NCAA Football News

Ohio State Spring Game 2016: Recap, Highlights and Twitter Reaction

The Gray team defeated the Scarlet team 28-17 Saturday in Ohio State's annual spring football game in front of a record-breaking crowd at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. 

One year after setting the national spring game attendance record with 99,391 fans at the Horseshoe, OSU upped the ante Saturday with 100,189 on hand to witness the exhibition, according to Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports.

That prompted head coach Urban Meyer to show his gratitude on Twitter:

Junior quarterback J.T. Barrett entered the game with all eyes on him, but he struggled with two interceptions for the Scarlet team, while freshman Joe Burrow put up 196 yards and three scores through the air for the Gray squad.

As seen in this GIF courtesy of Ohio State Buckeyes on Twitter, the players were pumped and ready to play after a long offseason:

That included Meyer, who entered the contest with a positive outlook, as evidenced by this video via Ohio State on BTN:

Emotions ran high prior to the start of the game, as a moment of silence was held for late Ohio State and New Orleans Saints defensive end Will Smith, as seen in this video provided by Big Ten Network:

Eric Seger of ElevenWarriors.com offered a look at the helmet decals Buckeyes players wore in memory of Smith:

After being mired in a quarterback controversy with Cardale Jones and Braxton Miller over the previous couple seasons, Barrett stepped onto the field as the unquestioned starter Saturday and got his spring off to a positive start on the first drive.

He completed six of his seven attempts for 40 yards, and kicker Sean Nuernberger finished it off with a 43-yard field goal to out Scarlet on top 3-0:

The defense stepped up on the ensuing possession, however, as sophomore safety Malik Hooker intercepted Barrett and returned it 82 yards for a touchdown to give Gray a 7-3 advantage:

Things started to snowball for Barrett after the initial interception, as he was picked off once again on the next drive by sophomore cornerback Marshon Lattimore.

That gave the Gray offense a short field, and they took advantage of it when Burrow found a well-covered Torrance Gibson for an 18-yard score to extend the lead to 14-3:

Gray continued to pour it on as the second quarter progressed with Burrow leading the way. The native of The Plains, Ohio, connected with Gibson for another touchdown on a two-yard shovel pass after setting it up with a 52-yard strike to sophomore wide receiver Terry McLaurin:

By virtue of that play and several others made by Burrow Saturday, ESPN.com's Austin Ward suggested that his spot behind Barrett on the depth chart was safe:

Scarlet managed to gain some momentum back ahead of halftime, as freshman running back Mike Weber cashed in from two yards out to make the score 21-10 in favor of Gray entering the locker room:

That momentum carried over into the second half, as Weber found pay dirt once again from eight yards out in the third quarter, which allowed Scarlet to cut the deficit to 21-17:

Gray attempted to respond, as Burrow and the offense moved into Scarlet's red zone, but sophomore linebacker Jerome Baker made what was unquestionably the play of the day.

With Burrow under pressure, Baker went up and pulled in a ridiculous, one-handed interception to prevent Gray from extending the lead:

That gave Scarlet an opportunity to possess the ball and potentially drive for the go-ahead score, but Hooker played hero once again by intercepting sophomore signal-caller Stephen Collier for his second pick of the day.

Burrow then capped off his big day and provided the dagger in the fourth quarter when he hit McLaurin for a long touchdown to go up 28-17, which was ultimately the final score:

While Barrett's performance may prove to be the biggest story coming out of the spring game, there is still plenty of time for him to right the ship before the start of the 2016 season.

The play of Weber was particularly encouraging, as he rushed for 38 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries and looks to be a strong option to replace Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield.

Both of the Buckeyes' defensive units led by co-coordinators Luke Fickell and Greg Schiano made some big plays as well, especially in terms of defending the passing game, which is a good sign for Meyer's team.

OSU has lost just two games over the past two seasons, and while it will be forced to replace a number of high-profile players in 2016, its depth of talent was on full display Saturday.

Meyer is as good as they come in terms of recruiting players and fitting them into his system, and based on many of the performances on both sides of the ball, the Buckeyes figure to be contenders in the Big Ten once again during the upcoming season.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

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Notre Dame Football: Winners and Losers from Fighting Irish's 2016 Spring

For the Fighting Irish, this spring has seemingly been all about the quarterback battle—and for good reason. Notre Dame has two experienced starters returning this year, and like Ohio State's quandary a season ago, we're departing spring practice without a very clear picture.

Brian Kelly structured the 2016 Blue and Gold Game to provide a game-like atmosphere, designed to give one quarterback an opportunity to separate himself from his "opponent" for the starting role.  Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), that didn't happen.  In fact, both quarterbacks played fairly well.

So, realistically, we're no closer to an answer today than we were when spring practices began a few weeks ago.

But the quarterbacks weren't the only storyline to emerge from South Bend this spring.  Let's go over all the winners and losers from Notre Dame's 2016 spring.

Begin Slideshow

Spring Game Shows Brian Kelly Officially in Best-Worst Position for QB Battle

Brian Kelly entered Notre Dame’s spring game hoping for separation between DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire in their battle to become the Fighting Irish’s starting quarterback.

He didn’t get it. Instead, Notre Dame’s head coach continued to stare at a difficult choice Saturday as his team wrapped up spring practice with a 17-10 Blue squad win in the Blue-Gold game. Both Kizer and Zaire flashed solid skills while running the offense, and each showed signs that the competition will carry into fall practice.

Kelly is in the best-worst position possible as summer begins. He has two talented quarterbacks on his roster but no sign that either has made a move forward with four-plus months until the 2016 season opener against Texas.

“They did a nice job,” Kelly told NBC Sports Network’s Jac Collinsworth on the telecast following the game, “but I don’t think anyone separated themselves.”

That’s a distinct contrast from last spring, when Zaire beat out incumbent Everett Golson to become the Irish’s starter. Golson transferred to Florida State, leaving Zaire as the man until he broke his ankle in the second week against Virginia.

Kizer stepped forward, leading Notre Dame to a 10-win season and Fiesta Bowl berth while throwing for 2,884 yards with 21 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. Zaire’s return to health this spring left Kelly with a quarterback quandary.

Ideally, one signal-caller would have made a name for himself Saturday. Instead, both showed they were competent in running the offense. Neither played after halftime, and Kizer’s Blue team outscored Zaire’s Gold team 10-7 in the first half.

Kizer completed 10 of 17 passes for 113 yards with 22 rushing yards, while Zaire went 6-of-15 for 120 yards passing with 18 rushing yards and a 12-yard rushing touchdown, per stats from the NBCSN broadcast. 

“They’re managing the little things, getting guys lined up right, making sure they get into the right protections,” Kelly said on the broadcast. “I think both have done a good job. Both have handled themselves well. I don’t think anything earth-shaking has happened.”

If anything, Kizer was slightly more consistent. He completed his first five passes, including a nice play-action throw to incoming freshman Kevin Stepherson. Kizer finished a touchdown drive with a read-option handoff for a score and showed comfort in the offense by audibling out of a pair of plays in favor of successful quarterback draws.

Meanwhile, Zaire completed just one of his first five passes but led a strong second-quarter drive that covered 92 yards, throwing for 79 yards on the drive. He had the day’s best pass, a deep throw that receiver Torii Hunter Jr. hauled in for a 50-yard gain, and he finished the drive with a 13-yard touchdown run.

So what does Kelly do now? Both Kizer and Zaire have shown they can win as the starting quarterback, but only one can be the starter.

When he makes the choice (as he inevitably will), Kelly also runs the risk of forcing a transfer. Zaire has two years of eligibility remaining, while Kizer has three years left. Of course, 2015 showed the value of having two quality quarterbacks on the roster.

Kelly's track record shows he is not concerned about waiting until deep in preseason practice to pick a starter. He could also learn from what Fiesta Bowl opponent Ohio State and Urban Meyer went through in a similar situation last fall.

Meyer and the Buckeyes agonized between J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones, picking Jones as the starter for the opener against Virginia Tech.

Jones started seven games, but the offense sputtered at times under his control. He finished with 1,460 yards with eight touchdowns against five interceptions, while Barrett, who claimed the job by season's end, had 992 yards with 11 touchdowns against four interceptions. This spring, the job is Barrett's after Jones left early for the NFL draft. 

Kelly said in reference to that situation "So I'll make sure that doesn't happen to us," per the Associated Press (via ESPN.com). "We'll have an identity. We'll know who we are."

The decision, whatever it winds up being, should work out well for a Notre Dame offense that is replacing seven starters. It’s just a matter of making that decision.

For Kelly, that will be the toughest part.

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Notre Dame Spring Game 2016: Recap, Highlights and Twitter Reaction

Both DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire enjoyed stretches of strong play as the quarterback competition heated up during the Notre Dame Fighting Irish's annual Blue-Gold Game on Saturday. In the end, Kizer's Blue squad earned the 17-7 victory. 

Kizer displayed a better overall understanding of the offense, which doesn't come as a surprise given the experience he gained last year, but Zaire held his own with dangerous playmaking ability. But it was the defense that stole the spotlight throughout most of the contest.

With that in mind, let's take a deeper dive into some of the top storylines to emerge from the Fighting Irish's 2016 spring game. 

 

Quarterback Battle

Irish head coach Brian Kelly stated coming into the spring game that trying to get a good read on the quarterback situation was crucial. He explained they set up the rosters as evenly as possible in order to give both players a fair opportunity, as relayed by Benjamin Padanilam of the Observer:

Both of them want to be the starter, badly. … I made them both live, so they're going against each other. I'm doing it for a reason because I want them to be in a competitive situation where we can evaluate. We split the squad, we tried to get them balanced as best we could and let this be one more evaluation tool for both of these guys in this game. It's important to them.

Kizer, who had 31 total touchdowns last season, made a statement right out of the gate. He led the Blue squad to a scoring drive on its first possession of the game, completing all four of this throws, including a couple nice touch passes.

The junior showed a nice understanding of the offense, too. He audibled into a quarterback run on a third down during the Blue team's second drive, which resulted in him splitting the defense between the spread-out tackles and running for a first down.

Mike Vorel of ND Insider pointed out Zaire's group finally started to move the ball once the quarterback started to create more looks for the defense by using his running ability:

It ultimately allowed him to match Kizer's touchdown drive with one of his own. Zaire connected on three of his four throws on a march that started inside the Gold team's own 10-yard line. He beat the defense over the top twice, including a nice high-arching throw to Torii Hunter Jr.

He capped off the drive by running the ball in from 13 yards out, as the program spotlighted:

Jim Naveau of the Lima News provided the final stats for both players:

All told, neither quarterback made any massive strides in the competition Saturday. If Kizer came into the spring with a slight advantage based on his play last season, he likely leaves the marquee offseason practices in the same position.

Zaire will probably need to set himself apart when practices resume ahead of the season if he's going to earn the starting job. The biggest thing he can take out of the spring game is to not restrict himself by taking the creativity out of his game.

 

Defensive Standouts

Although most of the focus coming into the game was on the quarterbacks, it was the Notre Dame defenders who looked a step ahead at the end of spring ball. They allowed just 24 combined points and looked solid at every level.

No player stood out more frequently than Max Redfield. The senior safety, who lined up with the Gold team, was all over the place making plays, both in run defense and pass coverage. His only mistake was a missed tackle on the Blue team's first score, but it was obviously a costly one.

Junior defensive tackle Daniel Cage also put together a strong showing for the Gold side. It's a position where the Irish are still looking for players to step up, and he made a great case to at least get an extended look heading into the season.

Notre Dame Football showcased one of his key plays:

On the flip side, Devin Studstill was highly impressive for the Blue defense. The freshman wasn't particularly highly touted coming out of high school—a 3-star prospect, ranking No. 482 in the 2016 class, per 247Sports' composite rankings—but he looked primed to make a quick impact.

The most important thing for a young safety is understanding their role within the scheme. A lot of them get lost out there in the early going. But the early enrollee looked comfortable and showed a nose for the ball coaches love to see from defensive backs.

A spring game isn't nearly enough to draw any definitive conclusions, of course. That said, the staff probably came away from the spring game with at least some positive vibes on the defensive side of the ball after ranking 45th in yards allowed last season.

 

Quick Hits
  • Dexter Williams scampered into the end zone from 17 yards out for the first touchdown of the contest. The sophomore ran with authority every time he touched the ball. That includes breaking two tackles on a scoring play, as Notre Dame Football highlighted:
  • Hunter appears ready to claim a more active role in the offense following the departure of Will Fuller, a possible first-round NFL draft pick. The wideout was able to create separation on a consistent basis, and the team put his best effort of the day on display:
  • John Chereson and Justin Yoon both missed field-goal attempts in the second half. Chereson did make a short kick right before halftime, and Yoon made 88 percent of his field goals last season. But missing a couple of kicks in a low-pressure situation could be a minor cause for concern.
  • Notre Dame appeared to emerge from the game without suffering any serious injuries. Although the coaching staff wants to see players fighting for playing time, doing so without suffering any health setbacks is the biggest thing at this time of the year.
  • Reserve quarterback Montgomery VanGorder wrapped up the scoring with a short-yardage run. If there's one thing the defense certainly must improve before the regular season, it's containing those inside runs by QBs, as the Irish illustrated on the score:

 

Postgame Reaction

Afterward, Kelly joked that the game ball ended up going to punter Tyler Newsome with the offenses struggling to find consistent success, per Irish Sports Daily.

The head coach was happy with the way Zaire moved Saturday after suffering a broken ankle that brought a premature end to his 2015 campaign, as noted by Irish Illustrated:

As for the competition, JJ Stankevitz of CSN Chicago provided the coach's comments on the situation, and it doesn't sound like either quarterback pushed himself firmly ahead of the other quite yet.

"I thought Kizer managed the game pretty darn good. I thought Malik did some pretty good things as well," Kelly said.

So the high-profile competition continues with spring ball in the book. Angelo Di Carlo of WNDU noted Kelly believes it probably won't get decided until late in fall camp.

 

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Georgia Spring Game 2016: Live Score, Top Performers and Analysis

Black 3, Red 0—Early 2nd Quarter

We are underway in Athens for the Georgia Bulldogs' annual spring game as the Black squad takes on the Red squad.

You can watch the game live on ESPNU, but make sure to stay right here for the latest news, notes, scoring updates and analysis from G-Day. 

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LSU Spring Game 2016: Live Score, Top Performers and Analysis

Purple 0, White 0. Currently in First Quarter.

With another grossly talented roster, the LSU Tigers are on the field for their spring game on the SEC Network hoping to sharpen up before making another run at a SEC West title.

Stay here for live reactions and updates from Tiger Stadium. Feel free to join the discussion in the comments section. 

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Alabama Spring Game 2016: Live Score, Top Performers and Analysis

Alabama A-Day Game

Crimson 0, White 0

TV: ESPN

The 2016 A-Day Game is upon us, and there's plenty to talk about when it comes to Crimson Tide football.

This is Nick Saban's 10th—a full decade's worth—A-Day Game, so Saturday gives a small chance for reflection on Saban's evolving, ever-growing legacy with Alabama.

But there's still a quarterback battle and other positions that need to be decided for the defending national champions. So stay plugged in below to follow along with all the A-Day action.

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Torii Hunter Jr. Makes One-Handed Grab in Notre Dame Spring Game

Torii Hunter Jr.'s dad was an MLB outfielder. Can you tell?

The Notre Dame senior wide receiver reeled in a long pass from quarterback Malik Zaire during the team's annual Blue-Gold spring football game. Though the sick, one-handed grab made Hunter look a little more like Odell Beckham Jr. than his pops, it's clear making great catches runs in the family.

Hunter Sr. won nine straight Gold Gloves in his 19-year career and retired in 2015.

The younger Hunter is on a football scholarship at Notre Dame, but he joined the baseball team as—guess what?—an outfielder in 2015.

[Notre Dame Football]

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Edward Ingram to LSU: Tigers Land 4-Star OG Prospect

The LSU Tigers landed a major piece of their future offensive line Saturday by securing a commitment from 4-star guard Edward Ingram.

Ingram made the announcement on Twitter Friday night:

According to 247sports, the 6'4", 325-pound lineman is the No. 8 guard, No. 30 player from the state of Texas and No. 208 recruit overall in the class of 2017.

As seen in this tweet courtesy of Ingram, the DeSoto, Texas, native appeared to have a great time during his visit to Baton Rouge, Louisiana:

Per 247sports, LSU beat out a number of high-profile schools in its pursuit of Ingram, including rival Alabama Crimson Tide.

Head coach Les Miles' LSU teams are known for grinding out yardage on the ground and imposing their will on opposing defenses.

That should mesh well with Ingram's skill set, as he is a massive athlete who excels at mauling defensive linemen who are usually smaller and not as strong as he is.

Ingram already has the size and strength needed to be a stud guard at the collegiate level, and if he continues to develop in high school this season, then it isn't outside the realm of possibility that he could make an immediate impact in the SEC.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

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William Poole III to Georgia: Bulldogs Land 4-Star CB Prospect

William Poole III, a 4-star cornerback prospect from Hapeville Charter High School in Atlanta, committed to play college football for Georgia on Saturday:  

Poole is the 12th-ranked player at his position, the No. 9 overall prospect out of Georgia and the 100th-best player in the class of 2017, according to 247Sports' composite rankings.

Despite being listed at only 176 pounds, Poole is 6'0" and has tremendous natural, functional strength even with a rather slender frame. He plays bigger than he is, evident in his aggressive brand of press coverage, which can easily frustrate opposing receivers.

Thanks to Poole's length and tenacity, he should have little issue making the transition to college. A lot of the little things that often make a big difference are what Poole does best. Some defensive backs struggle with open-field tackles, but Poole consistently pops out as a big but controlled hitter.

Seldom do playmakers get away from Poole's grasp whether it be after the catch or when he's defending the run. The youngster plays with no hesitation, shows excellent instincts and is quick to diagnose plays.

If a receiver gets lazy on a stalk block, one can bet Poole will blow right past him and make a play in the running game. Poole is also capable of closing fast on the ball and can flip his hips better than just about any cornerback prospect in the country.

The 40-yard dash time Poole registered as a junior, per 247Sports, was a respectable 4.56 seconds. Although the time suggest Poole doesn't exactly boast elite speed, the highlights suggest he has swifter game speed—and his quick hips and abrupt change of direction skills help offset any disadvantage in that area.

With even five to 10 pounds added to his frame and a bit more explosiveness added to his arsenal through rigorous training at Georgia, Poole could really be a special college player.

All the tools are there for Poole to start as early as his sophomore year. It wouldn't be a surprise to see him in a situational role in the Bulldogs' secondary as a true freshman—or at least emerge as a special teams dynamo.

 

All recruiting rankings and ratings courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise indicated.

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CJ Thorpe to Penn State: Nittany Lions Land 4-Star OG Prospect

Penn State's 2017 recruiting class got a big boost on Saturday, as prized 4-star offensive lineman CJ Thorpe committed to the Nittany Lions.

Thorpe announced his commitment to Penn State on Twitter:

Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin already built a solid incoming class next season, getting commitments from five players before Thorpe. 

A Pittsburgh native, Thorpe's pledge to Happy Valley is a big win for Franklin because he's keeping a star recruit close to home. He's also a highly-regarded talent, ranked as the ninth-best guard and 248th-best player in 2017, per 247Sports. The site also lists him as the No. 7 prospect in the state of Pennsylvania.

Offensive line is also an area that Penn State has been lacking the last two years, though David Jones of PennLive.com did highlight some reasons for optimism heading into next season.

"The current line improved incrementally in '15, lowering its sack total in the second half and prying a few crevices for (running back Saquon) Barkley," Jones wrote. "Relative to '02, this season it has the advantage of an established running back but the disadvantage of an inexperienced quarterback."

Barkley, who was a freshman in 2015, will love having Thorpe blocking for him. The star guard excels in the running game, per Scout.com's Brian Dohn:

Thorpe is an absolute monster as a run blocker. He fires off the ball, has a plus initial punch, can scrape the defensive linemen and get to the second level. He pumps his legs, is physical, and ha a high motor. He plays with a low pad level and often overwhelms his opponent. He is solid is pass protection, but he needs to work on his kick step and remaining patient while sitting in his base.

Even with some necessary improvements needed as a pass-protector, Thorpe gives the Nittany Lions a star in a key area. Franklin's offense is predicated on a strong running game to set up the pass, so they have to be strong up front. 

Thorpe, who is listed at 6'3" and 318 pounds, is already a physical monster up front. He brings an intimidating presence and work ethic that the rest of his teammates will be able to feed off, as well as giving the Nittany Lions an attitude that can match fellow Big Ten programs like Ohio State and Michigan.

Recruit info courtesy of 247Sports.

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Tennessee Spring Game 2016: Live Score, Top Performers and Analysis

There were plenty of injured players who didn't play, but the Tennessee spring football finale was still a whole lot of fun for a SEC Network television audience as well as more than 67,000 fans who watched in Neyland Stadium.

The Orange team (defense) came out with a 70-63 win, but the score was secondary. Saturday was about individual development, and the Volunteers saw plenty of positive things from some guys who they'll depend on.

It all starts with senior quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who completed 5-of-9 passes but was sharp throwing the ball for the most part despite a receiving corps decimated by injuries. Preston Williams and Jeff George were impressive, and with Alvin Kamara and Jalen Hurd out, sophomore runner John Kelly impressed, too.

On defense, Quart'e Sapp and Corey Vereen shone, among others, and the Vols wound up with a lot of positives on a day where most of the biggest names didn't play all that much. Coach Butch Jones seemed impressed.

"We're starting to develop some depth," he told the SEC Network's Jerry Punch afterward. "We're still not there yet, but this will be a good teaching tool as we start to grow our identity for Team 120.

"It was really great for our younger players to get out here and compete in front of 67,000-plus."

 

ORANGE (DEFENSE) 70, WHITE (OFFENSE) 63, FINAL

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Texas Spring Game 2016: Live Score, Top Performers and Analysis

Texas 21, Longhorns 7—Final

Due to bad weather in the Austin area, the Texas Longhorns have called their Orange-White Scrimmage at the half. The first-team offense finishes the game with a 21-7 win.

The running backs led the way for the Longhorns, with Chris Warren and D'Onta Foreman combining for 174 yards and two touchdowns on just 16 carries.

Those two did the heavy lifting, but quarterback Shane Buechele will be the talk of this one. The early enrollee looked the part in his debut, piling up 299 yards and two touchdowns while splitting time with the two offenses. Senior Tyrone Swoopes, on the other hand, struggled in throwing two interceptions and completing only 25 percent of his passes.

Be sure to check back later as we go over the winners and losers from spring football, and check out the box score over at SidearmSports.com.

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Ohio State Spring Game 2016: Live Score, Top Performers and Analysis

Ohio State’s quest to reload and refocus for another run at the College Football Playoff in 2016 takes an important step on Saturday afternoon, when Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes take the field at Ohio Stadium for the annual spring game.

Redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett is leading a youth movement for an offense that’s replacing do-everything running back Ezekiel Elliott and its top three pass-catchers. Defensively, junior Raekwon McMillan is set to anchor the unit at middle linebacker.

Game action is set to kick off at 1:30 p.m. ET and will be televised live on the Big Ten Network.

We’ll be watching the scrimmage, providing live analysis as the action unfolds.

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Notre Dame Spring Game 2016: Live Score, Top Performers and Analysis

2016 Notre Dame Spring Game

Blue 7, Gold 0—1st Quarter

Spring football is wrapping up for the Fighting Irish, and it's time for the annual tradition of the Blue-Gold Game that will hopefully erase the memory of the end of the 2015 season for Irish fans.

The Fighting Irish were seen as a College Football Playoff bubble team throughout most of last season, but they were knocked out of contention thanks to a last-second loss at Stanford in the regular-season finale.  Today, we'll find out what the prospects are for the 2016 version of the Fighting Irish.

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Why Boston College Safety Justin Simmons Could Crash the NFL Draft's 2nd Round

Without considering Jalen Ramsey as a safety prospect, the top safety spot remains unclaimed for the 2016 NFL draft process.

Boise State’s Darian Thompson seems to have assumed the top spot, but after a lackluster NFL combine, he’s far from a lock. Florida’s Keanu Neal earned an NFL draft invite, implying that he should be going high in the draft as well.

But Boston College’s Justin Simmons deserves to be in contention for the top safety spot. The former cornerback turned do-it-all safety offers natural ball skills, adequate and developing safety pickup coverage and efficient tackling that, coupled with top-flight athleticism, should merit Simmons’ place in the top overall safety discussion. He should be in the mix for a surprise second-round option.

 

BallSkillsandFinishingAbility

The trait of “ball skills” has always been a crucial part of defensive back evaluation, but it’s grown in importance over the last few years.

In the past, most teams saved third down as their passing down, so a dropped interception usually still meant a team was going to punt and possession would be changed. However, as the passing game becomes a more frequent three-down option, defensive backs need to be able to finish at the catch point, contest throws on multiple downs and, when possible, finish interception opportunities.

Ball skills are both developed and instinctive. Over his four-year career at Boston College, Simmons has bounced between cornerback and free safety, earning starts at both spots.

Along with that experience in multiple situations and attacking the ball from multiple foot platforms, Simmons offers that unique, instinctive timing to adjust subtly when the ball is in the air.

In the two plays below (shown together in one GIF), Simmons’ inherent timing and reaction in passing plays allowed him to snag two interceptions in the team's game against Notre Dame. While neither are a testament to all of the coverage upside he possesses, they highlight the ball-hawking upside he offers as a finishing center fielder.

More impressively, however, is Simmons’ footwork in center field coverage when he’s forced to read and react. Playing center field requires more than just hands or lateral quickness. It’s about gathering steps, staying low and balanced in coverage and, when the opportunity arises, exploding on a throwing window in the seams.

As in the play below, Simmons plays with a textbook pedal, the control to cross feet and anticipate the ball, and finish at the catch point for the interception with room to return.

 

AdequateYetImprovingCoveragePick-Ups

Still developing as a free safety, Simmons needs to improve his timing and man-pickup from his safety position. While he clearly has the footwork after playing cornerback, and he gets work as a slot corner (an area he can prove effective if need be), his work in pick-up coverage when aligned as a safety still needs improvement.

In the play below, you’ll see Simmons in a Cover 2 alignment and drop as he comes into the frame after the first cornerback stays put. 

Simmons stays low in his pedal and comes off just slightly delayed on the corner route. While he’s better suited as a Cover 3 free safety, he’ll need to work as a half-field safety in time.

It’s plays like this that he should anticipate and finish at the catch point rather than allow a catch, though it’s clear he narrowly missed an interception opportunity here and could see his footwork cleaned up quickly in the NFL.

 

ReliabilityasaRunDefender

Strong safeties are generally the safeties that offer the big hits, explosive tackles and dislodging plays on the ball-carrier that wind up in highlight reels.

But, generally, free safeties are relied upon to be the last line of defense, to finish with efficiency and reliability, not subject themselves to broken tackles.

Simmons rarely shows off powerful tackling ability in coverage, though it’s certainly in his arsenal, particularly on shorter and underneath routes when he’s in position. 

In the play below, Simmons saw one of college football’s most dynamic running quarterbacks take off in the midfield on a 2nd-and-long play. With only Simmons separating Clemson’s Deshaun Watson from the end zone, the safety forced Watson to adjust laterally and was required to slow down. That gave Simmons the opportunity to get closer to the runner before engaging as a tackler and finishing the play.

Simmons' tackle not only prevented a touchdown, but it kept Watson in 3rd-and-long. It’s that efficiency and reliability that NFL teams should covet in Simmons as a midfield tackler.

Despite postseason draft buzz after a strong Shrine Game and NFL Scouting Combine, Justin Simmons still hasn’t merited much national discussion on his upside.

But just because he hasn’t earned press clippings or rumored first-round interest doesn’t mean Simmons isn’t worthy of a top-100 pick. In fact, by my grading scale and evaluation, Simmons is well worth a second-round pick and could be an immediate nickel and free safety option for an NFL team.

NFL teams covet versatility, athleticism and ball skills in their defensive backs. Simmons not only offers all three of those traits, but every reason to expect him to continue to grow at the next level.

While he may remain a sleeper at this point in the draft process, don’t sleep on Simmons meriting a top-100 selection and earning significant playing time early in his NFL career.

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LSU Spring Game 2016: Date, Start Time, TV Schedule, Live Stream and More

Spring has a different feel about it for Les Miles and LSU going into Saturday's exhibition.

Miles wanted change to breathe new life into the program and got it. Saturday marks not only the debut of a new-look 3-4 defense, but an offensive attack focused on the passing game, not elite running back Leonard Fournette.

In fact, Fournette won't be a major part of the show as the coaching staff attempts to keep him healthy ahead of the season opener against Wisconsin. Instead, Saturday is all about Brandon Harris' progress under center and how the new defense will fare against the best of the best in the SEC.

Given the implications on the conference as a whole, it's not a spring game to overlook on a weekend littered with them.

 

2016 LSU Spring Game

When:  Saturday, April 16, at 4 p.m. ET

Where: Tiger Stadium

TV: SEC Network

Live Stream: WatchESPN

 

The aforementioned Harris will get most of the attention going into Saturday's game, which makes plenty of sense.

Harris struggled mightily as a starter last year, completing just 53.8 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns to six interceptions, though he did add another 226 yards and four scores on the ground.

There's a new hope for Harris, though, as most of the reviews have been positive when it comes to his spring. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron told Ross Dellenger of the Advocate that an alteration in practice approach has the offense taking a more aerial slant:

The Tigers are no longer relegating their walk-throughs to the run game like they used to. They’re walking through the passing game, too, Cameron said.

They’ve shifted their quarterbacks’ focus in practice from zone-read and other QB runs to tossing the ball from the pocket – just like they did in Cameron’s first season in 2013.

An emphasis on the passing game means plenty of targets for guys like Malachi Dupre (698 yards, six touchdowns last year), D.J. Chark or Jazz Ferguson to step up.

While an opening up of the playbook on offense is nice, it's the defense demanding the most attention Saturday due to the scheme change.

It's tough for any program to pull off such a change given the players on the roster were recruited for a different scheme. Just like that, ends such as Arden Key have to stand up and play linebacker and guys in the trenches have to get accustomed to new roles and responsibilities.

Not that the Tigers aren't loving the change.

"I like it already and we haven't even put a blitz in yet," linebacker Kendell Beckwith said, according to ESPN.com's David Ching. "I think it's going to be something special. We've got a lot of the base stuff in and we'll continue to build and go from there."

For defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, the scheme change has so far worked as intended, as captured by Glenn Guilbeau of USA Today:

This should show on the field Saturday, even if the Tigers keep it as vanilla as possible so they don't give too much away to opponents.

If the unit is more violent and having fun, though, it won't be hard to see how different layers of complexity added throughout the season could give SEC opponents fits.

Fun seems like the keyword around these Tigers, owners of an absolutely loaded roster ready to compete. Even Miles took to social media to end spring practices with a positive sign off:

Things come to a head Saturday, when folks get to stop hearing about how improved Harris looks, and actually get to see it instead. Ditto for hearing about the new defense as opposed to seeing it in action.

A program in need of change has it. Saturday will provide the first sign as to whether it's for the better. If it is, Miles and the Tigers are going places in the SEC and beyond.

 

Stats and info courtesy of ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.

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Ohio State Spring Game 2016: Date, Start Time, TV Schedule, Live Stream and More

Ohio State flashes its recruiting pipelines and muscle at Saturday's spring game in what might be a crowd of more than 100,000 fans at Ohio Stadium.

Urban Meyer's Buckeyes have to replace eight players on both sides of the football after last year's successful run to the Fiesta Bowl and a stomping of Notre Dame. Yet despite the turnover, ask around and the Buckeyes remain one of the favorites to qualify for the College Football Playoff.

Though Ezekiel Elliott, Joey Bosa and others are gone, Meyer hopes a more pass-oriented attack and a rejuvenated, deep defense can help the Buckeyes make another seamless transition to contention.

 

2016 Ohio State Spring Game

When:  Saturday, April 16, at 1:30 p.m. ET

Where: Ohio Stadium

TV: Big Ten Network

Live Stream: BTN2Go

 

There's a ton of pressure on the Buckeyes to perform well Saturday, hence the expected massive turnout.

According to ESPN.com's Austin Ward, the confirmed ticket allotment already dwarfs most turnouts from other major programs:

For Meyer, he hopes the attendees hit the number on the head so he can see how his new-look roster responds to the pressure:

Pressure abounds no matter the final number, of course.

Look at quarterback. Nobody will rip the gig from J.T. Barrett, but if any program knows just how important it is to have a viable backup ready to go, it's these Buckeyes. Meyer will run both Joe Burrow and Stephen Collier through their paces to see how they hold up.

Behind the quarterbacks, Elliott's void means one of Bri'onte Dunn or Mike Weber will have to step up and take control, though Meyer recently confirmed neither guy has a leg up on the other yet.

Meyer talked both wideouts and running backs with Cleveland.com's Bill Landis:

"Meyer said he expects the running back competition between Bri'onte Dunn and Mike Weber to carry into this summer's training camp. He also mentioned receivers like Terry McLaurin and James Clark as guys who can help themselves on Saturday with Ohio State's top four receivers out this spring."

Then there's freshman sensation Austin Mack who has garnered the most hype of maybe any Buckeye player this spring and him jumping way up the depth chart and contributing wouldn't be too surprising. 

Bleacher Report's Ben Axelrod captured Meyer's thoughts on the matter: "Austin Mack is going to play next year. It's two days and I know it's too early to say that, which I have a tendency to over-evaluate guys and get too excited about them, but he's doing fantastic."

As for the new-look defense, Chris Worley will attempt to replace Darron Lee at linebacker, while defensive linemen Dre'Mont Jones and Jashon Cornell will kick inside to man the tackle spots, leaving a bevy of rushers to explode off the edges to try make up for the loss of Bosa.

It's maybe the most interesting development around these Buckeyes this year. Jones and Cornell could have simply spent time as backup ends and not contributed. Instead, they'll start on the inside while Sam Hubbard and others play on the edges, with Meyer opting for more of an attack-oriented approach from the line at all spots.

Call it a trial by fire for the offense, which features running backs and receivers looking to make names for themselves while young quarterbacks get as much experience as possible in case the seemingly inevitable (for Ohio State, at least) happens again.

Few programs get a spring-game experience like Ohio State does, which is fitting given just how much hype and expectation chases the team despite 16 new starters stepping into the fray.

Under the watchful eye of 100,000, Ohio State's title pursuit begins again Saturday.

 

Stats and info courtesy of ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.

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USC Spring Game 2016: Date, Start Time, TV Schedule, Live Stream and More

USC football takes another step toward regaining its past dominance Saturday at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the 2016 iteration of the program's spring game.

There, coach Clay Helton has his work cut out for him, needing to make a decision at quarterback and help smooth the transition to scheme changes on both sides of the football.

It's not an easy task, though returning veterans and spring superstars combine with another strong recruiting class to give Helton and his staff plenty to work with.

Hitting on all the necessary spring-game check boxes, USC's spectacle isn't something to miss.

 

2016 USC Spring Game

When:  Saturday, April 16, at 12 p.m. ET

Where: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

TV: Pac-12 Network

Live Stream: Pac-12.com

 

USC faithful will notice the changes right away.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Trojans want to shift toward a more run-first approach, favoring the power game between the hashmarks to set up big plays down the field.

Such a change will help coordinator Tee Martin make a more informed decision about who starts under center. For now, the job seems to belong to Max Browne, though Sam Darnold and Jalen Greene have certainly turned a few heads this spring.

Helton, though, had made it clear to the media he's not seeing much in the way of a difference between Browne and Darnold, so the spring game will make the decision much easier.

“I’m going to let it go to the spring game,” Helton said, according to Scott Wolf, of the Los Angeles Daily News. “I don’t think it’s a huge gap. It will be (announced) shortly after the spring game. I want to take it to the spring game, that atmosphere, and see how the guys react.”

Browne losing the gig to a redshirt freshman would be rather unprecedented, and he seems to have an air of desperation about the situation, as captured by Rivals' Adam Maya:

Technically, neither quarterback should have much of a problem posting strong numbers if the power run works well.

This is especially the case with one of the most eye-popping wideout depth charts around, headlined by JuJu Smith-Schuster, Steven Mitchell Jr. and Darreus Rogers with a dash of Adoree' Jackson.

The defensive side of the football underwent the biggest change of all this spring. Under the guidance of returning coordinator Clancy Pendergast, the Trojans will continue to trend toward a more attacking defense as opposed to the read-and-react versions of the past.

Anyone familiar with the Trojans knows the problem, though, as the defensive trenches has taken hit after hit this spring. Defensive end Scott Felix lost an appeal and defensive tackle Kenny Bigelow went down with a knee injury, leaving inexperienced guys to get thrown to the wolves against a more experienced offensive counterpart Saturday.

"Have they progressed this camp?" Helton said, according to Zach Helfand of the Los Angeles Times. "Yes they have. Are they anywhere close to being ready? No they're not. Thank God we've got 29 more practices after Saturday to get ready for Alabama."

Call it the perfect testing ground. And behind the line there has been good news, with a star seeming to emerge, as Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman explained:

Saturday is the first real taste of how the Trojans continue to progress as a program.

A normal USC spring game offers plenty of pressure and expectations. This one, though, isn't any normal event, not with dramatic changes on both sides of the football and everyone rather open about how undecided some of the most important positions on the roster remain.

A program changing its identity in the hopes of a better future, USC takes the field Saturday hoping to grow. The Trojans better—Alabama awaits.

 

Stats and info courtesy of ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.

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Alabama Spring Game 2016: Date, Start Time, TV Schedule, Live Stream and More

Now a global sporting event capable of drawing more than 65,000 people and having topped out at more than 92,000, Alabama's A-Day returns Saturday and commands the weekend's spotlight.

Why not? The reigning national champions have kept a veil over the comings and goings of the team this year, with Saturday's event the first real time observers get to see the upcoming 2016 Alabama Crimson Tide.

The game promises a little bit of everything, from a wild environment, new faces in new places and everyone's favorite—a quarterback competition.

 

2016 Alabama Spring Game

When:  Saturday, April 16, at 2 p.m. ET

Where: Bryant-Denny Stadium

TV: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

 

Alabama, as it should, gets the ESPN spotlight Saturday. Not only does Nick Saban's squad have the honor of acting as defending champs, the program helped breathe life into the now wild spring-game process.

This one promises plenty of intrigue, too, now that Alex Byington of the Decatur Daily provided a look at the full rosters:

Start right at the top, where Cooper Bateman is the only quarterback folks have seen play, the other two being David Cornwell and Blake Barnett.

Bateman looks like the starter given his experience, though last year over 52 attempts he threw for just 291 yards with one touchdown and a pair of interceptions. Odds are the battle is far from over, especially if a high-upside guy can flash after showing he's fully digested the offense.

Hence Saban telling ESPN's Chris Low things can certainly change before the opener:

Remember, though, the spring game isn't just about the quarterbacks, not after Blake Sims and Jacob Coker struggled over the past two games and still did pretty well during live action.

Elsewhere on offense, Alabama faithful finally get to see Bo Scarbrough in an every-down role now that he's free of Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake. In terms of passing weapons, the spring game offers fans the chance to see Robert Foster and O.J. Howard, the former coming back from injury, as well as ArDarius Stewart, who took home individual honors after last year's exhibition.

Still, the most intrigue probably comes on the defensive side of the ball, where the unit will be without vaunted coordinator Kirby Smart, who took the head gig at Georgia.

The defense is Jeremy Pruitt's show now and he's got much in the way of work cut out for him considering the Crimson Tide have to break in new starters in the trenches and in the defensive backfield.

Da’Shawn Hand, Da'Ron Payne and others make up the names to watch in the trenches, though perhaps more concerning these days is how a unit will hold up against the pass. Luckily for the Crimson Tide, young guys such as Minkah Fitzpatrick have put on an absolute show this spring ahead of A-Day.

Fitzpatrick really stands out given the weight he's added to his incredible athleticism, as noted by Matt Zenitz of AL.com:

The next wave of talent tasked with carrying Alabama to another College Football Playoff, not to mention SEC glory, is a good enough reason to set a Saturday aside and get to the stadium.

Saban, though, made a point to tell Michael Casagrande of AL.com that attendance numbers for the game also have to do with something rather simple—competition with other schools:

But I think other people are trying to sort of copycat to their game a big thing so that they can say they had the most people at the spring game and all that. I think it's important that our fans show that they have just as much interest and enthusiasm for the program as they've ever had, and that they continue to come and support the team at this time of year.

It's hard to imagine Alabama will break an attendance record with the game on national television and all, but another year of dwindling numbers doesn't seem likely now that fans once again have a national champion to support.

And besides, odds are Saturday is a preview of a team that, despite plenty of new faces and roles, will likely be right in the hunt for another title.

 

Stats and info courtesy of ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.

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