The month of October was a bizarre one in the Pac-12 as teams zigged while you thought they were going to zag. Nobody embodied that more than No. 21 USC and Arizona State entering the weekend.
The Trojans’ normally high-powered offense was stuck in neutral. The Sun Devils’ defense was punching way, way above their weight. As a pivotal Pac-12 South battle loomed, would these strange trends continue on Pac-12 After Dark? The answer: no, not at all. Sam Darnold and USC broke out of their slump to bounce back and beat ASU on Saturday night in Tempe, using numerous big plays to capture a 48-17 victory that probably wasn’t even as close as the final score line would indicate.
The one time Heisman favorite had one of his best outings of the season after a disastrous result in South Bend last week, tossing three touchdown passes and racking up 266 yards all told against a defense that had stymied some pretty solid passers the past few weeks. Wideout Tyler Vaughns was the recipient of most of those passes and continued his stellar play by posting career highs of 126 yards and two scores. The tandem was so impressive one almost forgot about Rose Bowl hero Deontay Burnett as he had a quiet night despite 49 yards and a trip to the end zone.
Not be outdone, running back Ronald Jones returned to his early season form and racked up 216 yards on the ground. The junior was a big play machine in the dry desert air too, bursting through the line for a pair of 60+ yard scores on the night.
The Trojans’ 607 yards of offense had spoiled a good month on defense for Todd Graham’s Sun Devils. A terrible third down performance (1/12 in the game) and mediocre run game didn’t help their efforts either. Quarterback Manny Wilkins threw for 259 yards but found the end zone, somewhat incredibly, only once under wild circumstances.
That came right at the end of the first half after the signal-caller launched a bomb toward the end zone. The play was initially ruled a catch at the one yard line but was reviewed and eventually ruled as a touchdown on the longest Hail Mary play in recent college football history. The teams were eventually brought back from the locker room to kick the extra point but in the end, it will go down as a footnote in this one.
The victory by the Trojans keeps them in the lead for the Pac-12 South title and presents quite the interesting game in the Coliseum next Saturday. USC is set to host Arizona in what is looking very much like a fascinating battle between some pretty explosive offenses based on how this weekend has turned out.
Conference USA released its preseason poll on Sunday, and the league’s media sees some change at the top. UAB topped Middle Tennessee to win the conference crown a year ago, but voters don’t see either team repeating atop their respective decisions this season.
In the East Division, Marshall is a moderate favorite, garnering 14 first-place votes, ahead of FIU’s nine and 2017 C-USA champion Florida Atlantic’s three. In the West, North Texas was far ahead of the pack with 20 first-place votes, far outpacing Southern Miss’ four. Defending champion UAB earned three first-place votes, but Bill Clark‘s Blazers actually came in fourth place overall, behind Louisiana Tech.
1. Marshall (14)
2. FIU (9)
3. Florida Atlantic (3)
4. Middle Tennessee
5. Western Kentucky
6. Old Dominion
1. North Texas (20)
2. Southern Miss (4)
3. Louisiana Tech
4. UAB (3)
North Texas has yet to win the conference since joining the league in 2013, though Seth Littrell did guide the Mean Green to the West title in 2017. Marshall won the conference in 2014 and took the East Division in ’13.
One of these days, every single state in the Union — along with the federal government — will fall in line and come to their senses when it comes to weed. Until then, we’ll continue bringing you stories like this one.
According to the Omaha World-Herald, two Nebraska football players, safety Marquel Dismuke (pictured) and walk-on defensive back Jeramiah Stovall, were cited by Lincoln Police Department officers Friday night. Stovall was cited for possessing less than an ounce of marijuana while Dismuke received a citation for driving on a suspended license.
The twin citations came after Dismuke’s vehicle was pulled over for failing to display a front license plate.
“We are aware of the incident and are addressing it,” a Nebraska official said in a very brief statement.
After playing in 19 games (one start) the past two years, Dismuke is a front-runner for a starting job entering summer camp. This past season, Stovall was named as NU’s Special Teams Player of the Year.
It’s now officially official.
In late April, Sawyer Smith took his first step in moving on from Troy by announcing on social media that he had placed his name into the NCAA transfer database. Two weeks later, the quarterback used social media to reveal that his next stop at the collegiate level would be at Kentucky.
Monday, Smith’s expected new home confirmed the player’s addition to the roster.
”We’re excited to have Sawyer join our program,” UK head coach Mark Stoops said in a statement. “It’s great to add a quarterback with his experience and success. He helped lead Troy to an outstanding season last year and we’re glad to have him here.”
As Smith comes to the Wildcats as a graduate transfer, he’ll be eligible to compete for a starting job immediately. Additionally, he’ll have another season of eligibility he could use in 2020.
Smith played in 13 games this past season, including starts in the last seven. In those appearances, the Florida native completed 62.9 percent of his passes for 1,669 yards and 14 touchdowns to go along with six interceptions. He also rushed for 191 yards and another touchdown.
Terry Wilson started all 13 games for the Wildcats in a 2018 season that saw UK reach double digits in wins for the first time since Jimmy Carter was sitting in the Oval Office. Wilson, though, was 10th in the SEC and 63rd nationally with a 133.9 pass efficiency rating.
For what it’s worth, Smith’s 139 rating was fifth in the Sun Belt Conference and 47th in the country.
Coaches say things to motivate their players even if nobody really believes it. Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley, entering his third season in charge of the Sooners this fall, is already proving to be a veteran when it comes to setting the bar high and motivating his quarterbacks in the offseason.
Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts will undoubtedly be the starting quarterback for Oklahoma when the 2019 season kicks off for the defending Big 12 champion on Sept. 1 against Houston. However, Riley is not prepared to publicly anoint his newest quarterback as the heir to the throne of the offense that has produced the last two Heisman Trophy winners at the quarterback position. Instead, Riley is telling media members at Big 12 media days Hurts will have to go out and earn the opportunity.
Don’t be shocked by seeing that quote, because that is what the best coaches will do no matter who is on their team. Except in certain situations where a proven starting quarterback is coming back to the program for a second or third (or fourth?) season, coaches will always hope to inspire healthy competition at every position, including quarterback. By not gifting Hurts the starting job in the middle of July, Riley is setting the tone that will keep Hurts pushing to improve his game and keep other quarterbacks like Class of 2019 five-star recruit Spencer Rattler and four-star Class of 2018 quarterback Tanner Mordecai working to get their shot.
But Hurts is far from any ordinary transfer quarterback. Hurts was the starter for Alabama for the 2016 and 2017 seasons, in which Alabama went to the national championship game both seasons, losing one and winning the other. Yes, Tua Tagovailoa replaced Hurts at quarterback for that national title win against Georgia, but Hurts was a major reason why Alabama was in the national title game two years in a row with him as the starter. Hurts brings multiple seasons of starting experience form one of the top programs in the sport with him. And after Oklahoma lost Kyler Murray to the NFL Draft a year after losing Baker Mayfield, Hurts is stepping right into a position that carried high expectations and demands results.
Hurts may have had a couple of bumps in the road in Tuscaloosa, but he didn’t come to Oklahoma to be a back-up. Riley knows that, but he has the responsibility to make sure everyone on his team is working hard to improve. That message should be heard loud and clear, even if media pundits don’t have to believe it.