Fofana helps Navy top No. 17 UCF 17-14

Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports
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ORLANDO, Fla. – Fullback Daba Fofana rushed for 114 yards, and Navy beat No. 17 UCF 17-14 on Saturday without completing a pass.

Navy (4-7, 4-4 American Athletic) possessed the ball for nearly 40 minutes and gained 248 yards, all on the ground. Xavier Arline threw incomplete on the team’s only passing attempt.

The loss dropped UCF (8-3, 5-2) out of first place in the AAC and all but eliminated the Knights’ chances of playing at home in the conference championship game.

“It’s frustrating, but we’ve got to play football no matter if we’re home or away,” defensive tackle Ricky Barber said. “Nobody can point fingers. Our plan is to win out at USF, and then no matter where we end up, we’ve got to put the ball down and play.”

Mikey Keene replaced quarterback John Rhys Plumlee in the second half and immediately led the Knights to their only touchdown of the game.

Keene completed his first three passes for 79 yards, including a 28-yard touchdown pass to Javon Baker. Plumlee then passed to Baker for the 2-point conversion, tying it at 14 early in the third quarter.

John Marshall forced Keene’s fumble on the Knights’ next possession. It was recovered by Colin Ramos at the UCF 34, and Bijan Nichols’ 45-yard field goal lifted Navy to a 17-14 lead with 8:22 left in the third.

After that it was all defense.

“We knew Plumlee was really dynamic with his legs but he was not as capable as a thrower as Mikey Keene was. So we had the mentality that this guy is probably not going to get out of the pocket as much,” said Marshall, who had four sacks and 10 total tackles. “Two different ballplayers, but I think we were able to get to both effectively.”

Navy had a 14-6 halftime lead after two long touchdown drives.

The Midshipmen took a 7-0 lead on Arline’s quarterback sneak with 8:20 left in the first quarter, completing a 75-yard drive.

“I feel like if we get off to a fast start, we’re a hard team to beat, just the nature of our offense and the way our defense is playing,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “I think that was huge for us to get off to a good start against these guys. We didn’t give them any momentum, even though they moved the ball.”

Field goals of 21 and 31 yards by Colton Boomer made it 7-6, but Navy drove 84 yards to another touchdown late in the first half. Vincent Terrell Jr. ran it in from the 8 with 1:33 left.

Plumlee, a senior who had led UCF’s ninth-ranked offense for most of the season, completed 11 of 18 passes for 107 yards and threw a long interception on the final play of the half. Keene finished 6 of 10 for 98 yards and a touchdown.

Marshall brought his season sack total to 10 1/2, also a Navy record.

UCF gained 314 total yards, well under its season average of 497.7.

“I think they’re spectacular on offense, and the way we were able to put pressure on the quarterback, I think, really affected them later in the game,” Marshall said. “Great defensive effort.”

TAKEAWAYS

Navy: Three weeks ahead of its 123rd showdown with Army, the Midshipmen gained a huge measure of respect late in a losing season. … Navy is now 8-1 in games without completing a pass in the Niumatolo era (15 years). … Navy’s previous win, against Temple on Oct. 29, was also accomplished without a completion.

UCF: The loss puts several different scenarios in play for the location of the AAC championship game. It also adds to the importance for the Knights’ game at South Florida next weekend.

UP NEXT

Navy: Plays against Army at Philadelphia on Dec. 10.

UCF: Plays at USF on Nov. 26.

Georgia Tech promotes Brent Key from interim to head coach

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
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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.”