Tag:Jerry Hinnen
Posted on: December 30, 2011 10:39 pm
 

QUICK HITS: Miss. St. 23, Wake Forest 17

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

MISSISSIPPI STATE WON: It's not easy to lose the turnover battle 4-0 and still win a bowl game, but that's just how much better the Bulldogs were in seeing off Wake Forest at the Music City Bowl. The Bulldogs outgained the Demon Deacons 380-288, Vick Ballard ran wild with 180 yards on just 14 carries (12.9 per-attempt) and two touchdowns, and Chris Relf did just enough in the Bulldogs' aerial game -- 12-of-19 for 129 yards and a touchdown -- to keep the Deacon defenders honest. If not for Relf's two interceptions and two first-half fumbles, this game could have been put to bed much, much sooner it was.

WHY MISSISSIPPI STATE WON: Because -- not that this was unexpected -- Tanner Price and the Wake Forest passing game never got going. Always a lackluster rushing team, the Demon Deacons had to get Price hot to move the ball against the Bulldogs. But with the exception of one clinical drive to open the second half, Price barely ever got lukewarm; he finished the night 24-of-46 for all of 214 yards, a thoroughly mediocre 4.7 yards per attempt. Though Price never threw an interception, he never threw a touchdown, either, and finished the game with three ugly incompletions on Wake's final drive.

But it wasn't all Price's fault. For one thing, he was under constant pressure -- defensive tackle Fletcher Cox was everywhere, particularly in the first half -- and was rarely able to throw in rhythm. We said before the game that star Deacon wide receiver Chris Givens would have to win his matchup against excellent Bulldog cover corner Johnthan Banks for the Wake offense to click, and it's fair to say that didn't happen; Givens finished with nine receptions, but for only 54 yards without a touchdown. The results were predictable--including this defeat, Wake finished the season 0-5 in games in which Givens finished with fewer than 80 yards.

WHEN MISSISSIPPI STATE WON: For all of the Bulldogs' statistical dominance and control of the game past the first quarter, the game wasn't ultimately decided until Price's final incompletion on 4th-and-7 gave the ball back to State with under 90 seconds to play. 

WHAT MISSISSIPPI STATE WON: A winning season, still far from a certainty in Starkville, but more importantly it keeps alive one of the nation's more improbable postseason winning streaks; the Bulldogs have now won five straight bowl games dating back to their victory in the 1999 Peach Bowl, tying Rutgers for the FBS's longest streak.

WHAT WAKE FOREST LOST: Their own shot at a winning record -- the Deacons finish 6-7 -- but simply getting to a bowl game was a major accomplishment for a team without a whole lot of raw talent or offensive firepower.

FINAL GRADE: Once State went up 16-7 in the second quarter, the entire game seemed to consist of the Bulldogs trying to run out the clock, Wake desperately trying to make up ground, and neither team succeeding at either. Though the outcome technically remained in doubt until the final minutes, the game never quite became legitimately "exciting." (Vick Ballard's bolting up the middle for long touchdowns excepted.) C-.

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Posted on: December 30, 2011 9:19 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Capital One Bowl

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

SOUTH CAROLINA WILL WIN IF: Connor Shaw plays in Orlando the way he has back home at Brice-Williams Stadium. With Marcus Lattimore out and Alshon Jeffery only narrowly showing up on the side of a milk carton, Shaw emerged as the Gamecocks No. 1 offensive threat down the stretch, peaking in the season finale vs. Clemson with a 14-of-20, 210-yard, 3 TD, no pick, 107 rushing yard MVP performance. But that wasn't all that unusual for Shaw when it came to playing in Columbia; in the four games he played at home (plus a cameo against Vanderbilt), Shaw was 63-for-91 (69 percent) for 9.1 yards an attempt and a 10-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio, not to mention 341 of his 482 rushing yards. Away from Brice-Williams? Shaw was 49-of-80 (61 percent) for 4.8 yards an attempt and a 2-to-4 TD-to-INT ratio. 

Nebraska has struggled mightily with offenses led by dual-threat quarterbacks like Shaw, giving up 418 yards to Denard Robinson's Michigan, 468 to Dan Persa's Northwestern, 486 to Russell Wilson's Wisconsin. If Shaw treats the neutral Citrus Bowl like a home venue, he should have more than enough leeway from the Huskers D to propel the Gamecocks to victory. If he has a relapse of those road blues, though, it's not like there's a whole lot else on the Gamecock offense to save him.

NEBRASKA WILL WIN IF: they can open up some running holes. This is easier said than done, of course; the Gamecocks boast a veteran senior starter at DT in Travian Robertson and arguably the nation's best set of defensive ends in Melvin Ingram, Devin Taylor, and Jadeveon Clowney. But Carolina still finished just 44th in rush defense nationally and sixth in the SEC, giving up 130 yards or more on the ground in seven different games. The option attacks of Navy and the Citadel, in particular, gave them fits, a promising development for the Huskers' read option looks with Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead.

But if Martinez and Burkhead can't get it going -- if Robertson can't be moved out of the middle, if Ingram, Taylor and Clowney blow up the option -- the Huskers will be in trouble. Martinez's struggles as a passer meant that when Nebraska ran for 180 yards or more, they were a perfect 9-0. When they didn't? They went an equally imperfect 0-3. Where the Huskers are concerned, it's go nuts on the ground, or go bust.

THE X-FACTOR: Whether or not Carolina wants to play this game. For all the good Steve Spurrier has done at South Carolina, he hasn't yet solved the dilemma of how to get his Gamecocks ready for the postseason; he's 1-4 with the 'Cocks overall and winless against BCS competition, with the last three losses coming by an average of 14.3 points. It goes more-or-less without saying that even with this being Spurrier's first 10-win team with Carolina, they're still nowhere good enough to no-show and still beat a nine-win Big Ten team like Nebraska.

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Posted on: December 30, 2011 4:45 pm
Edited on: December 30, 2011 4:46 pm
 

Key Matchup: Chick-Fil-A Bowl

Posted by Jerry Hinnen




A look at the key matchup that could determine the
 Chick-Fil-A Bowl.

Auburn QB Kiehl Frazier, RB Tre Mason vs. Virginia LBs Steve Greer, Leroy Reynolds

The Auburn offense that takes the field against Virginia in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl is likely to have some key differences from the one that Tiger fans watched for much of the regular season--some of those differences promising, some much less so. Where the latter's concerned, the suspension of star running back Michael Dyer removes the Tigers far-and-away leading rusher and (receiver Emory Blake arguably excepted) only consistent offensive weapon out of the equation.

But after a season in which the Auburn quarterbacks threw for fewer yards in SEC competition than the QBs for any other team in the league, one of those differences may also be the unveiling of true freshman QB Kiehl Frazier as the every-down signal-caller. Frazier has reportedly shared first-team snaps with ostensible starter Clint Moseley during Auburn's bowl prep, and Frazier's already proven during the season that he can be an effective run-first change-of-pace. Adding that athleticism to the offense full-time would open up more of the Tigers' 2010 Cam Newton-derived playbook, and with the extra time to prepare, Frazier could be ready to show enough command of the offense to get the Tigers moving again. And while Dyer's absence strings, Frazier's fellow freshman Tre Mason has shown promise in limited action at tailback and could be due for a breakout game.

Standing in Frazier's and Mason's way, though, will be a pair of outstanding Cavalier linebackers in Steve Greer (pictured) and Leroy Reynolds. The juniors finished 1-2 on the team in tackles, with Greer's 103 stops earning him second-team All-ACC honors and helping lead the team to a 34th-place finish in the FBS rush defense rankings.

With Frazier and the speedy Mason in place rather than Moseley and Dyer, Auburn would rely much more heavily on the inverted veer and similar option plays than earlier in the season, putting more pressure on linebackers like Greer and Reynolds to play assignment football and stuff the run before it starts. If they don't, Gus Malzahn's patented run-short-throw-deep play-action game could finally get Auburn out of its offensive rut. If they do, though -- and leave Auburn facing clear passing downs against Chase Minnifield and the talented Cav secondary -- the Tigers may be rendered as toothless as ever, no matter how much Frazier and Mason shake things up.

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Posted on: December 30, 2011 4:06 pm
 

QUICK HITS: BYU 24, Tulsa 21 at Armed Forces Bowl

Posted by Jerry Hinnen



BYU WON: Riley Nelson 
hasn't put up the kind of stats BYU quarterbacks have historically/traditionally put up, but after two-thirds of a season as a starter, he's already etched himself into Cougar lore as one of the clutchest signal-callers the school has seen. After a season full of late-game heroics, Nelson did it again, taking over at the Tulsa 48 and guiding his team to the game-winning touchdown with just 11 seconds to play. That score came on a two-yard throw to receiver Cody Hoffman -- his third touchdown reception of the game -- after Nelson faked a clock-stopping spike a la Dan Marino. 

The Cougars trailed 14-3 20 minutes into the game but held the high-powered Golden Hurricane to just one touchdown over the final 40, and only 268 total yards for the game overall.

WHY BYU WON: Because Tulsa just couldn't keep their boot on the Cougars' throat. BYU was just this side of gawdawful in the first half, with Nelson erratic, the defense up-and-down, and the run game ineffective. When the Cougars punted the ball back to the Golden Hurricane with less than a minute left in the first half -- their fifth punt in seven possessions, with one of the others ending in a Nelson pick -- it appeared they would head into the half down 11 and with Tulsa in firm control. But punt returner J.D. Ratliff fumbled the punt under pressure, and the Cougars cashed in with a one-play, 17-yard touchdown "drive."

Thanks to G.J. Kinne executing a clinical 58-yard TD drive of his own early in the fourth, the Golden Hurricane were again in position to put the victory securely in their grasp when a BYU running-into-the-kicker call gave them the ball with a 21-17 lead and under 6 minutes to play. Instead they went a meek three-and-out (just as they had before the penalty), the next time they got the ball bask it was with a three-point deficit and only 11 seconds left. BYU was the better team on the stat sheet (with a 343-268 total yardage advantage), but the Cougars still never would have won this game without Tulsa's willingness to help them out at exactly the moments BYU needed that help the most.

WHEN BYU WON: When Nelson's fake spike threw the Golden Hurricane defense off just enough for Hoffman to come open in the front corner of the end zone. With so little time remaining, Tulsa's only hope was a crazy last-second lateral play that didn't make it past midfield.

WHAT BYU WON: Their first bowl game as an independent, a final 10-3 record that cements the program's continued relevance without a conference affiliation, and a bundle of optimism entering Nelson's senior year. It wasn't always pretty, but Bronco Mendenhall will surely take it.

WHAT TULSA LOST: Their fifth game of the season, which isn't so bad considering the first three came to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Boise State. But if the 2011 Golden Hurricane were ever going to be anything other than just another pdecent Conference USA team, they needed to stay beat (or at least stay competitive with) Houston or win this very winnable bowl game. That they didn't do either means that it's been a nice enough debut season for Bill Blankenship, but not one anyone's going to remember as ultimately "special."

FINAL GRADE: The two teams combined for 611 yards of offense, or some 160 fewer than Baylor managed last night alone. Though the ending offered plenty of drama, the first 59 minutes offered far more in the way of punts, turnovers, and generally disorganized, sloppy offensive play. Kudos to a pair of defenses that showed up to play, but from an aesthetic standpoint -- especially in the immediate wake of the all-timer at the Alamo Bowl -- this was a snooze. C+.

Posted on: December 29, 2011 6:27 pm
Edited on: December 30, 2011 4:48 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Chick-Fil-A Bowl

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

AUBURN WILL WIN IF: Gene Chizik still has some of that old defensive coordinating magic tucked away somewhere. With the exception of a handful of games during his team's 2010 national title run, Chizik -- a Broyles Award winner as a DC with a long and exemplary track record at both Auburn and Texas -- has never been able to translate that acumen to his defenses as a head coach, either at Iowa State or Auburn. That continued this year, as the Tigers slumped to a 79th-place finish in total defense, their formerly stout rush defense (which led the SEC in 2010) plummeting to 98th nationally.

With the Auburn offense an out-and-out shambles by season's end (the Tigers failed to score more than 17 points against any SEC team outside the state of Mississippi) and Gus Malzahn unlikely to fix it while splitting time with his new head coaching duties at Arkansas State, Chizik's winning formula will have to be the same as it was in his team's midseason upset of South Carolina and defeat of Florida: a stifling defensive effort paired with just enough points to get by. In up-and-coming defensive end Corey Lemonier and fiery senior linebacker Eltoro Freeman, Chizik has some of the pieces necessary to reprise those game-winning performances from earlier in the year. With Ted Roof out of the picture and the Dec. 31 date giving him plenty of time to work with his defense, this is Chizik's chance to prove he can still make a difference on the defensive side of the ball; if he's not up to it, it's highly doubtful his team will be up to winning the game, either.

VIRGINIA WILL WIN IF: they take advantage of their opportunities. There aren't many teams with a wider gap between their FBS rank in total offense and scoring offense than the Cavaliers, who finished a respectable 48th in yards but managed to come in 88th in points. The culprit's an easy one to spot: Virginia converted just 21 of its 42 red zone possessions into touchdowns, a 50 percent mark that placed them 105th nationally. Starting running back Perry Jones (883 yards) and sophomore quarterback Michael Rocco (2,359 passing yards, 7.3 an attempt) have been capable when it comes to moving the chains, but aren't much for the big play; Jones has only five touchdowns on 176 attempts, Rocco 11 TD throws (to 11 interceptions) on 325 passes.

Given Auburn's defensive frailties, Rocco, Jones and the Cavs are likely to move the ball and add a few more red zone possessions to their total of opportunities. But if they don't cash in, the game could devolve into the kind of diown-to-the-wire white-knuckler in which Chizik's teams have had so much success.

THE X-FACTOR: A major reason Auburn won those slugfests with the Gamecocks and Gators, or its season-opening shootout with Utah State? Its special teams, which feature Ray Guy award finalist Steven Clark at punter, dangerous kick returners Onterio McCalebb and Tre Mason (who each have a return for a score this season), and touchback machine Cody Parkey handling kickoffs. According to Phil Steele's special teams ratings, Auburn finished the year eighth in the kicking game and Virginia 91st. If those numbers prove accurate, the Cavs could have a hard time overcoming what might be a decisive Tiger advantage in field position.

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Posted on: December 29, 2011 6:04 pm
Edited on: December 29, 2011 6:06 pm
 

Vol frosh WR DeAnthony Arnett asks for release

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

A tumultuous season for Derek Dooley and the Tennessee Volunteers has bled into what's already a tumultuous offseason, with coaching changes, alleged suspensions, and now a one-time star recruit asking for a contentious release from the program.

According to multiple reports, freshman wide receiver DeAnthony Arnett has asked for a release from his scholarship and intends to transfer out of the Volunteer program. A Saginaw, Mich. native, Arnett is looking to transfer to a school somewhere in Michigan to be closer to his ailing father, whose picture Arnett tweeted a photo of Thursday afternoon.

Tennessee has since confirmed Arnett's request and agreed to the release--but with conditions attached, as the Knoxville News-Sentinel reports. According to an e-mail sent by Arnett to ESPN, the Volunteers have refused to release him to the state's BCS-level programs (Michigan and Michigan State), and the statement from Tennessee spokesman Jimmy Stanton would seem to confirm this:

"We're not denying him a release to be near his family, get a good education and play Division I football at the same time, but we do have a policy of not releasing players to schools we either play or recruit against," Stanton said Thursday. "Where he's from, there are several good D-I schools nearby that would be good options to play football, get a good education and keep him near his family." 

Not surprisingly, Arnett is less than happy with that decision:

"Coach Dooley, myself or anybody doesn't know what the future holds for my father," Arnett said in the email. "I feel that I represented the University of Tennessee the best way I can on and off the field and I feel I have earned the right to be released unconditional to all schools in Michigan."

Quite frankly, we don't blame him; unless Arnett has forfeited his good standing with Dooley and the Vols through some kind of unreported off-the-field incident, refusing to allow him to play on scholarship at Arnett's school of choice while he helps care for an ill parent strikes us as stunningly petty. Whatever benefit is gained from Tennessee playing keep-away from noted recruiting rivals Michigan and Michigan State (if you say so, Mr. Stanton), is it really worth punishing Arnett for doing nothing wrong? (Nothing "wrong" other than wanting out of Knoxville, anyway.) This is also nothing new for Dooley, who previously refused a release to the late Aaron Douglas unless he transferred to a location eight hours' drive away, and kept Bryce Brown off of scholarship at Kansas State for a year while refusing him a release as well.

A highly sought-after four-star recruit, Arnett played in all 12 games his freshman season, finishing third on the team in receptions with 24 and fourth in yards with 242.

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Posted on: December 29, 2011 2:47 pm
 

Music City Bowl Key Matchup

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

A look at the key matchup that could decide the Music City Bowl. 



Mississippi State CB Johnthan Banks vs. Wake Forest WR Chris Givens.

As we pointed out in our Keys to the Game for the Music City Bowl, the Demon Deacons don't have much to hang their hat on from a statistical perspective; they rank in the bottom half of the FBS in scoring, rush and total offense and as well as rush, pass, total and scoring defense. They aren't even particularly good on special teams, where Phil Steele's ratings place them 71st despite a 16-of-20 performance from placekicker Jimmy Newman.

But there is one thing Wake does well, and at times has done spectacularly: get the ball from quarterback Tanner Price to wide receiver Chris Givens. The two have hooked up 74 times this season for 1,276 yards and 9 touchdowns, earning the 6'0" junior from Texas first-team All-ACC honors. The most remarkable thing about Givens' 2011 performance was its consistency; he caught at least four passes in all 12 games (though never more than eight) and hauled in at least one touchdown in eight (though never more than two). As Givens' overall production went, though, so went the Deacons. In the eight games in which he finished with 80 receiving yards or more, Wake went 6-2; in the four in which he didn't (all of which came in the final five games of the season), they went 0-4.

Here's the bad news for Givens, and the Deacons: much like season finale opponent Vanderbilt and Casey Hayward -- who held Givens to four quiet receptions for 69 yards and no TDs -- Mississippi State has a lockdown corner to throw at Wake's best (and arguably only) offensive weapon. Junior Johnthan Banks isn't a household name and didn't even make the coaches' first- or second-team All-SEC thanks to the glut of premier corners in the conference, but Banks was the No. 1 reason why State finished 23rd nationally in pass defense and 11th in opponent's yards-per-pass attempt. Both rugged and quick, Banks has the skills to keep Givens every bit as quiet as the Commodores did.

But that doesn't mean he'll actually do it, not when Givens has the kind of talent he does and a veteran quarterback in Price who knows how to get him the ball. If Givens can't get the better of Banks, though, it shapes up as a difficult evening for the Deacons.

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Posted on: December 29, 2011 2:04 pm
Edited on: December 29, 2011 2:05 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Music City Bowl

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

WAKE FOREST WILL WIN IF: they can control the Mississippi State ground game. The Bulldogs have never been comfortable throwing the ball under Dan Mullen, and it showed again in 2011; in the six games in which State threw for 30 or more yards more than they gained on the ground, they finished 1-5, with the only win coming against hapless Kentucky. In the six outings in which they ran more yards than they threw or approached a 50-50 balance, they went 5-1. That might not be particularly good news for a Demon Deacon defense that ranked 70th in the country in stopping the run and finished the season giving up 175 rushing yards or more to six of their final seven opponents; the last of those was State's SEC colleagues from Vanderbilt, who racked up a whopping 297 yards on 5.4 a pop in their 41-7 win. But State's rush offense wasn't quite its usual dominant self in 2011, finishing 45th in the FBS, and in dynamic sophomore nose tackle Nikita Whitlock and senior linebacker Kyle Wilber, Wake has some of the pieces necessary to slow the Bulldogs down. If they don't, it's going to be as long an evening as it was for Wake vs. the Commodores.
  MISSISSIPPI STATE WILL WIN IF: their secondary does to quarterback Tanner Price and the Wake passing attack what it's capable of doing to it. Throwing the ball is the only thing the Demon Deacons do particularly well from a statistical standpoint -- between rush, pass and total offense and rush, pass, and total defense, their 37th-ranked pass offense is the only category in which they finished better than 70th in the FBS -- but unfortunately for Wake, stopping those throws is what the Bulldogs do best. Led by All-SEC-caliber corner* Johnthan Banks and a pair of sharp senior safeties in Charles Mitchell and Wade Bonner, the Bulldogs finished 23rd nationally in pass defense and held opponents to just 6.1 yards an attempt--the 11th-best mark in the FBS. If the Bulldog secondary lives up to those numbers and bottles up Price and Co., it's all-but-impossible to see the Demon Deacons putting up enough points to win.

THE X-FACTOR: Whether or not Mississippi State will be as focused as they could be. The Bulldogs came into 2011 with higher expectations than 6-6 and the Music City Bowl, and nothing they do against the Demon Deacons will keep their 2011 campaign from being a legitimate disappointment. Mullen almost certainly has a better, more talented team than Jim Grobe, but Grobe has pulled off plenty of upsets over better, more talented teams in his Wake career, and if State isn't ready to play there's no reason they can't be his latest victim.

*In most leagues, or maybe even most years in the SEC, Banks would have been all-conference. But this year he shared a league with Dre Kirkpatrick, Tyrann Mathieu, Morris Claiborne and Casey Hayward. So it goes.

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