Shock and Awe 

In Houston Saturday, the Tigers took no prisoners.

Well, at least now I know that humble pie keeps well in the refrigerator.

A couple weeks ago, regular readers may recall, I was compelled to eat crow of the baked-pie variety, as last year's disparaging remarks about UAB came back to haunt me yet again, as the U of M lost to the Blazers for the fourth consecutive time. That was no fun, but at least I didn't chow down on the whole damn thing. So, happily, I'm able to throw the leftovers into the microwave this week, since Saturday's famous victory requires me to back off many of the criticisms I've leveled at the Tiger offense this year and last.

Come home, Randy Fichtner. All is forgiven.

The Tigers' offensive coordinator should be as proud as a peacock when he reviews the game tape of last Saturday's remarkable steamrolling of the University of Houston. Sparked by a critical early interception and 36-yard TD return by linebacker Will Hyden, the Tiger offensive unit came, saw, and conquered before the Cougars even knew what hit them.

Rarely have I seen a football team -- any football team -- fire so efficiently on all cylinders. This week the offense and defense both clicked, finally putting meat on the bones of this season's marketing slogan: "Relentless." Building a 35-0 lead just about as quickly as is humanly possible, the U of M put this game out of reach before three minutes were gone in the second quarter. The Tigers nearly doubled Houston's total offensive yardage, but the game was nowhere near that close.

Finally, those long-suffering Tiger fans who traveled to Texas got their money's worth out of a long road trip. As I've said before, this 2003 team is special, whatever its record, for having together in the same backfield perhaps the greatest quarterback and greatest running back in the program's history. Last Saturday, both Danny Wimprine and DeAngelo Williams lived up to their press clips. Displaying superb judgment, throwing nary an interception, Wimprine picked apart the Houston defense, looking for all the world -- finally -- like the Boomer Esiason clone I once said he'd become. And Williams? Let's just say that if there's ever been a Tiger tailback who could turn a corner and turn on the after-burners like DeAngelo can, it was before my time.

In fact, having watched U of M football for over 25 years now, I dare say I've never witnessed a better road victory than this one. Oh, there have been some famous moments -- beating Florida in the Swamp in 1988; shocking Southern Cal in 1991's season opener -- but both those games were won by the Tigers hanging on by their fingernails. Saturday they stomped on the Cougars with both feet, taking all the wind out of the sails of a 5-1 opponent, before that opponent even had time to breathe.

In retrospect, the Vegas bookies should have seen this one coming. They had the Tigers as five- or six-point underdogs, but the quality of Houston's gaudy record left much to be desired. Their one previous loss was a 50-3 snuffing at Michigan, while the Cougars barely eked out a home win against Mississippi State, a team the Tigers clearly should have beaten last week in Starkville.

Indeed, were it not for turnovers and special-teams foul-ups, the U of M could be sitting at 6-1 today rather than 4-3 and already making bowl-trip plans for the holidays. But in the immortal words of Richard Nixon, "That would be wrong." You wouldn't want anything to come easy for this program, would you? The Tiger football ghosts -- that's them you hear, rattling those skeletons in the closet -- wouldn't have it any other way.

E-mail: Kenneth Neill at



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