Ridder, Pickett help lead National to 20-10 Senior Bowl win

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MOBILE, Ala. — The pass rushers did their best to steal the show from quarterbacks Desmond Ridder and Kenny Pickett in the Senior Bowl.

Cincinnati’s Ridder threw two touchdown passes and the National team had eight sacks in a 20-10 victory over the American team Saturday.

“We didn’t come out here to lollygag through it,” Minnesota defensive lineman Boye Mafe said. “We told each other to go out and have our best games and play our best football. This was our last time to get to represent our schools so why not go out on a good note.”

Ridder helped finish off a job started by Pittsburgh’s Pickett, a Heisman Trophy finalist who was 6-of-6 passing for 89 yards and a touchdown despite only playing the first quarter.

The National pass rushers made it a tough afternoon for their quarterback counterparts polishing off the weeklong showcase for top senior and graduated junior NFL prospects.

Oklahoma’s Perrion Winfrey, Penn State’s Jesse Luketa and Mafe each had two sacks. Luketa and Mafe also both forced a fumble on sacks of North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell.

Winfrey was the overall game MVP, while Mafe was the National player of the game and Western Kentucky defensive lineman Deangelo Malone was picked as the top American team player.

Winfrey wore a jersey signed by teammates and got to follow in the Senior Bowl footsteps of Los Angeles Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald, a 2014 alum of the game.

“I’ve been dreaming about being in the Senior Bowl since I was a little kid,” Winfrey said. “I saw Aaron Donald dominate the Senior Bowl and I wanted to be the next to do that.”

Pickett and Liberty’s Malik Willis were among the Senior Bowl passers vying with Mississippi’s Matt Corral to be the first quarterback picked.

Willis started for the American team and mainly flashed his running and scrambling ability. He passed for just 11 yards but ran for a game-high 54 on four carries in the first quarter, flirting with a touchdown on a 27-yard scamper to end the first quarter.

Teams started each quarter with fresh possessions.

Ridder completed 4 of 6 passes for 68 yards to finish up with another win. He led Cincinnati to 44 wins in his career and to the College Football Playoffs this season, ending with a semifinal loss to Alabama.

The National team delivered most of the big plays, culminating with Ridder’s 25-yard touchdown to Wisconsin tight end Jake Ferguson in the fourth quarter.

Pickett, who led Pitt to its first ACC championship, capped his performance with a 20-yard touchdown to Baylor running back Abram Smith late in the first quarter.

Pickett spent the rest of the game as a spectator. But he’s hoping the week’s performance impressed NFL teams after making a huge leap as a player and a prospect in his senior season.

“Everyone was saying it was a flash in the pan season,” Pickett said. “Thirteen games playing at areally high level, I don’t think it is.

“So I wanted to come down here and continue on that, being a consistent player.”

Howell, who had teammates recover both of his fumbles, scrambled and passed the American team to its first score. He collected a wide snap and ran left for a 2-yard touchdown late in the third quarter.

Howell’s one completion on the drive was a 19-yarder to Utah running back TJ Pledger, a late sub who only arrived in time for Thursday’s practice and also had a 23-yard run.

North Dakota State’s Christian Watson caught an underthrown ball going to the ground and quickly popped up for a 38-yarder to set up the touchdown.

Then Ridder rolled right and hit Colorado State tight end Trey McBride for a 6-yard touchdown late in the second.

Bailey Zappe of Western Kentucky passed for a game-high 103 yards with an interception. Howell was 6 of 9 for 67 yards. Nevada’s Carson Strong also passed for 67 yards but threw an interception.

Winfrey got a trophy filled with peanut butter cups from sponsor Reese’s but had no plans to enjoy them.

“I’m not going to eat one of these,” he said.

Florida shakes up secondary after dismal game at Tennessee

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Billy Napier is shaking up his secondary after the Gators allowed 349 yards passing – including 247 of those on eight plays – in a loss at Tennessee.

Safety Trey Dean, a fifth-year senior who has started 32 games and played in 54, is out with what Florida is calling a “lower leg injury.” But no one would be surprised if Napier was quietly benching Dean after he made two mental errors against the Volunteers that resulted in 70- and 45-yard gains and set up touchdowns.

Freshman Kamari Wilson will replace Dean and make his first college start Sunday against Eastern Washington.

Cornerback Jaydon Hill will join Wilson in the starting lineup. Hill, a third-year sophomore, will make his first start since 2020. He missed the 2021 season with a torn knee ligament. He impressed Napier and his new staff in the spring but sat out preseason camp with another knee injury.

Hill will replace sophomore Avery Helm, who also struggled against the Vols.

“You talk about what he’s been through from an injury perspective,” Napier said following practice Wednesday. “Jaydon was one of the better players that we had on our team in spring practice. I was very impressed . It’s no surprise to me. He showed pretty quickly here that he’s very capable. I’m excited to watch him play.”

Georgia transfer Jalen Kimber, a former five-star recruit, is now listed as a third-team cornerback. Kimber played just 11 snaps in Knoxville a week after he returned an interception for a touchdown in a 31-28 win against South Florida.

“I like to say we try to eliminate the bad football,” Napier said. “Talking about mental errors, misalignments, poor communication, bad fundamentals and techniques, bad decision-making within the play. … We have a laundry list of things that we need to eliminate each week.

“Last week’s game, I thought we were really close, but there’s 12 or 15 plays in the game where Florida is beating Florida. We’ve got a smart group here. I think they’re very aware of what the issues are, and I think they’re working hard to address those issues.”

Pac-12 looking stronger at top after early-season losses

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When Oregon got throttled by top-ranked Georgia and Utah lost at Florida, it appeared as though the Pac-12 was headed toward another College Football Playoff miss.

One week into the season and two of the conference’s top teams had already failed big early tests.

Flash forward three weeks and it seems the Pac-12 might be in good shape after all.

The Ducks and Utes bounced back with big wins and the top of the conference looks strong, with four teams in the top 15 for the first time since 2016.

It’s still early, but the Pac-12 is putting itself in position to get a team through to the CFP for the first time since Washington in 2016-17.

A look at how the top of the Pac-12 is stacking up headed into the first weekend of October:

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

The No. 6 Trojans (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) seem to have quickly returned to glory in their first season under Lincoln Riley. The former Oklahoma coach brought quarterback Caleb Williams with him to Southern California and they have thrived through the first four games.

Williams has thrown for 1,054 yards and nine touchdowns, adding 100 yards and two more scores rushing. USC’s defense has been opportunistic, leading the nation with 11 interceptions while tied for the lead with 14 takeaways.

The Trojans survived a scare against scrappy Oregon State over the weekend to start 4-0 for the first time since 2012. USC has to play at Utah on Oct. 15, but avoids Washington and Oregon this season.

UTAH

The 12th-ranked Utes opened the season with a tough road loss at The Swamp in Florida, but have won three straight lopsided games.

Outside of a costly interception late against the Gators, quarterback Cam Rising has been sharp, throwing for 954 yards and 10 TDs. Utah (3-1, 1-0) has a physical defense and is third in the FBS, allowing 132.8 yards passing per game.

The Utes also have a veteran team that won the Pac-12 championship last season. The bad news: tight end Brant Kuithe, their leading receiver, is out for the season with a knee injury.

Utah plays Oregon State this weekend and has tough games against USC and Oregon still on the schedule.

OREGON

The Ducks’ playoff chances took an immediate hit with a 49-3 loss to reigning national champion Georgia in their opener.

No. 13 Oregon (3-1, 1-0) bounced back with a decisive win over a good BYU team and outlasted previously undefeated Washington State 44-41 last week.

The Ducks were no match for the Bulldogs in any aspect – few teams are – but have averaged 51.6 points the past three games. Oregon’s biggest weakness is its pass defense. The Ducks are allowing 72.5% of passes to be completed, third worst in the country.

Oregon’s biggest tests left in the season will come in back to back games against Washington and Utah.

WASHINGTON

The Huskies have made a quick turnaround in their first season under coach Kalen DeBoer.

Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has been superb now that he’s healthy, throwing for an FBS-best 1,388 yards and 12 TDs with one interception. No. 15 Washington (4-0, 1-0) picked up a solid home win against Michigan State and has 15 sacks this season, including eight against Stanford last week.

The Huskies play their first road game at undefeated UCLA on Saturday and have to face Oregon on Nov. 12.

UCLA

After winning at Colorado for the first time since 2014 last Saturday, the Bruins (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) have their longest winning streak since winning the first eight games in 2005.

UCLA had a hard time getting past South Alabama and opened its Pac-12 schedule with a win against the struggling Buffaloes.

The Bruins will find out how good they are over the next three weeks, a brutal stretch that includes home games against Washington and Utah before heading to Eugene to play the Ducks on Oct. 22.