SEC spring game wrap-ups

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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.”

Texas LB Malik Jefferson’s status for bowl game still up in the air

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As Texas prepares to play in the Texas Bowl against former Big 12 foe Missouri, it remains unknown whether or not linebacker Malik Jefferson will play.

Jefferson was reportedly diagnosed with a case of turf toe recently and is said to be considered day-to-day. Nick Moyle of the San Antonio Express-News reported the medical update via Twitter, and he also notes Jefferson still has not made a definitive decision on whether to leave for the NFL or not.

Jefferson would be considered a solid draft pick option at linebacker in the event he decides to leave Texas a year early to pursue a chance to play in the NFL. How this injury might impact that decision is nothing but speculation. However, players deciding to take to the NFL Draft the following spring have increasingly made the trendy decision to forgo their senior season and skip the bowl game when injuries play a factor. If Jefferson is to go to the NFL, it would not be a stunner to see him decide to skip out on the bowl game as well.

Jefferson is Texas’ leader in tackles this season with 110, including 79 solo tackles.

Lane Kiffin’s biggest recruit to FAU may be Snoop Dogg

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There is no denying the allegiance Snoop Dogg has for his beloved USC Trojans, but Lane Kiffin has managed to find some room in Snoop’s rooting interests to bring him aboard the Lane Train. With Kiffin preparing FAU for their upcoming bowl game in the Boa Raton Bowl this week, Kiffin managed to bring Snoop Dogg and Luther Campbell out to a practice.

Campbell, of course, is a Miami fan, but FAU has become a bit of a popular secondary team with Kiffin to lead the charge. Getting Uncle Luke to suit up in FAU gear and pose for a picture with Snoop Dogg deserves an automatic retweet of Kiffin’s account on Twitter.

Kiffin coached FAU to the Conference USA championship in his first season as the head coach of the Owls. With a good blend of JUCO transfers and new offensive mindset, FAU soared under Kiffin as he rebuilt his coaching pedigree. Kiffin remains one of the names to watch in the coaching carousel, although this year’s cycle may have gone through the motions without Kiffin getting a chance somewhere else. But if Kiffin is successful in Year 2, the Lane Train may be leaving the Boca Raton station for another destination soon enough.

Middle Tennessee holds on to win the bizarre (and turnover-filled) Camellia Bowl over Arkansas State

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Middle Tennessee State entered the Camellia Bowl 121st in the country in turnover margin and had lost the battle in nine of their 12 games this season. Arkansas State was only a little bit better in the same category, ranking 81st in turnover margin in 2017. Predictably those kinds of statistics came into play on Saturday night in the Camellia Bowl as the two sides played a bit of hot potato — six giveaways — before MTSU hung on for a 35-30 win to cap off the first day of bowl season in college football.

Blue Raiders quarterback Brent Stockstill had a game that could have been a nightmare for a veteran quarterback but ended up being alright thanks to his defense continually picking him on a night where chunk plays were hard to come by. The signal-caller threw the first of his three interceptions on the night on the first drive of the game but bounced back over the final three quarters, throwing for 232 yards and a pair of touchdown passes. That kind of performance, which included several big throws in the second half, helped secure the first bowl victory of his career and give him the rare distinction of being able to win a postseason game with his father Rick as head coach.

It wasn’t all about the Stockstill combo for MTSU however as their run game produced a pair of touchdowns behind tailbacks Terelle West and Tavares Thomas, and the team’s defense had one of their best outings of the season to limit the Sun Belt’s highest scoring offense to well below all their season averages. Linebacker Darius Harris led the way when his unit was on the field, flying from sideline-to-sideline and racking up 12 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a two pass break ups. His running mate at linebacker, D.J. Sanders, was equally productive with seven tackles and a 54 yard fumble return for a touchdown just before halftime.

The Red Wolves did what they could to threaten to make things interesting down the stretch but never could get over the hill. The team ran a fake punt to open fourth quarter, resulting in a 21 yard strike from the punter to gunner Chris Murray along the sidelines and appeared to seize momentum after a subsequent  touchdown to Warren Wand. However the defense failed to get a stop and then Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year Justice Hansen (337 yards, 3TD, 1 INT) threw a fourth down pass out of the end zone to all but seal a rather lackluster loss for a team that had won six of the last eight coming into the bowl.

Arkansas State also came up a bit short in the record books on the defensive side of the ball as well. In addition to allowing 35 points to MTSU, conference player of the year Ja’Von Rolland-Jones failed to record a sack and thus couldn’t break the NCAA career record (held by former Arizona State and current Baltimore Ravens star Terrell Suggs) of 44 career sacks after entering the game just shy of the mark with 43.5. While the pass rusher did manage to sack Stockstill in the game, the play was negated by a penalty to keep him from taking over on the all-time list.

The victory pushed Middle Tennessee over the .500 mark for the fifth time in six seasons and likely meant a little bit more to the program given how many key injuries the team suffered over the course of 2017 before capturing their first bowl win in eight years. Arkansas State did their best to prevent that from happening as they dropped to 7-5 on the season after a rather bizarre Camellia Bowl that had a little bit of everything.

Defense comes up big to help Middle Tennessee grab Camellia Bowl lead at halftime over Arkansas State

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Middle Tennessee State started off the Camellia Bowl on Saturday night in about the worst way possible with a pair of first quarter interceptions but leaned heavily on their stout defense to manage their way to a 21-10 lead over Arkansas State at halftime in a somewhat low-scoring affair few could have seen coming between these high-scoring offenses.

Blue Raiders quarterback Brent Stockstill tossed an interception on the team’s opening drive of the game but managed to bounce back and throw for  80 yards and a touchdown after another slow start for the veteran signal-caller. Luckily the team’s defense pitched a goal line stand after his first pick and proved to be similarly stout after his second to keep the team in things after such a rough start against the Sun Belt power.

Mistakes proved to be costly for the Red Wolves throughout the night on both sides of the ball as a roughing the punter ruined a potential stop early and led to MTSU tailback Terelle West running right off his left guard for a 45 yard touchdown and a quick lead for the Conference USA squad who wasn’t doing much to move the ball outside of that big play.

The wildest sequence of the bowl season (so far) happened in the closing minutes of the first quarter however, leaving fans, officials and coaches all confused at what exactly just happened. Stockstill appeared to find a receiver over the middle and on the door step of the end zone but ASU’s Justin Clifton had other ideas — stripping the ball and appearing to run it back (with help) for a touchdown. The call went through a lengthy review process that wound up giving Clifton an interception and his offense the ball back at their 18 yard line instead but they ended up punting it away for 61 yards to cap off a truly bizarre few minutes.

Arkansas State quarterback Justice Hansen had some decent numbers (151 yards passing, one rushing TD) but things just weren’t clicking for what had been the Sun Belt’s most prolific offense during the regular season. The signal-caller fumbled shortly before halftime, which allowed D.J. Sanders to rumble 54 yards with a fumble recovery touchdown that extended MTSU’s lead. The Red Wolves did manage to mount a scoring drive on the next possession to get right back in the game but they’ll need to show more down the stretch if they want to reach the eight win mark for the sixth time in seven seasons.

It’s had a few strange moments but the conclusion to the first Saturday of the bowl season is shaping up rather nicely down in Montgomery, Alabama. However both sides in this one will be sure to focus on correcting a bunch of mistakes after that somewhat whacky first half.