Commentary

Dash of fakes and faux teams

Originally Published: September 21, 2010
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (mascot anger counseling sold separately at Ohio [1]):

Faking it

Get well, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio (2). And thanks for the inspiration. The fabulously nervy fake field goal you called to beat Notre Dame 34-31 in OT convinced The Dash to make this week's column an Ode to Fakery.

From Jay Gatsby to Meg Ryan ("I'll have what she's having"), America has always been fascinated by a good faker. Occasionally we are outraged (see: Jeter, Derek). Sometimes we are saddened, like by Kevin Hart (3), the Nevada high school player who in 2008 fabricated a scholarship offer from California and staged a commitment ceremony.

But we are never bored. Someone who can pull off a really good ruse is not dull.

And quite frankly, until Saturday The Dash was convinced Dantonio was dull. But clearly, underneath that buttoned-down exterior is a man with a gambler's soul. He may not be Chris Petersen (4) when it comes to embracing football gadgetry, but that was as brassy a fake kick as The Dash has seen in college ball.

[+] EnlargeAaron Bates
Matt Cashore/US PresswireAaron Bates tricked the Irish with a TD toss off a fake field-goal attempt.

When Dantonio ordered up "Little Giants," as the pass from holder/punter/former high school quarterback Aaron Bates to tight end Charlie Gantt is called in the Spartans playbook, there had to be a collective puckering on the Spartans sideline.

Given the second-guessing that accompanies every decision in modern football, calls like the one Dantonio made are not easy.

"They're always great when they work," said Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops (5), who has some memorable fake kicks on his résumé. "I've been on the other end, where they don't work and you look like a knucklehead."

And the stress level when you've made such a call, and you're waiting to see it executed?

"Your heart's in your stomach," Stoops said.

Maybe that was the problem for Dantonio, who suffered a mild heart attack after the Notre Dame victory. Fortunately, he is expected to make a full recovery. Unfortunately, his physical problems overshadowed the call of a lifetime.

"I made the call 'Little Giants' and I said a little prayer," Dantonio said Saturday night.

The annexation of East Lansing ensued.

The Dash ranks that play among the coolest fake kicks ever. It didn't carry the weight of the Saints' onside against the Colts in the Super Bowl, but it's worthy of inclusion in the newly constructed Dash Fake Kick Hall of Fame.

Other inductees in the Faker's Hall (style points, stakes, creativity, risk, and impact of the play all are factored in):

Puntrooskie (6).
Date: Sept. 17, 1988
Place: Clemson's Memorial Stadium
Perpetrated by: Florida State

Skinny: The No. 10 Seminoles and No. 3 Tigers were tied at 21 with 90 seconds left when Florida State lined up in punt formation on fourth-and-4 from its own 21-yard line. FSU snapped it to upback Dayne Williams, who slipped the ball between the legs of LeRoy Butler, who ran 78 yards to set up the winning field goal. Noles went on to finish 11-1 and were ranked third in the nation.

Phil Brady's run (7).
Date: Jan. 2, 2006
Place: Georgia Dome
Perpetrated by: West Virginia

Skinny: Playing the relocated Sugar Bowl in Georgia's backyard, the underdog Mountaineers shocked the Bulldogs by scoring the game's first 28 points. But in the final minutes West Virginia was clinging to a 38-35 lead and desperate not to give the ball back to Georgia. So on a fourth-and-6 from the Georgia 48 with 1:45 left, coach Rich Rodriguez called for punter Brady to take off and run. He gained 10 yards, and West Virginia was able to run out the clock and win the game.

Blake Ferguson's pass (8).
Date: Sept. 6, 2003
Place: Bryant-Denny Stadium
Perpetrated by: Oklahoma

Skinny: The No. 3 Sooners were leading Alabama 13-10 in the third quarter, but had lost momentum on the road. With the Bryant-Denny crowd roaring and Oklahoma facing a fourth-and-11 at its own 31, punter Blake Ferguson pulled up and threw an inartistic pass to reserve defensive back Michael Thompson. He gained 22 yards on the play, and Jason White threw a 47-yard touchdown on the next play. Oklahoma won 20-13 on its way to playing LSU for the BCS title.

[+] EnlargeColt David, Matt Flynn
AP Photo/Alex BrandonLSU's Colt David and Matt Flynn teamed up to trick South Carolina in 2007.

Matt Flynn's blind toss (9).
Date: Sept. 22, 2007
Place: Tiger Stadium
Perpetrated by: LSU

Skinny: The No. 2-ranked Tigers were leading No. 12 South Carolina 14-7 when they lined up for a 32-yard field goal in the second quarter. Holder Matt Flynn took the snap, but instead of setting the ball down he flipped a no-look lob over his shoulder to kicker Colt David, who circled around the end and scored untouched. LSU went on to win 28-16 on its way to the national title.

Oregon's option (10).
Date: Sept. 9, 2006
Place: Bulldog Stadium
Perpetrated by: Oregon

Skinny: The visiting Ducks were tied with Fresno State at 24 with less than five minutes to play when they lined up for a short field goal. Coach Mike Bellotti called for a fake, and holder Brady Leaf ran to his left. When the defense closed in, Leaf pitched the ball out to kicker Paul Martinez, who strolled in for the winning touchdown.

Jemalle Cornelius' run (11).
Date: Dec. 2, 2006
Place: Georgia Dome
Perpetrated by: Florida

Skinny: After Chris Leak threw a pick-six, the Gators shockingly trailed underdog Arkansas 21-17 in the third quarter. On its next possession, Florida went three-and-out, except that Urban Meyer (12) eschewed the "out" part of that and called a fake punt on fourth-and-10 from his own 15-yard line. Cornelius peeled back from his position on the right side of the line, took a reverse from punter Eric Wilbur and raced 17 yards for a first down -- spurring CBS play-by-play man Verne Lundquist to shout, "How … do … you do!" Although Florida again stalled, its subsequent punt was fumbled by Arkansas and recovered in the end zone for a Gators touchdown. Florida never again trailed, won the game and won the national title.

Of course, Meyer has his own wing of the Faker's Hall. The momentum-turning fake punt his Gators ran at Tennessee on Saturday now makes him 8-for-8 at Florida in converting fake punts into first downs.

Thus it also stands to reason that his protégé, Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen (13), would know his way around the faker's block. He made the masterful call to onside kick after scoring in the third quarter against Auburn earlier this year, and kicker Sean Brauchle (14) brilliantly kicked a slow roller to himself. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, they couldn't do anything with it and lost 17-14.

Anna Chapman
AP PhotoDashette Anna Chapman knows something about carrying out a fake.

The Dash has first-person experience with one more great fake, even though it didn't occur in college. This was in high school at Air Academy, when The Dash was playing for Gary Barnett, before he went on to win the Big Ten at Northwestern and the Big 12 at Colorado. (If you think he had most high-school coaches completely outmaneuvered, you're right.)

We were playing in the Colorado state playoffs and were decided underdogs against Pueblo South, so Barnett loaded up the playbook with gadgets. Among them was what he called an "Aggie Punt." That featured our punter -- who also was our quarterback -- throwing a high lob downfield from punt formation, instead of kicking it.

To the punt returner, it resembled a normal kick. You can imagine his surprise when one of our gunners sprinted downfield, jumped up in front of him and caught it for a long gain. We won easily.

To this day, The Dash has wondered why nobody else tries that one. Especially at younger levels.

Surely, such subterfuge would appeal to Dashette Anna Chapman (15). The seemingly normal New Yorker who was busted this summer for being a Russian spy carried out quite the fake.

The art of the fake play

[+] EnlargeRyan Mallett
Paul Abell/US PresswireArkansas' Ryan Mallett is adept at selling the play-action fake.

Not all fakery is for kickers. Quarterbacks have to be good at it too, selling play-action fakes to fool the defense. Five of the best in college football:

Ryan Mallett (17), Arkansas. Ask the Georgia Bulldogs about the hidden-ball fake Mallett put on them on third-and-1 Saturday from the Arkansas 43. Everyone but UGA VIII bit on the fake, leaving Chris Gragg wide open for a 57-yard touchdown.

Kellen Moore (18), Boise State. Coach's son had a Peyton Manning Lite red zone moment against Virginia Tech, play-faking to lure the safety and then hitting Austin Pettis behind him for the winning touchdown.

Greg McElroy (19), Alabama. You'd honor the run fake to Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, too, if you were on defense. But McElroy makes it convincing.

Colin Kaepernick (20), Nevada. Different kind of run-fake guy, riding the zone-read handoff until the last second and then taking off himself. California still trying to figure out that play from Friday night.

Tim Jefferson (21), Air Force. Another option-read guy, but the more old-fashioned version from under center. Jefferson's ball skills are a big reason why the Falcons lead the nation in rushing offense.

Faux 3-0?

Are these guys fakes? Or for real? Teams that are unbeaten and unranked in either poll:

[+] EnlargeDaniel Thomas
John Rieger/US PresswireDaniel Thomas is averaging 184 rushing yards per game.

Kansas State (22).

What's to like: Running back Daniel Thomas is an emerging star. He led the Big 12 in rushing last year and nobody noticed. This year he's second in the nation at 184 yards per game, just behind Michigan water bug Denard Robinson. Wildcats' early record for once not built completely on the backs of the downtrodden; they have two victories over big-six opponents UCLA and Iowa State.

What's to doubt: Wildcats don't throw it very well, and have been below average defensively.

Reality check: Nebraska visits the Little Apple on Oct. 7 (ESPN, 7:30 p.m. ET).

Verdict: Should be just good enough to go bowling for the first time since 2006.

Kentucky (23). What's to like: The Wildcats are the only team in the country to have played three games without committing a turnover. They have dynamic playmakers in receiver/returner Randall Cobb and running back Derrick Locke. And they're starting quickly, averaging 27.3 points in the first half.

What's to doubt: The best team Kentucky has beaten (Louisville) ranks 87th in the Sagarin ratings.

Reality check: Saturday in The Swamp. The Cats haven't beaten Florida since 1986.

Verdict: Kentucky could conceivably get to eight wins this season if it beats nemesis Tennessee for the first time since '84.

[+] EnlargeColin Kaepernick
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireColin Kaepernick and the Wolf Pack have raced to a 3-0 start.

Nevada (24). What's to like: The Wolf Pack (two words) ran up gaudy offensive numbers against weak competition the first two weeks -- but then backed it up with 52 points and 497 yards against Cal. Quarterback Kaepernick already has nearly 1,100 yards total offense and has accounted for 13 touchdowns.

What's to doubt: Nevada hasn't left Reno yet this year. Six of its remaining 10 games are on the road, and the Pack are just 16-24 away from home the past six seasons.

Reality check: At BYU on Saturday. The Cougars aren't very good, but winning in Provo would prove something.

Verdict: Nevada should be no worse than 9-2 when Boise State visits for a potentially huge game Nov. 26 (ESPN2, 10:15 p.m. ET).

NC State (25). What's to like: After throwing 11 interceptions last year, quarterback Russell Wilson is pick-free so far in 2010. The opportunistic Wolfpack (one word) has outscored opponents 72-21 in the first half.

What's to doubt: NC State hasn't run the ball with consistency. And there are plenty of challenging games to come.

Reality check: At Georgia Tech on Saturday (ESPN, noon ET). Wolfpack are 1-11 in their past 12 ACC road games outside the state of North Carolina.

Verdict: NC State will finish with its first winning record since 2005.

Northwestern (26). What's to like: First-year starting quarterback Dan Persa is playing great, completing a national-best 82 percent of his passes and ranking second nationally in efficiency. Wildcats already have won twice on the road, beating fellow eggheads Vanderbilt and Rice, and the entire first half of the schedule is user-friendly.

What's to doubt: Averaging just 3.2 yards per carry, which won't work in league play.

Reality check: Home against Michigan State on Oct. 23.

Verdict: Northwestern will win eight or more games for the third year in a row.

[+] EnlargeAl Golden
Howard Smith/US PresswireAl Golden and the Owls enter Happy Valley at 3-0.

Temple (27). What's to like: Running completely contrary to school history, the Owls are finding ways to win the close ones. They scored 16 fourth-quarter points to come from behind and beat Connecticut, scored 18 in the fourth to rally past Villanova , and beat Central Michigan in overtime.

What's to doubt: There's not a lot offense there, especially in the passing department.

Reality check: Saturday at Penn State.

Verdict: In a Mid-American Conference that looks even weaker than usual, Temple could be much the best.

Texas A&M (28) . What's to like: First time the Aggies were challenged this season, they scored 21 fourth-quarter points to rally and beat Florida International.

What's to doubt: Why did the Aggies need to score 21 fourth-quarter points to beat Florida International? They haven't played anyone yet ranked in the Sagarin top 100.

Reality check: JerryWorld game against Arkansas on Oct. 9.

Verdict: Quarterback Jerrod Johnson hasn't yet played up to his billing as the best QB in the Big 12. If he doesn't, the Aggies will have a third straight losing season.

Faux 2-0?

Four more unranked unbeatens of uncertain strength, who already have had a bye week:

Boston College (29). What's to like: Eagles have a successful pedigree. They're accustomed to winning. And the run defense has been stout, allowing just one run of 20 yards.

What's to doubt: Beating Weber State by 18 and Kent State by 13 impresses no one. BC might be stopping the run, but it isn't doing much running of its own.

Reality check: Virginia Tech visits Saturday. Eagles have lost the past two meetings by a combined 52 points.

Verdict: This could be BC's lowest victory total in a decade.

[+] EnlargePat Hill
Douglas C. Pizac/US PresswirePat Hill's strong defense has the Bulldogs off to a 2-0 start.

Fresno State (30). What's to like: Bulldogs have been a strong second-half team, outscoring opponents 38-7. Beating Utah State by 17 on the road looks better than Oklahoma beating Utah State by seven at home.

What's to doubt: The first halves haven't been so hot. And the offensive production has been fitful.

Reality check: At Ole Miss on Saturday. The Rebels aren't very good, but beating an SEC team on the road would be a big credibility boost.

Verdict: Fresno could be -- heck, should be -- 8-0 before facing Nevada and Boise State in a six-day span in November.

Indiana (31). What's to like: Quarterback Ben Chappell has been hot, completing 74 percent of his passes and refraining from throwing an interception.

What's to doubt: The competition has been terrible: FCS Towson and Western Kentucky, which hasn't won a game since 2008.

Reality check: Michigan comes to Bloomington on Oct. 2 (ESPNU, 3:30 p.m. ET).

Verdict: The Dash doesn't see a winning record for the Hoosiers.

Rutgers (32). What's to like: Scarlet Knights have been tough defensively, allowing only seven points and 259 yards per game.

What's to doubt: Touted sophomore quarterback Tom Savage remains a haphazard passer, completing just 50 percent of his throws. And even against soft competition, the running game has not been overpowering.

Reality check: Rutgers hosts The Remains of North Carolina on Saturday (ESPNU, 3:30 p.m. ET).

Verdict: If Rutgers reaches bowl eligibility, it's either attributable to a weak schedule or a bad league.

Boise bus -- still in gear

Bad as Week 2 was for Dash fave Boise State (33) -- no team has ever lost more while not playing -- Week 3 was pretty good. We have this update on the Boise bus route to Glendale:

Start with the Broncos themselves. They pounded Wyoming 51-6 in Laramie -- a more impressive performance on the road than Texas had at home against the Cowboys. After two games, Boise's schedule strength is No. 29 in the Sagarin ratings. That ranks as the toughest to date of anyone in the Top 25.

And with the Broncos dependent upon their competitors to boost their strength of schedule, they got a lot of help.

Boise opponents went 7-4. Virginia Tech got up off the mat and beat East Carolina by 22 points. Oregon State, this Saturday's opponent, beat Louisville. Idaho thumped UNLV. Biggest of all, Nevada trashed California. And as for opponents' opponents, James Madison is ranked No. 37 by Sagarin.

If Nevada and Fresno State have big seasons and enter the Top 25 by November, it will give Boise the opportunity for a couple more quality wins. Bottom line: Stay on the bus. It's a long season.

Dear Big Ten: All three phases, guys

This has the makings of a good year in the Big Ten. It looks stronger at the top than it has been in quite some time, and solid in the middle as well. But the league has gotten off to a strangely inept start in special teams. Among the many kicking-game problems in the Midwest:

[+] EnlargeLamar Miller
AP PhotoMiami's Lamar Miller torched the Buckeyes on a kickoff return.

Ohio State (34) ranks 117th nationally in net punting, in no small part because it surrendered an 88-yard punt return for a touchdown against Miami. The Buckeyes also are last in the league in kickoff coverage, in no small part because they gave up a kickoff return touchdown to the Hurricanes as well.

Iowa (35) lost to Arizona on Saturday largely because it gave up a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, had a punt blocked to set up a touchdown and also had an extra point blocked.

Wisconsin (36) surrendered a kickoff-return touchdown to Arizona State and another return to the 1-yard line. At least the Badgers made the tackle there on the final play of the first half, or they would have lost to the underdog Sun Devils. On the positive side, Wisconsin also blocked an extra point in a one-point victory.

Michigan (37) ranks last in America in punt returns. The Wolverines have made just 1 of 5 field goals. And they had a punt blocked Saturday by Massachusetts.

Minnesota (38) gave up a kickoff-return touchdown to USC on Saturday.

With results like that, the rest of America is going to go back to questioning the league's collective speed. If you don't like it, Big Ten, then tackle a kick returner or two in space. Or break a few returns (the league has returned only one punt and one kickoff for scores).

Putting out an APB for ...

... Whoever invented the high-bounce onside kick (39). In keeping with the theme of the week, The Dash wants to find the first kicker or coach to figure out that angling a kick into the ground and ricocheting it high into the air is the best way to recover an onsides. Time was, onside kicks were low-percentage, low-altitude rollers. Sometime within the past 20 years, The Dash estimates, that changed. If anyone has information on the pioneer of the better onside kick, please apprise.

Meanwhile, The Dash is pleased to report that last week's APB subject, smashmouth Nebraska fullback Joel Makovicka, is alive and well and just finished climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. Yes, you read that right. Makovicka has a charity called Husker Hope that funds treatment and research for traumatic brain injuries, and to raise funds for the charity he and a former Nebraska cheerleader, Shari Kopf, climbed the famed mountain in Africa earlier this month. (Makovicka started the charity after his nephew, Derek Ruth, suffered a traumatic brain injury in a youth football game two years ago.)

When not climbing mountains for charity, Makovicka is part owner of several physical therapy clinics in Nebraska and also has a weekly radio show in Omaha. The Dash thanks the legion of spies -- including Joel's brother, Justin, who also played for the Cornhuskers -- for providing info.

Point after

When hungry and thirsty in Tucson, The Dash recommends a visit to Dirtbag's (40). It's a classic college bar -- which means plenty of positives and negatives, and you probably know what those are -- just off campus. Order the allegedly famous Dirtburger and Dirtfries. Thank The Dash later.

/p>

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.