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Looking Back Before Moving Forward: Week 2
by Scott Spreitzer - 09/13/2005
The More Things Change..: Almost one year ago there was talk of when Dave Wannstedt was going to be fired. Have things changed that much in a year? Then, Wannstedt was head coach of the Dolphins, a team that had underachieved while he was there. There was talk of him being fired in 2003, but he kept his job for another year. Well he was fired and is the new head coach at Pitt. However, despite inheriting a lot of returning starters, plus an experienced QB in Tyler Palko, the Panthers have been the biggest underachievers in college football thus far. An embarrassing defensive performance (at home) as a 4-point favorite against Notre Dame was followed by a 16-10 loss to Ohio - on national TV. That's not going to help the recruiting process in the offseason! Wannstedt won't get fired this season, but it's clear early on that this guy's resume is weak. The Bears did nothing when he was head coach, and the Dolphins had a reputation for self-destructing down the stretch, despite a great defense that Wannstedt inherited from Jimmy Johnson. Pitt's 268 total yards and 3 turnovers against Ohio shows this guy has little talent for offense - just like his plodding, anemic Dolphin teams. This week Pitt plays at Nebraska in a matchup of former NFL head coaches. It's interesting that Wannstedt just lost to a team coached by Frank Solich, the former Nebraska coach, and now he takes on the man who replaced Solich in Lincoln. Do you think the Cornhusker faithful will accept their new and unpopular coach losing to a team that lost to a MAC bottom-feeder -- coached by one of their beloved? This may be THEE most important game of the Callahan era.
Storm the Field: Speaking of Pitt, there's an old betting adage: "Wager against the team off a huge upset where the fans storm the field in jubilation, or tear down the goalposts." Ohio's upset brought thousands of fans onto the field. This week Ohio has a few extra days to prepare, but they'll need it: at Virginia Tech! Ouch. Ohio is 1-6 ATS its last 7 road games.
Wake Up the Echoes: Charlie Weis is the talk of college football's first two weeks. While his reputation is of imaginative, wide-open spread offenses, what has also been impressive is Notre Dame's defense. The Irish dominated Pitt defensively in the opener, then pushed a talented Michigan offense all over the field. The Irish have speed in the secondary, good run stuffers and quick linebackers. Michigan was only 5-of-18 on third down and ND won the turnover battle 2-0. Slick offensive coordinators who become head coaches are often labeled "finesse" which goes with "flashy." However, watching Notre Dame under Weis it's clear the Irish are a tough, physical team on both sides of the ball. On Michigan's final fourth-and-ten pass on a drive that could have tied the game, the Michigan tight end appeared to take his eye off the ball and dropped it just as a Notre Dame defender approached. The Irish played an aggressive, hard-hitting defense all game, and it's obvious they are an intimidating unit. This is obviously something Weis learned while working with Bill Belichick, whose defenses have always been physical.
Statistical Obfuscation: A what? All right, so that's just a fancy way to say that stats can lie. Don't be fooled by Washington QB Isiah Stanback's yardage totals against Cal Saturday. His touch and decision making is awful, and he often threw Hail Mary passes, one of which was caught for a long TD on the first play. Ignore it. The Huskies have no defense or quarterback.
Conservatism Kills: Ohio State coach Jim Tressel believes he has two capable QBs in Troy Smith and Justin Zwick. However, the Buckeyes didn't take advantage of tremendous field position all game against Texas and it came back to bite them in the end. The offense moved the ball better under Smith and he led them to their only TD, on a beautiful pass, but Zwick got the call on Ohio State's final two crucial drives. They ended up with no points, one long missed field goal and a fumble (by Zwick). Two QBs worked with Waterfield and Van Brocklin 50 years ago, but it's usually best to settle on one guy.
The Speedy Golden Gophers: In last week's column I mentioned that Minnesota is a team built for speed as it plays its home games on artificial turf. This is important if you like to play totals, as Minnesota's offense stumbles often on grass, but is unstoppable on turf. On Saturday Minnesota was at home (on turf), and the total was 59 against Colorado State. There were 52 points scored in the first half! Minnesota scored 42 in the first half, and the game easily sailed over the total in a 56-24 Gopher win.
Matchups: I like examining individual and team matchups when I handicap. Strengths against weaknesses, such as a power running team against an opponent with an undersized defensive line, or a club with a good quarterback against a team with a soft secondary. My free play Saturday was Wyoming, at home against Monroe. The reasons, which I detailed, were Wyoming's veteran QB and speed at wide receiver, which I knew the Monroe secondary wouldn't be able to keep up with. I was concerned as the line went from -17 on the Cougars to -21 during the week, but it made no difference as Wyoming ended up with a 2-to-1 edge in total yards in a 38-0 rout.