Penn State’s o-line woes finally crack in loss to Northwestern

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For four games Penn State (4-1, 1-1 Big Ten) was able to get by with a shaky offensive line and a slow starting offense. That was not the case Saturday afternoon in front of a homecoming crowd over 100,000 strong. Northwestern (2-2, 1-0 Big Ten) put together a defensive game plan that took advantage of Penn State’s offensive line concerns and held the Nittany Lions out of the end zone from start to finish. Northwestern evened its record with a 29-6 victory that was every bit as dominating as the score might indicate. And it could have been worse.

Penn State had just three third-down conversions out of 17 and the Nittany Lions were held to just one fourth-down conversion out of four. That lone fourth down conversion came in the first half from Penn State’s own 30-yard line, a true gamble. With quarterback Christian Hackenberg having another rough performance, Penn State’s offense was held to just 276 yards, including just 60 yards on the ground on 25 rushing attempts. Northwestern frustrated Hackenberg and held him to just 22 of 45 passing and returned his one interception for a touchdown. On Hackenberg’s next play from scrimmage after the pick-six, he was hit and lost a fumble.

Northwestern’s quarterback, Trevor Siemian, had a much more enjoyable afternoon with 258 yards accumulated with much better protection in front of him. Dan Vitale caused problems in Penn State’s secondary for much of the game, hauling in seven passes for 113 yards. The Wildcats even managed to play some inspired football after Matt Harris had to be taken off the field on a stretcher following a collision with Hackenberg. Harris was treated on the field for a good five minutes before being carted off the field. He was taken to a nearby hospital, but early reports seem to be as positive as can be given the extend of head and neck injuries. Here’s hoping the positive reports continue.

Penn State head coach James Franklin will have plenty to work on in the bye week with his staff and players. This particular game showcased a number of concerns about this Penn State team, but it seems many of the concerns can be addressed by getting something reliable out of the offensive line. Hackenberg has been off-balanced for much of the season and has rarely had good protection in front of him. Rutgers and Northwestern excelled in bringing a pass rush, and the running game has never been effective this season outside of last weekend’s game against UMass. The impact sanctions have had on recruiting the past couple of years is showing most at offensive line. How much can be corrected or fixed in a short period of time may not be enough for Penn State the rest of the way.

Penn State will play a night game at Michigan in two weeks after a bye to prepare. Northwestern will return home for their second Big Ten game next weekend against Wisconsin. The Wildcats will be facing a much more potent running attack when the Badgers come to town.

Florida State AD says Urban Meyer won’t be the target if Willie Taggart gets fired

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It’s an open question right now as to whether or not Willie Taggart gets a third chance to turn Florida State’s football program around. But, in the event he doesn’t, Urban Meyer won’t be the target of the hypothetical coaching search.

And neither will Steve Spurrier, for that matter.

That’s on the authority of FSU AD David Coburn, who went on record with the Tallahassee Democrat Tuesday to dispute a FootballScoop report that Meyer would be the target of the search. (Full disclosure: I also work for FootballScoop.)

“If Coach were hit by a bus tomorrow, we would not target Coach Meyer, period,” Coburn told the paper. “I say that with all due respect to Coach Meyer, but we would not target Steve Spurrier either.”

Florida State is desperate to party like it’s 1999 again, to the point where Coburn didn’t throw out the prospect of paying Taggart’s $17-plus million buyout if Taggart doesn’t turn this season around. (The furthest Coburn would go on that point is this non-denial denial: “For the record, we have not been in contact with our Coach’s agent, period,” Coburn said.)

But they’re evidently not desperate enough to hire their former archnemesis.

Ex-assistant lands South Carolina on probation for recruiting violations

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The NCAA’s committee on infractions hit South Carolina for multiple sanctions stemming from violations by a former assistant coach, the organization announced Tuesday. The assistant was not named in the probe, but I reported at FootballScoop that former Gamecocks assistant Lance Thompson was the source of the probe.

The NCAA, South Carolina and Thompson engaged in a “negotiated resolution process,” in which the parties agreed Thompson texted a sophomore recruit following his official visit, and also sent a text notifying the recruit he would be at his high school the following day and would like to meet face-to-face.

NCAA rules prohibit coaches from texting recruits until their junior year, and from face-to-face off-campus visits until their senior year.

Thompson worked as South Carolina’s assistant head coach for defense and defensive line coach from 2016-18. He is now the defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator at Florida Atlantic.

A veteran college assistant, Thompson has coached at Georgia Tech (in two different stints), UCF, LSU, Tennessee, Alabama and Auburn in addition to South Carolina and FAU. He has been recognized for his work as a recruiter by ESPN and Rivals.

As part of the negotiated settlement, South Carolina has been hit with the following sanctions:

  • A $10,000 fine.
  • A prohibition of off-campus football recruiting activity during the first two weeks of the spring 2019 evaluation period and the first four weeks of the fall 2019 evaluation period.
  • A reduction of football evaluation days by 12 for the 2018-19 academic year.
  • A restriction on all telephone and text communications with football prospects for two weeks beginning Sept. 1, 2019.
  • The head football coach may have only off-campus contact with 10 prospects during the fall 2019 contact period.
  • One year of probation.
  • One-on-one rules education for the head coach regarding NCAA contact and evaluation rules, completed in May 2019.
  • The university ended the recruitment of the prospect.

Additionally, the assistant has been hit with a 1-year show-cause penalty. He will be suspended one game for the 2019 season and may not engage in off-campus recruiting during the fall 2019 evaluation period.

Florida AD Scott Stricklin posts Games Wanted ad to Twitter

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For decades, Florida avoided playing major non-conference games outside of the Sunshine State, citing their ongoing rivalry with Florida State and their annual Jacksonville game against Georgia.

The Gators still play Florida State every year, and they still play Georgia in Jacksonville on the first Saturday of November. But they’ve decided to stop letting that prevent them from playing interesting non-conference games across this great land.

AD Scott Stricklin has scheduled series with Texas, Colorado and Utah (in addition to a home-and-home with Miami) and he’s looking for more. And he wants everyone to know he’s looking for more.

“Attention ADs from the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 or Pac-12 … @GatorsFB is looking to add additional Home-and-Home series against P5 opponents. Let’s connect and schedule quality games the fans want to see!” Stricklin tweeted Tuesday.

Unless Stricklin is willing to cancel on-the-books games for 2020 or ’21, the next opening Florida has on its schedule is 2026-27. The Gators will play Utah in 2022-23, Miami in 2024-25, Colorado in 2028-29 and Texas in 2030-31.

In 2032 and beyond, though, Stricklin’s schedule is wide open. And while Stricklin is throwing bottles into the proverbial ocean, let’s throw another note in there — it sure would be nice to see Florida go north, particularly to Lincoln, Madison, South Bend, Columbus, Ann Arbor or State College.

 

Big 12’s 2020 schedule sees Bedlam move to October for first time since 2004

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The Big 12 is in the midst of its 2019 season, but on Tuesday the league took a break to release its 2020 schedule.

The conference season will begin early, Sept. 12, with Kansas at Baylor. It will conclude at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, with the Big 12 Championship.

It would be the ultimate fool’s errand to wade through which games will determine the conference’s 2020 champion and which ones won’t a full year in advance, but we can go ahead and safely assume Oklahoma’s October will go a long way toward determining that. The Sooners’ October slate runs straight through what appear to be their top four challengers for the throne:

Oct. 3: vs. Baylor
Oct. 10: vs. Texas (at Dallas)
Oct. 17: at Iowa State
Oct. 24: vs. Oklahoma State

That last bit is interesting, as the conference has moved Bedlam to October for the first time since 2004. In fact, the Oct. 24 kick is the earliest since the two rivals met on Oct. 24, 1998; to find the last time Bedlam was played on a date earlier than Oct. 24, you’d have to go all the way back to Oct. 6, 1990.

It is worth noting, though, Bedlam has not been played in its traditional Thanksgiving weekend and/or final regular season weekend slot since the Big 12 revived its championship game two years ago. The 2017 game, a 62-52 OU win, was played Nov. 4, and last year’s 48-47 thriller occurred on Nov. 10.

The Big 12’s thinking appears to be the desire to avoid an immediate rematch between two likely contenders for the Big 12 Championship and, if that’s the case, the Thanksgiving weekend schedule is all the more puzzling as Oklahoma State will host Texas on Nov. 28. The Nov. 28 kickoff (or Nov. 27, if the game gets moved to Black Friday) will be the earliest in 35 all-time games between the ‘Horns and Pokes.

The full schedule can be found below: