NCF Nation: internal affairs 7
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
We go inside as we do every week at this time with our "Internal Affairs" look at the conference. And, no, I'm not going to break down the rationale that different people use in voting in the polls:
1. Garcia on the move: Don't look for Stephen Garcia in the direct-snap Wildcat Formation or anything, but South Carolina is going to do its best to move him around and not allow the LSU defense to zero in on him in the pocket Saturday night in Columbia. Garcia, a redshirt freshman, is making his first collegiate start. He's pretty fearless running the ball, and Steve Spurrier likes his ability to make throws and make things happen on the run. Plus, you know the Tigers are going to be gunning for him.
2. Going five wide: That may be overstating it a bit, but Tennessee is going to try and open it up a little more and play to quarterback Nick Stephens' strengths. Throwing the deep ball is one of the best things he does, and sophomore receiver Denarius Moore has emerged as the Vols' best deep threat. Look for the Vols to get more of those guys on the field in spots to see if they can do a better job of spreading defenses out and backing safeties off the line of scrimmage. Whatever it is, Tennessee's got to find a way to keep defenses honest and run the ball better.
3. Adams takes over: With Chris Nickson nursing a bum throwing shoulder, Vanderbilt's passing game has been non-existent the last few weeks. Enter Mackenzi Adams, who's more comfortable in the pocket and pretty patient when it comes to allowing things to develop. The Commodores will play to Adams' strength, and although he won't run as much as Nickson, they will call some designed running plays for him. The biggest difference is that he's healthy and capable of making Georgia pay this weekend if the Bulldogs don't respect his ability to throw the ball.
4. Dueling quarterbacks at Auburn: The Tigers have a little extra time to figure it all out, but the main thing is that Kodi Burns is in and Chris Todd is out. Auburn doesn't play again until next Thursday (Oct. 23) at West Virginia, but Tommy Tuberville is finally committing to Burns. The Tigers completed just 10 passes in last week's loss to Arkansas. There's also a chance that true freshman Barrett Trotter may play for the first time and not redshirt if the Tigers think he's going to play significant minutes the rest of the way.
5. Turning Dixon loose: Anthony Dixon is healthy again, which means he's going to get the ball as much as he can take it the rest of the season, starting Saturday against Tennessee. Plagued by a painful groin injury, Dixon had been unable to practice much and lost some of his sharpness. But he came back last week against Vanderbilt after an open date and carried the ball 27 times for 107 yards. The most he'd carried the ball previously this season in a game was 18 times. Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom is ready to ride Dixon the rest of the way.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Getting deep into this week's games.
California won't run over Arizona: In Arizona's two losses, its defense got run over by a big back -- New Mexico's Rodney Ferguson and Stanford's Toby Gerhart, a pair of 230-pound bruisers. California is not a power-rushing team with Jahvid Best, who's expected to return after dislocating his elbow on Sept. 27, and Shane Vereen, neither of whom pushes the scale past 200 pounds. Moreover, the Bears have two injured starting linemen, tackle Mike Tepper and guard Chris Guarnero. Without Best, the Bears rushed for just 79 yards at home against Arizona State, and playing on the road makes it harder to use a variety of run audibles. Best and Vereen can hit home runs, but they don't grind out four yards and a cloud of dust. Cal will need balance to win, and the Bears passing game has not clicked this season. Meanwhile, the Wildcats pass defense is holding opponents to just a 55.3 completion percentage and has grabbed eight interceptions. Hmm.
A two-quarterback system might work for Stanford: Cardinal quarterback Tavita Pritchard has steadily improved this year and was 13-of-17 for 113 yards and a touchdown before he was knocked out against Arizona with a concussion. He's likely to start against UCLA on Saturday. But Alex Loukas' running ability off the bench confused the Wildcats defense and was the key component of the 11-play, 60-yard game-winning drive. Loukas completed a 21-yard pass and ran four times for 32 yards, and apparently earned more playing time, according to coach Jim Harbaugh. Loukas not only adds a nice change of pace, but he also forces a defense to use valuable practice time preparing for a running quarterback and some spread-option plays.
Washington State's goal is to protect quarterback Kevin Lopina: If you read a week's worth of stories on Washington State, you can't help but wince. Two of the Cougars top three quarterbacks are done for the year. Kevin Lopina, who took over the starting job two games into the season, will return to face USC's fearsome defense after missing the past three games with a fractured vertebrae. If the Trojans knock Lopina out, the Cougars must turn to either walk-on freshman Daniel Wagner or burn the redshirt of true freshman J.T. Levenseller, with coach Paul Wulff suggesting this week he'd have no alternative but to go with Levenseller because there's half a season remaining. That means the Cougars figure to try to run the ball and use a lot of quick-hit passes to minimize the hits on Lopina, a strategy that isn't likely to put many points on the board. Of course, as a 43-point underdog, don't expect the Cougars to give the Trojans a scare. In fact, don't be shocked if USC coach Pete Carroll, who's team isn't exactly healthy, calls off the dogs fairly early and doesn't try to become the fourth Pac-10 team to score 60-plus on the Cougs.
UCLA may be able to force Stanford to pass: Sure, UCLA's rushing defense ranks eighth in the Pac-10 (171.3), which would seem to bode well for Stanford's potent ground game. But the Bruins have faced the nation's No. 6 (Oregon) and No. 16 (Fresno State) rushing attacks in recent weeks. Moreover, Stanford's more conventional power-running scheme matches strength-on-strength as the Bruins defensive tackle combo of Brian Price and Brigham Harwell is as good as any in the conference. It's almost certain that defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker will try to force Stanford quarterback Tavita Pritchard to throw the ball. The Bruins secondary has been terribly inconsistent this year -- strong safety Bret Lockett is fighting to hold onto his job this week -- but Pritchard, while improving, has a tendency to force passes into coverage, see eight interceptions vs. seven touchdowns. The Bruins secondary has only four interceptions this season, but that has been a point of emphasis in practices this week. Stanford beat Arizona despite losing the turnover battle, 0-3. It will be harder to do that on the road.
Beavers should be on upset alert: There is absolutely no logical reason to believe that Washington can upset Oregon State. The Huskies are winless, beaten up and about to fire head coach Tyrone Willingham. Oregon State has won three of four and is in the middle of the Pac-10 race. The Beavers are superior in just about every area and should be highly motivated. Yet this is college football, and only twice since 1999 has a Pac-10 team gone winless in the conference (though Washington did it in 2004). Moreover, the Huskies' loss last year at Oregon State was hotly contested and bitterly lost, including a controversial knock-out hit on quarterback Jake Locker by Beavers safety Al Afalava, which has been a hot topic this week (though let's be clear that the hit was legal). The Beavers won 19 games over the previous two seasons, but managed to get drubbed both years by inferior UCLA teams, so it's not inconceivable that the Beavers could come out flat with overconfidence.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here's a look at some tidbits from around the league that are transpiring as teams get ready for games this week.
1. Both Kansas and Oklahoma have added more playmakers to their special teams after recent struggles for both teams covering and returning kickoffs. Bob Stoops plans to add four new members to his kick coverage team that has been blistered for two TD returns, including a pivotal 96-yard return by Texas' Jordan Shipley last week that turned the game around. And Kansas coach Mark Mangino has talked about placing starters like James Holt and Joe Mortensen on his special teams as the Jayhawks rank last in the nation in kick returns. The Jayhawks are averaging 12.4 yards per kickoff -- almost three yards per return less than the next-lowest team, Kent State at 118th.
2. Iowa State has inserted freshman Jerome Tiller as its backup quarterback after Phillip Bates left school. Coach Gene Chizik hopes that he can still make it through the season using only Austen Arnaud as the quarterback and keeping the redshirts intact for Tiller and fellow freshman Bret Bueker. Early word is that Bates likely won't resurface at another Big 12 school because it would cost him an additional season in the transfer. A more likely location would be a FCS school where he could play immediately or an FBS school like Ohio University, where his family already has a strong association with coach Frank Solich. Bates' father, Phillip Bates Sr., was a running back at Nebraska who played there when Solich was his position coach under Tom Osborne.
3. Texas ditched using a tight end in favor of a four-wide receiver look as its base offensive formation against Oklahoma. And the unit's success -- 438 total yards and 20 combined catches from Quan Cosby and Shipley -- make it likely to be used more during the rest of the season. Starting tight end Blaine Irby's season-ending injury robbed the Longhorns of their top receiving threat at the position. The four-receiver sets have made the Longhorns lethal in terms of big-play capabilities, but a little weaker trying to consistently run the ball.
4. Considering the recent injury to Lamark Brown, it wasn't surprising that quarterback Josh Freeman emerged as a key rushing threat in the Wildcats' victory last week over Texas A&M. Freeman produced career-high totals of 18 carries, 95 yards and four rushing touchdowns against the Aggies. In the philosophy of Kansas State quarterbacks coach Warren Ruggiero and offensive coordinator Dave Brock, the quarterback is used as more of a rushing weapon. Freeman has gained positive rushing yards in each of his six starts this season. Before this season, Freeman had netted positive yards in only eight of his 20 previous career starts.
5. Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman is doing what he can to instill discipline on his team, even if it affects its performance in the short term. Key players Michael Bennett andMike Goodson weren't in the starting lineup last week against Kansas State after discipline issues, paving the way for the Wildcats to jump to an early 27-3 lead over Sherman's beleaguered team. Sherman is hoping that his struggles bottom out as he tries to make the Aggies know they've got a firm leader running the program.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Time for our weekly look inside five Big Ten teams.
Michigan State -- The Spartans went deep into their roster against Northwestern, as 59 of the 70 players in uniform for the game saw action in a 37-20 victory. Freshmen Glenn Winston and Keshawn Martin made big contributions on kickoff returns and in the passing game, and Jeremy Ware sparked a banged-up secondary with five pass break-ups. Michigan State could be a bit healthier for Saturday's clash against No. 12 Ohio State, as top cover corner Chris L. Rucker might return from an elbow injury. Wideout Mark Dell remains the starter on the depth chart despite being limited against Northwestern with an undisclosed injury.
Ohio State -- Head coach Jim Tressel reaffirmed his support Tuesday for starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor despite struggles on offense the last few weeks. Tight end Jake Ballard stumped for senior Todd Boeckman and a two-quarterback system that could better balance the offense. The Buckeyes rank 108th nationally in pass offense and 70th in scoring, but Tressel is satisfied with the direction. Pryor's individual yardage totals have dropped in each of the last three weeks, but Ohio State continues to win and didn't fare much better with Boeckman at the helm.
Wisconsin -- In addition to having no definitive starting quarterback at this point in game week, Wisconsin could have a new look on the offensive line Saturday at Iowa. Right guard Kraig Urbik, who has made 45 consecutive starts on the line, likely will miss the game after sustaining a knee injury last Saturday against Penn State. Sophomore Bill Nagy would start in Urbik's place. The Badgers are a bit more hopeful about getting left tackle Gabe Carimi back for Iowa, though Carimi also has a knee injury and is questionable. Redshirt freshman Josh Oglesby could get his second straight start and would protect the quarterback's blind side if right-hander Dustin Sherer replaces Allan Evridge.
Purdue -- The Boilermakers' offensive line had another setback with the season-ending loss of tackle Garrett Miller to a foot injury. Miller, a fifth-year senior, will undergo surgery in the coming weeks. Purdue's other tackle, Sean Sester, has been battling back problems this season. Starting center Cory Benton hurt his elbow against Ohio State and reserve center Jared Zwilling recently had an ankle injury. Purdue is tied for 52nd nationally in sacks allowed (1.67 per game) and on Saturday faces a Northwestern defense that is tied for the Big Ten lead in sacks (19).
Illinois -- Juice Williams' importance to the Illini offense has become even greater after the weekend arrest of backup quarterback Eddie McGee. The sophomore was arrested for allegedly shoving a woman, and his status for Saturday's game against Indiana is unclear. McGee has appeared in only one game this season, completing one of two passes, but he's the only other Illinois quarterback with collegiate game experience. Williams leads the Big Ten in passing (279.5 ypg) and ranks fourth nationally in total offense (353.7 ypg).
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
GEORGIA TECH: Both quarterbacks Jaybo Shaw and Josh Nesbitt have been cleared to play on Saturday against Clemson, and the Yellow Jackets are eager to gain some respect back after their all-too-interesting 10-7 win over Gardner-Webb last weekend. In order to do that, they'll need a better performance from the offensive line, which coach Paul Johnson said "took a bigger hit than they deserved" last week. "They weren't very good but neither was anybody else, so it wasn't like it was all them," he said. Johnson said that aside from the freshmen, there are only about three upperclassmen who were actually recruited to play on the offensive line.
VIRGINIA TECH: Coach Frank Beamer said he is preparing for the Boston College quarterback he saw on film against NC State, not the Chris Crane who threw the ball just four times against Rhode Island. "He made some great throws in that NC State game," Beamer said, "some throws down the field, right on the money, hit guys in dead stride, had zip on the ball. ... When he runs the option he's not going to be a blazer, but he kind of falls forward. You wouldn't think a big guy like that would. He presents some problems for you." Still, the Hokies' staff won't forget about backup Dominique Davis, who has also seen significant playing time.
MARYLAND: Coach Ralph Friedgen called the 31-0 loss to Virginia "one of the toughest losses" he ever experienced. He said there was a players-only meeting during the bye week and he was pleased with the two practices they had during that time. "What impressed me in our practices was not that we did everything right, that I saw a sincere desire to try to do things right." Now he's wondering if the Terps can sustain that desire on Saturday against Wake Forest. Friedgen also told reporters at his weekly news conference that sophomore left tackle Bruce Campbell will see more playing time.
MIAMI: Running back Javarris James is expected to play on Saturday at Duke after missing four games with a left ankle sprain. The addition of James and offensive lineman Reggie Youngblood could help the Hurricanes' struggling offense. "It really hurt us tremendously in that aspect because of the one-two punch that you have with Javarris and [Graig] Cooper," coach Randy Shannon said. "We can't ask Cooper to go in the game and play 20, 30 snaps and carry the football another 15 to 20 snaps and take another running routes. He's not there yet, he's a sophomore." Cooper has gained about 10 pounds since last season, but the staff noticed he wore down at the end of last season and they don't want it to happen again. The Hurricanes' ground game took another hit against UCF last week when Lee Chambers got "turf toe."
WAKE FOREST: Coach Jim Grobe told reporters on Tuesday he's not interested in the Clemson job, saying, "I'm a Wake Forest guy." Grobe said Clemson hasn't contacted him yet anyway, and he's hoping it's not a distraction for his players heading into the Maryland game. This has become an annual trend for Grobe, but it has also forced athletic director Ron Wellman to keep it lucrative enough for Grobe to stay. One thing is for sure: If Grobe is going to consider another job, it's got to be one where he can bring all of his assistants with him. In other Wake news, punter/placekicker Sam Swank is still listed as questionable with a strained right quad.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
Syracuse: The Orange could get a boost in their backfield if Delone Carter is able to play Saturday at South Florida. Carter has missed three games with a hamstring pull but is expected to be ready this week. He could offer a counterpunch to Curtis Brinkley, who's had four 100-yard rushing days already this season. Wide receiver Dan Sheeran (broken leg) and linebacker Chad Battles (foot) are both out until at least Nov. 1, while linebacker Ryan Gillum (foot) is probably done for the season.
Louisville: With Richard Raglin out with an injured arm and Latarrius Thomas dealing with a lingering knee issue, the Cardinals turned to former walk-on Daniel Covington as a starting safety at Memphis. Covington, a junior who was put on scholarship this summer, recorded 12 tackles in the game and now ranks second on the team with 27 stops. Head coach Steve Kragthorpe also said he wants to find ways to keep true freshman outside linebacker Dexter Heyman on the field when the Cardinals go to their nickel and dime packages.
West Virginia: Alric Arnett looked like the next West Virginia star when the receiver caught four passes for 70 yards and two touchdowns in the season opener against Villanova. In the five games since, however, Arnett has just nine receptions for 77 yards and no scores. Head coach Bill Stewart said Arnett and senior Dorrell Jalloh (eight catches for 76 yards on the season) need to get involved more. On the plus side, 6-foot-8 receiver Wes Lyons has come on lately. He had four catches for 44 yards last week against Rutgers.
South Florida: The Bulls are sacrificing some depth at cornerback by switching junior-college transfer Theo Wilson to receiver. Wilson, who's recovering from a knee injury, played quarterback, running back and receiver at Pearl River Community College last season and had returned punts for South Florida earlier this season. "He's a big threat when he has the ball in his hands, and that's what we're looking for," passing game coordinator/wide receivers coach Mike Canales said. Wilson's switch leaves the Bulls with only four experienced cornerbacks to rotate.
Rutgers: Kordell Young's up-and-down season is back on the uptick. The sophomore running back was pegged as the main replacement for Ray Rice this season and had 94 yards on 26 carries in the opener against Fresno State. But then he started experiencing knee soreness and at one point late last month was feared lost for the season. Young returned to action last weekend at Cincinnati and carried 22 times for 78 yards. He's now listed as the co-starter at tailback, along with redshirt freshman Jourdan Brooks. Rutgers has started three different players at the position in six games.
1. Few football coaches will tell you what they actually think when their teams go through a losing streak. They'll use buzzwords and clichés and usually sugarcoat what's really going on behind the scenes. UAB's Neil Callaway is not that coach. Callaway admitted this week that his team was fragile after starting the season 1-6 and especially after last week's loss against Houston. The Cougars scored 42 second-half points to erase a 20-3 UAB lead. The Blazers face Marshall this weekend and Callaway said he doesn't know what to expect. It's not that the Blazers haven't shown improvement, Callaway said he's seen steady improvement on the field. But it's hard to pitch that to a team that doesn't have the notches in the win column to prove it.
2. North Texas coach Todd Dodge isn't worried about his job despite his team's 0-6 start. In fact, he's using it as a teaching tool for his son, Riley, who is a freshman quarterback on the team. Dodge said he told his son to watch how he handles the ups and downs of this season because soon he'd need the same poise and fortitude as a Division I quarterback. It's ironic that Dodge is teaching these lessons to his quarterbacking son because that's exactly where he learned them -- as the starting quarterback for Texas.
3. Central Michigan quarterback Dan LeFevour will play in this weekend's pivotal Mid-American Conference game between the Chippewas and Western Michigan. LeFevour was injured during last week's 24-14 win over Temple. LeFevour, the reigning MAC Offensive Player of the Year, left in the second quarter with an ankle injury after completing 10 of 11 passes for 106 yards and two touchdown passes. Coach Butch Jones said after the game that the injury wasn't serious and that LeFevour could have returned. He was held out as a precaution.
4. UTEP coach Mike Price is calling Saturday's game against Tulsa the biggest game of the year for his team, but he admits that he doesn't know how to stop the Golden Hurricane "basketball team." Tulsa ranks first in total offense and first in scoring offense. UTEP has won its last three and is 3-0 in conference play, tied with Tulsa.
"It's the chance of a lifetime, it really is," Price said. "They're the cream of the crop in our conference. No question about that. They're really, really good... I think we've just got to take the approach that it's a great opportunity, a super challenge. No one expects us to win but us, and we've just got to keep believing in ourselves."
5. Northern Illinois will start its third quarterback in as many games this week as redshirt freshman Chandler Harnish will be under center against Toledo, his first start since spraining his foot during the first quarter of a 29-26 loss to Western Michigan on Sept. 26. In his absence, senior Dan Nicholson and freshman DeMarcus Grady have played well. However, Nicholson has had nagging shoulder soreness and Grady is still a little green. Harnish was the team's starter from the beginning of the season. Northern Illinois has won three of its last four and is 2-1 in conference play.