Texas A&M started on a high note but hit the high C just a tad early against the top-ranked Alabama. Alabama calmed down and took firm control on the road of one of the most anticipated games of the season, but had to hang on for a 49-42 victory. They certainly had to breathe a sigh of relief after this one.
Alabama showed the poise of a champion, which should be expected when Nick Saban is the head coach and AJ McCarron is the quarterback. Down 14-0 after two offensive drives by Texas A&M, McCarron and Alabama went to work to claw back in to the game and they did so masterfully. Alabama scored four touchdowns before halftime and they did so only entering the red zone once. McCarron connected on big touchdown plays with Kevin Norwood (22 yards), DeAndrew White (44 yards) and Kenny Bell (51 yards) and T.J. Yeldon punched one in from the goal line on the only red zone opportunity for Alabama in the first half. Alabama had taken full control of the game, with the defense doing their part to not allow Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel from going off. Manziel had his moments that baffle the eyes, but he also had his negative moments. Manziel threw one interception in the end zone and had another returned by Vinnie Sunseri for a touchdown early in the third quarter (GIF via SB Nation). Sunseri’s pick-six gave Alabama a 35-14 lead.
Texas A&M did put up a fight in the fourth quarter to make things somewhat interesting. The defense forced a fumble by Yeldon in a goal line stand and boy did the Aggies capitalize. Manziel dropped back and unloaded a deep pass down the left side of the field to Mike Evans, who separated from his defender and dashed down field for a 95-yard touchdown to bring the Aggies within one score, down 42-35.
Showing the composure of a proven winner, Alabama stormed right back down field on their ensuing possession. Alabama marched right down to the five yard line. After a timeout, Alabama went to a play-action pass and McCarron completed a pass to Jalston Fowler for the score. It was just the second catch of the year for Fowler and it put Alabama up two scores with just under two and a half minutes to play. Texas A&M did manage one more late touchdown to make it a seven-point game, but Alabama recovered the ensuing onside kick to cement the hard-fought victory.
Now the question becomes who out there can beat Alabama? The Tide have shown some cracks in their first two games but are now 2-0 and remain the team to beat. Do we now look ahead to November 9 when LSU visits Alabama, or is there another team on Alabama’s schedule capable of pulling the upset? If it was not Texas A&M, who could it be?
Earlier today we had the report that Cal, they of the normally bowl-eligible six wins on the season, were not actually bowl eligible. The hang up was due to some NCAA red tape on how many scholarships Grambling, a 73-14 victim to the Bears on opening Saturday, had actually awarded this year.
Why the number of scholarships awarded by an opponent of a 6-5 team could determine what glorified exhibition said 6-5 could or could not play is a matter for another time, but the fact is it mattered.
But according to a report from Kevin Gemmell of ESPN.com, the Bears received approval to count the win toward their total, meaning Sonny Dykes and company will go bowling for the first time since 2011.
“We have conferred with both Grambling and the NCAA,” Cal spokesman Wes Mallette told ESPN. “As anticipated, Grambling has confirmed their football program has met the 90 percent financial aid requirement over the rolling two-year average. Therefore, Cal football’s win over Grambling counts toward bowl eligibility. Cal football is bowl eligible.”
The Bears have a chance to become bowl eligible the old fashioned way with a win over Arizona State Saturday in Berkeley.
The end of the college football regular season brings with it bowl bids, conference championship entries and rivalry games. Along the way, though, come end-of-season firings. So many end of-season firings.
According to a report from Dan Wolken of USA Today Wednesday night, the first one is already on the books. Or at least close to it.
Wolken reports Tulane is set to part ways with head coach Curtis Johnson following the Green Wave’s Friday finale against Tulsa “barring a last-minute change of direction.”
Johnson is 15-33 in nearly four complete seasons at Tulane, reaching a high point of a 7-6 mark wtih a New Orleans Bowl appearance in 2013 but winning two, three and three games in his other three campaigns.
If and when the move becomes official, Tulane will become the 15th FBS school to change head coaches this season, matching the total number of changes during the 2014-15 cycle.
Wolken reports Tulane will hire a new athletics director within the next week, and once that hiring is complete the school will then embark on hiring Johnson’s replacement.
Michigan defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin has emerged a “strong candidate” for the Maryland job, according to reports from Yahoo‘s Pat Forde and Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman Wednesday.
“Durkin, 37, met recently with Maryland officials, sources said,” Forde wrote. “No job offer was made, but the interview went well, sources said.”
Durkin is in his first season as Michigan’s defensive coordinator, helping the 9-2 Wolverines jump from 14th to third nationally in yards per play allowed (4.77 to 4.15) and 27th to sixth in scoring defense (22.4 to 14.9).
Prior to working on Jim Harbaugh‘s staff, Durkin served as Will Muschamp‘s defensive coordinator at Florida for two years, and as his special teams coordinator for two years before that. He previously worked at Stanford, Bowling Green (his alma mater) and Notre Dame.
Should he be offered and accept the job, Durkin would immediately become Big Ten East rivals with his mentor Harbaugh.
“This week is so important to our guys, my 100% focus is on this game and our players — that’s what this profession is all about. You’ve got to make sure you’re taking care of the job you have week in and week out. It’s a tough task, especially with this team we have this week,” Durkin told the Detroit Free Press when asked about the reports.
“My goal is to get the best game plan possible together for Ohio State and have our guys go play well. To answer rumors or speculation right now and put something to it, my total focus is 100% on Ohio State and nothing else.”
Illinois will decide whether or not to retain interim head coach Bill Cubit for the full-time job by Sunday, interim AD Paul Kowalczyk told WSKJ-FM Wednesday.
“We need to make that call and figure out which way we’re going for everyone’s sake,” Kowalczyk said, via the Chicago Tribune. “For me, it’s posthaste.”
Illinois closes its regular season Saturday against No. 16 Northwestern in Champaign. The Illini are 5-6 on the year and, for what it’s worth, Cubit desperately wants the job.
Also worth noting: the athletics department is operating under a total state of dysfunction in the wake of AD Mike Thomas‘s firing.
From 670 The Score in Chicago on Wednesday:
Sources tell 670 The Score that as overwhelmed university officials are dithering and providing little guidance, the group of trustees, boosters and alums left to run things can’t yet agree on much. Some want to hire a search firm with a spotty recent track record, others want to form their own search committee, while another faction thinks they need to act faster by using their own contacts to target specific AD and coaching candidates right now and just get moving.
Any support for retaining Bill Cubit is getting strong push-back from those who don’t believe he wasn’t aware of Tim Beckman’s aberrant behavior, and from some who feel strongly about making a more dynamic hire.
For those keeping score at home: Illinois is dealing with a power vacuum of trustees, boosters and alums battling for control while an interim chancellor and interim athletics director work to reach a resolution on an interim football coach.
And the coaching carousel starts spinning in full four days from now.