NCAA Football

Breaking Down How to Stop LSU RB Leonard Fournette

Of all the potential assignments in college football, none has proved harder this season than stopping LSU running back Leonard Fournette.

Only a true sophomore, Fournette has rushed for 864 yards in four games—a cool average of 216 yards that by far ranks No. 1 in the country. The closest player to Fournette, San Jose State senior Tyler Ervin, averages 160 yards per game, while the closest power conference player, Georgia sophomore Nick Chubb, averages 149.

Despite this, however, stopping Fournette is not impossible. It's next to impossible, but can be done with the right combination of scheme, personnel, discipline, execution and, frankly, dumb luck.

Here are three keys for slowing down the nation's best runner.


Hold and Wait For Backup

The key to stopping Fournette is limiting yards after contact. According to Steve Palazzolo of Pro Football Focus and ESPN Insider, the sophomore leads the country with an average of 4.9 yards after being hit.

The best way to stop Fournette's yards after contact is to tackle him, but that goes without saying. It's just a tall order for anybody, even an FBS linebacker, to meet Fournette in the hole or on the edge and bring him down on their own. Fournette is 6'1", 230 pounds and built like a heavyweight UFC fighter. Defenses can't rely on making one-on-one plays.

What they can hope for is gang tackling. They can hope defenders who do get caught on an island with Fournette will grapple him, slow his momentum and wait for reinforcements. Acknowledging that Fournette is the best player on the field, and therefore requires different treatment than other running backs, is the first step to containing him.

Here's a great example from Syracuse linebacker Marqez Hodge:

Hodge is 5'11", 221 pounds. He's standing in place while Fournette is running downhill. He knows there's no way to drive him back and plant him, to execute a proper form tackle, but he engages Fournette and holds firm until his teammates arrive.

Here's what happened when former Texas A&M safety Howard Matthews did not hold and wait for backup:

Bad idea.


Force Him Off His Line

Fournette is shifty for his size, but not an overall outlier in shiftiness.

He's a one-cut, downhill runner whose best work comes when he stays the course, explodes through the hole and rips through arm tackles in the secondary.

He's less successful when defenders knock him off his line in the backfield, forcing him to improvise with agile cuts and vision. Of course, that's true with any running back, but because Fournette is so good running in a straight line, the difference here is more pronounced.

He can still make plays out of nothing, as he proved on multiple runs against Mississippi State, but forcing Fournette off his line, especially by setting the edge on tosses and stretches, is the best way to keep him from getting downhill cleanly.

Here's an example of Syracuse doing a good job:

Fournette wants the edge, but defensive end Luke Arciniega gets a push on left tackle Jerald Hawkins. Slot receiver Malachi Dupre misses a seal block on the blitzing defender, so Fournette has to cut inside. He breaks a tackle and gains positive yards, but by setting the edge, Syrcause kept Fournette off his line and minimized his impact.

Here's an example of what happens when Fournette does keep his line (and also when tacklers try to cut his legs instead of wrapping up and waiting for teammates in the open field):

Also a bad idea.


Pitch a Clean Game

Notice how Syracuse was featured in both of the above "good examples?" That's because the Orange, by and large, played Fournette as well as they could have. They fought hard and executed their keys.

Or at least they did on most of their defensive snaps. Excluding his two longest runs, Fournette rushed 24 times for 134 yards in the Carrier Dome. Those are solid numbers, but almost any defense in the country would accept them.

The problem? Fournette's two longest runs went for 48 and 62 yards. The first came on a broken play off a pitch from quarterback Brandon Harris, and the second came on a mad dash through the middle.

And that's how Fournette tallied 244 rushing yards at Syracuse. The Orange held him below his batting average but allowed two big home runs. Against the Mike Trout of college football, you have to pitch a near-perfect game.

"All it takes is one guy out of his gap and another guy not fitting and replacing for a great football player like [Fournette] to make a big play and he did," Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer told reporters after the loss. "If you want to win these games, then you’ve got to survive the big play opportunities and we didn’t do that today."

So far, no team has.

But that doesn't mean no team can.

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College Football Assistants Making Strong Cases for Head Coaching Jobs

We just started October, but it’s never too early for the college football coaching carousel to start spinning.

Before the 2015 season even began, Illinois fired coach Tim Beckman following an external investigation regarding his treatment of players. On Thursday, Jeff Ermann of Inside Maryland Sports reported that Maryland coach Randy Edsall is expected to be fired soon, perhaps as early as next week, following the Terrapins’ visit to No. 1 Ohio State.

And that’s likely only the beginning. Last winter, high-profile programs like Florida and Michigan replaced their coaches.

Who will ride the carousel as 2015 flips to 2016? More than two programs, to be certain. Those programs will need new leaders, and looking at their coordinators is an excellent place to start a search (Athlon Sports' Steven Lassan wrote a great piece about coordinators on the rise for 2015).

Which coordinators have earned a look at a head coaching position? Let’s examine the field of coordinators who are making differences on the field early on this season and will be strong candidates when athletic directors start making moves later this fall. 

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Notre Dame Football: How Max Redfield Builds off Best Game with Irish

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Sprinkled between Max Redfield’s 14 tackles in Notre Dame football’s two-point loss to Clemson on Saturday was a mix of hard hits, finished plays and, of course, the safety’s customary trash talking.

“I’ll talk trash until the day I stop playing,” Redfield said this week. “I feel like it’s a necessary part of the game. I love it. And they can expect it.”

As exemplified by his jawing, Redfield played with emotion and passion against the Tigers in the heartbreaking loss. Irish head coach Brian Kelly called the performance Redfield’s best in a Notre Dame uniform.

“That’s the kind of football he’s capable of,” Kelly said of Redfield, a former 5-star recruit who made one start as a freshman in 2013 before logging 11 starts last season.

“He was just focused. He was playing possessed,” Irish fifth-year captain and defensive back Matthias Farley said. “He was all over the field. He made plays way down the field. He made plays in the backfield. He was really, really locked in. When the lights shine bright, Max plays really, really well.”

Redfield agreed he elevated his play and matched the stakes of the marquee matchup in Death Valley, his high point so far this season.

“I saw the Max Redfield that we all know,” junior cornerback Cole Luke said. “Certain people are different ways. The hype of the game could calm somebody down or it could actually bump them up like it did for Max.”

The athletic safety turned in an “outstanding camp,” Kelly said, but suffered a broken thumb in the first defensive series of the season opener against Texas. Redfield underwent surgery and started the next week against Virginia, playing with the massive cast still encrusted on his right hand. Against Georgia Tech’s triple-option, Redfield did not play.

“I felt like there was a noticeable difference between Virginia and UMass and then Clemson as well,” Redfield said of his now-sizeable right hand. “It’s mostly mental, just a little bit of pain, getting past it and having to do your job regardless of what’s on your hand or not.”

Redfield did say a hand injury isn’t too problematic, comparatively, for a safety. Farley, drawing on what former Irish safety Zeke Motta once told him, advised Redfield that the bone was already broken.

“They’ll just put some more screws and plates in it, so you can’t think about it,” Farley quipped.

Redfield played without hindrance against Clemson. He piled up four tackles, including a takedown of Tigers standout wideout Artavis Scott, on Clemson’s game-opening touchdown drive that ignited a highly flammable crowd.

“It was just the emotion and the type of game it was,” Redfield said. “Obviously we want to play consistently week in and week out, but you definitely play up to opponents who demand a little bit more attention or a little bit more aggression.”

Despite some inconsistencies in games during his Irish career, Redfield said he doesn’t think his practice performance and effort have wavered. So, asked what he takes from the Clemson game moving forward, Redfield pointed to the mental side.

“Just being aware of the mindset I had during that game and make sure I just continue that mindset throughout because obviously it helped me be successful being locked in play to play,” Redfield said. “I feel like because of who the competition was I tried to elevate my game and play up to the competition. Just understanding our play can’t waver based on our competition.

“It has to be at the highest level throughout the season, every game.”


Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting stats and information courtesy of, and all quotes obtained firsthand. Star ratings reflect 247Sports composite rankings.

Mike Monaco is the lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.

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Michigan Football: 5 Ways the Wolverines Must Improve in 2015

Despite a 4-1 beginning to the 2015 college football season, the Michigan Wolverines have five noticeable ways to improve.

Michigan could hardly ask the defense to perform any better after two consecutive shutouts. However, if the unit could finish the job at the quarterback more often, the Wolverines would make the opponent's task increasingly difficult on later downs.

On the other hand, the Michigan offense is the ugly stepsister of the team right now. Penalties, turnovers and slow starts could doom head coach Jim Harbaugh's squad during Big Ten play if not corrected.

The Wolverines have work to do, but the progress must arrive quickly because No. 13 Northwestern (Oct. 10) and No. 4 Michigan State (Oct. 17) loom on the schedule.

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Georgia Football: 5 Ways the Bulldogs Must Improve in 2015

The Bulldogs need a win on Saturday against Tennessee if they want to have any shot at winning the SEC title. However, after the 38-10 loss to Alabama last week, there might be some doubts about whether the Bulldogs will be able to pull it off.

The loss to Alabama was disappointing and embarrassing because the game was over as soon as the second quarter began. But it was also a good way to learn about what the Bulldogs need to improve on as they move forward into the rest of the SEC part of the 2015 schedule.

So here are five things the Bulldogs must improve on this season.


Passing Offense

The Bulldogs strength on offense has been the ground game led by Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. They average close to 245 rushing yards per game, and Chubb is second in the SEC in rushing yards and touchdowns.

However, the passing game has struggled at times. The Bulldogs rank ninth in the SEC in passing offense, averaging 208 yards per game. The reason for the lack of the air attack has been the play at quarterback.

Greyson Lambert has had his ups and downs this season. He looked great against South Carolina as he completed 96 percent of his passes and threw for three touchdowns. But he was the polar opposite in the Alabama game, going 10-of-24 for 146 yards and one interception.

The Bulldogs should never go away from the run game, but they need to find a way to throw the ball downfield more so they can be more balanced.


Special Teams

Special teams have been a weakness for Georgia over the years. And it was on full display against Alabama as the Bulldogs allowed a blocked punt for a score.

Combine that with the Bulldogs only making over 60 percent of their field goals and being ranked near the bottom in kickoff return coverage, and it has not been a great start for the Bulldogs special teams.

Blocked punt TD!! FitzMagic

— BamaVine (@BamaVine) October 3, 2015

The one good thing the Bulldogs have going for them on special teams is Isaiah McKenzie, who already has a punt return for a touchdown. But the Bulldogs won’t have McKenzie on Saturday due to a hamstring injury, and he has been ruled as doubtful, according to Seth Emerson of


Getting Another Receiver Involved

Malcolm Mitchell is having a great start to the 2015 season, catching 23 passes for 371 yards and one touchdown. However, there needs to be another receiver to take pressure off Mitchell as well as Lambert.

#UGA has a number of plans to get the ball to 5-Star wide receiver Terry Godwin

— (@UGASportscom) September 10, 2015

Mitchell is the only wide receiver on the roster that has caught a touchdown pass this season. The other players that have caught touchdown passes this season are Chubb, Michel and Jeb Blazevich. If there is one player that can be that next great receiver, it would be Terry Godwin, who has 10 catches for 106 yards. But if the Bulldogs want to be a real threat on offense, there needs to be another on the roster that becomes a playmaker this year.


Run Defense

Defensively, the Bulldogs have been solid this year as they rank fourth in the conference in total defense and fifth in the conference in scoring defense.

If there is one glaring weakness, it would have to be the run defense, as the Bulldogs are giving up 123 rushing yards per game.

I liked a @YouTube video Derrick Henry Long TD vs UGA

— Garrett (@AnimatedGamers1) October 4, 2015

One of the biggest reasons for the struggles at run defense is the way the defense is built. The Bulldogs rely on speed more than size, and when a team like Alabama runs at them like it did last week, that wears them down as the game progresses.

Alabama gashed the Bulldogs run defense with 189 yards rushing last week. The Crimson Tide ran at the Bulldogs consistently, which is why they were able to control the clock and come away with a win.


Quarterback Pressure

Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins have proven they are one of the two best linebackers in the game, averaging six sacks per season. And they are on their way to having strong 2015 seasons, as Jenkins has three sacks on the year while Floyd has two.

But the Bulldogs only have eight sacks this season, which ranks 10th in the conference. And another reason Alabama was able to beat Georgia last week was the fact the defensive front seven for Georgia did not lay a finger on Alabama quarterback Jacob Coker.

Going forward, the Bulldogs will need to find more ways to apply pressure on quarterbacks. They have to get Lorenzo Carter involved—he has yet to record a sack—and the defensive line needs to win more of its battles in the trenches.

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Watch High Schooler Perform Perfect Wrestling Move to Bring Down Receiver

Watch how Cordova (Alabama) High School cornerback Jaylan Clay delivers this crushing blow to an opposing receiver. Obviously, he will have no one come to his side of the field without being punished.

Watch the video and let us know what you think!

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Utah Is the National Championship Contender Nobody Saw Coming

Identities are usually forever in college football. It is nearly impossible to change them. And the sport's big boys are so desperate to keep others out of their club that they even legislate that reality—make all the rules so that they can have all the power, play for all the glory and keep all the money.         

Somehow, Utah slipped in the door to the club while no one was looking. That's the way the Utes would want it: unnoticed. They are ranked No. 5 and are working on their third undefeated season in 12 years, but until now they have managed to do it in secret, maybe popping up to beat an Alabama in a Sugar Bowl and then going back into hiding.

Shhh, don't tell anyone: They are one of the big boys now.

Did anyone notice that happening? They hope not.

Coach Kyle Whittingham still needs to use the underdog theme to motivate his team. I asked him about the lack of attention and if he uses it to his advantage.

"Absolutely," he said. "We've played with a chip on our shoulder for a lot of years. We'll continue to do so."

Utah is the little engine that still kind of likes being called the little engine. It's what the Utes are comfortable being. Less comfortable is being the site of ESPN's College GameDay this week. ESPN chose Cal-Utah over Miami-Florida State.

It's quite a trick to keep a chip on your shoulder when you're ranked No. 5 in the country, with seven No. 1 votes. When you blow out Oregon and push around Jim Harbaugh's Michigan, you can't keep hiding.

So does being exposed as big-time change the feel of things?

"I guess that could be a little different feel," Whittingham said. "But we've been through this before, in '04 and '08."

Well, not exactly. Yes, those were the two other undefeated seasons, but they had ceilings beneath a title game.

Given a fair shake in those years, would they have won a title?

"That'll be the debate with us forever," said Brian Johnson, the quarterback on that 2008 undefeated team that beat Alabama. "I'm sure everyone on our team felt we could stand up to anyone.

"That team was really, really talented. I thought we could have played with anyone in the country. A lot of those guys are still playing on Sundays."

Johnson is coaching on Saturdays. He's the quarterbacks coach at Mississippi State now.

Utah, meanwhile, was one of the last teams in the door to the big conferences for the 2011 season, jumping from the Mountain West to the Pac-12. Now, it is on the right side of the legislation and can play for a national title, not just be good enough to win one.

Johnson felt that 2008 team was that good, but it didn't get a shot. The problem was that Utah was playing from behind. It started the season unranked. Too many poll voters—and this isn't him talking—vote the traditional powers high up in the rankings, and then it takes a miracle to let an outsider move up.

"If you stacked our resume against other teams…" he started to say.

And then he stopped. To finish his thought: It wasn't that Utah wasn't the best team. It was that it was in the category of schools called a major college but not really allowed to compete with other major programs for the biggest prize.

"That's true," he said.

It's not true now, though Johnson—who was an assistant coach and then offensive coordinator after the Utes moved to the Pac-12—agreed with Whittingham that Utah has never stopped thinking of itself as the underdog.

"It didn't really change the program," he said. "I mean the way it is built. It was still all about hard work and outworking opponents. They're still recruiting the same kinds of kids who have that chip on your shoulder.

"I came out of high school in Texas, and I didn't really have a ton of offers. They gave me a chance."

See? Johnson still talks about his old team as if it's the little guy. It was the place that launched Urban Meyer's career, as he led Utah to its 2004 undefeated season. But at that point, Utah was seen as one of those schools where winning coaches could launch to bigger jobs.

Whittingham has been the head coach there for 11 years now. He was there when Johnson and the Utes beat Alabama 31-17 in the Sugar Bowl in 2009. Johnson was named MVP of the game.

Back then, Utah was publicly resentful of the system that was leaving it out. Now that it's in, it isn't changing. For four years, Utah never threatened in the Pac-12 South. Media who cover the conference picked the Utes to finish fifth out of six teams in the division this year.

For as long as Whittingham has been around, he still seems unknown. Like Utah. He played in the USFL, the CFL and was even a replacement player for the Rams in 1987. (That's the nice word for a "scab.") He learned under Meyer and, according to's Dennis Dodd, still talks with him every week.

Running back Devontae Booker provides the power, and quarterback Travis Wilson has finally figured out what he's doing. The thing about Utah is that the players seem to be in the right place all the time. Booker is another one of those mid-major types of finds that Utah lives on: He bounced around with bad grades, couldn't make it to a top team and then ended up at Utah, succeeding even in the classroom.

So Utah moves on toward a national title run as one of college football's great underdogs.

This is life as the little engine that could. Only now, it really could.


Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report.

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Bowl Predictions 2015: Projections for College Football Playoff

Surprise teams such as Utah, Florida, Northwestern and Michigan have shaken up the NCAA football rankings this year and will likely find themselves in respectable bowl games.

The No. 5 Utes have seven first-place votes in the latest Associated Press poll, though, and have a clearer path to the College Football Playoff. It's still approximately a month before the first CFP poll of the year is released, but Utah looks to be in prime position to get inside the Top Four by year's end.

In terms of which three other teams yours truly currently projects to join Utah, a lot of it depends on conference, strength of schedule and where marquee games are played.

Find out whom the Utes figure to take on as the prospective fourth playoff seed, along with the other predicted matchup in the second edition of the College Football Playoff.


Orange Bowl: No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 4 Utah

The way is paved for the Utes to claim the Pac-12 South title. They host California at home this weekend and also welcome UCLA in their penultimate regular-season game.

USC on the road is the only big hurdle for Utah to clear on the remainder of its slate. That comes on October 24. As Michigan continues to thrive, that season-opening win looks even better for the Utes and ought to compensate for the mere fringe Top 25 opponents left on the schedule.

Joel Klatt of Fox Sports referenced a key element to what's helped Utah rise among NCAA football's elite—and could serve as a problem to even its most formidable impending foes:

Speaking of soft schedules, no one has had a much easier path than the reigning national champions, yet Ohio State hasn't looked like the juggernaut that peaked at the perfect time last year. Returning loads of NFL-caliber talent, coach Urban Meyer's powerhouse has looked rather ordinary.

It's hard to blame such a talented team for getting at least a bit complacent. OSU defied the odds and expectations by winning it all last year and are now getting every opponent's best shot. The team has lacked energy and must not slip up before closing 2015 with Michigan State at home and bitter rival Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Ohio State has so much talent on offense that Meyer doesn't seem to know what to do with it. That's what led to the quarterback dilemma between Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett in the first place. Jones and OSU no longer have the chip on their shoulder like they did in 2014. Now they're being hunted.'s Dane Brugler alluded to one severe problem that's plagued the Buckeyes in the early going of 2015:

A lot of overthinking appears to be occurring in Columbus, particularly on Jones' end. By the time the playoffs roll around, provided the Buckeyes are still undefeated, they are bound to figure out how to jell. They're simply too stacked at every spot on the roster to not come together in time.

Defensive end Joey Bosa, linebacker Darron Lee and a strong secondary give Ohio State real teeth on defense. Utah's Travis Wilson doesn't throw the ball well enough deep down the field (6.84 yards per attempt) to divert the Buckeyes from selling out versus the run.

Speaking of which, Ezekiel Elliott is a legitimate challenger to Leonard Fournette as the best running back in the country. Elliott scored touchdowns on runs of 55, 65 and 75 yards to help the Buckeyes escape with a road win over Indiana.

The Utes concede 4.15 yards per carry to Ohio State's 3.04. That would be the difference in a compelling matchup where Utah would put up a strong fight as the underdog but wouldn't be able to overcome the Buckeyes' depth and determination to repeat as champions.

Prediction: Ohio State 31, Utah 20


Cotton Bowl: No. 2 Texas A&M vs. No. 3 TCU

The SEC West is a most competitive division, but Texas A&M seems to have all the goods to make it to the College Football Playoff ahead of teams like LSU, Alabama and Ole Miss.

Aggies defensive coordinator John Chavis has helped transform what's been a putrid defense into an outfit good enough to complement the offense. Pass-rushing extraordinaire Myles Garrett is the catalyst, leading the charge for his side that averages 3.8 sacks per contest—tied for fourth-most in the country.

Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman highlights the production from Garrett and Daeshon Hall already:

At the all-important QB position, Texas A&M—unlike Ohio State—has done an exemplary job handling its dilemma of having two quality signal-callers. Kyle Allen is the man under center for now, but true freshman Kyler Murray is advanced to the point that he's still pushing for playing time.

This is in spite of the fact that through five games, Allen has 13 TD tosses to only two picks. The sophomore learned on the field in his first year in College Station and is translating that experience well to make a considerable jump in year two.

"You've seen his play elevate in tough times and crucial situations," said play-caller Jake Spavital of Allen's progress, per's Sam Khan Jr. "In the fourth quarter and in overtime [against Arkansas] he was making such mature decisions that he probably wouldn't get to last year, but the experience that he's had got him in that situation."

Home-field advantage against Baylor in its regular-season closer will aid TCU's cause to make one of the CFP contests an all-Lone Star State affair. The Horned Frogs are led by a capable QB in his own right in Trevone Boykin, who's a definite Heisman candidate.

What makes the difference in this matchup and gives the Aggies the edge is Chavis. His immense experience during his lengthy tenure at LSU saw him shut down numerous dual-threat field generals, such as A&M's own Johnny Manziel. Chavis ought to figure something out to stymie Boykin and his top weapon in Josh Doctson.

Allen has a plethora of receiving options at his disposal, whereas Boykin relies chiefly on Doctson. With the likes of Garrett chasing him down and Chavis scheming to confine Boykin to the pocket, Texas A&M has all the tools to defeat TCU in a hypothetical intrastate postseason showdown.

Prediction: Texas A&M 38, TCU 28


Note: Stats courtesy of unless otherwise indicated.

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College Football Picks Week 6: Vegas Odds, Spread Predictions for Top 25 Games

While the reigning champions from Ohio State continue to sit atop the polls, no clear front-runner has truly emerged so far this season heading into Week 6. There are still plenty of contenders with their eye on one of those coveted playoff spots.

As a hectic Week 5, which saw the Buckeyes and Michigan State win by just a single score, illustrated conference play is when business really begins to pick up. So the teams with a legitimate chance to win the national title will rise in the coming weeks while the pretenders fall by the wayside.

Let's check out the full slate of Top 25 games on tap for Week 6 along with spread details and picks for each contest. That's followed by a preview for some of the weekend's top clashes.


Week 6 Spread Picks for Top 25 Games


Previewing Best Matchups

No. 13 Northwestern vs. No. 18 Michigan

There were plenty of overreactions when the Jim Harbaugh era at Michigan began with a road loss to Utah. Since then, however, that defeat looks far more acceptable considering the Utes' success and the Wolverines have rattled off four straight wins, including an impressive 31-0 triumph over BYU.

Now it's time for another serious test. Northwestern owns the nation's top scoring defense. Michigan is close behind in second. That points toward a classic brawl, and Wildcats defensive end Deonte Gibson is looking forward to it, per Brian Bennett of ESPN.

"It's old-school football," Gibson said. "We're going to line up and go, and it's either we're going to move you off the ball or you're going to stop it. It's a battle of wills."

Both teams are at their best offensively when running the ball, and it's unlikely either side is going to change their approach. The action at the line of scrimmage is going to feature plenty of intense, hard-fought battles for just a couple of yards.

That said, the biggest question surrounds the quarterbacks. Which starter, Michigan's Jake Rudock (5 TD, 6 INT) or Northwestern's Clayton Thorson (4 TD, 3 INT), will do a better job of moving the chains on third down without turning the ball over? The answer likely decides the game.


Miami (Fla.) vs. No. 12 Florida State

Yes, this game would have carried more intrigue if Miami didn't lose to Cincinnati last week. But that doesn't change the fact it's good to see meaningful games between the Hurricanes and Seminoles again. It's one of the most entertaining rivalries in sports when both sides are competitive.

The latest edition of the rivalry also marks the first real test for FSU. It's just outside the top 10 despite some mundane showings against the likes of Boston College and Wake Forest. Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post isn't expecting a technical masterpiece from either side this week, either:

Though the Seminoles offense has been trending in the right direction, the defense must rise to the occasion this week. It hasn't faced an offense with the number of playmakers Miami features, led by Joseph Yearby and Rashawn Scott.

If Florida State is a serious contender to make another championship run, this is a game it should win pretty handily. Miami isn't back on that level quite yet. But whether the Seminoles can shake off the numerous lingering concerns is still up for debate.


No. 23 Cal vs. No. 5 Utah

No team has shot up the rankings with more authority during the early weeks than Utah. It scored that aforementioned victory over Michigan to open the campaign, and then the Utes crushed Oregon to garner a lot more attention on a national level.

Now they have to deal with the added pressure of being among the playoff favorites. It may not seem like much on the surface, but it's a big deal for the program to get a visit from ESPN's College Gameday. Kevin McGuire of College Football Talk further highlighted their rise:

Like Utah, Cal remains undefeated, but it doesn't have a marquee win. The Golden Bears have three chances to change that coming up as they face UCLA and USC after Utah. So the outlook for their season will be a lot more clear by Halloween.

Once again, it's the defenses that will take center stage. Cal must get a better performance from a unit that has given up 96 points over the last three games. That's why Utah, which held Oregon to just 20 points, should hold the edge overall.


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ESPN College GameDay 2015: Location, TV Schedule and Week 6 Predictions

Utah made a major statement with its blowout victory over Oregon two weeks ago to remain undefeated. With that strong start comes increased expectations, as the Utes are now firmly in the playoff conversation. Facing off with the Cal Golden Bears will be another test of championship mettle.

It's clear people around the country are starting to take notice, too. Not only has Utah gained traction in the polls, but the school also gets to host ESPN College GameDay this week. ESPN PR confirmed the selection for the high-profile Pac-12 matchup:

Let's check out all of the important details for the pregame show. That's followed by a preview and prediction for the spotlight contest, which airs on ESPN at 10 p.m. ET Saturday.


ESPN College GameDay Details

Where: Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah

When: Saturday, Oct. 10, at 9 a.m. ET

Watch: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN


Game Preview

Utah didn't receive a ton of hype coming into the season, going unranked in both the AP and Amway Coaches preseason polls. An opening win over Michigan in Jim Harbaugh's debut brought the Utes back into the spotlight, and they've continued to build on that.

It's led to a rapid rise up the polls to the point where the Utes are getting votes for the top spot. George Schroeder of USA Today is one person impressed with their early resume:

Between those type of accolades and getting to host GameDay, the amount of pressure on the team's shoulders is increasing exponentially. The Utes have gone from playoff long shot to top contenders in only a month, and that can be difficult to handle.

Head coach Kyle Whittingham stated the added attention is a positive for the school but admitted it will test his players, as noted by the school's athletics site:

It is great for our program and university so we have to be able to handle it. If you want to be a good team, you have to handle the success that you've had and the attention that's being placed on your program. That's part of the deal. You have to be able to block out the noise and continue to stay focused. We have to continue to do the things that have gotten us here. If you get in the mindset where you're worried about the external things and end up paying attention to all of it, it’s going to end up being a distraction so you can't allow that.

On the flip side, Cal is also unbeaten at 5-0 but is still looking for a marquee win. Over the next three games, the Golden Bears will face Utah, UCLA and USC. That's a remarkably difficult stretch, but it also represents an opportunity to make a serious charge up the rankings.

A year ago, they were 4-1 at this stage before watching their season completely fall apart, finishing the campaign at 5-7. Head coach Sonny Dykes likes the direction of his team and is confident there won't be a repeat performance, per Ron Kroichick of the San Francisco Chronicle:

One of the biggest differences is just the depth. This time last year, we were starting to run out of players. The second half of the Arizona game (a 49-45 loss), guys started getting hurt.

Right now, we've stayed remarkably healthy and we have depth at some key positions - depth we didn't have last year. You could see last year we were going to have some issues in the secondary when people got hurt, and (opponents) exploited that down the stretch.

I think this year's team is a lot different. We're a different team defensively, and I think it's going to serve us well.

Both of these teams are capable of putting up eye-popping offensive numbers. Utah tallied 62 points in its destruction of Oregon, while Cal has scored at least 30 points in every game. Jared Goff has been particularly impressive for the Golden Bears, throwing 15 touchdowns, tied for third-best in the nation.

That's why this game rests on which defense is able to get more key stops in the second half. It's an area where Utah should hold the advantage.

The Utes held the high-flying Oregon offense to just 20 points, seven of which came via a Ducks touchdown during garbage time. The defensive effort was arguably more impressive than the 62 points they scored.

Cal has given up at least 24 points in three straight games, including 44 to an otherwise struggling Texas squad on the road. As a whole, it ranks 63rd in the nation in points per game allowed despite a favorable schedule to this point in the season.

Former Utah lineman and current KFAN radio host Kyle Gunther believes the overall edge is firmly in the Utes' favor despite the added pressure:

One other factor that should help the Utes' cause is the scheduling. It's often difficult to come back strong after an emotional win like the one they had over Oregon. But they had a bye week to celebrate and recover before turning their focus to Cal.

In the end, this should be a competitive game into the second half, but look for Utah to pull away in the fourth quarter to stay perfect.

Prediction: Utah 34, Cal 24


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ESPN College GameDay 2015: Location, TV Schedule and Week 6 Predictions

Utah made a major statement with its blowout victory over Oregon two weeks ago to remain undefeated. With that strong start comes increased expectations, as the Utes are now firmly in the playoff conversation...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Love Him or Hate Him, Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema Is Definitely One of a Kind

It doesn’t really matter the setting, time of year or whom he’s addressing—when Bret Bielema speaks as the University of Arkansas head football coach, everyone can count on a few things.

His words will be emotional and confrontational, draw attention and may not be exactly eloquent. He will say what’s on his mind and what the average fan is thinking, and he won’t really care about whose coaching feathers he could be ruffling.

If you don’t wear cardinal red, then Bielema doesn’t necessarily care if you don’t like the message. He won’t make excuses for the times he doesn’t use coachspeak, and he’ll never apologize for being the biggest fan of his own players.

That’s just the way he is, like during this week’s Southeastern Conference teleconference with reporters while fielding questions about Saturday’s game at No. 8 Alabama (7 p.m. ET/6 p.m. CT on ESPN).

"Nothing prepares you for this venue," Bielema said about Bryant-Denny Stadium. He called the 52-0 defeat there two years ago "probably one of the most embarrassing losses for me as a head coach, personally."

Regarding powerful Crimson Tide running back Derrick Henry, he said, "I don’t know how pretty his stride is and all that jazz, I just know he’s a really good player." Regarding Nick Saban, Bielema said, "We’re trying to put a little speed bump in 'The Process.'"

And then, like usual, Bielema made a statement that was a little off with a detail but otherwise dead on in his assessment: "They’re an NFL front. They have 12 to 13 guys in the interior D-line that play a lot of football. You have guys who are listed as third string who come in and make an unbelievable play."

Alabama does, in fact, have players listed as third string who are making big plays, but the number was a little off. It’s been rotating 10 defensive linemen but will creatively attack with its linebackers.

The point is that Bielema isn’t your normal football coach. Nor does he want to be.

He enjoys reggae music, embraces "flip-flop Fridays" and met his wife in a Las Vegas casino. Not only does Bielema frequently tweet @BretBielema, but during the offseason the couple posts recipes with step-by-step pictures.

"He’s his own guy, and he’s going to do it the way that works for him," said associate athletic director Kevin Trainor, who heads Razorbacks sports’ public relations department and gets the phone calls whenever Bielema says or does something out of the norm.

That’s pretty often. A perfect example was early in training camp, when reporters and players alike saw running back Alex Collins and wide receivers Jojo Robinson and Cornelius Floyd carrying a mattress around the practice field. It was their punishment for being seconds late to a team meeting.

Bielema wanted to make a point while embarrassing them in a way no one would forget. It was strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert who saw the mattress and said, "Ooh. I think it’s wet, too."

Stories like that make Bielema such a big hit with national media, along with his refreshing answers, even though they sometimes need to be double-checked.

“I love it from him because it shows that he’s human,” said Tom Murphy of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, who calls Bielema "The Malaprop King."

But while that didn’t necessarily play well in Wisconsin (one time Bielema accidentally referred to a player as self-defecating instead of self-deprecating), he was able to quickly connect with the Razorbacks fans. Unlike his predecessors, he is viewed as being one of them.

That didn’t really happen at his previous job. Although he was Barry Alvarez’s handpicked successor, Bielema sometimes came across at Wisconsin like he does while wearing a suit: uncomfortable. Yes, he had success, but he was following a local legend who continued to cast a large shadow.

Bielema inherited some of the assistants such as offensive coordinator Paul Chryst (now the Wisconsin head coach), but he grew frustrated at the lack of competitive salaries for them. He also publicly feuded with other coaches including former Minnesota coach Tim Brewster and current Ohio State coach Urban Meyer—somewhat like he has this fall with Texas Tech's Cliff Kingsbury.

Part of the Badgers fanbase would never accept him simply because he wasn’t Alvarez, who is still Wisconsin’s athletic director. Bielema lost too many close games, or the fans accused him of running up scores. Despite having three straight Rose Bowl appearances, he was 1-5 against Ohio State, 2-3 versus Penn State and 2-4 in bowl games.

The fans were even more unforgiving when he left, claiming Bielema turned his back on the program that gave him his big chance. The truth was he had probably taken it as far as he could—somewhat similar to what his mentor Hayden Fry had experienced at Iowa. At age 42, Bielema had a 68-24 record but felt it was time for a new challenge.

"When you get a little older you get a little wiser," Bielema said. "I love to compete, don’t get me wrong, I think I used to relish that moment probably a little bit longer than I needed to, and it was competitive nature thing all the time. I was relentless at that. That probably rubbed some people the wrong way. I’d kind of remind people of it all the time, we were kind of successful, maybe a little overconfident.

"Don’t confuse confidence with cockiness. I really believe that. I want our players to be confident, as well as me, but a lot of times people confuse that with cockiness and I can see how that came across at an earlier age. I’m very respectful and humble for what I’ve been given here."

Enter Arkansas, which after having scandalous Bobby Petrino and John L. Smith at the helm was a mess. In addition to eight players being arrested, others were failing out of school, and the NCAA’s 2013 Graduation Success Rate report had Arkansas dead last in the SEC.

Although Bielema had been to Arkansas only once before on a recruiting trip, he liked what he saw and the program’s potential. Fayetteville was in the middle of a dramatically growing area, and five different SEC teams had combined to win nine national titles since 1998, including an unprecedented seven straight (2006 to 2012).

Why not Arkansas?

"First and foremost the demographics," he said. "I was excited that kind of like at Wisco you’re the main program in the state. No disrespect to Arkansas State, I love what they accomplish and what they do, to be the one program in the state in the Power Five conferences and then not have any pro teams in the state, I knew it was a chance to kind of galvanize the state if you did things right, and get everyone behind you from east, west, north, central...

"That’s been really fun."

Moreover, the money was better, not just for him but the assistant coaches. In addition to Arkansas paying the $1 million contract buyout to Wisconsin, his salary went from $2.5 million to $3.2 million, and Bielema recently got a bump to $4 million this year ($4.25 from 2016 to 2020).

That was despite not having won an SEC road game yet (which he’s since rectified), but perhaps the best indication of the program’s progress was demonstrated by last year’s defense. Arkansas went from giving up an average of 25.8 points in September to just 10.3 in November.

After playing eventual SEC champion Alabama and then-No.1 Mississippi State both close, Arkansas became the first non-ranked team since 1942 to shut out Top 25 teams in consecutive weeks, defeating Ole Miss and LSU by a combined score of 47-0. For an encore, it limited Texas to 59 yards during a 31-7 bowl victory.

Winning that game against its former Southwest Conference rival was a big deal to the Arkansas fanbase, which Bielema understood and stoked. During a photo with Texas counterpart Charlie Strong, he appeared to give a “Horns Down” signal, which the coach said wasn’t intentional, but at SEC media days he described taking a knee in the Texas Bowl as both “fulfilling” and “borderline erotic.” 

That was definitely intentional, along with his attire. After Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen drew attention by sporting a new pair of Adidas Yeezy Boost shoes the day before, Bielema showed up wearing custom Air Force 1s and mentioned that being with Nike helped him in recruiting after being at Wisconsin (which was an Adidas school).

“When they first hit the sunlight I had to put on my sunglasses,” fifth-year quarterback Brandon Allen said. “They’re pretty out-there shoes.

"It’s just like him to wear those shoes and pull it off."

Similarly, Bielema, who was a marketing major at Iowa and has the Tiger Hawks logo tattooed on his left calf, sparked a rift with Auburn that was fueled by a statement during one of his numerous preseason speaking engagements: “I know you guys know I really hate Auburn.”

“He’s kind of the anti-Gus Malzahn,” Murphy’s veteran colleague Bob Holt said about their personalities. “He has a lot of bravado. I don’t think it’s false. You can see why he’s such a good recruiter.”

At the 2014 media days Bielema brought three seniors whom he thought “represent what Hog Football is all about” and topped that by putting the starting five offensive linemen on the cover of the 2015 media guide.

“I think it’s awesome, I really do,” Allen said about the cover that could have featured him or the high-profile running backs. “Playing offensive line is so tough. You play the dirtiest, the grittiest position and you get no recognition for it. So any little thing you can do, take them to dinner, but them in first class on our planes, put them on the cover of the media guide I think that’s huge. They deserve every bit of the recognition that they get.” 

It was anything but surprising. During last season’s 21-0 victory over UAB, he had 350-pound lineman Sebastian Tretola throw a short touchdown pass, and not only did Bielema say during his halftime interview “Come to Arkansas as a lineman, we'll make you famous,” but the school started a mock Heisman Trophy campaign for the guard. 

That’s the real key of Bielema’s success—the way he’s been able to relate to his players. Sometimes, it’s with humor or how his emotions show through, like when he started to tear up on senior day when players he didn’t recruit were being honored.

They’ve responded, and although Arkansas is off to another tumultuous start, having lost to Toledo, Texas Tech and Texas A&M (in another heartbreaking defeat), only to turn around and win at Tennessee, the coach continues to take the pressure off the players and keep Razorbacks football fun. 

“I feel like it was a blessing in disguise,” said senior running back Jonathan Williams, who was sidelined by foot injury during training camp, about the turmoil during his first years on campus. “Nothing against the former coaching staff, I liked them obviously because I committed to them, but having Coach Bielema the way he is, how personable he is, how much of a competitive coach he is, I see the program turning around.”


Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

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Steve Sarkisian Looking More Like Lane Kiffin 2.0 After Ominous Washington Loss

LOS ANGELES — Misery loves company, and on Thursday night at the Coliseum, there was plenty of the former, even if there was not much of the latter.

The few USC fans who even bothered to show up to witness a lifeless 17-12 loss to Washington didn’t break a sweat fretting about beating the rush to get onto the 110 Freeway after the game. Why would they? 

There are only a handful of people they can talk to about their frustrations with the Trojans in the car. At least hanging out in the stands, after seeing an ill-advised field goal doink off the upright in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter—a perfect metaphor for the night—would allow them to vent in unison.

“How embarrassing is that?” one cardinal and gold-clad fan shouted.

“This is pathetic,” another lamented.

“Four million-plus for this? What the…” and you can probably guess the line of expletives that followed from another USC fan, the confused little Trojans fans a row away be damned.

This is the state of Troy in 2015.

This is where the fanbase is after USC dropped its second consecutive home game in a season for the first time since 2001. That was Pete Carroll’s first season, and it’s looking increasingly likely that his two former assistants who have taken over as head coach since his return to the NFL—Lane Kiffin and now Steve Sarkisian—will fall flat once again in re-creating the Hollywood dynasty that once ruled the West Coast.

“At the end of the day, we didn’t play well enough, and we didn’t coach well enough. That’s the bottom line,” Sarkisian said after the game. “This one at the end of the day is on me. We didn’t coach well enough. We didn’t execute well enough. We didn’t manage the game well enough.”

Lane Kiffin 2.0 is turning out to be…well, Lane Kiffin 2.0. Who could have seen that coming? Everybody but USC athletic director Pat Haden it seems. It’s quite fitting that through their first 18 games, both Kiffin and Sarkisian hold the same record: 12-6. 

At least Kiffin won 10 games in his second season. Given their performance earlier this season against Stanford and on Thursday against Washington, that seems quite far-fetched for the Trojans this year despite what most consider to be the Pac-12’s best talent.

Sarkisian showed some promise in overhauling and turning around a moribund Washington program before his return to Troy, but he still drew plenty of ire from Huskies fans for his inability to turn the corner in Seattle.

Those same fans, making the trip down merely hoping to be competitive with one of the country’s youngest rosters, reveled in this one. Most of those who bleed purple thought they got an early Christmas present when Sarkisian’s departure allowed the program to finally lure Chris Petersen out of Boise State.

On Thursday, they were doubly sure of it.

“We really haven’t had one where we felt really, really good about, even last year,” Petersen remarked. “This one is one [the team] can feel good about.”

The Trojans were outplayed in the lackluster loss, but they were more acutely outcoached.

Players afterward noted they had a quality week-plus of practices coming off a bye and felt prepared for what they were going to see out of Washington. When the lights came on and the pressure started to mount, however, the answers on the sidelines were simply not there.

Sarkisian and offensive coordinator Clay Helton failed to stick with an effective running game despite the fact that quarterback Cody Kessler could barely get a pass off behind a patchwork offensive line. Starting tailback Tre Madden averaged nearly 7.1 yards per carry on his way to a 123-yard night.

Freshman Ronald Jones II looked to be the second coming of Reggie Bush on a 66-yard run that set up the team’s only touchdown, but he managed just seven other carries on the night.

As if that were not bad enough, Sarkisian elected to attempt a 46-yard field goal down five points with just over three minutes left in the game. As he held just one timeout, Washington only needed to pick up one first down in order to salt the game away.

It did just that and may have sealed Sarkisian’s fate for many in the USC fanbase at the same time.

“I hate to admit to confusion. I’m frustrated, that’s a better word, I’m frustrated because I believe in this team,” the head coach said. “When you have an opportunity to seize a moment and gain momentum…and when you don’t do that, it’s frustrating to me. That’s the puzzle I have to put together to make sure we can do that moving forward.”

How long will he have to do that, though?  

Haden hired Sarkisian in part because he was the anti-Kiffin. The Southern California native grew up around the program, is a good recruiter and, in sharp contrast to his predecessor, knows how to deal with the media in Los Angeles like the best of them. His issues in turning the corner with a program, many said, wouldn’t be an issue at USC with much more talent on the field.

Sarkisian may not be fired at the airport this season (as Kiffin was), but it looks increasingly like he’ll still meet the same fate as his good friend and former colleague. That the two coaches’ records are exactly the same through their first 18 games isn’t eerie but indicative. 

It has become increasingly clear that the hire of Sarkisian looks like another misstep for Haden, but one has to wonder if he learned his lesson of keeping a bad coach around too long the first time around.

The former Trojans quarterback and Rhodes scholar inherited Kiffin when he took over at Heritage Hall, after all, but still saw giving a second chance to his embattled head coach backfire after USC fell from preseason No. 1 to a lifeless 7-6 in 2012.

That end result was an infamous early-morning firing at LAX.

Haden has signed up for several more years as the Trojans athletic director, but even the USC alum won’t be able to afford much patience to see what Sarkisian can do with the program in the middle of another lost season for this year’s pick to win the Pac-12.

When asked afterward if he was coaching for his job the rest of this season, Sark was blunt.

“Not at all.”

It was one of the few assertive answers to emerge out of the locker room on Thursday night, but at this point, he is being quite wishful.

The state of Troy is plenty miserable at the moment.

At least Sarkisian and his staff may have some company at the end of the line.


You can follow Bryan Fischer on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

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Steve Sarkisian Looking More Like Lane Kiffin 2.0 After Ominous Washington Loss

LOS ANGELES — Misery loves company, and on Thursday night at the Coliseum, there was plenty of the former, even if there was not much of the latter...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Washington vs. USC: Game Grades, Analysis for Trojans

An offseason's worth of expectations, national rankings and conference championship predictions proved overwhelming for Southern California Thursday night at the Coliseum, as the 17th-ranked Trojans fell short against Pac-12 North foe Washington, 17-12. For more details, check out the NCAA box score here

After suffering a home upset to Stanford three weeks prior while ranked No. 6, USC slogged through its Thursday night prime-time matchup against the Huskies, eventually suffering its second loss of the season. Next up on the schedule, the Trojans will face a tough road test against No. 15 Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, as they attempt to save face for their early-season shortcomings. 

Pass Offense: Following a dismal performance in the first half, including two interceptions and no scores, USC starting quarterback Cody Kessler failed to create a rebound second half as he finished the day 16-of-29 for 156 yards passing, as well as minus-25 yards rushing. The pass protection wasn't much better, as the Washington defensive front consistently harassed Kessler throughout the matchup.

Rush Offense: The lone bright spot for the USC offense came in the form of the rush attack, as backs Tre Madden and Ronald Jones II combined on the day for 185 yards and one score behind 25 carries. Madden racked up 96 yards in the first half, while Jones II provided the sole spark for the Trojans in their attempted second-half comeback, earning 65 yards of his own and the touchdown. 

Pass Defense: As expected, Washington true freshman QB Jake Browning failed to create much offense for the Huskies in his second conference appearance. However, the USC defense, while holding Browning to just 137 yards on 16-of-32 passing with one interception, was unable to capitalize on all the young quarterback's miscues. 

Rush Defense: After a first half that included just 48 rushing yards for the Huskies, USC surrendered 87 yards and a score in the second, as the ground game paid dividends for Washington down the stretch. True freshman Myles Gaskin forced the USC defense into short third downs and took pressure off Browning when necessary. 

Special Teams: The first half was uneventful, with two short field goals easily drilled by Alex Wood. However, a fourth-quarter miss by Wood on a makeable 46-yarder served only to undercut the Trojans' comeback attempt. 

Coaching: In a game that constantly featured a pissed-off Steve Sarkisian, the Trojans committed multiple penalties that dug into their offensive bottom line. Further, expectation following a bye week usually includes a mentally ready squad, and the mistake-ridden USC team that took the field on Thursday night was anything but mentally prepared. And that's all on coaching. 

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Washington vs. USC: Game Grades, Analysis for Trojans

An offseason's worth of expectations, national rankings and conference championship predictions proved overwhelming for Southern California Thursday night at the Coliseum, as the 17th-ranked Trojans fell short against Pac-12 North foe Washington, 17-12.

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Washington vs. USC: Score, Highlights and Twitter Reaction

The No. 17 USC Trojans had nearly two weeks to prepare for Thursday night's Pac-12 showdown with the Washington Huskies, but the Trojans looked bewildered and out of sorts as they fell 17-12 at the Coliseum.

Turnovers plagued USC (3-2) all night, as three giveaways prevented the Trojans offense from establishing a rhythm against a stingy Washington (3-2) defense that entered the night having allowed just two touchdown passes.

Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler finished the night 16-of-29 for 156 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions, as Washington's defensive line provided pressure that kept the senior off-balance all night. USC entered the evening averaging a ninth-ranked 532 yards per game, but head coach Steve Sarkisian's squad couldn't match that lofty mark as hopes of revenge against his former program faded. 

Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman broke down Sarkisian's shortcomings since arriving in Los Angeles:

While USC outgained Washington 346-299, the Trojans converted a paltry one of 13 third downs.

However, USC's rushing attack did a commendable job of stabilizing the offense when it couldn't get anything going through the air. Running back Tre Madden toted the rock 17 times for 120 yards, including 96 yards on 11 carries in the first half. Ronald Jones II chipped in with 65 yards on eight carries and a touchdown that cut the deficit to 17-12.

Huskies freshman quarterback Jake Browning wasn't prolific, either, completing 16 of 32 passes for 137 yards and an interception. Head coach Chris Petersen's team leaned on the ground game all night as a result, and Myles Gaskin didn't disappoint. The freshman totaled 134 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. 

Although the Trojans were coming off a bye, they didn't appear to be locked in, as Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel observed:

USC came out flat on both sides of the ball, and that lethargy carried over to the second half. 

Kessler tossed two first-quarter interceptions, including an ill-advised pass on USC's first drive of the game. The errant throw led Bleacher Report's Bryan Fischer to compare Kessler to some other underwhelming Thursday night passers:

It also didn't help that USC's starting center, Max Tuerk, was knocked out of the game with a knee sprain, per Fischer.

On the other side of the ball, NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah noted USC's defense was giving Browning a ton of time to work with:

Athlon Sports' Josh Webb concurred:

Browning couldn't capitalize on ideal working conditions in the pocket early, though. The Huskies' first drive stalled and resulted in a missed field-goal attempt, and Browning couldn't help the team capitalize on a 17-play, 79-yard drive with seven points. Instead, Washington had to settle for a field goal deep in Trojans territory.

However, the Huskies finally broke through in the third quarter thanks to some trickery that resulted in a 27-yard touchdown pass by wide receiver Marvin Hall, per the Pac-12 Networks: 

Receiver Brayden Lenius proceeded to make one of the best catches of the season on the Huskies' ensuing drive, per the Pac-12 Networks:

Plays like those proved to be the difference for a Washington team that was marginally more efficient on the offensive side of the ball.

The Huskies aren't destined for greatness this year, but they showed some nice resolve following a 30-17 loss to California on Sept. 26. Upcoming dates against Oregon and Stanford will be better measuring sticks of Washington's standing in a competitive Pac-12, but Petersen has his program headed in the right direction.

The same can't necessarily be said for the Trojans, who have now lost two of their last three games and fall to 1-2 in conference play with Thursday night's loss. And with back-to-back-to-back showdowns against Notre Dame, Utah and California on deck, Thursday may have just been the beginning of what could be a tumultuous 2015 season.


Post-Game Reaction

According to the Los Angeles Times' Lindsey Thiry, Sarkisian was the only USC representative available to the media at the postgame press briefing: 

Once he hit the podium, Sarkisian refrained from placing the blame on Kessler, per InsideUSC:

And even though his seat is starting to warm up, Sarkisian doesn't believe his job is in jeopardy, per Thiry: 

In fact, Sarkisian remained adamant that his team will rebound despite daunting upcoming dates, according to InsideUSC:

UW Football's Elise Woodward passed along comments from Petersen, who assumed an optimistic tone following the upset:

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Washington vs. USC: Live Score and Highlights

USC 6, Washington 3 - Halftime

Stay tuned for breaking news, commentary and analysis throughout the matchup as the 17th-ranked Trojans battle Pac-12 Conference foe Washington during primetime Thursday night football on ESPN. 

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Washington vs. USC: Live Score and Highlights

USC 6, Washington 3 - Halftime Stay tuned for breaking news, commentary and analysis throughout the matchup as the 17th-ranked Trojans battle Pac-12 Conference foe Washington during primetime Thursday night football on ESPN...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Tyrie Cleveland Reveals Top 8: Which School Is Best Fit for 4-Star WR?

Eight lucky schools have made the cut in hopes of landing 4-star wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland.

Via his Twitter account, the nation’s No. 6 receiver and the No. 61 player overall in the 2016 cycle announced his top eight schools.

Arizona State, Arkansas, Florida, Houston, Oklahoma, Ole Miss, TCU and Texas A&M will battle it out in hopes of signing Cleveland in February.

He was committed to the Aggies for roughly six months before reopening his process back in April.

Which of his finalists presents him with the best option to make an impact early in his college career?

For starters, his list is largely ripe with schools who have lit up scoreboards this season. Six of his top eight schools feature offenses that currently rate among the nation’s top 25 total offenses.

Cleveland has the skill set to fit in nicely at any one of his finalists.

The three schools based outside of the Lone Star State that appear to have the most traction with Cleveland are Arizona State, Oklahoma and Ole Miss.

As Taylor Hamm of GigEm247 noted, he’s already taken official visits to check out the Sooners and the Sun Devils, and he intends to use an official visit to Oxford at some point.

The biggest attraction with the Sun Devils would be the opportunity to continue playing with his good friend, prep teammate and current 4-star quarterback Dillon Sterling-Cole—who is currently pledged to the Sun Devils.

All three of his in-state options feature programs that have prolific aerial attacks.

In TCU’s Josh Doctson, Texas A&M’s Christian Kirk and Houston’s Demarcus Ayers, all three programs have receivers who are among the nation’s top 25 most productive wideouts.

Heading to Fort Worth and potentially sliding into Doctson’s spot on the outside is a role that he could find appealing.

Of all of the staffs recruiting him, he may be closest to Texas A&M and head coach Kevin Sumlin.

“Every time I go out there, I feel comfortable, so there’s progress,” Cleveland told Hamm. “Every time I go there, I get a different vibe, and they’ve been doing a great job talking with me. Coach Sumlin has been talking to me a lot. We talked a few days ago on the phone, so it’s been great.”

He has been present for two of the Aggies' home games thus far.

Another plus for the Aggies in their quest to regain Cleveland’s commitment is the health of their quarterback situation.

With sophomore Kyle Allen, freshman Kyler Murray and a pledge from 2017 5-star passer Tate Martell, the Aggies appear to be set up for success at the game’s most critical position for years to come. 

While prospects who decommit from a program rarely end up signing with their original school of choice, the Aggies have plenty of positives trending in their direction with Cleveland.


Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand, all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports, and all states courtesy of

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