Thursday, September 19, 2002

With Clarett hurt, three others will vie for carries


College football notebook

The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS, Ohio — Back during spring practice, Ohio State tailback Lydell Ross vowed that this year he wanted to be “the man” for the Buckeyes.

        Instead, he watched with some consternation as freshman Maurice Clarett took over the starting job and made it his own, piling up yards and adoring fans through the Buckeyes' first three games.

        “It has been a little hard,” Ross, a sophomore, said after Tuesday's practice. “I've pretty much been trying to work as hard as I could to come in and start like I said I wanted to. It's been hard to see Maurice come in and start over me. But I just keep working hard and whatever happens, happens.”

        What has happened is a knee injury that will likely cause Clarett to miss No. 6 Ohio State's game Saturday against Cincinnati at Paul Brown Stadium.

        Clarett, who gained 471 yards and scored six touchdowns in the Buckeyes' 3-0 start, underwent arthroscopic surgery on Tuesday. He was on crutches Tuesday. Team orthopedic specialist Dr. Chris Kaeding termed it unlikely but not impossible that Clarett will play against the Bearcats (1-1).

        Now Ross, fellow sophomore Maurice Hall and redshirt freshman JaJa Riley will get a moment in the sun. Ohio State's coaches are anything but worried.

        “There's no way we're concerned about this weekend in terms of, are we going to have somebody that can run the football,” running backs coach Tim Spencer said. “We've got some guys who CAN run the ball. I feel very good about that.”

        An injury is never good news, but the timing couldn't have been better for Spencer and the rest of the Ohio State coaches. In recent weeks, it appeared Ross was beaten down by all the talk about Clarett. He was seeing mop-up duty and was even getting a lot of practice time at fullback, a position he made clear he wasn't his first choice.

        While expressing regret that Clarett was injured, Ross said he relished the opportunity to get some carries in a game that was not already won.

        “With him being out, they are definitely going to look down the line to other tailbacks. Me, Maurice, JaJa, we're all going to be there. We're all going to be waiting,” Ross said. “Like everyone's been saying, this is a strong stable of running backs we've got here. We'll definitely be tested.”

        It became clear that Clarett had won the job after he went for 175 yards in the opener against Texas Tech. He solidified that with 230 yards against Washington State last week.

        Clarett has 63 carries so far this season — 12 more than Ross, Hall and Riley combined.

        Even though Clarett was clearly the No. 1 tailback — and has been mentioned on several early Heisman Trophy lists — his backups have supported him while hoping they wouldn't end up spending the rest of their careers on the sideline watching him.

        “I still feel we're all the same, no matter who was in there we could do probably the same thing” as Clarett, Hall said. “It was just a matter of he was in there and he took advantange of it. That's what you have to do.”

        Linebacker Matt Wilhelm, who faces the Buckeyes' four tailbacks every day in practice, said he doesn't believe there will be any dropoff if Clarett doesn't play.

        “We've got four tailbacks who can start at other schools,” he said. “In no way am I worried that the offense is not going to be able to hold up their end of the bargain on Saturday. We've got more talent than we know what to do with now.”

        Head coach Jim Tressel said this is a chance for another tailback to step out of the committee behind Clarett.

        “I have a lot of confidence in Lydell Ross and Maurice Hall, and JaJa Riley has been chomping at the bit for opportunities,” he said.

        He said this is an example of why players should always be prepared to go in because injuries are common.

        “You always say you never know when those things are going to happen and they look at you like, 'Yeah, right, coach,”' Tressel said with a laugh. “But it's true. You never know when the team is going to need you.”

        It appears that time has come for Ohio State's three backups.

        Oklahoma

        NORMAN, Okla. — Oklahoma backup quarterback Brent Rawls, already sidelined by a thumb injury, could be out for six weeks because of a concussion.

        Rawls, a redshirt freshman, was hurt when he fell out of the back of a pickup truck Saturday night or early Sunday morning.

        “The concussion to Brent Rawls is more than was anticipated,” coach Bob Stoops said Wednesday. “He could be out up to six weeks.”

        Rawls had surgery to fix ligaments in his right thumb after injuring it during a scrimmage in early August. He was originally expected to return for the Sept. 28 game against South Florida.

        Freshman Paul Thompson will remain the backup to Nate Hybl.

        Purdue

        WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Purdue safety Stuart Schweigert says interceptions are part luck and part knowing your position.

        “You've got to put yourself in position to make plays,” Schweigert said. “Great players make plays. Some people just have a knack.”

        Schweigert has shown a knack for making the great plays since he was a freshman and on Saturday he moved atop the team's career interceptions list with 12.

        Schweigert, a junior, picked off a pass by Western Michigan quarterback Chad Munson with 39 seconds left in the third quarter to set the record. It was Schweigert's first interception of the season.

        Schweigert had shared the record with Robert Corby (1965-67), Don Anderson (1981-84), Rod Woodson (1983-1986), Marc Foster (1985-88), Jimmy Young (1990-93) and Adrian Beasley (1996-99).

        Schweigert had five interceptions his freshman year and six last season, tying the record against Michigan State in the ninth game.

        After sitting out the season opener with a sprained left knee, Schweigert hoped to set the record the following week against Notre Dame. He had his first career interception against the Irish on Sept. 16, 2000.

        The interception on Saturday stalled a Western Michigan drive in a game decided by four points. It was his latest pick that helped preserve a victory.

        Twice last season, against Cincinnati and Minnesota, Schweigert had interceptions in the opposition's final drive. Purdue beat Cincinnati by five points and Minnesota by seven.

        “The ones that stick out to me are the game-deciding interceptions,” coach Joe Tiller said.

        One other stands out for Schweigert and Tiller, one that almost provided disastrous results. As a freshman, Schweigert picked off a pass by Indiana's Antwaan Randle El in the end zone. Instead of taking a knee, he dropped the ball. In high school, the football automatically goes to the 20-yard line.

        “I thought the play was done. I dropped the ball and was ready to celebrate with my teammates,” Schweigert said.

        The ball was recovered by teammate Landon Johnson and Schweigert received a scolding by Akin Ayodele and defensive coordinator Brock Spack.

        “Akin was like 'what are you doing?' I could see Brock on the sideline just shaking his head,” Schweigert said. “I can look back at it and laugh. At the time it was a little embarrassing.”

        Tiller also laughed as he thought about that interception.

        “I had not seen that before and I hope I never see that again,” he said.
       —————

        CLOSING IN: With a win Saturday against Wake Forest, Tiller will move into a second-place tie on Purdue's career victory list with 42. Noble Kizer (1930-36) also had 42.

        Jack Mollenkopf (1956-69) is the leader with 84 wins.

        Tiller said he hadn't thought about the record.

        “It doesn't mean anything now. I think all of this means something when it's all over,” he said.

        Tiller, who has coached Purdue to bowl games in all five of his season, doesn't think he'll catch Mollenkopf.

        “Whoever's in first place is probably 10 years ahead of me,” he said. “I don't know if I'll be here 10 years from now.”

        Tiller is signed through the 2007 season.
       —————

        COLD SUBS: Upon further review, the Boilermakers had some special teams players on the field Saturday who shouldn't have been there.

        When Tiller and the assistants were reviewing game tape, he saw a disturbing pattern of “free-substituting” on special teams. That's when a player will ask another teammate to sub for him without telling the coaches.

        “We've got some guys that don't say anything to the kicking coach, they just find their buddy on the sideline and say, 'why don't you go in for me on this one?' It's not rampant, but we can't do that,” Tiller said.
       —————

        INJURY UPDATE: Defensive end Shaun Phillips has been cleared to play after getting knocked out of the second half of last week's game with a concussion. Linebacker Landon Johnson, who has missed the last two games with a dislocated left shoulder, also is expected to play against Wake Forest.

        Injured wide receiver Taylor Stubblefield is set for another lengthy neurological evaluation that looks for problem areas in a patient's brain on Thursday. If he passes the test, Tiller said Stubblefield could be cleared for Saturday, though the Big Ten opener against Minnesota seems more likely.

        “I'm not sure how comfortable we are putting him out on the field,” Tiller said. “We are somewhat. He is smart. He is experienced. ...I wouldn't mind getting him on the field before the Big Ten season.
       —————

        NOTABLE: A Purdue victory Saturday would make them 3-1 for the third time in six seasons under Tiller, also in 1997 and 2000. ...Purdue and Wake Forest have played three times but not since 1978. The Boilermakers won all three games, all in West Lafayette. ...Purdue is on pace for 56 sacks, which would shatter the school record of 38 set by the 1989 team. Niko Koutouvides, Craig Terrill and Kevin Nesfield each have three sacks.

        USC

        LOS ANGELES — Since becoming USC's coach nearly two years ago, Pete Carroll has insisted that Carson Palmer is one of the best college quarterbacks in the country.

        A fifth-year senior, Palmer has struggled much of his USC career, but two games and two wins into this season, he's finally living up to expectations.

        He's completed 45 of 63 passes for 546 yards and two touchdowns and has two TD runs. And Carroll keeps heaping on the praise.

        “He is flying out of the gate at a 72 percent completion rate and leading his team to two strong wins,” Carroll said. “He is doing everything that he can and that generally follows the success of a team. If we keep doing that, Carson is going to be recognized as one of the best players in America.

        “He's talented enough to do that, talented enough to be a high first-round draft pick. I'm thrilled about it and I'll talk to anyone about it.”

        Palmer guided the Trojans on a late drive against Auburn and scored the go-ahead touchdown on a sneak with 1:26 remaining for a 24-17 win. Last Saturday, completed 22-of-30 for 244 yards in a 40-3 romp over Colorado — the Buffaloes' worst home defeat in 19 years.

        USC dominated Colorado with a balanced offense — Sultan McCullough rushed for 110 yards — and a defense that gave up 61 yards, the fewest allowed by a Trojans' defense since Oregon State had 43 in 1952.

        The Trojans, who have climbed from 20th in the preseason poll to No. 11, play at No. 25 Kansas State in a match of unbeatens on Saturday.

        Asked about higher expectations for the Trojans, Carroll said: “We just have to stay with our routine. Right now, it's about habits. How we prepare, focus and practice every day is important. That's how you build for a great performance on the weekend.”

        The Trojans, already strong and deep at tailback, may get an added boost this weekend, with Justin Fargas, a senior transfer from Michigan who had to sit out last season, expected to get playing time against the Wildcats. Fargas carried once for 4 yards against Colorado.

        “He has to have a good week of practice to get his playing time. We will rotate him in,” Carroll said. “We look forward to his playing. I'm excited to see the guy get his chance.”

        USC and Kansas State will meet for the second season a row, and just the second time ever. The Wildcats beat the Trojans 10-6 last year at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

        “They gave us all we could handle last year and we couldn't get the win,” Carroll said. “This is a game that is going to give us a good feel for what we are all about. If we are fortunate enough to win, we will feel pretty good about the start of this season.”

        Penn St

        STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — There's a change in Happy Valley. For the first time in three years, the football talk is about a Big Ten title or BCS bowl, not rebuilding or recruiting or the possible retirement of Joe Paterno.

        A 33-point win over Nebraska can do wonders for a team's confidence.

        “I don't think anybody treats it as just another game. We know how important that game was,” center Joe Iorio said. “The confidence level has gone up tremendously.”

        Not too much, Paterno hopes. He's trying to keep his No. 15 Nittany Lions (2-0) focused on Louisiana Tech (2-1), which visits Happy Valley on Saturday.

        “We had a long meeting yesterday, and I tried to explain some things to them,” Paterno said Tuesday. “We had one or two kids on the squad, I think, who are going to have to settle down a little bit. We're not as good as they think we are.”

        Maybe, but the Nittany Lions are good. Possibly more telling than the 40-7 victory or the three interceptions was the poise Penn State showed.

        The offensive line, maligned during the last two seasons, gave up just one sack. Defenders who had been criticized for hesitant play were tackling like pros.

        “It's a different team,” Jimmy Kennedy said. “It's a different type of swagger, a different type of confidence. Penn State is back.”

        That's the part that worries Paterno. His line hasn't changed since Saturday night, when he complimented his team but insisted that no one game could make Penn State a great team.

        “I don't think one win can give you any right to swagger,” Paterno said. “I want us to be confident, I want us to be poised, I want us to understand that we can overcome different things if we hang together.”

        Paterno said was confident going into the Nebraska game — so much so that he thought his team would pull off the upset. But Louisiana Tech is a different team, Paterno said, with strong special teams and a balanced offense.

        “I thought we matched up well” against Nebraska, Paterno said. “I'm not as confident against Louisiana Tech that we match up well.”

        Paterno's words do seem to be getting through. Iorio said he and some of the other seniors were working in practice to make sure the younger players don't get too excited by the Nebraska win.

        “The big thing now is to come out and play this way every Saturday,” linebacker Gino Capone. “As excited as we are, we can't let it go to far. It was the second game.”

        Georgia

        ATHENS, Ga. — No. 8 Georgia wasn't supposed to have trouble getting to the end zone.

        Not with an experienced offensive line, a talented young quarterback, a deep group of receivers and a bruising running back.

        After two games, though, the Bulldogs have fallen flat — usually because they're tripping each other up, or missing blocks, or failing to break tackles, or dropping passes.

        “It's frustrating. It really is,” offensive tackle Jon Stinchcomb said Tuesday. “We began the season with high expectations that we would move the ball effectively and efficiently.”

        Instead, the Bulldogs (2-0) have scored only three offensive touchdowns — with considerable help from their special teams or the opponent — all in their season opener.

        “We're our own worst enemy,” coach Mark Richt said. “We've missed assignments, we've dropped balls, we've had the quarterback's foot stepped on, we haven't snapped the ball right.”

        By most standards, the Bulldogs appear to be loaded on offense:

        —The line has five senior starters, including Jon Stinchcomb.

        —Quarterback David Greene is coming off a season in which he set school records for passing yards (2,789) and touchdowns (17) by a freshman.

        —The receiving corps is one of the nation's deepest, led by Terrence Edwards — the school record holder for TD catches — and Fred Gibson, who had a scintillating freshman season.

        —Running back Musa Smith was supposedly healthy after being slowed last season by a groin injury.

        Except for Stinchcomb, no one has played up to expectations.

        The Bulldogs rank last in the SEC and 111th nationally in total yards, averaging a pitiful 250 per game.

        Greene has averaged only 118 yards passing in his first two games, with one TD and one interception. His rating of 110.31 ranks eighth in the Southeastern Conference and 74th nationally.

        Smith is averaging 104 yards a game but his longest run of the season is 14 yards. He's reached double figures with just five of his 50 carries.

        Then there's Richt, whose decision-making has come into question. The second-year coach admitted Tuesday that he made a mistake by going with freshman running back Tyson Browning when the Bulldogs got the ball at South Carolina's 12-yard line on a fumbled punt.

        Browning fumbled right back to the Gamecocks on his first college carry.

        “If I had it to do again, would I have Musa in the game? Yes,” Richt said.

        Also, Richt may have rattled Greene's confidence by starting the season with a two-quarterback system.

        Redshirt freshman D.J. Shockley was impressive in his debut against Clemson, running for one TD and throwing for another. Last week, though, he was 0-for-3 passing and broke a bone in his left foot while running in the fourth quarter, knocking him out for 4-to-6 weeks.

        With talk of a quarterback controversy put on hold, Richt conceded that Greene might benefit from knowing he's the full-time starter again.

        “I've very confident we're going to straighten this thing out,” Richt said. “Hopefully this week we can begin that trend.”

        Indiana

        BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Gerry DiNardo won't tolerate loafers.

        What he'd like to do, though, is eliminate more of the “loafs” he sees each week on film, and apparently the Hoosiers are making progress.

        “It's a toughness thing,” said DiNardo, the Hoosiers' first-year coach. “No one comes out of a game with no 'loafs.' We didn't have too many guys in double digits before Saturday, but we did cut down on them.”

        DiNardo borrowed the term “loaf” from Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy, who used it to describe when a player slows down during a play or when a player is passed by someone else.

        DiNardo insisted that it did not describe how someone was performing, but rather that it's a player's natural reaction to slow down when a play is almost over.

        He said that one of the Hoosiers' top defensive players, whom he didn't identify, graded out with “loafs” on 8 percent of the plays he was involved in before Saturday. He reduced that against Kentucky.

        To eliminate those problems, DiNardo made it a point of emphasis and was pleased with the results.

        Indiana allowed Kentucky to score just 27 points, seven of which came courtesy of an interception return for a touchdown. The Hoosiers also limited Kentucky to 144 yards rushing after allowing Utah to run for 386 yards a week earlier.

        “Our goal against Kentucky was to cut down by one-half the 'loafs' we had against Utah,” DiNardo said. “We achieved that in 90 percent of the cases.”

        DiNardo's intention now is to keep the emphasis on improving those numbers.

        “Sometimes, you don't really know how hard you can play,” he said.

        ———

        FRESH START: The Hoosiers already have used seven of their 20 scholarship freshmen in games this season, and there's no guarantee that Indiana won't use more.

        DiNardo has been pleased with what he's seen.

        On offense, fullback John Pannozzo already has scored three touchdowns and guard Adam Hines has started the last two games after winning the job from junior Anthony Oakley.

        On defense, cornerback Damien Jones and linebacker John Kerr each have 19 tackles and are tied for fourth, while linebacker Kyle Killion has 10 tackles and forced one fumble.

        DiNardo isn't planning any changes, and said Tuesday that more freshmen may have to be used because of the Hoosiers' lack of depth.

        “I've kind of eliminated the future from my thinking because you have to get things turned around pretty quickly nowadays in college football,” DiNardo said. “The other thing is that competition makes us better and if you're an older guy on the team and you eliminate the freshmen, all you have to do is show up and play.”

        ———

        OK MARKS: Quarterback Gibran Hamdan completed 13 of 38 passes for 234 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in his first college start Saturday.

        Yes, DiNardo thought Hamdan could have played better, but he played well enough to earn another start this week against Central Michigan.

        “The turnovers are an issue, and I'd say he's got to work hard to eliminate those,” DiNardo said. “I think he handled the pressure very good and he was very efficient, but he's got to work on the turnovers.”

        Hamdan, who was sore after getting hit time and again Saturday, agreed.

        But this week will have a slightly different feel for Hamdan.

        “It's different coming off of a game you started and you made some mistakes, some well-documented mistakes,” he said. “I have to learn from what I did, but the important thing is to learn and move on.”

        ———

        INJURY UPDATE: Killion, who injured his knee in Saturday's game, may not be hurt as badly as first thought.

        DiNardo said initially that Killion was likely lost for the season. On Tuesday, the prognosis changed.

        “I don't know yet, but my feeling is that I was wrong,” DiNardo said. “We won't know for a couple days but there is a chance he could play this week.”

        Defensive end Derek Barnett injured his ankle and could play this week, and quarterback Tommy Jones, who didn't practice last week because of a concussion, was cleared to practice Tuesday.

        ———

        NOTABLE: If Indiana defeats Central Michigan on Saturday, DiNardo would become the first Hoosier coach to go 2-2 in his first season since Lee Corso in 1973. ... The Chippewas' news release this week listed the Hoosiers at 0-3, something DiNardo joked would be locker room material. ... Indiana is 24-4-1 all-time against Mid-American Conference teams. The Hoosiers have won 12 straight against the MAC, with their last loss coming to Miami (Ohio) on Sept. 24, 1977. ... Hoosiers secondary coach Curt Mallory knows something about Central Michigan. Mallory, the son of former Hoosier coach Bill Mallory, coached the Chippewas' secondary last year.

       



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