Quentin Williams,

Northwestern drops Miss. St. for first bowl win in over six decades

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In the first of three New Year’s Day bowl games pitting Big Ten schools against SEC teams, Northwestern gave an early shot in the arm to a conference that’s seen more downs than ups in a rough 2012 season.  And, in the process, accomplished something that hasn’t happened since Harry S. Truman was sitting in the Oval Office.

Thanks in large part to utter quarterback ineptness on the part of its opponent, No. 21 Northwestern took an early two-score lead before pulling away late in a 34-20 Gator Bowl win over Mississippi State.  The Wildcats, who entered the game No. 15 in the country in rushing yards per game, did the majority of their scoring damage on the ground as they ran for three touchdowns on the day.

The win marked Northwestern’s first in a bowl game since January of 1949.  It also snapped the football program’s nine-game losing streak in the postseason, dating back to the Wildcats’ 20-14 Rose Bowl win over Cal exactly 64 years ago today.

“I’m just so ecstatic for this football program,” an emotional NU head coach Pat Fitzgerald said immediately after the game. “This was the one last negative we needed to erase.”

That decades-long streak was stopped thanks in large part to Tyler Russell.  The Bulldogs starting quarterback entered the Gator Bowl having thrown just six interceptions all season long; 28 pass attempts later, Russell added four to that total in a single game.  His third pass of the game was intercepted by NU’s Quentin Williams (pictured) and returned 29 yards for a touchdown, giving the Wildcats a 7-0 lead that the Bulldogs could never completely overcome.

Russell’s miscues resulted in 17 points for Northwestern, clearly the difference in the game.  While Northwestern threw three interceptions of their own, MSU was able to convert those turnovers into just three points thanks to a Wildcats defense that, in addition to the four picks, sacked Russell four times and limited him to just 106 yards on 12-of-28 passing.

Northwestern finishes the season at 10-3, the program’s first year with double-digit wins since 1995 under Gary Barnett.  Mississippi State, on the other hand, limped, staggered and stumbled to the end of an eight-win season.  After beginning 2012 7-0, the Bulldogs lost five of their last six games by an average of 21.4 points per game.

WATCH: Michigan breaks out your standard 10-man I-formation

ANN ARBOR, MI - OCTOBER 01: Michigan Wolverines head football coach Jim Harbaugh throws the ball during the pregame warms ups prior to the start of the game against the Wisconsin Badgers at Michigan Stadium on October 1, 2016 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
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Off the field, Jim Harbaugh is an interesting and unique and decidedly different character.  As it turns out, the Michigan head coach is that way on the field as well.

In the first quarter of its game against Wisconsin and facing a second-and-two from the UW six-yard line, Harbaugh and his offensive coordinator busted out the standard 10-man I-formation.  Of course, the Wolverines couldn’t stay in that formation — that nitpicky seven-men-on-the-line-of-scrimmage rule — so they shifted pre-snap to your standard short-yardage set that included three tight ends and a fullback.

Whatever it was and whatever its intent, it was successful as the Wolverines picked up five yards and a first down.  A play later, they scored the first touchdown of the Top 10 matchup.

That formation, though…

As for the game, the Wolverines lead the Badgers 7-0 at the half.

Georgia jumps out to big first half lead over Tennessee in SEC East tussle

ATHENS, GA - SEPTEMBER 10: Jacob Eason #10 of the Georgia Bulldogs passes against the Nicholls Colonels at Sanford Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
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Maybe Butch Jones saved his halftime speech from last week.

At least that’s what Tennessee fans hope heading into the locker room down 17-7 at Georgia in a game with massive SEC East implications. The Vols will need a second straight comeback if they’re to remain undefeated and in control of their own destiny in the division.

The Bulldogs jumped out to a big lead behind tailback Sony Michel, who had 72 yards and a touchdown. Despite reports surfacing that he would not play this week, Nick Chubb did get a carry but was mostly limited to a role on the sideline. Freshman quarterback Jacob Eason was efficient is not spectacular, going 6-of-10 for 39 yards.

The Volunteers had a chance to really make this more of a game in the second quarter, but Deandre Baker knocked the ball lose from tailback Jalen Hurd just as he was about to cross the goal line. Georgia recovered for a touchdown and promptly went 80 yards in 10 plays on the ensuing drive for another touchdown (albeit on a fumble recovered in the end zone themselves).

Tennessee did seem to get something moving on offense before halftime, with quarterback Joshua Dobbs marching down the field in nine plays before diving in for a touchdown by the slimmest of margins. It was an encouraging sign for the Vols in a half that was otherwise dominated by their mistakes and Georgia capitalizing on them.

Big Ten defense the story of first half between Michigan and Wisconsin

ANN ARBOR, MI - OCTOBER 01: Michigan Wolverines head football coach Jim Harbaugh and Wisconsin Badgers head football coach Paul Chryst shake hands prior to the start of the game at Michigan Stadium on October 1, 2016 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
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In a battle of top 10 Big Ten contenders, Michigan has managed to get to halftime with a 7-0 lead on Wisconsin. Still, the Wolverines have to be wondering if missed opportunities could come back to bite them.

Michigan has missed two field goal tries in the game so far, with Kenny Allen missing from 31 yards and 43 yards on consecutive Michigan possessions. With the way Michigan’s defense has been playing, however, it may not matter. Wisconsin has struggled to get the running game going with Corey Clement (31 rushing yards on nine attempts) and just 34 rushing yards as a team. That includes negative yardage taken by quarterback Alex Hornibrook, who has been under pressure by the swarming Wolverines defense for much of the game so far.

Michigan’s offense has not been particularly sharp against a tough Wisconsin defense either. The Wolverines are just one-for-five on third down. The only touchdown drive of the half for either team came on a 77-yard, 11-play drive with Khalid Hill picking up the final yard for a score. The key play of the drive was a 22-yard run by Chris Evans.

Michigan had a bit of a scare when big Grant Newsome needed to be helped off the field in the first half. The cart to take him off the field had come on the field but he was able to be removed from the field with some help by trainers to the Michigan sideline. Perhaps the moral support from the entire Michigan roster on the field helped him out.

Texas AD, on Charlie Strong, Longhorn football: ‘I’m evaluating everything’

Charlie Strong
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According to most observers, Charlie Strong was on the hot seat entering 2016.  After the first two weeks of the season, including a huge win over Notre Dame in the opener, most of that talk was silenced; in fact, the running theme entering Week 3 seemed to be “finally, Texas football is back!”

Since?  Not so much.  In fact, we seem to be right back where we started when it comes to Strong’s future in Austin.

First came the loss to Cal in Week 3, which renewed the rumblings.  Following an embarrassing loss to Oklahoma State this weekend in which both the defense and special teams imploded, the calls grew louder and the heat under his seat grew warmer.  For the defensive-minded Strong — and the administration — the crumbling on that side of the ball is especially troubling as the Longhorns have given up an average of nearly 50 points per game (48.7) this season to Power Five teams.

Following the game, UT athletic director Mike Perrin was asked about Strong’s future.  Not surprisingly, it’s not exactly rock solid.

In three-plus seasons, Strong has gone 13-16 overall. Most distressing from the athletic department’s side, he’s now below .500, 9-10, in Big 12 play.

Especially with Houston’s Tom Herman being such a hot commodity, Perrin will face the most significant decision of his tenure in the coming months: stick with Strong for another season and hope the Louisville lightning strikes in Austin, or cut bait and heavily pursue the most desired commodity on the coaching carousel.  Irrespective of anything else, it’s a decision that will define Perrin’s tenure at the school.