NCAA Football

Steve Spurrier, South Carolina Take Step Back to Relevance with Win over Miami

South Carolina's defense was the punch line to a depressing joke for the better part of the 2014 season, but it saved one of its best performances for last.

The Gamecocks defense had its best performance since the first 55 minutes of the loss to Missouri in a 24-21 win over Miami in the Duck Commander Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana, on Saturday afternoon. 

Was it sloppy? Yes. Was it well-played? Not really.

Was it a statement for head coach Steve Spurrier and his crew? Absolutely.

This is exactly the game Spurrier needed to see from his defense and his defensive coaching staff if South Carolina wants to get back to SEC East relevance.

Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward's much-maligned unit was all over Hurricanes quarterback Brad Kaaya, sacking him twice, picking him off once and generally making life miserable for the true freshman signal-caller on the sloppy Shreveport field.

More importantly, the impact players for South Carolina's defense were all youngsters. "Spur" Jordan Diggs and defensive lineman Gerald Dixon Jr. each sacked Kaaya. Linebacker Jonathan Walton picked him off, and Diggs, Dixon and half-brother Gerald Dixon were routinely involved in game-changing plays, including Miami running back Duke Johnson's critical fourth-quarter fumble that led to a Gamecocks touchdown, which put them up 24-14 at the time.

South Carolina needed this performance for some much-needed offseason confidence. Spurrier said as much to David Caraviello of the Charleston Post and Courier:

Miami came into this game tops in the ACC in yards per play (6.77), yet managed just 5.78 against a front seven that was explosive, disruptive and winning consistently at the point of attack.

On top of the good play up front, defensive coordinator Ward pressed the right buttons, which routinely resulted in defenders unblocked in the Hurricanes backfield.

It was the football equivalent to spotting Sasquatch, as Matt Connolly of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal noted:

When former Florida head coach Will Muschamp was a free agent, there was talk that typical performances from the 2014 season wouldn't be tolerated much longer. But the Gamecocks' performance on Saturday was far above typical.

It wasn't just the defense that made a statement. The South Carolina offense also stepped up—wide receiver Pharoh Cooper, in particular.

He hauled in nine passes for 170 yards and a touchdown, including this circus catch that set up South Carolina for the touchdown that put it up 24-14 in the fourth quarter.

As one of the best all-around players in college football, Cooper's 170-yard performance gave him 1,146 for the season—the second-most in a season in program history. 

There's more where that came from.

With quarterback Dylan Thompson and running back Mike Davis moving on, the 2015 Gamecocks will depend even more on Cooper if they want to jump back into the discussion for the SEC East.

Is the mountain South Carolina has to climb big? Yes.

But it's not like the SEC East is a terrifying gauntlet that is impossible to conquer.

The defense has momentum for the first time since the national anthem of the season opener. A star has been established in Cooper, and impact players are coming back.

After a brief stint of anonymity, there's at least a glimmer of hope for the 2015 season.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee

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Sun Bowl 2014: Game Grades, Analysis for Arizona State, Duke

The Arizona State Sun Devils hung on to narrowly defeat the Duke Blue Devils by a score of 36-31. True freshman Demario Richard tied a Sun Bowl record with four total touchdowns. The ASU youngster caught two touchdowns and ran for two more. 

It was a valiant effort by the Blue Devils. The two-man show on offense featured running back Shaq Powell and wide receiver Jamison Crowder. Powell accounted for more than 160 yards of total offense, and Crowder was by far the most dynamic player on the field Saturday afternoon. 

This piece will provide game grades for both teams, as well as analysis for each position unit. A full box score can be found here, courtesy of NCAA.com.

 

Arizona State Sun Devils Analysis

Passing Offense

Much of Taylor Kelly's success early came off play-action throws to Jaelen Strong on the perimeter. Once Duke started to press Strong close to the line of scrimmage, Kelly took a shot deep and hit Strong for a 49-yard gain. 

With ASU having productivity running the football, Kelly wasn't asked to drop back and sling the ball down the field a ton. With that said, he was efficient in his final game as ASU's quarterback. He finished 24-of-34 for 240 yards and two touchdowns. Both touchdown tosses came on short throws to Richard out of the backfield. 

 

Pass Defense

Credit ASU for defending against the pass well. The defensive backs pressed Duke's wide receivers at the line of scrimmage, and safeties Jordan Simone and Damarious Randall did particularly well in coverage down the field. 

In the second half, Crowder began to gain his footing. He was able to elude defenders in space and also made a big play down the field for 43 yards. Crowder did finish with more than 100 yards receiving, but the Sun Devils also held him without a receiving score. 

The interception in the end zone by Kweishi Brown with less than a minute remaining sealed the victory for ASU. 

 

Rushing Offense

Both Richard and D.J. Foster were able to gash the Blue Devils offense. The line in particular did a nice job of setting the tone up front by opening holes for the stable of ASU running backs. Foster led the team with 79 yards on only 11 carries. The unit also helped to spring Richard for two rushing touchdowns of his own. 

From a protection standpoint, the line did well in terms of giving Kelly time to throw the ball down the field. Rarely was he pressured by Duke's front seven. As a result, the ASU gunslinger completed passes at a high clip. 

 

Run Defense

The run defense had a solid effort. It wasn't able to attack Duke quarterback Anthony Boone much from a pressure standpoint, but it did a nice job of containing the big play. Duke's longest run only went for 14 yards, and ASU held the Blue Devils to a 3.8 yards-per-carry average. 

Truthfully, the biggest problem was Boone's ability to scramble for yardage. He picked up three first downs using his legs on both draws and broken plays.

 

Special Teams

Kicker Zane Gonzalez converted on all of his attempts. Despite this, the unit was abhorrent on the afternoon. Crowder's 68-yard punt return for a score gave Duke considerable momentum heading into halftime. 

The 30-yard throw on the fake punt was also a huge turning point for the Blue Devils. Duke ultimately went ahead late in the game after the conversion. 

Had it not been for Kalen Ballage's immense 96-yard return to set up the game-winning touchdown, ASU would have received an "F" in the special teams department. 

 

Coaching

Arizona State got outcoached in this game, plain and simple. 

From a defensive standpoint, the Sun Devils got burned multiple times on quarterback draws and runs by Boone. After the first two occurrences, there were questions as to why a spy wasn't inserted to account for the signal-caller.

Head coach Todd Graham also took responsibility for calling a punt block on the fake punt conversion by Duke punter Will Monday. 

 

Offensively, Mike Norvell called a strange game. The fourth-down call in the second half was bad, and it was perplexing as to why he went away from running the football. ASU is at its best when it runs the ball to set up the play-action pass game. The Sun Devils had success doing that. However, Norvell's play-calling was a bit choppy throughout the contest. 

Credit ASU for winning, but it was not by any means the cleanest game from the coaching staff.

 

Duke Blue Devils Analysis

Passing Offense

Boone struggled immensely in the early portion of the game. He missed open receivers, bounced throws and even had one slip out of his hands. Nerves definitely got the better of him in the first half. 

He settled down considerably in the second half. Boone started to connect with Crowder on both short and deep throws, and he also utilized Powell in the screen game effectively. Unfortunately for the signal-caller, an interception with less than a minute remaining in the end zone ended any hopes for the comeback win. 

Boone finished the game 15-of-31 for 193 yards and two touchdowns. 

Crowder was fantastic with his agility and pure, unadulterated speed. He led the team with 102 receiving yards on seven grabs. On the other side of the proverbial coin, Issac Blakeney had a rough afternoon. He did catch a touchdown pass (from Crowder) but also dropped what would have been a big play; in addition, he was stripped of the ball at the ASU 7-yard line. 

 

Pass Defense

ASU hit the Duke secondary for two big plays, which included the 49-yard pass to Strong and then a 28-yard pass to Foster out of the backfield. Beyond that, Duke did a nice job of keeping everything in front. 

Credit the Blue Devils for tackling well in space. The unit did a nice job of blowing up quick throws to the perimeter. Secondary members were able to get off blocks and not allow the Arizona State receivers to accrue yardage after the catch. 

 

Rushing Offense

Duke stood steadfast with its running game. It wasn't garnering a ton of success earlier in the contest, but the Blue Devils started to open up some holes in the second half. 

Powell was an absolute workhorse on the afternoon. The Las Vegas native had a career high in both rushing yards (117) and receiving yards (52). He picked up the tough yardage and got the Blue Devils in manageable situations. 

Most impressively, the offensive line kept Boone upright. He was sacked only once on the day, which is a considerable feat when taking into account the propensity in which ASU blitzes. 

 

Run Defense

The defensive front didn't generate much pressure on Kelly and the ASU offense. At times, the front seven was stymied by ASU's efforts up front. The likes of Foster and Richard did pick up chunks on the ground, and Kelly was also able to impact the game on zone-read situations running the football. 

As a whole, it wasn't a poor effort. The unit held ASU to 152 yards on 35 carries, which equates to a respectable 4.3 yards-per-carry average. 

 

Special Teams

Duke nearly received a perfect grade in this department. 

The individual effort on the punt return for a touchdown by Crowder was brilliant. Executing the fake punt pass from Monday to Johnell Barnes was also exceptional. 

However, the breakdown on coverage late in the fourth quarter on Ballage's 96-yard return led to the eventual game-winning touchdown for the Sun Devils. This one play prevented an "A-plus" for the Dukies. 

 

Coaching

Yes, Duke lost the game. Normally speaking, the winning coach would have an upper hand on the losing one. 

However, there needs to be some context when speaking about this game. Compared to ASU, Duke is undermanned from both a depth and talent standpoint. The Sun Devils were clearly the more physically talented football team. Down 20-3 in the second quarter, it would have been easy for Duke to fold up and get blown out (especially considering the bowl history of the program). 

However, the Blue Devils never quit. David Cutcliffe made great calls on offense with misdirection on throws, and he also dialed up the terrific fake punt call. The pass from Crowder to Blakeney was simply outstanding.

Defensively, the unit struggled early to keep up with the pace of ASU's offense. As the game progressed, it was able to adjust accordingly and did force ASU to settle for three field goals inside the red zone. 

Alas, Duke is still searching for its first bowl win since 1961.

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Miami vs. South Carolina: Score and Twitter Reaction for 2014 Independence Bowl

The South Carolina Gamecocks (7-6) finished off a tough season Saturday with a 24-21 win over the Miami Hurricanes (6-7) in the 2014 Duck Commander Independence Bowl at Independence Stadium in Shreveport, Louisiana.

South Carolina sophomore wideout Pharoh Cooper was the standout player in the game, reeling in nine catches for 170 yards and picking up another 12 on the ground.

Miami running back Duke Johnson also played well, carrying the ball 24 times for 132 yards in a losing effort.

The contest, which could've been called the Don't Finish Below .500 Bowl, did little to stoke the imagination of college football fans tuning in and filling the stands through three quarters, although the final frame had a few noteworthy twists.

Here is a look at the quarter-by-quarter score from the Independence Bowl: 

South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier said prior to the game that he understood if fans of both teams found the Independence Bowl tough to swallow after difficult seasons for both esteemed programs, per Susan Miller Degnan of the Miami Herald

It’s tough for both schools. We’ve been 11-2 the last three years. I don’t know if you knew that or not. But this year, we’re 6-6. Miami used to play for national championships. They’re 6-6. This is where life is. Fans, once you’ve been up there and your team is having sort of an average year, it’s hard to sell tickets.

Indeed, the start of the game probably had fans who stayed at home thankful they didn't make a financial investment in this contest.

The Gamecocks struggled to gain any traction on offense in the first quarter, punting once and having another drive end in a missed field goal by Elliott Fry. Miami put together two long drives to start out the game, but it managed to convert 23 plays and 134 yards of offense into just six points from the swinging boot of kicker Michael Badgley.

The second quarter would be all Gamecocks, however, as quarterback Dylan Thompson got into a fine rhythm against Miami's fierce pass defense. Thompson found Cooper wide open for the game's first real highlight, a 78-yard catch-and-run that gave South Carolina a 7-6 lead midway through the second quarter. 

ESPN College Football provided a look at the play: 

The State's Josh Kendall noted Cooper topped 1,000 yards receiving on the season on that play:

Brad Kaaya struggled mightily to keep the 'Canes moving in the second quarter and had UpstateToday.com's Robbie Tinsley questioning his credentials:

South Carolina would extend the lead to 14-6 on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Thompson to running back Mike Davis. SEC video director Justin King noted it was a beautiful throw and provided a look at the play:

Linebacker Jonathan Walton then picked off Kaaya on Miami's ensuing drive, setting up a short field for the Gamecocks. They cashed in with a 32-yard field goal from Fry.

The Gamecocks had to be feeling pretty good about the 11-point halftime lead, which could've been 14 had Fry not missed a 58-yard field goal just before time expired in the second quarter. The Spartanburg Herald-Journal's Matt Connolly noted Thompson had acquitted himself well against the 'Canes defense:

Miami and South Carolina traded punts to start off the third quarter, and it looked like the Hurricanes would have little chance of getting back into this contest without more efficient play from Kaaya. Johnson was putting in a workmanlike performance on the ground, but it hadn't been enough to put points on the board. ESPN Stats & Info noted the school record he tied by passing the century mark in this game:

However, the Hurricanes put together a huge drive late in the third quarter to cut the Gamecocks' lead to three. Miami dialed up the run game nine times on the 10-play touchdown drive.

The renewed commitment to the run worked, although it was a short pass from Kaaya that proved to be the key play on the drive. Malcolm Lewis took the ball and made a wicked spin move en route to a 48-yard gain that set up a short-yardage scoring plunge from Gus Edwards to make the score 17-12.

Miami made it a three-point game with a nifty two-point conversion on a pass from Kaaya to Lewis. 

With the start of the fourth quarter came the real intrigue in the game. The Miami defense got a huge stop on a 4th-and-1, but Badgley missed a 51-yard field goal on the ensuing possession.

Thompson, who was hugely reliant on Cooper's brilliance throughout the game, couldn't keep the Gamecocks' next drive alive, as Miami's Tyriq McCord came up with a huge sack on 3rd-and-15 to force a punt.

Disaster struck the Hurricanes, however, as Johnson would fumble on his own 29-yard line on the second play of the drive with just over five minutes left. South Carolina recovered and had a chance to essentially put the game away with great field position.

Cooper made a stunning 25-yard catch that set up a two-yard scoring run from Thompson and extended South Carolina's advantage to 24-14 with just four minutes left in the game. ESPN.com's Edward Aschoff found humor in the scoring play:

Kaaya finally came alive on the next drive and gave Miami a fighting chance. He completed five of six passes, including an 11-yard strike to Phillip Dorsett that cut the Gamecocks' lead back to three points.

There would be no last chance for Miami, however, as South Carolina would mix in runs from Thompson and Davis to run down the clock and hold on for the win.

Finishing with a losing record—the worst of head coach Al Golden's tenure—is a disappointing for a Miami program steeped in history. The team's level of talent is nowhere close to the squads of the 1990s and early 2000s. Kaaya's freshman status makes him a bright spot for the squad, but Golden will have plenty of work to do if his team is to work its way back to the top of the ACC.

South Carolina struggled to keep up in a deep SEC this season. The Gamecocks were ranked No. 9 by the Associated Press heading into the season and started off 3-1, but they eventually went 3-5 against conference opponents and were afterthoughts by early October.

Spurrier is an excellent head coach, but there is little margin for error in this conference with resurgent programs such as Ole Miss and Mississippi State to go along with the usual powerhouses like Alabama and Auburn.

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Holiday Bowl 2014: Live Score, Highlights for Nebraska vs. USC

Can Nebraska rally after the firing of head coach Bo Pelini, or will No. 24 USC cap its first season under Steve Sarkisian with a bowl victory?

We’ll find out tonight when the Cornhuskers (9-3) take on the Trojans (8-4) in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego.

Two of the country’s offensive stars will take center stage tonight. Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah ranks 12th nationally in rushing yards, and USC quarterback Cody Kessler ranks 10th in passing yards. Both are the main cog in their offenses and will be key in tonight’s matchup.

The game is set to kick off at 8:00 p.m. ET and will be televised nationally by ESPN.

We’ll be watching the matchup, providing live analysis as the action unfolds:

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Arizona State vs. Duke: Score and Twitter Reaction for 2014 Sun Bowl

In one of the most exciting bowl games of the season thus far, Arizona State held on for a 36-31 victory over Duke in the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas. 

The day before the game, Arizona State head coach Todd Graham talked about how special this 2014 team is, via Amrith Ramkumar of The Chronicle:

It is a very special football team to me. In 28 years, this is probably the best team I've ever coached from a character standpoint, from a work ethic standpoint. We haven't had any minimum standard issues. This group of [11] seniors have meant a lot to me and have helped us tremendously to be able to change the culture. I love these kids and I love this football team.

The Sun Devils rewarded Graham's praise with a win, though it was not without drama. 

Early on, this game looked like Arizona State was going to roll towards a victory. The Sun Devils were up 20-3 midway through the second quarter, but their shaky defense and special teams gave up two quick touchdowns before the half to keep Duke in the game. 

One of those Blue Devils scores was a 68-yard punt return touchdown from Jamison Crowder with less than two minutes to play in the first half, making it a 20-17 game. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Crowder's touchdown also set a new Duke record:

Doug Haller of AZCentral.com noted Graham had a discussion with his punter about the execution on that punt return:

That wasn't the last time special teams would come into play for Arizona State. There were three big plays on consecutive drives in the fourth quarter that seemed to put Duke in the driver's seat.

The first came courtesy of Blue Devils quarterback Anthony Boone, who took the snap and appeared as if he was going to run before dumping the ball off to Johnell Barnes for a 14-yard touchdown, via The Chronicle on Twitter:

On the next Arizona State drive, Graham went for it on a short fourth down that Duke stopped to regain possession at its own 40-yard line. 

On Duke's ensuing possession, head coach David Cutcliffe decided to get tricky. On a fourth down at the 50, the Blue Devils faked a punt with Will Monday completing a 30-yard pass to Barnes that had Duke's football Twitter account on edge:

Zac Ellis of Sports Illustrated proclaimed his admiration for Cutcliffe's gutsy call in that big spot:

Duke's final magic act came on another fourth down play from the Arizona State 12-yard line. Crowder took a handoff on a sweep, but stopped and threw a touchdown pass to Issac Blankley to give the Blue Devils a 31-30 lead with five minutes to play. 

As Bleacher Report's Dan Hope noted on Twitter, Duke was trying to end its bowl drought in a blaze of glory:

However, the good feelings wouldn't last. On the ensuing kickoff, Ballage atoned for the failed fourth-down opportunity with a 96-yard return to Duke's four-yard line to set up a Demario Richard touchdown. Arizona State missed a two-point conversion, so the lead was 36-31. 

Richard's touchdown was his fourth of the day (two rushing, two receiving), tying the Sun Bowl record, per Dr. Saturday of Yahoo Sports:

Duke did drive down the field, getting to Arizona State's 14-yard line, but Kweishi Brown intercepted an Anthony Boone pass in the end zone with 45 seconds left to seal the victory. 

For Boone, the bowl-game heartbreak will unfortunately overshadow what has been a terrific career. He threw two picks in the fourth quarter against Texas A&M last year in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl to help ignite the Aggies' comeback. 

Even though the Blue Devils are still searching for their first bowl win since 1960, this does mark the first time in school history they've played in three consecutive postseason games. 

In his final college game, Arizona State wideout Jaelen Strong went out as you would expect. The junior had 103 yards on seven receptions, including a 49-yarder to set up a field goal in the second quarter. 

According to Haller, Strong ends his Arizona State career with at least 100 receiving yards in nearly half of his games played:

The win sends Strong into the NFL on a high note and provides history for Arizona State. This marks the first time since 1973 that the Sun Devils have won at least 10 games in consecutive seasons. Graham won his second bowl game with the program and he'll get more recruiting momentum heading into the offseason. 

Duke's still got work to do before becoming a consistent presence in the Top 25 rankings, but Cutcliffe has done a masterful job with this program in seven years. The Blue Devils' 19 wins since 2013 are the most in a two-year stretch for the school.

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Virginia Tech Must Make More Exciting Offense a Part of Beamer Ball in 2015

Maybe it was the bowl atmosphere, or the defensively challenged opponent, or the rare change in sideline coaching makeup, or some combination of all three. Whatever it was, Virginia Tech played Saturday's Military Bowl with a flair that we haven't seen all season, maybe in a couple of years.

And we liked it. And we need to see more of it, especially if Beamer Ball is going to evolve into a modern college football team that can continue to compete.

As Beamer spent the final game of his 28th season at the helm of the Hokies in the press box at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium—the result of the 68-year-old still recuperating from throat surgery earlier this month—the on-field coaching duties were handled by his son, Shane.

And Virginia Tech responded to this change from the outset, showing a fire in its belly that was almost non-existent throughout a season in which the Hokies are set to finish in the bottom half of offense in FBS for the third consecutive year.

Tech only managed 334 yards in the 33-17 win over Cincinnati, below its paltry season average of 367.9 yards per game coming in, but there was a sense before each play of anxious excitement about what would get called by Shane Beamer in conjunction with offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler.

Loeffler gave the go-ahead for a halfback pass from Isaiah Ford to quarterback Michael Brewer late in the first quarter. It resulted in a 30-yard gain, getting Virginia Tech down to the two-yard line, and set up J.C. Coleman's one-yard touchdown run three plays later.

Yes, it took the Hokies three plays to get two yards against a Cincinnati defense that came in ranked 103rd in the country in total defense, basically running the same belly play three times in a row after a momentum-boosting trick play.

It was the kind of play-calling pattern Tech fans have come to expect from Loeffler in his two seasons as offensive coordinator. Just when you think things are moving in the right direction, the Hokies take a few steps back.

Injuries and quarterback accuracy issues haven't helped this season, but Virginia Tech's players also haven't been consistently put in a good position to make big plays on offense. That's not just on Loeffler, but also both Beamers, Frank in particular.

Tech has never been a flashy team on offense—and with Bud Foster running a perennially stout defense and Beamer always having one of the nation's best special teams game plans, it doesn't need to be—but being a unit that random people in the bleachers can predict the plays of won't cut it in 2015.

The Hokies just completed a 22nd-straight winning season in spite of its offense, not because of it, but that's not a formula for future success.

It's how they shocked Ohio State in Columbus and knocked Duke out of the ACC Coastal Division title, yet also why they lost four times at home and also in double overtime at listless Wake Forest, in arguably the ugliest college football game of the season.

With a defense that's set to finish in the top 20 in yards allowed for the fourth year in a row, only minimal offensive input was needed in 2014, and that's about all it could muster.

The Military Bowl win was textbook old-school Beamer Ball, with Tech scoring a defensive touchdown and forcing three turnovers while Joey Slye made all four field-goal attempts, and the return game produced a 37-yard punt return and a 46-yard kickoff return.

Those are areas that need to remain strong, but cannot be the only parts that work, not when Tech isn't automatically getting the top local recruits like in the past. Tech has commitments from only five of the top 20 players in Virginia, according to 247Sports, but its top in-state defensive pledge is three-star defensive end Trevon Hill.

The state's best defensive prospects are headed to Florida State, Oklahoma, Clemson, Penn State and rival Virginia, led by No. 1 overall recruit Josh Sweat.

Instead, Tech needs to have more players like freshman Greg Stroman, a cornerback who ran the final 12 yards of a fumble return touchdown but also had a reception, two rushes and had a big punt return.

The Hokies have plenty of offensive pieces to work with, even more if injured running backs are able to return healthy. Freshmen Shai McKenzie and Marshawn Williams both tore knee ligaments, while sophomore Trey Edmunds and Jerome Wright also missed time. Sophomore Sam Rogers, the fullback, fractured his elbow in Saturday's game, but junior Coleman continued his late-season push by going for 157 yards on 25 carries.

Brewer—who only threw for 94 yards with a touchdown and an interception on 14-of-24 passing—will be a senior in 2015, and his top three receivers (Ford, Cam Phillips and tight end Bucky Hodges) are all freshmen. That means next year, the Hokies would have a veteran quarterback working with a youthful but experienced group of skill players, all wanted to make a major improvement from this season.

It's a perfect recipe for excitement and potentially explosive offense. It's just up to the Hokies' offensive staff to make that possible.

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer Dances in Locker Room After Military Bowl Win

The Virginia Tech Hokies got a 33-17 win over the Cincinnati Bearcats in the Military Bowl on Saturday, and head coach Frank Beamer was pumped up after the game.

While celebrating the win in the locker room, the 68-year-old head coach started to get down with all of his players huddled around him. The dance moves were a bit questionable, but Beamer gets a pass since his team played so well.

[Vine, h/t SB Nation]

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Military Bowl 2014: Cincinnati vs. Virginia Tech Game Grades and Analysis

The Virginia Tech Hokies defeated the Cincinnati Bearcats, 33-17, in the Military Bowl on Saturday. It's Tech's second bowl victory over Cincinnati in the last six years, as Tech beat Cincinnati in the 2008-09 Orange Bowl. 

The Hokies relied on a strong performance by their special teams, defense and running game. Tech forced three turnovers, one of which was returned for a touchdown. Freshman kicker Joey Slye hit all four field-goal attempts, including attempts from 45 and 49 yards.

Junior running back J.C. Coleman led Tech's rushing attack with 157 yards on 25 carries, his fourth straight game of at least 90 yards or more. 

Head coach Frank Beamer watched this one from the press box, while son Shane coached the team from the sideline. It was only the second time in Beamer's 28 years as head coach of the Hokies where he's been forced to coach from the box. 

Here are the grades and analysis from both Virginia Tech and Cincinnati in the Hokies' Military Bowl victory.

 

Cincinnati Game Grades Analysis:

Pass Offense: Gunner Kiel was terrific, even with two interceptions. His absence changed things in the second half. Michael Colosimo gave them a spark late, but it wasn't enough. 

Run Offense: Colosimo led the team in rushing, mainly because the score forced Cincy to pass the ball, and Tech's defenders were dropped deep, leaving open running lanes for Cincy's passer in the second half. 

Pass Defense: Tech passed for just 124 yards. The Bearcats were strong in coverage and pressured Michael Brewer the entire game.

Run Defense: Cincinnati allowed 200 yards rushing to a team ranked No. 91 in rushing entering the game. That's unacceptable, especially with Tech being one-dimensional.

Special Teams: The Bearcats missed an early field goal and gave up a big return at the end of the half that led to points for the Hokies. 

Coaching: Tommy Tuberville inexplicably brought Colosimo in on obvious passing situations in the second half. He would use Shaq Washington or Mike Boone as the Wildcat QB. It led to two wasted possessions as Colosimo proved he could throw the ball. 

 

Virginia Tech Game Grades Analysis:

Pass Offense: Brewer wasn't great. However, he played with toughness and made a couple of very good throws under pressure. His first-half interception cost the Hokies points.

Run Offense: JC Coleman was terrific. He had several longer runs and also proved he could pound it between the tackles for tough yards. 

Pass Defense: The Hokies gave up several big plays in the passing game, especially in the first half. The Hokies did record two interceptions and forced a Kiel fumble that led to a touchdown. 

Run Defense: The numbers indicate Tech gave up 160 yards on the ground. That's deceiving. Colosimo ran for 54 yards in the fourth quarter with Tech playing with six defensive backs. Cincy struggled to run the ball when the game was close. 

Special Teams: Beamerball returned, it appeared, on Saturday. Slye was 4-of-4 on field goals, and Der'Woun Greene gave the return game a lift. Special teams was responsible for the majority of VT's points. 

Coaching: Frank Beamer will get the win on his coaching record. However, his son, Shane, did an outstanding job preparing the Hokies. Tech looked strong in all phases, specifically on special teams, in the win over Cincinnati. 

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Cincinnati vs. Virginia Tech: Score and Twitter Reaction for 2014 Military Bowl

Virginia Tech ended an up-and-down 2014 season on a high note Saturday, as the Hokies defeated the Cincinnati Bearcats 33-17 in the Military Bowl at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland.

The game was tightly contested throughout the first half, but Cincinnati struggled to keep up in the second, especially after star sophomore quarterback Gunner Kiel left with an injury in the third quarter.

One can only assume that Virginia Tech had a bit of extra motivation entering the game, as head coach Frank Beamer recovered from throat surgery in time to coach from the press box, according to Nathan Warters of The Free Lance-Star:

His son, Shane Beamer, essentially acted as the head coach on the sidelines, but junior defensive tackle Corey Marshall made it clear before the game that Frank Beamer had prepared the team to succeed even without being on the field, per Tom Schad of The Washington Times:

"[Coach Beamer's] left a good imprint on this football team," Marshall said. "We know how to conduct ourselves even if he's not steering the ship, until he gets back right. … We'll go out here and take care of business for him."

Marshall proved prophetic, as the Hokies played hard and were especially strong in the game's latter stages.

Cincinnati was able to move the ball quite smoothly throughout the first half due to the play of Kiel. Unfortunately for the Bearcats, though, they struggled to finish their drives.

After kicker Andrew Gantz missed a 51-yard field goal on Cincinnati's opening possession, its next one ended with Kiel throwing an interception in the end zone. He was picked off by sophomore cornerback Kendall Fuller.

Fuller impressively went up and wrestled the ball away from the Cincinnati receiver in midair. Hokies Journal speculated that he may have tricked Kiel into throwing in his direction:

The Hokies were unable to capitalize on that turnover, however, as junior quarterback Michael Brewer threw an interception of his own just three plays later.

According to Jacob Emert of TechSideline.com, Brewer was totally to blame for the pick, as he made things simple for sophomore safety Zach Edwards:

That would prove to be a costly miscue, as the Bearcats finally managed to cash in on the ensuing drive. Kiel completed three passes of 20 or more yards, including a 31-yard scoring strike to junior wide receiver Chris Moore, to put Cincinnati on top 7-0.

Per Bearcats Football on Twitter, that touchdown was Kiel's 31st through the air in 2014, which tied a school record:

That lead was short-lived, though. It took Virginia Tech less than two minutes to answer with a touchdown of its own. A roughing the passer call helped the Hokies get into Cincinnati territory, while a bit of trickery set up the eventual score.

Freshman wide receiver Isaiah Ford took a reverse, only to stop and throw a beautiful pass back to the quarterback for 30 yards. According to Warters, it was heralded as a spectacular toss on the telecast:

Junior running back J.C. Coleman ground his way to paydirt from a yard out just three plays later to make it 7-7.

After a pair of subsequent Cincinnati drives stalled, Kiel was intercepted for a second time in the closing seconds of the first quarter. This time, it was sophomore cornerback Chuck Clark who made an athletic, one-handed pick.

Per Mitch Carr of 8News WRIC, Clark may have saved a big play in the other direction with his circus catch:

The Hokies took advantage of field position in Cincinnati territory, and freshman kicker Joey Slye hit a season-long 45-yard field goal to put the Hokies back in control 10-7.

After getting the ball back with just under seven minutes remaining in the half, Kiel orchestrated another strong drive for the Bearcats. Cincinnati ate up six minutes and 23 seconds, and although it couldn't find the end zone, Gantz tied the game back up with a 25-yard field goal.

Most probably assumed that the score would be even at halftime, but sophomore running back Der'Woun Greene had other ideas for the Hokies when he returned the kickoff 46 yards to midfield. 

A 17-yard pass from Brewer to Ford put Virginia Tech in field-goal range, and it once again put points on the board, as Slye bettered his previous career long with a 49-yard make at the gun.

Virginia Tech took a 13-10 lead into the locker room despite the fact that Cincinnati dominated the half statistically, according to Mike Barber of The Richmond Times-Dispatch:

The Hokies clearly picked up some momentum from that late score, and they carried it over to the second half. Their first drive started with six straight runs, which got them all the way down to the Cincinnati 16.

Virginia Tech eventually found the end zone when Brewer tossed a one-yard touchdown pass to junior tight end Ryan Malleck, which made the score 20-10.

There was definite pressure on the Bearcats to make something happen after that score. And the Hokies continued to pour it on.

Kiel was sacked by junior linebacker Deon Clarke on the next drive, which caused a fumble. Big defensive tackle Nigel Williams scooped it up before fumbling in his own right, but Hokies cornerback Greg Stroman finished the play by recovering it and scoring a touchdown.

After Virginia Tech went up 27-10 on that play, injury was added to insult. Kiel was shaken up and had to be taken back to the locker room, per ESPN's Tom Gelehrter:

According to the ESPN telecast, Kiel suffered a head injury on the play, and he did not ultimately return.

With backup Munchie Legaux also injured, the Bearcats turned to No. 2 receiver and former high school quarterback Shaq Washington under center.

He surprisingly came out firing with a 31-yard completion to junior wide receiver Mekale McKay, but Cincinnati couldn't score on the drive.

After Slye added yet another field goal to put Virginia Tech up 30-10 with just over 13 minutes remaining in the game, the Bearcats were forced to abandon the Wildcat concept and turn to senior third-string quarterback Michael Colosimo.

As pointed out by Norm Wood of The Daily Press, Colosimo had very little game experience prior to Saturday's game, despite being a senior:

There wasn't much expected of the walk-on quarterback and former baseball player, but Colosimo made some plays to get Cincinnati back in the game.

With an excellent 43-yard throw to Moore for the first passing touchdown of his career, Colosimo pulled the Bearcats to within 13 points of the Hokies with less than 11 minutes left in the game.

Cincinnati attempted a somewhat surprising onside kick immediately after, but it didn't work, as the ball went out of bounds.

That allowed the Hokies to add another field goal with just under nine minutes left, which meant the Bearcats faced a 16-point deficit.

Cincinnati had a chance to make things interesting, but it couldn't make anything happen, and Virginia Tech went on to win 33-17.

Saturday marked Virginia Tech's 22nd consecutive season with a bowl appearance, and while the Hokies went just 6-6 during the regular season, the Military Bowl win helped them improve to 7-6.

That means that Virginia Tech also now has 22 straight winning seasons, all of which have come under the watch of Beamer. This may not have been an ideal year for the Hokies, but a Military Bowl win and an upset of Ohio State earlier in the season are great building blocks.

The Bearcats had a chance to win 10 games for the third time in four years, but Tommy Tuberville's team fell just short of that goal.

Losing Kiel certainly hurt its chances Saturday, but Cincinnati's future is bright with such a fine young signal-caller in place.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

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Bowl Picks 2014-15: Predictions for Every Remaining Postseason Game

The 2014-15 college football bowl season has already featured several exciting matchups, but the best is very likely yet to come.

In addition to the College Football Playoff games and other bowls featuring highly ranked teams, there are plenty of other less-heralded bowls that have the potential to be extremely entertaining as well.

While not every bowl has a ton riding on it, there is no question that every team involved wants to end the season on a high note.

Here is a full slate of picks for every remaining bowl game, along with a closer look at some of the most intriguing, under-the-radar bowls.

 

Picks for Under-the-Radar Bowls

AutoZone Liberty Bowl: West Virginia vs. Texas A&M

The AutoZone Liberty Bowl will feature two 7-5 teams that looked elite at times during the 2014 regular season. Both West Virginia and Texas A&M scored some high-profile wins, and it will be interesting to see how they fare in a head-to-head situation.

The Mountaineers were the only team to beat Baylor, thus costing it a CFP spot. WVU also lost to Alabama by just 10 points and fell to TCU by one, so there is no question that it can hang with the big boys.

Although the Aggies faded after a 5-0 start, they managed to end Auburn's CFP hopes with an upset victory.

Most would have figured early in the season that this game would feature a quarterback battle between Clint Trickett and Kenny Hill. While Hill was replaced by freshman Kyle Allen several games ago, Trickett has been injured.

In fact, the senior intends to retire from football due to concussion issues, according to SportsCenter:

Stepping away has to be a difficult decision for Trickett, but he has a positive outlook regarding his final season of football, per ESPN.com's Jake Trotter.

"I would love to be out there and finish the season with my guys [for] my last game," Trickett said. "It's unfortunate how it ended, but I had a great senior year."

While the sample size is small, sophomore signal-caller Skyler Howard has been great in place of Trickett. He threw for 285 yards and three touchdowns in a win over Iowa State, so he should be ready to step up.

He also has a pair of elite wide receivers to throw to in the form of Kevin White and Mario Alford, so there is plenty to like about the Mountaineers' chances in this game.

The Aggies can be potent in their own right, but West Virginia will simply have a little too much offensive punch.

 

Foster Farms Bowl: Maryland vs. Stanford

The 2014 season was likely a disappointing one for Stanford, as it has grown accustomed to being in contention for national titles, but it has a chance to end on a high note by beating Maryland in the Foster Farms Bowl.

On the heels of victories over California and UCLA, the Cardinal will enter the bowl with momentum on their side. The Terrapins, on the other hand, have been a model of inconsistency by trading wins and losses through their past eight games.

Perhaps Stanford's greatest advantage is the fact that the Foster Farms Bowl will take place at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California, according to Pac-12 Networks:

That means it will essentially be a home game that will undoubtedly feature plenty of Cardinal fans in the stands. At the same time, though, Stanford head coach David Shaw doesn't believe his team will have an advantage, per Stanford play-by-play announcer Scott Reiss:

The biggest key to Stanford's success in this game may be the play of senior quarterback Kevin Hogan. Nobody is ever quite sure how Hogan will perform from one game to the next, but he is coming off a contest that saw him complete 84 percent of his passes for 234 yards and four touchdowns.

He may not be that efficient, but he should be able to move the ball against a Maryland defense that allows 29 points per game.

Conversely, the Cardinal defense ranks No. 2 in the nation at 16 points allowed per contest. With such a strong defense and a game close to home, Stanford should find a way to come out on top.

 

TicketCity Cactus Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Washington

It took a virtual miracle for Oklahoma State to make itself bowl eligible, and now that the Cowboys have put themselves in that position, they have a legitimate chance to score a bowl victory.

The Pokes will meet 8-5 Washington in a game that may favor the Huskies on paper—although OK State is still flying high after upsetting Oklahoma in Bedlam to end the regular season.

Oklahoma State has also received a late-season spark from freshman quarterback Mason Rudolph. He is averaging over 270 yards and two touchdowns per game in a pair of starts, and he didn't look overmatched in the least as he led the Cowboys past the Sooners.

Rudolph's rapid emergence has been quite surprising, especially since he hasn't necessarily shown a ton of promise in practice, according to Tim Ahrens of OColly.com:

The Huskies have a young quarterback in their own right in sophomore Cyler Miles, who has started for most of the year. Miles has 16 touchdowns and just three interceptions, but even he has admitted that this has been a trying season for him, per Adam Jude of The Seattle Times.

"It's been a hard time this year, personally," Miles said. "I don't want to give you the sob story, but I thank God and I thank my teammates."

Miles has played much better down the stretch, so the TicketCity Cactus Bowl should feature an intriguing matchup between two up-and-coming gunslingers.

It could conceivably go either way, but Rudolph is performing so well that the Cowboys should have a slight upper hand in this one.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

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Texas A&M Wins Liberty Bowl Singing Competition Thanks to Trey Williams

The Texas A&M Aggies and West Virginia Mountaineers held a friendly singing competition before playing each other in this year's Liberty Bowl.

Several players from both sides gave respectable performances, but it was Aggies running back Trey Williams who stole the show.

Watch the video above as Williams (at the 1:54 mark) shuts it down with his rendition of R. Kelly's "Bump N' Grind," causing his teammates to go crazy.

[YouTube, h/t Yahoo Sports]

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Louisville's Chris Jones Blatantly Flops vs. Kentucky

The Louisville Cardinals and Kentucky Wildcats were playing in a very tough Top Five matchup on Saturday, and the two teams were trying to do whatever it took to gain an edge.

Unfortunately, flopping was also used.

In the second half, Louisville's Chris Jones blatantly flopped while trying to guard Kentucky's Dakari Johnson. ESPN's Jay Bilas was not pleased with Jones' decision. 

Former Kentucky big man DeMarcus Cousins shared his thoughts on the flop over Twitter.

[Vine, h/t Twitter]


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Miami Football: 10 Best Highlights of Duke Johnson's Career

According to Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post, Miami Hurricanes running back Duke Johnson has declared for the 2015 NFL Draft.

Johnson leaves behind an outstanding legacy in Coral Gables, beginning with his commitment to the 'Canes as a junior in high school. He verbally pledged to Al Golden and Co. exactly 500 days before he could officially sign but never wavered or fell victim to recruiting games.

Once in the orange and green, Duke punished opposing teams for more than 5,000 all-purpose yards, exploiting open space as a runner, receiver and kick returner.

He created many memorable plays, but 10 performances stand out above the rest. The highlights are organized chronologically.

Begin Slideshow

Rose Bowl Showdown Is Program-Defining Game for Oregon Ducks

Alabama, Ohio State, Florida State and…Oregon? The College Football Playoff is like three blue bloods and two yellow shoes.   

Nationally, when people think about Oregon, they think about fast pace, gimmicky plays, wild uniforms, highlighter yellow socks and shoes, Nike money, outrageously posh facilities and a lot of wins out there in a far corner of the country, where games finish too late for the rest of the country to watch.

But for all those wins, Oregon doesn't have the blue-blood status of those other three schools—the history of national titles and iconic coaches, the automatic SportsCenter leads most weeks, the relevance even when the team's not in the Top 10 nationally. The Ducks aren't in that club yet. But they're close.

That's why Oregon needs this Rose Bowl on Thursday against Florida State. In fact, this whole College Football Playoff means so much more to them than it does to the other teams.

For one great, defining moment—re-defining, really—Oregon needs to beat a traditional power and win a national title. Then the Ducks will finally have arrived among the national elite. For all they have done over the past several years—the comeback win over Michigan State, a Heisman trophy, etc.—they still do not have a signature win.

As every high school kid knows, it takes forever to overcome your history, erase your big mistake, change your identity.

"Somebody asked me yesterday what it's like to be with the blue bloods," Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens told CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd at the Heisman Trophy ceremony where Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota won. "We're very proud to be competing with the blue bloods. Someday maybe we'll be a blue blood."

It's just so hard to gain admittance to the club. We've seen worst-to-first teams in the pros, but they have drafts to help even things out. At this point, Oregon is a regional power, though it has pushed into the national mainstream with a Heisman and a coach who successfully jumped to the NFL. But the door into the club of college football elites usually only goes one way:

Out. 

Just ask Nebraska. And the gatekeepers have been thinking about throwing out Michigan, too, unless they really can get Jim Harbaugh to leave the NFL. There hasn't been a first-time national championship winner since Florida won it in 1996. Of the titles won since then, three went to Alabama, two to Florida State and one to Ohio State.

What's different about Oregon football—and this is just my opinion from time spent there—is that while its fans want to win, not everyone there exactly wants the Ducks to be in the club. Eugene is still a hippie town in an area made up of folksy villages. The sports legend is a track hero, Steve Prefontaine. Oregon is sort of a family experience. And if the national college scene sees Oregon as an interloper, the people of Oregon see the national scene as the interloper on them.

Oregon has spent decades climbing the stepladder. Rich Brooks brought the Ducks out of the Toilet Bowl era and then Mike Belotti made them a fixture in bowl games. Then Chip Kelly, an outsider from New Hampshire, took Oregon up another level, and the fans were already a little uneasy about it.

Kelly took the Ducks to four straight BCS bowl games, though. Their bowl wins weren't over blue bloods, but over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl and Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl. When the Ducks played Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, it was an ugly loss.

They got so close four years ago, reaching the BCS title game and losing to Auburn 22-19. But that looks closer in history books than it did in real time. Back then, Oregon was the gimmicky team running a goofy offense. In the title game, the Ducks faked a punt and ran fake-reverses. They also had those ridiculous bright yellow socks and shoes.

It just did not give the Ducks the look of a real powerhouse, especially in contrast to Auburn, which physically bullied Oregon.

History just takes so long to overcome. For Oregon, that means Nov. 19, 1983—the Toilet Bowl. On a horrible, rainy day, water was pouring down the aisles onto the field, making deep puddles on the sidelines. And on the middle of the field, one of the worst-played games ever took place.

Oregon 0, Oregon State 0. That was the final. There were 11 turnovers and four missed field goals. The coaches in the press box, because of the fog forming on the windows, had to open those windows and sit there while rain hit them sideways. In the final three minutes, the teams combined for three interceptions and a fumble.

That was a long time ago, but it's still stuck in the memories of longtime Oregon football fans, who also need a defining win to replace that game. For all the success the Ducks have had, there is still residue from back then that leads to doubts today.

Mark Helfrich, in his second year after replacing Kelly, is a local boy in Oregon. Last year, he told me that when he was a boy, he'd be out in the gravel parking lots at Oregon football games, playing pickup games with his friends. So he has that Oregon-family feel.

But in Helfrich's first year, Oregon lost to Stanford and broke its run of BCS bowl games. And when Oregon lost to Arizona this year, even the locals were wondering if the local boy was in over his head.

Those doubts were the residue of the Toilet Bowl, to paint an ugly picture. So now Oregon has its chance. Even one win—over Florida State—will go a long way. Two wins over the blue bloods would change everything.

Those victories would put Oregon in the club, and its past? It would be flushed away.

 

Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report. He also writes for The New York Times and was formerly a scribe for FoxSports.com and The Chicago Sun-Times. Follow him on Twitter @gregcouch.

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Oregon Football Fan Makes Duck-Themed Pancakes

For Oregon Ducks fans looking for a creative treat to serve during the Rose Bowl matchup between the Ducks and the Florida State Seminoles, this might be a good idea to try out.

One Oregon fan uploaded this video to YouTube showing viewers how to make Duck-themed pancakes. It doesn't look easy, but for those who enjoy a challenge, the end result looks pretty cool if you do it right.

[YouTube, h/t College Spun]

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Alabama Fan Brought to Tears After Son Gives Him Sugar Bowl Tickets

For many diehard Alabama Crimson Tide fans, this would be the Christmas present of a lifetime.

The lucky father in this video received tickets to the Sugar Bowl game against Ohio State on New Year's Day. Once he realized what his present was, he was overcome with emotion.

Be sure to watch the entire reaction in the video above, as the father can't even speak before eventually being brought to tears.

[YouTube, h/t College Spun]

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Independence Bowl 2014: Live Score, Highlights for Miami vs. South Carolina

Miami 3, South Carolina 0—Mid 1st Quarter

The Miami Hurricanes and South Carolina Gamecocks are meeting in the 2014 Duck Commander Independence Bowl.

ABC is broadcasting the game. Bleacher Report is providing scoring updates and analysis. Please add your thoughts in the comments section.

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Game Designers Create Rose Bowl-Themed 'Duck Hunt' Game

The Oregon Ducks will play the Florida State Seminoles in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day, and people are coming up with all kinds of ways to get ready for the big College Football Playoff game.

To get Seminoles fans pumped up, Flat Miner Studios created its own version of the classic NES game Duck Hunt, allowing players to shoot down flying Oregon Ducks on a football field. The Florida State fight song plays any time a player shoots down a duck.

For those interested in trying it out, you can play the game here.

[Flat Miner Studios, h/t For the Win]

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