A TANGLE OF COTTON
Nobody at TCU gets jumpy when the Horned Frogs trail in the fourth quarter, mainly because sophomore quarterback Leon Clay has demonstrated the ability to turn the Frogs into Prince Charmings in the clutch. He brought TCU from behind in the fourth quarter in three straight games in September to beat Missouri, Oklahoma State and SMU. So when the Frogs found themselves trailing Baylor 24-21 after a Clay touchdown pass to Richard Woodley and a two-point conversion to Stephen Shipley with 8:13 remaining, coach Jim Wacker wasn't worried. In fact, he felt plumb good, if you want to know the truth.
"I really thought we were going to get this one," Wacker said after TCU's 27-21 loss. "Last chance, fourth down, make the big play—Leon's had the magic time after time. We've done it so often, I believed we were going to do it again."
Unfortunately for TCU, Baylor and its gambling defense apparently doesn't believe in fairy-tale endings. Or Prince Charming, for that matter. Down the stretch, Baylor defensive backs Charles Bell and Michael McFarland picked off Clay passes to end the Frogs' five-game winning streak and dampen their hopes of being the first TCU team since 1959 to play in the Cotton Bowl.
Asked how he felt about his interception, McFarland said, "I was the scaredest guy on the field. I knew they were coming at me. When the receiver gave me the inside cut, I saw the ball. It just floated. I thought, Am I hallucinating? I just jumped up and caught it." To be fair to Clay, it should be pointed out that he had to sit out the entire third quarter with a bruised right elbow.
Speaking of hallucinating, how about Baylor as the SWC's representative in the Cotton Bowl? The Bears (3-1-1 in the conference), TCU (3-1), and Texas A&M (2-1-1) all trail Texas, which is 3-0 in the league and 5-1 overall but still has a tough road ahead. (The SWC's best team, Houston, is 6-0 in the league but ineligible for the Cotton Bowl because it's on NCAA probation.) The schedule seems to favor Baylor, which has lowly Rice, disintegrating Arkansas and Texas remaining. However, Baylor coach Grant Teaff isn't buying into this front-runner stuff just because his team gigged the Frogs.
"I would certainly be remiss if I declared ourselves to be in the Cotton Bowl," Teaff said. "We have three more tough games. Somebody else has got to help us take care of business."
Somebody like TCU, for example, which still has to play A&M and Texas.
YO, ROCKEY, GO FOR IT
One of the biggest mysteries in college football last weekend was why Mississippi State coach Rockey Felker didn't go for a two-point conversion against Auburn when his team had pulled to within 17-16 on David Fair's two-yard touchdown run with 2:33 to go. Instead, State's kick was blocked by Auburn's Darrel Crawford, enabling the Tigers to get out of Starkville with a 6-0-1 record and their Sugar Bowl hopes intact.
When asked about his decision, Felker came up with the usual stuff about plenty of time being left on the clock for another score and about his team playing so hard that it didn't deserve to lose. Blah, blah, blah. It sounded like a replay of Auburn coach Pat Dye's excuses after settling for a 26-26 tie with Tennessee on Sept. 29 instead of going for two points and the win.
But Felker's decision was more difficult to justify than Dye's. The 3-4 Bulldogs don't have to worry about polls and bowls, as Dye did. So why not go for it? What's to lose except just another game? A victory, conversely, would have salvaged the season, provided the Bulldog program with some recruiting clout and given the seniors something to brag about for the rest of their lives. And, finally, what were the odds against Mississippi State getting the ball back and picking up enough yardage against Auburn's potent defense for a field goal attempt? Higher, surely, than the Bulldogs' chances of converting a two-pointer.
At least Felker was right about one thing: His players came up with a winning effort, especially linebacker Reggie Stewart, who had 16 solo tackles and 10 assists. The Bulldogs were that close to pulling off something straight out of a Hollywood movie. Uh, Coach Felker, you have seen Rocky, haven't you?
THE COLONELS MARCH
With starting quarterback Lorenzo Fields sidelined by a broken leg and top running back Markus Thomas hobbled by a sprained right ankle, unbeaten Eastern Kentucky, the top-ranked team in Division I-AA, looked vulnerable going into last Saturday's game against 5-2 Tennessee Tech in Richmond, Ky. But Eastern, like all good teams, always seems to have somebody on the depth chart who can step in and do the job.
Against Tech, the most obvious heroes were third-string quarterback Joey Crenshaw, who completed all seven of his passes for 58 yards, and backup tailback Tim Lester, whose 291 yards rushing (on 41 carries) left him only nine yards short of the Ohio Valley Conference record set last season by Thomas. However, Tennessee Tech quarterback Bert Browne knew who really deserved most of the credit for the win. "Their offensive line is not a college line, it's a pro line," Brown said. "The defense is awesome, too. They've got it all. They deserve to be Number 1."
Backup quarterback Dewby Berkhalter started the game for the Colonels in place of Fields, who broke his left leg during the previous week's 55-17 win over Tennessee State. However, when Tech defensive back Mike Stewart intercepted a Berkhalter pass and returned it 90 yards for a touchdown to give the visitors a 14-0 lead, Eastern coach Roy Kidd didn't hesitate to go to Crenshaw, who had played at Louisville in 1988 before transferring to a junior college last year. With Crenshaw passing just often enough to keep Tech honest, the Colonels gave a clinic on how to use the ground game. They pulled to within five points (14-9) at halftime, then took the opening kickoff of the second half and drove 80 yards for the go-ahead touchdown, which Lester scored from 13 yards out. "That was the key," said Tech coach Jim Ragland. "That drive gave them their confidence back." For the game, Eastern gained 420 yards rushing and controlled the ball for more than 40 minutes.
"Give credit to the line," said Crenshaw. "I said, 'It's time to roll.' The rest is history."
By the time this season is history, the Colonels could prove to be Kidd's best team, which is no small tribute when you're talking about a coach who has won two Division I-AA national titles and 216 games in his 27-year career.
BIG EIGHT SHOWDOWN
Unbeaten Nebraska, whose weak schedule has thus far kept it out of the No. 1 spot in the polls, gained a supporter in Iowa State coach Jim Walden, who I snarled after his team was blown out 45-13 by the Cornhuskers: "Don't give me that crap they ain't played nobody. They're good. They'll be just as good when they play a team that thinks it's 'somebody.' " That will come on Saturday, when the 8-0 Huskers kick off the serious part of their season by playing 7-1-1 Colorado in Lincoln.
The Huskers crushed Iowa State with such ease that they seemed to be using only half a playbook. Nebraska quarterback Mickey Joseph was allowed to throw only four passes (all completions, two for touchdowns). Most of the time, Joseph simply gave the ball to I-back Leodis Flowers, whose career-high 208 yards rushing on 25 carries included a 70-yard TD romp, the longest of his career, and two more scores from one and five yards out. Said Walden, "Nebraska passes only when it wants to give its pulling guards a rest."
Of course, Colorado's Buffaloes also love to roam, as they proved again in a 32-23 win over Oklahoma that left the Sooners with three losses in a row for the first time since 1965. As usual, tail-back Eric Bieniemy, Colorado's 5'7", 193-pound battering ram, led the way, this time getting 188 yards on 28 carries, including a 69-yard third-quarter gallop that gave Colorado an 18-14 lead. The Buffs never trailed again, partly because Oklahoma lost the services of quarterback Cale Gundy, who suffered a hip injury early in the third quarter. Before he left the game, Gundy completed eight of 14 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown while building a 14-12 Sooner lead.
The turning point of the game, though, came early in the fourth period with Oklahoma trailing 18-17. The Sooners opted to go for it on fourth-and-one at the Colorado 11 rather than have placekicker R.D. Lashar, who had missed three of his previous five attempts, try a 28-yard field goal. The gamble failed when tailback Dewell Brewer was thrown for a loss. Then on first down, Colorado quarterback Darian Hagan hooked up with Rico Smith on an 85-yard scoring pass. Later, Hagan scored again on a three-yard run after a 31-yard interception return by cornerback Dave McCloughan.
With the victory the Buffs had back-to-back wins over Oklahoma for the first time since 1965-66.
It doesn't take a Rocket scientist to figure out that Notre Dame's Raghib Ismail is the most explosive player in college football. Anytime he gets his hands on the ball, whether on a kick or a pass or a handoff, Ismail is a threat to go all the way, as he proved again last Saturday with a career-high 116 yards rushing, including a 76-yard touchdown blast in the fourth quarter that opened the way for a 31-22 win over surprisingly pesky Pitt.
The question is, Why did coach Lou Holtz wait until now to start giving more opportunities to his ultimate weapon?
Sure, Ismail looks a tad frail at 5'10", 175 pounds, but whenever he's on the field, rival defenses have to respect his presence, and that helps open up other parts of the Irish attack. Playing decoy should be the least of the Rocket's roles. At this point in his junior year, his all-purpose stats compare favorably to those of flanker Tim Brown's at the same point in his Heisman Trophy year of 1987. After seven games that season, Brown had rushed for 111 yards on 24 carries for a 4.6 average. Ismail, in his first seven games this season, had 391 yards on 42 carries for a 9.3 average. (Bear in mind, too, that Ismail played only one down in the Irish's lone loss to Stanford.) Brown might have been the more talented receiver, with 489 yards on 23 catches in those seven games, but Ismail had 380 yards on 20 catches after the game against Pitt. And, without question, Ismail is the superior kick returner, with a 30.0-yard average on eight returns; Brown averaged 18.2 yards.
As this year's Heisman campaign heats up, the Rocket will hone in on some rather tough targets, most notably the stingy defenses of Penn State and Tennessee. They had better be ready, or else, like Miami and Pitt, they'll be lit up by the Rocket's red glare.
Texas A&M's Darren Lewis became the Southwest Conference's alltime leading rusher with 176 yards on 25 carries in the Aggies' 41-15 victory over Rice. His 4,453 yards put him past Eric Dickerson, who gained 4,450 for SMU from 1979 to '82....
When Alabama lost 9-0 to Penn State, it marked the first time since 1955 that the Tide had been shut out in Tuscaloosa, where they play half their home games....
Kansas coach Glen Mason, in explaining why he let freshman Dan Eichloff try a 58-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter against Kansas State when Eichloff had never booted one longer than 49 yards in a game, said, "I looked at him and asked him what he thought. He nodded. If he had shrugged his shoulders, I wouldn't have gone for it." The kick was good, and it turned out to be critical in the Jayhawks' 27-24 win....
On his third try, Florida State coach Bobby Bowden finally got career victory No. 200 when the Seminoles drummed LSU 42-3. Unfortunately for Bowden, his postgame victory ride was interrupted by a brawl that erupted among the players after the final play....
Quick, now. Of the 669 colleges that have either NCAA or NAIA football teams, which one has the longest consecutive string of winning seasons? No, not Nebraska, with 29, but Linfield College of McMinnville, Ore. When Linfield defeated Whitworth College of Spokane 45-35 last Saturday in an NAIA Division II game, it was assured of its 35th straight winning season.
McFarland almost had two interceptions for Baylor, but this pickoff was called back.
Spectacular blocking helped catapult the Colonels' Lester from second string to stardom.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Houston's junior quarterback David Klingler completed 34 of 51 passes for 457 yards and seven touchdowns as the undefeated Cougars beat Arkansas 62-28. It was Klingler's sixth 400-yard game this season.
Rusty Medcaris, a defensive end making his first start for Miami, had 5½ sacks for minus 30 yards in the Hurricanes' 45-10 defeat of Texas Tech. For the day, he had 12 tackles, nine of them solos.
Kirk Matthieu, a sophomore running back at Maine Maritime Academy, rushed 32 times for 337 yards and scored three touchdowns as the Division III Mariners defeated Curry College 37-25.