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Déjà vu: No.1 Alabama rallies again behind backup QB to deny No. 4 Georgia another (SEC) title

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11 months ago, Nick Saban turned to his backup quarterback to lead a remarkable comeback with everything on the line and captured a national title in the process. Against the same team, in the same venue, with an SEC championship on the line, the Alabama head coach had to do so once again on Saturday afternoon in Atlanta.

Jalen Hurts entered off the bench and sparked an incredible storybook comeback against the Bulldogs in the process to capture a 35-28 victory and return the Crimson Tide to the top of the SEC once again. 

Even the legions of script writers in Hollywood who have moved to the Peach State wouldn’t have been able to spin this tale and get it into production.

Hurts, who was 26-2 as a starter for the team but was benched at halftime of last year’s national title game, entered in the fourth quarter to replace an injured Tua Tagovailoa. This year’s starter was fairly ineffective most of the game (10/25, 164 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT) after being hobbled on an early sack and the Heisman Trophy favorite was carried off the field late after his ankle was rolled up on by one of his offensive linemen.

That was just the opening that the junior from Texas needed, entering to huge applause from the Alabama faithful at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Hurts finished the game with 82 yards through the air and had the game-tying touchdown on a scramble to Jerry Jeudy. Then, to cap things off as only he could, Hurts ran it in across the goal line for the exclamation point of the comeback with the game-winner from 15 yards out.

There will be plenty of questioning from Athens to Atlanta (and beyond) over the play calling for the Dawgs down the stretch after they built a 28-14 lead in the third quarter. That included an inexplicable fake punt at midfield in the final few minutes — that went nowhere — and the abandoning of the run in favor of downfield passes that just weren’t there like they were in the first half.

Quarterback Jake Fromm was not to blame all things considered as he was pinpoint with his passing most of the game and finished with 301 yards and three touchdowns. It wasn’t enough though as he suffered yet another heart-break at the hands of UGA’s SEC West rivals.

Tailback D’Andre Swift also played well with 75 yards and a touchdown while Elijah Holyfield added another 60 hard-fought yards between the tackles.

The loss will likely knock the Bulldogs out of the College Football Playoff race with No. 5 Oklahoma winning the Big 12 title earlier on Saturday. Even so, a Sugar Bowl berth isn’t a terrible consolation prize but the psyche of fans in red and black might need a few years to recover from what Alabama did to them in two games spanning 2018.

The Tide, meanwhile, will not only hoist their eighth SEC championship under Saban, but will all but assuredly move on as the No. 1 seed in the Playoff come Sunday afternoon. That means a berth in the Orange Bowl if the No. 4 seed is Oklahoma or the Cotton Bowl if it’s Ohio State or even Notre Dame. Also something to keep track of is what kind of effect the performance will have on Tagovailoa’s Heisman chances and whether he will be healthy come semifinal time too.

That will be a conversation for the coming weeks though as Alabama will celebrate yet another title in Atlanta thanks to their second incredible rally of the year over the Dawgs.

Ex-UCLA head coach Terry Donahue recovering from surgery following cancer diagnosis

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One of the greatest UCLA football head coaches of all-time is the latest to battle one of the most insidious diseases in the history of mankind.

UCLA has confirmed that Terry Donahue was recently diagnosed with an undisclosed form of cancer and underwent surgery this past Friday.  The 74-year-old Donahue was released from the hospital Tuesday morning and is set to begin chemotherapy.

“The Donahue family appreciates everyone’s well wishes but requests privacy at this time,” the football program wrote in its release.

Donahue, who played his college football for the Bruins in the mid-sixties, served as the offensive line coach at his alma mater from 1971-75 before replacing Dick Vermeil, who left to take the same job with the Philadelphia Eagles, and taking over as head coach in 1976.

In 20 seasons leading UCLA, Donahue led the Bruins to a school-record 151 wins.  From 1976-95, Donahue captured five Pac-12 championships and two conference Coach of the Year honors. He was the first coach in NCAA history to win a bowl game in seven consecutive seasons, and had a 10-9-1 record against crosstown rival USC.

In 2000, Donahue was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Southern Miss, Troy schedule 4-game series

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Southern Miss and Troy on Tuesday jointly announced a four-game series to be spread across the next decade.

Troy will visit Hattiesburg on Sept. 18, 2021, but Southern Miss will not make a return visit until Sept. 14, 2024. The teams will then take the next three years off before resuming in Troy again on Sept. 16, 2028, and the series will conclude on Sept. 1, 2029 in Hattiesburg.

“We are excited to announce these future games for our football program,” Southern Miss AD Jeremy McClain said. “Our scheduling philosophy moving forward will continue to include regionally based opponents that provide great opportunities for fans to enjoy Golden Eagle football.”

Southern Miss and Troy have met nine times previously, first in 1937 and most recently 2016. The Trojans won both of those games, while Southern Miss took the seven in between.

As of today, Southern Miss has its entire 2021 non-conference slate lined up against teams from the state of Alabama. The Golden Eagles open at South Alabama, then visit Tuscaloosa a week after hosting Troy. The Trojans stand as USM’s only non-conference opponent on the books for the 2024, ’28 and ’29 seasons.

Troy, meanwhile, hosts Liberty on Sept. 11, 2021, and visits South Carolina a week after the trip to Hattiesburg. The Trojans will visit Memphis a week before hosting USM in 2024, and have no other games scheduled in 2028 or ’29.

 

Former USC, Tennessee assistant Willie Mack Garza joins Wyoming staff

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Wyoming has hired Willie Mack Garza as the club’s safeties coach, the program announced Tuesday.

Garza is a new name to Cowboys fans but not new to head coach Craig Bohl. Garza worked for Bohl at North Dakota State from 2005-08. That stint led him to join Lane Kiffin‘s staffs at Tennessee (2009) and USC (’10). At Tennessee, Garza committed a show-cause penalty for violating a recruiting rule.

“I do want to make one thing clear, Willie Mack has acknowledged a mistake he made 10 years ago that resulted in him being disciplined by the NCAA for a recruiting violation,” Bohl said. “Since then, he has been reinstated by the NCAA.  We have a reputation of holding ourselves to high ethical standards here at the University of Wyoming, and I expect Coach Garza to follow those high standards.”

Garza spent the past two seasons at Dixie State, a Division II school in Utah, including one as defensive coordinator. He left Dixie State earlier this year to become the co-defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach at Texas A&M-Commerce, another Division II school.

“First and foremost this is a blessing that Coach (Craig) Bohl and the University of Wyoming Athletics Department has provided me this opportunity to come coach here,” said Garza.  “I love coaching.  It is in my blood.  I love being around the players and the other coaches, going into the WAR Room and preparing.  This is also an opportunity for me to provide a platform for young men to be successful on and off the football field in the four to five years that they are here and for the rest of their lives.”

With Garza aboard, Cowboys defensive coordinator Jake Dickert will now transition to linebackers coach in addition to his coordinator duties.

At least nine players have now left South Carolina this offseason

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The transfer train has made frequent stops in Columbia throughout the offseason, and the month of May has been no exception.

Cole Cubelic of the SEC Network was the first to report Monday that the name of safety Jonathan Gipson is now listed in the NCAA transfer database.  Additionally, 247Sports.com is reporting that wide receiver-turned-running back Joe Thomas has entered the portal as well.

After coming to the Gamecocks as a three-star 2018 signee, Gipson played in two games as a true freshman.  Because he played in fewer than four games, Gipson can take a redshirt for 2018, which would leave him with four years of eligibility.  However, barring something unexpected, Gipson would have to sit out the 2019 season if he moves on to another FBS program, meaning he’d have three years to play three seasons beginning in 2020.

Thomas, a walk-on, played in two games this past season as well.

Gipson and Thomas are at least the eighth and ninth players to transfer from the Gamecocks this offseason, joining, among others, defensive end Shameik Blackshear (HERE), linebacker Zay Brown (HERE), quarterback Darius Douglas (HERE) and running back Ty’Son Williams (HERE).