Colorado State's gritty fifth-year seniors stopped Michigan State
If a team has to dig itself out of a 16-0 hole on the road in its
season opener, it best be one with 16 fifth-year seniors. "I know
a lot of coaches would have come in at halftime and yelled,"
Colorado State defensive coordinator Larry Kerr said after the
Rams dominated Michigan State in the second half to win 23-16
last Saturday in the Black Coaches Association Classic. "I just
looked at my guys and said, 'You're good. You're better than
Yes, they are. Colorado State's roster has the depth of a WB
sitcom and a dearth of NFL prospects--Indianapolis Colts president
Bill Polian was on hand in East Lansing, Mich., on Saturday not
to watch any Rams but to scout Spartans--but it's rich in
experience. With schools limited to 85 scholarships and the top
juniors leaving for the pros, a good number of fifth-year players
"are probably worth two, three games a season," Colorado State
coach Sonny Lubick says. Fifth-year senior linebacker Nate
Kvamme, who showed up in Fort Collins four years ago weighing 185
pounds, is exactly the kind of in-between kid Lubick has
cultivated in developing a team that has won 10 straight games.
"It's not the fastest guys, the strongest guys, that make the
best football team," says the six-foot Kvamme, who's now all of
In the first half Michigan State junior tailback Sedrick Irvin
rushed for 101 yards on 21 carries. His second-half totals: 19
and 9, respectively. The Spartans' offensive struggles looked
painfully familiar. Last season Michigan State went from 5-0 to
7-5 once defenses put eight men up front to stop Irvin and dared
the Spartans to throw.
The Rams have won three WAC titles in the last four seasons, in
no small part because of Kerr's effective use of a seven-man
front. His reputation has grown so much that last winter Spartans
coach Nick Saban offered him $120,000, almost double his $68,000
salary, to come to Michigan State as defensive coordinator. While
on his interview trip, Kerr happily explained the Colorado State
defense to Saban and his staff.
Kerr turned the job down to remain with Lubick. Imagine his shock
when, two months later, the Rams and the Spartans agreed to play
each other. Kerr figured that Saban would add some wrinkles to
his offense to take advantage of the Rams' seven-man scheme, but
he says that's not why he decided to install an eight-man
alignment against the Spartans. Kerr can watch tape as well as
the next guy. "If they have to pass, we win," he explained after
Michigan State ultimately did have to pass--but couldn't. Junior
Bill Burke, whose lower back is so tender that the Spartans have
him on a pitch count (from warmup to shower, he isn't allowed to
throw more than 100 passes per day), and freshman Ryan Van Dyke
combined to complete 13 of 25 passes for a scant 97 yards. An
average of 3.9 yards per rush is barely acceptable. Get that per
pass, and you're sunk.
Colorado State had greater success with its rookie quarterback,
fifth-year (of course) senior Ryan Eslinger, who had waited four
years for a chance to play, the last three behind Moses Moreno,
who was All-WAC last season. "I was just fed up," Eslinger says
of the last eight months. "I was so tired of hearing 'Moses this,
Moses that.' Moses is done. He's gone."
Eslinger awoke his slumbering teammates in the second quarter
when he threw a strike on a left-sideline streak to Darran Hall,
who turned it into a 57-yard touchdown. Eslinger finished with
205 yards passing and a very big win. After the game, as Lubick
dressed, he considered whether a team without so many fifth-year
players could have come back the way his did. "I don't think so,"
he said. "It's easy to give up and pretend you're playing." If
the Rams proved anything, it's that they don't pretend.
EDWARDS'S 405 A RECORD HAUL
Nearly every afternoon this summer, Louisiana Tech senior
receiver Troy Edwards and junior quarterback Tim Rattay practiced
pass routes together. They sharpened the timing that they began
to develop last season, when Rattay led the nation in total
offense (3,968 yards) and Edwards in receiving yards (1,707).
They were learning to anticipate each other's every move.
But 30 minutes into the Bulldogs' opener at Nebraska last
Saturday, they weren't clicking. Though Edwards had caught nine
passes for 97 yards, he had no touchdowns, and Louisiana Tech
trailed 35-6. In the locker room Edwards and Rattay talked about
their long summer sessions, and in the second half it was as if
the two of them were alone on a field again. In what may hold up
as the best individual performance of the season, Edwards
finished with an NCAA-record 405 yards on 21 receptions--three
short of Jerry Rice's single-game mark for catches--and scored on
passes of 52, 94 and 80 yards in a 56-27 loss.
"Does it surprise me?" said Bulldogs coach Gary Crowton
afterward. "Absolutely not. You should see these two guys in
practice; the ball never hits the ground. Troy is the type of
player who can dominate any game, no matter who we're playing."
Against Nebraska, which has seven starters back on a defensive
unit that was the fifth best in the nation last season, Louisiana
Tech chalked up 590 yards passing, the most ever surrendered by
the Cornhuskers. Rattay completed 46 of 68 passes.
Edwards, a 5'10", 195-pound Shreveport, La., native, hopes
Saturday's performance proved he can play in the NFL. He wants to
make it as a pro not only for his sake but also for his family's.
He's the youngest of eight children. His father, Sentell, puts in
12-hour days as a construction foreman, and his mother, Ruthie,
works as a cook and caretaker for the handicapped. "God gave me a
gift, and every day I sacrifice my body so I can take care of my
family," Troy says. "My parents have worked hard for me, and they
deserve to live much better than they are now. Every day I push
myself for them. It's what I thought about all summer and what I
think about every time I step on the field." --B.J. Schecter
AN INAUSPICIOUS BEGINNING
Answer: The Big Ten and 54. Question: Name two things that had
disappointing opening weekends. Not only did Michigan State and
Purdue lose--the latter 27-17 to USC--but one of the conference's
marquee players, Wisconsin tailback Ron Dayne, also sprained an
ankle and is likely for the Badgers' opener.... It looks as if
artificial turf is going the way of the run-and-shoot. This
season 73 of 112 schools will play on grass fields. A decade ago,
55 of 104 played on turf. Colorado already has announced it will
return Folsom Field to grass next year.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Show stoppers The Rams put the clamps on Irvin in the second half while surging to a 23-16 win. [Sedrick Irvin being tackled in game]
OHIO STATE AT WEST VIRGINIA
Mountaineer Field under the lights is a rowdy place. Says West
Virginia nosetackle John Thornton of the Mountaineers'
hard-drinking fans, "At night everybody will be nice and ripe."
But here's some music that's harsh to the 'eers: Outside of Ann
Arbor, Ohio State is 13-1 in the last three regular seasons. The
Buckeyes don't know they're supposed to be scared. Key matchup:
Thornton and linebacker Gary Stills versus an Ohio State line
that learned on the job in '97.
MICHIGAN AT NOTRE DAME
The quarterback is Jarious.
His talents are various.
Or so Golden Domers believe.
Will Michigan stop him?
Can Tom Brady top him?
Nope--the Wolverines go home to grieve.
TENNESSEE AT SYRACUSE
They wear orange, and their quarterback can throw deep and run
the option with equal skill. Nope, not just the Orangemen. Junior
Tee Martin debuts for the Volunteers, who have too many weapons
for a Syracuse defense that's more green than Orange.
WASHINGTON AT ARIZONA STATE
In each of the last two seasons, a game played on the opening
week of the Pac-10 season turned out to be decisive in the league
race. The Huskies lost a 45-42 shootout to the Sun Devils two
years ago and finished second to Arizona State by a game. Then
last year Washington State defeated UCLA and used that win as a
stepping-stone to the Rose Bowl. Welcome to Life Ain't Fair, Part
III. The Huskies' offense (wanted: one running back) is no match
for Arizona State's defense. --I.M.