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Late rally, goal line stand pushes No. 25 Tennessee past Georgia Tech in double OT

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Tennessee had defended 86 Georgia Tech runs on the night, the vast majority of them poorly. So what chance did the Volunteers have, facing a do-or-die 2-point conversion, clinging to a 42-41 lead in double overtime, of stopping the 87th run?

Somehow, some way, No. 25 Tennessee found a way to corral Georgia Tech quarterback TaQuon Marshall at the line of scrimmage and secure a victory that seemed impossible just minutes prior.

Georgia Tech spent most of the evening with its offense on the field, trampling a Tennessee defense that spent six months preparing for an offense it had no chance of stopping. Making his first career start, Marshall set Georgia Tech quarterback records by carrying an astounding 44 times for 249 yards and five touchdowns, spearheading a Yellow Jackets offense that totaled 535 yards and six scores on a steady 6.2 yards per carry. The Jackets led 14-7 at halftime, accepted the ball to open the second half and promptly took complete control of the game with an 11-play, 80-yard drive that consumed nearly six minutes — nearly 20 percent of the available game time to that point.

After Tennessee (1-0) found pay dirt to pull within 21-14, Georgia Tech (0-1) again traversed the length of the field, moving 75 yards in a brief — for them — two minutes and 34 seconds, as a 6-yard Marshall run gave the Jackets a 28-14 lead with 13:08 remaining in the game.

But it was after that point, when much of the Big Orange faithful had had enough and departed Mercedes-Benz Stadium, that the Tennessee offense refused to be stopped — particularly wide receiver Marquez Callaway and running back John Kelly. Callaway pulled Tennessee back within 28-21 after breaking a tackle and streaking 50 yards for a touchdown.

Still, Georgia Tech had a chance to put the game away with another methodical drive and appeared ready to do just that when J.J. Green slashed and dashed for a 36-yard gain to the Tennessee 7-yard line as the clock slunk below five minutes to play, but Rashaan Gaulden raced from behind to poke the ball free and Micah Abernathy hopped on it for the Vols. Tennessee needed seven plays to move the required 93 yards, with six of those plays and 87 of those yards coming from either Callaway or Kelly. Kelly (19 carries for 128 yards and four touchdowns, with five grabs for 35 yards) touched it five times for 35 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown run, and Callaway (four grabs for 115 yards and two scores) caught a 40-yard bomb in double coverage. The combination of Callaway and Kelly carried another first-time starting quarterback in Quentin Dormady, who completed 20-of-37 throws for 221 yards and two touchdowns, but was much less efficient than this numbers showed when not throwing to Callaway or Kelly.

With the score now tied for the first time in the game, Georgia Tech had a second chance to put it away, moving 56 yards in 1:26 to set up a 37-yard field goal try for Shawn Davis. After his first attempt sailed far wide left, Davis’s second try was blocked.

With each defense appropriately gassed and disheartened, the two offense took turns slicing through their counterparts in overtime: Georgia Tech opened by scoring in five plays, and Tennessee answered in three. The Volunteers scored in three plays again at the top of the second frame, and Georgia Tech answered in four. Sensing his defense had no chance to stop Tennessee in the third overtime or in perpetuity, Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson put his offense back on the field to win it in double overtime. It felt like the right call at the time and still does now — in all, Georgia Tech converted 13-of-18 third downs, achieved 33 first downs to Tennessee’s 18 and possessed the ball for 41:27 — but Tennessee came up with its only stop of the night, the only one it needed.

 

Lincoln Riley finalizes defensive staff for 2019

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Oklahoma’s defense was flat-out awful in 2018, as we know. The Sooners were 114th in total defense (453.8 yards per game), 102nd in yards per play (6.13) and 101st in scoring (33.3 points per game). Their ineptitude indirectly handed Kyler Murray the Heisman Trophy as the Sooners’ signal caller had to pull his rabbit out of a hat on a weekly basis throughout the fall, but without Murray’s exploits Oklahoma might’ve been a 7- or 8-win team in 2018.

Murray is gone, so the defense has to improve or Oklahoma will take a significant fall in 2019.

Lincoln Riley has spent the past three weeks reshaping his defensive staff, and on Sunday he finalized his staff and their assignments.

New hire Alex Grinch will coach safeties while coordinating the defense. He spent 2018 as co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach at Ohio State. (The Buckeyes’ pass efficiency defense slipped from 13th to 42nd in Grinch’s one season on staff, but Riley hired him for his success coordinating Mike Leach‘s defenses at Washington State.)

Assisting Grinch in the secondary will be cornerbacks coach Roy Manning. He spent 2018 as the outside linebackers coach and special teams coordinator at UCLA but worked with Grinch at Wazzu from 2015-17.

Brian Odom was hired away from Missouri to coach the Sooners’ inside linebackers, where he’ll team with new outside linebackers coach Ruffin McNeill. Riley’s mentor, McNeill is one of two holdovers from the 2018 staff. He was hired upon Riley’s promotion to head coach as assistant head coach and defensive tackles coach but took over the entire defense following Mike Stoops‘ midseason firing.

The only Oklahoma defensive coach to coach the same position from 2018 to ’19 will be defensive line coach Calvin Thibodeaux. The OU graduate has been on staff since 2016, when he returned to Norman as defensive ends coach.

Former South Carolina DE announces transfer to TCU

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TCU loses its top two sack artists from 2018 to 2019, but some help just arrived.

Shameik Blackshear (above, top) announced on Saturday he will spend his final year of college football in Fort Worth.

The Bluffton, S.C., native played his first three seasons at South Carolina, where collected 34 tackles and one sack. He appeared in all 13 of the Gamecocks’ games in 2018, including two starts.

He’ll have a chance to compete for an immediate starting role following the graduations of Ben Banogu and LJ Collier plus the departure of Michael Collier. Banogu and Collier combined for 14.5 sacks in 2018, more than 40 percent of the Frogs’ 35 total sacks.

Blackshear is the second Power 5 graduate transfer to pick TCU this week. The Frogs also secured the services of former Kansas State quarterback Alex Delton.

Penn State LB Jarvis Miller announces graduate transfer to UMass

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UMass signed one of its biggest recruits since joining FBS, four years after he left high school.

Penn State linebacker Jarvis Miller has announced he will leave State College to spend his final season in Amherst.

“After much prayer and consideration with my family I have decided to play my 5th year of eligibility at the University of Massachusetts (UMASS), Amherst will pursuing my Masters (sic) Degree,” Miller wrote in a note posted to his Twitter account. “To the Penn State fan base you are the best fans anyone could ask for ! It has been the most memorable 4 years of my life.”

A consensus 3-star recruit, Miller was viewed as a top-10 player in the state of Connecticut when he signed with the Nittany Lions out of Suffield.

Miller redshirted in 2015, then played in 33 career games as a special teams player and reserve linebacker. He collected 23 tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack while in blue and white.

Florida State QB James Blackman reportedly not considering transfer after all

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It appears a bad debut season for Willie Taggart at Florida State is not going to get worse.

After it was reported Wednesday that Seminoles quarterback James Blackman had entered his name into the transfer portalWarchant reported that no such entry had been made as of the end of the business week.

Of course, entering one’s name into the transfer portal wouldn’t guarantee a transfer, but it’s simply not possible to transfer without putting your name in, so it appears that — as of this writing, at least — Blackman is intent on returning to Tallahassee for his junior season.

Starting quarterback Deondre Francois also dealt with a similar rumor last month. As of now, he remains a Seminole as well.

While playing for the injured Francois, Blackman completed 58.2 percent of his passes for 2,230 yards with 19 touchdowns and 11 interceptions as a true freshman in 2017. Francois returned to health and the starting lineup this past season, connecting on 57.3 percent of his passes for 2,731 yards with 15 scores against 12 picks. Blackman went 33-of-51 for 510 yards with five touchdowns and one interception as his backup.

As Francois’ numbers indicated, the Seminoles sputtered offensively in Taggart’s debut campaign. Florida State finished 110th nationally in yards per play, 93rd in passing efficiency and 113th in scoring. However, both signal callers would be wise to stick around. Taggart hired Kendal Briles to run his offense. In 1-season stints at Florida Atlantic and Houston, Briles pushed the Owls from 80th to eighth in scoring and the Cougars from 65th to fifth.