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No. 4 USC escapes Western Michigan’s upset bid

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When USC accepted the ball to open its season and rolled 75 yards in six plays, capped by a 16-yard Ronald Jones II scoring rush, it looked to be business as expected for the Trojans.

But then the Trojans went 3-and-out on its next possession, and Western Michigan responded with an 8-play, 59-yard touchdown drive to tie the game. And then, when USC went 3-and-out again, and Western Michigan again capitalized with a lengthy touchdown march — 84 yards in 11 plays — it was obvious nothing about Saturday’s opener was business as expected for USC.

That moment did not arrive until the 3:49 mark of the fourth quarter, when Stephen Carr raced for a 52-yard touchdown, providing put-away score of No. 4 USC’s 49-31 defeat of Western Michigan.

This game remained so close for so long because the Broncos, playing their first game under new head coach Tim Lester, performed every bit like the defending MAC champions that they are. Four players carried the ball at least seven times and all gained at least 30 yards. LeVante Bellamy led the way with 102 yards on nine carries, and WMU as a team rushed 43 times for 251 yards and two scores.

Jones far and away outperformed USC’s purported Heisman candidate Sam Darnold. Jones racked up 159 yards and three touchdowns on only 18 carries, while Darnold completed 23-of-33 passes for 289 yards and no touchdowns against two interceptions, though he did run for an 11-yard score.

The teams traded touchdowns for much of the game. After Jones’s opening punch, Western Michigan notched two consecutive scores to grab a 14-7 lead, marching 59 and 81 yards in the process. Jones’s second touchdown, a 1-yard plunge, tied the game at 14-14 just before the half.

Western Michigan moved 75 yards, punctuated by a 27-yard scoring strike from Jon Wassink to Keishawn Watson, to reclaim the lead at 21-14 to open the second half, then had a chance to take complete control after intercepting Darnold for a second time. But the Broncos punted on their ensuing possession, and USC took advantage with an 83-yard touchdown drive. In fact, Western Michigan would not stop USC again after Darnold’s second pick.

The Trojans pulled ahead for the first time since 7-0 on a 1-yard Carr run, but Western Michigan immediately responded when Darius Phillips went goal line to goal line on the ensuing kickoff.

USC needed only three plays to move 83 yards to reclaim the lead at 35-28 thanks to a 37-yard Jones run and, after a WMU field goal, put the game away on Carr’s 52-yard sprint. Marvin Tell III provided the exclamation point with a 37-yard interception return for a touchdown with 3:13 left to play.

The loss was Western Michigan’s (0-1) first regular-season setback since falling to Northern Illinois on Nov. 18, 2015, a streak of 14 games. USC (1-0) extended its winning streak to 10 games, trailing only Oklahoma’s 11 for the longest active winning streak in FBS.

Maryland hires George Helow to Mike Locksley’s staff

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The lone hole on Mike Locksley‘s Maryland Terrapins football staff has been filled.

In late December, John Papuchis left the Maryland Terrapins football program to take a job with Mike Norvell at Florida State.  Exactly four weeks later, Locksley has landed Papuchis’ replacement, with the addition of George Helow officially announced by the school.

Helow will serve as Maryland’s special teams coordinator.  He’ll also coach the Terps’ inside linebackers.

Helow spent the past four seasons at Colorado State.  The first two were as a defensive quality control coach and graduate assistant.  The last two were spent as safeties coach.

The 2018-19 seasons were Helow’s first as an on-field assistant at the collegiate level.

In addition to the Mountain West Conference school, he has also been a football staffer at:

  • Georgia, defensive quality control assistant (2014-15)
  • Florida State, defensive graduate assistant (2013)
  • Alabama, defensive intern (2012)

Helow played his college football at Ole Miss from 2006-10.  Most of his action during his 38 games played came on special teams.

Todd Graham named as Hawaii’s next head coach

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The Hawaii Rainbow Warriors football program has afforded a wayward coach a means to return to the sidelines.

In the days after Nick Rolovich left to replace Mike Leach at Washington StateRobert Anae‘s name had been mentioned prominently as a potential successor.  Tuesday, however, the Virginia offensive coordinator announced in a statement that he has withdrawn his name from consideration for the job as the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors football head coach.

Just prior to that, it was reported by The Athletic‘s Bruce Feldman that Todd Graham is getting consideration for the job.  Very late Tuesday night, Hawaii confirmed that Graham has been hired as the school’s 24th head coach.

Graham will be introduced at a Wednesday afternoon press conference.

The 55-year-old Graham has been a head coach at four different FBS schools:

  • Arizona State (2012-17)
  • Pitt (2011)
  • Tulsa (2007-10)
  • Rice (2006)

Graham has posted a 95-61 record at those stops.  His teams have played in 10 bowl games in 12 seasons, winning five of those postseason appearances.  He’s also won three divisional titles.

After being fired by Arizona State in November of 2017, Graham has been out of coaching.  He was mentioned as a candidate for the Kansas job that ultimately went to Les Miles.

Duke hires veteran offensive line coach Greg Frey

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Two weeks after losing an assistant, the Duke Blue Devils football program has filled the lone hole on David Cutcliffe‘s coaching staff.

Jan. 8, Jim Bridge abruptly resigned as Duke’s offensive line coach; two days later, it was announced that he had taken the same job at Memphis.  Tuesday, Cutcliffe officially dipped into the veteran coaching ranks, hiring Greg Frey as Bridge’s replacement.

“We’re thrilled to have Coach Frey join our staff,” Cutcliffe said in a statement. “It isn’t often you have the opportunity to add an individual who, within the landscape of college football, played at the highest level, has coached at the highest level and comes with 20-plus years of experience on the sideline. Coach Frey’s coaching and mentoring abilities are inspiring, and he will have an immediate and positive impact on the young men in our program. We look forward to welcoming Greg, his wife Andrea and children into our football family.”

Frey has previously coached offensive lines at:

  • Florida State, line coach (2018)
  • Michigan, tackles/tight ends coach, running-game coordinator (2017)
  • Indiana, line coach (2011-16)
  • Michigan, line coach (2008-10)
  • West Virginia, line coach (2007)
  • USF, line coach (2000-06)

In 2017, Frey was the tackles/tight end coach as well as running-game coordinator at Michigan. Frey comes to Duke after a one-season stint (2019) at Florida as a quality control analyst.

“As you go through life and build your family and your career, who you surround yourself with becomes very important,” Frey said. “What attracted me so much to Duke University was the faith, the family and the football, as well as the way Coach Cutcliffe runs his program. As we move forward, we want to be at the forefront of building the culture and championship level play that Duke expects. I’m excited to get started and can’t wait to go.”

Virginia Tech confirms addition of Rutgers transfer RB Raheem Blackshear

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A talented new addition to the Virginia Tech football roster is officially official.

After playing in the first four games of the 2019 season at Rutgers, Raheem Blackshear, a team captain, opted to sideline himself for the remainder of the campaign in order to preserve a year of eligibility. Three months later, Blackshear indicated on Twitter that he has decided to leave RU and continue his playing career with the Virginia Tech football program.

Two weeks after that social media announcement, the Hokies confirmed via Twitter that the running back is signed, sealed and delivered.

In addition to Virginia Tech, Blackshear had also considered a transfer to Temple.  A return to Rutgers for the back was in play as well.

It’s expected that Blackshear, a redshirt sophomore, will seek a waiver that would allow him to play immediately for the Hokies in 2020. If that appeal is denied, he would be left with one season of eligibility he could use in 2021.

A three-star 2017 signee, Blackshear ran for 238 yards as a true freshman. The next season, he led the Scarlet Knights in rushing with 586 yards.

Blackshear could also be a significant asset in the Hokies’ passing game.

In addition to being the leading rusher in 2018, Blackshear also led the team in receptions (44), receiving yards (367) and receiving touchdowns (two). Despite playing in just four games this past season, he was second on the Scarlet Knights with 29 receptions (the leader, Bo Melton, ended up with 30) and 310 yards (Melton had 427). His two receiving touchdowns were tied with Melton for the team lead as well.