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Rough start hampers Penn State as USC holds halftime lead in the Rose Bowl

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PASADENA, Calif. — Everything that could go wrong in the opening minutes of Penn State’s return to the Rose Bowl, did.

It all could have been much worse for the Nittany Lions though, and an amazing late rally by the Big Ten champions managed to keep them in the Granddaddy of Them All as USC took a 27-21 lead into halftime.

Penn State’s opening sequence was straight from a coach’s nightmare, as the team muffed the initial kickoff to start at three and then Trojans corner Iman Marshall pulled down an interception on the very first offensive play after a horrible mixup had quarterback Trace McSorley throwing it right to the waiting cornerback.

USC failed to capitalize on that incredible start by going three-and-out and missing a field goal from 51 yards out. Do-everything star Adoree’ Jackson bailed the team out again however, picking off a pass tipped by the hands of wideout DeAndre Thompkins on McSorley’s second pass of the game.

Things went a little better for fellow quarterback Sam Darnold (251 yards, three scores in the half) on the next series, moving around in the pocket and firing a strike to an awaiting Deontay Burnett in the end zone for a 26 yard touchdown pass and the game’s first points. They would later tack on a pair of field goals to extend their lead in a dominant first quarter for what amounted to the home team in a sold out Rose Bowl.

The Nittany Lions were down but they certainly weren’t out despite all that. McSorley found his first completion on final play of the first quarter and, shortly thereafter, terrific tailback Saquon Barkley avoided the blitz and scampered 24 yards nearly untouched for a touchdown and some much needed life on the PSU sideline.

USC would match them score-for-score as that run turned the final minutes of the second quarter into a shootout. McSorley forgot about his early troubles on the next drive, scrambling out of the pocket and then launching a laser to the end zone that receiver Chris Goodwin hauled in for the team’s second touchdown. Darnold marched the Trojans right down the field yet again on the next drive, tossing a lovely touchdown pass that Darreus Rogers out-muscled a defensive back for in the end zone. PSU tight end Mike Gesicki responded right back with a wild touchdown in the back of the end zone on the next drive.

After a number of blowouts this bowl season, it certainly appeared we were well on our way to another one given the way Penn State started the game. But a nice finishing flourish helped this one from getting too out of hand in a game that has been wildly entertaining — even if a bit one-sided in favor of the Trojans in their home away from home.

Butch Jones says the most Butch Jones quote of all time

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It’s become a theory among some in the media that Butch Jones is conducting a social experiment or participating some sort of performance art. While that’s the more charitable and fun interpretation, I tend to think the Tennessee head coach is just frighteningly insecure and, thus, fighting for every inch of public approval he can in a likely doomed attempt to keep his job.

That approach has backed him into some verbal corners that, in the long run, make his job more difficult on himself.

I’m talking about the “Champions of Life” quote of last season or, in February, actually stating that he didn’t want 5-star players, he wanted 5-star hearts.

This season has seen Jones go on an odd rant blaming the media for negative recruiting and saying Tennessee had one of the best bye weeks ever last week.

It wasn’t one of the best bye weeks ever, because Tennessee lost at home to South Carolina, 15-9. And you’re not going to believe Jones’s explanation for why Tennessee loss. Scratch that. You will believe his explanation, and that’s the problem here, isn’t it?

Here’s the full quote.

Jones is 33-24 in his four-plus seasons in Knoxville, and 14-21 in the SEC. Those numbers will likely fall to 33-25 and 14-22 after Saturday, when the Vols face No. 1 Alabama. The end is likely near.

And here’s the grand irony of Jones’s everything’s-sunny-here p.r. strategy: his attempt to keep his job by stating blatantly cliche quotes in the state of the obvious will live on much longer than Jones’s actual tenure. Two and three years from now, when Jones is working on someone else’s staff or sitting on his buyout money, the next time an on-the-hot-seat coach says his team won the game everywhere except the scoreboard, we’ll see he Pulled a Butch.

Houston Nutt settles lawsuit with Ole Miss

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Houston Nutt wanted money and an apology from Ole Miss. He’ll have to settle for the second of the two — and a largely different future for the program he used to lead.

It was Nutt’s lawsuit, remember, which exposed the documents that led to a Mississippi State fan finding Hugh Freeze‘s call to a Tampa escort service, which led to Freeze’s resignation, which led to… we have no idea what it will lead to, but, whatever that future is, it will be wildly different than if Freeze was still the Rebels’ coach.

Nutt amended his lawsuit in August to seek simply an apology from Ole Miss, and that apology finally came on Monday.

Each side released their own bitter, short statements.

Nutt will go on, with his apology but without any monetary compensation, while Ole Miss will play out the string of this season, hire a new coach, and move into a future that will be immeasurably different that the one it would have lived had it apologized to Nutt in the first place.

Washington loses LT Adams, CB Miller for the season

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No. 12 Washington’s loss to Arizona State was a disaster on the field — for more reasons than one.

The Huskies not only put their College Football Playoff hopes in danger — they’ll need to sweep their next six games, including a finishing kick that calls for games against No. 22 Stanford, No. 15 Washington State and, presumably, No. 11 USC, two of them away from Seattle. But the road to get there became noticeably more difficult after losing two starters.

Left tackle Trey Adams suffered a torn ACL in his right knee, and cornerback Jordan Miller sustained a broken ankle. Head coach Chris Petersen confirmed Monday that both will be lost for the season. Miller is the third Husky this season to suffer a broken ankle.

The Seattle Times noted that Washington is also without another starting corner in Byron Murphy, who is expected to return later this year from a broken foot. The Huskies are expected to replace Miller with either a pair of true freshmen or a converted running back.

But Adams may be the bigger loss for the Huskies. A junior, Adams was widely expected to be a first round pick in this spring’s NFL Draft. It’s the second straight season Washington has lost a key player in the trenches to a season-ending injury; a year ago, it was linebackers Joe Mathis, who finished one sack away from the team lead despite playing in only seven games, and third-leading tackler Azeem Victor.

Maryland AD Kevin Anderson to take 6-month sabbatical

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Maryland AD Kevin Anderson will not be the Maryland AD for the next six months.

Anderson announced Monday he will take a 6-month sabbatical to focus on “professional development.” That leave of absence will see him remain on his national committees with the NCAA and NACDA, the professional organization of ADs.

It was reported over the weekend that Anderson would be out completely as Maryland’s AD, but those reports were knocked down by the university.

Additionally, Maryland announced that former Georgia AD and current Terps associate AD/CFO Damon Evans will run the department in Anderson’s stead.