Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has only played in one fourth quarter all season long — last week in the team’s 29-0 win against LSU in Baton Rouge. Most of the time that has been by design as his team has had comfortable leads in just about every game they’ve played in.
That was definitely not the case on Saturday afternoon in Tuscaloosa as the Heisman Trophy front-runner took a helmet to the leg late in the third quarter and did not return for the final 15 minutes of a 24-0 win over No. 16 Mississippi State that moved the team one step closer to the College Football Playoff… even if it might have come at a cost.
The CBS broadcast said Tagovailoa’s quad “locked up” after the hit and that understandable from both the impact of a helmet above the knee and the fact that it was a little chilly down in T-Town as well. Nick Saban said after the game that he would be “fine” and was just “beat up” but the scare was enough to draw muffled murmurs throughout the crowd at Bryant Denny Stadium with plenty of worry about how healthy he might be for the Iron Bowl in two weeks.
The signal-caller wound up finishing the game 14-of-21 for 164 yards and a touchdown in a relative uneven performance before the hit that also saw him throw his second interception of the year and get sacked a career-high four times. Needless to say, the offensive line certainly had their issues with pass protection against one of the best front seven groups in the country.
Backup Mac Jones came into the game in the final quarter in relief (Jalen Hurts remains sidelined himself after a small operation a few weeks ago) and threw six passes for -1 yards while nursing that four score lead. Naturally the entrance of the backup QB led to plenty of emphasis on running the ball and Josh Jacobs finished with 97 yards and a score, followed closely by Damien Harris with 53 yards and a touchdown of his own.
Everything is relative playing a team as dominant as Alabama and if you’re Joe Moorhead, you have to be at least happy with the way the MSU defense played in limiting an explosive offense to well below their season averages and making a goal line stand in the final two minutes. Despite it very much being a game for three quarters (or so) though, the Bulldogs did allow three touchdowns after coming into the game with just nine allowed all season.
Offensively, there was not a ton to write home about for the visitors as they converted just one 3rd down conversion all game long. Nick Fitzgerald completed 11-of-1920passes but they went for only 125 yards on a rough outing for the dual-threat quarterback that saw him also take five sacks. Kylin Hill led the way on the ground with 47 yards — most of which came on a 38-yarder that was one of the few standout plays on that side of the ball.
Still, it wasn’t enough to make a dint in the now 10-0 Crimson Tide, who recorded back-to-back shutouts for the first time since 1980. They remain on a collision course with Georgia in the SEC Championship Game down in Atlanta but first two more home games against The Citadel and Auburn. Mississippi State, meanwhile, still have a shot at eight (or more) wins this year with Arkansas and the Egg Bowl upcoming in November.
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.