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Belk Beatdown: Virginia shuts out South Carolina to secure first bowl win since 2005

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Motivation is a big talking point when it comes to mid- and lower-tier bowl games. Which team is happy to be there? Which team isn’t? Who wants it more?

Safe to say that Virginia was properly motivated to secure their first postseason victory since 2005 on Saturday afternoon, controlling the Belk Bowl from start to finish in every phase to beat South Carolina 28-0.

Leading the way for the ‘Hoos was their terrific QB-WR combo of Bryce Perkins and Olamide Zaccheaus. The former threw for 208 yards and a trio of touchdowns passes while scrambling for another 81 yards on the ground, moving the chains quite a bit on third down to help the team dominate time of possession and more on the stat sheet. Playing in his final game with the program, Zaccheaus was not surprisingly the top target for many of those Perkins passes as he recorded 12 catches for an even 100 yards and all three of the touchdowns through the air.

Jordan Ellis was also impressive running the ball, gashing an SEC defense to the tune of 106 yards and a score.

Playing without star playmaker Deebo Samuel, South Carolina simply couldn’t get any consistency going on offense and failed to keep pace with their opponent. Signal-caller Jake Bentley was rattled constantly and completed just 17 passes for 218 yards with a pair of interceptions. Shi Smith had a nice game with 76 yards receiving but the Gamecocks were forced to be one-dimensional most of the day as Rico Dowdle managed only 21 yards rushing and the team converted on third down just twice.

The end result drops Will Muschamp’s squad to 7-6 on the year and caps off a disappointing final stretch that saw South Carolina lose three of their final five games, including an 0-3 mark against Power Five opponents in that span. While you can certainly understand the offense taking a step back without Samuel, the effort had to be disappointing on defense for their head coach as the program enters a big offseason in Columbia.

The convincing victory by the Cavaliers, meanwhile, gives UVA an eighth win for the first time since 2011 and completes an impressive turnaround in Charlottesville ever since Bronco Mendenhall was brought over from BYU. The Hoos have plenty of momentum now having improved their win total in each campaign under the new staff and will be looking for a lot more after this kind of performance in the Belk Bowl.

Blake Cashman becomes second Minnesota player to skip bowl game

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A second Minnesota football player has decided to end the collegiate portion of his playing career prematurely.

On Instagram Tuesday, Blake Cashman announced that, “after a lot of thought and discussions with people close to me,” he has decided he will not play in Minnesota’s Quick Lane Bowl matchup with Georgia Tech Dec. 26. “This was a very a hard decision for me, but I feel in my heart that getting a jump start on training will give me the best opportunity at the next level,” the linebacker wrote.

This season serves as the senior’s final year of eligibility.

Cashman currently leads the Gophers in tackles with 104 and is tied for the team lead in tackles for loss with 15.  His 2½ sacks are second on the team, while his five pass breakups are good for third.

Earlier this month, teammate and starting offensive tackle Donnell Greene also used Instagram to announce that he has signed with an agent and will not play in the Gophers’ bowl game.  Greene and Cashman are two of at least a baker’s dozen players who have sidelined themselves for their respective team’s bowl game.

  • West Virginia offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste (HERE)
  • Iowa tight end Noah Fant (HERE)
  • Michigan defensive lineman Rashan Gary
  • West Virginia quarterback Will Grier (HERE)
  • NC State wide receiver Kelvin Harmon (HERE)
  • Arizona State wide receiver N'Keal Harry (HERE)
  • Oklahoma State running back Justice Hill (HERE)
  • Houston defensive lineman Ed Oliver (HERE)
  • NC State linebacker Germaine Pratt (HERE)
  • South Carolina wide receiver Deebo Samuel (HERE)
  • LSU cornerback Greedy Williams (HERE)

No. 3 Georgia reveals No. 24 South Carolina as SEC East pretender, not contender

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No. 24 South Carolina hosted No. 3 Georgia with an eye on announcing themselves as the top dogs (pun intended) in the SEC East. The Gamecocks thought they had the quarterback (junior Jake Bentley), the personnel (led by do-it-all star Deebo Samuel) and the game plan to overwhelm the Bulldogs by wearing Georgia’s defense down through a hurry-up offense that would throw the ball all over the field, thereby wilting the larger Bulldogs in the Columbia heat.

The problem: Georgia was well-prepared and well-equipped to handle such an attack. They may have lost a lot of talent from 2017’s SEC champion squad, but the players who stuck around are pretty good, too.

South Carolina accepted the ball to open the game and threw right at Georgia. This proved to backfire, as Georgia teed off on South Carolina’s skill players. On South Carolina’s fifth snap of the game, all passes to that point, Bentley hit running back Rico Dowdle, who bobbled the ball, which was intercepted by Georgia’s Deandre Baker. Baker returned the ball for a would-be touchdown, but dropped the pigskin just shy of the goal line; Juwan Taylor hopped on the loose ball for a Bulldogs touchdown.

Georgia (2-0, 1-0 SEC) forced a three-and-out on South Carolina’s next touch, then swiftly moved down the field to take a 14-0 lead, needing only four snaps to traverse 76 yards, the last 17 on a D’Andre Swift run.

South Carolina climbed back in the game over the next quarter-plus, but whiffed on two chances to even the score. First, after a 13-yard Samuel pass to Bryan Edwards pulled the Gamecocks within 14-7, South Carolina took over at the Georgia 34 when a Rashad Fenton intercepted an errant Jake Fromm pass. But the Gamecocks moved only yard before turning the ball over on downs, and Georgia capitalized with a Rodrigo Blankenship field goal to push their lead to 17-7.

South Carolina (1-1, 0-1 SEC) pulled back within seven through a field goal of its own and threatened to tie the game just before half, moving to midfield inside the first half’s final minute. But the drive stalled and Joseph Charlton‘s punt sailed just 18 yards. Armed with good field position and two timeouts, Fromm maneuvered Georgia to the USC 27, allowing Blankenship to again stake Georgia to a two-possession lead as time expired in the first half.

Leading 20-10 at the break, Georgia took the ball to open the second half and emphatically shut the door with a third quarter that highlighted the actual distance between the two programs. It was five consecutive possessions that saw Georgia march 75 yards for a touchdown, force a South Carolina three-and-out, move 75 yards for another touchdown, force another South Carolina three-and-out, and then again march the field (this time 86 yards) for a third touchdown in a 12-minute blitzkrieg.

The first score came on a 34-yard pass from Fromm to Mecole Hardman, the second a 5-yard Elijah Holyfield run and the third a 15-yard Brian Herrian dash.

In all, Georgia racked up 21 third quarter points while moving 236 yards in 21 plays and limiting South Carolina to 16 yards in six snaps. That third quarter staked Georgia to a 41-10 win, and the Bulldogs cruised to a 41-17 victory. The win was Georgia’s eighth straight against SEC East competition and fourth straight over its neighbors to the north.

Bentley threw the ball 47 times on the day, completing 30 for 269 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. While throwing the ball nearly 50 times for less than six yards an attempt may have been part of the plan, the running production was not. South Carolina rushed the ball 20 times for just 54 yards.

Fromm completed an efficient 15-of-18 passes for 194 yards with a touchdown and a pick, while nine Bulldogs combined to rush 52 times for 271 yards and three touchdowns.

Georgia starts fast, but South Carolina hanging around in Columbia

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The defending SEC champions threatened to run upset-minded South Carolina off their own field early in Columbia, but South Carolina has fought back to make a game of it. At the break, Georgia holds a 20-10 lead.

South Carolina’s game plan to pull off this would-be program-defining upset has been clear: the Gamecocks want to wear down Georgia’s defense, but they don’t have the horses to line up and run the ball down the Bulldogs’ throats. (Does anyone?) So South Carolina has put the ball in Jake Bentley‘s hands, play after play after play, with a series of short throws.

The problem: Georgia came out acutely aware of that, so as South Carolina opened the game by throwing, Georgia teed off on South Carolina receivers. The Gamecocks’ first series ended when a Bentley pass to running back Rico Dowdle was deflected and returned for a Georgia touchdown.

Immediately after South Carolina’s next possession, a three-and-out, Georgia glided up the field on a 4-play, 76-yard touchdown drive to grab a 14-0 edge on a 17-yard D’Andre Swift run at the 11:50 mark of the first quarter.

Facing a credible threat of a blowout, South Carolina put together a do-or-die drive, moving 75 yards in 11 snaps, the last of which was a 13-yard pass from Deebo Samuel to Bryan Edwards.

South Carolina had a great chance to tie the game immediately after that score when Rashad Fenton intercepted Jake Fromm and returned the ball to the Georgia 34, but South Carolina turned the ball over on downs and Georgia regained control with a 45-yard Rodrigo Blankenship field goal.

South Carolina answered that field goal with one of their own, a 26-yard Parker White boot with 5:57 to go before halftime. Bentley threw the ball 31 times in the first half, completing 18 for 146 yards. Ty’Son Williams led South Carolina’s ground efforts with six carries for 26 yards.

South Carolina attempted to cut into Georgia’s lead just before the break, but the Gamecocks’ drive ended near midfield and Joseph Charlton punted the ball just 18 yards, setting Georgia up at the 33 with 42 seconds and two timeouts at its disposal. Fromm maneuvered the Bulldogs to the South Carolina 27, allowing Blankenship to kick Georgia’s lead back to 10 with a 44-yard field goal as time expired.

Swift leads all runners with 39 yards on half-a-dozen carries, while Fromm completed 9-of-12 passes for 79 yards with an interception.

Georgia will receive to open the second half.

More than five dozen tight ends land on Mackey Award watch list

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If you’re a college football fan, there’s nearly a 50-50 chance that you’ll find one of your team’s players on this latest watch list installment.

The Mackey Award is next up to do the preseason deed, with the hardware going to the nation’s top tight end announcing a 64-player watch list Friday morning.  Unlike most other awards, not a single semifinalist from a year ago are up for the award won by Arkansas’ Mark Andrews in 2017.

A total of five teams placed two players on the list, with three of those coming from — surprise!!! — the Big Ten.  Iowa (Noah Fant, TJ Hockenson), Michigan (Zach Gentry, Sean McKeon) and Wisconsin (Zander Neuville, Kyle Penniston) represent that Midwest conference, while Louisville (Kemari Averett, Micky Crum) and South Carolina (KC Crosby, account for the other.

The Big Ten led all conferences with 12 players on the initial watch list, followed by the SEC (nine), ACC (seven), Pac-12 (seven), Mountain West (six) and Sun Belt (five).  There are four watch listers each hailing from the AAC, Big 12 and MAC, while Conference USA placed three.  There are also three tight ends from football independents.

Below is the complete 2018 John Mackey Award preseason watch list: