Big Red Alert
A musical chairs backfield has left Nebraska's offense in
After Nebraska gained only 185 yards of total offense and
committed five turnovers against Southern Mississippi last
Saturday, it was clear that coach Frank Solich's decision to put
the Huskers' offense in the hands of just one quarterback,
sophomore Eric Crouch, is no panacea. Nebraska won 20-13 because
senior linebacker Julius Jackson returned a first-quarter fumble
16 yards for a touchdown and a third-quarter interception 28 for
the decisive points. "We had a lot of mental blunders," said
junior I-back Dan Alexander, whose 54 yards rushing and two
fumbles didn't make anyone forget his predecessor, junior
DeAngelo Evans, who began a tumultuous week in Lincoln by
quitting the team.
Alexander at least performed better than Bobby Newcombe, the
junior who had started the first two games at quarterback but
who proposed last week to the Huskers' coaching staff that he
move to wingback and end his job-sharing arrangement with
Crouch. "My heart is at quarterback," Newcombe said three days
before the game, "but I'm an athlete. I just like to play. I
want to go out on the field with no stress, no pressure."
As a freshman playing two positions in 1997, Newcombe averaged
16.4 yards every time he touched the ball. "We've got to have
both guys on the field," quarterbacks coach Turner Gill said
last Friday of Crouch and Newcombe. "They're both so explosive."
But Newcombe imploded against the Golden Eagles. In the first
quarter he dropped a punt and then kicked the ball. Southern
Mississippi recovered the muff and drove 45 yards for a
touchdown and a 7-6 lead. In the second quarter he dropped a
pass in the end zone. In the second half he never touched the
ball. Newcombe finished with no receptions.
Give the Golden Eagles some credit for the Cornhuskers'
offensive difficulties. They used their quickness and effective
slanting up front to hold Nebraska to five rushing first downs.
The Huskers hope their running game will be more effective in
the weeks ahead, but they aren't likely to benefit from the
return of Evans: He quit the team without citing a reason and
You know Nebraska is struggling when three games into the
season, a reserve linebacker is its third-leading scorer. Asked
if he would like to try playing I-back, Jackson said, "I was
thinking about it."
Solich, too, no doubt.
Cincinnati Ruins Dayne's Day
The game was supposed to be a simple accounting exercise, the
adding of a fat new entry to an old balance. The publicity was
all about Wisconsin running back Ron Dayne and his quest to
break the career NCAA rushing record set last year by Ricky
Williams of Texas. The players from Cincinnati were supposed to
be no more than assorted pieces of furniture to be moved out of
the way of Dayne's grand march.
The question wasn't so much how many yards the 5'10", 252-pound
Dayne would gain as it was how long Badgers coach Barry Alvarez
would let him play in the expected rout. Wisconsin, favored by
26 1/2 points, was already looking toward its Big Ten opener
against Michigan a week later. The sad Bearcats had lost to
Division I-AA Troy (Ala.) State 31-24 a week earlier.
"I talked with my seniors during the week," Cincinnati coach
Rick Minter said after the Bearcats stunned the eighth-ranked
Badgers 17-12 before an equally stunned crowd of 27,721 at
Cincinnati's Nippert Stadium. "We don't have a lot of seniors,
just six, and most of them don't play very much, but I told them
this was a great chance for a last hurrah. This was their last
home game against a big-time, out-of-conference opponent. This
was a game to make memories, just a big old game against a big
The Bearcats' defense spent long stretches of time on the
field--Wisconsin held the ball for more than 37 minutes and
Dayne rushed for 231 yards on 28 carries to supplant Archie
Griffin of Ohio State as the alltime Big Ten rushing leader--but
surrendered only one touchdown. (A Dayne fumble near the
Cincinnati goal line in the fourth quarter cost the Badgers a
seemingly certain touchdown.) The Bearcats offense, outgained
425 yards to 261, made the most of its opportunities. Running
back Robert Cooper, one of the seniors, rolled 51 yards to give
Cincinnati a 7-3 lead in the second quarter. Freshman kicker
Jonathon Ruffin, as nervous as he had ever been in his life,
pumped home a 41-yard field goal with 5:01 left to give the
Bearcats their 17-12 margin.
The final Wisconsin drive ended with an incomplete pass in the
end zone with six seconds left. Spectators rolled onto the
field. The goalposts disappeared in a hurry. "This was the
biggest win in UC history," strong safety Tinker Keck said, who,
of course, didn't know that Heather Renee French, a Cincinnati
graduate student, would be named Miss America four hours later.
"Fans told me this was the best game they'd ever seen, people
who had been coming here for 25, 30 years. They said they'd
never seen the goalposts torn down."
"Let's buy some more," Coach Minter said, "and tear 'em down
again." --Leigh Montville
Irish History 101
A Horse of a Different Color
To celebrate the 75th anniversary of Notre Dame's most famous
backfield, this season's Fighting Irish football tickets picture
the Four Horsemen. Printed on the back of each ticket is a short
explanation of how Grantland Rice coined the nickname after
Notre Dame defeated Navy 13-7 in 1924. Except that he coined the
nickname after the Irish beat Army in '24. Maybe next year's
tickets will depict scenes from the celebrated Notre Dame-UCLA
The intelligence of Stanford must be questioned. When Cardinal
coach Tyrone Willingham told his players after their
season-opening 69-17 loss at Texas that they had done some good
things and could build on them, the players were dumb enough to
believe him. Fortified by Willingham's reassuring words,
Stanford bounced back with routs of Washington State (54-17) and
preseason Pac-10 favorite Arizona (50-22).
The Cardinal offense has been an effective blend of stars old
and new. Against the Wildcats, senior wideout Troy Walters,
generously listed at 5'8", had a typical eight-catch, 168-yard
day. Freshman Kerry Carter, a 6'2", 225-pound tailback, rushed
for 79 yards on 20 carries, three of them first-half touchdowns.
Stanford's best big runner since Tommy Vardell in 1991, Carter,
who hails from Vaughn, Ont., chose the Farm after a hot
recruiting battle between the Cardinal and Michigan, Michigan
State, Ohio State and Wisconsin, even though a teachers' strike
in Ontario canceled all but one game of his senior season. He
has adjusted well from Canada's 12-to-a-side football to the
11-man game. "The instincts he has," Willingham says, "they
The Stanford defense, under new coordinator Kent Baer, is more
physical up front. Baer moved end Riall Johnson to outside
linebacker, where he already has 5 1/2 sacks, nearly equaling
the six he had last season. The defenders call themselves the
Trenchdogs, an echo of the legendary Thunderchickens of 1971.
That year's Rose Bowl team, Stanford's last, started league play
3-0. A win over UCLA on Saturday would echo that, too.
Brown versus Yale
Another Wild Finish
Last year Yale beat Brown 30-28 with a 27-yard touchdown pass on
the game's final play. In last Saturday's Ivy League opener for
both teams, the Bears got revenge in similarly dramatic fashion.
After quarterback James Perry connected with David Brookman for
a seven-yard touchdown to pull Brown within a point of the
Bulldogs, 24-23, with 14 seconds to go, the Bears lined up to
kick the game-tying extra point. Mike Murawczyk's PAT was
blocked, but Brown running back Mike Powell, who had been lined
up as a blocker on the left side of the line, alertly scooped
the ball up at the six-yard line and headed upfield. As he was
about to get tackled at the five, he pitched the ball to tight
end Rob Scholl, who ran in for a two-point conversion.
Even then the victory wasn't secure. The Bears were penalized 25
yards for taunting and excessive celebration after the
conversion and had to kick off from their 10. Yale took over at
its 49 with 12 seconds left, and Joe Walland completed a 31-yard
pass to wideout Tommy McNamara, setting up a 47-yard field goal
attempt that fell short as time expired. Said Bulldogs
quarterback Walland, "Now I know how Brown felt last year."
Don't Forget Troy State
By season's end Division I-AA Troy State could be daisy-chain
national champions: The Trojans beat Cincinnati, which beat
Wisconsin, which beat....
Arkansas coach Houston Nutt's wildly popular weekly television
show now provides closed captioning. Nutt's father and two of
Nutt's brothers, including Razorbacks assistant Danny, are
hearing-impaired (SI, June 7, 1999)....
Last year Kansas tailback David Winbush ran for 268 yards and
three touchdowns in the Jayhawks' upset of Colorado. Last
Saturday the Buffaloes held him to 12 yards on 11 carries and
How bad is Texas Tech? The Red Raiders lost 21-14 to North
Texas, which had been outscored 78-3 in losses to UNLV and LSU....
Purdue quarterback Drew Brees threw for 320 yards and two
touchdowns against Central Michigan, but how about his two
downfield blocks on J. Crabtree's 59-yard scoring run?...
Iowa State coach Dan McCarney got a two-year contract extension
last winter, and that show of faith may have something to do
with the Cyclones' first 3-0 start since 1981. Enjoy it while
you can, Iowa State fans: Up next are Kansas State, Nebraska and
COLOR PHOTO: DARREN CARROLL Crouch had an inauspicious start as a starter, completing 6 of 10 passes, with two interceptions.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Ahmad Merritt and the Badgers were bear-hugged by Bearcats like Carlton Sykes.
Michigan (3-0) at Wisconsin (2-1)
Badgers running back Ron Dayne has averaged 174.6 yards and
scored five touchdowns in games against Murray State, Ball State
and Cincinnati. Wisconsin's next three games are against the
toughest rushing defenses on their schedule, those of Michigan,
Ohio State and Minnesota. Dayne has 16 rushes for 53 yards in
his one game against Michigan. He'll improve but not enough for
Wisconsin to win.
Arkansas (2-0) at Alabama (2-1)
Crimson Tide fans would forgive coach Mike DuBose for far more
dastardly deeds than having an affair with his former
secretary--something for which he has been assessed a $360,000
penalty by the university--before they'll forgive him for losing
to Louisiana Tech last Saturday. This is no week to earn
absolution. Nothing illustrates quite so painfully to Tide fans
'Bama's fall from its old perch atop the SEC West as the
turnabout in this rivalry. The Razorbacks, who lost four of five
to Alabama between 1992 and '96, have won each of their last two
visits to Tuscaloosa by one point. Last season, in Fayetteville,
the Hogs routed the Tide 42-6. Alabama moved its SEC games to
Tuscaloosa from Birmingham to gain the emotional edge of playing
on campus, but the fans DuBose is counting on to swell his Tide
want to wring his neck. Alabama is unlikely to turn this mess
around against Arkansas.
Colorado (2-1) at Washington (0-2)
College fans love blood feuds. Rick Neuheisel transfused this
one with plasma when he left Boulder for Seattle last January.
If the Huskies don't overcome their defensive shortcomings--and
Neuheisel can't teach his players to be faster and more
experienced--Colorado should enjoy revenge against its former
coach. Hell hath no fury like a Buffalo scorned.
Ole Miss (2-1) at Auburn (3-0)
In the week's other postdivorce reunion, the Rebels visit the
Tigers, who are guided by former Ole Miss coach Tommy
Tuberville. As if Ole Miss needed another reason to play well,
last Saturday the Rebels blew a 10-point lead at home and lost
to Vanderbilt. It's the Tigers' turn to be humiliated.
For complete scores and stats, plus more news from Ivan Maisel,
go to cnnsi.com/football/college.