Sanders helps No. 16 Arkansas rocket past South Carolina

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Darren McFadden and Felix Jones make for some serious company. Rocket Sanders can now say he’s there with those all-time Arkansas running backs.

The Razorbacks’ sophomore running back ran for a career-high 156 yards and two touchdowns in helping the No. 16 Razorbacks beat South Carolina 44-30 on Saturday.

Sanders joined McFadden, twice a Heisman Trophy finalist, and Jones, the player with the sixth-most yards rushing in school history, as the only three Arkansas players to run for 150 yards and two scores against the Gamecocks.

“Um, that’s good,” Sanders said after the game. He half-chuckled his next sentence.

“Of course I want to be better than those guys.”

Sanders ran for 578 yards and five touchdowns in his first season last year. With returning starter Dominique Johnson still sidelined recovering from a knee injury suffered in the Outback Bowl, Sanders has taken nearly all of the first-team reps. The result has been a 2-0 start for his team and him becoming the first Razorbacks player since 2019 with back-to-back 100-yard games.

Sanders scored the first two touchdowns of the game as Arkansas (2-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) found the end zone on each of its first three possessions against South Carolina and opened a 21-3 lead. The Gamecocks (1-1, 0-1) responded with two straight scores at the end of the first half and the beginning of the second to pull within 21-16.

Sanders wouldn’t score again as KJ Jefferson was the keystone for a bulk of the Razorbacks’ second-half touchdowns, but he ran for 95 of his 156 yards in the final 30 minutes.

Arkansas ran for 295 yards, and AJ Green and Rashod Dubinion also chipped in touchdowns.

“I was really proud of our offensive line. We asked them to kind of control the game and I felt like they did. I think the offensive line wore them down,” Pittman said.

Jefferson led a 14-play, 59-yard drive capped with his own 2-yard rushing touchdown at the start of the fourth quarter to move Arkansas back ahead by two scores. South Carolina lost a fumble on its next possession and Jefferson added a touchdown pass to Warren Thompson in response, ultimately putting the Gamecocks too far behind to rally.

Spencer Rattler tried. The Oklahoma transfer threw for 371 yards and a touchdown on 23 of 38 passing with a touchdown for South Carolina, but was intercepted in the end zone midway through the fourth quarter by Dwight McGlothern. The Gamecocks had three turnovers.

Jefferson was 18 of 21 passing for 162 yards and a touchdown. He ran for another 67 yards and the score on 19 carries.

“I thought he played better today than he did last week. I thought he was more accurate,” Pittman said. “I thought he was in total control. … He pretty much can take over the game when he wants to.”

Johnson is expected to return in Week 3 against Missouri State. He might find himself short on carries as Sanders’ development has put the sophomore in high company.

“I think he’s becoming an all-around back a little bit more,” Pittman said. “I thought he played really, really well. Two 100-yard days back-to-back is pretty good. He’s a better back than he was a year ago.”

THE TAKEAWAY

South Carolina: The Gamecocks had moments, but consistency was lacking in coach Shane Beamer‘s second year.

Arkansas: The Razorbacks’ defense held up well without two starters in the secondary, including former freshman All-America safety Jalen Catalon.

A BIG LOSS IN A BIG WIN

Pittman said after the game that preseason All-SEC safety Jalen Catalon would miss the rest of the season because of a shoulder injury. Catalon was lost midway through Arkansas’ win over Cincinnati last week.

Catalon was a freshman All-American two seasons ago, but missed the back-half of the Razorbacks’ season last year because of a shoulder injury.

IT’S BEEN A WHILE

Arkansas’ win over South Carolina was the Razorbacks’ first since 2011. The teams had met only three times since before Saturday with the Gamecocks winning each.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Arkansas likely won’t do any worse than staying put at No. 16 when the polls are released Sunday.

UP NEXT

South Carolina: Hosts defending national champion Georgia in Week 3

Arkansas: Missouri State comes to town next week, lea by former Razorbacks head coach Bobby Petrino.

Minnesota football players’ discrimination lawsuit dismissed

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by nine former University of Minnesota football players who were accused of sexual assault in 2016 in a case that roiled the school’s football program.

The lawsuit against the school claimed that the players faced emotional distress and financial damage after being falsely accused of being sex offenders. The players, who were identified in the lawsuit as John Does, sought unspecified damages for willful and malicious discrimination.

A woman alleged up to a dozen football players raped her or watched and cheered at an off-campus party in 2016. None of the players were ever charged.

The university found that 10 football players committed sexual misconduct. Five of them were expelled or suspended for violating student conduct codes, and the others were cleared on appeal.

In their lawsuit, the players alleged that the woman initiated the sexual encounters with players and an underage recruit.

U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank dismissed the lawsuit last week, saying the former players did not prove any of their claims, including allegations of bias by university investigators or pressure from Athletic Director Mark Coyle and former President Eric Kaler, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported.

David Madgett, an attorney for the players, said Tuesday that they are considering an appeal but have to determine if it makes sense financially and in terms of letting the former players get on with their lives. He said it was disappointing that the outcome was determined by the judge’s version of events and not decided by a jury.

“It’s disappointing to see disputes decided in this way,” Madgett said. “That’s the way things are decided more and more these days. … It’s disappointing you don’t get your day in court.”

When the allegations became public in 2016, players threatened to boycott the team’s trip to the Holiday Bowl. But after a graphic report of the investigation was released, the players agreed to play in the game.

University of Minnesota spokesman Jake Ricker said the school appreciated the judge’s decision affirming the actions taken in the case. He said the university would continue its work focusing on sexual misconduct awareness, prevention and response.

Frank dismissed the lawsuit in 2019, but an appeals court reinstated part of it in 2021 and returned it to Frank.

The players, all of whom are Black, also initially claimed racial discrimination, but that claim was previously dismissed.

The only remaining claim alleged Title IX gender discrimination. The former players noted that they never faced criminal charges, but Frank’s ruling said that “is certainly not evidence of a judicial adjudication or that plaintiffs ‘were proven innocent.'”

The men also claimed that an investigator for the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action used “manipulative tactics” with them in interviews and that their accuser helped draft the report. The players also alleged that “prior failed investigations motivated” the the school to punish them.

Frank said all the claims were unsupported by the evidence and “no reasonable jury could find that the University disciplined plaintiffs on the basis of sex.”

Michigan State player who swung helmet gets probation

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A Michigan State football player who swung his helmet at a Michigan player in a stadium tunnel expressed regret Tuesday and said he’s “just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue” on the field.

Khary Crump, a defensive back, was sentenced to probation. He was one of seven Michigan State players charged in a skirmish that followed a loss at Michigan Stadium on Oct. 29.

Crump was the only Spartan facing a felony, but that charge was dismissed in an agreement to plead guilty to misdemeanors. His record will be scrubbed clean if he stays out of trouble while on probation.

“Unfortunately, an exchange of words (took place), I felt attacked and unfortunately I did what I did,” Crump said of the tunnel altercation involving Michigan’s Gemon Green. “I’m not proud of that. I’m looking forward to moving forward.”

Crump was suspended by coach Mel Tucker. In addition, the Big Ten has suspended him for eight games in 2023.

“I had difficulties trying to stomach my actions … on that fateful day, but it happened. I can’t take it back,” Crump told MLive.com after the court hearing. “Honestly, I’m just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue in the future — on the football field, of course.”

At least four other players charged with misdemeanors Will Likely have their cases dismissed in exchange for community service and other conditions. The cases against two others are pending.