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No. 22 Ole Miss keeps SEC title hopes afloat by flattening No. 15 LSU

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No. 22 Ole Miss kept the faint hopes of its first SEC championship since 1963 alive with a 38-17 whipping of No. 15 LSU Saturday in Oxford.

After leading 3-0 after one, the Rebels jumped out to a 24-0 second quarter lead thanks to touchdown marches that totaled 150 yards and a one-play, 11-yard strike set up by a long interception return of Brandon Harris.

LSU, though, pulled within 24-17 from the close of the second quarter through the first five minutes of the third, but Ole Miss immediately responded with a seven-play, 83-yard drive capped by a Chad Kelly touchdown run, then put the capper on the game with a six-play, 57-yard push punctuated by a 36-yard Kelly pass to Evan Engram.

The win meant Hugh Freeze became the first coach since Houston Nutt to beat LSU, Alabama and Auburn in the same season. For what it’s worth: that 1998 Arkansas team did not play for that December’s SEC championship.

Kelly completed 19-of-33 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns (with no interceptions) and led the Rebels in rushing with 81 yards and two scores on 12 carries. Kelly passed Eli Manning for the Ole Miss single-season touchdowns record on an 11-yard touchdown run with 7:34 in the third quarter.

Robert Nkemdiche participated for ill older brother Denzel in Ole Miss’s senior day festivities, which was fitting considering it was likely his final appearance at Vaught-Hemmingway Stadium as well.

The Rebels (8-3, 5-2 SEC) need a win at Mississippi State Saturday paired with an Auburn upset of No. 2 Alabama. The Iron Bowl kicks before the Egg Bowl, meaning Ole Miss will know whether it plays for a championship or for pride by kickoff.

Now, about LSU.

The Tigers, No. 2 in the country just two weeks ago today, will likely find themselves outside the rankings tomorrow after losing their third straight in ugly fashion; LSU (7-3, 4-3 SEC) has now lost consecutive games to Alabama, Arkansas and these Rebels by a combined 99-47. In each loss LSU has allowed 30 or more and scored 17 or fewer.

A team reportedly playing for its head coach’s job played like it’d just as well return to Baton Rouge and help pack Les Miles‘ bags.

Harris was awful, completing 22-of-44 passes for 284 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. He overthrew a wide-open Malachi Dupre when the Bayou Bengals had a chance to grab a 7-3 lead, tossed an interception to help push the deficit to 24 and, finally, blew the Tigers’ final chance to claw back in the game in the fourth quarter when a miscommunication with Leonard Fournette led to a turnover on downs at the Ole Miss goal line.

Speaking of Fournette, the one-time Heisman leader was quiet as a sedated bengal, rushing 25 times for 110 yards and no scores. After rushing for 16 touchdown in his first seven games, Fournette has totaled only two during LSU’s three-game skid.

The loss marks Miles’ first three-game losing streak in 11 seasons and 142 games on the job and means his Tigers will finish with at least three SEC losses for the third consecutive season.

LSU will fight for what’s left of their season – and the Les Miles era – next Saturday in Tiger Stadium against Texas A&M.

University of Minnesota distances itself from Minneapolis Police Department in wake of George Floyd’s death

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A despicable, abhorrent, unconscionable situation that unfolded in Minnesota Monday has a college football connection.

Monday night, 46-year-old George Floyd died after a Minneapolis Police Department officer took a knee on the man’s neck.  For several minutes.

Floyd was a black man.  The police officer is a white man.

“I can’t breathe, please, the knee in my neck. I can’t move … my neck … I’m through, I’m through.”

Four police officers connected to the death of Floyd have since been fired.

Wednesday, the University of Minnesota announced that it has severed its most significant ties to the Minneapolis Police Department.  The MPD had assisted the university for large events, including Minnesota football games. That relationship will not move forward for now and the foreseeable future.

From a letter attributed to university president Joan Gabel:

Today I am announcing two immediate changes regarding our relationship with MPD.

First, I have directed Senior Vice President Brian Burnett to no longer contract with the Minneapolis Police Department for additional law enforcement support needed for large events, such as football games, concerts, and ceremonies.

Second, I have directed University Police Chief Matt Clark to no longer use the Minneapolis Police Department when specialized services are needed for University events, such as K-9 Explosive detection units.

The university hasn’t completely severed ties with Minneapolis police, though, with Gabel explaining that UM will “limit our collaboration with the MPD to joint patrols and investigations that directly enhance the safety of our community or that allow us to investigate and apprehend those who put our students, faculty, and staff at risk.”

Outside of that? The university’s “hearts are broken” and filled with “overwhelming sadness.”

Our hearts are broken after watching the appalling video capturing the actions of Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) officers against George Floyd leading to his tragic death. As a community, we are outraged and grief-stricken. I do not have the words to fully express my pain and anger and I know that many in our community share those feelings, but also fear for their own safety. This will not stand.

I write to you to express our overwhelming sadness, and our demands for accountability and justice. Our campuses and facilities are a part of the communities in which they reside. University students, staff, and faculty are day-to-day participants in the life of every community in this state, and we must act when our neighbors are harmed and in pain.

According to Blake Wilcox, the punter was told he wouldn’t be welcomed back by Wisconsin after taking personal leave of absence

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The latest exit from Wisconsin football is a curious one.

In early February, Blake Wilcox took a leave of absence from the Wisconsin football team for unspecified personal reasons. Wilcox, though, continued to work out on his own.  In fact, he told the Wisconsin State Journal that “he sent coaches videos of workouts and indicated he would be back with the team.”

On May 15, however, Wilcox claimed he was told by a member of the UW football program that he was no longer a part of the team. “It wasn’t my choice at all. I think it wasn’t a good representation of the program on their end,” he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Thus far, the Wisconsin football program has not commented publicly on Wilcox’s allegations.

“I sent them videos of workouts, me punting, and somehow they thought I wasn’t planning on coming back,” Wilcox told the State Journal in a direct message. “All things considered, I learned that things don’t always work out the way you planned. I’m in a better head space than I’ve ever been it, my grades this semester were great, and I’m ready to keep grinding.”

Wilcox was a three-star member of the Wisconsin football Class of 2019.  According to the 247Sports.com composite, the Wisconsin native was the No. 8 punter in the country.

Wilcox didn’t see the field at all as a true freshman.

Anthony Lotti and Connor Allen were the only two punters who saw action last season for the Badgers.  With Wilcox’s situation, Gavin Meyers and Jack Van Dyke are the only two punters on UW’s roster at the moment.  The program also signed a pair of punters as part of its 2020 recruiting class.

Wisconsin is coming off its fifth 10-win season the past six years.  Four of those have come under Paul Chryst.  In January, the head coach was given a contract extension through 2025.

Syracuse loses second linebacker to the transfer portal in less than two weeks

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When it comes to its linebacking corps, the transfer portal hasn’t been kind to Syracuse football of late.

In mid-May Juan Wallace announced on Twitter that he has entered the NCAA transfer database.  On the same social media service, teammate and fellow Orange linebacker Kadeem Trotter announced that he has taken the plunge into the portal as well.

It appears that Trotter will be leaving the Syracuse football program as a graduate transfer.

“I would like to thank Syracuse University for everything,” Trotter wrote. “I’ve decided to enter the transfer portal with two years of eligibility remaining.”

Now, for what’s seemingly becoming a daily disclaimer when it comes to transfers.

As we’ve stated myriad times in the past, a player can remove his name from the portal and remain at the same school. At this point, though, other programs are permitted to contact a player without receiving permission from his current football program.

NCAA bylaws also permit schools to pull a portal entrant’s scholarship at the end of the semester in which he entered it.

Trotter was a three-star member of the Syracuse football Class of 2017.  The Canton, Ohio, product was the No. 48 player in the Buckeye State regardless of position.  Boston College and Iowa State were his only other Power Five offers.

As a true freshman, Trotter took a redshirt.  Then, in 2018, he didn’t appear in any games.  This past season, the 6-2, 226-pound redshirt sophomore played in six games.  All of that action came on special teams, the kick coverage unit specifically.

It was expected that Trotter would’ve seen his role expanded to include snaps on defense prior to his decision.

NCAA extends recruiting dead period through July 31; The Association will also allow strength coaches to ‘virtually observe voluntary physical workouts’

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Not surprisingly, the NCAA has reset its recruiting trail policies.  Again.

As the coronavirus pandemic effectively shuttered the sports world, the NCAA announced in mid-March that it was putting a halt to all in-person recruiting until at least April 15.  Last month, that dead period was extended through May 31.  This month, another extension took us to June 30.

As we close in on the month of June, another extension is official.  As expected, the NCAA announced Wednesday evening that the recruiting dead period has been extended through July 31.  That means all in-person recruiting activities — either on-campus or elsewhere — are prohibited.

The latest edict impacts all sports, not just football.

“The extension maintains consistent recruiting rules for all sports and allows coaches to focus on the student-athletes who may be returning to campus,” said Division I Council Coordination Committee chair M. Grace Calhoun, athletics director at Pennsylvania, said in a statement. “The committee is committed to reviewing the dead period again in late June or early July.”

One potential effect of all of these dead-period extension bans?  It could force The Association to, for one year, temporarily get rid of the December Early Signing Period.

The NCAA earlier this month also announced that football programs could begin bringing players back to campus for voluntary workouts starting June 1.  In the dead-period release, The Association also updated its tack on that front:

Additionally, the committee decided to allow strength and conditioning coaches to virtually observe voluntary physical workouts for health and safety purposes but only if requested by the student-athlete. The measure goes into effect June 1. The strength and conditioning coach will be allowed to observe the workouts and discuss items related to voluntary workouts but not direct or conduct the workout.

The decision was supported by the Committee on Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports Prevention and Performance Subcommittee. The subcommittee encouraged schools that decide to allow their strength and conditioning coaches to observe voluntary workouts to proactively consider the school’s overarching responsibility to protect the health of and provide a safe environment for each student-athlete. More specifically, the subcommittee stressed that schools should plan for how the strength and conditioning coach should respond if they observe an unsafe workout environment or in the event that a medical emergency occurs during a voluntary session.

The committee will continue to explore the opportunity for strength and conditioning coaches to conduct voluntary workouts virtually, as they do during in-person, on-campus voluntary workouts.