If there was any doubt about Brian Kelly's place as an elite coach and Notre Dame's place as an elite team, it vanished into the Tallahassee night.
The Fighting Irish left Doak Campbell Stadium in defeat, but they stood on level ground with the heavily favored, insanely talented national champions -- on the road, right until the final seconds. And if two receivers had been a little slicker with their pick attempts, Notre Dame might have slayed mighty Florida State.
"We don't coach illegal plays," Kelly said afterward.
Most of the legal plays Kelly called worked masterfully against the Seminoles. He made the right in-game decisions, including a punt midway through the fourth quarter that returned the ball to a scalding-hot Jameis Winston. Notre Dame's defense, one of the nation's most surprising units, held firm, and quarterback Everett Golson led the Irish to the threshold of victory only to fall just short.
The next step for Kelly is arguably even tougher than game planning for Florida State on the road. But it's also a task he's more than capable of completing. He must lift the spirits of his players, prevent a letdown and restore belief that all of Notre Dame's goals, including a national championship, are still on the table.
Kelly also has some help, should he need it. There's a blueprint to responding to adversity that others have followed in this most unique of seasons, when one loss, especially one like Notre Dame's at Florida State, isn't the death knell.
Several one-loss teams showed Notre Dame how it's done in Week 8.
GREENEVILLE, Tenn. -- Carson-Newman coach Ken Sparks chased Bear -- and caught him.
Sparks earned his 323rd victory Saturday to tie Paul "Bear" Bryant for sixth place on the NCAA's career victories list as the Eagles won 55-35 over Tusculum.
The 70-year-old Sparks downplayed the milestone after the game and credited his players.
"I told (my players) if anybody wanted to talk about the number of victories that I had, you tell them that I didn't play a play," Sparks said.
Carson-Newman (5-1) trailed Tusculum (2-5) 35-27 at halftime before outscoring the Pioneers 28-0 in the second half.
The top five coaches in career victories are John Gagliardi (489-138-11), Eddie Robinson (408-165-15), Bobby Bowden (377-129-4), Pop Warner (336-114-32) and Larry Kehres (332-24-3). Sparks has the most wins of any active coach.
Sparks learned he had prostate cancer in the summer of 2012. He earned his 300th victory in the first game after his diagnosis.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Let your horses run. Let them jump and dance and dominate.
Nick Saban wanted that. He wanted his guys loose. Forget being anxious, he said, and just play football. Have fun. Be fast. Recalling the story of Secretariat he hoped to "just let 'em run."
Alabama hit its stride on Saturday afternoon, blowing past Texas A&M for a 59-0 win that had the previously sluggish Crimson Tide looking like playoff contenders once again.
T.J. Yeldon dodged and darted his way to 114 yards and two touchdowns.
Derrick Henry churned his long legs for 70 yards and a touchdown of his own.
Even Blake Sims let loose in the second quarter, running by a slew of defenders for a spectacular 43-yard touchdown.
The emotion Saban said his team had been lacking was instead ramped up to an 11. The normally business-like Crimson Tide played the game like kids again.
If you’ve never seen a group of 280-pound men jump up and down to a beat, it really is something. A'Shawn Robinson, Jonathan Allen and the rest of Alabama’s defensive linemen couldn’t sit still. During each kickoff, they huddled on the edge of the field and danced to the music played over the loudspeaker.
Amped up, they took the field and held Texas A&M to 31 yards rushing on 24 carries. They sacked Kenny Hill six times and forced an interception. The Aggies were shut out for the first time since 2003.
It wasn’t just emotion, though. Alabama won by being faster, stronger and more aggressive. It was smarter, with no turnovers and zero penalties.
"There was a lot of anxiety on our team," Saban said, "a lot of guys worrying about expectations, about being defined by external factors.
"Everybody has to forget about all that other stuff," he added. "It does affect you. It affects a lot of teams. That’s why you see these top teams struggling."
On a day when Alabama could do no wrong, Texas A&M was left with nothing but second-guessing.
The Aggies ran defender after defender at Amari Cooper but never could wrangle the junior receiver as he racked up 140 yards and two touchdowns. Keeping up with all their missed tackles was a dizzying task. Mark Snyder’s defense gave up 45 points and 449 yards of offense -- in the first half.
"However you cut it, that performance was unacceptable and embarrassing," said coach Kevin Sumlin. "Alabama had a lot to do with that, but we have to get back to work and examine where we are right now and how we can get better."
Given the stark contrast in the quality of play, it’s hard to make any sweeping statements about the prospects of Alabama. It’s surely back in the playoff conversation, but this is still the same team that lost at Ole Miss and nearly fell to unranked Arkansas a week later.
But for now the critics should be silenced.
Saban wanted more emotion. He wanted his horses to run.
On Saturday, he got the right attitude and the right results.
The love the Alabama head coach has for Little Debbie's Oatmeal Creme Pies is evidently rubbing off on his players.
Injured tailback Kenyan Drake was spotted on the sidelines with a box of them in his injury scooter during the Crimson Tide's 59-0 win over Texas A&M on Saturday.
Saban reportedly eats two of the treats for breakfast every morning.
Drake is out for the season after fracturing his leg during Alabama's loss to Ole Miss on Oct. 4, but he's remained in high spirits by outfitting his scooter with a "KDx17" license plate.
After the game, Drake joked about the scene on Twitter.
Wish I could've gotten a slice of the pie on the field today even though its obvious that i had my fair share on the sidelines lol #RollTide— Kenyan Drake" (@KDx17) October 18, 2014
How the game was won: Alabama showed up, Texas A&M didn’t. That’s the bottom line. The Crimson Tide dominated in all three phases of the game, and it was over before halftime. They embarrassed the Aggies to the tune of 45-0 in the first two quarters. Alabama had 449 yards at halftime, Texas A&M had 51. The Crimson Tide were 7-of-9 on third downs in the first half, the Aggies were 0-for-6. I could go on, but you get the picture. The second half was academic.
Game ball goes to: Nick Saban. After a loss two weeks ago to Ole Miss and a not-so-pretty win over Arkansas that caused some heartache among the Crimson Tide faithful (and caused Saban to go postal to fans’ reactions to a one-point win), he had his team ready to go from the jump. Alabama pummeled the Aggies in every way possible and will likely silence the critics for the time being. Saban also became the first coach to shut out a Kevin Sumlin-coached team in his seven-year head-coaching career.
What it means: Alabama fans can calm down. The Crimson Tide only have one loss, and there are still many games left before season’s end. They still have everything left to play for. For the Aggies, this is the wake-up call of all wake-up calls. After three straight losses, and this one in embarrassing fashion, Texas A&M must re-evaluate everything heading into its off week. A season that once looked promising is now looking disastrous.
Playoff implication: The Crimson Tide’s playoff hopes are still alive. They only have one loss, and who knows what will happen with the two Mississippi teams with more than a month left in the season? A&M, on the other hand, was already out of it before Saturday.
What's next: Alabama gets a rivalry game as it travels to Knoxville to take on Tennessee next week. Texas A&M is off, and it’s clear the Aggies need all the time they can get to regroup.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Blake Sims passed for 268 yards and three touchdowns, and he also scored on a 43-yard run while leading No. 7 Alabama to 35 second-quarter points and a 59-0 pummeling of No. 21 Texas A&M on Saturday.
The Crimson Tide (6-1, 3-1 SEC) shut down the nation's No. 4 offense and dominated a game that had produced two straight thrillers.
Alabama set a school record for points in a quarter and matched the second-most scored in a half while racing to a 45-0 lead.
Yeldon had 114 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries, all in the first half. Cooper gained 140 yards on eight catches with two touchdowns.
Alabama's key to victory: If Alabama's offensive line can't move the ball effectively then all bets are off. We've seen the past two weeks what Lane Kiffin's offense looks like when the running game can't get going, especially this past weekend when the Tide mustered just 66 yards rushing against Arkansas. But Texas A&M's defensive front is among the most porous in the SEC. If Alabama can reestablish the run then everything else falls into place: It takes the pressure off Blake Sims in the passing game and helps the defense by keeping Kenny Hill and Co. off the field.
Texas A&M’s key to victory: The Aggies need to get off to a quick start. They seem to be at their best when they get into an offensive rhythm early. Remember 2012? The Aggies jumped out to a 20-0 lead in the first quarter against Alabama. That’s probably asking too much this time around, but considering how much the offense has struggled the last two weeks, it behooves the Aggies to get points on the board early, otherwise it could facilitate a “here we go again” feeling and result in the Aggies trying to play catch-up, which they haven’t done a good job of in recent weeks.
Alabama’s X-factor: I'm still not sold on Alabama's secondary, especially in a game where the opponent can throw the ball effectively to four or five receivers on any down. The Tide just doesn't have enough quality depth at cornerback this year. That's why the play of Alabama's defensive line will be huge against Texas A&M. The Aggie o-line hasn't been great in recent weeks, so A'Shawn Robinson, Jonathan Allen and Co. have a chance to get after the quarterback. If they do that, it will be a boost to the secondary and potentially create a few turnovers that gets the defense off the field.
Texas A&M’s X-factor: There are several items to choose from here from offensive line play, which was not good last week, to secondary play or the defensive play as a whole. The bottom line is for the Aggies to have a chance, they need to be able to force some turnovers and make timely stops in crucial situations, like third downs or in the red zone. I don’t think anybody expects them to shut down Alabama’s running game or contain Amari Cooper, but if they can be good in those three areas defensively, they’ll have a fighting chance.
What a win will mean for Alabama: Well for starters it keeps the Crimson Tide’s playoff hopes alive. Considering some of the discussion that followed the “ugly” win at Arkansas, you might be fooled into thinking Alabama is out of it. On the contrary. There are still plenty of big games left, including showdowns with Mississippi State and of course, the Iron Bowl against Auburn. A win might get some folks to step back from the ledge after one loss and one not-so-pretty win a week ago.
What a win will mean for Texas A&M: It would generate some much-needed positive momentum. The Aggies don’t want to take a three-game losing streak into their off week so a win on Saturday would help restore some confidence, especially for the Aggies young players. It also could serve as a springboard for a solid finish to the season, which includes two off weeks, one nonconference opponent and three SEC foes (two at home).
Furman at South Carolina, SEC Network: Poor Furman, you couldn’t have picked a worse time to play South Carolina. The Gamecocks have been stewing the past two weeks about their loss at Kentucky. You think they will play with something to prove Saturday at home? For Mike Davis, Dylan Thompson and that offense, it’s a chance to put up a bunch of points and gain some much-needed confidence. For the defense, it’s a chance to take a step in the right direction and actually stop an opponent with some consistency. In reality, this game might as well be a scrimmage for South Carolina. But nonetheless, it’s an important springboard into the second half of the schedule, when the Gamecocks can either continue to circle the drain or rebound and regain the respect they have lost this season.
No. 10 Georgia at Arkansas, SEC Network: Time to find out the answer to the question that has been on the mind of SEC fans everywhere: How would Arkansas do in the dreadful East Division? The Hogs have played well this season, but haven't been able to overcome Texas A&M and Alabama. Against Georgia, will Bret Bielema’s squad break through? The Bulldogs, on the other hand, are riding high after a dominant performance at Missouri in which the absence of Todd Gurley was hardly felt in the final outcome. They now lead the East, and the race hardly appears close. Leonard Floyd and that defense will be put to the test, though. And Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason won’t face as porous a secondary as Missouri’s this time around.
Missouri at Florida, ESPN2: Watch out for turnovers. Florida and Missouri have combined to give the ball away 11 times in October alone. Just last week, Maty Mauk threw four interceptions against Georgia, and Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel had two costly interceptions against LSU. In other words, both defenses should be licking their chops. The difference in this game, however, could be the running backs. If Florida can establish the run and negate the pressure from Missouri’s Shane Ray and Markus Golden, the Gators should be in good shape. However, if Missouri can get Russell Hansbrough & Co. going, the pressure should fall off Mauk’s shoulders. It’s a lot of what-ifs, but for two teams headed in the wrong direction, should that really surprise you?
Tennessee at No. 3 Ole Miss, ESPN: The Vols have been knocking on the door this season, but the divide between competitive football and winning football has been tough to cross. Will they do it against No. 3-ranked Ole Miss? On the road? Now that’s asking a lot of Butch Jones' young squad, which is high on talent (Jalen Hurd, Cameron Sutton, etc.) but low on experience. The Rebs, meanwhile, have both confidence and experience on their side. If anyone thought their home win against Alabama was a fluke, they changed their mind after watching them go on the road and destroy Texas A&M. So long as quarterback Bo Wallace continues to take care of the football and that defense stays healthy, it’s hard to imagine Ole Miss having a hiccup game.
Kentucky at LSU, SEC Network: This game feels a lot like a battle of youth and momentum. On the one side, you have Kentucky, which has surprised many with the way it jumped out to a 5-1 record, most recently beating South Carolina at home. Patrick Towles has played well and the defense has been aggressive. But the Cats are young and don’t have pedigree on their side. On the other hand, you have LSU, which has gone from a dark horse playoff contender to unranked and outside the conversation in the West. But don’t count out Les Miles’ squad just yet. After beating Florida in The Swamp, the Tigers could have confidence going for them. And considering all the young talent in Baton Rouge, that is a scary thought.
Some teams come out of the woodwork to contend for titles. Others expected to contend for titles tank. Coaches go from the hot seat to a hot commodity. Players go from part-time starter to Heisman Trophy candidate, and entire states are transformed into the epicenter of football.
Welcome to the first half of the SEC season.
Here’s my list of some of the things we thought we knew about the league back in August, but as it turns out, really didn’t:
Not only was Coker not the answer, he’s yet to even start a game and has attempted just 33 passes, most of those coming in a blowout 41-0 win over Florida Atlantic. Fifth-year senior Blake Sims, who played running back as a redshirt freshman, has been the Tide’s starting quarterback the whole way. Sims got off to a hot start, but the entire Alabama offense has bogged down the last two weeks with just three offensive touchdowns in a 14-13 win over Arkansas and 23-17 loss to Ole Miss.
The Iron Bowl will determine the West champion
Hey, it still might with the way the West is beating up on each other. But it’s another bowl on Nov. 29 everybody can’t wait for -- the Egg Bowl. Mississippi State and Ole Miss are the only two unbeaten teams remaining in the SEC. Not only that, but the Bulldogs are No. 1 in the polls and the Rebels No. 3. Just the way we all figured it, huh? Seriously, it probably shouldn’t be a huge surprise when you consider they both have experienced difference-makers at quarterback in Dak Prescott and Bo Wallace and deep, talented front sevens on defense.
Kentucky won’t make a bowl in Mark Stoops’ second year
The Wildcats still aren’t there. They need one more win, but how many people had them at 5-1 at the midway point? It could easily be 6-0, too, if not for a triple-overtime loss at Florida and a controversial no-call when the play clock hit zero on the Gators’ fourth-down touchdown pass to force the second overtime. Stoops and his staff have done an exceptional job with this team, which is infinitely more explosive on offense than it was a year ago. Coming back from a two-touchdown deficit in the fourth quarter to beat South Carolina was the kind of win that should pay dividends all season. Two of the Wildcats’ next three games are on the road, starting with LSU on Saturday, but this is a team that believes right now.
Texas A&M will have a big drop-off offensively
On further review, the Aggies really haven’t missed a beat offensively, even though they head to Alabama this weekend trying to snap a two-game losing streak. They lead the SEC in scoring offense (43.9 points per game) and total offense (564.9 yards per game). Kenny Hill, who torched South Carolina in his debut as the Aggies’ starter in the opener, is fifth nationally with an average of 358.7 passing yards per game and second nationally with 23 touchdown passes. Hill has had five interceptions in his last two games, both losses, but he’s filled in better than anybody could have imagined for Johnny Manziel. In fact, Hill’s numbers through seven games (2,511 passing yards and 23 touchdown passes) are better than Manziel’s were through seven games a year ago (2,289 yards and 18 touchdown passes).
South Carolina is the East's team to beat
The Gamecocks have already lost three games. Granted, the way the East is looking, three losses might very well win it the way it did in 2010 when South Carolina went to Atlanta with a 5-3 record. It’s difficult, though, to see the Gamecocks rebounding in the second half. They still have to play at Auburn and at Florida. Moreover, they haven’t done the things it takes to win a divisional crown, like holding fourth-quarter leads and winning the turnover battle. In their two losses to Kentucky and Missouri, they were outscored 35-14 in the fourth quarter and are minus-3 for the season in turnover margin.
LSU RB Leonard Fournette will be the biggest-impact freshman
Fournette has gobs of ability and has thrown it into overdrive of late with 100-yard rushing performances in two of his last three games, but he hasn’t been the league’s top true freshman. That distinction belongs to Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett, who’s been a big-time finisher off the edge for the Aggies. He’s second in the SEC with 7.5 sacks and leads Texas A&M with nine tackles for loss and seven quarterback hurries. The scary part is he’s only going to get bigger, stronger and more in tune with how opposing offensive linemen are trying to block him.
Georgia’s Todd Gurley is the league's most dynamic player
And he was … until an investigation into whether he was paid for autographing memorabilia took him off the field. Tackling Gurley was like tackling a runaway freight train. And when somebody went low on him, he simply used his hurdling skills. He was perhaps on his way to winning the Heisman Trophy. Now, he and the Bulldog Nation wait impatiently to see how many more games he’ll have to sit.
Speaking of up-and-down quarterbacks, Missouri's Maty Mauk knows the feeling. He had a solid start to the season but had a dismal day in a 34-0 loss to Georgia last week. After a five-turnover performance against the Bulldogs, Mauk said he's aware of the criticism from some fans, who wanted Gary Pinkel to yank him, but it doesn't faze Mauk. Pinkel said it never crossed his mind and offered a vote of confidence to the quarterback, saying "He's our guy." Mauk and the Tigers will have a chance for redemption when they head to The Swamp to take on Florida. The Gators know firsthand that Mauk can play after going for 295 passing yards against Florida last season.
The Todd Gurley autograph saga continues. Georgia officials met with NCAA officials in Indianapolis on Thursday and gave us an update -- in the form of no real update. In a statement, Georgia said "there is no news at this time and no further comment necessary." An NCAA spokesperson did note that it is awaiting a request for reinstatement from Georgia. If the Bulldogs are to make such a request, they have to resolve any issues surrounding his eligibility before doing so. For what it's worth, coach Mark Richt tweeted early Thursday morning that he's "not anticipating [Gurley's status] to change this week."
Around the SEC
- So where did Bo Wallace's game ball from the Alabama game go? Follow its journey.
- Former South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia said he saw players take money for autographs "all day, every day."
- Nick Chubb isn't the only freshman making an impact at Georgia.
- LSU's running game poses a big challenge to Kentucky's defense.
- Tennessee's beat-up backfield hoping to step it up this week.
- Nick Saban talks about Alabama's offensive line issues.
Nick Saban smiling. pic.twitter.com/7Cz5NhKalb— TexAgs (@TexAgs) October 16, 2014
It was an example of the respect and admiration Barnett receives at Santiago High School and in the Corona area. That was followed by an example of how Barnett became so well respected, as well as the No. 16 prospect in the country and an Alabama commitment.
When a video began playing, documenting Barnett's life, all eyes -- except two -- were focused on the screen. Barnett alone stayed facing away from the video.
"That the first time I really saw him a little embarrassed, when they turned on the video," said his father, Lance Barnett. "He's not a 'look at me' guy and that really helps his drive and motivation."
Barnett was an absolute unknown on the recruiting trail until late in his junior season, which his father believes helped him get to where he is today.
"He wasn't caught up in any of the hype of recruiting and it allowed him to stay focused," said the elder Barnett.
After initially committing to Notre Dame, Barnett evaluated all of his options before settling on Alabama. Now, the 6-foot-5, 200 pound dual-threat quarterback is set on the Crimson Tide and everything that comes with possibly becoming the face of one of college football's most recognizable programs.
"I think it's going to be a big transition," Barnett said. "If I'm fortunate enough to get to that point, it will be different, but I think I can adapt to it."
Humble in the spotlight, Barnett is adamant that he knows how to have fun and brings with him a great sense of humor. That was on display a few weeks ago when Barnett visited his future home and took a number of photos with Alabama fans.
He's headed there again this weekend with his father and Barnett said the trips to Tuscaloosa are enjoyable and enlightening.
"They're a lot of fun," Barnett said of the visits. "I get to see the commits that are down there, which is nice because I don't get to see them very often. And it's exciting to watch the game, obviously, and to spend time with the coaches. Another exciting thing is to see the fan base because they're so passionate about the game and it's nice to see a good support system behind the program."
Seven questions with Blake Barnett
Who is the one player in the Under Armour All-America Game you are most looking forward to playing with?
"Calvin Ridley, absolutely. Obviously we're going to the next level together so I want to get some work playing with him. I got some experience with him at The Opening but I can't wait to be on the field with him and play some actual football."
If you could start your team with any one prospect from the 2015 class, who would it be?
"It'd most likely be Calvin Ridley. I think he's going to be a tremendous player and I think he's going to be a great attribute to the team."
What is your earliest football memory?
"I can remember my first practice. It was really exciting; it was different. It was a big change for me. I'd played baseball and soccer before that, but football was always different. I was eight at the time and I had no idea what to do. My dad had no former player experience so it was kind of a transition. But it was fun and it's been a good ride."
Was there a football player you looked up to or idolized growing up?
"Not specifically. I always looked at the positive players in the NFL -- guys like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning -- players who have been dominant in football. I think those are good role models to have. I didn't necessarily try to model my game after them. I just think what they did on the field is great and they handled themselves well off the field as well."
If you could take on any pro at their sport, who would it be?
"I'd take on Ronaldo in Fifa. I'd take him on in the video game."
Why do you wear your number (8)?
"I've always had it. Growing up I was either seven or eight. I picked eight and I stuck with it and I really like it. Hopefully I'll be able to play with it at the next level."
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
"I'm not the same person in the same interview every time with a monotone voice. I'm pretty funny. Everyone is kind of the same voice in interviews because you don't want to mess around too much, but in different environments I'm a fun person and not so monotone."
SEC Weekend Wrap: Oct. 21
12:00 PM ET UAB Arkansas 3:30 PM ET 1 Mississippi State Kentucky 4:00 PM ET Vanderbilt Missouri 7:15 PM ET 3 Ole Miss 24 LSU 7:30 PM ET South Carolina 5 Auburn 7:30 PM ET 4 Alabama Tennessee