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Big (12) Statement: No. 15 Houston takes down No. 3 OU

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They didn’t just win it, they ran away with it.

No. 15 Houston raced past No. 3 Oklahoma on the back of a 30-7 run to beat the Sooners 33-23 at NRG Stadium in Houston.

Greg Ward, Jr., led the day for Houston, hitting 23-of-40 passes for 321 yards and two touchdowns, while Texas transfer Duke Catalon pounded out 88 yards on 22 carries. After a rough start, Houston’s defense proved stronger than Oklahoma’s offense, especially up front. Houston limited OU’s powerful running game to just 70 yards on 2.7 yards per carry while holding Oklahoma to just six points in the second half.

The win gives Houston back-to-back wins over AP Top 10 teams for the first time in school history, and will send the Cougars into the Top 10 in the regular season for just the second time since 1991. For Oklahoma, it’s the third time in the past 12 seasons the Sooners have started the season in the AP Top 10 and lost their opener to a non-Power 5 opponent, mirroring opening day losses to TCU in 2005 and to BYU in 2009.

Oklahoma’s offense started roaring out of the gate. The Sooners marched 79 yards on eight plays for an opening drive touchdown, capped by a 30-yard Joe Mixon run, then hit a 60-yard connection to Mixon from Baker Mayfield on their next snap. That drive ended in a field goal, giving OU a 10-3 lead at the time. Houston rallied to take a 13-10 lead, but Oklahoma ripped it right back on a 64-yard pitch-and-catch to a wiiiiiiide open Mark Andrews.

But Houston proved to be the deeper, more physical, better coached team.

The Cougars used two Ty Cummings field goal to take a 19-17 lead at the half, then pushed the advantage to 26-17 on a 109-yard — and, really, 109.999-yard — kick six by Brandon Wilson.

After forcing a fumble on their next defensive possession, Houston marched 51 yards in 12 plays, culminating in a two-yard toss from Ward to Tyler McCloskey to push the lead to 33-17 with 2:15 to play in the third quarter.

While Houston’s special teams and offense grabbed the lead, the defense maintained it. After allowing Andrews the uncovered touchdown, Houston limited Oklahoma to three punts, the kick six, two fumbles and a Hail Mary of a turnover on downs, in which Oklahoma felt its best option, trailing 33-17 midway through the fourth quarter, was to go for a 4th-and-16 at its own 44. The play ended in Yakety Sax fashion, with Mixon picking up a Mayfield fumble and running himself into a seven-yard loss. Mayfield, by the way, hit all nine of his passes in the first half and ended the day with a worse-than-it-looked-on-the-field 24-of-33 for 323 yards and two touchdowns. Mixon led Oklahoma with 124 total yards on 11 touches, and Samaje Perine posted a quiet six carries for 31 yards after missing most of the game with a shoulder injury.

Houston committed its only mistake of the day on the ensuing possession as Ward fumbled a zone read exchange near the Oklahoma goal line, turning a potential 40-17 coffin nail score into a breath of life for Oklahoma. The Sooners responded by marching 80 yards in eight plays, but Mayfield’s two-point pass fell incomplete.

The Cougars recovered the ensuing onside kick and exhausted the 2:05 remaining on the clock.

 

For Houston (1-0), it’s arguably the biggest win in school history. The win keeps their — however faint — national title hopes alive while also proving the program can match and better the Big 12’s premier program on the field. This game was not an audition, win or lose, but it is an incredibly nice showing in front of expansion power brokers in OU president David Boren and Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby.

And for Oklahoma (0-1), it’s a scene from many recent horror movies. The 2005 and 2009 opening day upsets led to disappointing eight-win seasons for the Sooners. In fact, the last four seasons that opened with Oklahoma ranked in the AP’s top four, as they were today, ended in disappointment. This one appears headed that way as well, with a defense that couldn’t get Houston off the field, an offense that had no counter-punches to Houston’s defense and a schedule that sends Ohio State to Norman in two weeks.

 

QB controversy in Tuscaloosa? Freshman Tua Tagovailoa impresses at Alabama spring game

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Alabama’s annual A-Day spring game took place at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday and those tuning in to the Crimson team’s last minute 27-24 win over the White team had to be especially impressed with the Tide’s explosive offense under new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.

In particular that comes at the quarterback position, where there might be more of a controversy at the spot than first thought. Incumbent Jalen Hurts was very sharp on his downfield passes but his strong outing (301 yards, two touchdowns, one interception) was overshadowed by true freshman Tua Tagovailoa, who simply stole the show down in Tuscaloosa.

The early enrollee signal-caller from Hawaii jumped onto the scene in the first half of the game and wound up completing 17 passes for 313 yards, three touchdowns and an interception while working with both the first- and second-team offenses. You could normally dismiss numbers put up against a team’s second-string defense, this is Alabama we’re talking about so you know it’s coming against numerous future All-SEC players.

Tagovailoa did throw a pick-six in the second quarter but that was mostly because linebacker Terrell Hall made an unbelievable play on a swing pass to snatch the ball out of the air and run it all the way back to the opposite end zone. Freshman tailback Najee Harris (70 yards rushing) as well as stud wide receivers Calvin Ridley, Robert Foster and Jerry Jeudy (134 yards, two scores) also stood out on Saturday.

In all, offense ruled the day as the two quarterbacks combined for over 600 yards through the air. That probably won’t make reviewing film with Nick Saban all that pleasant for members of the secondary next week but was probably good news to most fans after lackluster performances down the stretch to end last season.

Either way, everybody should probably start brushing up on how to pronounce Tagovailoa even if he doesn’t ultimately unseat Hurts as the starter because the young QB has lived up to the early billing by recruiting analysts.

Baylor freshman tailback Abram Smith out for the season with spring ACL tear

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Baylor kicked off the first spring game of the Matt Rhule era on Saturday and wrapped things up with a 65-39 Gold team victory over the Green squad that included a pretty impressive touchdown catch from former basketball player Ish Wainright.

The news wasn’t all rosy in Waco however as after the game Rhule announced that freshman running back Abram Smith would be lost for the 2017 season after suffering an ACL tear in the Bears’ first spring practice.

Smith wasn’t being counted on as being a starter this season but his loss is a fairly big blow to the team’s depth at the position. Returnees JaMycal Hasty and Terence Williams already missed parts of the spring game due to injuries on Saturday, leaving just senior Wyatt Schrepfer to take most of the carries late in the contest.

All three figure to be good to go by the time fall camp rolls around but there’s not much behind them with Smith being lost for the year. A three-star recruit coming out of high school, the early enrollee likely would have seen some snaps in 2017 but will instead have to spend it redshirting on the bench.

Brian Kelly takes the blame for Notre Dame’s struggles last season

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Notre Dame wrapped up spring football with the Irish’s annual spring game on NBC Sports Network on Saturday afternoon in South Bend and front and center was not surprisingly head coach Brian Kelly.

While fans of the team were probably most interested in how quarterback Brandon Wimbush looked, Kelly did go into detail about what the offseason has been like after last year’s disappointing 4-8 campaign. While the coach has been known to be a bit defensive when it comes to the team’s struggles, he did open up during a sit-down interview and was transparent in taking the blame for the way 2016 went.

“When you have a losing season, you have to look at yourself first,” Kelly told NBC Sports’ Jac Collinsworth. “I’ve always felt like there isn’t a bad football team but there is bad leadership and I don’t think I provided the kind of leadership (last year). It starts with yourself.”

Kelly goes on to discuss the significant changes to the Irish coaching staff, how this team is very much a work in progress and how Wimbush is handling taking over as the starting signal-caller.

The Gold team ended up winning the spring game 27-14 over the Blue team behind a strong defensive performance. If Saturday’s outing was any indication, Notre Dame should be much improved this upcoming season and that seems to start from the top on down.

SEC commissioner confirms graduate transfer rule changes will be discussed at spring meetings

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We’re still over a month away from the SEC’s annual spring meetings down in Destin, Fla. but one item we might be able to confirm is on the agenda will be the graduate transfer rules for the conference.

It’s a hot topic around the league and particularly so at Florida, which is in the mix to land Notre Dame graduate transfer Malik Zaire but can’t officially take him due to restrictions from the conference office.

That may change however, as SEC commissioner Greg Sankey confirmed in a radio interview on Friday with ESPN Gainesville.

“It will come up,” Sankey said, according to SECCountry.com. “I do think we need to look where we’ve been restrictive in the past because of the absence of national rules and look at reducing some of those restrictions. I’m one who would position it as interest in freeing things up without just removing every restraint, because I think the restraints have been healthy for us.”

At the heart of the issue is a rule that limits schools from taking additional graduate transfers if previous graduate transfers failed to meet academic requirements after enrolling. The move was designed to prevent a number of situations where players would transfer over just to play and not really go through coursework at their new school.

Other NCAA conferences have failed to follow the SEC’s lead in this area however and now the league is being put at a bit of a disadvantage on the graduate transfer market. This is particularly an issue with the Gators this offseason but it seems as though there will be quite the discussion down in Destin among athletic directors and head coaches about changing the rules to be on more of a level playing field with other conferences on this front.