The Deep South
Any of seven teams could win the SEC title as Georgia and
Mississippi staked their claims in a wide-open race
Asked what Mississippi's stunning 17-14 upset of No. 6 Florida
meant to the SEC's two division races, Rebels coach David
Cutcliffe came quickly to his conclusion: nothing. "A year ago,
after we beat LSU, you think they're out. It was their third
loss, but they ended up winning [the conference]," said
Cutcliffe, who thinks the SEC could be even more competitive this
season. "I've coached in this league for 21 years, and this is by
far the most balanced it has ever been."
On a wild Saturday that didn't conclude until 11:56 p.m. EDT,
when Tennessee beat Arkansas 41-38 in six overtimes, the SEC
showed why it is the deepest conference in the nation. (The SEC
has six teams ranked in the AP Top 25, more than any other
league.) Just check out the new blood at the top. Georgia, which
won at Alabama 27-25, is alone in first place in the SEC East for
the first time in 11 seasons of divisional play. Mississippi,
tied with Auburn atop the SEC West, hasn't started 2-0 in
conference play since 1970, when Archie Manning was Ole Miss's
Now the Rebels have another Manning running the offense--Archie's
son Eli, a junior--though against the Gators he didn't throw a
touchdown pass for the first time in his 16 starts. It didn't
matter. Ole Miss beat Florida with defense, which may be more
startling than the upset itself. The Rebels had given up at least
17 points in each of their last 15 SEC games.
After last season Cutcliffe replaced defensive coordinator Don
Lindsey with Chuck Driesbach, who installed a 4-2-5 scheme that
he had used successfully at Western Michigan and TCU. When
effective, the defense can show an eight-man front that was
popular a generation ago against the run or drop into nickel
coverage without a substitution. Against the Gators the Rebels
rattled normally unflappable quarterback Rex Grossman, who threw
four interceptions and completed 19 of 44 passes for 205 yards.
Ole Miss sacked Grossman only once but hit him 23 times in 74
plays. "The only way to slow down a good quarterback is to get
him off his timing, make him seem as if he's not safe," Driesbach
Four of the Rebels' remaining six league games are on the road,
including a visit to Georgia on Nov. 9. The sixth-ranked Bulldogs
may be the lone unbeaten team in the league, but they have won
three games by six points or fewer. "One thing that's good is,
we've been able to stay undefeated as we're getting better,"
Georgia's second-year coach Mark Richt said last Saturday. "I
know we're not hitting on all cylinders on offense."
The Bulldogs' biggest problem had been what sophomore quarterback
David Greene called not "hitting the home run ball." In the first
four games he had thrown only three completions of 25 yards or
longer to a wide receiver, none for a touchdown. Against Alabama,
though, Greene threw scoring passes of 42 yards to sophomore Fred
Gibson and 37 to senior Terrence Edwards.
Richt was happy to be atop the SEC East, but with No. 10
Tennessee coming to Athens on Saturday and No. 16 Florida looming
on Nov. 2 in Jacksonville--to say nothing of that meeting with
Mississippi--he knows that most weeks he'll be in for a fight.
"It's a long season," he said.
Penn State's Zack Attack
Mills Passes the Paterno Test
Three days after Penn State sophomore quarterback Zack Mills
threw for a school-record 399 yards in a 42-35 overtime loss to
Iowa on Sept. 28, he was already itching to play at Wisconsin's
notoriously loud Camp Randall Stadium. "They say it's one of the
craziest places you can play in," said Mills. "It's a great
challenge, and it should be fun."
Last Saturday's game proved to be both for Mills, who muted the
Camp Randall rowdies by completing 21 of 37 passes for 287 yards
in a crucial 34-31 win for the No. 15 Nittany Lions (4-1, 1-1 in
the Big Ten). "[Zack's] a tough kid and has a lot of poise," said
Penn State coach Joe Paterno, noting that Mills bruised his left
(throwing) shoulder in the first quarter but didn't miss a snap.
Then the 75-year-old coach, who had previously been sparing in
his praise of Mills, turned effusive. "Zack--he's a big timer."
Mills does not have the cannon arm of Florida's Rex Grossman or
the imposing size of Marshall's Byron Leftwich. The 6'2",
220-pound Mills compensates for his lack of velocity and
experience with a deft touch, wise decision-making and a knack
for opportunism. Late in the first quarter, when the ball
squirted out of fullback Paul Jefferson's hands at the Wisconsin
one-yard line, Mills pounced on the ball in the end zone to give
Penn State a 10-0 lead. Then, in the second quarter, after
throwing an interception that Badgers senior cornerback B.J.
Tucker returned for a touchdown to give Wisconsin a 14-13 lead,
Mills responded on the next series with a 37-yard strike to
senior wideout Bryant Johnson that set up a go-ahead scoring run
by senior tailback Larry Johnson.
"I call him Zack Attack," said senior tackle Gus Felder after the
victory. "The team could have gotten jumpy after that
interception, but you see the intensity in that kid's eyes and
realize he will make the next play."
Mills, who leads the Big Ten in passing (260.4 yards per game),
needs to continue making big-time plays if Penn State has any
chance of winning its first conference title in eight years. (The
Nittany Lions are a game behind Ohio State and Iowa, both 2-0 in
the conference.) Mills, striding out of Camp Randall in a
conservative suit appropriate to his businesslike performance,
seemed unflustered by that burden. "It's the only way to play,
isn't it?" he said. --Kelley King
UCLA won at Oregon State 43-35 with old-fashioned muscle and
newfound speed. Despite All-Pac-10 tackle Mike Saffer's playing
with a broken rib, the Bruins called 53 running plays, made 26
first downs and held the ball for 40:36. Fleet freshman tailback
Tyler Ebell, generously listed at 5'9" and 170 pounds, came off
the bench to rush for 203 yards and a touchdown.... Faced with
zones that are dropping seven and eight players into pass
coverage, No. 9 Florida State is pounding defenses with 6'1",
248-pound junior tailback Greg Jones. He leads the ACC in rushing
with 105.5 yards per game, yet Seminoles fans, who like it even
less than opponents do, are booing coach Bobby Bowden's sudden
conservatism. "Our fans are about throwing the ball," Bowden
says. "Our fans resent winning by the run. If I had been a coach
known for running, they never would have hired me at Florida
State." ...Arkansas coach Houston Nutt, an expert on overtime
now that his teams have played in the two longest games in I-A
history--a seven-overtime defeat of Ole Miss last year and a
six-OT loss to Tennessee last Saturday--would like to see the
rules changed to allow more special teams play in the extra
periods. For example, instead of starting each possession in
overtime on the opponent's 25-yard line, Nutt would prefer that a
possession begin with a kickoff. "When you take out the kicking
game, you take out a little part of football," Nutt said on
Sunday. "That's basically saying, 'O.K., kicking game, you sit on
the sideline. Now it's offense and defense.'"...San Jose State,
which is playing 13 games in 13 weeks (including nine on the
road), raised its record to 4-2 by coming back from a 13-point
halftime deficit to beat SMU 34-23 in Dallas. The Spartans lead
the nation with 15 interceptions, thanks mostly to junior safety
Gerald Jones, who has six and is tied for the lead in Division
Read Ivan Maisel's Inside College Football each week at
COLOR PHOTO: BRUCE NEWMAN/OXFORD EAGLE/AP The Rebels' Matt Grier (44), Jesse Mitchell (95) and Josh Cooper helped bag Earnest Graham and the Gators.
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO Alabama's Antwan Odom was turning heads with his tactics against Georgia's Greene.
Head to Head
Miami TE Kellen Winslow
Florida State LB Michael Boulware
In an offense that depends upon the tight end to exploit a size
and speed advantage, Winslow has proved to be a suitable
replacement for Jeremy Shockey, who's starting as a rookie for
the New York Giants. A 6'5", 233-pound sophomore, Winslow leads
the 5-0 Hurricanes in receptions (16) and is tied for the lead in
touchdown catches (three). However, Boulware, a 6'3", 212-pound
junior who is second on the 5-1 Seminoles with 41 tackles, is
faster and stronger than anyone Winslow has ever faced.