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Tennessee fumbles its way to a halftime deficit vs. LSU

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If only Marquez Callaway could catch a punt. Callaway’s two fumbled punts handed LSU 10 of its 17 points as Tennessee trails 17-10 at the half at a windy, rainy Neyland Stadium.

Callaway’s first fumble came at his own 15 yard line, which LSU’s Russell Gage hopped on. The Tigers gained only two yards on the ensuing possession, but it was enough to allow Connor Culp to knock through a 30-yard field goal.

Tennessee answered with a 14-play, 53-yard drive that killed over half a quarter. The 7-minute, 39-second march ended at the LSU 27-yard line, allowing Aaron Medley to tie the game with a 45-yard boot with 13:59 left in the second quarter.

LSU’s offense went three-and-out again, but Callaway again fumbled the ensuing punt, which Michael Divinity, Jr. grabbed at the Tennessee 19. LSU’s offense capitalized this time, as Darrel Williams rushed in from 10 yards out to put the Tigers up 10-3 with 11:31 left in the frame. 

Tennessee strung together another double-digit play drive that ended at nearly the exact same spot as the previous one — this one was the 28 — but swirling winds pushed Medley’s 46-yard field goal (far, far) wide left.

But as the weather picked up, both offenses came alive.

LSU closed the half by putting up its first self-made points of the night. The Tigers needed only 28 seconds to move 61 yards as Danny Etling hit Derrick Dillon for a 12-yard completion, Williams rushed for 36 yards and Etling carried for a 13-yard touchdown with 2:08 left in the first half. Etling conected on 8-of-12 passes for 50 yards, and Williams led all rushers with 50 yards on three carries. Derrius Guice mustered only four carries for 10 yards.

The Vols struck back after LSU’s score, moving 75 yards in four plays and 45 seconds. Jarrett Guarantano hit Callaway for consecutive long passes, one for 26 yards and another for 46, which Callaway caught through pass interference and turned into a touchdown with 1:23 left in the first half.

hit 10-of-12 passes for 144 yards, and John Kelly led the Vols with 17 carries for 29 yards.

A 53-yard Culp field goal clanged off the right upright as time expired.

Tennessee will receive to open the second half.

Texas makes Chris Del Conte the highest paid public school athletic director in the country

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We’re only a few weeks away from USC’s upcoming potential coaching search resulting in a bunch of raises for folks around the country but the Trojans’ now-filled athletic director chair may have produced one mega-deal for somebody who was of reported interest to Southern Cal earlier this month.

As the Austin American-Statesman notes, the UT System Board of Regents is all set to formally approve a new contract for Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte that will be among the richest in the country for his position and certainly tops among public schools.

“One of the things I do with all my people is look at where the market is and make sure that our best people are where the market is for those positions,” school president Gregory L. Fenves told the paper. “We got a great deal with Chris when I hired him two years ago, and I want to make sure that we’re still providing competitive compensation to the marketplace as a whole.”

The contract runs through 2027 and is worth over $18 million guaranteed for Del Conte, including a raise to $2.08 million beginning in 2020 and escalating from there. There is a steep buyout for Del Conte should he want to leave for another gig (just shy of the total amount left) or if the Longhorns want to fire him too, a clause more commonly found in the coaches contracts he will be tasked with handing out.

It’s not like the school can’t afford it though as Texas is regularly one of the three richest athletic departments in the country, generating over $200 million in revenue each of the past several years alone (the Statesman says the school took in $219.4 million last season). Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick is likely the only other AD in the country to make more with a reported salary of nearly $3 million to lead the Irish.

Del Conte, who arrived in Austin after successfully leading TCU into the Big 12, has been busy since taking over the gig, fundraising hundreds of millions to help expand Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium and recently to build a new basketball arena for the school.

Florida State players take to social media to support Odell Haggins as permanent head coach

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The Florida State coaching search has seemingly gone off the rails before it’s even begun but if the players themselves have a say in the matter, there’s a pretty clear choice as to who they would like to replace Willie Taggart full-time.

And it’s not the ex-FSU star that has been thrown out in various reports either.

In what appears to be a somewhat coordinated campaign on social media, defensive linemen Cory Durden, injured DL Marvin Wilson, linebacker Jaleel McRae and cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. were among several dozen members of the current 2019 team to have Tweeted their support for interim head coach Odell Haggins getting the permanent gig.

Haggins is in his second stint as interim head coach, having taken over for Jimbo Fisher when he left for Texas A&M and now again in the wake of Taggart’s firing. He’s 3-0 in charge of the program, including an impressive victory at Boston College last weekend. The Florida native played at FSU from 1985 to 1989 and after an All-American career and brief foray into the NFL, has spent his entire coaching career in Tallahassee at his alma mater as a line coach.

While it remains to be seen if he’ll get serious play for the gig given some of the big names being tossed around, former interim head coaches do occupy the top three spots in the latest College Football Playoff rankings and Haggins is as much Mr. FSU as anybody. It’s pretty clear the players support his candidacy and can certainly help things along on that front by winning out the rest of the regular season.

Syracuse AD says 2019 football season has been frustrating but Orange on the right trajectory

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Syracuse football was one of the remarkable turnaround stories during the 2018 season and the Orange have become one of the more remarkable turnaround stories during the 2019 season… only in the opposite direction many assumed coming into the year.

Despite the program backsliding from their first 10 win season in nearly two decades to their current mark of 3-6 though, athletic director John Wildhack told a local radio station that he’s firmly behind the team and head coach Dino Babers no matter how difficult things have been on the field this year.

“This year is frustrating, no question,” Wildhack said, according to Syracuse.com. “I think this program is in a much better place than it was three or four years ago. I give Coach Babers a lot of credit. We’ll continue to work to analyze what we need to do to make the program better, to make it successful. I’m confident we’ll do that.

“I honestly believe, and I deeply believe, that we are on the right trajectory to where we can be consistently good every year. That’s what we want.”

The Orange being consistently good every year is obviously a great goal to have but something the school has struggled to do for many years on the gridiron. There was hope that Babers was the guy to help raise the floor, so to speak, of the program when hired and he put together a remarkable 2018 season that was a great indication of that — leading to a lucrative contract extension last December designed to keep bigger programs from plucking their head coach.

But the followup has not gone as well with the team struggling to protect their quarterback and the defense give up so many points that they fired coordinator Brian Ward, a long time assistant under the head coach, after a loss to Boston College.

Syracuse football is 21-25 overall under Babers but there is hope that this is simply a bump in the road with the bulk of the two-deep at the moment made up of underclassmen and only a handful of seniors in the starting lineup. The Orange will try to keep their bowl possibilities alive on Saturday when they play at Duke in ACC action.

Contradicting Mark Dantonio, Michigan State says QB Brian Lewerke was checked for concussion vs. Illinois

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It’s not often that a school comes out firing to directly contradict their head coach on a subject but we’ve long since passed normal at Michigan State this season.

In the wake of the team’s dreadful collapse against Illinois last week, starting QB Brian Lewerke took a knee to the head from a defender and then subsequently was planted on the turf while trying to make a tackle the next play — after he threw an interception that was eventually turned into a momentum-swinging pick-six. The signal-caller told reporters after the game that he got his bell rung but he still stayed in the game.

While that sequence should have prompted Lewerke to go through the standard concussion protocol, head coach Mark Dantonio said at his Tuesday press conference that neither trainers nor coaches thought about pulling him from the game to do that because the player himself said he was fine despite the hits.

“Just I asked him and he said he’s good, and he motioned that to our trainers, as well, so he just went on with it,” Dantonio said.

That, however, is not exactly what happened and the general disregard seemingly shown over putting Lewerke through proper protocols prompted the university to issue a statement later on Tuesday clarifying the situation.

“The safety of student-athletes at Michigan State University is our No. 1 priority. Decisions on whether a player returns to competition after potentially suffering an injury are made by our medical staff, which does not report to our coaching staff or through the Athletics Department,” Michigan State health care chief medical officer and interim director of athletic medicine Dr. Anthony M. Avellino said in a statement released by the school. “Upon returning to the sideline late in the fourth quarter with under five minutes remaining in the game, Brian Lewerke was given a symptom assessment by our medical staff. After not showing signs of a concussion, he was cleared to play.

“As a precautionary measure, Brian was given further testing the following day, and was once again determined not to have a concussion.”

It’s good to know that the signal-caller didn’t get a concussion on the sequence in question but it was still a little bizarre to hear the head coach of the team imply that standard procedures were skipped simply because Lewerke said he was good. Almost all college football programs have a spotter in the press box to keep an eye on hits that may lead to players going through the protocol in addition to trainers on the sidelines.

It sounds like the Spartans did follow through with doing everything they should have but it does appear as though the head coach was the last to find out about it. It’s understandable that Dantonio might have gotten caught up in the heat of the moment of an epic collapse against the Illini but to not have his story straight three days later is a bit concerning.

At least the head coach knows his job isn’t in jeopardy from the incident (or others) because more than a few others in his position would not get quite the kind of pass that Dantonio gets on such a serious subject in college football nowadays.