Winston’s timing, message all wrong

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20
12:37
AM ET
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Jameis Winston picked the wrong week to shout something demeaning to women.

The NFL is in freefall, with limbs reaching for a toehold like Wile E. Coyote after he begins to plummet. The commissioner is explaining why he shouldn’t be fired. Two players charged with attacking women have been shifted onto the exempt list, only because the drawn-and-quartered list doesn’t yet exist.

A federal judge in Alabama, a conservative jurist appointed by President George W. Bush, has been charged with hitting his wife in a luxury hotel in Atlanta, and the state’s two Republican senators have both called for him to resign.

If this is the nation’s Rosa Parks moment regarding violence toward women, Winston picked the wrong week to mimic the worst form of frat-boy behavior at the top of his lungs while atop a table at the student union.

Florida State deserves credit for suspending Winston one day after the incident. The university deserves credit for re-opening the suspension Friday night and lengthening it from the first half to the entire game against ACC Atlantic rival Clemson.

Florida State issued a statement late Friday and said the doubling of the suspension came about because of additional information uncovered in the university’s ongoing investigation. It’s hard to imagine what could be more offensive than Winston’s original behavior.

It must have taken the university this long to develop the information because releasing it at 11 p.m. ET on a Friday is a public relations nightmare. The decision to suspend Winston for the entire game will dominate the news until kickoffs begin at noon.

Throughout his college life, Winston has been unable to grasp the maturity that it takes to be an American public figure. He said what he said in innocence, on the spur of the moment, without understanding that nothing he shouts from a tabletop is just among friends. Winston is lucky neither Florida State nor the American public has a three-strikes policy for stupidity, or he would be out on the street.

Winston picked the wrong moment to do what he did. America speaks quickly these days, and conventional wisdom goes viral with such force that no quarantine can contain it. Wife-beating hasn’t begat an ice bucket challenge, but the nation has decided spousal abuse is this week’s ALS -- another disease that has resisted all efforts to cure.

It’s about time, and if Winston got caught in the undertow, tough break. In the end, he brought it upon himself.

Chat: CFB Saturday Live

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
7:00
PM ET
Chat live with our writers from 9 a.m. to noon ET and then again starting at 8 p.m. ET for the prime-time games. In between, keep this page open as we bring you the latest real-time reaction, analysis, pics and video from our ESPNers scattered throughout the country.

Miami and Nebraska have a storied history of intense battles -- none more epic than the 1984 Orange Bowl that ended in a national championship for Miami. This season marks the 30th anniversary of the game, so we decided to ask the men who lived it to take a look back at two of the most memorable plays that contributed to the 31-30 outcome.

Watch the videos, then take a listen to former Miami and Nebraska players and coaches as they detail what they remember 30 years later.

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Former Miami safety Kenny Calhoun and linebacker Jacinto "Jack" Fernandez discuss the infamous trick play from the defensive side of it. Listen Listen

Former Nebraska guard Harry Grimminger, center Mark Traynowicz and tackle Scott Raridon along with their coach Tom Osborne recall the infamous fumblerooskie that brought the Huskers back within 10 points after they fell into a 17-0 hole in the first quarter. Listen Listen

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Former Miami defensive end Kevin Fagan along with Calhoun and Fernandez remember Nebraska's failed 2-point conversion that gave Miami its first national championship. Listen Listen

Raridon, Grimminger and Osborne discuss Nebraska's decision to go for the win and the heartbreak that comes with losing the national title by one point. Listen Listen

Comparing Hackenberg to past elite QBs

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
3:00
PM ET
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Christian Hackenberg has made just 15 starts, but there is no shortage of hype surrounding the Penn State quarterback: One AFC scout recently called him the top quarterback in college football, and The Sporting News asked months ago whether he would go No. 1 in the 2016 NFL draft.

So, right now, how does Hackenberg stack up with the top quarterbackss of past years?

To find out, we looked at the first 15 starts of the past five quarterbacks who were taken first at their position in the NFL draft. The lone exception was the 2011 draft, where we skipped over Cam Newton since he made starts in junior college and instead went with the second drafted quarterback.

So far, Hackenberg has thrown for more yards than any of those past quarterbacks -- 310-of-519 passing (59.7 percent) for 4,037 yards, 24 TDs and 15 INTs -- although he’s also received the least amount of run support.

Here’s a closer look at those past quarterbacks:


Sam Bradford, Oklahoma, started from 2007 to 2009

No. 1 overall NFL draft pick (2010) by St. Louis Rams

Bradford
Bradford
The stats (in first 15 starts): 254-of-363 passing (70 percent), 3,304 yards, 38 TDs, 8 INTs; 31 rushes for 7 yards and no TDs

The run-game support (in first 15 starts): Oklahoma averaged slightly more than 41 carries a game for 190 yards (4.6 ypc). The Sooners ran the ball on about 59 percent of their offensive plays.

The highlights (in first 15 starts): Bradford didn’t come into Oklahoma as a highly touted recruit, but he stepped up in a big way when he won the job as a redshirt freshman. In his first career game, against North Texas, he set a school record for most passing yards in a half by going 20-of-22 for 350 yards. He won the Big 12 championship as a redshirt freshman and broke the NCAA freshman record for passing TDs.


Jake Locker, Washington, started from 2007 to 2010

No. 8 overall NFL draft pick (2011) by Tennessee Titans

Locker
The stats (in first 15 starts): 200-of-412 passing (48.5 percent), 2,523 yards, 15 TDs, 15 INTs; 218 rushes for 1,149 yards and 16 TDs.

The run-game support (in first 15 starts): Washington averaged 40 carries a game for 175 yards (4.4 ypc), but Locker was a big reason for that. Including Locker’s runs, this offense ran the ball 56 percent of the time.

The highlights (in first 15 starts): He went 3-12 in his first 15 games, but he was named the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year in addition to making some freshman All-American teams. His best game, statistically, came against Arizona in 2007 when he passed for 336 yards, rushed for another 157 yards and scored four total TDs. An injury derailed his sophomore season during the 16th game of his career.


Andrew Luck, Stanford, started from 2009 to 2011

No. 1 overall NFL draft pick (2012) by Indianapolis Colts

Luck
The stats (in first 15 starts): 207-of-358 passing (57.8 percent), 3,249 yards, 23 TD, 4 INT; 74 rushes for 494 yards and 3 TDs

The run-game support (in first 15 starts): Stanford averaged 41 carries a game for 228 yards (5.5 ypc), although Stanford aired it out the more Luck progressed. This offense ran the ball 63 percent of the time in Luck’s first 15 games.

The highlights (in first 15 starts): In back-to-back weeks as a redshirt freshman, Luck helped knock off two top-15 teams -- No. 7 Oregon, 51-42, and No. 11 USC, 55-21. He threw four touchdown passes and no interceptions in those two games. But this was a run-first team; Luck threw more than 29 passes just four times in those first 15 games, and it was no coincidence that all four were losses since Stanford was trying to mount a comeback. He led the Pac-10 in pass efficiency as a redshirt freshman, but really made a name for himself in 2010.


EJ Manuel, Florida State, started from 2009 to 2012

No. 16 overall NFL draft pick (2013) by Buffalo Bills

Manuel
The stats (in first 15 starts): 260-of-380 passing (68 percent), 3,251 yards, 18 TDs, 14 INTs; 144 rushes for 441 yards and 6 TDs

The run-game support (in first 15 starts): Florida State averaged 35 carries a game for 150 yards (4.3 ypc). The Seminoles also ran the ball 56 percent of the time.

The highlights (in first 15 starts): Manuel’s first 15 starts came over the span of three seasons, but he always had a high completion percentage. He posted a 3-1 record as a redshirt freshman and was the Gator Bowl MVP. Against Maryland, to keep FSU bowl-eligible, he led a game-winning touchdown drive with 2:31 left. He also started two games as a redshirt sophomore and won the job as a redshirt junior, when he really burst onto the scene.


Blake Bortles, Central Florida, started from 2012 to 2013

No. 3 overall NFL draft pick (2014) by Jacksonville Jaguars

Bortles
The stats (in first 15 starts): 269-of-423 passing (63.5 percent), 3,373 yards, 28 TDs, 7 INTs; 93 rushes for 287 yards and 8 TDs

The run-game support (in first 15 starts): Central Florida averaged 38 carries a game for 180 yards (4.7 ypc). The Knights also ran the ball 56 percent of the time.

The highlights (in first 15 starts): He redshirted, then played in 10 games as a redshirt freshman -- but didn’t start until his redshirt sophomore season. The Knights fell in the Conference USA title game, but Bortles was still named to the all-conference team and earned MVP honors in the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl.

New Texas Tech DC must fix run defense

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
2:30
PM ET
Fourth-and-1 at Texas Tech's 39. Time for the Red Raiders, down seven points in the third quarter, to get a stop.

Arkansas lined up exactly how you would expect: A three-tight-end power set with a fullback. Nine blockers, one running back. No pass, no fakes, no funny stuff. Just a power run off right tackle. And Texas Tech played it right.

Safety J.J. Gaines met Arkansas back Jonathan Williams near the line of scrimmage. Collins juked left. Gaines whiffed. Then the Arkansas sophomore threw two stiff-arms at linebacker Sam Eguaoven and picked up 21 yards. Six plays later, the Hogs were back in the end zone.

[+] EnlargeAlex Collins
Michael C. Johnson/USA TODAY SportsOver the past nine games, this has been a familiar view of running backs for Texas Tech defenders.
This wasn't the turning-point play in Texas Tech's 49-28 loss. Just another landed punch in an eventual beatdown.

Williams ran for 80 yards in the second half, teammate Alex Collins added 167 yards, and Arkansas averaged a ridiculous 7.15 yards per carry and attempted just two passes. No need. Everything was working against a Red Raiders defense whose biggest flaw of 2013 re-emerged.

"You've got to give them credit," Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said after the loss. "They lined up and pounded us, and we just didn't have an answer today."

Fixing a Texas Tech run defense that has been a sieve in its past nine games is Challenge No. 1 for newly elevated defensive coordinator Mike Smith. Though Matt Wallerstedt exited Thursday because of off-field issues, he leaves behind one real on-field problem that Big 12 foes will try to exploit.

Since Oct. 26, 2013, Tech's first loss of last season at Oklahoma, the Red Raiders have the second-worst run defense in the FBS at 293.4 rushing yards allowed per game.

During that nine-game stretch, of which Tech has lost six, no defense in the country has given up more first downs on rushes (142). Only Southern Miss has allowed more touchdowns and more rushes of 10-plus yards.

In fact, Tech gave up 36 rushing touchdowns during that period, eight more than any other FBS team.

Though Arkansas has one of the best run games in the country, a power-heavy attack the likes of which Tech probably will not face again in Big 12 play, the fact is no FBS defense has faced more rushing plays in those nine games than Tech. Opponents know they must hit this weak spot hard. The Red Raiders know it's coming. They can't stop it.

In the third quarter against Arkansas, the Collins fourth-down dash was deadly because it was another play that kept Texas Tech’s defense on the field. The Hogs ran 23 plays in the quarter and kept the ball for a total of 12:45. That is an easy way to get your opponent gassed.

Linebacker V.J. Fehoko said he saw too many communication issues, too many times when defenders tried to do too much and didn't stick to their assignment.

"In this conference," Fehoko said Saturday, "the smallest mistakes go the longest ways."

Though this is a generally young defense, the starters in the front seven are all juniors and seniors. How are they going to react to another letdown against the run?

"You know, it's tough. It's tough when the ball's not going your way and the momentum's not going your way," Fehoko said. "But I think we've got to just persevere and fight through it. As a team we've got a lot of young guys, but that's no excuse. I think energy and fire comes from within."

So does Texas Tech's new leadership on defense. Smith was already the co-coordinator, so it's not a drastic change. He is expected to bring more of an NFL mindset to assignment and alignment than Wallerstedt. And no doubt he's already hard at work to address his defense's most obvious defect.

It's not that complicated. Next up is Oklahoma State. They and every other opponent are going to pound the rock. They will keep doing it, and the reputation will continue, until Texas Tech starts finding answers to stop it.
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Finally, the game is almost here.

For both Alabama and Florida, it's been a long time coming. The Crimson Tide breezed through the nonconference portion of their schedule to get here. The Gators missed their season-opener, gassed Eastern Michigan and survived Kentucky to reach its trip to Tuscaloosa undefeated and eager to prove that last season was a fluke.

What do we know about both teams so far? Not a lot. But that's what Saturday is for.

To get you prepared, we had SEC writers Jeff Barlis and Alex Scarborough assess the matchup.

Scarborough: Let's start with the pretty boys.

I could tell you Blake Sims is a changed man. I could tell you he's transformed overnight into a quarterback capable of carrying an offense against a good defense like Florida's. But I might be stretching the truth.

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
AP Photo/John RaouxThe challenge for Florida will be to keep Alabama's defensive line off Jeff Driskel.
Sims' numbers are impeccable -- 75 percent completion percentage, 215 passing yards per game, six total touchdowns, one interception -- but that's just the top layer. Dig deeper and you'll see that of Sims' 646 total yards passing, 454 of which has gone to one receiver. And that one receiver, Amari Cooper, has racked up 245 of those yards after the catch.

So what happens when Vernon Hargreaves III takes away those quick passes that have been so effective? What happens when Dante Fowler rushes off the edge? What happens when Sims gets in the weeds?

Frankly, I don't know.

But I do know this: I trust him more than I do Jeff Driskel.

Barlis: There's no doubt Driskel's performance against Kentucky undermined some of the optimism that had grown for him and for the Gators. He failed to recognize obvious blitzers, didn't run the ball when he needed to, didn't give his receivers a chance at catching the deep ball, and hesitated to hit an open Demarcus Robinson for a touchdown on what could have been a crushing mistake in overtime.

Driskel's numbers -- 25-of-43 passing for 295 yards, three touchdowns and an interception -- weren't bad, though, and he deserves credit for some key plays that helped Florida stave off a colossal upset.

I don't think anyone is expecting Driskel to brilliantly engineer an upset of his own this Saturday, but he can't afford the kind of big mistakes that have plagued him in the past. He just needs to be efficient, manage the game and give his team a chance.

It's not all on Driskel's shoulders. I think one of the biggest matchups of this game will be in the trenches when Florida has the ball. The Gators' offensive line has been a sore spot, particularly in pass protection, for the last couple of years.

Starting left tackle D.J. Humphries (ankle) is out, and while senior right tackle Chaz Green is a capable fill-in, his understudy is Roderick Johnson, a redshirt freshman making his second start in the third game of his career. He's never seen anything like the No. 3 Tide and it's stable of defensive linemen.

Scarborough: That's an interesting point. Alabama's D-line has been solid so far, but hasn't lived up to the preseason hype yet. A'Shawn Robinson, the All-SEC tackle/end, has no sacks and only half a tackle for loss. He's got help rushing the passer with Ryan Anderson, Xavier Dickson and Jonathan Allen, but that group can't allow Driskel time in the pocket.

If that happens, watch out for Alabama's secondary. Nick Perry will miss the first half after being ejected for targeting, and Jarrick Williams isn't likely to play after fracturing his foot a few weeks ago. Those are two of the Tide's most veteran DBs.

Landon Collins is as solid as they come at safety, but he'll need help. Eddie Jackson's return has been a boon, but pay attention to rookie Tony Brown, whom Nick Saban said will play a lot on Saturday.

Still, my biggest question mark for Alabama isn't on defense. Setting aside Sims' play at quarterback, who is going to step up besides Cooper? O.J. Howard hasn't caught a pass all season and Christion Jones has dropped a few passes himself.

While there are a lot of talented tailbacks to turn to, I'll be interested to see how Alabama's receivers and Florida's defensive backs match up.

Barlis: I will, too. These are two of the best run defenses in the SEC if not the country. Although both teams are inexperienced in the defensive backfield, neither passing game has more than one scary playmaker -- Cooper for the Tide, and Robinson for the Gators.

It appears both defenses will be in a similar situation -- apply consistent pressure on the quarterback or else a vulnerable secondary could be exposed. Florida's D-line was strong in the first half against UK but fatigued in the second when Patrick Towles went off. That made the mistakes by young DBs even more glaring.

I say the matchup the matters most on Saturday is Florida's defensive line against Alabama's offensive line. The Gators desperately need someone other than Dante Fowler Jr. to emerge, but I'm not sure this is the game for that to happen. Bama has an outstanding line that has keyed a deadly efficient offense. The Tide have just two three-and-outs in 32 possessions this season.

The bottom line in what could very well be a defensive struggle is that both teams prefer to run the ball but probably won't be able to dominate the game that way. It'll be up to the passing attacks.

I'm not sure Florida is quite ready to play with enough tempo to affect Alabama's defense. So whichever line keeps its quarterback the cleanest will win this game, and it will be closer than many folks think.

Utah matchup special for Michigan's Mone

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
12:00
PM ET
There will be several familiar faces in Michigan Stadium Saturday afternoon for freshman defensive tackle Bryan Mone when his Wolverines host Utah. The Salt Lake City product will get a chance to square off with former high school teammates and friends, but he is most looking forward to seeing his parents on their first trip to his new home.

Homesickness is a common ailment among freshmen football players across the country, but it hit Mone harder than most. Making the 1,600-mile move east to Ann Arbor was a difficult decision. Not only was he leaving behind his tight-knit Tongan family, but he was also leaving them with the heavy responsibilities he shouldered for many years.

Since the start of junior high Mone has been largely in charge of caring for his older brother Filimone, who was born in Tonga with health problems that have prevented him from walking, talking or fending for himself. Bryan, seven years his brother’s junior, hustled home from football practice throughout high school to feed Filimone, change his diapers and help move him around the house. The family jokes that Mone’s first foray into weight training was lifting his brother.

[+] EnlargeBryan Mone
Courtesy of IntersportMichigan freshman Bryan Mone on family: "We come from nothing, and they're my motivation."
"I had to grow up faster than other kids," he said. "It's a blessing. I say it's a blessing."

The family moved from Tonga to California to Utah in search of the resources they needed to help Filimone. The silver lining for Mone was finding football. He landed at Highland High School in Salt Lake City, a school that has produced a handful of NFL draft picks including five-time Pro Bowler and fellow Tongan Haloti Ngata. Two other Highland alums -- Utah starting defensive end Nate Orchard and Michigan fullback Sione Houma -- will be on the field Saturday at Michigan Stadium.

Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who coached Ngata during his time with the Baltimore Ravens, tells Mone he sees similarities between the two players. The 6-foot-4, 312-pound Mone has played all three games and has made four tackles so far for the Wolverines. He has helped to add a new element of depth to the front lines of a top 10 defense that is allowing an average of 80 rushing yards per game this season.

"The sky is the limit for him," Mattison said. "You don’t think he’s the youngest of all of them. He just got out of high school, and all the sudden he’s here starting or playing a lot for the University of Michigan."

Mone finished his high school career as the top-rated prospect in Utah. He chose to pass up scholarship offers to stay close to Filimone and the rest of his family because he thought Michigan gave him a chance to help them more in the long run.

"We come from nothing, and they're my motivation," Mone said. "At first I was planning to stay home, but I trust the coaches here. Academic-wise, I knew I'd be able to get something."

A promising future didn’t make the transition to life away from home any easier. The self-proclaimed "mama’s boy" enrolled a semester early at Michigan and struggled to deal with the distance at first. He called often to make sure his family was managing to take care of Filimone without him, and so that his brother could hear his voice.

"(Filimone) does understand his surroundings and his atmosphere. He can sense it. It did get him down a little bit," said Latu Lauhingoa, Mone's older sister who has helped pick up some of his caretaking responsibilities. "Every time Bryan calls, he wants to talk where Filimone can hear. We would just put the phone to his ear and, oh my gosh, would he smile."

Mone leaned on Houma, his current and former teammate, for support during the spring semester. He also started to develop close relationships with his fellow defensive linemen. Coaches and veterans of that unit say they have bonded more this year than in any previous seasons. Mone called them his new family. When asked if he had any particular mentors that have helped him get settled on the field, he rattled off the names of 10 fellow linemen before taking a breath.

The defensive line was heralded this offseason as a strength that would need to be an anchor of this Michigan team if it was going to rebound from a 7-6 season a year ago. The final decorating touch to their position group meeting room, which was renovated in the spring along with the rest of Schembechler Hall, is a sign that assistant coach Mark Smith hung this summer. He made all of the players sign it as an oath of sorts when they returned for fall camp in August. It reads: "I am committed to my brothers."

Among a group that universally agrees it has grown closer in the past year, no one understands that concept of commitment quite like Mone.
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher and Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris are two of the best offensive minds in football. But they go about their business in very different ways. Fisher is a little more old-school by 2014 college football standards, while Morris subscribes to lightning speed and triple-digit play counts.

One isn’t necessarily better than the other, but just with all offensive philosophies, there are positives and negatives to both. Each coach offers insight into his offense on the eve of the ACC showdown between No. 1 Florida State and No. 22 Clemson. Jared Shanker spoke with Fisher about his "complex" model, which backup quarterback Sean Maguire will operate without restrictions, and David Hale talked with Morris about his "left lane" preference.

Fisher looks at championships and points, not plays
[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesJimbo Fisher thinks Florida State has an advantage when his pro-style Seminoles line up on offense.
Fisher was in his element at the Seminoles’ media day in August. He was talking Football 101, discussing X's and O's and, taking a page from public speaking handbooks, actively engaging his audience by moving across the dais.

Toward the end, he was asked about the latest trend in college football offenses. It’s no longer just spread offenses and no-huddle drives, but now coaches, including Saturday’s opposing offesive coordinator, have their eyes on running as many plays as possible with the intention of reaching 100.

“We scored the most points in NCAA history and didn’t go no huddle,” Fisher said in August. “And Alabama didn’t win a bunch of national championships with no huddle.”

The fifth-year Florida State coach wasn’t criticizing the up-tempo faction of coaches -- in 2014 that’s a losing battle as far as numbers go -- but pointing out that recent national champions, himself included, aren’t relying on any gimmicks offensively.

Florida State is No. 1 in the country again, and while Fisher said his teams are capable of exhibiting no-huddle and up-tempo concepts, why would he mess with a winning formula?

With the overhaul of offensive philosophies throughout the country -- five of the top-10 teams in the AP poll are spread, up-tempo or both -- Fisher said it is an advantage when his pro-style Seminoles line up on offense.

“Being able to play conventional plays into our hands because not many people are doing it,” Fisher said in August. “It used to be the teams that spread, you don’t know how to play it [on defense]. Now all teams are playing spread, it makes the team you’re playing, say they’re a 4-2-5 nickel defense, now they have regular people running with a 260-pound tight end, 240-pound fullback and take an iso or counter. How much time do they see it in practice and practice against it?”

Several players have referred to Fisher’s offense as “complex,” and Fisher himself said it’s “probably a little more NFL-laden” with multiple-line protections, formations and the freedom for the quarterback at the line of scrimmage to make checks between a run or pass.

“It’s been successful, and it develops guys for the league,” Fisher said. “You go to school to be a lawyer, you go to the best law school. You want to be an NFL player, you go to teams that run NFL systems. When our guys get [to the NFL] they say they’re very comfortable, the schemes and concepts are very similar.”

Morris not deviating from uptempo style
[+] EnlargeChad Morris
Joshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY SportsOC Chad Morris' fast-paced offense has proved to be a winning formula for Clemson.
When he met with reporters earlier this week, Morris was asked whether he might slow down his usually fast-paced offense to eat some clock and keep Florida State’s offense off the field. It was a reasonable plan, but it never crossed Morris’ mind.

In fact, if Morris has a regret this season, it’s that he hasn't been aggressive enough.

In the opening week of the season, Clemson was saddled with awful field position throughout a disastrous second half at Georgia. Morris decided to go conservative, hoping to avoid a bad mistake. It was the wrong move. The Tigers had seven second-half drives and punted seven times. A three-point game at the start of the fourth quarter ended as a 45-21 Georgia win.

“Obviously if I had to do it over, I’d have thrown three straight deep balls,” Morris said. “If I’d known we’d be three-and-out, I’d have made everybody in the stands go, ‘Ooh, ooh, ooh.’”

Most of the time, that’s exactly what Morris wants to do. In his three-plus seasons at the helm of Clemson’s offense, the fireworks have been routine, and the pace has been frenetic. Among Power 5 teams since 2011, Clemson has run the second-most plays and ranks seventh in touchdowns, sixth in passing yards and seventh in plays of 20 yards or more. Morris has been at the forefront of the fast-and-loose style that has turned offenses like Clemson, Texas A&M, Baylor and Oregon into the some of the most entertaining spectacles in college football.

Morris’ offensive philosophy stands in stark contrast to the man calling plays for Clemson’s opposition this week, and the contrasts in style between Morris’ game plan and Fisher’s makes for lively debate. In each of the past two seasons, Fisher’s pro style has won the day, and last year, it set scoring records and paved the way to a national title. Still, Morris doesn’t see the head-to-head showdown Saturday as a referendum on his approach.

“We’re going to do what we do,” Morris said. “You’re just trying to get your guys to play at a high level. And in games like this, your big-time players have to show up, and it’s our job as coordinators to put them in a position to be successful.”

And if putting players in position to succeed is the ultimate goal, it’s hard to argue with Morris’ up-tempo style. While Fisher’s playbook is mercilessly complex, the main goal of Morris' offense is simple -- to move fast and make quick decisions. That means paring down the decision-making to the most important details and then letting athletes go out and make plays.

Still, at the end of the day, Morris said the underpinnings of what he does aren't a whole lot different than Fisher’s philosophy.

“You try to find weaknesses and exploit them and do what you do good,” Morris said.

Of course, what Morris does best is to open up the throttle and let the offense test its limits.

“I’m used to putting it in the left lane and put the hammer down,” Morris said.
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- It wasn’t in this office, all shiny and new.

It wasn’t in the glossy chair with the comfortable white leather he sits in today.

It wasn’t behind the massive desk to his right, the one surrounded by commemorative footballs from games won and Egg Bowls remembered.

No, it wasn’t here overlooking the practice field that he had to be rude and stubborn with some in his administration. This impeccable $25 million facility didn’t exist back then.

[+] EnlargeDan Mullen
AP Photo/Butch DillDan Mullen has worked hard to change the mindset at Mississippi State.
Dan Mullen had to kick people out of his old office to get a new one.

“Early on people would say, ‘We can’t,’ and I’d throw them out,” he said.

Coming from a championship-winning program at Florida, Mullen couldn’t stomach the self-imposed limitations so many at Mississippi State had become accustomed to. Football seasons here were supposed to end in late November. Beating Ole Miss was the only tangible priority. Going to a bowl game was an afterthought.

The ceiling bothered him so much, he decided to tear the whole thing down.

“It was all the mindset,” he said, thinking back on his start late in 2008. “It was everything we can’t do. ‘We’re Mississippi State so we can’t do these things.’ If they wanted to go positive, ‘We can only do this because we’re Mississippi State.’

“To me, that’s not acceptable.”

Admittedly, that attitude was a little abrasive. After someone was thrown out, another person would have to clean up the mess and translate the message.

As Mullen said, “I don’t sugarcoat things well.” But when you’re attempting to rebuild a program that went 21-42 in the seasons prior to your arrival, how can you?

“You had to be brash because people had never heard or seen that here before,” Mullen said. “I’m not a softball pitcher. I don’t throw up the little easy ones in there. I’m going to come hit you square in the face with what I want to get done.”



It worked.

If it hadn’t, this week wouldn’t matter.

As Mississippi State prepares for its Saturday night tilt at No. 8 LSU, there’s a sense of optimism that maybe this is the year things finally change in Starkville. The Bulldogs are 3-0, possess a dark-horse Heisman Trophy contender at quarterback in Dak Prescott and have a defense that is two deep at every position.

Instead of people saying “We can’t” they’re saying “Why not?”

Rankings be damned.

“We’re projected to lose every game,” senior safety Jay Hughes said. “It’s nothing new to us.”

That chip on players’ shoulders? It’s more like a boulder.

Mississippi State doesn’t have the prestige. It doesn’t have the history of winning big games. The level of talent just isn’t the same.

“I know you look and say, ‘They’re a young team this year,’” Mullen said of LSU. “They’re a young team with five-star starters, five-star backups and five-star third-stringers.”

But so what?

“We’re a bunch of three- and two-star guys,” Hughes said. “We don’t really have stars here. We work really hard. I’ve been here for five years and my body is hurting.”

In that time, he’s seen change take place. He’s seen his coach be stubborn to make it happen.

“You have to step out on a limb to get the results,” Hughes said. “That’s what he did.”

A win over LSU would mean faith rewarded.

“It would set our season off,” running back Nick Griffin said. “We’re feeling confident we can do it and make a little history of our own.”



What would a win mean to Mullen?

“It would mean we have a very nice bye week,” he said. “You know what? We’re in the SEC West. You’re going to have to win a lot.”

By saying that, you know things have truly changed at Mississippi State. A win at LSU wouldn’t be a season maker, it would be a season starter. It would be the first step in the program’s hopes of reaching an SEC title.

And when’s the last time you heard that coming out of Starkville?

“You look at great programs, they embrace those expectations,” Mullen said. “If you go to LSU and Alabama and Florida and Georgia and Michigan and Ohio State, Southern Cal, they’re here to win a championship this year.

“When I said it at Mississippi State, it was laughed upon. Now when we say that, everyone kind of thinks the same way, ‘That’s what we’re here for.’”

Saying it is nice. Showing it is better.

Mississippi State has a lot to prove against LSU. It’s been 15 years since the Bulldogs have beaten the Tigers.

“This is what counts this week,” Mullen said. “Everything about it -- the demeanor, the attitude, the excitement, the focus -- all of that has changed.

“I don’t know if there’s a more challenging game than at LSU on Saturday night,” he added, “but it’s something we have to do to put ourselves in contention to compete for a championship.”

As Mullen said, “There is no ceiling.”

Now Mississippi State must see how high it can go.
Our reporters will periodically offer their takes on important questions in college football. They'll have strong, though often differing, opinions. We'll let you decide who is right.

[+] EnlargeBo Pelini
AP Photo/Nati HarnikBo Pelini's Huskers are close to returning to national prominence.
Nebraska and Miami renew a unique rivalry on Saturday night in Lincoln, Nebraska. The Cornhuskers and Hurricanes have played 10 times -- the past five in bowl games, four of which crowned the national champion. Most recently, Miami beat Nebraska in the 2002 Rose Bowl. Since the Canes joined the ACC a decade ago, neither program has made it to a major bowl game.

So today's Take Two topic: Which is closer, Nebraska or Miami, to a return to the top of college football?

Take 1: Mitch Sherman

I'll go with the Huskers, though almost by default as Miami continues to feel its way through the new world order in college football, having lost five games or more in six of the past eight seasons. Sure, Miami uses a proven recruiting formula under Al Golden, but that's the problem. Florida State does it better. And so does half of the SEC.

Some might make similar claims about Nebraska. After all, the Huskers play in the Big Ten, where Ohio State resonates more deeply with recruits, and Penn State has seized momentum in recent months.

At least the Huskers have stability. Say what you want about coach Bo Pelini's lack of championships, but his teams have played in league title games three times in his six years, and he's never won fewer than nine games. Those 9-4 and 10-4 records do little to soothe the feelings of Nebraska fans who long for the glory years, but that era is long gone.

This week, Nebraska can take some solace in knowing that it's closer, by the numbers, to regaining elite status than Miami. And the weak Big Ten, despite conventional logic, might help Nebraska, which has upgraded its talent while others in the conference have not.

A win over Miami would complete an unbeaten nonconference season. Hurdles remain in the league, but for the Huskers, a re-emergence nationally is closer than many envision.

Take 2: Matt Fortuna

[+] EnlargeMiami
AP Photo/Alex MenendezAl Golden's ability to recruit in talent-rich Miami bodes well for the Hurricanes.
The idea that Miami has not played in a single ACC championship game yet is perplexing. Instead, the men's basketball team is the one that can claim a league title. Go figure.

Looking down the road, though, I think the Hurricanes have the more direct path back to their glory days, or at least at getting closer to what they once were. For one: Location, location, location. There is simply too much talent in Miami for this program ever to fall on down times. Golden, in his fourth year, has taken advantage of this, on pace for his fourth straight top-15 recruiting class. Let's not forget that this was also a program that was operating under the black cloud of the Nevin Shapiro scandal for two-plus years.

The same argument that the Big Ten provides a clearer path for Nebraska can be used for the ACC and Miami; the Coastal Division is a mess. But the most promising aspect for the Canes may be just that: promise.

Yes, fans want more out of this regime, which has lacked some punch at times. But there is still time to clean things up and for Miami -- which, we should note, has had some pretty awful luck with injuries offensively -- to improve. What Pelini has done in Lincoln is no small task, and I do think he is taken for granted, but I wonder if he has maxed out there. That may be tough to accept for a fan base that is so used to dominance, but as you said, that era appears gone.

What isn't gone is the talent in Florida, and in the Southeast. By virtue of its location, and by surviving a potentially program-crumbling scandal, Miami at least has the upside to make a return to the top of the college football world a possibility in the not-so-distant future.

Latest Dish: Five things I learned

September, 19, 2014
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Here are five things I learned in college football this week:

1. Sure, No. 5 Auburn greatly benefited from No. 20 Kansas State’s red zone miscues and three missed field goals in Thursday night's 20-14 victory at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. But give the Tigers some credit for making plays when it mattered most, especially on defense.

Auburn limited the Wildcats to only 40 rushing yards on 30 carries (1.3 yards per carry) and surrendered only one run longer than 10 yards to KSU tailback Charles Jones, who came into the game averaging 6 yards per attempt. Also, Auburn only allowed two passes of more than 15 yards, and held quarterback Jake Waters to minus-7 rushing yards on 11 attempts.

Auburn might not yet have a championship-caliber defense, but it is certainly making strides under second-year coordinator Ellis Johnson.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsThe Seminoles are used to getting off to a fast start in games when Jameis Winston is under center.
2. No. 1 FSU is used to starting fast with quarterback Jameis Winston on the field. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Seminoles had a halftime lead of at least seven points in 15 of the previous 16 games Winston started at FSU. The only team that stayed within six points of the Seminoles in the first half was Auburn, which had an 11-point halftime lead in last season’s BCS National Championship. FSU rallied for a 34-31 victory in the second half to claim the school’s third national title.

We’ll see if No. 22 Clemson can keep it close in Saturday night’s ACC showdown at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Florida. Winston is suspended from playing in the first half after making vulgar comments in the FSU student union Tuesday, and redshirt sophomore Sean Maguire is expected to make his first career start. Maguire hasn't started a game since November 2011, when he was a senior at Seton Hall Prep in New Jersey.

3. Although hindsight is 20/20, Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo accepted blame for not having tailback Todd Gurley more involved in the offense when the Bulldogs faced first-and-goal at South Carolina’s 4-yard line in the closing minutes of last week’s 38-35 loss. UGA attempted a play-action pass on first-and-goal, and quarterback Hutson Mason was penalized for intentional grounding. After two more plays, the Bulldogs missed a chip-shot field goal that would have tied the score, and the Gamecocks were able to run out the clock.

Bobo's first-down call was an aggressive one, and it can certainly be argued that he should have put the ball in the hands of Gurley, who might be the country's best running back. But if the play-action pass had worked, we'd be talking about how brilliant Bobo's call was. And, of course, if Bobo had called for Mason to hand the ball to Gurley on four straight plays and the Bulldogs didn't score, we'd be talking about how vanilla and uncreative his play calling was.

4. West Virginia's defense surrendered 447 yards of offense in last week’s 40-37 win at Maryland, but Mountaineers defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said 188 yards came on three plays. Quarterback C.J. Brown threw a 77-yard touchdown to Stefon Diggs and had a 75-yard scoring run of his own. The Mountaineers didn't give up a touchdown after Brown’s long run on the first play from scrimmage in the second half (the Terps kicked a field goal and scored on a long punt return in the fourth quarter).

West Virginia will need a similar defensive effort if it’s going to upset No. 4 Oklahoma in Morgantown on Saturday night. Last season, the Sooners defeated the Mountaineers 16-7, their fewest points total during the previous two seasons.

5. Oregon’s recent dominance over Washington State is making it one of the most lopsided conference series in the country. The No. 2 Ducks have won seven straight games over the Cougars heading into Saturday night’s game in Pullman, averaging 52.4 points per game with an average margin of victory of 32.1 points. Ouch.

Plays that changed the game: Auburn

September, 18, 2014
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It might not have been pretty. It might not have been what everybody expected. But all that matters to Auburn is the final score, and the Tigers left Bill Snyder Family Stadium with a 20-14 win over No. 20 Kansas State. It was the program's first road win against a ranked nonconference opponent since 1984.

A little luck

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Kansas State had a chance early in the game to take a lead and grab the momentum, but that chance bounced right off the chest of Tyler Lockett as the star wide receiver tried to make a catch at the goal line, but the ball deflected off his hands into the air. To make matters worse, Auburn cornerback Jonathan Jones was there to haul it in for the interception. It turned out to be a theme for the Wildcats, who missed three field-goal attempts, lost a fumble and threw another critical interception later in the game. Meanwhile, Auburn turned the ball over only once and was a perfect 3-for-3 in the red zone.

A little skill

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Auburn wide receiver D'haquille "Duke" Williams had to be kicking himself after dropping a potential touchdown in the first half, but the junior college transfer, playing in his first road game, more than made up for it with a spectacular touchdown grab at the beginning of the fourth quarter. The score capped off a 15-play, 80-yard drive and gave Auburn a 17-7 lead. Williams, who later had a clutch 39-yard catch to seal the win, finished with eight catches for 110 yards and the lone touchdown.

Auburn 20, Kansas State 14

September, 18, 2014
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Auburn fended off Kansas State 20-14 to improve to 3-0 on the season.

Early Offer: Hogs beef up defensive line 

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
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Arkansas needs all the talent it can get at defensive tackle, and the Hogs landed a key defender Thursday. Chris Petersen continues to uncover sleepers at Washington, but can he attract enough talent to win in the Pac-12?

Nick Marshall makes the right read

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
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AP Photo/Butch DillQB Nick Marshall is the key to Auburn's potent running game.
Since the start of the 2013 season, Auburn ranks in the top three in the FBS in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns and yards per rush.

The Tigers have had an FBS-high four players with at least 800 rushing yards during that time, including three players currently on their roster (Nick Marshall, Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant).

Quarterback Nick Marshall has been the key to Auburn’s rushing success. With him under center, the Tigers are averaging 6.2 yards per rush and scoring a rushing touchdown once every 15 carries. The FBS averages are 4.5 yards per rush and a touchdown every 20 carries.

It took head coach Gus Malzahn a few games to adjust to Marshall’s strengths.

The Tigers passed on at least 40 percent of their plays in two of their first four games last season, including their 14-point loss at LSU on Sept. 21.

Since that game, Auburn has passed on 28 percent of its plays and has not had a game above 36 percent. During that time, Marshall has had the highest Total QBR in the FBS.

Marshall and the zone read
What sets Marshall apart is his ability to implement Auburn’s zone read. The Tigers have run zone read on 41 percent of their rushing plays since the start of last season. On such plays, they are averaging 7.1 yards per rush and have a Power Five-high 28 rushing touchdowns.

When Marshall keeps the ball on the zone read, he is averaging 8.0 yards per rush and leads all active Power Five players since the start of last season with 948 rushing yards.

His ability to make the right read has also translated to success for his teammates. Running backs Cameron Artis-Payne (7.8) Corey Grant (8.5) and Tre Mason (5.4) all have averaged more than five yards per carry on zone-read plays with Marshall at quarterback.

Why K-State might be able to slow Auburn’s run game
Auburn’s run game is predicated on its ability to find space, both when running the zone read and in standard run plays.

The Tigers are averaging 210.5 rushing yards per game before first contact this season, which is on par with their numbers from last season.

To put that into perspective, since the start of last season 99 FBS teams do not average 212 total rushing yards per game.

However, in a small sample size, Kansas State has been among the nation’s best at limiting opponents’ yards before contact.

On designed runs, only Alabama (20.3) is allowing fewer yards before contact per game than the Wildcats (22.5) this season.

Kansas State has also been able to stop the zone read the past two seasons, allowing 3.7 yards per rush on such plays, which ranks second among Big 12 defenses behind TCU.

The number to watch on Thursday night is 200. Kansas State is 21-2 when it allows fewer than 200 rushing yards in the last three seasons and 0-5 when it does not.

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