Donovan McNabb, the Syracuse quarterback, is probably the front-runner to win the Heisman Trophy but there was no padding of his resume in Saturday's 70-14 frog dissection of Rutgers in the Carrier Dome.
Instead it turned out to be Ron Konrad Appreciation Day.
Konrad, the best fullback in college football and identified by the National Scouting Combine in its preseason ratings as one of the 10 leading pro prospects, scored three touchdowns. Before that he demonstrated why the Orange appreciates him so.
On Syracuse's first touchdown drive, Konrad blocked a linebacker on a power sweep that put the ball inside the Rutgers' 10. On the next play, a power run inside left tackle, Konrad moved the pile with another block as Kyle McIntosh ran it to the 1. Konrad, lined up as a tailback, took a toss and ran it around left end for the touchdown.
That was the way McNabb wanted it.
"In a game like this," said McNabb, "I don't want to be left in the game to run up 300-some yards like Tim Couch (the Kentucky quarterback). This was a time for the other guys, who work as hard as the starters, to get out on the field and experience the feel of victory."
By the end of the first quarter, McNabb had passed only three times, all short stuff. His only run was out of necessity after a third-down play broke down.
You have to salute Orange coach Paul Pasqualoni. There was no contest from the start, which was expected considering the 43-point spread. The Scarlet Knights haven't defeated a Big East opponent in almost two years, and that was Temple, which barely counts. Rutgers compiled that dismal record on merit.
"We're not going to worry about statistics, or how many times he throws the ball," explained Pasqualoni. "Everything we do is designed to help us win. We have an offense to run and if we run it well, everything else will take care of itself."
There are coaches of Heisman candidates who would have agreed to the running up of easy statistics on this day. Instead, if McNabb wins the Heisman it will be on the strength of what he does against quality opponents.
He's already begun to make that case. In the opening, one-point loss to Tennessee and the victory at Michigan last week, McNabb averaged 266 yards passing, threw for five touchdowns and ran for two more, including a highlight-film reversal of field to plunge the final dagger into the Wolverines.
Except for those voters who are mesmerized by statistics, there was no point in having McNabb call his own number all day. For them Couch could have been declared the victor on opening day.
The only concession made by Pasqualoni was making sure McNabb tied Glenn Foley's Big East record of 61 touchdown passes. That came with 15 seconds left in the half when he lofted a long pass to Kevin Johnson for a 50-yard score.
As it turned out, McNabb easily could have more than doubled his 119 passing yards. Maurice Jackson dropped an easy, in-the-clear pass which would have produced another 50-yard touchdown. Jackson later managed to get scandalously open but McNabb overthrew him on what would have been an 85-yard score.
Great players are about much more than statistics, however.
If the Syracuse administration wants to push McNabb for the Heisman, it ought to package the film clip of an amazing play on which Donovan neither passed nor ran with the ball and mail it to every Heisman voter in the nation.
The play came late in the second quarter. It appeared that Syracuse ran a deep handoff from its own 48. On closer scrutiny, McNabb still had the ball as he stood deep in his backfield appearing to peer downfield at the results of the running play. Stealthily, Johnson swung around deep in the backfield, took a clandestine handoff from McNabb and ran 52 yards for a touchdown.
It was the best quarterback fake I ever witnessed. Even the finest ball handlers, Boomer Esiason included, change their body language when they execute a fake. They usually appear stiffer, more crouched than normal.
"I vowed before the season that I would pay more attention to detail this year," said McNabb.
He was totally relaxed, mildly attentive, which is what sold the fake to Rutgers. What he did was part David Copperfield, the magician, and part Samuel L. Jackson, the star of "Pulp Fiction." It was all Heisman.