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No. 4 USC escapes Western Michigan’s upset bid


When USC accepted the ball to open its season and rolled 75 yards in six plays, capped by a 16-yard Ronald Jones II scoring rush, it looked to be business as expected for the Trojans.

But then the Trojans went 3-and-out on its next possession, and Western Michigan responded with an 8-play, 59-yard touchdown drive to tie the game. And then, when USC went 3-and-out again, and Western Michigan again capitalized with a lengthy touchdown march — 84 yards in 11 plays — it was obvious nothing about Saturday’s opener was business as expected for USC.

That moment did not arrive until the 3:49 mark of the fourth quarter, when Stephen Carr raced for a 52-yard touchdown, providing put-away score of No. 4 USC’s 49-31 defeat of Western Michigan.

This game remained so close for so long because the Broncos, playing their first game under new head coach Tim Lester, performed every bit like the defending MAC champions that they are. Four players carried the ball at least seven times and all gained at least 30 yards. LeVante Bellamy led the way with 102 yards on nine carries, and WMU as a team rushed 43 times for 251 yards and two scores.

Jones far and away outperformed USC’s purported Heisman candidate Sam Darnold. Jones racked up 159 yards and three touchdowns on only 18 carries, while Darnold completed 23-of-33 passes for 289 yards and no touchdowns against two interceptions, though he did run for an 11-yard score.

The teams traded touchdowns for much of the game. After Jones’s opening punch, Western Michigan notched two consecutive scores to grab a 14-7 lead, marching 59 and 81 yards in the process. Jones’s second touchdown, a 1-yard plunge, tied the game at 14-14 just before the half.

Western Michigan moved 75 yards, punctuated by a 27-yard scoring strike from Jon Wassink to Keishawn Watson, to reclaim the lead at 21-14 to open the second half, then had a chance to take complete control after intercepting Darnold for a second time. But the Broncos punted on their ensuing possession, and USC took advantage with an 83-yard touchdown drive. In fact, Western Michigan would not stop USC again after Darnold’s second pick.

The Trojans pulled ahead for the first time since 7-0 on a 1-yard Carr run, but Western Michigan immediately responded when Darius Phillips went goal line to goal line on the ensuing kickoff.

USC needed only three plays to move 83 yards to reclaim the lead at 35-28 thanks to a 37-yard Jones run and, after a WMU field goal, put the game away on Carr’s 52-yard sprint. Marvin Tell III provided the exclamation point with a 37-yard interception return for a touchdown with 3:13 left to play.

The loss was Western Michigan’s (0-1) first regular-season setback since falling to Northern Illinois on Nov. 18, 2015, a streak of 14 games. USC (1-0) extended its winning streak to 10 games, trailing only Oklahoma’s 11 for the longest active winning streak in FBS.

FAU QB dismissed by Oklahoma ‘actually thanked’ Lane Kiffin for suspension that lasted two days

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That certainly didn’t last long.

Tuesday, after the first day of spring practice, Lane Kiffin revealed that Chris Robison had been indefinitely suspended from the Florida Atlantic football program for unspecified violations of team rules; one report had the suspension connected to skipping a mandatory tutoring session. At the time, the second-year head coach indicated that the suspension was day-to-day and could be lifted at any time.

As it turns out, Thursday was that time as the quarterback returned to the practice field with the rest of his FAU teammates.

“He came in [Wednesday] and actually thanked me for it,” Kiffin said according to the Sun-Sentinel. “He said it really kind of embarrassed him nationally and humbled him that things could kind of be taken away. It was good to see.”

A four-star member of Oklahoma’s 2017 recruiting class, Robison was arrested in April of that year for public intoxication; four months later, OU announced that Robison had been dismissed from the football program.  In August of last year, Robison announced his decision to transfer to FAU and ended up taking a redshirt for the 2017 season.

Robison and De’Andre Johnson are expected to compete for the starting job vacated by Jason Driskel, who announced earlier this offseason that he was retiring from the sport.  Johnson missed most of the 2017 season after blood clots were discovered in one of his arms.

Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa (thumb) returns to practice

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In the end, it appears to be much ado about (mostly) nothing.

Tuesday, after the reigning national champions had put the finishing touches on its first practice of the spring, Nick Saban confirmed that quarterback Tua Tagovailoa had suffered an unspecified injury to the thumb on his left (throwing) hand. It was expected that the quarterback would travel to Birmingham for further evaluation of the injury.

Wednesday, it was reported that the injury was believed to be just a sprain and that Tagovailoa could return to practice soon. That report proved prophetic as Tagovailoa was indeed back at practice Thursday, albeit on a limited basis.


The quarterback was not doing the normal drills with his teammates but was off to the side working with head athletic trainer Jeff Allen. It looked like they were testing Tagovailoa’s ability to grip the football since the injury was suffered on his throwing hand. He replicated a few play-action roll outs with the ball in his left hand. At one point, he rolled over toward where Jalen Hurts was standing and they high fived.

Until Tagovailoa is fully recovered, Jalen Hurts will take the majority of the reps as the Crimson Tide continues its march through their 15 spring practice sessions.

The rising true junior Hurts, who has started every game but one the past two seasons, and the rising true sophomore Tagovailoa, the national championship game hero who replaced Hurts at halftime of the overtime win, are entrenched in a competition for the starting job that, barring a post-spring transfer, is expected to extend into summer camp. That said, most observers outside of the UA football program fully expect Tagovailoa, because of his proficiency in the passing game relative to Hurts, to earn the job at some point before the Tide opens the defense of their title against Louisville in Orlando Sept. 1.

USC graduate transfer Jalen Greene heads east to play at Illinois in 2018

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Greene is turning orange. Well, Jalen Greene is at least.

The former USC wide receiver who announced he would pursue a graduate transfer earlier this month announced on Twitter that he would be heading East to play at Illinois in 2018. He will be immediately eligible to play for the Illini.

Greene was originally recruited by the Trojans as a dual-threat quarterback but eventually made the move to receiver. He caught eight passes for 98 yards at USC last season as a partial starter and added another eight receptions for 116 yards the year prior.

Illinois has already begun spring practice and has been trying several new players at wide receiver in the process to find a good complement to Mike Dudek on the outside. It seems Greene could find himself in the mix to be one of those guys when he arrives in Champaign.

Josh Heupel keeping most of Scott Frost’s playbook at UCF as spring practice begins

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There are a ton of interesting storylines as spring practice begins across the country but one of the most intriguing programs to watch might be in Orlando as UCF looks to simultaneously follow up an undefeated season while also transitioning to a new coaching staff.

ESPN’s Andrea Adelson wrote a good story on the Knights changing some things up under head coach Josh Heupel the past few months like eating with players during meals, new strength and conditioning regiments and the usual offseason stuff you typically wind up season. However there was one interesting nugget about the team’s playbook that the coach relayed:

In other areas, player input has kept a few things unchanged. Take the offensive playbook, for example. Heupel and (Scott) Frost share enough offensive concepts that the new staff has adopted the terminology that players already know on the plays they have in common. So in theory, that should allow the offense to hit spring practice, which started Tuesday, with much more familiarity than another program that has completely changed over its staff.

As they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. In Heupel’s first head coaching gig, it seems he’s taking that to heart.