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No. 7 Penn State exhales after holding off No. 16 Michigan, 28-21

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Recent history has seen Penn State fail to finish off a game despite carrying a double-digit lead int he fourth quarter, but Saturday night was a different story for the Nittany Lions. No. 7 Penn State (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) had to sweat a bit against No. 16 Michigan (5-2, 3-2 Big Ten) after jumping all over the visitors early on, but a 28-21 victory was one of the gutsiest wins of the James Franklin era in Happy Valley.

Penn State jumped out to a 21-0 lead on the Wolverines in the first quarter but then went flat on offense. Credit Michigan’s defense for hanging in there through a rough start and regaining their confidence, and hand out some blame for Penn State’s playcalling once again going timid and going off the mark. Michigan dominated the second half in time of possession as Penn State was unable to manage much offense. that gave Michigan’s offense an opportunity to grind away at the Penn State defense, which paid off in a big way after halftime.

Zach Charbonnet brought the Wolverines with one score with a 12-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, but the Michigan defense got bit on Penn State’s ensuing possession. After KJ Hamler picked up a big catch for a first down on a 3rd-and-5 with Michigan blitzing Sean Clifford, Clifford went deep to a streaking Hamler on the very next play for a 53-yard touchdown to energize Beaver Stadium.

The comfort of a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter was short-lived because Michigan answered in the most Big Ten way possible; a scrum at the goal line with Shea Patterson getting the ball just across the goal line.

With Michigan once again working their way deep into Penn State territory, the Wolverines were faced with a fourth-and-goal from the Penn State three-yard line with 2:01 to play. Patterson got the pass to his receiver in the end zone, but a dropped pass by Ronnie Bell resulted in a turnover on downs.

Still in need a first down, Penn State put the ball in the hands of Hamler to pick up a hard-fought first down. The play ended with Hamler being helped off the field after getting banged up on the play. Hamler had six catches for 108 yards and two touchdowns, but his four-yard run in the final minutes to keep the clock rolling after Michigan had burned two timeouts may have been the clutch play of the day for the speedy receiver.

Penn State won its second game against a top 25 team in as many weeks, helping to keep the Nittany Lions in stride in the Big Ten East standings with Ohio State. The Nittany Lions and Buckeyes are the only undefeated teams in the division and won’t play until the next-to-last game of the regular season. Both teams have some work to do before the focus can shift on to a potential division-deciding game. Michigan suffering its second loss in big Ten play really hurts Michigan’s chances for an elusive division crown.

Penn State will head to East Lansing next week to take on Michigan State (4-3). Michigan State has frustrated the Nittany Lions each of the last two years with stunning victories that have essentially dealt fatal blows to nay longshot playoff opportunities for Penn State on top of taking them out of the running for a trip to the Big Ten championship game. The Spartans were off this week.

Things won’t get any easier for Michigan next week, although they will be home to host No. 8 Notre Dame. The Irish took last year’s game in South Bend, 24-17, in the season opener. Michigan won the last meeting with the Fighting Irish in Ann Arbor in 2013, 41-30. Next week’s game will likely be much more low scoring.

Jerry Jeudy, AJ Dillon, Eno Benjamin and more set for State Farm All-Star Football Challenge

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It may fly under the radar for most, but the 22nd annual State Farm All-Star Football Challenge is set to take place on Jan. 31 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The skills competition will pit 24 college football stars in a team event. Among those participating in this year’s challenge will be Boston College running back AJ Dillon, Penn State defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos, Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray, and Alabama wide receiver Jerry Jeudy.

Five teams representing each of the power five conferences will consist of players from those respective conferences: ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12, and SEC. A sixth team of “wild card” players will be comprised of players from the Group of Five or below. This year’s wild card players will come from the Mountain West Conference (Utah State QB Jordan Love, Boise State DE Curtis Weaver), Conference USA (FAU TE Harrison Bryant) and the South Atlantic Conference of Division 2 (Lenoir-Rhyne S Kyle Dugger).

The individual events included in the competition are a quarterback accuracy contest, obstacle course, strength challenge, and a hands competition. A team event will complete the overall event.

TEAM ACC
Cam Akers, RB, Florida State
AJ Dillon, RB, Boston College
Bryce Perkins, QB, Virginia
Jason Strowbridge, DL, North Carolina

TEAM BIG TEN
Zack Baun, LB, Wisconsin
Yetur Gross-Matos, DE, Penn State
KJ Hamler, WR, Penn State
Nate Stanley, QB, Iowa

TEAM BIG 12
Ross Blacklock, DT, TCU
Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma
Jalen Reagor, WR, TCU
Carter Stanley, QB, Kansas

TEAM PAC-12
Salvon Ahmed, RB, Washington
Bradlee Anae, DE, Utah
Eno Benjamin, RB, Arizona State
Anthony Gordon, QB, Washington State

TEAM SEC
Nick Coe, DE, Auburn
Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama
Terrell Lewis, LB, Alabama
Riley Neal, QB, Vanderbilt

TEAM WILD CARD
Harrison Bryant, TE, Florida Atlantic
Kyle Dugger, S, Lenoir-Rhyne
Jordan Love, QB, Utah State
Curtis Weaver, DE, Boise State

TE Jordan Wilson to transfer from UCLA

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UCLA redshirt junior Jordan Wilson has announced he is leaving the Bruins. In a post on his Twitter account on Friday afternoon, Wilson announced he is entering the transfer portal with the intent of finishing up his collegiate career with some other program.

“[I’d] like to announce that I will be entering the transfer portal, graduating at the end of the Spring quarter, and playing my final year of eligibility somewhere else,” Wilson announced in a statement on his Twitter account.

The decision of Wilson to leave UCLA comes at an unfortunate time for the Bruins. Wilson was likely to be a starter at tight end for UCLA in the fall. Wilson is the third tight end to leave UCLA this offseason. Devin Asiasi previously made the decision to declare for the NFL draft a year early. Matt Lynch also stepped into the transfer portal. Now, UCLA has a wide-open competition for playing time at the tight end spot beginning this spring.

Wilson caught seven passes for 72 yards for UCLA in 2019. He will leave UCLA having caught 25 passes for 244 yards and two touchdowns in the past three seasons. As a graduate transfer, Wilson will be eligible to play his final year of eligibility anywhere he ends up this fall.

USC nabs Todd Orlando from Texas Tech

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USC has a new defensive coordinator. The Trojans announced on Friday the school has officially hired Todd Orlando to fill the role of defensive coordinator. Orlando joins USC after coaching the past three seasons at Texas.

Orlando actually joined the Texas Tech program after being let go by Texas following staff changes with the Longhorns. Despite landing a job with the Red Raiders, Orlando remained a top target for USC head coach Clay Helton.

“We are excited to have Todd join our Trojan football program,” Helton said in a released statement. “He is an experienced and successful defensive coordinator who has made an impact everywhere he has coached. He brings a passion, energy, toughness and discipline to his coaching and those characteristics were evident in our discussions. His defensive system poses an extreme challenge to offenses.”

Orlando replaces Clancy Pendergast, who was let go by Helton amid USC’s own staff changes after a down 2019 season. As previously mentioned (HERE), Orlando actually had worse defensive numbers compared to what Pendergast coached with USC last season. However, a contrast of playing styles and offensive outputs between the schedule Texas faced in 2019 (including games against LSU and Oklahoma) and what USC faced could lead to some skewed figures.

Orlando’s first test as a defensive coordinator will be a monster. USC opens the 2020 season in Arlington, Texas against Alabama.

Cal loses assistant Gerald Alexander to NFL job

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Cal assistant coach Gerald Alexander is leaving to coach with the Miami Dolphins. Alexander confirmed in a message posted on his Twitter account he is heading to the NFL for a coaching opportunity. Multiple reports have confirmed it will be with the Miami Dolphins.

Alexander thanked Cal head coach Justin Wilcox for the opportunity to be a part of Wilcox’s first coaching staff at Cal.

Alexander joined the Cal program in 2017 and spent the past three seasons as a defensive backs coach for the program. He has played a role in helping to coach one of the better defensive teams in the Pac-12. He previously coached at Montana State, Indiana State and with Chris Peterssen at Washington. Alexander played for Petersen at Boise State.

This will mark a return to the NFL for Alexander. He previously played in the league for five seasons with the Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars, Carolina Panthers, and, appropriately enough, the Miami Dolphins. Alexander was a second-round draft pick of Detroit in 2007.