No. 3 Clemson’s biggest hurdle in conference play? Turns out, there wasn’t much of one at all.
The Tigers continued to look more and more like No. 1 Alabama’s biggest challenger for the national title this season, dispatching previously undefeated No. 16 N.C. State in effortless fashion 41-7 on a picturesque Saturday afternoon in Death Valley.
Dabo Swinney’s group was dominant on both sides of the ball but turned in one of their best performances of the season on the offensive end when factoring in the competition in this one. Young freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence set career-highs in yardage (308), attempts (39) and completions (26) as Clemson took to the air downfield early and often — finding top target Tee Higgins (119 yards, one score) for big gains quite a bit against a leaky secondary.
Running back Travis Etienne didn’t break off any big runs and finished with only 39 yards but scored three rushing touchdowns for third straight game. While it seems like a lock that quarterbacks will stack the Heisman Trophy podium at the end of the year the way things are trending, the sophomore is playing well enough the past month to at least earn a trip to New York City as the guy this team has been leaning on as of late.
Defensively, the Tigers continue to play like the all-world unit they were billed as to start the year. K’Von Wallace and Jalen Williams both came up with spectacular interceptions but the effort started up front with the All-American defensive line providing constant disruption of the pocket and clamping down on things on third down.
That made for a rough outing for Wolfpack QB Ryan Finley after two years of nearly pulling off the upset against Clemson. The senior finished with 21 completions for just 156 yards to go with those two picks and will likely need to spend a few hours in the ice bath before returning home to the Triangle. Reggie Gallaspy did find some moderate success running the football to the tune of 59 yards and a score but it was far from enough to keep the team in the running.
As a result, NCSU will likely fall back in the polls after their hot start to the season against a very soft schedule and continue to deal with questions about just how good this team really is this year.
The outcome will also, more or less, allow Clemson to lock up yet another ACC Atlantic title while reaffirming this team’s greatness too. Though there’s still tests along the way like Florida State, Duke and whomever meets them in Charlotte in the coming weeks, the Tigers certainly cemented themselves as the conference’s top dog on Saturday with another big win and are finally starting to look like the only legitimate challenger in college football to their old foe in the defending national champions.
Oklahoma’s defense was flat-out awful in 2018, as we know. The Sooners were 114th in total defense (453.8 yards per game), 102nd in yards per play (6.13) and 101st in scoring (33.3 points per game). Their ineptitude indirectly handed Kyler Murray the Heisman Trophy as the Sooners’ signal caller had to pull his rabbit out of a hat on a weekly basis throughout the fall, but without Murray’s exploits Oklahoma might’ve been a 7- or 8-win team in 2018.
Murray is gone, so the defense has to improve or Oklahoma will take a significant fall in 2019.
Lincoln Riley has spent the past three weeks reshaping his defensive staff, and on Sunday he finalized his staff and their assignments.
New hire Alex Grinch will coach safeties while coordinating the defense. He spent 2018 as co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach at Ohio State. (The Buckeyes’ pass efficiency defense slipped from 13th to 42nd in Grinch’s one season on staff, but Riley hired him for his success coordinating Mike Leach‘s defenses at Washington State.)
Assisting Grinch in the secondary will be cornerbacks coach Roy Manning. He spent 2018 as the outside linebackers coach and special teams coordinator at UCLA but worked with Grinch at Wazzu from 2015-17.
Brian Odom was hired away from Missouri to coach the Sooners’ inside linebackers, where he’ll team with new outside linebackers coach Ruffin McNeill. Riley’s mentor, McNeill is one of two holdovers from the 2018 staff. He was hired upon Riley’s promotion to head coach as assistant head coach and defensive tackles coach but took over the entire defense following Mike Stoops‘ midseason firing.
The only Oklahoma defensive coach to coach the same position from 2018 to ’19 will be defensive line coach Calvin Thibodeaux. The OU graduate has been on staff since 2016, when he returned to Norman as defensive ends coach.
TCU loses its top two sack artists from 2018 to 2019, but some help just arrived.
Shameik Blackshear (above, top) announced on Saturday he will spend his final year of college football in Fort Worth.
The Bluffton, S.C., native played his first three seasons at South Carolina, where collected 34 tackles and one sack. He appeared in all 13 of the Gamecocks’ games in 2018, including two starts.
He’ll have a chance to compete for an immediate starting role following the graduations of Ben Banogu and LJ Collier plus the departure of Michael Collier. Banogu and Collier combined for 14.5 sacks in 2018, more than 40 percent of the Frogs’ 35 total sacks.
Blackshear is the second Power 5 graduate transfer to pick TCU this week. The Frogs also secured the services of former Kansas State quarterback Alex Delton.
UMass signed one of its biggest recruits since joining FBS, four years after he left high school.
Penn State linebacker Jarvis Miller has announced he will leave State College to spend his final season in Amherst.
“After much prayer and consideration with my family I have decided to play my 5th year of eligibility at the University of Massachusetts (UMASS), Amherst will pursuing my Masters (sic) Degree,” Miller wrote in a note posted to his Twitter account. “To the Penn State fan base you are the best fans anyone could ask for ! It has been the most memorable 4 years of my life.”
A consensus 3-star recruit, Miller was viewed as a top-10 player in the state of Connecticut when he signed with the Nittany Lions out of Suffield.
Miller redshirted in 2015, then played in 33 career games as a special teams player and reserve linebacker. He collected 23 tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack while in blue and white.
It appears a bad debut season for Willie Taggart at Florida State is not going to get worse.
After it was reported Wednesday that Seminoles quarterback James Blackman had entered his name into the transfer portal, Warchant reported that no such entry had been made as of the end of the business week.
Of course, entering one’s name into the transfer portal wouldn’t guarantee a transfer, but it’s simply not possible to transfer without putting your name in, so it appears that — as of this writing, at least — Blackman is intent on returning to Tallahassee for his junior season.
Starting quarterback Deondre Francois also dealt with a similar rumor last month. As of now, he remains a Seminole as well.
While playing for the injured Francois, Blackman completed 58.2 percent of his passes for 2,230 yards with 19 touchdowns and 11 interceptions as a true freshman in 2017. Francois returned to health and the starting lineup this past season, connecting on 57.3 percent of his passes for 2,731 yards with 15 scores against 12 picks. Blackman went 33-of-51 for 510 yards with five touchdowns and one interception as his backup.
As Francois’ numbers indicated, the Seminoles sputtered offensively in Taggart’s debut campaign. Florida State finished 110th nationally in yards per play, 93rd in passing efficiency and 113th in scoring. However, both signal callers would be wise to stick around. Taggart hired Kendal Briles to run his offense. In 1-season stints at Florida Atlantic and Houston, Briles pushed the Owls from 80th to eighth in scoring and the Cougars from 65th to fifth.