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No. 15 Texas begins 2019 by dumping Sugar on No. 5 Georgia

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The Allstate Sugar Bowl began when Bevo rushed Uga during a pre-game photo op, and then a group of Longhorns did the same to the Bulldogs. A No. 15 Texas team that will play the 2019 season with Big 12 championship and College Football Playoff expectations showed exactly why, showcasing superior physicality and execution to dump No. 5 Georgia in a 28-21 win that wasn’t as close as the final score.

After spending the past month — and Saturday night specifically — chirping about how they belonged in the Playoff over Notre Dame and Oklahoma, Georgia (11-3) backed that talk up by playing its worst game of the season. The Bulldogs fell into a 17-0 hole early in the second quarter and never recovered. The SEC’s best rushing team was out-rushed by a team that entered the game No. 95 in the country on the ground — and out-rushed emphatically, 180-72.

But this night was about Texas, and right from the start.

The Longhorns accepted the ball to open the game and rolled 75 yards in 10 plays to open the game with a touchdown. Sam Ehlinger completed all five of his passes for 61 yards — including a 3rd-and-7 to Humphrey to set up a first-and-goal, which Ehlinger converted with a 2-yard keeper.

Georgia’s first possession saw Jake Fromm convert a 3rd-and-6 with an 11-yard strike to Terry Godwin, but a following 3rd-and-9 saw pressure from Charles Omenihu and BJ Foster, forcing a throw away. Jake Camarda blasted the ensuing punt 53 yards to the Texas 6-yard line, but replay showed Camarda brought his knee to the ground as he corralled a low snap from Nick Moore, flipping the ball from the Texas 6 to the Georgia 27 — a 66-yard change in field position. Georgia’s defense forced a three-and-out, but instead of a Texas punt from its own end zone, Cameron Dicker converted a 37-yard field goal to put the Longhorns up 10-0 at the 6:05 mark of the first quarter.

Georgia actually got off a punt on its second possession, but Camarda shanked this one for just 11 yards, handing Texas (10-4) the ball at midfield. UT pushed to the Georgia 32 but went backward from there and punted. However, Georgia was not done giving Texas first quarter gifts, as D’Andre Swift fumbled the ball to Texas defensive tackle Gerald Wilbon at his own 12.

When Ehlinger rushed in on a 3rd-and-7 for his second score of the game at the 14:53 mark of the second quarter, Texas had a 17-0 lead and a 110-8 total yardage advantage.

Georgia snipped at their yardage deficit on their first drive of the second quarter with a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. The score came on a 17-yard Fromm pass to Brian Herrien, but the key completion was a 12-yard strike to Riley Ridley on a 3rd-and-11 from the Texas 29.

Texas answered Georgia’s score, but not with a touchdown. Dicker’s second field goal, a 30-yarder, pushed the UT lead to 20-7 with 4:37 to go in the first half. The key play of the drive came on a 1st-and-10 from the Texas 37, when Ehlinger ducked a blindside sack and turned it into a 17-yard scramble.

Swift fumbled the ball inside his own territory on Georgia’s next possession, but the Bulldogs hopped on this one and eventually reached the Texas 31, but Anthony Wheeler sacked Fromm on a 3rd-and-10, giving Texas just their third third down stop on eight first-half tries.

After a scoreless third quarter, Ehlinger’s third rushing touchdown of the game put Texas up three scores with 11:49 left, but it didn’t come easy. After Ehlinger kept a 4th-and-1 rush from the Georgia 13, Texas called his number on six straight snaps — a 5-yard run on 2nd-and-15, a 10-yard conversion on 3rd-and-10, and then four straight quarterback runs up the gut from the Georgia 1. Finally, on fourth down, Ehlinger got in, and replay review showed he had the nose of the ball on the first white blade of the Superdome’s goal line FieldTurf when his knee hit the ground, upholding the touchdown call on the field. Texas went for two and gave Ehlinger a break, hitting Collin Johnson with a fade to push its lead to 28-7.

Georgia needed a quick response and got one, moving 66 yards in six plays and 84 seconds to pull within 28-14 at the 10:25 mark of the final frame on a 3-yard toss to Mecole Hardman. Texas put together a brief drive but punted back to Georgia at their own 15, with exactly half the fourth quarter to play and momentum on their side.

Instead, Georgia punted — immediately. Gary Johnson sacked Fromm on first down, and pressure forced two incompletions on second and third down. Texas burned all but the final 70 remaining seconds and both of Georgia’s available timeouts. A plethora of penalties — Texas had two defensive backs ejected for targeting on the drive — helped Georgia pull within one score on a 5-yard pass to Swift, but with just 14 seconds remaining. Collin Johnson recovered the ensuing onside kick to seal the win.

Ehlinger closed a fantastic sophomore season by hitting a modest 19-of-27 passes for 169 yards while carrying the load in the Texas rushing game with 21 carries for 64 hard-fought yards and all three of his team’s touchdowns.

He will enter 2019 as a Heisman Trophy candidate and his team, which just won a New Year’s Six game for the first time since Colt McCoy and company did so in 2008, will enter the year with championship expectations. Tuesday night’s game showed exactly why.

Part-time starting DB Cameron Watkins leaving Illinois

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For the fourth time this offseason, Lovie Smith has lost a scholarship player to transfer — and that’s not including a wide receiver who signed with the school but opted to return to Miami.

On his personal Twitter account this week, Cameron Watkins announced that “it is now time for me to start another chapter in my life as I will be moving on from the University of Illinois after graduating in May.” As a graduate transfer, the defensive back would be eligible to play at another FBS school in 2019 if that ends up being his next move.

Watkins started 16 games the past three seasons for the Fighting Illini, including seven in 2018.

Watkins joins wide receiver Carmoni Green and offensive linemen Zeke Martin and Adam Solomon as Illini players who have left the program this offseason.

Green was one of five Illini players suspended for the 2018 opener, and then went on to catch 10 passes for 93 yards and a touchdown last season. Martin (12 games) and Solomon (11) played primarily on special teams in 2018.

At least 11 Penn State players have either transferred or placed names in NCAA database

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There are significant exoduses, and there’s what’s transpired in Happy Valley recently.

A total of five Penn State football players opted to leave eligibility on the table and make themselves available for the 2019 NFL Draft — offensive tackle Ryan Bates (HERE), defensive tackle Kevin Givens (HERE), offensive lineman Connor McGovern (HERE), defensive end Shareef Miller (HERE) and running back Miles Sanders (HERE). Additionally, the Centre Daily Times notes, a whopping 11 players (thus far) have, since the end of the regular season, either decided to transfer or put their names in the NCAA transfer database signaling a probable intent to move on.

Three of those transfers/potential transfers, tight end Danny Dalton, offensive lineman Alex Gellerstedt and safety Ayron Monroe, were the most recent additions to the list of potential player personnel attrition at the football program. The other eight with at least one foot out the door are (deep breath) linebackers Dae’lun Darien (HERE) and Brelin Faison-Walden; wide receivers Juwan Johnson (HERE) and Brandon Polk; safeties Isaiah Humphries (HERE) and Lamont Wade; cornerback Zech McPhearson; and offensive tackle Sterling Jenkins.

The biggest of the losses would be Johnson, who started seven games this past season and caught 25 passes for 352 yards and a touchdown, and Polk, who also started seven games and totaled 162 yards and two touchdowns on nine receptions. Monroe (pictured) played in 33 games during his time with the Nittany Lions and was viewed as a potential starting safety in 2019, while McPherson (23 games played/12 in 2018) and Wade (24/12) saw significant action the past two seasons.

The only other transfer/potential transfer who played in more than 10 games while in Happy Valley was Darien, whose 15 appearances included eight this past season.

Texas QB Shane Buechele putting name in transfer database

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There’s little question that, for the next couple of seasons and barring injury, Texas is Sam Ehlinger‘s football team.  In that vein, another member of UT’s quarterback room is looking into the possibility of moving out.

Overnight, multiple media outlets reported that Shane Buechele has informed the football program of his intention to enter his name into the NCAA transfer database.  According to 247Sports.com, SMU is already considered the favorite to land Buechele.

Buechele, a four-star 2016 signee, started every game as a true freshman, then started seven games in 2017 while Ehlinger started six his true freshman season.  Ehlinger won the job during summer camp and was the starter for this past season as Buechele played in just two games, which seemingly served as the trigger for the transfer.

Scheduled to graduate from UT in May, Buechele would not only be eligible to play immediately at another FBS school in 2019, but he’d have another season of eligibility he could use in 2020 as well.  As Buechele played in fewer than four games this past season, he can take advantage of the new NCAA redshirt rule and save a year of eligibility.

In other UT quarterbacking news, Cameron Rising, who was one of two Longhorn signal-callers to put their names in the transfer database around Christmastime last year, has visited Utah and is expected to sign with the Utes, 247Sports.com reported.

There was a bit of good news under center for the Longhorns as Casey Thompson, the other UT quarterback in the database, will return to Austin.  Thompson, a four-star 2018 signee who is the son of former Oklahoma quarterback Charles Thompson, did not see the field as a true freshman this past season.

Butch Jones eschewing Maryland job to remain at Alabama

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It appears Butch Jones will get the opportunity to light up a second victory cigar after years of going cold turkey.

In early December, after Mike Locksley accepted a head-coaching job, it was reported that Butch Jones, the former Tennessee head coach-turned-offensive analyst for Alabama in 2018, would follow the Crimson Tide offensive coordinator and take a job on Locksley’s first Terrapins coaching staff. Between then and now, however, Nick Saban‘s offensive staff has been hit by significant attrition, with four assistants on that side of the ball (including Locksley) leaving for jobs at other schools.

In that light, multiple reports surfaced Wednesday in which it’s expected Jones will remain with the Crimson Tide in an unspecified on-field role.

When it comes to offensive roles, Saban has plenty to offer.

Locksley was hired to take the head job at Maryland and was expected to be replaced by quarterbacks coach Dan Enos; instead, Enos left to take over as the coordinator at Miami. Wide receivers coach Josh Gattis also bolted to become the coordinator at Michigan, while offensive line coach Brent Key left to take a job at Georgia Tech.

It’s been reported that Steve Sarkisian is expected to return to Tuscaloosa, presumably as offensive coordinator. In his career, Jones has coached running backs, tight ends and wide receivers; it was expected that he would coach tight ends with the Terrapins.

Now, about the defensive side of the ball