SEC spring game wrap-ups

4 Comments

A wrap-up of the seven SEC spring games from Saturday afternoon:

Alabama
In case you missed it, John did a separate wrap-up of Alabama’s turnover-plagued spring game. Just a hunch: Nick Saban‘s not happy.

Arkansas
A record crowd of just over 51,000 fans watched Arkansas’ first spring game under new head coach Bret Bielema.

Brandon Allen and Brandon Mitchell, the two QBs in the running for the starting job, split a majority of the snaps and, at least statistically, performed similarly. Allen finished 11-of-16 for 158 yards and one touchdown, and Mitchell was 12-of-17 for 138 yards and one touchdown

“I was blown away to see over 51,000 fans support us today,” Bielema said. “It’s a steady process. I like the progress we’ve made. The team responded very positively, with success on both sides of the ball. We’re in a great position and that gets me very excited.”

Auburn
Auburn’s 2013 A-Day will largely be remembered for the final rolling of Toomer’s Corner, but what happened inside Jordan-Hare stadium today grabbed a couple of headlines as well.

Yes, there was a quarterback battle. Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace exchanged turns on both the Blue and Orange team, and it appears that competition will continue into fall camp.

“There was a couple of good things they did, there was a couple of things that are standing behind them, you know, kind of whispering to them a little bit,” Gus Malzahn said. “There’s some good things. It was great for us to evaluate the guys. I wish we could be live, but we only have two guys, scholarship guys, going through spring to evaluate them a little bit better, but it gave us some good information today, especially with them.”

—  Running back Cameron Artis-Payne had one of the standout performances, gaining 117 yards on the ground. “He’s had a good spring . He’s a big, strong guy, he’s a hard worker, he wants to be good, and there’s great competition in the backfield and that’s a good thing going into next year.”

— The real story, and if there was ever an indication of what spring games really mean, was the ejection — yes, ejection —  of cornerback Jonathon Mincy for targeting receiver Dimitri Reese on a hit, leaving Reese shaken up for a moment. The decision was made to reflect the new targeting rule that will take effect this season. Removing a player from a spring game is obviously uncommon, but there’s probably no time like the present to prepare players for what they’ll face from officials this fall. 

“Well, first of all I have to say a 15-yard penalties are unacceptable,” Malzahn said. “We have asked our guys to play hard, we’re trying to get them to play hard but I promise you that will be corrected. That was not good, no doubt. Our guys are trying to play hard, and get big hits but definitely that will be corrected.”

LSU
Before he ever took a meaningful snap for LSU, Zach Mettenberger was considered the missing piece for a Tigers offense in 2011 that struggled moving the ball at times. In his first year as the starter, Mettenberger showed flashes that he could be among the SEC’s better quarterbacks. The senior-to-be showed flashes again during LSU’s spring game today, going 12-19 for 236 yards against the No. 2 defense in one half.

 Other offensive stars included Odell Beckham Jr. with six catches for 202 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and Jeremy Hill finished with 102 yards rushing on 13 carries.

— Defensively, Les Miles praised defensive end Danielle Hunter (8 tackles, 2 sacks), defensive tackle Anthony Johnson (5 tackles), linebacker Lamin Barrow (7 tackles) and safety Craig Loston (6 tackles, 1 interception).

“Defense played well. We played one front and one coverage and tackled well and played how they’re supposed to,” Miles said. “Offensively, I think we handled the ball well. We rushed it well. Again, it’s more of the statistics against the second team defense. Still, guys that needed to catch the ball did, and guys that needed to throw it did improve.

“The key statistics today is that we are not coming away with injury. It didn’t appear to me that anyone got hurt, so we go into the summer season with a lot to improve on.”

— Of course, the best part about anything LSU is Miles himself. And The Hatter was gold in the post-game press conference once again.

Mississippi State
Tyler Russell threw for 179 yards and a pair of scores in a solid spring game for Mississippi State. Running back Brandon Holloway led with 128 rushing yards and Jeremey Chappelle had 114 yards receiving. Though spring games mean little to nothing outside of evaluating, the Maroon team’s final 21 points did mean one thing:

“We’ve had a really good spring and it was great to end it with this great crowd here. Good for the Maroon Team to get the win. It’s a big deal to those guys because now they don’t have to come back to the stadium and clean tomorrow,” head coach Dan Mullen said. “The White Team – and any of those fans that were supporting the white team – have to be here at 10 a.m. to clean the stands.”

Yikes.

Missouri
Coming off a disappointing 5-7 season in its inaugural year in the SEC, Missouri faces a crucial 2013 under longtime coach Gary Pinkel. The Tigers’ forgettable 2012 effort wasn’t helped by the fact that quarterback James Franklin was coming off a shoulder injury and wasn’t quite himself. Though Franklin is the proven signal caller, there was some excitement surrounding redshirt freshman Maty Mauk. That excitement will be tempered through the summer months, as Mauk threw a pair of interceptions during a less-than-impressive day.

“It’ll be interesting when that sorts itself out, we’ll have a one, two, three at least going into August for every position, but so much is the work ethic for not only the quarterbacks but for the entire team. There’s so much to get done,” Pinkel said.

— Henry Josey, coming off a severe knee injury in 2011, had just 13 yards on eight carries. Sophomore receiver and former blue-chip recruit Dorial Green-Beckham had three grabs for 49 yards, including a 35-yard reception. In a year where Mizzou is going to need new playmakers to emerge, Green-Beckham may need to have the biggest year of all.

“The speed of the game moving from high school to college is a whole different aspect of the game,” Beckham said. “Coming in you just have to play fast, no matter what, and you have to go out there and show why you came here to play. I’m getting a lot more comfortable as each practice goes by.”

Tennessee
A crowd of 61,076, the second-largest ever for a Tennessee spring game, came out to the first Orange and White game under new coach Butch Jones. In game where the final score was 95-71 due to an abnormal scoring system, defense actually made the biggest impression. The Orange team (defense) held the White team (offense) to just one touchdown, a 58-yarder from Justin Worley to Cody Blanc; the only other touchdown Saturday came on a 62-yard interception return courtesy of walk-on defensive back Max Arnold.

“I’m very encouraged by what I see, but obviously there’s a lot of work that needs to be done in the next couple of months,” Jones said afterward. “I’m encouraged with our leadership. I can feel this football team getting closer and closer together. But we have to get a lot better over the summer months.”

Josh Rosen gets the stats, Sam Darnold the win as No. 11 USC tops crosstown rival UCLA

Getty Images
Leave a comment

UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen grabbed all the gaudy stats, but USC signal-caller Sam Darnold managed the win.

The primetime battle of potential No. 1 overall picks in next year’s NFL Draft didn’t quite live up to the hype for fans or scouts alike, but the No. 11 Trojans completed their regular season on Saturday night with a hard-fought 28-23 win over their crosstown rivals at the L.A. Coliseum in a contest that was far from the shootout that was expected coming in.

Darnold had his moments behind center and flashed several reasons why NFL front office types are so enamored with him, hitting some nice touch passes over the middle and scrambling for numerous big plays outside of the pocket. The numbers weren’t quite up to his season standards with 264 yards through the air and no touchdowns but the redshirt sophomore did find the end zone on a scramble.

That he scored on the ground probably wasn’t too surprising given that UCLA is the worst rushing defense in the country but every yard had to be earned in the chippy rivalry game between the two schools 15 miles from each other. Running back Ronald Jones didn’t see as many carries as you would expect down the stretch but managed 122 yards and two scores to keep the chains moving on a pretty consistent basis.

The best play for the cardinal and gold might have actually come on special teams, as Michael Pittman used a little misdirection on a punt return to scoot 72 yards nearly untouched for a touchdown and the game’s first points.

As good as USC was at times on the night, they didn’t runaway with the win like many expected for a team on the fringes of playoff contention. A lot of that had to do with Rosen, who again kept his side in things with a 421 yard outing with three touchdowns and a pick — numbers that could have been even better if not for a few plays here or there. That aerial attack helped open things up for a normally dormant ground game, with Soso Jamabo rushing for 62 yards and Bolo Olorunfunmi adding another 56.

It wasn’t enough to bring the Victory Bell back to Westwood however, as the annual trophy will remain just south of downtown for the eighth time in the past decade. The Bruins still have a shot at going to a bowl game if they can beat fellow in-state rival Cal next weekend but their margin for error to reach the postseason is still incredibly slim given how improved the Bears are this year.

The Trojans meanwhile, finally get some well deserved rest after capping off an 8-1 campaign in conference play and a perfect record in the division. After a week of rest — the first of the year since they had no bye week — they’ll head to the Pac-12 championship game at Levi’s Stadium for a rematch with either Stanford or Washington State. The team remains way outside looking in with regards to the College Football Playoff chase at the moment but after a third straight win over their crosstown rival, that probably is the furthest thing on their minds as another picture perfect night in Los Angeles comes to a close.

Bryce Love (mostly) quiet as No. 22 Stanford retains control of the Axe

Associated Press
Leave a comment

Baker Mayfield‘s antics in Lawrence provided Stanford’s Bryce Love a sliver of an opportunity to climb back inside the minds of Heisman voters.

Unfortunately for him, Love’s injured ankle didn’t allow him to take advantage of that opportunity.

Love struggled for much of the night, posting a quiet (by his standards) night of 14 carries for 101 yards and a touchdown, as No. 22 Stanford topped California 17-14 in Palo Alto. His final carry of the night came with 14:16 left in the fourth quarter.

That’s not to say Love was totally quiet, though. Love broke free for a 57-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, giving Stanford a 17-6 lead at the time.

With Love hobbled, Stanford handed the keys of the offense over to quarterback K.J. Costello and backup running back Cameron Scarlett. Costello hit 17-of-26 passes for 185 yards with a touchdown and an interception. His touchdown, a 17-yarder to Kaden Smith, broke a 3-3 tie with 8:17 left in the first half and put Stanford up for good.

Scarlett carried 14 times for 61 yards, which doesn’t seem like much until you realize he toted the ball on 11 consecutive plays, which allowed the Cardinal to expire all of Cal’s timeouts and kill the final 7:25 remaining in a 3-point game.

Cal had chances to win the game, though. Matt Anderson had a 47-yard field goal doink off the upright in the second quarter, and Ross Bowers drove Cal into Stanford territory at the midway point of the fourth quarter before he was intercepted by Stanford’s Ben Edwards. Bowers finished the night hitting 20-of-29 passes for 182 yards, and Patrick Laird led all runners with 20 carries for 153 yards and a touchdown.

The win gives Stanford eight straight wins in The Big Game, the longest winning streak by either side in a rivalry that dates back to 1892.

The win means Stanford (8-3, 7-2 Pac-12) can clinch the Pac-12 North if No. 14 Washington State beats No. 18 Washington in the Apple Cup on Saturday on Saturday. (Stanford completed Pac-12 play early in order to host No. 8 Notre Dame.) Cal (5-6, 2-6 Pac-12) must win at UCLA on Friday to reach a bowl game in head coach Justin Wilcox‘s first season.

WVU QB Will Grier reportedly out several weeks with broken finger

Associated Press
Leave a comment

If you saw it live, or even on replay, you could sense this was coming.

In the first quarter of Saturday’s loss to Texas, Will Grier dove toward the left pylon in an attempt to get West Virginia on the scoreboard.  What was initially thought to be a touchdown was instead determined to be a fumble out of the end zone resulting in a touchback, giving the ball back to UT.  That was the least-distressing development on the play as, somehow, Grier got up from a dive with a finger on his right (throwing) hand pointing in a direction God never intended.

Asa result of that gruesome injury, Grier has been ruled out for several weeks, ESPN.com reported.  The same website is also reporting that Grier flew to Charlotte after the game and is expected to have surgery in that city Sunday.

A WVU official told CFT that a determination on Grier’s availability for a bowl game will likely be determined by when the game is played, meaning an official decision isn’t expected until next weekend at the earliest.

Grier, who has one more season of eligibility remaining, came into Week 12 second in the country in touchdown passes with 34.  With the Florida transfer sidelined for the foreseeable future, sophomore Chris Chugunov will get the start against fourth-ranked Oklahoma in the regular-season finale next Saturday.

After replacing Grier, Chugunov completed 14-of-26 passes for 189 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions in the 28-14 loss.

QB Justin Herbert returns to lineup for Oregon as Ducks bottle up Khalil Tate and Arizona

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Oregon has been listless offensively the past few weeks without starting quarterback Justin Herbert but his return to the lineup injected plenty of life into Willie Taggart’s team in a 48-28 win over Arizona that also made the Ducks bowl eligible at the same time.

Herbert’s numbers were not flashy or spectacular given the offense he plays in but they were a huge boost given how poorly backups played in his absence after breaking his collarbone early in the year. He finished the night with just 235 yards through the air (along with an interception) and a touchdown pass while also making an impact with his wheels, surprising nearly everybody in Autzen Stadium with a 40 yard scramble for a touchdown in the first quarter.

As nice as it was to have the signal-caller back, his teammate Royce Freeman did most of the heavy lifting as he no longer faced a loaded box full of defenders. The senior made his first trip to the end zone since September (coinciding with Herbert’s injury) to move past LaMichael James as Oregon’s all-time leader in total touchdowns. He also passed TCU legend LaDainian Tomlinson for 10th on the FBS career rushing yards list early in the game and managed to end the night with 134 on the ground and a total of four scores. Backup Tony Brooks-James added another 124 yards as the Ducks’ rushing attack was humming like days of old.

Perhaps the more eye-opening aspect of the victory was the UO defense though. The bottled up dynamic Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate better than just about any Pac-12 defense has this year and held him to only 32 yards rushing. Forcing the dual-threat star to become a passer was the game plan and the Ducks executed it at a high level, limiting him to 159 yards passing with a score and a pair of interceptions.

Running back Nick Wilson rushed for 73 yards and two touchdowns but it wasn’t enough for the Wildcats, whose most notable play was probably a pick-six by Dane Cruikshank that was negated by a taunting penalty in the first half as he finger-waged his way to the end zone. The offense later punched it in but it was emblematic of a frustrating night for Rich Rodriguez and his coaching staff.

Both teams have gone through their up’s and down’s this season and while it looked as though Arizona was on the upswing entering Saturday night, perhaps it’s Oregon who can claim the same thanks to their starting quarterback looking healthy and as back in business.