Big East Report

<b>BOSTON COLLEGE</b><br><br> Boston College gained by sitting home last week. After wrapping up the season with a 34-27 victory over Virginia Tech a week earlier, the Eagles saw their bowl plans solidified with Syracuse's loss at Rutgers on Saturday.<br><br> At 5-6 and with only this week's finale against Notre Dame remaining, the best Syracuse can finish is 6-6. Boston College finished 7-5.

"We played as well as we can play at Virginia Tech," said coach Tom O'Brien.

On Sunday, the Eagles accepted an invitation to the Diamond Walnut San Francisco Bowl to face Colorado State on Dec. 31. That game is one of five -- including the BCS berth -- that has tie-ins with the Big East.

"We are thrilled to accept this invitation," said athletic director Gene DeFilippo. "I think this speaks volumes about the job Coach O'Brien, his staff, and our players have done."

BC is going to its fifth consecutive bowl under O'Brien.

"I know this football team is excited about the opportunity to play in this bowl game," O'Brien said.

"San Francisco is a wonderful city, and Colorado State is a tremendous opponent. It was very important for our senior class to get this opportunity. They worked extremely hard for it. I think it's significant that our fifth-year seniors will have gone to bowl games five straight years."

Senior tailback Derrick Knight, BC's all-time leading rusher will get a chance to show his stuff at one of the high-profile all-star games, most likely either the Hula Bowl or Senior Bowl. The underrated Knight has posted eye-popping numbers for more than two seasons behind a strong offensive line. In the regular-season finale against Virginia Tech, Knight became BC's all-time leading rusher, surpassing Mike Cloud (3,597 yards, 1995-98) with 3,603 yards. Knight, who has 1,599 rushing yards this season, needs 128 more in the bowl game to beat Cloud's single-season mark set in 1998. His 137.33 yards per game is third-best in Division I-A, trailing only North Texas junior Patrick Cobbs (157) and Northern Illinois senior Michael Turner (137.3). Knight is short in stature at 5' 9" and seems lighter than his listed weight (205 pounds), but he's a determined runner who can hurt opposing defenses running between the tackles or running outside. In addition to his speed, Knight is a solid receiver and must be accounted for in BC's passing game.

The offensive line that Knight's been running behind is chock-full of probable NFL draft picks, most notably seniors Augie Hoffman (6-2, 305) and Keith Leavitt (6-6, 345) as well as junior guard Chris Snee (6-2, 305). Snee is BC's best o-linemen, but is battling a knee injury. Senior tight end Sean Ryan (6-5, 259) arrived in Chestnut Hill as a walk-on on the defensive side of the ball, but his ability to block as well as catch touchdown passes have made Ryan an NFL prospect.

On defense, sophomore DE Mathias Kiwanuka, a first generation Ugandan-American, has the look of a future first-round NFL draft pick, once he adds some more meat to his bones. Blessed with 4.7 in the 40 speed and the swing span of an NBA 7-footer, Kiwanuka leads the Big East in sacks (10.5) and is among the league leaders in tackles for loss (15). BC coaches -- and opposing Big East coaches -- are comparing this gifted speed rusher to current Tennessee Titans star Jevon Kearse. Enough said. Senior defensive tackles Doug Goodwin (6-1, 285) and Tom Martin (6-4, 282) are both possible second-day NFL draftees, as are highly productive senior linebackers Josh Ott and Brian Flores.

"I think he's done everything in his power to put himself in position to win the award." -- BC coach Tom O'Brien, assessing Derrick Knight's chances to win the Doak Walker Award as college football's best running back. Knight is a semifinalist for the award to be announced Dec. 11.

MIAMI

The showdown became a mow down.

With a share of the Big East title and the league's BCS bowl bid on the line, Miami crushed Pittsburgh on Saturday with an overpowering running game and stifling defense for a 28-14 victory.

Miami moved to 10-2 overall and 6-1 in the Big East. The Hurricanes are expected to get a rematch of last season's national championship game with a date in the Orange Bowl against Ohio State.

Against Pittsburgh, the Hurricanes did it with their defense and a rejuvenated rushing attack.

Freshman RB Tyrone Moss (115 yards, two touchdowns) gave them the early spark, and senior RB Jarrett Payton (131 yards, one touchdown) finished the job in the second half. Their success took the pressure off QB Brock Berlin, who was 12-for-17 passing for 195 yards, including a 45-yard touchdown strike to WR Roscoe Parrish and a 78-yard screen pass to RB Jason Geathers. He was intercepted once, on Miami's second possession.

The defense smothered Pittsburgh, limiting the Panthers to a meager 26 net yards rushing and holding Heisman candidate WR Larry Fitzgerald without a catch in the first half. Fitzgerald managed to make three receptions in the second half, including an 18-yard touchdown that extended to 18 his streak of games with at least one TD catch.

The Hurricanes got to Pittsburgh QB Rod Rutherford for an astounding nine sacks in addition to coming up with three interceptions, including one that snuffed out a promising drive at the outset of the second half.

The game was the last for the Hurricanes as a member of the Big East. They won their fourth consecutive title, sharing this one with West Virginia, and ended up with eight official championships in 13 seasons. (They finished tied with Virginia Tech in 1995 but weren't eligible because of NCAA sanctions.) Miami will play in the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2004.

"Maybe this was our best game of the year, and that's what you like to see." -- Coach Larry Coker, after the victory over Pittsburgh.

RUTGERS

Special teams play was a nightmare for both sides Saturday, but Rutgers was able to overcome enough of its mistakes for a 24-7 victory over Syracuse.

Consider, the Knights had two punts blocked and another cover only 26 yards in the first quarter alone, yet they were down only 7-0 going into the second quarter. That left them in position to move in for a tying touchdown when Syracuse muffed a punt with just over a minute to go before halftime.

Then, the Knights began making their own breaks.

CB Eddie Grimes returned an interception 51 yards to the Syracuse 3-yard line, and the Knights capitalized on QB Ryan Hart's 3-yard run. On the following kickoff, the 40-mph wind held up Mike Cortese's kick, and Rutgers recovered at the Syracuse 33-yard line. The Knights scored in four plays, the big ones being RB Brian Leonard's runs of 17 and 19 yards on the first two plays following a false start penalty. Leonard scored from 2 yards out.

Rutgers recovered the kickoff again, this time at the Syracuse 30, on the ensuing series, but could gain only six yards and gave up the ball on downs. The Knights capped their scoring on Ryan Sands' 23-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.

The victory gave Rutgers a 5-7 record for the season, their best mark in their three years under coach Greg Schiano and best overall since a 5-6 mark in 1998. Their 2-5 Big East record, good for a tie with Syracuse for sixth place, also is their best league mark since 1998, when they were 2-5.

"For those of us returning, the win is definitely something to build on," said Hart, a sophomore. "It gives us a positive feeling going into next season."

Leonard is turning out to be the find of the season. The sophomore RB has taken over the rushing workload because of injuries to others and finished the season with 138 yards rushing on 38 carries against Syracuse. He ran for a touchdown and also caught six passes for 45 yards.

Rutgers rediscovered the running game this season, capping off the year with 167 yards on the ground against Syracuse. After netting only 620 yards rushing in 2002, the Knights finished with 1,666 yards rushing in 2003.

"We all feel a sense of accomplishment. We played some great teams this year, and coming out with a win today is a really nice feeling. We're building towards a very strong program here, everyone trusts the coaches and we all have confidence in one another." -- CB Brandon Haw, after the upset of Syracuse gave Rutgers a 5-7 record, its best since 1998.

SYRACUSE

What seemed like a potential sweet season of redemption for Syracuse has suddenly turned sour for the Orangemen.

They lost for the third consecutive time and fourth in their last five games when they couldn't take advantage of some early breaks and fell to Rutgers 24-7 Saturday. The loss cost the Orangemen a shot at a bowl, as 7-5 Boston College accepted the league's final bowl slot to the San Francisco Bowl.

With a 5-6 record, the Orangemen must beat Notre Dame this Saturday to reach .500.

Syracuse blocked two punts in the first quarter alone and saw another Rutgers punt cover only 26 yards against a stiff breeze, but the Orangemen were able to get only one touchdown out of the early breaks. They also had a punt of their own blocked, but held Rutgers scoreless when DE Josh Thomas, who had one of the two blocks, tackled holder Ted Trump for an 18-yard loss on a field goal attempt.

But the Orangemen committed plenty of mistakes of their own.

Marcus Clayton fumbled a punt, and Rutgers took advantage to score its first touchdown with only 29 seconds remaining before halftime. Instead of a 7-0 lead, Syracuse went to the locker room tied 7-7.

Yet another miscue -- an interception -- led to Rutgers' go-ahead touchdown. Then on the ensuing kickoff, the Orangemen made a critical mistake by failing to recover the short boot. The Knights took over at the Syracuse 33-yard line and drove to a 21-7 lead just a little over a minute later.

A 40-mph wind was a factor in the game, but of more import was the Orangemen's failure to generate any offense. They had only 198 total yards against a Rutgers defense that was giving up nearly 400 a game.

The loss might have put coach Paul Pasqualoni's job in jeopardy. Reports afterward quoted athletic director Jake Crouthamel as saying Pasqualoni, who had his first losing season in 11 seasons last year, would be evaluated after the season finale against the Irish.

On defense, the Orangemen managed to hold the Knights to only 125 yards passing. Though they failed to get a sack, they did come up with an interception and knocked away four other potential receptions. On the ground, senior LB Rich Scanlon tied his career high with 17 stops, including 11 solo, against Rutgers. One of the tackles was for a minus-12 yards.

Sophomore FS Anthony Smith blocked a Rutgers punt on the game's opening series, and it resulted in Syracuse's only score when his teammate, Steven Gregory, recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown. It was his second blocked kick of the season.

"This is a sad moment in Syracuse's history and Syracuse's program. That's it." -- QB R.J. Anderson, in the Syracuse Post-Standard, after the Orangemen's loss to Rutgers.

TEMPLE

Temple continued its familiar pattern of falling behind early in its 45-28 loss at West Virginia.

The Owls were down 21-0 in the first quarter -- and although West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez said afterward he couldn't relax until his quarterback was killing the clock with a final kneel down -- and were never able to get closer than two touchdowns the rest of the way.

Early mistakes doomed the Owls.

West Virginia scored its first touchdown by returning a fumble 47 yards, and the Mountaineers got their second when Lance Frazier returned a punt 64 yards. An interception set up West Virginia's third touchdown.

Thus, even though the Owls had given up only 37 yards in the first quarter, they still trailed by three touchdowns.

The Owls came to life and took advantage of a fumbled snap by West Virginia QB Rasheed Marshall to drive for their first score, but the Mountaineers came out of the locker room to drive 47 yards for a touchdown on the opening possession of the third quarter.

Even then, the Owls responded with an eight-play, 67-yard touchdown drive, but they couldn't stop West Virginia on the ensuing series and entered the fourth quarter down 35-14.

The loss ended Temple's season at 1-11, 0-7 in the Big East.

Junior college transfer QB Walter Washington, who is only a sophomore in eligibility, continued his solid play in making his fifth start. He tied a school record by rushing for four touchdowns, amassing 117 yards on 36 carries. He also was 17-for-33 passing for 171 yards. The only negatives in his performance were the three interceptions. Thanks to his work, the Owls came up with a respectable 176 yards on the ground against West Virginia. Washington scored all four of Temple's touchdowns by rushing.

"I know they're frustrated with only winning one game for the year. But that is a fact, and we just have to live with that. But we also all know in that room that we'll have the opportunity to have a very good football team." -- Coach Bobby Wallace, speaking of his Owls, after the loss to West Virginia.

VIRGINIA TECH

The late-season woes continued for Virginia Tech on Saturday. The Hokies were unable to add to a 14-7 halftime lead and fell to intrastate and future Atlantic Coast Conference rival Virginia 35-21.

QB Bryan Randall, who was at the helm for all but a couple of plays, threw a 43-yard touchdown strike to TB Mike Imoh midway through the second quarter, and the Hokies appeared to have recovered from an early 7-0 deficit.

But they simply couldn't contain Virginia QB Matt Schaub in the second half. The Cavaliers scored on every series after halftime, except their last, when they were killing the clock. The Hokies gave up a whopping 358 yards passing to the Cavaliers and saw their winning streak in the series end at four games.

Even their usual reliable special teams let the Hokies down. A blocked punt that could have turned things in their favor was negated by an offside penalty that kept alive Virginia's drive for its go-ahead touchdown.

The loss left the Hokies, who are 4-3 in the Big East, with an 8-4 mark overall, a rather disappointing end to what had been a promising start to the season. At one point, the Hokies were 6-0 and as high as No. 3 in some polls before beginning a swoon that has marked their recent play.

Over the past three seasons, the Hokies are 20-2 through October. But in regular-season games played after Halloween, they are only 5-9.

Coach Frank Beamer promised an intense look into what went wrong this season, when the Hokies limped home 2-4.

"We're going to start right now," he said. "We'll look at the video and study the last four games to see if we can find a central theme. I'm not looking to find blame. I'm looking to find reasons."

The Hokies accepted a bid to the Insight Bowl in Phoenix against a Pac-10 team, likely Cal.

"We're not in a good rhythm right now. The reasons or causes as to why we're not in a rhythm is what we've got to look at." -- Coach Frank Beamer, after the loss to Virginia.

WEST VIRGINIA

West Virginia struggled throughout the afternoon but still got a share of its first Big East title since 1993 with its 45-28 victory over Temple.

The victory was the seventh in a row for the Mountaineers, who started the season 1-4. They haven't lost since dropping a 22-20 game to co-title holder Miami in early October.

Miami earned the Big East's BCS bid because of that victory, which means West Virginia will play in the Gator Bowl and get a rematch with Atlantic Coast Conference foe Maryland. Maryland won the regular-season meeting 34-7.

On Saturday, the Mountaineers were playing without leading rusher Quincy Wilson, out with an ankle injury. They didn't seem to miss him or his backup, Kay-Jay Harris, who was limited by a broken finger. Redshirt freshman Jason Colson saw his most extensive action of the season and rushed for 104 yards on 28 carries. He also scored two touchdowns and was vital in giving some life to the West Virginia offense. The running game clicked for 208 yards.

"I thought Jason played well for his first college start," coach Rich Rodriguez said.

Harris did see some playing time and scored the game's final touchdown on a 46-yard run.

QB Rasheed Marshall was relatively ineffective passing the ball. He threw for only 91 yards on 7-of-17 passing and had one picked off.

West Virginia finished the regular season at 8-4, but its 6-1 conference record marked the second season in a row the Mountaineers have won six Big East games. They finished second to Miami in 2002. In his third season at Morgantown, Rodriguez's only Big East loses the last two years have been to Miami.

"I worried the whole game until we took a knee with a minute-forty left in the game." -- Coach Rich Rodriguez, after the victory over Temple.

PITTSBURGH (Link)


Panther More Top Stories