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No. 16 SMU remains perfect with win at Houston

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No. 16 SMU’s perfect season lives for another week, barely. Sonny Dykes‘s Mustangs never trailed Thursday night in Houston, but two touchdown catches by Marquez Stevenson totaling 171 yards put the Cougars’ offense on the field with a chance to win the game — twice — inside the final three minutes. SMU’s defense held both times, and the Mustangs escaped with a 34-31 win.

SMU led 21-7 late in the first half before surrendering two late field goals, but the Mustangs wasted no time opening up their largest lead of the night when Patrick Nelson sacked Clayton Tune and forced a fumble, which SMU’s Richard McBryde recovered at the Houston 2-yard line. Xavier Jones pushed the Ponies’ lead to 28-13 one play later, but the 15-point cushion did not last long.

One play, in fact, as Stevenson caught the first of his two long touchdown passes, this one a 5-yard hitch at his own 30 that he raced 70 yards untouched to pull Houston within 28-20 at the 14:01 mark of the third quarter, 59 game seconds after the teams played a 21-13 first half.

From there, SMU’s shaky — the Mustangs came into Thursday night with 14 missed kicks — field goal unit came through with two field goals of 23 and 33 yards to give SMU a 34-23 lead with 8:56 to play.

When Rodney Clemons intercepted Tune — SMU’s third plus-territory takeaway of the game — the Mustangs had a golden opportunity to deliver a knockout blow. However, SMU could not move the ball and a 4th-and-8 completion to James Proche was called back for offensive pass interference, forcing a Trevor Denbow punt that was downed at the 4.

And for the second time of the second half, Houston needed only one play, one completion to Stevenson, to make it a game again, as Stevenson hauled in another short pass and raced all 96 yards for the touchdown. Tune’s pass to Christian Trahan brought Houston within 34-31 with 4:47 remaining. (Tune finished the game with 407 yards and two scores, both of the scorers and 211 yards — on five completions — were to Stevenson.)

SMU, which began the drive 1-of-6 on third down in the second half, converted a 3rd-and-7 from its own 16 but could not pull off a 3rd-and-10 from its 24, and the Mustangs punted the ball back to Houston with 2:21 left. Taking over at its own 24, Houston moved 20 yards in its first two snaps but advanced no further, as Tune fired incomplete on three straight passes to end the comeback effort 55 yards short of pay dirt.

SMU could not expire both of Houston’s two remaining timeouts, and Houston took over at its own 15 with 18 seconds and no timeouts. Tune hit Tre’von Bradley for 22 yards on the first play, and Jeremy Singleton for 18 yards on the second, taking the ball to the SMU 45 with four seconds left. On the final play of the game, a defense that came into the game second in the nation with 29 sacks recorded its seventh of the night, stripping Tune as time expired to secure the win.

SMU (8-0, 4-0 American) continues its best start since 1982’s 11-0-1 campaign and, perhaps more relevant and more impressive, matched the program’s most wins post-death penalty, pulling even with the 2009 and 2011 teams, both of which went 8-5. The victory also means SMU secured wins over TCU and Houston (3-5, 1-3 American) in the same season for the first time since 2005, and the second time since 1992.

The Mustangs accepted the ball to open the game and breezed down to a 1st-and-goal in just seven snaps, but then stalled out. Shane Buechele (20-of-38 for 203 yards with two touchdowns and one interception) threw incomplete on first down, and Xavier Jones (22 carries for 133 yards and two touchdowns) was stuffed for a 1-yard gain on second down from the Houston 8-yard line. Buechele found Kylen Granson for six yards on third down, taking the ball to the 1, where Dykes elected to roll the dice. Buechele hit Reggie Roberson, Jr., on a pick play, but Roberson dropped the ball and SMU came up empty.

The teams traded punts on the next three possessions before SMU finally broke through, moving 85 yards in seven plays — aided by 30 yards of Houston penalties — setting up a 3rd-and-10 strike from Buechele to Proche for a 15-yard touchdown.

Houston then raced down the field even faster than SMU, gaining 31-yards on a pop pass from  Tune to tight end Trahan on the final play of the first quarter and then a 44-yard run by Mulbah Car on the first snap of the second quarter. Car’s run was ruled a touchdown, but replay brought it out to the 1. Bryson Smith completed the 5-play, 88-yard drive with a zone read keeper one play later, tying the game at 7-7 at the 14:28 mark of the second quarter.

The teams exchanged three-and-outs before Jones zigged and zagged 62 yards for a touchdown, putting SMU up 14-7, and then the Ponies’ defense brought out the bottle service when they recovered a backward pass by Smith, which slipped out of his hands just behind the Houston 47 and was recovered at the Cougars’ 32. Buechele put SMU up 21-7 five plays later with an 11-yard scoring toss to Granson.

Just as it seemed SMU had control of the game, a long drive and a turnover put Houston back in the game.

The Cougars gobbled up 6:18 of the 8:14 remaining in the second quarter to set up a 25-yard Dalton Witherspoon field goal, pulling Houston within 21-10. Amaud Willis-Dalton picked Buechele at the SMU 46 on the next offensive snap, allowing the Houston offense to set up a 34-yard Witherspoon field goal as time expired in the half.

Nick Saban issues statement as Georgia confirms hiring of Alabama’s strength coach as special teams coordinator

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Kirby Smart‘s poaching of one of Nick Saban‘s longtime Alabama Crimson Tide lieutenants is officially official.

Earlier Monday, reports surfaced that had Scott Cochran leaving as Alabama’s strength & conditioning coach for an on-field job at Georgia.   A short time later, Nick Saban issued a statement confirming that Cochran had left the program after a baker’s dozen seasons.

“We appreciate Scott’s contribution to our organization over the last 13 years,” the Alabama Crimson Tide head football coach stated. “We can’t thank him enough for his service and dedication to our program, and his commitment to our players. He is taking his career in a new direction, and we wish Scott, Cissy and the kids the best. As we do with every position that opens here, we will go out and hire the best person to lead our strength and conditioning program and help our players maximize the resources available in our new sports science facility.”

Shortly thereafter, Georgia also confirmed that Smart has tapped the Alabama Crimson Tide assistant as its special teams coordinator.

As noted in UGA’s release, Cochran was on Saban’s staff for all six of his national titles, as he served as an assistant strength coach at LSU in 2003. Smart and Cochran both began their Alabama Crimson Tide careers in 2007 and spent nine years together before Smart left to take his current position in Athens.

“Ask anyone who’s been around him, Scott’s passion and energy is contagious,” said the coach in a statement. “Special Teams Coordinator is a great fit as he’ll be working with all position groups. His knowledge and experience elevates our entire program, and we’re excited to welcome the Cochran family to Athens.”

This will mark Cochran’s first-ever on-field job at any level of the sport.  Cochran, incidentally, graduated from LSU.

Stanford adds linebackers coach with NFL experience

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Stanford added a new coach to the program on Monday with the hiring of Eric Sanders. Sanders was named Stanford’s assistant coach for inside linebackers.

Sanders comes to Stanford following a season with the NFL’s New York Jets. Prior to his brief stint with the Jets, Sanders was a defensive assistant for three seasons with the Cleveland Browns. Sanders has also coached with the Oakland Raiders.

This is a return to Stanford for Sanders. Sanders coached with the program in 2015 as a defensive assistant.

“Eric was with us for our 2015 Rose Bowl Championship season and he was so smart, energetic and detailed that I knew someday we’d bring him back,” Stanford head coach David Shaw said in a released statement. “Eric has great comprehensive knowledge having worked with the defensive line, linebackers and defensive backs throughout his career, and he’s spent the last three years with Gregg Williams who is one of the best defensive minds in the NFL.”

Sanders has also held college coaching jobs with his alma mater, UC Davis, and Utah State in addition to Stanford.

Wisconsin TE Luke Benzschawel medically retires after fourth knee surgery

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Wisconsin redshirt senior tight end Luke Benzschawel is calling it a career. The senior announced he is medically retiring from the sport of football following his fourth knee surgery.

I consider myself fortunate to have been part of the Wisconsin football program for the past four years. I have not been as fortunate when it comes to my health,” Benzschawel said in a statement shared on his Twitter account on Monday. “However, after undergoing a fourth procedure on my knee, and despite giving everything I have to get back on the field, my doctors and I have decided that the time has come for me to step away from the game.

Benzschawel played in 15 games during his injury-plagued college career with the Badgers. Benzschawel is the younger brother of former Wisconsin offensive lineman Beau Benzschawel. Benzschawel injured his knee during fall camp last August and did not see the playing field during the 2019 season as a result.

Alabama strength coach Scott Cochran leaving Tide for new on-field coaching role at Georgia

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One of Alabama’s most recognized sideline personalities appears to be heading to another SEC program. Alabama strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran, a man whose identity has become as well known as any strength coach can possibly be over the last few years, is reportedly heading to Georgia to take on a brand new role.

There have been many reasons for Alabama’s overall success with Nick Saban as the head coach. Having Cochran on his staff has certainly been one of the key reasons because he has been recognized as one of the nation’s top strength and conditioning coach (he’s won the award for top strength coach twice). And it may not be much of a coincidence that Cochran has been one of the only assistants on the staff for each of Saban’s national championship seasons between Alabama and LSU. His voice and energy seen on the field in warmups and on the sidelines has become a draw for television cameras in more recent years and he has been one of the leaders in the movement to recognize more strength and conditioning coaches during gamedays.

It should come as little surprise Cochran would be an attractive option for Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, a former Alabama defensive coordinator who worked alongside Cochran in Tuscaloosa. What role Cochran will be taking on remains to be confirmed, however, as reports say he will not be Georgia’s strength and conditioning coach. That role is currently held by Scott Sinclair in Athens.

No matter what role Cochran takes at Georgia, and how that ultimately pans out for the Bulldogs, this is a notable loss for Saban and Alabama. Granted, Alabama should be able to find a more-than-qualified strength and conditioning coach to take over the very lucrative (and high-paying) job, so it’s not like this will turn Alabama football into a doormat (much to the dismay of Alabama haters around the SEC and beyond).

UPDATE (6:38 p.m. ET): Alabama head coach Nick Saban has issued a statement regarding the departure of his longtime strength coach: