Saturday, December 27, 2014

Penn State: 2014 Pinstripe Bowl Champions

NEW YORK - It had been a long time, more than three months to be exact, since Christian Hackenberg looked like the confident quarterback who had excited Penn State fans during his 2013 freshman year, who was on everyone's top-10-in-the-nation list at the start of the season.

On Saturday at Yankee Stadium, Hackenberg showed a captivated sellout Pinstripe Bowl crowd of 49,012 that he could still be that guy, leading the Nittany Lions back from a two-touchdown deficit against Boston College and carrying the game into overtime.

Hackenberg threw four touchdown passes, including a 10-yarder to tight end Kyle Carter in overtime that, combined with Sam Ficken's extra point and a big miss by Boston College, gave the Lions a dramatic, 31-30 victory over the Eagles. It was a successful return to bowl competition in Penn State's first such game since the 2012 NCAA sanctions.

The Nittany Lions finished with a 7-6 record in James Franklin's first season as head coach, and their first bowl win since the 2010 Capital One Bowl.

It was a fitting end to the season for Hackenberg, who completed 34 of 50 passes for 371 yards, his first 300-yard passing game since Week 3 at Rutgers. He had endured his share of struggles - and criticism - behind an inexperienced offensive line.

"It's not about me," Hackenberg said of the criticism. "For me, every day I came in and tried to work as hard as I could and become a better player . . . to be the best teammate I could be and push these guys to take their game to the next level.

"That's a big role for a quarterback, especially at Penn State. You need to be able to elevate everyone else's play when need be, and we were able to do that today."

Franklin tried all season to deflect the criticism directed at Hackenberg, telling anyone who would listen Hackenberg "wasn't really the issue" because of the offensive line's problems.

"I love Christian Hackenberg," Franklin said. "I wouldn't trade him for anybody. I think he's got a really bright future at Penn State moving forward. I will fight and defend him till the end."

Ficken, who had been given Derek Jeter's locker in the Yankees' clubhouse, where the Nittany Lions dressed for the game, kicked a 44-yard field goal with 20 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter for a 24-24 tie and to force an extra period.

Boston College (7-6) had the first possession and scored on Tyler Murphy's 21-yard touchdown pass to David Dudeck. But Mike Knoll hooked the extra point attempt wide right, the eighth point-after try that the Eagles missed this season, with Knoll missing two.

"We've had a lot of difficulties through the year on extra points and field goals," B.C. coach Steve Addazio said. "We started with those issues, and we ended with those issues. It's my job to get it fixed."

Penn State converted a pair of third-down conversions on its overtime possession, the first a 17-yard pass to Jesse James where the 6-foot-7, 270-pound tight end bowled over a defender to get the first down. Later, on third and 7, Hackenberg found the 6-3, 250-pound Carter matched up against a smaller defender and threw him a perfect pass in the end zone.

Ficken drilled the extra point, then ran away in celebration from his gleeful teammates lest he get trampled by some of the bigger Lions.

Hackenberg's other touchdown passes were 72 yards to freshman Chris Godwin, 7 yards to Eugene Lewis, and 16 yards to DaeSean Hamilton. Ultimately the game ended, in a baseball stadium, on a walk-off extra point.

"I think it's kind of cool," Hackenberg said. "That was special. I feel really excited for our seniors and how the team prepared. I think it's going to help us going into the offseason."

South Carolina: 2014 Independence Bowl Champions

SHREVEPORT, La. -- It took South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier less than two quarters to abandon his game plan and go back to what he knows best.
"We're going to chuck it down the field and see what happens," Spurrier said.
Thanks to Dylan Thompson and Pharoh Cooper, the change of heart worked.
Thompson threw for 284 yards and two touchdowns, Cooper caught nine passes for 170 yards and a touchdown, and South Carolina beat Miami 24-21 on Saturday in the Duck Commander Independence Bowl.
South Carolina (7-6) has won a school-record four straight bowl games. Miami (6-7) ended the season on a four-game losing streak and hasn't won in the postseason since 2006.
It didn't look good for the Gamecocks early.
Miami took a 6-0 lead and was controlling the game thanks to Duke Johnson, who ran for 132 yards and caught five passes for 51 yards. South Carolina's offense, meanwhile, wasn't doing much of anything.
But in the middle of the second quarter, Spurrier decided to cut the passing game loose -- even in cold and wet conditions.
The strategic change paid off immediately. Thompson hit Cooper on a long pass over the middle of the field, and the 5-foot-11, 201-pound sophomore made a few more moves in the open field to finish off a 78-yard touchdown play and give the Gamecocks a 7-6 lead.
They never trailed again. South Carolina scored 17 straight points to take a 17-6 halftime lead.
It was a satisfying ending to a frustrating season for the Gamecocks, who started the season with aspirations of competing for Southeastern Conference and national titles before quickly fading into mediocrity.
Spurrier has had just one losing season in 25 seasons as a college head coach -- back during his first season with Duke in 1987.
Miami's Brad Kaaya threw for 236 yards, one touchdown and one interception. The touchdown came late in the fourth quarter on an 11-yard throw to Phillip Dorsett with 2:16 remaining to pull the Hurricanes within 24-21.
But they never got the ball back after South Carolina picked up a crucial first down on Mike Davis' 3-yard run with 1:34 left.
It was an another impressive game for Johnson, the 5-foot-9, 206-pound junior, who likely has played his last game with the Hurricanes and is expected to declare for the NFL draft.
But he had a costly fumble on Miami's 29 with 5:24 remaining, and South Carolina recovered.
Johnson also suffered a right ankle injury on the play and didn't return to the game, although he was up and walking on the sideline in the final minutes. Johnson said after the game that he was "fine" and "probably" could have returned if it had been needed.
"We are what our record is," Miami coach Al Golden said. "But in so many ways, we're better than that."
Two plays after Johnson's fumble, Thompson hit Cooper on a spectacular pass and catch to get down to the Miami 2. Thompson fit the ball into a tight window, and Cooper helped him by leaping over the defender to make the grab.
Thompson trotted into the end zone untouched on the next play, and the Gamecocks had what proved to be an insurmountable 24-14 lead with 4:13 left.
Miami squandered some early opportunities, settling for field goals after long drives stalled.Michael Badgley made field goals from 27 and 26 yards to give the Hurricanes a 6-0 lead by early in the second quarter.
The Gamecocks never looked comfortable until Thompson's 78-yard touchdown to Cooper. Thompson scrambled out of the pocket a few minutes later on a broken play before finding Davis on a 15-yard touchdown pass.
"The golden rule of a quarterback is to never throw back across the field," Thompson said. "But Mike looked so naked out there, I just thought, 'I'll give it a shot, it's my last game.'"
The Gamecocks' defense -- maligned for much of the season -- didn't give up a touchdown until late in the third quarter when Gus Edwards' 3-yard touchdown run and Miami's ensuing 2-point conversion pulled the Hurricanes to 17-14.
Cooper was the game's offensive most valuable player. South Carolina linebacker Skai Moore was the defensive MVP after making 11 tackles.

Arizona State: 2014 Sun Bowl Champions

EL PASO, Texas For the third straight year, Duke had a chance late in its bowl game to come away with a win.
But for the third straight year, a critical interception ended the Blue Devils’ hopes of breaking a bowl drought that dates back 54 seasons. Anthony Boone’s pass intended for Jamison Crowder in the end zone was intercepted by Arizona State’s Kweishi Brown with 45 seconds remaining, and the Sun Devils held on to win the Sun Bowl 36-31.
Duke had fourth-quarter leads in the 2012 Belk Bowl against Cincinnati, the 2013 Peach Bowl against Texas A&M and the 2014 Sun Bowl against No. 15 Arizona State. All three games featured multiple swings of momentum.
“It’s the third bowl game we lost. I would rather win them all,” head coach David Cutcliffe said. “But I’m not going to regret losing bowls. I would regret not being in them. I’m not going to regret plays here and there.”
In some ways, this is the end of a three-year cycle for Duke – 10 senior starters that have contributed for years played their final game, their careers ending in the desert mountains.
This year, though, was a bit different than the past two bowl trips – Duke (9-4) had to work its way back into the game, as opposed to jumping out to a big lead that slipped away. In fact, the Blue Devils only had the lead for 18 seconds on Saturday.
That go-ahead drive that was extended twice by trick plays – a fake punt turned into a 30-yard pass from punter Will Monday to Johnell Barnes and then a Jamison Crowder 12-yard touchdown pass to Issac Blakeney on another fourth down. Crowder, who is right-handed, threw that ball left-handed – just the way Duke had practiced it all week.
“We were hoping to get the corner and the safety to bite,” Crowder said. “Once I got the football (a toss from Boone), I saw Issac stall a little bit. The corner had an eye violation, and Issac went right past him.”
That gave Duke a 31-30 lead with 5:03 left in the game. It also gave Blakeney a bit of personal redemption, after dropping a touchdown that hit him in both hands in the second quarter and then fumbling a catch at the Arizona State 7-yard line in the third.
Cutcliffe was visibly fired up by the fourth-down, Crowder-to-Blakeney connection, and he went down the sideline, telling Boone to have the offense ready for a two-minute drill and telling the defense to go win the game. Then he talked to his kickoff coverage unit – a group that has struggled at times this year.
The group was excited, but then they ran out there and had several members get knocked out of their assigned running lanes. The result was a 96-yard return by Arizona State’s Kalen Ballage, and the Sun Devils scored the decisive touchdown one play later.
“Kickoff coverage has been great for us, but at times it has been an Achilles’ heel,” Cutcliffe said.
The downfield passing game has also been a bit of an Achilles’ heel this year for the offense, and Saturday was no exception. With Boone (15-of-31, 193 yards, two touchdowns, one interception) struggling with his accuracy, the offense relied on running back Shaquille Powell and a steady diet of screens for him, and for Crowder.
For the first time all year, the Blue Devils abandoned their running back rotation, choosing to stick with Powell midway through the third drive and for the rest of the game. His physical style was the only one that would have success against Arizona State’s blitzes, Cutcliffe said.
Powell ran for 118 yards on 29 carries (4 yards per carry average) and caught 3 passes for 52 yards. His 220 all-purpose yards accounted for 55 percent of Duke’s total offensive output.
In addition to throwing his touchdown pass, Crowder also returned a punt 68 yards for a touchdown to get Duke back into the game late in the second quarter. After letting Arizona State (10-3) score points on each of its first four drives, Duke was in a 20-3 hole. Then the Blue Devils scored 14 of their 17 first-half points in the final 3 minutes and 44 seconds.
Overall, the defense struggled to contain the Sun Devils’ offense, which averaged 5.7 yards per play. Arizona State opted to line up wide receiver Jaelen Strong on cornerback Bryon Fields’ side of the field all game – and Strong took advantage of the mismatch. Strong, a junior who has already declared for the NFL draft, finished with seven catches for 103 yards – four of which came on third or fourth down.
Still, Duke had a chance to win the game, down five with the ball and 4:39 left on the clock. The drive, and the hope of winning, died at the Arizona State 14-yard line, with Boone’s interception, the 6-foot Brown using his size to knock the 5-foot-9 Crowder out of the way in the corner of the end zone.
That set up the all-too-familiar postseason ending.

Read more here:

Virginia Tech: 2014 Military Bowl Champions

Once the trophy presentation was over, and the son with the famous last name stood soaking wet from a postgame water bath and the oft-forgotten running back cradled his MVP award, Virginia Tech director of football operations John Ballein got up in front of the entire team and began to read a note written by Hokies Coach Frank Beamer.

The 68-year-old Beamer had just spent Saturday’s Military Bowl wearing a headset in the coaches’ booth, unable to speak loudly or for long stretches as he recovers from throat surgery performed earlier this month. This message, though, ended in familiar fashion — with Frank Beamer gyrating his hips and arms as part of a routine linebacker Deon Clarke later dubbed “The Little Twist.”

“He told the players in the locker room, ‘He may not be able to talk, but he can still dance,’ and went through probably one of his greatest dance routines this year,” Shane Beamer said.

Virginia Tech had plenty of reason to celebrate after storming to a 33-17 win over Cincinnati at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, none more important than salvaging its 22nd straight winning record (7-6) in a season that will ultimately be remembered as disappointing.

But the immediate story lines revolved around Frank Beamer, who had been detached from the program during bowl preparations this month and only arrived in Annapolis on Friday night. He had only missed one other game throughout his 28-year tenure at Virginia Tech – a 30-13 win over Tulane in 1989 when then-associate head coach Billy Hite led the Hokies while Beamer recovered from a heart procedure.

Shane Beamer, the program’s associate head coach since 2011, took over his father’s sideline duties Saturday and the team responded with a throwback performance befitting the program’s “Beamerball” moniker.

“I’ve had many proud moments in my time at Virginia Tech, but this is one of my proudest,” Frank Beamer said in a statement read by Shane. “When you consider the constant adversity we’ve had to endure this season, it’s just rewarding that we believed in one another and continued to fight our way through it.

“I want to personally thank the players and the coaching staff [for] their focus and hard work going into and during this bowl game. I thought we looked like a prepared football team that played with passion.”

Junior tailback J.C. Coleman earned MVP honors, rushing for a season-high 157 yards and one touchdown even after Virginia Tech lost center David Wang and fullback Sam Rogers to injury. He also spearheaded a powerful 75-yard drive to begin the second half, pounding the ball on the ground before a play-action touchdown pass from one yard out to tight end Ryan Malleck.

The tide then turned for good with one of the wackier plays this season.

On Cincinnati’s ensuing drive, Clarke sacked and stripped Bearcats quarterback Gunner Kiel. Sophomore Nigel Williams, a 291-pound defensive tackle, grabbed the loose ball and rumbled down the field before fumbling at the 12-yard line. But defensive back Greg Stroman (Stonewall Jackson) scooped up the ball in full stride and dragged Cincinnati wide receiver Chris Moore into the end zone to give the Hokies a 30-10 lead midway through the third quarter.

“That was a gut puncher,” said Coleman, who had at least 95 rushing yards in the past four games after being relegated to a minor role midway through this campaign.

Kiel, who threw for 233 of his 244 yards in the first half, did not return after that hit due to concussion-like symptoms and Cincinnati (9-4) never recovered. The Bearcats were forced to use Wildcat formations and fourth-string quarterback Michael Colosimo because of an injury to back-up Munchie Legaux and a suspension to third-string signal caller Jarred Evans.

Virginia Tech’s defense gave up more than 300 yards before halftime, including seven plays of more than 15 yards in the first quarter, and allowed 489 yards for the game. But first-half interceptions by cornerbacks Kendall Fuller and Chuck Clark helped stem Cincinnati’s early momentum.

Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler sat next to Beamer in the coaches’ box and noted his boss was “very into the game,” and made sure to tell Loeffler, “Just make sure we run the ball here,” when Virginia Tech took its commanding third-quarter lead and Kiel left the game.

“There were a few grunts and groans on some plays. I did hear that over the headphones,” Shane Beamer added.

By the time Frank Beamer got to the locker room, though, any concerns took a backseat to the dance moves that have become a comic tradition after every win this year.

“We knew how badly he wanted to be out there,” quarterback Michael Brewer said. “He can’t say much right now, but he shook my hand, gave me a hug and said that he’s proud of me, and that was a special feeling.”

Behind Blue Eyes

No one knows what it's like
To be the bad man
To be the sad man
Behind blue eyes

No one knows what it's like
To be hated
To be fated
To telling only lies

But my dreams
They aren't as empty
As my conscience seems to be

I have hours, only lonely
My love is vengeance
That's never free

No one knows what it's like
To feel these feelings
Like I do
And I blame you

No one bites back as hard
On their anger
None of my pain and woe
Can show through

But my dreams
They aren't as empty
As my conscience seems to be

I have hours, only lonely
My love is vengeance
That's never free

When my fist clenches, crack it open
Before I use it and lose my cool
When I smile, tell me some bad news
Before I laugh and act like a fool

If I swallow anything evil
Put your finger down my throat
If I shiver, please give me a blanket
Keep me warm, let me wear your coat

No one knows what it's like
To be the bad man
To be the sad man
Behind blue eyes...

North Carolina State: 2014 St. Petersburg Bowl Champions

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- A turnaround season got a little sweeter for North Carolina State in the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl.
The Wolfpack took another step forward under second-year coach Dave Doeren on Friday night with a 34-27 victory over Central Florida that wasn't as close as the final score.
NC State (8-5) dominated for three quarters before Justin Holman threw a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes to help UCF pull within seven.
"This is just the beginning," Doeren told cheering Wolfpack fans listening to a postgame interview over the public address system at Tropicana Field. "Go Pack!"
Jacoby Brissett threw for 262 yards and one touchdown and Matt Dayes scored on runs of 24 and 15 yards for NC State, which won just three games in its first season under Doeren.
"I can't wait for next season, there's no telling how far this team can go," Brissett said. "I'm excited in the direction we're going. This is a great program to be at. Everything is set up for us to have success."
Brissett tossed a 37-yard TD pass to Johnathan Alston to put the Wolfpack ahead for good in the second quarter. Running back Shadrach Thornton got NC State going early with an 18-yard scoring pass to Jaylen Samuels.
UCF (9-4) began the night ranked in the top 10 in fewest yards allowed per game, as well as pass efficiency, rushing and scoring defense. But American Athletic Conference co-champions had no answers for Brissett and a supporting cast that amassed 488 yards of total offense -- over 200 more than opponents averaged against the Knights during the regular season.
Brissett was 15 of 26 with no interceptions, completing passes to eight receivers. Thornton rushed for 96 yards on 17 carries and Dayes finished with 78 yards on 13 attempts to key a ground attack that produced 188 yards.
Doeren thanked his players and coaching staff and talked about Brissett's growth in his first season at NC State after transferring from Florida.
"He takes things so personal. He is such a competitor," Doeren said. "He gives all the credit to his teammates. He learned a lot throughout the season, and we love him."
Holman completed 23 of 53 passes for 291 yards for UCF, including TD passes of 6, 14 and 2 yards to Josh Reese, who had six receptions for 75 yards. Reese's second touchdown cut it to 34-20 with 11 minutes remaining.
The Knights got the ball back three more times, but couldn't get any closer until Holman threw his 2-yarder to Reese with 1:44 left. NC State's Tyler Purvis recovered the ensuing onside kick, and the Wolfpack ran out the clock.
"We just let the game get out of a whack a little bit," UCF coach George O'Leary said. "You can't do that."
UCF is a year removed from arguably the biggest victory in school history, an upset of Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl that capped the Knights' first 12-win season.
Going from appearing in a BCS game for the first time to ending the year in St. Petersburg for the second time in three seasons might have been perceived as a letdown except the Knights have continued to prosper after losing star quarterback Blake Bortles to the NFL draft, where he was the third overall selection by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Holman's Hail Mary pass to Breshad Perriman as time expired gave UCF a 32-30 victory over East Carolina and a share of its second straight AAC championship.
NC State is in its second season of rebuilding under Doeren, who took over after a highly successful stint at Northern Illinois. The Wolfpack went 0-8 in the ACC and 3-9 overall in 2013, and the four-game improvement in their regular-season record this year matched Mississippi State for the second-biggest in the five power conferences.
The Bitcoin Bowl was a homecoming of sorts for Brissett, who is from West Palm Beach and transferred to NC State from Florida. The 6-foot-4, 231-pound redshirt junior completed 10 of his first 12 passes for 197 yards, including his TD pass to Alston that put the Wolfpack up 14-10 early in the second quarter.
NC State won a postseason game for the first time since winning the Belk Bowl in 2011, ending UCF's three-game winning streak in bowl appearances.
"This is a good springboard to next season because the year before we lost our bowl game and last year we didn't get to one," Brissett said. "But this shows you the level that we can play at, and UCF is a very good team that won the Fiesta Bowl last year. This is a great victory. It's no telling how far this team can go."