NCF Nation: internal affairs 8
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Let's look a little deeper, as we always do this time every week, with our Internal Affairs view of the conference:
1. Back to Auburn football: There will still be some spread principles, and it won't look exactly like it did a year ago at this time. But you can count on Auburn going back to more of its power running game Thursday night against West Virginia than we've seen all season. The Tigers had last week off to refine everything, and the biggest difference is that they're going to give their offensive linemen more chances to aggressively come off the ball and win one-on-one battles. It's Kodi Burns' show at quarterback. He won't need to be looking over his shoulder and will no doubt get a chance to use some of his running skills. But look for the Tigers to get downhill as much as possible with Ben Tate getting a lot of carries.
2. The Wild Berry: It's about that time for Tennessee. If Phillip Fulmer has any tricks up his sleeve, he better use them this week against No. 2-ranked Alabama. All eyes will be on sensational sophomore safety Eric Berry and how many touches he gets on offense. The word out of Knoxville is that he's getting some extra work on offense this week, and why not? All the guy does when he intercepts a pass is score a touchdown or set up points with a long run. He's a natural with the ball in his hands and the most explosive athlete on Tennessee's team. The Vols have to find a way to get him the ball, be it on a direct snap or some type of misdirection play. With Gerald Jones gimpy with an ankle injury, it becomes even more imperative that Berry gets the ball some on offense.
3. Bama mixing it up: Everything Tennessee quarterback Nick Stephens has seen on tape from Alabama this season, he might as well forget. The Crimson Tide will mix up coverages, disguise coverages and blitz from places they haven't all season this Saturday against the Vols. Alabama coach Nick Saban is renowned for changing it up, and you can bet he's going to do just that against a quarterback who's making only his third start against an SEC defense. The Tide are good enough defensively that they won't have to get blitz-happy. But with Stephens having so little experience, Alabama will definitely come after him and force him to make quick decisions.
4. Dusting off the Pistol: LSU unveiled "The Pistol" package last week against South Carolina, and it was a hit. The Tigers feel like they've just scratched the surface of what they can do with it, which means Georgia better be ready for a few new wrinkles out of it this Saturday. It's essentially a triple-option hybrid with Keiland Williams lining up as the deep back, Charles Scott at fullback and world-class sprinter Trindon Holliday also lining up in the backfield as another running threat. The new look has given new life to Williams, who was pretty much an afterthought during the first part of the season. But he led the Tigers with 72 rushing yards on 15 carries against the Gamecocks, far and away his busiest day of the season.
5. Florida's sprint team: You thought you saw a lot of Jeffrey Demps and Chris Rainey before the open date? Now that Urban Meyer and Dan Mullen have had the extra time to tweak things and draw up a few new formations, the Gators will find even more ways to put those guys' speed to use. The news on Rainey's shoulder came back good, which means he's ready to go. They both have the kind of game-breaking speed that opens up things for everybody else. We've also seen just a small fraction of the package that the Gators have in place for the two speedsters. Watch that package expand a bit this week against Kentucky, especially with Georgia looming in two weeks.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
It's time to look inside five Big Ten teams.
Penn State -- Despite Navorro Bowman's emergence, there has been some concern about linebacker play this year, and the picture only got cloudier last Saturday. After Michigan's run game started strong, the Nittany Lions called for reinforcements and put freshman Michael Mauti and sophomore Bani Gbadyu in the game. The two young players stepped up, combining for 10 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and a forced fumble. Both Mauti and Gbadyu could once again see increased playing time in place of Tyrell Sales and possibly Josh Hull against No. 9 Ohio State (ABC, 8 p.m. ET). Mauti's speed on the edge should help against Buckeyes quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
Wisconsin -- A week after saying the 2009 season had no impact on his starting quarterback decision, Badgers head coach Bret Bielema certainly appears to be looking toward the future at that position. Junior quarterback Dustin Sherer will make his second consecutive start Saturday against Illinois, and sophomore Scott Tolzien will take more snaps this week in practice with the second-team offense. Fifth-year senior Allan Evridge, who started Wisconsin's first six games, has effectively been moved to third string. Sherer and Tolzien will compete for the starting job next season with Curt Phillips and James Stallons.
Illinois -- Freshman offensive tackle Corey Lewis could see increased playing time against Wisconsin after performing well in his debut against Indiana. Lewis can play either tackle spot and spelled left tackle Xavier Fulton for several series last week. Sophomore Ryan Palmer will remain sidelined for some time with a foot stress fracture, and Lewis likely will be needed against the Badgers. Lewis also can play on the defensive line. "I wanted to get Corey in there," head coach Ron Zook said. "We kind of joked about that when we told him we were going to play him because he's 18 now and old enough. He's excited about it and I noticed a little different intensity out of him."
Purdue -- Head coach Joe Tiller admitted this week that Purdue's offense has become too basic and needs to diversify after four straight losses. In previous years, the Boilermakers entered every game with two "deceptives" in the offensive plan. This season, the outside-the-box, high-risk, high-reward plays have not been included. That will change Saturday against Minnesota (ESPN Classic, noon ET). "From this point forward I want to see, when the game plan is presented later in the week, two deceptives," Tiller said. "Now, I'm not guaranteeing you they're going to get called, but we're going to have 'em as a possibility anyway, which we haven't had." Purdue ranks ninth in the league in scoring offense (22.3 ppg).
Michigan -- Despite a third consecutive loss, the Wolverines might have found their featured running back last Saturday at Penn State. Junior Brandon Minor had 117 rush yards and two touchdowns against the Big Ten's No. 2 rush defense (103.9 ypg). Minor's emergence allows head coach Rich Rodriguez to take pressure off of true freshman Sam McGuffie and, to a lesser extent, true freshman Michael Shaw. McGuffie has carried the load for much of the season but needs more time to grow into a top role. Minor's ability to run inside and grind out yards will benefit Michigan down the stretch. The junior claimed the top spot on this week's depth chart.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are a few tidbits from across the conference heading into the games on Saturday.
- The best sign for Texas in strong defensive performances has been the direct pressure the Longhorns have been producing without many blitzes. It's been a good sign for Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp that he hasn't had to gamble much in recent victories against Oklahoma and Missouri.
- Missouri coach Gary Pinkel ripped into his team after his team's blowout loss at Texas and then continued the salvo the following day after it got back to Columbia. Of particular concern is the production for his defense that returned 10 starters and still dropped 41 places to 100th nationally after ranking 59th last season. Don't be surprised if defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus dials back on the number of blitzes and exotic stunts for a more conventional approach the rest of the season.
- Texas A&M coaches say that quarterback Stephen McGee was about 80 percent recovered from his earlier shoulder injury when he was inserted into the Texas Tech game last week and couldn't have run with his typical abandon on option plays if it had been called for. They are hopeful that McGee will be close to 100 percent Saturday against Iowa State as Jerrod Johnson's backup.
- Oklahoma's move of strong safety Nic Harris to middle linebacker was done merely to combat Kansas' aerial tendencies. Against more run-heavy remaining opponents like Oklahoma State and Texas A&M, don't be surprised if the Sooners use a more conventional approach that would include linebackers Mike Balogun and Austin Box in the middle.
- Iowa State freshman cornerback Ter'ran Benton is expected to start with fellow freshman Leonard Johnson at cornerback against Texas A&M. Iowa State defensive coordinator Wayne Bolt told the Des Moines Register it's just the second time in his 30-season coaching career he's had a pair of freshman cornerbacks start for him.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Getting deep into this week's games.
Will Arizona go small and get big?: USC's defense hasn't allowed a point in 10 quarters. It's ranked No. 1 in scoring defense and No. 2 in total defense. In other words, the Trojans have the nation's best defense. Only one team had success of any kind against them and that was Oregon State, which used a balanced attack to gain 343 total yards in a 27-21 victory. Balance is the key. Without at least a threat to run, an opposing quarterback is simply fresh meat for a fast USC defense, which can then tape its ears back in the pass rush. The Beavers, however, gashed the Trojans with diminutive true freshman Jacquizz Rodgers, who used his 5-foot-7 frame to his advantage instead of disadvantage. After the game, the Trojans defenders actually complained that they couldn't find Rodgers amid the crowd of large bodies. Just so happens that Arizona boasts two speedy, undersized backs. Freshman Keola Antolin (5-foot-7) burst onto the scene with 149 yards rushing on 21 carries with three touchdowns in the 42-27 win over California. He stepped in for Nic Grigsby (5-foot-10), who fumbled in the first quarter, but Grigsby is solid when he holds onto the football -- see 627 yards rushing and nine touchdowns this year with a 5.9 yards-per-carry average. Considering the Wildcats' offensive line is a more experienced group than the Beavers' was, the question is whether the Trojans have learned to find the little guys who are trying to slice them apart.
Ducks foresee sack time with Rudy: In Oregon's 35-23 win over Arizona State last year, the Ducks sacked Rudy Carpenter nine times, including 3.5 takedowns by end Nick Reed. To say the least, it was a long day for Carpenter. The problem for him this go-around is there are abundant reasons to believe he will be again running for his life ... or limping for his life, considering he's nursing an ankle sprain. The Sun Devils have no running game to slow down Oregon's pass rush; they rank 117th in the nation in rushing. While the inexperienced offensive line has mostly pass protected better than last year's unit that surrendered 55 sacks, it still has yielded 2.5 sacks per game. Meanwhile, Reed is back, leading the Pac-10 with eight sacks this season, and his opposite end, Will Tukuafu, is just behind with six. In fact, Oregon leads the Pac-10 with 3.57 sacks per game. So there's your game: Can Rudy get enough time to pick on the Ducks hobbled secondary? Or will he hobble off the field himself?
Washington's players can make a statement on their feelings for Tyrone Willingham by playing hard vs. Notre Dame: It's not hard to pick apart what's gone wrong with Washington during the Tyrone Willingham Era. That's been going on ad nauseum for nearly two years and it won't end until the school puts his administration out of its misery. What can be said is this: Willingham is a man of integrity who cares about his players and has never been accused of unethical behavior. So how do his players feel about him? We'll see this weekend. While Willingham played off the Notre Dame angle this week, this also is a man of considerable ego and his ego will never be more vulnerable than it will be Saturday. If the Fighting Irish blow Willingham out of Husky Stadium, it will be a humiliating repudiation of him as a coach, at least in terms of popular perception. Thing is, Notre Dame isn't that good and the Huskies aren't that bad. If Washington plays hard for four quarters and fights for its coach, this won't be a blowout.
UCLA's offensive line vs. California's defensive line is a battle of wounded animals: UCLA's offensive line was considered a significant weakness entering the season. Each time coaches shuffled the available bodies and produced a small step forward, adversity seemed to bite back. This week, after starting the same five for consecutive games, it was freshman left tackle Jeff Baca going down with a hamstring injury during practice Tuesday. If he can't go against California, Micah Kia (bad back) likely will replace him, while Mike Harris (bum ankle) would make his first start at right tackle. Meanwhile, Cal's defensive front was forced to burn the redshirt of touted freshman Trevor Guyton against Arizona. With end Rulon Davis and tackle Kendrick Payne out and end Tyson Alualu slowed by a leg infection, the Bears got pushed around up front by Arizona, which gained 404 yards on a defense that had previously given up just 291 yards per game. The advantage here might go to the Bears for a simple reason: UCLA can't win on the road. The Bruins have lost five straight away from the Rose Bowl and 12 of their past 15. The O-line is the area that suffers most in a hostile environment.
You'll know in the first quarter if USC is going to roll: USC went to Oregon State planning to take the crowd out of the game. It didn't happen when the Trojans fell behind 21-0. A fast start at Arizona is a hot topic this week. "It's imperative that we're scoring on that first drive," USC quarterback Mark Sanchez told reporters Tuesday. "That means a lot. For the offense, it gives us confidence. It pumps up the defense. Things just go." While the Wildcats received a confidence boost by whipping Cal, they are not at the point where they won't lose faith against an early show of force from the Trojans. And it's not just a fast start; Oregon got that but then faltered for a moment and USC exploded. The Wildcats will have to be at their focused best -- think that dominant third quarter vs. Cal for an entire game -- to notch the upset. In Arizona's favor: It has won six in a row at home, tied for the longest home winning streak in the conference with USC and Oregon State, and a packed house is expected. A tight score at halftime will keep fans in the stands barking at the Trojans. A big USC lead at the break will send them to University Blvd. for a cold one. Or two.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
MARYLAND -- The Terps made an adjustment last week on the offensive line that worked -- starting Bruce Campbell at left tackle. Maryland's line has done a better job with its pass protection in recent weeks, but the staff knows NC State likes to pressure the quarterback and create turnovers. They're particularly wary of defensive end Willie Young. Against Wake Forest, Maryland was able to do something it hadn't in a long time, and that's depend on the passing game to set up the run. The goal this week is to get better at run blocking.
FLORIDA STATE -- The Seminoles' No. 1 priority at practice this week has been preparing to stop shifty Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor. As defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews pointed out, some of Florida State's most skilled defenders had trouble tackling Taylor last year. Andrews has emphasized not creating vertical or lateral seams in their rush lanes and preventing Taylor from getting out in space. Defensive tackle Kendrick Stewart said the "tackles have to push and get pressure and push him out to the ends so we can contain him."
NORTH CAROLINA -- Butch Davis is still looking for some help in alleviating some of the sting of losing injured starting receiver Brandon Tate. He moved running back Greg Little back to his original position of receiver last week before the Virginia game, but Little only had about two-and-a-half days of the transition, and Davis said "we were pushing him and pushing him, how much can you learn, how much can you get back into that role?" The Tar Heels also lost running back Anthony Elzy, who fractured his scapula at Virginia, and will be out for six weeks. UNC will need all of the offensive production it can get, as Davis said Boston College's front seven "look like the Chicago Bears."
MIAMI -- This is exactly why Randy Shannon needs to name the best young quarterback his starter, and could be the reason he is wavering on doing it. Maybe, just maybe, he's afraid to lose one of them. But Jacory Harris' father is right. Eventually, either his son or Robert Marve is going to grow tired of competing for the job every year when they could be the starter at another program. Both have said the right things publicly, but it's no secret Harris would like to start, too, and Marve said he wouldn't mind a shot at the no-huddle offense Harris got at Duke.
GEORGIA TECH -- The Yellow Jackets are "back to normal" with their two quarterbacks, Josh Nesbitt and Jaybo Shaw, who haven't been quite themselves lately because of injuries. Nesbitt, who suffered a pulled hamstring against Mississippi State on Sept. 20, looked rusty last week at Clemson and coach Paul Johnson agreed, but said it wasn't too bad for someone who hasn't played in four weeks. "I think Josh would be the first guy to tell you that he could have played better," Johnson said. "For a guy that has only played in three games and been out for four weeks, it was a little bit like starting over. The thing about Josh Nesbitt is that he is such a competitor. He does not want to lose. Did he get every read right? No, but he finds a way to make plays. He has a calm confidence about his ability and doesn't get rattled. The more he plays, the better he will get."
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
Pittsburgh: Panthers fans were shocked to see Pat Bostick come in at quarterback for the final few plays at Navy for some meaningless handoffs. Bostick played last year as a true freshman after Bill Stull got hurt, and the plan seemed to be to redshirt him this season so he would have three years remaining, as Stull is only a junior. Head coach Dave Wannstedt said he wanted Bostick to get some work in case Stull gets hurt this year. But many around the program are wondering if this means that the coaching staff has soured on Bostick as their quarterback of the future.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers hope to get defensive lineman Pat Liebig back for Thursday's game against Auburn. Liebig, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility, has missed the last three games with a concussion. If Liebig plays, he'll back up Doug Slavonic. West Virginia has also tried to get wide receiver Bradley Starks ready at quarterback in the last week because Pat White and Jarrett Brown have been dealing with injuries.
Rutgers: True freshman Art Forst has started the past two games at right guard. Forst, who enrolled early in January, had spent all of his time working at tackle until earlier this month. He certainly has the size of a tackle at 6-foot-8 and 310 pounds. Center Ryan Blaszczyk is the only player to start at the same position on the offensive line the entire season as the Scarlet Knights continue to seek the right mix up front.
Connecticut: If Zach Frazer isn't able to play Saturday because of the head injury he suffered against Rutgers, redshirt freshman Cody Endres would get the start. Endres completed 4 of 5 passes against Virginia in mop-up work earlier this season. Backing up Endres would be a walk-on freshman, Johnny McEntee, whom coach Randy Edsall likes for his poise and quick release. Receiver D.J. Hernandez, who played quarterback for two years before switching positions, is not in the mix to take over signal-calling duties.
Louisville: The Cardinals defensive front should be at full strength against South Florida. Senior tackle Adrian Grady missed the Middle Tennessee State game with an academic issue but will be back Saturday. Defensive end Rodney Gnat left that game early with an injury but is expected to play. The front four has been very good for Louisville lately, accounting for seven sacks in the past three games.
Whittingham leaves Utah in good hands: The reason Utah coach Kyle Whittingham agreed to spend a couple days traveling to Bristol, Conn., to make various appearances on ESPN was because he believed his seniors could lead without him.
At least that's what he told them.
So, according to seniors Brian Johnson and Louie Sakoda, the upperclassmen and other leaders rallied the team, kept it focused and had one of its most productive practices on Tuesday.
"Even with coach not here, we were doing everything with as much effort and intensity because that's what it takes," Sakoda said. "All the younger guys look up to that. They all follow suit. Coach Whit always talks about bridging the gap between the most committed and the least committed and that's something we've really done well this year."
QB controversy at Navy: With Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada still out with a sore hamstring, backup Jarod Bryant has been handling the starting quarterback duties. But after last week's 42-21 loss to Pittsburgh where Bryant was 3-for-7 for 18 yards and an interception (though he did rush for 81 yards and a touchdown), many fans were clamoring to see more of sophomore Ricky Dobbs, the Midshipmen's future quarterback.
But head coach Ken Niumatalolo said he didn't put Dobbs in earlier because he didn't want to upset his starting lineup or send the wrong message to Bryant. Dobbs got six reps at the end of the game and led the Midshipmen to a meaningless touchdown. Although it was against Pittsburgh's second-string defense, it still sparked some controversy over whether it can give the Mids a better chance for victory.
Can't play at a high level all the time: Tulsa coach Todd Graham said that no matter how much he'd like to see his team play at a high level every week, he knows it's not going to happen. But he hopes it doesn't happen often. The Golden Hurricane had a lapse against SMU two weeks ago, which nearly cost them their golden season.
"We have basically gone out and played flawlessly for six of the seven games that we've had and hopefully, SMU was kind of the down game and we won't have another one like that," Graham said. "I think it's hard to get your guys motivated every week, especially when you're playing somebody that's 1-5, but on the same hand, championship teams figure out a way to win."
Weis can relate to Willingham's situation: During Charlie Weis' news conference on Tuesday, the Notre Dame coach was asked whether he felt for Tyrone Willingham, Washington's 0-6 coach and the person Weis replaced at Notre Dame, who will likely be fired after this season. Weis and the Irish went through a similar start last year.
Weis said he has no ill feelings toward Willingham and would never wish anything bad to happen to him or any other coach.
"It's important as you get involved in coaching to never wish bad on another coach," Weis said. "I mean, that's really a bad thing, because when you do that, you're wishing bad on him and his family and his assistant coaches and their families, before you even get to the players that are in the program. So I always wish goodwill on everyone."
A season changer: Temple coach Al Golden was waiting for something to spark his team as it heads into the homestretch of the season, and Tuesday's come-from-behind win over Ohio might have done the trick.
The Owls got a touchdown with 51 seconds remaining to give them a 14-10 lead and the win. The Owls are now 3-5 overall and 2-3 in conference play with four games remaining and no clear-cut leader for the MAC East title. No team in the East has won back-to-back conference games. The Owls jump from second-to-last in the conference standings to second right behind Akron, which is 2-2.
"For a while there, we couldn't do more things wrong," Golden said after the game. "But our guys hung in there. The kids are excited right now. It's a big win. We finished a game and showed some toughness. It's the first time we've been in a situation like this this year where we finished a game and won. It's gratifying."