This is beginning to look a lot like a divine autumn in Colorado. Two weeks ago wideout Michael Westbrook caught a tipped pass on the game's final play to give the Buffaloes a 27-26 victory over fourth-ranked Michigan in Ann Arbor. Last week against No. 16 Texas in Austin, Westbrook hauled in another tipped pass in the waning moments of a game. This one came during a drive that set up Neil Voskeritchian's winning field goal from 24 yards with one second to play.
But neither Westbrook nor Voskeritchian was the hero of Colorado's dramatic 34-31 win. Junior tailback Rashaan Salaam rushed for 317 yards and led the Buffaloes in receiving with five receptions for 45 yards. The final drive covered 73 yards, and Salaam had a hand in 72 of them: He ran for 46 yards, caught a pass for 15 and tipped the pass to Westbrook on a play that gained 11 more. And that was after getting three intravenous injections of saline to combat the 100° heat on the turf. "Rashaan showed a tremendous amount of resolve and toughness," said Colorado coach Bill McCartney after the game. "He just kept coming back."
Salaam hails from a high school that is not exactly known for producing prodigious football talents: La Jolla (Calif.) Country Day. "We played eight-man football on a field that was only 80 yards by 40 yards," says Salaam. His parents, Hakim and Khalada Salaam-Alaji, sent Rashaan to Country Day after he found trouble in a public junior high. "I missed my buddies, but Mom was a disciplinarian," he says.
Colorado has now won two straight games on the final play. Before this season the Buffaloes last won a game on the final play in 1990, when they edged Missouri 33-31 with a TD on "fifth down" after the officials lost count of the number of plays in the series. Colorado went on to win the national championship that year. The '94 season is shaping up very much like that one.
Taking It on the Chin
"What happened to your chin?" Colorado quarterback Kordell Stewart asked Texas coach John Mackovic, noticing the adhesive bandage as the two shook hands after the game. "Cut yourself shaving?"
Not exactly. On the third play of the second half two Longhorn defenders, tackle Tony Brackens and safety Tre Thomas, ran smack into Mackovic as they chased Stewart out of bounds. Brackens's helmet nailed Mackovic under the chin, opening a gash, and Mackovic flew backward onto the all-weather track, cutting his elbow on a drainage gutter. He needed six stitches to close each cut and suffered a mild concussion.
"That's the first time I've ever seen him take a hit," says Mackovic's wife, Arlene, who met her husband after his days as a quarterback at Wake Forest. "The only other bad accident I can recall is when John hit a golf ball that ricocheted off a rock and hit him in the nose. Broke it in 10 different places. His nose was like mosaic tiles."
Although the dapper Mackovic never left the field, his white shirt did. Stained from his skid on the track, it was removed, and a student manager was dispatched to the locker room to fetch another. Still, Mackovic's hair remained amazingly un-tussled. "He likes to be in control," says Arlene. "Of everything."
Afterward, Mackovic, who turned 51 on Saturday, insisted that he had suffered no memory loss and proved he was alert enough to outduel a sportswriter. "Can Texas be satisfied with this moral victory?" asked the scribe.
"I never called it a moral victory," replied Mackovic.
"What would you call it, then?"
A New Volunteer
It was like old times last Saturday evening for Mr. Manning: warm Southern air, a triumphant walk from the floor of the stadium through a cluster of teenage girls crowding around for his autograph. Only thing is, the winning team wasn't Ole Miss; it was Tennessee. It wasn't Hemingway Stadium in Oxford; it was Neyland Stadium in Knoxville. And the conquering quarterback wasn't Archie, the Rebel All-America in 1969 and '70; it was his 18-year-old son, Peyton, who as a true freshman making his first collegiate start had just led the Volunteers to a 10-9 win over 17th-ranked Washington Slate.
"I remember my first start," says Archie. "I was a sophomore, and it was against Memphis State. The Tigers" defense wasn't nearly as good as Washington State's."
The Cougars came into the game 3-0, and their defense hadn't allowed a touchdown since 1993. Peyton was tossed into this lire because senior Jerry Colquitt and junior Todd Helton are both out with knee injuries. And the heat was on him: A loss would drop Tennessee to 1-4 in front of a homecoming crowd of 95,556. "We told Peyton, 'You've got to avoid losing before you can win,' " said Vol coach Phillip Fulmer after the game. "We don't generally think that way around here, but we were playing for our self-respect."
While Nilo Silvan's 62-yard touchdown on a reverse in the third quarter and John Becksvoort's field goal with 10:15 to play decided the game, it was Manning's cool, flawless work that kept outgunned Tennessee alive. He completed seven of 14 passes for 79 yards, with no turnovers. His 41-yard completion to wideout Kendrick Jones kept the winning drive moving, it felt good to let it loose once," said Manning, who has moved ahead of fellow superfreshman Branndon Stewart in the Vols' quarterback-of-the-future contest.
Manning's heady performance came as no surprise to one very interested observer. Washington State coach Mike Price had recruited Manning, and on the morning of the game that was supposed to vault his program to national prominence, Price said, "I know he's a freshman, and we're going to pressure him, but I've watched him enough to know that he's a terrific quarterback."
Like Cats and Dogs
The NCAA's stringent new rules concerning brawls must be working. After five weeks this season there have been few of the ugly fights that players—and coaches—have engaged in far too often in recent years. Now if we can only get the mascots to behave.
During halftime of last Saturday's game between Jackson State and South Carolina State in Columbia, the schools' mascots sent the fur flying right on the 50-yard line. "We were just playing around at first," says South Carolina State's Thaddeus Chestnut (a.k.a. Bully the Bulldog), "but he kept coming over to our side of the field. I didn't appreciate that."
A shoving match between Bully and the Jackson State Tiger—better known as Eric Ransom—turned into a five-minute bout. "I'm only 5'7", and he had to be over six feet, but I put him on his back," says Chestnut, who happens to have a black belt in taekwando. "That was the turning point of the game. We were down at halftime, and the fans were dead. But after that they were into it, and we came back and won (by a 26-22 score]. And that tiger never came to our side of the field again."
What a Kick
Last season West Virginia finished 13th in the country in total offense; this season the Mountaineers are 67th. A lot of players are happy about this development, but most of them suit up for West Virginia's opponents. One does not: Todd Sauerbrun, the Mountaineer punter.
"To be honest, I do root for fourth down," says Sauerbrun, whose 50.7 yards-per-punt average leads the nation. He was particularly thrilled with West Virginia's 31-0 loss to Nebraska in the Kickoff Classic. "I loved it," says Sauerbrun, who punted nine times in that game for a 60.1-yard average. "I can't wait until we play Miami in a few weeks."
"Following the Nebraska game," recalls backup punter Brian West, "Todd skipped cloud nine and went straight to cloud 15. He couldn't wait to go out when we got back to Morgantown."
And Sauerbrun doesn't even like Morgantown. After all, says Sauerbrun, a senior from Setauket, N.Y., "it's so not, like, suburban."
As high as Sauerbrun has been this season, he was just as low last year, when West Virginia went 11-1. In his team's most dominating win of 1993, a 43-0 pasting of Syracuse, Sauerbrun didn't even get to punt. "Todd was not a happy camper that day," says West. "In fact, he was going nuts. I remember him telling Jake [Kelchner, the West Virginia quarterback], 'Take a sack! Take a sack!' "
The Mountaineer offense was so potent last fall that Sauerbrun finished one punt shy of the 40 required to qualify among the NCAA leaders. (His 45.05-yard average would have placed him third.) Boy, have times changed. "I think I've already qualified this year," says Sauerbrun. For the record, he has punted 37 times this season.
Despite West Virginia's 34-10 win over Missouri last Saturday, the Mountaineer offense is nowhere near what it was a year ago, and Sauerbrun isn't the only West Virginia player who has noticed. "For the spring game I picked my side's team," says strong safety David Mayfield. "I didn't even worry about picking offensive players. I just picked defensive players with the first half-dozen picks."
So how did Mayfield's team fare? "We won 30-0," he says. "Last fall, our offense would have the ball third-and-10, and I wouldn't even get off the bench. This year on third-and-one, my helmet's strapped on. That's terrible, isn't it?"
Not if you're the best punter in the country.
As a runner and receiver, Salaam found plenty of holes in the Longhorn defense.
Manning, handed the reins of the Tennessee offense on Saturday, may hold them for a long time.
Players of the Week
Offense: Alabama senior Jay Barker passed for 396 yards in a 29-28 win over Georgia. Scott Hunter, who threw for 484 yards in 1969, is the only Tide player to pass for more yards in a game.
Defense: Indiana's Reggie Bryant, a sophomore safety, had five tackles and two interceptions, one of which he returned 80 yards for the go-ahead touchdown, in a 25-14 victory over Minnesota.
Small Schools: Joe Aska, a senior at Division II Central Oklahoma, rushed 45 times for 241 yards and two touchdowns as the 10th-ranked Bronchos defeated No. 13 East Texas State 16-7.