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SEC spring game wrap-ups

Tennessee Practice AP

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 Mitchellthe 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.”

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Jameis Winston suspended for entire Clemson game

Jameis Winston AP

If Florida State fans are looking for a whole-game look at what post-Jameis Winston life will be like, you’re going to get a sneak peek in Week 4.

In an unexpected and “WOW!!!” development, FSU announced very late Friday night that its Heisman-winning starting quarterback has been suspended for the Clemson game Saturday.  As in, the entire game, not just the first two quarters.

Earlier this week, it had been announced that Winston would be suspended for the first half of the Seminoles’ ACC opener against the Tigers.  That suspension stemmed from Winston’s very vocal and public performance of a vulgar and obscene Internet meme.

The statement announcing the full-game suspension, attributed to interim president Dr. Garnett Stokes and athletic director Stan Wilcox, appears below.  It should also be noted that head coach Jimbo Fisher was not mentioned in the official release announcing the full-game suspension.

Based upon the results of our continuing investigation of Tuesday’s incident involving Jameis Winston, we have decided to not play him for the entire game against Clemson.

FSU has been criticized nationally for its original half-game suspension.  That criticism stemmed from a couple of camps: the first being an overreaction to a kid-being-a-kid moment, the second a university and football program that’s bent over backwards and turned a blind eye to a very talented player over and over and over again.

It’ll be up to the NFL to decide which is which and what is what.

With Winston sitting, the current future belongs to the enigma that is Sean McGuire — in his first career start and with ticket-less parents — to guide the Seminoles as they look to not only extend its nation’s best wining streak to 19 straight but also continue positioning FSU for the first-ever College Football Playoff.

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Top 5 recruit suffers apparent leg injury

Josh Sweat

Defensive end Josh Sweat (Chesapeake, VA/Oscar Smith) is one of those rare talents at the high school level who has his choice of colleges across the country.

Unfortunately, Sweat’s football career will be put on hold after he suffered a leg injury Friday night.

The severity of Sweat’s injury has yet to be determined, but he appeared to be in good spirits as he was taken off the field.

Sweat is a 6-5, 236-pound defensive end ranked as the fifth best prospect in the nation, according to Rivals.com. Sweat holds offers from Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, LSU, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Penn State, South Carolina, Texas A&M, USC and many others.

Virginia Tech, Florida State, Georgia and Ohio State are considered the early favorites for his services. The Hokies would love to keep the talented edge-rusher in state, but the injury will prevent Sweat from visiting Blacksburg this weekend.

The defensive end also has visits scheduled with Georgia, Florida State and Oregon depending on the status of his injury.

(Photo courtesy of Rivals.com)

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Georgia attempting to schedule ‘iconic’ programs

Uga VI

As college football enters a new era that culminates each season with the College Football Playoffs, programs are attempting to beef up their schedules as much as possible to become attractive options to the selection committee.

The committee made itself very clear in how it will evaluate which four teams will be included.

“Strength of schedule, head-to-head competition and championships won must be specifically applied as tie-breakers between teams that look similar,” a document released by the College Football Playoff stated.

Georgia Bulldogs athletic director Greg McGarity took notice of the proclamation. With the Notre Dame Fighting Irish already on the schedule during the 2017 and 2019 seasons, McGarity isn’t finished adding “iconic” programs to the Bulldogs’ schedules.

“I feel like over the next seven years just be expecting some more games of this magnitude,” McGarity told the UGA athletic board, according to the Athens Banner-Herald‘s Marc Weiszer. “Nothing’s in writing. …It’s all verbal at this time. Expect some good things to happen over the next seven or eight years from a scheduling standpoint.”

Georgia currently has two openings during the 2016 and 2019 campaigns, The 2017 season has one spot yet to be filled. And 2018 is relatively wide open with three games yet to be filled.

The Bulldogs aren’t expected to schedule some traditional rivals like the Clemson Tigers. McGarity is looking to build a national brand.

“It would be great for us to move into other areas,” McGarity told Weiszer. “I think that’s kind of what we’re looking at, to go to some places where when you say Georgia’s playing at this site, you say, ‘Wow. I can’t wait for that to happen.’”

Some of the programs that immediately come to mind are the USC Trojans, Oregon Ducks, Oklahoma Sooners, Ohio State Buckeyes, Michigan Wolverines and Texas Longhorns. None of those have been attached to a game against Georgia, but they seem to fit the type of program McGarity would like to schedule.

The athletic director has certainly changed his approach as the program moves forward with the new system in place.

“I think it changes somewhat because of the strength of schedule model that we think is in place,” McGarity said. “We don’t know what that is, but I do think the excitement that the Notre Dame game has generated has just been phenomenal.”

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NCAA wants Ed O’Bannon appeal resolved by next summer

NCAA Men's Final Four - Practice Getty Images

The NCAA needs to have its appeal of the Ed O’Bannon case heard before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals within the year.

Correction: The NCAA believes it’s “critical” to have its appeal resolved within the year, according to CBSSports.com’s Jon Solomon.

“The NCAA contends that if this appeal is not resolved by that date, then absent a stay the NCAA and its members will, in the NCAA’s words, be forced to make fundamental changes to the administration of collegiate athletics and to their relationship with student-athletes,” the joint filing stated. “Plaintiffs disagree vigorously that the injunction will present a disruption but are nevertheless amenable to a briefing and argument schedule that would permit both to be completed by April or May 2015.”

Whether you side with or against the NCAA in its attempt to retain its amateurism, it is important for the appeal to be heard and resolved by August. Schools will then know how to adjust their approach to running their profitable sports such as football and basketball, which both take place in the fall.

“The NCAA requested that oral arguments be set for a date in April or May 2015,” Solomon reported.

As of now, the NCAA has to prepare for the changes U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken enacted when she ruled in favor of the players represented in the O’Bannon case.

“The judge’s decision strikes down NCAA rules restricting their compensation and permits reasonable but significant sharing with athletes — both for the costs of education and to establish trust funds — from the billions in revenues that schools earn from their football and basketball players,” attorney who represented the plaintiffs, Bill Isaacson, said in a statement directly after ruling was made.

The NCAA“will not be permitted to set this cap below the cost of attendance, as the term is defined in its current bylaws.” It also prevents the NCAA from making rules to limit schools from“offering to deposit a limited share of licensing revenue in trust for their FBS football and Division I basketball recruits, payable when they leave school or their eligibility expires.”

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Georgia initiates study for new indoor facility, raise ticket prices

Georgia v Clemson Getty Images

In the wake of the Ed O’Bannon court ruling, it’s more obvious than ever that college football (and the NCAA in general) is a business. A school’s ability to raise funds for new facilities is an integral part of the game’s arms races for recruits and maintaining a high profile.

The University of Georgia is the latest program to investigate the possibility of adding a new indoor practice facility, according to the Athens Banner-Herald‘s Marc Weiszer.

How will the school fund the product if it’s approved? Fundraising and donations will certainly be a big part of the process. The school also plans to raise ticket prices next season.

The “World’s Largest Cocktail Party” will be a little more expensive to attend as well.

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FAA grounds Michigan’s game-ball drone delivery plans

station radio control

Michigan wanted to deliver this weekend’s game ball against Utah to Michigan Stadium by drone. The Federal Aviation Administration said “Nope.”

As reported by Bloomberg, the University of Michigan had plans to use a drone aircraft. The plan was even discussed with local aviation regulators, but once the FAA caught wind of the idea the organization was quick to make sure the plan did not take flight.

“The FAA promotes voluntary compliance by educating UAS operators about how they can operate safely under current regulations and laws,” the FAA said to Bloomberg. The FAA has only allowed permits for limited drone operations to date, so the possibility of having something like this approved in the future is certainly a realistic possibility.

Now the only air delivery Michigan fans will focus on on Saturday against Utah will be that off the arm of quarterback Devin Gardner.

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A milestone weekend for Virginia Tech, LSU, Arkansas and Minnesota

Hodges, Green

Looking to rebound from a home loss to East Carolina, Virgina Tech will host Georgia Tech in an ACC Coastal Division match-up. As with all games in the wide open ACC Coastal Division, the result will loom large later in the season. But Virginia Tech will also be recognizing a little bit of history for the football program. According to Virgina Tech, this weekend will mark the 1,200th game in program history.

Virgina Tech is not the only school celebrating that milestone. If we are to trust the record keeping on Wikipedia — and when has that ever been wrong? — it looks as though this weekend will also see Minnesota, LSU and Arkansas all hit the 1,200 games played mark as well.

Using the same list, no school has played more games than the Ivy League’s Penn Quakers with 1,343 game son the record books. Penn finally gets its season started this weekend with a home game against Jacksonville. The FBS school with the most games played in college football history is Rutgers. This should come as little surprise given Rutgers is the birthplace of college football and played in the first college football game on record, against Princeton. Other FBS schools with 1,200 games and counting include Navy, Michigan, Nebraska, Syracuse, Penn State, Virginia, Texas, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia, West Virginia, Missouri, Maryland, Notre Dame, Tennessee, Georgia Tech, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and California.

Army actually played its 1,200th game in program history last weekend, so apologies for missing the milestone.

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Report: Rutgers AD made inappropriate Sandusky reference

Julie Hermann

Not even a full week after issuing an apology to Penn State, Rutgers Athletics Director Julie Hermann is in some hot water for an inappropriate comment referencing former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. This on the day the Big Ten issued a public endorsement for the new “It’s On US” campaign launched by the White House. The timing of it all really is incredible.

The comment made by Hermann was made last fall, well before the need to apologize to Penn State for the behavior of some fans at last Saturday’s Big Ten opener and for the university accidentally sharing photos on social media channels with inappropriate references to the crimes committed by Sandusky. According to a report by NJ.com, Hermann shared an “off the cuff response” while discussing ways to reach out to donors. Rutgers senior vice president for external affairs Pete McDonough suggested it was not aimed directly at Penn State.

“Julie’s comment was an off the cuff response to a give-and-take interaction urging the fundraising team to reach out and touch the donors,” said McDonough, per NJ.com. “There probably isn’t a person alive today who hasn’t made an impromptu remark in a private meeting that probably shouldn’t have been said. Even taken out of context, this single comment was not directed at Penn State, its students, staff or faculty.”

It has been a rough 17 months for Hermann since being appointed athletics director at Rutgers. What could possibly happen next?

The lesson here is simple. Abuse of children through any means is simply not funny. If you think you are making a joke that is even somewhat related to sexual abuse or child abuse in any way, you should probably think again. Then again, this should not even require much thinking from the start.

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Nebraska kicker hurt in motorcycle crash

Nebraska v Penn State

Nebraska kicker Mauro Bondi suffered a broken collar bone Thursday night after crashing his motorcycle. The Journal Star in Lincoln was the first to report this injury.

According to the police report, as reported by The Journal Star, Bondi had trouble making a turn, hit a curb and ran off the road. Bondi was aided by a passerby back to his apartment, and his roommate drove him to a nearby hospital. According to police, no alcohol was connected to the accident and Bondi was wearing a helmet. However, the Nebraska kicker was cited for negligent driving and riding without a motorcycle licence.

With Bondi injured, Nebraska may have to ask place kicker Drew Brown to pull some double duty for the Huskers on special teams. Bondi is Nebraska’s kickoff specialist, while Brown typically handles the place-kicking responsibilities.

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Big Ten, Pac-12 join the “It’s On Us” sexual abuse prevention movement

PAC 12 Media Day

Today the White House launched a brand new initiative designed to prevent sexual assault and raise awareness for what has become a top story in the sports world in recent weeks. “It’s On Us,” according to the campaign’s official website, is a pledge to help keep women and men safe from sexual assault and is a promise to not be a bystander to the issue. The Big Ten and Pac-12 were quick to hop on board in support of the new program.

As the program was formally launching in Washington D.C., both conferences released statements of support for the initiative.

“The Pac-12 is proud to join this effort to build a culture on college campuses in which everyone has a responsibility to stop sexual violence,” said Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott. “Our member institutions are very focused on this issue and we see a great opportunity to use the visibility of college athletics as a means to raise awareness and promote this campaign.”

As noted in the Pac-12 release, research shows one in five women in the United States today are sexually assaulted while in college with most assaults occurring in their freshman or sophomore years at the hands of acquaintances, classmates or friends. The Big Ten saw the terrors of sexual abuse unfold right in front of it a few years ago with the startling revelations that came from the investigation and trial of former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. This new initiative is aimed more at preventing college students from abuse, but the message should easily spread to all levels beyond college-aged students.

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A win with an asterisk would be just fine with Clemson’s Swinney

Dabo Swinney

Florida State will open Saturday night’s home game against Clemson without starting quarterback Jameis Winston. Winston will not play until the second half of the key ACC Atlantic Division battle due to a half-game suspension. This seems to give Clemson an advantage at the start of the game, but nothing is guaranteed. If Clemson does return home with a win over the top-ranked Seminoles, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney will not care if anyone chooses to place an asterisk next to the result.

“Georgia beat us,” Swinney said referring to Clemson’s season-opening loss at Georgia, per per TigerNet.com. “Did we put an asterisk by that? We didn’t have three senior starters.” Clemson was without  defensive end Corey Crawford, offensive guard David Beasley and defensive back Garry Peters for the week one road game at Georgia. All three were suspended (as well as offensive tackle Shaq Anthony) for violations of team rules.

“Heck, no. They beat us. Period. There’s no asterisk by that. Give me a break.”

Swinney also made reference to Alabama’s 2010 BCS Championship Game victory over Texas to prove his point further. Texas lost starting quarterback Colt McCoy to an early injury in the game, leaving the Longhorns having to turn the offense over to a young and inexperienced Garrett Gilbert.

“I don’t think there’s an asterisk on that crystal ball down in Tuscaloosa,” Swinney said. “I think we’ve got a national championship trophy [at Clemson, referring to the 1981 season] where we beat Nebraska. I don’t think they played Turner Gill in that game but it still says national championship.” Gill did not play in that season’s Orange Bowl due to a leg injury.

The bottom line is pretty straightforward. Clemson can only worry about whatever they see on the other side of the field. The game still lasts 60 minutes and there is more than enough talent for Clemson to prepare for coming at them from the Florida State sideline. Florida State will give the start under center to Sean Maguire. Maguire’s parents already gave their tickets away. If Clemson benefits from Florida State being without Winston for 30 minutes, that is not Clemson’s problem.

Of course, if Florida State does lose, we then can entertain the arguments from Jimbo Fisher about how a fully-equipped FSU would split 10 games with Clemson down the road. Right?

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For what it’s worth, Big 12 piling up quality losses

Big 12 Football Media Days

When it comes to determining the best conferences, we tend to look first at the quality wins recorded in non-conference play. This is an area where the Big Ten has come under fire in a big way in the first few weeks of the season, and for good reason. While much will be discussed regarding the Big Ten’s place in the power conference pecking order, it may be time to take a close examination of the Big 12’s lack of signature wins as well.

Through the first three weeks of the season and last night’s Thursday night start to Week Four, the Big 12 has had its own share of opportunities to score some key victories for conference bragging rights. The best you can make of the Big 12’s start in non-conference play is “Well, at least we’re not the Big Ten.” That is not a terrific selling point.

The season started out on a down note with the Big 12 seeing Iowa State lose at home to FCS powerhouse North Dakota State. While most of the rest of the conference performed better against weaker opponents to start the season, the Big 12 missed on two chances to impress on the national stage with West Virginia losing to Alabama and Oklahoma State coming up short against Florida State. The Mountaineers and Cowboys may have played well or better than expected against the highly-ranked programs from the SEC and ACC, respectively, but in the end the Big 12 started 0-2 against power conference opponents.

The following week saw BYU steamroll Texas for a second straight season while the rest of the conference enjoyed victories against lesser opponents (except for Iowa State, losing at home to Kansas State in Big 12 play). Week three of the season was the first real test for the Big 12 and there were some positives to draw from it. The Big 12 proved on the field to be better than the Big Ten in three games (West Virginia over Maryland, Iowa State over Iowa, TCU over Minnesota), cementing the Big Ten at the bottom of the power conference pecking order for now, but the Big 12 still lags significantly behind the SEC, ACC and Pac-12 in terms of quality wins. Oklahoma did pick up a good win at home against a Tennessee program on the rise, but the Vols are still a work in progress and unranked. The same weekend saw Texas suffer a loss at the expense of the Pac-12’s UCLA. Texas Tech could not slow down Arkansas in Lubbock. Kansas was blown away by Duke as well.

Last night the Big 12 once again whiffed on an opportunity to defeat a quality opponent with Kansas State imploding inside the red zone and leaving points off the scoreboard in a 20-14 loss at home to Auburn. The Big 12 could have really used that win, especially on a light weekend schedule for the conference. Kansas will host Central Michigan Saturday afternoon. West Virginia will have a chance to notch a conference victory at home Saturday night, against Oklahoma. Just as it was perceived to be Ohio State’s or Michigan State’s responsibility to carry the Big Ten banner on the national stage, the Big 12 may now be in need of Oklahoma (or Baylor) running the table. Oklahoma losing in Morgantown may end up doing more damage than good for the sake of the Big 12 when it comes time for the College Football Playoff selection committee to do their job.

As stated already, the Big 12 has breathing room ahead of the Big Ten for now, but losses inside the conference could start to do more damage than they would have if the Big 12 could record some wins against power conferences not named the Big Ten.

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Louisville might have RB Michael Dyer vs. FIU

Michael Dyer

Louisville rushed for just 79 yards last weekend against Virgina. It is not time to push the panic button, especially after some strong performances on the ground in the two games prior to last week’s loss at Virgina, but the Cardinals are looking forward to the return of Michael Dyer. There may even be a chance Dyer makes his season debut this weekend as Louisville travels to FIU.

According to a report Thursday from The Courier-Journal in Louisville, head coach Bobby Petrino suggested it may be a possibility Dyer returns to action Saturday. The running back was injured in a scrimmage in August and has just completed his first full week of practice since going inactive.

“We saw some really good things from him,” Petrino said, according to the report. “The thing that’s hard on that is it’s not only the injury that he’s overcoming, it’s the soreness from not doing those things for five weeks — not running hard and cutting and doing all that. The rest of his body is sore.”

The urgency to rush Dyer back this weekend may not be huge given the opponent, but this could also be a good week to allow Dyer a chance to get his legs back in order. Louisville should manage to beat FIU without Dyer, but if there is a chance he can play then he should probably take advantage of it. It may be better to get in game shape this weekend as opposed to next weekend in ACC play (against Wake Forest).

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If Auburn was stealing signs, nobody to blame but Kansas State

Auburn v Kansas State Getty Images

Auburn picked up a hard-fought victory on the road Thursday night at Kansas State, defeating the Big 12’s Wildcats by a final score of 20-14 in a game that almost seemed to go against the grain for the SEC’s Auburn Tigers. Auburn was forced to slow things down in order to protect a lead and there were times when Auburn’s running game seemed to be out-worked by a relentless and well-prepared Kansas State defense. Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder thinks Auburn had another advantage to rely on; stealing signs.

As the teams went to halftime Thursday night in Manhattan, Snyder told ESPN sideline reporter Sam Ponder he believed Auburn had picked up on some of Kansas State’s signals. The veteran coach suggested to Ponder his team needed to do a better job of disguising their calls in order to keep Auburn guessing. Following the game, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn disputed having any advantage of that kind, not that there should be any reason to feel bad about it if indeed Auburn did figure something out.

To be fair, Snyder was not accusing Malzahn and Auburn of doing anything wrong. He seemed to be just making an observation to Ponder, as it was reported during the telecast. Kansas State had plenty of opportunities to score the upset, and the possibility of having signals stolen by Auburn is far down on the list behind missed field goals, failed red zone opportunities and turnovers.

There should be a line drawn between the idea of stealing signals and picking up on signals. Stealing implies a team or person did something wrong, perhaps by sending someone undercover to scope out a team’s practice during the week or by getting a hold of an opponent’s playbook or game plan before the kickoff. Picking up on hand signals or vocal calls during the course of a game should be considered nothing more than awareness and showing an ability to adjust. There is nothing wrong with that just as there is nothing wrong with a quarterback calling an audible at the line of scrimmage because he does not like what he sees in the defensive formation.

The coach and team that learns to make adjustments the fastest will have a schematic advantage. Those who fail to make those adjustments are only holding themselves back.

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With a little help from their friends, Auburn beats K-State 20-14

Gus Malzahn

The blueprint was simple for both teams. When rushing for less than 200 yards over the past three years, No. 5 Auburn was 1-9. And when holding its opponent to less than 200 yards over that same period, No. 20 Kansas State was 21-2.

The Tigers rushed for 128 yards tonight, and won 20-14.

Quarterback Nick Marshall made the plays when he had to, throwing for 231 yards and two touchdowns – one to put his Tigers up 10-7 at the half, and another to push the lead to 17-7 – and a critical 39-yard clincher to Duke Williams (eight catches, 110 yards and a touchdown) to put the game away with under two minutes to play.

But this game was won for Auburn thanks to critical mistakes by the Kansas State offense and special teams.

It started on the first play of the game, when Jake Waters fumbled the ball inside his own red zone on a botched exchange, allowing Auburn to take a 3-0 lead. On the ensuing drive, the Wildcats moved 74 yards to the Auburn 2 before a Waters pass bounced off the face mask of all-everything wide receiver Tyler Lockett and into the waiting arms of Auburn cornerback Jonathan Jones. And then came the missed field goals. Three of them, all by the usually trustworthy Jack Cantele. He was 11-of-13 last season and 4-of-5 in 2014 until tonight, but missed from 41, 42 and 22 yards. He was replaced by Matthew McCrane for the Wildcats’ final extra point.

Waters, simply put, wasn’t nearly as good as a senior quarterback needs to be to win tonight. He threw for 245 yards, but recorded a terrible interception to Trovon Reed while Kansas State trailed 17-7 in the fourth quarter, and missed an opportunity to put Kansas State up 14-10 just before the half with Lockett wide open in the end zone. Instead, he held on to the ball, fumbled, and made Cantele’s 42-yard try much more difficult than it had to be. That’s just the kind of night it was for the Wildcats.

After falling behind 20-7, Kansas State pulled within 20-14 with 3:49 to play, but never possessed the ball again. The game was decided when Marshall hit Williams on a double move while facing a 3rd-and-9 in its own territory.

Defensively, Kansas State did everything one could have expected them to do. The ground game didn’t even register three yards per carry in its 45 attempts. In fact, Auburn didn’t even hit 100 yards of total offense until its first touchdown drive to end the first half, and nearly went the entire first half without converting a third down. However, it didn’t stay that way. It never does against Auburn. After missing its first five third down tries, Auburn converted 10 of its final 13, and outgained K-State on the night 359-285.

For Auburn, this is the type of night Gus Malzahn and staff can build on. Marshall-to-Williams is a certifiably reliable go-to option, and a six-point win on the road brings the type of value no 50-point shellacking of a mid-major can duplicate. “I’m glad it was tough,” Malzahn told ESPN after the game, “that’ll help us in the long run.” The Tigers host Louisiana Tech on Sept. 27 before reopening SEC play against No. 8 LSU on Oct. 4.

For Kansas State, what can you say? You did everything you needed to do to win the game, and you lost. In reality, there’s not much else you can do but rectify the result within yourself (with the help of a few adult beverages) and move on to the next game. That comes next Saturday when UTEP comes to town.

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