Alabama’s keys to national championship game include trying to solve Deshaun Watson (good luck!)

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The rematch is on in the College Football Playoff national championship game with Alabama and Clemson set to battle for the national championship for a second straight season. Both teams will have the benefit of having gone through this experience against each other last year, so there is a certain familiarity with what the other team is capable of doing. For Alabama, knowing just how dangerous Deshaun Watson can be leading the Tigers offense going in will lead Alabama to look for new ways to scheme against him.

In last year’s championship game, Watson put on a performance that drew comparisons to Vince Young in the Rose Bowl against USC, although Watson came up on the short end of the winning tally. In the epic 45-40 loss to the Tide, Watson scorched Alabama for 405 passing yards and four touchdowns and added 73 rushing yards. It was Watson’s best performance of the year, and it came against the best defense in the country. Guess what. Alabama once again has the best defense in the country, and Watson is fully capable of going off for a big game once again. You can make him make a mistake, as evidenced at times this season. Watson has been picked off 17 times this year, including twice last week by Ohio State. The key for Alabama will be converting points off turnovers. Ohio State, obviously, was unable to do that, but the only team to beat them this year managed to do that. Watson was intercepted three times against Pittsburgh in Clemson’s only loss of the season. The Panthers took advantage of two of those picks by scoring touchdowns on the ensuing possession (Pitt was forced to punt on the first, scored two touchdowns on the next two).

Disrupting Clemson’s momentum on offense will not be easy, even for a talented and stacked defense like Alabama’s, because Clemson does like to move the ball quickly. It’s not just the no-huddle style either. It is also how quickly Clemson releases the ball and gets it in movement. Take a look at how quickly Watson gets the play rolling after taking the snap. Unless he is looking to go downfield and has to wait for a man to get open, he is pulling a quick trigger on a screen pass or tossing to the running back and then Clemson is on the go. That caught up to Ohio State and wore down the defense. Wearing down Alabama’s defense should not be as easy, and if the Tide can get in the backfield on the snap to cause chaos before Clemson can get things rolling consistently, then it will apply pressure on Watson and Clemson to do something else.

When Watson does get rid of the ball, Alabama will have to find ways to cover wide receiver Mike Williams (1,297 receiving yards, 10 TDs) and tight end Jordan Leggett, who could be a wild card factor in this matchup. But Alabama’s biggest concern in this game (other than Watson) will be Clemson’s defensive line. The Tigers just pitched a shutout against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, allowing just 215 yards of offense to the Buckeyes and forcing three turnovers (including two interceptions of J.T. Barrett). Clemson’s defensive effort put everybody on notice that they are on a mission and primed to give Alabama all they can handle. The good news for Alabama is their offensive line is much better than Ohio State’s, so fending off the pressure should be more successful to the point where Jalen Hurts will get some time to think more often than not.

The biggest mystery for Alabama is what happens on offense. Giving the bizarre circumstances this week of showing Lane Kiffin on the door on his way to FAU and promoting Steve Sarkisian to offensive coordinator, where he will call plays for the first time in years, there is a bit of a question as to how much of Alabama’s offense may look different compared to under Kiffin. Will Sarkisian stick to what has been working or will he throw in some new wrinkles? That could be good or bad for Alabama, could catch Clemson off guard or completely blow up in Alabama’s face. Sarkisian is taking on a huge role in this championship game, and it will responsibility to find whatever cracks he can in Clemson’s defense and open them up.

Lane Kiffin pushed back against wearing bulletproof vest in return to Tennessee as Alabama OC

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College football, y’all.

Suffice to say, Lane Kiffin‘s departure from Rocky Top after one season as head coach at Tennessee for the same job at USC left a bad taste in the mouth of many members of Vols Nation.  How bad of a taste?  From ESPN.com in January of 2010:

But the real trick for Kiffin was figuring out a way to leave the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center late Tuesday night in one piece.

Groups of angry students and fans began surrounding the football complex after the news leaked that Kiffin had taken the USC job. Eventually, it evolved into a mob-like scene, with police moving in and barricading Johnny Majors Drive in front of the football complex.

Every time a car moved anywhere in the vicinity of the complex, the mob ran in that direction, shouting and chanting, “F— you Kiffin!

Fast-forward nearly five years, and Kiffin made his return — a triumphant, winning return as it turned out — to Neyland Stadium as the offensive coordinator at rival Alabama in October of 2014.  Ahead of that return, security was fearful for Kiffin’s life.  So fearful, in fact, that they wanted the former Volunteers head coach to wear a bulletproof vest into the famed stadium.

At least that’s what the current Florida Atlantic head coach claimed on Marty Smith‘s podcast, by way of 247Sports.com:

It’s crazy. They were literally talking about like — from the bus in — a bulletproof vest. I’m like, ‘Come on, guys. This is football.’ They said, ‘No, really.’ They had security with me the whole way, even walking on the field and stuff like that,” Kiffin said. “I’m just like ‘I’m not wearing a vest, guys. All right?’ That’s a little bit over the top. It was all in fun. There was a lot of mean words said — four-letter words. That speaks of Tennessee’s fans, just how passionate they are. I think Phillip Fulmer said it the other day, ‘We have the most passionate fans in the country.

Of course, all that angst and anger had waned by the time UT’s next search for a head coach kicked off as a small but very vocal portion of the fanbase actually wanted the one-time Knoxville pariah to replace Butch Jones late last year.  Hell, it was even reported that, in the midst of what was a circus of a search, “Lane is definitely on board if Tennessee gives him a call” about returning as head coach.

Ah, what could’ve been…

Nebraska transfer QB Patrick O’Brien officially lands at Colorado State

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In mid-April, Patrick O’Brien took to social media to announce his decision to transfer from Nebraska.  Earlier this month, the quarterback announced his new college football home.  Wednesday, said new college football home confirmed O’Brien’s addition.

In a press release, Colorado State acknowledged that O’Brien has indeed joined Mike Bobo‘s football program.  Because of NCAA transfer rules, the 6-4, 230-pound O’Brien will be forced to sit out the 2018 season.

However, beginning with the 2019 season, he will have two years of eligibility that he can use moving forward.

A four-star member of the Cornhuskers’ 2016 recruiting class, O’Brien was rated as the No. 10 pro-style quarterback that year.  It’s that pro-style of play that led him to transfer away from Scott Frost and Nebraska after the new regime’s first spring practice came to an end earlier this offseason.

As the primary backup to Tanner Lee last season, and after redshirting his true freshman season, O’Brien completed 18-of-30 passes for 192 yards and an interception.  He also ran for four yards on 14 carries.

Oregon student charged in death of former Ducks LB Fotu Leiato

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An arrest has been made in connection to the death of a former Oregon football player, the Eugene Register-Guard and The Oregonian are reporting.

Ex-Ducks linebacker Fotu Leiato was found dead early Friday morning as the result of what was described as a single-car accident. Pedro Chavarin Jr. was the driver of a vehicle that rolled over and crashed in Eugene; at the time, the 22-year-old UO student told police that he was the only occupant of the vehicle.

While Chavarin was initially charged with DUII, one count of first-degree manslaughter has since been added as Leiato’s body was found hours after the crash.  According to police, the 21-year-old Leiato had been a passenger in Chavarin’s Kia sedan at the time of the wreck.

According to The Oregonian, Chavarin faces a minimum of 10 years in prison if convicted of first-degree manslaughter.

Leiato played in 37 games the past three seasons for the Ducks.  He was dismissed from the football program in April after the second of his two arrests this offseason.

“We are saddened to learn of the passing of Fotu, and our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time,” a statement from the university at the time of Leiato’s passing began. “He will be remembered and missed by all who knew him.”

Rice’s Blain Padgett died from effects of drug designed to be elephant tranquilizer

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An already tragic story has taken an even sadder turn.

In early March, Rice defensive end Blain Padgett was found dead in his apartment after he failed to show for a football workout and a wellness check was performed.  This week, the Harris County Medical Examiner’s Office determined that the 21-year-old’s death was caused by the “toxic effects of carfentanil, which is an analog of the synthetic opioid analgesic fentanyl,” KTRK-TV in Houston wrote.

From the television station’s report:

Dr. Richard Pesikoff, a Baylor College of Medicine employee, said carfentanil is a dangerous opioid that was designed to be an elephant tranquilizer.

It’s 10,000 times more potent than morphine, and 100 times more potent than fentanyl.

Dr. Pesikoff said carfentanil is deadly because it causes the brain to suppress breathing.

“It’s a dangerous recreational drug,” Dr. Pesikoff said. “Probably the most dangerous. Maybe LSD is equally as dangerous because it comes in micrograms and just the tiny bit that you touch go through the pores in your skin.

In 2016, the 6-5, 250-pound Padgett was second on the team in tackles for loss with 5½ and led all Owls defensive linemen with 41 tackles.  He played in just three games this past season, while also playing in eight games as a true freshman in 2015.

In response to the cause-of-death report, the university issued the following statement:

The Rice community was deeply saddened by the loss of Blain Padgett. Out of respect for Blain and his family, we will not discuss personal or private matters. His family, teammates and friends continue to have our deepest condolences.

The drug involved in his player’s death led head coach David Bailiff to state that “[i]t makes you evaluate again as a man is there something else you could’ve done? Is there some other outreach that we could’ve lead to?” The family’s question as it pertains to the findings is a poignant one as well.

“We would like to know how Blain got his hands on this drug that seems very difficult to get,” Mical Padgett, Blain’s father, said. “That’s our main question. How did he get it and why did he take it?