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

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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.

Lott IMPACT Trophy announces semifinalists

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You know we are getting close to award season in college football because it seems this week has been filled with announcements about semifinalists for every award possible. Welcome to the party, Lott IMPACT Trophy. A total of nine semifinalists were announced by the Lott IMPACT Trophy, which is awarded to the best defensive player with a focus on success on and off the field, integrity, maturity, performance, academics, community and tenacity.

The nine semifinalists for this year’s Lott IMPACT Trophy are:

  • Derrick Brown, DL, Auburn
  • Cole Christiansen, LB, Army
  • Jordan Fuller, DB, Ohio State
  • Brandon Jones, DB, Texas
  • Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma
  • Chris Orr, LB, Wisconsin
  • Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson
  • Curtis Weaver, DL, Boise State
  • Evan Weaver, LB, Cal

Linebacker remains a strong position for the Lott IMPACT Trophy this season, with five of the nine semifinalists playing a linebacker position.

This year’s recipient of the Lott IMPACT Trophy will be announced on Dec. 15 at the Pacific Club in Newport Beach. This list of nine semifinalists will be trimmed down to four finalists prior to the announcement.

Kentucky’s Josh Allen took home the award last season.

Class of 2019 four-star Baylor commit says he’s heading to Utah

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Former Baylor quarterback Peyton Powell has a new football home in the Pac-12. Powell announced on Thursday he is heading to Utah to join the Utes program.

“It’s time for me to clear the air and I WILL be doing that at THE University of Utah,” Powell said in a statement share don his Twitter account on Thursday afternoon.

Powell came to Baylor with the hopes of being able to compete and play quarterback for the Bears. That opportunity was one of the reasons Baylor ended up winning his commitment out of high school, while many schools hoping to sign the four-star athlete could find ways to use his athleticism at different positions. Powell, a member of the Baylor Class of 2019, has not played this season and will have four years of eligibility remaining. NCAA rules would force Powell to sit out the 2010 season before being ruled eligible to play, but he may be given a chance to play right away considering he did not play during his freshman year at Baylor.

Arizona continues shaking up coaching staff with reported firing of defensive line coach

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As a year of disappointing results comes down the final stretch for the Arizona Wildcats, changes are already in the air for Kevin Sumlin and the program. On Thursday, Arizona continued to go through the process of overhauling its defensive coaching staff with the firing of defensive line coach Iona Uiagalelei.

News of the coaching change was first reported by Jason Scheer of Wildcat Authority. According to that same report, defensive analyst Greg Patrick will be moved into the position of defensive line coach, at least for the remainder of the current season.

Arizona ranks 73rd nationally in rushing defense, 113th in sacks, and 119th in tackles for a loss. These are all stats most commonly used to evaluate the performance of the defensive line, and the results this late in the season just simply aren’t good any way you look at it.

A month ago, Arizona parted ways with defensive coordinator Marcel Yates and linebackers coach John Rushing. Uiagalelei is the third defensive coach to be removed from the staff during the 2019 season.

Jonathan Taylor, Chuba Hubbard among semifinalists for Doak Walker Award

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Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor is attempting to do something that has only been done twice before by winning the Doak Walker Award in back-to-back seasons. Taylor was one of the 10 semifinalists revealed by the Doak Walker Award on Thursday, putting last year’s top running back one step closer to pulling off the rare feat on the college football award circuit.

Taylor will have some stiff competition for the award this season. Among the other semifinalists for the award include Oklahoma State’s Chuba Hubbard, the nation’s rushing leader with 1,726 yards and 20 rushing touchdowns (Taylor has 1,463 yards and 17 rushing touchdowns in the same number of games as Hubbard).

Darren McFadden of Arkansas is the most recent player to win the Doak  Walker Award in back-to-back seasons, doing so in 2006 and 2007. The only other player to win the award in consecutive seasons, and the only other two-time winner of the Doak Walker Award, is Ricky Williams of Texas. Williams won the award in 1997 and 1998. Taylor joined former Wisconsin running backs Melvin Gordon (2014), Montee Ball (2012) and Ron Dayne (1999) to move Wisconsin into first place for most all-time Doak Walker Award winners. Texas also has four awards won, but by three players (Ricky Williams twice, Cedric Benson in 2004 and D’Onta Foreman in 2016).

The other semi-finalists for the Doak Walker Award this year include LeVante Bellamy of Western Michigan (21 touchdowns leads the nation), AJ Dillon of Boston College, JK Dobbins of Ohio State, Clyde Edwards-Helaire of LSU, Travis Etienne of Clemson, Kenneth Gainwell of Memphis, Xavier Jones of SMU, Zack Moss of Utah.