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No. 12 UCF completes perfect season with Peach Bowl triumph over No. 7 Auburn

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If you’re going to go undefeated, at some point the quote-unquote other side of the ball is going to have to carry you. For No. 12 UCF, that point arrived Monday, in the most important game of the best season in school history.

One game after allowing Memphis quarterback Riley Ferguson to throw for 471 yards and four touchdowns in a 62-55 double overtime win in the AAC championship, the Knights’ defense harassed and confused Jarrett Stidham throughout the afternoon, sacking him six times and fooling him into two game-changing interceptions to secure a 34-27 win over No. 7 Auburn in the Peach Bowl.

The win secured the first winless-to-perfect 2-year turnaround in major college football history and, in Scott Frost‘s final game as head coach, secured UCF’s second New Year’s Six bowl win in the past five seasons. The Knights’ win moved mid-majors to 8-3 against Power 5 programs in BCS/CFP games, and joined UCF with Utah and Boise State as the only mid-majors with two major bowl wins over Power 5 opponents in the BCS/CFP era. UCF’s win also pushed the AAC to a 2-0 mark in the CFP era, following Houston’s win over Florida State at the close of the 2015 season.

Auburn (10-4) created the first break of the game by forcing a fumble at midfield, recovered by the Tigers’ Deshaun Davis. He was ruled down upon hopping on the lose pigskin at the Auburn 49, but replays showed Davis possessed the ball while still live with an ocean of green turf the only thing between he and the end zone. However, the play was not reviewable and, instead of a likely touchdown, Auburn was forced to settle for a 25-yard Daniel Carlson field goal after failing to convert a 3rd-and-4 at the UCF 8-yard line. 

Carlson missed a 53-yard try to open the second quarter, and UCF (13-0) answered with a field goal of its own, a 33-yard Matthew Wright boot to tie the game at 3-3 with 11:15 left in the first half.

Another fumble created the next break in the game, this time by Auburn. Stidham was forced into a fumble by UCF’s A.J. Wooten, which the Knights’ Tre Neal recovered and returned 36 yards to the Auburn 21. McKenzie Milton produced the first touchdown of 2018 two plays later on a 18-yard rush, putting UCF on top 10-3 with 8:51 left in the first half. 

UCF had a great opportunity to push its lead to 14 points when Otis Anderson broke free in the Auburn secondary, but Milton’s 3rd-and-8 pass was just out of his reach and the Knights punted. Auburn took over at its own 9 with 4:54 before halftime and methodically moved to the UCF 21 with under a minute left, but Stidham was sacked on 3rd-and-10 and Carlson converted 46-yard field goal.

UCF answered by moving 42 yards in five plays, setting up a 45-yard Wright field goal as time expired to push the lead back to a touchdown.

Auburn roared out of the second half gate, using a 72-yard kickoff return by Noah Igbinoghene to set up a 26-yard scoring toss from Stidham to Will Hastings to tie the game. Auburn then took the lead on a 10-play, 82-yard drive capped by a 4-yard Kerryon Johnson run.

But just when it seemed UCF might unravel, instead the Knights rallied. A 12-yard pass from Milton to Anderson tied the game at 20-20 with 1:20 to play in the third quarter, and an 8-yard toss from Milton to Dredrick Snelson gave UCF a touchdown lead with 11:36 remaining.

UCF then grabbed a stranglehold on the game when Chequan Burkett stepped in front of a Stidham pass and raced it 46 yards for a touchdown, handing the Knights a 34-20 advantage with 5:56 to play.

Auburn needed only 1:44 to pull back within seven on a 7-yard Eli Stove end-around, and the Tigers were given new life when Wright missed a 38-yard field goal with 2:18 remaining, his second miss of the fourth quarter. Stidham drove the Tigers to the UCF 21 with 24 seconds remaining, but an end zone heave was intercepted by Antwan Collier to seal UCF’s undefeated season.

Stidham completed 28 of his 43 throws for 331 yards and a touchdown, but he was sacked a half-dozen times and picked twice in the fourth quarter, while Johnson was limited to 22 carries for 71 yards and one score.

Milton had his worst passing game of the season, completing only 16-of-35 throws, but still threw for 242 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions and led all ball-carriers with 13 rushes for 116 yards and a touchdown.

Report: Baylor LB DeMarco Artis, WR Rajah Preciado leave team

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Baylor linebacker DeMarco Artis and wide receiver Rajah Preciado have left the team, according to a report from SicEm365The site reports that the pair leave the program on good terms; both players are still on the online roster as well as the paper roster that was distributed at Big 12 media days on Monday.

Artis was a rising sophomore from Sanford, Fla. He appeared in six games as a true freshman in 2017, recording one tackle and one hurry.

Preciado was a junior from College Station, Texas. Appearing in 18 games over his freshman and sophomore seasons, Preciado did not record a catch but posted 14 career tackles and returned one kickoff for 10 yards.

 

 

Former Ohio State defensive MVP Mike Kudla passes away

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Former Ohio State defensive end Mike Kudla passed away unexpectedly on Sunday, according to a Facebook post from his high school alma mater, Highland High School in Medina, Ohio. Kudla was 34.

Kudla signed with Ohio State in 2002 and immediately helped the Buckeyes to their first national championship since 1968. He would go on to become one of the top 15 sack artists in Ohio State history, a First Team All-Big Ten performer and Ohio State’s defensive MVP in 2005. He recorded 41 tackles, 11.5 TFLs and 9.5 sacks.

Kudla worked in business after football and eventually returned to Ohio State in 2012 as managing director of development for the Fisher College of Business. At the time of his death, Kudla worked as the owner of Core Plex, which “built medical facilities all over the country.”

“Despite his success on and off the football field, Mike remained humble and was extremely generous with his time and resources,” Highland school district director of communications Dawn Marzano wrote in the Facebook post. “He was always willing to share his experience and mentor youth. He was loved and respected by many and will be missed terribly.”

Lincoln Riley suggests there is a competition for QB that nobody should believe

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It’s a standard procedure for a head coach to suggest there is an open competition for any number of positions on a football team, but nobody seems to be buying the idea there is a competition at Oklahoma to replace Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield. And when one of the players supposedly in the running for the job has a lucrative baseball career on the table, the idea is a little more comical.

Kyler Murray was drafted by the Oakland A’s with the No. 9 overall pick in the recent amateur MLB amateur draft. His contract with the A’s guarantees him $5 million and still allows for him to play one more year of football, which Murray has stated is his plan at Oklahoma. Still, Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley addressed the quarterback situation at Big 12 media days on Monday and suggested Murray will have to win the job against redshirt sophomore Austin Kendall.

“Kyler’s not the quarterback yet,” Riley said when asked how the offense will change with Riley at the position following the departure of No. 1 overall NFL draft pick Mayfield to Cleveland. “There’s a really good competition going on and Kyler’s gonna have to fight like crazy to win this job.”

Sure. OK. Whatever you say, Riley.

It is worth noting Murray appeared in seven games for the Sooners last season with 18-of-21 for 359 yards and three touchdowns without an interception in backup duty for Mayfield. Kendall redshirted last season and was named one of the team’s Offensive Scout Team Players of the Year. Kendall did make appearances in two games in 2016 in a back-up role. While Kendall may have a bright future in Norman, few are willing to accept Oklahoma is welcoming back Murray to potentially be a back-up quarterback when he could jump right into his pro baseball career right now.

But this could just be nothing more than the latest example of a coach simply setting the tone for the offseason and holding the bar high for even the most talented of players on the roster. Riley may be blowing smoke, but it could also pay off in the long run of the 2018 season.

Tennessee DL Ryan Thaxton suspended, charged with domestic assault

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Tennessee defensive lineman Ryan Thaxton has been suspended by the football program after being arrested and charged for an alleged domestic assault of his girlfriend. The incident leading to the arrest and charge occurred over the weekend.

According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, Thaxton was arrested Sunday night and charged with domestic assault and false imprisonment. According to police records, Thaxton is accused of pushing his girlfriend to his dorm room while she refused to follow him. It is reported Thaxton than carried the unidentified woman to his dorm room and blocked the door so she could not leave as an argument continued inside the room.

“We are aware of the incident,” a statement from Tennessee read. “The student-athlete has been suspended from all team activities while law enforcement and the university investigates.”

Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt is scheduled to address the media at SEC Media Days on Wednesday.