The stars and the trends of college football haven't had time to emerge in just one full week of action. But coaches of the four Division I programs in the Washington area should now have a good idea of where their teams stand.
In Nashville, where Maryland defeated Vanderbilt, 21-14, on Saturday, Terrapin Coach Bobby Ross was surprised that the pattern of the game went almost the opposite of what he expected. As it turns out, that may be good news for Maryland.
The defense, which didn't know much about itself before the game, played very well against a hard-to-read Vanderbilt offense. Cornerback Lendell Jones' interception with three minutes left enabled the Terrapins to drive 94 yards for the winning score. "I'm surprised they played this well, this early," Ross said of the defense, which had eight new starters.
After watching films of the victory yesterday afternoon, Ross said the offense played better than he had indicated immediately after the game. "We blocked very well and had very good effort," Ross said. "It's just a case of consistency."
It took Maryland a couple of weeks last year to become smooth offensively, but Ross hopes the unit can find some continuity by Saturday night when West Virginia visits Maryland at Byrd Stadium.
One thing Ross saw on film bothered him. When tight end Bill Rogers was heading for the winning touchdown, he changed the ball from his right to his left hand at about the 10-yard line. "From the sideline I couldn't see it, but it was amazing that he juggled that thing."
Ross was asked if the officials could have blown the play dead while Rogers was in the arms of Commodore defensive back Armando Fitz back at the Terrapin 38. " . . . Rogers was still moving," Ross said, "there was some wiggling, some squirming. He was still moving."
In Charlottesville, Coach George Welsh says that Virginia's best start since 1972 may have some fans--and perhaps some players--overreacting.
The morning after Virginia beat Navy, 27-16, Welsh said it would be "stupid to get too excited. We threw five interceptions--it's a wonder we were able to win. Our pass coverage isn't where it needs to be. Our football team has to be careful not to listen to some of the things I've been hearing people say--that we're this or we're that. I talked to them about it last week, but I won't mention it today. I don't want to beat a dead horse to death."
The Cavaliers haven't won their first three games since 1952, but they could this year by beating James Madison. Division I-AA JMU upset Virginia last year, but it's very unlikely that will happen again. "We don't need any more emotional games," Welsh said.
It was emotional enough Saturday in Charlottesville when Navy, going against its former coach, allowed 327 yards rushing, 247 of them on 10 plays. Midshipmen Coach Gary Tranquill still was upset yesterday at his team's lack of tackling. "On most of those big plays," Tranquill said, "we had people in the right places. But maybe we're not used to tackling guys like that. They can make you miss."
Tranquill was referring to Howard Petty, who gained 128 yards, and Antonio Rice, who ran for 76.
The Navy offense stumbled just as badly, failing to score on six possessions that started across midfield, four in the first half. Tranquill said, "Some of the younger guys in backup roles may get a longer look in practice this week." One of those younger players, sophomore linebacker Jimmy Dwyer, probably is out for the season after tearing the cruciate ligament in his knee.
Howard University should get several players back from injuries next week, but it will take revitalization of the offense to stop a two-game losing streak for the Bison.
"The defense has been just great," Coach Joe Taylor said yesterday. "I just met with them and said, 'Please keep coming, because we're going to get this offense together soon.' " The defense allowed only 12 points, but the Bison offense scored none Saturday in a loss to Bucknell. Last week, Division II Liberty Baptist beat Howard, 15-10.
"We're all terribly disappointed," Taylor said. "But Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference play doesn't start until next week (when Howard plays at Bethune-Cookman), so our goals are still intact. "My father was at the game (Saturday), and he came up to me and said, 'Son, don't worry, Joe Gibbs lost his first five games.' I kind of screamed at him," Taylor said, "because I don't want to lose my first five. And I at least want to get the ball in the end zone twice a game."
Taylor said he probably confused his own offense by putting in a few too many new plays this week. "Maybe there is too much thinking going on," Taylor said. "Maybe we're working too hard right now. Well, this week, we're going back to basics."