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College Football Spotlight

Several Top Teams Are Cutting It Close

September 24, 2006|Peter Yoon | Times Staff Writer

If last week was Separation Saturday, then this was Survive-a-Scare Saturday.

Top-25 teams USC, Michigan, Georgia, Florida, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame all had trouble with unranked opponents.

Top-ranked Ohio State needed three fourth-quarter touchdowns, two on interception returns, for a 28-6 victory over No. 24 Penn State.

But at least the Nittany Lions were ranked. No. 9 Georgia needed a touchdown with 46 seconds left to beat Colorado, 14-13.

That's the same Colorado that lost to Division I-AA Montana State three weeks ago and is now 0-4, having lost eight straight dating to last season.

"It was a heck of a bullet we dodged," said Georgia tight end Martrez Milner, who caught the game-winning touchdown.

No kidding. And they weren't the only ones.

No. 2 USC led, 3-0, at halftime of its 20-3 victory over Arizona. No. 5 Florida had a 12-7 halftime lead in its 26-7 victory over Kentucky. No. 6 Michigan was tied, 10-10, halfway through its 27-13 victory over Wisconsin.

Virginia Tech, ranked No. 11, trailed, 13-12, against Cincinnati until a field goal put the Hokies ahead for good with 14:51 left in the game. They won, 29-13.

"You're not going to have easy games all the time," Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer said. "We were hanging on, but I'm proud of the way our guys reacted. We showed poise."

Michigan State couldn't hold on against No. 12 Notre Dame, which used an interception return for a touchdown with 3:30 to play to cap a 19-point fourth quarter in its 40-37 victory.

The good news for the Irish and others who survived close calls is that they all won and should maintain their positions in the top 25.

Boston College, which was No. 20, won't be so lucky after it allowed North Carolina State to go 72 yards in 25 seconds for the game-winning touchdown in a 17-15 Wolfpack victory.

Neither will Arizona State and Penn State, though both lost to ranked opponents.

Getting His Kicks

Rafael Mendoza, the Northern Colorado punter who was stabbed in his kicking leg 11 days ago, returned to punt four times in a 42-28 loss to Western Illinois.

Mendoza, stabbed allegedly by a backup punter who was desperate to take over as starter, averaged 39.8 yards and had a long punt of 58. He also tried to make a tackle on a punt return.

"It felt good today," Mendoza said of his still-injured leg. "When I tried to tackle the guy on the punt return, it got tweaked a little, but overall I'm glad to be back."

He said the wound was just starting to heal, but he didn't have any bandages.

Former backup punter Mitch Cozad, since expelled from school, was arrested in the case but has not been charged.

Sick Feeling

The game wasn't going Penn State's way, and Joe Paterno seemingly couldn't bear to watch.

The Nittany Lions coach jogged off the field during the first half of his team's 28-6 loss to top-ranked Ohio State, returned briefly at halftime, then left the sideline again before coming back at the start of the fourth quarter.

Turns out, his team's play wasn't the only thing making him queasy.

"I've had some kind of a bug during the week," said Paterno, 79. "I'm the kind of guy who doesn't like to take pills or see a doctor. I thought I'd be fine."

Reporters pressed for details, but Paterno didn't want to share.

"Guys, can we talk about the game?" he said. "Are you guys writing for a medical journal?"

That illness must have been pretty bad if Joe Pa would rather talk about a loss.

No Overtime Payoff

At this rate, Navy probably hopes it never plays another overtime game.

The Midshipmen lost, 24-23, when Tulsa blocked an extra-point attempt in overtime. It was Navy's first overtime game, leaving North Texas State as the only Division I-A school that has not played in overtime.

Navy has played since 1879, but overtime has been a part of college football only since 1996.

No Love Lost

In the first game between Brigham Young and Utah State since 2002, four personal fouls were called and there was pushing and shoving at the Utah State bench after BYU running back Fui Vakapuna was knocked out of bounds early in the fourth quarter.

Tensions ran ever higher when BYU continued to pass despite its large lead. Cougar quarterback Jason Beck completed an 18-yard touchdown pass to Jonny Harline with 2:16 left to complete a 38-0 victory.

BYU can't claim it was worried about a comeback. Utah State (0-4) has been shut out three consecutive games and has yet to score a point on offense.

He Was Missed

Indiana Coach Terry Hoeppner watched the Hoosiers play Connecticut from the coach's box Saturday, only 10 days after undergoing surgery to remove a growth from his brain.

Hoeppner, who plans on returning to the sidelines for next week's Big Ten opener against Wisconsin, couldn't have liked what he saw in a 14-7 Indiana loss.

In the first half, Indiana (2-2) managed only 42 total yards, had twice as many quarterback changes (four) as it did first downs, and 19 of 32 offensive plays went for either no gain or minus yardage.

The Hoosiers had zero rushing yards for the game, two interceptions and never ran a play in Connecticut territory.

Imitation and Flattery

Power running and a teeth-rattling defense were trademarks of the Clemson team that won the 1981 national championship, so when that team was honored at Saturday's game against North Carolina, this year's squad paid tribute.

The Tigers (3-1) rushed for 324 yards and seven touchdowns in 58 attempts and held the Tar Heels (1-3) to 150 yards in a 52-7 victory.

"We're trying to be like the 1981 team," said James Davis, who rushed for four touchdowns. "We want to do things the way they did and go after what they have."

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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peter.yoon@latimes.com

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