Getty Images

Tide rips Spartans, sets desert date with Tigers in title game

28 Comments

ARLINGTON, Texas – For 22 minutes and 44 seconds, the 80th Cotton Bowl was the dullest New Year’s Eve party on the block.

The house guests, having made the trip from East Lansing, Mich. and Tuscaloosa, Ala., milled about AT&T Stadium seemingly waiting for a good song to start, playing through seven combined punts in as many drives.

Then Alabama QB Jake Coker, a senior playing in his first and only bowl game, played just the right track, jump starting the party with “50-yard Bomb to the Michigan State one-yard line” Feat. WR Calvin Ridley.

“He made a move on the safety and got vertical and got by him,” said Coker. “I just threw it up to him. And Calvin does what he does. He went up and made a play.”

Moments later, RB Derrick Henry scored the first touchdown of Alabama’s 38-0 romp over Michigan State, which let everyone know they’d be at the real party, the National Championship in Glendale, Ariz.

Henry, the second Alabama player to ever win the Heisman, wasn’t flashy in his first performance after celebrating in New York City. Henry had two touchdowns, which supported his 78 yards on 20 carries, his third lowest total of the season. At the end of the first half, with Alabama beginning to overwhelm the MSU party goers with its 10-0 lead, Henry only had 39 yards on 11 carries.

“Once we settled down, we hit some big plays on them, which was really important,” Saban said. “But we kind of knew going in those are run-pass options. So Jake reads what’s (in) the box? Can we block them? Do they have the numbers outside, and do we have the angles to be able to block the people on the bubbles and the smokes? I think he did a great job of reading it. And that was effective for us early in the game. Some of those plays, if the box was right, Derrick Henry would have got the ball.”

Henry’s output was more than seven combined rushers could do for MSU, which finished the night with 29 yards on 26 carries.

“The inability to run the football consistently obviously hurt us,” said MSU head coach Mark Dantonio. “First time
all year that that’s happened to us.”

MSU’s previous season low was against Michigan in Week 7 when it ran 33 times for 58 yards. But that day included two touchdowns. Thursday night, the Spartans became the first FBS team to be shut out in a game at AT&T Stadium.

“When that happens, you get behind the chains, you’re forced to throw,” Dantonio continued. “They (Alabama) pressure you. We’re four out of 16 on third down. So bad things start to happen when those things — when things tilt that way.”

The game fully tilted into Alabama’s favor when Cyrus Jones performed “Return to Sender,” taking a MSU punt out of its endzone and running 57 yards for the score. It was Jones’ fourth punt return for a score this season and in his career. He finished the night with five returns for 80 yards.

“We’ve had really good punt returns this year,” said Alabama head coach Nick Saban, who won his ninth career bowl game. “Unfortunately for us, about half of them have been called back because of penalties. But Cyrus has done a really good job all year, A, of fielding the ball which is the most important thing and being a tremendous
threat with a big play that we’ve had several of this year.”

Another big play came with 2:41 left in the third quarter. Coker and Ridley would lay down a remix to their first hit single, “50-yard Touchdown Pass to Go Up 24-0.” The play has been preceded 12 seconds earlier by the classic background vocals of “SEC! SEC!” chants ringing throughout the stadium.

Coker finished the night with 25-30 for 286 yards, surpassing his previous career high of 262 yards set against Arkansas. The Mobile, Ala. native who transferred from Florida State in 2014 guaranteed himself one more college game.

“(MSU) played a hard physical game,” Coker said. “We just got a lot of athletes on the outside. And Calvin did a great job of just getting up and making plays. And it makes things a lot easier on me, a lot easier than it
should be.”

Coker, who connected with Ridley eight times for 138 yards and 2 TD, had one party foul in a night where Michigan State owned most of them.

In the first quarter, the senior committed an unforced fumble while scrambling 13 yards back from MSU defenders. The ball went out of bounds and the Spartans were credited with their first of two sacks.

Meanwhile, Connor Cook, playing in his last game as a Spartan, cemented the first Cotton Bowl shutout since 1963 with his second interception of the night just over 30 seconds before the gun. The senior finished the night 19-39 for 210 yards.

Alabama, playing in and winning its first Cotton Bowl since the vacated 2006 victory over Texas Tech, finished out the night and the calendar year with “Victory Formation,” performed by all 11 offensive players.

Vanderbilt brings in former Georgia, LSU assistant as WRs coach

Vanderbilt football
Getty Images
Leave a comment

In filling a hole on his Vanderbilt football coaching staff, Derek Mason turned to an assistant with extensive experience in the SEC.

Tuesday, Vandy announced the addition of Tony Ball to Mason’s on-field staff. Moving forward, Ball will serve as the Commodores’ wide receiver.

Ball will replace Aaron Moorehead, who left for a job with the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles.

As previously noted, Ball certainly has a deep history in the conference to which he’s coming. From 2006-14, he was the wide receivers coach (2009-14) and running backs coach (2006-08) at Georgia. In 2015, he was Les Miles’ receivers coach at LSU.

His other Power Five experience came as receivers coach at Virginia Tech from 1998-05.

“Tony Ball is a quality man who brings a wealth of experience and coaching success to our staff. We’ve attracted one of the nation’s top receivers coaches in Tony,” the Vanderbilt football head coach said in a statement. “Tony has been part of several successful programs, including Georgia, LSU and Virginia Tech. With Tony, we are getting a coach with a long track record of bringing the best out in his student-athletes.”

This past season, Ball served as the receivers coach and passing-game coordinator at UT-San Antonio. The two years prior to that, he was Louisiana Tech’s running backs coach.

Vanderbilt football is coming off a 3-9 season, its worst record since posting the same mark in Mason’s first season in 2014. In November of last year, athletic director Malcolm Turner confirmed Mason would be returning for the 2020 season. Three months later, Turner abruptly resigned his post.

Arkansas adds future home date with Louisiana Tech

Getty Images
1 Comment

Arkansas will host Louisiana Tech on Nov. 23, 2024, the programs announced Tuesday.

The game will be at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.

The meeting will be the fifth between the border neighbors. Arkansas has won the previous four, most recently taking a 21-20 decision in Fayetteville in 2016. The programs’ first meeting came in Ruston way back in 1901, a 16-0 Hogs victory. The two in-between meetings, in 1996 and ’97, both came in Little Rock.

The game completes Arkansas’s 2024 non-conference schedule. The Razorbacks previously arranged an Aug. 31 home date with Arkansas-Pine Bluff, a Sept. 7 visit to Oklahoma State and a Sept. 14 home game with Kent State.

Louisiana Tech still has one blank slate for the 2024 campaign. The Bulldogs are slated to visit NC State on Sept. 7 and host Tulsa two weeks after that.

Tulsa, Army ink 4-game series to begin in 2025

Getty Images
Leave a comment

As an independent, scheduling is a never-ending battle for Army, and the Black Knights scored a victory on Tuesday.

Tulsa announced it has agreed to a 4-game series with West Point, beginning in 2025. The series will begin Sept. 13, 2025 at Michie Stadium, then head to Tulsa on Sept. 19, 2026. The series will move later in the fall for the return trip to West Point — Nov. 13, 2027 — and then wrap up Oct. 21, 2028 at Tulsa’s Chapman Stadium.

The programs have met just once previously, a 49-39 Golden Hurricane victory on Nov. 17, 2007 at West Point.

Tulsa has two games on the slate already for each of the four seasons: at Oklahoma State and vs. Louisiana Tech in 2025; vs. Oklahoma State and at Arkansas in ’26; vs. Arkansas and at Oklahoma State in ’27; and then at Louisiana-Lafayette and home against Oklahoma State in 2028.

Army now has 10 games on the docket for 2025 and ’26, seven for 2027 and eight for 2028.

LSU loses RBs coach Tommie Robinson to Texas A&M, promotes Kevin Faulk

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The SEC is famously incestuous in its hiring practices, and within that large, cross-bred family is a series of clans that really like to hire off of each other. For instance, South Carolina likes to hire former Georgia players and coaches, and Georgia likes to hire away from Alabama.

And Texas A&M and LSU really like to hire each others’ people, with most of the traffic going east to west.

On Monday, TexAgs owner Billy Liucci reported that Texas A&M is set to hire LSU running backs coach Tommie Robinson for the same post in College Station.

At A&M, Robinson will work for former LSU offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher and former LSU tight ends coach Darrell Dickey and alongside former LSU wide receivers coach Dameyune Craig.

(By the way, A&M also employs former Missouri offensive coordinator Josh Henson as its offensive line coach and former Georgia offensive coordinator James Coley as its tight ends coach.)

LSU’s running backs coach from 2017-19, Robinson helped develop Clyde Edwards-Helaire and sign 4-star Chris Curry (2018), 5-star John Emery, Jr. (2019) and 4-star Tyrion Davis-Price (2019). For that, he was the highest-paid running backs coach in the nation at $600,000 per year.

Presumably, he crossed state and enemy lines for a hefty raise.

With Robinson out the door, LSU moved quickly in tabbing former Tiger Kevin Faulk as its new running backs coach. The school’s all-time leading rusher with 4,557 yards and 46 touchdowns, Faulk was already on staff as director of player development.