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Mel Kiper Archive

Tuesday, March 8

Irish aim to stay unbeaten vs. Stanford

NEWS & NOTES: Oct. 3

Editor's Note: Come along for the ride as Mel Kiper Jr. previews some of this weekend's key college football games.

Last week against Arizona State, Stanford's defense was overmatched, unable to deal with the passing exploits of Andrew Walter and highly skilled junior wideout Shaun McDonald. This week at Notre Dame (4-0), it will be interesting to see if the Cardinal (1-2) can contain an Irish offense that features a strong overland attack but also is dealing with the injury of QB Carlyle Holiday.

Carlyle Holiday
The Irish faithful hope that injured QB Carlyle Holiday can play against Stanford.
Who the starting signal-caller will be Saturday is a question for both teams. For Stanford, whether it's Chris Lewis or Kyle Matter might be a game-time decision.

Another factor is that this will be Notre Dame coach Ty Willingham's first game against his former team.

The Cardinal might have both RB Kerry Carter and WR Luke Powell back from injuries. Carter didn't make the trip to Tempe last week due to a knee injury but has returned to practice and is expected to play. Powell missed the ASU game with an ankle injury and has missed practice so far this week, but word is that he could see action against Notre Dame.

One of the most underrated standouts in the Pac-10 thus far has been Stanford's multitalented senior fullback, Casey Moore. He's currently their leading rusher, averaging 8.0 yards per carry, and he excels as a lead blocker. Over the years, the Cardinal have done a great job of sending quality fullbacks on to the next level. That group includes Tommy Vardell, Jon Ritchie and Greg Comella. In 2003, you can add Moore's name to that list.

After a great start, Cal (3-2) has lost two straight and is in the midst of a brutal stretch of games against top-flight opposition.

The problem for the Golden Bears in their loss to Air Force was the inability of their receivers to haul in passes that appeared to be catchable. All told, Cal wideouts dropped 11 passes. Then, against Washington State last week, it was Cal's inability on defense to wrap up and bring the running back or wide receiver to the ground. Missed tackles were a major problem in the loss to the Cougars.

On Saturday at Washington (3-1), the Golden Bears might have LB Matt Nixon back on the field. Due to a sprained knee, Nixon was forced to sit out the Washington State game. Marcus Daniels, a former walk-on, has done a solid job since replacing injured MLB John Klotsche. The past two weeks, Daniels has led the the Golden Bears in tackles. Klotsche remains sidelined with a sprained knee. Due to constant double-teaming focused on containing his outside charge, blue-chip senior DE Tully Banta-Cain hasn't recorded a sack in the past two games.

Offensively, Cal senior QB Kyle Boller continues to perform at a high level, throwing for a career-high 371 yards plus three TDs against Washington State.

In the past three years, Cal has played Washington tough, with the Huskies needing fourth-quarter comebacks each time. But the bottom line is that the Golden Bears have lost 19 straight to Washington, with their last win coming in 1976 by a score of 7-0.

After being thoroughly dominated by USC in its second game of the season, Colorado (2-2) rebounded in a big way, rolling to a 31-17 win over UCLA on Sept. 21. You won't find a team in the country that had a more difficult nonconference schedule, including Colorado State and USC on top of UCLA.

After a week off, the Buffaloes on Saturday host unbeaten Kansas State (4-0), which also had the week off. With Craig Ochs leaving the program, senior and former juco transfer Robert Hodge is now firmly entrenched as the No. 1 QB.

During the week off, rest assured that the CU coaching staff tailored things to maximize the abilities of Hodge. With his toughness and running skills, look for the Buffaloes to move the pocket while mixing in some option play as well. Colorado's outstanding running-back tandem of Chris Brown and Bobby Purify will be featured, with senior FB Brandon Drumm making his mark this season as the most destructive lead blocker in the country.

Defensively, the Buffaloes are led by DT Tyler Brayton, LB Sean Tufts and CB Donald Strickland. The challenge for the D will be to find ways to contain the running exploits of K-State QB Ell Roberson and tailback Darren Sproles.

When Ole Miss (3-1) hosts the Florida Gators (4-1) on Saturday, the anticipated QB duel between Eli Manning and Rex Grossman figures to be the major focus. But defensive improvement will be key for the Rebels if they hope to remain competitive for 60 minutes, while for Florida, the critical special-teams breakdowns against Kentucky must be corrected in a hurry.

In the past two games against Texas Tech and Vanderbilt, Ole Miss has allowed an average of 40 points per game. Florida, on the other hand, has averaged 35 points in the past three weeks. Grossman can fire strikes to any point on the field as well as anybody, while Taylor Jacobs has emerged as a top-flight go-to wideout.

As for Ole Miss' defense, the hope is that LB Eddie Strong, arguably the Rebels' top defensive player, is close to full strength. Strong re-injured his ankle against Texas Tech on Sept. 14 and didn't see any action against Vanderbilt the following week.

Strong has been practicing this week and the Rebels hope he'll be ready to go Saturday. But Rebels LB Lanier Goethie won't play. He suffered a broken foot against Vanderbilt and figures to be sidelined four to six weeks.

Offensively for Ole Miss, Ronald McClendon could start at tailback due to the high ankle sprain that has hampered Robert Williams. With highly regarded senior TE Doug Zeigler sidelined with a broken leg, the pressure is on sophomores Bo Hartsfield and Eric Rice (the nephew of Jerry Rice) to pick up the slack. Entering the 2002 season, Hartsfield and Rice had combined for just three career receptions.

All eyes will be on Jason Armstead of the Rebels in the punt/kickoff department. That's because of all the problems Florida had least week dealing with Kentucky's Derek Abney.

What makes the Trojans' fast start (3-1) even more impressive is that they've worked their way through the toughest schedule in the country.

Offensively, QB Carson Palmer is making better decisions and operating much more efficiently, and freshman wideout Mike Williams has shown flashes of All-American potential. Williams (6-4, 210) rebounded from a shaky performance (four dropped passes) in USC's loss at Kansas State by hauling in four receptions and two TDs in Saturday's 22-0 victory over Oregon State.

USC's contest with Washington State (4-1) this Saturday features an intriguing matchup of the Cougars' high-profile attack force (led by QB Jason Gesser and a top-flight receiving corps) against USC's No. 1-ranked defense (allowing just 205 total yards per game). Coach Mike Price's high-octane Cougars are averaging 430 total yards and 36 points per game. On Saturday, it will be strength against strength.

While USC senior SS Troy Polamalu gets all the national publicity, and rightfully so, equally critical to the Trojans' defensive success has been the stellar play of a fierce front comprised of three sophomores (DE Kenechi Udeze, DT Shaun Cody, DT Mike Patterson) and one junior (DE Omar Nazel). Nazel earned Pac-10 defensive player of the week honors following his impressive performance against Oregon State (seven tackles, including four behind the line of scrimmage).

While the Boilermakers improved their record to 3-2 with a 28-15 victory over Minnesota last Saturday, coach Joe Tiller has to be concerned about the propensity his offense has for fumbling. In five games, they've coughed it up 13 times. Last week, they found a way to overcome three first-half fumbles, due largely to Minnesota's inability to turn the miscues into TDs.

Speedy tailback Joey Harris fumbled once against the Golden Gophers, but thus far he has been Purdue's top offensive player. Through five games, he has rushed for 527 yards, averaged 5.1 yards per carry and gone over 100 yards in every game (except vs. Western Michigan, when he was limited to 48 yards).

Slowly but surely, Purdue QB Kyle Orton is improving his completion percentage (53.4), but he still has work to do. WR Taylor Stubblefield (eight catches) was outstanding against Minnesota. This was key, since Golden Gopher senior CB Mike Lehan held WR John Standeford to just two receptions.

The red-hot Iowa Hawkeyes (4-1) will present Purdue's defense with its biggest challenge of the season. RB Fred Russell has been phenomenal, so the question will be whether Purdue linebackers Niko Koutouvides and Gilbert Gardner can contain Iowa's electrifying ground game.

The focus going in will be on Terrapin QB Scott McBrien, who returns to Morgantown, where he began his college career. McBrien has had his moments but needs more consistency, especially when it comes to finding the receiver who's the biggest threat to the defense.

With Maryland RB Bruce Perry reaggravating a groin injury during practice last week and not expected to see action against the Mountaineers, the running game will have to be keyed by senior Chris Downs and impressive freshman Josh Allen. In the past two games, Allen has averaged 6.2 yards per carry, but that was against Eastern Michigan and Wofford. West Virginia (3-1) is a major step up in competition.

On the offensive line, the Terps (3-2) have a budding star in third-year sophomore C.J. Brooks ( 6-5, 310). One of the ACC's elite offensive guards, Brooks also has experience at left tackle. There is no question that Brooks is destined to earn All-American recognition.

This week, against a West Virginia offense keyed by the rushing exploits of sensational senior tailback Avon Cobourne and quality backup Quincy Wilson, rest assured that astute Terrapin defensive coordinator Gary Blackney will jam the box and attempt to force sophomore QB Rasheed Marshall to go to the air waves.

Through four games, Marshall is completing 55.2 percent of his aerials, with four TD passes. He's yet to throw an interception.

For the Terps to slow down Cobourne and Wilson, it will take a monumental effort from physically talented sophomore DT Randy Starks (6-4, 305), super blue-chip senior LB E.J. Henderson and vastly underrated fourth-year junior LB Leon Joe.

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