No. 12 Oregon stays in Pac-12 hunt, tops No. 10 Utah 20-17

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EUGENE, Ore. – Bo Nix started the week as a hobbled spectator sitting in the training room getting rehab. He ended it still hobbled, but celebrating on the field after helping keep alive Oregon’s hopes of getting back to the Pac-12 championship game.

Nix threw for 287 yards and one touchdown despite a lower leg injury, Oregon intercept three of Utah quarterback Cameron Rising‘s passes and the 12th-ranked Ducks knocked off the No. 10 Utes 20-17 on Saturday night.

A week after watching their hopes at the College Football Playoff evaporate, the Ducks rebounded with a gutty effort that preserved their chances of a fourth straight trip to the conference championship game.

And it was personified by their banged-up quarterback.

“For him to go out there and have a gutsy performance was really important and special for this team,” Oregon coach Dan Lanning said.

The Ducks (9-2, 7-1, No. 12 CFP) need only a win over rival Oregon State next Saturday to book their ticket to Las Vegas and a date with Southern California.

Nix was clearly limited after suffering an injury to his right ankle/foot late in last week’s loss to Washington that snapped Oregon’s 23-game home win streak. He threw a 4-yard TD pass to Troy Franklin in the first half and Bucky Irving added a 10-yard TD run as the Ducks built a 17-3 halftime lead.

Camden Lewis added field goals of 30 and 41 yards for the Ducks, the second of which came early in the fourth quarter and proved to be the winning points.

Nix finished 25 of 37 passing and his own interception late in the fourth quarter proved not to be costly for the Ducks. Nix’s first carry of the night came with less than 2 minutes remaining when he faked a pitch, dived for 2 yards and picked up the clinching first down for the Ducks.

Nix entered the night the third-leading rusher on the season for the Ducks averaging more than 50 yards per game and had 14 rushing touchdowns. Lanning said the quarterback was asked before that run if he was capable of pulling off the play.

“The guy’s got heart. He cares about the game, cares about his team. I think it shows in the way he plays,” Lanning said.

Karene Reid returned a fumble 11 yards for a touchdown early in the third quarter on a failed reverse by the Ducks and sparked the Utes. Jaylen Dixon added an 18-yard touchdown run on a jet sweep later in the third quarter, but the Utes (8-3, 6-2, No. 10 CFP) couldn’t overcome an off night from their quarterback.

Rising was 21 of 38 passing, set a career-high with the three interceptions and flubbed an easy throw on fourth down in the fourth quarter deep in Oregon territory. Two of the picks came off deflected passes, but the costliest was Rising’s late throw across the middle that Oregon’s Bennett Williams nabbed near midfield with 4:15 remaining, his second pick of the game.

Utah got the ball back, but Rising couldn’t connect with Solomon Enis on a fourth-and-6 throw from midfield in the closing minutes.

“Cam didn’t seem to find much a of a rhythm like he usually does,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.

Utah tight end Dalton Kincaid had 11 catches for 99 yards and was targeted 17 times by Rising. No other Utah receiver had more than five catches and Rising’s worst throw of the game may have been the fourth-down pass he threw low intended for Kincaid at the Oregon 26 with 6:54 left.

That 11-play drive was one of three long possessions where the Utes came away empty. Utah had drives of 12 and 14 plays in the first half and failed to score.

“Just wasn’t good enough,” Rising said. “Didn’t do what we needed to do to be successful, and kept shooting ourselves in the foot. I’ve got to play better, personally.”

Williams didn’t have an interception on the season but came up with two against Rising. Noah Sewell had Oregon’s other interception.

“Today our offense wasn’t able to carry us all the way. Our defense has to step up at some point,” Williams said. “I don’t think that’s on the coaches. I don’t think that’s on anybody but us, especially in the back end.”

THE TAKEAWAY

Utah: The Utes hope of getting back to Las Vegas and defending their conference title took a major hit. While UCLA’s loss to USC benefited the Utes, the Ducks only need a win over Oregon State to clinch their spot in the championship game and send Utah to a secondary bowl game.

Oregon: The Ducks were bullied last season in a pair of losses to the Utes getting outscored 76-17 in the two setbacks. Oregon’s defense limited the Utes to just 326 total yards and Utah RB Tavion Thomas was held to 55 yards on 19 carries. The Ducks gave up 522 yards in last week’s loss to Washington.

UP NEXT

Utah: The Utes close out the regular season at Colorado next Saturday.

Oregon: The Ducks travel to Corvallis to face rival Oregon State next Saturday.

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.”