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Ole Miss survives pair of comebacks, upsets Tide in Tuscaloosa

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Alabama came into Saturday night looking to make a statement and exact a little revenge.  In the end, it was the team on the other sidelines doing the former while impressively avoiding the latter — but not before surviving a significant scare.  Or two.

Up 20 late in the third quarter, 15th-ranked Ole Miss withstood a flurry of Tide haymakers to head back to Oxford with a nail-biting 43-37 win over the second-ranked team in the country.  The loss ends ‘Bama’s 17-game home winning streak, which had been tied with Baylor for the longest streak in the country.

Up 17-10 at the half, the Rebels extended that lead to 30-10 with just under four minutes remaining in the third quarter on a pair of field goals and a touchdown.  The latter score was one of the wackiest you’ll see all season long as Chad Kelly channeled his inner Garo Yepremian, tossed up what amounted to a Hail Mary, had it bounce off a Tide defenders helmet… and right into the arms of Quincy Adeboyejo, who raced the remaining distance for what looked to be a dagger.

The score instead seemed to wake the Tide up as they drove 69 yards on the ensuing drive and capped it with a Jake Coker touchdown run. The Rebels’ next possession was a three-and-and-out that featured three plays that lost yardage. Another touchdown on the next drive, a Coker eight-yard pass to ArDarius Stewart, sliced the lead to 30-24 and seemed to leave the Rebels back on their toes and reeling.

Instead, the visiting team proceeded to connect on what appeared to be a one-two kill shot.

On a second-and-one from his own 27, Kelly took off on what looked like a run to the right side of the Tide defense and, at the last second, hit Cody Core on a pop pass, with the receiver racing 73 yards for the touchdown. An official’s review confirmed that nearly half of Kelly’s body was behind the original line of scrimmage and no penalty was warranted, although it also showed that at least one Rebel lineman was illegally downfield; that part of the play wasn’t reviewable.

On the next possession, Coker made a horrible throw and/or decision and was picked off. The very next play, Kelly sent a good chunk of the fans to the exits as he hit Laquon Treadwell from 24 yards out to push the lead to 43-24 with just over 10 minutes remaining.  But wait, ‘Bama wasn’t done.  Note even remotely close, as it turned out.

Derrick Henry touchdown run with 6:36 remaining cut the lead to 43-30 (two-point attempt failed), then, following a successful onside kick — and perhaps an illegal batting forward of the ball by a Tide player — Coker hit Richard Mullaney on a two-yard touchdown pass that sliced the deficit to six points with 4:33 remaining.  After forcing an Ole Miss punt and taking over the ball at their own seven-yard line with just over three minutes remaining, Coker’s 26-yard run on first down gave the Tide room and additional hope for those remaining in the stands.

The very next play, however, Coker made an ill-advised throw as he was being leveled that was picked off, the Tide’s fifth turnover of the game (three interceptions and no fumbles to zero turnovers for the Rebels) and what was certainly the absolute, final dagger.  Except it wasn’t as the Tide got the ball back with :31 seconds remaining at their own 31-yard line.

Four straight Coker incompletions, though, finally, officially ended any hopes of a monumental comeback.

Record-wise and based on the “look” test, both Ole Miss and LSU appear to be the class of the SEC West, with Texas A&M potentially lurking in the weeds ready to ambush someone.  The two teams will square off Nov. 21 in Oxford, although both will have to navigate a couple of obstacles before getting there — Ole Miss with road trips to A&M and a reeling Auburn, LSU on the road against ‘Bama.

Before you count out the Tide, just remember that ‘Bama lost to Ole Miss in Week 5 last season and still managed to find a seat at the College Football Playoff at season’s end.  Like last year, though, the Tide will have to take care of their own business the rest of the way and rely on other SEC West teams for help.

San Diego State loses QBs coach Blane Morgan to FCS head job

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For the second time this spinning of the coaching carousel, a Left Coast FBS program has lost an assistant to its little brother level of college football.

First, it was Cal losing offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin to the head job FCS Cal Poly.  This time around it’s San Diego State, with FCS Lamar officially introducing Blane Morgan as its new head football coach.

Morgan spent the past five seasons as the quarterbacks coach at SDSU.  Before that, he was at alma mater Air Force for a dozen years as, at various times, wide receivers coach, quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator.

ROCKY LONG, HEAD COACH, SAN DIEGO STATE
Blane has been a key part of our 48-18 record over the past five years. He understands what it takes to win and is a proven winner. He’s gotten the most out of his players, and their consistent play is a big reason for our two conference championships since he’s been here. He should make an outstanding head coach.

FISHER DEBERRY, FORMER HEAD COACH, AIR FORCE
Blane Morgan is going to be a great college head coach! He was a tremendous quarterback as a player and was one of the most competitive players and coaches that we had in the program at the Air Force Academy. Being the son of a great and very successful high school coach, and also being on the staff of one of the nation’s premier defensive coaches in the college game makes him well qualified and ready for this responsible job. He will be a great role model and mentor to the players! Players and supporters will love his beautiful family and they will be inspired by his leadership. Lamar University has found a nugget.

TROY CALHOUN, HEAD COACH, AIR FORCE
In Blane Morgan and his family, Lamar is getting a first-class leader that bleeds for their home state of Texas. He’s a superb coach and will be a tremendous representative of the university.

Jeff Traylor brings in five new assistants, retains one at UTSA

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It goes without saying that Jeff Traylor has hit the ground running in San Antonio.

Monday, Traylor was officially introduced as the new head football coach at UTSA.  Thursday, Traylor announced that he has brought in five new assistants and retained another as part of his first coaching staff with the Roadrunners.

Those assistant coaches are:

  • Daniel Da Prato (special teams coordinator)
  • Nick Graham (cornerbacks)
  • Julian Griffin (running backs)
  • Jess Loepp (safeties/recruiting coordinator)
  • Matt Mattox (run-game coordinator/offensive line)
  • Rod Wright (defensive line)

Wright is the only holdover from Frank Wilson‘s last staff at the school.

Da Prato (special teams), Griffin (offensive quality control assistant) and Loepp (offensive analyst) all come to UTSA from Arkansas.  Traylor spent the past two seasons as the associate head coach and running backs coach with the Razorbacks.

Graham (defensive assistant) and Mattox (offensive coordinator) were both at McNeese State for the 2019 season.

With yesterday’s developments, Traylor has just four more openings on his on-field staff to fill.  Unless he gets raided by another football program, of course.

Second App State assistant added to Eli Drinkwitz’s Mizzou staff

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For the second time Thursday, Eli Drinkwitz has added an assistant to his new Missouri coaching staff. And, for the second time, it’s a member of his old Appalachian State.

First, Charlie Harbison was announced as a defensive assistant whose specific duties will be spelled out later. Next, it’s Erik Link being the second confirmed addition as part of Drinkwitz’s 10-man on-field staff.

Unlike Harbison, though, Link’s role has already been defined — special teams coordinator. That’s the same job Link held with the Mountaineers in 2019, his first and only season with the Sun Belt Conference school.

“Erik is a man of high character with a background in teaching and coaching,” said Drinkwitz in a statement. “His special teams units are detailed and very sound, and his guys play hard. They focus on effort, execution and high energy.”

Link was the special teams coordinator at Louisiana Tech in 2018, his first season as an on-field assistant at the FBS level. In 2011-12, he was the special teams coordinator at FCS Montana State.

In two separate stints at Auburn, he served as a quality control assistant (2010) and special teams/offensive analyst (2013-15).

Lane Kiffin adds two to first Ole Miss staff, including OC Jeff Lebby

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The Lane Train is wasting little time rolling out members of his first coaching staff in Oxford.

Officially confirmed as Ole Miss’ head coach Saturday, Lane Kiffin on Thursday unveiled the first two members of his on-field staff — offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby and offensive assistant Kevin Smith.

While Smith wasn’t given an official title, he spent the past three seasons as Kiffin’s running backs coach at FAU. That was the 43-year-old Smith’s first on-field role at any level of football as he had spent the previous three seasons at his alma mater UCF as both a coaching intern and quality control coach.

Smith, a consensus All-American as a running back at UCF, played five years for the NFL’s Detroit Lions and one season in the Canadian Football League.

Lebby, coincidentally enough, spent the past two seasons at UCF, the first as quarterbacks coach before being promoted to coordinator following the 2018 season. Prior to that, he was an assistant at Baylor for five years, primarily as running backs coach.

Lebby’s father-in-law is disgraced former Baylor head coach Art Briles. His brother-in-law is Kendal Briles, who was Kiffin’s offensive coordinator at FAU for one season before leaving for the same job at Houston and then, ultimately, Florida State.

In addition to those on-field hires, Wilson Love was announced as the Rebels’ head strength & conditioning coach. Like Smith, Love was a part of Kiffin’s Owls program the past three years.