Pac-12 spring games wrap-up

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A recap of this weekend’s spring games from the Pac-12: 

Utah
After a disappointing season, Utah is looking to rebound in 2013 with a new addition on offense: co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson. Following the Utes spring game on Saturday, head coach Kyle Whittingham explained what Erickson’s presence has done for the offense:

“He’s adjusted the tempo of the offense, he’s simplified what we’re doing, and he’s added some elements that have been good additions–mainly utilizing the running backs in the throw game a bit more and simplifying the run game,” Whittingham said. “There’s not a whole lot of variation from one team to another team that runs the spread, but just those subtle changes can make a big difference.”

The Utes showed off that new-look offense in a 35-28 spring game. Travis Wilson, who started the final seven games at quarterback last season, threw for 210 yards and three touchdowns on an efficient 13-of-17 passing. Senior Karl Williams led the running backs with 108 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries.

Whittingham attributed Utah’s offensive production to a better, and healthy, offensive line. “The offensive line has been night and day compared to last year,” Whittingham said. “The main reason is Dan Finn has done a great job coaching them, they’ve worked their tails off in the offseason, and we’ve been able to have some continuity in the spring without any injuries. We had 17 guys in spring camp without any days missed, and I can’t ever remember that being the case.”

On defense, true freshman linebacker Uaea Masina had a game-high seven tackles.

Washington
Though Washington’s offense was missing tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins because of a suspension, the Huskies’ defense under second year coordinator Justin Wilcox was the star of UW’s spring game. Defensive tackle Connor Cree had a pair of tackles-for-loss and a fumble recovery while Josh “don’t call me” Shirley had a sack and a fumble recovery that went 60 yards the other direction.

“Of course spring games are a little vanilla. But that’s no excuse,” said quarterback Keith Price. “Quarterbacks should lead with pushing the pace. I thought we could have done a better job with that.” For what it’s worth, Price went 5-of-14 passing and a touchdown.

Head coach Steve Sarkisian has been implementing a faster, no-huddle offense this spring, but that wasn’t on display just yet.

“We’ve been faster than this,” Sarkisian said. “You are in a spring game and I want to give the fans something to see and a chance to see what fall camp will be about and the season will be about. But I am also aware of the fact we were on national television.

“We’re doing something a little bit new. You don’t want to give up all of your goodies. We want to save a few things for August 31st. That was a little bit of the challenge. And I think some of the (guys), especially the quarterbacks, got a little bit frustrated with the simplicity of the stuff we were running – and not all the stuff that we had been running for the last few weeks.”

“We’re going to be a scary offense,” Price said. “Especially when we get Austin back.”

The highlight of the day was seven-year-old Jordan Johnston, called on to the field from the stands, was asked to call a play for the Huskies offense: a toss sweep that went for eight yards.

Washington State
Suffice to say, the first year at Washington State under Mike Leach didn’t go as planned. Consistency is key if the Cougars want to improve in 2013, but the team still got off to a sluggish start in Saturday’s spring game.

“We didn’t get our work done the first half,” Leach said, “so we were going to play a full second half.”

Expected starter Connor Halliday led all quarterbacks with 406 yards and three touchdowns while Austin Apodaca went 27-of-45 for 279 yards and one touchdown. Three receivers went over 100 yards with Kristoff Williams leading with seven catches for 136 yards — including an 80-yard touchdown.

“If we’re going to be the team that we want to be next year, we’ve got to fight through those lulls at the middle of the scrimmage,” Halliday said afterward. “I think that’s kind of the biggest thing we’re fighting right now. We did get through that in the second half and moved the ball a little bit, so that was good.”

Division II, Division III and NAIA title games set while FCS heads into semifinals

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Outside of a thrilling Army-Navy game and the Heisman ceremony, it was an empty Saturday at the highest level of college football.

But no so at the lower levels.

The divisional playoffs are cranked into high gear. Let’s take a brief look at where everything stands in each division.

FCS

Top-seeded and defending champion James Madison needed a last-second field goal to survive visiting Weber State, 31-28, on Friday night, while No. 5 seed South Dakota State routed New Hampshire, 55-14.

On the other side of the bracket, No. 2 seed and winner of five of the last six national titles North Dakota State walloped Wofford, 42-10 in Fargo. No. 6 seed Sam Houston State outlasted upstart Kennesaw State, 34-27, to send the Bearkats into their fifth semifinal game in the last seven years.

Semifinals: No. 5 South Dakota State at No. 1 James Madison — 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPNU; No. 6 Sam Houston State at No. 2 North Dakota State — 8 p.m. ET Friday, ESPN2.

Division II

No. 4 seed West Florida traveled north and upset top-seeded Indiana (Pa.), 27-17 on Saturday, to send the Argonauts into their first championship game. No. 2 seed Texas A&M-Commerce fended off the option attack of No. 3 Harding (Ark.), 31-17, putting the Lions in their first title game as well.

National championship: No. 2 Texas A&M-Commerce vs. No. 4 West Florida — 6 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2 at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kan.

Division III

In a similar dynamic to FCS, the defending champion is on a collision course with the traditional champion. In the first semifinal, defending champion Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas) blanked Brockport (N.Y.), 24-0. The Crusaders will make their third trip to the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl, looking to win their second title.

In the other semifinal, Mount Union (Ohio) overcame a 21-10 deficit to beat Wisconsin-Oshkosh, 43-40. The Purple Raiders will play in their 20th Stagg Bowl — all of them coming since 1993, and 19 of them since ’96 — with a shot at their 13th national championship. However, Mount Union has won just — “just” — two national championships since 2009.

National championship: Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas) vs. Mount Union (Ohio) — 7 p.m. ET Friday on ESPN at Salem Stadium in Salem Va.

NAIA

The NAIA was off this weekend, taking a break in between last week’s semifinals and Saturday’s national championship. Defending champion Saint Francis (Ind.) out-gunned previously-undefeated Morningside (Iowa) 43-36 in the first semifinal, while Reinhardt (Ga.) held off undefeated Southern Oregon, 37-34 in double overtime.

National championship: Saint Francis (Ind.) vs. Reinhardt (Ga.) — 6 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN3 at Municipal Stadium in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Minnesota lands commitment from 6-foot-8, 395-pound offensive tackle

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P.J. Fleck is going to need a bigger boat.

Minnesota has landed a commitment from the largest recruit on record, as 6-foot-8, 395-pound offensive tackle Daniel Faalele has committed to the Gophers. Faalele made the announcement on his Twitter page on Saturday night.

A 3-star recruit, Faalele is rated as the No. 29 offensive tackle in the country, according to 247Sports. He listed 20 offers, including from the likes of Alabama, Georgia, Michigan and LSU.

As the story goes, Faalele did not find football; football found him. He was discovered by a recruiter from Hawaii working out at a gym in his native Melbourne, Australia. He attended a Michigan satellite camp in Australia and played this season — his first season in pads — at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

In making the trip from the Land Down Under to the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Faalele will be joined by a pair of IMG Academy teammates in offensive lineman Curtis Dunlap, Jr., and quarterback Zack Annexstad, who also committed to Minnesota on Saturday.

Those pledges now give Minnesota the 26th best recruiting class in the country and the sixth best in the Big Ten — but the No. 1 class in the Big Ten West — in the 247Sports Composite rankings.

Minnesota’s class may not be the best in the country, but it’s among the biggest — both in size (the Gophers have 25 pledges thus far) and stature.

Texas A&M suspends DT Zaycoven Henderson amid felony gun charges

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Texas A&M defensive tackle Zaycoven Henderson was suspended amid multiple felony charges on Saturday.

As detailed by Ben Baby of the Dallas Morning News, witnesses say Henderson pointed a rifle at one person outside College Station’s Campus Village Apartments and threatened to kill two others and allegedly threw the gun out of a fleeing car as police arrived on the scene. The car was later tracked down by College Station officers, who discovered marijuana in the car.

He was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, tampering with evidence and marijuana possession. The first charge is a second-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in a prison. The second is a third-degree felony and the third is a misdemeanor.

He was booked into the Brazos County (Texas) jail at 9 a.m. on Sunday morning.

Texas A&M has suspended Henderson indefinitely, which really only lasts one game as the senior from Longview, Texas, was set to close his Aggies career in the Belk Bowl against Wake Forest on Dec. 29 (1 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Henderson made 35 tackles with five TFLs and 2.5 sacks in 12 starts this season. He was honored as a member of Texas A&M’s senior class at the annual team banquet earlier this weekend.

UCLA reportedly hires Paul Rhoads as defensive backs coach

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Chip Kelly has reportedly hired one of the most respected men in the business to his staff. According to a report from Sports Illustrated‘s Bruce Feldman, Paul Rhoads is on his way to Westwood to coach UCLA’s defensive backs.

Rhoads spent the past two seasons at Arkansas, the first as defensive backs coach and the second as defensive coordinator in addition to his duties with the secondary. He’s best known, of course, for his 7-year run as the head coach at Iowa State, where he took the Cyclones to three bowl games and created this viral moment before any of us knew what “going viral” went.

In addition to Arkansas, Rhoads also owns defensive experience at Auburn, Pittsburgh, Iowa State, Pacific, Ohio State and Utah State.

UCLA finished last season ranked 74th in pass efficiency defense, yielding a 57.1 percent completion rate for 7.3 yards per attempt with seven interceptions against 18 touchdowns.