Stroud throws 5 TDs, No. 7 Buckeyes bury Maryland 66-17

Joshua A. Bickel/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK
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COLUMBUS, Ohio- C.J. Stroud, who didn’t throw a pass in a college football game until five weeks ago, says he’s getting better at relaxing amid the chaos.

With his sore shoulder feeling better and some early wobbles behind him, Stroud is beginning to look less like an inexperienced freshman and more like Justin Fields, his unflappable predecessor at quarterback who led Ohio State to the College Football Playoff in both years as a starter.

“I’m just being more comfortable,” Stroud said after throwing five touchdowns in the No. 7 Buckeyes’ 66-17 pounding of Maryland on Saturday. “I mean, being myself. I’m really just relaxing back there, and I think my teammates have really helped me. And I feel like we’re starting to roll, get momentum.”

Coach Ryan Day sees it, too.

“I think his preparation has been excellent,” Day said. “I think he sees the field well. He’s got some good players around him, but he’s also making really good throws. His timing is right, he’s seeing the field, making good decisions. And so that is allowing us to run the offense and to be very efficient.”

Ohio State scored on nine straight possessions and piled up 598 yards of offense as the Buckeyes (5-1, 3-0 Big Ten) had their way with the Terps (4-2, 1-2).

Stroud threw for 406 yards, including two touchdown passes each to star wideouts Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson against a depleted Maryland secondary.

“Last week and this week, we were damn near perfect,” Olave said.

Buckeyes freshman TreVeyon Henderson, after managing just 17 yards rushing in the first half, finished with 102 and two touchdowns. He also caught a 26-yard TD pass in the first half. Master Teague had a touchdown plunge as Ohio State beat Maryland for the seventh consecutive time.

It wasn’t until the Buckeyes’ 10th and final drive of the game, when the regulars were all out of the game, that the Terps managed to stop them on downs.

Ohio State “had guys look like they fell out of airplanes, they were so wide open,” Terps coach Mike Locksley said.

TWO TOUGH ONES, TERPS

Maryland was routed for the second straight week. Taulia Tagovailoa threw five interceptions last week as Iowa upended the Terps 51-14. Tagovailoa threw two late picks against the Buckeyes on Saturday, but turnovers weren’t really the problem. The Terps offense couldn’t string together enough positive plays – and their defense just couldn’t stop Ohio State.

Tagovailoa, who came in the game leading the Big Ten in completion percentage, was 28 for 39 for 279 yards and two touchdowns for Maryland.

“I made some bad decisions,” he said.

THE TAKEAWAY

Maryland: After reeling off three straight wins to start the season and Tagovailoa putting up big numbers, the Terps were full of confidence. That was until they ran into two straight Top-10 teams that showed Locksley’s squad that it still has a long way to go in the rugged Big Ten East.

Ohio State: Stroud has been spectacular the last few couple weeks, and the Buckeyes are picking up steam with each game. They have an open week before traveling to Indiana and hope to peak before a critical showdown with Penn State on Oct. 30.

PROPS FOR DEFENSE

Ohio State defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs, who was stripped of play-calling duties after his unit struggled early, was awarded a game ball Saturday, Day said. The defense limited Maryland to 4.5 yards per play and had five sacks.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Ohio State’s flashy offensive display should garner some attention and maybe a few more poll points.

INJURIES

Maryland: The Terps were without their leading receiver, Dontay Demus Jr., who suffered a season-ending knee injury last week. And then WR Jeshaun Jones went out with an injury on the second play of Saturday’s game and didn’t return. … CBs Kenny Bennett and Jakorian Bennett also didn’t play.

Ohio State: DT Haskell Garrett limped off the field with an apparent leg injury in the third quarter. There was no update after the game. … Miyan Williams, who started the season as the No. 1 running back, was listed as unavailable for the second straight week. Ohio State has not provided a reason.

UP NEXT

Maryland: After a week off, the Terps host Minnesota.

Ohio State: The Buckeyes play at Indiana on Oct. 23.

Pratt accounts for 5 TDs, Tulane tops UCF 45-28 to win AAC

Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW ORLEANS – As Tulane receiver Shae Wyatt watched jubilant fans streaming onto the field, he couldn’t help but reflect upon how far his team had come since finishing last season 2-10.

“It’s definitely surreal,” said Wyatt, whose two touchdown catches were no small part of why a celebratory scene so hard to conceive of a year ago was unfolding around him. “Seeing all the other schools with their success, and having their fans storm the field – eventually, everybody wants that.”

Michael Pratt accounted for 442 total yards and five touchdowns, Tyjae Spears highlighted his 199 yards rushing with a 60-yard score and No. 18 Tulane beat No. 22 UCF 45-28 on Saturday night in the American Athletic Conference championship game.

The victory virtually assured Tulane (11-2) would play in the Cotton Bowl – its first major New Year’s Day bowl since the 1939 season.

A full hour after the game, Tulane players were still in uniform, walking back to the field from the locker room to pose for photos with teammates, some with cigars in hand. Spears joked that his elbow was sore from fans pulling on him for a congratulatory embrace.

“It was an amazing feeling, man,” Spears said. “That’s something that will stick with us for the rest of our life.”

And Wyatt suggested that Tulane’s remarkable turnaround should serve as a lesson.

“They were just throwing dirt over us and for a while it was hard to bounce back,” Wyatt said of last season, during which Tulane was displaced by Hurricane Ida to a Birmingham hotel for a month, and plagued with injuries to prominent players.

“If you keep your faith and you believe in your brothers that are next to you, flowers will grow. I promise you,” Wyatt said. “I hope this is a testament to anybody out there.”

Pratt passed for a career-high 394 yards, including touchdowns of 73 yards to Duece Watts, 60 and 10 yards to Wyatt and 43 yards to Lawrence Keys. Pratt also ran for a pivotal 18-yard touchdown with 4:04 left.

“It was awesome to close out that game and have those fans so fired up,” said Pratt, named the game’s most outstanding player.

Spears electrified the record crowd of 30,118 at Tulane’s cozy, on-campus Yulman Stadium with his long scoring run, on which he broke two tackles near the line of scrimmage, made two other defenders miss and hurndled his own fallen teammate after cutting back inside.

The Green Wave, which earned the right to host the title game by ending Cincinnati’s 32-game home winning streak last weekend, avenged a 38-31 regular-season loss to UCF (9-4) on the same field on Nov. 12.

But UCF was not quite the same team because of QB John Rhys Plumlee‘s nagging hamstring injury, which appeared to rob him of the explosiveness he displayed by running for 176 yards in the previous meeting.

Plumlee struggled enough early on that coach Gus Malzahn pulled him in the second quarter in favor of Thomas Castellanos. But with Tulane up 24-7 in the middle of the third quarter, Malzahn put Plumlee back in as primarily a passer – and he nearly led the Kights all the way back.

“He’s one of the toughest players I think I’ve ever coached,” Malzahn said. “John Rhys just kept telling me, `Coach, give me another chance.’ … He really gave us a spark.”

Plumlee led UCF quickly for a touchdown to make it 24-14, converting a fourth-and-10 pass along the way and capping the drive with a 17-yarder to Kobe Hudson.

“You work all year to play in a game like this,” said Plumlee, who completed 29 of 39 for 209 yards and one TD, but finished with minus-7 yards rushing as Tulane had six sacks. “I didn’t want to sell myself short or sell this team short.”

Tulane responded when both UCF safeties froze on a play-fake to Spears and Pratt found Watts running free behind the defense.

UCF cut it to 31-21 when former Virginia QB RJ Harvey took a backward pass from Plumlee and launched a 49-yard TD pass to Hudson.

And the Knights got the ball right back when Spears fumbled after a catch on the Green Wave 30. Isaiah Bowser‘s 10-yard run shortly after got UCF as close as 31-28 with 9:48 still left.

But Pratt again found a way to lead the Wave down the field, connecting with Wyatt for the longer of the receiver’s two TDs, and UCF didn’t threaten again.

THE TAKEAWAY

UCF: Knights sophomore backup QB Mikey Keene, who had come in after Plumlee injuries for comeback victories over Cincinnati and South Florida, did not dress for the game. That allowed him to retain a year of eligibility, but also raised questions over whether he might test the transfer portal.

Tulane: It was a dream end to week that got off to a less-than-ideal start with reports out of Atlaata that head coach Willie Fritz being pursued by Georgia Tech.

“Well, I sure am glad I stayed,” Fritz said. “I made a commitment to these kids and the last thing I ever wanted to be was a distraction. So, I’m just proud to be here.”

UP NEXT

UCF: Awaits a bowl bid on Sunday.

Tulane: Heads to its most significant bowl appearance since losing 14-13 to Texas A&M in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, 1940.

Fresno State beats Boise State 28-16 for Mountain West title

Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports
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BOISE, Idaho – When Fresno State’s Jake Haener was presented with his biggest challenge of the season – taking down perennial conference power Boise State – coach Jeff Tedford long knew his quarterback would be up for the challenge.

Haener, who didn’t play against Boise State when the two teams met earlier in the season due to an ankle injury, threw for 184 yards and a touchdown to lead Fresno State to a 28-16 victory over the Broncos on Saturday in the Mountain West Conference championship game.

Fresno State (9-4) overcame a 1-4 start to the season and a rash of injuries to win its final eight games, claiming the program’s third Mountain West crown.

“We’ve come a long way since the first part of the year when a lot of people didn’t believe in us,” Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford said. “But the staff did and the kids did. . It’s nice to see them happy.”

Boise State (9-4), which won 40-20 in the regular-season match-up between the teams, fell to 3-3 in Mountain West title games.

“We have to tip our hat to (Fresno State),” Boise State coach Andy Avalos said. “We obviously didn’t accomplish what we set out to do today, but we accomplished a lot of things this year. . And we do get one more opportunity in a bowl game.”

But it was Haener who delivered in the moments when Fresno State needed him most, which didn’t come as a surprise to Tedford.

The pair go all the way back to when Haener was 9 years old and looking for some help as a budding quarterback. A mutual friend connected him to Tedford and a long-lasting relationship was born.

“We worked together a little bit and I gave Jake a couple of goals, and he was so dedicated to those goals,” Tedford said. “I told him he had heavy feet and he needed to jump rope five hundred times without missing. Eight months later, I got a call from him, and he said, `I did it, I did it.”‘

Tedford, who recruited Haener out of high school, had to recruit him again when he entered the transfer portal after the coaching change at the end of last season and considered leaving Fresno State. But Tedford won him back.

“I wanted to be able to come back and play with this great group,” Haener said of his decision to stick it out at Fresno State for his senior season. “Once I got this guy (Tedford) on the other side of the phone, I knew I wanted to be here and play with this group. It’s been awesome and the adversity we’ve faced together has been one of the biggest challenges in my life. And it’s been awesome.”

Haener took full advantage of every miscue by the Broncos. The game’s offensive MVP was five of eight on third downs and led two key scoring drives in the fourth quarter.

“This is the golden boy of the conference and . to come up here against one of our biggest rivals in the conference, it definitely means more,” Haener said.

Boise State controlled the game early but struggled to find the end zone, clinging to a 3-0 lead late in the first half. But that all changed when Fresno State scored two touchdowns in a span of 2:36 right before halftime.

Nikko Remigio‘s electric 70-yard punt return snaking back and forth across the field sparked Fresno State. On the ensuing possession, defensive player of the game Cameron Lockridge intercepted the first of two passes, returning it 25 yards to the Broncos’ 17-yard line. Three plays later, Jordan Mims scored on a 2-yard run to put the Bulldogs up 14-3. They never relinquished the lead.

After Boise State edged within 14-9 in the third quarter, Fresno State took advantage of a roughing the punter penalty on fourth-and-15 to breathe new life into the drive. Haener finished with a 22-yard scoring strike to Zane Pope. He tacked on another scoring drive on the next possession to put the game out of reach.

Jordan Mims rushed for 83 yards and a pair of scores for Fresno State.

Boise State’s Taylen Green was 17-of-38 passing for 175 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.

THE TAKEAWAY

Boise State: While Broncos quarterback Green made his initial splash on the team with his legs, it’s his arm that turned the season around. However, Green was often off-target against Fresno State.

Fresno State: The Bulldogs’ 10-3 campaign a year ago served as a springboard for sustained success in 2022. However, Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford, who has now won two Mountain West titles, will have his work cut out for him in 2023 as his talented team is losing eight seniors on offense and five more on defense. If he chooses to utilize the transfer portal, he could shore up the team’s short-term needs and keep Fresno State in contention for another conference title.

UP NEXT

Boise State: The Broncos await bowl-game designation.

Fresno State: The Bulldogs will face the fifth-place team from the PAC-12 in the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl on Dec. 17.