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Fresno State vs. USC: Game Grades, Analysis for the Trojans

It was hard to find much to quibble about from USC's 52-13 blowout win Saturday over Fresno State in the 2014 season opener. The debut of Steve Sarkisian's uptempo offense generated 702 yards on 104 plays, which was not only a school record but set the Pac-12 mark for offensive snaps in a single game.

But it wasn't just the explosive and diverse offense that impressed for USC. Its defense also stifled a Fresno State program that was one of the most prolific in 2013, but which no longer had its record-breaking quarterback (Derek Carr) available.

Final stats from the game can be found here. Check out our grades of USC's position units and coaching against Fresno, as well as analysis on the different facets of the 39-point victory.

 

USC Trojans Game Grades

 

USC Trojans Game Analysis

Pass Offense: Cody Kessler had the best game of his USC career, completing 25 of 37 passes for 394 yards and four touchdowns. Kessler hit 10 different receivers, with junior wideout Nelson Agholor catching two TD passes and a pair of freshmen (Adoree' Jackson and Bryce Dixon) also hauling in scoring strikes. Another freshman, JuJu Smith, led USC with 123 yards on four receptions.

Run Offense: Javorius Allen picked up where he left off in 2013, rushing for 133 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. Kessler and fullback Soma Vainuku also had scoring runs, and the Trojans ran behind an offensive line that started two true freshman and managed 268 yards.

Pass Defense: Fresno State quarterbacks Brian Burrell and Brandon Connette were both chased all over the backfield, and though neither was sacked, the pressure USC got up front kept either from being comfortable. The Trojans picked off four passes and held the Bulldogs to 160 passing yards and less than 4.5 yards per attempt.

Run Defense: Fresno's Marteze Waller ran for 94 yards on 17 carries with a pair of touchdowns, and he proved slippery in many cases. Burrell had a 32-yard scamper that came as a result of USC failing to contain the edge, though it did manage to shut down Connette's scampering ability.

Special Teams: USC's punter never had to participate in the game, which was a better effort than Trojans kicker Andre Heidari. Though he made a 27-yard field goal, he also missed a kick just before halftime and then booted the second-half kickoff out of bounds, giving Fresno State a short field that it converted into a touchdown.

Coaching: Sarkisian's play-calling was spot on, and he made sure to get numerous youngsters involved. At least a dozen freshmen played in the game, providing them with valuable experience and establishing depth ahead of the Sept. 6 trip to Stanford.

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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Fresno State vs. USC: Game Grades, Analysis for the Trojans

It was hard to find much to quibble about from USC's 52-13 blowout win Saturday over Fresno State in the 2014 season opener...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Florida vs. Idaho Season Opener Canceled Due to Inclement Weather

While the rest of the country kicked off the college football season on Saturday, Florida and Idaho will have to wait to get started.

The nonconference game was delayed several times due to harsh weather conditions until it was eventually canceled, according to Anish Shroff of ESPN:

ESPN provided a look at the lightning outside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium:

While the game was originally slated to begin at 7 p.m. ET, thunderstorms caused an extended delay while the teams waited in the locker rooms. The game actually got underway with a Florida kickoff return, but another lightning strike once again halted the action.

Landon Watnick of Rivals.com described the only play of the game:

After the game was officially called off for the night, Mark Long of The Associated Press provided the details on the next step for both sides:

Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press pointed out how the money factor could affect the decisions:

Assuming the game is not rescheduled this weekend, Florida will instead begin its season on Sept. 6 with a home game against Eastern Michigan. 

After losing the last seven games last season to finish an alarming 4-8, the Gators will likely want as many "easy" games as possible before starting a much more difficult conference schedule in the SEC. Considering Idaho finished last season with a 1-11 record, Will Muschamp's squad was not expecting this matchup to be much of a challenge.

For the Vandals, this cancellation could end up costing the school a big payday, depending on how the situation is worked out.

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

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Jameis Winston Scrambles for Amazing Career-Long Rushing TD vs. Oklahoma State

2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston had gone two-and-half quarters without a truly breathtaking highlight play. That all changed when he took off running.

Jameis Winston career long 28 yard TD run https://t.co/oH742vywhu

— gifdsports (@gifdsports) August 31, 2014

Winston juked, hurdled and sidestepped en route to a career-long 28-yard touchdown run to bring the score to 27-17 in favor of Florida State after a made extra point.

Buckle up, ladies and gentlemen. College football is back.

[Twitter]

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Video: Todd Gurley Makes Early Heisman Statement vs. Clemson

Todd Gurley had a stellar performance against the Clemson Tigers in Week 1 of the 2014 season. With a handful of offensive plays, combined with a phenomenal kickoff return, he is making a statement for the Heisman trophy.

Check out this compilation of Gurley's explosive runs against Clemson. 

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Alabama Football: Grading Blake Sims' Week 1 Performance

Blake Sims didn't just start at quarterback for Alabama in the season-opening win over West Virginia; he started and played the whole game.

Well, sort of. Presumed rotation quarterback Jake Coker came in for mop-up duty once the outcome was in hand. But for all intents and purposes, Sims was Alabama's starter, and Coker was his backup. The redshirt senior played well enough to stay on the field.

That very nearly wasn't the case. According to Ralph D. Russo of the Associated Press, head coach Nick Saban said he thought about going to Coker in the second quarter, scared that Sims was starting to get rattled. But instead of pulling the plug, he settled Sims down by going to—of all things—the no-huddle offense:

 

Playing From the No-Huddle

In many ways, settling Sims down with the no-huddle offense—a concept that seems foreign to Alabama football—was a fitting touch to an impressive starting debut. This is not the archetypical modern Tide quarterback, and he deserves to be handled as such.

What's more: It worked! Sims looked markedly better once Alabama went to the no-huddle, especially in the red zone. He is adept at making quick decisions, and the fact that he is a redshirt senior helps in this regard. He is on precisely the same page as his teammates.

Coker did his best to catch up with Sims, but he only had one fall camp to Sims' five years. Communication and trust are the keys of a no-huddle offense, and if that's something Alabama wants to employ this season, Sims is the right guy for the job.

He proved that on Saturday night.

Grade: A-

 

The Mobility Factor

Sims made a few plays with his legs that the AJ McCarrons, Greg McElroys and Cokers of the world cannot make. He rushed six times for 42 yards, but more than that, he eluded multiple pass-rushers, extended multiple plays and always kept his eyes down the field.

He didn't throw a touchdown pass, but he completed a serviceable 24 of 33 passes for 250 yards—numbers that should have been even better if not for an egregious drop by Christion Jones on a broken-play heave down the field. That was one of many instances where Sims' nifty footwork created an opportunity out of nothing:

Forty-two yards does not jump off the page as a wildly successful running night. But Sims was at his best going east-to-west, shifting around or outside the pocket to elude pressure and buy time.

Especially behind a young offensive line that remains a work in progress, his ability to do that was invaluable.

Grade: A-

 

Pocket Passing

Pocket passing is the weakest part of Sims' game, and it looked that way on Saturday. He wasn't bad, by any stretch, but he wasn't as sharp on first-read throws as he was when he was moving around.

The interception he threw to Daryl Worley was ill-advised and gave West Virginia a pulse late in the game. The incompletion he threw to a wide-open DeAndrew White in the first half was painful to watch. There were places where his arm and his mind have to improve.

Alabama's offense has been among the best in the country these past few seasons, which makes a fundamental schematic change seem crazy. But Sims looked so much better in no-huddle and out-of-the-pocket situations than he did in, well, traditional-Alabama-quarterback situations that it almost has to be discussed.

"We'll certainly consider it," said Saban of running more no-huddle sets, per Jeremy Fowler of CBSSports.com. "I think we will do what we think benefits our players the most."

If Sims is his quarterback, this is what benefits his players the most.

Grade: C-plus 

 

Finding Amari Cooper

Sims did make a few more traditionally impressive throws, showing decent arm strength to get the ball out to the sideline. He didn't force much but did a great job getting the ball to his best receiver, Amari Cooper, who finished with 12 catches for 130 yards.

On the heels of Cooper's "down" 2013 season, that was important. It was extra important given the struggles USC had getting the ball to Marqise Lee under then head coach Lane Kiffin in 2013.

Sims and Kiffin combined to get the ball into their best weapon's hands early and often, and that deserves to be commended.

Grade: B+

 

Overall

For the most part,  Sims did everything an Alabama quarterback needs to do.

He leaned on the two-headed monster of T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry (40 carries, 239 yards, three touchdowns), and he made the defense pay when it bit too hard on run-fakes. He broke the school record for completions and attempts in a starting debut, and he did it without ever feeling overused.

"I didn't think about it too much," Sims said of the pressure that came with finally getting his first start. "I just went out there and played."

After overcoming early jitters, the looseness of Sims' game showed. That's why a B-plus for his first game seems the fairest grade. He didn't blow anybody away, but he wasn't asked to. He was asked to, well, "just go out there and play."

If he irons out the jagged edges of his throwing motion—the ones that led to ugly ducks such as the one he threw to White—Sims can start earning A's later on in the season. He won't be a Heisman finalist like McCarron, but that doesn't mean he can't do just as well at his job.

"Remember when Alabama had a quarterback competition?" asked Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee after the game. "That ended quickly."

For Sims, that means the mission was accomplished.

Overall Grade: B+

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Wisconsin Badgers Freshman Kicker Busts a Move After Hitting 51-Yard Field Goal

Wisconsin Badgers freshman kicker Rafael Gaglianone nailed a 51-yard field goal vs. LSU in the first quarter on Saturday night, and the burly athlete decided to celebrate.

[Vine, h/t Next Impulse Sports]


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Cole Stoudt's Performance at UGA Creates More Questions Than Answers for Clemson

Entering Saturday’s much-anticipated season opener at Georgia, Clemson had questions about how it would replace Tajh Boyd in Chad Morris’ hurry-up, no-huddle offense.

With good reason: Boyd (who was cut by the New York Jets Saturday) owns every significant career program passing record. He is the ACC’s all-time passing touchdown leader and No. 2 in career passing yards behind N.C. State’s Philip Rivers.

Clemson coaches expressed confidence in senior quarterback Cole Stoudt, who had spent his first three seasons on campus as Boyd’s backup. But the No. 16 Tigers’ 45-21 loss at No. 12 Georgia makes it clear: The Tigers haven’t answered their quarterback questions yet, and it’s not clear if they can do so with Stoudt under center.

Stoudt got off to a very strong start, leading Clemson to paydirt on his first drive. But he peaked in the first half and wore down after halftime. Following a 21-21 tie at the break, the Tigers were shut out while managing just 15 yards and no first downs in the second half.

Highly touted freshman quarterback DeShaun Watson—who accounted for more than 17,000 yards of total offense at Gainesville (Georgia) High, just down the road from Sanford Stadium—struggled in the second half but flashed his potential in his first collegiate series.

Clemson coaches said Watson would play against the Bulldogs, and he entered following three consecutive Stoudt-led three-and-outs.

He was very impressive, leading a quick six-play, 78-yard touchdown drive that ended with a 30-yard touchdown laser to sophomore wide receiver Mike Williams.

But Watson yielded to Stoudt on the next drive—and Stoudt led a touchdown drive of his own, a 10-play, 53-yard excursion that finished with C.J. Davidson’s one-yard touchdown run.

Clemson wouldn’t see the end zone again. The Bulldogs defense (which had questions of its own under first-year coordinator Jeremy Pruitt) wore the Tigers down in the second half. In seven drives, Clemson’s offense gained a total of 15 yards.

While UGA junior tailback Todd Gurley (198 rushing yards, four total touchdowns) was impressive, the Tigers defense was worn down by the offense’s utter inefficiency. Clemson started only one of its seven second-half possessions beyond its own 17, and UGA started only two of its nine second-half possessions inside its own 33, with a pair in Clemson territory.

Stoudt completed 15 of 28 passes for 130 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. Watson was 2-of-4 with 59 yards and a touchdown.

It’s fair to wonder how much Clemson missed NFL draft picks Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant as well as 1,000-yard rusher Rod McDowell. And the offensive line didn’t do the offense any favors after halftime, while the running game was so-so—Davidson led Clemson with 66 yards on 13 carries.

Clemson has some time to think about its quarterback situation with a showdown at Florida State still three weeks away. (South Carolina State visits next week, followed by an off-week Sept. 13.)

But if Chad Morris wants to find out what he has with Watson, an extended look might not be a bad idea. If Stoudt’s upside in the offense is what he displayed Saturday, Clemson has little to lose.

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Jeremy Pruitt Proves He Can Make Georgia Defense SEC Championship-Caliber

Of the many revelations from Georgia's 45-21 win over Clemson on Saturday, one stood out: This Bulldog defense can be SEC Championship-caliber.

Yes, Todd Gurley is a Heisman Trophy candidate.  Sure, the special teams play was noticeably improved.  But the play of Georgia's defense—particularly in the second half—was the most pleasant surprise for the Bulldogs.

New defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt's unit started slow against a surprisingly potent 1-2 punch of Tiger quarterbacks, but halftime adjustments gave way to a havoc-wreaking, pressure-driven second half shutdown.

To be sure, mistake were made.  But quite encouragingly for Georgia fans, the lion's share of those missteps were made in the first half.  Accordingly, this game won't be remembered for missed tackles or an inability to locate the ball on deep passes.  Instead, Pruitt's first game at Georgia will be remembered for two scoreless quarters. 

After experiencing success and posting 21 points in the first half, Cole Stoudt and Deshaun Watson (Clemson's two quarterbacks) were altogether unable to manufacture anything resembling a long drive after halftime.  Chaotic blitzing schemes dialed up by Pruitt and sound open-field tackling by the Bulldogs kept the Tigers from achieving first down yardage until the final play of the third quarter.

Surprisingly, Clemson did manage to complete several passes during that stretch, but marked improvements in wrapping up elusive receivers in the flats kept the Tigers in check.

In the fourth quarter, Pruitt didn't let up.  To the contrary, he ramped up pressure on the quarterback by relying on various zone blitzes and misdirection.  Outside linebackers Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins showed signs of quarterback pursuit before dropping into coverage.  Their feigned attempts proved just enough to allow inside pressure from the likes of Amarlo Herrera to break through the line of scrimmage. 

Simultaneously, middle linebackers and even defensive backs would show blitz alignments before dropping back into coverage.  As a result, Floyd spent the bulk of the second half in the Tiger backfield.  His pressure—and that of the Bulldog front seven as a whole—was relentless.  More importantly, it was effective.

And yet, the individual achievements pale in comparison to the symbolic achievement of the win.  Sure, holding Clemson to just one first down in the second half was a noteworthy feat.  But more significant was the stark contrast of on-field production following halftime.

There were signs of promise early in the game.  The defense seemed to swarm the way fans expected a Pruitt-coached unit to do.  Walk-on redshirt freshman Aaron Davis, who was buried on the depth chart in 2013, made a first-half interception.  A variety of alignments were used to varying degrees of success.

But none of those hints prepared Georgia fans—or Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris, for that matter—for what was to come in the game's final two quarters.  Pruitt's ability to tweak defensive packages and completely eliminate the demonstrated strengths of the Tigers' offensive attack while simultaneously patching up (or at least hiding) Georgia's biggest holes was inspiring for a young defense.  Furthermore, it was a welcome change from the coaching style of former defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.

Grantham routinely stuck to his scheme and remained loyal to his personnel—even when success was limited.  Pruitt came ready to adjust anything and everything, and that's what was necessary to put together such a stellar performance on Saturday night.

That's also what it will take to compete for an SEC Championship.

Georgia's individual parts will improve on defense.  After all, Pruitt is an educator who likes to teach fundamentals, as he told Seth Emerson of the Ledger-Enquirer earlier this month.  But he's already implementing championship-caliber in-game adjustments.  And that's an immeasurable step forward for this Georgia defense.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.  All stats courtesy of NCAA.com.

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Derrick Henry Deserves to Be Lead Running Back in Nick Saban's System

Alabama clearly has an embarrassment of riches at running back, with Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon all set to dish out plenty of punishment to college defenses in 2014. The pair combined for 239 yards and three touchdowns in the Crimson Tide's 33-23 victory over West Virginia University on Saturday.

Head coach Nick Saban always seems to have two exemplary running backs under his command to take turns mowing down opposing defenses. It's a strategy that has brought Alabama three national titles since 2009.

Based on the evidence from the victory over West Virginia, this trend is set to continue. It's a fine strategy that gives offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin plenty to work with, but the scheme would be at its best with the 6'3", 241-pound Henry, not Yeldon, in the lead role. 

This is to take nothing away from the extraordinary ability of running back T.J. Yeldon, but when you have a revolutionary combination of size and speed at running back, it's in the best interest of the team to make sure that force of nature is on the field as often as possible. Yeldon will still get his carries, but Henry should get the lion's share.

Henry has apparently already displaced Kenyan Drake, who tallied 694 rushing yards and nine total touchdowns in 2013 and yet carried the ball just three times for seven yards against West Virginia.

Jacksonville Jaguars radio play-by-play man Frank Frangie believes Henry is Alabama's best back:

It is still tempting to take the consistency of Yeldon, who carried the ball 23 times for 123 yards and two touchdowns against West Virginia, while continuing to utilize Henry as a freakish change-of-pace weapon—similar to the way UCLA used linebacker Myles Jack as a part-time halfback last season.

However, Henry doesn't have defensive responsibilities to worry about. He could easily be the throwback, workhorse rusher who can make mincemeat of college defenses behind a behemoth Crimson Tide offensive line. In fact, he already dresses the part of an old-school player, via Bleacher Report's own Barrett Sallee:

When—okay, if—Alabama fans think back to the disappointing Sugar Bowl defeat to Oklahoma last year, Henry is likely the only part of the contest they recall with any true fondness.

The then-freshman made a statement, putting up 161 yards of offense on just nine touches. It became increasingly clear he is a dynamic back just waiting to be unleashed.

Henry has the ability to make game-breaking plays at any moment with his athleticism, but those opportunities are mitigated if he isn't on the field enough. Henry needs to be in the game more often to best maximize his game-altering potential.

He also could be useful if Alabama speeds up its normally plodding offense. CBS Sports' Jeremy Fowler noted that Saban sped up the team's offense in order to suit the needs of quarterback Blake Sims, a fifth-year senior making his first start for the Crimson Tide:

But then Saban had another thought. He told Kiffin to dial up a faster pace. 

Sims (24-of-33 for 250 yards and an interception) was at his best when the Tide offense fired off six plays in 1:27 to end the half, an average of 14.5 seconds per play, twice the per-play pace of the previous drive. 

During that span, Sims completed all four of his passes for 28 yards and ran for another 21 to set up a 41-yard Adam Griffith field goal.

If Alabama continues to utilize hurry-up packages, it could limit substitution opportunities in the backfield. Henry is the best fit for these situations with his ability to make big plays. If he's designated as the lead back, the Crimson Tide are more likely to have him on the field in these pivotal, fast-paced situations.

He showed off his ability to scamper down the sideline for big gains against West Virginia:

Fox Sports Southwest's David Ubben watched Henry play and questioned the football legality of his presence on the gridiron:

The ability to catch the ball out of the backfield is a non-factor in this contest. Henry had that 61-yard touchdown catch in the 2013 Sugar Bowl, but that was his first of the season. Yeldon tallied just 20 receptions in 2013, and had all of one catch for a single yard against the Mountaineers on Saturday.

Clearly, Henry would do well to refine this aspect of his game, but he could get into the flow of things if he sees more snaps. Yeldon hasn't set the bar very high in this aspect of the game, which should keep the opportunities coming for Henry as a possible decoy on obvious passing downs.

He also spoke about making a concerted effort to improve as a pass-blocker this offseason.

"I’ve just really been focusing in the meetings and in practice, making sure I’m paying attention to [pass blocking and picking up the blitz] because that’s really big in college," said Henry, via ESPN.com's Alex Scarborough. "There are a lot of defenses, different defenses, so you’ve got to know the blitzes if you want to play."

It would be tough to take away Yeldon's status as the top back at Alabama, but as the season wears on the Crimson Tide can use a rusher who will dish out plenty of punishment to tired defenses that may be quick to tip back on their heels with a rampaging rusher heading straight toward them.

Henry narrowly edges out Yeldon in this regard, although both backs will need plenty of carries for Alabama to pull out victories without a bona fide star—or even starter, for that matter—at quarterback.

Blake Sims was serviceable against West Virginia, and transfer signal-caller Jacob Coker is lurking in the background. But neither of those players will light up SEC defenses. That is a task designed specifically for Yeldon and Henry, but best left to the latter player.

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LSU's Anthony Jennings Finds Travin Dural for 80-Yard Touchdown vs. Wisconsin

The LSU Tigers were dealing with an early 10-point deficit on Saturday against the Wisconsin Badgers when quarterback Anthony Jennings stepped up big.

In the first quarter, Jennings found Travin Dural on a beautiful pass that resulted in a massive 80-yard touchdown on the very first play of the drive. The touchdown gave the Tigers their first points of the year, but they were still down 10-7 in the game.

[Twitter]

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Konrad Zagzebski Injury: Updates on Wisconsin DT's Status and Return

Wisconsin nose guard Konrad Zagzebski suffered what looked to be a head injury during the Badgers' Top-25 clash with LSU on Saturday.

Andy Baggot of the Wisconsin State Journal reported that the senior may have been kneed in the head while trying to bring down Tigers running back Kenny Hilliard:

Zagzebski was then stretchered off the field, per Jim Kleinpeter of The Times-Picayune:

ESPN.com had more details:

The senior had motion in his extremities -- he gave a thumbs-up sign as he was taken off the field -- and ESPN's Todd McShay reported that Zagzebski was accompanied by his father to Methodist Hospital in Houston.

Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has more:

In his first three years at Madison, Zagzebski recorded 25 total tackles, including two tackles for loss. He'd carved out a role on the line at defensive end, but Badgers head coach Gary Andersen decided to move him inside for 2014, per ESPNWisconsin.com's Zach Heilprin:

I don't know if (Zagzebski) really does anything different at the nose guard position, but it's just the natural ability, and where those two kids are sitting in their progression in their college career. It's just the best spot for them to be at this point. (Zagzebski) excited about it.

Zagzebski's absence will leave a hole in the Wisconsin defensive line, but that certainly takes a back seat to his health at the moment. Watching a player carried off on a stretcher is never a good sign.

The team will be hopeful that the he'll make a full return at some point this year.

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Grading Performances of Suspended Notre Dame Players' Backups

SOUTH BEND, Indiana—Academic issues have surrounded Notre Dame football of late, with quarterback Everett Golson making his return and a quintet of players being held out of practice and competition.

And while Golson stole the show Saturday with 336 yards of total offense and five touchdowns (two passing, three rushing), it’s worth analyzing how Notre Dame fared without cornerback KeiVarae Russell, wide receiver DaVaris Daniels, defensive end Ishaq Williams, linebacker Kendall Moore and safety Eilar Hardy in its 48-17 demolition of Rice.

Irish head coach Brian Kelly praised his team’s resolve in focusing on the task at hand without those five.

“They have been really focused on their job and going out there,” Kelly said following the victory. “They have been really purposeful every single day. They have not been a distracted group and that says a lot about them. I've got good leaders, and I've got young guys that have really followed the lead here.”

We’ll take a look here at how the Irish replacements performed in place of Russell, Daniels and Williams. Moore was not expected to have a major role, and Notre Dame’s depth at safety mitigates Hardy’s absence.

 

Cole Luke and Devin Butler

The absence of Russell might be the biggest setback for the Irish, but cornerback is a deep position. Cody Riggs held down one side, and sophomore Cole Luke started on the other.

Luke tallied two tackles and a pass defensed, providing steady play. Notre Dame had some breakdowns in the secondary, but the majority of those were blunders by safeties.

Great close by Cole Luke to blow up that screen

— Irish Sports Daily (@ISDUpdate) August 30, 2014

Great coverage by Cole Luke, Jackson wanted to throw to Parks, but Luke had him locked down. Forced coverage sack

— Irish Sports Daily (@ISDUpdate) August 30, 2014

Fellow sophomore Devin Butler saw time in certain sub-packages. Butler’s biggest play was forcing a fumble by Rice wide receiver Cameron Decell late in the fourth quarter.

All things considered, Notre Dame held its own in the secondary without Russell. Riggs has become an even more important cog in the Irish defense now that he has been elevated to the top spot. If Riggs continues to play like a No. 1 corner and Luke and Butler continue to develop, the Irish can at least weather Russell’s absence.

Still, you don’t replace Russell.

Grade: B+

 

Receivers

It’s tough to pinpoint one wide receiver who stepped in for DaVaris Daniels. Kelly and Irish offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock have said since the spring that multiple wide receivers will be utilized as Notre Dame spreads the ball.

That balance and variety was evident Saturday, as four different Irish pass-catchers reached at least 50 yards receiving. Sophomore Will Fuller tallied four grabs for 85 yards—75 of which came on the first-quarter touchdown pass from Golson—to lead the group. Senior Amir Carlisle added two receptions for 54 yards, and junior C.J. Prosise hauled in the 53-yard touchdown strike with five seconds remaining in the first half.

“I don't think we are going to have one particular guy that's going to eat up all the catches,” Kelly said. “There's not one guy. It's going to spread all the way across the board. Everybody is going to get touches.”

While Daniels is likely Notre Dame’s most complete receiver, the Irish have an intriguing crop of youngsters. Kelly commended Fuller’s “elite” speed, junior Chris Brown’s reliability and sophomore Corey Robinson’s “great matchup” ability.

No one receiver can match Daniels’ package of skills, but Notre Dame should be able to get good performances from a host of targets.

Grade: A-

 

Isaac Rochell

Sophomore defensive end Isaac Rochell didn’t boast an impressive stat line—one tackle—but he delivered a solid outing in place of Williams.

Kelly has raved about Rochell’s strength in recent weeks, and the second-year end mostly held the point of attack Saturday. “Isaac Rochell has been extremely physical and difficult to move with our offensive line,” Kelly said after the Rice game.

Asked if Notre Dame’s defense surprised him at all, Kelly lauded the line:

No, I thought as we progressed into camp and had settled into the past week or so, I like the physical play of our front four...I just really thought that we were going to be able to hold up very well, and Joe Schmidt with Jaylon [Smith] were outstanding. You've got those six guys; if they can hold up against the run, we're going to be from pretty good shape, and I thought that was going to be the case and it ended up being it today.

With more consistent play and continued development, Rochell can lessen the impact of the loss of Williams.

Grade: B

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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

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James Franklin Shows Joe Paterno-Style Football Never Coming Back to Penn State

What does new Penn State coach James Franklin have in common with Joe Paterno? Well, they both won their first game as head coach of the Nittany Lions. But the comparisons stop there.

That was made clear Saturday as Franklin bet all his chips on the arm of sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg and had his faith rewarded with a game-winning drive and the first 400-yard passing game in school history.

Playing in Dublin, Ireland, on a hacked-up rugby field, Hackenberg squeaked out a 26-24 victory over Central Florida while also closing the book on Penn State’s days as Linebacker U.

The bad news for Penn State fans is that if the Nittany Lions are to have more joyous days like this, it will all be on Hackenberg. Penn State rushed for only 57 yards on 28 totes, a 2.0 average.

But the great news for Penn State is that it appears Hackenberg has plenty more where this came from. He finished an eye-popping 32-of-47, for 454 yards, 114 more than he had ever amassed in a college game. Hackenberg probably established himself as the Big Ten’s best quarterback now that Ohio State has lost Braxton Miller to shoulder surgery.  At the very least, he is the most clutch. 

Down, 24-23, with just 1:13 left after a go-ahead UCF touchdown, Hackenberg directed a seven-play drive that moved Penn State from its 26-yard line to the UCF 19. Besides his throwing, Hackenberg also generated a crucial first down with an eight-yard run on fourth down.

That march positioned Sam Ficken for his fourth field goal of the day.

"There was only a minute or so left in the game, and I looked across the sideline and there wasn't doubt in anybody's eye,” Franklin said (via The Associated Press). “Everybody believed. They believed in Hack. They believed in Ficken."

And don't be surprised if Hackenberg enters conversations about being Penn State’s second-best quarterback ever before this season ends.

Right now, that top spot belongs to Kerry Collins, who threw for more than 40,000 NFL yards. But after that, Hackenberg is up against only the likes of Todd Blackledge, Michael Robinson, Chuck Fusina and a whole lot of other guys who millennials never heard of. They’re part of what largely was a no-name legacy of quarterbacks at Penn State under Paterno.

Paterno didn’t obsess over the three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust game quite as much as Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler, but he was always content to win without airing out his offensive attack.

That definitely won’t be the case for Franklin. And as the 42-year-old Pennsylvania native shoulders the task of cleansing his program of the remaining wreckage from the Jerry Sandusky scandal, he couldn’t ask for a better recruiting tool than Hackenberg.

His Saturday stats show Penn State is going to play 21st-century football. Despite entering the season without a proven go-to receiver, Hackenberg anointed two of them against UCF, hitting Geno Lewis with eight passes for 173 yards and finding DaeSean Hamilton for 11 catches and 165 yards. Lewis’ receptions included a 79-yard touchdown strike.

And Hackenberg’s big game can’t be diminished with any talk of opening against a so-so opponent, as so many teams do. UCF has nine defensive starters back from the team that went 12-1 last season, including the entire secondary, according to the Shannon Owens-Green of the Orlando Sentinel.

UCF also finished 26th in the initial Associated Press rankings and was 23rd in ESPN’s Power Rankings heading into the season.

According Mark Wogenrich of The Morning Call, Hackenberg is the youngest Penn State team captain in 70 years, one more sign that Franklin’s program is rapidly distancing itself from old-school mentality.

Wogenrich also points out that the 6’3” Hackenberg beefed up some in the offseason, to 234 pounds, in hopes of becoming “bulletproof.” As for his play-calling burdens, the difference between playing for Bill O’Brien last season and now is that Franklin’s system has more multiple sets and formations that call for quick shifts.

"He's pretty far ahead for a kid who is a true sophomore," Franklin told The Morning Call.

He's a conceptual learner, and that's the way I like to teach...When you bring in someone that runs a completely different system, that's hard, especially when a kid has had success in one and believes that's the right way to do it. But Hack has adjusted well.

While it’s too early to assess Franklin as a sure thing at Penn State, it is worth noting what has happened at his previous place of employment, Vanderbilt. In that school’s season opener, at home no less, Vandy was shelled, 37-7, by lowly regarded Temple.

That simply isn’t supposed to happen to a Southeastern Conference team. And if Vanderbilt’s fall continues, it will make Franklin’s three bowl games in three seasons with that traditional doormat look even more impressive. Before Franklin, Vanderbilt had never made it to bowl games in consecutive seasons.

Franklin also never had a household-name quarterback at Vanderbilt, unless you count Jordan Rodgers, who had a slight measure of fame for having a big brother in the NFL named Aaron.

But if Hackenberg keeps having Heisman-caliber games, Franklin will be able to make his case to the next generation of tier-one quarterbacks. And who knows? Linebacker U might even become Quarterback State.

 

Tom Weir covered college football as a columnist for USA Today.

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Clemson vs. Georgia: Score and Twitter Reaction

For the second consecutive year, Clemson and Georgia battled in the first game of the 2014 season for both teams. Much like the 2013 version, the Tigers and Bulldogs put on an entertaining show, but this time it was the SEC team coming out on top, 45-21. 

This was a strange game to watch, as it turned into a tale of two halves. In the first half, both teams were lighting up the scoreboard, going into the break tied at 21. The second half turned into a defensive battle early before Georgia pulled away in the fourth quarter behind its power running game that finished with 328 of the team's 459 total yards. 

We've got all the details and instant reaction from Georgia's big win, but first here's a look at the scoring breakdown:

Since the conversation around this game is going to start with Georgia's running game, you have to begin with Todd Gurley. During some moments the Heisman hopeful seemed lost in the first half, only carrying the ball four times with five total touches. But when he did get the ball, it counted. 

In the first 30 minutes, Gurley had two touchdowns. One came on a 23-yard run in the first quarter to tie the game at seven. The second one came on a 100-yard kickoff return to tie the game at 21, embedded below. 

Gurley's dynamic performance in the first half prompted this response from Bleacher Report Lead College Football Writer Adam Kramer on Twitter:

As impressive as the first half was, even with a limited number of touches, Gurley was just getting started. Georgia head coach Mark Richt finally remembered what he had in the backfield, giving his horse exponentially more work in the second half. 

Needless to say, it paid off. Gurley finished with a career-high 198 rushing yards and ran for two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter to turn a close game into a blowout. Including his kickoff return (and a minus-five-yard reception) Gurley finished with 293 yards combined. Tom Fornelli of CBSSports.com noted the similarities between the current running back and a former Georgia star:

Gurley may or may not end up being Herschel Walker, but Saturday was a clear statement to the rest of college football that he's a bad man. 

It wasn't all about the offense for Georgia, though. The Bulldogs defense kicked things into gear in the second half against Clemson quarterbacks Cole Stoudt and Deshaun Watson. Georgia linebacker Leonard Floyd had a great game, particularly the fourth quarter with two sacks, a forced fumble and fumble recovery.

Floyd seemed like he was on the cusp of a breakout season after a 2013 campaign that saw him record 9.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. He told Edward Aschoff of ESPN.com before this game that his growth came from a poor freshman season:

I should be better than what I was as a freshman. I’ll do anything to make a play. I’ll run sideline to sideline 100 times just to make a play. I’m trying to be the best player possible, so I’ll do whatever it takes.

On the other side of the field, Clemson came out firing on all cylinders with a touchdown on its opening drive and some solid plays made by Stoudt in his first career start. ESPN's College GameDay Twitter account even noted that it was a perfect beginning for the Tigers:

However, when you are replacing all the talent Clemson has, there are going to be some growing pains. According to ESPNU's official Twitter feed, the Tigers entered 2014 without 73 percent of their offensive production from last season:

Eventually, the youth started to show, and Georgia's offense wore down the Tigers defense. Clemson had just 291 yards of total offense, including just 15 in the second half. All six of the Tigers' possessions in the final 30 minutes consisted of four plays or fewer. 

This was exactly the start that Georgia needed, especially coming off an injury-plagued 2013 season and considering it's breaking in Hutson Mason at quarterback. The running game was dominant, and the defense came out in full force when it needed to. 

Clemson deserves credit for sticking with a good team for 30 minutes, but Dabo Swinney's group had to play a perfect game to win with so many new pieces. It looked the part for a while, just not long enough. 

 

If you want to talk sports, hit me up on Twitter.

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South Dakota vs. Oregon: Live Score and Highlights

Oregon 41, South Dakota 13—Early 3rd Quarter

Year 2 of the Mark Helfrich era gets underway Saturday evening in Eugene as the Oregon Ducks host the South Dakota Coyotes from the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

As the Ducks prepare for a visit from Michigan State in Week 2, we'll be looking for some development from the young Oregon receivers and continued development from the running game sans De'Anthony Thomas.

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Cole Stoudt Debuts for Clemson: Final Stat Line, Analysis and Twitter Reaction

After three seasons of sparse but impressive quarterback play, senior Cole Stoudt finally got his chance to begin the season as Clemson's starting signal-caller. Unfortunately, things didn't go as swimmingly as he would have wanted.

Stoudt finished the game completing 15 of his 28 passing attempts for 130 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception in a less-than-spectacular performance during the Tigers' 45-21 loss at the hands of the Georgia Bulldogs. He entered the game with lofty expectations surrounding him—much like this tweet from former Cleveland Browns general manager Phil Savage:

While Stoudt certainly didn't appear to live up to the hype, he didn't have much help from his supporting cast. Early in the game, the quarterback looked impressively accurate; however, his receivers simply couldn't seem to hang on to anything.

David Hale of ESPN.com tweeted his thoughts on the game's early action:

Despite some mishaps from the receiving corps, Stoudt was erratic at times during the first quarter. This led head coach Dabo Swinney to bring freshman Deshaun Watson into the game—as expected—early in the second quarter.

Well, it didn't take long for Watson to cause some disruption by leading an immediate touchdown drive. Jon Solomon of CBS Sports tweeted a statistics comparison to that point in the game:

Travis Haney of ESPN.com weighed in as well:

Stoudt came back into the game later, but just couldn't get any kind of momentum going, as Georgia ran away with the game.

We'll see if Stoudt keeps a firm grip on the starting position going forward. While his performance wasn't stellar, it may not warrant a change just yet. Although, we can expect a forthcoming debate on the matter.

Clemson doesn't have much time to tinker around with its lineup, as tough contests against No. 1 Florida State and No. 23 North Carolina are on the horizon after the Tigers' home opener against South Carolina State next week.

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Todd Gurley vs. Clemson: Final Stat Line, Highlights and Twitter Reaction

The incredible hype coming into the season for Todd Gurley did not do him justice. 

In the first game of the year against a tough Clemson defense, the Georgia running back finished with 198 yards on 15 carries with three rushing touchdowns on Saturday. He also added a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

Seth Emerson of The Macon Telegraph provided a note on the historic performance:

His effort helped the Bulldogs earn an impressive 45-21 win over the Tigers.

Nicole Auerbach of USA Today put it lightly:

ESPN's Kevin Negandhi described what type of a player the running back has become:

Gurley was hardly used in the first half, getting only five total touches. Of course, this did not stop him from making a huge impact in the game.

Down 7-0, the running back put Georgia on the scoreboard for the first time with a 23-yard touchdown run while showcasing his speed on the corner:

Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer was already able to see how well the junior is able to separate himself from others at his position:

Meanwhile, head coach Mark Richt continued to limit the superstar's touches, including on a big 3rd-and-1 chance in the first half. Jason McIntyre of The Big Lead provided his opinion:

Even Atlanta Falcons receiver Roddy White got involved:

After Clemson took a 21-14 lead, Gurley finally got another touch in the ensuing kickoff, which he took all the way back for a touchdown:

Emerson provided this incredible stat:

Despite the two touches, fans were upset the running back only had four carries at halftime.

The amazing thing is Gurley was just getting started. With the Tigers defense starting to get tired, Richt unleashed his best weapon.

At the start of the fourth quarter with Georgia leading 24-21, the running back broke off a 38-yard run into Clemson territory. He then finished off the drive with an 18-yard touchdown right up the middle.

Bomani Jones of ESPN provided this analysis:

After Nick Chubb did his part with a 47-yard touchdown run, Gurley went right back onto the field and scored a 51-yard touchdown. 

Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer was speechless:

This ended up being his last rushing attempt in a memorable performance for the Bulldogs.

Earlier in the day, ESPN's Desmond Howard predicted the running back would move into Heisman consideration with a strong performance:

Hours later, Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports agreed:

When asked about the potential of bringing home the sport's most prestigious individual trophy, Gurley explained that he is more concerned about team success, via Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald: "You have to be on a great team. You can’t be on an 8-5 team and expect to win the Heisman. That’s definitely not going to happen. If I was able to reach that goal, I would definitely love it because of my teammates."

Looking beyond this season, his performance also keeps him on the radar for the NFL draft. Chase Goodbread of NFL.com discussed his potential:

This is obviously just one game, and it is important not to get ahead of ourselves, but it is clear Gurley is a star in the making for Georgia.

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

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Alabama vs. West Virginia: Forget the QBs, Tide's Real Problem Is Still at CB

ATLANTA — This game was always going to be about quarterbacks.

When AJ McCarron announced he would come back to Alabama for the 2013 season, this 2014 West Virginia game was marked on the calendar as a starting-over point under center. So a majority of the attention was on Blake Sims (and the lack of Jake Coker) and understandably so.

Sims’ debut was solid, but that shouldn’t be at the top of any Alabama fan's worry list at this point in time. The team got less-than-stellar play from its cornerbacks—who allowed West Virginia to move the ball with ease at times and keep the game close in a 33-23 win for the Crimson Tide—and that should be the point of focus from this game.

The Mountaineers, as expected, came flying out of the gate with an uptempo attack and finished with 393 yards, including 365 through the air. Quarterback Clint Trickett was efficient, completing 29 of 45 passes for 365 yards and a score. Kevin White had a monster game, catching nine passes for 143 yards and a touchdown.

West Virginia matched up well on the outside and took advantage of Alabama’s undersized starting corners—Bradley Sylve and Cyrus Jones both check in less than 6'0"—and had success on quick screens and one-on-one jump balls.

Sylve in particular missed several tackles on screen passes and was one-on-one with the 6’3” White on a fade route on the Mountaineers’ lone offensive touchdown of the game.

“He knows he’s going to be beat playing some of the best wide receivers in the game,” junior safety Landon Collins said of Sylve. “He was cutting them off. He had great position, but his man just came down with the ball. That’s what good receivers do.”

Collins is right about the touchdown.

Sylve could be faulted for not turning back to find the ball, but he was stuck on White like glue (and probably could have been called for pass interference). White used his size to his advantage to go up over Sylve, and Trickett threw him a perfectly placed ball.

Sylve, though, missed several tackles in the open field that led to big chunks of yards given up on screen plays.

“It happens sometimes,” linebacker Denzel Devall said. “I told him, ‘Just play the next play. Don’t worry about it. We got you.’ And that’s what we do. We look out for each other and pick each other up. Things happen like that. It’s football. You move on to the next play and get back to it.”

Alabama knew that cornerback was going to be a concern heading into this season. It lost Deion Belue—the Crimson Tide’s only consistent corner last year—to graduation, and Eddie Jackson was hurt in spring practice and isn’t quite recovered yet. Alabama signed two 5-stars in Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey, but it remains to be seen how far either of those two are from playing.

The tackling can be corrected. That’s a matter of technique and repetition. But the size difference should be a concern, especially going into SEC play.

“I think we showed that we have each other’s back,” safety Nick Perry said. “We know if one guy gets down, we have to go and lift him up. That’s going to be a big thing for us this season. We have to play as a team, play as a unit, and we have to have each other’s back.”

Sylve’s teammates were supportive of the beleaguered corner and even sympathetic.

“We go up against the best receivers, I think, in the country every day in practice with Amari Cooper, Christion Jones, DeAndrew White,” Perry said. “Those guys make plays on us all the time. So as a DB, you’ve got to have a short-term memory. I think Bradley has that. He was just going—playing the next play.”

There’s not an immediate sense of urgency at the cornerback position, with games coming up against Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss. But Alabama opens up SEC play with Florida and Ole Miss, two teams with physical wide receivers. It can’t survive all season with the cornerback play it got Saturday night.

Even if the quarterbacks are more fun to talk about.

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats come from CFBStats. All recruiting information comes from 247Sports.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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Watch Georgia RB Todd Gurley's Sick 100-Yard Kickoff Return

Georgia's Todd Gurley is considered one of the top running backs in the country.

The Bulldogs took on the Clemson Tigers in Week 1 of the 2014 season, and Gurley put on a highlight-reel performance, including this monster run on special teams.

Watch Gurley tear up the field on this 100-yard kickoff return.

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