South Carolina special teams block Florida’s chance to become bowl eligible

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Florida (5-4, 4-4 SEC) looked to have this game as close to being in the bag as either team may have been able to do on Saturday afternoon. After digging a 10-0 hole in the first quarter, Florida rallied with 17 straight points and held a 17-10 lead in the fourth quarter. But the South Carolina (5-5, 3-5 SEC) special teams pulled through with two huge blocks to give the Gamecocks enough life to tie things up late and force overtime. Then, in the overtime, South Carolina quarterback Dylan Thompson took it himself for a four-yard touchdown run for a 23-20 victory.

Florida had its chances to put this game away in the fourth quarter despite having another sluggish afternoon on offense, but the Gators could not finish things off in the fourth quarter. Florida’s fourth quarter possessions resulted in a three-and-out, a blocked field goal and a blocked punt. The Gators drove to the South Carolina 15-yard line but ended the drive with the Gamecocks blocking a 32-yard field goal try by Francisco Velez. South Carolina took over at their 41-yard line as a result but were unable to score points off the drive. Florida’s next possession was another three-and-out, this time with a punt blocked at the Florida 38-yard line.

Following the blocked punt, Thompson went straight to the air for a 27-yard gain to Mike Davis and a few plays later Davis was in the end zone, in part because Florida had been called for a pass interference in the end zone.

Florida had to settle for a field goal on the first possession of overtime, and South Carolina opted to simply keep things on the ground with Davis. It worked effectively with four straight runs to the Florida 11-yard line. South Carolina was on the four-yard line two plays later with a first and goal, at which time Thompson took care of things himself by running into the end zone for the win.

Florida ended the day with just three of 14 third-down conversions and 278 yards of offense. Gators quarterback Treon Haris attempted just 11 passes all afternoon, completing five for 60 yards and a touchdown late in the first half. Haris also led the Gators with 111 rushing yards. South Carolina was only marginally better on offense. South Carolina converted eight of 17 third downs for first downs but managed just 301 yards of offense and went 0-for-3 on fourth down attempts.

Florida will host Eastern Kentucky, an FCS program, next weekend in Gainesville for the final home game of the season. The following week Florida will wrap up the regular season on the road against Florida State. Florida is now done with SEC play, with a conference record of 4-4 this season, highlighted by a win over Georgia. After letting this game slip away, the talks about making a coaching change from Will Muschamp could heat up again after it looked as though he would manage to silence that idea for at least one more year. It has reached a point where even a win against Florida State might not be enough.

Florida can still play in a bowl game though. If the Gators win next weekend against Eastern Kentucky (and they should, although Eastern Kentucky is 8-2 after winning today against Murray State, so who knows), Florida will be eligible for postseason play. The last thing Florida will want is to have to clinch bowl eligibility against Florida State.

South Carolina also wrapped up SEC play this afternoon. The Gamecocks ended their season with a record in SEC play of just 3-5, a far cry from preseason expectations. South Carolina did record wins against Georgia and Florida, and that is usually a very good sign but other pieces just never fell into place for the Gamecocks, starting with a week one loss at home to Texas A&M. Next week South Carolina will host South Alabama from the Sun Belt Conference for the regular season home finale. The following week South Carolina travels to Clemson for the annual rivalry game against their instate ACC rival. South Carolina must win one of the next two games left on the schedule in order to become eligible to play in a bowl game. South Carolina has played in a bowl game every season since 2008 under Steve Spurrier.

FCS head coach Brad Laird placed on unpaid leave after DWI arrest

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Courtesy of Brad Laird, it’s neither a player nor someone from the FBS level that’s at the center of the latest off-field issue in college football.

In 2018, Brad Laird was named as the head football coach at FCS Northwestern State.  Saturday night, Laird was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated in Natchitoches, LA.  No details of what led to the arrest have been released.

However, Northwestern State announced Monday that Laird has been suspended without pay for a week.  The school did confirm, though, that Laird will retain his job moving forward.

The school also issued a pair of statements addressing the off-field development.

NSU ATHLETIC DIRECTOR GREG BURKE
“Brad Laird informed me on February 16 that he had been charged with a DWI the previous evening. The university takes misconduct by any employee seriously and especially one with the level of responsibility of a head coach. The university immediately investigated and confirmed this incident.

“I met with Coach Laird on the morning of February 17 and informed him that he would be suspended for one week without pay. He was also issued a letter of reprimand informing him of consequences that could result from any future misconduct that would violate the conditions of his contract with the university. The letter also outlined additional measures to address this incident. Having known Coach Laird for many years, I respect and was not surprised that he expressed regret about his lack of judgment in this incident and stated that it is his desire to learn from this matter and move forward as a better leader for the young men in the NSU football program.”

NSU HEAD FOOTBALL COACH BRAD LAIRD
“On Saturday night, February 15, I made a poor decision to get behind the wheel of a vehicle after drinking alcohol. It was a poor and selfish decision, and I apologize to everyone who was unknowingly put at risk. I am extremely disappointed in this decision as this is not the type of behavior I instill in my players and staff. This was a lapse in judgment, and I take 100 percent responsibility for my actions.

“There are so many that are affected by my selfish decision. I would like to apologize to my family, Dr. Jim Henderson and the University Louisiana System, Dr. Chris Maggio and Northwestern State University, Mr. Greg Burke and the Northwestern State Athletic Department, and to the Northwestern State football players and coaches – past and present. As a role model for this great University and the players and coaches, I am disappointed as my actions were not in the best interest of my family, University, players and coaches. I completely understand there are consequences for all actions, and I accept the disciplinary terms that come with the decision I made Saturday night.”

In two seasons with the Demons, Laird has posted an 8-15 record.  The school went 5-6 in 2018 and 3-9 in 2019. In between his first and second seasons, Laird added two Power Five transfers and another from BYU.

Laird actually played his college football at the FCS school.  He also began his coaching career at his alma mater in 1996 as a graduate assistant.

In the ensuing years, the ties to NSU only deepened for Laird.  From 2003-05 and again from 2008-11, Laird was the Demons’ defensive coordinator.  Prior to being named head coach, he was the coordinator at NSU in 2017.

Alabama reportedly hires Charlie Strong as defensive analyst

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It appears the marriage between Charlie Strong and Alabama is a go.

In early December of last year, Strong was let go as the head coach at South Florida.  Over the past two-plus months, the 59-year-old Strong has remained on the outside of the coaching profession looking in.  There has been speculation, though, that Strong could be returning to Florida and joining Dan Mullens‘ extended staff as a defensive analyst.

Late last week, however, it was reported that Charlie Strong was in Tuscaloosa visiting with the Alabama football coaching staff.  Overnight, yet another report surfaced that Strong was set to be back in Tuscaloosa this week, perhaps as early as Tuesday, with a hiring all but a given.  Late Tuesday morning, Chris Low of ESPN.com reported that Strong has agreed to join the Crimson Tide football staff as a defensive analyst.

Strong has spent the past decade as a head coach.  After going 37-15 in four seasons (2010-13) at Louisville, Strong left to take the head job at Texas.  Three seasons (2014-16) in Austin ended with his dismissal following a 16-21 record.  Strong’s tenure at USF ended after three seasons (2017-19) as well and a 4-8 2019 campaign.

In the last six years of his head-coaching career, Strong posted a 37-37 record.

Prior to that, Strong spent seven years (2003-09) as the defensive coordinator at Florida.  During that time with the Gators, he also coached defensive ends and linebackers.  For four of those seasons, Mullen was UF’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach before leaving to take the Mississippi State job.

That was actually Strong’s fourth stint with the Gators.  From 1991-94, he coached defensive tackles (1994) and defensive ends (1991-93).  He also served as outside linebackers coach from 1988-89.  Strong began his collegiate coaching career as a graduate assistant at UF in 1983-84.

Strong was also the defensive coordinator at South Carolina for four years (1999-2002) before moving on to Gainesville that fourth time.  In between the third Gainesville stint and his time in Columbia, Strong was the defensive line coach at Notre Dame from 1995-98.

Notre Dame could be landing spot for Stanford transfer Trevor Speights

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Courtesy of a rival, Notre Dame football could see its roster bolstered as we trudge deeper into the offseason.

In early January, Trevor Speights became one of more than a dozen Stanford players who had entered the NCAA transfer database.  A month later, and citing two sources very close to the prospect, 247Sports.com is reporting that Notre Dame football has started recruiting Speights.

In fact, Notre Dame football could very well be labeled as the front-runner early on in the process.  From the report:

Not only have conversations gone extremely well so far, but we’re actually told the 5-11, 205-pounder is finalizing plans to get on campus for a visit in March. Running backs coach Lance Taylor is leading the way on this recruitment and if things go well on the visit between both sides and the staff is sure there is a spot for him, it’s hard to see him landing anywhere else.

On that relationship between player and coach, Taylor has actually known Speights and his family for years. He actually recruited the young man to Stanford a few years ago and played a major role in securing his commitment to play ball for the Cardinal. We’ll see if they get the chance to team up once again, but this time in South Bend at Notre Dame.

As a graduate transfer, Speights would be eligible to play immediately at another FBS school in 2020.  Not only that, the running back has, per the same website, another year of eligibility to use in 2021 as well.

Speights was a three-star 2016 signee.  After rushing for 363 yards and a touchdown on 95 carries in 2017-18, Speights didn’t record a carry in 2019.

For those keeping score at home, Speights could face his former team this season as Stanford travels to Notre Dame Stadium Oct. 10.

Speights, incidentally, would be the third graduate transfer added by Notre Dame football in recent months.  In November, Ohio State safety Isaiah Pryor moved on to the football independent.  Two months later, Northwestern wide receiver Ben Skowronek made the move to South Bend as well.

Clemson transfer Xavier Kelly tweets commitment to Arkansas

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Another Clemson football transfer has found a new college football home.

In mid-January, Xavier Kelly took the first step in leaving the Clemson football program by announcing that he had entered the NCAA transfer database.  Later that month, it was reported that the defensive lineman would be taking a visit to Arkansas as he looked to move on from the Clemson football team.

Late Monday night, Kelly made his future-home decision.  On Twitter, the lineman confirmed that he “will be finishing out my college career at the University of Arkansas.”

Kelly left the Clemson football program as a graduate transfer, making him eligible to play immediately in 2020. The upcoming season will serve as his final year of eligibility.

A four-star member of the Tigers’ 2016 recruiting class, Kelly was rated as the No. 1 player regardless of position in the state of Kansas. The Wichita product was also rated as the No. 8 weakside defensive end in the country. He took a redshirt for his true freshman season.

The 6-4, 305-pound lineman went on to play in 28 games the past three seasons. For his career, Kelly has been credited with 26 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

Kelly would become the fourth graduate transfer added by Arkansas since mid-January.

  • Arkansas State defensive back Jerry Jacobs (HERE).
  • Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks (HERE).
  • Oklahoma linebacker Levi Draper (HERE).
  • Duke kicker AJ Reed (HERE).