Evans' patience pays off
It takes a special brand of patience for a wide receiver to play 55 minutes without making a catch. Wisconsin senior Lee Evans has a degree in patience. He spent 16 months recuperating from a knee injury in April 2002. He had decided to stay for his senior year, then blew his knee out on his last play in the spring game. He watched two NFL drafts come and go without him.
Compared to that, playing against Ohio State's outstanding corner, Chris Gamble, is an ice cream sundae.
You can't hurry knee rehab, and you can't hurry when that one big play will come. Evans' only catch of the night, a 79-yard out-and-up from backup junior quarterback Matt Schabert, became the margin of victory in Wisconsin's 17-10 defeat of the defending national champions.
Between the Buckeyes' effective mix of zone and man coverage, with Gamble usually drawing the assignment on Evans, the 5-foot-11, 196-pound wideout hadn't even had a ball thrown his way.
"He's a bigger corner, 6-2, 200 pounds," Evans said of Gamble. "He's a big, strong corner, and he can run."
Coach Barry Alvarez grew conservative, nursing a 10-3 lead with a backup quarterback. Starter Jim Sorgi went out of the game after Ohio State linebacker Robert Reynolds, judging by a TV replay, tried to do a pushup on Sorgi's Adam's apple. The injury cost Sorgi his voice, so Schabert replaced him. Alvarez kept him on a short leash. Once the Buckeyes tied the score, 10-10, with 6:09 to play, the Badgers needed two plays to ditch their conservatism. On second-and-nine from the 21, Evans lined up wide right. He ran a basic out pattern toward the right sideline, except for one thing. When Gamble closed on him, Evans turned downfield and took off.
"You kind of see whether he bites or not out of your peripheral vision, " Evans said. "It was definitely a good feeling to see him bite. You get a chance to get behind him. When I made the move and saw him bite, All I was thinking was, 'Is the ball coming up?' 'Shabes' threw a great ball and hit me in stride."
Evans had at least five yards on Gamble, and safety Will Allen didn't get over in time to compensate. Evans has made only 31 catches in seven games, but six have gone for touchdowns. He's averaging 19.23 yards per catch.
All the world loves the underdog, which means that the Badgers had a lot of people cheering for them. The victory ended Ohio State's winning streak at 19, and set off a celebration in Madison that may still be going. Evans, after sleeping most of the afternoon Sunday to recover, had already moved on. With Purdue coming to Camp Randall on Saturday, Evans said, Wisconsin has no choice.
"If we bask in the glory of this win," he said, "we'll get beat."
Don't stare at the Big Ten standings too long. They will make your head hurt.
Wisconsin's defeat of Ohio State, along with Michigan's 38-35 comeback victory over Minnesota, have thrown the race into early disarray. Seven teams have no more than one conference loss, which isn't unusual this early in league play. What's unusual is that all seven are ranked. A tripleheader Saturday should bring the race into sharper focus. No. 15 Purdue plays at No. 12 Wisconsin, No. 9 Iowa plays at No. 8 Ohio State, and No. 18 Michigan State goes to No. 19 Minnesota.
In case of a tie at the end of the season, keep in mind that the Big Ten tiebreaker favors teams without nonconference losses. This season, the Buckeyes, Hawkeyes and Golden Gophers had no nonconference losses.
More important, an analysis of the schedules of the seven contenders indicates that Michigan has the easiest road to the Rose Bowl. Of the Wolverines' five remaining Big Ten games, only three of them are against ranked teams, and two of those (Purdue, Ohio State) are in the Big House. Michigan must play at Michigan State, and Wisconsin isn't on the schedule.
It's hard to believe, but Michigan hasn't been to the Rose Bowl since it won the national championship six years ago. Though Tournament of Roses officials can't say it, they must be thrilled that Wisconsin beat Ohio State, which had been the last undefeated team in the conference. No Big Ten team has been to the Rose Bowl since Purdue went three seasons ago, and now it's less likely that any of them will be spirited away to the BCS Championship Game.
Forget a new quarterback at Florida State, or a change at tailback. Bobby Bowden said Sunday that the Seminoles need a new weatherman.
"We had a plan, and the plan was based on normal conditions," Bowden said one day after Florida State lost to archrival Miami, 22-14, the coach's 17th loss to the Hurricanes in his 28 seasons in Tallahassee. "The weather report I kept getting was it would rain (Saturday) morning and be clear by game time. Under those circumstances, we felt like we would go with our game plan."
The Seminoles planned to throw downfield. They wanted to throw quickly into the flat and give their speedy backs and receivers open space. Game time came and went; the rain stayed. The plan went awry the minute that Chris Rix picked up a wet ball.
Without Rix being able to throw effectively, Miami stacked up against the run. With the Doak Campbell Stadium field needing a big dose of Drano, the Seminole backs couldn't get any traction.
"Instead of just being wet, it was puddles, puddles," Bowden said. "Picture (Lorenzo) Booker and some of those guys trying to run in puddles. That's not them. They want a fast track. ... You couldn't get outside. From the hashmarks out, we were nearly dead. That's a shame, for as much as we throw flares and try to get those speedy backs out there and for as much as we planned to use the speedy backs this weeks, it was just nearly nullified by the weather."
Bowden also explained the problems that a beat-up, inexperienced offensive line presented on a team that suddenly needed a power running game. They are not excuses. They are explanations, all valid, except for one mitigating circumstance.
It rained on Miami's side of the field, too.
The fact is, the Hurricanes' offense only generated six of the 22 points. Free safety Sean Taylor returned an interception of Rix 50 yards for a touchdown. Miami converted two turnovers into field goals, and got a third field goal after recovering an accidental pooch kickoff. Miami couldn't move the ball, either. The difference is that Miami got ahead early, and didn't have to play catch-up in conditions more conducive to catch-cold.
"In that kind of weather," Bowden said, "whoever scored first had a huge advantage because they don't have to throw to win. If you're playing that game over, you'd pay a little more attention to field position."
The rainstorm eventually ended, and the loss that came with it didn't generate the storm of criticism that the nine losses over the last two seasons did. Florida State is a lot closer to what it used to be than it has been the last two seasons. Nevertheless, you get the feeling that if you're playing that game over, Miami would find a way to win again.
Mr. Smith Goes To Utah
The rise of Utah to the top of the Mountain West Conference has coincided with the rise of sophomore quarterback Alex Smith. In the Utes' 26-7 defeat of San Diego State, on Saturday night, Smith completed 17-of-22 passes for 273 yards and three second-half touchdowns. He has yet to throw an interception in 115 attempts this season.
Under first-year coach Urban Meyer, the Utes are 5-1 and, at 3-0, in first place in the MWC, a half-game ahead of Air Force. The key to Utah's success lies with a 6-foot-4, 205-pound La Mesa, Calif., native who came into the season known, if he was known at all, for being the nephew of Michigan State coach John L. Smith.
Alex Smith began August practice as a backup to junior Brett Elliot. Just when it appeared that Smith would win the starting job, he suffered a disc injury and missed 10 days of practice. Elliot started the first two games, but he suffered a broken left wrist in the 28-26 loss at Texas A&M.
"We had some concerns about Alex," offensive coordinator Mike Sanford said. "There was some history there that he had played well. When he played in the Cal game (a 31-24 Utah victory on Sept. 11), we were awful. We put the game more on (tailback) Brandon Warfield's shoulders. Since then, Alex has been more comfortable. He has improved his decision-making."
Against California and Colorado State, Smith threw very little downfield. In those two victories, Smith completed 35-of-48 passes for a total of 324 yards and no touchdowns. In the 17-13 victory over Oregon on Oct. 3, Smith led the offense through the harrowing final 2:21. From the Ducks' 35-yard-line, nursing a lead, Utah needed to keep the clock moving. Smith threw a downfield incompletion on first down, and Warfield ran out of bounds on second down.
On first down, Sanford said, "Hey, they got everybody on the line of scrimmage. Let's take a shot. Warfield tried to run around a block instead of getting upfield. He tried to explain, but he got graded a double-minus. It was just a stupid play."
The Utes drove down to the 1-yard-line, failed to score, left 32 seconds on the clock but survived. Smith, Warfield and the entire team fared better against the Aztecs. The MWC championship, expected to land either at Colorado State or Air Force, may have a new destination.
Wisconsin athletic director Pat Richter plans to speak to Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany on Monday concerning Ohio State linebacker Robert Reynolds and his blow to the Adam's apple of Wisconsin quarterback Jim Sorgi. By the way, earlier this year, Delany launched a leaguewide push for sportsmanship. It would be a surprise if Delany considered Reynolds' apology on Sunday sufficient. It's disappointing that coach Jim Tressel hasn't announced harsh discipline. ... Kent State quarterback Josh Cribbs ran for, threw and caught touchdowns Saturday, the first I-A player to do that in one game in three seasons, and Clemson wideout Derrick Hamilton came close. Hamilton caught a 19-yard touchdown, ran once for 52 yards and completed a pass for 29 yards in the Tigers' 30-27 overtime upset of Virginia. ... Two undefeateds won't meet until Miami plays Virginia Tech on Nov. 1. This Saturday, we get the other end the spectrum. East Carolina (0-6) plays at Army (0-6). ... One more key Miami stat from Saturday, thanks to Bob Thomas of the Jacksonville Times-Union. Florida State hasn't sacked a Miami quarterback since 1999. ... Miami athletic director Paul Dee points out that none of the member conferencs with a playoff has ever had both teams in the championship game get BCS bids.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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