CLIPPING THE DUCKS' WINGS
SI's Hank Hersch was at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, Calif., on Saturday when Stanford hosted Oregon. His report:
If the Oregon football lottery ever expands beyond the picking of NFL games, this might be a parlay worth playing: 1) that the University of Oregon Ducks will get off to a rousing start and stir up Top 20 talk, thanks to a soft-spoken quarterback named Bill Musgrave; 2) that soon thereafter, because of injuries or some other reason, Oregon will sputter; 3) that the Ducks will have a harder time getting their seventh victory of the season than Lewis and Clark did finding the Willamette Valley; and 4) that, as they have since 1963, they'll sit in Eugene in the rain come bowl time.
So it has been for the past two years for Oregon, and so it was in microcosm last Saturday at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto. There were the Ducks, 2-0 and coming off a 44-6 rout of Iowa that had them chasing the Top 20. There were the Ducks, taking a 17-0 lead behind a fast-strike defense and Musgrave's unerring right arm. Finally, there were the Ducks, letting Stanford, winless in two games, rise from the ash heap in the final 7:19 to gain an 18-17, last-play victory. "That was just a pathetic performance," said Ducks nosetackle David Cusano. "I can't believe we actually lost."
The win was the Cardinal's first under new coach Dennis Green and its first in seemingly aeons in the waning moments. To earn it, Stanford stuffed Oregon's ball-control running game (just 59 yards on 26 carries) and then struck the way Green likes to talk—fast.
Cardinal quarterback Brian Johnson started the comeback by directing a 58-yard drive that ended with a 21-yard TD pass to halfback Gary Taylor with 7:19 remaining. When Johnson suffered a bruised shoulder with 3:13 to play, freshman Steve Smith stepped in and finished off a 61-yard drive on a sneak with 1:11 left. A two-point conversion pass to fullback Scott Eschelman made the score 17-15. That drive marked a significant turnaround for Smith, whose erratic play as a starter in Stanford's previous games had led to Green's benching him against the Ducks. When he was pressed into duty on Saturday, Smith found redemption, hitting six of six passes for 42 yards. "I guess I'm finding out what college football is all about," he said.
Following its second TD, Stanford recovered a well-executed onside kick and, behind Smith, moved to the Oregon 20 with just five seconds remaining. With no other reasonable option available to him, Green sent out junior kicker John Hopkins for a 37-yard field goal try, even though Hopkins had missed earlier attempts of 49, 42 and 42 yards that afternoon. "For the fourth time in the game," Hopkins said, "I prayed." This time, he and the vast majority of the fans at the stadium got an answer they liked.
The Ducks, meanwhile, felt a familiar sinking feeling. In 1987, they began 4-1 only to wind up 6-5; last year, they tumbled from 6-1 to 6-6. Oregon has not had a seven-win season since 1964, and the Ducks utter the number seven with more longing than crapshooters. "It's like we're treading water and trying to pull ourselves onto the dock," Musgrave says. "But we can also drown."
Injuries to Musgrave the past two years have sped the Ducks' undoing; Oregon was 12-4 when he was able to play, 2-8 when he wasn't. The pale, bespectacled son of an optometrist from Grand Junction, Colo., Musgrave, now a junior, spoke so softly as a freshman that teammates often couldn't hear his signals at the line of scrimmage. Yet he showed no reluctance to duke it out with an opposing lineman. He also knows how to command the offense, find the open receiver and deliver the ball quickly, even if his arm has been judged the sixth-strongest among the Ducks' seven quarterbacks. "Throwing downfield isn't something I enjoy, because I don't do it well," Musgrave says. "But I do feel like I can put the ball where I want."
Musgrave's unevenness reflected his team's: In the first half he completed 12 of 18 passes for 184 yards and two brilliant TDs; in the second he was 4 for 12 for 29 yards. "I didn't play well today," Musgrave said afterward. "I played more not to make mistakes."
When it counted, Stanford didn't err. "Denny had his team more ready than we did," said Oregon coach Rich Brooks. "They had more emotion. We were flat."
The 40-year-old Green, who spent the last three seasons as an assistant coach for the 49ers and was the coach at Northwestern from 1981 through '85, basked in the comeback. "I'm here to do more than win," he said. "I'm here to bring a certain resolve, a can-do feeling, a spirit of success. A win like this can go a long way toward doing that."
PITT AND THE PENDULUM
Pittsburgh can claim supremacy in the East by following up its 30-23 victory over Syracuse with a win over West Virginia (page 38) on Saturday in Morgantown. The Panthers are 3-0 for the first time since 1982, when they finished 9-3 and went to the Cotton Bowl.
Syracuse coach Dick MacPherson took a few digs at the Panthers before Saturday's game, apparently because he thinks his program doesn't get as much attention or respect as Pitt's and Penn State's. He said Panther cornerback Alonzo Hampton is "not only outstanding, he knows it." MacPherson needled Pitt coach Mike Gottfried and his staff for letting Syracuse come into Scranton, Pa., to get noseguard Fred DeRiggi. And he told reporters to encourage Pitt fans to attend the game because "I know they need the money to pay Mike that big salary."
What MacPherson didn't say, but could have, was that Syracuse had beaten Pitt five straight times, despite the fact that Pitt's recruiting classes usually were ranked above those of Syracuse. This time, however, the Panthers played up to their potential. "The kids have been together awhile," said Gottfried after the game, "and they expect good things to happen now."
Some of the good things were 306 yards passing from quarterback Alex Van Pelt, 100 yards rushing from tailback Curvin Richards and three touchdowns from fullback Derrick Lewis. On defense the good things included eight sacks, two interceptions, two fumble recoveries and a partially blocked punt. Nevertheless—and no doubt because he already was thinking about West Virginia—Gottfried said, "I still don't think we're a good football team."
Good enough, though, to answer MacPherson in the best way possible.
HOLD THOSE TIGERS
Auburn appears to be a cut above the other teams in the SEC, but Alabama and Georgia might become good enough to make a run for the conference title, too. In Tuscaloosa, the Crimson Tide beat Kentucky 15-3 for its 13th consecutive win over the Wildcats. The loss was also Kentucky's 13th in a row on the road. Taking advantage of the Wildcats' injury-depleted offensive line, the Tide sacked Kentucky quarterback Freddie Maggard seven times for minus 20 yards and held the Wildcats to only 14 yards on the ground. Kentucky tailback Alfred Rawls, who was averaging 118 yards per game, had only 30 yards on 13 carries. "Today was as good as our defense has been since I've been here," said Alabama coach Bill Curry.
He couldn't say the same for the offense, which produced only three Phillip Doyle field goals (22, 35 and 23 yards), until quarterback Jeff Dunn left the game in the third quarter with a torn ligament in his left knee. His replacement, senior Gary Hollingsworth, directed a 69-yard touchdown drive on 13 plays in the final quarter—a good omen for Tide fans because Dunn is expected to be out for at least six weeks.
The story was much the same in Georgia's Sanford Stadium, where the home Bulldogs used stingy defense and three John Kasay field goals (36, 49 and 48 yards) to hand Mississippi State's visiting Bulldogs their first defeat, 23-6. Georgia held State to only two yards per attempt on 42 rushes and converted a couple of turnovers into 10 third-quarter points. Afterward, Georgia defensive tackle Bill Goldberg said, "We knew they had five plays: run, run, run, run and run."
The big news in the Big Ten wasn't Michigan State's gallant effort in a 21-13 loss to top-ranked Notre Dame. Nor was it Michigan's 24-23 escape against UCLA in the Rose Bowl. These two games were overshadowed by Ohio State's 42-3 loss to Southern Cal in the Los Angeles Coliseum. The defeat was the Buckeyes' worst since a 58-6 humiliation by Michigan in 1946, and it raised the question of whether poor ol' Earle Bruce was really that hard to love. Since he was fired in 1987 with an 81-26-1 record, Ohio State has been staggering. Last year, under his replacement, John Cooper, the Buckeyes were 4-6-1, their worst record since 1959.
Either the Trojans have improved remarkably since their season-opening loss to Illinois or Ohio State is in much worse shape than anyone suspected. For example, the Buckeyes' pass rush was so ineffective that the Trojans' redshirt freshman quarterback, Todd Marinovich, completed 14 of 22 passes for 246 yards and four TDs. A second-quarter pratfall by Ohio State defensive back Vince Clark enabled Marinovich to hook up with John Jackson on an 87-yard touchdown throw, the longest pass play in Southern Cal history.
"It's easy to feel relaxed and comfortable when nobody's around you," said Marinovich. "Sometimes I had to decide which [open] receiver to throw to. That's a good problem to have."
HOW HE GETS HIS KICKS
Arizona placekicker Doug Pfaff visits Arizona Stadium the night before home games to practice imaginary kicks in the dark. His coach, Dick Tomey, thinks such behavior is perfectly rational. "If you can't imagine something," says Tomey, "you can't do it." Besides, it works. Two weeks ago Pfaff kicked a 40-yarder with :02 on the clock to give the Wildcats a 6-3 upset of Oklahoma.
Sometimes Pfaff brings along holder John Nies, but he was alone last Friday night when he arrived at the stadium, in street clothes, at about nine o'clock. As he went through his ritual, Pfaff was watched by a University of Washington entourage that was attending a reception in a room above the field. If the visitors were amused by the Pfaff phantom opera, their smiles vanished the next night when Pfaff booted a 19-yarder to tie the game 17-17 and added a 35-yarder with 1:01 remaining to give the Wildcats a 20-17 win over the Huskies.
In a major Division III upset, Alfred (N.Y.) University beat its intrastate rival and defending national champion Ithaca College 17-10. Because of a delayed flight, Ithaca coach Jim Butterfield didn't get to the game until after the fourth quarter had begun....
In Division II play, second-ranked Texas A & I defeated No. 10 Portland State 31-12 behind tailback Johnny Bailey's 204 yards rushing. With 5,608 career yards, Bailey is only 475 shy of Tony Dorsett's alltime collegiate record....
When New Mexico wide receiver Terance Mathis scored touchdowns on a 95-yard kickoff return and a 68-yard reception in the Lobos' 35-33 loss to Tulsa, he became the first player in NCAA history to exceed 200 career receptions (202), 3,000 receiving yards (3,389) and 5,000 all-purpose yards (5,258).
After three errant field goal tries, Hopkins hit the winner.
Kyle Kozak and Daryl Reed were all over Stanford, until it was all over for Oregon.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
OFFENSE: Virginia quarterback Shawn Moore, a junior, passed for three TDs and ran for two more as the Cavaliers defeated Duke 49-28. Moore completed his first 13 throws and 14 of 15 on the day for 295 yards. He also rushed for 38 yards.
DEFENSE: Cincinnati's Marvin Bowman, a junior safety, intercepted three passes, returning the first one 28 yards to set up a field goal, the second 30 yards for a touchdown and the third two yards with 6:12 to play to clinch a 30-14 win over Miami of Ohio.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Michigan's J.D. Carlson, a sophomore, kicked a 26-yard field goal with four seconds left, to beat UCLA 24-23. The winning boot came 90 seconds after Carlson's perfectly executed onside kick and was his fourth three-pointer of the day.