THE BLOOM IS OFF
On the afternoon of Sept. 4, Northwestern coach Gary Barnett
stood at the front of a packed banquet room in Chicago's Hotel
Nikko. Before him were 250 boosters, their faces beaming with
anticipation. A mere mention of his team's Big Ten championship
and Rose Bowl appearance last season would have probably been
sufficient to prime the emotional pump, but Barnett wanted to
try out some fresh material, so he spoke of the Wildcats'
offense. He said he believed his unit had a chance to be as good
as the 1994 Penn State offense, which led the Nittany Lions to a
12-0 record and supplied the '95 NFL draft with three of its top
nine picks. That elicited hearty applause. Barnett then joked
about his largely untested secondary, which he said was causing
him "to sleep like a baby: I sleep for 15 minutes and then wake
up crying." The crowd hooted, secure in the belief that this was
a good line, nothing more.
But there was no laughter last Saturday night at Wake Forest
when Demon Deacon wide receiver Desmond Clark leaped above Fred
Wilkerson, one of the inexperienced defensive backs over whom
Barnett had jokingly fretted. As Wilkerson, playing in place of
suspended starter Hudhaifa Ismaeli, fell to the turf in the
Northwestern end zone at Groves Stadium, Clark hung in the air
an extra split second, the ball hitting him smack between his
numbers. A point after and 51 ticks of the clock later, it was
over: Wake Forest 28, Northwestern 27. No joke.
Who could have seen this coming? In coach Jim Caldwell's three
years at Wake Forest, the Deacons had lost 27 of 34 games and
failed to win a home game against an ACC opponent. Of the 44
players listed on the team's depth chart for the Northwestern
game, 27 were freshmen or sophomores.
It hardly mattered. Led by the ornery running of John Lewis (97
yards and one TD), Wake Forest played the same opportunistic
ball-control football that Northwestern had used to carve its
path to the Rose Bowl. During their run to the roses the
Wildcats turned the ball over just 12 times; on Saturday they
lost the ball four times. In the first six minutes alone, Brian
Musso fumbled a punt and quarterback Steve Schnur--who was
picked off only six times last season--threw the first of his
three interceptions, opening the door to a 10-0 Wake Forest
lead. Asked if his team had taken the Deacons too lightly, a wan
Barnett answered, "We had no reason to, but it feels like we did."
Caldwell has said that he hopes to make Wake a perennial ACC
contender by the millennium. It is, in part, his patience that
got him hired in December 1992. In 1981 Caldwell was the
secondary coach under Dennis Green at Northwestern, which was in
the throes of a Division I-A record-setting 34-game losing
streak. In Evanston, Caldwell met Ron Wellman, who was then the
Wildcats' baseball coach. Impressed by Caldwell's unruffled
demeanor in the face of the football team's struggles, Wellman
continued to track Caldwell's career after the young assistant
moved to Colorado in 1982. In 1992 Wellman became Wake Forest's
athletic director, and when Bill Dooley retired as the Deacons'
football coach that fall, Wellman turned to Caldwell, making him
the ACC's first black football coach.
Wellman has proved a crucial ally. At the end of last season he
extended Caldwell's contract through 2000. His future more
secure, Caldwell began to build the program for the long run.
Freshmen, for example, are now routinely redshirted. "We
probably could have won two or even three more games last year
if we had suited up some of the freshmen," Caldwell says of a
team that went 1-10. "But I wanted to keep these guys together
to build a solid nucleus for the future, much as Northwestern
Despite this victory over the Wildcats and the previous week's
19-13 win over Appalachian State, Caldwell was making no other
comparisons with Northwestern. As he sat in a tent that is
serving as the team's temporary locker room while a field house
is being built, Caldwell said, "We're nowhere close to where we
want this program to be." He paused to sign an autograph that
his 11-year-old daughter, Natalie, would deliver to a friend
outside. "So far, though, things are looking...." He stopped in
midsentence as more well-wishers descended on him. Outside, a
small chorus had erupted into a chant, finishing Caldwell's
thought: "Undefeated! Undefeated!"
More impressive, albeit less surprising, than Wake's victory was
North Carolina's 27-10 drubbing of Syracuse, which entered the
game ranked No. 9, at the Carrier Dome. The victory, the Tar
Heels' first road win over a Top 10 team in 30 years, came less
than 48 hours after Hurricane Fran swept through Chapel Hill and
left several North Carolina players temporarily out of contact
with their families. "A lot of kids know that their parents are
safe," said coach Mack Brown, "but they are not sure they still
have their homes." Brown's own home sustained extensive damage
when a tree crashed into a bathroom.
The Tar Heels, who opened their season with a 45-0 rout of
Clemson, did not play like a preoccupied team on Saturday. Of
particular note were the performances of 6'5", 230-pound
quarterback Chris Keldorf and the secondary, both question marks
entering the season. In North Carolina's two games Keldorf, a
junior college transfer from Southern California, has completed
67.3% of his passes and has been instrumental in the Tar Heels'
converting 56.2% of their third-down plays.
The secondary has been equally surprising. In the Orangemen's
1995 season-opening 20-9 win over North Carolina, Syracuse
quarterback Donovan McNabb announced himself to the college
football world, completing 10 of 16 passes for 120 yards. But
Saturday, Carolina cornerbacks Robert Williams, a sophomore, and
Dre Bly, a redshirt freshman, combined to break up six passes;
Bly also had one interception. Never able to find his rhythm,
McNabb missed his first eight passes and ultimately completed
only 11 of 32.
The hard sell for Heisman hopefuls has begun: Virginia has
mailed out 800 orange highlighters bearing the name of senior
tailback Tiki Barber, and San Diego State has set up a Web site
for senior tailback George Jones. But we prefer the campaign of
Texas sophomore running back Ricky Williams--or, should we say,
the anticampaign. During his summer stint with the Piedmont Boll
Weevils, the Philadelphia Phillies' Class A team in Kannapolis,
N.C., Williams allowed teammates to goad him into striking the
Heisman stance while posing for his baseball card. Fearing that
he looked presumptuous, Williams has already burned roughly 100
of the cards and is searching for the last 400, which he also
hopes to immolate. Williams's on-the-field campaign is going
better. With 132 yards on 12 carries in a 41-7 win against New
Mexico State, he has 244 yards on 26 carries, plus four TDs....
Was it only 11 years ago that Oklahoma won a national title? The
Sooners, in John Blake's coaching debut, scored their first
touchdown in more than 13 quarters, but it wasn't enough to
prevent a 20-7 loss to TCU. It was Oklahoma's first loss to the
Horned Frogs since 1947....Colorado quarterback Koy Detmer
continued his quest to win his family's second Heisman and join
his brother Ty, the former BYU quarterback, as the first
fraternal duo to earn the award. Against Colorado State, Detmer
passed for 364 yards, including 14 straight completions. Almost
as effective was the Rams' Moses Moreno, who threw for 312 yards
on 16 completions. Moreno was taught the art of quarterbacking
by his mother, Arcinia Arenas, who played in a women's league
outside San Diego in the 1970s.
COLOR PHOTO: PATRICK MURPHY-RACEY The Deacons made sure there were few clear paths for Darnell Autry (24) and his Wildcats teammates.
COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER Miscues such as this fumble by Rob Konrad (44) had the Orange singing the Carolina blues.