NCF Nation: internal affairs 11
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Our weekly look at some Internal Affairs in the SEC:
1. A Grant sighting: A neck injury has left Roy Upchurch's status for Saturday's game against Mississippi State as doubtful, meaning Terry Grant may get his shot in Alabama's three-pronged running attack. Grant was the Crimson Tide's leading rusher last season with 891 yards. But he's been buried on the bench this season behind Glen Coffee, Mark Ingram and Upchurch. Alabama coach Nick Saban hopes Grant can provide some of the things Upchurch had brought to the Tide offense, namely some speed to the outside and the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Grant has carried the ball just 28 times for 77 yards this season, as Saban has opted for more physical between-the-tackles runners.
2. Sticking with the Wild-Cobb: Kentucky threw the ball all over the place the past two years with Andre' Woodson setting SEC records. The Wildcats still like to think of themselves as a pro-style offense. But for the time being, they're going with what they do best -- and that's freshman quarterback Randall Cobb lining up in the shotgun and breaking teams down with his quick feet and open-field running. It's Kentucky's version of the spread option, and it produced 226 rushing yards last week in the 42-38 loss to Georgia. Vanderbilt can expect to see more of it this Saturday, especially with the Wildcats so depleted at receiver. Cobb's a special talent, too. Once he cuts down on his mistakes, he's going to be one of those quarterbacks nobody wants to face.
3. Run Kodi run: After rushing for 158 yards last week in Auburn's 37-20 win over Tennessee-Martin, Auburn quarterback Kodi Burns knows that's not going to cut it against Georgia. He's also not likely to pass for 318 yards like he did two weeks ago in the loss to Ole Miss. The Tigers would like him to come in somewhere in the middle of those two extremes against the Bulldogs and without the three second-half interceptions he threw against Ole Miss. Burns looks much more comfortable now that it's clear that he's Auburn's quarterback. He still can't be a gun-slinger, though, whether he's running it or passing it. He carried the ball 13 times last week, which would be a bit risky if he were facing an SEC defense. The last thing the Tigers need is to get him hurt.
4. More shuffling up front: It's become a weekly routine for Georgia offensive line coach Stacy Searels: This guy moves here, and that guy moves there. The latest injury in the Bulldogs' offensive line is to right tackle Justin Anderson, who hurt his foot against Kentucky and will miss the Auburn game and possibly the Georgia Tech game. The Bulldogs are working sophomores Josh Davis and Kiante Tripp at right tackle this week in practice. Since the preseason, Tripp has moved from right tackle to left tackle to tight end and now back to right tackle again. This will be the fifth different combination the Bulldogs have used on the offensive line this season when they face Auburn on Saturday.
5. Musical quarterbacks: Nobody rotates quarterbacks on every play. That is, with the exception of Steve Spurrier. The Head Ball Coach is looking seriously at rotating Stephen Garcia and Chris Smelley on every play, or at least every few plays, this Saturday against Florida. As unconventional as it sounds, Spurrier liked the way it worked last weekend in the 34-21 win over Arkansas. It's not a strategy Spurrier plans on sticking with forever. But since Garcia and Smelley haven't been able to separate themselves, Spurrier's going to run them in and out of the game until they do. He pulled a similar stunt when he was at Florida in 1998 with Doug Johnson and Jesse Palmer.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are a few tidbits from around the league as teams prepare for games on Saturday:
1. Imitation is apparently the sincerest form of flattery. Or at least from Nebraska it is. The Cornhuskers picked up the idea of throwing to massive 300-pound defensive tackle/blocking back Ndamukong Suh in a short-yardage situation from watching how Texas had used Roy Miller in a similar role against Oklahoma earlier this season. "We stole it from them," Nebraska quarterback Joe Ganz said. The result was a pivotal 2-yard TD pass that help spark the Cornhuskers' fourth-quarter offensive eruption against Kansas last week.
2. With an extra week to prepare for their huge game against Texas Tech next week, Oklahoma is desperately trying to improve its kickoff coverage. The Sooners were blistered for a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown last week by Cyrus Gray of Texas A&M -- an NCAA-worst third touchdown on a kickoff return allowed by the Sooners this season. Texas Tech's return game is one of the least potent parts of the Red Raiders' surging attack, but Bob Stoops and other Sooner coaches will be up late this week scheming to improve that part of their special teams.
3. Even with Colorado quarterback Cody Hawkins' big second-half comeback against Iowa State last week, look for freshman quarterback Tyler Hansen to still get playing time this week against Oklahoma State. As strong as Hawkins looked in directing Colorado's passing game, Hansen's running skills are still considered a plus that gives the Buffaloes a change of pace. And that balance will be huge as the Buffaloes try to become bowl eligible by winning one of their final two games of the season.
4. Kansas coach Mark Mangino isn't concerned about whether new defensive coordinator Clint Bowen's scheme is working. The Jayhawks' recent defensive problems are more basic than that. Mangino has been harping on the team's basic tackling skills -- both in the box and in the open field. And that's a bad problem against the athletes that Jayhawks will be facing from Texas and Missouri in their final two games of the season.
5. So much for sportsmanship. Consider this exchange at the end of the Missouri-Kansas State game between Gary Pinkel and Kansas State coach Ron Prince. After Missouri went for it with a safe run on a fourth-and-12 from the KSU 13 with a 41-10 lead rather than kick an easy field goal, the Wildcats quickly scored against Missouri's backups and then tried an onside kick to regain possession on the next play.
Pinkel said on his radio show this week that he would have kicked the field goal if he had known that Prince would later try the onside kick. "I was trying to be a nice guy, but I guess I learned it doesn't pay to be nice," Pinkel said in comments reported in the Columbia Tribune. "I'm done being nice."
Pinkel proved that on the next play after regaining possession. He reinserted backup quarterback Chase Patton, who tried to throw a deep pass on the first play from scrimmage that went incomplete. But it was his answer to Prince's onside kick.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
It's time to look inside five Big Ten teams.
Minnesota -- Wide receiver Eric Decker will miss Saturday's game at Wisconsin (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET) with a high ankle sprain, and the Gophers are working to find ways to replace the Big Ten's receptions leader. Freshman Brandon Green will play a much more prominent role, and Minnesota also will turn to freshman Brodrick Smith and sophomore Ralph Spry, who comes off a two-game suspension for violating team rules. Green, listed as a starter this week, has 12 receptions in his last three games and could blossom into a top-end wideout with extra playing time.
Northwestern -- Running back has become the Wildcats' primary concern after season-ending injuries to starter Tyrell Sutton (dislocated wrist) and backup Omar Conteh (torn knee ligament). Sophomore Stephen Simmons will make his second career start Saturday at Michigan (ESPN2, noon ET), but he'll get help from freshman Jeravin Matthews, a special teams standout who has been moved from wide receiver to running back. Both Simmons and Matthews are small, quick backs, but they'll need to be effective in the passing game, an area where both Sutton and Conteh excelled.
Iowa -- Daniel Murray converted the biggest field goal in recent team history Saturday against Penn State, but he's once again listed as the backup kicker on this week's depth chart. Head coach Kirk Ferentz has confidence in both Murray and freshman Trent Mossbrucker, though it would be hard to see Iowa go against Murray with the game on the line. Mossbrucker, to his credit, has made 13 of 15 field-goal attempts and all 24 extra-point attempts this season. "We went from a situation not knowing where we were at in the spring to feeling confident right now that both guys plan an important role," Ferentz said.
Purdue -- The Boilermakers could use a quarterback rotation Saturday at Iowa. Fifth-year senior Curtis Painter is improving from a separated throwing shoulder, while redshirt freshman Justin Siller has shown enough promise to remain part of the game plan. Painter returned to practice this week, but head coach Joe Tiller said Siller likely will start against the Hawkeyes. Siller is practicing full-go this week after sustaining a bruised sternum against Michigan State. "What I'd really like in a perfect scenario this week would be for Curtis to get healthy enough to execute the two-minute game," Tiller said. "Justin isn't prepared to do that. It's not that he can't do it in the future, it's just how much are you going to heap on this guy now and what are you going to expect him to do."
Indiana -- Head coach Bill Lynch hasn't pinpointed the reason for his team's rash of injuries, but it isn't the playing field at Memorial Stadium. Indiana had to install new turf late this summer after flooding damaged the old surface. Though several players have sustained knee injuries on the home turf, Lynch sees no different between what Indiana has and other fields around the Big Ten. The health watch on offense looks better this week, but Indiana will need to do more shuffling in the secondary as cornerback Richard Council battles a leg injury. The Hoosiers already have lost three secondary starters to season-ending injuries, and walk-on wide receiver Collin Taylor has been moved to free safety, where he'll back up Brandon Mosley.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
FLORIDA STATE: The Seminoles are expecting a similar defense from the one they saw in their loss to Wake Forest, but the Noles are more confident in their offensive line and running game this time around. Coach Bobby Bowden said tackles B.J. Raji and Ron Brace are probably the best they'll play to date, and his task will be to "mix the running game in there." Bowden said BC has a different defensive alignment than Wake, but the zone is similar. "We have to execute," Bowden said. "A team like that gives you things. You can have a little hook out there but you better not miss it. We must protect the passer and then execute and then get a running game going where they can't just tee off on the passer."
WAKE FOREST: Placekicker Sam Swank likely won't play again, and coach Jim Grobe is still trying to further integrate the I-formation with the spread offense, so the defense will once again be heavily relied upon this weekend at NC State. In the first half of the season, Wake was spending three-fourths of its practices on throwing the ball, blitz pickup, reads for the quarterbacks and route concepts for the receivers. Now, Grobe said, they're "probably 50/50 or 60/40 run-pass, which I think has helped us on Saturday, because we have the ability to do more than one thing." Running back Josh Adams, who has missed the past two games with a sprained ankle, is likely to return on Saturday.
MARYLAND: After allowing the Hokies a school-record rushing performance last week, the Terps made some changes to their defensive line in order to give their rushing defense a boost, and it starts inside. Travis Ivey will start at defensive tackle in place of Jeremy Navarre, who has been moved to defensive end, and redshirt freshman Dion Armstrong will start at nose tackle in place of Olugbemi Otulaja, who has started every game this season. Navarre, who started every game at defensive tackle, leads all ACC defensive linemen with 5.3 tackles per game. Mack Frost, who started five games at end this season but hasn't completely healed from knee surgery last year, is his backup.
VIRGINIA TECH: Things have been coming together for the Hokies on offense and special teams lately. Overshadowed by the record-setting success of tailback Darren Evans, true freshman Dyrell Roberts has also shown big-play capabilities for the Hokies. The former tailback turned receiver has found his niche as a return man. Roberts has 10 catches for 158 yards, but is averaging 26.9 yards per return -- ninth-best in the country. He has had returns of 55 and 54 yards in the past two games. Offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring has also said he'd like to continue to use the "Wild Turkey" formation, with 280-pound tight end Greg Boone rushing out of the shotgun formation, but wants to make sure he only confuses defenses, and not his own players.
MIAMI: The Hurricanes spent their bye week focusing on special teams, but a consistent key to beating the Hokies has been a high-scoring game. Miami is 11-2 against Virginia Tech when it has scored 20 or more points against the Hokies. The Hurricanes lead the ACC in scoring offense with 30.4 points per game in ACC games. The Hurricanes could be without injured left tackle Jason Fox, though, and that could obviously hurt. Starting in his place would be senior Reggie Youngblood. Fox has started 22 straight games, and he and Xavier Shannon are the only two players on offense who have started every game this season.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Getting deep into this week's games.
Welcome to Soap Opera Saturday: Down year in the Pac-10? Whatever! This is the Conference of Intrigue on Soap Opera Saturday! (Cue dramatic music). We've got a coach with a history, a tale of woe and redemption. A man facing his demons. Likely in the rain. Rick Neuheisel and his band of UCLA Bruins, the football family that brought him into the football world, return to Seattle to face the bitter and woebegone Washington Huskies, the team he left in an acrimonious split that has been wounded and lost ever since. But there's more in the Northwest! California visits Oregon State, and the last time these two teams tangled, the Bears were poised to ascend to No. 1 in the nation. But then quarterback Kevin Riley, a freshman filling in for injured starter Nate Longshore, while leading a potential game-tying drive, made a fateful decision to scramble with no timeouts and the clock ran out on the Bears. And their glorious season promptly fell apart, as that became the first of six losses in seven games amid locker room recriminations. Meanwhile, downstate in Eugene, Oregon faces the Arizona team that ended its 2007 national championship hopes when quarterback and leading Heisman Trophy candidate Dennis Dixon crumpled to the ground with a knee injury. Wait! There's more! Remember the Greatest Upset of All-Time! USC, a 41-point favorite, going down at home vs. Stanford. Guess who's coming to dinner, Stanford!
Oregon State Canfield a Rose Bowl team. Or it Can'tField one: Sean Canfield has been solid for Oregon State since taking over for quarterback Lyle Moevao, who's still nursing a shoulder injury this week and is questionable for the Cal game. Canfield has completed 70 percent of his passes for 440 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions in roughly seven quarters of action. But California is a much better team than Arizona State and UCLA, and the Bears defense has been outstanding of late. It has limited opponents to under 300 yards of total offense in five of nine games and in the last six games it has recorded 19 quarterback sacks among 41 tackles for a loss and forced 19 turnovers (12 interceptions and seven fumbles). The Bears' 17 interceptions this season lead the Pac-10 and rank third in the nation. Canfield has been surprisingly poised thus far, but Beavers fans surely remember that a year ago, as a nine-game starter, he tossed 15 interceptions. The Bears will come after him. And they'll drop eight into coverage and try to tempt him to force balls into tight spaces. How will he respond? And will Moevao be ready and available, if needed?
Arizona's success this year is defined by run defense; Oregon's by running the ball: Oregon leads the Pac-10 and ranks fifth in the nation with 274 yards rushing per game. Only USC shut down the Ducks' running game, holding them to 60 yards on the ground. Arizona has been decent against the run this year with its no-name but productive defense, ranking sixth in the conference (131 yards per game). Yet, at least during the first half of the season, the Wildcats faltered against power running teams. New Mexico rushed for 211 yards with rugged Rodney Ferguson leading the charge, while Stanford piled up 286 yards behind twin 100-yard efforts from Toby Gerhart and Anthony Kimble. That convinced coach Mike Stoops that the Wildcats needed to get fancier up front, mixing up looks and using more stunts to keep opposing linemen -- and offensive coordinators -- guessing. It worked great against California, which only rushed for 110 yards at Arizona, and pretty well against USC (151). But these new looks have been on film for a couple of weeks now. They won't surprise the Ducks. Or will the Wildcats have a few new wrinkles for the run-happy, spread-option?
Does Stanford have enough offensive balance to challenge the USC defense? Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers rushed for 186 yards against USC. Since then against the Trojans D: Nothing. Seven of nine opponents have been held under 100 yards rushing. The Trojans have allowed only one touchdown in their last five games and that came on a 15-yard drive by Arizona following a turnover. They have held their last four opponents to less than 200 yards of total offense. So the odds of Stanford just lining up and playing smash mouth in the run game, particularly with running back Toby Gerhart hobbled with a hamstring injury, fall somewhere between zero and none-at-all. The image of last year's upset victory, in fact, were well-thrown, clutch passes from Tavita Pritchard. Last week at Oregon -- in a persistent rain -- Pritchard completed 15 of 22 for 138 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. Not spectacular numbers, but they suggest the Cardinal might have a larger offensive inventory now than they showed during the first half of the season.
The stars are rising for Arizona State: The Sun Devils will take one more step in the milquetoast portion of their schedule Saturday by trouncing Washington State. Expect to see more from some of the familiar names who created high -- and misguided -- expectations during the preseason. Quarterback Rudy Carpenter will make his nation-leading 41st consecutive start, and he's finally getting some help on offense as his skill position cohorts get healthy. Receiver Michael Jones, muted much of the season with a variety of injuries, hauled in 11 passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns in last weekend's trouncing of Washington. Running back Keegan Herring, who's been limited much of the season with a hamstring injury, had 22 carries for 144 yards, giving the offense a one-two, lightning and thunder punch at tailback with burly Shaun DeWitty. Meanwhile, on the defen
se, underrated safety Troy Nolan has helped the offense by scoring two touchdowns over the previous two games -- a 41-yard interception return against Oregon State and a 44-yard fumble return against the Huskies.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
Cincinnati: Coach Brian Kelly says that strong safety Aaron Webster has added toughness to the Bearcats since he moved into a starting role after the Akron game. "He's brought a physicality to our defense that we were lacking," Kelly said. "And having him on our defense has elevated everybody." The only non-senior starter on defense, Webster was named Big East defensive player of the week after he recorded 13 tackles, including two for loss, in last week's win at West Virginia. Also for the Bearcats, senior Dustin Grutza is expected to serve as the No. 2 quarterback for Friday's game at Louisville. Grutza hasn't played since breaking his leg in Week 2 at Oklahoma.
Connecticut: The job of replacing the irreplaceable Darius Butler begins this week. Butler, who played cornerback, wide receiver and returned kicks for the Huskies, is out perhaps as long as the regular season with a knee injury. Junior Robert McClain will start at corner and will be backed up by Terry Baltimore. Freshman Jordan Todman will take over the primary kick-return duties. Butler had been playing about 12-to-15 snaps on offense and provided an electric presence that will be hard to match.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers' short-yardage woes resurfaced in the Cincinnati game, and some of that can be blamed on injuries. Fullback Will Johnson couldn't play because of a quad injury. Backup quarterback Jarrett Brown, who had been used as a blocker and short-yardage specialist earlier in the season, was still nursing shoulder and leg problems and couldn't go. Coach Bill Stewart said he planned to "turn him loose" for the Louisville game on Nov. 22. Center Mike Dent missed the Cincinnati game with a neck injury, and Stewart described him as "week-to-week."
South Florida: The banged-up Bulls could get running backs Mike Ford and Jamar Taylor back for the Rutgers game. Neither made the trip to the Cincinnati game because of injuries but were working out in drills earlier this week. The status of offensive lineman Zach Hermann (foot) and tight end Trent Pupello (concussion) remains unknown. Quenton Washington took over starting cornerback duties from Tyller Roberts for the Cincinnati game and is listed as the starter there again this week.
Syracuse: Orange coach Greg Robinson will stick with Cam Dantley as his starting quarterback this week against Connecticut, but backup Andrew Robinson will see time. The coach hasn't specified how much or what role Andrew Robinson would play. Third-string quarterback David Legree told the Syracuse Post-Standard that he feels he's ready to play after two years in a back-up role. Tailback Delone Carter returned for the Louisville game after a four-week absence with a hamstring problem. He did not play against Rutgers, but Greg Robinson said that was not a health issue.
Louisiana Tech starts new tradition: After Louisiana Tech's 21-0 win at San Jose, the first shutout by any team at San Jose in 40 years, coach Derek Dooley declared a new tradition. Prior to the game, Dooley sent members of the staff to go out and get a Bulldog to take on the road with the team. They went out and got what Dooley described as a "flea-mart-looking dog" because he said he knew the game was going to be dirty. Players patted the dog's head prior to the game and after the win, Dooley said the team declared it the Player of the Game. Now, the dog is coming on every road trip.
Chris Petersen never says never: Chris Petersen's name has been mentioned in some way, shape or form for nearly every job that's come open the last couple weeks. Some, like the Washington job, have more legs than others considering the location and Petersen's familiarity with the Pac-10.
Petersen said he's been asked a couple times whether he'll leave and he's even had conversations with coaching friends about making the jump from Boise State to a major school. Petersen said while he's concentrating on the season right now, he's not ruling out talking to schools after the season.
"The only thing that I always say is, 'never say never,'" Petersen said. "But this is a great place, I really, truly mean that and we love it here. My family loves it here. I think a lot of our coaches like it here and so I do think this is a hard place to beat."
The MAC is happy with its TV contract: Playing on Tuesdays and Wednesdays is not ideal, but for commissioner Rick Chryst and the rest of the Mid-American Conference, it's essential. It's the only way the MAC could be viewed in millions of homes and the only way people might know the names Nate Davis and Dan LeFevour.
From 1987-99, the MAC did not have a regular season televised game, so now watching Ball State, Akron and others play on ESPN every week has brought some satisfaction.
"I think it does help in the polls when were on TV," Chryst said of Ball State's surge in the BCS standings a week after it beat Northern Illinois on ESPN. "It's something that this league has worked hard to earn, the opportunities that the conference is enjoying now is a product of earning it. To have your league play out on national television is truly a special thing."
Boise State to the MWC? Boise talk radio show host Paul J. Schneider reported on his show earlier this week that Boise State president Bob Kustra received an invitation from the Mountain West to join the league.
The Mountain West office denied this claim and Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson addressed it during the MWC's Tuesday teleconference stating that no expansion talks were in the works. Thompson also said that he wasn't sure that if Boise State moved to the Mountain West that it would still be undefeated.
"My personal opinion is that they probably wouldn't be 12-0," Thompson said. "Take nothing away from Boise State, but I don't know that they would go undefeated against the top four teams that are vying for the conference championship."
Kemp undergoes surgery: Tulane quarterback Joe Kemp, who suffered a broken collarbone after taking a late shot by defensive lineman Phillip Hunt during last week's loss to Houston, underwent surgery on Tuesday.
Coach Bob Toledo wasn't happy about the injury but was optimistic that Kemp would heal completely and ultimately return to the playing field.
"The doctors seem to think that by putting the plate in there and putting a couple screws, he'll be fine. We're just thankful it's not his throwing shoulder. Hopefully he'll be able to come back and be ready for spring."