Southern Mississippi had scored 21 straight points to take a solid 21-7 lead on Western Kentucky, but big plays in the final minutes of the half have made for a much more wide-open Conference USA Championship Game. Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Doughty completed a long pass down the right side of the field to Taywan Taylor for a 49-yard gain, and two plays later the two connected again for a game-tying touchdown (21-21) that gave the home team all of the momentum going to halftime.
Western Kentucky struck early to capitalize on an early miscue by Southern Miss. Nick Mullens was picked off by Branden Leston to put the Hilltoppers right at the Southern Miss 28-yard line. A 21-yard run by Anthony Wales put WKU at the five-yard line and Antwane Grant pulled in a short touchdown pass from Brandon Doughty for the first score of the game.
The teams exchanged punts on the next couple of possessions, but the Golden Eagles got things going on their next possession, which started just on Western Kentucky’s side of the 50, from the 45-yard line. Mullens redeemed himself with a pair of passes for first downs on successive plays and Jalen Richard picked up a short two-yard touchdown run to draw even at 7-7. The Golden Eagles took their first lead, 14-7, when Michael Thomas caught a rocket across the middle fo the field for a five-yard touchdown to cap a short 32-yard touchdown drive following a 27-yard Western Kentucky punt from their five-yard line. The lead was soon expanded to 21-7 when Doughty’s pass was picked off by Kalan Reed and returned 40 yards for a touchdown.
Doughty made sure Western Kentucky got to halftime with some reason for optimism. Doughty took off for a touchdown run late in the first half to cut the deficit to 21-14.
Ohio State’s offense has been up and down when trying to throw the football, and today it lost another receiver for the rest of the season. Corey Smith will miss the rest of the 2015 season after being carted off the field with a leg injury in Ohio State’s road win at Indiana on Saturday.
On Monday, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said the injury suffered by Smith was similar in nature to the one that sidelined another starting Buckeyes wide receiver, Noah Brown, before the start of the season. Brown injured his left leg in training camp. The nature of the injury was never confirmed but was believed to be a broken leg.
“He had a similar injury to Noah Brown,” Meyer said. “And one of my favorite players, a guy that’s been through a lot in his life, certainly a lot here, but my heart bleeds for that guy and so do the rest of our team, a kid that really spills it — was on all special teams for us, played really, really hard. From what I understand there’s a chance we can get one more year back. We’re going to see what happens.”
Smith appeared in four games after serving a one-game suspension at the start of the season. In those four games, Smith caught five passes for 62 yards. He had been listed behind Michael Thomas on the Ohio State depth chart. Thomas is Ohio State’s leading receiver with 292 yards and four touchdowns. Now Ohio State is starting to become a bit thin at receiver.
Not surprisingly, that particular topic dominated a good portion of the media Q&A with the head coach of the defending national champion Buckeyes. Also not surprisingly, Meyer delved into very few details as to what led to the punitive measures.
“A violation of team policies. That’s as far as I’ll go,” Meyer responded when the first query on a specific reason for the suspensions was tossed his way. Meyer also acknowledged that he’s “known about the suspensions for a little while.”
The suspensions will be owned by junior defensive end Joey Bosa, sophomore H-back Jalin Marshall, senior wide receiver Corey Smith and junior H-back Dontre Wilson, who will all miss the opener because of the sanctions. Meyer very powerfully intimated that the temporary losses should not be used as a crutch by his football team, mainly because he and his staff have collected the kind of depth that can withstand the impact of losing a player or players.
“The university, the athletic department has the policies that we expect and that I 100-percent fully support,” the coach said. “Whether it’s a sprained ankle or [other] stuff, you try to create a culture where a team knows how to move forward and not concern yourself. When we lost Braxton [Miller] 10 days before the first game [of the 2014 season], you lose J.T. [Barrett] a week before the Big Ten championship game, you push forward. We’re pushing forward.
“The comment I did make, we are playing an extremely talented team [in the opener vs. Virginia Tech in Blacksburg], very well-coached team on the road in a tough environment. However, we have recruited very well. So, get going. Move forward.”
When pressed by a Tech beat writer regarding his greatest concern for an impact stemming from the suspensions, Meyer responded, “Off the get-go, arguably one of the best defensive players in the United States of America [Bosa] won’t play in that game, so that’s the one.”
Meyer did, though, attempt to mitigate the loss of Bosa by… referring back to the depth that’s been accumulated at the wide receiver and H-back positions before finally circling back to “the big defensive end.”
“I think if we stay healthy throughout training camp, and continue to improve,” Meyer began, before rattling off a sizable portion of his skill-position depth chart, “and [projected H-back/wide receiver] Braxton and then we have [wide receiver] Noah Brown, we have [wide receiver] Michael Thomas, you have [tight end] Nick Vannett, you have [wide receiver] Johnny Dixon, [wide receiver] Terry McLaurin and [wide receiver] Parris Campbell, [running back-turned-H-back] Curtis Samuel, you know, we’ve recruited pretty good. Now we have to get them ready to go play and I’ll know more as we get going.
“But I’m not overly concerned at that spot [defensive end]. Obviously when you lose the big defensive end, that everyone knows where he’s at, that is [still] a concern.”
In other words, Meyer wants to hear no excuses. And he wants his players to know there are no excuses at their disposal, and that it’s very much next man up for the opener — just as it was when the Buckeyes lost two starting quarterbacks in its run to the title.
Two glaring omissions headline Biletnikoff watch list
It’s not often that who’s not on what’s essentially a meaningless preseason watch list is the main storyline, but that’s the case when it comes to the Biletnikoff Award this year.
First, who is on the watch list for the award handed out annually to the nation’s top wide receivers: a total of 48 players at the position, which is actually a rather subdued number compared to other watch lists that come out this time of the year.
Now, the players who was inexplicably excluded from the initial watch list? Auburn’s D’haquille Williams, first and foremost. The senior wideout was already named to the Maxwell Award watch list earlier this month. He’s considered by many to be the best receiver in the SEC — Mel Kiper has Williams as his No. 1 player at that position — yet four receivers from that conference are included. The only receiver on the Biletnikoff watch list to also make Maxwell’s is South Carolina’s Pharoh Cooper.
Williams missed three of the last four games last season because of an injury, yet still totaled 45 receptions for 730 yards and five touchdowns. Kiper may have him a bit overrated on his Big Board, but Williams certainly deserves one of the 48 spots allotted — or the award should at least make room for a 49th. Or a 49th and 50th.
That said, Williams can, and probably will, be added to an in-season update from the folks at the Biletnikoff. The same could be said for Player. No. 2: Ole Miss’ Laquon Treadwell.
Despite missing the last four games of the year because of a gruesome leg injury, Williams still led the Rebels in receptions with 48 and was second in yardage with 632. Like Williams, Treadwell made the cut for the Maxwell, which is awarded annually to the best player in college football regardless of position.
Anyway, below is the complete Biletnikoff Award preseason watch list.
Victor Bolden, Oregon State
Devonte Boyd, UNLV
Daniel Braverman, Western Michigan
Ryan Burbrink, Bowling Green
KD Cannon, Baylor
Leonte Carroo, Rutgers
Rashon Ceaser, ULM
Corey Coleman, Baylor
Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina
River Cracraft, Washington State
Jared Dangerfield, Western Kentucky
Corey Davis, Western Michigan
Josh Doctson, TCU
Travin Dural, LSU
Alex Erickson, Wisconsin
William Fuller, Notre Dame
Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech
DaeSean Hamilton, Penn State
Donovan Harden, Georgia State
Carlos Harris, North Texas
Rashard Higgins, Colorado State
Ajalen Holley, ULM
Cayleb Jones, Arizona
Corey Jones, Toledo
Isaiah Jones, East Carolina
Marcus Kemp, Hawaii
Roger Lewis, Bowling Green
Keevan Lucas, Tulsa
Byron Marshall, Oregon
Mitch Mathews, BYU
Teldrick Morgan, New Mexico State
Jordan Payton, UCLA
Josh Reynolds, Texas A&M
Jalen Robinette, Air Force
Demarcus Robinson, Florida
Alonzo Russell, Toledo
Artavis Scott, Clemson
Hunter Sharp, Utah State
Tajae Sharpe, Massachusetts
Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma
Thomas Sperbeck, Boise State
Nelson Spruce, Colorado
Taywan Taylor, Western Kentucky
Trent Taylor, Louisiana Tech
Michael Thomas, Ohio State
Shaq Washington, Cincinnati
Mike Williams, Clemson
Ron Willoughby, Buffalo
CFT Previews: The College Football Playoff championship game
WHO No. 2 Oregon (13-1) vs. No. 4 Ohio State (13-1)
WHAT The College Football Playoff championship game, presented by AT&T
WHEN 8:30 p.m. ET
WHERE AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Tex.
HEAD COACHES Ohio State’s Urban Meyer (37-3 in three years with Buckeyes, 141-26 overall) Oregon’s Mark Helfrich (24-3 in two seasons with Ducks)
STATISTICAL LEADERS Ohio State Rushing: Ezekiel Elliott, 1,632 yards, 14 touchdowns
Receiving: Michael Thomas, 50 receptions; Devin Smith, 886 yards, 12 touchdowns
Punt returns: Jalin Marshall, 12 yards per on 21 returns, one touchdown
Kick returns: Dontre Wilson. 24 yards per
Punting: Cameron Johnston, 45.3 yards per, 24 of 45 inside 20
Tackles: Joshua Perry, 118
Tackles for loss: Joey Bosa, 20
Sacks: Joey Bosa, 13.5
Interceptions: Vonn Bell, six
Passes defensed: Doran Grant, 14
Rushing: Royce Freeman, 1,343 yards, 18 touchdowns
Receiving: Byron Marshall, 66 receptions, 834 yards; Devon Allen, seven touchdowns
Punt returns: Charles Nelson, 15.5 per on 11 returns, two touchdowns
Kick returns: Devon Allen, 26.1 per on eight returns
Punting: Ian Wheeler, 39 yards per, 10 of 41 inside 20
Tackles: Erick Dargan, 90
Tackles for loss: DeForest Buckner, 13
Sacks: Tony Washington, six
Interceptions: Erick Dargan, seven
Passes defensed: Troy Hill, 19
Ohio State’s 10th-ranked rush offense (262.2 ypg) vs. Oregon’s 50th-ranked run defense (154.2 ypg)
UO’s 18th-ranked rush offense (241.9 ypg) vs. OSU’s 33rd-ranked run defense (139.8 ypg)
OSU’s 52-ranked pass offense (247.5 yp) vs. UO’s 103rd-ranked pass defense (259.5 ypg)
UO’s 11th-ranked pass offense (311 ypg) vs. OSU’s 17th-ranked pass defense (188.2 ypg)
OSU’s 5th-ranked scoring offense (45 ppg) vs. UO’s 29th-ranked scoring defense (22.5 ppg)
UO’s second-ranked scoring offense (47.2 ppg)) vs. 23rd-ranked scoring defense (21.2 ppg)
STAT THAT MIGHT MEAN SOMETHING… OR NOTHING
Oregon is 115th out 125 teams in penalty yards per game at 72, while Ohio State is 46th at 48.46 ypg. The Ducks are 116th in penalties per game (8.07) and the Buckeyes are 51st (5.64).
Michigan State. Oregon won 46-27 in Eugene Sept. 6, Ohio State won 49-37 in East Lansing Nov. 8.
Ohio State: 35-21 to Virginia Tech (7-6) in Columbus Sept. 6
Oregon: 31-24 to No. 10 Arizona (10-3) in Eugene Oct. 2
Wins vs. bowl teams: Ohio State 11, Oregon 8
Wins vs. current CFP Top 25 teams: OSU 4, UO 5
Wins in true road games: OSU 4, UO 5
Wins by 10-plus points: OSU 10, UO 12
NOTES TO NOTE
— Ohio State and Oregon played in the first-ever NCAA men’s basketball championship game in 1939. The Ducks won by a score of 46-33, and it’s very possible that both team will top the winning cager’s point total in this title matchup.
— Ohio State is 8-0 all-time vs. Oregon on the gridiron. The first game was played in the Rose Bowl following the 1957 season, the last coming in the Rose Bowl after the 2009 season. Of the six games played in between those two Rose Bowls, five were played in Columbus and one in Eugene. The average margin of victory for the Buckeyes is 16.6, with the Ducks not scoring more than 17 points in any of those contests.
— There are three players (tight end Pharaoh Brown, defensive back Troy Hill, wide receiver Dwayne Stanford) from the state of Ohio listed on Oregon’s roster, while there are no players from the state of Oregon listed on Ohio State’s roster. Neither coaching staff has any assistants who are from the opposite state.
— 23 Ducks were born in Oregon, while 62 Buckeyes hail from Ohio. Seven of Urban Meyer‘s nine assistants, the lone exceptions being co-defensive coordinator/safeties coach Chris Ash and defensive line coach/assistant head coach Larry Johnson, were born in Ohio. Meyer was as well.
— Ohio State claims seven national championships, the first in 1942 and the last in 2002. Oregon has never won a national championship since it began playing football in 1915.
— The three finalists for the 2014 Heisman Trophy were Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon, Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper and Oregon quarterback, and winner, Marcus Mariota. The Buckeyes beat Gordon’s Badgers in the Big Ten championship game, then in their next game beat Cooper’s Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl semifinal.
— In the 2007 BCS title game, Meyer’s Florida Gators beat Ohio State and Heisman winner Troy Smith 41-14. In the 2009 BCS title game, Meyer’s Gators beat the Oklahoma Sooners and Heisman winner Sam Bradford 24-14.
OHIO STATE WINS IF…
… Cardale Jones remains Cardale Jones and doesn’t turn into a pumpkin at midnight.
Jones, who found himself third on the quarterback depth chart in mid-August, has started the past two games and showed absolutely no signs that the stage was too big for him. In 69 pass attempts this season, including 52 in the wins over Wisconsinand Alabama, Jones has thrown just one interception. Some of the most impressive throws for Jones, nicknamed 12-gauge for both his number and arm strength, have been his decisions to throw the ball away and live to play another down.
In the Ducks, Jones will be facing a defense that intercepted just 12 passes this season (their .857 picks per game is 75th nationally) and has shown a propensity to give up yards in chunks through the air. Jones, and the stout OSU rushing attack led by Ezekiel Elliott for that matter, will get their yardage if the defensive theme from the 2014 season continues. The Buckeyes need to capitalize on their scoring chances and, again, avoid the turnovers on which the Ducks’ offense thrives and, ultimately, buries the opposition.
Big plays have been a staple of OSU’s offense, especially after Jones took over. However, given their opposition’s offensive firepower, long, sustained drives — that end in touchdowns, not field goals — might be in order as it looks to keep the Ducks off the field.
OREGON WINS IF…
… it creates turnovers and general havoc around an inexperienced quarterback.
OK, maybe not at the level of the semifinal blowout of Florida State, when the Seminoles coughed the ball up five times in looking like a team that hadn’t played the game in years, but the Ducks will need to, as they have all season long, continue creating turnovers in what’s expected to be a back-and-forth offensive affair. This season, the Ducks are plus-20 in turnover margin, the best in the country this season. Just as importantly, the Ducks need to capitalize off the turnovers like they did in the semifinal, scoring touchdowns after all five Seminole miscues. In UO’s lone loss of the season, to Arizona, the Ducks were unable to score any points off of the Wildcats’ two turnovers.
In OSU’s only loss of the year, to Virginia Tech, the Buckeyes turned it over three times to the Hokies’ defense. Overall, the Buckeyes are T-61st in turnovers lost with 22, so there could be opportunities for the Ducks’ defense to get the ball back for its high-powered offense.
Both teams have shown all season long that, for the most part, no defense will stop their respective offenses for any appreciable length of time. Thus, a safe bet is that whichever team wins the turnover battle will stand a better-than-average chance of winning the game. It may be trite or a cliché, but that, the number of turnovers, will very likely prove to be the bottom line.
IF IT COMES DOWN TO A FIELD GOAL…
… Ohio State could be screwed.
Sean Nuernberger has made just 13 of his 20 field-goal attempts this season. He’s missed half of his 10 attempts from between 40-49 yards, and hasn’t attempted one from beyond 50.
Meanwhile, two Oregon kickers, Aidan Schneider and Matt Wogan, have combined to make 16 of the team’s 19 field-goal attempts. Oddly enough, though, they’ve missed four extra point attempts this season, while Nuernberger has made all 83 of his point afters.
When it comes to punting and the possibility of flipping field position, though, that’s a decided advantage for OSU. Cameron Johnston is one of the top punters in the country, averaging 45.3 yards per punt (seventh nationally). He’s put 24 of his 45 punts inside the 20-yard line, and 16 of his efforts went 50 or more yards.
Conversely, UO’s punter, Ian Wheeler, averaged just 39 yards per punt, with only 10 of his 41 boots pinning the opposition inside the 20.
This is another significant advantage, Ohio State.
While not an injury, there will be another absence of significance for the Ducks as second-leading receiver, yardage-wise, Darren Carringtonwill miss the title game because of a failed drug test. Special teams ace Ayele Forde will not play either because of his own suspension for a failed drug test. The injuries and suspensions, though, means that the Ducks will be without three of their top five pass-catchers in 2014 for the biggest game in the football program’s history.
For OSU, they are relatively healthy for having played 14 games, (likely) getting back top tight endJeff Heuerman and running back Dontre Wilson (broken foot) for good measure. Heuerman, despite missing four complete games, is tied for the team lead among tight ends with 17 receptions while Wilson is sixth on the team with 112 rushing yards and fifth in receptions with 21.
Wilson, incidentally, is from Texas and was originally committed to the Ducks before flipping to the Buckeyes in February of 2013.
For those into this kind of thing — not that there’s anything wrong with it — below are the uniforms that both teams will be wearing during Monday night’s first-ever CFP championship game:
(Photo credit: Nike)
Ohio State, +7 (opened +7)