NCF Nation: internal affairs 10
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
We take our weekly "Internal Affairs" look at the upcoming games this week in the SEC:
1. Three-headed attack: More than at any other time this season, Alabama's running game has become a three-headed attack with Glen Coffee, Mark Ingram and now Roy Upchurch. The Crimson Tide will throw all three running backs at the LSU defense this Saturday, and Upchurch is probably the freshest of the bunch. He has a little different style than Coffee and Ingram and probably brings a little more speed to the equation. Upchurch has 21 touches in his last two games (counting catches) after not carrying the ball at all against Kentucky. The bottom line is that Alabama will look to have a set of fresh legs in the game at running back at all times against the Tigers.
2. Dueling quarterbacks: Kentucky coach Rich Brooks has never been fond of playing two quarterbacks, but that's the route he plans to go the rest of the season with freshman Randall Cobb and sophomore Mike Hartline. Cobb will again be the starter this week against Georgia, and Hartline will back him up. From there, Brooks will go with the hot hand. He simply feels it's Kentucky's best chance to win games right now. The interesting part of this plan is that when Hartline comes in, Cobb won't necessarily go to the bench. He'll stay on the field as one of the Wildcats' top receivers.
3. Wright sighting: The Razorbacks have been looking for more firepower on offense to help junior tailback Michael Smith, and they found it last Saturday in true freshman receiver Jarius Wright. His role in the offense will be even more critical for the Hogs as they go against a South Carolina defense that will load the box this weekend and play a bunch of man coverage. Wright caught five passes for 112 yards in the 30-23 win over Tulsa after coming into the game with a total of seven catches for 67 yards. Most importantly, Wright had a couple of big-gainers against Tulsa, the kind of plays the Hogs will need to soften up the South Carolina defense.
4. Creating chaos: South Carolina's defense hasn't done it with smoke and mirrors this season. The Gamecocks are talented and experienced on defense, and defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson and his staff have done a good job of mixing it up. The Gamecocks, ranked third nationally in total defense, will undoubtedly throw an array of fronts, blitzes and coverages at Arkansas this Saturday. The Hogs do have a senior quarterback in Casey Dick, but the Gamecocks are especially good at Williams-Brice Stadium with the home crowd of keeping offenses off balance with different looks.
5. Putting it on Wilson: It's supposedly the blueprint for beating Alabama, but nobody has been able to execute it: Get ahead of the Crimson Tide and make them beat you with John Parker Wilson throwing the football. The onus is on the LSU defensive front-seven this weekend, if the Tigers are going to follow that blueprint. The key is getting Alabama in a lot of third-and-longs and stopping the run on first and second downs. LSU will again move Tyson Jackson around from end to tackle depending on the down and distance, and this is a game that screams out for tackle Ricky Jean-Francois, who should be healthier now, to show the same dominance he did a year ago in the BCS title game. In short, the Tigers will sell out to stop the Tide's running game.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said quarterback Cullen Harper's three interceptions at Boston College were "just poor decisions. Simple as that." It's somewhat of a concern for Swinney, considering Harper is a fifth-year senior. One of Harper's interceptions was a late throw, he didn't go through the progression properly on another, and he forced a throw into coverage on the third. While Harper made some key throws under pressure in that win, Swinney said his quarterback has to learn he doesn't have to win the game by himself. Swinney said he is frustrated by Clemson's inability to put opponents away when it has the chance.
Sophomore do-it-all athlete Anthony Parker-Boyd has been tasked with playing the role of Georgia Tech quarterback Josh Nesbitt this week. He's about Nesbitt's size and has a similar running style, so he's given the defense a good look, but the Tar Heels know they can't simulate the true speed of the triple option. That's why getting off to a fast start will be so important in this noon kickoff, something UNC has struggled with in its early games. From watching Georgia Tech's game film from last week, UNC noticed Florida State played a lot of man to man coverage against some new formations and it didn't always work.
The way coach Jeff Jagodzinski tells it, offensive coordinator Steve Logan appears to be caught in a catch-22. Jagodzinski said they didn't have an aggressive game plan against Clemson because they didn't want to turn it over. "You can't have it both ways," he said. "We can sling it, but I'm going to try to avoid a multiple turnover game. You don't even give yourself a chance that way. At some point you've got to go make a play." Jagodzinski said he still thinks Chris Crane is the best option at this point, despite his eight touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
In order to help prepare for the hostile environment at Lane Stadium, the Terps have cranked the artificial crowd noise up during practices this week. (Not sure if "Enter Sandman" was on the playlist, though). Defensive coordinator Chris Cosh said turnovers will be a key to the game, and something he wants to see more of. The Terps have been practicing stripping the ball this week and picking them up. Cosh said he has reminded his players that Cory Holt is a quarterback, and a veteran who knows the system, so he is not to be overlooked if he is the starter.
The Hokies are wary of Maryland quarterback Chris Turner, but their first priority, defensive end Orion Martin said, is to stop the run. They also plan to bring "four-man heat, like we always do," Martin said. While the defense has been concentrating on stopping ACC leading rusher Da'Rel Scott, who is listed as questionable on the injury report, Virginia Tech's offense has been focused on developing its own running game. Offensive guard Nick Marshman said the offensive coaches have stressed "running the ball with authority," something they haven't done since the Nebraska game. The Hokies had 206 rushing yards at Nebraska, a number that declined with each game since and hit a season-low of 82 at Florida State.
Pittsburgh: The Panthers made some personnel changes in their secondary after Rutgers ripped through it. Sophomore Elijah Fields saw a lot more playing time at Notre Dame, lining up occasionally at safety, nickel back and linebacker. Ricky Gary and Jovani Chappel split time at cornerback. Gary fell down on one touchdown pass, but overall Dave Wannstedt said he was pleased with their play. Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen threw for 271 yards and three touchdowns.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers are looking for a few good men to help shore up their kickoff coverage. They rank last among 119 FBS teams by allowing 29.58 yards per return and are about to face the league's best kick returner in Cincinnati's Mardy Gilyard. Two members of the kick cover team -- safety Courtney Stuart and linebacker Archie Sims -- were injured in the UConn game. Head coach Bill Stewart handles special teams and said he would make some personnel changes this week.
Cincinnati: True freshman receiver D.J. Woods is starting to make a bigger impact. He had four catches for 67 yards against Rutgers, returned a punt 40 yards at UConn and made three key receptions in the South Florida win. Fellow slot receiver Marcus Barnett, the team's second-leading catcher a year ago, has only 21 receptions this year. Also for the Bearcats, center Chris Jurek was in a walking boot this week after suffering an ankle injury against South Florida. The team is hopeful he can play at West Virginia. If not, guard Jason Kelce could slide over and handle snapping duties.
Louisville: Senior George Bussey, an All Big-East left tackle, could be switching positions. The Cardinals moved Bussey to left guard on Saturday versus Syracuse to replace injured Mark Wetterer. Sophomore Greg Tomczyk played left tackle because he had fewer things to learn at that position. Wetterer's status is unclear for Saturday's game at Pitt. Other than Bussey and center Eric Wood, Louisville's offensive line has been spotty in recent games.
Syracuse: Wide receiver Dan Sheeran is expected back this week from the broken fibula he suffered in preseason camp. His return allows freshman Grant Mayes to switch from receiver to cornerback, a position he played until Sheeran's injury forced him to offense. The Orange secondary could be in trouble this week against Rutgers, as defensive backs Kevyn Scott and A.J. Brown were injured in the Louisville game. Coach Greg Robinson has declined to address their status so far this week.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Here's our weekly look inside five Big Ten teams.
Illinois -- Eddie McGee showed promise last year when he spelled Juice Williams at quarterback. But with Williams entrenched under center for the rest of this season and 2009, Illini coaches aren't letting McGee's talents go to waste. McGee made his debut as a wide receiver last Saturday against Iowa and caught two passes for 14 yards, including a critical 9-yarder that helped to set up the game-winning field goal. McGee will remain Williams' primary backup at quarterback, but he won't be spending much time holding a clipboard. "We all know when he gets the ball in his hands he can fly," head coach Ron Zook said. "We'll be able to expand on that. He's a heck of an athlete."
Iowa -- Linebacker Dezman Moses returned to practice during the bye week after being suspended four games. Moses was charged Sept. 21 with public intoxication. He played in Iowa's first few games and will be available Saturday when the Hawkeyes face Penn State. Senior safety Harold Dalton's future looks grim after an arrest early Sunday for his role in an Iowa City bar fight. Head coach Kirk Ferentz said its "very doubtful" Dalton will return this year. "The common denominator, alcohol, is so often involved," Ferentz said. "That's a common denominator. Our uncommon denominator in this case is that [Dalton is] an older player. We've talked about that before. I'm a little more understanding with younger guys. But it's really disappointing."
Northwestern -- The Wildcats likely will use two quarterbacks Saturday against Ohio State, but the prospect of using both players on the field at the same time is highly unlikely. Backup Mike Kafka showcased his dynamic running skills at Minnesota with a Big Ten quarterback-record 217 rushing yards. Kafka might be an effective weapon in the backfield with starter C.J. Bacher or lined up as a wide receiver, but head coach Pat Fitzgerald doesn't want to take the risk with his second-string quarterback. Third-stringer Dan Persa, who already is being used on special teams, would be a likelier candidate to see playing time elsewhere. "We're not opposed to doing that," Fitzgerald said, "but not necessarily with the second quarterback."
Ohio State -- The starting offensive line from the Buckeyes' Oct. 25 loss to Penn State will remain intact Saturday at Northwestern, but the second unit could have a different makeup. Ben Person, who has started games this season at left guard, might need surgery for a leg injury and likely will miss Saturday's game. True freshman J.B. Shugarts -- previously ruled out for the season with a shoulder injury -- will be available in reserve duty if needed. Another freshman, Mike Adams, remains out with a foot injury.
Wisconsin -- Tight end is one of the most important positions in Wisconsin's offense, but it's a spot where injuries have hit especially hard. After losing Garrett Graham earlier this season, the Badgers have seen Travis Beckum and Lance Kendricks sustain broken left legs in consecutive weeks. Graham and Mickey Turner now will share the duties at tight end for Saturday's game at Indiana. Turner is more of a blocking tight end but can be effective as a receiver, an area where Graham shines. Wisconsin will continue to emphasize double tight end sets in the offense. "Can you get out of it what you need? Yeah," offensive coordinator Paul Chryst told the Wisconsin State Journal. "Can you get out of it what you got in the past? No."
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Getting deep into this week's games.
Longshore will need to think quickly, accurately vs. USC defense: California's rejiggered offensive line proved us wrong last week vs. Oregon. I wrote over and over again that it would be a problem for the Bears playing without three starters and a key reserve from their preseason depth chart. But the O-line held its own against the Ducks in a 26-16 victory. Of course, USC is a different sort of defense. This experience will be like moving up from junior high to varsity in the span of a week. What that means is the going will be tougher in the running game, and quarterback Nate Longshore, if he starts ahead of the injured Kevin Riley (concussion), won't get a lot of time to go through his receiver progressions before the Trojans get to him. And, as Cal fans often point out, Longshore isn't very mobile, particularly compared to Riley, and he tends to try to force throws into coverage. Often at inopportune times -- as if there's every a good time to hurl a pick. This could be a legacy-making game for Longshore, who's career plot twists read like a Stephen King novel. He will give the Bears a chance by making a few plays in the downfield passing game, but it's most important that he avoid costly turnovers that make things easy for the Trojans.
Will Stanford or Oregon get a passing fancy? Oregon ranks ninth in the Pac-10 in pass defense. Stanford ranks 10th. Oregon ranks eighth in passing offense. Stanford ranks 10th. It would seem there's a nice weakness vs. weakness matchup here. Oregon ranks second in the conference against the run. Stanford ranks third. Oregon ranks first in the conference running the football. Stanford ranks second. It would seem there's a good strength vs. strength matchup here. Will both teams just run right at each other and make this a battle of manhood? Or will one -- or both -- opt for balance, hoping to exploit a weak opposing pass defense? Stanford didn't need to pass last week while beating Washington State 58-0, but coach Jim Harbaugh said in the bye week preceding the game that the passing attack with quarterback Tavita Pritchard was the prime focus. Meanwhile, Mike Bellotti said Tuesday that the Ducks need to be sharper in their passing game. He intimated that Justin Roper might get an opportunity to retake his starting job, particularly with Jeremiah Masoli limited by an ankle injury early this week, though it seems like Bellotti favors Masoli as his starter. Here's a guess that at this late point in the season, both teams will dance with the one that brung 'em and mostly try to run the ball.
Sammie and the Rodgers brothers will exorcise Mike Riley's UCLA curse and make life easy for QB Sean Canfield: Riley is 0-5 vs. UCLA as Oregon State's coach and was also 0-4 while offensive coordinator at USC (1993-96). He's beaten every other Pac-10 team at least twice, including USC. But Halloween is over. November is when the Beavers surge. Of course, they're probably going to have to do it at UCLA with their backup quarterback Sean Canfield making his first start this season with Lyle Moevao nursing a strained shoulder (though Moevao appears to be rallying in his recovery). Canfield played well coming off the bench and leading the Beavers to a victory over Arizona State, and he showed admirable resiliency in the process by bouncing back from a pick-six interception at the beginning of the third quarter. But coming off the bench at home with little thinking time is a different animal than starting a game on the road with a week to think about how much rides on the Beavers winning: Their Rose Bowl hopes. That's why Canfield needs to know that he doesn't need to take chances. He needs to get the ball in the hands of his playmakers -- the Rodgers brothers, running back Jacquizz and scatback James, and receiver Sammie Stroughter -- and then sit back and let them figure out what to do.
All smiles in Arizona after a successful trip to Washington: There is no upset alert in Seattle or Pullman this weekend. Both Arizona schools will get what they want -- and desperately need -- on their business trips to chilly destinations. First, Arizona needs a sixth victory, which will virtually guarantee the Wildcats a bowl berth, the consensus measure of what coach Mike Stoops needed to retain his job. There's almost no way they can screw this one up if they show up with any focus. While the coaches and players have talked all week about how they underestimated New Mexico and Stanford, there's no comparison here. And the lack of pressure may actually help the Wildcats play loose and enjoy themselves. As for the Sun Devils, they need a cure for a six-game losing streak and Dr. Tyrone Willingham has got the medicine they need: His Huskies. Quarterback Rudy Carpenter will get his swagger back against the nation's worst pass defense, and running back Shaun DeWitty will give the beleaguered rushing attack a second consecutive 100-yard performance. And then the Wildcats and Sun Devils will leave the gloom behind and return to the sunny-side of life.
Will it be Good Sanchez or Bad Sanchez vs. Cal's pick-happy D? First off: After reviewing the record, USC quarterback Mark Sanchez hasn't been nearly as inconsistent as portrayed. He had one certifiably bad game -- three interceptions vs. Arizona State. And he was hot-and-cold in the loss at Oregon State and the win over Arizona. But he's thrown more than one interception in a game just once this year. He still leads the Pac-10 in pass efficiency by a wide margin. And his 22 touchdown passes are seven more than anyone else. Still, with California likely the last remaining ranked team on USC's schedule, this showdown could become the measure of Sanchez's season. Is he the first-team All-Pac-10 quarterback? And Cal will challenge any quarterback. The Bears are tied with North Carolina with the most interceptions (17) in the country. Good Sanchez can pick the B
ears apart with a big, fast receiving corps with whom it's hard to physically matchup. Bad Sanchez will make careless throws that shorten the field, take the crowd out of the game and give the Bears hope on the road. Cal coach Jeff Tedford and USC coach Pete Carroll are apostles of turnover margin, and whichever quarterback makes the fewest gaffes likely will lead a smiling team off the field.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are a few tidbits from across the conference heading into this week's games.
1. A transformed Kansas secondary has been readied for the Jayhawks' late push for the North Division title. Kansas coach Mark Mangino has gradually broken in new cornerbacks Daymond Patterson and Justin Thornton and moved up former backup Darrell Stuckey to the starting job at free safety. Those moves have left early-season starting cornerbacks Kendrick Harper andChris Harris buried in Mangino's playing rotation. The change is being made to boost Kansas' athleticism before huge tests against the horde of playmaking wide receivers the Jayhawks will be facing against Texas and Missouri in upcoming weeks.
2. Oft-injured playmaking Oklahoma defensive end Auston English will be missed during the rest of the regular season, although Sooner coaches privately aren't disappointed that redshirt freshman Frank Alexander will be the player replacing him. Alexander's comeback from an early-season stabbing injury has been strong and he's shown some noticeable instinctive defensive moves. There will be a drop-off from English to Alexander, but not as much as might be expected.
3. One of the major reasons for Texas Tech's recent defensive success has been the simplification of schemes since Ruffin McNeill took over as defensive coordinator midway through last season. Two players who have particularly thrived up front have been defensive endsBrandon Williams and McKinner Dixon, who have combined for 17 sacks this season. And Tech's starting safeties, Darcel McBath and Daniel Charbonnet, merely are playing like the best pair at their position in the conference since the change.
4. Kansas State coach Ron Prince took over the play-calling responsibilities in the second half of the Wildcats' 52-21 loss last week at Kansas, helping spark a late offensive charge after the Wildcats had fallen into an early 31-0 hole at the half. While Prince was careful to say he hasn't lost confidence in offensive coordinator Dave Brock's calls from the press box, he wanted to provide his team immediate feedback from the sideline by taking a more active play-calling role.
5. Missouri tight end Chase Coffman has been listed as questionable for Saturday's game against Kansas State because of a sprained toe. But Coffman has a little extra inspiration to return to the lineup quicker. It's not only his final home game at Missouri, but he'll be playing against the old college team of his father, former NFL tight end Paul Coffman. And his little brother, Carson, is a backup quarterback for the Wildcats. If Chase Coffman can't go, freshman Andrew Jones would get the start, but expect him to at least to try to play early in the game.
Patterson focused on his seniors: The rumors are out there as they are every time a job comes open. TCU coach Gary Patterson knows that his name is being tossed around as a potential candidate for some of the bigger jobs out there, but he said he's not focusing on that. He promised his seniors that he'd get them to 40 career wins and he's one game away from accomplishing that with at least two and probably three (with a bowl game) games remaining.
Patterson said despite the rumors, he's not even entertaining calls from other schools.
"I'm not even talking to my friends," Patterson said Tuesday evening. "I've spent three days here going to bed at 2-2:30 in the morning and getting back up at 6 and you don't have much time to talk to anybody. I don't think my wife's talked to me in two days."
Whittingham not sold on a one-loss team busting the BCS: As the top non-BCS team in the country, Utah knows that if it wins out it will play a BCS bowl. But what if the team loses? The Utes have had a couple of close calls this season and with games against ranked TCU and BYU teams remaining, the schedule gets tough in November and a loss could cost them a BCS berth.
Even Utah coach Kyle Whittingham isn't sold on a one-loss team getting a BCS bid.
"I could say this, if you are a one-loss BCS team it's unlikely that you'll be able to break into the BCS, but it's not impossible," Whittingham said. "That one loss better be against a very high-profile, highly ranked opponent."
Guy trying to defy history: What's the best way to challenge players on a 1-7 team? Tell them they can't do something. That's what Utah State coach Brent Guy did last week when he challenged his team to beat Hawaii, a team it had never defeated during its time in the WAC. The Aggies went on to win 30-14, and now they have their sights set on No. 10 Boise State, a team they haven't beaten in a decade, losing by an average of 26.7 points, including a 52-0 domination last season.
Guy, who used to work at Boise State, said he knows the intimidation of the blue field in Boise, but with such a young team, he thinks the mystique is overrated.
"I was a part of that for a while, not the WAC wins, but when we got the win streak going originally at home, and it's more about not buying into all that," Guy said. "[Boise State] believes and that's what winning amounts to. We've just got to play better than we've played the last two weeks."
Desormeaux says he's sore, but ready: Louisiana-Lafayette quarterback Michael Desormeaux said he's not quite 100 percent from the sprained knee he suffered in the fourth quarter against North Texas on Oct. 11, but that the play of his teammates is taking the pressure off.
Desormeaux, who played last week against Florida International, is major part of the nation's best running game.
"It's one of those things that's kind of nagging and stuff like that," Desormeaux said of his knee. "I have guys that are making a lot of plays around me right now, so that makes me feel a lot better about it. You don't have to do so much."
Houston trying to keep season together: After Houston's 37-23 loss to Marshall last week, Houston coach Kevin Sumlin said he had to take a step back and look at his team.
"We are extremely disappointed and embarrassed about how we played last week, as coaches and players," Sumlin said. "Over the course of the last couple days, it gave us a chance to evaluate where we are schematically and personnel-wise."
The loss was the Cougars' first in conference play, but it wasn't entirely unexpected. The Cougars didn't have fast starts during its previous two wins and had to come from behind to win. Both of those wins were against teams from the bottom of the conference standings (UAB, SMU). So when the Cougars found themselves in a similar situation against a good team, they weren't able to make up the difference.