Saturday, December 16News That Matters

No. 10 USC fights off No. 12 Stanford to capture first Pac-12 title since 2008


If this is how championship week is going to start, we could be in for a doozy of a finish on Saturday to close out 2017.

No. 10 USC used a fourth quarter goal line stand and a few key plays from their star quarterback to hold off a pesky No. 12 Stanford squad for the second time this year and capture the conference title 31-28 in the Pac-12 Football Championship Game on Friday night.

The Trojans looked as though they were going to give away another game in the second half but showed why they were a near consensus pick in the preseason to win the league by showing a bit of championship level grit when it mattered most. On their heels following a shanked punt midway through the fourth quarter, the USC defense came up big with a fourth and goal stop from the one yard line when speedy linebacker Uchenna Nwosu tackled Cardinal back Cameron Scarlett just inches outside the goal line to prevent the go-ahead score from the North Division representatives.

That crucial stop then turned into a massive 14 point swing as golden boy Sam Darnold game up big on the ensuing possession, leading a 99-yard touchdown drive that all but locked up the title. The quarterback may not have had the 2017 many predicted he would have after that historic run last year (and the thrilling Rose Bowl victory back in January) but his 325 yards and two touchdowns were the result of one of his best games all year. Most of that yardage and a huge number of the big plays USC had at Levi’s Stadium came courtesy of the signal-caller hooking up with wideout Michael Pittman (146 yards, one touchdown) who was running free in the secondary on nearly every other play.

Not to be left out, Ronald Jones proved why he is one of the best running backs in the country and likely to return to the stadium on Sunday’s by rushing for 132 yards and a pair of scores against one of the Pac-12’s best defensive units.

That all helped spoil the previously perfect 3-0 record that the Cardinal had in the Pac-12 Championship Game coming into the night. Running back Bryce Love ran for 125 yards and a touchdown but was clearly still bothered by his banged up ankle injury, limping off late in the game and simply not having that extra gear we’re used to seeing. Even so, the likely Heisman finalist still put up another 52 yard run and really helped the offense get going starting in the second quarter.

With Love hobbled, QB K.J. Costello stepped up with his arm and finished with 192 yards and a pair of incredible on-the-money touchdown throws to Kaden Smith.

It wasn’t enough in the end however as the Trojans finished the season as many expected them to: as Pac-12 champions. That marked the first time the powerhouse team had won the league since 2008, when the trophy said Pac-10 on it and Pete Carroll was the head coach doing the heavy lifting on the sideline.

Whether all that will ultimately be enough for USC to sneak into the College Football Playoff with a historic move into the top four on Sunday remains to be seen but, on Friday night at least, all the postseason talk didn’t mean much for a program that has been through a lot and can once again lay claim to being the best in the West.

Pac-12 After Dark appears to be stuck in traffic, but it’s getting there.

A somewhat dull college football game got a lot more exciting in the closing minutes of the second quarter at the Pac-12 Championship on Friday evening, as No. 10 USC methodically grabbed a 17-14 halftime lead over No. 12 Stanford in a rematch for a title at Levi’s Stadium.

Not surprisingly, star quarterback Sam Darnold was at the center of most of the action. The signal-caller finished the half with 171 yards passing and a pair of scores, the first a touchdown pass off play-action to Michael Pittman from seven yards out to light up the scoreboard first. The two hooked up again in the closing minutes for a big 40 yard gain that later setup a short Tyler Vaughns catch and run right to the pylon.

Running back Ronald Jones was a pretty big part of the offense too, rushing for 75 yards and helping churn out long drives to control the clock against a team that entered the game on short rest.

Stanford’s offense was a little hit or miss but seemed to start rolling toward the end of each quarter. Aided by several penalties, Bryce Love (only 37 yards rushing) found the end zone from nine yards out for the team’s first points but there was not much in the way of explosive plays from the Cardinal after a half of play. Quarterback K.J. Costello did pick up a few first downs with his arm as time was winding down and finished with 76 yards in the air while Cameron Scarlett punched in the other touchdown from a yard out.

The two in-state rivals are both battling a little history on either side of this one. Stanford is 3-0 in the championship game since the conference started it in 2011, while the North Division overall is undefeated in the event. On the flip side, USC hasn’t captured the league title in nearly a decade and are hoping to defeat the Cardinal for a second time this season.

The SEC has been filled with some wild stories the past week but here’s a bright spot courtesy of Missouri: defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr. will return for his senior year instead of declaring for 2018 NFL Draft.

“I’m excited to make this decision and move on to finishing this season out the right way,” Beckner Jr. said in a statement.  “We have a chance to do something really special and keep momentum going into next year, and I want to be part of that and help lead this team in the right direction.  I love Mizzou, and I’ve grown so much this year working with Coach (Brick) Haley, but there’s so much more that I can learn from him.  I’m really grateful for the opportunity to be a Tiger and I want to do everything I can to help us do big things.”

The 6-foot-4, 290 pound tackle recorded seven sacks, 35 tackles, including 10.5 tackles for loss and an interception in 2017.

Beckner was a five-star recruit coming out of high school and has played a huge role solidifying Missouri’s defense after a rough start to the year. He is not going to request a grade from the NFL’s underclassmen advisory board but could be a top prospect in 2019.

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer faced the media on Friday in advance of the Buckeyes’ Big Ten title game appearance against Wisconsin and, as you could expect, was peppered by questions about his quarterback J.T. Barrett.

The senior suffered a knee injury during pregame warmups last week against Michigan and underwent surgery on Sunday. While the doctors have cleared the signal-caller to play in Indianapolis on Saturday night, how much and whether he will start are two questions that still sound like they are up in the air.

“Those are all decisions I’m going to make tomorrow. I want to see where — we’re going to have a walk-through here in a little bit. Still having conversations with Coach (Ryan) Day and Coach (Kevin) Wilson about it,” said Meyer. “I don’t want to get into too much detail because it’s J.T.’s business, but so much of it has to do with how he does during the course of the week. And the trainers and doctors are very involved. And it’s not finished. He’s still 24 hours out. So I’ve had a player do it before, that was scoped earlier in the week and played. And then I’ve had others that can’t. And the body has to react a certain way. And his has been very positive.”

Meyer was asked over 15 questions related to Barrett’s status or how the knee injury could affect his play against the Badgers all told.

The team did practice on Thursday and will do a walkthrough at Lucas Oil Stadium Friday evening so we’ll have a good idea about the quarterback’s starting status at some point tomorrow during warmups. Either way, he’ll be suited up and likely the guy behind center for OSU if he’s good to go and won’t hamper the offense. Backup Dwayne Haskins did finish off the victory against the rival Wolverines a week ago and appears likely to play some role against Wisconsin either way based on Meyer’s comments.

It didn’t take long for James Franklin to make changes to his coaching staff in the wake of Joe Moorhead getting hired by Mississippi State.

Penn State announced several title changes and hires on Friday afternoon, led off by the expected move of promoting current Nittany Lions assistant coach Ricky Rahne to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Recent Fordham offensive coordinator and Maryland offensive line coach Tyler Bowen was named tight ends coach while recent PSU defensive consultant Phil Galiano was elevated to special teams coordinator and assistant defensive line coach.

“We are thrilled to elevate Ricky to offensive coordinator and add Tyler and Phil to our staff,” Franklin said in a statement. “Ricky is one of the rising stars in college football. He is extremely sharp, driven and has a great rapport with our players. He has been very involved in our offensive scheme the last two years, which is why I anticipate our offense will continue to thrive under Ricky.

Additionally, wide receivers coach Josh Gattis was named passing game coordinator and offensive line coach Matt Limegrover added run game coordinator responsibilities to his duties.

The moves will complete the Penn State staff going forward after Moorhead was named head coach in Starkville and assistant Charles Huff followed him as the Bulldogs new running backs coach. Rahne already has experience calling plays for the team, as he served as the interim offensive coordinator for the 2016 TaxSlayer Bowl and is expected to do the same starting with the team’s 2017 bowl game and beyond.

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