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No. 15 Auburn wins Iron Bowl thriller, knocks No. 5 Alabama out of CFP race

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Two pick-sixes. A kickoff return touchdown. A controversial field goal with 1-second left on the clock. A 48-point quarter that saw 21 points scored in 84 seconds. The 84th Iron Bowl had just about everything, and in the end it had an Auburn victory, as a late missed field goal allowed the No. 15 Tigers to preserve a 48-45 win over No. 5 Alabama, officially knocking the Crimson Tide out of the College Football Playoff for the first time in the 6-year history of the series.

Alabama (10-2, 6-2 SEC) will now enter December out of the national championship picture for just the second time since 2011 — with the other coming in 2013, when Auburn dealt Alabama a death blow with the Kick Six.

Playing without Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama

got 335 yards and four touchdowns from Mac Jones, 146 yards and a touchdown from Najee Harris and four lead-changing touchdowns from Jaylen Waddle, but two pick-sixes by Jones and a controversial field goal gave Auburn 17 needed points. Playing in his first Iron Bowl, Bo Nix completed 15-of-30 passes for 173 yards and a touchdown, rushed for 44 yards and a score and, most importantly, played turnover free football.

The game started slowly — an Alabama field goal and three punts in the first four possessions — but then took off to warp speed, starting with a 37-yard Christian Tutt punt return that set Auburn up at the Crimson Tide’s 32-yard line. A 15-yard Boobee Whitlow run and a face mask penalty later, Nix put the Tigers up 7-3 with an untouched 7-yard keeper at the 2:07 mark of the first quarter.

Alabama immediately answered with a 14-play, 75-yard touchdown run capped by a 6-yard Harris run, as the junior running back carried the entire Tide offense while Jones worked his way to game speed (his first 14 passes covered just 40 yards). Harris lead all runners with 94 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.

Auburn then tied the game with a 43-yard Anders Carlson field goal, then took the lead when Smoke Monday snared a Jones overthrow and raced 29 yards for a score, putting the Tigers up 17-10 with 5:36 left in the first half. The lead lasted 14 seconds, as Waddle raced the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown. Then, Whitlow fumbled at his own 37, and 84 seconds after leading 17-10, Auburn trailed 24-17 when Jones found Henry Ruggs III for a 3-yard score at the 4:12 mark of the second quarter.

Stunned to silence after that turn of events, Auburn appeared to be trying to simply run out the final four minutes of the half and lick its wounds at halftime, until Nix hit Seth Williams on a 37-yard heave on 3rd-and-8, taking the ball from his own 38 to Alabama’s 25. Nix then found Will Hastings for an 11-yard gain on a throwaway, and then Sal Canella, using his 6-foot-5 frame to keep his toes in bounds while reaching far out of bounds, snared a game-tying touchdown pass with 1:06 left in the first half.

The Tigers left too much time.

After a 24-yard Diggs kick return and a 4-yard completion to Jerry Jeudy, Waddle did the rest, catching the ball shy of the Auburn 45 and then weaved through the secondary for his second touchdown of the quarter, putting Alabama back ahead 31-24 with 33 seconds left in the first half. Waddle touched the ball four times in the half, and two of them turned into touchdowns totaling 156 yards.

Out of timeouts, Auburn maneuvered from its own 35 to the Alabama 34 when Whitlow was tackled as time expired in the half. But, because Whitlow surged forward until time expired rather than going down with, say, three seconds left in the half, Gus Malzahn demanded a review of the timing. The review worked as a de facto timeout, allowing Auburn to get off a field goal when one second was put back on the clock. History did not repeat itself, as Carlson’s 52-yard field goal sailed through the uprights, not for a 109-yard return the other way.

Carlson’s third field goal, a 43-yarder, pulled Auburn within 31-30, and then the Tigers took their second lead of the day with their second pick six of the day, as Zakoby McClain caught a deflection off Harris’s back and returned it 100 yards for a touchdown, putting War Eagle back in front 37-31.

Once again, though, the lead did not last, thanks to Waddle. This time, he hauled in a 12-yard touchdown grab, and Joseph Bulovas‘s extra point lodged the game’s 75th point at the 4:57 mark of the third quarter.

After a pair of punts, Auburn nudged back ahead with a 44-yard Carlson field goal — his fourth of the day — and once again Waddle erased an Alabama deficit, as his 28-yard touchdown grab completed a 6-play, 90-yard drive that saw the Crimson Tide take a 45-40 lead with 13:44 left in the game.

Malzahn then leaned on Whitlow and Nix’s legs to slice through a tired Alabama defense, and Shaun Shivers surged Auburn back in front with an emphatic 11-yard end-around on 3rd-and-5. Nix’s pass to Shedrick Jackson gave Auburn its fourth lead, 48-45, with 8:08 to play.

Faced with a 4th-and-7 at the Auburn 37 with 5:13 to go, Nick Saban kept his offense on the field and was rewarded when Jones scrambled for an 18-yard gain. Jones converted a 3rd-and-1 with a sneak to the 10 and then, facing a 3rd-and-goal with 2:11 remaining, Jones’s pass was knocked down by Derrick Brown, straight into Jones’s arms, who did not come close to scoring the touchdown but did force Malzahn to use his second timeout.

Bulovas could tie the game with a 30-yard field goal, but the Achilles heel of Saban’s crimson dynasty reared its ugly head again, as the kick smacked off the left upright.

Auburn could win the game with a first down, but the Tigers gained only six yards on three runs. However, Auburn kept its offense on the field, baiting Alabama into a game-ending illegal substitution penalty. The five penalty yards were enough to convert the first down, handing Auburn (9-3, 5-3 SEC) its second Iron Bowl win in three years.

The win moved Auburn to 19-0 under Malzahn when scoring a non-offensive touchdown, and dropped Alabama to 0-7 in games of ranked teams at Jordan-Hare Stadium. It also marks Malzahn’s third win over Saban, tying Les Miles for the most among SEC coaches. The loss also means Saban is still winless against 9-win Auburn teams during his tenures at LSU and Alabama.

East Carolina suspends starting lineman arrested on felony intent-to-sell charge

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As we continue our annual plunge into the offseason, the East Carolina football program is the latest FBS school that has an off-field issue with which to deal.

(CC: @TheFulmerCup)

According to multiple media outlets in the area, ECU offensive lineman Cortez Herrin was arrested late Saturday night on a pair of charges.  Herrin is facing one felony count of possession with the intent to sell or distribute.  He’s also facing a misdemeanor charge of possession of marijuana paraphernalia.

The details of what led up to the arrest haven’t yet been divulged.

What is known is that the East Carolina football program has suspended the starting lineman as the situation begins to make its way through the legal system.

“We are aware of the matter concerning Cortez Herrin,” East Carolina football head coach Mike Houston said in a statement. “He has been suspended indefinitely from all football activities as we continue to gather information.”

When healthy, Herrin has been a part-time or full-time starter at left guard for ECU the past three seasons.

In 2018, Houston started all 12 games for the Pirates.  He made five starts in 2017 as well.  A knee injury in 2019 helped limit him to five starts.

The news of Herrin’s arrest comes amidst an upheaval in Houston’s coaching staff.

Two hires complete Tom Allen’s Indiana coaching staff

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Once again, the Indiana Hoosiers football coaching staff is whole.

Sunday afternoon, the Hoosiers announced the additions of two assistant coaches for Tom Allen. Jason Jones will serve as safeties coach, while Kevin Wright will coach tight ends.

Allen and Jones have a prior working relationship, having served on the same coaching staff at Ole Miss.

“I have so much respect for Jason,” the Indiana Hoosiers football head coach said in a statement. “I was fortunate to work with him for two seasons at Ole Miss. He has worked in the SEC and the Big 12, and he was a part of one of the top defenses in the country last year. Jason’s a great football coach and is the kind of husband, father and man I want in this program.”

Last year, Jones was the cornerbacks coach at Florida Atlantic.

“I am so thankful to Coach Allen for giving me the opportunity to be a part of this great staff,” Jones said. “IU impressed me so much last season, and I can’t wait to contribute to even more success. I am excited and ready to get to work.”

Wright is a 20-year coaching veteran, with 13 of those years in the state of Indiana and the last five at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

“I’ve known Kevin for many, many years” Allen said. “He’s been one of the most successful high school coaches in the country and has done a tremendous job working with some of the top talent in the country at IMG. Kevin allows us to expand our recruiting base and continue our success in the state of Florida. He’s a great fit for our program in so many ways, and we are excited to welcome Kevin and his family to IU.”

These hirings came a month after a new seven-year deal for Allen was announced.

North Carolina new home for All-American FCS kicker

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The North Carolina football program is the latest to dip into the FCS ranks for some talent. Placekicker talent, but still.

Sunday afternoon, the North Carolina football program announced that Grayson Atkins is transferring to the Tar Heels. Atkins spent the past three seasons at Furman.

According to UNC, Atkins will graduate from the FCS school in the spring.  He’ll then join the North Carolina football program in the summer.

As a graduate transfer, Atkins will have one season of eligibility remaining.

Below are Atkins’ particulars, as relayed by UNC’s release:

An Inman, S.C. native, Atkins converted on 33-of-41 field goal attempts and 132-of-138 PAT attempts during his three seasons at Furman. He earned first-team All-America honors as a junior and second-team honors as a sophomore. Atkins was also named All-Southern Conference twice. His 231 career points rank 10th on Furman’s career scoring list and fifth on the kick scoring list. Combining the end of his junior season and the beginning of his senior season, Atkins made 18 consecutive field goals, which is a Furman and Southern Conference record.

As a junior in 2019, Atkins earned first-team AFCA FCS Coaches’ All-America honors to go along with All-America honors form the Associated Press and STATS FCS. He converted on 13-of-15 field goal attempts and 48-of-50 PATs. Atkins made all six field-goal attempts under 40 yards and went 7-of-9 on attempts from 40 or more yards including a 55-yarder. In addition to his first-team All-SoCon honors as a placekicker, Atkins earned second-team accolades as a punter after averaging 43.5 yards per punt.

This past season, sophomore Noah Ruggles made all 45 of his extra-point attempts for the Tar Heels.  He also hit on just 19 of his 27 field-goal attempts.

Florida transfer Chris Bleich moves on to Syracuse

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This development involving a now-former Florida Gators football player flew under our radar last week, so we’ll rectify that with an early-morning post to start this work week.

Chris Bleich started eight of the first nine games at right guard for Florida this past season, with the lone start he missed being due to blisters on his foot. However, the redshirt freshman had begun to lose playing time due to performance even as he maintained the starting job in name.

With his grip on the position loosening, though, Bleich decided to take his leave of the Gators in early November.  Florida Gators football head coach Dan Mullen subsequently confirmed the departure.  Mullen also confirmed that unspecified family issues at home triggered the decision.

In the latest Bleich development, Syracuse announced late this past week that the lineman has been added to the Orange’s roster. In its release, the football program stated that “Bleich must sit out the 2020 season due to NCAA transfer regulations unless granted immediate eligibility.”

It’s expected that Bleich will seek a waiver from the NCAA that would allow him to play this coming season.

Bleich was a three-star member of Florida’s 2018 recruiting class, rated as the No. 13 player at any position in the state of Pennsylvania. The 6-6, 330-pound lineman played in just four games as a true freshman, and was able to preserve a year of eligibility by taking a redshirt that season.

If Bleich is granted a waiver, he’ll have three seasons to play three years.  If not, he’ll sit out 2020 and then have two years of eligibility starting in 2021.