November 28, 2005

The Rockford Files - Season One

November 26, 2005

(1) Duke 70, (11) Memphis 67

NEW YORK -- Their names go together like so many college basketball duos. It's rare to hear J.J. Redick of Duke without Shelden Williams following right behind.

For the second half of the championship game of the NIT Season Tip-Off on Friday night, Williams was a solo star and it meant a title for the top-ranked Blue Devils and an MVP trophy for the senior center.

Williams matched his career high with 30 points, including the game-winning tip-in with 32 seconds left, to give Duke a 70-67 victory over No. 11 Memphis.

At halftime, when Duke held a 42-41 lead, Redick had 15 points, one more than Williams. Redick, a returning All-America, didn't score in the second half. Williams did.

"We're a team, me and him," Williams said of the senior guard. "We take the weight and onus on our backs every game. If he's not doing something I'll take it up for him and I know he'll be there whenever I need him."

The Blue Devils (5-0) didn't wrap up their third title in the tournament at Madison Square Garden on Williams' eighth rebound of the game when he tipped in a missed drive by Sean Dockery.

Duke's Lee Melchionni was fouled after grabbing the rebound of a miss by Memphis' Darius Washington Jr., but he missed two free throws with 11 seconds left. Dockery got the rebound of the second miss, but he didn't make the first of his two free throws. He made the second for a 70-67 lead and then Memphis freshman Shawne Williams hit the rim with a 3-point attempt at the buzzer and Duke had the title to go with the ones in 1985 and 2000.

"I want this team to win so bad I'll do anything for this team," the 6-foot-2 guard said of getting the rebound.

Those offensive rebounds were the kind of plays Memphis coach John Calipari said were the difference.

"The two plays that cost us the game, they weren't anything with skill or anything else," Calipari said. "They missed a layup and they offensive rebounded, simply effort. They missed two free throws and they offensive rebound. That was the ballgame."

Freshman Josh McRoberts added 12 points for Duke, which got all its points from its starters. The Blue Devils were without starting guard DeMarcus Nelson, who is out indefinitely after suffering a hairline fracture of his right ankle in the 78-68 semifinal win over Drexel.

"Together, Shelden and J.J. still scored 45 points. If they do that every night, we'll be good," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "We just have to figure out other people to score with them. That's where we miss DeMarcus because he was capable of scoring of driving, rebounding, shooting. When DeMarcus comes back we have a chance to be better."

Williams had 15 points for the Tigers (3-1), while Rodney Carney added 12 and Washington had 11. Memphis advanced to the final with an 88-80 win over No. 16 UCLA in the semifinals.

"We have guys who just haven't played together," Calipari said of his two sophomores and five freshmen in the eight-man rotation. "We're just trying to figure it out. Offensively, we're taking so many bad shots right now it's almost making me want to vomit at times, but we are being aggressive."

Greg Paulus made two free throws with 5:02 remaining to give Duke a 64-57 lead. Memphis then went on a 6-0 run capped by a layup by Washington with 3:11 to go.

Dockery hit a 3 from the corner to make it 67-63 and Williams tied it himself with a drive to the basket with 1:07 to play and two free throws 10 seconds later.

Williams tipped in a drive by Dockery to give Duke the lead for good but that and Dockery's 3 were the Blue Devils' only field goals over the final 5:17.

Dockery said Krzyzewski has been on him to keep shooting.

"That gives you confidence when Coach keeps on me like that to keep shooting," he said. "I was open for that 3 and my guy was playing off me. I felt it and made it."

Williams' other 30-point game came against Miami last season.

"Shelden is a really good offensive player," Krzyzewski said. "He showed a lot of poise tonight."

This was Duke's fifth appearance in the tournament and the two times it didn't win it, it lost in the title game.

"We're a young team, too," said Krzyzewski, who starts two freshmen. "As we bring them along, you only get better. That's why these tournaments are great in the early season. Not preseason; this is the season."

Memphis dropped to 0-7 all-time against teams ranked No. 1, but it was the first time Calipari lost to a top-ranked team. He was 3-0 against No. 1 teams during his tenure at Massachusetts.

November 19, 2005

Legend Paterno Leads Penn State Into BCS

EAST LANSING, Mich. - Welcome to the BCS, JoePa. Joe Paterno and No. 5 Penn State locked up their first Bowl Championship Series bid, defeating Michigan State 31-22 on Saturday to win the Big Ten for the first time in 11 years.

Michael Robinson ran for 90 yards and a touchdown and passed for another, and Alan Zemaitis had three interceptions for Penn State (10-1, 6-1).

Coming off a 4-7 season, Penn State tied Ohio State for the Big Ten lead but will get the league's automatic BCS bid because the Lions beat the Buckeyes in October.

Michigan State (5-6, 2-6), which began the season 4-0, finished it with six losses in seven games to post consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 1991-92.

When it was over, the Nittany Lions celebrated on the field but Paterno just ducked his head and ran into the tunnel, giving the Penn State section a wave on the way out.

"He deserves it," Robinson said. "He really does. He's worked so hard. He stayed with us. People told him to retire. Now look at him. Nobody's saying to retire and no more Joe must go Web sites. None of that. I'm just so happy for him."

Zemaitis' second pick came in third quarter, and he returned it 17 yards to the Michigan State 4. Robinson threw a 3-yard TD pass to Deon Butler moments later for a 24-7 third-quarter lead.

Paterno, pant-cuffs rolled and kept warm on a cold, windy night by a long, dark winter coat, barely reacted to the score, turning away to resume pacing the sideline as his players and coaches jumped for joy.

Win No. 353 gave Paterno his first Big Ten title since 1994, when Kerry Collins and Ki-Jana Carter were piling up big numbers during Penn State's second year in the league.

Who would have believed then that Paterno's program would eventually drop to the Big Ten's second division, with four losing seasons in the past five years?

That Penn State completed its return to the top of the conference against Michigan State provided a bit of symmetry to the Nittany Lions' revival. Penn State completed last season with a 37-13 victory over the Spartans in Happy Valley that injected some optimism into the program heading into 2005.

With a new, dynamic offense — directed by the versatile senior Robinson — and the best defense Penn State has had since LaVar Arrington was a Nittany Lion, Paterno has been vindicated.

He said throughout the 2004 season that he felt the team was close to being a winner again — and he was right.

"I feel wonderful," Zemaitis said. "It's something when you put your mind to it, battle all adversity and nobody giving us respect — when you get what you wanted at the end, it makes it that much better."

Michigan State looked as if it might be the surprise team in the Big Ten after beating Notre Dame in September, but coach John L. Smith's Spartans lost consecutive heartbreakers to Michigan and Ohio State in October and never recovered.

But the Spartans couldn't be accused of quitting in this one, even after trailing 17-0 at half.

Jason Teague had a 25-yard touchdown run and receiver Jerramy Scott ran 4 yards for a score on a direct snap to make it 24-14 after three quarters.

Michigan State was on the verge of making it even tighter, driving to the Penn State 11 at the start of the fourth quarter. But Drew Stanton was sacked by Jay Alford for a 13-yard loss and Michigan State botched the snap and hold on a 43-yard field goal attempt, never even getting a kick off.

Stanton finished 23-for-36 for 233 yards with four interceptions and a late TD pass.

The Lions immediately took advantage of the special teams' gaffe as Tony Hunt capped a nice drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to make it 31-14 with 4:58 left.

Smith dropped to 18-18 in three seasons in East Lansing, a mark that probably won't stop speculation about his job security, though athletic director Ron Mason has given no indication that he'd fire Smith halfway through a six-year contract.

Penn State got into the end zone for the first time when Donnie Johnson blocked Brandon Fields' punt deep in Michigan State territory and Matt Hahn scooped up the ball near the goal line and fell across for a 10-0 lead in the second quarter.

Less than three minutes later, Robinson took a keeper up the middle, slipped through two tacklers and cut away from another on his way to a 33-yard touchdown. Robinson's 11th rushing TD of the season made it 17-0 with 4:13 left.

Johnson ended the half with another big play, picking off Stanton in the end zone with 3 seconds left on a second down from the 15.

November 08, 2005

Colts Clobber Patriots 40-21

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts finally scaled their personal Everest. Maybe now, after routing the New England Patriots 40-21 on Monday night, they'll admit this could be a super season.

Manning shrugged off his 0-7 record at Foxborough with an intelligent dissection of the two-time defending champions. Aided by star running back Edgerrin James' 104 yards on 34 carries, and 100-yard receiving games from Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, Manning led the Colts on six lengthy scoring drives and kept them perfect through eight games, the NFL's only undefeated team.

While the Patriots have struggled mightily with injuries, an undependable running game and a leaky defense, their hex over the Colts was the major theme in this meeting. But other than a masterful first-quarter march — Tom Brady was 10-for-10 passing in the opening half — and two TD drives when the Patriots (4-4) were trying to rally, they were the inferior team.

That mediocre record is good enough to lead the AFC East. It doesn't put them within shouting distance of the Colts, who looked mature, savvy and resourceful, all elements they have lacked against New England in recent years.

The last time Indianapolis was here, in January, it managed all of three points and never contended in the divisional playoff game. This time, the Colts' vastly upgraded defense hit harder when the score was close and forced the pace, while the offense was versatile and unflappable.

Manning was 28-of-37 for 321 yards and three touchdowns. He guided the Colts, who are 5-0 on the road, to scores on seven of eight possessions. Indy didn't punt until the final 2 minutes and scored its most points ever against the Patriots.

The Colts, who have downplayed their great start this season, were so skillful this night they even forced Bill Belichick into some desperate measures. After Daniel Graham turned a tight end screen into a 31-yard touchdown midway in the third quarter, New England's coach ordered an onside kick. It was recovered by the Colts' Joseph Jefferson, who advanced it to the Patriots 22.

Indianapolis managed only Mike Vanderjagt's 35-yard field goal, and Belichick remained emboldened. The Patriots went for a fourth-and-4 at the Indy 43, but Brady threw too low for David Givens.

Vanderjagt added a 20-yard field goal before Manning capped it with an on-the-run throw that descended directly into Harrison's hands in the end zone despite tight coverage by Asante Samuel.

The win made Colts coach Tony Dungy 51-0 when his team has led by at least 14 points.

Harrison had nine catches for 128 yards and Wayne had nine for 124. The Colts held the ball for 36:41.

The offensive showcase began immediately when Manning hit Harrison for 48 yards, then threw him a fade pass in the right corner of the end zone over Samuel for a 1-yard touchdown.

That drive took five plays to cover 54 yards. Showing they also could sustain a longer march, the Colts went 68 yards on 17 plays — James handled the ball on 11 of them, including a 2-yard run from the Patriots 46 on fourth-and-1.

Another 2-yard run by James gave Indy a 14-7 lead.

In between those drives, the Patriots were just as efficient with their first possession. They also converted a fourth down when Brady hit David Givens for 5 yards on fourth-and-1 at the Colts 21. Two plays later, he connected with Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch for a 16-yard score.

Nearing the end of the half, though, both defenses made big plays. First, New England unnerved Manning and the offensive line with a blitz. Manning unwisely threw off his back foot to avoid a sack and Mike Vrabel picked it off at the Patriots 47.

New England returned the favor, however, after reaching the Indy 17. Bob Sanders knocked the ball out of Corey Dillon's hands directly to Jason David, who made up for earlier allowing Branch's TD and a 35-yard third-down completion to Givens.

Using the hurry-up offense to perfection, Manning took up nearly all the remaining 2:07 on a nine-play, 73-yard drive. He capped it by hitting Wayne with a precise pass into the left corner of the end zone for a 10-yard TD just 9 seconds before halftime, making it 21-7.

He was right back at it again after New England held the ball a mere 29 seconds after the second-half kickoff. The two-time MVP engineered an 11-play, 60-yard series highlighted by his own 18-yard scramble on third-and-5. Dominic Rhodes ran in from the 4 for a 28-7 lead.

Not even the second game for Tedy Bruschi, New England's Pro Bowl linebacker returning from a mild stroke, could help the Patriots this night. Not against a Colts team that no longer can play it low-key.

November 05, 2005

Penn State Shuts Down Wisconsin, 35-14

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Tamba Hali had four sacks to lead a ferocious defense, while Michael Robinson threw two touchdown passes and ran for 125 yards as No. 10 Penn State inched closer to claiming the Big Ten's BCS bid by defeating No. 14 Wisconsin 35-14 Saturday.

Tony Hunt added 151 yards and two scores for the Nittany Lions (9-1, 6-1), who can guarantee a trip to a BCS bowl by winning their final regular-season game, at Michigan State on Nov. 19.

Hali, a senior defensive end playing his final game at Beaver Stadium, led the charge, running around or over most of the blockers Wisconsin threw his way. Besides the sacks, he had seven tackles for a loss.

"Our kids have played hard defense all year. Tamba — I've been bragging on Tamba since preseason," Penn State coach Joe Paterno said. He then paid Hali his signature compliment, "Tamba's a heck of a football player."

The Badgers (8-2, 5-2) fell back in the conference race after Penn State held tailback Brian Calhoun to 20 carries and 38 yards, well below his 135-yard average coming into the game. The Badgers also had the league's highest-scoring offense at 39.7 points coming into the contest.

"Obviously, we couldn't block them very well, you could see that," said Barry Alvarez, who is stepping down as Wisconsin coach after the season. "We couldn't establish the run and had a hard time with pressure off the edge."

Penn State sacked Badgers quarterback John Stocco nine times.

"When you're back there dropping in pass coverage looking every which way and you just see the quarterback get crushed, that's such a great feeling," said linebacker Dan Connor.

Calhoun did get a 1-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter for the Badgers, setting a school record with 22 for the year.

Penn State never trailed after scoring on its opening drive. Terrell Golden made an over-the-shoulder reception for a 21-yard gain to put the ball at the Wisconsin 47. Two plays later, Robinson rolled right and hit Deon Butler in the end zone to give the Nittany Lions a 7-0 lead.

Hunt and BranDon Snow added rushing touchdowns as the Nittany Lions built a 21-0 by midway through the second quarter, an advantage that allowed an already-solid defense to be more aggressive, Connor said.

Fans waved white rally flags and Guns-n-Roses blared over the loudspeakers as Wisconsin opened the second half on offense. Calhoun was held to short runs before Hali, on third-and-6, ran past guard Jason Palermo and another blocker and sacked Stocco.

Penn State stalled on its next drive, but Wisconsin failed to capitalize. Calhoun was pushed out of bounds on a swing pass for a 5-yard gain, linebacker Paul Posluszny snuffed a short pass for a 2-yard loss and Stocco threw an incompletion after getting pressured from Hali and Scott Paxson.

Robinson hit Butler on a 47-yard touchdown pass on Penn State's next drive to seal the win. Robinson finished 13-of-28 passing for 238 yards and had two interceptions.

Alvarez praised Robinson as a dual threat "that presents a lot of problems. He's a Michael Vick-type player."

Robinson, a fifth-year senior in his first year as the full-time starting quarterback, said his last home game was emotional, "but what a way to go out."

Stocco's two interceptions came in the first half, including a pick by Alan Zemaitis after he leaped in front of Owen Daniels in the back of the end zone and fell flat on his back.

Brandon White had a 10-yard touchdown catch for Wisconsin midway through the fourth quarter after jumping in the end zone, catching the ball and falling on his back to slice Penn State's lead to 28-14, but Wisconsin never got closer.

November 03, 2005

Roethlisberger Out After Knee Surgery

PITTSBURGH - Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will miss one game and possibly two after arthroscopic knee surgery Thursday.

A piece of torn cartilage was removed from his right knee.

Coach Bill Cowher said Roethlisberger will definitely miss Sunday's game against Green Bay. But it's possible he'll return as early as the Steelers' game Nov. 13 against Cleveland, even though the operation normally sidelines a player 10 to 14 days.

Roethlisberger, who missed a loss Oct. 16 to Jacksonville with a hyperextended left knee, initially hurt his right knee Sept. 11 against Tennessee.

The right knee bothered him again after his shoe stuck in the turf as he was being hit by Baltimore linebacker Jarret Johnson during the first quarter of the Steelers' 20-19 victory Monday night.

Roethlisberger stayed in the game and directed a fourth-quarter drive that resulted in the game-winning field goal, but only after telling Cowher the right knee was bothering him and he might have to take himself out of the game.

Roethlisberger had an MRI exam Tuesday, and the Steelers decided to go ahead with the operation after consulting with specialist James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala.

"Ben wants to play through everything," Cowher said Thursday. "He's been very cooperative and he understands it, and he's handled this well. He felt good yesterday and wanted to practice today."

Cowher said there was a risk involved in continuing to play Roethlisberger without repairing the knee, and that if the injury continued to worsen the quarterback might be out as long as a month.

Charlie Batch, who has thrown only eight passes since the 2001 season with Detroit, will replace Roethlisberger on Sunday in Green Bay.

Batch, a former Lions starter, came to the Steelers in 2002, and moved up on the depth chart after Tommy Maddox had four turnovers in the 23-17 overtime loss to Jacksonville. Maddox committed a fumble and threw an interception that was returned for the game-winning touchdown in overtime.