The Fifth Quarter: Alabama-LSU Rewind

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Yes, this game was so big it gets its own Rewind.  Your regularly-scheduled “The Fifth Quarter: Week 10 Rewind” will appear, in its entirety, later on in the day Sunday.

Ben did a helluva job with the post-game recap of one of the more entertaining football games you’ll see at any level, a 21-17 win for the top-ranked team in the nation.  Below is a little bit of the minutia and talking points that may or may not litter sports radio shows and water cooler conversations throughout the weekend and into the start of a new work week.

THE TURNING POINT
The first five drives of the second half, LSU’s relentlessly stifling defense had held Alabama’s offense in check, limiting the No. 1 Tide to 49 yards of total offense.  In those five series, the No. 5 Tigers forced four three-and-outs and one fumble.

And then came the sixth drive.

After a missed 38-yard field goal attempt gave the Tide the ball at their own 28-yard line with 1:34 left in the game, LSU, which had been in full-blown attack mode on defense throughout, went into full-blown soft-zone mode.  It turned out to be the worst of several questionable decisions made by Les Miles and his coaching staff throughout the game.

In three plays after taking possession, and in less than 40 seconds, the Tide gained nearly as many yards (44) as they had in the entire second half previously, moving from their own 28 to the same yard line on LSU’s side of the field.  Following an incompletion on the fourth play of what would prove to be the game-winning drive, LSU again donned their blitzing caps… and the Tide made the Tigers pay dearly, dialing up a perfectly-executed screen pass from AJ McCarron to T.J. Yeldon that saved both the game and the Tide’s title aspirations.

It’s hard to blame LSU for trying to prevent the one big play that would cost them the game.  It’s not hard to blame LSU, though, for a decision that allowed a trio of mini-big plays, ultimately leading to the big play.

THUMBS UP

Back-to-back still intact
Suffice to say, the biggest winner of the night was Alabama’s title hopes.  If last week was the Tide’s first real test of the 2012 season, tonight was their first real test of the year.  And, while they didn’t pass with the flying colors of a week ago, they passed.  At this stage of the season, that’s all that matters — for the most part.  While the Tide had walked, talked, smelled and played like an unstoppable force through eight games — so  much so, in fact, that the laughable notion of UA being able to beat an NFL team was actually taking hold — they were anything but that for a sizable chunk of the first 58 minutes.  As odd as it sounds, though, that might’ve been the second most important development of the night as it gives Nick Saban‘s coaching arsenal yet another pointed teaching tool to use on what is still, despite all of the wins and lofty rankings, a very young football team.  Complacency will likely be the Tide’s biggest enemy for the remainder of the regular season; the LSU game tape would serve as the ultimate trump card, as evidenced by Saban’s quotes following the game.

“Our players have to be aware that they can take this one way or the other,” the coach said of the hard-fought win. “This one is either going to affect them in a positive way or a negative way with what they do in the future. They can focus on the things they didn’t do and take the next challenge and continue to improve and be ready to play next week and prepare and practice next week or they can say, ‘We’re satisfied for ourselves with what we did.'”

AJ’s Heisman hopes
AJ McCarron, because of Alabama’s style of play, will simply not put up the type of numbers that other Heisman contenders do on a weekly basis, and that was never more evident than this latest Saturday night in Death Valley.  That final drive, however, was the stuff of which legends are made.  And the stuff that attracts the attention of Heisman voters regardless of the stat line for the first 58 minutes.  The raw, from-the-heart emotion McCarron displayed as the final seconds ticked off the clock and then boiled over as he met his parents beyond the end zone after the game were as epic, in a good way, as his engineering of the final drive.  I don’t know if the junior deserves to win the Heisman, but he certainly belongs in the discussion.

The SEC
If you don’t think the SEC was privately and/or publicly rooting for an Alabama win, you might consider removing your head from the sand as it’s awfully hot and hard to breathe down there.  For the conference in general and the Tide specifically, the stakes couldn’t have been higher.  An Alabama loss would’ve left the SEC with no unbeaten teams.  When combined with three other highly-ranked teams still unbeaten — four if you want to consider Louisville as part of the mix — the SEC’s streak of six straight BcS titles would’ve been in serious jeopardy, with the conference in the uncharted territory of relying on outside help for a ticket to the title game.  Fortunately for the SEC, the Tide’s win left the conference with the inside track for one of the two spots in the BcS championship game.  Just as fortunate?  There were no controversial calls that favored Alabama and played a role in the outcome of the game…

Death Valley didn’t disappoint
Forget the fact that LSU lost just its second home game under the lights (Florida, 2009) under Les Miles.  The atmosphere at Tiger Stadium, even from my vantage point a little over 1,000 miles, is simply electric and by all accounts deafening, which makes the Tide’s triumph all the more impressive.  If you were to make a list of the greatest venues for any sport in the country, it wouldn’t take long to call roll before you got to Death Valley.  It’s a credit to the university, the football program and, most importantly, the fan base that such a spectacle exists.  Yes, the loss was certainly disappointing to those that live and die with the Bayou Bengals, but they can take heart in the knowledge that they are a big part of what makes the sport of college football so great.  And, yes, a trip to Death Valley is on my sports bucket list.  Gotta get there at some point for a night game…

Democrats
Regardless of what the polls may or may not say, the Democratic Party has to be feeling pretty good heading into Tuesday based solely on the results of a football game.  Why?  According to research conducted by FanSided.com, the winner of the Alabama-LSU has accurately predicted the results of all seven presidential elections held since 1984.  In years that Alabama won, a Democrat won the election.  In years LSU won, a Republican was sent to the White House. So, with the Tide’s win, is it hello second term for the sitting president?  Your mileage may vary greatly as to whether an eighth-consecutive accurate prediction would be a positive or negative development.

THUMBS DOWN

The Mad Hatter
Take your pick on the daffiest of the daftness of the Mad Hatter in this game.  Was it the failed fake field goal that everybody — including the Tide’s defense and my grandmother, who’s been six feet under for two decades — saw coming?  The failed onside kick, which admittedly would’ve been idiot savant-level genius were it not for a quirky bounce that resulted in an illegal touching penalty on the kicker?  The failed 54-yard field goal attempt that gave the Tide prime field position with just over a minute left in the second quarter, and which the Tide turned into a touchdown and a 14-3 lead heading into the half?  A failed fourth-and-one from the Alabama 24, one in which LSU utilized its version of the gimmicky Wildcat offense after it had been very successful running the football with the standard power game?  Individually, these plays didn’t cost LSU the game.  Collectively, they were part of the subtle flow of the game that set the table for the game-winning drive.

Oh, Copeland…
Midway through the second quarter, a fumbled punt on the part of the Tide was recovered by the Tigers at UA’s 32-yard line.  On the ensuing play, a 19-yard run by Jeremy Hill moved the Tigers down to the 13-yard line… and a post-play personal foul on J.C. Copeland moved the ball back to the 28.  While it was still first and 10 following the penalty, all the momentum gained from the previous two plays was lost as the Tigers gained just one yard the next three, leading to the failed fake field goal.  The penalty almost certainly cost the Tigers at least a field goal, if not a touchdown.  In what was a four-point loss, and even as it occurred in the first half, Copeland’s momentary lapse of reason was a significant moment in the game.

Who are you and what’d you do with the Tide’s defense?
Through the first eight games of the season, Alabama led the country by stingily giving up just a little over 57 yards per game on the ground; LSU churned out 80 rushing yards… in the first quarter alone.  For the game, the Tigers rushed for 139 yards; previously, the most the Tide had given up in a single game this season was 80 to Ole Miss in Week 5.  Add that to some very suspect play in the passing game, and we’re guessing Nick Saban will spend an inordinate amount of time tightening things up on that side of the ball as the Tide preps for the high-octane Texas A&M Aggies’ trip to Tuscaloosa this Saturday.

McCarron’s Heisman hopes
As great as the final drive was, the first 58:26 was as choppy of a game McCarron has played in his one-plus seasons as the Tide’s starting quarterback.  On that final drive, McCarron was 4-5 for 72 yards and a touchdown; prior to that, he was 10-22 for 93 yards and one rushing touchdown.  On what will be his second-biggest stage before votes are cast — the SEC championship being the biggest, provided the Tide can navigate games against A&M and Auburn — the question will become what voters give the most weight to when it comes to McCarron’s stiff-armed candidacy: the first 58, or final two.

QUOTABLE

“I’ve never been prouder of a bunch of guys to overcome adversity. … It’s something I’ll never forget.” — Alabama head coach Nick Saban.

“It was a very hard game. We needed a hard game.” — Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner.

“You’ll remember this one forever.  It hurts worse than the [loss to Alabama] in the national championship game.” — LSU defensive tackle Bennie Logan.

STATISTICALLY SPEAKING

— From the UA Sports Information Department: AJ McCarron continues to build his school record of passes without an interception. McCarron ends the LSU game with an active streak of 289 passing attempts without an interception.

— Speaking of McCarron, the junior is one touchdown pass away from tying and two away from breaking Greg McElroy‘s single-season mark of 20 set in 2010.  He’s also 10 touchdown passes away from breaking John Parker Wilson‘s career mark of 47.

— Despite the loss, quarterback Zach Mettenberger came of age for the Tigers.  In unquestionably his finest performance in his first season as a starter, Mettenberger completed 24-of-35 passes for 298 yards, one touchdown and, most impressively considering the opposition’s defense, no interceptions.

— Until late in the third quarter, LSU had gone 169:38 without scoring a touchdown against Alabama, a span that stretched back to 8:13 left in the fourth quarter of the Nov. 6, 2010, win over the Tide and which covered two-plus games.  Then, in a span of 5:37, the Tigers exploded for a pair of touchdowns.

— The 435 yards of total offense by the Tigers was the most surrendered by a Tide defense since a loss to the same team in November of 2007, Saban’s first season in Tuscaloosa.

— The attendance of 93,374 is a new Tiger Stadium record.

— Alabama leads the all-time series with LSU, 47-25-5.

Highest-rated signee in TCU’s 2015 recruiting class to transfer

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Ratings-wise, Deshawn Raymond was the crown jewel of TCU’s 2015 recruiting class.  Two years later, he’s gone.

On his personal Twitter account this week, Raymond announced that he has decided to transfer from the Horned Frogs and continue his collegiate playing career at an undetermined elsewhere. “I want to thank [head coach Gary Patterson] for giving me this golden opportunity and allowing me to be apart [sic] of something special,” the cornerback wrote. “I appreciate everything y’all did for me.”

A four-star 2015 signee, Raymond was rated as the No. 27 corner in the country and the No. 11 player at any position in the state of Louisiana. According to 247Sports.com‘s ratings, no player in the Horned Frogs class was rated higher than Raymond.

In addition to TCU, he held offers from, among others, Arkansas, LSU, Mississippi State, Nebraska and Texas A&M. He took official visits to Nebraska and MSU, and a handful of unofficial visits to LSU.

After playing in 11 games as a true freshman, Raymond didn’t see the field at all in 2016. Should the defensive back land at another FBS program, he’d be forced to sit out the 2017 season. He would then have two seasons of eligibility to use beginning in 2018.

North Carolina approves contract extension for Larry Fedora

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Heading into his sixth season at North Carolina, Larry Fedora will do so armed with a revamped deal.

Early Thursday afternoon, the university announced that a contract extension for Fedora has been formally approved by the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees.  Fedora is now under contract through the 2022 season.

“We are pleased that the Board of Trustees has approved the terms of Coach Fedora’s contract, which will allow him to continue our football program’s success into the next decade,” said UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham in a statement. “Under his leadership, our student-athletes are succeeding in the classroom, contributing positively to our community – and competing for championships. We know this was a lengthy process, but we wanted to make sure the terms were appropriate for both Coach Fedora and the University.”

Fedora’s 2016 compensation of just under $2 million was 11th out of the 11 ACC head coaches listed in USA Today‘s salary database.  The new deal will pay Fedora $2.29 million in 2017, which would’ve been ninth among conference coaches last season.

Below are the salary breakdowns for each year of the new contract:

In his five seasons with the Tar Heels, Fedora has gone 40-25 overall and 26-14 in ACC play. His wins are already fifth in school history, while his .615 winning percentage is second since UNC joined the ACC in 1953.

In 2015, the Tar Heels played in their first-ever conference championship game en route to an 11-win season that was the program’s best since Mack Brown’s last year in Chapel Hill and tied for the most in school history.

“I enjoy coaching at the University of North Carolina and I appreciate the trust Chancellor Folt and Bubba Cunningham have shown in the leadership of our program,” Fedora said. “Our staff and players have worked diligently over the last five years to build a program that encompasses all aspects of the student-athlete experience, while simultaneously achieving success on the field.”

Report: Houston Nutt could sue Ole Miss for defamation if he doesn’t get apology

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If Ole Miss thought it had seen the last of Houston Nutt, they may want to think again.  And fast.

In the midst of an NCAA “situation” that has already result in significant penalties for the football program, the university attempted to paint the football-related issues as having mainly occurred on Nutt’s watch when he was the Rebels’ head coach from 2008-11.  Nutt wasn’t pleased with the portrayal at the time the Notice of Allegations was issued in May of last year, and certainly isn’t happy a year later.

“It hurts you,” Nutt told Yahoo SportsPat Forde. “It devastates you. …

“My name wasn’t mentioned in the report but my name’s on the ticker [on television]. My name is thrown out there a lot. It’s a frustrating thing.”

Nutt’s attorney, Thomas Mars, takes it a step further, telling Forde that, if a public apology from Ole Miss isn’t forthcoming, he has every intention of filing a defamation lawsuit against the university on his client’s behalf.

“I would hope this wouldn’t become a legal situation,” Mars said. “But if the university doesn’t recognize at some point the damage that’s been done … I would like to think the appropriate action will be taken.

“This was a smear campaign. If it weren’t so deceitful and morally wrong, it would probably go down in college football history as one of the best trick plays ever.”

There were 13 allegations made by the NCAA against the Ole Miss football program. Nine of those, the majority of which are relatively minor in nature, came during Hugh Freeze‘s time with the Rebels.

In an updated NOA released in February of this year, the NCAA charged the university with lack of institutional control.  The university also self-imposed a one-year bowl ban and agreed to forfeit all postseason revenue for the 2017 season, which could be upwards of $7 million.

Freeze was charged with violating head coach responsibility legislation.

North Carolina responds to third Notice of Allegations in lingering academic scandal

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For the third time in as many years, North Carolina is responding to a Notice of Allegations connected to a decade-long academic scandal.

“We are prepared and look forward to presenting our case to the Committee on Infractions,” said chancellor Carol L. Folt in a statement. “Bringing closure to this process will be an important step for our University. The expansive reforms and initiatives now in place at Carolina reflect the academic values of a community that I am proud to lead.”

“We sent the NCAA a full and detailed response,” athletic director Bubba Cunningham said. “Our reply to each allegation is based on the NCAA’s constitution and member-adopted bylaws. We expect the Committee on Infractions to consistently apply those bylaws as the case moves forward.”

For the complete response, click HERE.

The university had a deadline of May 16 to submit their response to this latest NOA, which they met.  The delay in releasing the response publicly was caused by the school stating that they needed to perform “a review to protect privacy rights” of those individuals mentioned in the response.

In June of 2014, the NCAA informed UNC “that it would reopen its original 2011 examination of the past academic irregularities.” The first NOA was sent to the university in 2015, with UNC accused of lack of institutional control as to student-athletes in multiple sports, including football, receiving preferential access to the controversial African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) courses dating all the way back to 2002.  In April of 2016, UNC received an amended NOA that replaced “lack of institutional control” with “failure to monitor.”

Below are the allegations the NCAA has made in the five violations The Associations has charged UNC with:

  1. African and Afro-American Studies student services manager Deborah Crowder and department professor/chair Julius Nyang’oro committed extra benefit and ethical conduct violations from 2002-11 by overseeing anomalous courses in the department and giving athletics personnel authority to impact aspects of the courses for student-athletes. School personnel committed extra benefits violation by leveraging the relationship with Crowder and Nyang’oro to provide special arrangements to student-athletes.
  2. Academic counselor Jan Boxill provided extra benefits by way of impermissible academic assistance and special arrangements to women’s basketball players from 2003-2010.
  3. Crowder violated the NCAA principles of ethical conduct by failing to cooperate with the NCAA enforcement staff’s requests.
  4. Nyang’oro violated the NCAA principles of ethical conduct by failing to cooperate with the NCAA enforcement staff’s requests.
  5. Allegation No. 1 and No. 2 show school’s failure to exercise institutional control and failure to monitor the conduct and administration of athletics programs.

In its most recent response, the university claims that the AFAM courses was “were available to all students in the same manner” and that “[n]o special arrangements were made for student-athletes in violation of NCAA extra-benefit legislation.” “Student-athletes made up 29.4 percent of the enrollments in the Courses,” the university added, a number that is less than the nearly 50-percent figure the NCAA came up with.

Essentially, UNC’s argument is that, because the issue of AFAM courses is an academic one, “the University denies that there were NCAA violations.”

The Raleigh News & Observer writes that “[t]he NCAA’s enforcement staff will have an opportunity to review and address issues UNC raises over the next 60 days, with the case then expected to proceed to an infractions committee hearing in August.” A decision from the NCAA would come two months or so after the conclusion of the hearing, which would be right in the middle of the football season.