When it comes to wide receivers and early declarations, Texas is batting .500 in the new year.
Last Thursday, Collin Johnson announced that he would be returning to UT for his senior season. It was thought that Longhorns teammate and fellow receiver Lil’Jordan Humphreywas leaning toward making himself available for the NFL draft; Tuesday, Humphrey confirmed via Twitter that he’s leaving his remaining eligibility on the table and taking the early leap into the NFL’s draft pool.
This past season, Humphrey led the Longhorns in receptions (86), receiving yards (1,176) and receiving touchdowns (nine). The 6-4, 222-pound Humphrey came into the 2018 season with 446 yards and one touchdown on 39 receptions in the previous two years combined.
The good news for the Longhorns, which finished inside the final Associated Press Top 25 rankings, is that, thus far, Humphrey is the only known draft-eligible Longhorn who has opted to leave early. The deadline to submit paperwork to be included in the 2019 draft is Jan. 14.
Texas WR Collin Johnson eschewing NFL, returning to Longhorns
While not many have before him, one productive and immensely-talented Power Five player is bucking the trend of cannonballing early into the NFL draft pool.
On Twitter Thursday afternoon, Collin Johnson announced that, “after a lot of prayer and talking with my family,” he will be returning to Texas for his senior season. The move comes a couple of days after UT convincingly handled Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.
Johnson’s decision is a significant one for the Longhorns’ offense in 2019.
This past season, Johnson’s 68 receptions for 985 yards and seven touchdowns were all second on the Longhorns to Lil'Jordan Humphrey‘s 86-1,176-9. It’s widely expected that, unlike Johnson, Humphrey won’t be returning to Austin for his senior season and will instead make himself available for the 2019 NFL Draft. Humphrey, though, hasn’t made that decision official as of this posting.
As previously noted, draft-eligible players have until Jan. 15 to officially submit their paperwork to the NFL.
No. 15 Texas begins 2019 by dumping Sugar on No. 5 Georgia
The Allstate Sugar Bowl began when Bevo rushed Uga during a pre-game photo op, and then a group of Longhorns did the same to the Bulldogs. A No. 15 Texas team that will play the 2019 season with Big 12 championship and College Football Playoff expectations showed exactly why, showcasing superior physicality and execution to dump No. 5 Georgia in a 28-21 win that wasn’t as close as the final score.
After spending the past month — and Saturday night specifically — chirping about how they belonged in the Playoff over Notre Dame and Oklahoma, Georgia (11-3) backed that talk up by playing its worst game of the season. The Bulldogs fell into a 17-0 hole early in the second quarter and never recovered. The SEC’s best rushing team was out-rushed by a team that entered the game No. 95 in the country on the ground — and out-rushed emphatically, 180-72.
But this night was about Texas, and right from the start.
The Longhorns accepted the ball to open the game and rolled 75 yards in 10 plays to open the game with a touchdown. Sam Ehlinger completed all five of his passes for 61 yards — including a 3rd-and-7 to Humphrey to set up a first-and-goal, which Ehlinger converted with a 2-yard keeper.
Georgia’s first possession saw Jake Fromm convert a 3rd-and-6 with an 11-yard strike to Terry Godwin, but a following 3rd-and-9 saw pressure from Charles Omenihu and BJ Foster, forcing a throw away. Jake Camarda blasted the ensuing punt 53 yards to the Texas 6-yard line, but replay showed Camarda brought his knee to the ground as he corralled a low snap from Nick Moore, flipping the ball from the Texas 6 to the Georgia 27 — a 66-yard change in field position. Georgia’s defense forced a three-and-out, but instead of a Texas punt from its own end zone, Cameron Dicker converted a 37-yard field goal to put the Longhorns up 10-0 at the 6:05 mark of the first quarter.
Georgia actually got off a punt on its second possession, but Camarda shanked this one for just 11 yards, handing Texas (10-4) the ball at midfield. UT pushed to the Georgia 32 but went backward from there and punted. However, Georgia was not done giving Texas first quarter gifts, as D’Andre Swift fumbled the ball to Texas defensive tackle Gerald Wilbon at his own 12.
When Ehlinger rushed in on a 3rd-and-7 for his second score of the game at the 14:53 mark of the second quarter, Texas had a 17-0 lead and a 110-8 total yardage advantage.
Georgia snipped at their yardage deficit on their first drive of the second quarter with a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. The score came on a 17-yard Fromm pass to Brian Herrien, but the key completion was a 12-yard strike to Riley Ridleyon a 3rd-and-11 from the Texas 29.
Texas answered Georgia’s score, but not with a touchdown. Dicker’s second field goal, a 30-yarder, pushed the UT lead to 20-7 with 4:37 to go in the first half. The key play of the drive came on a 1st-and-10 from the Texas 37, when Ehlinger ducked a blindside sack and turned it into a 17-yard scramble.
Swift fumbled the ball inside his own territory on Georgia’s next possession, but the Bulldogs hopped on this one and eventually reached the Texas 31, but Anthony Wheeler sacked Fromm on a 3rd-and-10, giving Texas just their third third down stop on eight first-half tries.
After a scoreless third quarter, Ehlinger’s third rushing touchdown of the game put Texas up three scores with 11:49 left, but it didn’t come easy. After Ehlinger kept a 4th-and-1 rush from the Georgia 13, Texas called his number on six straight snaps — a 5-yard run on 2nd-and-15, a 10-yard conversion on 3rd-and-10, and then four straight quarterback runs up the gut from the Georgia 1. Finally, on fourth down, Ehlinger got in, and replay review showed he had the nose of the ball on the first white blade of the Superdome’s goal line FieldTurf when his knee hit the ground, upholding the touchdown call on the field. Texas went for two and gave Ehlinger a break, hitting Collin Johnsonwith a fade to push its lead to 28-7.
Georgia needed a quick response and got one, moving 66 yards in six plays and 84 seconds to pull within 28-14 at the 10:25 mark of the final frame on a 3-yard toss to Mecole Hardman. Texas put together a brief drive but punted back to Georgia at their own 15, with exactly half the fourth quarter to play and momentum on their side.
Instead, Georgia punted — immediately. Gary Johnson sacked Fromm on first down, and pressure forced two incompletions on second and third down. Texas burned all but the final 70 remaining seconds and both of Georgia’s available timeouts. A plethora of penalties — Texas had two defensive backs ejected for targeting on the drive — helped Georgia pull within one score on a 5-yard pass to Swift, but with just 14 seconds remaining. Collin Johnson recovered the ensuing onside kick to seal the win.
Ehlinger closed a fantastic sophomore season by hitting a modest 19-of-27 passes for 169 yards while carrying the load in the Texas rushing game with 21 carries for 64 hard-fought yards and all three of his team’s touchdowns.
He will enter 2019 as a Heisman Trophy candidate and his team, which just won a New Year’s Six game for the first time since Colt McCoy and company did so in 2008, will enter the year with championship expectations. Tuesday night’s game showed exactly why.
10 Major Takeaways from the Early National Signing Day and the Class of 2019
Last year, college football entered unfamiliar territory with the first early national signing period, a creation in mid-December that some had been pushing for years to happen. While a few coaches predicted chaos, in the end it turned out to be just like the regular National Signing Day in February on a slightly smaller scale and right in the thick of bowl season.
As a result, we’re all seasoned vets by now as the second edition of the early signing period rolled around on Wednesday with the typical fanfare. Big names put on hats, the usual suspects dominated the recruiting rankings and a handful of surprises took the college football world by storm to throw fans into a frenzy.
What are the biggest takeaways from the first date the Class of 2019 could put pen to paper? Here are 10 that you need to know.
1. Alabama’s best ever?
I know you’re going to be shocked by this but Nick Saban and Alabama had a pretty good day on the recruiting trail. It turns out sending a bunch of guys to the NFL and making the playoff every season is a pretty compelling pitch to high school stars. Who knew?
The Crimson Tide inked 21 players by the time evening rolled around in Tuscaloosa and not surprisingly cleaned up. They were far and away the easy pick as the No. 1 team by all the major recruiting services and there was a pretty solid gap between them and the rest of their SEC rivals like Georgia. That’s notable because it comes just 10 months after the program shockingly lost their grip on the top spot in the team rankings to the Bulldogs, which prompted Saban to hire a number of new staff members and double-down on the recruiting trail.
Safe to say, it paid off.
Among the litany of five- and four-star recruits that signed with Bama were some notable names like Taulia Tagovailoa, a quarterback who is indeed the younger brother of current starter Tua. Don’t let anybody sleep on the fact that the program also brought in Will Reichard either, as special teams has been an issue and the Hoover native is the nation’s concensus top ranked kicker.
But let’s face it, this is a class loaded with studs who will be contributing for the team sooner rather than later. The Tide earned Signing Day commitments from five-star offensive lineman Evan Neal and running back Trey Sanders among others and flipped four-star cornerback Jordan Battle from Ohio State as well. They went into New Jersey for five-star DE Antonio Alfano, plucked four-star linebacker Shane Lee out of the DMV area, nabbed CB Jeffery Carter out from under Texas A&M and signed a number of terrific prospects from Florida, Georgia and even Baton Rouge, Louisiana (that would be four-star LB Christian Harris).
Every single member, sans the kicker, was rated four-stars or higher and this group is stacked with both quality and quantity at nearly unprecedented levels. This has led some to say this could be Saban’s best ever recruiting class. Time will tell if things live up to that kind of billing but it goes without saying that the No. 1 team in the polls for 2018 will have a hard time getting knocked off that perch given the work they’ve put in with the incoming crop of 2019 recruits.
2. Urban Meyer’s retirement makes way for a ‘New Day’ in Columbus
Urban Meyer’s retirement as head coach at Ohio State has been something discussed as far back as this summer and even before he made things official a few weeks ago, it’s clear that the up’s and down’s of him stepping down had an impact on the Buckeyes’ recruiting class.
While OSU has almost always finished the year in the top five or even top three of the team rankings, they found themselves slotted No. 12 overall by 247Sports. That’s not only lower than we’re used to seeing them but also behind rival Michigan and Penn State in the Big Ten alone.
Size was certainly a factor in all that given that the school only announced 15 players had signed their paperwork but it was still a stark contrast to what the scarlet and gray are used to. We’ll see if the February date adds any more names — and the program is one of the reported front-runners for UGA QB Justin Fields too — but there were a handful of high-profile deflections. While that’s to be expected given the coaching transition, we’ll see if the loss of QB Dwan Mathisand CB Jordan Battle will wind up hurting down the road.
That said, Day and his coaching staff, specifically DL coach Larry Johnson, did win a few battles on Wednesday. They held off several late charges for five-star WR Garrett Wilson, got a pledge from five-star DE Zach Harrison (Ohio’s top ranked player) and added DT Jaden McKenzie among others.
We’ll get Day’s full impact as a recruiter in the big chair with the class of 2020 but it was pretty much as expected with some positive news and some negative news out of Columbus with this year’s group given the transition away from Meyer.
3. A new West Coast order
The Pac-12 has rightfully taken plenty of lumps in the press and among the fan base for the way things have played out this season but it was interesting to see just how much things have changed on the recruiting trail out West too.
You can start with USC, whose rough season on the field carried over to the early signing period. The Trojans, mainstays in the top seven of the team rankings, had a less than stellar day as Clay Helton had to battle plenty of rumors about his job security and a deal with a staff overhaul. Those were no doubt big factors in the team’s 21st ranked class, which by late afternoon in Los Angeles shockingly had zero five-stars recruits in the fold and was behind Arkansas and Mississippi State among others.
USC did close with some key additions like Juco DL Nick Figueroa and DE Drake Jackson, plus they flipped safety Briton Allen from IMG Academy. Still, it wasn’t quite the normal kick we’ve seen in these situations and that left the door open to several of their Pac-12 rivals.
Namely, the two growing super powers in the Pacific Northwest.
You can start at Oregon, where Mario Cristobal was retained as head coach in part because of his terrific reputation as a recruiter. That has been evident with the Class of 2019 as the Ducks compiled a top five ranking that is headlined by five-star Kayvon Thibodeaux, a player some services have ranked as the best in the country. Add in a host of others from California like four-star Sean Dollars, DT Keyon Ware-Hudson and CB Mykael Wright and it’s pretty clear that Oregon has jumped to another level on the recruiting trail.
Not far behind though was rival Washington, which will have a top 15 group with tremendous upside when all is said and done. The Huskies are not in the thick of the race for five-stars quite like their peers with Chris Petersen in charge but the school signed an impressive roster on Wednesday, particularly along the offensive and defensive lines. UW won head-to-head battles with USC, Oregon and a host of other national powers for several kids and really opened up their pipelines to Hawaii and Northern California.
Stanford, Arizona State, Arizona and Cal also did quite well too.
That said, it was also interesting to see UCLA nowhere near the usual heights we’ve seen in the team rankings — checking in at No. 51 according to 247Sports. While that may lead to worry from some wearing powder blue, keep in mind that Chip Kelly is looking for a particular type of fit with his system and the result might not be a class full of four- and five-stars like we’ve typically seen in Westwood. The program did land star offensive tackle Sean Rhyan in a big recruiting battle and signed several key defensive players but it was simply a different vibe with the Bruins.
That’s no cause for concern just yet but it does reflect the fact that there appears to be a new pecking order in the Pac-12.
4. Texas Two-Step (and Boomer Sooner too)
The most interesting battle in the early signing period may not have been about a specific player but the body shots that some of the Southwest super powers were landing on the trail throughout. Namely we’re talking about old (and current) rivals Texas, Texas A&M and Oklahoma, who all finished in the top 10 of the team rankings.
You can start with Jimbo Fisher and the Aggies, who predictably made a huge push following the title-winning coach’s first full season in College Station. They kept two five-star prospects in the state at home in OL Kenyon Green and DT DeMarvin Leal and landed a number of others, including four of the Lone Star State’s top 10 and seven of the top 16 recruits. Fisher’s national cache also paid off as A&M earned pledges from nationally ranked players in Virginia, Georgia, Florida and Arizona too.
All that led to the Aggies earning the No. 3 spot in the team rankings on Wednesday, ahead of LSU and not too far off Georgia.
Not to be out-done, the Longhorns were back to their usual self as the Tom Herman era begins to transition into Year 3. Texas landed badly needed reinforcements like WR Jordan Whittingtonand OL Tyler Johnson plus went into Arizona, California and Georgia to sign four-star players. There’s a ton of skill position talent with this group already and UT might not be done either with a number of other players they’re still in the running for signing in February.
While it was no surprise to see those two schools do well, few had to be happier with their haul than Lincoln Riley was. Oklahoma signed the best QB in the country in Phoenix signal-caller Spencer Rattler and added two top 10 overall wide receivers from the Dallas area to boot. The Sooners really showed they are a national brand by beefing up their California pipeline even more and signed the top players in Arizona, Washington D.C. and Oklahoma with several other impact recruits littered throughout.
The Fisher-Herman-Riley trio appear locked in at their schools for the long-term and one shouldn’t be shocked that they’ll be battling it out for recruiting supremacy quite a bit going forward.
5. Notre Dame reloads
Fresh off another perfect season and their first appearance in the College Football Playoff, it’s no secret that Notre Dame would do well on the recruiting trail this year. The Irish put together a class ranked No. 13 overall by 247Sports and signed a full 20 players with a little room for more in February.
The reach was certainly impressive, including four-star OT Quinn Carroll from Minnesota, Pennsylvania’s top player in OL Andrew Kristofic and a host of guys from California, Virginia, Georgia and the Carolinas. All told, there were 15 four-stars signed and nearly every one of them fell into the top 300 nationally. The players in the trenches were certainly big given the names that the program is replacing next season but there’s some really impressive guys like tailback Kyren Williams out of St. Louis and Atlanta safety Kyle Hamilton that could make an impact as freshmen too.
As we’ve come to see under Brian Kelly, Notre Dame continues to hold their own with some of the best programs out there and things might be even better in South Bend given how the class of 2020 is shaping up too.
6. Dabo continues to separate from the ACC pack
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney continues to kill it in recruiting and put even more separation between his program and the rest of the ACC. The Tigers fell just short of another top five class after the early period but this still looks to be a foundational group of players that includes a pair of five-stars and 10 four-stars ticketed to Death Valley over the coming months.
Cornerback Andrew Booth, an old teammate of current QB Trevor Lawrence, is probably the headliner but Clemson has a number of guys who will be in the mix for playing time next fall. Wideout Frank Ladsonfigures to be the latest pass catcher to turn into a star at the school after coming up from South Florida and fellow receiver Joe Ngata might not be too far behind after making the cross-country trek from California. After hitting the trenches hard the last couple of years, the Tigers really found a diverse group of guys across a number of skill positions and Lawrence in particular has to be thrilled at some of the weapons he’ll have to work with going forward.
14 different states represented in Clemson football signing class released today, most since Danny Ford's last class in 1989 that also had 14.
One thing is very clear though: the gap between an elite program like Clemson and the rest of the ACC continues to grow. Florida State did wind up ranked No. 14 overall but didn’t quite have the number of blue chippers as you would expect and Miami was met with a rash of recruiting defections from their class. Not a single other program from the league other than FSU and CU cracked the top 25 team rankings either. It’s possible somebody like N.C. State can get there by February but it remains the Tigers and then everybody else in the ACC — same as it ever was.
7. New faces, new places
It was a relatively light coaching carousel so there were not a ton of major surprises as some of the new head coaches did their best to cobble together a class after a quick turnaround.
Perhaps the biggest impact of any of the new faces was an old one in UNC’s Mack Brown. The Tar Heels actually finished above Miami in the team rankings and inked a pair of four-star players as well. One of those top recruits was QB Sam Howell who Brown kept in-state and flipped from rival Florida State. Another top prospect from North Carolina is also staying home in WR Khafre Brown. While it remains to be seen if the game has passed Mack by, nobody is doubting his ability to recruit and that showed up on Wednesday.
Elsewhere, Les Miles did no wonders with Kansas’ small class (10 signees) but does have a number of junior college and local recruits that could come in and play early on. We’ll see if he can close strong in the second signing period but it’s clear there’s work to be done from both him and new K-State coach Chris Klieman.
8. Sophomore jumps
While the new guys struggled for the most part (as expected) the coaches about to enter their sophomore seasons with their school appeared to thrive for the most part. Jimbo Fisher led to a big jump for Texas A&M (17th to 3rd), as did Herm Edwards (37th to 30th), Mario Cristobal (13th to 5th) and Joe Moorhead (27th to 19th). Don’t discount the work Florida’s Dan Mullen and Tennessee’s Jeremy Pruitt did either in landing several blue chips this cycle too.
9. All-Name Team takes the cake
Matt Hinton always puts together a great list of some of the best names from each recruiting class and the 2019 group is once again stellar. There are a number of play-by-play folks who are rooting for many of these players to turn into stars in college just so they can excitedly scream their name.
In their 59-56 win over West Virginia last week, the Oklahoma defense gave up yards in chunks (700 of them, in fact), but made plays when they needed to be made, registering two defensive touchdowns to put the Sooners in Saturday’s Big 12 Championship.
Again on Saturday, Oklahoma got a defensive score when they needed one. This one wasn’t a touchdown but did the trick just the same, as Tre Brown sacked Sam Ehlinger in the end zone midway through the fourth quarter, turning what could have been a 34-30 Texas lead into a 32-27 OU lead and putting Kyler Murray and company back on the field.
Given a chance to salt the game, the Big 12 championship, a College Football Playoff berth and perhaps the Heisman Trophy away, Murray came through with a touchdown pass at the 2-minute mark to hand the Sooners a 39-27 win.
Murray once again dazzled, completing 25-of-34 passes for 379 yards and three touchdowns while adding another 39 rushing yards, making up for the 2-turnover performance that allowed Texas to earn a 48-45 win in October.
With the SEC and Big Ten championship games looming, Oklahoma (12-1) can now argue it has beaten every team it’s played on their march to their fourth straight Big 12 title and perhaps their third Playoff trip over that span.
But before Oklahoma could make its Playoff argument, the Sooners first had to emerge with another hard-fought win.
Texas opened the game by rolling 75 yards in nine plays — going 3-of-3 on third down for 64 yards, including Ehlinger’s 16-yard touchdown run. The Longhorns appeared to have OU stopped on its first possession when Caden Sterns snared a deflected interception in the end zone, but the play was erased by Kris Boyd‘s facemask penalty on Marquise Brown, his second such foul of the drive. Still, Texas kept Oklahoma out of the end zone when Gary Johnson stuffed Trey Sermon on a 3rd-and-goal run from the 1 for a loss of two yards.
After forcing a Longhorns punt, Oklahoma again marched — methodically, needing 13 plays over more than five minutes — into the Texas red zone but the defense again held when Boyd knocked the ball away from Brown’s grasp in the end zone on third down, forcing Austin Seibert‘s second short field goal.
Given a second chance to punish an OU field goal, this time Texas capitalized. Keyed by a 23-yard completion to Collin Johnsonon 4th-and-4, the ‘Horns again moved 75 yards in nine snaps, and again scored on an Ehlinger keeper, giving Texas a 14-6 lead at the 11:22 mark of the second quarter.
On its third possession of the game, Oklahoma was again held out of the end zone. Murray appeared to hit Brown for a 45-yard gain over the middle on 2nd-and-9, but review showed Texas cornerback Davante Davis jostled the ball loose before Brown could secure the catch. On third down, Davis nailed Brown on a screen pass short of the line to gain, forcing an Oklahoma punt, but the OU defense answered by forcing its second punt.
Thanks to two penalties, Oklahoma had its worst field position of the day, beginning its next drive at its own 13, but for the first time the Sooners’ offense looked like the typical OU offense, knifing the required 87 yards in six plays, two of them to CeeDee Lamb — a 46-yard gain on the first play of the drive, then a 28-yard score to pull OU within 14-13 with 5:01 left before halftime. Another key play on the drive was a missed false start on right tackle Cody Ford on a 4th-and-1 from the Texas 32, which ended in a 4-yard Sermon rush.
After another Texas punt, Oklahoma rolled 80 yards in five plays and just 41 seconds, taking its first lead on a 6-yard toss from Murray to Grant Calcaterrawith 18 seconds left in the first half.
Oklahoma received the ball to open the second half and picked up where it left off, moving 75 yards in eight plays to turn a 14-6 deficit into a 27-14 lead. Needing a score to stay in the game, Texas leaned on Collin Johnson, who caught passes for 25, 21 and, finally a 27-yard touchdown to end the OU run. Johnson set a Big 12 Championship record with 177 receiving yards on eight catches.
The Texas defense, which seemed lifeless in allowing three straight touchdown drives covering 242 yards in 19 plays, rallied by sacking Murray, stuffing Sermon behind the line and then forcing a Murray throw away to avoid another sack, giving the Longhorns’ offense the ball back with a chance to re-take the lead. Over an 11-play, 64-yard drive, Texas got the touchdown it needed, a 3rd-and-goal 5-yard strike to Lil'Jordan Humphrey, but the Longhorns did not take the lead because Cameron Dicker‘s PAT was blocked, leaving the score tied at 27-27 with 2:44 left in the third quarter.
Oklahoma moved into the Texas red zone to open the fourth quarter, but again the Longhorns stiffened, forcing a 31-yard Seibert field goal that bounced off the left up right and in.
On the ensuing drive, Texas converted a 3rd-and-10 when Parnell Motley interfered with Johnson but, on a 3rd-and-9, the Sooners got a stop when Tre Norwood got away with a clear pass interference on Humphrey.
Looking for a touchdown to put the game away, Oklahoma appeared in position to have it when Lamb broke free of Davis down the sideline, but Gary Johnson raced down the field to force the ball free from behind, and Jones hopped on the loose ball at the Texas 13.
Now needing to make a play of its own, the Oklahoma defense got one when Norwood screamed in touched to nail Ehlinger for a safety, stretching the OU lead to 32-27 and putting the Sooner offense back on the field with 8:27 remaining.
Given a chance to clinch the game, the best offense in college football came through with a perfect drive. On two separate third downs, Murray found high school teammate Lee Morris— playing on the same field the pair won three high school state championships — then hit Calcaterra on a 3rd-and-10 for an 18-yard touchdown drive, capping a 11-play, 65-yard drive that put the Sooners up 39-27 with exactly two minutes remaining.
Humphrey returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown, but the play was called back for a penalty; it was the ‘Horns 13th flag, totaling 128 yards. Ehlinger moved Texas to the red zone, but the last-gasp drive ended when Norwood picked him off at the OU 5. Battling a bum shoulder, the sophomore completed 23-of-36 passes for 349 yards with two touchdowns and an interception while rushing a team-high 15 times for 42 yards and two scores.