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More College Football Capsules: UCLA wary of trap game when Washington State visits

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Posted: Friday, October 1, 2010 12:00 am

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — UCLA knows a trap game when it sees one. After all, the Bruins represented a trap last week for Texas, and the Longhorns fell right into it.

The Bruins spent the past week comparing Saturday's visit from Washington State to last week's landmark 34-12 win in Austin. UCLA (2-2, 0-1 Pac-10) surprised the Longhorns, but hopes to prevent the Cougars (1-3, 0-1) from pulling the exact same trick at the Rose Bowl.

"They're basically in the position we were in two weeks ago," Bruins quarterback Kevin Prince said. "They're going to come out to fight and play in the Rose Bowl, which is special for any team. They've got a lot to (gain). I'm sure they're looking forward to playing the team that just beat Texas."

UCLA is after its first Pac-10 victory, which would move the Bruins' record over .500 — a place almost nobody thought they would reach after a 35-point home shutout loss to Stanford just three weeks ago. With back-to-back wins over ranked nonconference opponents, the Bruins are back in the Pac-10 race if they can beat the league's last-place finisher from 2009.

Coach Rick Neuheisel has stuck with the us-against-the-world mentality that drove the Bruins through the past two games. Before they even began practice this week, Neuheisel said he read a few choice e-mails to his players, reminding them "about how people had jumped off the bandwagon."

"I just want them to know how quickly things can change, and not necessarily the reality, but the perception," Neuheisel said with a dry smile. "All I have to do is remind them where we were. If you want another taste of Houston and Texas, we've got to keep getting better."

The Cougars are simply looking for any victory at all to avoid diving into a tailspin for the third straight season under coach Paul Wulff. Washington State opens its road conference schedule after a 34-point home thrashing from USC last weekend, and Wulff hopes his team gathers around its leaders in Pasadena — particularly on the Cougars' porous defense.

"We don't have strong enough leadership," Wulff said. "I think we've got some guys that have that capability, that can be really strong leaders, but they're in their first or second year, and they don't necessarily have the stripes to do that just yet. We need our few veterans that we have on defense to be real leaders."

UCLA is ranked 118th in the nation in passing offense, managing just 81.8 yards per game while concentrating on the running game in the Bruins' new Pistol offense. Washington State has the 116th-ranked pass defense, giving up 286.2 yards and 13 TD passes already this season.

Prince missed practice this week while resting his injured right knee, getting fluid drained from the joint a day after leading UCLA past Texas despite tweaking his knee in the first half. Neuheisel plans to make a game-time decision between Prince and backup Richard Brehaut.

But if the Bruins keep running the ball with the same brute effectiveness they've shown in the past two games, their quarterback choice might not matter much. Washington State also has the nation's 108th-ranked run defense, giving up 209.8 yards per game.

"You could see them growing into running the football, particularly the last two games," Wulff said. "They're trying to establish the run, control the game that way, and that's how they've won. I would suspect they'll try to throw the ball a little bit more, because they probably think they have to, to some degree. But if we're having trouble stopping the run, why would they?"

Washington State might attempt to force a shootout, with quarterback Jeff Tuel and former California tailback James Montgomery leading a skillful offense. UCLA's defense was sturdy in Texas, but the Bruins claim they realize their performance won't help them this Saturday.

"I like the way Washington State's offense is working," UCLA safety Rahim Moore said. "They're scoring more points than I ever saw them score before. They can throw the ball all over the field. It's going to be a bigger challenge for us than some schools, because that quarterback and those receivers are talented."

Lessons learned are key for Beavers, Sun Devils

Saturday's game between Oregon State and Arizona State could come down to which team has the better students: Both the Beavers and the Sun Devils dropped games to Top 10 opponents last week, leaving each with a list of lessons to be learned.

Oregon State lost 37-24 at No. 3 Boise State in the last game of a brutal non-conference schedule for the Beavers.

They opened with a 30-21 loss to then-No. 6 TCU at Cowboys Stadium, then got past Louisville 35-28 before the loss to the Broncos to emerge 1-2 for the start of Pac-10 play.

"I think the competition itself prepared us for the kind of competition we're going to see for the rest of the year in our league ... but there's areas obviously that we didn't perform very well in, so it exposed those things and we definitely have got to get better," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. "There are numerous things I'm sure that you've realized that we've got to do better: run the football, third-down conversions, third-down defense — those are three — red-zone offense, those are four. There's a lot of stuff that we've got to do better."

The two most glaring issues were the first two that Riley mentioned: The running game and third-down conversions.

Oregon State's rush really centers around junior Jacquizz Rodgers, who has seen fewer yards this season after averaging nearly 111 a game last season. This year he's averaging about 84.

Rodgers, a fearless back who has been known in the past to use his small stature to hide and fool opposing defenses, ran for just 45 yards and a score at Boise State.

It does not bode well for Quizz that last week the Sun Devils held No. 4 Oregon's prolific rushers to just 145 yards.

"We need to be more physical, with me running the ball and everyone else around us blocking. I think once we become more balanced, it will help it out, too," Quizz said. "I need to take it upon myself and just work on running harder."

Then there's the matter of those third-down conversions. Oregon State has only had nine of 34 attempts this season, or a paltry 26 percent.

Arizona State beat two lower-tier opponents (Portland State and Northern Arizona) in the preseason, but lost at No. 11 Wisconsin before a valiant 42-31 loss to Oregon in their conference opener at Sun Devil Stadium.

What ultimately doomed the Sun Devils against the Ducks was seven turnovers.

"We can't turn it over seven times in the football game and expect to win. People can ask you anything about that football game but that's it right there," coach Dennis Erickson said. "We were down in the red-zone nine times. We turned it over three times down there. We fumbled and had two picks down there. That's almost half the times down there."

Arizona State did manage 597 total offensive yards against the Ducks. Quarterback Steven Threet passed for 387 yards and three touchdowns — but he threw four interceptions.

"It definitely made for a miserable Saturday," Threet said. "On Sunday, you have to come in and watch film and learn from it. There are lessons to be learned and you have to wake up early Monday morning and start working on the next game. You can't let the previous game effect preparation for the next game."

Threet is averaging nearly 313 yards in total offense each game, good for 10th-best in the nation.

The Beavers have traditionally rebounded in time for Pac-10 play, but they may have to open without flanker James Rodgers, who was questionable for Saturday's game.

Quizz's older brother was knocked cold against Boise State and has had to follow NCAA protocol for concussions this week by sitting out of practices. The elder Rodgers, who was averaging more than 184 all-purpose yards a game, was questionable for Saturday.

The Beavers beat the Sun Devils 28-17 last season, snapping a 16-game losing streak in Tempe.

-- Anne M. Peterson

GT, Wake look to snap out of recent funks

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — Jim Grobe wants his Wake Forest team to get back to playing sound, solid football.

Georgia Tech's Paul Johnson knows how he feels.

Both teams will look to snap out of their recent funks Saturday night when Grobe's Demon Deacons play host to the Yellow Jackets.

Neither team has played as well as its coach would like lately.

Georgia Tech (2-2, 1-1 ACC) has dropped two of three, prompting Johnson to urge his team to play "like we're upset at somebody," while Wake Forest (2-2, 1-1) has lost two in a row at Stanford and Florida State by a combined score of 99-24.

"There are not a lot of good things that come from losing. Period," Grobe said. "Whether you're young or old, whether you've got an old, veteran team or a lot of young guys. ... I think we've got to improve quite a bit to get a win. We have not been a very good football team the last couple of weeks."

The schedule-makers might share a slice of the blame for both teams' struggles.

Defending ACC champ Georgia Tech last week ran into the league's hottest team — unbeaten North Carolina State — while the Demon Deacons will face their third straight star quarterback in Joshua Nesbitt. He surely will look to carve up their leaky defense on the ground just as Stanford's Andrew Luck and Florida State's Christian Ponder did through the air.

"I think we have a great quarterback coming in this week, but you don't compare him to the other two simply because of the style of (Tech's ground-based) offense," Grobe said. "It's murderer's row for us because of the quarterback deal. ... You feel like you're not a very good team, but then you've kind of got to check yourself and remember who you've been playing."

Wake Forest enters with the ACC's worst total defense, allowing an average of 467 yards, and teams are scoring 40 points per game against them. That's better than only Duke in the league.

Luck and Ponder may have combined to make Wake Forest the ACC's worst defense against the pass, but Johnson and the Yellow Jackets — who are averaging a league-best 320 yards on the ground — instead will test a run defense that ranks in the middle of the ACC pack.

Georgia Tech's run-heavy offense is designed to control the ball and produce time-consuming drives, and it's more effective when the Yellow Jackets have the lead and the pressure is on the opponent. That didn't happen last week — Georgia Tech never led the Wolfpack.

"There's a lot of things we're doing right, but even more we're doing wrong," Nesbitt said. "It's kind of been disappointing because we know we're a lot better than that."

The Yellow Jackets will look to prove that and avoid their first losing streak under Johnson, who wants his team to avoid the mental lapses that sometimes come when new faces are inserted into the lineup.

"For us to be successful, we have to play really, really hard. We're not overly talented. I mean, we have talent — we have some talented kids but we don't have droves of them. ... Nobody is going to ooh and aah when we trot on the field," Johnson said. "And the trademark of the things that we have done, I think, is we played hard and really competed. And physically we played fairly hard. I don't think it was a case of physical — it's just mental, being into the game."

Mississippi's hobbled defense faces Kentucky

OXFORD, Miss. (AP) — Just four games into the season, Mississippi's defense is hurting.

Defensive end Kentrell Lockett is out for the season, hobbling around on crutches after tearing his ACL. Safety Johnny Brown has a sore knee. Cornerback Jeremy McGee is recovering from a concussion.

And that's bad news for the Rebels, considering they were already having trouble stopping opponents before the rash of injuries. They're giving up 32 points per game, which ranks last in the Southeastern Conference.

Now with a patchwork defense, including several freshmen in the secondary, Ole Miss (2-2, 0-1 SEC) faces a Kentucky (3-1, 0-1) team known for explosive offensive playmakers Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke at 11:21 a.m. today at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said his young players are physically capable, but their inexperience scares him.

"Those guys have to keep absorbing, study, and keep getting better," he said. "It's not easy ... it takes time for them to really feel the speed of this league that we're in. It's not easy, but I have confidence in those guys. They have to get to practice and go to work."

Even the Ole Miss defensive players who aren't hurt have failed to live up to expectations. The veteran defensive line, which was supposed to be dominant, hasn't been able to get much pressure on quarterbacks.

With plenty of time to throw, opponents have picked apart the Ole Miss secondary. The Rebels are one of only three teams out of 120 in the Football Bowl Subdivision with no interceptions.

Now that Lockett, who was arguably the Rebels' best pass rusher, can't help on the field, others like junior college transfer Wayne Dorsey must improve quickly.

At 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds, Dorsey was one of the most heavily recruited junior college players in the country last year, but hasn't had the desired on-field affect with six tackles, including two for a loss and a sack through four games.

"I can't judge anybody but me, but I know I haven't been anywhere near the expectation level I set for myself," Dorsey said. "I come out everyday and try to get better and hopefully soon it will all come together."

If Brown and McGee can't play, the Rebels will be forced to give several freshmen heavy playing time — including cornerbacks Charles Sawyer and Tony Grimes, and safeties Brishen Mathews and Frank Crawford.

"It eliminates a lot of things you think you can do," defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix said. "It makes you simplify to where they can go out, execute a few things and hopefully do those things well. As they mature and learn, you can add more to your package."

Kentucky has its own defensive issues, and is trying to rebound from last week's deflating 48-14 loss to Florida. In that game, the Wildcats have a tough time tackling the Gators' best playmakers, especially running back Trey Burton, who accounted for six touchdowns.

Mississippi has elusive quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who's thrown for 733 yards and rushed for 219 yards so far this season. Running back Brandon Bolden is coming off the best game of his career — he rushed for 228 yards against Fresno State.

Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said simple mistakes and poor tackling form have been the Wildcats' main issues — but that both are problems that can be easily corrected.

"We have enough good athletes to do what we're supposed to do," he said. "If we bring our feet and run through people, we still have a chance to have a really good defense."

-- David Brandt

Bulldogs' solid defense leans on LB Wright

Mississippi State's K.J. Wright has been a good linebacker for quite a while.

But in an effort to get the 6-foot-4, 250-pound senior to take the next step into stardom, defensive coordinator Manny Diaz showed him film of Baltimore Ravens' All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis. Not just a great football player, Lewis is considered one of the NFL's strongest leaders.

At least for one game, Wright showed some of those qualities with a big game as Mississippi State beat Georgia last week for the first time since 1974. For the season, Wright leads MSU with 30 tackles, six pass breakups and six passes defended and three quarterback hurries.

"Everybody can give a big Hollywood speech," Diaz said. "But the way you lead is with your feet and with your shoulder pads. K.J. has done an amazing job of doing both."

Mississippi State (2-2) hosts Alcorn State (3-0), a team that plays at the Football Championship Subdivision level, at 11 a.m. on Saturday in Starkville.

Saturday's game starts a stretch of winnable games that could determine whether the Bulldogs are able to earn bowl eligibility for the first time since 2007 and only the second time this decade.

After the Alcorn State game, the Bulldogs travel to face Houston, a team severely diminished after star quarterback Case Keenum was lost to a season-ending knee injury. They face a tough road game against Florida before returning to Starkville for home games against UAB and Kentucky.

"We need to improve as a football team and get ready for that finishing stretch ... that's going to be critical," said coach Dan Mullen.

Mississippi State's final three games are against Alabama, Arkansas and an in-state rivalry game against Mississippi.

Alcorn State has won its three games this season by a combined score of 118-57. Led by second-year coach Earnest Collins, the Braves have gained 1,041 yards of total offense.

It's the first meeting between the two schools and the Bulldogs are heavily favored, but Mullen wants to make sure his team doesn't lose focus and continues to build on the Georgia victory.

"Obviously you want to get better," Mullen said. "You never envision going into the season you're going to lose games, but I'm pleased with the way our team has played this first third of the season. We had a very, very difficult schedule early in the season."

Though the young offense has continually improved, Mississippi State's unquestioned strength is its defense, which is giving up just 16.2 points per game.

Wright, who was second on the team with 82 tackles last season, is the anchor. Despite his considerable size, he's nearly as comfortable in pass coverage as rushing the passer. He's come close to intercepting several passes, with a few catchable balls bouncing off his hands.

"I really want those interceptions," Wright said. "The pass breakups — they aren't good enough."

Diaz is confident Wright will begin making those plays. He's also encouraged that Wright is beginning to notice his words carry weight.

"From a leadership standpoint, I think K.J. really has sort of hit another gear of understanding that our guys respect him and they will follow him," Diaz said.

-- David Brandt

B.C. frosh Rettig might get 1st start vs. Notre Dame

BOSTON (AP) — All Boston College wants from freshman Chase Rettig in his collegiate debut on Saturday is a victory. In a nationally televised night game. Against Notre Dame.

The BC quarterback, who had been heading for a redshirt this season, is expected to start for the Eagles when they play a Fighting Irish team reeling from three consecutive losses. BC coach Frank Spaziani won't commit to the freshman over sophomore Mike Marscovetra, but teammates say Rettig has been taking most of the snaps with the first team in practice this week.

"Chase looked pretty good in practice this week. I feel like he's got a lot of confidence back there for a freshman," offensive lineman Anthony Castonzo said. "He really has nothing to lose, so I think he's going to go out there and play a pretty good game."

The nation's only Catholic schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision, Boston College and Notre Dame meet for the fourth straight year in a rivalry that has lost much of its luster as the teams have struggled. BC is on its third coach since 2006; the Irish are on their third since 2004, with Boston-area native Brian Kelly taking over this year and starting out with a 1-3 record.

"At 1-3, the food doesn't taste good. It's not as enjoyable to hang around my family, (and) I love my family," Kelly said. "Nothing feels good when you're 1-3. That's just the life we live in as coaches and players. We're 1-3 together."

Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said the players understand that, and they understand that the only way back to a winning record is hard work.

"So many times now, with instant popcorn and DVR and DirecTV and everything else, and microwave dinners and hot-now Krispy Kreme and all that other business, you can just go in and it magically happens," Diaco said. "Well, this is going to take some time as coach Kelly develops a system. They know that, and we're going to do it the right way. Coach Kelly is going to do it the right way, demand we do it the right way."

Notre Dame beat Purdue to open the season, then lost three straight to teams that are now in The Associated Press Top 25. Now the Irish are on the road against a team that has traditionally been one of its toughest opponents: Despite the greater prestige and larger trophy case in South Bend, Ind., BC dominated the rivalry with six straight wins from 2001 until the Irish won at home last year.

Spaziani isn't exactly brimming with confidence.

"They have all the pieces in the puzzle there," he said. "They just ran into a little bit of a buzz saw early on with a new regime. So we're looking for a very good football team coming in here and a very hungry team."

BC sophomore Jonathan Coleman said he knows the history of the rivalry — it's mostly a rivalry only for BC — from walking past the display cases and checking out the videos in the lobby of the football team's headquarters.

"I've been watching that sometimes when I'm bored," he said. "I'm looking at video about the history. I'm excited to be a part of it now. When I talk to the regular students, they're excited for it, so that makes me excited, too."

Defensive lineman Alex Albright, a senior, didn't need to be reminded how important the game is at Boston College.

"I feel like I know the monster coming in a lot better than people who don't have experience with Notre Dame," he said. "I know they're America's team. They're the team everyone's looking at, so it's only natural that they're going to think we're a lesser team. But we're looking at this as an opportunity to get respect."

After victories over Weber State and Kent State, the Eagles lost 19-0 to Virginia Tech last week for their first shutout since 1998. Spaziani decided he'd seen enough of quarterback Dave Shinskie, who had a fumble, two interceptions — one in the end zone — and also cost BC a chance at a field goal when he failed to get out of bounds at the end of the first half.

Spaziani said Sunday that he would let Rettig and Marscovetra compete for the job, but during the week he would not confirm reports that he had decided to go with Rettig.

Spaziani insisted that his silence wasn't as much gamesmanship as indecision. He said this week that he didn't have an announcement because he hadn't made up his mind; he kept Marscovetra and Rettig away from reporters because they are young and had enough to worry about.

It doesn't much matter to Kelly. The Irish looked at high school film of Rettig and figured that he is the same type of pocket passer as Marscovetra, who has appeared in seven games over the past two years, or Shinskie.

"They are all cut from the same cloth," Kelly said. "At Cincinnati I had a running quarterback versus a pocket quarterback. You would have to prepare for us in two different ways for those two different quarterbacks so I was never going to tip my hand."

-- Jimmy Golen

Cavs, 'Noles meet for 1st time in 4 years

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — A lot has changed — including both head coaches — at Virginia and Florida State in the four years since the Cavaliers and Seminoles last met in football.

The Seminoles (3-1, 1-0 ACC), under first-year coach Jimbo Fisher, will be unranked for just the second time in 16 meetings when the Atlantic Coast Conference rivals play Saturday.

Nonetheless, Virginia sees the same old Seminoles, led by a Heisman Trophy contender in dual-threat quarterback Christian Ponder. Their defense leads the nation in sacks with 19 and figures to significantly challenge the Cavaliers.

"You want to make sure that you don't go backwards," said first-year coach Mike London London.

The Cavaliers also want to be sure that if quarterback Marc Verica is being pressured, he isn't rushed into an interception.

Virginia (2-1) has been something of a surprise, beating Richmond and VMI — both of the Football Championship Subdivision — and losing 17-14 at No. 18 Southern Cal.

To many, the USC result was the biggest surprise, but the players say otherwise.

"Right now the confidence is as high as I've seen it since I've been here, and I've been here for four years," Cavaliers left tackle Landon Bradley said this week.

"Everybody's excited and we can't wait to play on Saturdays."

The Seminoles seem to see that, too, and probably also are wary of taking any opponent lightly, especially on the road. Their lone loss was a 47-17 blowout at No. 8 Oklahoma when Sooners quarterback Landry Jones made it look easy, throwing for 321 first-half yards.

"They're not a team like we've played before," defensive end Markus White said of Virginia. "A lot of teams like to run the stretch outside. They're going to run it down our nose, they're going to run it inside. They're going to test our guys in the middle."

The Cavaliers have won two of seven against Florida State at Scott Stadium. They won 33-28 in 1995 against the then-No. 2 Seminoles, handing them their first loss to an ACC team in 30 games since joining the conference, and won in 2005, the last time they played at home.

The key for Florida State has been stopping teams early, Fisher said.

"We've done a good job of getting teams in second and long and third and long, and enabling those guys to be free in the rush," he said of his line. "In the pass we have, too."

The matchup of Virginia's offense against the Seminoles' defense will be critical, and Bradley said he and his linemates are bolstered by having made a solid showing at USC.

"The players are bigger, stronger, faster, something you would see at a top program," Bradley said in comparing the Florida State line to VMI's line, "but when we play against our defense every day in practice, and we did in camp, we've seen big, strong linemen."

Virginia's defense has also be a surprise. The unit switched from the complex 3-4 alignment that Al Groh employed to a 4-3 now engineered by defensive coordinator Jim Reid.

In making the switch, the Cavaliers' coaches also moved several players around to get more speed on the field, including 6-foot-2, 220-pound linebacker LaRoy Reynolds.

So far, Virginia has allowed just 12.3 points per game, fewest in the conference. The numbers are somewhat misleading because they came against lower-tier competition, but also are confidence-building, London said. His defense, too, is eager to face a better opponent.

"These are the games that we really need to tune in to and really try to take hold of and do everything possible to win," said Reynolds, who was a safety in Groh's defense.

"Everybody's trying to turn it up every little bit."

-- Hank Kurz Jr.

Maryland seeks to sustain momentum against Duke

COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — It's all there for Maryland: A chance to double its win total of last year, open Atlantic Coast Conference play with a victory and then savor everything during a bye week.

The only thing the Terrapins must do is defeat Duke on Saturday night.

"To be 4-1 going into the break, we'd have some momentum," Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. "Hopefully we can get healed up a little bit going into the last half of the season. I think going in there 4-1, we'd be feeling good."

Maryland completed the non-conference portion of its schedule by beating Florida International 42-28 last week. The only flaw in September was a loss at West Virginia, but the Terrapins are far better off than a year ago, when they finished 2-10 and in the Atlantic Division cellar.

"In the long run," defensive lineman A.J. Francis said, "3-1 is a good place to be."

It sure beats where Duke is: 1-3 and coming off a 35-21 loss at home to Army. The Blue Devils committed five turnovers against the Cadets and need two fourth-quarter touchdowns to make the final score respectable.

The game was not unlike Duke's lone foray into the ACC thus far, an ugly 54-48 defeat at Wake Forest in which the Blue Devils gave up 500 yards and committed four turnovers.

Cutcliffe blames Duke's poor start surrendering too many big plays on defense and committing too many turnovers on offense.

"If we minimize both of those, playing not much different than we play, we would have the chance to have a different record," he said.

This would be an ideal week to test that theory, because Duke's weaknesses are Maryland's strengths. The Terps scored on four plays of at least 50 yards against FIU and have 27 plays of at least 20 yards this season.

Maryland has forced an ACC-high 10 turnovers and boasts a plus-6 differential.

"We were working on holding onto the football since February," Friedgen said. "It's the first thing we do every day. There's an amazing correlation between turnover ratio and winning football games."

No one has to tell Duke. Sophomore Sean Renfree threw for 261 yards against Army, but his three interceptions were too much to overcome. Overall, his nine touchdown passes have been offset by seven interceptions.

Either the Blue Devils get that corrected, or their season is done.

"Coach Cut brought us all together and told us it's our decision to make. We can go out and take it game by game and win the rest of them, or we can lay down and go 1-11," receiver Conner Vernon said. "And we're definitely not going to do that."

Cutcliffe said, "We will not give in to this. We have weapons. We have people that can make plays."

So do the Terrapins. Wide receiver Torrey Smith has touchdown catches of 60, 80 and 68 yards in his last two games, and punt returner Tony Logan took one back 85 yards for a score last week against FIU.

"We like the big plays," said Davin Meggett, who contributed a 76-yard touchdown run against FIU. "But you can't rely on them. We have to be more consistent, get more drives going. Of course, we'll take any big plays we can."

With a win over Duke, the Terrapins will move within two victories of becoming bowl eligible. That would be something to think about during bye week.

"Our schedule is set up for success," Logan said. "It's a big game, our first ACC game. It would be a big lift, especially with the guys we have injured, to go get this win."

Starting quarterback Jamarr Robinson has a sore shoulder and his backup, freshman Danny O'Brien, is nursing an ankle sprain. Both are expected to play against the Blue Devils.

-- David Ginsburg

Tar Heels, Pirates trying to stabilize defenses

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — No one would blame North Carolina freshman Kareem Martin for feeling a bit overwhelmed.

Pressed into front-line duty due to an ongoing NCAA investigation, the defensive end has seen Georgia Tech's triple-option attack, as well as multiple and prostyle offenses from LSU and Rutgers. Now the Tar Heels are again getting something different Saturday: East Carolina's spread offense, imported from Texas Tech along with new Pirates coach Ruffin McNeill and offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley.

"We haven't been using the same technique any of the weeks," Martin said, "so it's been a little tough adjusting to coming off the triple-option ... to this air attack where we're coming off the ball and going after the quarterback. So it's been kind of tough."

The Tar Heels (1-2) are again missing numerous key players on defense due to the review, including NFL prospects Marvin Austin, Robert Quinn, Kendric Burney and Deunta Williams. But the Pirates (2-1) have their own defensive concerns heading into an instate rivalry game, namely whether an inexperienced unit that lost nine starters and has ranked among the nation's worst while implementing a new system can improve.

"We're at the point now where being young isn't an excuse anymore," ECU linebacker Melvin Patterson said. "We're going to grow up as a unit and play good on defense, and that's the way it's going to be from here on out."

Both offenses figure to be ahead of those defenses. North Carolina has been far more efficient moving the football than last season behind four-year starter T.J. Yates at quarterback, though turnovers have plagued the Tar Heels through the first three games.

The Tar Heels will face a defense that hasn't allowed fewer than 27 points in a game and ranks next-to-last nationally in pass defense (303 yards per game) and 114th in scoring (41.7 points).

East Carolina defensive coordinator Brian Mitchell knows youth is partly to blame and he's trying to preach "simple successes" to his defense, namely holding opponents to about 30 percent on third-down conversions — it's around 57 percent now — to get off the field.

"That's to be expected," Mitchell said of the early struggles. "But football's still football. It's the same game you played when you were 10 or 11 or 12. Whether the guy is bigger than you or faster than you, the scheme will take care of that. ... If you need your feelings stroked on a continuous basis, then this is not the game for you."

The Pirates' offense has certainly made up for some of those struggles, scoring 127 points in the first three games after needing six games to reach that total last season. Boston College transfer Dominique Davis has looked comfortable while leading the passing attack, while receiver Dwayne Harris (four touchdowns receiving) and running back Jon Williams (four TDs rushing) have given the offense plenty of weapons.

North Carolina expected its defense would be well-suited to handle the spread or anything else anyone threw at it, but the NCAA probe has depleted what was expected to be one of the nation's top defenses. That means guys like Martin and cornerback Tre Boston have had to grow up quickly to prepare for different looks each week that leads to little carry-over from game to game.

"You can definitely see it in their eyes, that just being out there they're building confidence," safety Matt Merletti, a junior who is himself playing a bigger role due to the personnel losses. "They know they're getting better and they're not as nervous any more."

The Tar Heels will get a boost with the return of safety Da'Norris Searcy, who started every game last season and was cleared to play Thursday after missing the first three games. Still, Davis and the East Carolina offense knows they should have an advantage.

Then again, Yates and the Tar Heels feel the same way.

"The plays are going to be there," Davis said. "We just have to execute our plays. Of course, they're young guys and we're going to take advantage of that a little bit, but you can't over do it because it'll bite you in the long run."

-- Aaron Beard

Rested Cardinals ready to move on without Beaumont

It looks like a misprint on the schedule.

Teams from conferences like the Big East aren't supposed to play the role of homecoming fodder for teams from the Sun Belt. Usually, it's the other way around.

Yet Louisville (1-2) is making a rare trip to Arkansas State (1-3) in one of the biggest home games in Red Wolves' history.

And though the Cardinals agreed to head west when the Red Wolves graciously filled in a hole in Louisville's home schedule last year, coach Charlie Strong isn't missing an opportunity to use the scheduling quirk as motivation.

"It says what they want to say about us when they pick us for their homecoming game," Strong said.

Arkansas State coach Steve Roberts doesn't quite see the decision to schedule Louisville's visit during one of the campus' biggest weekends as an insult, though he allows the Red Wolves "normally don't pick these types of opponents for Homecoming."

Then again, Louisville has willing played the role of homecoming opponent all to often the last two years. The Cardinals have dropped 10 straight road games dating back to 2008.

While they played well at times in a tough 35-28 loss at Oregon State two weeks ago, outgaining the Beavers 453-316, there were also the same mistakes that have repeatedly tripped them up. Twice the Cardinals turned the ball over inside the Oregon State 5. The special teams struggled to rein in Oregon State's return team and the defense faltered at key times.

Strong saw definite signs of progress, but is hardly ready to say his team is mature enough to have one game carry-over to the next.

Louisville spent the bye week working on fundamentals. The Cardinals also spent the week looking for a replacement for wide receiver Doug Beaumont. The senior underwent knee surgery on Sept. 20 and is out indefinitely.

The Cardinals will miss his leadership and his production. He leads the team in receptions (16) and receiving yards (244) and had become quarterback Adam Froman's security blanket when things went wrong.

"Everybody knows when Doug needs to make a play that Doug is making the play," said tight end Cameron Graham. "It is a blow to the offense, but we need more people to step up."

Strong has challenged Graham and wide receivers Josh Bellamy and Andrell Smith to raise their level of play in Beaumont's absence. He has chastised all three for drops and missed assignments. That has to stop now if Louisville wants to keep moving forward.

"We just have so many guys, some young guys, who can come along," Strong said. "Those are three guys off the top of my head have not played very well who can come in and help this football team."

The help will need to come quickly if Louisville wants to end its road woes. The Red Wolves have scored 24 points in all four of their games, including 26 in a loss at No. 10 Auburn in the season-opener. Quarterback Ryan Aplin leads an offense that is averaging 309 yards passing a game.

"He's one of those quarterbacks that makes a lot of plays for them," Strong said of Aplin.

Louisville's defense, however, has shown signs of improvement. The Cardinals held Oregon State in check for long stretches and stiffened in the second half after the Beavers built a 21-point lead, opening the door for a comeback the offense nearly pulled off.

"They are one of the top defenses we've faced in several years, so it will be a tremendous challenge for us to move the football," Roberts said.

The game may be Louisville's best chance to get over the hump on the road. Trips to Rutgers, Pittsburgh and Syracuse await when the Cardinals open conference play in two weeks.

"A win this weekend would be big," Graham said. "We saw that we were able to compete with a Pac-10 team and a team that is highly regarded in the nation. We feel like we are one of those teams we just need to limit mistakes."

-- Will Graves

A bruised Tom Savage to lead Rutgers vs. Tulane

PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — Tom Savage knows every week that most people in the football stadium are watching him.

It's a no-brainer for the Rutgers' sophomore. You're the quarterback and people look at you.

Savage will be under the microscope a little more Saturday when Rutgers (2-1) looks to rebound from a tough loss with a homecoming game against Tulane (1-2).

The main reason Rutgers lost to North Carolina last Saturday was because Savage and the offense continued their season-long struggle.

The Scarlet Knights had two chances in the final quarter to take the lead. But Savage threw an interception in the green zone to end the first drive and the offense then did nothing on four plays after taking over the Tar Heels 34 with just over two minutes to play.

Savage did bruise his ribs late in the first half in the game, but his problems started before that.

"It's on me," said Savage, who is averaging 127.7 yards passing with one touchdown throw and three interceptions. "I have to go out there and execute. The team's doing a great job, the offensive line is doing a great job, and it falls on me. I just have to execute a little better."

Tulane is coming off a 42-23 loss to Houston in a game in which the Green Wave rallied from a 21-0 deficit and got within 28-23 in the fourth quarter.

"I'm disappointed in not winning," Tulane coach Bob Toledo said. "We felt we had a chance to win both games that we lost. There's no question and I've said it earlier that we're a much-improved football team. ... It's just unfortunate that we started slow."

Rutgers coach Greg Schiano is wary of Tulane's very aggressive defense, which likes to blitz. It had five sacks last week.

"They are going to come after us," Schiano said. "In the run game and the pass game, they bring people. It's going to be very important, up front, that we do a better job of staying on our blocks."

Savage has been listed as probable for the Scarlet Knights, but there's no doubt receiver Mohamed Sanu will get a lot of action out of the wildcat formation.

If Savage aggravates his injury, Chas Dodd will replace him.

Tulane also has a banged up quarterback. Ryan Griffin injured his left shoulder last week but is expected to start. Griffin's backup, Kevin Moore, broke a finger in the game and is out for two weeks.

The Green Wave has other injury problems. Starting tailback Orleans Darkwa hurt his elbow against Houston and will miss the game, while punter Jonathan Ginsburgh is questionable with a concussion.

Cairo Santos will punt if Ginsburgh can't play.

Rutgers has returned a punt for a touchdown and blocked four other kicks this season.

"I'm hoping we're all right, but they come after you pretty good and they'll test us obviously," said Toledo, who noted his punters do get the ball off quickly.

Scarlet Knights starting halfback Joe Martinek, who saw limited action last week because of an ankle injury, has improved.

"We're pretty close to breaking through," Martinek said of the running game. "Our offense just needs all 11 guys working in sync on every play to be effective. If 10 of the 11 are in sync and one isn't, then it can be a tackle for a loss. So it's very important for us to keep improving."

-- Tom Canavan

Struggling Pitt plays another team from Miami

PITTSBURGH (AP) — A few weeks ago, Pitt probably looked upon Florida International as a much-welcomed stepping stone to Notre Dame and the Big East Conference schedule that follows. A 28-point loss on its home field changed all that.

Their confidence shaken by a 31-3 loss to No. 16 Miami, the Panthers (1-2) find themselves confronted by a game they must win big to satisfy their disappointed fans. If they win by a tiny margin against a winless opponent from a non-BCS conference, it will be viewed as unacceptable.

Lose, and their season will be on the verge of collapsing even before conference play begins.

Florida International (0-3) would seem to be exactly what Pitt needs following its worst home-field defeat in nine seasons, and an earlier overtime loss to No. 13 Utah. But the Golden Panthers — 3-12 the last two seasons — were competitive while losing to Rutgers 19-14 and Texas A&M 27-20.

Maybe Pitt should have seen this coming, considering the Panthers are starting a new quarterback, three new offensive linemen and two new cornerbacks. Somehow they didn't, and that means the only game on their early season schedule that was viewed as easy is suddenly causing a bit of unease.

"Going into this season, I don't believe in anyone's mind, even thinking about the worst scenario, would believe that we'd be 1-2," middle linebacker Max Gruder said. "Everyone fully expected to be 3-0. We're not where we want to be."

Quarterback Tino Sunseri looked overwhelmed against Miami, causing offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti to say the his play must improve in a hurry.

"If the guy on the field isn't giving us the best chance to win the game then, hey, changes might have to be made," Cignetti said.

Worse still, Dion Lewis looks like the ill-at-ease freshman he was supposed to be a season ago, rather than a returning 1,799-yard rusher and second team All-American. He's averaging only 3 yards per carry and hasn't had an 80-yard game yet, much less a 100-yard game.

"They've had a few stumbles, but not because of lack of scheme," Florida International coach Mario Cristobal said. "They might be the most physical team we'll play all season."

If there's any game on Pitt's schedule in which Lewis would seem ready to thrive, it's this one. Florida International allows an average of 150 yards rushing and has already given up six rushing touchdowns. Maryland had scoring runs of 56 and 76 yards.

While Lewis is struggling with 158 yards through three games, backup Ray Graham is coming off successive 100-yard games and is averaging 9.3 yards per carry. Lewis and Graham will run behind a reconfigured line in which Lucas Nix has moved from right tackle to right guard and 315-pound Jordan Gibbs will start at right tackle.

"A lot of guys are angry and mad," left tackle Jason Pinkston said. "We're trying to figure out what we need to do to turn things around."

Pitt has had trouble in the past against spread offenses and opponents they were supposed to beat easily. In 2001, they were embarrassed at home by South Florida, a fledgling program that owned no previous victories over an established Division I-A school. Florida International's spread offense totaled 472 yards in a 42-28 loss to Maryland last week as Wes Carroll threw for 355 yards.

Pitt also is without two of its top players, middle linebacker Dan Mason (right leg) for the rest of the season and defensive end Greg Romeus (back) for most of it.

"By no means is anyone panicking, and nobody is down," Pitt secondary coach Jeff Hafley said. "There is a sense of urgency. We know we need to make plays. By no means will we underestimate FIU because they have the athletes and the team speed to be dangerous."

-- Alan Robinson

Connecticut, Vanderbilt hoping to build off wins

STORRS, Conn. (AP) — Either Connecticut or Vanderbilt will come out of their game Saturday with the team's first winning streak of the season.

The Huskies (2-2) ended last year with four consecutive wins and were expected to be one of the stronger teams in the Big East this year, but have struggled early. Vandy, meanwhile, had a week off after beating conference rival Mississippi on the road and is looking to win consecutive games for the first time in two years.

Cody Endres gets his first start of the year at quarterback for the Huskies. The laid-back junior came off the bench to replace senior Zach Frazer last week and led UConn from a 14-14 halftime tie to a 45-21 win over Buffalo.

Players said there was bickering in the locker room at intermission, and head coach Randy Edsall screamed and threw some things. But they said Endres, who had just returned from a monthlong suspension for an unspecified violation of school policy, was a calming influence.

"I think people might have been a little bit tight," said Endres, who will make the ninth start of his UConn career. "I like to come out there and have fun, play loose, and I think that's what everybody needs to play at the highest level."

Endres and his teammates deny there have been chemistry problems with the Huskies this season. But kicker Dave Teggart and backup linebacker Jerome Williams were arrested this week after getting into a fight in the parking lot of a campus housing complex.

Edsall hasn't suspended either player, but redshirt freshman Chad Christen is listed this week on the first-team with Teggart, and could take over the kicking duties.

"Sometimes brothers may argue and get into a little bit, but at the end of the day, we're family and we love each other," said wide receiver Kashif Moore.

Edsall has moved sophomore Sio Moore into a starting outside linebacker spot, and moved Lawrence Wilson from the outside into the middle. He replaces senior Greg Lloyd Jr., who is not moving as well as coaches had hoped after returning from a serious knee injury. Captain Scott Lutrus, who has not played since the opener at Michigan with what the team said was an "upper extremity" injury, is expected to see at least some playing time at his linebacker spot.

Tailback Jordan Todman, who is averaging almost 150 yards per game, also is expected to return to the field after an arm injury kept him out of the win over Buffalo.

Edsall believes he now has all the pieces of the puzzle in the correct places.

"You don't look at who is a senior or who is a junior," Edsall said. "It gets down to who are the best guys, and our guys know that. They know the best guys are going to play."

Vanderbilt (1-2) comes into the game on an upswing after starting the season with losses to Northwestern and LSU. But quarterback Larry Smith said beating Ole Miss has taken away lot of the pressure the team was feeling.

"That was huge to finally get that monkey off our backs," he said. "It was huge for us to get that first win of the year as well as first conference victory."

First-year coach Robbie Caldwell hopes to build on that win, and improve an offense that has been averaging just 17.3 points and 289 yards a game.

Caldwell said running back Warren Norman, last year's SEC Freshman of the Year, has been improving after arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Aug. 25. He has played in all three games and rushed for 111 yards against Mississippi.

He leads the team with 225 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Zac Stacy, who has also been trying to recover from a knee injury, has rushed for 134 yards and two touchdowns.

Caldwell, whose defense has been giving up over 200 yards per game on the ground, said ball control will be a key for both teams.

"We got to keep the ball moving and the best defense is keeping them off the field," Caldwell said. "That has always been my goal as an offensive coach — to make our defense No. 1 in the country. I figure if we do that we are keeping them from getting out there."

This will be the first visit for Vanderbilt to the state of Connecticut since 1948, when they beat Yale. Vandy last played UConn in 2002, winning 27-24 in Tennessee.

-- Pat Eaton-Robb

Southern Miss working on maximizing opportunities

Southern Miss' offense has followed a troubling trend.

The Golden Eagles get plenty of yards and first downs, but when it comes time to finish the drive with a touchdown, things become much more difficult.

Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora says that has to change if Southern Miss (3-1) is going to beat Marshall (1-3) in the Conference USA opener for both teams. The Thundering Herd are off to a rough start this season, but had one of the best defenses in the league last year.

"It's been frustrating," Southern Miss center Cameron Zipp said. "But we can't be making all these excuses. We just have to finish, period. We work on it every day."

The Golden Eagles have scored on only 11 of 17 (65 percent) of their trips inside the 20-yard line, which ranks 114th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams. They've scored touchdowns on only 6 of 17 (35 percent) of those opportunities.

Fedora said there's been several plays this season that could have been touchdowns, but his team failed to make the final knockdown block that could spring a running back or receiver into the open.

"We have to be more tenacious and finish our blocks," Fedora said. "We cannot just block them as long as we think we need to and then just let them go. We have to finish them. We have a lot of work to do in that area this week."

The Golden Eagles are trying to overcome several injuries to their offense. Starting right tackle Jason Weaver was lost for the season last week after suffering a knee injury. Several others, including star receiver DeAndre Brown, will be playing at less than full strength if they play at all.

Even so, Marshall coach Doc Holliday said he expects Southern Miss to provide a challenge for his defense.

"Where they get you is with their tempo," Holliday said. "They do a great job of making it hard for you to substitute on defense."

Southern Miss has won three straight games, including a 13-12 road victory over Louisiana Tech last weekend.

But the Golden Eagles felt they left several points on the field. They ran 92 plays, gained 425 yards and dominated time of possession, yet had to settle for just one touchdown and two field goals.

"I expect them to bounce back and play at a very high level this week and do not see any reason why they won't," Fedora said.

After losing its first three games of the season, Marshall edged Ohio 24-23 last week for its first victory.

Holliday, who's in his first season as coach of the Thundering Herd, is still looking for his first road win.

At times, Marshall has flashed a potent offense. Quarterback Brian Anderson has thrown for 850 yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions.

"It is just important that our kids come out and are totally ready to play because if they don't, we are not going to beat anyone," Holliday said.

-- David Brandt

Hawaii, Louisiana Tech square off in WAC opener

HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii coach Greg McMackin and Louisiana Tech coach Sonny Dykes have nothing but respect for each other and each other's programs.

But the two former Texas Tech assistants will put aside their friendship Saturday night when the Warriors (2-2) host the Bulldogs in the Western Athletic Conference opener for both teams.

"You talk before the game and after the game, but during the game, you're not friends," McMackin said.

The two served together as assistants at Texas Tech from 2000 to 2002. McMackin was the defensive coordinator and Dykes was the receivers coach.

"I knew he was the kind of guy who was going to be a head coach someday," McMackin said. "I know he'll do a great job at Louisiana Tech."

The Bulldogs (1-3) are looking to get back on track after losing their third straight. They'll be challenged by the Warriors' offense, which leads the nation in passing with 405.5 yards per game.

"They're playing extremely well on offense right now," Dykes said. "It's going to be a challenge going over there and playing."

Warriors quarterback Bryant Moniz seems to get a better grasp of the run-and-shoot offense every week. He tied a school-record with six first-half touchdowns in last week's 66-7 win over Charleston Southern.

While the Warriors can rack up the points and yardage, the key is playing a complete game. The team has jumped out to big leads in the first half but failed to maintain its intensity, focus and steam in the second.

"As soon as we can put together two halves, I don't see us losing any more ball games," said Moniz, who threw for a career-high 395 yards against Charleston Southern. "First half and second half are two different stories."

Hawaii linebacker Corey Paredes, who ranks second nationally in tackles with 13.2 per game, said the defense needs to come out strong in the third quarter.

"The key to success for Saturday is finishing in the third quarter," he said. "Come out hitting in the first half and keep going after halftime. That's the big key to winning."

Dykes is looking for consistency from the quarterback position after shuffling through several of them. Steven Ensminger, who was named the starter during the summer, got sick and has not returned to his original form. Ross Jenkins started the first game of the season, and Colby Cameron started the next three.

Cameron struggled in last week's loss to Southern Mississippi and was benched for junior college transfer Tarik Hakmi, who will start against Hawaii after beginning the season fourth on the depth chart.

Dykes said he always thought Hakmi could compete for the starting job, even from the start, but he had a shoulder situation that kept him from getting the number of reps.

"He's healthier now and I think he gives us a strong presence, stronger personality and some confidence at that position, which is something we've been lacking," Dykes said.

Dykes said the road trip will test his team's ability to focus. Louisiana Tech has lost its last eight road games dating back to Nov. 22, 2008.

He said his team is mentally tougher than it was two or three weeks ago.

"But again, Hawaii will test that. They're playing well and we're going to have to score a bunch of points to have a chance to win the game and we haven't been able to do that at any point this year," Dykes said.

Last year in Ruston, the Bulldogs outscored the Warriors 17-0 in the second half en route to a 27-6 victory. Louisiana Tech gained 352 yards on the ground behind running back Daniel Porter, who rushed for a career-high 160 yards on 25 carries and two touchdowns.

However, Louisiana Tech is 0-4 in Honolulu.

© 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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