A winning drive for the ages gets Michigan State in playoff

When it comes to making a clutch drive in the final minutes of a college football game, what Michigan State did Saturday night in the Big Ten championship game against Iowa was remarkable.
You’d be hard pressed to find a more dramatic, determined and meaningful drive ever in a conference championship game.
The Spartans covered 82 yards on 22 plays while burning more than nine minutes off the game clock. Freshman running back LJ Scott finished the game with 73 yards on 22 carries. He picked up 40 of those yards on 14 carries on that game-winning drive that Scott capped with a bullish, twisting run with 27 seconds left.
“It was amazing,” said Scott after the 16-13 victory at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio has a motto, “Reach Higher.” Scott amended that with his “Reach Further” effort to get the football across the goal line by clutching the ball in his right hand after it was clear he wasn’t going to get his body into the end zone
“Nothing’s been handed to us,” center Jack Allen said, so a 22-play drive “describes us pretty well.”
Quarterback Connor Cook was named the MVP of the game. Cook did pass for 191 yards and rush for 8, accounting for 199 of MSU’s 365 yards of total offense. But after the game, he didn’t just praise the Spartans’ offensive line, he handed off the MVP trophy.
“They grinded it out, opened up the hole for LJ. They put the team on their backs that last series,” said Cook. “Whoever was watching, I mean honestly, couldn’t be more obvious they deserved that award.”
Now Michigan State (12-1), which was denied a spot in the playoffs last year, will be the No. 3 seed this year and will face No. 2 seed Alabama (12-1) in a semifinal on New Year’s Eve in the Cotton Bowl at 7 p.m.
ACC champion and top-ranked Clemson (13-0) will play No. 4 seed Oklahoma (11-1) in the other semifinal in the Orange Bowl that day at 3.
Both games will be televised by ESPN.
No doubt the disappointment of not completing an unbeaten season and being included in the four-team playoff was crushing for head coach Kirk Ferentz and his Iowa players, but they did receive a nice consolation prize. The Hawkeyes (12-1) will play Stanford (11-2) in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1. It will be televised by ESPN.
If you are keeping score at home, there will be 10 Big Ten teams in bowls, matching the most by any conference. It’s the second-consecutive year that many teams have earned bowl bids, but the first time two teams with losing records were part of the crowd.
Nebraska and Minnesota both made it with 5-7 records because there were enough teams with at least six wins to fill the 80 spots in 40 bowl games.

PINSTRIPE BOWL: Saturday, Dec. 26, Indiana (6-6) vs. Duke (7-5), Yankee Stadium, New York, 2:30 p.m., ABC
FOSTER FARMS: Saturday, Dec. 26, Nebraska (5-7) vs. UCLA (8-4), Santa Clara, Calif., 8:15 p.m., ESPN
QUICK LANE: Saturday, Dec. 26, Central Michigan (7-5) vs. Minnesota (5-7), Detroit, 4 p.m., ESPN2
HOLIDAY: Wednesday, Dec. 30, Wisconsin (9-3) vs. Southern Cal (8-5), San Diego, 9:30 p.m., ESPN
OUTBACK: Friday, Jan. 1, Northwestern (10-2) vs. Tennessee (8-4), Tampa, Florida, 11 a.m., ESPN2
CITRUS: Friday, Jan. 1, Michigan (9-3) vs. Florida (10-3), Orlando, Florida, Noon, ABC
FIESTA: Friday, Jan. 1, Notre Dame (10-2) vs. Ohio State (11-1), Glendale, Arizona, Noon, ESPN
TAXSLAYER: Friday, Jan. 1, Penn State (7-5) vs. Georgia (9-3), 11 a.m., ESPN

Indiana football coach Kevin Wilson on getting bowl bid

The Indiana University football team accepted a bid to play in the Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 26 against Duke at Yankee Stadium. IU coach Kevin Wilson and his players talked about ending the Hoosiers’ eight-year postseason drought.

Q. What is the key to preparation so you go there fully prepared?
COACH WILSON: “You want to win the game. The greatest bowl experience is the victory. It’s not the ring. The watch is going to break. I still got my Blue Bonnet Bowl sweater from 1980, first one. I got ‘em all. Got every T-shirt, every hat. They sit there and collect dust.
“But I can tell you some games … You remember, to me, the ultimate is the game experience. It’s nice to get the reward, but ultimately as a program and competitor, it’s about the game. You just want to get prepared to give yourself a chance to go win.”

Q. You have a chance to get some guys back?
COACH WILSON: “Yeah, I think so. You got Danny Friend going out there, Andre Brown. Yeah, we’ll see. Some of those guys have been hurt long enough, they could get a medical. Danny Friend can get a medical and go a sixth year. I don’t know if guys want to play college football for six years, especially when you’re lifting and squatting and running. We’ll talk to some of those guys.
“Jordan Howard had a knee scope. We were trying to get through the game. The deal was, we thought we might go through Purdue, then scope him, get him back for the bowl game. Well, when he came to Maryland, we sped it up a week. We’ll see what his timeline is. I don’t know anything about that. The thought process would be he might, could.
“At the same time, he’s a great player, a lot of things to consider. We’ll be smart there.
We have other backs. You guys don’t talk about it, but the line and tight ends block good and helps the running game a lot. The runners are good, but we ran it good.”

Q. Does it help in recruiting to know about a contract extension?
COACH WILSON: “Well, it helps in recruiting that they know you’re going to be at a place. That’s always something. But it’s not my decision. It’s the administration’s. Like I say, our deal is we keep trying to do everything we can to make the team better every day, whether it be program development, academic development or right now recruiting.”

Q. Talk about your connection with Duke in terms of them being a rival when you played at North Carolina?
COACH WILSON: “That’s a good deal because, like I say, I’ve been fortunate to be at places. It’s the same deal. A guy a few years ago took me to a Carolina-Duke basketball game. I’m a Carolina guy. This guy was a huge Duke alumni guy. Took Coach Stoops and myself and the AD, go up into Coach K’s office, see the facility. If they won, we were going to get a chance to go in the locker room after the game. Even though I’m a Carolina guy, I’m like, ‘This is cool, I’m all in. I want to go see Coach K and his guys.’
“I appreciate how great that program is and how great that school is. I have a lot of respect for Duke. What Coach Cutcliffe has done is one of the premiere jobs in the country. It’s no accident what he’s done. It’s going to be a strong, strong test. But I got a lot of respect for their program.”

Q. Whenever we talked about bowl games the last five years, you mentioned it, is young guys getting those extra practices, the ones that maybe aren’t going to play this year or redshirting. How much more can they get out of this?
COACH WILSON: “It’s huge. We’re making recruiting decisions right now based on looking at practice. That comment was made today. Where are you going to week? I’m going to X school. Why? Well, if this guy ain’t ready, I need to go get me one of those, whether it be high school or junior college. It gives you an opportunity to build your team, gives you an opportunity to eval your team.”

They said it: Indiana coach Kevin Wilson and players Nate Sudfeld after Hoosiers beat Purdue, 54-36

Indiana’s 54-36 victory at Purdue on Saturday earned the Hoosiers their sixth win to make them bowl eligible. Where they will go — likely the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium — will be determined this weekend.

But while the opposition wasn’t the best the final two weeks of the season, it’s important to note that the Hoosiers won two games on the road to get to 6-6, beating Maryland 47-28 and then claiming the 18-point win at Ross-Ade Stadium for the program’s third-consecutive win in the Old Oaken Bucket series.

Here’s what IU head coach Kevin Wilson and quarterback Nate Sudfeld, who became the school’s all-time leading passer, had to say after the game.

Indiana Head Coach Kevin Wilson

Opening Statement:
“Our mantra has been that you’ve got to go hard and go for it, because we have struggled through the years and we didn’t want to get into a game where we are playing not to lose. We just wanted an aggressive mindset. We’ve had some injuries and guys keep stepping up, it was really good to see. I’m proud of the guys to finish with two good road wins and get us to six wins and a chance for a bowl experience.”

On quarterback Nate Sudfeld’s play:
“The last couple of weeks, we had a couple guys out and it shows how good our team is. The key thing is that the line is good, our tight end group is good, and the running game goes which allows Nate to distribute. Nate’s playing good, I’m proud of him. He’s awesome. He may have a chance to be the best quarterback in this league. There are a couple of great ones, but he’s played well. We need to win more games, but he’s playing with a decent group. I don’t know if it’s a great group, but when you put them together it functions pretty well and it is fun to coach.”

On what being bowl eligible means to the program:
“I know how hard these guys have worked. I want these kids to taste some of the rewards for their time and energy. I am just proud of those guys as seniors, those fourth- and fifth-year guys. To me, they had already done a lot, win or lose, and I hold them in high esteem no matter the outcome of the day. I’m just glad we get to spend a few more weeks together.”

On winning three in a row over Purdue:
“I go back to the fact that we are fortunate to have a rival. Not everyone truly does in this game and this sport. We respect their team, their program, and the sport. You want to win with class, and then I told the guys today that at twelve o’clock, we didn’t have the bucket anymore. So, again, I just respect the rivalry. It is about the memories of the week. I respect that we have this rivalry and we are lucky that we get an opportunity to play in this game.”

Quarterback Nate Sudfeld, who now has 7,490 career passing yards and 58 touchdowns
On the running game:
“The running backs did awesome. It really goes to our offensive line for opening up holes and giving me protection. We also have a running back by committee. They all come in and have different strengths. We feel really good about all the guys who come in and run the ball for us.”

On the 71-yard touchdown that gave him the school record for passing yards and put him over 3,000 yards in a season for the first time (3,184 yards with 24 TDs). Against Purdue he had 385 yards and 4 TDs:

“It was a cover-2, so I was thinking play-action to suck the linebackers in and work the slot guy. I peeked at the safety and he was a bit nosey. So, all I knew was I had to get it over the defensive back’s head, and you know [wide receiver Andre] Booker is really fast and then it all worked out.”

Hoosiers’ collapse against Rutgers was epic

So much for that 4-0 start and dreams of a bowl bid by Indiana’s football team.
While a postseason appearance is still within reach of the Hoosiers, they made that quest much tougher by blowing a 52-27 lead at home against Rutgers last Saturday in a 55-52 loss to the Scarlet Knights.
For all of IU coach Kevin Wilson’s proclamations about having a vastly improved defense this season, the results haven’t shown on the field. At least not consistently.
Now, with a trip to No. 7 and unbeaten Michigan State, Indiana is looking at a four-game losing streak if they can’t upset the Spartans.
If that happens, Indiana would then have to win two of its next four games. That includes home games against surprising Iowa (7-0, 3-0 Big Ten) on Nov. 7 after a bye week and then a date with Michigan (5-2, 2-1) on Nov. 14.
Then the Hoosiers will close out the regular season (and the month of November) with road trips to Maryland (2-4, 0-2) and Purdue (1-6, 03).
Those two games provide hope, particularly because Purdue has yet to win a Big Ten home game for Darrell Hazell during his three seasons.
But a win over Rutgers would have given IU a fifth win and a much easier path to a bowl bid.

They said it: IU’s Wilson, players after 31-27 upset of No. 18 Missouri

Opening Statement:

“Guys played hard. We made good plays at the end. Good win, Good team. Our team’s got a lot to grow and gain on it. It’s nice to finally play hard and get on the right side.”

On if he changed the game plan with Markus Golden out…
“No, I mean it made it easier, he’s a great player. We didn’t really change because they have more good linemen than him. The second team guys always come in (and play hard) so we just tried to be aggressive and attack.”

Can you talk about Tevin Coleman and what happened after you got him back to the locker room…
“He cramped up. We got a couple IV’s in him. This game was probably the most humid we’ve had for the year. Our guys have to eat right because those things build up, but our trainers did a great job. They IV-ed him up. Great job by our trainers. A lot of our guys were going down. Those weren’t faking deals. I mean at the end, I got a little ancy and we needed to go fast. We have to do a better job with our nutrition.”

Final drive and your timeout…
“It was huge as a matter of fact. I did not like the look and called a timeout. I didn’t like the look on the bench from our guys not playing. You could tell who had been sitting around waiting and watching. We told them at halftime, we couldn’t win and we couldn’t lose. All we could do was play and that’s all we wanted to do. Dig deep and play as hard as you can. We kept fighting at the end. We played hard enough to be on the right side by one play.”

Put into perspective of how this win feels…
“It was an awesome feeling , we were working hard for so long, all fall camp we were working hard, it was just like `Wow this is an amazing feeling.’ Of course I can’t take the credit because it takes 10 other guys , I can’t throw the ball to myself. I like to come in an tone everything down. I don’t like to get to hyped, honestly. It’s a result of hard work. We have been busting our butts during the summer. It’s a great stepping stone, but of course we have a lot more games to go.”

On what happened in that last play…
“My coaches told me to roll with velocity and get in the end zone, so that’s what I did. We are all running backs, we all practice the same, we all have hard practice habits, so when Tevin caught cramps, and I had to come in for a little while, I had to step up.”

On what it means for Indiana to beat a Top 20 team…
“To us, we just came out to play hard and make up for the errors we made last week. Right now, we have another opponent and that’s what we are worried about.”

On whether or not he was thinking he would need to go up in the air to score the winning touchdown…
“To be honest, I was prepared to run somebody over, because I noticed a lot of people were on the ground, so that point in time I figured I might as well jump, because I have a forty inch vertical, why not use it.”

On why he prefers to run down the middle opposed to the outside…
“I consider myself more of a downhill runner , so I really don’t prefer to run outside, but as far as running downhill, I can see holes that I know I can make tackles out of.”

On the feelings that come with beating Mizzou…
“From our standpoint, it’s not a surprise that we won, but it was a big upset in reality. I think we’re very excited to know we could do that.”

Next challenge for Boilermakers is unbeaten SIU

Purdue coach Darrell Hazell believes his Boilermakers finally showed some competitive desire in last Saturday’s 30-14 loss to rival Notre Dame – a contest that will be the last against the Irish until 2020.
Never mind it was only for a half. Purdue led 14-10 until Everett Golson broke loose for a go-ahead touchdown run in the final seconds of the second quarter. Still, the Irish had trouble putting the Boilers away. It was a 24-14 difference heading into the fourth quarter.
“That’s one of the things I mentioned to them right after the game. The energy, effort, the intensity, the volume you played with,” Hazell said of what he told his players. “All those things, you got to play that way each and every week. Doesn’t matter who you’re playing.
“That’s showing respect for the game. Whether you’re playing Notre Dame or Southern Illinois, doesn’t matter, you have to play with a high intensity level.”
Purdue is back home to face unbeaten SIU (3-0) on Saturday and needs to even its record to 2-2
SIU quarterback Mark Iannotti was named the College Football Performance Awards’ FCS National Quarterback of the week after he threw a school-record six touchdown passes in a 50-23 win over Southeast Missouri. He completed 15 of 21 passes for 225 yards.
“They definitely try to get it out of their hands quickly, throw the bubble, throw the quick hitches to the outside. They throw a lot of screens,” said Hazell. “I think their game plan is probably going to not have him drop back too much, probably roll out on the edge and try to put pressure on us that way.”

Indiana coach Kevin Wilson tries to find positives in defense

Kevin Wilson said that he and his Indiana football coaching staff decided not to name anyone the defensive player of the game after last Saturday’s loss to Bowling Green.
Novel idea, right? Actually, I’m inclined to wonder how the IU coaching staff ever reaches a consensus on a top defensive player from any game.
That might be harsh, but seriously, the Hoosiers haven’t played solid defense this century. OK, decade and a half. At least not against a respectable opponent.
They were among the worst teams in the nation on defense a year ago, and this season isn’t off to a very promising start after last Saturday’s 45-42 loss to Bowling Green that featured a pair of pass interference penalties in the final minute.
And this, after Wilson for the second straight preseason, promised IU fans that the Hoosiers would be much improved on defense.
Wilson did finally toss some praise on Monday to Nick Mangieri, who at least had one takeaway with an interception.
“Offensively, we didn’t take advantage of that pick. Played well. Some good pressure. Relentless. Tegray Scales, young linebacker, we thought played very well as a young guy, and Mark Murphy in the backend. We thought we had three guys on defense play like we needed to and five on ‘O.’ ”
He at least admitted that Bowling Green took advantage of IU’s porous defense.
“We got worked. A little too passive. We need to be more aggressive as coaches and players. We said that before, during and after the game.
“We need to see it instead of talk about it. Like our guys, like the way we do some things, but we need to see it in games. No one cares if you practice well. I’ve seen it consistently, and our players will tell you consistently in practice against a pretty solid offense, they’ve done very well.”

Indiana’s Wilson likes where the Hoosiers are headed

Knowing his Indiana football team wouldn’t be playing the second Saturday of the season, Kevin Wilson all but treated last week’s game against Indiana State — a 28-10 wub — as an exhibition.
“We wanted to take last week’s game as part of building in a positive way, knowing we were going to get a good test from Indiana State,” said Wilson, whose team has a bye week before playing at Bowling Green on Sept. 13.
The IU coach said having an early bye week allowed his staff to conduct more physically demanding practices the week before the Hoosiers’ 28-10 win over the Sycamores.
The fact that Indiana piled up nearly 500 rushing yards while quarterback Nate Sudfeld only passed for 111 yards wasn’t by design, though. It was more a case of taking what the ISU defense was giving while dropping eight players back into pass coverage.
That played into what Wilson believes will be a strength of this year’s squad – the offensive line.
“Our entire line is back from last season, plus two guys who missed all of last season who were slated as starters, so we’ve got some depth there,” said Wilson.
Still, Sudfeld scrambled too often (10 TIMES FOR 32 YARDS) when a little more patience in the pocket might have led to bigger passing plays. Wilson said some of Sudfeld’s moments of happy feet were justified — the blocking wasn’t always on point.
But Wilson does expect this year’s crop of offensive linemen to be the best he’s had in Bloomington.
“Our entire line is back from last season, plus two guys who missed all of last season who were slated as starters, so we’ve got some depth at line. I believe we have some quality players and some depth there.
I just think with Nate, the coverage was a little softer. We were able to match up with their size and use it as an advantage.
“As the game went along, I really think Nate played reasonably solid. I don’t think we put him in some good situations with some of our concepts. There were a couple of young receivers … The way we game-planned, they took away (some things) … They played soft. We could have done a better job with the underneath passing and putting Nate in better situations.
The running game was OK, but we’ve got a lot of work to do …. We didn’t block as clean as we need to. A lot of growth there. But I believe we will get the passing game tuned up. We always do. It’s nice that we are playing what appears to be good solid D and its nice that it appears we are going to run it a little (better). That makes us a little bit more of a complete team.
“Instead of being a team that relies on just scoring and throwing the ball. We can be a little bit better more rounded football team and try to win games more as a team rather than one side trying to outdo the other by putting points up.”

He said it: Purdue coach Darrell Hazell

Coming off last week’s 43-34 win over Western Michigan and preparing for Saturday’s game against Central Michigan, Purdue football coach Darrell Hazell breaks down the Boilermakers:

Q. Is there any area that you feel comfortable with right now?
I think comfortable in — we’re comfortable in what we’re doing running game wise. We haven’t added a whole lot of things. We’re running the same plays with different formations, and I think our kids, because of that, feel very relaxed and understand when we make a call that they can block different looks because we’re not doing so many different things.

Q. If you could break down Central Michigan’s offense for us real quick. Seems like they’re a pretty power-running game oriented group, kind of a Michigan State mold with their associations back to that program. Is that sort of what you expect to see?
Very good assessment of their whole football team really. They try to pattern themselves after Michigan State, offensively, defensively and special teams. It’s almost — you know, you watch the film and you see the same structures.
But yeah, they are a power-running football team, and if you watch last week’s game film, they really relied heavily in the second half on that running back from Michigan. Really was running power after power and tossed to him, and he did a nice job, has good balance. He’s strong and plays with a lot of emotion.

Q. They’re obviously going to be pretty physical in the run game. Where is your team right now in terms of being able to stack up to that sort of attack?
I think we did a good job of holding the point last week. I think we gotta do a better job of filling those gaps with the backers and being able to make that one-on-one tackle in the hole. That’s where we got hurt a little bit. But obviously we’re going to put our corners a little bit out there on an island and see how many guys we can get in the box and be able to stop the run.

Q. Basic question, just where does Danny Etling need to take the next step from week one to week two?
I thought he did a good job. If you ask any coach in the country if your quarterback throws for two, rushes for one, doesn’t turn it over and doesn’t take any sacks, how would you feel about the guy? I’d say we’d feel pretty good if he could do that for 12-plus games a year.
Obviously there was some passes I thought he left some yardage on the table. We missed probably five passes that probably should have been more accurate. But he understands that. He understands that, and he knows he needs to get better at that. But those other stats, not throwing any receptions, not taking sacks, that’s pretty good. That’ll win football games.

Winston has been great on the field, but he still won’t get my Heisman vote

NOTE: This entry is a revised (i.e., slightly longer) version of the column I wrote for the Dec. 8 newspaper:

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston will win the Heisman Trophy, likely by a landslide of votes.

Entering Saturday night’s Atlantic Coast Conference championship game against Duke in Charlotte, N.C., the redshirt freshman already had passed for 3,490 yards and 35 touchdowns with only eight interceptions this season. He had completed 68.8 percent of his passes.

By the time he gets done dissecting the Blue Devils, Winston’s statistical argument could be nearing 4,000 yards and 40 touchdown passes. And, of course, it helps his case that the Seminoles still will be unbeaten and will have secured their spot in the BCS national championship game next month.

In comparison, 2012 Heisman winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M passed for 3,706 yards and 26 touchdowns with nine interceptions in becoming the first redshirt freshman to win the trophy.

Yes, I voted for Johnny Football last season.

No, I’m not voting for Famous Jameis.

Why? It’s complicated.

Winners of the Heisman Trophy are supposed to have outstanding character in addition to being a great football player. Winston has measured up on the field — he’s a great college quarterback — but off the field he’s had to deal with allegations over the past few weeks that he raped another FSU student last December.

Criminally, that matter was resolved Thursday when state attorney Willie Meggs announced his office would not bring charges against him because of the woman’s sketchy memory from that night of drinking at a popular college bar.

What she does remember is having sex, and insists it was against her will.

As is his constitutional right, Winston hasn’t said anything about that night. He did, however, issue a statement Thursday after learning he wouldn’t be charged, saying he “never lost faith in the truth and in who I am.”

From the outset, this was going to be a “he said, she said” case. DNA evidence proved Winston and the woman had sex, but his attorney argued that it was between consenting adults.

Affidavits from two of Winston’s friends also alleged the sexual acts were consensual. It seems they were standing outside Winston’s bedroom door watching. According to their statements, one of them even used his cellphone to take video, though it had been conveniently deleted by the time Tallahassee police fully investigated the case.

The TPD complicated the case from the get-go. DNA wasn’t collected from Winston until a few weeks ago after the rape allegations had gained traction in the national media. And the woman’s attorney said at least one investigating officer warned her client that pressing charges against Winston would make her life miserable because Tallahassee is a “big football town.”

Since the story went public, the alleged victim has left school and returned to the Tampa area. Her life did become miserable. Her photo was distributed on social media sites.

She certainly no longer could have felt welcome on campus — not with all the high fives and hugs after Thursday’s announcement.

FSU senior Katie Gibbs told The Associated Press, “We always knew that he’s innocent because we know Jameis and we trust our quarterback,”

So, yeah, Tallahassee is a big football town. And, no, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

I was the sports editor in Tallahassee for eight years, beginning in 1999 when FSU had it’s last unbeaten team and won a national title. There was also good and bad news to report that season, though nothing as serious as the Winston allegations.

In 1999, Peter Warrick lost his shot at the Heisman because of a felony shoplifting charge that was later reduced to a misdemeanor. He had to settle for hoisting the crystal football and an NFL career.

Winston likely won’t have to miss out on the Heisman experience.

However, Winston’s character has been tainted, and not only because of the sexual assault allegations. Reading the reports released by Meggs’ office, a statement from one of Winston’s friends suggests that lots of sexual shenanigans have taken place at his apartment.

Viewed as a character reference, its all fairly damning. And let’s not forget that Winston could still face a civil lawsuit. The alleged victim has three years to consider going that route.

On the field, he’s been the last one standing in a competition that once included Manziel, Alabama’s A.J. McCarron, Ohio State’s Braxton Miller, Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, Jordan Lynch of Northern Illinois and South Carolina’s Jadaveon Clowney (remember him?).

Off the field, Winston has left me with reasonable doubt about his maturity, his decision-making and his character. And, yes, his lack of respect for women.

Thus, when I cast my Heisman ballot ranking the three most deserving candidates, his name won’t be included — not this year.