Welcome to "Carrying On About College Football". If you missed last week's preview, you can find an explanation and description for each of the column's eight features here. Basically, my goal is to provide a one-stop source for everything you may have missed about the college football weekend. It's been a busy few days of football (with a couple bonus games still to come on Monday), so we'll jump right in with #1, "Diamond in the Rough": a game that may have escaped the national media spotlight, but which I believe deserves a closer look.
1. DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH: STANFORD 36, OREGON STATE 28
A year ago, Jim Harbaugh was making headlines before he coached his first Stanford game - by basically declaring conference foe USC unbeatable. Later that season, in his first year at the helm of the Cardinal, Stanford went on the road and stunned the Trojans. I don’t think Harbaugh minded eating his words on that one.
Stanford finished with four wins last year, including the USC game (which some have termed the biggest upset in college football history), and hopes were high heading into the 2008 season. Thursday’s opener against conference rival Oregon State presented a golden opportunity for Harbaugh and company to show what kind of progress their program has made.
Toby Gerhart wasn’t about to let that opportunity pass.
Gerhart, a tailback coming off a devastating knee injury, had already amazed doctors by getting back on the field so quickly – the baseball field, that is. After blowing out his knee in 2007, Gerhart recovered in time to contribute to the Cardinal’s College World Series squad this summer. (He even homered in the Series – fitting for a young man whose favorite pro athlete is two-sport legend Bo Jackson.)
However, even though he was playing baseball again, there’s a big difference in knee impact between running the bases and taking a hit from a Pac-10 linebacker. Hopeful Stanford fans really weren’t sure what to expect from a back who had averaged 11 yards per carry in limited action a year ago. Toby told me by e-mail that he was determined not to think about his knee as he got his first live game action: “I feel that when you play timid or fearful, you are more susceptible to injury, so I just went out there and played without worry.”
The first few carries against the Beavers went to senior starter Anthony Kimble, but Gerhart knew he’d get his chance to contribute. In his words, “I knew we were going to start off rotating series and switching off as needed. If one of us got hot, then I assume that back would get more opportunities. We complement each other well.”
With the Cardinal so dependent on their running game (starting quarterback Tavita Pritchard missed on 50% of his passes a year ago), Stanford needed big plays on the ground, and when Gerhart finally got in, he delivered.
In fact, you could say he more than delivered. The junior from Norco, California finished with a career-high 147 yards on 19 carries – and Stanford’s first two touchdowns of the season.
Gerhart’s offensive prowess helped the Cardinal outlast Oregon State 36-28 in a game that couldn’t have been much closer. After all, Oregon State was driving for the potential game-tying touchdown in the final minute, but Darrell Catchings fumbled the ball through the end zone as he reached for the goal line, and the Beavers’ rally came up short.
Here’s my random thoughts on this week’s Diamond in the Rough game:
- I was impressed with the skill players of Oregon State. Despite the loss, OSU was able to move the ball consistently with deep threat Sammie Stroughter and possession receiver Shane Morales. Stroughter finished with 12 catches for 157 yards, while Morales had 13 grabs for 151. And, if Lyle Moevao hadn’t overthrown a wide-open Stroughter in the first half, he would have had two 50+ yard touchdowns instead of just one. In addition to Stroughter and Morales, brothers James and Jacquizz Rodgers have the speed to get to the outside; they combined for over 100 yards rushing. As the Beavers’ coaching staff learns how to get the ball to each of their weapons in space, Oregon State should begin to fill up scoreboards in 2008.
- It took a while for both teams (and the quarterbacks in particular) to work out the kinks and get untracked. The first quarter ended in a scoreless tie, thanks in no small part to the glaring Northern California sun. However, as the night went on, the squads’ execution picked up dramatically.
- Small world, anyone? Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh played for Oregon State head man Mike Riley with the San Diego Chargers. In fact, Jim’s son Jay is now a graduate assistant for Riley and the Beavers – there were Harbaughs on both sidelines Thursday night in Palo Alto.
- I might need to add a new category for next week’s column. Something along the lines of Maybe Officiating is Easier than I Thought. In the second quarter, Stanford’s Doug Baldwin made a beautiful one-handed catch on a 40-yard pass, despite defensive pass interference. Because he went to the ground as he snared the reception, the officials reviewed the catch. ESPN2 did a great job of showing a dozen or so replays that all confirmed the call on the field...so of course, the referee took five minutes to stare at the footage, and then overturned the call and decided the pass was incomplete. What ever happened to the good ole’ days when you needed indisputable video evidence to change a call? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Since all they got was a 15-yard interference flag, the awful decision cost the Cardinal 25 yards. The play ultimately didn’t hurt Stanford, as Gerhart scored from 46 yards out later in the drive.
- It’s amazing how many little plays (that don’t show up in the box score) have the potential to change the course of a game; that’s one of the reasons I’m so excited about writing this series of articles. After Oregon State’s touchdown tied the game with seconds to go in the first half, Stanford promptly fumbled the ensuing kickoff. A Beaver recovery there would have been huge, both in momentum and on the scoreboard. Instead, the Cardinal managed to jump on the loose ball, kneel once to go to the locker room, and the play only shows up on the box score as: 1 fumble, 0 lost. Who knows if Stanford would have recovered from possibly allowing two touchdowns in the last fifteen seconds before intermission?
- It’s not everyday that a team can win (and score 36 points) when its passing yardage total is only a two-digit number.
Remember, “Diamond in the Rough” is a selected game outside the national spotlight that I will analyze in my column each weekend. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org with which of your team’s games I should cover and why. Now on to the rest of “Carrying On With College Football”.
2. MAYBE BROADCASTING IS EASIER THAN I THOUGHT
This section could otherwise be titled: “If I were a football announcer, I wouldn’t say…” So, without further ado, here are the quotes that blew my mind this weekend.
“A little luck never helps.” – Joe Tessitore
“Folks, you cannot believe how the head coach went on about him. I’m telling you what, it was like a blue-eyed blonde daughter that he talked so affectionately about. He just really likes this young man’s effort.” – Ron Franklin
“Ziggy Hood put the ziggy on him.” -- Mark Jones
(When the punt returner is at midfield) “He’s taking it to the house.” -- Mike Gleason
(When the punt returner is tripped up at the 1-yd. line) “Oh, he’s not taking it to the house.” – Mike Gleason
3. THAT CAN’T BE RIGHT
This week’s improbable stat line belongs to Tommy Beecher, South Carolina’s starting quarterback. Against North Carolina State on Thursday, he threw for ZERO touchdowns and FOUR interceptions. Oh, and his Gamecocks won the game 34-0.
Why doesn’t that ever happen to my favorite team? Trust me, if our quarterback throws four picks, we’re not beating anybody 34-0. Oh well, can’t envy Spurrier and gang too much. After all, they do have a full-blown quarterback controversy to deal with, since the backup, Chris Smelley, came in and completed every pass he threw (including two touchdowns).
4. THANK GOODNESS FOR MY DVR
In case you didn’t see them, here’s the jaw-dropping highlights and plays that made me hit “rewind” this weekend:
Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin dancing along the sideline, stopping on a dime, eluding Wake Forest defenders, and picking up a huge gain.
Michigan wideout Carson Butler elevating to catch a pass thrown behind him with only his left hand against Utah.
Colorado’s Josh Smith and Colorado State’s Josh Mosure playing “anything you can do, I can do better” with back-to-back kickoff return touchdowns.
There were also a handful of nasty hits that you had to see to believe, including a great one by Rice’s Max Anyiam against SMU.
Don’t forget to send in suggestions (email@example.com) each Saturday for the most amazing plays you saw that day.
5. SINCE I DO LIVE IN OHIO...
For this week’s feature on my hometown conference, the Big Ten, I want to applaud two great game-management decisions by Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster. Brewster’s Golden Gophers hosted Northern Illinois on Saturday, and the tight contest came down to the final minute. Trailing 27-24 with 38 seconds to play, Minnesota had 4th-and-1 at the NIU 3-yard-line. Perhaps trying to send a message to his team after a 1-11 record last season, Coach Brewster passed up the tying field goal to go for the win. Brewster’s gutsy call netted a rushing first down, and a few seconds later, the go-ahead score.
The game wasn’t quite over yet though. Northern Illinois strung together a couple big-yardage plays, and ended up getting two Hail Mary chances in the final five seconds. The final attempt was knocked away in the end zone by none other than junior wide receiver Eric Decker, who Brewster had inserted for precisely that reason. Decker got a pass breakup, Brewster equaled last year’s win total, and the Gophers got their 2008 season off to a satisfying start, thanks to a pair of great decisions by their head coach.
6. MAYBE COACHING IS EASIER THAN I THOUGHT
One coaching mistake that stood out again and again this weekend was the failure to train quarterbacks in how this year’s new clock rules affect hurry-up offenses. In case you haven’t heard it yet, here’s the rule change I’m referring to: for the first time in 2008, going out of bounds before the two-minute mark of a half does not stop the clock (at least not for very long).
Real-life example: your favorite team, State U, is down seven with three minutes to play and needs eighty yards for a touchdown. Your quarterback, Peyton Brady, rolls out, can’t find a receiver, and scrambles toward the sideline. His first reaction (due to years of habit-forming training), is to step out of bounds to stop the clock, even if he could have gotten a few more yards. Then he comes back to the huddle, catches his breath, gets the play in, takes his team to the line, and expects nary a second to have run off since the last play.
In fact, because the clock hasn’t reached the two-minute mark yet, the time began to tick again shortly after Brady stepped out of bounds. The nonchalant huddle and play call may have cost the team twenty seconds or so, and running out of bounds instead of gaining extra yards was completely pointless.
Mark my words: the coaches that master the new clock rules soonest will have a big advantage in ’08.
7. EVEN THOUGH SEVENTEEN IS A RANDOM NUMBER
You’re welcome to disagree...or influence my rankings for next time. But here is the preseason Top 17 ballot I submitted for this poll, along with my reasoning (note: before any games were played).
1. Ohio State
Much is made of them losing in the last two BCS title games. So much, sometimes, that we lose sight of the fact they qualified for the last two BCS title games. The 2007 Buckeyes were thought to be a year away – returning almost everyone and adding much-ballyhooed Terrelle Pryor makes them #1. At least for now.
No team was as hot as the ‘Dawgs at the end of last season, as they won their last seven, including a rare (for them) win over Florida and a 41-10 thumping of previously undefeated Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl. Injuries and off-field issues have taken their toll over the last few weeks, so it will be interesting to see how Georgia responds.
It’s a cliché, but the Trojans don’t rebuild. They reload. A tough non-conference schedule (three BCS schools) will tell us a lot about this year’s squad, highlighted by the Ohio State showdown in two weeks.
QB Sam Bradford threw for over 3,100 yards a year ago. Not bad for a freshman. The Sooners will be challenged by Texas and Texas Tech in a difficult Big 12 South division race.
Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow returns to run the offense for Coach Urban Meyer, and he will have plenty of weapons to throw to, including speedster Percy Harvin (858 rec yds. in 2007). The neutral-site game with Georgia in November is already being talked about, but Florida’s schedule is tough enough they can’t afford to look ahead.
The only team the Tigers slipped up against last season was Oklahoma (twice). Guess who isn’t on the schedule in 2008? QB Chase Daniel and WR Jeremy Maclin lead the Big 12 North favorites.
7. West Virginia
QB Pat White was the team’s leading passer and rusher a year ago; pretty impressive on a 11-2 team that featured running backs like Steve Slaton and Noel Devine. While Slaton has moved on to the NFL, White and Devine return for new coach Bill Stewart.
I don’t deny being a bit of a Big Ten homer, so we’ll see if the Badgers live up to my advance billing. If they do, RB P.J. Hill will have a lot to do with it.
Champion until proven otherwise.
Nobody ever seems to pay attention to Tommy Tuberville and Auburn – then they just go out and win nine games or so. The Tigers will depend on their defense (which allowed less than 17 ppg last season) to survive the rugged SEC,
QB Cullen Harper is a darkhorse Heisman candidate after throwing for almost 3,000 yards last season. If his squad gets past Alabama in the opener, it’s smooth sailing for a while. (Editor’s note: as we now know, this was a big if!)
12. Penn State
Big Ten again. JoePa will lean heavily on a veteran receiving corps and an always-stingy defense as the Nittany Lions try to chase down OSU and Wisconsin.
QB Colt McCoy and the Longhorns will try to hang on to their long-time conference supremacy against upstarts Texas Tech, Missouri, and Kansas.
I love the underdog (translation: non-BCS teams like Utah, Boise State, and Hawaii). Unfortunately, when one team is repeatedly tabbed the “BCS buster”...before they’ve even played a game...I’m a little concerned. On paper, BYU has the talent for a big year after going “only” 11-2 a year ago. Back-to-back Pac-10 games with Washington and UCLA will tell us more.
15. West Virginia
Explain to me how I put the same team on here twice. Um...I must have meant Kansas! Anyway, that’s why I need all of you readers to help me put my ballot together next week! Moving right along…
16. Texas Tech
Graham Harrell threw for 5,705 yards a year ago. Do the math, people. The scary part is he might not be the best player on his team (WR Michael Crabtree had 22 TDs last year).
Yep, one more Big Ten team. Which Illini squad will we see in ‘08? The team that shocked Ohio State in Columbus? Or the one that laid an egg in Pasadena? The answer will be broadcast live on the team’s Big Ten Network reality show. Seriously.
Remember, each Sunday’s column will contain my Top 17 ballot that I turn in that night. If you think your team deserves recognition, that’s what the e-mailbag is for (firstname.lastname@example.org). I want to hear why your team is Top-17 worthy.
8. COMING ATTRACTIONS
I don’t know why anyone would need a reason to be excited about the upcoming college football weekend. But if you do, here’s three:
a. “Worth buying a ticket for”: a matchup that deserves the hype. This coming week, that matchup is Georgia/Central Michigan. The Chippewas might have the best player you’ve never heard of in QB Dan LeFevour, who had more passing yards AND more rushing yards in 2007 than some Heisman winner-guy named Tebow. CMU is the two-time defending MAC champion, and they could throw a scare into top-ranked Georgia between the hedges.
b. “Heat check”: this team is playing great, but faces a serious test. That description could apply to West Virginia, who’s won eight of their last nine games overall, or to their upcoming opponent East Carolina (fresh off an upset of Virginia Tech). Can the ECU Pirates play giant-killer again?
c. “Diamond in the rough”: the game you selected for an in-depth review. This game is “to be determined”, and here’s why. My goal for this column is to see it become the most interactive college football article series ever. I want (and need) you as readers to send in e-mails this week with story ideas. Like to read about your favorite team? Tell me which of their games I should profile and why. Think your team should be in the Top 17? E-mail me and state your case. Laughed your head off at something an announcer said or a coach did? Drop me a line and make sure I heard or saw it – you might get your name in the next “Carrying On About College Football”.
Here’s how we’ll start. The first e-mail I get (article comments or bulletin board notes don’t count) that suggests a September 6th game for “Diamond in the Rough”, along with a reason why it should be considered, will determine what game gets the in-depth profile treatment in a week. Thanks for reading – now start typing!
Tim Cary (yes, Cary…as in “Carrying on”) is a resident of Springfield, Ohio and a die-hard college football fan (especially when it comes to the Purdue Boilermakers). E-mail Tim with your thoughts, ideas, questions, arguments, or anything else for "Carrying On About College Football" at: email@example.com. Look for the next edition on September 7th.