Fancy passing has Rodgers in running for Heisman

Cal QB states his case with big game vs. USC

Analysis

College Football

October 11, 2004|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

The list of Heisman Trophy candidates for the 2004 season has been increased by one.

Call it Mr. Rodgers' new neighborhood.

Though history tells us you have to win big games to get that kind of notice, the performance Aaron Rodgers gave in Saturday's 23-17 loss to top-ranked Southern California put the Cal quarterback into what appears to be a wide-open competition.

In fact, Rodgers was so much better than his more celebrated counterpart at the Coliseum that he might have knocked Matt Leinart of the Trojans down a notch or two. The loss might have jeopardized the No. 8 Bears' chances for a national title, but it served to introduce Rodgers to the country.

How did it feel it Rodgers?

"I knew I was perfect for a while. I was in a zone," Rodgers said.

Rodgers started the game by completing his first 23 passes - three shy of former Tennessee quarterback Tee Martin's NCAA record set over two games - and finished 29 of 34 for 267 yards and one touchdown.

"That's an unbelievable stat," said Cal coach Jeff Tedford. "He's as good as they come, physically and mentally. He is just a great competitor and a leader."

But Rodgers' last pass, which fell at the feet of Jonathan Makonnen as the wide-out tripped trying to break free from a USC defender in the end zone, could have helped the Bears to victory. A year ago, Cal won in triple overtime, handing the Trojans their only loss.

"I just couldn't get the job done," Rodgers said.

Raiders of a lost art

Running up the score hasn't been the same since Steve Spurrier left Florida, but Texas Tech coach Mike Leach is doing his best to keep up this long-standing tradition.

The only difference is that Leach did it against one of the game's fading powers, Nebraska. The 70-10 victory by the Red Raiders, including a 49-0 second half, was the worst defeat in the 114-year history of the Cornhuskers program.

"We were just trying to play efficiently," Leach said.

Texas Tech not only proved that the problems in Lincoln the past few years weren't solely the fault of former coach Frank Solich, but it also showed that Leach's offensive system, rather than the quarterback, is more responsible for the team's production.

Sonny Cumbie is putting up the same kind of numbers that B.J. Symons did last season. Cumbie leads the country in passing yards with 417 a game, including six straight of 350 or more and four over 400.

Nebraska safety Daniel Bullocks put it on his team's poor execution rather than on anything Cumbie and Texas Tech did.

"We kept allowing them opportunities to keep scoring, and we just basically gave the game away," Bullocks said.

Coach on hot seat

In trying to soften the blow of a 17-13 loss for Syracuse at the Carrier Dome, Florida State coach Bobby Bowden inadvertently might have added another nail to the spit-and-shined professional coffin of often-criticized Orange coach Paul Pasqualoni.

"They should have won the ballgame," Bowden said. "They out-fought us. They out-hustled us. They out-executed us. I don't know how we won. If it were Virginia out there tonight, we would have lost by four touchdowns."

The Seminoles, who play host to the Cavaliers on Saturday, survived because Syracuse quarterback Perry Patterson was left without a timeout on the game's final drive, which ended when he was intercepted in the end zone with five seconds to play.

"The last thing we thought would happen was an interception," Pasqualoni said. "I think when the ball is released, you always have hope."

That's more than you can say about Pasqualoni, who has managed to escape with his job the last couple of years. Another late-season collapse similar to last season could eventually get him fired.

That only a little more than 40,000 came to see a highly ranked team in a building that holds 50,000 might be the biggest indictment of all.

No monkeying around

Army coach Bobby Ross has started slow just about everywhere he's been, so his team's 48-29 win over Cincinnati might be a sign that things are about to turn around at West Point.

Those who are familiar with Ross' history at Maryland, Georgia Tech and even with the San Diego Chargers remember how his teams often began by losing three or four straight games before becoming respectable and, eventually, championship caliber.

Are the Black Knights next?

"You can't imagine how the pressure starts to mount with your football team," Ross said after Army ended the nation's longest losing streak at 19 games. "When you read about it, hear about [it], it's difficult to deal with. It's a great win for us, a monkey off our back."

The Associated Press and other news organizations contributed to this article.

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