NCAA Football News

Miami Football: The Regression of Stephen Morris in 2013


There really is no other way to pose the question, so I may as well just throw it out there.

What the hell happened to Miami Hurricanes quarterback Stephen Morris between his junior and senior seasons?

The overall stats between both campaigns weren't worlds apart. In 2012, Morris threw for 3,345 yards, completing 421 passes with 21 touchdowns and seven interceptions. This year, 344 completions led to a 3,028-yard, 21-touchdown and 12-interception showing, including the recent bowl loss to Louisville.

Numbers aside, the quarterback's lost his mojo and there was noticeable regression in just about every aspect of his game.

As a freshman in 2010, Morris' redshirt was burned at halftime against Virginia after starter Jacory Harris was knocked out of the game. The newbie almost led the Hurricanes back from a 24-point deficit in his first career start.

A week later, Morris tossed a 35-yard game-winning touchdown with half-a-minute remaining in his first-ever start—a thrilling comeback against Maryland. Next up, a crisp 230-yard performance at Georgia Tech for a convincing win, Miami's first in Atlanta since 2004.

Morris played sparingly for the rest of the season and again backed up Harris in 2011, but earned his shot as a junior and appeared primed for a solid senior year.

The most obvious reason for Morris' regression in 2013—an ankle injury suffered in late September, which continued nagging him throughout the season.

 

Where Does Miami's Season Go Had Offensive Stars Remained Healthy? 

Morris played sparingly in the opener against Florida Atlantic and was handcuffed a bit the following week in what coaches expected to be a slugfest against a defensively sound Florida team. Miami then welcomed a bye before taking on Savannah State, where Morris was rolled up and his night over after a few early possessions.

The severity of the injury, his inability to heal in-season and the limited mobility because of it all played a part in Morris being unable to rediscover his groove, as did setbacks with other key offensive personnel.

Rashawn Scott hit the turf with a shoulder injury on opening night after two receptions and was a non-factor after a midseason return.

A year before, the up-and-coming wide receiver was good for three to six receptions per game—including a 180-yard, two-touchdown performance against North Carolina State. Morris also lost deep threat Phillip Dorsett to a torn MCL six games into 2013, with the junior merely used as a decoy upon his return in the regular-season finale.

Duke Johnson's ankle injury in early November proved even more detrimental, making the Miami offense one-dimesional when no other running back was able to fill the sophomore's shoes.

The Hurricanes were a completely different team offensively for the final five games of the year, with issues much bigger than just quarterback play. The injury bug was the most glaring, obvious reason for Morris' setback, but behind the scenes it's impossible to ignore the coaching effect—especially with rotating offensive coordinators.

Morris cut his teeth under the air-it-out stylings of Mark Whipple in 2010. The former NFL coordinator preferred Morris' rocket-arm ability to Harris' style of play. When the true freshman saw the field by way of a starter's injury, Whipple suddenly had a player capable of throwing deep every other play. 

With top to bottom staff changes in 2011, Morris was then under the tutelage of Jedd Fisch, who had nine years of NFL experience and spent the previous season coaching up quarterbacks for Seattle. As a backup to Harris, Morris spent his sophomore season learning Fisch's system from a true quarterback guru, and the message resonated, as proven by the junior's efforts in 2012.

 

After Departure of Fisch, Coley's Arrival Greatly Impacted Morris' Progress

Fisch's return to the NFL in January had Miami scrambling for a replacement. Head coach Al Golden tapped the inexperienced James Coley to call the shots on offense. Coley spent time as Florida State's coordinator, with a caveat that head coach Jimbo Fisher called all the plays on game day.

The South Florida native was also the Seminoles' chief recruiting coordinator, which wasn't lost on Golden's decision to give Coley a shot. Especially with "signing day" weeks out and both the Hurricanes and Seminoles battling over some key recruits—like the prized Stacy Coley, who now had one more reason to choose "The U".

While Coley brought Miami his recruiting prowess, it's been a slow learn on the coaching front. Fisch's innovation was missed this past season and a quick look at 2012 shows a more diverse Hurricanes offense that helped Morris thrive.

In a fourth-quarter comeback and overtime win at Georgia Tech in his final season, Fisch pulled out some wrinkles unseen up to that point.

Morris hit speedy receiver Davon Johnson on a slant route four plays in a row as the Yellow Jackets had no way to stop it. There were also consistent passes to both running backs—Johnson and Mike James—including a 16-yard pass to Johnson and a 10-yard dump-off to James for the tying score.

As running backs, James and Johnson combined for 57 receptions in Fisch's second-year offense. Under Coley, the explosive Johnson only hauled in four grabs, while three other backs combined for 20.

Fisch also opened up the Miami offense with some calculated trickery during his short-lived stint. Over a three-game span in 2012, Johnson, Dorsett and running back Dallas Crawford threw a combined four passes. Dorsett threw to a wide-open Morris for a 20-yard gain in a win over Virginia Tech, while Johnson hit Allen Hurns for an eight-yard touchdown at Virginia, after convincing coaches the play would work.

"I told the whole offense the first time we get inside the 10-yard line we're calling this play. And when we got to the 10-yard line, I didn’t want to be a liar," Fisch told the Miami Herald's Manny Navarro two Novembers back. "You have to hold your breath and say 'We're going to call it.' And he executed fantastically well, threw a beautiful ball."

 

Miami Chapter Closed But Morris Can Rise From Ashes

Two head coaches and three coordinators over four years, multiple changes in offensive philosophies and injuries to both himself and a handful of key teammates needed to move the ball.

All played a role in the senior's regression, which is unfortunate considering expectations were so high coming into the season—yet all make the senior's struggles that much easier to accept and understand. 

Morris was also considered a quality NFL prospect. ESPN analyst Todd McShay had the quarterback third behind Teddy Bridgewater (Louisville) and Brett Hudley (UCLA), but ahead of AJ McCarron (Alabama), Tajh Boyd (Clemson), Marcus Mariota (Oregon), Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M), Logan Thomas (Virginia Tech), Braxton Miller (Ohio State) and Aaron Murray (Georgia).

While the ending at Miami was far from fairy-tale, it's far from the end of the football road for Morris. The next several months will be spent getting NFL draft-ready, and with some proper guidance, training and the cleaning-up of some bad habits, what's been broken can still be repaired.

Three years ago, Sam Shields ended a disappointing four-year career at Miami. Originally recruited as a wide receiver, Shields failed to live up to expectations and converted to defensive back as a senior.

Always a superior athlete, Shields had the speed, but at times lacked the desire, which made it difficult for Hurricanes assistants to properly coach him up.

Shields went undrafted in 2010 as a pot-related arrest hurt his stock. Green Bay signed him as a free agent. Four seasons later, Shields is a decorated NFL cornerback, having won Super Bowl XLV while earning Defensive MVP honors in the NFL championship in his rookie season.

Morris has the arm and at one point of his career had the head for better decision-making. For his sake, here's hoping a Shields-like opportunity presents itself, as well as a coaching staff that can pull the most out of him next season.

Follow Chris Bello on Twitter @allCanesBlog.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCF Coach George O'Leary Compliments Blake Bortles' Girlfriend

"She deserves six million Googles."

Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles isn't quite as popular as his girlfriend, Lindsey Duke. 

When Googling the two, Duke easily wins in terms of results. UCF coach George O'Leary would like it to be the other way around. However, he definitely understands why it's that way, as his quote up top shows.

Thanks to College Spun's Tyler Moorehead for the video, and hat tip to The Big Lead's Stephen Douglas for the find.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Jadeveon Clowney's Greatest College Football Moments

Jadeveon Clowney is the latest big name to throw his name into the NFL hat, as he made his announcement after South Carolina's bowl victory over Wisconsin. This move shouldn't come as a surprise with Clowney widely being considered a surefire Top 10 pick and a franchise changer at the next level. 

In his three-year career, Clowney racked up 24 sacks and had three straight seasons of double-digit tackles for a loss. He's a once-in-a-generation type player and should impact the NFL in a big way. 

But before he gets on his way and leaves college ball completely, let's take a look at some of his best moments.

Spoiler alert: The top moment is a hit you've probably seen 748 times. 

Begin Slideshow

Capital One Bowl Proves Wisconsin Needs More from the QB Position

For the fourth straight season, the Wisconsin Badgers played in a New Year's Day bowl, and for the fourth straight season, they came away losers—going down to South Carolina, 34-24, in the Capital One Bowl. 

Wisconsin also left a lot of opportunities for victory on the field for the fourth straight year, none more glaring than the plays missed by quarterbacks Joel Stave and Curt Phillips. 

Starter Joel Stave finished his day 9-of-13 but managed only 80 yards with two touchdowns. He also threw a fluke interception that bounced off an offensive lineman's foot and suffered a shoulder injury thanks to a vicious hit on a scramble attempt in the second half.

It meant sixth-year senior Curt Phillips, who had all of two passes to his name coming in, would have to put the Badgers on his back, down 20-17. 

No doubt Phillips was put in a tough situation, coming in cold and expected to get a passing game going, but he also missed opportunities to win the game for the Badgers—including throwing a game-deciding interception with Wisconsin needing a touchdown, down 34-24 with under two minutes remaining. 

Phillips finished the day 7-of-12 for just 37 yards and two interceptions. 

In total the Badgers finished 16-of-26 for 117 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. That doesn't get it done when you are trying to play comeback football, as the Badgers were for most of the second half.

Wisconsin was able to lean on a very strong run game against the stout South Carolina defense—rushing for 293 yards as a team. 

However, when the Badgers needed something extra from their quarterback, it just wasn't there. 

That fact was no more evident than in the final five minutes, when the Badgers, trailing by 10, were forced to pound the football thanks to the inconsistent play of their quarterbacks. 

All Wisconsin needed to do was to look to the other sideline for a glimpse of what a good running game combined with a dynamic quarterback can do for a team. 

South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw torched the Badgers for 312 yards on 22-of-25 passing with three touchdowns thrown, one receiving and one rushing. Shaw also added 47 yards on the ground to go with the rushing touchdown. 

Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen has said since day one that he would like to have a run option in his quarterback, telling the world at his introductory press conference as much:

I do want to have a touch of option within the game, the game plan every week to force defenses to deal with it. But we're going to line up and let those big kids work. That's what they like to do, and we should be able to recruit and get in any recruiting battle in the country with a quality running back.

Year one didn't provide that option, as Joel Stave proved to be the only quarterback with an ability to accurately hit the deep ball and manage the game to the coaches' satisfaction.

Andersen may have been forced to work with what was around the program in year one, but come next year the Badgers are going to need a lot more out of the position if they want to stay in the Big Ten title hunt and the national conversation. 

The question is whether or not the Badgers have that dynamic quarterback in the fold. 

Bart Houston, an elite-11 quarterback in 2011, may be someone the Badgers can turn to that's already in house. 

He redshirted in 2012 after a shoulder surgery and has only been cleared to resume throwing for just over a year now. Houston spent this season running the scout team for Wisconsin, and the coaches have taken notice of his improvement. 

"He is markedly better than he was when we came in in the spring," Ludwig said, according to Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "and even through the course of the summer."

One thing that Houston and most good quarterbacks don't lack for is confidence, and he believes himself able to take the starting job in 2014. 

"It's within my reach; I know that," Houston told Potrykus. "Joel has got the experience. And that's what he's got over me. Experience goes a long way."

Houston comes from the famed De La Salle High School program in Concord, California—where they run the veer offense—so he is familiar with the concepts needed to read defenses in the run game.

Wisconsin also has another option already playing this season, safety Tanner McEvoy. 

His situation was a unique one from the word go. McEvoy, a JUCO transfer, made the decision to sign with Wisconsin just before national signing day as one of Gary Andersen's lone "gets" in the 2013 class. 

McEvoy broke his hand during fall practice and was ruled out of the battle because of it. However, the staff knew that his athletic ability couldn't be kept off the field, and after trying him at wide receiver for a bit, he was moved to safety. 

He would see the field in 10 games, eventually becoming a regular starter at safety for the Badgers. 

The future for McEvoy will be at quarterback though, as he split the bowl prep time, according to Potrykus, between safety and QB. 

If his arm and mental game can match the clear athletic ability he demonstrated in 2013, McEvoy could well be Wisconsin's starter in 2014. 

The Badgers will also welcome highly touted 2014 recruit D.J. Gillins to the fold when the spring semester starts up at the end of January. He is currently ranked as the fourth-best dual-threat quarterback, according to 247sports' composite rankings.

Getting an early start in the playbook and weight room will help Gillins' ability to fight for the starting job come fall camp. 

The good news is that the coaching staff knows it needs more out of the quarterback position going forward and that there are clearly options to turn to outside of what Stave gave the team this season. 

After a year of being stuck with what was ready to play at Wisconsin, 2014 could lead the Badgers in a more dynamic direction at quarterback—and after their Capital One Bowl performance, probably not a moment too soon. 

 

*Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for the Big Ten. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. You can follow Andy on Twitter: @ andycoppens.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oklahoma Head Coach Bob Stoops Says Alabama Is Still Best Team in the Country

Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops continues to shower praise on his upcoming opponent, the Alabama Crimson Tide, in the run-up to Thursday evening's Sugar Bowl.

According to B/R's Marc Torrence, Stoops called Alabama the best team in the country, despite its last-second loss to Auburn in the Iron Bowl:

Stoops' opinion is not an unpopular one. The Crimson Tide lost one game last season too, but with enough breaks they were able to make the national title game against undefeated Notre Dame. And after they beat the Irish 42-14, no one was arguing their supremacy.

That Alabama led for most of the game, on the road, at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn leads many to believe it is actually the stronger team. College football is a sport where one week can ruin your season—but that's not necessarily a foolproof way to judge a team's merit.

According to Football Outsiders' F/+ ratings, Alabama is indeed a better team than Auburn, ranking No. 2 in the country. Auburn checks in at No. 4—though it was far lower before beating Alabama and Missouri—and Florida State is No. 1.

Oklahoma, for what it's worth, ranks all the way down at No. 23, behind the likes of Virginia Tech. According to Vegas Insider, the Sooners are 16.5-point underdogs, though Alabama's motivation has been called into question. After contending for a national title for most of the season, it remains to be seen how much the Crimson Tide care about a "meaningless" bowl game.

Under similar circumstances, Utah upset the Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl in 2009, beating a far superior team by two touchdowns.

If his opponent shows up ready to play, Stoops will likely be proven correct in his assessment of its talent. But he'd gladly be proven wrong.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Army All-America Bowl 2014: Ranking the Top 8 Offensive Recruits

The Army All-American Bowl annually features phenomenal football talent from every region of the country. Kickoff occurs Saturday at the Alamodome in San Antonio, broadcast live at 1 p.m. ET on NBC.

Offensive fireworks are expected in a contest that has featured Adrian Peterson, AJ McCarron, Andrew Luck and LeSean McCoy in past years. The 2014 game is filled with playmakers who follow in line with that legacy, and here we rate the top offensive prospects to watch.

*Ratings based on 247 Sports' composite rankings.

Begin Slideshow

Outback Bowl 2014: 10 Things We Learned from Iowa vs. LSU

With a 200-yard rushing performance by Jeremy Hill, the LSU Tigers proved capable of defeating a hard-nosed Iowa team in the 2014 Outback Bowl without Zach Mettenberger.

In a 21-14 victory, Hill carried the Tigers with 216 yards rushing and two rushing touchdowns. His performance paved the way for the offense, while LSU's defense had one of its best showings of the season.

Still, Iowa didn't go down without a fight, as James Morris and the defense kept the Hawkeyes in the game all the way until the end. It was a defensive struggle that saw LSU outgain Iowa 302 to 233 in total yards.

With a Tiger victory over a physical Iowa bunch, here are the greatest takeaways from the 2014 Outback Bowl.

Begin Slideshow

Gator Bowl 2014: 10 Things We Learned in Nebraska vs. Georgia

In the bowl rematch from last year, the Georgia Bulldogs fell to the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the 2014 Gator Bowl.

It was not a pretty game to say the least, but the Cornhuskers were able to capitalize on the Bulldogs' mistakes. And because of that, they end the season on a very positive note and are headed in the right direction.

As for Georgia, there's a lot to take away from this game, as well as this season. A lot of young players played, and they will be a better team because of it moving forward.

Here are 10 things we learned in the game.

Begin Slideshow

Georgia Bulldogs Celebrate the New Year in Hotel Halls in Just Their Underwear

The Georgia Bulldogs had a bowl game to play on New Year's Day, but that didn't stop them from celebrating in the hallway wearing very little after the ball dropped.

Safety Tray Matthews posted a Vine of the team, via Deadspin's Sean Newell:

Georgia lost 24-19 to Nebraska in the Gator Bowl on Wednesday.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Gator Bowl 2014: Todd Gurley Once Again Proves He's Nation's Top RB

Healthy or not, Georgia’s Todd Gurley has staked his claim as college football’s No. 1 running back for 2014.

Although the Bulldogs ultimately fell short to Nebraska, 24-19, during Wednesday’s Gator Bowl, the sophomore put in yet another sensational effort. He rushed for 86 yards on 21 carries while recording team highs with seven receptions for 97 yards and a touchdown.

Given the absolutely miserable conditions of the field, Gurley put together one heck of a performance.

B/R SEC lead writer Barrett Sallee put it best:

Gurley’s lone touchdown came off a 25-yard pass from quarterback Hutson Mason in the fourth quarter to pull Georgia within 24-19. It could be said that without the play of the Tarboro, N.C., native, the team wouldn’t have even been in position to score the go-ahead touchdown late in the game.

With starting quarterback Aaron Murray set to graduate this year, Gurley’s presence will be more important than ever for the Bulldogs next season.

In 10 games this season, Gurley rushed for 989 yards and 10 touchdowns on 165 carries while hauling in 37 catches for 441 yards and six scores. One can only imagine how deadly he could have been had he played in all 13 of Georgia’s games.

In fact, Gurley’s projected 2013 statistics in 13 games would rank pretty well among those of a few returning running backs next season:

Out of those running backs, only Auburn’s Mason pulled in more combined touchdowns (22) than Gurley’s 21. The other two with at least 20—Sankey (20) and Gaffney (21)—will most likely be playing in the NFL in 2014.

Furthermore, Gurley is the only running back among those listed that brought in more than two receiving touchdowns. Moreover, his 573 receiving yards are considerably more than the next best running back's total (Sankey, 304). 

As for whether Gurley can be the lone contributor for the Bulldogs, he’s already proven he’s more than capable of taking on the challenge.

In Georgia’s regular-season finale against Georgia Tech on Nov. 30—the first game after Murray’s season-ending injury—Gurley put the team on his back, finishing with 122 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries. He also caught four passes for 36 yards and another score.

Now, picture that contribution over an entire season. The 2014 Heisman Trophy is easily a possibility.

Needless to say, opposing defenses will be dreading the day they face Gurley and the Bulldogs in 2014.

 

All stats and rankings used in this article are courtesy of CFBstats.com.

For complete coverage and everything college football, you can reach Sebastian on Facebook, on Twitter and via email at Sebastian.LenaBR@gmail.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

If 2014 Outback Bowl Was Jeremy Hill's Last Game, the LSU RB Went out on Top

Jeremy Hill shredded Iowa in the best performance by a LSU running back in the Les Miles era. 

Hill rushed for a career high 216 yards and two touchdowns in a 21-14 Tigers victory in the 2014 Outback Bowl. No other LSU running back under Miles has rushed for more than 200 in a game.

Hill's final stats do not do his performance justice. LSU was without starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger. True freshman Anthony Jennings made the start, which allowed Iowa to load the box to stop the run. 

Iowa's efforts were ineffective. 

Hill broke a 42-yard run on LSU's opening drive, which would eventually end with a Jennings touchdown run. Hill has had at least one rush of 40 yards or more in six of the 12 games he played this season. For perspective, Iowa only had one rush of 40 yards or more all season. 

Hill would score his first touchdown when he carried multiple Iowa defenders into the end zone on a 14-yard scamper to extend LSU's lead to 14-0. 

As the game wore on, Jennings began to struggle mightily. He threw an interception that gave Iowa life in the second half. But Hill still dominated in spite of poor quarterback play. 

Great running backs get stronger as the game goes along. Hill proved that to be the case against Iowa, saving his best for last in his masterful performance. 

 

LSU was only up 14-7 late in the fourth quarter. The Tigers regained possession at their own 8-yard line after a Craig Loston interception. The Tigers had yet to score in the second half.

Hill would then take over the game.

Hill lead the LSU charge 92 yards down the field that ended with a 37-yard touchdown that put Iowa safety Tanner Miller on skates. Three of his four rushes on the drive went for 20 yards or more as he glided past tacklers with ease.

What won't show up on the box score or highlight reels were Hill's runs for short yardage. On nearly every run, he would break numerous tackles and fall forward for extra yardage. This wore down an Iowa defense normally known for wearing its opponents down the same way. 

LSU fans should savor this performance from Hill, as it was likely his last in a LSU uniform. He is eligible for the NFL draft as a redshirt sophomore. He would be continuing a recent trend of Tigers running backs leaving with eligibility remaining. 

 

LSU head coach Les Miles put his reputation on the line by keeping Hill on the roster after his poor off-the-field behavior and legal issues. With performances like this one, it is easy to see why Miles kept his prized thoroughbred. The All-SEC running back wins football games.  

While Hill's performance was impressive, it should hardly be a surprise. Hill is a damn strong football player trying to prove to professional scouts he is ready for the next level. 

Hill's LSU career will never be forgotten. He burst on to the scene last season as a freshman against South Carolina and never looked back. He was the difference in the Tigers' victory over National Championship finalist Auburn earlier this season. 

But for now, college football fans should savor one of the most magnificent performances from an LSU Tiger ever witnessed. Hill eviscerated the Hawkeyes in his swan song, and it was a thing of beauty.  

Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower.  

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Outback Bowl 2014: LSU's Offense Is a Work-in-Progress Without Zach Mettenberger

The Outback Bowl between LSU and Iowa wasn't pretty.

At times, in fact, it was downright ugly.

The Tigers and Hawkeyes got into an old-fashioned slugfest at Raymond James Stadium on Wednesday afternoon, as Jeremy Hill rushed 28 times for 216 yards and two touchdowns in the 21-14 win over Iowa.

As ESPN's official Twitter account pointed out, Hill was impossible to take down.

Jeremy Hill is certified battering ram. #OutbackBowl

— ESPN (@espn) January 1, 2014

LSU head coach Les Miles was lucky Hill was there because the rest of the offense was left somewhere else on Florida's west coast.

Aside from Hill's work on the ground, the Tigers gained just 86 yards on the Hawkeyes.

In his first start at quarterback, freshman quarterback Anthony Jennings completed just 7-of-19 passes for 82 yards, zero touchdowns and one pick.

"I think he did, for a first start...well done," Miles said on ESPN's broadcast after the game. "[He] managed it to a point. He did some things that we'll not have him do, but it was a nice start and we'll see where we go from here."

There's a long way to go from here.

Hill is three years removed from high school, and thus, eligible for the NFL draft. If he goes pro—and after that performance against the Big Ten's fourth-best rush defense (120.75 YPG), he should—LSU's offense may undergo a complete overhaul in Cam Cameron's second season as offensive coordinator.

In addition to Hill, LSU will likely lose running back Alfred Blue, and could lose junior wide receivers Odell Beckham, Jr. and Jarvis Landry early to the NFL draft as well. This, in addition to the departure of seniors Zach Mettenberger at quarterback and J.C. Copeland at fullback.

The cupboard isn't bare in Baton Rouge by any means, but it appears that the Tigers will have to hit the reset button on offense this offseason.

That's not to say all is lost. 

Jennings was making his first career start against the Hawkeyes, and a full offseason of work will certainly help him progress. It also will allow Cameron time to tweak his scheme to fit the duality that Jennings brings to the table.

LSU's dramatic turnaround on offense was one of the most surprising storylines of the 2013 season.

If several of its stars move on, its ability to keep the ship headed in the right direction will be one to watch early in the 2014 season.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Steve Spurrier Trolls Clemson After Capital One Bowl Victory

South Carolina won its second Capital One Bowl in three years, but the Gamecocks' 34-24 victory over Wisconsin on Wednesday wasn't the only thing on coach Steve Spurrier's mind.

The Gamecocks pulled out a 31-17 victory over the Clemson Tigers on Nov. 30. After South Carolina won the Capital One Bowl, Spurrier took a shot at the school's instate rival:

Steve Spurrier: 'These two Capital One Bowls in a row are pretty nice, but that state championship ain't bad either.'

— GoGamecocks.com (@gogamecocks) January 1, 2014

Clemson plays Ohio State in the Orange Bowl on Friday, so stay tuned to see if the Tigers have a response.

Thanks to College Spun's Tyler Moorehead for the video.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Iowa vs. LSU: Score, Grades and Analysis from 2014 Outback Bowl

The No. 16 LSU Tigers survived in the 2014 Outback Bowl against the Iowa Hawkeyes in a 21-14 affair that will surely go down as one of the bowl season's ugliest.

The Tigers held the ball for more than 35 minutes and were saved by sophomore running back Jeremy Hill, who rushed 28 times for 216 yards and two scores.

LSU overall managed 302 total yards and a 10-of-21 mark on third down, in large part because the Tigers had to start freshman quarterback Anthony Jennings in place of Zach Mettenberger, who went down for the year with a torn ACL in early December.

Jennings went 7-of-19 for 82 yards and an interception. He found the end zone once on the ground.

Iowa sophomore quarterback Jake Rudock had no answer for the LSU defense. He completed nine of his 22 passes for 102 yards and a pick before leaving the game with an injury. The Hawkeyes managed just 233 total yards and a 6-of-19 showing on third down.   

It was apparent on the first drive of the game how LSU would attack the Iowa defense, which entered the game ranked No. 10 overall: protect Jennings through the ground game.

The Tigers did just that, rushing eight times for 77 yards before the freshman took it in himself from two yards out:

From there, the two sides mostly exchanged punts until early in the second quarter, when Iowa junior receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley committed a grievous error by muffing a punt. The ensuing result was LSU taking a 14-0 lead shortly after via a gritty rush by Hill for a 14-yard score:

Iowa showed signs of life in the middle of the third quarter by finally forcing Jennings into a mistake. Junior defensive back John Lowdermilk intercepted a tipped pass and returned it 71 yards before committing a boneheaded play, which Rob Metzger of WTOV sums up nicely:

It was as bad as it sounds:

As Metzger hints, Lowdermilk was absolved of his sin three plays later as junior running back Mark Weisman found the end zone from two yards out to make it 14-7 with 5:52 remaining in the third quarter.

Things picked up again with time winding down in the fourth. With Iowa freshman quarterback C.J. Beathard under center in place of the injured Rudock, the Hawkeyes gambled on fourth down from the LSU 16 while down by seven.

The gamble proved erroneous, as Beathard rolled out to his right and threw the ball right into the hands of LSU's senior safety, Craig Loston.

Then things got a bit hectic. Hill decided to take over the game on his own after the interception, recording runs of 28, 20 and 37, the last of which went for a touchdown to put LSU up 21-7 with 2:02 left in the game:

But Iowa responded in kind one play later. Senior receiver Jordan Cotton returned the ensuing kickoff 96 yards. Two plays later, Beathard found Martin-Manley for a four-yard touchdown to move the Hawkeyes back within a score.

LSU's special teams then rose to the occasion after giving up the big play and recovered the onside kick, which allowed Jennings to kneel the ball to seal the win, 21-14. 

 

Key Player Grades

Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU: A

It was widely accepted that Hill was the star of the show entering the contest. He was the main component that would help the Tigers overcome having to start a freshman under center. 

Hill did just that as he bruised his way to an impressive day against a stout defense. With LSU's offense looking anemic, his taking the game into his own hands late was beyond impressive—and perhaps a fitting way to end his collegiate career should he choose to go pro.

 

Odell Beckham, WR, LSU: B

In a defensive battle, junior star receiver Odell Beckham got lost in the shuffle. He brought in just two receptions for 35 yards, but he did manage to reel in the highlight of the game:

While a great play, Beckham disappointed overall.

 

Jake Rudock, QB, Iowa: C

Rudock was either going to make or break the game for the Hawkeyes, as the team was tasked with somehow scoring on a strong LSU defense.

The sophomore signal-caller put together a miserable outing before making his exit in the fourth quarter due to injury.

Beathard entered the game and fared a bit better. He put up a 4-of-7 mark for 55 yards with a touchdown and interception.

 

Anthony Jennings, QB, LSU: C

The spotlight was on Jennings in his first career start. He did about as expected for a young quarterback who had only attempted 10 passes entering the contest, which happened to be an important bowl game to close an underwhelming season.

So yes, taking it all into consideration, Jennings did just fine against an elite defense. He certainly did not propel the Tigers to victory, but he did not cost them the game, either.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Capital One Bowl 2014: Jadeveon Clowney Reminds Us Why He's so Special

In the Capital One Bowl, South Carolina beat Wisconsin 34-24, giving Steve Spurrier's team its third straight 11-win campaign. As the Gamecocks got the win, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney did what he's done all season: show flashes of elite talent that make the NFL folks drool.

Then the junior, live on ABC, told the nation something everyone already expected: he was declaring for the NFL draft.

The victory over Wisconsin went like much of the season for the defensive end shouldering Herculean expectations: those who know the game saw a guy capable of being a star in the NFL and stat watchers walked away disappointed.

New Years Day was another sackless outing for Clowney, something the numbers-watching critics have bemoaned for much of the season. This game fit every narrative of the season with respect to the Clowney angles. It gave those saying the junior was lazy plenty of ammunition, something B/R's Ian Kenyon pointed out.

Yet, Kenyon and others who watch more than the numbers got another shot to see Clowney show why he's so high on so many folks' NFL draft boards. Against Wisconsin, Clowney forced the quarterback to throw before he was comfortable, showed a newly developing skill of batting down passes and the athleticism to pursue plays away from him. The junior also drew the double team to help his teammates force the issue against Wisconsin.

The package is very much there for the next level. Clowney showed that in his explosion, he also showed he has work to do from a polish standpoint when he arrives in the NFL. He's a player still looking for a reliable pass-rush move and who needs to find a backup plan for when the speed rush off the edge does not get him to the quarterback.

He can certainly learn that at the next level. What his future NFL coaches will not be able to teach is the first-step quickness, the raw power he generates through his explosion or the speed that helps him track down ball-carriers.

This year's Capital One Bowl was Clowney's season, in a veritable nutshell. Glancing at the numbers does not do his performance justice. Stat sheets are never kind to defensive players; in the case of a guy facing runs away from him, quick passes to thwart his rush efforts and doing little things to help his teammates, the numbers are even more unforgiving.

Clowney's ready to hit the next level, and in his final game the junior reminded the collegiate landscape that he can still do special things. Some NFL team, likely near the top of the draft, will be quite pleased with its first pick of the 2014 NFL draft.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Wisconsin vs. South Carolina: Score, Grades, Analysis from 2014 Capital One Bowl

Thanks to inspired efforts by quarterback Connor Shaw and receiver Bruce Ellington, No. 9 South Carolina defeated No. 19 Wisconsin to win the 2014 Capital One Bowl on Jan. 1 by a score of 34-24.

The thrilling contest featured plenty of offensive fireworks by each team, even after both got off to cold starts.    

After Wisconsin's Joel Stave threw an interception with 48 seconds remaining in the first quarter, Shaw kicked off the action in exhilarating fashion with a 39-yard touchdown strike to Ellington, putting the Gamecocks up by seven points heading into the second quarter. 

Wisconsin didn't take long to respond, however, as Shaw's touchdown strike seemed to open up the offensive floodgates for both teams.

Starting out the next drive at their own 29-yard line, the Badgers marched down the field on a six-play, 71-yard scoring drive that concluded with a one-yard touchdown pass from Stave to little-used tight end Sam Arneson, tying the game at seven. 

South Carolina responded with another scoring drive on its next possession—a superb 12-play masterpiece that ended with a tricky touchdown pass from Ellington to Shaw.

South Carolina failed to get in on a two-point conversion, putting the Gamecocks ahead by six points instead of seven, 13-7.

Not surprisingly, given the way the second quarter went, Wisconsin responded with a 16-play touchdown-scoring drive of its own. Stave connected with senior receiver Jeff Duckworth on a three-yard score with just 13 seconds on the clock before halftime, putting Wisconsin up 14-13 at the half. 

After Wisconsin opened up the second half with a field goal to take a 17-13 lead, Shaw gave Gamecocks fans a collective panic attack. 

He coughed up the ball on South Carolina's first play on the next drive, setting up the Badgers with excellent field position on their opponent's 31-yard line. 

But South Carolina's defense held and Wisconsin's Jack Russell missed his 42-yard field-goal attempt, giving the Gamecocks a new lease on life.

Nine plays and 75 yards later, Shaw hit Ellington for the dynamic duo's third touchdown strike, putting South Carolina up 20-17, but it almost never happened.

On 4th-and-7 at Wisconsin's 44-yard line, Shaw threw a pass to Ellington that should have been incomplete, but the receiver made a jaw-dropping play to secure the ball and keep his team's drive alive:

By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, both teams had forgotten all about their punters, who hadn't touched the field since the first quarter.

Unfortunately, Wisconsin's offense suffered a tremendous blow just before the final stanza, as Stave suffered a shoulder strain and was lost for the game, as reported by ESPN's Tom Luginbill (via CBS Sports' Eye on College FBall): 

Senior Curt Phillips, who had thrown just two passes all year, replaced Stave in the starting lineup.

Shortly thereafter, South Carolina made a tremendous defensive stand on the second play of the quarter, stoning running back Melvin Gordon for no gain on 4th-and-1 at the Gamecocks' 26-yard line. 

Shaw threw his third touchdown pass of the day just six plays later, capping off a 74-yard drive and putting his team up by 10 points, 27-17, with just over 11 minutes to play. 

Without its starting quarterback and down by 10 points, Wisconsin was in trouble. However, on the next play, junior receiver Kenzel Doe took the kickoff 91 yards to pay dirt, which pulled the Badgers back to within three points, 27-24.

But as he'd done throughout the game, Shaw drove his offense right down the field once more. His one-yard touchdown run finished off a relentless nine-play drive that chewed up 88 yards in just under four-and-a-half minutes.

It also put South Carolina up by a score of 34-24 with just 6:27 left in the fourth quarter. 

The teams then traded three turnovers—two interceptions by Wisconsin's Phillips and one lost fumble by South Carolina's Brandon Wilds—setting up South Carolina with the ball on its own 20-yard line with just over three minutes remaining on the game clock.

Wisconsin failed to score on a last-ditch effort late in the fourth quarter, turning the ball over on a fumble to give the Gamecocks the 10-point win.  

 

Grades

Connor Shaw, QB, South Carolina: A

It's hard to poke any holes in Shaw's brilliant performance at the Capital One Bowl.

The senior quarterback was unflappable—as always—totaling 368 yards and five touchdowns (three passing, one rushing and one receiving) while turning the ball over just once on a lost fumble.

It remains to be seen if the quarterback will find success at the next level in the NFL. Not surprisingly, he received a ringing endorsement after the game by head coach Steve Spurrier, as noted by Dane Brugler of CBS Sports:

Regardless of what kind of success he finds at the next level, there's no denying Shaw had a stellar college career, and he couldn't have scripted a better way to close it out.  

 

Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin: B+

The only reason to knock Gordon's performance against South Carolina is that he didn't score a touchdown during the game.

Toting the rock 25 times for 143 yards (5.7 yards per carry), he carried Wisconsin's offense throughout the game. Unfortunately, the sophomore wasn't able to find his way into the end zone, sending he and the Badgers home with the taste of losing in their mouths.

Look out for this kid next year, as he will return for his junior season and should be one of the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy.  

 

Bruce Ellington, WR, South Carolina: A+

Ellington had one of the best games of his young life on Jan. 1 against Wisconsin.

As Ryan Wood of The Post & Courier pointed out, the junior receiver was making a strong case for NFL scouts, totaling six catches for 140 yards and two touchdown grabs:

Don't forget about his touchdown strike to Shaw, either.

Ellington's tip-drill 22-yard reception on fourth down to keep a drive alive in the fourth quarter was also noteworthy, and it's clear he was one of the best college football players in the nation to open up 2014. 

 

What's Next?

For both teams, the Capital One Bowl represented the final phase of the 2013-14 college football season. 

Some players, like Jadeveon Clowney, will now head into a rigorous training regimen as the 2014 NFL draft approaches. It's long been suspected that Clowney would enter the draft after the season and he confirmed those suspicions after the game, via Brugler:

The coaching staffs for both teams will now focus on recruiting for next year and beyond, and both programs—as always—will be aiming for a better result next season.

 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Johnny Manziel Needs to Declare for NFL Draft After Strong Chick-fil-A Bowl

Was that Johnny Football's final act for Texas A&M?

In a span of two seasons, Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel has captivated the college football world with his high-wire act and gunslinger mentality under center. On Tuesday night, Manziel turned in a vintage Johnny Football performance while guiding Texas A&M to a wild 52-48 comeback win against Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Manziel tossed two second-half touchdown passes and rushed for another, finishing 30-of-38 for 382 yards and four scores while rushing the ball 11 times for 73 yards and a TD.

But the box score hardly does justice to the display Manziel put on in Atlanta. Throughout his career, Manziel made a habit of improvising out of bad situations and making jaw-dropping plays, and he delivered another instant classic highlight against the Blue Devils.

With his team trailing 38-17 early in the second half, Manziel turned in this gem that resulted in a 19-yard touchdown pass to Travis Labhart.

That's an incredible display of athleticism and pure instincts that you can't teach, and it's what makes Manziel so great.

As a redshirt sophomore three years removed from high school, Manziel is eligible to declare for the 2014 NFL draft. Together with others like Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, Fresno State's Derek Carr and Central Florida's Blake Bortles, Manziel is considered one of the top draft-eligible prospects at quarterback.

On Wednesday, Bridgewater made news by declaring through the Cardinals' official site that he would be leaving school early to pursue an NFL career, ending months of speculation surrounding the talented signal-caller.

With Manziel's stock so high following his performance against Duke, he should follow Bridgewater's lead and declare for the draft.

Bucky Brooks of NFL.com was on hand in the Georgia Dome to see Manziel's latest masterpiece and was clearly blown away:

In a glowing column about Manziel's NFL prospects, Brooks gushed about the quarterback's abilities on the big stage while also addressing some of Manziel's most pressing questions.

Does he have NFL arm strength? Can he handle the mental demands of NFL playbooks and defenses? Will his athleticism be compromised at the next level? Brooks is convinced Manziel has the right answer to all of those doubts and will thrive at the next level.

There's no way to simulate the intensity of the NFL, but Manziel got the next closest thing by playing in the SEC. The entire conference has been littered with first-round NFL defensive talent over the past two seasons, but it couldn't slow down the 2012 Heisman winner from making history:

Earlier this year, Nick Saban watched Manziel pile up 464 passing yards, 98 rushing yards and five touchdowns against his vaunted Crimson Tide defense. The respected Alabama coach told Sports Illustrated's Greg A. Bedard that Manziel is a "unique player" with an "NFL future."

I'm on board with Saban's assessment and think the time is right for Manziel to test his skills against the best.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Vin Scully Highlights 2014 Rose Parade as Grand Marshal

If Robin Williams ever granted me three wishes, one of those would definitely be to have Vin Scully narrate my life.

The Voice of the Dodgers is terrific in almost every way imaginable, and if you needed any more proof of that, look no further than his work as Grand Marshal at the 2014 Rose Parade on Wednesday morning. 

ABC7 News in Los Angeles gives us a look at the 86-year-old kicking off the new year in style:

There's really no question that Scully was the right choice to usher in the 125th edition of the famous parade through Pasadena. To call him an icon in Los Angeles might not even do him the necessary justice. He has been working with the Dodgers for an unbelievable 65 years and perhaps has one of the most recognizable, legendary voices in all of sports. 

Someone like Scully serving as Grand Marshal for such a prestigious event is the perfect fit. Naturally, he used a baseball metaphor to help explain the honor, via Brian Bencomo at Pasadena Magazine:

Well, I think besides the overwhelming honor -– and it is overwhelming when you arrive at the Tournament House and they show you the pictures of some of the previous Grand Marshals, and the thought comes that your name will be linked with them — I guess to bring the numbers into play, it’s like a hitter in baseball hitting .300 as opposed to .299. Or a pitcher winning 20 as opposed to 19. I think the number 125 for the parade, 100 for the game, just adds a little extra luster. Although you certainly don’t need any extra luster.

Another example of Scully's legend? Check out some sports media figures, who are used to being around some of the biggest superstars in the world, showing their excitement about meeting him:

As for the actual parade, it was your typical Rose Parade, just with more Scully, which is always a good thing. 

The Dodgers' official Twitter feed and the Vin Scully fan account provide some photos of the illustrious event:

Of course, pictures don't quite do it justice in this instance. You need to hear the man with the golden voice. You can listen to him reading the "I Love a Parade" poem here, which is sure to provide some goosebumps, or here he is wishing everyone a happy new year:

Yep, 2014 is definitely off to a better start than 2013. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Nebraska's Win over Georgia Just the Start Bo Pelini Needed in 2014

What a difference a year makes. Better yet, what a difference one day makes.

Nebraska’s 24-19 win over No. 22 Georgia in the Gator Bowl was the start to 2014 that Bo Pelini had to have. It wasn’t perfect or pretty, and it came with a little bit of luck, but this is an enormous victory for a coach who needed it in the worst way.

Last year started with a gut punch. The Huskers lost 45-31 to the Bulldogs on New Year’s Day in the Capital One Bowl, giving up 589 yards along the way. This prompted many to question the leadership of the head coach, and the regular-season results that followed didn’t exactly settle matters.

There was the second half against UCLA back in September. The Cornhuskers, seemingly in control early on, were outscored 31-0 in the third and fourth quarters, losing 41-21.

Shortly after the UCLA loss, the now infamous Pelini audio surfaced on Deadspin. The context, which is well known by now, prompted immediate backlash at a time when the team was already down.

Along the way, Pelini also lost his starting quarterback to a foot injury. Senior Taylor Martinez missed a majority of the year—including the bowl game—forcing the coach to adjust his offense entirely.

And in the final regular-season game of the year, Nebraska was thoroughly handled by Iowa at home, losing 38-17. The blowout prompted more speculation over Pelini’s status, more doubt in the program and a postgame rant that was overblown to a degree. 

In short, momentum appeared lost.

Only one day into the New Year, however, the picture is a bit brighter. 

Despite entering the Gator Bowl as more than a seven-point underdog against Georgia, the Huskers delivered an unexpected win.

Freshman quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. wasn’t perfect, but he did flash moments of brilliance. Operating in his own end zone, Armstrong’s 99-yard touchdown pass to Quincy Enunwa proved to be the biggest moment in the game. 

Of course, Nebraska finally got a little luck, as well. (OK, a little more luck if you’re thinking back to the game-winning Hail Mary against Northwestern.)

With Georgia driving in the final minute, reliable Bulldogs tight end Arthur Lynch dropped a pass on fourth down in the slippery conditions. This gave the Cornhuskers the ball and the win.

Following the game, Pelini shared the moment with everyone involved.

Pelini at trophy presentation: "The way we do things at Nebraska, this is a team win." Team includes administration and fans.

— Nebraska Huskers (@Huskers) January 1, 2014

For Pelini, it couldn’t come at a better time.

Athletic director Shawn Eichorst backed the head coach following the final regular-season game, which served as a bit surprise given the circumstances.

In a statement sent out by the school, Eichorst—while somewhat cryptic in his delivery—cooled the rumors.

My approach has always been to not comment publicly about our coaches until their full seasons are complete, as I strongly believe it is unfair and counter to best practices.  However, given the volume of unfounded speculation and conjecture about our head football coach, I want to reaffirm what I have said many times since I have arrived at the University of Nebraska—that I positively respect, appreciate and support our football student-athletes, coaches and staff, as we do everyone in the Husker family.  We very much look forward to our upcoming bowl game and Coach Pelini continuing to lead our program in the future.

Of course, the issues at Nebraska aren’t immediately erased with one unexpected win. Questions and concerns regarding the long-term outlook of the program remain.

Pelini has somewhat quietly won at least nine games in every season, however, and perhaps is under-appreciated to a degree.

There’s also this, which provides some perspective on his tenure at Nebraska.

They announced that Bo has now the same number of wins in his first 6 years as the legendary Tom Osborne did.

— Ben Cotton (@BenCotton81) January 1, 2014

At the very least, Pelini can take a well-deserved deep breath. 

There will be questions going forward surrounding the performance of the team, the need to spark recruiting and the other issues which have hampered the program in recent years. But for one day, the first day of 2014, Pelini can (and should) enjoy this. 

It certainly beats last year.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Cold Hard Fact for Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Fact: The Baylor Bears have scored 57 touchdowns on drives that lasted two minutes or less—the most by any team in the past 10 seasons.

Bleacher Report will be bringing sports fans the most interesting and engaging Cold Hard Fact of the day, presented by Coors Light.

Source: ESPN 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pages