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Tuesday, March 8

Battle of trenches key for Irish, FSU

NEWS & NOTES: Oct. 23

Editor's Note: Come along for the ride as Mel Kiper Jr. previews these key weekend games: Notre Dame-Florida State, Miami-West Virginia, Iowa-Michigan, USC-Oregon, Washington-Arizona State and Texas Tech-Colorado.

Since both Notre Dame (7-0) and Florida State (5-2) can run the ball, one of the keys to this contest is the battle in the trenches -- especially Notre Dame's offensive line, led by junior C Jeff Faine and senior OT Jordan Black, vs. the FSU defensive line, featuring junior DT Darnell Dockett and senior DE Alonzo Jackson.

Ryan Grant
Notre Dame RB Ryan Grant is averaging 4.6 yards per carry.
Florida State's move-'em-out gang, keyed by senior OT Brett Williams and senior OG Montrae Holland, will be looking to clear the way for RBs Greg Jones and Nick Maddox.

Rest assured that coach Bobby Bowden and his staff are stressing how important building an early 10- to 14-point lead could be for the Seminoles.

While running the football is critical, with Jones ranking as one of the elite players in college football, also keep an eye on Irish CBs Shane Walton and Vontez Duff. They'll match up against Seminole wideouts Anquan Boldin and Talman Gardner.

The key for FSU will be a fast start. It's imperative that they strike early, forcing the Irish and QB Carlyle Holiday to beat them through the air and creating a situation where blue-chip sophomore RB Ryan Grant becomes less of a factor.

On the injury front, FSU is in good shape overall, with the exception of backup WR P.K. Sam, who has missed practice time this week due to a hamstring injury.

With Florida State's Greg Jones and Nick Maddox accounting for nearly 300 rushing yards against the highly publicized Miami front seven on Oct. 12, this matchup against the Mountaineers is worth keeping an eye on. That's because West Virginia (5-2, 2-0 Big East) also has a dynamic running duo in record-setting senior Avon Cobourne and talented sophomore Quincy Wilson. Top-ranked Miami comes in undefeated (6-0, 2-0 Big East).

While West Virginia's offensive line pales in comparison to the Seminoles', Cobourne and Wilson are both quality performers who have posted outstanding numbers. Through seven games, Cobourne already has topped the 1,000-yard mark (1,002 exactly), averaging 5.4 yards per carry and scoring nine TDs. Wilson has two TDs and nearly 500 rushing yards, averaging a whopping 7.8 per carry.

When you consider the major struggles Miami had stopping the run against FSU -- and knowing that Virginia Tech is looming Dec. 7 with super blue-chip RBs Lee Suggs and Kevin Jones -- putting the clamps on Cobourne and Wilson would be a nice confidence-builder for the 'Canes.

With so much attention going to Miami's high-profile stars -- such as QB Ken Dorsey, RB Willis McGahee, WR Andre Johnson, TE Kellen Winslow Jr., C Brett Romberg, OT Carlos Joseph, DT William Joseph, DE Jerome McDougle, MLB Jonathan Vilma and OLB D.J. Williams -- it's easy to overlook the vital contributions of Miami's underrated performers.

Included in this group are fourth-year junior WR Kevin Beard, sophomore OG Chris Myers, senior DT Matt Walters, senior DE Jamaal Green and the safety tandem of sophomore Sean Taylor and fourth-year junior Maurice Sikes (who won't start vs. West Virginia because he was late for a team meeting this week).

In a huge Big Ten showdown at The Big House in Ann Arbor, the key for Iowa (7-1, 4-0 Big Ten) vs. Michigan (6-1, 3-0 Big Ten) will be controlling the ball on the ground and limiting mistakes. This was pivotal in Iowa's only loss against Iowa State, when the Hawkeyes coughed the ball up four times, losing three.

Iowa comes at you with underrated skill-position talent, including tremendous depth at RB. The Hawkeyes are also keyed by the stellar play of their cohesive offensive line.

Senior QB Brad Banks continues to impress, while junior tailback Fred Russell is able to run downhill, assisted by C Bruce Nelson, LG Eric Steinbach and LT Robert Gallery. These three have few peers at their respective positions in college football. In addition, RGs Ben Sobieski and Andy Lightfoot and RT David Porter have been doing a solid job week after week.

Of this group on the offensive line, all are seniors except for Gallery, who has one more season of college eligibility left. Also returning will be backup OT Sam Aiello, a junior who has shown the potential to become a quality performer.

Like Arizona State, which torched the Duck secondary last week, USC (5-2, 3-1 Pac-10) has the QB and WRs to present plenty of problems for Oregon (6-1, 2-1 Pac-10). Senior QB Carson Palmer is making better decisions and has performed like a seasoned veteran, benefiting from a talented receiving corps bolstered this week by the return of senior Kareem Kelly.

After missing significant practice time leading up to the Washington game last week due to an ankle injury, Kelly was limited to just one catch against the Huskies. He's now reported to be almost at full strength, teaming with freshman sensation Mike Williams and underrated junior Keary Colbert to form one of the top receiving groups in college football. Williams has the physical talent to take over games, with Kelly providing big-play potential as well and Colbert making his mark as the steady, reliable, possession receiver.

The Trojans could see starting LT Jacob Rogers come off the injury list this week. The 6-5½, 305-pound junior sat out the Washington game with a sprained knee.

As for the restructured secondary, coach Pete Carroll and his defensive staff had to be satisfied with the performance turned in last week by converted WR Marcell Allmond. The athletically gifted fourth-year junior has shown promise at CB, holding his own for the most part last week when matched up against the Huskies' gifted sophomore, Reggie Williams. Granted, Williams was bracketed all day, but despite finishing with seven receptions, he was limited to just one catch during the second and third quarters combined.

Defensively, the Trojans completely shut down the Huskies' running game last week, but against the balanced Oregon attack force, they'll face a much bigger challenge when trying to contain the Ducks' Heisman Trophy candidate, RB Onterrio Smith.

While the Trojans have come up short in their last three trips to Eugene, every game went down to the wire. Oregon hung on for a 24-22 victory last year, pulled out a 33-30 win in three OTs in 1999 and came away with a 17-13 victory in 1998.

Washington (4-3, 1-2 Pac-10) has had all kinds of problems with its pass defense, allowing huge performances this season to QBs such as Michigan's John Navarre, Cal's Kyle Boller, Arizona's Jason Johnson and USC's Carson Palmer. Now the Huskies must face red-hot Arizona State (6-2, 3-0 Pac-10), with an aerial circus featuring 6-5, 220-pound sophomore QB Andrew Walter and his talented array of receiving options.

While Oregon is currently sitting dead last in the Pac-10 in pass defense, allowing 291.6 yards per game, Washington is ninth in this area, giving up 291.3 yards per game. Remember also that Huskies junior CB Roc Alexander is out for the year following shoulder surgery last Friday.

Arizona State is sixth in the Pac-10 in pass defense, allowing 253.8 yards per game. In fact, six teams in the Pac-10 are currently allowing at least 240 passing yards per game. So expect the scoreboard operator at Sun Devil Stadium to be busy Saturday night.

The Texas Tech Red Raiders (5-3, 2-1 Big 12 South) travel to Boulder to face the Colorado Buffaloes (5-2, 3-0 Big 12 North). High-profile senior QB Kliff Kingsbury will air it out against a Colorado defense that gets junior DE Gabe Nyenhuis and senior LB Drew Wahlroos back off the injury list. Nyenhuis sat out the Baylor game last week due to a sprained knee, while Wahlroos missed the last two games with a dislocated elbow.

Kingsbury, meanwhile, missed two days of practice early in the week after receiving stitches for a cut on his right forearm, but he returned to practice Wednesday.

The key for the Red Raiders will be finding a way to slow down CU's talented and deep running game, which features the nation's leading rusher, junior Chris Brown. Through seven games, Brown has rushed for 1,154 yards and scored 16 TDs, averaging an impressive 7.0 yards per carry. In 22 third-down rushing attempts, Brown has kept the chains moving 18 times.

A huge benefit for Brown and company has been the stellar play of senior FB Brandon Drumm. Operating like an extra OG, the 6-1¼, 238-pound Drumm (from Anchorage, Alaska) has made his mark as a devastating lead blocker. He also contributes as a capable pass-receiving option.

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