Sep 17, 2022; Evanston, Illinois, USA; Northwestern Wildcats running back Evan Hull (26) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Southern Illinois Salukis during the first half at Ryan Field. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Northwestern attempts to snap skid vs. Miami (Ohio)

Northwestern believes it has as good a shot as any to finish atop the West Division in the Big Ten Conference.

The Wildcats will try to continue working toward that long-range goal when they host Miami (Ohio) in their final nonconference game on Saturday night in Evanston, Ill.

Northwestern (1-2) has opened the season with three straight games that ended in one-possession differences, winning the first 31-28 against Nebraska in Dublin, Ireland. However, a 31-23 loss to Duke and a 31-24 setback against Southern Illinois have stifled momentum.

“We can choose to be whatever we want to be,” Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “We could be a team that achieves goals and fights and learns from these things, or you can go the other way, and the other way is not the alternative that we’re going to allow. So the pedal will be down.”

Northwestern quarterback Ryan Hilinski threw for 435 yards against Duke two weeks ago and running back Evan Hull leads the nation with an average of 217.3 all-purpose yards per game, but Fitzgerald was disappointed with how the offense performed in the loss to Southern Illinois last week.

“We just seemed to have way too much inconsistency offensively with ball security, our inability to kind of hit explosives like we had been through the first couple weeks,” Fitzgerald said.

Miami (1-2) will be trying to bounce back after giving up 31 unanswered points in a 38-17 loss to Cincinnati last week.

It was the RedHawks’ 16th consecutive loss against the Bearcats.

“We’re not a good team yet,” Miami coach Chuck Martin said on Monday.

RedHawks quarterback Aveon Smith will make his third straight start in place of Brett Gabbert, a third-team All-Mid-American Conference pick last season who has an injury to his non-throwing shoulder. Gabbert likely will be sidelined the rest of the season.

Smith was 9-for-21 for 116 yards with two touchdowns and an interception against Cincinnati.

“‘AV’ continues to grow,” Martin said. “With a new starting quarterback, the package shrinks down a little bit, but his execution is getting better. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

–Field Level Media

Sep 10, 2022; Tucson, Arizona, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs wide receiver Rara Thomas (0) runs the ball against Arizona Wildcats cornerback Isaiah Rutherford (2) during the first half at Arizona Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Mississippi St. QB Will Rogers carves up Arizona in rout

Will Rogers passed for 313 yards and four touchdowns as Mississippi State overcame three turnovers to beat host Arizona 39-17 on Saturday night in Tucson, Ariz.

Mississippi State (2-0) twice stopped Arizona on fourth down in Bulldogs’ territory in the fourth quarter while protecting a 15-point lead. MSU sealed the victory with a 2-yard touchdown pass from Rogers to Caleb Ducking with 3:18 to go.

Arizona (1-1) struggled offensively. Quarterback Jayden de Laura completed 23 of 45 passes for 220 yards, with one touchdown and three interceptions. The Wildcats rushed for only 40 yards, including Michael Wiley’s 34-yard scoring run on the game’s first drive.

Rogers was content to efficiently work the short passing game, completing 39 of 49 throws, with none going longer than 20 yards. He was intercepted once.

Mississippi State, which led 18-10 at halftime, marched 75 yards on the opening drive of the second half, capped by a 5-yard touchdown pass to Austin Williams.

After de Laura threw his second interception on the ensuing possession, Arizona got back in the game when Jaxen Turner stripped the ball from receiver Jamire Calvin, recovering it and returning it 47 yards to the 4. The Wildcats scored two plays later on a 2-yard pass to Jacob Cowing to make it 25-17 with 7:37 left in the third quarter.

Mississippi State turned momentum back in its favor late in the quarter. Tyrus Wheat deflected a pass at the line of the scrimmage that Nathaniel Watson intercepted and returned 51 yards to the Arizona 11.

The Bulldogs then gambled on fourth-and-3, with Rogers hitting Williams on a quick slant for a TD with 14:17 to go in the game.

Mississippi State scored touchdowns on its first two possessions, but Massimo Biscardi missed the PAT after both scores. Backup kicker Ben Raybon came on to hit a 39-yard field goal for a 15-7 lead late in the first quarter and connected from 22 yards with 33 seconds left before halftime to make it 18-10.

–Field Level Media

Sep 10, 2022; Gainesville, Florida, USA; Florida Gators running back Trevor Etienne (7) runs with the ball as Kentucky Wildcats defensive tackle Octavious Oxendine (8) tackles  during the first half at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

No. 20 Kentucky shuts down Anthony Richardson, No. 12 Florida

No. 20 Kentucky’s defense dominated No. 12 Florida Saturday night, holding the Gators scoreless in the second half for a 26-16 victory in a Southeastern Conference opener in Gainesville, Fla.

The Wildcats (2-0, 1-0 SEC) held the Gators (1-1, 0-1) to just 279 yards in total offense and came up with two interceptions and two late fourth-down stops to preserve the win, Kentucky’s third in the last five meetings with the Gators.

It gave the Wildcats consecutive victories in the series for the first time since 1976-77 and presented coach Mark Stoops with his 61st victory with the Wildcats, breaking a tie with Bear Bryant for the school record.

Will Levis was 13 of 24 passing for 202 yards and a touchdown for Kentucky, which was without leading returning rusher Chris Rodriguez Jr. for a second week. Kavosiey Smoke led the Wildcats in rushing with 80 yards.

Anthony Richardson struggled for Florida, going 14 of 35 passing for only 143 yards and rushing for just 4 more. His two interceptions led to 14 points for the Wildcats.

The Wildcats took a 23-16 lead into the fourth quarter thanks to Matt Ruffolo’s tying 24-yard field goal and Keidron Smith’s 65-yard interception return late in the third period. Ruffolo’s 26-yard field goal with 1:24 remaining clinched it.

After a lackluster first quarter that ended with Florida leading 3-0, the two teams combined for a wild second period.

The Gators scored their only touchdown on Trevor Etienne’s 11-yard run after gaining possession on Gervon Dexter Jr.’s interception. Adam Mihalek booted a 50-yard field goal and the Gators added a safety when Kentucky punter Colin Goodfellow was forced to kick the ball out of the back of the end zone after bad snap.

The Wildcats scored on Levis’ 55-yard touchdown strike to Dane Key and got their second on Levis’ sneak from a yard out following Jordan Wright’s one-handed interception and return to Florida’s 6-yard line.

–Field Level Media

Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez, Jr. (24) pumps up the crowd after scoring a touchdown a NCAA college football game in the Vrbo Citrus Bowl against Iowa, Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022, at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla.

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Syndication Hawkcentral

Reports: Kentucky RB Chris Rodriguez Jr. out vs. Florida

No. 20 Kentucky will be without star tailback Chris Rodriguez Jr. on Saturday night against No. 12 Florida, multiple reports said Friday.

Rodriguez is a subject of a “multiplayer” eligibility inquiry by the NCAA, Sports Illustrated reported. Linebacker Jordan Wright, was also part of the inquiry, but he was cleared to play earlier this week.

Both players, two of Kentucky’s captains this season, missed the Wildcats’ 37-13 season-opening win over Miami (Ohio) last week.

ESPN reported that Rodriguez was expected to miss at least three games.

Rodriguez has rushed for 2,739 yards and 27 touchdowns in his career at Kentucky, including 1,379 yards and nine scores over 13 games last season.

Rodriguez was also arrested for operating a motor vehicle under the influence in May and pleaded guilty at a pretrial hearing in July.

“There are things going on, there are layers to this,” Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops said of Rodriguez’s status earlier this week. “I cannot comment on it. I’m not trying to hide things from you. If I could say it, I would.”

–Field Level Media

Sep 3, 2022; Starkville, Mississippi, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs head coach Mike Leach reacts after a play against the Memphis Tigers during the fourth quarter at Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Leach faces familiar foe as Mississippi St. visits Arizona

Mike Leach returns to Pac-12 country when Mississippi State travels to play Arizona for the Wildcats’ home opener on Saturday night in Tucson, Ariz.

Leach spent eight seasons as the coach at Washington State before taking over the Bulldogs for the 2020 season. He went 4-2 against Arizona while with the Cougars, with his team scoring 69 points in two of those games.

Mississippi State (1-0) opened the season last Saturday with a 49-23 home victory in a lightning-delayed game against Memphis. Standout quarterback Will Rogers completed 38 of 49 passes for 450 yards and five touchdowns, all to different teammates. The Bulldogs rolled to 34 first downs.

Leach’s Air Raid offense will be a wildly different attack from what the Wildcats (1-0) saw last week in a surprising 38-20 victory against the host San Diego State Aztecs, whose modest passing game was held to 62 yards on 16 attempts.

“Mike Leach is always going to have very good passers,” Arizona head coach Jedd Fisch said. “There’s nothing really surprising in terms of the fact that he’s producing a 400-yard passer. That’s what he does.”

Arizona counters with Jayden de Laura, a Washington State transfer who committed to the Cougars while Leach was there. De Laura was excellent in his Arizona debut last week, completing 22 of 35 passes for 299 yards, with four touchdowns and one interception.

“He’s a very competitive guy and a good player,” Leach said. “He’s got quick feet. The ball comes off his hand quickly, and he’s accurate. He’s definitely a good player. He’s competitive, and he makes that side of the ball for them competitive.”

De Laura and UTEP transfer Jacob Cowing (eight catches, 152 yards, three TDs last week) sparked the offense against San Diego State and provided hope for a big 2022 turnaround. Last season, the Wildcats scored 20-plus points in a game only twice in a 1-11 season.

This is the first meeting between Arizona and Mississippi State. They are scheduled to play next season in Starkville, Miss.

–Field Level Media

Jan 4, 2022; Houston, TX, USA; Kansas State Wildcats running back Deuce Vaughn (22) rushes against LSU Tigers safety Todd Harris Jr. (4) in the fourth quarter in the 2022 Texas Bowl at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas State hosts South Dakota in season-opener for third time in eight seasons

An experienced Kansas State team returns to the field Saturday, led by running back Deuce Vaughn, one of six returning consensus all-Americans nationwide, as the Wildcats host South Dakota in the season-opener for the third time in eight seasons.

Vaughn became the 11th consensus all-American in program history, and the first to return since kick returner David Allen in 1999. He likely will move into the top 10 in K-State history in all-purpose yards, needing just 57 yards against the Coyotes.

K-State also returns seven starters from a defense that trimmed more than 11 points off their points per game allowed from 2020, with a majority of those coming along the defensive line and at cornerback. Eli Huggins and Felix Anudike-Uzomah return on the line, while Ekow Boye-Doe, Julius Brents and TJ Smith are back in the secondary.

K-State brings back most of its special teams specialists. Returners in Malik Knowles (kickoffs) and Phillip Brooks (punts), each of whom have garnered All-America status in their careers. Sixth-year punter Ty Zentner and placekicker Chris Tennant also return.

The Wildcats will be starting a new quarterback, but Adrian Martinez brings plenty of experience after spending the last four seasons calling signals at Nebraska.

“We named six captains totally voted on by their peers,” coach Chris Klieman said in his last preseason press conference. “I’m excited about those six guys and how they represent Kansas State on the field, off the field. We’re excited about the leadership that those guys are going to bring as well as a bunch of other guys because we had a lot of guys received votes.”

South Dakota will lean on its running game as well. The Coyotes featured two of the top-eight rushers in the Missouri Valley Football Conference last season in true freshman Nate Thomas and third-year freshman Travis Theis.

Thomas suffered a non-contact injury in the spring and will miss 2022. But Theis will be joined in the backfield by Shomari Lawrence, who missed most of last season with an injury, plus Mike Mansaray and three true freshmen.

“This group understands that it’s going to take multiple running backs on gameday throughout the season,” said running backs coach Dante Warren. “They band together and there’s a family aspect there. The older guys especially do a great job of making sure everyone is up to standard on the practice field so that we are ready on gameday.”

The Wildcats and Coyotes will open up a season after having previously met in the 2015 and 2018 season openers. K-State won the 2015 contest, 35-0, before earning a come-from-behind 27-24 victory in 2018.

–Field Level Media

Iowa defensive back Riley Moss (33) is acknowledged during a senior day ceremony before a NCAA Big Ten Conference football game against Illinois, Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa.

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No. 15 Iowa, No. 22 Kentucky bring old-school styles to Citrus Bowl

In a sport that’s been taken over by spread offenses and flashy passing attacks, Saturday’s Citrus Bowl matchup between No. 15 Iowa and No. 22 Kentucky will serve as a reminder of days gone by.

The Hawkeyes (10-3) and Wildcats (9-3) are run-first teams that play strong defense and often make the magic happen when opponents make mistakes.

While strange things often happen in bowl games when teams haven’t played for weeks, logic dictates this is probably going to be a 17-14 or 20-17 kind of game.

Take, for instance, the comments of Kentucky defensive coordinator Brad White about the Iowa offense.

“Something we don’t see very much is that two-back run game, the fact they play with a fullback,” he said.

“Some of our guys, especially younger guys that came out of high school and have only seen spread offenses, they don’t even know what a fullback is.

“So you’ve got to coach them up on that. So there’s a challenge in that aspect and it’s nice that we’ve had a couple of weeks to prepare.”

Iowa has exceeded most expectations this fall, aside from midseason losses to upset expert Purdue and Wisconsin. But the Hawkeyes rallied to win their last four games and reach the Big Ten Conference championship game, where they were hammered 42-3 by No. 2 Michigan.

Iowa hasn’t done it because of its offense. Aside from Tyler Goodson and his 1,151 rushing yards, there aren’t stars on that side of the ball. And Goodson is skipping the bowl game because he’s declared for next spring’s NFL Draft.

There’s also a question about who will start at quarterback. Spencer Petras has been hampered by a shoulder injury and ineffectiveness over the season’s second half, while backup Alex Padilla has completed just 45 of his 97 passes.

Veteran Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz said that who gets the call might not be decided until later in the week.

“If it keeps our opponent on their toes a little bit, that’s OK,” he said.

Iowa’s identity is its defense. Even with the conference title game factored into the equation, the Hawkeyes allowed just 19.2 points per game.

Opponents have rushed for just 113.8 yards per game and the Hawkeyes have picked off 24 passes, with Riley Moss recording a pair of pick-sixes.

But they’ll face one of the most balanced offenses they’ve seen all season in the Wildcats. They averaged 206.1 yards per game on the ground and another 225 in the air. Will Levis threw for 2,593 yards with 23 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, completing 66.5 percent of his passes.

Wan’Dale Robinson has been Levis’ favorite target, catching 94 passes for 1,164 yards and seven scores.

On the ground, Chris Rodriguez chewed up 1,272 yards and scored eight touchdowns for the first 1,000-yard season of his career. Kentucky’s third-down conversion percentage of 51.1 percent ranks fifth in FBS.

“Their offensive line reminds me of Michigan,” said Ferentz.

This will be the first time these programs have met.

–Field Level Media

Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker (5) looks to pass as Tennessee offensive lineman Jerome Carvin (75) defends against Kentucky defensive end Josh Paschal (4) during an SEC football game between Tennessee and Kentucky at Kroger Field in Lexington, Ky. on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021.

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Tennessee hangs on to beat No. 18 Kentucky

Hendon Hooker threw for 316 yards and four touchdowns Saturday night as Tennessee made the most of its limited opportunities, upsetting No. 18 Kentucky 45-42 in Lexington, Ky.

Hooker completed 15 of 20 passes for the Volunteers (5-4, 3-3 Southeastern Conference), including a 6-yard scoring strike to Cedric Tillman with 11:40 left that gave them a 45-35 lead. The Wildcats (6-3, 4-3) pulled within three points when Will Levis hit Izayah Cummings with a 24-yard touchdown pass just over two minutes later.

But Kentucky’s last chance to win went begging with 29 seconds remaining when Levis’ 4th-and-10 pass from the Tennessee 38 sailed over the head of his intended receiver. It was the Wildcats’ third straight loss.

Levis completed 31 of 49 passes for 372 yards with three touchdowns and an interception that Alontae Taylor took 56 yards for a third quarter touchdown. Wan’Dale Robinson caught 13 passes for 166 yards while Chris Rodriguez rushed 22 times for 109 yards.

Kentucky lost despite enjoying incredible discrepancies in number of plays and time of possessions. It ran 99 plays to the Volunteers’ 47, enabling it to control the ball for a whopping 46:08, and finished the game with 612 total yards to Tennessee’s 461.

Tennessee took the lead 11 seconds into the game when Hooker and JaVonta Payton hooked up for a 75-yard touchdown pass. Kentucky equalized on its first drive, using up more than 8 1/2 minutes before Kavosiey Smoke rushed for a 9-yard touchdown.

That set the game’s tone — the Volunteers score in a hurry and the Wildcats answer by eating up clock before hitting the end zone. Hooker made it 14-7 26 seconds after Smoke scored, hitting Velus Jones for a 72-yard touchdown.

Levis gave Kentucky a 21-14 second quarter lead with an 8-yard touchdown run and a 3-yard scoring strike to Justin Rigg. But Tennessee rallied to grab a 24-21 halftime lead on Hooker’s 18-yard touchdown pass to Jacob Warren and Chase McGrath’s 43-yard field goal.

–Field Level Media

Wisconsin linebacker Nick Herbig (19) strips Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras (7) of the ball during the second quarter of their game on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison. Wisconsin recovered the ball.

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No. 19 Iowa visits Northwestern trying to halt two-game skid

No. 19 Iowa went from a potential College Football Playoff contender to perilously close to falling out of the Big Ten West Division title in a matter of two weeks.

And the Hawkeyes might not find their tonic in Evanston. Iowa has struggled against Northwestern in recent seasons and visits Ryan Field on Saturday night trying to halt its losing streak at two games.

“There is no panic,” quarterback Spencer Petras said on the Hawkeyes’ official website. “The biggest thing is to push it forward, and push it through when you get knocked down like this.

“There is no quit on this team. These coaches, these players. We’re going to do what we can to review film and see what we can do to be better.”

Iowa (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten) started 6-0, highlighted by a comeback 23-20 home win over then-No. 4 Penn State. That victory left the Hawkeyes and their dedicated fans thinking maybe they were the class of the Big Ten. However, since that victory, Iowa has been outscored 51-14 in losing back-to-back games to unranked Purdue and Wisconsin.

What changed?

For starters, the offense hit a tailspin. The Hawkeyes averaged 33.2 points in its first five games of the season but just 12.3 over the past three.

Petras threw all nine of his touchdown passes and just two interceptions during the first six games of 2021, but he was picked off four times against Purdue and went 9-of-19 for 93 yards vs. Wisconsin.

Iowa has rushed for just 100 yards in the past two games. Running back Tyler Goodson totaled 307 yards and five touchdowns on the ground through the first three games, but 306 without a rushing score over the past five.

He was held to 43 yards on 13 carries, but did have a touchdown, in Iowa’s 21-20 home loss to Northwestern last season.

Iowa has lost four of its past five meetings with Northwestern, with the Hawkeyes’ victory coming in Evanston in 2019.

The Wildcats (3-5, 1-4 Big Ten), though, feature an offense that’s consistently struggled all season — more than Iowa’s. Northwestern ranks 13th in the 14-team Big Ten in points (19 per game) and 11th in scrimmage yards (339 pg).

Northwestern, the reigning Big Ten West champ, has 14 or points or less in three of its past four games while allowing an average of 34.3 points in going 1-3 during October. The Wildcats have 674 yards while being outscored 74-21 in losing to Michigan and Minnesota over the previous two contests.

“With this group, we just have to have a level of consistency and execution,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said.

While the Wildcats’ offense has had its issues this season, running back Evan Hull ranks fifth in the Big Ten with 750 rushing yards. He ran 15 times for 107 yards in Northwestern’s 41-14 home loss to Minnesota last weekend.

–Field Level Media

Oct 30, 2021; Manhattan, Kansas, USA; Kansas State Wildcats defensive end Felix Anudike-Uzomah (91) celebrates the sack of TCU Horned Frogs quarterback Max Duggan (15) during the first quarter at Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

Felix Anudike-Uzomah records 6 sacks as Kansas State beats TCU

Felix Anudike-Uzomah tied an FBS record with six sacks to lead Kansas State to a dominating 31-12 victory over TCU on Saturday in Manhattan, Kansas.

Anudike-Uzomah, who became the fourth FBS defender with six sacks, also forced a fumble in the fourth quarter with TCU driving.

Kansas State (5-3, 2-3 Big 12) showed up defensively in the clutch. TCU came into the game perfect in 25 red-zone possessions (18 touchdowns, seven field goals), but the Horned Frogs managed one touchdown and one field goal in four red-zone possessions.

KSU quarterback Skylar Thompson was 13-of-21 for 242 yards with two total touchdowns. Deuce Vaughn rushed for 109 yards and two touchdowns.

TCU (3-5, 1-4 Big 12) has lost five of its last six games.

Anudike-Uzomah passed Chris Johnson (four sacks vs. Missouri, 2000) for the school record. TCU had allowed eight sacks through its first seven games.

Kansas State got on the board first with a 4-yard touchdown run by Thompson. The seven-play, 78-yard drive was keyed by a Thompson-to-Vaughn 41-yard pass that put the ball on the 4-yard line.

TCU responded with a 24-yard field goal by Griffin Kell. Kansas State then scored on a 42-yard touchdown run by Vaughn. Kansas State faced fourth-and-1 just across midfield, but Vaughn went off-tackle and raced untouched to the end zone.

TCU had a chance to get back into the game when Kendre Miller raced 61 yards to the Kansas State 1-yard line. But the Frogs couldn’t score in four plays from a yard out. The defense stopped Vaughn for a safety on the next play.

Vaughn redeemed himself on the next possession, leaping high over a pile of linemen to score a 1-yard touchdown to give Kansas State a 21-5 lead right before the half. Vaughn’s touchdown was set up by a Thompson-to-Phillip Brooks 37-yard pass.

TCU was stopped on fourth down inside the 5-yard line again in the second half.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, Thompson hit Daniel Imatorbhebhe for a 73-yard touchdown to put the game out of reach. Chris Tennant’s 42-yard field goal capped the scoring.

Emari Demercado scored TCU’s only touchdown with 15 seconds left.

–Field Level Media