Amon-Ra St. Brown

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Ihmir Smith-Marsette helping Iowa to halftime lead over USC at the Holiday Bowl

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The 2019 Holiday Bowl was widely expected to be one of the more intriguing non-New Year’s Six Bowl games and so far it’s lived up to the early billing. In a sharp — but quite fun — contrast of styles, Iowa’s ball control offense was every bit of a match for USC’s quick-strike Air Raid setup as the visitors from the midwest took a 28-17 lead into the halftime break from San Diego.

Hawkeyes QB Nate Stanley was an ever efficient 11-of-12 for 130 yards (1 TD) passing but was far from the center of the team’s offensive output. As has been the case for several games in the past few months for the team, wideout Ihmir Smith-Marsette was all over the field and disabusing plenty of people about preconceived notions of Big Ten speed. He attempted a pass off a trick play, had 15 yards rushing and a trip to the end zone off a reverse plus breezed past a host of white shirts with a thrilling 98 yard kick return for a score. Oh, he also caught a 12 yard touchdown as well to complete the trifecta.

For good measure, Tyrone Tracy also chipped in with a 23 yard rushing touchdown as Smith-Marsette’s theatrics were complimented nicely by a team that held the ball for 18 minutes in the first half.

USC had their own moments moving the ball even if it wasn’t enough to keep pace with Iowa. Freshman QB Kedon Slovis tossed a pair of touchdown throws despite facing a constant stream of pressure in his face, netting 144 yards as well through two quarters. Amon-Ra St. Brown didn’t score but did have six catches for 72 yards in a game where the opposing defense took a bit of time to adjust to his ability to find the open space.

As fun as the early action was from SDCCU Stadium though, perhaps the highlight of the night was the Hawkeyes bringing their fantastic tradition of ‘The Wave’ out West. At the end of first quarter, fans and players all stopped to wave at kids from local hospitals in the stands as well as to kids in Iowa City via the scoreboard.

It will be hard to top that moment in this year’s Holiday Bowl but Smith-Marsette and USC’s skill position players will surely try in the second half.

Colorado punts on an upset as USC storms back to win in Boulder

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Colorado head coach Mel Tucker was on the verge of delivering a signature and historic victory on Friday night but the team whose motto is ‘Fight On’ just wouldn’t give up on leaving Boulder with a victory. USC avoided what could have been an awful upset as they mounted a comeback to beat Colorado 35-31 in a #Pac12AfterDark special in front of the Flatirons.

Sparking the charge with a 21 point outburst in the second half was none other than Kedon Slovis, the young freshman quarterback for the Trojans who helped his team finally notch a win on the road in 2019 by finding his talented group of wide receivers running free all over the field down the stretch. He finished the night with 406 yards, four touchdowns and an interception but most of the heavy lifting was done by the guys on the other end of the throws. Tyler Vaughns notched 104 yards and a score through the air while Michael Pittman was a big play machine on a night where he recorded 156 yards and two touchdowns of his own. Fellow receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown was also heavily involved in the display, catching five passes for 55 yards while also getting some featured touches at tailback and running for 50 more yards and scoring off a nifty play up the gut.

The outing by the offense helped cover up for a defense that was on the field for over 34 minutes and gave up a number of big plays in the second and third quarters to sound the upset alert on a chilly night of action.

The Buffs took advantage of that tired and banged up Trojans unit to break out of their own offensive slump the past two games, averaging nearly seven yards per play and going 4-for-4 in the red zone. Steven Montez threw for 324 yards and three scores while Laviska Shenault went off for 172 yards and a touchdown of his own to finally look healthy for the first time in weeks.

It wasn’t enough in the end however as the team ran out of steam and lost their aggressiveness late. Despite controlling the game pretty much from the start on both sides of the ball, Tucker’s decision to punt inside the opposing 40 yard line instead of going for it on fourth down was something fans of the black and gold soon won’t forget — especially given that it resulted in an 89 yard game-winning scoring drive going the other way. The result dropped CU to 3-5 on the season, leaving little margin for error the rest of the way if there’s any hope of making a bowl game in the coach’s debut campaign.

The flip side of not notching the program’s first ever victory over USC is that opposite number Clay Helton’s hot seat can simply stay warm instead of being set fully ablaze by cardinal and gold supporters. The Trojans rather improbably remain atop the Pac-12 South thanks to their win over Utah earlier and return home to the Coliseum next week to face what has proven to be the conference’s best team in Oregon. That game wasn’t expected to carry significant national and conference implications but that is the case with the calendar rolling over November.

Many Buffs fans will have to sit back and wonder what if after a few calls down the stretch but the bottom line is that the team that is supposed to fight on did just that to live another day in yet another wild start to the college football weekend out West.

USC storms back to beat No. 23 Stanford behind new QB Kedon Slovis

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New quarterback? No problem for the old cardinal and gold.

Kedon Slovis just might save Clay Helton’s job after all given the way his debut played out, with the true freshman signal-caller leading an impressive comeback from a two touchdown deficit to beat No. 23 Stanford 45-20 and strike an early blow in what should be a highly competitive Pac-12 race.

The story of the night — and perhaps the young season out West — was the play of the youngster out of Arizona for the Trojans. Slovis threw for 377 yards and three touchdowns in his first start in place of the injured J.T. Daniels and looked like an old Air Raid veteran with just five incompletions to spark a 42-3 run over the course of the final three quarters.

Slovis’ first career touchdown toss went to Amon-Ra St. Brown (97 yards, 2TDs on eight catches) but just about all of USC’s talented receivers made some plays. Michael Pittman finished with 82 yards while Tyler Vaughns was a highlight machine with several nice sideline catches to go with a 106 yard, one score night. Vavae Malepeai chipped in with 42 yards rushing and two trips to the end zone while Stephen Carr added another touchdown on the ground as well.

Stanford QB Davis Mills was making his first start as well after K.J. Costello was injured against Northwestern last week. While the former five-star started out the game well, the entire Cardinal offense bogged down as the game went on and they only managed 237 yards passing with a touchdown and a late interception. Cameron Scarlett did rush for 82 yards and a score but the visitors from the Bay Area were blanked in the second half at the Coliseum.

The loss certainly puts David Shaw’s group behind the eight ball in conference play and will leave them with a week of questions on both sides of the ball ahead of a very long trip East to play a ranked UCF squad. Costello is expected to be back for that game but even his return isn’t likely to overcome the number of issues that need to be fixed before playing the AAC banner-carriers in Orlando.

The flip side is that the Trojans moved to 2-0 on the season and might even find themselves ranked come Sunday afternoon given their play. They still have a brutal first half of the season still to play (at BYU, vs. Utah, at Washington and at Notre Dame on the docket) but everybody around the program has to be elated at the debut of their new quarterback and a big win over their in-state rivals already in their back pocket.

Backup QB Bowl is seeing plenty of offense as USC leads No. 23 Stanford at halftime

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The Backup Quarterback Bowl out West has produced an impressive amount of offense as USC took a surprising 24-20 lead over No. 23 Stanford into halftime in the Pac-12 opener-turned-shootout for both sides at the L.A. Coliseum.

Starting in place of the injured K.J Costello, Cardinal signal-caller Davis Mills showed a few flashes of why he was one of the top players coming out of high school a few years ago by throwing for 115 yards and a touchdown in the first half. His success passing the ball, which included a nifty toss down the field to tight end Colby Parkinson, helped loosen up the Trojans’ defense a bit and allow some success running the football too as Cameron Scarlett recorded 74 yards on the ground plus a score of his own.

Like Mills, the game marked the first start for USC freshman signal-caller Kedon Slovis — who is ‘the’ guy for the team in the wake of J.T. Daniels’ season-ending knee injury against Fresno State last week. The youngster looked fantastic and tossed his first career touchdown pass with a bomb down the field to Amon-Ra St. Brown (six catches, 87 yards). All in all, the QB coached by Hall of Famer Kurt Warner in high school was pretty efficient running the Air Raid offense with 17-of-20 passing for 249 yards at the break.

The performance out of Slovis had to be encouraging to head coach Clay Helton, who is firmly on the hot seat and badly needs a win not just to keep pace in a competitive Pac-12 but to hold off some of the cardinal and gold-clad wolves who would no doubt like him ushered out the door sooner rather than later. Were it not for a fumbled kickoff in the second quarter, USC might have an even bigger lead but they probably won’t complain given how well the offense is moving the ball against their in-state rivals.

We’ll see what happens after the return from the locker room however as the Trojans nearly gave the game away against Fresno State last week down the stretch and Stanford has proven to be more than adept at making adjustments and winning in the final two quarters already this season.

Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy headlines 2019 Biletnikoff Award Watch List

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Media Day season is also Watch List season and the latest to surface for the 2019 campaign comes out of Tallahassee in the form of the Biletnikoff Award Watch List. The award, given annually to the nation’s most outstanding receiver, includes the defending winner in Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy and fellow semifinalist Tylan Wallace out of Oklahoma State, as well as a number of other talented pass-catchers from around the country.

Here’s the full list, which is a good general overview of the best wide receivers and tight ends for the upcoming season even if a few names can gripe about being left off:

Lynn Bowden, Jr. (Kentucky)

Rico Bussey, Jr. (North Texas)

Cedric Byrd (Hawaii)

Grant Calcaterra (Oklahoma)

Damonte Coxie (Memphis)

Gabriel Davis (UCF)

Bryan Edwards (South Carolina)

D’Wayne Eskridge (Western Michigan)

Aaron Fuller (Washington)

Antonio Gandy-Golden (Liberty)

KJ Hamler (Penn State)

Adrian Hardy (Louisiana Tech)

Damon Hazelton (Virginia Tech)

Tee Higgins (Clemson)

K.J. Hill (Ohio State)

Isaiah Hodgins (Oregon State)

Justin Jefferson (LSU)

Jerry Jeudy (Alabama)

Tyler Johnson (Minnesota)

Collin Johnson (Texas)

CeeDee Lamb (Oklahoma)

Ty Lee (Middle Tennessee State)

Kalija Lipscomb (Vanderbilt)

McLane Mannix (Texas Tech)

Kirk Merritt (Arkansas State)

Riley Miller (Ball State)

Denzel Mims (Baylor)

Darnell Mooney (Tulane)

Rondale Moore (Purdue)

Albert Okwuegbunam (Missouri)

K.J. Osborn (Miami)

Dezmon Patmon (Washington State)

Jared Pinkney (Vanderbilt)

Michael Pittman, Jr. (USC)

James Proche (SMU)

Jalen Reagor (TCU)

Jared Rice (Fresno State)

Sean Riley (Syracuse)

Reggie Roberson, Jr. (SMU)

Justyn Ross (Clemson)

Henry Ruggs III (Alabama)

Laviska Shenault, Jr. (Colorado)

JD Spielman (Nebraska)

Amon-Ra St. Brown (USC)

Marquez Stevenson (Houston)

Tamorrion Terry (Florida State)

Jaylen Waddle (Alabama)

Tylan Wallace (Oklahoma State)

JoJo Ward (Hawaii)

Quez Watkins (Southern Miss)