Missouri holds down Texas A&M, sets up Tiger fight in SEC Championship

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Henry Josey‘s 57-yard touchdown right up the middle of Texas A&M’s defense in the fourth quarter may as well have gone for another 678 miles to Atlanta. The No. 5 Missouri Tigers (11-1, 7-1 SEC) will play for the SEC Championship Game in their second year in the conference. Not too many people saw that coming, especially since the Tigers had a rough go in their rookie season in the new conference. After dispatching of No. 21 Texas A&M (8-4, 4-4 SEC) Saturday night in Columbia with a 28-21 victory, Missouri wrapped up the SEC East Division to keep South Carolina from sneaking in to Atlanta.

Missouri appeared to have seized control of the momentum in the game in the third quarter. A short touchdown run by Marcus Murphy finished off a 75-yard drive to tie the game at 14-14 early in the second half. The fast start was essential for Missouri after a sluggish first half against an Aggies defense that played one of their finest halves of the year. Missouri’s defense then started to lock down on Johnny Manziel and the Aggies offense, and they kept Texas A&M off the scoreboard in the third quarter. Missouri had another score in them though.

Midway through the third quarter James Franklin tossed a five-yard pass to L’Damian Washington to give the Tigers the first lead of the night, 21-14. But they could not keep Manziel and Texas A&M’s offense down for long. In the fourth quarter the Aggies drove the length of the field with a 98-yard drive ending with a seven-yard run by Ben Malena to tie the game at 21-21. But Missouri still had a big play left in them. It came on a run right up the heart of the Texas A&M defense by Josey late in the fourth quarter. A 57-yard run by Josey gave Missouri a late 28-21 lead. After that, Texas A&M’s offense was flustered trying to make a play happen that just would not develop. The Missouri defense held strong and regained possession to allow the offense to run the clock out.

Missouri will now represent the SEC East in the SEC Championship Game next weekend in Atlanta. They will face Auburn, who stunned Alabama in a fantastic finish in the Iron Bowl to clinch the SEC West. Missouri will be playing in their first conference championship game since playing in the 2008 Big 12 championship game against Oklahoma. Missouri did not play in a bowl game last season, and now they get to play for the SEC Championship. That is quite the turnaround by Gary Pinkell‘s team.

Texas A&M’s season is certainly not done. The Aggies finish in fourth place in the SEC West behind Auburn, Alabama and LSU, but still figure to receive an attractive bowl match-up. Manziel could also still receive an invite to New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation, although his performance down the stretch has lacked top plays.

Alabama QB Jalen Hurts uses photo of Clemson celebrating title win as motivational phone background

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Nick Saban said last week that the loss to Clemson in the the national championship game earlier this year is one that he’ll never get over, although he didn’t go so far as to compare it to a death in the family. One playing member of Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide team is taking to steps to ensure that he never forgets, either.

Jalen Hurts was the Tide’s talented true freshman starting quarterback who helped lead ‘Bama into the title game and, with a 30-yard touchdown run with just over two minutes left, gave his team a 31-28 lead. That lead was short-lived, however, as Deshaun Watson led his Tigers on an epic 88-yard drive that was capped by his two-yard touchdown pass with just one tick left on the clock for the 35-31 win.

The stunning last-second loss is something that Hurts makes a conscious effort to remind himself of daily as the rising sophomore, as the background on his smartphone, has a picture of Clemson players celebrating their win.

“We’re obviously all on our phones all the time,” Hurts said according to al.com after this past weekend’s spring game. “Every time I unlock it, it’s kind of a reminder. It kind of humbles me and keeps me motivated. …

“It’s not a grudge at all. It’s just something that keeps it on the back of your shoulder like, yeah, it’s still there. Remember why you’re doing it because at the end of the day, the goal for this team is to win the national championship.

Father of former Florida State WR Travis Rudolph killed in accidental shooting

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The father of Florida State wide receiver Travis Rudolph was killed Friday in an accidental shooting, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement on Monday.

According to the Sheriff’s Office, Darryl Rudolph was working on repairs inside a West Palm Beach, Fla., when a gun accidentally fired in an adjacent room, hitting him in the back/neck area. He was transported to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 55 years old.

The younger Rudolph was Florida State’s leading receiver over the past two seasons before becoming an early-entrant into this week’s NFL Draft. He gained viral notoriety after a photo snapped of him sitting at lunch with an autistic elementary school student hit Facebook.

“When I used to coach and help other kids with football, basketball and sports, Travis was small but he used to pay attention to what I was doing,” the elder Rudolph said in an interview with ESPN last year. “I told them get your education. You can be the best athlete in the world, but without an education, you’re not going very far. That’s what Travis followed through on.”

LSU QB Danny Etling undergoes back surgery

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LSU quarterback Danny Etling has undergone surgery to relieve back pain, the program announced Monday.

“Danny had a minor back procedure this morning and everything went alright,” head coach Ed Orgeron said in a statement (and not in an Arrested Development way).

Etling has played through back pain for months, according to Ross Dellenger from The Advocate, and this procedure should remove that pain.

In a possibly related story, Etling went 4-of-11 for 53 yards in LSU’s spring game.

A transfer from Purdue, Etling appeared in 11 games for the Tigers last season, completing 160-of-269 passes (59.5 percent) for 2,123 yards (7.9 yards per attempt) with 11 touchdowns against five interceptions.

Etling’s recovery from Monday’s procedure is expected to be a short one.

Willie Taggart defends Oregon’s offseason workouts in interview

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Things got off to a rocky start for new Oregon head coach Willie Taggart. Among the issues Taggart was forced to deal with soon after accepting the job of head coach at Oregon was players falling ill during and after offseason workouts.

Three Ducks were hospitalized in January to treat symptoms of rhabdomyolysis, a product of overworking leading to soft tissue and possible kidney damage. Oregon suspended strength and conditioning coach Irele Oderinde following the hospital treatments to players, and questions about his certification were thrust under a microscope. Despite the unfortunate situation in Eugene, Taggart has defended his program’s workout routine in an interview with Stewart Mandel of FOXSports.com.

“We know we didn’t do anything to try to hurt our kids. We’d done [the same program] everywhere we’ve been and never had a problem,” Taggart explained in the interview. “I think our guys just overworked themselves and didn’t hydrate. … They were trying to impress the new coaches.”

It seems Taggart has been trying to raise the bar at Oregon and find a way to make his new players tougher overall. That is a common strategy for a new coach in a new program, so Taggart’s mission is not unique in that sense.

Maybe it was just a tough physical transition in the approach to workouts after years of Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich running the show. Will this all pay off in the end? Taggart sure hopes so.