Getty Images

Alabama mounting comeback but Georgia still leads as National Championship Game enters final stretch

4 Comments

ATLANTA — The first half of the College Football Playoff National Championship Game went to plan as a low-scoring, hard-hitting, defensive-minded affair. It seemed a bit of coffee at halftime was all that was needed to jolt some life into No. 3 Georgia and No. 4 Alabama at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Monday night though as the two powerhouses started to break things open and put on a show in the second (and far more important) SEC title game for all the marbles.

In front of what amounted to a relative home crowd, it was the Bulldogs who held a 20-10 lead as they chase their first national title since 1980 with the clock winding down to the fourth quarter. Though the low score was representative of how things began, there were still several big plays that jolted both shades of red to their feet in Atlanta.

Alabama corner Tony Brown kicked things off by picking off Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm’s second pass of the game, wrestling a pass out of the hands of Javon Wims in what might be the play of his career given the stage. While it amounted to a bit of an arm punt given the down and distance, it was nevertheless the start that the Tide wanted defensively.

The Bulldogs defense made sure that the turnover was not painful on the scoreboard however, allowing Jalen Hurts (3-of-8 passing, 47 yards rushing) to march down the field but keeping him out of the end zone thanks to a missed throw to wideout Calvin Ridley and then drawing a false start that eventually led to a missed field goal from Andy Pappanastos.

The more curious thing from the Georgia sideline may have been the offensive play calling. The team opened with seven straight passes for Fromm and didn’t run the ball until the first quarter was more than halfway over. Still, tailback Sony Michel picked up where he left off in the Rose Bowl against No. 2 Oklahoma with the team’s biggest play of the first quarter by hitting the edge and jetting up the sideline for 26 yards. He finished with XX on the ground all told while teammate Nick Chubb was general held in check with 16.

That one long run by Michel helped keep the Bulldogs’ third drive alive before it stalled just outside the red zone — a bit of a habit for the team early on. Kicker Rodrigo Blankenship calmly nailed a 41 yard field goal to put Georgia up 3-0 and later added another from 27 out.

The Bulldogs’ offense did seem to find a groove right before the break however as they used some big throws by Fromm to drive nearly the length of the field with just 79 seconds left on the clock. Aided in part by an Alabama penalty, the team eventually found pay dirt thanks to a touchdown off a direct snap to Mecole Hardman.

In terms of halftime adjustments, Nick Saban saved up his biggest of the season by pulling the team’s starting quarterback and inserting true freshman Tua Tagovailoa. The lefty breathed life in to the Tide almost right away and completed a remarkable scramble to extend a drive on his second series. That eventually resulted in a touchdown throw to Henry Ruggs III and help cut into some of that lead.

The Bulldogs would mount an impressive response however to seize momentum right back. Just three plays later it was Fromm who found a streaking Hardman down the field, dropping in a perfectly thrown pass over the shoulder and resulting in an 80 yard touchdown after the wideout tip-toed his way down the sidelines. The defense later responded with an interception that would have felt like a killer had their own quarterback not thrown one off a tipped pass just a play later.

There’s just one quarter to go before a champion is crowned and history will be made.

Nebraska and OC Troy Walters “mutually agreed to part ways”

Getty Images
Leave a comment

A year after significantly falling short of expectations, an offseason of change has commenced at Nebraska.

In one of the first big moves since Scott Frost took over at his alma mater, the Cornhuskers and offensive coordinator Troy Walters announced on Friday that they had ‘mutually agreed to part ways.’

“Troy has been a valued member of our coaching staff for the past four years,” Frost said in a statement. “Troy is a good mentor for his players, provides great energy on and off the field, and carries himself with a presence off the field that will be missed. I want to thank him for his work on our coaching staff, and wish him and his family all the best going forward.”

The duo first came together when Frost was hired at UCF and led a number of prolific offenses, including the undefeated 2017 team for the Knights. Walters was a finalist for the Broyles Award that same season though has not called plays for either team.

Walters had a distinguished career as a player at Stanford that included All-American honors and a Biletnikoff Award in 1999. He spent several years in the NFL before going into coaching during stops at Texas A&M, N.C. State and Colorado.

The departure of Walters could interestingly lead to a reunion between Frost and a familiar name in Mark Helfrich. The latter was head coach at Oregon when Frost was elevated to offensive coordinator for the Ducks and is in search of a job after being let go by the Chicago Bears from a similar role.

Report: USC OC Graham Harrell interviewing for NFL job

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Clay Helton has been searching for a defensive coordinator the past several weeks and may need to expand his search to include an offensive coordinator as well.

According to a report out of Philadelphia, USC OC Graham Harrell has interviewed with the Eagles for a spot on Doug Pederson’s coaching staff in a similar role:

Harrell was retained this offseason amid plenty of fan fare (and money) in Los Angeles. He reportedly had interest from Texas in the same position on Tom Herman’s staff but a return to the Lone Star State was put off for a multi-year deal with the Trojans.

The former North Texas OC and Texas Tech quarterback oversaw one of the more impressive turnarounds in the country in 2019. Despite being forced to play true freshman Kedon Slovis at quarterback following J.T. Daniels injury, USC still added nearly a touchdown per game with the move to the Air Raid and rose from 91st in scoring offense to 35th.

This wouldn’t be the first time Helton and the Trojans will feel like the rug has been pulled out from under them by the NFL after a splashy move on offense. As many know, Kliff Kingsbury was on the job for a few weeks before moving on as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals last January. We’ll see if anything becomes of Harrell’s flirtation with the pros but there’s little doubt that this will not be the last time his name comes up for a bigger job going forward.

Nine from ’19: TE Thaddeus Moss joins LSU exodus for NFL Draft

Getty Images
1 Comment

Thaddeus Moss is officially a one-and-done at LSU after declaring for the 2020 NFL Draft.

The star LSU tight end became the ninth underclassman for the national champions to leave campus for the pros this week. He made the announcement on social media in a letter thanking the fan base:

Moss played a pivotal role in the team’s record-setting offense in 2019. He caught 47 passes for 570 yards and had three of his four touchdowns come in the College Football Playoffs. That included a pair of scores in the title game, one of which doubled as the one that allowed QB Joe Burrow to set the FBS record for TD passes in a season.

The one-time North Carolina State transfer is no stranger to the pros either way. He’s the son of Pro Football Hall of Fame receiver Randy Moss and will be part of an intriguing class of players at tight end this spring.

While it’s possible there will be an additional name or two that surfaces, Friday’s deadline for underclassmen to declare means Moss’ departure could be the last for LSU for the time being. Still, that’s a lot of talent to lose as Ed Orgeron embarks on an offseason full of changes right after reaching the top of the sport.

Travis Etienne skipping draft, will stay at Clemson for 2020

Clemson Travis Etienne
Getty Images
1 Comment

It’s not often you get a shocking announcement for a player returning for his senior year but this might qualify.

In an announcement posted on Twitter Friday afternoon, Clemson’s star tailback Travis Etienne surprised pretty much everybody by saying he would skip the 2020 NFL Draft and remain on campus for his senior season.

Etienne was a Heisman Trophy candidate for much of 2019 and has been a key cog in the Tigers’ incredible record the past few years. He’s rushed for over 1,600 yards each of the past two seasons and continued to become a threat as a pass catcher out of the backfield as well.

While many expected the junior to turn pro and join a deep class of running backs, apparently the taste left in his mouth by Monday’s national title game was just the extra push he needed to stay on campus to aim for another championship.

Though Dabo Swinney has to deal with a handful of departures from the two-deep this offseason, the return of Etienne should only further cement Clemson as the preseason No. 1 team for 2020. The tailback and quarterback Trevor Lawrence both figure to be high draft picks the following spring but for now they will be aiming for another ring with a team that just won 29 games in a row.