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Red River Revenge: No. 5 OU moves to CFP doorstep with Big 12 title win over No. 14 Texas

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In their 59-56 win over West Virginia last week, the Oklahoma defense gave up yards in chunks (700 of them, in fact), but made plays when they needed to be made, registering two defensive touchdowns to put the Sooners in Saturday’s Big 12 Championship.

Again on Saturday, Oklahoma got a defensive score when they needed one. This one wasn’t a touchdown but did the trick just the same, as Tre Brown sacked Sam Ehlinger in the end zone midway through the fourth quarter, turning what could have been a 34-30 Texas lead into a 32-27 OU lead and putting Kyler Murray and company back on the field.

Given a chance to salt the game, the Big 12 championship, a College Football Playoff berth and perhaps the Heisman Trophy away, Murray came through with a touchdown pass at the 2-minute mark to hand the Sooners a 39-27 win.

Murray once again dazzled, completing 25-of-34 passes for 379 yards and three touchdowns while adding another 39 rushing yards, making up for the 2-turnover performance that allowed Texas to earn a 48-45 win in October.

With the SEC and Big Ten championship games looming, Oklahoma (12-1) can now argue it has beaten every team it’s played on their march to their fourth straight Big 12 title and perhaps their third Playoff trip over that span.

But before Oklahoma could make its Playoff argument, the Sooners first had to emerge with another hard-fought win.

Texas opened the game by rolling 75 yards in nine plays — going 3-of-3 on third down for 64 yards, including Ehlinger’s 16-yard touchdown run. The Longhorns appeared to have OU stopped on its first possession when Caden Sterns snared a deflected interception in the end zone, but the play was erased by Kris Boyd‘s facemask penalty on Marquise Brown, his second such foul of the drive. Still, Texas kept Oklahoma out of the end zone when Gary Johnson stuffed Trey Sermon on a 3rd-and-goal run from the 1 for a loss of two yards.

After forcing a Longhorns punt, Oklahoma again marched — methodically, needing 13 plays over more than five minutes — into the Texas red zone but the defense again held when Boyd knocked the ball away from Brown’s grasp in the end zone on third down, forcing Austin Seibert‘s second short field goal.

Given a second chance to punish an OU field goal, this time Texas capitalized. Keyed by a 23-yard completion to Collin Johnson on 4th-and-4, the ‘Horns again moved 75 yards in nine snaps, and again scored on an Ehlinger keeper, giving Texas a 14-6 lead at the 11:22 mark of the second quarter.

On its third possession of the game, Oklahoma was again held out of the end zone. Murray appeared to hit Brown for a 45-yard gain over the middle on 2nd-and-9, but review showed Texas cornerback Davante Davis jostled the ball loose before Brown could secure the catch. On third down, Davis nailed Brown on a screen pass short of the line to gain, forcing an Oklahoma punt, but the OU defense answered by forcing its second punt.

Thanks to two penalties, Oklahoma had its worst field position of the day, beginning its next drive at its own 13, but for the first time the Sooners’ offense looked like the typical OU offense, knifing the required 87 yards in six plays, two of them to CeeDee Lamb — a 46-yard gain on the first play of the drive, then a 28-yard score to pull OU within 14-13 with 5:01 left before halftime. Another key play on the drive was a missed false start on right tackle Cody Ford on a 4th-and-1 from the Texas 32, which ended in a 4-yard Sermon rush.

After another Texas punt, Oklahoma rolled 80 yards in five plays and just 41 seconds, taking its first lead on a 6-yard toss from Murray to Grant Calcaterra with 18 seconds left in the first half.

Oklahoma received the ball to open the second half and picked up where it left off, moving 75 yards in eight plays to turn a 14-6 deficit into a 27-14 lead. Needing a score to stay in the game, Texas leaned on Collin Johnson, who caught passes for 25, 21 and, finally a 27-yard touchdown to end the OU run. Johnson set a Big 12 Championship record with 177 receiving yards on eight catches.

The Texas defense, which seemed lifeless in allowing three straight touchdown drives covering 242 yards in 19 plays, rallied by sacking Murray, stuffing Sermon behind the line and then forcing a Murray throw away to avoid another sack, giving the Longhorns’ offense the ball back with a chance to re-take the lead. Over an 11-play, 64-yard drive, Texas got the touchdown it needed, a 3rd-and-goal 5-yard strike to Lil'Jordan Humphrey, but the Longhorns did not take the lead because Cameron Dicker‘s PAT was blocked, leaving the score tied at 27-27 with 2:44 left in the third quarter.

Oklahoma moved into the Texas red zone to open the fourth quarter, but again the Longhorns stiffened, forcing a 31-yard Seibert field goal that bounced off the left up right and in.

On the ensuing drive, Texas converted a 3rd-and-10 when Parnell Motley interfered with Johnson but, on a 3rd-and-9, the Sooners got a stop when Tre Norwood got away with a clear pass interference on Humphrey.

Looking for a touchdown to put the game away, Oklahoma appeared in position to have it when Lamb broke free of Davis down the sideline, but Gary Johnson raced down the field to force the ball free from behind, and Jones hopped on the loose ball at the Texas 13.

Now needing to make a play of its own, the Oklahoma defense got one when Norwood screamed in touched to nail Ehlinger for a safety, stretching the OU lead to 32-27 and putting the Sooner offense back on the field with 8:27 remaining.

Given a chance to clinch the game, the best offense in college football came through with a perfect drive. On two separate third downs, Murray found high school teammate Lee Morris — playing on the same field the pair won three high school state championships — then hit Calcaterra on a 3rd-and-10 for an 18-yard touchdown drive, capping a 11-play, 65-yard drive that put the Sooners up 39-27 with exactly two minutes remaining.

Humphrey returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown, but the play was called back for a penalty; it was the ‘Horns 13th flag, totaling 128 yards. Ehlinger moved Texas to the red zone, but the last-gasp drive ended when Norwood picked him off at the OU 5. Battling a bum shoulder, the sophomore completed 23-of-36 passes for 349 yards with two touchdowns and an interception while rushing a team-high 15 times for 42 yards and two scores.

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).

Mississippi State announces four-year extension for Joe Moorhead

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In late November of 2017, Mississippi State confirmed that Joe Moorhead would replace Dan Mullen as its head football coach.  One season into his tenure, and Moorhead’s already being rewarded with a reworked deal as MSU announced Tuesday the university and the coach have reached an agreement on a four-year contract extension through the 2022 season.

Moorhead is set to make an average of $3.2 million annually under the terms of the new deal, compared to the $2.6 million he earned in 2018.  The new figure would make him the 11th-highest-paid head coach in the SEC, up from 13 (out of 14 schools) a year ago.

“We are excited about the leadership of Mississippi State football under Coach Moorhead,” athletic director John Cohen said in a statement. “He is a man of integrity, loyalty and humility. His love for his players and our program is evident. He is driven by elevating our program to a championship standard on and off the field. We look forward to watching the continued growth of our football program under his watch.”

“It’s a privilege to be the head football coach at Mississippi State,” a statement from Moorhead began. “I want to thank John, President (Mark) Keenum and this wonderful University for believing in me. My family and I love Starkville. For me, it’s about building a championship program our Bulldog fans can be proud of and helping our players maximize their potential on and off the field, while walking away with a meaningful degree from Mississippi State University. Our team is excited about the season ahead, and I look forward to continuing to elevate our program in everything we do.”

In his first season in Starkville, Moorhead guided the Bulldogs to an 8-5 record, a mark that included an Outback Bowl loss to Iowa.  According to the school, Moorhead is the second MSU head coach to win eight or more games in his debut season and the first since College Football Hall of Famer Allyn McKeen in 1939.