Gus Malzahn

Sportswriters name Auburn’s Gus Malzahn coach of the year

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After guiding Auburn from a three-win season to the SEC championship and shot at a BCS championship, Gus Malzahn was named this year’s recipient of the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award by the Football Writers Association of America.

“Certainly, the job Coach Malzahn has done this year warrants this award,” said FWAA President Chris Dufresne of the Los Angeles Times. “It is one of the best turnarounds in college football history and to do it in the first year at a school even adds to the accomplishment.”

Malzahn was helped along the way by a couple of miraculous plays, against Georgia and Alabama, but the Tigers developed a powerful running game that few teams stand a chance of slowing down. Auburn got better as the season unfolded, and they hit their stride at the right time to leap past Alabama in the SEC West and pull away from Missouri in the SEC Championship Game. With a little luck on their side in the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis, Auburn slid right in to the BCS Championship Game against all odds at the start of the season.

“This is a huge honor, and I’m very humbled to be named the recipient of the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award,” Malzahn said upon hearing the news. “I have always had a tremendous amount of respect for Coach Robinson and looked up to him as a coach and as an individual. I accept this award on behalf of our entire coaching staff and players, which have done an outstanding job this year getting our program turned around.”

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a member of the FWAA but apparently missed the deadline to cast my vote. If I had gotten my vote in, Duke head coach David Cutcliffe would have been at the top of my ballot, but Malzahn has as strong a case as nay of the finalists for the award. Turning around Auburn was bound to happen for Malzahn, but few could have guessed his first year on the job would have gone quite this well. Cutcliffe did win the Walter Camp Coach of the Year Award.

Malzahn is the third coach to win the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award in his first season on the job at a  school, joining former Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen in 2001 and Tom Cahill at Army in 1966. He is also the second coach from Auburn to win the award, joining Tommy Tuberville, now at Cincinnati.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly won the award in 2012. Alabama’s Nick Saban was the last SEC coach to win the award, doing so in 2008.

Wake Forest starts 4-0 for first time in a decade

BLOOMINGTON, IN - SEPTEMBER 24: Jessie Bates #3 of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons reaches for and makes the interception against the Indiana Hoosiers at Memorial Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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In 2006, Wake Forest began the season 4-0 en route to an improbable bid to the Orange Bowl.  A decade later, could it be deja vu all over again?

Unbelievably, the answer to that is, well, yeah.  Well, it’s at least technically possible — although glancing at the latest box score that would’ve been the furthest thing from your mind.

In Saturday’s game against Indiana, the Demon Deacons were outgained 611-352 in total offense.  Hoosiers quarterback Richard Lagow strafed Wake’s defense for 496 yards and three touchdowns.  But then you catch a glimpse of the category that reads “Turnovers.”

The Demon Deacon defense intercepted Lagow a whopping five times.  Not only did the defense return one of those for a touchdown, the offense converted another two picks into 10 points.

The final score?  Wake 33, Indiana 28.

With the win, Wake improved to 4-0 on the season for the first time since that 2006 campaign mentioned in the lede.  Before you go out and bet your house on an ACC Coastal title for the Deacons, however, keep this in mind: Wake still has games left against No. 13 Florida State (10/15), No. 3 Louisville (11/12) and No. 5 Clemson (11/19), with the first two games on the road.

If you’re a Wake fan, though, it’s fun to dream — especially when your team’s six-game losing streak to close out the 2015 season is factored in.

Auburn leads at halftime in must-win game against LSU

BATON ROUGE, LA - SEPTEMBER 19:  A general view of play between the Auburn Tigers and the LSU Tigers at Tiger Stadium on September 19, 2015 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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In a must-win game for both head coaches, Auburn’s Gus Malzahn went to the locker room at halftime up 9-7 on LSU’s Les Miles in a game as prodding and slow as the score would indicate.

The Tigers were unable to find the end zone despite breaking open some big plays and had to rely on three Daniel Carlson field goals to hold the lead after two quarters. Quarterback Sean White only had three incompletions among his 14 passes (for 144 yards) but looked as though he was starting to get in a rhythm against LSU’s tough defensive front.

Speaking of that defense, the Baton Rouge-based Tigers came up big just before halftime by stopping Kerryon Johnson on both third- and fourth-and-goal from the one yard line.

LSU averaged over seven yards a rush on offense but simply didn’t have the ball much, running just 24 snaps in the first half. Quarterback Danny Etling had 23 yards passing on six completions but did end up escaping pressure and shot-putting the ball to Foster Moreau for the game’s only touchdown.

Leonard Fournette added 64 yards on a robust 9.1 yards per carry.

The close score means both teams figure to be a little tight in what many are already labeling the Buyout Bowl given rumors about both head coaches being on the hot seat.

No. 14 Tennessee scores 38 straight to snap losing streak to No. 19 Florida

KNOXVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 24: Evan Berry #29 of the Tennessee Volunteers reacts after a fumble recovery against the Florida Gators in the first quarter at Neyland Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Knoxville, Tennessee. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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No. 14 Tennessee (4-0, 1-0 SEC) brought an end to an 11-game losing streak to No. 19 Florida (3-1, 1-1 SEC) in resounding fashion Saturday afternoon in Neyland Stadium. Down 21-0 in the first half, Tennessee roared back with 38 straight points en route to a wild 38-28 victory in a key SEC East battle.

The phrase “tale of two halves” gets thrown around a lot, sometimes more than necessary, but there was simply no way to describe what just happened in a checkered-out Neyland Stadium. The Vols looked lost and sloppy in the first half of the game, shooting themselves in the feet twice inside the Florida 10-yard line with nothing to show for it. But the second half was a reversal of fortune, as the Vols defense started getting off the field quickly and the offense started clicking. Joshua Dobbs shrugged off an awful first half and came back to lead the charge with four touchdown passes in the second half, and one more on the ground just for good measure. Dobbs was Tennessee’s second-leading rusher (behind Jalen Hurd) on top of passing for over 300 yards against the Gators.

Tennessee took the lead on a play that appeared to be eerily similar to a key play from a year ago. Dobbs found a wide-open Jauan Jennings down the right side of the field for an easy touchdown. The score gave the Vols the lead. It was a long passing play last season that saw Florida take the lead on the Vols when it appeared a victory was in hand for Tennessee.

The Vols tacked on more to put the game in he win column, of course. The defense picked off a pass from Austin Appleby on Florida’s first play of the ensuing drive and that was quickly turned into a touchdown. Florida then had to punt after three plays on the next drive, and the Vols scored four plays later. The momentum had swung back to Tennessee and never returned to the Gators’ sideline, even after a 16-play touchdown drive. Nothing was stopping Tennessee at this point, as Florida’s frustration boiled over so much, Brandon Powell was ejected from the game in the fourth quarter for throwing a punch.

Trying to figure out what this means for Tennessee going forward is a bit of a tricky proposition. That is because you just don’t really know which Tennessee was closer to the real Tennessee. The SEC East is most definitely their’s to take this year, with a head-to-head tiebreaker with Florida in the fold and Georgia looking abysmal on the road earlier in the day in a blowout loss at Ole Miss. Tennessee will get a chance to seize complete control of the division next week when they head to Athens to take on those Georgia Bulldogs. A win there and the SEC East crown should be pretty easy to claim, although the Vols still have a road trip to Texas A&M and a home game against Alabama  after that Georgia game, so there is no easy path to the SEC East just yet.

And with a challenging schedule ahead of them in conference play the next few weeks, Florida is not out of the picture just yet. The Gators get no easy games with LSU and Arkansas in cross-division play, but a game at Vanderbilt next week offers a chance to bounce back before hosting LSU and Missouri and then taking on Georgia in Jacksonville. Florida can remain in the hunt, but the margin for error has been reduced as a result of this one.

Notre Dame stumbles to 1-3 start as Duke adds to defensive woes

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 24:  Jela Duncan #25 of the Duke Blue Devils rushes for a touchdown during the first half of a game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium on September 24, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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In the eyes of many, Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder was, or at least should be, on the hot seat entering the Duke game.  Exiting the Week 4 game, that bandwagon is likely overloaded.

The day started out well enough for the Irish as they held a 14-0 lead midway through the second quarter.  However, against a Blue Devils offense that came into the game 94th nationally in scoring (25.3 points per game), the Irish defense had no answers as Duke scored 38 points over the next three and a half quarters to stun the Domers 38-35 in South Bend.

The Irish held a seven-point lead midway through the fourth quarter as well before the defense gave up a 64-yard touchdown pass to knot the score at 35-all. The defense then allowed a back-breaking 10-play drive that resulted in what turned out to be a game-winning field goal with 1:24 remaining.

Notre Dame, which began the season ranked in the Top 10, has now tumbled to 1-3 on the year.  In each of those three losses, the Irish have given up at least 36 points.

Whether head coach Brian Kelly pulls the trigger on an in-season move with VanGorder remains to be seen.  Based on the early returns, one could hardly blame him if he did.