Rattler, Uiagalelei follow similar paths into rivalry game

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CLEMSON, S.C. – South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler and his Clemson counterpart DJ Uiagalelei have followed similar paths to the Palmetto State showdown on Saturday.

Both were highly regarded prep stars from the West expected to dominate in college. Each had on-field adversity and critics that caused a change in course. Now, the two get another chance to show how far they’ve come when the Gamecocks take on the seventh-ranked Tigers on Saturday in the Palmetto State’s biggest sporting event.

“He went through kind of what I went through,” Rattler said Tuesday. “That’s my guy.”

The Gamecocks (7-4) look to break a seven-game series losing streak to the Tigers (10-1) this weekend, as Rattler and Uiagalelei seek more evidence their problems of the past are behind them.

The two were near the top of most Heisman Trophy lists before the 2021 season.

Rattler was coming off a Big 12 title season at Oklahoma, a savvy sophomore with a big arm on his way to 14 straight wins as a starter.

Uiagalelei, also a sophomore, entered his first season as a Clemson starter as the heir apparent to NFL No. 1 draft pick Trevor Lawrence.

Things, though, didn’t go according to plan for either one of them.

Rattler was replaced with OU trailing rival Texas in the middle of the 2021 season by freshman Caleb Williams, who rallied the team to victory and never gave up the starting job. That sent Rattler looking for a new location – and former Oklahoma assistant Shane Beamer – to reignite his career.

Uiagalelei and the Tigers, meanwhile, started 4-3 and missed out on the ACC championship and a College Football Playoff berth for the first time since 2014.

Outsiders were harsh, blasting Uiagalelei as the problem and planning for incoming five-star passer Cade Klubnik to take over the Tigers. Instead, Uiagalelei went to work on his body, his technique and his mindset, shedding about 30 pounds, improving his decision making and tuning out the critical voices.

Both have shown results on the field.

Rattler, inconsistent at times this season, has led the Gamecocks to a second straight bowl appearance in Beamer’s two seasons. He showed off his old brilliance last week with 438 yard passing and a school record six touchdowns in a stunning 63-38 win over then-No. 5 Tennessee.

Rattler is averaging 220 yards a game, seventh in the Southeastern Conference, with 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

“He’s a five-star quarterback for a reason and a starter at Oklahoma for a reason,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “He’s a really talented player.”

Uiagalelei led Clemson to a 7-0 start and a No. 4 national rank, then was benched for Klubnik in the next two games in a win over Syracuse and the Tigers’ only loss this season at Notre Dame. Uiagalelei was steady and productive after that in victories over Louisville (31-16) and Miami (40-10) the past two weeks.

Uiagalelei has completed 65% of his throws with 21 touchdowns and six interceptions.

“He’s been through a lot, a lot of unfair treatment,” Rattler said. “He’s a great player and does a lot of good stuff.”

Uiagalelei said he met Rattler when he was a junior in high school and the two attended several camps together.

“He’s a good dude,” Uiagalelei said. “I like him a lot.”

Beamer said Rattler and Uiagalelei share a steady poise in all situations and a confidence in their ability.

“Spencer was fantastic on the field Saturday night and off the field since the day he got here,” Beamer said. “I would imagine it’s the same for DJ and the way that he is in their program also.”

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.”