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Pick-six gives Houston a 21-17 lead on Memphis in AAC West-deciding game

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A trip to the AAC Championship Game is on the line in Memphis this afternoon, and the Houston Cougars are looking to play their way into it after erasing a double-digit deficit in the second quarter to take a lead into halftime. Gleson Sprewell‘s 63-yard interception return for a touchdown off Memphis quarterback Brady White gave Houston a 21-17 lead. Houston had been down 17-7 just minutes before. Sprewell struck again with a second interception that prevented a Memphis touchdown in the final 20 seconds of the half.

After missing three of the last four games due to a knee injury, star defensive lineman Ed Oliver returned to the football field for the Houston Cougars Friday afternoon. And whether it was a coincidence or not, the Houston defense set the tone early on the road against Memphis. Memphis went three-and-out on each of their first two drives and the Tigers were stuck playing a battle of field position early on.

With the offense pinned just outside their own goal line, Memphis took advantage of a Houston defense that was forced to play without Oliver, who was having a helmet issue corrected on the sideline. Patrick Taylor rushed for a gain of 57 yards to the Houston 34-yard line on a 3rd & 2, and a 15-yard facemask penalty on Houston moved the football all the way to the Houston 19-yard line. Despite having an excellent chance to put points on the board, Memphis would have to settle for a field goal from the Houston 18-yard line.

Memphis took a 17-7 lead with touchdowns on each of their next two offensive drives, which started with a defensive stand that forced a Houston turnover on downs at the Memphis 25-yard line. Taylor capped the first touchdown drive with a run to the end zone from seven yards and quarterback Brady Whtie completed a nine-yard pass to Joey Magnifico for the 10-point lead.

Houston started the game playing aggressively through the air with Clayton Tune, who has taken over the offense in the absence of an injured D’Eriq King. Houston took to the air multiple times on their first offensive series, and Tune was fortunate not to have thrown an interception on a few plays the Memphis defenders would likely love to get a seconds chance at catching. The inability to force an early turnover would cost Memphis as Tune completed a 33-yard touchdown lob to Terry Mark on a free play (Memphis was offside on the play).

Tune helped the Cougars cut into the Memphis lead in the second quarter by extending a play with his legs and then finding a wide-open Keith Corbin in the back of the end zone for a score. The touchdown drive came after a much-needed strong defensive stand by the Cougars.

We have a ball game in the Liberty Bowl with the stakes as high as they can get in the AAC West. Winner gets to play UCF next week in the AAC Championship Game.

SWAC moving conference title game “permanently” on-campus after issues last season

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The Birmingham, Alabama area may be more well known for hosting SEC Media Days this week but the city was also the epicenter of another kickoff event in the SWAC’s annual media day on Tuesday.

And in contrast to their FBS friends down the road in Hoover, the SWAC actually had a bit of pertinent news to discuss in announcing that the league’s annual conference title game in football is moving away from a neutral site going forward.

“The permanent home of the SWAC championship will be on the campus of the higher seed,” commissioner Dr. Charles McClelland said, according to the Baton Rouge Advocate.

McClelland reportedly said several cities bid on hosting the game in the future but the lessons of 2018 had to be a big factor in the league sticking with the home-hosted model adopted by just about everybody outside of the FBS Power Five conferences. Last year the SWAC was forced to move their game on-campus from Legion Field after UAB won their CUSA division and had a chance to host their respective league title game.

Legion Field and the Blazers didn’t wind up actually hosting the CUSA title game but the simple threat of it happening pushed the SWAC out after the league had made a big deal about returning to Birmingham for the game after five years away.

The SWAC and its member schools will still have to worry about last minute location changes for their Dec. 7 title tilt but at least now it will be of their own making and not somebody else’s.

Pair of Eastern Washington players who were shot are out of the hospital, expect to play in 2019

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After a scary incident over the weekend in Spokane, two Eastern Washington football players were released from the hospital earlier this week and appear well on their way to making a full recovery despite some life-threatening injuries sustained in a shooting.

Per The Spokesman-Review, safety Dehonta Hayes was discharged on Saturday evening and defensive lineman Keith Moore was released on Monday after both were shot.

“Keith had broken up a fight outside and the guys took off running,” Hayes told the paper. “I was outside looking for my car keys, and as I got to my car door that was locked, I walked away and heard two pops. They shot at us.”

Despite the serious nature of things, each player still expects to contribute for the Eagles this year after both were listed as a starter coming into 2019. Hayes, who remarkably confirmed he still has a bullet that remains in his neck (!!!), said he’ll be back by camp on August 1st. Moore, who took one to the chest, will return closer to the end of the month.

It goes without saying that both guys are incredibly lucky to not only survive a shooting with those injuries, but to be able to bounce-back and play football just over a month later.

Doak Walker Award releases 2019 watch list

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On Tuesday, we admired the Davey O’Brien Award’s restraint when it came to its watch list. The reason we did that was evident Wednesday, when the Doak Walker Award dropped its watch list.

A whopping 71 players are on alert to be proclaimed the nation’s top running back, compared to yesterday’s 30 quarterbacks. Basically — with one notable exception — if you’ve got a clear starter, he made the list.

The notable exception? Kansas’ Pooka Williams, perhaps because the selectors are concerned that missing the Indiana State game will hurt his numbers that badly.

Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor won the honor in 2018 and he’s back to defend it this year, which would make him the third player in the 30-year history of the award to repeat, joining Texas’ Ricky Williams (1997-98) and Arkansas’ Darren McFadden (2006-07). Taylor is the fourth Badger to win the Doak Walker, following Ron Dayne (1999), Montee Ball (2012) and Melvin Gordon (2014).

In addition to Taylor, returning finalist Travis Etienne (Clemson) made the list, alongside 2018 semifinalists Eno Benjamin (Arizona State), AJ Dillon (Boston College) and JJ Taylor (Arizona).

Ten semifinalists will be named in November, and three finalists will be announced Nov. 20. The winner will be named during the college football awards show on Dec. 12.

The full watch list is below:

Cam Akers, Florida State
Darius Anderson, TCU
Jafar Armstrong, Notre Dame
LaVante Bellamy, Western Michigan
Eno Benjamin, Arizona State
Max Borghi, Washington State
Isaiah Bowser, Northwestern
Rakeem Boyd, Arkansas
Darius Bradwell, Tulane
Shamari Brooks, Tulsa
Spencer Brown, UAB
Brittain Brown, Duke
Cade Carney, Wake Forest
Michael Carter, North Carolina
Ty Chandler, Tennessee
Andrew Clair, Bowling Green
Jashaun Corbin, Texas A&M
Reggie Corbin, Illinois
AJ Dillon, Boston College
J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State
Travis Dye, Oregon
Travis Etienne , Clemson
Darrynton Evans, Appalachian State
Dayton Furuta, Hawaii
Tre Harbison, Northern Illinois
Najee Harris, Alabama
Kylin Hill, Mississippi State
Jerry Howard, Jr., Georgia Tech
Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State
Mohamed Ibrahim, Minnesota
Keaontay Ingram, Texas
Deon Jackson, Duke
Jermar Jefferson, Oregon State
Tony Jones, Jr., Notre Dame
Lopini Katoa, BYU
Joshua Kelley, UCLA
Bryant Koback, Toledo
Benny LeMay, Charlotte
Vavae Malepeai, USC
Kam Martin, Auburn
Jordan Mason, Georgia Tech
Greg McCrae, UCF
Anthony McFarland, Jr., Maryland
Tra Minter, South Alabama
Elijah Mitchell, Louisiana
Marcel Murray, Arkansas State
Moe Neal, Syracuse
Jaret Patterson, Buffalo
Lamical Perine, Florida
Scottie Phillips, Ole Miss
Trey Ragas, Louisiana
Ronnie Rivers, Fresno State
Larry Rountree III, Missouri
Mekhi Sargent, Iowa
Cameron Scarlett, Stanford
Stevie Scott III, Indiana
BJ Smith, Troy
Rodney Smith, Minnesota
Kesean Strong, Old Dominion
D’Andre Swift, Georgia
Toa Taua, Nevada
Corey Taylor II, Tulsa
J.J. Taylor, Arizona
Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin
Patrick Taylor, Memphis
DeAndre Torrey, North Texas
Breck Turner, Eastern Michigan
KeShawn Vaughn, Vanderbilt
CJ Verdell, Oregon
Quardraiz Wadley, UTEP
Michael Warren II, Cincinnati
Devwah Whaley, Arkansas

Alabama blames Clemson blowout on lack of preparation, focus

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Wouldn’t you have loved to be a fly on the wall in Alabama’s football offices as the Crimson Tide prepared for the national championship game against Clemson? How great would it be to be inside the inside, to know exactly how Nick Saban and his charges planned to attack Trevor Lawrence and neutralize the Tigers’ vaunted defensive line?

Well, to hear Alabama tell it six months after the fact, any flies inside the Mal Moore Athletic Complex in early January wouldn’t have seen any football prep at all. It seems the Tide actually spent the nine days between their Orange Bowl victory over Oklahoma and their title game whupping at Clemson’s hand playing XBox and planning their summer vacations.

Saban expanded on that point in his time at the podium.

But I think that our players learned a lot from that experience. I think that we didn’t play with the discipline at the end of the season that we’d like to have as a team. I don’t think that our preparation, so that we can go in a game and be very responsible and accountable to do our job at a high level on a consistent basis, was what it needed to be.

And you know, whether or not people were worried about personal outcomes more than team outcomes, it’s always hard to judge that. But it seems like we had a lot of distractions at the end of the year. So hopefully we learned from those scenarios, and it will help us do the things that we need to do to be able to play to our full potential throughout this season.

And the head coach wasn’t the only one. Tide linebacker Dylan Moses said the club apparently didn’t prepare like their opponent was a 14-0 team that had won nine straight games by at least 20 points.

This has been a theme under Saban: any time Alabama loses a bowl game, it’s because it just wasn’t motivated and/or concerned about their next destination, whether it be the NFL draft or the next coaching job.

And, to be fair, there’s certainly a grain of truth in that. The coaching carousel spins all throughout December — remember, the 2016 loss to Clemson was blamed on Lane Kiffin‘s inability to juggle his dual jobs as Alabama’s offensive coordinator and Florida Atlantic’s head coach — and it would be impossible to not think about the possible life-changing event that is the NFL draft process lurking just around the corner.

But everyone goes through that stuff, not just Alabama.

Yes, Alabama was surely distracted, but this trope is evident of Alabama’s, and Nick Saban‘s specifically, apparent inability to come out and say, “We got beat by a better team.”

But, hey, maybe we’re reading too much into all this. Maybe Alabama’s coaches were really on Zillow when they should have been looking at film. After all, the 44-16 final score certainly tells the story of one team that was prepared to play and another that wasn’t.