A look around the Big East
Take a team-by-team look at the Big East.
How did Paul Peterson celebrate former Eagles QB Doug Flutie's 42nd birthday? Will Randy Edsall have a happy homecoming? And is Rasheed Marshall the best rushing QB in Big East history? Our Big East notebook addresses these questions and more.
Can anybody stop the WVU running game? It certainly doesn't appear that way. The Mountaineers (6-1, 2-0) have churned out 603 rushing yards the past two games, including 279 in a 27-6 home win against Syracuse last Thursday night in Morgantown. Sophomore tailback Jason Colson, who grew up near Syracuse in Rochester, had an extra jump in his step because the Orange coaching staff told him his future was on the defensive side of the ball during his senior year of high school. Using that as motivation, Colson surpassed the 100-yard mark for the second consecutive week, with a career-high 113 yards. "They didn't think I had what it takes ... I guess I showed them," Colson said. Colson, who's become the Mountaineers' go-to guy while Kay-Jay Harris nurses his way to full health, has 519 yards on just 97 carries. He and Harris have combined for 1,135 yards and a nifty average of 5.8 yards per rush. Little wonder the Mountaineers rank fifth nationally in rushing offense and appear to be hitting their stride on offense. Up next is a Rutgers team (4-3, 1-2) that's lost its past three to WVU by a combined score of 154-26. The Scarlet Knights get the Mountaineers at home, but it shouldn't matter. Can you say, blowout?Paul Peterson had another record-setting day for BC.
- Kudos to quarterback Rasheed Marshall. The Pittsburgh native became the all-time rushing leader among Big East quarterbacks Thursday night by pushing his career total to 1,607 and surpassing Donovan McNabb. It was ironic that Marshall set the mark against McNabb's former team, Syracuse. "I had a feeling it might happen that way," said Marshall, who had 87 yards on 14 carries, a week after rushing for 100-plus. Although he is known for his fancy footwork, Marshall provides much more to the WVU offense. He is required to read defenses, call plays on the fly and operate out of the spread formation. His passing numbers might not be overly impressive -- 75 of 126 for 1,047 yards with 12 TDs and four interceptions -- but he gets the job done, as evidenced by three TD passes in 12 attempts against the Orange. His ability to keep defenses guessing gives WVU the most dangerous offense in the Big East. And, should WVU run the table in the conference -- as many expect -- Marshall would have a career record of 17-2 in league play, with both losses coming to former member Miami.
- Imagine being a sub-6-foot cornerback trying to put the brakes on WVU receiver Chris Henry, who stands 6-foot-5 and leaps like an NBA basketball player. Syracuse corner Thomas Whitfield, all 5-foot-8 of him, got a first-hand glimpse into that world Thursday night -- and it wasn't pretty. Marshall lobbed a 25-yarder into the left corner of the end zone and Henry snatched the ball above the helpless Whitfield. The TD came with 53 seconds left in the first half and broke the game open at 17-0. Henry also caught a 23-yarder against the Orange, upping his season total to nine touchdowns. In just 20 career games, Henry has 19 TD receptions. Expect him to do major damage against a Rutgers team that has no depth at cornerback and ranks 107th against the pass.
With the Red Sox in the World Series and the Patriots winning at a record pace, there's not much room for Boston College in the Beantown sports culture these days. Nonetheless, the Eagles (5-2, 1-1) overcame a 20-7 halftime deficit and raced to a pulsating 24-23 win at Notre Dame last Saturday. Not even the presence of Regis Philbin, who delivered a fiery keynote speech at Friday night's pep rally at the Joyce Center ("I'm sick and tired of Boston College ... It's time they got the beating they deserve!"), could change Notre Dame's luck against the Eagles. Now, the Irish will have to wait until the series between the nation's only two Catholic Division I-A football teams resumes in South Bend, Ind., in 2007. BC's seniors, meanwhile, will depart the program having gone 4-0 against Notre Dame. The Eagles, who stubbed their toes in a 20-17 overtime loss to Pittsburgh a week earlier, are idle this weekend before playing host to Rutgers on Nov. 6. The Notre Dame win could catapult them to a solid bowl berth, if not the Big East title and BCS bid.WVU's Rasheed Marshall is now the all-time rushing leader among Big East quarterbacks.
- BC quarterback Paul Peterson commemorated Doug Flutie's 42nd birthday Saturday with a Flutie-like performance in rallying the Eagles to the win. His 30-yard TD strike to diving sophomore wideout Tony Gonzalez with 54 seconds left was the clincher. "Happy birthday, Doug," Peterson told the Boston Globe afterward. "I hope he enjoyed it." Peterson threw for a career-high 383 yards, completing 27 of 41 attempts for a pair of second-half touchdowns that offset a pair of first-half interceptions. It marked the second week in a row Peterson had a career-high performance after throwing for 367 yards in the OT loss at Pittsburgh. "What a great opportunity to be able to have the ball in my hands on the last drive," said Peterson, who completed 19 of 23 passes for 297 yards and both TDs, all in the second half. "That's what you dream of as a kid watching TV. You want to be that guy."
- Junior wideout Larry Lester made amends for his game-ending fumble in OT a week earlier that cost BC the Pittsburgh game. He had a career day (8 catches, 111 yards) against the Irish, with a long reception of 50 yards. His biggest catch came on a 17-yard grab that resulted in a fourth-and-13 conversion on BC's winning TD drive. Interestingly, Lester found himself singing the Foreigner hit, "Cold as Ice" all afternoon. "For some strange reason, as soon as the (final) drive started, I kept singing to myself, 'You're as cold as ice, you're willing to sacrifice...' And I kept singing it over and over. And after every play, I'd come back and I'd sing it in the huddle and the linemen and everybody started looking at me and started buying in." Hey, whatever it takes.
Although his team is making its first-ever trek to Syracuse, Huskies coach Randy Edsall is right at Dome in upstate New York. He played there from 1976-79. He coached there from 1980-90. He even met his wife, Eileen, there. But don't think for a minute that Edsall will get emotional when his Huskies (5-2, 2-2) face the Orange (3-4, 1-1) at 1:30 p.m. Saturday for a chance to gain bowl eligibility. "It's another game -- there's nothing sentimental to me about it," said Edsall, whose team is coming off a 45-31 victory over Temple. "I have a job to do and I have to get my team ready." Edsall's name has surfaced as a potential replacement for Orange coach Paul Pasqualoni, who's been on the hot seat in recent years. Edsall was asked if he aspired to be the head coach at Syracuse during his playing and coaching days there. "I always wanted to be a head coach and I tried to build a career that way," said Edsall, who left for an assistant's job at Boston College the year Pasqualoni took over. "The opportunity came here at the University of Connecticut and I'm happy to have the opportunity. I never look back. I never look ahead. I stay focused on what I've got to do today to make myself and my team better." A victory by his Huskies at the Carrier Dome could stoke the Edsall-to-Syracuse rumors -- though Edsall signed a 6-year, $5.3 million contract earlier this season.
- Sitting atop the Big East rushing list is a kid with a healthy football pedigree. UConn sophomore Cornell Brockington -- cousin of former Ohio State and Green Bay Packers star, John Brockington -- averages 110.1 yards per game. He's carried 139 times for 771 yards (5.5 per rush) with seven touchdowns, which includes a monster effort last week against Temple. Brockington ran for 181 yards on 15 carries, including a 61-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and subsequent runs of 54 and 32 yards. His performance was diminished by two fumbles, though neither led to Temple points. Brockington twisted his right knee with 1:55 remaining in the third quarter and did not return. He'll be back for the Orange, however. Edsall said Brockington, quiet by nature, is coming out of his shell and becoming a team leader. That is crucial, because Brockington will be the centerpiece of the UConn offense after this season, when quarterback Dan Orlovsky moves on to the NFL.
- The Huskies take their show on the road after hosting an inordinate number of home games to start the season. They played six of seven at Rentschler Field, going 5-1, but close out the regular season with three of four on the road. Their lone venture away from Rentschler thus far resulted in a 27-7 loss at Boston College in Week 3. Their remaining road games are against Syracuse, Georgia Tech and Rutgers, none of which are gimmes. Good thing lowly Buffalo comes to Rentschler on Nov. 20, because the Huskies need to find one more win for bowl eligibility. To give you an idea of how cushy things have been for the Huskies, consider this: The trip to Syracuse will mark the first time they've boarded a plane this season. They bussed to Boston College.
All of a sudden, coach Walt Harris' team has the most victories in Big East play and is riding a three-game winning streak. The Panthers (5-2, 3-1) were left for dead a couple weeks back, but now are in position to win the Big East title after a 41-17 demolition of Rutgers. They're off this weekend before a huge game at Syracuse on Nov. 6. Should the Panthers defeat the Orange, they'll play West Virginia at Heinz Field on Thanksgiving night for the conference crown. "I don't think a lot of people in this room thought we'd be in this position," Harris said after the Rutgers win. "And, I couldn't be more proud of the players who got us here." A legion of Pitt followers did everything but chase Harris out of town following a 2-2 start and a near-loss to Division I-AA Furman. It got so bad that Harris wouldn't take phone calls on his weekly radio show. But things have cooled down in recent weeks and Harris is taking calls again. Harris, who is getting stellar play out of sophomore quarterback Tyler Palko (318 yards vs. Rutgers), has silenced his critics ... at least temporarily.
- Wideout Joe DelSardo might stand only 5-foot-8, but he loomed large in the Rutgers win. A former walk-on who earned a scholarship prior to the opening game, DelSardo took off on a post pattern on the game's first possession, then looked skyward and saw a pass from Palko sailing higher and higher. "I was just thinking, 'Geez, I hope I jump high enough," DelSardo said. With that, the sure-handed sophomore stretched his right arm over his head and tipped the ball -- which appeared to be heading out of the end zone -- back toward his body. He cupped the ball and held it on his shoulder pad while falling to the ground for a score. The 18-yard circus catch gave Pitt a 7-0 lead and catapulted the Panthers to a 38-3 advantage at the half. The play was good enough to make SportsCenter's top 10. "When I saw it again, I just said, 'Wow,'" DelSardo said. His next touchdown wasn't as artistic -- a 17-yard post pattern but it gave the Panthers a 14-3 lead and capped a career day for the little guy (eight receptions, 102 yards).
- Junior kicker Josh Cummings produced 11 points (two field goals; five extra points) and was perfect against the Scarlet Knights. His 47-yard field goal late in the first half gave the Panthers a 31-3 lead and would have been good from well over 50 yards. He is perfect on all 22 of his extra-point tries this season and is 11-of-14 on field goals. Harris feels he has stability at the position after David Abdul struggled in 2003, going 9-of-18. Cummings was named the Big East special teams player of the week. "A guy like that makes a difference," Harris said. "You feel good sending him out there." Harris hesitated in sending Abdul out for kicks at the end of last season and his kicking woes caused at least one loss. Cummings could the difference between a good bowl game and a great one for the Panthers.
One step forward, two steps back. That's been the disheartening theme for a Rutgers program that can't get over the proverbial hump in its quest for respectability in the Big East and around the country. The latest setback occurred Saturday in a 41-17 loss at Pittsburgh that featured five turnovers and wasn't nearly as close as the score indicated. The Scarlet Knights (4-3, 1-2) went into halftime facing a 38-3 deficit before the Panthers went into cruise control. Now, comes a home game against West Virginia (6-1, 2-0), followed by a trip to Boston College. Their final two games feature a visit to Navy and a home meeting with Connecticut. Those teams have a combined record of 22-6, which means there's a good chance the Scarlet Knights won't win again this season -- and their dreams of a bowl game will be shattered. Coach Greg Schiano did his best to put a positive spin on the situation, but the reality is, his program could be home for the holidays for the 26th consecutive year. "I don't think the Pitt game is a blow-up or something like that," Schiano said. "It's certainly a little bit of a setback because we had an opportunity to be 5-2." Truth be told, the Knights might not win another game until 2005.
- Quarterback Ryan Hart has produced nine turnovers the past two games, including five against Pittsburgh. Schiano, naturally, is none too pleased. He said he plans to stay with his up-and-down signal-caller, though you got the impression that Hart could get the hook if he continues to play give-away. "It's definitely an issue that has to be addressed," said Schiano, who later added, "I'm not a big believer in sitting him down to get him collected, but I'm a big believer in sitting him down to get the job done. This can't continue and we have to cut the turnovers out for sure. We do have other quarterbacks on our roster who are capable of winning games if it doesn't improve. You have to consider it (a change), but he's played good football for us and I expect him to do it again." Waiting in the wings is back-up Terrence Shawell, who's taken one snap this season. Schiano would prefer to stick with Hart, whose 1,985 passing yards put him on pace to shatter his single-season mark of 2,714 set last season, but a change could be in the offing. Hart has thrown 11 picks this year and has 37 for his career, third most in Rutgers history. "I wouldn't hesitate to put (Shawell) in there if he gave us our best chance to win."
- Schiano and WVU coach Rich Rodriguez are both in their fourth seasons at their respective schools, but that's where the comparisons end. Rodriguez inherited a program that was relatively stable and is 26-18 in three-plus seasons, while Schiano (12-30) is building Rutgers from the ground up. Still, the series has been decidedly lopsided, with WVU winning the past three by a combined score of 154-26, including an 80-7 shellacking in 2001. The Knights will be lucky to stay within three touchdowns of the Mountaineers on Saturday.
Things don't look good at Syracuse, considering the Orange is staring at a sub-.500 record (3-4, 1-1) heading into the home stretch. But let's be fair: Coach Paul Pasqualoni's team has played, by far, the most difficult schedule in the Big East. All four of the losses have come against top-15 teams, including a 27-6 setback vs. West Virginia in Morgantown last Thursday night. While other league members were padding their win-loss records with Division I-AA foes and Mid-American Conference bottom-feeders, Syracuse was playing Purdue, Virginia and Florida State. If the Orange had played Pittsburgh's non-conference schedule, for example, it likely would have two more victories. As it is, Pasqualoni must find a way to keep moving forward. He quoted former Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian, who has dealt with personal tragedy. "You can stay down, or get off the ground and keep fighting," Pasqualoni said. "Our mode here is to keep fighting." Syracuse, which plays host to UConn (5-2, 2-2) on Saturday, could gain bowl eligibility by winning three of its final four. The Orange play at home the next two weeks (UConn and Pittsburgh) before closing out on the road at Temple and Boston College.
- Predictably, the Syracuse running game struggled against WVU without senior tailback Walter Reyes, who had a severe case of the flu. The loss was too much to overcome, particularly for a team that features a first-year quarterback in Perry Patterson and an inexperienced receiving corps. Moreover, backup tailback Damien Rhodes played with the flu and accounted for 65 of Syracuse's 66 rushing yards. "We didn't have our one-two punch," Pasqualoni said. Without a running game, Syracuse has no hope at this juncture. Patterson is not ready to lead the team with his arm, which explains why the Orange rank 98th in pass offense at 161.4 per game. Patterson did complete 23-of-37 passes for 249 yards, but the offense had seven drives into WVU territory that did not produce points, including three inside the WVU 20. The good news for the 'Cuse is that Reyes will play Saturday against UConn and Rhodes should be at full strength.
- The Orange special teams were atrocious in the WVU loss. Kicker Colin Barber missed two field goal attempts and an extra point, in addition to having a field goal attempt blocked. The punt team wasn't much better, as one attempt got blocked and another was fumbled. On the blocked punt, WVU sent only one rusher -- and he still got to the ball. The miscues resulted in 14 WVU points. It appears as though Barber might be on his way to the bench, particularly after missing five of his last six field goal tries. Pasqualoni said he would evaluate the kicker closely in practice this week. Question is: What's to evaluate? Barber's confidence is shot.
The Owls (1-7, 0-3) continue to plummet to the depths of the Big East, while a program like Rutgers continues to improve. Coach Bobby Wallace, who could be staring at his second consecutive one-win season, thinks he knows why. "It's a big difference when you get voted out of the Big East three years ago," said Wallace, whose program is gone after this season. "We were pretty even at that time. That's an excuse, I guess, but it's also a fact. It's been difficult. ... It's tough to recruit when you're in this situation." On the positive side, the Owls are guaranteed not to lose this weekend. Why? Because they don't play.
- In last week's 45-31 loss at UConn, the Owls entered enemy territory on seven of their first eight possessions, including twice inside the 15, but failed to come away with a point. Moreover, they forced five turnovers and did absolutely nothing with them. "It was a real unusual game," Wallace said. "We had 250 yards at the half, but were way behind." UConn used big plays to destroy the Owls, starting with a 97-yard kickoff return, a 90-yard pass and a 62-yard run. Before Temple knew what had hit it, the score was 21-0. The Owls held the edge over the Huskies in first downs (23-20), passing yards (270-260), total plays (85-83) and time of possession (33:46-26:14) for the game, but, once again, couldn't capitalize. "It just kept getting worse," Wallace said. Yeah, sort of like the Owls' fortunes.
- If nothing else, Temple has quarterback Walter Washington to hang its helmet on. The burly signal-caller remains one of the most electric players in the Big East. Unfortunately for Washington, he flies under the radar outside of Philly. Against UConn, he was responsible for all four of the Owls' touchdowns -- two rushing; two passing -- and amassed 360 yards of total offense. It was the fifth time this season he's rushed for two scores and he leads the Big East with 10. Washington connected with eight different receivers for the second consecutive week and moved to seventh on Temple's career yardage list with 2,102, despite playing less than two seasons. One of these days, he might lead the Owls to an upset.
Joe Bendel covers the Big East for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
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