Rod Gilmore

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Friday, September 8
Irish, Pac-10 will be tested

By Rod Gilmore
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There was nothing dull about last weekend's opening full week of college football. UCLA and Toledo pulled off upsets that have set the stage for what promises to be another exciting and unpredictable weekend. This weekend, the Pac-10 gets a real test with four significant non-conference games; the MAC sends another top team up against a Big Ten power; and there's a battle between two storied programs -- Nebraska and Notre Dame.

Nebraska at Notre Dame
Whether you're watching at home or going to the game, put your pads on for this one. This game promises to be a good old fashioned hit-'em-in-the-mouth game. There won't be many tricks in this game. No four- and five-wide receiver sets. None of that West Coast passing attack. Just line up and smack 'em. And it's all good for Nebraska.

Arnaz Battle's ability to throw the ball down the field will determine Notre Dame's success rate against Nebraska.

Last week, San Jose State ran the ball effectively against Nebraska's inexperienced defense. The Spartans did it by spreading the field, making Nebraska play in "space" by running draws and traps that led to 194 yards on the ground. Watch to see whether Notre Dame tries to follow suit. I'm betting that the Irish will stick with their power game and option, which plays right into the strength of Nebraska's defense.

The one person who can really help Notre Dame is quarterback Arnaz Battle. If he can throw deep as effectively as he did last week, and can create plays after things break down (or on quarterback draws), then Notre Dame could score some points. I expect the Notre Dame defense to play well against Nebraska's option because it faces option football in practice every day. However, playing well won't be enough. The Irish will have to force some fumbles. Notre Dame also has to force Eric Crouch to throw and pitch the ball often. If the Irish can do this, you should see Dan Alexander get a lot of work for Nebraska. And then expect Alexander to have a big day.

Miami at Washington
Both teams are alleged title contenders in their respective conferences. It's a huge game for both teams. For Miami, a road win in a hostile environment will show that the 'Canes are indeed back. For Washington, it's about Pac-10 pride and respect. Although the Pac-10 is off to a 7-0 start, it needs for its top teams to win games like this at home.

Expect Miami to try to overwhelm Washington's offense with its speed. Al Blades should have a big game at safety. Miami feels its cornerbacks can take the Washington receivers out of the contest, and the Huskies don't have a recognized, legitimate playmaker at wide receiver. If that happens, Blades will be free to help contain Marques Tuiasosopo.

Tuiasosopo is currently Washington's entire offense. He rushed for 80 yards last week and threw for more than 200 yards. But he needs help. The Huskies' offense has been hampered by the loss of some talented players, such as running back Mo Shaw, wide receiver and track star Ja'Warren Hooker, and top receiver Chris Juergens. The Huskies desperately need Paul Arnold to step up and make some big plays from his running back position.

Think I forgot about Santana Moss? Not to worry. Everyone will focus on him Saturday. He's already off to a Peter Warrick-type start after taking both a punt and reverse more than 70 yards for TDs in the opener. Expect the Huskies to double cover him (short and long, and inside-outside), which will open up the running lanes for James Jackson and Najeh Davenport. Looks like a big day for the 'Canes.

Wisconsin at Oregon
Barry Alvarez is likely to play all his suspended key players in this one and have them sit out Wisconsin's Big-10 opener with Northwestern in a couple of weeks. Oregon is very fast and, under Mike Bellotti, the Ducks are 3-1 against the Big Ten. Bellotti told me he's concerned about two things: 1. Blocking junior DT Wendell Bryant. 2. Protecting quarterback Joey Harrington. The two go hand-in-hand.

Bryant commands attention; every offensive player knows where he is and can be intimidated by him. Oregon will not be able to block him one-on-one. If running back Maurice Morris can be effective, Oregon may be able to slow down Wisconsin's pass rush, and Oregon will be able to spread the field with four and five receivers.

Speaking of receivers, the officials will play a key role in this game. That's because Wisconsin cornerbacks Jamar Fletcher and Mike Echols have reputations for holding receivers a lot. If the officials allow Fletcher and Echols to play their game, then Oregon will have a tough time on quick passes, which is important to the Ducks' offense.

On the other hand, Wisconsin's offense is sputtering. The Badgers didn't play well offensively in the Rose Bowl, and also played poorly in the opener against Western Michigan. It's clear that teams are loading up on the run on first down, and then forcing quarterback Brooks Bollinger to try to beat them with his arm. That plan has worked, and may be more effective now since the Badgers are without wide receiver Chris Chambers (injury) and Michael Bennett doesn't break tackles like Ron Dayne did. If Oregon gets ahead early, the Badgers could be in trouble.

Marshall at Michigan State
After Toledo's impressive win over Penn State, a Marshall win over the Spartans would really make folks stand up and take notice of the Mid-American Conference. Toledo had been the best team in the MAC until Marshall joined the conference three years ago. Since then, Marshall has been dominant. The Thundering Herd has finished 29th, 27th and 10th in the polls since moving up from Division I-AA. Although Chad Pennington is gone, head coach Bob Pruett thinks he may have another gem in quarterback Byron Leftwich, who is 6-foot-5 and can run.

Pennington tutored Leftwitch over the summer and Leftwitch now knows the offense better than a sophomore has a right to. Expect Michigan State to respond to Marshall's passing attack with a response as subtle as a jackhammer. The Spartans expect to pound Marshall into submission. Michigan State has 500 pounds of beef in its backfield with 252-pound T.J. Duckett and 248-pounder Dawan Moss.

It doesn't matter that the Spartans are trying to sort things out in their offensive line. Marshall is small defensively, and the Spartans won't give up on the smash-mouth style if Marshall has some success early. They'll just wear them down. Check out how many receivers Marshall sends out on pass plays. If it's only two or three, that will tell you Michigan State is putting too much pressure on Leftwitch. If it's four or five, then Marshall will be having fun..

Ohio State at Arizona
This is not the glamorous matchup it appeared to be when I first noticed it on the schedule a couple of years ago. That's because both programs fell off last year. But both are on their way back. Don't expect a lot of scoring. Arizona struggled to put up points against an average Utah defense, and the Buckeyes never got it going against Fresno State.

Both teams can play some defense, which this game is likely to come down to. Which quarterback can make a key play will also be a factor. Ortege Jenkins appears primed for a great senior season, but he didn't get off to a great start last week. His counterpart, Steve Bellasari, struggled last week too, and bruised his hip. Check out the matchup between the old Ohio State's receivers -- seniors Kenyon Rambo and Reggie Germany -- and Arizona's young corners -- David Laudermilk and Michael Jolivette. I think the youngsters are terrific. They did a great job on Utah speedster Steve Smith. It should be a great matchup.

Colorado at USC
This is a real interesting matchup. Colorado looked really good against Colorado State, but lost the game. A lot of blown coverages in the secondary. USC looked great against Penn State, but we don't know how good USC is because Penn State is not strong this year. What will surprise you about this game will be the physical play. Both teams are determined to run the ball.

Be sure to watch Colorado running back Marcus Houston. He's the kind of running back who, years ago, would have gone to USC and continued the tradition of great backs. He gets his first start this week because Cortlen Johnson is banged up. The strength of USC's defense is the defensive line led by Ennis Davis. Colorado is committed to running the ball, but the questionable status of QB Zack Colvin will make it easier for USC to gang up on Houston. Houston ... he could have a problem.

USC needs a strong performance from quarterback Carson Palmer. After missing most of last season with an injury, Palmer struggled in the opener against Penn State. Expect USC to rely on Palmer early to try and build his confidence and get his flow on. If he struggles, the Trojans will turn the game over to Sultan McCullough, who ran hard inside against Penn State. Both teams are trying to shed the image of being "soft", so the testosterone will run high in this one.

Auburn at Ole Miss
Yes, all of the pregame hype will surround Tommy Tuberville's return to Oxford, where people are still ticked off that Tuberville "dissed" them a couple of years ago by taking the job with arch-rival Auburn. You just don't do that without causing some "player hating." Hey, hate the game, not the player!

Coaches move on all the time after saying they're not leaving. Ole Miss offensive coordinator John Latina told me this week they're trying to get the team to ignore the hype and focus on the fact that this is an SEC West game, and in order to win the West they have to take care of Auburn. That won't be an easy task.

Auburn will stack the line of scrimmage, just as they did last year (and Tulane did last week) and dare Romaro Miller to throw the ball. He will. Miller appears much more comfortable in this pro-style offense after getting a season under his belt with it. However, Ole Miss will have to get the ball to Deuce McAllister and Joe Gunn. I expect McAllister to catch some balls out of the backfield in an attempt to discourage Auburn from putting eight men near the line of scrimmage.

The key for Auburn is forcing McAllister to block instead of going out for a pass. Watch that battle and see who wins it. Auburn should get another strong performance from running back Rudi Johnson. He may not be Bo Jackson, but he's pretty darn good. He makes a lot of yards after contact. Ole Miss is not very strong or experienced up front. Their defensive tackles weigh about 265 pounds, which means they could get pushed around by Auburn's offensive line.

Maybe Ole Miss fans will player hate Rudi instead of Tuberville by the time the game is over. But don't count on it.

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