Alabama Spring Game

Myriad turnovers the theme of Tide’s spring game

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And by “myriad” we mean “thiiis close to double digits” in the two-time defending BCS champion Alabama’s annual A-Day game.

Just over 78,000 fans Saturday — there were a school-record 87,000 in attendance for Auburn’s spring game, for what it’s worth — witnessed the Tide turn the ball over a whopping nine times as the White team edged the Crimson team 17-14.  The White squad, which consisted of the first-team offense, was responsible for four of the turnovers — two interceptions, two fumbles — while Team Crimson coughed it up five times — four interceptions, one fumble.

AJ McCarron, who will be entering his third year as the Tide’s starter, tossed both of the White team’s interceptions in his 19-for-30, 223-yard effort, and had a third pick called back because of defensive offsides.  He also led his side on the game-winning drive, with a 50-yard bomb to Christion Jones setting up T.J. Yeldon‘s seven-yard touchdown run late in the game.

Yeldon, incidentally, was named the Dixie Howell Award winner (game’s most valuable player) after combining for 129 yards of offense — 69 rushing, 60 receiving.  The rising sophomore led all players in both categories.  It’s also the second straight year the back has staked his claim as the spring game MVP.

McCarron’s backup, Blake Sims, also tossed two interceptions, as did early enrollee and fellow Team Crimson teammate Cooper Bateman.

Suffice to say, the offensive effort — both literally and figuratively — did not sit well with the detail-oriented Nick Saban.

“The biggest thing I was concerned about was how the team would go out there and what would be their energy, their enthusiasm, and their attention to detail,” the head coach said in quotes distributed by the team. “I don’t think that there were enough guys that answered that question in a positive way to my liking. But I’m never satisfied.”

That said, Saban made sure that everyone listening knows he’s not disappointed with his squad at this point in the offseason.  Rather, he’s merely not satisfied with where they are right now — a trait that even the head coach himself readily acknowledges is an annual occurrence.

“I spoke to a bunch of alumni groups today, and they all want me to make a comparison between this year’s team and last year’s team and the team before that, and the team before that, and the team before that,” Saban said. “And I wasn’t happy with any of those teams at this point. If I was happy with them, we wouldn’t have summer conditioning, we would not have fall camp, and we wouldn’t have thirty practices to get ready for our first game against Virginia Tech. We’d just pack it in and say, ‘Alright, let’s go to Atlanta and play the game.’

“We’re not there yet. That’s why we have all these practices, that’s why we have all the work we need to do.

McCarron, though, pretty much summed up quite well most everyone’s feelings on a game that’s nothing more than a glorified scrimmage.

“This is like playing in an all-star game. You don’t get in a rhythm. It’s not a real game, but it’s fun to go out there and try to make plays happen, and do some trick plays,” the senior said.

The attendance total of 78,315 was the sixth-largest in the storied program’s history, with the five highest coming in the first five years of Saban’s run in Tuscaloosa.  The largest crowd ever to witness an A-Day game was 92,310 in 2011.

As the school wrote in its press release, “[m]ore than 592,000 fans have attended the seven A-Day games during Saban’s tenure as head coach, including 90,000 plus in three of the seven years.”

Arizona signee My-King Johnson set to become FBS’ first active openly gay scholarship player

TUCSON, AZ - NOVEMBER 25:  Head coach Rich Rodriguez of the Arizona Wildcats watches from the sidelines during the Territorial Cup college football game against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Arizona Stadium on November 25, 2016 in Tucson, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Arizona signee My-King Johnson probably caught most Wildcats’ fans attention with his impressive name when it was listed among the 23 signees for the football program on National Signing Day.

The 6-3, 225 pound defensive end’s name is set to become a little more well known however.

In a story on Saturday in the Arizona Daily Star, Johnson confirmed that he would become the first active openly gay scholarship player in FBS when he enrolls over the summer down in Tucson.

“I do feel like when I say that, it can put a target on my back,” Johnson told the paper about going public with his sexuality. “But whatever.”

Johnson is far from the only gay athlete to play major college football but does appear to be one of the first to go public on the matter prior to suiting up for a major program. Missouri’s Michael Sam came out once he entered the NFL Draft. Just up the road in Tempe, where Johnson went to high school, Arizona State walk-on Chip Sarafin told his teammates in 2014.

From the Daily Star:

When Johnson told UA assistant Vince Amey about his sexuality while being recruited, the coach’s reaction — “We want you to be a Wildcat” — was exactly what he wanted to hear.

Johnson picked the Wildcats despite offers from numerous FBS programs, including many in the Pac-12. Perhaps coincidentally, he really jumped on the radar of the coaching staff when he sacked quarterback Rhett Rodriguez, an Arizona signee himself (and the son of head coach Rich Rodriguez), three times in a high school game.

It certainly seems as though Johnson is very comfortable telling his story to a wider audience than just his teammates and coaches by doing the interview with the Daily Star and the environment down in Tucson has been very welcoming to all the new attention that it will bring. As the Wildcats begin spring practice this month, chances are the coaching staff is probably just as excited about the prospect of Johnson making an instant impact on defense this fall after seeing plenty of issues on that side of the ball during a 3-9 campaign in 2016.

Central Michigan AD taking same position at Arizona

TUCSON, AZ - NOVEMBER 25:  Wide receiver Samajie Grant #10 of the Arizona Wildcats celebrates after scoring on a two yard rushing touchdown against the Arizona State Sun Devils during the fourth quarter of the Territorial Cup college football game at Arizona Stadium on November 25, 2016 in Tucson, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Arizona has its replacement for former athletic director Greg Byrne.

Central Michigan AD Dave Heeke is set to take the same position in Tucson with the Wildcats, the school announced Saturday afternoon.

“I couldn’t be more excited to be part of the Arizona Athletics family. It is truly an honor to be named the new Vice President for Athletics and have the opportunity to return to the prestigious Pac-12 Conference,” Heeke said in a release. “I want to thank Dr. Hart and those involved with the search process for their confidence in my ability to lead one of the premiere athletics departments in the country. This program is about excellence and we will continue to focus on achieving at the very highest level athletically and academically, while creating the finest experience in the country for our student-athletes.

Heeke has been in Mount Pleasant since early 2006 and found plenty of success with the MAC school across numerous sports. In football, he notably hired Butch Jones to replace Brian Kelly when the latter left for Cincinnati and has seen the Chippewas make a bowl game eight times during his tenure.

While he is a Michigan native, he’s no stranger to the way things operate out West having spent 18 years at Oregon. While he held a variety of roles in Eugene, he eventually became a senior associate athletic director with the Ducks before departing for CMU.

Arizona had a vacancy in their athletic leadership ever since Byrne left to become Alabama’s AD not long after the national title game in January.

UTEP’s Theron Aych named new receivers coach at Arizona

TUCSON, AZ - SEPTEMBER 10:  Wide receiver Trey Griffey #5 of the Arizona Wildcats catches the ball in front of defensive back Jaterious Pouncey #48 of the Grambling State Tigers for a 34 yard touchdown in the third quarter at Arizona Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Tucson, Arizona.  (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
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Spring practice is already underway in Tucson but it took until the end of this week for Arizona to finally have a complete offensive coaching staff.

The Wildcats announced on Saturday that Theron Aych would be taking over as the team’s new receivers coach, filling a vacancy created when Tony Dews left for West Virginia.

Aych helped provide a nice boost to the Miners’ passing game in his one season in El Paso and spent five seasons at Division II Angelo State prior to that. He served as the offensive coordinator and assistant head coach with the Rams during his five-year stint before moving up to the FBS level.

The Pac-12 is no new experience for Aych though, as he served as a graduate assistant at Washington over a decade ago.

Aych should have his work cut out for him this spring with the team featuring plenty of young players at the receiver position while also dealing with the loss of standouts like Trey Griffey and reliable veteran Nate Phillips both gone.

Colorado rounds out new defensive staff with hire of former Purdue DC Ross Els

EUGENE, OR - NOVEMBER 22:  Head coach Mike MacIntyre of the Colorado Buffaloes looks on prior to the game against the Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium on November 22, 2014 in Eugene, Oregon. The Ducks defeated the Buffaloes 44-10.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
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Just in the nick of time, Mike MacIntyre has rounded out his new defensive staff for the 2017 season.

The Buffaloes announced on Friday evening that former Purdue defensive coordinator Ross Els would be joining the program and serving as inside linebackers coach. The release notes that Els’ paperwork was completed in time for him to join the team for their second practice of spring ball.

“Coach Ross Els brings a lot of energy,” MacIntyre said.  “He has great experience as a coordinator, positions coach and special teams coach, and we’re really excited about having his expertise in those phases in our program.”

Els adds plenty of experience to Boulder, having coached linebackers at New Mexico State, Ohio and Nebraska. In addition, he was the Boilermakers’ defensive coordinator  and safeties coach last season.

The move completes the staff for the Buffs after seeing a number of coaches depart to Oregon with former coordinator Jim Leavitt.