Who’s your GoDaddy? Toledo beats Arkansas State in a shootout

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Whether you love or hate the bowl season, the GoDaddy Bowl is everything you need to justify your position. As Sunday night bled into Monday morning, an 8-4 MAC team from northeast Ohio played a 7-5 Sun Belt team from Arkansas before a crowd of hundreds in Mobile, Ala., in a game that exists for no other reason than to fill ESPN air time and sell domain names.

The more off-brand the bowl game, the more the football gods tend to look the other way, and Sunday night’s barnburner had plenty of that in a 63-44 Toledo win.

First, Toledo opened up a 35-17 halftime lead thanks to two defensive touchdowns – both fumbles by Arkansas State quarterback Fredi Knighten that happened to be returned for touchdowns. The first came on the very first snap from scrimmage, as a three-yard run turned into a fumble and an all-out scramble with Rocket defender Trent Voss eventually falling on the ball in the end zone (and, remember, the play started at the 25).

Then, with Arkansas State hoping to pull within 28-24 before the break, this happened.

Allen Covington‘s 67-yard snag-and-score gave Toledo a 35-17 halftime lead, and the Red Wolves never climbed within single digits after that. Kareem Hunt‘s fourth touchdown with 8:15 to go in the third quarter put Toledo up 42-17, but Arkansas State clawed back to 42-31 after Knighten fired a 55-yard touchdown pass to Booker Mays (after throwing scoring strikes of 66 and 44 yards in the first half), and Money Hunter‘s 94-yard interception return with 2:06 remaining in the frame.

The teams traded touchdowns in the fourth quarter, with Toledo’s Damion Jones-Moore adding the capper on a 29-yard run with 1:02 to go.

Every bonkers bowl game has to include an outstanding individual performance, and Toledo running back Hunt’s night checked that box. He set GoDaddy Bowl records with 32 carries for 271 yards and five touchdowns, including scoring dashes of 44 and 29 yards. Hunt would’ve had another if not for cramps allowing backup Jones-Moore vulture a 10-yard touchdown, which pushed the lead to 56-38 with 6:33 to play.

Outside of his two catastrophic fumbles, Knighten was pretty darn good for the Red Wolves. He completed 23-of-31 passes for 403 yards with five touchdowns (only one shorter than 27 yards) and no interceptions, good for a quarterback rating of 236.6.

There was also the requisite element of knucklehead-edness. 

And, of course, an empty stadium pic.

In the end, the final non-championship bowl game of the 2014-15 season was a fitting tribute to the 37 that came before it.

Toledo finished the year at 9-4, tying the high-water mark under fourth-year head coach Matt Campbell, while Arkansas State dropped to 7-6 in head coach Blake Anderson‘s debut campaign. The best news for Arkansas State, however, is that for the first time since 2010, the Red Wolves will have a head coach return for a second season after Steve Roberts‘ firing to conclude the ’10 season, and then one-year stays by Hugh Freeze (2011), Gus Malzahn (2012) and Bryan Harsin (2013).

Georgia Tech promotes Brent Key from interim to head coach

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
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Georgia Tech named interim coach Brent Key to the full-time position on Tuesday after he led the team to a 4-4 finish.

Key, 44, was in his fourth season as assistant head coach, run game coordinator and offensive line coach before Geoff Collins was fired on Sept. 26, two days after the Yellow Jackets lost 27-10 to Central Florida and dropped to 1-3.

Georgia Tech’s improvement under Key, who played for the Yellow Jackets and graduated in 2001, convinced Institute President Dr. Angel Cabrera and athletic director J Batt to make Key the full-time coach instead of looking outside the program for the hire.

“I am so proud and grateful to be the head coach at my alma mater, Georgia Tech,” Key said in a statement released by the school. “Like I’ve said many times over the past two months, I love this team, and I couldn’t be more excited to be their head coach. We will work unbelievably hard to make our fans, alumni and former players very proud of this program.”

Cabrera said Key’s history with Georgia Tech as a student, player and assistant coach was important.

“As an alum, he understands and cares deeply about this place and our extraordinary student-athletes,” Cabrera said. “He’s not only incredibly competitive but will do everything he can to make sure students grow as athletes, professionals and human beings.”

Georgia Tech had interest in Tulane coach Willie Fritz before choosing to promote Key.

“There was strong interest from across the country to be the next head coach at Georgia Tech, and we conducted an exhaustive national search,” Batt said. “At the beginning and end of the search, it was clear that the best choice for Georgia Tech is Brent Key.”

ESPN was first to report Georgia Tech had focused its search on Key.

Collins was 10-28 in his fourth season. When announcing the move with Collins, Georgia Tech also fired athletic director Todd Stansbury, who hired Collins. The school hired Batt, a former deputy athletic director at Alabama, as its athletic director on Oct. 14.

After Key was named interim coach, the Yellow Jackets beat two ranked teams, Pittsburgh and North Carolina, on the road. Georgia Tech finished 5-7 overall following Saturday’s 37-14 loss at No. 1 Georgia.

Even in the loss, Georgia Tech’s improvement showed. The Yellow Jackets trailed Georgia only 10-7 at halftime.

Key was Alabama’s offensive line coach from 2016-18 following 11 seasons at UCF. At UCF, Key coached under George O'Leary, who was his coach at Georgia Tech.

O’Leary said Georgia Tech made “a great decision” in promoting Key.

“I watched very closely this season as Brent took over and saw things move in the right direction,” O’Leary said. “It was clear that the team responded to the changes he made and played hard for him.”

Hugh Freeze asks Auburn fans for ‘chance to earn your trust’

Jake Crandall / USA TODAY NETWORK
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AUBURN, Ala. – Hugh Freeze‘s checkered past in the Southeastern Conference means he’ll have to win more than just games. He’ll also have to win over Auburn fans.

Freeze’s return to the league more than five years after his scandal-plagued exit was greeted by considerable backlash on social media from wary fans. The former Mississippi and Liberty coach had to talk about his past during Tuesday’s introductory news conference as much as his belief that Auburn can make a quick turnaround, urging fans to “please give me a chance to earn your trust.”

“Give me some time. Get to know us. Get to know our family. Get to know the truth of our story,” Freeze said. “And I think the ones who have done that have said, `Man, you know what, I kinda like this guy and this family.’

“But that’s all you can ask is, man, give us a chance to earn your trust and I think you’ll like the end result.”

His message clearly resonated with athletic director John Cohen. Now he has to win over fans tired of embarrassments, including the failed 21-game tenure of former coach Bryan Harsin.

Auburn gave Freeze a six-year contract worth at least $6.5 million annually, making him the eighth-highest paid coach in the SEC. The buyout, if Freeze is fired without cause, would be 75% of his remaining contract.

Freeze resigned from Ole Miss in the summer of 2017 after school officials uncovered a “pattern of personal misconduct” starting with a call to a number used by an escort service from a university-issued cellphone. The program ultimately landed on NCAA probation for 21 violations of academic, booster and recruiting misconduct mostly under Freeze’s watch.

Still Cohen, who was at Mississippi State at the time, said Freeze was his top choice from the outset.

“Coach Freeze was completely transparent about his past transgressions,” Cohen said. “He showed remorse, and he’s had an accountability plan that he’s used for the last five-plus years.

“Everything he disclosed to us turned out to be accurate, after speaking with credible industry sources. In this way, Coach Freeze was honest and truthful.”

Freeze’s hiring was delayed after a former Liberty student emailed Auburn officials about a direct message the coach had sent her defending the Flames athletic director after she had made critical comments. The woman said she was sexually assaulted at Liberty and had reached a settlement, a case that pre-dated Freeze’s arrival.

Cohen did not take questions from reporters at the news conference and later declined to comment when asked about the direct message by The Associated Press.

Freeze has gone 103-47 on the field in 13 seasons at four programs, but 27 of those wins at Ole Miss were vacated because of NCAA violations. He spent the last four seasons at Liberty.

Freeze’s first move was to keep Carnell Williams on staff as running backs coach and associate head coach. Williams, a former Auburn All-America running back, was interim coach for the final four games.

He was a candidate for the head job, interviewing with Cohen about a week ago. Williams expressed his support of Freeze.

“I did have the opportunity to state my case, but look, that’s old news,” said Williams, who attended the news conference. “Like I told them whenever they brought me the news, honestly, they looked more disappointed than me. They were, `I’m sorry.’ But I’m like, I’m disappointed, (but) I’m not upset.”

Freeze isn’t the first high-profile coach with NCAA baggage that Auburn has hired. Bruce Pearl was hired while in the final months of a show-cause penalty stemming from violations that led to his ouster from Tennessee.

Pearl has turned the program into an SEC power, but not without more trouble.

Auburn self-imposed a postseason ban two years ago stemming from a bribery scheme involving former assistant coach Chuck Person. Pearl served a two-game suspension and players Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy were ruled ineligible for at least one season. Person later pleaded guilty to a bribery conspiracy charge.

Now, Freeze is getting his own second chance to change the script in the SEC.

“I don’t know if rewriting the story is exactly the right word,” he said. “But it’s going to make for a good ending.”