Saban: ‘We just couldn’t get the mental energy, intensity we needed’

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All week long, when pundits discussed the chances of Texas A&M upsetting Alabama, they invariably pointed to the emotional toll the Tide’s win over LSU last weekend as something that could swing the game in the Aggies’ favor.

In the aftermath of A&M’s stunning upset of the No. 1 team in the country, and at least to some extent, the Tide’s head coach agreed.

The past four weekends, the Tide has faced three teams that were, at the time, ranked inside the Top 15 as well as its annual cross-division rival in Tennessee.  When asked specifically about the Tigers game taking too much out of the team, Saban uncharacteristically leaned on the emotional crutch graciously provided to him by the reporter.

“I think the players refocused and really tried and it seemed like early in the week we were pretty good, but later in the week, emotionally, I’m not really talking about physically, we just couldn’t seem to get the kind of mental energy and intensity that we needed to play against this kind of team,” the coach said in quotes distributed by the team. “We have had a pretty tough stretch here, and that’s no excuse but, Mississippi State, LSU, and this game – playing at Tennessee, which is a big game for us emotionally.”

To Saban’s credit, it wasn’t even remotely all about what his Tide didn’t have or what may have been lacking in their emotional reserves.  As everyone saw, and whether they’re new to the SEC or not, A&M is one hell of a football team as Saban readily acknowledged.

“[Y]ou have to really congratulate Texas A&M. They played a tremendous game and certainly outplayed us in the game today,” Saban said. “We knew that this was going to be a difficult game and that they had a really good team. They had lost to two top-10 teams by three and five points and they are a better team now that they were then, because the quarterback is playing better every week.

“We were going to need to play our best game today and we didn’t do it and that’s my responsibility.”

The good news for Saban and the Tide is that this is far from a lost season.  The SEC West title is still well within their reach, as is a spot in the BcS title game if certain dominoes fall their way.

Even better?  Of the 23 current starters — 12 listed on the offense — 16 of them are underclassmen and, barring early leaps for the NFL, would return in 2013.  On the two-deep depth chart, 36 of the 46 players are non-seniors.

So, yeah, the Tide will be loaded with talent again in 2013 — talent with the benefit of an additional year’s worth of experience, it should be noted.

About-face: Derrius Guice will play vs. Syracuse after all

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Never mind, I guess.

Wednesday night, Ed Orgeron flatly stated on his radio show that Derrius Guicewill not play this week” against Syracuse because of a left knee injury sustained in Saturday’s embarrassing loss to Mississippi State. Thursday, there was a complete 180-degree reversal.

“We got some good news today, at the beginning of the week, Derrius was ruled out, up to yesterday he wouldn’t be able to play,” Orgeron said according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “He came to us today and said ‘Coach, I’m feeling better, I want to practice.’ He practiced pretty good today so he’s going to get some snaps. He will play.”

OK then.

Through three games, Guice leads the Tigers with 300 yards rushing and is tied for tops on the team with four rushing touchdowns. His rushing yards are currently fourth in the SEC; last season, his 1,387 yards were tops in the conference.

Pitt FB/TD machine George Aston set to return vs. Georgia Tech

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One of the most efficient touchdown producers in college football in 2016 that you were probably completely unaware of appears ready to make his 2017 debut.

A vague lower-extremity injury knocked George Aston out of most of not only summer camp but also Pittsburgh’s first three regular-season games as well. With Georgia Tech on the horizon in Week 4, the fullback is listed as probable on the team’s official injury report released Thursday.

For a team that has scored just four offensive touchdowns in two games against FBS competition, Aston’s potential return could serve as somewhat of a boon for that side of the ball.

Last season, Aston totaled 75 yards on 22 carries as well as 169 yards on 22 receptions. In those 44 touches, Aston totaled 10 touchdowns — five on the ground, five through the air.

Saturday’s game will serve as the ACC opener for both Pitt and Tech.

NCAA approves waiver to allow UCF to schedule Austin Peay as hurricane replacement game

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Hurricane Irma forced a lot of shuffling and cancellations on the college football schedule but perhaps no team was more uniquely affected than Central Florida.

The Knights had two home games cancelled as a result of the storm, last weekend against Georgia Tech and a contest against Maine that was bought out as a way for the team to play their full AAC conference slate. Dropping the games left UCF with only 10 games for the 2017 season and a not ideal five home games as a result.

That has been cleared up somewhat however, as the school announced on Thursday that the NCAA has approved a waiver and that Austin Peay is now scheduled to go to Orlando for a Oct. 28th contest.

“I can’t thank Oliver Luck and the staff at the NCAA enough for their help and understanding of our situation,” UCF athletic director Danny White said in a statement. “We greatly appreciate Austin Peay being willing to visit Spectrum Stadium. We’re thrilled for our student-athletes, who deserve every opportunity they can get to go out and compete. I know our fans will be excited about the opportunity to have another Saturday at Spectrum Stadium.”

The Knights are currently 1-0 heading into their trip to play Maryland on Saturday. With the addition of an 11th game to their 2017 slate, UCF needs to go at least 6-5 in order to become bowl eligible as a result.

Clemson kicker Greg Huegel injured during practice, out for the season after ACL tear

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If Clemson is to defend their national title this season, they will do so without the services of their reliable kicker.

The school confirmed various reports on Thursday evening that redshirt junior Greg Huegel was injured during the Tigers’ practice on Wednesday night — on the final kick, no less — and tore his ACL. He will have surgery and will not play again in 2017.

While he didn’t get the press of Deshuan Watson or others, Huegel was a key part of the Clemson run the past few seasons after taking over as the starter in 2015. The former walk-on was a Lou Groza Award semifinalist last year and had hit two of his four field goals to start off this season, one of which was a career-long 49 yard kick just last week.

Backup kicker Alex Spence is likely to take over for the Tigers in Huegel’s absence. The redshirt junior has never attempted a field goal in a game but has kicked off and made an extra point for Clemson this season.

Reserve tight end Cole Renfrow, the younger brother of title game star Hunter Renfrow, also tore his ACL in practice and is out the rest of the season as well.

Given the thin margins that College Football Playoff teams have nowadays, the loss of Huegel figures to be a big one for Dabo Swinney and company going forward. Clemson hosts Boston College this week but will face a stiff test on the road at Virginia Tech in an ACC title game rematch to end the month.