MSU, OSU trade first-half jabs as Buckeyes take lead into locker room

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Essentially, the Ohio State-Michigan State game Saturday night is a play-in game for the Big Ten East division title and the league championship game.  After two quarters, the rematch of last year’s conference championship game that began looking like another Spartan statement turned into the Buckeyes taking over the microphone.

After the first two quarters in East Lansing, OSU and MSU are tied at 21-all on a cold and blustery night in East Lansing.  Outscored 14-7 in the first quarter, the Buckeyes turned the tables and outscored the Spartans 21-7 in the second.

The Spartans took a 21-14 lead late in the second quarter on a Jeremy Langford one-yard touchdown run.  On the ensuing kickoff, a Dontre Wilson fumble — his second of the game on a return — handed the ball right back to the Spartans at the OSU 18-yard line.  On the third play of the drive, Langford scored on an 11-yard touchdown run… only to have a holding penalty take away the score.  MSU had to settle for a 39-yard field goal attempt, which was promptly missed.

OSU took full and immediate advantage of the missteps, with J.T. Barrett connecting on a 79-yard touchdown pass with wide receiver and Keyshawn Johnson nephew Matthew Thomas to knot things up at 21-all.

The Buckeyes forced a punt on the Spartans’ next possession, and Barrett again made the home team pay as he hit Devin Smith on a pretty 44-yard scoring pass.

There were two other series of plays early on, however, that changed the tenor of the contest mightily and decidedly in favor of the Spartans.

After forcing an MSU punt midway through the first quarter, OSU was poised to take possession around midfield in a game that was tied at 7-all at the time.  Instead, the punt hit the leg of a Buckeye and was recovered by the Spartans.  The next play, Langford ran the ball 33 yards to put MSU up 14-7.

On OSU’s next possession, the Buckeyes drove from their own 27-yard line to a first down inside MSU’s 10-yard line… only to see a 15-yard hands-to-the-face penalty wipe out that first down.  A sack and an intentional grounding call on third and 29 pushed the Buckeyes into a fourth and 43 from their own 45-yard line, with the Buckeyes punting the ball back to the Spartans.

OSU had little trouble navigating MSU’s vaunted defense as they rolled to 332 first-half yards; MSU came into the game giving up just 279 yards per game.  The two turnovers vs. none for Sparty, however, played a significant role in the game.  The Spartans, meanwhile, were able to produce 238 yards of offense.

Barrett only completed 10 first-half passes, but still threw for 232 yards.  Smith accounted for six of the completions and 129 of the yards.  Ezekiel Elliott, meanwhile, ran for 71 yards on seven carries.

Connor Cook, the offensive hero of last year’s Big Ten title game, endured a rough two quarters, completing just 6-of-18 passes for 98 yards.    Langford ran for 94 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 10 carries.

The Spartans, incidentally, will get the ball to start the second half.

Tennessee officially announces addition of USC transfer WR Velus Jones

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The newest member of the Tennessee Vols football team is officially onboard.

Earlier this month, Velus Jones announced on social media that he would be transferring from USC to Tennessee. Two weeks later, the Tennessee Vols football program confirmed the wide receiver’s addition to the roster.

The move continues what’s been a winding, twisting collegiate journey for Jones.

Originally committed to Alabama, Jones flipped to USC… then to Oklahoma… then back to USC before ultimately signing with the Trojans in 2016. In March of 2019, Jones placed his name into the NCAA transfer database. Three months later, however, Jones reversed course and remained with the Trojans.

Jones, a three-star 2016 signee coming out of high school in Alabama, was fourth on the Trojans in receptions (24) and receiving yards (266) as a redshirt sophomore in 2018. He also led the team with a 22.7 yards per kick return average. A year later, though, that production dropped to just 35 yards on six receptions.

For his career thus far, Jones has totaled 347 yards and a touchdown on his 36 catches.  He also scored a rushing touchdown in 2018.  On 82 kick returns spread out over three seasons, he averaged 23.7 per.

As a graduate transfer, Jones will be eligible to play for the Vols in 2020.  The upcoming season will serve as his final year of eligibility.

Auburn announces new three-year deal for DC Kevin Steele

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When it comes to the defensive side of the ball, the Auburn Tigers football program has ensured some continued coaching continuity.  At least for now.

Earlier Wednesday, Auburn announced that defensive coordinator Kevin Steele has agreed to a new three-year contract.  The new deal would keep Steele on The Plains through the 2022 season.

The financial particulars of the new pact have not yet been released.  In 2019, the 61-year-old Steele took in $1.9 million in total pay according to USA Today‘s coaching salary database.  That figure placed him third in the SEC and fourth nationally.

“Kevin has done a fantastic job with our defense the last four years making it one of the best in the country,” Auburn Tigers football head coach Gus Malzahn said in a statement. “This will provide great stability and leadership for our defense in the future. I’m appreciative of Kevin’s hard work.”

In December of 2015, Steele was hired as Auburn’s defensive coordinator.  Prior to that, he held the same job at LSU.

From the school’s release:

During Steele’s tenure as defensive coordinator the last four years, Auburn’s defense has ranked in the top 20 nationally in scoring defense. Auburn is one of only five FBS programs to hold opponents under 20 points per game in each of the last four seasons.

This past season, Auburn was sixth in the SEC and 17th nationally in giving up 19.5 points per game.  In total defense, the Tigers were seventh in the conference and 28th in the country as they allowed 337 yards per game.

Five Virginia Tech players, including three WRs, enter transfer portal in one day

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When it comes to the portal world, the Virginia Tech football program won the day.  Congrats?

As of this posting, three Virginia Tech football players announced on Twitter Wednesday that they have entered the NCAA transfer database.  Two of those entries are wide receivers — redshirt junior Hezekiah Grimsley (HERE) and true freshman Jacoby Pinckney (HERE) — to go along with running back Caleb Steward (HERE).

On top of that social-media attrition, it has been confirmed that yet another receiver, redshirt junior Phil Patterson, is in the portal.  As is defensive back Khalil Ladler, bringing the one-day total of Virginia Tech football players considering a transfer to five.

Five.  In one day.  The same day the program began winter workouts, it should be noted.

The trio of receivers in the portal actually pushes that group to four overall.  Earlier this month, Damon Hazelton signaled his intention to leave Blacksburg as well.

As for the recently-departed receiving corps particulars:

  • Grimsley — 53 career catches for 691 yards, three touchdowns. Stat line of 10-170-2 in 2019.
  • Patterson — 27 career catches for 269 yards, two touchdowns. Sta line of 6-72-1 in 2019.
  • Pinckney — Four-star 2019 signee who took a redshirt as a true freshman.  He was the No. 3 player regardless of position in the state of South Carolina.

As a redshirt freshman this past season, Steward ran for 85 yards on 19 carries.  Coming out of high school, Steward was a three-star 2018 signee.  He was rated as the No. 74 running back in the country and the No. 196 player at any position in the state of Florida.

A redshirt junior, Ladler played in 13 games each of the past three seasons.  During his time with the Hokies, the Georgia native was credited with 96 tackles, 6½ tackles for loss, five pass breakups, five passes defensed, three forced fumbles and two fumbles recovered.

Boise State, Mountain West release joint statement

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The developing situation between Boise State and the Mountain West Conference has taken yet another twist.

Earlier this month, the MWC announced a new six-year television deal that would significantly increase the annual revenue for league members.  The only problem?  MWC commissioner Craig Thompson stated earlier this month that Boise State’s sweetheart arrangement that allowed it to receive broadcast revenue above and beyond what other league members receive — originally part of a deal to remain in the conference after briefly going to the Big East during realignment’s heyday — would be coming to an end when this new deal expired.

That was apparently news to Boise State, which stated Tuesday that the university was “weighing our options to move forward.” One of those options, apparently, was the legal one as it was reported earlier Wednesday that Boise State filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit against the MWC.

Two hours or so after those reports emerged, a “joint statement” from Boise State and the Mountain West addressed the latest development.

Last week, Boise State filed a complaint regarding media rights against the Mountain West Conference; however, that action alone does not formally begin a lawsuit. The University and the Mountain West are currently in discussions in hopes of bringing this matter to a resolution without litigation.

In the agreement that allowed Boise State to return to the MWC after the Big East flirtation, the university was to receive an additional $2 million in conference revenue annually.