No. 4 TCU still undefeated after game-ending FG at Baylor

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WACO, Texas – Fourth-ranked TCU had players shuffling on and off the field as the final seconds were ticking off the clock. Kicker Griffin Kell was the last one to get into place.

“That looked like chaos, but we practice it every Thursday exactly like that,” Frogs coach Sonny Dykes said.

And the Horned Frogs executed it perfectly to stay undefeated in what was no practice situation.

Kell kicked a 40-yard field goal on the game’s final play, and TCU beat Baylor 29-28 on Saturday, scoring nine points in the final 2:07 to avoid another potential playoff-busting loss on the banks of the Brazos River.

Emari Demercardo scored on a 3-yard TD run to cap a 90-yard drive with 2:07 left to get the Frogs (11-0, 8-0 Big 12, No. 4 CFP) within 28-26, but he was unable to pull in a pass on the 2-point conversion attempt.

After kicking deep, TCU used all three of its timeouts while forcing a three-and-out, and it got the ball back at its 31 with 1:34 left. Max Duggan had two completions before converting one third down with a 12-yard run on a quarterback draw.

Demercardo was short of a clock-stopping first down on a run to the Baylor 23, going down in the center of the field with about 16 seconds left before the offensive and special teams units ran by each other. The ball was snapped at 3 seconds, and the kick by Kell, who earlier had an extra-point attempt clank off the upright, went through as time ran out.

“The great thing about that last drive, we were throwing all of our day one concepts,” Duggan said. “We were throwing easy stuff that we practice and we can do with our eyes closed, and stuff that you believe in. … So just going out there, being confident, believing it was going to happen, and Griff makes a huge kick for us.”

TCU, which already had clinched a spot in the Big 12 championship game, hasn’t been undefeated this deep in a season since 2010, when it finished 13-0 with a Rose Bowl victory and No. 2 national ranking.

When the Frogs played at McLane Stadium for the first time in 2014, after it first opened, they lost 61-58. That was their only loss that season, and they went on to share the Big 12 title with Baylor. They were the first two teams left out of the inaugural four-team College Football Playoff.

Baylor (6-5, 4-4) was coming off a 31-3 home loss to Kansas State a week earlier, but last year’s Big 12 champions took a 28-20 lead after a pair of true freshmen scored TDs early in the fourth quarter: tight end Kelsey Johnson‘s 12-yard catch and Richard Reese‘s 1-yard run.

“It’s a tough locker room,” Baylor coach Dave Aranda said. “I told them that I wish that we, that I, could take the pain away.”

Duggan was 24-of-35 passing for 327 yards and a touchdown, and he also ran for a score while leading the Frogs with 50 yards rushing on eight carries. Kendre Miller had a rushing TD in his 12th consecutive game, a 2-yarder early in the second quarter that tied it at 14 before he got hurt early in the second half.

TCU didn’t lead until Duggan hit a wide-open Gunnar Henderson for a 26-yard touchdown with 5 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter, one play after the two had connected for 20 yards. It was 20-14 after Kell’s missed PAT.

Baylor’s Blake Shapen was 21-of-30 passing for 269 yards and a score, while Craig “Sqwirl” Williams ran for 112 yards. Monaray Baldwin had six catches for 123 yards, including a 74-yard gain on third-and-11 that set up Reese’s TD with 9:47 left.

“For it to end that way really hurt,” Williams said.

THE TAKEAWAY

TCU: Another comeback for the Frogs, who last month overcame double-digit deficits in the second half against Oklahoma State and Kansas State. They never faltered after several players dealt with flu-like symptoms during the week, and they finished the game without leading receiver Quentin Johnston and Miller.

Baylor: The Bears never really had much trouble moving the ball, piling up 501 total yards, 232 on the ground. On their opening drive, they had 56 yards rushing – twice as much Texas had the whole game against TCU a week earlier. But they missed a chance to take a halftime lead when Shapen’s pass was intercepted in the end zone by Bud Clark with 4 seconds left.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

TCU will stay in the top four of the AP poll on Sunday, and should still be in the all-important top four of the new CFP rankings on Tuesday.

UP NEXT

TCU ends the regular season at home against Iowa State next Saturday.

Baylor is at Texas on Friday.

Georgia Tech promotes Brent Key from interim to head coach

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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.”