Friday, December 13, 2002
OU keeps getting better
By Terry Bowden
Special to ABC Sports Online
It was amazing how effectively Oklahoma was able to take Seneca Wallace out of the game in the Sooners' 49-3 win over Iowa State. Wallace had been unstoppable in every game leading up to last week, scrambling for yards even when teams knew he was going to run.
The key for OU was that all the attention Wallace has gotten this year made it clear that to win the game the Sooners had to stop him. I can't believe they anticipated Missouri's Brad Smith would go off like he did with his 391 total yards a few weeks ago, so Oklahoma probably devoted little time to gearing up for Smith.
But it was obvious that all of OU's energies went into keeping Wallace contained and the speed if the Sooners held him to a mere 43 yards passing and minus-28 rushing yards, proving once again that Bob Stoops and his staff are the very best in the country at creating a gameplan.
I still say there are some issues with the Oklahoma offense and there will be teams that shut it down. But with such a great defense I see no reason the Sooners are not primed to go to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
Buckeyes remain calm
Last Saturday's 19-14 win at Wisconsin was another solid win for the Ohio State Buckeyes. It has had trouble at Camp Randall Stadium in the past, but the Buckeyes showed again why they are undefeated and the favorite in the Big Ten. OSU just does not have a bad area on the team. The Buckeyes play strong defense, run the ball well and have enough passing when they need it.
What was interesting against the Badgers is that when Ohio State was down by a point at halftime, just as it was against Washington State, there was no panic. Coach Jim Tressel and his staff have enough confidence in the defense that they can be patient with it and continue and pound the ball while the game is still in doubt. Not only did OSU eventually end up taking a lead, it was able to control the clock over the final few minutes with that grinding running attack.
Wisconsin, on the other hand, is reduced to playing the spoiler role in the conference and hoping for any kind of bowl game. The Badgers built a 5-0 record against a weak early schedule that included Fresno State, UNLV and Northern Illinois, but against good teams have not shown the power and defense that used to propel them to championships.
Washington should have seen a game like its 41-21 loss to USC coming. Anyone who has watched the Huskies this year knows that they are a one-dimensional, passing offense that does not have a strong defense to fall back on.
That combination led to lots of good numbers for quarterback Cody Pickett, who is second in the nation in total offense at 363.4 yards per game, but not an overwhelming scoring offense. Washington ranks sixth in the conference in scoring offense, and the defense ranks eighth in points allowed at 25.4
Huskies coach Rick Neuheisel says the option is no longer in his offensive package but I have to wonder why a tough rodeo kid like Pickett couldn't handle the same stuff they had in for Marcus Tuiasosopo. Whatever happens, Washington better improve on its 84.7-yard rushing average if it wants to keep opposing offenses off the field.
USC, though, is right in the thick if the Pac-10 race. The Trojans are the exact opposite of Washington in that they are balanced on off with Sultan McCullough and Co. running the ball, and their average of 286.1 yards per game allowed leads the league by more than 30 yards. Southern Cal has joined Washington State as the Pac-10 favorites.
Clemson wakes up
My brother Tommy got a huge win against Wake Forest last week, one he absolutely had to have. The Tigers had never been 3-3 under Tommy, and the 31-23 win over the Demon Deacons prevented them from falling below.500. Wake is a scary opponent in a game like that, not talked about much but with the most feared running attach in the ACC.
Clemson was able to hang on at the end to keep itself in the bowl picture, and more importantly they can still improve on last year's 7-5 record. The key for the Tigers the rest of the way is that they must continue to score touchdowns and not settle for field goals. That means they will have to get the ball to wide receiver Derrick Hamilton, who has just two scores this year.
With 8-0 N.C. State coming to town on Thursday, Clemson will find out just how good it is. Clemson's defense ranks No. 2 in the ACC in total defense but will be tested big time against Philip Rivers the Wolfpack passing attack.
Terry Bowden is an analyst for ABC Sports and contributes a weekly column to ESPN.com.