Hall knocked him senseless (and probably unconscious). When he catches passes, it is like watching a pinball machine as he simply bounces off would be tacklers in the secondary. Only on his fumble (ruled an incomplete pass) did he actually go to the ground; the rest of the time defensive backs found themselves simply trying to get him out of bounds or bring him down en masse.
·Sign of Trouble. When two of the best performers on a team are your kickers, that is normally a good sign. The problem for Ohio State is that this is becoming a crutch. With an offense that underwhelms and a defense playing its guts out but not tackling, the 2005 Buckeyes have been forced to rely on their surprisingly effective kicking game to keep them ahead of San Diego State and Texas. If not corrected, teams like the Buckeyes are most often defeated more than once over the course of a season. The Buckeyes better correct their mental errors on defense and find a way to punch the football into the end zone. If they don't, they might become the best 9-3 team of this season and the most disappointing Ohio State squad since the 1998 edition.