Smith leads Texas Tech past Leach’s Bulldogs in Liberty Bowl

Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports
3 Comments

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Donovan Smith threw for 252 yards and a touchdown and ran for another score, and Texas Tech beat Mississippi State 34-7 in the Liberty Bowl on Tuesday night.

Tahj Brooks rushed for 107 yards and a touchdown and SaRodorick Thompson ran for 80 yards and a score for the Red Raiders (7-6), who finished with a winning record for the first time since 2015. They were appearing in their first bowl game since 2017.

Mississippi State (7-6) fell short in coach Mike Leach‘s first game against a former program of his. Leach, who went 84-43 at Texas Tech from 2000-09, failed to become the first Bulldogs coach to end each of his first two seasons with a bowl victory. Mississippi State was playing in its 12th straight bowl game.

Red Raiders interim coach Sonny Cumbie, a former player at Texas Tech under Leach, ended his five-game run with a 2-3 record. Cumbie, who is departing to become Louisiana Tech’s coach, took over for Matt Wells in October.

“It’s a sense of relief and accomplishment,” Cumbie said. “In these bowl games, the most excited team that shows up is the one that comes out on top. That’s what this team did.”

Texas Tech rushed for 260 yards against a Bulldogs defense that came in allowing 101 yards per game on the ground.

“Their defensive front is very good,” Cumbie said. “We felt with some of our run schemes and some of our motions, we would be able to hit some creases. And our running backs broke some tackles. They were a good opponent, but I did feel we’d have the ability to run the football.”

Leach’s prolific offense never could get rolling against the Red Raiders and the resulting lopsided loss dropped the Southeastern Conference to 0-4 in the postseason. The Bulldogs were held scoreless in the second half and finished with 344 yards, 105 below their average. Mississippi State was without three offensive linemen, including All-SEC left tackle Charles Cross, a projected top 10 pick in the NFL draft.

“I didn’t think we were consistent,” Leach said. “We didn’t out of the blocks or get into any kind of rhythm. They deserve credit for preparing the way they did and playing the way they did.”

Texas Tech put the game out of reach with two third-quarter touchdowns. Smith scored on a 1-yard run to cap a 95-yard drive, the Red Raiders’ second-longest of the season. Smith, who was named the game’s MVP, completed passes of 39 and 52 yards during the drive. He added a 14-yard touchdown pass to J.J. Sparkman with 2 seconds remaining in the quarter.

Thompson scored his touchdown on a 1-yard run midway through the final quarter for a 34-7 lead.

Texas Tech established the run at the outset, gaining 145 yards in the first quarter and using its physical play to take a 10-0 lead. The Red Raiders moved 75 yards – all on the ground – on the game’s opening possession, scoring on a 19-yard run by Brooks.

“I felt that ignited us,” Smith said. “We knew we had to come out and score.”

Texas Tech added a 31-yard field goal by Jonathan Garibay later in the quarter.

Mississippi State answered on its next series with Will Rogers converting on third-and-11 on the Red Raiders 38 to extend the drive. Rogers evaded a strong rush before finding Jo'Quavious Marks for 18 yards to the 20. Two plays later, Rogers fired a 17-yard scoring pass to Rara Thomas.

The Red Raiders took advantage of a Bulldogs miscue in the closing seconds of the half to go up 13-7. Mississippi State punt returner Austin Williams muffed a Texas Tech punt inside the Bulldogs 20-yard line and Jake Bishop recovered at the 14 with 31 seconds remaining. Garibay added a 26-yard field goal with 13 seconds left.

Mississippi State was held to 126 yards in the first half. Rogers, averaging 372 yards passing per game, managed 103 yards on 10-of-17 passing in the half and finished with 290.

DOWN BUT NOT (OPTING) OUT

Leach said his team was struck with COVID-19 issues shortly after arriving in Memphis last weekend, but he never considered pulling the Bulldogs out of the game. After his postgame news conference, Leach estimated as many as 10 or 11 players were affected. He said once the team got to Memphis, he committed to playing the game as long as there were enough players available.

IN THE SPOTLIGHT

Texas Tech defensive lineman Tyree Wilson earned the game’s most outstanding defensive player award on the strength of back-to-back tackles for loss. With the Red Raiders leading 20-7 midway through the third quarter, Wilson sacked Rogers on successive plays – an 11-yard loss on third down from the Tech 20 and a 9-yard loss on fourth down from the 31. Tech took over on downs and scored to go ahead 27-7.

UP NEXT

Mississippi State will enter 2022 with significant contributors returning. The Bulldogs had freshmen and sophomores score 35 of their 47 regular-season touchdowns. Rogers, a sophomore this year, will be back after setting the school’s single-season passing record.

Texas Tech starts 2022 under new management. Former Baylor associate head coach Joey McGuire takes over after five seasons with the Bears and 14 as a high school coach at Cedar Hill in Texas, where he won three state titles.

No. 2 Michigan beats Purdue 43-22 for Big Ten crown

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

INDIANAPOLIS – Donovan Edwards ran for 185 yards and a score, J.J. McCarthy threw three touchdown passes and No. 2 Michigan beat Purdue 43-22 on Saturday night for its second straight Big Ten title and a likely No. 2 playoff seed.

College football’s winningest program has the first 13-win season in school history. Two more victories would give the Wolverines (13-0, No. 2 CFP) their first national championship since 1997.

And with injured star Blake Corum sidelined by a season-ending left knee injury, Edwards stole the show for the second straight week.

After shredding rival Ohio State for 216 yards and two scores last week, Edwards broke open this game with a 60-yard on the first play of the second half to set up one score. He added a 27-yard TD sprint on Michigan’s next series to make it 28-13.

Purdue (8-5) never recovered from Michigan’s quick, seven-play onslaught after it trailed 14-13 at halftime.

But quarterback Aidan O'Connell and receiver Charlie Jones helped the Boilermakers make it interesting for a while.

O’Connell was 32 of 47 with 366 yards and two interceptions after missing some practice time early this week to mourn the death of his oldest brother. Jones, who lost to Michigan in last year’s game while playing for Iowa, had 13 receptions for 162 yards.

It just wasn’t enough.

Michigan showed no signs of a hangover after last week’s rout over the Buckeyes, taking a 7-0 lead on its opening possession with a 25-yard TD pass from J.J. McCarthy to Colston Loveland.

Purdue answered with Devin Mockobee’s 1-yard scoring run to tie the score then took the lead on Mitchell Fineran’s 33-yard field goal.

Michigan answered by taking advantage of an offside call on fourth-and-6 by going for the first down, picking it up and eventually converting the drive into a 7-yard TD pass from McCarthy to Luke Schoonmaker. They never trailed again.

Edwards big run set up Kalel Mullings‘ 1-yard TD plunge before Edwards celebrated his own scoring run.

All Purdue could muster was three more field goals.

McCarthy was 11 of 17 with 161 yards and one interception.

Corum posted a message on Twitter on Saturday morning to say his knee surgery went well.

THE TAKEAWAY

Purdue: The Boilermakers’ magical season ended with a solid showing in the championship game where they played better than most expected. Still, they won the Big Ten’s wild, wild West, both trophy games and should be bound for a warm-weather bowl game.

Michigan: Yes, the Wolverines may have already locked up a top-two seed thanks to losses by Southern Cal and TCU. Michigan now has back-to-back conference crowns for the first time since 2003-04 though the hard part remains – ending its national title drought.

DIALING UP TRICKERY

Brohm played one season in the now defunct XFL and has acknowledged that experience helped him understand how to inject personality and creativity into play calling. It was on full display Saturday.

A surprise end around set up Purdue’s first score, a fake punt helped keep its second scoring drive alive and then Mockobee sprinted 25 yards on a fake flea-flicker in the third quarter.

UP NEXT

Purdue: Will find out its bowl game, destination and opponent Sunday.

Michigan: Waiting to see where its headed and who it will face in the national semifinals.

Klubnik, No. 10 Clemson rout No. 24 UNC 39-10 for ACC title

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Backup quarterback Cade Klubnik completed 20 of 24 passes for 279 yards and a touchdown and ran for another score and No. 10 Clemson reclaimed the Atlantic Coast Conference championship with a 39-10 victory over No. 24 North Carolina on Saturday night.

Cornerback Nate Wiggins broke up two passes in the end zone, blocked a field goal and returned an interception 98 yards for a touchdown to help the Tigers win their seventh ACC title in eight seasons.

Clemson (11-2, No. 9 CFP) won six straight ACC championships from 2015 to 2020 before failing to reach the title game last season. But coach Dabo Swinney‘s Tigers rebounded in a big way, going 9-0 against ACC foes this season to reach the Orange Bowl.

They have Klubnik to thank for that.

With Clemson down 7-0, Swinney benched two-year starter D.J. Uiagalelei after the Tigers failed to pick up a first down on their first two possessions, Swinney turned to Klubnik, a 5-star recruit from Austin, Texas. He responded by leading the Tigers to four straight scores and a 24-10 lead at halftime.

Clemson stretched it to 39-10 heading into the fourth quarter.

It wasn’t the first time Swinney has turned to Klubnik.

He benched Uiagalelei in the second half against Syracuse and Klubnik responded by leading the Tigers to a come-from-behind 27-21 victory. Swinney also turned to Klubnik against Notre Dame, although the results were the opposite with the freshman throwing a Pick 6 in a 35-14 loss.

Swinney has never been shy about replacing veteran QBs with less experienced players. He did it in 2014, sitting Cole Stoudt for Deshaun Watson, and again in 2018 replacing Kelly Bryant with Trevor Lawrence.

ACC player of the year Drake Maye was limited to 268 yards passing and turned the ball over three times for North Carolina (9-4, No. 23 CFP), which was seeking its first ACC championship since 1980 when Lawrence Taylor was wreaking havoc on quarterbacks.

Maye got things started on the right foot for the Tar Heels, capping an 11-play, 78-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead on UNC’s first possession.

But the Tar Heels repeatedly sputtered on offense inside the red zone after that, the biggest blow coming when Maye misfired near the goal line and Wiggins – who had struggled in Clemson’s 51-45 win over Wake Forest – returned his pass for a touchdown to give Clemson a 32-10 lead with 5:05 left in the third quarter.

Klubnik provided an immediate spark for Clemson.

He led the Tigers on a nine-play, 71-yard drive, culminating in a 1-yard TD pass to Davis Allen. After Maye’s fumble, Klubnik caught a 19-yard pass from Phil Mafah to set up Mafah’s 4-yard touchdown run – Clemson’s second TD in a span of 40 seconds.

Klubnik then showed off his arm strength with a 68-yard pass to fellow freshman Cole Turner to set up his own 1-yard TD run for a 21-7 lead.

END OF AN ERA

This is the final year the ACC will feature its two division winners playing for a championship. In future years, all ACC teams will be lumped together and the two teams with the best records will advance to the title game.

THE TAKEAWAY

North Carolina: Maye garnered plenty of Heisman Trophy talk during the season, but the Tar Heels offense has stalled resulting in a three-game losing streak. But as long as Maye doesn’t transfer – and there are no indications he will given his family history at North Carolina – the Tar Heels have a good chance to get back to the ACC title game next season.

Clemson: The Tigers have set a high bar by winning national championships, so as much as they will enjoy getting back atop the ACC mountain there will be plenty of talk over whether Swinney cost his team a chance at a spot in the College Football Playoff by not turning to Klubnik at quarterback earlier in the season. It seems Uiagalelei might be a logical transfer portal candidate.

UP NEXT

Clemson will play in the Orange Bowl, while North Carolina awaits a bowl bid.