Stanford hangs on against Washington, 31-28

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There’s only one conclusion you can take away from the Pac-12’s marquee matchup on Saturady: Washington is legit and Stanford is for real.

Oh, and this conference is really good.

The Huskies went toe-to-toe with the Cardinal for four quarters, but came up short in the end as No. 5 Stanford hung on for a thrilling 31-28 win over No. 15 Washington in Palo Alto. It was the Cardinal’s 13-consecutive victory.

The box score favored UW, at least when it comes to the offensive numbers. The Huskies outgained Stanford, 489 to 279, and out-first-downed them, 30 to 14, but the Cardinal got 290 all-purpose yards from receiver Ty Montgomery, including 204 yards on four kickoff returns — one of them a 99-yarder to open the game — and this was the difference in the game.

Stanford employed its usual strategy from the getgo: Pound its opponent into submission with unbalanced lines and power running. But the Huskies were ready for it — just like they were last season when they upset Stanford, 17-13. The Cardinal never really got untracked offensively but, as good teams do, they executed enough key plays at key moments to prevail.

Case in point was Stanford’s touchdown before the first half ended. The Cardinal had the ball on the UW 39-yard line with 17 seconds to play. The smart money woudl think Stanford would position itself for a field goal. But Kevin Hogan threw a perfect pass to a perfectly covered Montgomery for a touchdown and the Cardinal went into the locker room up 10.

Stanford kept the Huskies at arm’s length until the very end, but Washington chipped away, dug down deep and then nearly pulled off the upset. Hogan was stopped on a 3rd and 1 bootleg with the Cardinal up by three with just under two minutes to play and the Huskies got the ball back.

Washington quarterback Keith Price took over on his own 33 with a chance for glory. His first pass was a remarkable back-shoulder throw against the sideline caught by Kasen Williams at the Stanford 49 yard line. His third and 10 pass over the middle to Austin Seferian-Jenkins was dropped — it would’ve been a first down but the All-American tight end couldn’t find the handle. This set up the key play of the game — a 4th and 10 pass where Price scrambled away from a Ben Gardner rush and found Kevin Smith for a first down. But the referees over-ruled the original call and decided that Smith trapped the ball. Stanford was given the ball back, victory assured.

There are no moral victories, but Washington has to feel good that it took a top five team to the limit. This game could’ve easily belonged to the Huskies and they arguably outplayed Stanford but, in the end, the Cardinal found a way to win.

From a conference standpoint, this was an optimal outcome for the Pac-12. Stanford remained a national title contender while Washington showed it could play with anyone. It also keeps the year’s potential dream matchup alive: Undefeated and explosive Oregon at physical and methodical Stanford on Nov. 7.

Baylor lands commitment from player born without femurs

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Plenty of programs landed commitments on Saturday, but none like the one Baylor got from a Plano West (Texas) athlete.

Ricardo Benitez agreed to continue his football career at Baylor, which is remarkable since he never should have had a career in the first place. Benitez was born with a condition called Femur Hypoplasia Bilateral, which means he does not have femurs in his legs.

“Doctors told my parents I had a condition called Femur Hypoplasia Bilateral and it might be best to stop the pregnancy,” Benitez told MaxPreps last year. “They said I had a hole in my heart, would be in a wheelchair the rest of my life and never play sports. But my parents saw me as a gift from God and went on with the pregnancy. I crawled until I was two and didn’t start running until I was five.”

Benitez stands 4-foot-2, dresses out with his Wolves team every week and runs routs just like everyone else. Here he is at an SMU camp last year.

Benitez also camped with Baylor last summer and committed to the Bears on Saturday. “I played four years of high school football, and cherished every second of it. When the season ended I knew I was not done being a football player,” Benitez wrote in a Twitter post. “I did not know where, but God did. I received a call from Coach Brown at Baylor University. After a long process, and with tears in my eyes, I can finally announce I will be given the chance to go to college, and play football at Baylor University.”

(Helmet Sticker: Dr. Saturday)

Sam Ehlinger, Shane Buechele exit spring ball still vying for Texas QB job

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For 16 months now, Tom Herman has waited for one of his quarterbacks to take the bull by the horns. And for 16 months, the bull still hops freely around the ring.

Junior Shane Buechele and sophomore Sam Ehlinger quarterback opposite teams in Saturday night’s Orange-White game, and exited the spring the same way they began it: to be the guy who quarterbacks the Orange and White on Sept. 1 at Maryland. Ehlinger was 13-of-22 for 151 yards while Buechele hit 12-of-21 throws for 130 yards and a score; Ehlinger’s White team won the game, 23-13.

On the balance, Herman indicated that whoever ultimately wins the job will be the guy who can make plays without turning the ball over.

“At quarterback, when you hold the ball in this game, you have the hopes and dreams, goals, aspirations, everything of your teammates, of your loved ones in your hands,” Herman said. “When you think about it that way, you tend to be a lot more is cautious with it. Now that being said, from day one of spring ball, I told the QBs, experiment, rip it in there, man. Try to fit it in tight windows,
because I want you to have that confidence when you do. They’re never going to get yelled at for an interception in the spring that is, ‘Coach, I was trying to fit it in and I just missed on a couple inches’ or whatever. Now, if he does something really dumb, if he tries to throw an out route into a cloud corner or something like that and that gets picked, yeah, he’s going to hear about it. But I think building
confidence in your abilities and in the spring is important.”

Ehlinger would be the clear-cut quarterback if not for a handful of late-game mistakes in his true freshman season. He fumbled the ball away in double overtime of the USC loss, threw an end zone interception to clinch an overtime loss to Oklahoma State and tossed an across-his-body interception to allow Texas Tech to come from behind and beat Texas in November.

Whoever does win the job will wind up approaching the job the same way: throw the ball to Collin Johnson and Lil'Jordan Humphrey as often as possible. Johnson caught six passes for 91 yards and a touchdown, while Humphrey hauled in a game-high seven balls for 100 yards and rushed four times for 14 yards and two touchdowns.

Brandon Wimbush exits spring as Notre Dame’s starting QB

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Brandon Wimbush entered the 2017 season as Notre Dame’s starter, but ceded control of the job over what can fairly be described as a rough junior season. He connected on just 49.5 percent of his throws for 6.8 yards per attempt on the year — numbers that ranked 92nd and 79th nationally, respectively — and was even worse down the stretch. He hit just 14-of-36 throws for for 298 yards with two touchdowns and two picks over the Irish’s final two games, a loss to Stanford and a Citrus Bowl win over LSU.

Enter Ian Book, a redshirt freshman who carried the Irish to that Citrus Bowl win, connecting on 14-of-19 throws for 164 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.

Heading into the spring, the quarterback job was open between the rising senior and the rising sophomore. But, spurred by a strong spring game, Wimbush heads into the summer as the starter. Wimbush was the game MVP after connecting on 19-of-33 passes for 341 yards with two touchdowns to lead the offense to a 47-44 win over the defense.

Afterward, Brian Kelly said Wimbush wasn’t guaranteed to take the first snap in the Irish’s opener against Michigan, but that things were indeed trending in that direction.

“It’s pretty clear that Brandon went out and got a chance to go with the first group and Ian played with the second group,” Kelly said Saturday. “That’s not etched in stone, but that’s the way they’ve been trending. I don’t think there was anything today that changed that… It’s 1A and 1B.”

Hot mic appears to catch Nick Saban criticizing Jalen Hurts

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There’s nothing newsworthy about a coach criticizing a player. That’s a large part of the job description, especially when that coach is Nick Saban. But to hear Saban criticize this specific player for this specific reason, well, the context of the situation screams newsworthiness.

During Alabama’s spring game on Saturday, ESPN microphones caught Saban apparently criticizing the throwing ability of Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts as the junior took off on a scramble. “Two years,” Saban says. “I mean, the third-team quarterback can move  the team right down the field throwing the ball.”

That comment comes amid two noteworthy developments in the Tide’s quarterback room. First, Hurts had an opportunity to take the bull by the horns on Saturday with Tua Tagovailoa nursing an injured left hand, but redshirt freshman quarterback Mac Jones was named the game’s MVP. (For what it’s worth, Jones went against the second-team defense while Hurts faced the starters.)

And second, Hurts’s father in no uncertain terms said this week that his son will transfer if he’s not the starter this fall.

Coach Saban’s job is to do what’s best for his team. I have no problem with that,” Averion Hurts said. “My job is to do what’s best for Jalen—and make no mistake, Jalen is a quarterback, and he wants to play quarterback. He loves Alabama, loves Coach Saban and everything about that place. But he wants to play, and he will play…”

Averion stops mid-sentence because the idea of his son not playing for Alabama isn’t one he takes lightly. What if Jalen doesn’t win the job, he is asked?

He shakes his head slowly, answers begrudgingly. “Well, he’d be the biggest free agent in college football history.”

For what it’s worth, Saban praised Hurts while also criticizing his performance in Saturday’s spring game:

“I was not disappointed in the way Jalen played,” Saban said in his post-game press conference. “We have some guys that can rush, and even though we were rushing four guys most of the time, there was way too much pressure in the pocket for the quarterback to be able to operate like we would like. Jalen made some good plays and throws, and I’m sure if you were to talk to him he would say, ‘I wish there were things I did better and can improve on.’”