NCAA Football News

Russell Athletic Bowl 2014: Game Grades, Analysis for Oklahoma vs. Clemson

Things were never really close in this game, as the Clemson Tigers demolished the Oklahoma Sooners 40-6. The result was a mixture of Clemson playing well and Oklahoma simply playing terribly, but credit has to be given to Dabo Swinney’s squad.

With the victory, the program reached 10 wins for the fourth straight season, and it did so in impressive fashion. The Sooners were held to 275 total yards, and quarterback Trevor Knight threw for only 103 yards.

Cole Stoudt had his best game of the season, throwing for 319 yards and three touchdowns. More importantly, he didn’t throw any interceptions en route to a turnover-free performance for the Tigers. There were two main targets for the senior quarterback in this one, as both Mike Williams and Artavis Scott went over 100 yards receiving.

You can find the full box score here, courtesy of NCAA.com.

 

Game Grades for the Clemson Tigers

Passing Offense

The passing performance from Stoudt wasn’t flashy, but the game plan was very efficient. Stoudt finished 26-of-36 passing, and he often found success with the short passing game. The Oklahoma secondary didn’t make it tough for Stoudt, but the senior played mistake-free in the win.

 

Rushing Offense

The Tigers didn’t find much success on the ground, but they did enough to open things up through the air. Clemson finished with only 68 yards on 42 carries, and Wayne Gallman was held to just 55 yards.

 

Passing Defense

The Tigers secondary did an excellent job in this game. Knight found it tough to throw the ball all night, completing just 17 of his 37 passes. He finished the game with only 103 yards, and the Tigers forced three interceptions.

 

Rushing Defense

The Tigers did a good job in the first half of containing Samaje Perine, but the freshman phenom found room to run in the second half. He finished the bowl game with 134 yards, which was good for 5.8 yards per carry. The Sooners rushed for 172 yards as a team, but the Tigers didn’t let them control the game with the rushing attack.

 

Special Teams

The special teams weren’t bad for the Tigers, either. They played a pretty solid game in all three phases, and Ammon Lakip played well. He had one kick blocked, but he connected on his other two attempts.

 

Coaching

The Tigers came out with an excellent game plan, and they executed it beautifully. The short passes on offense helped Stoudt get into a rhythm, and the offense still looked pretty good despite not getting anything going on the ground. The job by Brent Venables was remarkable, as the Tigers held a high-powered Oklahoma offense to just six points.

 

 

Game Grades for the Oklahoma Sooners

Passing Offense

Knight looked like he was on a different planet Monday night, and he never found any kind of rhythm in the passing game. He completed only 17 of his 37 throws, and he averaged only 2.8 yards per pass. The three interceptions is what hurt him the most, and the Tigers were able to keep him from ever getting too comfortable.

 

Rushing Offense

The Sooners needed to use the rushing game to control things, and they didn’t accomplish that. They got down early because they couldn’t get the running game going, and it was too late to do that in the second half. Perine has a very bright future, and his 134-yard performance will be something to build off of going into next season.

 

Passing Defense

The Sooners secondary was terrible in this game. There were too many wide-open throws for Stoudt, and the missed tackles capped off an embarrassing performance. The Tigers threw for 319 yards and three touchdowns, and they did so with a quarterback who hasn’t looked good since the second game of the season.

 

Rushing Defense

If there was a positive takeaway from this game for Oklahoma, it would have to be the rushing defense. They held the Tigers to 68 yards on 42 carries, and they never let Clemson get anything going on the ground. Gallman was coming off of his best performance against South Carolina, but he was held to just 55 yards on 19 carries.

 

Special Teams

It’s tough to judge the Sooners special teams because they didn’t attempt any field goals in this game. The punter got a workout, punting nine times and landing two of those inside the 20-yard line. The one thing that stood out to me was the blocked field goal. That was a great play, and it could have flipped the momentum had it not been for the interception by Clemson moments later.

 

Coaching

The Sooners looked overmatched and unprepared in this game. The roster has talent, but the coaches didn’t get anything out of their players on Monday night. The offensive game plan failed because Knight never looked comfortable, and the Sooners had no answers for Clemson’s short passing game.

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Cole Stoudt Has Lasting Memory for His Clemson Career in Demolition of Oklahoma

The gifts given to players in the Russell Athletic Bowl included a watch, a T-shirt and a Best Buy shopping trip. Cole Stoudt got an extra prize: the kind of a sendoff befitting a guy who stuck around and waited for his chance.

In the final game of his senior season, a season in which he was essentially benched three times, the Clemson quarterback put forth a career-best effort in the Tigers' 40-6 win over Oklahoma on Monday.

He threw for 319 yards and three touchdowns on 26-of-36 passing and also ran for a two-yard TD, putting a cap on a tenure that involved three seasons as a backup before finding himself in and out of the lineup this fall.

As shocking as the final score was, even more improbable was how much Stoudt had to do with it.

He only started because freshman Deshaun Watson, the heir apparent to record-breaker Tajh Boyd, had surgery to repair a torn ACL earlier this month and wasn't available.

Watson had played with that injury in Clemson's win over rival South Carolina, something the coaching staff was aware of ahead of time but pushed aside because Watson figured to give the Tigers their best chance to win.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney had a premonition heading into the bowl game that, given one more chance to play in the orange and purple, Stoudt would end his career on a high note.

"I think he's going to play well, I really do; I like the look in his eye and his focus," Swinney told Brandon Rink of the Anderson Independent-Mail prior to the game. "I think he knows that he's the guy and has a chance to go and finish this thing off the right way."

That "look" Swinney referred to could be seen throughout Monday's performance, from his first snap—a short sideline screen to Artavis Scott that the speedy wide receiver turned into a 65-yard touchdown catch—to his scamper for a rushing TD midway through the third quarter.

It was best noticed on the sidelines when, not long after getting lit up—as well as having his helmet torn off—he tossed a pinpoint 24-yard TD pass to Germone Hopper.

Stoudt showed up at Clemson in 2011, the same year that Boyd began his three-year run in charge of a team that would win 32 games and make two BCS bowl appearances.

The 6'4" Stoudt got plenty of mop-up duty between 2011-13, throwing eight TD passes in 119 attempts while completing over 72 percent of his passes.

He finally got his chance this year, beating out Watson and Chad Kelly, who was booted off the team in the spring. But Stoudt struggled in the season-opening loss at Georgia, and not long into the third game at Florida State, he was replaced by Watson.

Stoudt threw only four passes over the next two games.

Yet when Watson broke a bone in his hand against Louisville on Oct. 11, Stoudt had to come in cold and managed the offense enough to pace Clemson to a 23-17 victory. Stoudt started the next three games, winning all of them, but when Watson was ready to go in mid-November, the senior had to step aside for the freshman again.

Then Watson suffered a knee injury against Georgia Tech, and Stoudt was again thrown into the fire.

This time, though, he failed miserably, completing only three of 11 passes for 19 yards and three interceptions. Two of those were returned for touchdowns in the 28-6 loss to Georgia Tech.

Stoudt finishes his career with a 6-2 record as a starter, helping Clemson reach 10 wins for a fourth straight season. He threw for 1,892 yards and nine touchdowns this season. For his career, he posted 2,634 passing yards and 19 total scores.

"What a fighter," Swinney told ESPN after the game (h/t TigerNet.com). "He had a stage like this tonight to play probably the best game of his career."

With the game no longer in doubt, Swinney used timeouts during the fourth quarter to allow his seniors on both sides of the ball to walk off the field to a loud ovation from Clemson's fans.

When it was Stoudt's turn to do so, the cheers were coming as much from the fans as from the sideline as Stoudt's teammates recognized the dedication he'd put forth during the past four years.

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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Why Oklahoma's Bob Stoops Should No Longer Be Considered an Elite Coach

And with one final embarrassing loss, the unraveling of Oklahoma was complete.

It took four months for the Sooners to go from preseason playoff favorites to a 40-6 loss to Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl. In the end, college football's most disappointing team ended the season 8-5. The Sugar Bowl victory against Alabama last January, which sparked the playoff conversation and the return of "Big Game Bob" Stoops, almost feels like it never happened. 

To make matters worse, Brent Venables, the former Sooners defensive coordinator who now holds the same title with Clemson, was the one who delivered the knockout punch. Clemson held Oklahoma to just 275 yards of offense and kept the Sooners off the scoreboard until midway through the fourth quarter. 

Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops will get some blame for the box score, but it was the offense that never got going and committed five turnovers. Quarterback Trevor Knight threw three picks and enters the offseason with a diminished, if not nonexistent, edge on the starting job. 

Venables and head coach Dabo Swinney had their team prepared. Oklahoma's coaching staff did not. The result was as bad a loss as you're going to find in the Stoops era. 

That leads to a question no one probably thought to ask about Stoops: At what point does this no longer become acceptable?

Consider the following: This season, Stoops lost three games at home—to Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma State—for the first time ever. In each of the past three years, the Sooners have lost two games each season by double digits. 

It still may not happen often, relatively speaking, but Stoops and Co. are getting outclassed on a yearly basis.

It's happened before, most notably in the 2005 Orange Bowl against USC (a 55-19 loss), but at least that was for a national championship. And those USC Trojans were in the middle of one of the great runs in college football history. These blowouts are of a different variety. 

That clouds a narrative about Stoops' 16 years with Oklahoma. The accomplishments make for a long list. Stoops has won at least 10 games in 12 seasons, eight Big 12 titles and a national championship. That's nothing to overlook. Furthermore, Stoops is one season removed from arguably his best coaching job, squeezing 11 wins out of a team with quarterback and injury issues. 

That said, Oklahoma has only won a share of the conference once (2012, with Kansas State) in the past four seasons. Other than the Sugar Bowl, there have been few key victories of note during that span. Somehow, the 39 games Stoops has won since 2011 feel hollow. Certainly, OU doesn't feel like the dominant program of the early to mid-2000s. 

There also appears to be a constant resentment against Mike Stoops and co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Josh Heupel. Would Stoops ever consider making staff changes? He's tremendously loyal; his brother might make the decision for him before it ever has to be made officially. At the very least, though, Stoops has to take a hard look at how he and his staff are developing key players.

Oklahoma continues to recruit at a high level, finishing with the top class in the Big 12 and No. 14 class nationally in 2014, according to 247Sports. There's no reason why Oklahoma shouldn't be getting more out of its roster. 

Bob Stoops won't be fired tomorrow because of that. He probably, barring an obvious disaster and/or scandal, won't be fired after the 2015 season either. Any hot-seat chatter needs to cool before it even gets started. It's not like Stoops forgot how to coach, and he's still well-liked by the administration. 

However, it is time to wonder if Stoops' reign as one of the top coaches in the country is nearing an end. That's not to say Stoops will never be remembered as a great coach again; however, there are plenty of others—Alabama's Nick Saban, Florida State's Jimbo Fisher, Ohio State's Urban Meyer—who have won championships more recently. Baylor's Art Briles would contend that he's the best coach in the Big 12 at the moment. 

Sixteen years is a long time to keep a great thing going. 

The year ahead becomes a crucial one for Stoops to show that he still has it. The three times Stoops finished with eight wins or fewer in a season, his teams have bounced back to double-digit wins the following year. 

Can he do it a fourth time? His legacy with Oklahoma and how it's crafted going forward may depend upon it. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. 

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How Oregon's Homegrown Coaching Staff Is Bucking the College Football Trend

LOS ANGELES—Mark Helfrich remembers Oregon football from its roots, before Nike's Phil Knight put the Taj Mahal of facilities on campus. And that description might be short-changing the facilities.     

"There was a lot of space out in the parking lot," he told me Sunday at media day for the College Football Playoff semifinal game against Florida State. "Everywhere that now we have an indoor facility, an athletic complex. Our practice field is the baseball field, the lacrosse…all of that was a parking lot.

"There was some wide open space out there. We got some good pickup games going."

Helfrich was just a kid then from Coos Bay. Now, he's Oregon's head coach, leading the Ducks into the College Football Playoff semifinal Thursday against Florida State. And that's a nice feel-good story about a nondescript kid reaching his dream job. But also, it's just the Oregon Way.

The college coaching profession is filled with vagabonds who hop around the country from one job to the next, preaching loyalty and commitment at every stop. At Oregon, they actually mean it. They have consistently grown in the past few decades from one of the worst programs in the country to one of the best and the richest.

Yet they're doing it with a homegrown coaching staff, the way it used to be done.

Helfrich is the third straight head coach at Oregon to be promoted from an assistant's job. And this past offseason, he promoted defensive line coach Don Pellum from linebackers coach to defensive coordinator. The other finalist was another current Oregon assistant.

When Helfrich was a kid in the parking lot, playing pickup games with his friends, Pellum was inside the stadium, playing for the Ducks.

"I think it kind of speaks to another time in football," Pellum said. "At one time, this was normal. Penn State's staff, Bobby Bowden's at Florida State. But I think we're the last of a dying breed. Once we're gone, I don't know if we'll ever see this again.

"It's special and unique just for the bond we all have. But what it did for us along the way, when we were trying to build a program way back when and didn't have a lot of resources and weren't getting a lot of top recruits, we were just getting some good kids and developing them. We've been together so long that we've figured out some things. Then we started to get some better players in here."

And it all added up to Oregon just two wins away from its first national championship.

This isn't meant to pass judgment on any other approach. But as playoff money and cable TV money keep growing in multiples, it is just going to become easier and easier to give up on a direction and buy a bigger-name coach.

When you have money, who needs patience and loyalty?

In fact, if anything, the big money has made the vagabond coaches—which does not count Florida State's Jimbo Fisher, who was promoted from within—into superstars. By contrast, it has kept Helfrich an unknown nationally. That, and the fact that he is just running the system passed down by his predecessor, Chip Kelly.

The final four in college football has Fisher, Urban Meyer and Nick Saban. They are all stars, and the faces of their programs. Yet, according to Michael Weinreb at Grantland, even the kids at Marshfield High, where Helfrich went, can't pick Helfrich himself out of the team picture on the wall in the school. A team takes on the personality of its coach, and that means selflessness in Helfrich's case, which creates a weird dynamic at Oregon:

Here is Phil Knight pumping money into the place to make the program one of the nation's elite, and yet here is a program built on a cozy feeling of family. It's an awkward fit with the national elite.

And while no one is considering firing Helfrich, his first team broke a four-year string of reaching major bowl games. This year, when the team lost to Arizona, even the locals had to wonder if Helfrich was up to the job.

Maybe that will be the real test of Oregon's commitment to the Oregon Way, when the team starts to falter. For now, it keeps its family feel.

"That's a good part of it, being able to be at a place where my dad went to school, my mom went to school," Helfrich said. "And my dad played briefly and my uncle played football at Oregon. All of that is certainly a point of pride for everybody."

When Pellum came to Oregon as a freshman, one of the seniors on the team was Steve Greatwood, who is now the offensive line coach.

"Back in the mid-to-late 70s, we had nothing but really friends and relatives in the stands," Greatwood said. "If we have 25,000 people there, it was a big game. The big thing now is the continuity of the staff. And we've all had our kids grow up together."

It's a good bet one of those kids will be the head coach someday. And the others will be his assistants.

 

Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report.

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Oklahoma vs. Clemson: Score and Twitter Reaction for 2014 Russell Athletic Bowl

It's not unusual to see a bowl game that pits a team hungry to end its season on a high note against a team that is disappointed it isn't playing in a more meaningful game and comes out flat and uninspired. 

On Monday night, Clemson played the part of the former and Oklahoma the latter, as the Tigers absolutely crushed the Sooners, 40-6.

Clemson's defense was brilliant, holding Oklahoma to just 103 passing yards, forcing five turnovers and holding the Sooners scoreless for most of the game. Quarterback Cole Stoudt was excellent, meanwhile, finishing 26-of-36 with 319 passing yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.

Oklahoma's freshman phenom Samaje Perine was the lone bright spot for the Sooners, rushing for 134 yards on 23 carries, while adding 22 yards on three receptions.

Clemson jumped all over Oklahoma in this one, racing out to a 27-0 lead in the first half. Artavis Scott scored the first touchdown, catching a short pass in the flat and eluding two Oklahoma defenders before racing 65 yards to paydirt.

Poor tackling in the secondary would end up being a theme for the Sooners in the first half.

Ammon Lakip would add a field goal later in the quarter before Ben Boulware would really open things up for Clemson, picking off a deflected pass and returning it 47 yards for the score. SportsCenter on Twitter provides the highlight:

Even when things went right for Oklahoma, they went wrong. Trailing 20-0 in the second quarter, Charles Tapper deflected a Stoudt pass on a fourth-down attempt and intercepted the pass, returning it for a touchdown that seemed as though it might get Oklahoma back into the game.

But Oklahoma was offside on the play, not only negating the touchdown, but also giving Clemson a first down.

Two plays later, Mike Williams turned a short out route into a 26-yard touchdown after breaking a tackle in the secondary, and the rout was on. SportsCenter passed along the play:

Oklahoma couldn't get into the locker room fast enough after turning the ball over three times and trailing 27-0 at halftime. Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney tried to be diplomatic in his halftime interview, but Andrea Adelson of ESPN.com wasn't buying it:

As Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports noted, the Sooners were getting burnt by a player in Stoudt who didn't burn many teams this season:

And Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports didn't see anyway back for the Sooners:

That would quickly become a 34-0 deficit in the third quarter, as Stoudt's two-yard touchdown run all but ended this one about five minutes into the second half. And Stoudt's excellent throw to Germone Hopper for a 24-yard score—despite Stoudt getting rocked on the play—gave Clemson a 40-0 lead (the extra point was missed).

The 40 points may have been a bit of a surprise for Clemson, but, as ESPN Stats & Info tweeted, the shutout was nothing new:

Even when Oklahoma ruined the shutout with a garbage-time touchdown, the team still managed to sour the moment, as the extra point was blocked. It was a "when it rains, it pours" type of night for the Sooners.

And it leaves serious questions about Bob Stoops' future. While the coach has been a stabilizing presence at Oklahoma and has led the school to a national championship and eight Big 12 titles, the Sooners limped to an 8-5 record this year and have gone three seasons without a Big 12 title. 

Those are the sort of results that aren't tolerated at a proud program like Oklahoma, however unfair that might be to a successful coach like Stoops. His past might be enough to keep him in Norman for another season, but there's no question that he's on the hot seat now.

Ralph D. Russo of the Associated Press tried to look on the bright side for Oklahoma:

As for Clemson, the Tigers will hope to build off of their strong close to the 2014 season and will hope to end Florida State's reign over the ACC in 2015. Getting Deshaun Watson back next season at quarterback will certainly help, as Clemson heads into the offseason riding high.

 

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The Far-Reaching Impact of Jimbo Fisher's Loyalty to Jameis Winston

LOS ANGELES — There are times when doing the wrong thing is the right thing. There is safety in it. It pays.

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher has shocked people this season with his seemingly clumsy and overly staunch defense of everything Jameis Winston did or was accused of doing. Fisher came across as the great enabler, a cliche of a coach who would pull the wool over anyone's eyes for the team.   

From everyone's perspective outside the Florida State bubble, he willingly put the black hat on his own program. What was the impact of Fisher's approach?

Florida State is in the College Football Playoff semifinals against Oregon on Thursday. It hasn't lost a game all year. Top recruits are still coming. And Fisher? He got a shiny new eight-year contract.

Eight years. Well played, Jimbo Fisher.

"Would you want your boss to have your back if you were right?" Fisher asked Saturday at the CFP media day. "Would you want your wife to have your back if you were right? Would you want your mom or dad to have your back if you were right?

"As a coach, we're like a father figure to those guys. When they're wrong, we address, we punish, we move on. When they're right, you fight like heck for them, and that's our role as coaches."

Sounds like something he will say in family rooms to recruits' mothers.

In fact, when Florida State beat out Alabama for top running back recruit Jacques Patrick, the kid mentioned that Fisher's defense of Winston was a selling point.

"My mom was the one that really reacted to it," Patrick said in an interview with Warchant TV (subscription required). "She knows I'm going to be in good hands when I get up there, and that's the most important thing."

There was risk in this. But it's not that Fisher is tone-deaf, as NFL.com's Chase Goodbread suggested. It was a calculated decision.

It was exactly what the sports world demanded of him, and he could see it from the start. The national image of Florida State was expendable. It was an acceptable casualty.

So I asked Fisher on Sunday at the CFP media day how important that image is and what he does to uphold it.

"You've just got to keep doing things right," he said. "We feel like we do things right. So we've just got to keep doing it. In time, everything will handle itself."

Someone asked him if he has made any changes in his handling of that image.

"We feel our program is as good as anybody in America and we have great kids," he said. "We have better kids than we have players on our team."

There was never any wavering. When he said there was no victim because there was no crime, in light of the rape allegation against Winston, that came off—again, outside the bubble—as so insensitive to a woman who was claiming she had been violated (no charges were filed).

But it was other things too—stealing crab legs, damage caused by BB guns. Jump on a table in a cafeteria and yell things that are offensive to women? Fisher suspended Winston for half a game, and when the school upped it to a whole game, according to ESPN's Elizabeth Merrill, Fisher threatened to quit because he was angry that the school was caving to public pressure.

See? He was willing to tarnish the image for the sake of showing unity and keeping his team together.

And he winds up making millions of dollars as a result. While financial details haven't been released, Corey Clark of the Tallahassee Democrat said Fisher's annual salary is expected to increase from about $4 million to $5 million.

The impact is this: Fisher wins. I'm not talking about ethics and decency. At Texas, new coach Charlie Strong has taken a tough, policing approach. We'll have to see how that works out for him.

But Fisher has set himself and his program up for an even better future.

It was no accident.

 

Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report.

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Virginia Tech Football: 5 Takeaways from the Hokies' Bowl Game

The Virginia Tech Hokies defeated the Cincinnati Bearcats in the Military Bowl on Saturday to end a disappointing season on a high note. Tech's 33-17 victory featured a little bit of offense, big plays on defense and a spark from the special teams units. 

The Hokies finished the 2014 campaign with a record of 7-6, ensuring a 22nd consecutive winning season for legendary head coach Frank Beamer. Beamer, of course, coached the game from the press box after having surgery on his throat earlier in the month. His son, Shane—associate head football coach—filled in admirably for his father on the sideline.

2014 was a tough year for Virginia Tech. Injuries, in particular at running back and offensive line, spoiled a season that got off to a promising start after a Week 2 upset at then-No. 8 Ohio State.

The bowl win over Cincinnati reminded many Virginia Tech fans how the Hokies used to win football games—a strong running game, good defense and making plays on special teams. 

Here are five takeaways from Virginia Tech's Military Bowl triumph. 

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Nebraska Football: 5 Takeaways from the Holiday Bowl

Nebraska football fans saw the Bo Pelini tenure in microcosm while watching NU’s 45-42 loss to USC in the Holiday Bowl. Ugly offensive performances. Head-scratching play-calling decisions. A defense gouged by a power rushing attack. A furious comeback fueled by heart that came achingly close to success.

And, of course, a fourth loss to a season.

Yes, the next time Nebraska takes the field, there will be a new coaching staff in place. But there are still things that can be learned from Nebraska’s performance going forward.

Begin Slideshow

Liberty Bowl 2014: Game Grades, Analysis for Texas A&M vs. West Virginia

The Texas A&M Aggies defeated the West Virginia Mountaineers 45-37 in the 2014 Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tennessee, Saturday evening.

A&M's quarterback Kyle Allen was excellent for the Aggies, throwing for 294 yards and four touchdowns and adding 33 yards and one touchdown on the ground. 

Running backs Tra Carson and Trey Williams combined for 219 yards rushing, with Carson piling up 133 yards alone. 

West Virginia's offense clicked early in the first quarter, and the Mountaineers took an early 20-14 lead over the Aggies.

However, West Virginia's lack of success rushing the ball early on cost it, as the Aggies were able to control the clock and slowly add to a second-half lead that proved insurmountable in the fourth quarter.

Quarterback Skyler Howard also struggled throwing the ball. Despite throwing for nearly 350 yards and three touchdowns, he threw far too many incompletions and missed too many wide-open receivers throughout the night for the Mountaineers offense to sustain drives.

Here are the game grades for both teams using statistics obtained from NCAA.com.

 

Texas A&M Game Grades

Position UnitHalftime GradesFinal Grades Passing Offense A A Pass Defense C C Rushing Offense C B+ Rush Defense A A Special Teams B B Coaching C B

 

Passing Offense

Allen was excellent in both halves of the game, throwing two 40-plus-yard touchdowns in the first half and another touchdown late in the third quarter to essentially seal the win for the Aggies.

He was also efficient with his passing, completing 22 of 35 passes for a 62.8 percent completion rate and only one interception. 

 

Pass Defense

The Aggies passing defense left much to be desired in the first half, giving up two 40-plus-yard touchdowns of its own.

However, despite giving up nearly 350 yards through the air, A&M held Skyler Howard to a dismal 44 percent completion rate, which was a major reason why the Mountaineers could never sustain drives.

 

Rushing Offense

After a first half that was also completely dominated by passing from both teams, A&M's rushing attack took over in the second half and both extended the lead and prevented the Mountaineers from getting back into the game.

 

Rush Defense

A&M held West Virginia to under 100 yards rushing throughout most of the game, and it wasn't until late in the fourth quarter that the Mountaineers run game finally came alive.

By that point, however, it was too little too late. 

 

Special Teams

The Aggies had a solid day on special teams. Josh Lambo made his only field-goal attempt and every extra-point attempt. Punter Drew Kaser averaged 40 yards per punt, which was marred by a 15-yard duck.

Speedy Noil and Trey Williams were both solid on kickoff returns, with longs of 33 and 30 yards, respectively.

 

Coaching

Head coach Kevin Sumlin and offensive coordinator Jake Spavital found a weakness in West Virginia's defense in the second half and exploited it to get the win.

Credit both for emphasizing the running game in a matchup that many expected to be an air raid shootout, as the ground attack was the turning point in the game for the Aggies. 

 

West Virginia Game Grades

Position UnitsHalftime GradesFinal Grades Passing Offense B B- Pass Defense D D Rushing Offense F C Rush Defense C D Special Teams B+ B+ Coaching B C

 

 

Passing Offense

The Mountaineers started off strong in the passing game, with Howard connecting three times with his receivers for big touchdown plays in the first half. 

However, too many incompletions and overthrows or underthrows hurt West Virginia's offensive rhythm, and the Mountaineers left huge chunks of yards and points on the field Saturday night. 

 

Pass Defense

Although Allen didn't match Howard's numbers, he was much more effective as a passer and kept A&M's offense alive on many drives.

The Mountaineers didn't do enough to prevent him from moving the chains with his arm early in the game, and they paid for it once A&M got out to a two-touchdown lead.

 

Rushing Offense

West Virginia's rushing attack was dismal through 80 percent of the game. In fact, it was downright nonexistent until late in the fourth quarter when A&M went into a prevent defense.

Not having a reliable rushing attack or a second dimension to their offense both proved to be the Mountaineers' undoing in this matchup.

 

Rush Defense

The Mountaineers did well to keep A&M's rushing attack somewhat in check in the first half, but they allowed Carson, Williams and even Allen to pick up too many yards in the second half.

Once A&M got a lead, it was able to milk the clock on the ground, and West Virginia simply wasn't able to force the Aggies to punt quickly enough.

 

Special Teams

West Virginia's special teams unit performed well on Saturday. Kicker Josh Lambert was 3-of-3 on his field goals, including a long from 40 yards.

Mario Alford also added a 50-yard kickoff return that led to points for the Mountaineers.

 

Coaching

Dana Holgorsen called a solid game considering his senior quarterback, Clint Trickett, was on the sidelines due to repeated concussions earlier this season.

However, the lack of run game cost the Mountaineers dearly. While West Virginia's rushing attack isn't particularly fierce, it's better than what it looked like on Saturday.

With a little more emphasis on it early when it was clear Howard was struggling, the Mountaineers could possibly have put more pressure on A&M and kept drives alive. 

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Texas Bowl 2014: Live Score, Highlights for Arkansas vs. Texas

Arkansas 24, Texas 7—3rd Quarter

The Hogs begin the second half with a big lead, riding Brandon Allen's two touchdowns and a freakish showing by Trey Flowers to a 17-point cushion.

You can catch tonight's game over on ESPN, and be sure to follow this page throughout the action for live commentary and highlights of what's sure to be a physical battle. You can also check out the updated box score at NCAA.com.

Stick around after the action for grades of the positional units for both the Razorbacks and Longhorns.

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USC Football: Only Depth Can Keep Trojans out of Playoff Contention

The USC Trojans beat Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl on Saturday night, outlasting the Cornhuskers 45-42 in one of the most highly contested games so far this bowl season. 

It capped off Steve Sarkisian’s tumultuous first season as the USC head coach.  The Trojans showed signs of brilliance, particularly on offense, but they had a hard time finishing games.  They lost a close game to Boston College for their first defeat of the season, and then they lost to Arizona State and Utah on last-second touchdowns.

In both of those games, the Trojans had the victory in their sights, but they found a way to lose.  A big reason for their inability to close out games is the fact that they are still suffering from the sanctions imposed from the Reggie Bush antics.  The biggest pain has come from the scholarship reductions.

USC has only been allowed 65 scholarships while other programs around the country have access to 85.  While this number might not seem too devastating, it is.  They do not have the depth necessary to rotate defensive lineman, which is vital to slow down the up-tempo offenses that are sprouting up around the nation (especially in the Pac-12).

The lack of scholarships even comes back to haunt the Trojans in practice, when the team doesn’t have enough backup players to give the starters a challenge during the week.  The first-string players can’t reach their full potential because they don’t get the kind of competition during practice that other programs around the country do.

However, the scholarship reductions end after this season.  The Trojans will bring a solid recruiting class to Southern California this year, as their class ranks No. 1 in the Pac-12 and eighth in the nation, according to 247Sports.com.

The members of the 2015 class will infuse even more talent into a USC roster that is already filled with it—especially on offense. 

The trio of Cody Kessler, Javorius “Buck” Allen and Nelson Agholor gives the Trojans three of the best players in all of college football at their respective positions.  That is, if they all return to USC for their senior season.  All three are potential NFL prospects, and two of the players are still undecided about their future.

The Trojans will surely be without star defensive lineman Leonard Williams, who announced on Monday morning he would forego his senior season and declare for the NFL draft.

Kessler has already announced he will be back in 2015, but Allen and Agholor are still mulling over their options, according to Reign of Troy.

Yet even if Allen and Agholor are playing in the NFL once next season rolls around, the Trojans shouldn’t have any trouble scoring points. 

Kessler tied the USC and Pac-12 single-season record for touchdown passes with 39, and he could throw for even more next year.  He will have an abundance of weapons at his disposal.  Tre Madden will return to USC after he was shut down in October due to a turf toe injury.  Madden started the year ahead of Allen on the depth chart, but he never played in a game because of his injury.

Madden rushed for over 700 yards and better than five yards per carry in 2013, so he should be a competent option to replace Allen if he does decide to go pro.  And even if Allen stays, Sarkisian will find a way to get Madden the ball because he is a dynamic player.

The USC team is going to be stocked with explosive playmakers.  True freshmen JuJu Smith and Adoree’ Jackson are ultra-talented receivers who showcased their skills in the Holiday Bowl.  Each averaged better than 22 yards per reception, and Jackson scored two touchdowns (one on a kickoff return and one on a short swing pass that he turned into a 71-yard score).

Jackson played both ways this season—he was the starting cornerback as well as a receiver—and it will be interesting to see if he gets more touches on offense in 2015.

Tight end Bryce Dixon, also a freshman, played arguably his best game of the season against Nebraska, snagging four passes for 44 yards and a touchdown.  Starter Randall Telfer will graduate after this year, and Dixon should be able to take over as the starting tight end next year.

Running back Justin Davis also put together an impressive freshman campaign in 2014.  He was the Trojans’ second leading rusher with 595 yards and four touchdowns, and he also caught 13 passes out of the backfield with two receiving touchdowns.

And then there’s George Farmer, who might have the most ability of anyone on the team.  A former five-star recruit from Junipero Serra, the same high school attended by former Trojan All-American receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, Farmer has had a rough college career so far.

In an insightful Sports Illustrated article by Joan Niesen, it was revealed that Farmer was more physically talented coming out of high school than both Woods and Lee.

“To put it simply, Farmer was the best of the three,” Niesen wrote.  “The 6’1” receiver had every physical advantage, from blazing speed to his 220-pound frame.  His gifts were varied, yet they worked in perfect sync.”

Unfortunately, Farmer has battled various injuries throughout his collegiate career.  He caught 25 passes for 314 yards in 2014, and if he is healthy in his senior season, he could easily replace Agholor as Kessler’s go-to receiver.  And if Agholor stays, the receiving corps will be scary.

Couple the wealth of talent with the innovative offensive mind of Steve Sarkisian, and USC could very easily overtake Oregon as the offensive juggernaut of the Pac-12.

Sarkisian hasn't been bashful about sharing his optimism, especially about Kessler's return.

"I really think Cody will take off in this system.  We have a chance to be a very, very good offensive football team next year, and a big part of that is Cody coming back," Sarkisian said, per Michael Lev of The Orange County Register.

But before crowning them as 2015 champions, be cognizant of the fact that the Trojans faced an eerily similar situation before the 2012 season.  Matt Barkley decided to return for his senior year, and he was supposed to lead USC to a national title with Lee, Woods, Agholor and Silas Redd putting up big numbers.

That team went 7-6 and looked nothing like the championship-caliber team they were touted as at the beginning of the season.  They are the only program in NCAA history to start as the top-ranked team in the preseason poll and finish the season unranked.

However, Sarkisian is a much better head coach than Lane Kiffin was, and Sark should be able to manage the players much better than Kiffin did.

With that said, the Trojans have the talent to compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff next season.  They have a very tough schedule, including Stanford, Notre Dame, Oregon and UCLA, but with the playmakers they have, they can win plenty of games—even against top competition.

Even with the scholarship reductions gone, it is going to take a couple of recruiting classes to replenish the depth necessary to compete for a playoff spot.  If this year’s haul is any indication, Sarkisian will have no problem bringing the top prep talent to Southern Cal. 

If the coaching staff can somehow find a way to put together a capable defense, the Trojans will definitely have the offensive firepower needed to win a national championship in 2015.

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West Virginia QB Skyler Howard Could Be Dangerous Big 12 Threat in 2015

Much like a savvy investor can spot the treasure amid the trash in a discarded storage unit, West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen knows he's got some valuable items in his possession in the form of quarterback Skyler Howard. The key is figuring out whether the reward is worth the risk.

Making his second career start—and only third real appearance—the sophomore followed up a first half full of hope with a final 30 minutes that showed how much he has to learn before he can be considered the best option for West Virginia's offense. Put it all together, and you can understand why Holgorsen doesn't have much hair on top.

Howard threw for 195 yards and two touchdowns on 11-of-19 passing in the first half of Monday's 45-37 loss to Texas A&M in the Liberty Bowl. But after halftime, he was just 9-of-26 for 151 yards and a score, repeatedly overthrowing open receivers or slinging it far too hard when a softer throw would have done the trick.

In fact, when Howard went to the touch pass, getting some air under the ball, he was near-perfect. But when he tried to show off his arm strength, the Mountaineers' lack of nine-foot-tall receivers made it an unwise move.

Playing like a jacked-up youngster on a stage far bigger than anything he'd dealt with before, Howard showed a combination of swagger and stumbles that could make him either an intriguing breakout star or a potential bust in 2015. A lot will depend on how he—and Holgorsen—uses what happened against Texas A&M to factor into next season's plans.

When he was rolling early, Howard was showing off a level of swagger that hearkened back to another unheralded, Texas-bred quarterback who played with fire and flair. He even broke out the Johnny Manziel "money" sign after a touchdown pass, and he also jawed with Texas A&M players after taking a helmet-to-helmet hit on a rollout.

But when the passes kept sailing, and Howard's running ability failed to produce—the dual-threat quarterback had only 33 yards on 10 carries, with a long of 18 yards—the early success quickly turned into growing pains. Howard completed only two of his first 15 second-half passes, during which West Virginia went from trailing 28-27 to going down 45-30.

Holgorsen stuck with him though, and Howard kept heaving it. He completed four passes of 40-plus yards, including a 47-yard toss to Shelton Gibson in the fourth quarter, and ultimately finished with 346 yards on 20-of-45 passing with three TDs and no interceptions.

Howard took a winding path to get to West Virginia. An overlooked high school standout from Fort Worth, Texas, he spent a semester at FCS Stephen F. Austin before moving to Riverside City College in California.

He threw for 3,151 yards and 33 touchdowns and also ran for five scores, yet according to 247Sports his only offers after that performance (besides West Virginia) were from San Diego State, New Mexico State and FCS school Northern Colorado.

He wasn't expected to be part of West Virginia's immediate plans before the season began, not with senior Clint Trickett asserting himself as one of the better quarterbacks in the country. Yet Howard ended up being second on the depth chart ahead of senior Paul Millard and freshman William Crest—though he only got into one of the first 10 games.

"I'm on this team to play my role, whatever that is, whatever [the coaches] decide," Howard told Bob Hertzel of the Times West Virginian in November. "I'll be the best backup we have or I'll be the best starter we have."

Then Trickett suffered a concussion against Kansas State, and Howard was quickly thrust into the job. He threw for 198 yards and two TDs in relief, then followed that up with 285 yards and three TDs in a win at Iowa State in the regular-season finale.

Trickett seemed poised to take back his job for the bowl game, but then the surprise news that he was retiring from football as the result of five concussions in 14 months meant Howard was back in the spotlight. After how he fared Monday, though, he's in no way a sure bet to be West Virginia's starter next season.

Other Big 12 teams have put huge stock in what their quarterbacks have done in bowl games recently, only to see that all-eggs-in-one-basket approach blow up in their face.

Last season, following a huge performance against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, Oklahoma's Trevor Knight was anointed as an early Heisman candidate, but he never came close to looking like that this fall. Backup Blake Bell had been converted to a tight end by then, and after Knight got hurt the Sooners had to turn to ill-prepared freshman Cody Thomas.

And Texas Tech seemed to have no problem with a mass exodus of passers after Davis Webb tore up Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl. Then Webb went out and threw 13 interceptions in eight games and also got replaced by a freshman after being injured.

With that in mind, Howard's struggles Monday might be the best thing that could have happened for him—and for the Mountaineers. If he had put forth a full game of superior plays, he might have headed into 2015 with an offseason of hype that figures to get tempered by a hellacious Big 12 schedule.

West Virginia plays at Oklahoma, Baylor, TCU and Kansas State next season. That's the kind of gauntlet that's best handled with some pre-existing humility, rather than a head swollen with overconfidence.

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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Texas A&M vs. West Virginia: Score and Twitter Reaction for 2014 Liberty Bowl

In one of the most explosive bowl games thus far of the 2014 college football season, Texas A&M took down West Virginia, 45-37, to win the Liberty Bowl.   

Texas A&M Football's official account provides a look at the final result and reaction from Memphis, Tennessee:

The Aggies' win was their fourth straight bowl victory, as ESPN Stats & Info notes:

Kyle Allen paced the Aggies, going 22-of-35 with 294 passing yards, five total touchdowns and just one interception. The freshman bounced back from the early pick to lead A&M to a huge win in a crucial game.

His performance was good enough to tie a Liberty Bowl record, via ESPN Stats & Info:

Coming into the contest, Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin talked about not putting pressure on the young signal-caller, via Kevin O'Connor of WTAW:

All I can do is talk about our team and I think that Kyle has been very, very solid since he’s started. I think that what we’re looking for tomorrow is more consistency, not just out of our team but out of the other ten people on the field offensively. There’s no secret that I keep putting the pressure not on our quarterback, but on our other guys.

From the start of the game, Allen came out ready to play as evidenced by an early touchdown. He found Josh Reynolds down the field for a 44-yard touchdown to open up the scoring in the first quarter. 

Just a year after Mike Evans broke the Texas A&M record with 12 touchdown receptions, Reynolds broke that mark with his 13th on Monday afternoon. SportsCenter passes along video of the huge touchdown and the significance for Reynolds:

The next scoring drive was a notable one as a targeting penalty on Howard Matthews moved West Virginia down the field. After a huge hit on a defenseless receiver, Matthews was ejected and the Mountaineers went on to chip away at the lead with a field goal.

CBS Sports breaks down the play and result for WVU:

The Mountaineers had two touchdowns on offense and another on an interception return before the half, but Allen led the Aggies to a 28-27 lead heading into the locker rooms.

However, the biggest story of the first half wasn't about anything in between the lines, but rather what happened on the sidelines. Texas A&M student assistant Mike Richardson was seen physically contacting WVU players on the sidelines, as Pat McAfee of the Indianapolis Colts shared on Instagram:

Sam Khan Jr. of ESPN.com provides video of a different play and noted Richardson would not return for the second half:

Mark Passwaters of Rivals.com offered his thoughts on the situation:

In the second half, the Aggies put any distractions from Richardson behind them and jumped out to a 15-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. That was thanks, in large part, to Allen leading the way again through the air while Trey Williams broke off some huge runs.

Williams finished with a receiving and rushing touchdown, but his 18-yard scamper in the third quarter was a thing of beauty. College GameDay gives a look at the highlight of the physical run:

Even with a two-score lead heading into the fourth, the Aggies were unable to completely put away the Mountaineers. Skyler Howard threw for his third touchdown to Elijah Wellman with just over two minutes remaining, but A&M was able to run down the clock on the final drive.

By virtue of the win, A&M comes away with eight wins and yet another solid season. There were certainly some struggles along the way and a huge change under center, but the Aggies look like a program on the rise again under Kevin Sumlin.

A loss puts a damper on the end of the year for West Virginia, but it still comes away with a winning season. With plenty of young talent still in the fold and even more on the way, the Mountaineers have a chance to return to another notable bowl next season.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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Kyle Allen Proves He Is the Future for Texas A&M in Liberty Bowl Win

Freshman Kyle Allen was brought to Texas A&M to be the quarterback of the future for head coach Kevin Sumlin, after former superstar and 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel moved on to the NFL.

The future is now, and Allen proved it in the 45-37 AutoZone Liberty Bowl win over West Virginia on Monday afternoon in Memphis, Tennessee.

Allen completed 22-of-35 passes for 294 yards, four touchdowns, one interception and made several key throws that kept the chains moving and the Aggies in the game in a high-scoring first half that featured 55 combined points.

On top of that, Allen added 33 rushing yards and a touchdown on the ground while showing enough elusiveness to make him a threat.

Is he Manziel? No. Nobody is.

But he can turn the jets on when needed, which is an important attribute in Sumlin's offense, as B/R national lead writer Ben Kercheval notes:

Yes, it was against a West Virginia defense that isn't exactly a replica of the 1985 Chicago Bears. If it's comparable to anything, it's to the 2014 Atlanta Falcons.

But Allen sliced and diced the Mountaineers, which is a good sign of things to come for himself and the Aggies offense, as ESPN.com's San Khan, Jr. notes:

Make no mistake, offense was a problem in College Station coming into this matchup.

Allen looked sluggish in his first career start against Louisiana-Monroe before going on the road and ending Auburn's College Football Playoff dreams. Since then, though, it's been a rocky road for the Scottsdale, Arizona native. 

He lost two straight (to Missouri and LSU), looked confused on Thanksgiving night and far from the gunslinger he was brought to College Station to be.

It was understandable. 

After Kenny Hill's struggles, Allen was tossed into the fire as Texas A&M's starting quarterback with very few first-team practice reps under his belt. He got those during bowl practice, and it showed.

Allen had poise in the pocket, spread passes around to nine different receivers and had full command of the offense for the first time since his masterpiece on the Plains.

For A&M, that's a huge sign moving forward.

The defense is a problem, and that will be addressed when Sumlin hires a new defensive coordinator. The offense—his bread and butter—needed confidence, and it now has it.

The pieces are already in place for A&M's offense to thrive. Allen will be a sophomore next year; only one player who caught 10 or more passes this season is a senior (Malcome Kennedy) and none of Texas A&M's running backs are seniors.

The only missing piece of the puzzle is consistency, and Sumlin knows that's the next step this offseason for Allen and the Aggies (via: TexAgs.com's Twitter account):

Allen is set up to be a superstar and has the coaching and supporting cast to make him one next year.

His Liberty Bowl performance was just the appetizer.

 

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

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

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Under Armour, Army All-American Bowl 2015: Tracking Top Practice Performers

This week presents the final audition for college football's future stars. Premier members of the 2015 recruiting class have an opportunity to cap off outstanding high school careers during nationally televised matchups in the Under Armour All-America Game and the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

Action kicks off Friday in St. Petersburg, Florida, home of an Under Armour showdown that once starred Julio Jones, A.J. Green and Jadeveon Clowney. The focus will then shift to San Antonio on Saturday for the All-American Bowl, which features an alumni list that includes Reggie Bush, Teddy Bridgewater and Odell Beckham. 

Practice sessions are now underway at both events. Here's our updated look at prospects who've shined.

 

Monday, Dec. 29

4-star wide receiver Trent Irwin (Newhall, California) - U.S. Army All-American Bowl

The Hart High School standout set career records in California for receptions and receiving yards. Irwin finished his prep run with 285 catches for 5,268 yards and 57 touchdowns, per MaxPreps.

Despite taking on the country's top defensive backs in San Antonio, he's still putting on a clinic:

He's repeatedly won battles in one-on-one settings Monday, including a matchup with 4-star Texas cornerback Kris Boyd, according to Rivals.com reporter Jason Howell:

Irwin is still considering offers from Arizona State and Stanford, with a decision looming after the All-American festivities. Brady White, his high school quarterback, is committed to the Sun Devils. 

 

5-star cornerback Iman Marshall (Long Beach, California) - Under Armour All-America Game

Marshall, rated the nation's No. 1 defensive back in 247Sports' composite rankings, aims to maintain that distinction on a game roster that features fellow 5-star coverage man Kevin Toliver II, an LSU pledge. The Long Beach Poly High School product didn't seem to let anyone down Monday.

JC Shurburtt of 247Sports caught up with an Under Armour coach following early action.

“(Marshall) has that tenacity like (Michigan freshman) Jabrill Peppers, but he moves around like (Florida All-American) Vernon Hargreaves III,” he told Shurburtt.

Marshall will look to continue proving his value while lining up across from top receivers, such as 5-star Florida State commit George Campbell:

 

4-star defensive end Canton Kaumatule (Honolulu, Hawaii) - Under Armour All-America Game

Island prospects may not always receive all the respect they deserve, but Kaumatule is doing his best to earn it. The mammoth 6'7", 290-pound defender dominated initial drills, showing off an expansive skill set for an athlete of his stature:

Rated fourth nationally among strong-side defensive ends in 247Sports' composite rankings, he appears ready to wreak havoc throughout his stay in Florida. The Oregon commit has quickly tuned the heads of onlooking analysts:

This event features an impressive list of elite offensive tackles, so keep an eye on trench confrontations as the week progresses. The bull's-eye on Kaumatule became larger Monday.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

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