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COLLEGE FOOTBALL / GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI : Upon Further Review, Coach Says Referee Blew the Call

Memo to those hoping to ask East Carolina Coach Bill Lewis about the NCAA’s flagrant taunting rule: Don’t.

Lewis is still a bit steamed about a 15-yard penalty called on one of his players for allegedly making an obscene gesture after East Carolina’s recovery of an onside kick against Illinois last Saturday. According to a statement issued by Lewis, the officials simply blew the crucial call.

The naughty gesture toward the Illinois bench allegedly was made with 1:46 remaining in the game and the Pirates trailing, 38-31. East Carolina trimmed a 38-10 third-quarter deficit to seven points and was in excellent position to drive for a tying or winning score after the onside kick.

That was before East Carolina’s Clayton Driver, who recovered the kick, was flagged for flagrant taunting, better known as the “Miami Rule,” in honor of the Hurricanes’ despicable manners against Texas in the last Cotton Bowl game. Instead of first and 10 on its 46, East Carolina wound up with first and 25 on its 31. The drive and comeback died shortly thereafter.

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“After reviewing the films of the onside kick, it is clearly evident that there was no taunting of the Illinois players or bench area and absolutely no obscene gesture made,” Lewis said. “In looking at the various angles we have, we can account for all 11 players. I challenge anyone to watch the film and see where there were any gestures made or taunting of anyone on the Illinois team or in their bench area. In my opinion, it was an extremely poor call.”

Driver has since told East Carolina coaches that the only thing he did after recovering the ball was yell, “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” That’s it.

Illinois Coach John Mackovic said he didn’t see Driver’s alleged gesture, nor did he witness any unsportsmanlike conduct by East Carolina players. After reviewing tape of the play, Mackovic did say: “There were a number of (Pirate) players demonstrating in our team area.”

Demonstrating or celebrating? Thanks to Miami’s performance, game officials have been told to let the flags fly if any sort of taunting--real or imagined--occurs.

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“The fact is that it was a tightened rule this year,” Mackovic said. "(The officials) were told to make note of it and make these calls.”

Tell it to Lewis, who was gracious enough to note that his team had two earlier chances to score inside the Illinois 20-yard line but failed each time.

Of course, get this: In Miami’s game against Arkansas Saturday, Razorback players were the ones taunting the Hurricanes. No penalties were assessed, but the referee told the Arkansas players to knock it off, or else.

Apparently, the Hurricanes were near angelic in their 31-3 victory. Maybe the Miami players actually listened to the preseason lectures they received from Big East Conference referees. The subject: Do’s and don’ts of the NCAA taunting rule.

As a result of USC’s mind-boggling Labor Day loss to Memphis State (Memphis State?) , the phrase, On any given Monday . . . now has meaning.

How stunning was the defeat? Purdue Coach Jim Colletto nearly swallowed his whistle when he heard the news.

“If we all sat in this room (and picked the winner), there wouldn’t have been anybody who would have bet on Memphis State,” he said. “And if they did, they would have called the white-coat guys.”

The final score caught everyone by surprise, including St. Louis Cardinal broadcaster Mike Shannon, whose radio network stretches into the Memphis area. He interrupted his Monday broadcast with news of the Tiger upset.

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So important was the victory that when the Memphis State team arrived home at 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, a crowd of about 100 fans, many of them carrying rain-soaked banners and signs, stood happily in the foul weather to greet the Tigers. All of the local television stations sent crews, too. And when the Memphis State ticket office opened that morning, a line of customers spilled out of the lobby and partly around the building.

Of course, that’s nothing compared to what was going on at the Liberty Bowl, where Memphis State plays its games. Ticket buyers were lined up a quarter of the way around the stadium. Before the Memphis State victory, about 50,000 seats had been sold for its home opener against Mississippi. Now, ticket officials are expecting a sellout crowd of 62,380.

Determined to take advantage of every precious nanosecond of television air time possible, Louisville Coach Howard Schnellenberger has prepared a show to remember, which will be shown when his team plays 11th-ranked Tennessee tonight at Cardinals Stadium.

Among those expected to appear at the game are the nationally renowned Louisville Orchestra--attired, of course, in tuxedo T-shirts; former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali; Johnny Unitas, the NFL Hall of Fame quarterback and Louisville alumnus; Paul Hornung, the NFL Hall of Fame running back and local hero; Olympic swimmer Mary T. Meagher, and golfers Jodie Mudd and Fuzzy Zoeller.

Schnellenberger, who could sell sand to Saudi Arabia, didn’t stop there. His nonstop publicity campaign has resulted in only the second advance sellout in Louisville football history and, depending on how many more temporary bleachers can be crammed into the stadium, the crowd should exceed the previous record of 39,142.

Media credential requests have topped 500, which is 200 more than Louisville’s sports information office has ever received for a football game.

Schnellenberger, who did this same sort of thing while at Miami, considers the game a crossroads event. Despite a 10-1-1 record in 1990, including a convincing Fiesta Bowl victory over Alabama, his team remains one of the best-kept secrets in college football. A victory over a team with another established marquee program, such as Tennessee, would do wonders for Louisville’s national standing. After all, this is the Cardinals’ first regular-season appearance on national television.

How serious is Schnellenberger? Wednesday, his team practiced under the lights at Cardinals Stadium at 6:30 a.m. --it was the only time he could get the field for a workout in nighttime conditions.

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Later that day, after classes, the Cardinals returned to the stadium for a 2 p.m. practice. That’s right, two-a-day drills on the day before a game.

Schnellenberger, however, probably didn’t do himself any favors in a Tuesday news conference. Asked about Tennessee free safety Dale Carter, an All-American kick returner considered to be one of the top three defensive backs in the country, Schnellenberger said he never heard of him.

Think word will get back to Carter?

There is still no decision on who will start at quarterback for Michigan State. Coach George Perles said an announcement will be made Monday. Bret Johnson, the former UCLA starter who transferred to East Lansing, Mich., was considered the likely choice of the four candidates. Of course, Perles has been known to spring a surprise now and then. . . . If you own a rosary, pull it out for beleaguered Boston College. The Eagles’ next four games are against Michigan, Georgia Tech, Penn State and Louisville. Boston College finishes the season against Syracuse and Miami. No wonder university officials are saying a less ambitious schedule might be appropriate in future years.

Florida, eligible for postseason play but still serving a final season of probation, is taking no chances when it comes to NCAA violations. At the Gators’ recent media day, reporters and photographers were issued an information packet that included a terse message: “Important Notice. It is against NCAA rules for a player to do a promo for a radio or television station. In short, a player cannot endorse a product, service or the respective station. The player can lose eligibility for such a violation, so please refrain from asking players to cooperate with such a request.”

Miami’s 31-3 victory over Arkansas last Saturday means the Hurricanes have outscored their past three Southwest Conference opponents--the Razorbacks, Texas and Texas Tech--by a combined score of 122-16. The Hurricanes play pass-crazed Houston, another SWC member, next Thursday at the Orange Bowl, and already the statistics are flying.

For instance, Houston quarterback David Klingler threw more touchdown passes last season--54--than Miami Heisman Trophy winner Vinny Testaverde or former Hurricane star Steve Walsh did in their entire college careers. They had 48 apiece. Remember, though, that only five of Klingler’s 54 touchdown passes were against teams with winning records--Baylor, Texas A&M; and Texas.

In an attempt to guarantee a sellout in the hard-to-fill Orange Bowl, Miami school officials and a local restaurant are offering the following deal: If the Hurricanes and the Cougars combine for more than 100 passes, ticket-holders may redeem a coupon for a free appetizer. Miami averages 39.5 pass attempts a game, Houston 59.9. . . . When Wisconsin opens its season against Western Illinois on Sept. 14, the Badgers will do so with 10 true freshmen expected to play. Second-year Coach Barry Alvarez doesn’t have much of a choice: Wisconsin has only five seniors on the team.

Ohio State Coach John Cooper is doing his best to downplay running back Robert Smith’s controversial decision to quit the team. Smith, the Big Ten freshman of the year, left after Cooper and assistant coach Elliot Uzelac allegedly suggested that the star halfback was spending too much time on academics.

Asked if Smith’s decision might have a positive effect on the team, Cooper said: “We’ll know more about that after we play Saturday afternoon (against Arizona). I hope we don’t have to have something like that to bring us together. If that’s the case, and it has brought us closer, then we’ll also accept that.”

Smith, who may accept a scholarship offer to compete on the Buckeye track and field team, took a verbal shot from an interesting source: Earle Bruce, Cooper’s predecessor who was fired by Ohio State and now coaches at Colorado State.

“I want to tell you what I think,” Bruce told the Denver Post. “You get kicked in the (rear) and you’ve got to get up and go. This is a game of toughness. I hate crybabies when I read about them in the papers. Prima donnas that can’t take toughness don’t want to play.”

Way to keep it in perspective, Earle.

As selected by staff writer Gene Wojciechowski

No. Team 1. Clemson 2. Florida State 3. Washington 4. Florida 5. Penn State 6. Miami 7. Colorado 8. Notre Dame 9. Michigan State 10. Oklahoma

The waiting list: Michigan, Baylor, Houston, Louisville and Iowa.


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