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Tide Turned: No. 2 LSU takes control of SEC, CFP race with long-awaited win over No. 3 Alabama

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At halftime, you could feel it in the air. LSU had scored two touchdowns in the final 26 seconds to take a 33-13 lead into the break, and the Tigers would get the ball to start the second half. It was set to be the Clemson game all over again.

This time, though, Alabama rallied. The Tide scored four straight touchdowns and thrice pulled within one score, but each time LSU got into danger, Joe Burrow pulled them out of it. The Ohio State transfer was masterful once again, as he led the Tigers to their fourth defeat of a top-10 opponent and himself to the front of the Heisman Trophy race. Burrow hit 31-of-39 passes for 393 yards with three touchdowns, and No. 2 LSU never trailed No. 3 Alabama en route to a 46-41 win.

The win snaps LSU’s (9-0, 5-0) oh-so-painful 8-game losing streak to Alabama, and puts the Tigers on the precipice of their first SEC West title since 2011, while the Crimson Tide (8-1, 5-1 SEC) will now hope for chaos in the division and elsewhere to keep its streak of five straight College Football Playoff appearances alive.

As expected, Tua Tagovailoa started and played the entire game, in the process throwing for 418 yards and four touchdowns. But he committed two costly turnovers that turned into 14 LSU points, starting with the first drive of the game.

Alabama accepted the ball to open the game and rolled to the LSU 8-yard line until Tagovailoa fumbled the ball, recovered by LSU’s Ray Thornton. The Tigers promptly roared out of the gate, needing only 62 plays to move 92 yards, the final 33 on a strike from Burrow to J’Marr Chase.

Another Alabama fumble — this one by punter Ty Perine on a bobbled snap — giving LSU the ball at Alabama’s 40 with a 7-0 lead and a chance to deliver an early haymaker. Instead, Alabama’s defense limited the Tigers to a 40-yard Cade York field goal and then delivered a haymaker of its own in the form of a 72-yard Jaylen Waddle punt return touchdown.

LSU immediately answered, though, moving 75 yards in eight plays and scoring on a 29-yard toss from Burrow to Terrace Marshall, Jr. York’s PAT was blocked, though, and LSU’s lead sat at 16-7 not even two minutes into the second quarter.

After a pair of scoreless drives, Alabama’s offense finally joined the game when Devonta Smith streaked past LSU’s freshman All-American corner Derek Stingley, Jr. — who was looking to the sideline at the snap — for a 64-yard touchdown. Joseph Bulovas‘s PAT pushed wide right, keeping LSU’s lead at three with 6:43 to go in the second quarter.

After a York field goal pushed LSU’s lead to six and a Crimson Tide three-and-out, the Tigers took over at its own 39 with 2:39 left in the first half. LSU played the drive beautifully, keyed by a 16-yard connection to Thaddeus Moss where he stepped out of bounds, stepped back in and then snared the ball with his arm stretching practically to Birmingham, which put the ball at Alabama’s 1. Clyde Edwards-Helaire soared in three plays later, putting LSU up 26-13 with 26 ticks left in the first half.

Ed Orgeron and company would have been thrilled to take a 13-point lead into the locker room until Patrick Queen intercepted Tagovailoa on the next snap which, when paired with an unnecessary roughness penalty on Alabama offensive lineman Landon Dickerson, gave LSU the ball at Alabama’s 13 with 11 seconds left before halftime. They needed only five, as Burrow found Edwards-Helaire for a touchdown, putting the Tigers up 33-13 at the break and getting the ball to open the second half.

LSU indeed threatened to blow it open, but Burrow was sacked by Xavier McKinney and fumbled at the Alabama 45, which was recovered by the Tide’s Terrell Lewis. Alabama did not score off the turnover, but the Tide did score next — a 10-play, 95-yard drive that culminated in a 15-yard pass from Tua to Najee Harris.

Alabama then forced an LSU punt, and Harris’s 1-yard touchdown run with 14:33 to go pulled Alabama within 33-27 with nearly an entire quarter to play.

Burrow answered, running for 15 yards on 3rd-and-5 to keep a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, nudging LSU back in front at 39-27. Alabama needed a touchdown on its next touch, and at first the drive seemed in peril before it began when facing a 3rd-and-19, but Tagovailoa found Henry Ruggs III for 26 yards to keep the drive alive. Alabama eventually found itself inside LSU’s 10, but a 4th-and-2 suddenly became a do-or-die moment with 5:32 to go and 12-point deficit. Tua found Jerry Jeudy to pull the Tide within 39-34.

Once again LSU needed Burrow to carry them, and once again he did. Burrow kept for 18 yards on a 3rd-and-2 with two minutes remaining, setting up a 7-yard Edwards-Helaire run that seemingly put the game on ice with 1:37 remaining. It wasn’t on ice yet: Tua immediately hit DeVonta Smith for an 85-yard score to pull Alabama within one score for the third time in the second half, but LSU recovered the onside kick and expired the remaining clock, clinching the school’s biggest win since the 2011 Game of the Century.

Michigan State RB Connor Heyward reverses course, pulls name from transfer portal

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Mel Tucker appears to have picked up his second personnel win as the Michigan State football head coach.

In September of last year, running back Connor Heyward took the first step in leaving the Michigan State football team by entering his name into the NCAA transfer database.  A little over four months later, after Mark Dantonio‘s abrupt retirement, Tucker took over in East Lansing.

On Twitter a week after Tucker came back to the Spartans, Heyward announced in a tweet that he has reversed course and will pull his name from the portal.  And, in his social-media missive, the running back credited Tucker for the personal reversal.

“After talking with [athletic director Bill] Beekman and Coach Tucker, I have decided to take my name out of the transfer portal and return to Michigan State University,” Heyward wrote. “It has been a long process, but I know this is home in my heart.

“I’m looking forward to what the future holds.  I can’t wait to get back to work with my brothers.

“Go Green!”

A three-star member of Michigan State’s 2017 recruiting class, Heyward was rated as the No. 72 player regardless of position in the state of Georgia.  In 2018, Heyward led MSU in rushing yards (529), rushing touchdowns (five), carries (118), all-purpose yards (1,065) and kick returns (13 for 287 yards; 22.1 avg.).  That year, he was named as a finalist for the Paul Hornung Award, given annually to the nation’s most versatile player.

This past season, Heyward ran for 79 yards on 24 carries.

All told, Heyward has ran for 618 yards and five touchdowns on 145 carries.  He’s also caught 43 passes for another 314 yards and two touchdowns.

Because he played in just four games in 2019, Heyward will be permitted to take a redshirt for last year.  That would make him a redshirt junior for the 2020 campaign and leave him with two years of eligibility to use.

USC officially replaces FCS school with San Jose State for 2021 game

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USC football has officially returned itself to elite scheduling company.

In July of last year, USC football angered a sizable portion of its fan base as well as former players by announcing that it had scheduled a 2021 game against UC-Davis.  The Trojans had been one of three FBS programs that had never scheduled a game against an FCS team.

Wednesday, however, new athletic director Mike Bohn confirmed that the Trojans are on the verge of canceling that football game and replacing it with another.  Thursday night, USC football made it official as both they and San Jose State confirmed a Sept. 4, 2021, game at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

San Jose State had originally been scheduled to face Georgia on that date.  Last week, however, UGA canceled the game in order to play Clemson in that season’s opener.  For that cancellation, San Jose State will receive $1.8 million from UGA.

“Facing USC in Los Angeles is a great opportunity for our student-athletes and fans,” SJSU athletic director Marie Tuite said in a statement. “Southern California is an important footprint for us in recruiting and we’re very excited to add this game to our 2021 football schedule.”

Tuite was also very complimentary of her UGA counterpart for his transparency throughout the process.

“I’d like to thank Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity for being transparent with us during the process,” said the AD. “I’ve experienced the atmosphere in Athens on gameday and it’s a special place. Maybe one day in the future the Spartans will make the trip.”

As for USC football, they officially rejoin Notre Dame and UCLA as the only FBS schools that have never played a game against an FCS team.  They are, however, in denial about never having scheduled an FCS school.

Be that as it may, USC will pay UC-Davis $750,000 for the game-that-was-never-scheduled-but-actually-was.

USC and San Jose State have met four times previously, with the Trojans winning all four of those matchups.  The two schools are also scheduled to play in 2024.

Clemson, Georgia paying seven-figures to make 2021 opener happen

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Clemson and Georgia are both spending money to make money.

In the wake of the two schools announcing a highly anticipated 2021 season opener in Charlotte, news has now surfaced at just how badly the two programs wanted to play each other.

The total tab: roughly $2.9 million.

That’s the combined amount the Tigers and Bulldogs will be paying to get out of their previously scheduled Group of Five games set for the same date.

Per the Greenville News, Clemson is ponying $1.1 million to cancel their contract with Wyoming. The Athletic reports Georgia is cutting a $1.8 million check to San Jose State.

“This is another great opportunity to schedule a national non-conference game with a top-level opponent,” UGA head coach Kirby Smart said in a release announcing the game. “Playing a regular-season game in Charlotte will give our fans the opportunity for a completely new experience in a great city and top-level stadium. I know our coaches and players will be excited for the challenge to kick off the season in this kind of environment.”

Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C. will host the regional rivals on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021.

Georgia and Clemson have met 64 times over the years, most recently in 2014. The 2021 date is a one-off but the programs are still scheduled to meet five more times between 2021 and 2033. This includes the 2024 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game and a pair of home-and-home series scheduled for 2029/2033 (in Death Valley) and 2030/2032 (between the hedges).

The Tigers will also take on fellow SEC program South Carolina in those years and will host UConn and FCS South Carolina State to round out their 2021 non-conference slate. The Bulldogs have their annual game against Georgia Tech plus UAB and Charleston Southern in 2021 as well.

Tennessee AD Phillip Fulmer says he could have coached Vols again but it ‘didn’t appeal’ to him

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Could Tennessee have had Phillip Fulmer back on the sidelines at Neyland Stadium coaching again?

There was speculation that he could have done just that from the moment he took over as athletic director at the school. Actually having it happen in Knoxville though? It apparently was not on the table due more to the necessity of Jimmy and Joe’s as opposed to X’s and O’s.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Tennessean about his on-going tenure as AD, Fulmer was asked if he ever considered putting the whistle back on for the team he led to the national title over two decades ago. Though it crossed the minds of many at the school, it didn’t for the man himself thanks largely to the rigors of the profession changing from 2008 to now.

“No. I mean, that energy level that it takes to do that. Could have coached and wanted to coach, that’s two different things, right?” Fulmer told the paper. “I certainly could have come coached the team or whatever, but the recruiting and the staffing and all those things, I’ve done my time, and I had a great run. That didn’t appeal to me, nor did I ever lose confidence that Jeremy (Pruitt) was going to do it.”

While that latter line is notable for the team’s current head coach after a historically bad start to the 2019 season, don’t gloss over his earlier comments. In fact, it says plenty about the situation on Rocky Top in recent years that Fulmer directly confirms that he “could have” come down from the AD box to the sidelines.

The only thing that stopped him? Not optics, but just the time a head coach has to devote to things like recruiting. While there’s no doubt that is pretty much a 24/7 operation nowadays at SEC schools like Tennessee, it’s interesting that was one of the few things preventing a move many in orange and white clamored (or at least expected) to see at some point.

Instead, Fulmer will have to make do with his 152–52 overall record at the school and a national title in the 1998 season. That forever cemented his status in Knoxville as one of the program’s greats and it appears he’s content to let things end there despite not having the ending he wanted back in the day.