First of all, before we jump into the game profiles, how about the fact that three straight Diamond in the Rough games have gone to overtime? And yes, I do pick them in advance—no cheating in this column!
If you missed the last couple weeks, Sept. 7 chronicled South Florida’s win at UCF, while last week’s article covered Oregon’s double-overtime thriller against Purdue. And that brings us to Thursday night’s battle in Boulder...
1. DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH: COLORADO 17, WEST VIRGINIA 14 (OT)
Watching Colorado’s offense is a lot like tuning in to an “All in the Family” episode. First, you’ve got head coach Dan Hawkins, who saw his son Cody (the team’s quarterback) throw two touchdowns in the first eight minutes of Thursday’s game. That would turn out to be all the points the Buffs needed to take No. 21 West Virginia to overtime.
But wait—the family tree continues.
Colorado’s fast start can be attributed in part to wide receiver Josh Smith, who had four catches and a touchdown on the first drive alone. Smith’s nephew, Darrell Scott, is one of two sensational freshman running backs for the Buffaloes.
The lethal combination of Scott’s power game and the speed of 5’6” Rodney Stewart moved the ball against the Mountaineer defense all night long, and the freshmen finished with over 200 yards on the ground between them.
Father, son, uncle, nephew...talk about genealogy central.
Anyway, Colorado got a 25-yard field goal from Aric Goodman in overtime to cement an upset win and springboard the Buffaloes into the most difficult part of their season schedule.
Including the Mountaineers, CU will face four straight teams that are currently ranked (WVU, @ Florida State, Texas, @ Kansas). This inter-conference showdown loomed as a potential make-or-break game for Dan Hawkins’ young squad...and his team delivered.
So did his placekicker. I asked Goodman what was going through his mind as he got ready to attempt the game-winning kick, and he replied, “I just tried to stay focused on keeping my head down and following through the kick. I just approached it, thinking how much fun it would be when the ball went through, and fortunately it did.”
One of the keys to the game, especially early on, was the way Colorado converted third downs. In the first eight minutes of the game, CU was a perfect 4-4 on third down, including a 13-yard scoring strike from Cody Hawkins to tight end Patrick Devenny to build the lead to 14-0.
Devenny told me by e-mail that the throw was right where it had to be: “The route was designed for me to be one-on-one with the linebacker and their backer played me great but Cody threw a perfect ball! It was just about the only place that I could have caught it.”
Even though West Virginia came up on the short end of the stick, fans certainly can’t blame their rushing game. Quarterback Pat White (the two-time Big East Offensive Player of the Year) ran for a team-high 148 yards and a pair of scores, while speedster Noel Devine added 133 yards.
The problem for the Mountaineers was a lack of balance offensively: 43 passing yards won’t get it done. It’s hard to fault Coach Bill Stewart for his dependence on the run, because WVU’s backs are so lethal.
Look at it this way: the first 15 plays from scrimmage were 14 runs and one pass...and on the pass, the receiver fumbled and Colorado recovered. Why wouldn’t you run on almost every play?
And yes, both teams relied on the run, but the similarities basically end there. Colorado is much more traditional, pounding the ball with the I-formation, while West Virginia is famous for what I referred to in my notes as “that funky spread running.”
To tell you the truth, in a game where both teams ran the ball effectively, I was a little surprised there weren’t more points on the board when all was said and done. It seemed that the squads repeatedly made things difficult for themselves: trick plays that didn’t work...dumb penalties...I can’t begin to recount all the promising drives that stalled out due to bad decisions.
While West Virginia searches for answers after a second straight defeat, Colorado’s win moves the Buffaloes one step closer towards a return to national prominence. Coach Hawkins saw his team improve from only two wins in 2006 to six victories and a bowl trip a year ago. With a 3-0 start in 2008, the Buffs are now dreaming of big things while still trying to improve week to week.
As Patrick Devenny told me, “I think as a team we believed we could be 3-0 by now with all the hard work we put in during the offseason. However, we have had some close games that have shown us what we have to work on individually and as a team: That’s the most important thing heading into this stretch of really tough opponents.”
Here are my random thoughts on this week’s “Diamond in the Rough.”
- I’ve always wondered if kickers notice a difference mentally between preparing for a game-winning kick in a tie game and attempting a kick when their team is behind. As a fan, I’m a lot more nervous going into a field goal attempt if my team’s down two with five seconds to play than if we’re guaranteed at least a shot at overtime.
Colorado’s Aric Goodman told me it did cross his mind on Thursday night: “Fortunately, a miss in my situation wouldn't result in an immediate loss, so that makes the kick a lot less stressful.”
- While we’re quizzing the winning placekicker...what if your game-winning try is the first field goal attempt of the day (as it was for CU’s Goodman on Thursday)? Does that make it easier or harder?
Aric answered that question for “Carrying On” as well: “It really doesn’t affect it too much. I hit a few extra points early in the game, so that got me into the flow of the game pretty quickly. I just tried to stay loose, and mentally prepared, because you never know when your opportunity as a kicker is going to come.”
- The Buffaloes like to push the play calling tempo and hope the altitude eventually wears down the opposition. Does the thin air and difficulty getting oxygen make it harder for the other team? The WVU coach answers that question with the “quote of the week” a little later in the column.
- After White and Devine, West Virginia’s third-leading rusher was Jock Sanders, who had seven carries for 30 yards. I just love the fact that the Mountaineers have a football player named Jock.
- As a fan and journalist, I really liked that CU coach Dan Hawkins came all the way across the field to check on injured Mountaineer linebacker J.T. Thomas in the first half. Sportsmanship like that doesn’t get recognized enough.
- Since I watched the game on ESPN, I have to throw this in somewhere: I think it’s hilarious how television analyst and former quarterback Jesse Palmer blames wide receivers, not quarterbacks, for every incomplete pass or interception. Every single one.
- West Virginia LB Reed Williams saw his first action of the year after undergoing offseason surgery on both shoulders. Williams, the Fiesta Bowl Defensive MVP, was WVU’s leading tackler a year ago, and he came up with an interception in his first game back Thursday. Hopefully he can stay healthy for the Mountaineers the rest of the way.
- On a huge 3rd-and-1 play in overtime, West Virginia’s Noel Devine was on the sideline because of what the television analysts called “a helmet issue.”
What? How can you let the most important carry of the game go to a backup running back because of a helmet issue? Play without a helmet...go grab a fourth-string lineman’s helmet or something...Devine has to be in the game for that play!
Sure enough, the backup got stopped for a loss, WVU was forced to kick a field goal...and it hit the upright—no good. Equipment malfunctions don’t show up in the box score...but maybe they should, because that might have been the play of the game.
- I love the fact that CU quarterback Cody Hawkins dyed his hair black in honor of the fans’ “blackout night.” That’s school spirit.
- The play that must have haunted West Virginia for the entire plane flight home? Trying to finish a 99-yard drive to take the lead in the fourth quarter, the Mountaineers ran a trick play with a backwards pass to Bradley Starks, the third-string quarterback.
Starks pulled up and threw to a WIDE-OPEN Jock Sanders for what should have been an easy touchdown...and one-hopped it. Nobody within 10 yards of Sanders...and the ball didn’t get within 10 yards of him either. Great play call, awful execution.
- Why would the Mountaineers use a Daniel Boone lookalike for a mascot? Hasn’t Boone been dead for 200 years or so? In a battle of mascots, I’ll take Ralphie the buffalo. No contest.
“Diamond in the Rough” is an in-depth profile of a game outside the national media spotlight that's worth a closer look. If you want to see your team featured in an upcoming edition, e-mail me at: email@example.com. It’s not too late to schedule your favorite school for an upcoming DITR slot!
2. MAYBE BROADCASTING IS EASIER THAN I THOUGHT
Here are this week’s wacky and weird announcer quotes.
Brad Nessler: “Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall gets old after a while.”
Paul Maguire: “Especially when you’re just drinking them one at a time.”
Erin Andrews: “I have no storylines for you guys.”
Jesse Palmer on a dropped pass, “That’s a catch that McKnight makes 10 out of 10 times.”
(So how did he drop it exactly?)
This last quote actually came from a coach’s mouth first, but I had to include it.
WVU Coach Bill Stewart, via Erin Andrews: “Oxygen is for astronauts.”
Remember, reader submissions are welcome! If you hear an announcer quote you just can’t believe, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org before the weekly deadline (Sunday nights at 7 pm): You might make it into next week’s edition!
3. THAT CAN’T BE RIGHT
This category lists the weekend’s scores and stats that make me wonder if my television ticker is malfunctioning.
Wake Forest @ Florida State
FSU: Seven turnovers, 12 penalties, 139 penalty yards
If there were such a thing as a ticket refund for lack of style points, the fans in Tallahassee on Saturday night would be going home with money in their pockets. The home team managed to turn the ball over SEVEN different times...and also committed 12 penalties for a whopping 139 yards.
It wasn’t just the losing team that struggled: Wake Forest kicker Sam Swank, the nation’s active leader in career field goals, missed three kicks in the contest.
Fresno State 55, Toledo 54
Last week, we had a baseball game (Auburn 3-2). This week, it’s basketball. Looks like the Rockets were doomed by a missed free throw late in the fourth quarter (insert point-shaving joke here).
4. THANK GOODNESS FOR MY DVR
The jaw-dropping highlights and plays that were worth rewinding for.
- Number one (and it’s no contest this week), Knowshon Moreno going vertical (and I do mean vertical) for the Bulldogs’ first touchdown in the Arizona desert...did anyone else have Dwight Howard/Superman déjà vu for a second there?
- Florida’s Brandon James stepping through and around five would-be tackles on the way to a punt return that helped demolish the Volunteers.
- Purdue RB Kory Sheets breaking a CMU defender’s ankles with a nasty PlayStation juke for the game-winning score with just over a minute to play (and passing Mike Alstott for most career Boilermaker touchdowns in the process).
- Longhorn QB Colt McCoy running over two Rice defenders (good thing capital punishment is legal in Texas) on the way to a bruising touchdown run.
5. SINCE I DO LIVE IN OHIO... (news from around the Big Ten)
The Northwestern Wildcats are 4-0 for the first time since 1962. In case you can’t remember back that far, 1962 brought us the first James Bond movie (Dr. No), the Beatles’ first single ("Love Me Do"), and the Cuban Missile Crisis.
To put that date in perspective, the Wildcats’ head coach, Pat Fitzgerald, wasn’t born until 1974.
Also in Big Ten news, congratulations to Joe Tiller, who in his 12th and final season patrolling the sidelines in West Lafayette became Purdue’s all-time winningest football coach.
6. MAYBE COACHING IS EASIER THAN I THOUGHT
I’ve come to the conclusion that every college football team should employ a game management/timeout consultant. (And yes, of course, thanks for asking: I’d be glad to offer my services.)
Anyway, I watch games every week, and it seems like coaches just won’t ever master the finer details of game management. When do I call timeout? When do I go for two? When do I spike the ball? When do I throw the Hail Mary? When do I settle for the field goal?
Maybe it’s not the coach’s fault...they have a lot going on. I don’t envy them trying to decide if they should use an extra tight end...or go for it on 4th-and-1...or whatever.
So here’s my proposal: The coach still calls the plays...but standing next to them, telling them what their clock and score options are, is the game management consultant.
“Coach, there’s eight seconds left—you’ve got time for one quick route into the end zone.”
“Hey, don’t forget, if you score here, you’ll want to go for two to cut the lead to eight.”
“We’re gonna save our last timeout, so if the next pass is completed, we’ll spike it immediately.”
Don’t think coaches need game management consultants? Just watch one week’s worth of games...it happens constantly.
This week, the guilty party was West Virginia. Tied at 14, the Mountaineers were at their own 44 with a minute left in regulation (and two timeouts). Not calling timeout after a short pass over the middle cost them at least half of the remaining time and probably doomed them to an overtime loss.
Memo to coach: Time for a new employee—just call him the two-minute guru. You call the plays and let him manage the clock. It might win you a game or two...maybe even save a job or two.
Maybe coaching is easier than I thought.
7. EVEN THOUGH SEVENTEEN IS A RANDOM NUMBER
Here’s the Top 17 ballot I submitted tonight for this site's poll. I want to hear from you—drop me a line in the mailbag (email@example.com) and tell me why your team deserves to be ranked next week!
(It must be nice to only have to play every other week...or so it seems.)
(The “Chase Daniel for Heisman” train keeps rolling.)
(Impressive win in the desert for Mark Richt and company.)
(Did not play...seems like a trend in the top five!)
(Big win in Knoxville...Phil Fulmer just can’t figure the Gators out.)
(First road victory in last nine LSU/Auburn meetings.)
(Took care of business against Wyoming.)
9. Penn State
(Another week, another home blowout win.)
10. Texas Tech
(I’m sold on the Red Raiders’ offense. Time will tell on the defense.)
(Hard to drop them too far after they almost beat LSU.)
12. South Florida
(They’ve probably had more close calls than any other team in the Top 17.)
(Colt McCoy now has more TD passes than any Longhorn QB in history.)
(Impressive throttling of SEC foe Arkansas on the road.)
15. Ohio State
(What do you know? Pryor can throw the ball too!)
16. Wake Forest
(Wins don’t come much uglier.)
(Every other team I wanted to put here has a loss, so the Utes crawl in.)
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 are three.
A. “Worth buying a ticket for”: A matchup that deserves the hype...
I’ve got to go with Alabama/Georgia. I know I put Georgia’s last game in this category too, but with those SEC powerhouses, it seems like every week is another huge matchup. Does Nick Saban have realistic national title hopes with the Crimson Tide? And who is Knowshon Moreno going to jump over this week? These are the burning questions that keep me awake at night...
B. “Heat check”: This team’s playing great but faces a serious test.
The Wisconsin Badgers look like they might be the favorite in the Big Ten. Can they survive a trip to the biggest stadium in the country for their conference opener? It’s Wisconsin @ Michigan on Saturday afternoon.
C. “Diamond in the rough”: Next week’s column will have an in-depth game profile from ACC country, as North Carolina visits Miami in a matchup of 2-1 conference foes. The week after that? It’s up to you—tell me which team or game deserves a closer look...
This week’s mailbag question comes from a reader in Delaware.
“Is it feasible/plausible/possible that within the next 5-10 years we will see a mid-major rise in college football such as in college basketball (Gonzaga, Southern Illinois, etc)?
"I'm not talking about a Boise State making the BCS once in a while; I am talking about mid-majors getting respect and having a shot at the national title on a consistent basis.
"We all wish that Boise State would've had a shot a couple years ago, but is it possible that sometime soon, games like this will be a reality?”
The answer to this question pains me as a fan...but I believe it is a loud and resounding no. Unless the BCS is tweaked in the future to become more mid-major friendly (or in my perfect world, is scrapped completely for some sort of playoff), the national title race will continue to be a “Big Conference Schools” only club.
Now, I know that almost every college football fan has a strong opinion for or against a playoff system. I don’t expect to solve that debate today, and I’m not going to try and change your mind here—I’m just stating my opinion.
So before you flood my mailbag with your playoff proposals or the reasons I’m insane for wanting a single-elimination tournament, let’s get back to our reader’s question for a minute and allow me to toss out a few examples that specifically illustrate why the current system won’t allow for a Cinderella champion.
Exhibit A: We already touched on it...the Boise State Broncos. In a five-year stretch, the “Smurf Turf Squad” finished with zero or one losses four different times (12-1 in 2002, 13-1 in 2003, 11-1 in 2004, 13-0 in 2006). Boise wasn’t just a one-year wonder, but despite their recent history of success, an undefeated BSU team had no realistic prayer of competing for the national title in 2006.
If a mid-major team with a spotless record and one of the best winning percentages over a five-year span can’t crack the BCS title game ahead of a one-loss Michigan or Florida squad, I don’t see it happening anytime soon.
Exhibit B: Hawaii in 2007. While their strength of schedule was atrocious, they did finish the year undefeated. If a Louisiana State team with not one, but two losses is more worthy of a title game appearance than an undefeated mid-major, it almost seems that a “BCS buster” would need everyone else to lose three times before they get a chance!
One disclaimer: starting with a relatively high ranking in the polls definitely helps a team’s cause. BYU will have a fighting chance this year because the Cougars got some respect from writers and pollsters headed into the 2008 season.
However, even though they’re a top 20 team, winning out doesn’t guarantee them anything: They’d better be cheering against EVERYONE.
Whew...okay, enough playoff talk. Like I said, I won’t solve this debate here: Many people more intelligent than me have argued both sides to death.
My personal opinion is that I love rooting for an underdog like Davidson basketball, Boise State football, or whatever, and think any team that goes undefeated in the FBS should control their own destiny for a national championship, but I understand why it doesn’t work that way at the moment.
Have a thought or comment? Send it my way: firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for your help in trying to make this the most interactive column in college football history—see you next week!
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). To submit thoughts, ideas, questions, arguments, or anything else for “Carrying On About College Football,” e-mail: email@example.com.
Send in your ideas throughout the week...and check out the next installment of COACF, coming a day later than normal: Monday, September 29.