Saturday, January 02, 2016

West Virginia Mountaineers: 2016 Cactus Bowl Champions

PHOENIX — If late-night football was your thing, the Cactus Bowl summoned you toward the desert for a final bowl fix of the season. West Virginia flew cross-country, Arizona State drove crosstown and Chase Field operators opened the giant moonroof for this one … a 43-42 Mountaineers victory that was worth the lost sleep.

Skyler Howard threw for 532 yards and rallied West Virginia to the go-ahead touchdown with 2:19 remaining.

The Mountaineers (8-5) opened as slight underdogs, then transitioned to three-point favorites in a game that projects as the consummate tossup. Not surprisingly, the partisan Sun Devil crowd made this a Pac-12 home game. (Yes, there was the obligatory “In Todd We Trust” sign, though we trust no one thought ASU would finish as a 6-7 team this season.)

A recap of the in-game updates and analysis:

FIELD GOAL: Josh Lambert 21-yard kick (12:02) WVU leads 3-0
Shelton Gibson was dinged for 15 on a personal foul and Adam Pankey jumped for 5 more, but none of that mattered after Skyler Holgorsen dropped a 53-yard bomb to Ka’Raun White (proving the ASU secondary can be burned by East Coast receivers too). WVU nearly had first-and-goal after Daikiel Shorts was interfered with on an end zone fade route, but refs waved off the flag, setting Dana Holgorsen on fire. Then, on third-and-9, Wendell Smallwood gained 6 and WVU kicked. (Drive: 9 plays, 78 yards in 2:58)

— Arizona State goes three-and-out, all incompletions by Mike Bercovici.

FIELD GOAL: Lambert 31-yard kick (8:57) WVU leads 6-0
White caught another one for 26, Rushel Shell reeled off a 14-yarder and Shorts caught a twice-tipped pass that was jarred loose from Gibson and nearly picked by ASU linebacker Salamo Fiso. West Virginia was humming with first-and-goal at the 9 when Shell was dropped for a 5-yard loss. After Howard overthrew Shell in the end zone, he missed a wide-open White crossing the middle, though in fairness to Howard he was flushed by the blitz. WVU has 142 yards to Arizona State’s 1 but hasn’t cashed in a TD. (Drive: 8 plays, 56 yards in 2:25)

— Nothing doing on the Sun Devils’ second series. Another three-and-out.

— WVU started at the 27 and faced third-and-3 when Fiso made his second interception attempt stand up. He picked Howard’s pass intended for Gibson at the 40 and returned it to the 22.

FIELD GOAL: Zane Gonzales 37-yard kick (5:06) WVU leads 6-3
The Sun Devils committed an illegal motion penalty, but the backed-up West Virginia defense made a nice stand and forced a field goal. Not much room for Arizona State to do anything so far. (Drive: 4 plays, 2 yards in 1:30)

FIELD GOAL: Lambert 27-yard kick (3:13) WVU leads 9-3
Between the 20s, West Virginia is killing it. A 31-yard strike from Howard to Gibson and a 17-yard run by Elijah Wellman have WVU over the 200-yard mark in the first quarter. The red zone has become a desert wasteland, however. This drive ended on a third-and-3 incomplete fade route to the 5-11 Gibson. (Drive: 6 plays, 55 yards in 1:53)

— Devin Lucien tip-toed the sideline for a 19-yard catch against Rick Rumph, before ASU’s drive petered out at the West Virginia 48. Bad, bad quarter of offensive football for the Sun Devils.

— Jordan Thompson caught a 32-yarder before West Virginia’s Nick O’Toole punted into the end zone from the ASU 46.

— Bercovici hit Lucien for 29 and ASU was on the move temporarily. But Nick Kwiatkoski flattened the ASU quarterback on a third-down incompletion.

—Pinned inside its 10, WVU retreated further after a Cody Clay holding penalty. In a strange twist, Smallwood ran for 19 yards on three carries but the Mountaineers failed to gain a first down. O’Toole followed with a 38-yard punt that Tim White returned 16 yards.

TOUCHDOWN: Lucien 19-yard pass from Bercovici (9:59) Arizona State leads 10-9
Taking advantage of a short field, Lucien took advantage of Rumph for two catches that covered 40 yards. On the touchdown, he took a quick out and weaved across the goal line after Rumph slipped trying to make a shoestring tackle. (Drive: 4 plays, 40 yards in 1:06)

— Howard had Sills on a deep cross only to overthrow him by inches. The three-and-out culminated in Howard overshooting Gibson deep, though the receiver curiously stopped his route amid complaints he was grabbed by the cornerback. Assistants Ja’Juan Seider and Lonnie Galloway chewed him out for pulling up.

— After, a 16-yard pass to Foster was mostly wiped out by a holding flag on receiver Tim White, Arizona State punted.

TOUCHDOWN: Gibson 59-yard pass from Howard (6:02) WVU leads 16-10
White eclipsed the 100-yard mark on a 21-yard catch before Gibson made his third-longest gain of the season to put West Virginia ahead. Howard now up to 271 yards passing. (Drive: 3 plays, 80 yards in 0:39)

FIELD GOAL: Gonzales 19-yard kick (2:53) WVU leads 16-13
Not often does a defense celebrate an 80-yard drive, but this was one such occasion because ASU had first-and-goal at the 5 and failed on two cracks from the 1. The big third-down stop came from K.J. Dillon and Christian Brown on running back Demario Richard, and after flirting with a fourth-down gamble, Todd Graham robbed us of some late-night bowl drama by sending on the kicker. (10 plays, 80 yards in 3:00)

TOUCHDOWN: Shorts 10-yard pass from Howard (0:28) WVU leads 22-13
Howard now up to 334 yards passing IN THE FIRST HALF after winging a few more through the Arizona State secondary. White had a 16-yarder, Shorts caught one for 22 on the deep out and Thompson gained 17 over the middle, which led to the vaunted fade route … AND IT WORKED. (Drive: 8 plays, 75 yards in 2:25) But about that PAT …

PAT RETURN: Tim White 98-yard kick (0:28) WVU leads 22-15
Arizona State spilled through to bat down Lambert’s extra-point try and White provided the scoop-and-score. (No drive)

FIELD GOAL: Gonzales 35-yard kick (0:01) WVU leads 22-18
Nick O’Toole appeared to mis-hit a squib kick—the kind WVU could’ve used 27 days ago—and gifted Arizona State the ball at midfield. Bercovici threaded three short passes to move the Sun Devils into chip-shot range. (4 plays, 34 yards in 0:26)   


HALFTIME STATS: Howard has 334 yards and two TDs on 15-of-26 passing, and West Virginia has two 100-yard receivers: White with four for 116 and Gibson with three for 106. The Mountaineers have 61 yards rushing on 18 attempts. (Smallwood held to 20 yards on eight carries.)

MORE HALFTIME STATS: Bercovici threw for 205 yards on 15-of-25 passing. Lucien has seven catches for 116.


TOUCHDOWN: Tim White 2-yard pass from Bercovici (11:34) Arizona State leads 25-22
Gotta give it to Bercovici—he zipped the TD pass just a nanosecond before getting popped on a scramble. Earlier in the drive, his play-fake psyched out the WVU combo of Rumph and Dillon, who abandoned Tim White on what became a 40-yard gain. (8 plays, 66 yards in 3:17)

TOUCHDOWN: Gary Jennings 64-yard pass from Howard (10:02) WVU leads 29-25
Soooooo, about that “Air Raid” … Howard hit the freshman on a deep post and Jennings carried a defensive back the final 10 yards into the end zone. Big answer for WVU. Probably won’t be the last time an answer is required. By the way, Howard now has 395 yards passing—bettering the career-high of 359 he compiled against Georgia Southern. (5 plays, 5 yards in 1:32)

— Arizona State’s three-and-out ended a string of six possessions with points.

— West Virginia also punted. After three measly plays. Game turning into a yawner.

TOUCHDOWN: Tim White 33-yard pass from Bercovici (4:35) Arizona State leads 32-29
Bercovici has heated up and it’s looking like it’ll take 50 points to win this one. White’s scoring catch featured more YAC than Tony Gibson can stand after the receiver ran through a Dillon tackle and scooted along the sideline. Earlier in the drive Lucien absorbed a crushing tackle by Dravon Askew-Henry on a 19-yard catch. It was a Hit Tribute for Karl Joseph. (6 plays, 66 yards in 2:26)

TOUCHDOWN: Shorts 17-yard pass from Howard (3:01) WVU leads 36-32
Nevermind the fade route that Shorts caught for the score—which was an acrobatic grab, by the way. Of more consequence was the 37-yarder Gibson caught on the previous play, a catch he appeared to make out-of-bounds according to everybody except the replay official. The wild, wild night continues. (4 plays, 75 yards in 1:34)

— Tim White’s 59-yard kick return (which followed Shorts being penalized 15 for a post-touchdown spike) set up ASU at the Mountaineers 28. But alas, the trusty Gonzales missed wide right from 40 yards.

— When Howard overthrew Ka’Raun White on the deep post, Arizona State made its second interception of the night. Kareem Orr chewed up 25 yards on the runback before Wendell Smallwood’s tackle at the WVU 35.

FIELD GOAL: Gonzales 48-yard kick (14:09) WVU leads 36-35
Bercovici missed Lucien on a third-and-5 out-route and West Virginia mitigated the damage from Howard’s turnover. (4 plays, 5 yards in 1:09)

— Wendell Smallwood ran around the right edge for 16, his best run of the night. (He has 11 carries for 41 yards and stands 4 shy of Texas Tech’s DeAndre Washington for the Big 12 rushing crown.) On a less personal note, WVU had to punt after Howard’s third-down pass for Gibson was broken up by Kweishi Brown. ASU will have the ball and a chance to retake the lead.

— Sun Devils punted.

— West Virginia punted, but only after Howard overthrew David Sills on what could’ve been a 70-yarder.

TOUCHDOWN: Gary Chambers 58-yard pass from Bercovici (4:56) Arizona State leads 42-36
The drive started ominously with backup QB Manny Wilkins bouncing up from a no-gain carry and taking off downfield, where linebacker Jared Barber popped him and drew a 15-yard penalty. On a third-and-10 play, against one of the best third-down defenses in the nation, Bercovici flipped a pass out to Chambers, who juked Askew-Henry on the sideline and went the distance. (4 plays, 73 yards in 1:23)

TOUCHDOWN: David Sills 15-yard pass from Howard (2:19) WVU leads 43-42
Just your average come-from-behind drive on which WVU converted a third-and-22 by handing off to Smallwood for 24. (This game is officially nuts.) With WVU struggling to protect Howard, the long-yardage run actually made sense. (10 plays, 75 yards in 2:37)

— Arizona State’s shot at a comeback ended on a fourth-and-10 incompletion from the 50. Ballgame.


TCU Horned Frogs: 2016 Alamo Bowl Champions

After trailing Oregon 31–0 at halftime of the Alamo Bowl, the TCU Horned Frogs staged an incredible rally, scoring 31 unanswered points of their own to match the largest comeback in bowl-game history, force overtime, and eventually go on to win a 47–41 thriller.

Trailing by three late in the fourth and looking to cap off an incredible second half performance, the Horned Frogs drove the field effectively but were stopped at Oregon’s five yard-line and forced to kick a field goal. The kick tied the game at 31, and more chaos ensued.

TCU’s Bram Kohlhausen found Emanuel Porter in the back of the end zone on the first drive of overtime, followed by an extra point for a 37–31 lead. The Ducks responded on the following drive, with Jeff Lockie finding Royce Freeman on a critical fourth-and-four for a first down. The play set up Freeman’s third rushing touchdown and tied the game.

Oregon received the ball next, but was unable to gain positive yardage on their first set of downs. Aidan Schneider kicked a 44-yard field goal for the 41–38 lead, positioning TCU to win it with a touchdown. Two incomplete passes and a big stop by the Ducks forced a 46-yard attempt by TCU’s Jaden Oberkrom to tie things at 41.

In the third overtime, TCU ran the ball successfully with Aaron Green on its first two plays and scored a touchdown on an option-style run by Kohlhausen along the right side of the field to take a 47–41 lead. But the Horned Frogs could not convert the two-point try that followed, leaving the door open for Oregon.

And that was where it ended, with the Ducks coming up incomplete on fourth-and-eight, following a muffed snap on third down by Lockie.

Kohlhausen, quarterbacking the Horned Frogs in place of suspended Trevone Boykin, completed 28 of 45 passes for 351 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.  He also ran for two scores and added 45 yards on the ground. Aaron Green led TCU with 101 rushing yards and a touchdown.

After a strong start, Oregon quarterback Vernon Adams was injured in the second quarter and replaced by Lockie, who completed 7 of 16 passes for 36 yards. Freeman carried 26 times for 130 yards and three scores for the Ducks.

The Horned Frogs at one point scored 37 unanswered points, and with the win completed the largest comeback in FBS play this season, surpassing Rutgers’ 25-point comeback win over Indiana. It was the first triple-overtime bowl game since Penn State’s 26–23 win over Florida State in the 2006 Orange Bowl.

- Jeremy Woo

Arkansas Razorbacks: 2016 Liberty Bowl Champions

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- The biggest storyline coming into Saturday's Autozone Liberty Bowl was the relationship between the two head coaches, Bill Snyder and Bret Bielema. Afterward, it was all about Alex Collins.

The Arkansas running back rushed for 185 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Razorbacks past Kansas State 45-23.

In what was a scary moment late in the first half, Arkansas wide receiver Dominique Reed had to be carted off the field after he sustained an apparent head/neck injury. After the game Bielema said Reed was fine, but had been "knocked out."

What this win means for Arkansas: As an Arkansas fan, you can look at this season in two ways. One, the Razorbacks finished strong, winning six of their final seven games, including Saturday's bowl win. But there's always the what if? What if they didn't lose early to Toledo and Texas Tech? What if they hung on to second-half leads against Texas A&M, Alabama and Mississippi State? Regardless, just like last year, the bowl win will give this team momentum heading into 2016. It's clear Bielema has Arkansas moving in the right direction.

What this loss means for Kansas State: Give Snyder and this Wildcats team credit. They battled. Despite a former junior college wide receiver starting at quarterback -- Kody Cook played pretty well by the way -- they scored points and kept the game close until the fourth quarter. They were just outmatched at the end of the day. The 77-year-old Snyder intends to return in 2016, and that means Kansas State will once again be competitive.

Player of the game: OK, you already know this one. What a day for Collins. The junior has yet to declare early for the NFL, but it might be a foregone conclusion after Saturday. Just have NFL scouts go look at his touchdown run early in the fourth quarter. He broke five tackles as he powered through the Kansas State defense on a 14-yard touchdown run. With the score, Collins set the Arkansas single-season record with 20 touchdowns on the year. He also moved into second all-time with 3,703 career rushing yards.

Unsung hero: Collins stole the show, but Arkansas tight end Jeremy Sprinkle did his part in the victory. Playing second fiddle to Hunter Henry all season, Sprinkle has never gotten the credit he probably deserves. But the junior tight end finished with four catches for 81 yards and a touchdown and proved that if Henry opts to leave early for the NFL, the Razorbacks will be just fine at the tight end position next season.

Top play: There's open, and then there's Winston Dimel on this play. The Kansas State fullback must have been hiding behind his offensive lineman prior to the snap because when he slipped out to run a route, nobody on Arkansas picked him up. He was almost surprised with how open he was, but he caught the pass and took it in for a 48-yard touchdown, his second of the day.

Georgia Bulldogs: 2016 TaxSlayer Bowl Champions

Much of Saturday’s TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., had the feel of a bowl game college football could’ve done without. A post-New Year’s Day Bowl with two underwhelming teams “playing for nothing” in the minds of many college football fans, the game saw Georgia steadily build a lead on a Penn State team that lost quarterback Christian Hackenberg to an injury in the second quarter.

Yet a combination of diminishing production from Georgia’s offense and the ability of Penn State to steadily creep back in the second half kept the game closer than it seemed on pace to be. Georgia ultimately held on for a 24–17 win, but Penn State turning a 24–3 deficit after three quarters into a one-touchdown loss marks a solid silver lining for James Franklin’s Nittany Lions, and it gave the late bowl slate a jolt of energy.

Penn State’s chances seemed ruined when Hackenberg left in the second quarter after sustaining an apparent shoulder injury on a short run early in the Nittany Lions’ fifth drive of the game. His right shoulder appeared to be jammed into the ground on the tackle, but he briefly remained in the game and completed a 51-yard pass to Chris Godwin. Two plays later, he was pulled after continuing to favor the shoulder. Trace McSorley, a sophomore, entered in relief and PSU settled for a field goal on the drive.

McSorley did all he could, but he faced an unenviable task from the start in going against Georgia, which entered the bowl game with the nation’s top-ranked passing defense at just over 146 yards allowed per game. After the field goal, Penn State’s subsequent drives ended on a four-play turnover on downs, a punt, time expiring before halftime, another punt and another turnover on downs.

McSorley did throw a pair of impressive touchdown passes, first on a 17-yard bullet to Geno Lewis in the corner of the end zone on fourth down on the first play of the fourth quarter, and later on a 20-yard connection with DaeSean Hamilton with 6:14 remaining in the game. Penn State’s disappointing final drive of the game consisted largely of checkdowns and short passes over the middle of the field, although it’s hard to fault McSorley too much for being thrown into the fire. He finished 14 of 27 for 142 yards and the pair of touchdowns.

As for Hackenberg, he declared for the NFL draft after the game, ending his career at Penn State after three seasons. Long considered a top NFL prospect, an up-and-down season for both him and Penn State’s offense might have taken some steam out of his draft stock. The extent of his injury was also not immediately disclosed, outside of Penn State ruling him out for the game at the beginning of the second half.

Georgia is happy to get a bowl win despite the significant turnover on its coaching staff. After Mark Richt was fired and quickly hired by Miami, he elected not to coach in the bowl game. His successor, former Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, is remaining with the Crimson Tide during their College Football Playoff run. The Bulldogs also lost offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, leaving wide receivers coach/associate head coach Bryan McClendon to coach the TaxSlayer Bowl.

A big-name program playing in a supposedly “meaningless” bowl game following a disappointing season and coaching transition can be a recipe for disaster, but credit McClendon for getting Georgia ready to play. Running back Sony Michel led all players with 20 carries for 85 yards with one touchdown, while Keith Marshall also rushed 14 times for 62 yards. Wide receiver Terry Godwin caught four passes for 62 yards and one touchdown, and also threw a 44-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter after lining up as a Wildcat quarterback.

The win moves Georgia to 10–3, and at least the Bulldogs can begin the Smart era coming off two consecutive 10-win seasons. A narrow win in the TaxSlayer Bowl won’t afford Smart too much leniency from Bulldogs fans, however, so he’ll need to start fast in 2016 to engender some early support.

Houston Cougars: 2015 Peach Bowl Champions

ATLANTA - Greg Ward Jr. showed off his dual-threat talents on a national stage as he ran for two touchdowns and threw for another, leading Houston past turnover-plagued Florida State 38-24 in the Peach Bowl on Thursday.

Ward, the nation's only player to run and throw for 1,000 yards this season, threw for 238 yards and ran for 67 yards as No. 14 Houston (13-1) scored the most points allowed by Florida State this season.
The No. 9 Seminoles (10-3), who trailed 21-3 at halftime, tried to rally with two fourth-quarter touchdown passes by Sean Maguire. It wasn't enough to overcome five turnovers.
Maguire, who was carted off the field with a lower left leg injury late in the first quarter, returned but threw four interceptions. Houston safety Trevon Stewart and cornerback William Jackson III each had two interceptions.

Gamba Osaka: 2015 Emperor's Cup Champions

Brazilian striker Patric scored twice as Gamba Osaka retained the Emperor’s Cup with a 2-1 win over Urawa Reds in the final in Tokyo on Friday, the last day of the Japanese soccer season.

Patric, who was also on target in Gamba’s 3-1 extra-time win over Reds in the J. League Championship playoff semifinal in late November, opened the scoring with a tasty strike after 32 minutes, only for Shinzo Koroki to equalize soon after.

A year after winning a domestic treble, Gamba finished second in the J-League Championship final and the Nabisco Cup, as well as reaching the semis of the Asian Champions League. Patric made sure they didn’t finish the season empty-handed, hitting the winner eight minutes into the second half.

“I am glad that I could make a contribution to the team as we welcome in the New Year,” said Patric. “Everyone on the team did well and I want to congratulate all of them.”

A surging run by Gamba’s man of the moment, Takashi Usami, on target twice in both of the previous two rounds after a 15-match goal drought, had the alarm bells ringing in the Urawa defense after just four minutes, his pass setting up Patric, whose shot was turned onto the crossbar by Reds goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa.

Reds defender Tomoaki Makino then went close shortly after undergoing treatment for a hand injury on the sidelines, but Gamba keeper Masaaki Higashiguchi was equal to his downward shot.

Usami was again involved as Gamba threatened to break the deadlock on 25 minutes, feeding Hiroki Fujiharu, whose cross was flicked just wide of the right-hand post by Patric.

“I just wanted the game to hurry up and finish,” said Usami, who watched the last 11 minutes from the bench after being substituted.

“I didn’t score today and I am grateful to Patric (for his goals) and the defense dug in until the end. I didn’t play that well and I am grateful to the team for winning the title.”

Patric made it third time lucky and gave Gamba the lead, taking a pass from Shu Kurata and leaving Ryota Moriwaki for dead with a storming run down the right flank before smashing past Nishikawa at his near post.

But Gamba’s joy was short lived as Reds equalized four minutes later.

Tadanari Lee headed Tsukasa Umesaki’s cross from the right against the post, but Koroki snapped up the loose ball to beat Higashiguchi with a shot in off the underside of the crossbar.

Koroki nearly put Urawa in front in time added on at the end of the first half but his close-range header lacked enough purchase to beat Higashiguchi.

Patric swung the game back in Gamba’s favor when he buried a first-time effort in the 53rd minute, driving home an outswinging corner from Gamba captain Yasuhito Endo.

Higashiguchi had to dive full stretch to turn a deflected shot from Yuki Abe around the post and Lee headed narrowly wide as Reds looked to hit back once again.

Makino did have the ball in the back of the net eight minutes from time but referee Nobutsugu Murakami had already blown for a foul.