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Friday, November 3

QB question: Applewhite or Simms?

This past week, the Texas Longhorns bounced back from their loss at Stanford, rolling to a 48-0 victory over Houston. Credit defense and special teams for the win. Both units held up their end of the bargain.

Major Applewhite
Major Applewhite (above) has shared time at quarterback for Texas with Chris Simms, son of former Giants QB Phil Simms.

Unfortunately, the offense has yet to really click over four quarters of action. That's why the debate rages on at the QB position. Should it be Major Applewhite or Chris Simms? Currently, I doubt whether even coach Mack Brown has the answer to that question.

Against Houston, Simms opened as the starter, directing the Longhorns' first three drives. He then gave way to Applewhite, who also was under center at the outset of the second half. Neither QB seized control of the offense.

Both lacked the necessary consistency, failing to look as sharp as you would expect considering this was the third game of the season. Simms was 9 of 16 for 113 yards, tossing one TD pass compared to two interceptions.

Applewhite completed 13 of 21 aerials for 140 yards. He was picked off once, while failing to throw a TD pass. In defense of both Simms and Applewhite, you have to keep in mind that they are working with a very inexperienced group of wide receivers. In fact, after junior Montrell Flowers, the other four key wide-outs are all either true or redshirt freshman.

That group includes Roy Williams, B.J. Johnson, Sloan Thomas and Artie Ellis. Thus far Johnson has been the most reliable, while Williams, Thomas and Ellis have also displayed exciting long-range potential. Once all four of these talented youngsters gain a complete understanding of what is expected, watch out!

There is no question that in 2001, the Longhorns should field the most skilled wide-receiving corps in the country. For now though, they are still working through the growing pains. Compounding matters was the loss of gifted TE Bo Scaife for the season with a knee injury he sustained during the first day of fall practice in August. While Mike Jones provides solid play, he lacks the big-play dimension Scaife would have provided.

Also factoring into Texas' offensive struggles has been the so-so performance of the move-'em-out gang. This is a relatively young group that hopefully will come together within the next few weeks and begin to gain the necessary cohesion. The graduation loss of LG Roger Roesler really hurt. Replacing the steady veteran hasn't been easy.

Against Oklahoma State on Saturday, there has yet to be an announced decision by Mack Brown as to whether it will be Simms or Applewhite opening as the starter.

With help from friends, Brees back in Heisman hunt
At Purdue, Drew Brees catapulted himself back into the Heisman picture with his strong effort against Minnesota, throwing for over 400 yards and running for 88 additional yards.

In order for Brees to post such impressive numbers, the offensive line and receiving corps has to do their job. And folks, they have been more than up to the challenge. Brees has been sacked just three times all year. The veteran O-line, led into battle by blue-chip senior LT Matt Light and hard-working pivot man Chukky Okobi, has allowed Brees the necessary time to survey the field.

Brees has also benefited from a talented array of weapons to throw to. Brees has spread the wealth, with versatile senior Vinny Sutherland averaging an impressive 18.4 yards per catch, while hauling in five TD passes. Reliable TE Tim Stratton leads the Boilermakers with 24 catches, followed closely by true freshman John Standeford (21 receptions).

With Brees moving on to the NFL after this season, Boilermaker fans will be keeping their fingers crossed that Brandon Hance will be able to fill those big shoes.

Thus far the angular (6-foot-4, 178 pounds) Standeford has shown a great pair of hands. Another first-year man, Andre Henderson, has also factored into the equation. The 6-foot-3, 190 pounder was thought to be a redshirt possibility, but through four games, he's hauled in seven receptions, appearing to have a bright future in West Lafayette.

By the way, those young WRs, Standeford and Henderson, figure to be the primary targets of young signal-caller Brandon Hance during the 2001 season. Stratton will also be back for his senior campaign next year as well.

Hance, considered to be a Fran Tarkenton-style of QB, saw action in the Boilermakers first two games against Central Michigan and Kent. He completed 5 of 9 passes for 40 yards and one TD. When ESPN's Larry Beil and I spoke with Vinny Sutherland last Saturday on College Gameday on ESPN Radio, Sutherland raved about Hance's mobility and improvisational skills.

With Brees moving on to the NFL after this season, Boilermaker fans will be keeping their fingers crossed that Hance will be able to fill those big shoes and keep the Purdue offense rolling.

While Brees and company garner all of the attention, it is the Purdue defense that ultimately will determine how far they rise up the rankings after all is said and done. This Saturday against Penn State at not-so Happy Valley, Joe Odom figures to be ready to go the entire way at MLB. The talented sophomore didn't see any action in the first three games of the season due to a back injury, but was back on the field against Minnesota this past week.

With Odom now a full-time starter once again at MLB, they can shift Akin Ayodele back from the middle to an attack OLB spot where he can maximize his big-play skills off the edge.

Minnesota hopes for a steady Cole at QB
At Minnesota, Glenn Mason's Golden Gophers couldn't handle Drew Brees and the Purdue offense, falling to 2-2 for the season. This week against Illinois, former JUCO transfer Travis Cole gets the start at QB after completing 17 of 27 passes for 180 yards and two TDs versus the Boilermakers.

Cole participated in spring practice, so he does have the necessary understanding of the offense. By starting Cole, this will allow talented but inexperienced redshirt freshman signal-caller Asad Abdul-Khaliq the opportunity to take a step back and observe from the sidelines.

The key for whoever is directing the Golden Gopher offense is to find a way to get the ball in the hands of blue-chip junior wide-out Ron Johnson. Abdul-Khaliq wasn't successful in doing so. Versus Baylor, Johnson totaled just three receptions for 25 yards. Then, against Purdue last week, Abdul-Khaliq connected with Johnson on just one occasion.

With Cole at the helm, Johnson hauled in six receptions against the Boilermakers. The Golden Gopher offense should be able to move the football, provided the QB is up to the task. Youngster Thomas Tapeh has shown flashes of brilliance at RB, Johnson is a prime-time performer and the offensive line, led by veteran center Ben Hamilton and emerging senior LT Adam Haayer, has a chance to develop into a quality unit.

Surprising San Jose St. eyes Rice rematch
How about those Spartans of San Jose State? They scared the daylights out of USC last week, upset Stanford at Palo Alto and had three TDs called back against Nebraska -- two of which would have given the Spartans the early lead.

Head Coach Dave Baldwin deserves a great deal of credit for a job well done. Last week at USC, the Spartans held a 24-12 lead at the half and also entering the fourth quarter. The game turned on a missed 35 FG (after a delay-of-game penalty) by the Spartans early in the fourth quarter that would have given them a 27-12 lead.

After the USC game, I'm told the San Jose State players were in an angry mood, with the realization that they let a winnable game slip away.

USC proceeded to march right down the field, cutting the lead to 24-19. With the huge shift in momentum, the Trojans scored on their next drive as well, and with the two-point conversion, took a 27-24 lead. After Spartan QB Marcus Arroyo was intercepted, USC cemented the victory with a TD to make it 34-24.

This week, San Jose State hosts Rice, with its top offensive weapon, RB Deonce Whitaker, banged up due to a sprained toe and neck stinger. With Whitaker out of action the next two weeks, 6-foot-1, 190-pound junior Jarmar Julian or senior Darian Morton will get the start.

In addition to Whitaker, one of the keys to the Spartans' offensive success has been junior wide-out Rashied Davis. The electrifying 5-foot-9, 171 pounder didn't play any sports in high school, not seeing action on the gridiron until he signed on at West Los Angeles Junior College. Davis currently leads the Spartans with 21 receptions for a 19.5 yard average and three TDs.

After the USC game, I'm told the San Jose State players were in an angry mood, with the realization that they let a winnable game slip away.

How do they react versus Rice? Is there any letdown after the tough loss or do the Spartans look for payback against a Rice squad that easily handled the Spartans last year by a score of 49-7? In that game, the San Jose State defense never forced Rice to punt the football.

USC seeking consistency
USC, which moves to 3-0 after its hard-fought victory over San Jose State, travels this week to face Oregon State at Corvallis.

Paul Hackett will be looking for a more consistent, less mistake-prone effort from the Trojans, who assisted San Jose State by losing four fumbles and also having a punt blocked.

On the plus side, they did manage to scramble back from a 24-12 deficit at the outset of the fourth quarter, with third-year sophomore QB Carson Palmer throwing for a career-high 338 yards.

Palmer completed 22 of 38 passes, with a pair of TD strikes and no interceptions. His primary target was Kareem Kelly (seven catches for 106 yards), while true freshman wide-out Keary Colbert hauled in two receptions for 40 yards.

K-State's Allen on the mend
Kansas State goes on the road this week to face Colorado and may still be without senior RB/return man David Allen. He's still bothered by a high-ankle sprain, an injury he suffered in the season opener against Iowa.

Allen has reportedly participated in minimal reps in practice, with the Kansas game on Oct. 7 or the huge battle with Oklahoma at Manhattan on Oct. 14 figuring to be target dates for Allen to return to the lineup.

Clemson's Dantzler making case for Heisman
While Virginia Tech QB Michael Vick, Nebraska QB Eric Crouch and TCU RB LaDainian Tomlinson are currently viewed as the front-runners for the coveted Heisman Trophy, making a strong push in recent weeks has been Clemson signal-caller Woody Dantzler.

Against Virginia last week, Dantzler set an ACC record for QBs, tucking the ball away 18 times for 220 yards, including TD runs of 75 and 45 yards. The 75 yarder was on a QB draw, while the 45-yard run came out of basically a single-wing type play where the ball was snapped to Dantzler in the shotgun and he proceeded to go directly off right tackle. Both TD runs occurred in the third quarter.

Currently, the multi-talented 5-foot-11, 200-pound junior leads the ACC in rushing as well as passing efficiency. Dantzler is actually in reach of doing something no other QB in Division I history has ever done -- that is, throw for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a season.

Obviously, all eyes will be on Dantzler and the Tigers when they travel to Tallahassee on Nov. 4 to face the Florida State Seminoles. Consider what drama this game will provide. Bobby Bowden versus Tommy Bowden, Florida State's potential run at back-to-back national titles, and a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate in Dantzler as well as FSU QB Chris Weinke.

By the way, assisting Dantzler has been the great job turned in by Clemson's junior center Kyle Young, whose performance has been at an All-American level.

Also factoring into the Heisman race has to be Michigan RB Anthony Thomas. Against Illinois, Thomas rushed for a career-high 228 yards. Currently, he's averaging nearly seven yards per carry and has scored six TDs.

Michigan's Henson clutch in relief
Against Illinois, Drew Henson accounted for himself very well for the Wolverines after entering the game for the final drive of the first half and Michigan trailing at the time 14-7.

Henson tossed a 57-yard TD strike to David Terrell on the second play of the fourth quarter, finishing the game 8 of 17 for 141 yards. Redshirt freshman John Navarre, who opened as the starter against Illinois, was just 4 of 11 for 31 yards before giving way to Henson.

Against Wisconsin at the Big House this week, Henson is expected to get the start.

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