Friday, December 13, 2002
Believe in the Irish, look out for the Hokies
By Terry Bowden
Special to ABC Sports Online
Just when you think Notre Dame has done everything it can to make you a believer, the Irish go out and win a game like their 21-17 win over Michigan State. If you did not believe in Ty Willingham and this Notre Dame team before, you have to believe in them now. How in the world can you lose your starting quarterback, fall behind in the closing minutes and come back to win the game? Truly an incredible performance.
As a coach you know that there are always special years where no matter what you do you win. It happened to me in 1993 when we went undefeated at Auburn, and actually lasted nine games into the following season. No matter how many mistakes I made as a coach we were just going to come out on top. It looks like Notre Dame is getting into this zone. With some outstanding teams still on the schedule it's unlikely they can run the table, but I can't discount the feeling that things are falling into place for The Fighitng Irish.
Everbody should be saying that this team will be 7-0 going into the Florida State game. Except Willingham and his team. The worst thing they can do is look ahead to the next big opponen. As teams like Ohio State, Michigan and UCLA proved, there are no gimme wins anymore.
Notre Dame's offense is just becoming average when compared to other great offenses around the country. The passing is below average and not scoring a lot of points, but it is getting better every week. Whereas the Irish threw an interception for a touchdown and lost three fumbles against Michigan, they didn't turn the ball over once against Michigan State.
And it's great to see a kid like Arnaz Battle score the winning touchdown after facing a lot of adversity and changing positions in the spotlight of a place like Notre Dame. When you go through what Notre Dame did last year with the firing of a coach and people losing interest in the program, you don't care whether you are the quarterback, the wide receiver or the second-team left guard, you just want to win. You want to have pride in your team and you want people to give you respect. And I guarantee Arnaz Battle doesn't care who gets the glory as long as they win.
Let me say this about Notre Dame: If Carlyle Holiday's shoulder injury is severe enough that he misses the rest of the season I'm not sure I would be as optimistic about NDs future. Although Pat Dillingham did a good job last Saturday, I can't see them getting him ready for the rest of that tough schedule.
Michigan State's Bobby Williams has got to do what a good coach does: regroup his team, get his players' attention and get them playing good football. MSU played well enough to win the game and Notre Dame won it more than the Spartans lost it. This team almost made a huge turnaround by beating Notre Dame after the debacle against California. But Bobby will have no bigger challenge than, say, Gary Barnett at Colorado who thumped UCLA when everyone thought his season was on the brink of disaster.
I still say Williams' future at Michigan State will not depend on how his team plays against Michigan and Notre Dame because MSU always plays good in those games. His reputation is that he can't win the games he's supposed to, and he has enough of those on the schedule this year that he had better get that situation taken care of.
If the Spartans could get T.J. Duckett to come back they might solve the problems in the running game, but beyond that they are not going to be very good rushing the football. Their defenese has gotten them behind in the last couple of weeks, and MSU is like so many other teams in the Big Ten with an offense that depends on the running game. That is, a lot of things play off the running game and when you don't have a rushing attack nothing else works all that well.
Michigan State has got to stick with the running game, but I'm not sure that they have a horse in that stable like Duckett was last year. I don't know if it's so much that Dawan Moss and freshmen Jaren Hayes and David Richard can't get it done, but their defense has got to stop putting them in a hole so that they don't have to abandon that part of the offense.
Same old Buffs, same old Bruins
|Tyrone Willingham and Bobby Williams are heading in opposite directions this year.|
Colorado's 31-17 win over UCLA doesn't mean the Buffaloes are all the way back, but I'm sure they will continue to get things turned around and win more than they lose. More than anything else it makes me wonder what in the world happened to them against Southern Cal and Colorado State, and how this team can go to UCLA and win with a backup quarterback yet can't get a hundred yards in total offense against USC.
Regardless of all that, Colorado showed that it can play defense by stopping Bruins quarterback Cory Paus, and that it can still run the football even when everyone knows that's what they're going to do. CU is going to be very similar to the CU of the last two years: start out slow and win a bunch of games at the end, and it leave us me wondering how much more they can be.
I learned a lesson this year that I should have learned last year, and that is to not put any stock in UCLA's success before the second half of the season. Year-in and year-out the defense folds for the Bruins and it looks like that might be the case again this year. They may win six or seven games, but I have to believe if that happens Bob Toledo is in a precarious position. Since a 49-45 loss to Miami in the 1998 season finale cost UCLA an undefeated season this has been a very mediocre football program.
We should have known that there might be some problems because the Bruins had to come from behind to beat good but not great Colorado State and Oklahoma State teams. Because a team with a fifth-year senior quarterback has won the Pac-10 each of the last seven years, everyone put their stock in Paus and UCLA, but what it comes down to is an inability to run the ball well and that fact that Paus hasn't proven he can get it done in big games.
Jumping on the Hokie horse
Virginia Tech is my new darkhorse for the national championship. From what I saw in the Hokies' 13-3 win over Texas A&M, they should be 11-0 going into the Miami game in December. Bryan Randall is not Michael Vick, but he has enough mobility and a good enough arm that he plays well off their "Untouchable" running back tandem of Kevin Jones and Lee Suggs.
Tech has shown that a mobile quarterback who is also an accurate passer gives you nearly unlimited potential on offense. That is how important a mobile quarterback is to a team that relies heavily on the running game. This team, which is going to play outastanding defense, stuff the run and take special teams more seriously than any program in the county, has all the ingredients to be unbetaen when it goes to Miami for the season finale.
The story at Texas A&M has been the same since I got into television four years ago: the Aggies always play great defense, but they don't run the offense well enough to beat good teams or compete for the Big 12 championship. A lot has been made of benching quarterback Mark Farris in favor of Dustin Long or Reggie McNeal, but the fact is A&M has never quite figured out the passing attack well enough to be successful with it.
And the Aggies have gone away from the old power running attack so much that they no longer run even marginally well. A&M will not be successful enough to compete in the Big 12 with the scheme they are running. If R.C. Slocum would go back to his boring power running and option attack, they would be in the hunt for a Big 12 championship in two years.
Yellow Jackets can challenge, but they need Hollings
|Bryan Randall gives Virginia Tech a lot of options on offense.|
After a 28-19 win against BYU, Georgia Tech is up there with N.C. State and Clemson as teams that look willing to challenge Florida State for the ACC title. I have really been impressed with the Yellow Jackets this year. They were a last-second turnover from beating Clemson and contending for the ACC, and now that we have seen that N.C. State may not be as strong as we thought on defense you have to think. Tech's chances are good this year.
However, as I said earlier about Holiday, if the knee injury to Tony Hollings is serious that will put a definite damper on my enthusiasm for this team. He is as exciting a runner as you will see in the ACC and I'm not sure they can find someone to replace him. Knocking off BYU says a lot about this team, but we'll have to wait and see how the injury to Hollings effects them.
On the other side, BYU is a team that in most years could contend for some things if they don't play too many tough non-confernce opponents. But most years they don't play good enough defense to contend for anything other than the Mountain West Conference championship.
And this year they have developed a quarterback controversey. Senior Bret Engemann has been replaced by sophomore Lance Pendleon, and from everything I have seen they should just stick with the young guy and build for the future. Having not lost a game in the MWC they are not out of the race. But they better win more than they lose the rest of the way and hope they can make a respectable bowl game.