Oregon v Stanford

Stanford rumbles over Oregon, hangs on for 26-20 win


For the second year in a row, Stanford has upset the BCS apple cart.

The No. 6 Cardinal used a powerful run game and a physical defense to beat No. 2 Oregon in Palo Alto, 26-20.

With the win, Stanford moves to 8-1 overall and 6-1 in the Pac-12, while Oregon falls to 8-1 and 5-1 in league play.

For about three-and-a-half quarters, this game was the province of the Cardinal ground game. Running back Tyler Gaffney carried the ball a career-high 45 times for 157 yards and a touchdown as Stanford punched the Ducks in the mouth over and over again. The Cardinal rushed for 274 yards and converted 14-of-21 third down conversions while holding the ball for an unbelievable 45:30.

Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan was efficient and killed the Ducks with timely scrambles. He was 7 of 13 for 103 yards and rushed for 57 yards and a score. The Cardinal didn’t need him to do much more since they were in control for most of the game.

Ah, but what about the end?

When Cardinal placekicker Jordan Williamson hit his fourth field goal of the game to put Stanford up 26-0 with 11:40 to play, it looked like the Ducks were going to go quietly into the Northern California night. There was even talk of blanking Oregon, something that hasn’t happened since 2007.

But Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, who struggled most of the game, suddenly came to life. He led Oregon on a 60-yard drive that culminated in a 23-yard touchdown pass to Daryle Hawkins. That made it 26-7 with 10:11 to play.

Oregon’s onside kick failed and Stanford drove the ball to the Oregon 23-yard line and then Williamson lined up for his fifth field goal of the night. But the attempt was blocked and Rodney Hardrick returned it 65 yards for a touchdown and it was suddenly 26-13 after Mariota’s 2-point conversion attempt failed.

The Ducks lined up for another onside kick and this time it worked. Oregon recovered and, seven plays later, had a first and goal at the Stanford 2-yard line with almost four minutes to play. It looked like Oregon had a chance to pull off a miracle comeback.

But this is where the Ducks’ hopes died. While Oregon eventually scored on a fourth down play to make it 26-20, the Ducks ate up valuable time on the clock and, with one time out left, it wouldn’t be able to get the ball back unless its next onside kick worked.

It didn’t. Wide out Jeff Trojan recovered it and Stanford ran out the clock. Afterward, Stanford students stormed the field.

And it no doubt set off celebrations in Tallahassee and Columbus, as both Florida State and Ohio State’s odds of making it to the BCS title game improved substantially tonight. When Sunday’s BCS standings come out, we’ll see FSU holding on to its spot at No. 2 behind No. 1 Alabama.

For Oregon, it’s back to the drawing board. On the bright side, it won’t have to face a Stanford defense of this caliber anytime soon as 15 of the 22 players on the Cardinal’s defensive two-deep are seniors. Mariota’s Heisman hopes took a big hit, though the late rally mitigated the damage somewhat, but he’s going to need some help down the stretch to win his school’s first Heisman.

As for Stanford, it’s now in the driver’s seat in the Pac-12 North and has an outside chance at crawling back into the BCS title hunt. If Alabama loses to LSU, Ohio State loses to Michigan or Michigan State and Baylor drops a game in the next month, it will be well-positioned to give the title tilt a physical presence — from the Pac-12, no less.

Not everybody seems happy about USC’s hiring of Clay Helton

Clay Helton

If there is one thing that can be said about USC hiring Clay Helton as head coach on a permanent basis, it is that it provides stability for the program moving forward. Current players have responded well to Helton. Future Trojans players are responding well to Helton on the recruiting trail. Former USC players? Well, that’s a different situation.

We saw some of this at Miami in recent years with former Hurricanes ripping now former head coach Al Golden. That was a bit of a different situation with Golden being a coach that went against the grain of all that was perceived to be representative of The U. Helton is different because he has been loyal to the program as an assistant coach during a turbulent time. He at least deserves respect of those following and those who have played for USC for that alone. The problem is Helton lacks the kind of appeal most wearing USC lenses expect from their coaching hire and it seems more likely to believe athletics director Pat Haden settled for Helton instead of being able to expand the coaching search and bring in a high-quality coach for the job.

There is one way to swing the emotions the other way for those unhappy with the decision. If USC beats Stanford to win the Pac-12 championship this week, that would be one step in the right direction for the Helton haters and the Haden skeptics (myself included). The pressure will be on more next season regardless of what happens this week in the Pac-12 championship game and whatever bowl game USC ends up playing. USC will be loaded with talent and will be a trendy pick to make a run in the Pac-12 and, perhaps, even the College Football Playoff.

USC names Clay Helton permanent head coach

Clay Helton

The top coaching vacancy in college football has been filled. USC has announced it will remove the interim tag from Clay Helton and make him the permanent head coach moving forward.

Helton has gone 5-2 since taking over the program following the dismissal of Steve Sarkisian as head coach. The most recent win this weekend against UCLA both snapped a three-game losing streak to the crosstown rival Bruins and clinched USC’s first trip to the Pac-12 championship game as Pac-12 South Division champions. Helton has been with the USC program since 2010 under various assistant roles. He was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2013 and named interim head coach that season following the firing of Lane Kiffin. He stayed on the staff following the hiring of Sarkisian from Washington.

Helton had become a clear player favorite in the program, as Helton calmed a troublesome environment of uncertainty in the middle fo the season and delivered a division championship. The only losses under Helton came on the road against Notre Dame in Helton’s first game as interim head coach and more recently at Oregon, a program that revived itself as well. If nothing else, Helton’s being named the head coach provides for some stability for the program, although there should be some questions moving forward whether it will be the right move or not in the long term. The USC job was thought to be the top job on the market and worthy of some high-caliber candidates. There had been rumblings USC reached out to Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly, a former Oregon coach of course, but the odds Kelly was going to leave the Eagles on his own a year after getting general manager power were always low.

USC will continue to bring plenty of pressure to win, and win big. Helton will continue to guide a roster packed with talent and getting back to full strength after a stretch of sanctioned seasons. If Helton does not win, he will quickly enter the hot seat conversation.

USC plays Stanford for the Pac-12 championship this week.

Will Mark Richt coach again? “Oh yeah, no doubt”

Mark Richt

On Sunday the end of the line for Mark Richt at Georgia was finally reached. The Bulldogs and the head coach will go separate ways after a 15-season run in Athens, but this will not be the final stop for Richt as a head coach. On Monday, during a press conference with the media to address the coaching change, Richt was asked whether he will coach again.

“Oh yeah, no doubt,” Richt said in his response. “I’m going to listen to anybody that’s interested in talking to me,” Richt said when again asked about what’s next for the now former head coach of Georgia.

The press conference with Richt was a bit unusual for these types of settings. First, Richt continued to show his Georgia pride by wearing a black coat and red tie and had a Georgia pin on his coat. Second, he sat right next to Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity, who offered no insight whatsoever on what’s next for Georgia. When asked about the coaching search or the status for assistants, McGarity continued to shift the focus on Richt.

Richt expressed his enthusiasm for getting to coach one final game for Georgia. He will coach Georgia’s bowl game, wherever that may be, giving him one last chance to end a season with a bowl victory, which he has done nine times previously.

Kentucky QB Patrick Towles to transfer

Patrick Towles

Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles will transfer, he announced in an Instagram post Sunday afternoon.

Towles leaves school as Kentucky’s sixth-most prolific passer, completing 427-of-759 passes for 5,099 yards with 24 touchdowns and 24 interceptions.

Once compared to Ben Roethlisberger, Towles’ career peeked in a 2014 game with then-No. 1 Mississippi State, as he completed 24-of-43 passes for 390 yards with two touchdowns in a 45-31 loss to the Bulldogs.

But Kentucky stumbled down the stretch, starting 5-1 and finishing 5-7, and Towles stumbled through a 2015 campaign in which he threw nine touchdowns against 14 interceptions.

He’d been passed by freshman Drew Barker by the end of the season, and threw only four passes in a loss to Louisville on Saturday.

A junior, Towles will complete his political science degree in December and be eligible for immediate playing time at a new destination in 2016.