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No. 13 Penn State rebounds to trounce Pitt with help of special teams gaffes

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Pittsburgh hung tough with Penn State through one half, but a number of special teams gaffes allowed the 13th-ranked Nittany Lions to improve upon last week’s close call versus Appalachian State with a 51-6 blowout of its Keystone State rivals.

After Penn State (2-0) opened the scoring on a 32-yard K.J. Hamler run, Pittsburgh matched that touchdown with a 13-yard plunge by Qadree Ollison rush, but punter Kirk Christodoulou could not corral the extra point snap and the Panthers could not get a kick off, settling for a 7-6 deficit.

With the score still 7-6, Alex Kessman pulled a 35-yard field goal and came away complaining about the hold as a driving rain blanketed the Heinz Field grass. Pitt’s defense forced a Miles Sanders fumble on the next possession, giving the Panthers the ball back at the Penn State 31 with 7:15 to play in the second quarter. Pitt (1-1) advanced to the Penn State 4, and Pat Narduzzi elected to eschew a field goal try and go for a 4th-and-goal. Penn State stuffed the ensuing run, getting to Ollison three yards behind the line of scrimmage.

Later, Pitt attempted the ball away inside the first half’s final minute and force a 7-6 halftime score, but Christodoulou dropped the punt snap and Penn State recovered at the Pitt 35. After a 21-yard Sanders run, Trace McSorley hit Hamler for a 14-yard score, giving the Nittany Lions a 14-6 halftime lead.

Penn State broke the game open with an 8-play, 80-yard drive, capped by a 4-yard McSorley run.

Pitt was called for holding in the end zone on the ensuing possession, pushing the Penn State lead to 23-6, and DeAndre Thompkins provided the exclamation point by returning a punt 39 yards for a touchdown with 28 ticks to go in the third quarter. McSorley added one more touchdown pass, an 11-yard toss to Mac Hippenhammer, with 11:40 to play. Mark Allen piled on a 4-yard plunge with 6:17 remaining, and backup quarterback Sean Clifford capped the scoring with a 34-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Polk with 4:21 to play.

McSorley completed 14-of-30 passes for 145 yards with two touchdowns, while Sanders led the Nittany Lions with 16 carries for 118 yards.

Ollison led all runners with 119 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries, but he did most of his damage before halftime. Pitt’s passing offense was non-existent, as Kenny Pickett mustered eight completions in 16 tries for just 51 yards with an interception.

The win gives Penn State two straight victories over Pitt, matching the 2-game streak the Panthers carried into 2017. Penn State had won seven straight before that, and owns a 52-43-4 advantage in a series that dates back to 1893.

Mel Tucker’s first Michigan State coaching staff is officially complete

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And just like that, Mel Tucker‘s first coaching staff at Michigan State football has been filled.  Officially.

Earlier Friday, reports continued to surface that Tucker was looking to swipe Scottie Hazelton from Kansas State.  Later on in the evening, MSU confirmed that Hazelton has been added to Tucker’s staff.

The veteran of nearly a quarter-century in the coaching profession will serve as the Spartans’ defensive coordinator.

“Scottie definitely has the mentality you’re looking for in a defensive coordinator,” the new Michigan State football head coach said in a statement. “He’s a leader with an infectious personality and he’s an excellent teacher. He’s learned from some of the great defensive minds in the game throughout his career. Scottie has been a defensive coordinator multiple times, including at the Power 5 level, he’s coached in the NFL, and he’s been on a staff that won a national championship. I couldn’t be more excited about hiring Scottie as our defensive coordinator to lead our outstanding defensive staff.”

Hazelton spent the 2019 season as the defensive coordinator at Kansas State.  He’s also been the coordinator at Wyoming (2017-18) and Nevada (2013) at the FBS level.

With Hazelton’s hiring, all 10 of Tucker’s on-field assistants for his Michigan State football staff have been hired.

The weekend before last, it was confirmed that Ron Burton and Mike Tressel would be retained.  Shortly thereafter, Chris Kapilovic officially followed Tucker to MSU from Colorado.  Two Wednesdays ago, former first-team All-Big Ten wide receiver Courtney Hawkins returned to East Lansing to coach the same position he played for the Spartans.  A day laterJay Johnson was confirmed as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach and Harlon Barnett was brought back as defensive backs coach.  A day after that, Tucker pried Ted Gilmore away from Wisconsin to serve as MSU’s tight ends coach.

February 24, Ross Els (special teams coordinator) and William Peagler (running backs coach) were added as well.

Oklahoma State could be landing spot for LSU transfer WR Dee Anderson

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Could one soon-to-be-former LSU football player be leaving the SEC for the Big 12? According to one of his social media accounts, that’s certainly a possibility.

Prior to the start of summer camp, Dee Anderson was indefinitely suspended because “[h]e had some conditioning stuff to get done.” That suspension extended into the regular season as the wide receiver missed the first two games of the year. In mid-September, LSU football head coach Ed Orgeron confirmed that the suspension would remain in place for the rest of the year.

Three months later, Anderson entered the NCAA transfer database. The redshirt junior receiver graduated from the university in mid-December.

Since then, news on a potential landing spot for Anderson has been scant. Thursday morning, however, Anderson posted a GIF on his personal Twitter account of Oklahoma State mascot Pistol Pete. That, of course, intimates that the Cowboys are in play.

Adding to the OSU intrigue, a former high school teammate of Anderson is Cowboys running back LD Brown. According to Pokes Report, “Brown said things looked really good in terms of Anderson ending up at Oklahoma State.”

Anderson was a four-star member of the LSU football 2016 recruiting class. His first two seasons in Baton Rouge, Anderson saw sporadic action. The 6-6, 229-pound Texas native then caught 20 passes for 274 yards and a touchdown in 2018.

Prior to the conditioning issue, Anderson had been expected to be a significant contributor in the passing game this season.

Anderson would be eligible to play at any FBS school in 2020 as a graduate transfer. The upcoming season will serve as his final year of eligibility.

The addition would help backfill a position that’s been hit with attrition of late.  This current cycle, a total of four OSU receivers have left.

Penn State AD hired search firm to negotiate new James Franklin contract

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Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour appears to really be a fan of a particular search firm. So much so she hired one to do part of her job and recommended them to a rival school to boot.

Those are a few of the takeaways after reporter Andy Wittry decided to dig a little deeper into the recent Michigan State coaching search. This included a freedom of information request for emails to Spartans athletic director Bill Beekman that uncovered several gems.

While there were the notable ‘fan suggests hiring XYZ coach’ type emails, there was also a note that Barbour sent along to her counterpart in East Lansing:

“Sorry to hear about Coach Dantonio’s decision to retire,” the Nittany Lions AD wrote. “As I think we’ve discussed in the past, we have been partnered with Chad Chatlos and Ventura Partners for the last three plus years, utilizing them as our search consultant on all head coaching searches as well as a number of upper level administrator hires.

“Although we have not had to do a football search at Penn State during my time, frankly Chad and I have prepared for a football search on several occasions and he most recently served as our negotiator for Coach Franklin’s latest extension. He is/was fantastic.”

MSU did use a search firm to eventually hire Mel Tucker and spent six-figures with DHR International.

Beyond it being fascinating (and to some PSU fans, perhaps concerning?) that one AD would recommend a particular person to work with to a division rival, it’s notable that Penn State brought in outside help to lock their head coach up with a new deal.

The school confirmed on Feb. 26 that James Franklin had agreed to an extension worth over $35 million over the next six years.

While it’s no shock to see a search firm involved in finding a new coach, it’s a bit unique to bring one in for a renegotiation with a current coach — something most AD’s handle internally with an opposing agent.

The close ties with Chatlos and Ventura Partners is also interesting given that Collegiate Sports Associates was the search firm that wound up helping the university find Barbour for her current role. Typically that leads to a bit of a quid pro quo where the same firm is used for other searches but the Nittany Lions have instead gone exclusive with another.

Take note, as well, that Barbour said she has prepared for a football search on several occasions. Perhaps that little nugget is the result of Franklin’s name popping up in connection to spots like Florida State and USC in recent months.

Instead he appears to be sticking around Happy Valley for several years to come with that hefty new salary that was recently negotiated.

Mel Tucker reportedly hiring Kansas State’s Scottie Hazelton as new Michigan State DC

New Michigan State DC Scottie Hazelton
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One of the best beards in college football is headed to Michigan State.

No, not the one on the face of Illinois head coach Lovie Smith, but rather that of Kansas State defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton. Per The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman, the Wildcats assistant is leaving for the same position in East Lansing on Mel Tucker’s newstaff.

Hazelton spent just one season in the Little Apple after being hired by KSU’s Chris Klieman. The two briefly overlapped on the defensive staff at North Dakota State before reuniting in the Big 12.

In addition to a productive tenure leading the Bison’s defense at the FCS level, Hazelton has put together quite a diverse coaching career. That’s included coordinator stops at the NAIA, Division II and Division III levels as well as a season at Nevada in 2013 and a run at Wyoming from 2017-18. He also coached linebackers at USC in 2012 and did the same for the Jacksonville Jaguars during Gus Bradley’s tenure in Duval.

Now Hazelton will link up with Tucker as the final member of the MSU assistant ranks. The head coach has quite a large salary pool to work with and you can probably assume that had something to do with luring a Power Five DC so late in the typical hiring season. At K-State, Hazelton made $550,000 last year according to USA Today.

Either way, the bearded new defensive coordinator won’t have long to get acclimated to East Lansing as the Spartans begin spring practice on March 17.