The story of this weekend has to be two programs performing markedly below expectations... or at least, markedly short of the hype.
Even though kal has been widely predicted to finish in the bottom half of the Pac-10, it wasn't clear that they would be this bad. With their abysmal showing (or lack thereof) on Saturday, the barely Bears are off to the races for the title of weakest D-I team in the state of California. While the Weenies have been woeful on offense en route to cellar-dwelling finishes for the last several years in the conference, their defense has kept their heads just above water. But their _efense in 2001 most closely resembles a course sieve. An Illinois team that struggled last year had no problem whatsoever passing all over the Weenie defense (e.g. Brandon Lloyd for 178 yards). By the looks of things, QBs and WRs might be able to use kal as a springboard for post-season awards this year. What doesn't make sense is how kal is taking such a marked step backward when their secondary wasn't the part of the defense depleted from last year. The big losses were Andre Carter and Jacob Waasdorp up on the front line, while a very solid player like Jameel Powell returned at cornerback. So how did a relatively talented Powell, at least from last year's observations, get burned badly twice on Saturday? One explanation might be that the lack of a pass rush up front is going to put a lot more pressure on the DBs, and give them more chances to be disadvantaged. But the other component has to be related to the coaching and ill-preparation that was so evident in this game.
So as the thesis was being constructed for kal football 2001, a strong defense was finally going to get the compliment of an improved offense. We now see the undoing of that vaunted defense, but equally disturbing is the complete lack of progress on offense. Kyle "Backside" Boller is every bit as awful as last year, even when he does get time in the pocket. He has no presence, and makes both bad throws and bad decisions. This whole "Jesus in cleats" thing needs to be put to bed - Bear backers are best served to set their sights on Lazarus at this point. 17 of 29 for a buck-eighty-four, one pick and no scores. On top of that, one of his few receivers on the roster just was lost for several weeks from a "non-football injury" the evening following the Illinois-induced pasting, requiring surgery. Yikes. Now the true bright light for kal is tailback Joe Igber, who looks better than ever. He pulled the Weenie offense by his lonesome like some proud husky pulling a some refuse-laden sled through the harsh Arctic expanse. By all rights, this team should take the legal steps to rename itself the Joe Igber Golden Bears, at least in the interest of transparency. The bad news is that Igber isn't the type of back who can overcome this sorry of an offense (and overall team) to victories. Nothing short of reconstructive surgery will do for this program. Oh, and for icing on this cyanide-laced cake, special teams has fallen significantly after the departure of Nick Harris. A fumbled kick return and blocked punt that didn't even require the blocker to leave his feet were pretty notable.
The other grand disappointment had to be the Oregon Ducks. Sure, the eked (quacked?) out a win against a Wisconsin team that had bested them the previous season, but the way they did it was underwhelming in every dimension. Harrington hit Howry early and often, but faded to something less thereafter. He showed a lot of emotion on national TV, but he didn't show equivalent poise or accuracy. I've seen a lot of legitimate Heisman candidate QBs over the years, and there just isn't much resemblance. He struggled to find receivers against a defense that Heisman candidates of yesteryear would have dissected. Their #1 tailback, Maurice Morris, struggled mightily, which was a much bigger surprise to me. 15 rushes for 18 yards??? This wasn't even a shell of the Mo we saw last season - so what gives? It may not ultimately matter, as a new running engine emerged in Onterrio Smith (8 for 88). Between these two, the running game might hold up, but you have to wonder if the pass blocking isn't there. On the other side of the ball, Oregon looked the least imposing they've looked in a long time. The Gang Green is a distant memory, with a lot of speed and big plays missing. Wisconsin presents a very mediocre offense headed by a very mediocre backup QB in Jim Sorgi, yet it was a few dropped balls that kept Wisconsin from tying or winning the game. In other years, those stops would have been forced by Oregon defenders. This team is beatable, and showed Saturday that Stanford will have a very fair chance to win at Autzen.
We also learned a heckuva lot about Boston College, the most immediate concern for this team. The outlook for BC is a mixed bag... Their reputation last season was a very potent offense and a less-than-potent defense. What they showed Saturday against West Virginia was perhaps the same average defense, but a new focus and competency on offense. The important caveat about the offense is that tailback William Green (204 yds, 3 TDs). He, several times in the game, broke a big run with a single hole in front of him. Green has NFL-caliber explosive speed, in addition to some very good open field moves. On his first big TD run, he cut back to the left when he saw a hole open up, but then found two WVU defenders ready to bring him down. A quick shake of his upper body made the first miss badly, and then pure acceleration blew him past the second would-be tackler. Green is gone when he gets past the defensive front, in the open field... As the second half progressed, we then saw Dana Bible opt for the option. True, Stanford has not handled the option well in the last two seasons, but the overall defensive speed has dramatically improved and should be much better equipped. Specifically in preparation of Boston College, you have to recognize that the option is merely another avenue to get Green the ball. Defenders should not commit to Brian St. Pierre (QB), as he won't be the one to hurt Stanford at all. In fact, that will give Green a great chance to turn the corner and blaze down the sideline... Speaking of St. Pierre, he was rather mediocre in the air (11 of 26, 146 yds). Stanford's secondary should be able to handle the BC passing game in single coverage, if Baer wants to load the box to in a Green-stopping effort... The other notable of the Eagle passing game was some pretty poor pass blocking (the run blocking was much better). I saw a very average West Virginia team get relatively consistent outside pressure on St. Pierre, and he looked like a QB ill-equipped to handle any pressure... Add all this up, and a game plan by Kent Baer should come into focus in a hurry... On the other side of the ball, there was nothing remarkable as a positive or negative for BC. They had a few good individual efforts/plays, but no Coy Wire or Tank Williams that jumped out at me. Their defensive speed is average, and a pretty bad West Virginia passing game had more success than they should in the air. This is a good defense for Stanford's developing receiving corps to open with. Fasani could have a very big day... On special teams, very interesting to note that BC has the same kid place kicking and punting. Stanford has painful experience in the last several years for what that can bring. Could the Cardinal actually have a kicking edge in the opener?
(The ignortant East Coast media strikes again. As the BC/WVU game was closing, sidekick announcer Ed "Richie" Cunningham commented on Stanford as BC's next opponent. Clearly enthralled with the Eagles, Stanford was likened to Ohio, the next opponent for West Virginia - one you shouldn't completely overlook. The phrase "even though they were bad last year" particularly stuck out. Hhhmm. Fourth in the Pac-10 was bad, eh? "Richie" tried to impress with his wealth of college football knowledge by citing the promise of a certain returning quarterback for the Cardinal - named Fahziani.)
UCLA surely emerged from this first week of football atop the Pac-10 heap, with the most talented overall showing to date. The unquestioned star is running back DeShaun Foster, who showed why he is the runaway favorite Heisman candidate in this conference (Harrington isn't even in the same breath). Foster is bigger, stronger - and yet as fast as ever. It's a good thing Toledo has a healthy Foster because the rest of the offense apparently missed the plane for Tuscaloosa. Cory Paus put the "powder" in the powder blue with a 8 for 22 day for a sub-human 123 yards. Backup Alabama QB Andrew Zow arguably matched Paus on the day when he played just one drive and hit 3 for 3 for 95 yards. Brian Poli-Dixon was a virtual no-show, and was revealed on nationwide TV as being out of shape, as relayed from Toledo to a sideline reporter. No catches. Three drops. Ouch. But Foster is so good, that this was all overcome, on the road at Alabama no less. The defense showed up, and played well aside from one blown coverage for an early Alabama TD strike. On special teams, Nate Fikse actually stood out with his booming punts, including two over 50 yards. Probably the most telling stat of a team with many more W's ahead: zero turnovers.
The "other" team in LA was also in action, hosting our friends from the 408 in the first game of the Pete Carroll era. We need more information than the Spartans, but there is clearly a new look for $C on both sides of the ball. On offense, the pass looks to be setting up the run, which harkens back to the days of yore at "Tailback U." Sultan McCullough isn't generally rated as highly as DeShaun Foster or Ken Simonton, but he outrushed them both this weekend - 167 yards on 25 carries. When the ball went to the air, Carson Palmer spread it around, hitting 7 different receivers. Hard to imagine Kareem Kelly only grabbing 3 balls for 18 yards and $C being successful, but we're likely to see a simpler offense aimed at efficiency rather than razzle-dazzle. On defense, the move is to the fastest players Carroll can put on the field, and that paid off already. A San Jose team that scored in bunches last year put up just 10 points, and Heisman candidate Deonce Whitaker was shut down.
That last sentence tells the story for Sannizay, which didn't perform anything like the 2000 edition against $C. Deonce ran for just 25 yards in his first 15 carries? Just 65 yards for the game? A lot of credit has to go to $C and the in-game adjustments they made to contain DW, but you have to wonder if the Spartans are going to sputter in the post-Baldy era. Was Dave Baldwin really a genius that lifted an average talent base to above average achievements, as many Booties have long surmised? The early returns suggest as much. This was a poor performance for a Sannizay team returning a lot of key starters. One key starter for 2001 is out of the equation as linebacker Luke LeHerran was declared NCAA-inelligible for academic failings. Count on LeError to next suit up in safety orange in Corvallis, as Dennis Erickson proudly hails him as a "token student."
Wazzu played back on Thursday, and... well... maybe played their best game since the Ryan Leaf days. Winning by 29 points a cumulative goal for prior Coug squads, but they achieved that incredibly in one game. Yeah, we're talking about Idaho, but Wazzu has struggled in recent years against the Vandals. Former Marine David Minnich is starting to live up the Palouse Preamble, picking up 127 yards on the ground. We don't know how long it will last, but the Coug Crazies are loving their summer optimism actually surviving game one. One sign of trouble down the road, though: 15 flags.
Arizona gets the award for most overrated win of the first week. They played the most downright unsightly game against San Diego State, which was not worthy of its thus-far-recognized D-I status. Assuming the pending NCAA investigation does not reveal a hidden pocket of D-II programs masquerading as Tier One that evening, we thus congratulate Johhny Mack for his first win with the Mildcats. We aren't fooled, though. The lesser of the misfits won this travesty. Week two shouldn't pull back the proverbial curtain, though, as those same Idaho Vandals that were pasted in the Palouse are up next. Tuscon still looks like a favorable destination for this Cardinal Crusade.
addendum: The River Rats aren't on the schedule this year, but their performance tonight in Fresno is noteworthy to Pac-10 pundits. In a strange twist of fate, the Beavs were bested by what appeared to be the 2000 Oregon State squad. Strip away those unfortunate red unitards that the Bulldogs were sporting, and I'm sure you'd find the Y2K edition of Dennis Erickson's rascals. FSU looked more than impressive with their blinding team defense speed, and hits that you'd expect to see from a different sort on Sundays. Witness the complete domination they displayed against Ken Simonton. Umm, wow. On offense, they put forth a NFL-bound QB over 6 feet (in contrast to the Beavs) and a skilled no-name receiving corps that beat some very good OSU DBs (read: Weathersby). I credit Fresno for far more, and OSU isn't downgraded quite as much as the score might indicate. I'm giving them some slack given that their opponents were the best I saw all week (didn't catch the Miami game). Though there is a real concern here: the River Rats lost some key players from last year, including those up front on offense. If they can't protect their QB (Smith) and can't give Simonton better blocking, more L's may be on the way.