Williams’ 470 passing yards puts No. 7 USC over No. 16 UCLA

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
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PASADENA, Calif. — Caleb Williams passed for a career-high 470 yards, Austin Jones rushed for a season-high 120 yards and seventh-ranked Southern California clinched a spot on the Pac-12 Championship game with a 48-45 victory over No. 16 UCLA on Saturday night.

Williams also rushed for 32 yards and finished with 503 yards of total offense. The Trojans (10-1, 8-1 Pac-12) had a season-high 648 yards of total offense and took advantage of four Bruins turnovers.

Williams completed 32 of 43 passes with two touchdowns and an interception. His favorite target was Jordan Addison, who had 11 receptions for 178 yards and a touchdown.

USC fell behind 14-0 before rallying. The Trojans scored on eight of nine drives, including five straight.

Dorian Thompson-Robinson accounted for all six UCLA touchdowns, but also had three interceptions and a fumble.

UCLA got the ball with 2:21 remaining after forcing USC to punt. The Bruins (8-3, 5-3) got to midfield but their hopes of a comeback evaporated when Thompson-Robinson was picked off by Korey Foreman at midfield with 1:26 remaining.

Thompson-Robinson was 23 of 38 for 309 yards and passed for four touchdowns. He also rushed for 75 yards and two scores.

TURNING POINT

After Jones’ 8-yard run brought the Trojans within 21-17, UCLA got the ball and was looking to get one last score before halftime — along with getting the ball at the start of the second half.

Things didn’t go according to plan.

Thompson-Robinson was picked off by Mekhi Blackmon, who returned it to the UCLA 35. USC’s Denis Lynch missed his second field goal.

The Bruins got the ball back but Shane Lee intercepted Thompson-Robinson at the UCLA 47 with 14 seconds remaining. USC was able to convert this time as Lynch connected from 49 yards to get the Trojans within 21-20 at halftime.

Nicholas Barr-Mira’s 46-yard field goal on the opening drive of the second half extended the Bruins’ lead to four before Williams connected with Addison for a 35-yard TD to put the Trojans on top 27-24.

USC’s defense came up with its third turnover midway through the third quarter when Tyrone Taleni sacked Thompson-Robinson and forced a fumble, which was recovered by Latrell McCutchin at the UCLA 9. Two plays later, Jones scored up the middle from 2 yards to extend the Trojans’ lead to double digits.

THE TAKEAWAY

USC: There were some concerns after Travis Dye’s season-ending injury last week that the Trojans would struggle in the running game, but Jones averaged 5.7 yards per carry and had two touchdowns.

UCLA: The Bruins’ defense has had issues the past two weeks, especially with stopping an opponent’s passing game. They allowed four completions of at least 35 yards.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Trojans could make a bid for the top five after this win, while the Bruins will try to hang on being ranked.

UP NEXT

USC: Hosts No. 18 Notre Dame next Saturday.

UCLA: Travels to California on Friday.

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.”