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September 22, 2008
Monday with Mike: FSU offense needs help
The first opinion is that Wake's defense is tremendous. After all, the Demon Deacons allowed just 220 total yards, forced seven turnovers and kept the Seminoles out of the end zone.
The second opinion is that, once again, Florida State's offense is borderline inept. After all, the Seminoles committed seven turnovers – including five interceptions – and managed just 118 passing yards against a team that gave up 253 passing yards and four passing touchdowns to Ole Miss in its last game.
Actually, it's probably a mixture of both, with the "FSU's offense is borderline inept" accounting for about 70 percent.
Florida State rolled up 115 points and 1,055 yards in its first two games. But those numbers gave the Seminoles a false sense of security. The opponents were Chattanooga and Western Carolina, two small-college bottom-feeders. It was vastly different against Wake, and the tone was set early - with quarterback Christian Ponder throwing a pick on FSU's first play from scrimmage.
A young and rebuilt offensive line that opened holes for a running game that amassed 487 yards in the first two games was dominated at the line of scrimmage Saturday. FSU managed 102 rushing yards against Wake, with the bulk of the yardage coming on runs by quarterbacks D'Vontrey Richardson (46 yards) and Ponder (27).
Ponder and Richardson looked like deer in the headlights when they attempted to pass. They combined to go 12 of 36 for 118 yards and the five picks. And the interceptions weren't great plays by the Demon Deacons. On some of them, it looked as if the Wake defenders were the intended receivers.
FSU's line has numerous issues, and the Seminoles lack consistent playmakers. Tailback Antone Smith has speed but struggles when he runs between the tackles, and it appears he's never going to live up to his high school hype. Wide receiver Preston Parker, who missed the first two games because of a suspension, didn't touch the ball enough against Wake. Wide receiver Greg Carr is a senior but still lacks consistency. Wide receiver Corey Surrency, a junior college transfer, didn't play high school football and still essentially is learning the game. There is no tight end on the roster who's a receiving threat. And the quarterbacks have a ways to go.
"We're not where I hoped we were," FSU coach Bobby Bowden told reporters afterward. "That's very evident."
Ponder and Richardson are third-year sophomores. You can throw out their first season, when the FSU offensive coaching staff was … well, it was overmatched. This is Year Two of the new regime, headed by coordinator Jimbo Fisher and line coach Rick Trickett. But while Fisher oversaw some solid quarterbacks at LSU, including JaMarcus Russell, he still has a lot of work to do with Ponder and Richardson.
The good news for Florida State is that its defense could be back to its old, stifling self. Despite forcing seven turnovers, Wake didn't get in the end zone – and that was against a defensive unit still missing some key players because of some academic suspensions.
Fisher seems likely to stay with Ponder at quarterback. Though in the past he has said he was not "a short-leash guy," you have to figure that if Ponder struggles in Saturday's game against Colorado and its tough defensive line, Richardson will get the call again.
It helps FSU that the ACC is down this season. Still, for the Seminoles to be a legit contender – which actually may be another season away – the offense needs a spark. The problem is that six of the next seven teams they play are at least decent on defense, starting with the Buffaloes, which upset West Virginia last Thursday. After that, it's a trip to Miami, which should prove a lot about both teams.
Right now, it looks as if Miami has someone it can count on at quarterback in redshirt freshman Robert Marve. The same can't be said for Florida State.
TIDE COMES ROLLING IN
This past weekend was a shakeout weekend of sorts in both the SEC East and SEC West. LSU beat Auburn and Florida beat Tennessee to give the winners a quick start in their respective divisions. This weekend, Alabama travels to Georgia in an inter-division game that should have a huge bearing on the conference race as a whole.
Alabama has looked excellent thus far. Truth be told, though, the Tide has beaten up on three not-so-good teams after its season-opening whipping of Clemson (and how good are the Tigers this season?). Georgia, meanwhile, looked good in winning at Arizona State – but that came a week after a less-than-dominant performance in a seven-point win over an offensively challenged South Carolina team.
Alabama has been stout against the run so far, and Georgia's revamped offensive line will be tested as it tries to open holes for Knowshon Moreno. The Tide hasn't allowed a rushing touchdown this season, and when you include last season's Independence Bowl, Alabama hasn't allowed a rushing touchdown in 20 quarters.
Conversely, Alabama's offensive line – which has been blowing people off the ball – gets its biggest test by far in a tough Georgia defensive front seven.
A win likely would mean the Tide would be 9-0 when it played at LSU on Nov. 8. As if that game needed any more hype – Nick Saban back in Baton Rouge for the first time as a college coach since he left LSU – imagine the build-up if Alabama is unbeaten.
HELP! WE STINK
There were two Pac-10 teams ranked last week, USC and Oregon. The Ducks are out of the poll this week after falling at home to Boise State, and that means you're going to hear a lot about USC and its strength of schedule. Most of it will be coming from the Southeast.
USC could win each game by 20-plus points – and it just might do that – but given that other Pac-10 teams haven't exactly been lighting it up, the Trojans are going to suffer in the court of public perception. It'll be the same thing that Ohio State heard last season: "Of course you're 11-1. You play in a mediocre league and you'll again get hammered in the title game."
Frankly, the only team that can beat USC in the Pac-10 is USC itself. But if there is a 12-0 team from the SEC and/or the Big 12, does USC remain on top? That question will be a topic of discussion for the rest of the season.
WORKING FOR A LIVING
Ringer followed up a 43-carry, 282-yard game against Florida Atlantic by rumbling for 201 yards on 39 carries Saturday against Notre Dame. He has 699 yards and 11 touchdowns through four games; he had six TDs all of last season.
He also already has 143 carries. That is more attempts in four games than 30 teams have made in four games.
Ringer brought his blockers to the post-game news conference and said, "We were able to win because of these guys. Not because of me."
Count Irish coach Charlie Weis as among those impressed by Ringer. "You can hit him and hit him and he just keeps coming," Weis said.
This time of September has been pretty darned interesting in college football history. First off, a year ago today (Sept. 22), Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy went on his infamous "I'm a man" rant in defense of Cowboys backup quarterback Bobby Reid. Reid since has transferred to Texas Southern and called the attention he received in the aftermath of Gundy's tirade one of the worst periods in his life.
While that was one of the best "Coaches Gone Wild" rants in any sport in recent history, the National Football Foundation points out there have been some truly historic moments at this time of the season. Consider:
Sept. 27, 1958: "The Lonely End" was unveiled during Army's victory over South Carolina. Army coach Red Blaik had wide receiver Bill Carpenter split wide – about 20 yards away from the offensive linemen. Blaik's hope was that by splitting Carpenter – who had missed the 1957 season because of injuries suffered in a military jeep accident – out wide, it would force opposing defenses to send a cornerback or safety out there with him. It worked. Carpenter never even entered the huddle, further befuddling defenses. Instead, he received signals from the sideline. The new "formation" worked to the tune of 529 total yards in a 45-8 rout of South Carolina. Army was 8-0-1 that season, with the final points coming on a two-point conversion pass that Carpenter caught against Navy in a 22-6 victory. After the game, Gen. Douglas McArthur famously sent a telegram to Blaik saying, "In the long history of West Point athletics, there has never been a greater triumph."
Sept. 22, 1956: Incredibly, Notre Dame suffered its first-ever loss in September on this day. You read that right: Notre Dame had played 67 seasons of football but hadn't lost in September until it fell 19-13 at SMU. The winning touchdown came on the final play of the game. The loss was a harbinger for Notre Dame, which began the season ranked third but finished 2-8. However, Paul Hornung still won the Heisman.
Sept. 28, 1892: Believe it or not, the first night game in college football history was on this date, between Mansfield (Pa.) State Normal and Wyoming (Pa.) Seminary. Alas, the generators – which were powering 20- and 30-watt bulbs – failed at halftime and the game ended in a scoreless tie.
Break up the Commodores. Vanderbilt is 4-0 after winning 23-17 at Ole Miss on Saturday. The Rebels scored all 17 of their points in the first quarter before Vandy clamped down. There was just one offensive touchdown in the game; there was a fumble return for a score, an interception return for a score and a kickoff return for a score. Vandy forced six turnovers and has forced 14 on the season, which is second-most to Wake Forest's 15. Vanderbilt is aiming for its first bowl since 1982 and should be able to get to the needed six victories with winnable games remaining against Mississippi State, Duke, Kentucky, Tennessee and Wake Forest. The flipside, of course, is those five look at Vandy as a winnable game, too. There also are home games against Auburn and Florida and a road game against Georgia, but Vandy's passing attack – which ranks 118th in the nation at 80.8 yards per game – would lead you to believe the Commodores don't have enough offense to win any of those.
At first glance, these games don't jump out at you. But upon further review, they look a whole lot more interesting.
Connecticut at Louisville, Friday, 8 p.m.: Connecticut moved to 4-0 by outlasting Big 12 bottom-feeder Baylor last Friday, and now gets another Friday game. Louisville looked good last week in pounding Kansas State, another Big 12 team. If Louisville can run effectively on the Huskies, it can win.
Maryland at Clemson, noon: The Terps resurrected their season by beating California two weeks ago, and now travel to Clemson to face a Tigers team that has rolled over three mediocre-or-worse teams since getting mauled in the opener by Alabama. The is the start of a key four-game stretch for Clemson, which has Wake Forest, Georgia Tech and Boston College after facing the Terps.
Northwestern at Iowa, noon: The Wildcats are 4-0 for the first time since 1962 – and this looks to be their toughest road game of the season. Given the rest of their schedule, a win over Iowa basically would nail down a bowl bid for Northwestern. Iowa went on the road for the first time this season this past weekend and lost to Pitt by one. The Hawkeyes' offense clearly has issues, but the defense is solid.
Missouri also finished off its pre-Big 12 schedule, though the Tigers have faced one legit opponent, beating Illinois in the opener. The Tigers won 42-21 over Buffalo on Saturday. Senior quarterback Chase Daniel threw for a career-high 439 yards and tossed two touchdown passes. At one point, he completed a Big 12-record 20 consecutive passes. In his past three games, Daniel has attempted 88 passes – and completed 75. That's a completion percentage of 85.2. Mizzou also is off this weekend and gets back on the field Oct. 4 at Nebraska – which will be the last of five consecutive home games to start the season for the Huskers. Mizzou routed the Huskers last season, but the Tigers haven't won in Lincoln since 1978 and haven't beaten the Huskers in back-to-back seasons since 1973-74. There's a better-than-good chance both those streaks end this season.
If I never have to hear CBS studio host Tim Brando say "fly in the ointment" again, I'll be a happy man. We get it: You're talking about potential BCS-busters. But "fly in the ointment"? That has a negative connotation, and is a team from outside the "Big Six" getting into a BCS bowl really a bad thing?
There have been 75 games matching Division I-A teams against I-AA opponents – or, as the NCAA insists on saying, Football Bowl Subdivision teams and Football Championship Subdivision teams. The big guys are 73-2. The losers have been by San Diego State (to Cal Poly in Week One) and Army (to New Hampshire in Week Two).
The first BCS standings of the season come out Oct. 12.