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September 26, 2016

Mississippi Bounces Back

By bryanflynn

Last week might have been the worst week in the history of college football in the state of Mississippi. From Thursday to Saturday night, every four-year college and university lost its game.

This past Saturday, Sept. 24, nine of those 10 teams had a chance to get the win that was so sorely lacking last week. While it wasn’t perfect, it was a turnaround for the state.

The day began in Oxford with a top-25 matchup between the University of Georgia and the University of Mississippi. This was an important game for the Rebels after blowing a 21-point lead to the University of Alabama just one week ago.

The Rebels jumped out to a 17-0 lead at the end of the first quarter and a 27-0 lead at the half. By the end of the third quarter, UM was ahead 45-7.

By the time the fourth quarter began, the game was over in every sense, except for the fact that there was time still on the clock. The Rebels allowed Georgia to score, but the outcome was never in question in the 45-14 win.

While the Rebels and Bulldogs were finishing the second quarter, Millsaps College and Hendrix College prepared for their 1 p.m. kickoff. The Majors quickly found themselves down 7-0 in the first quarter.

Hendrix built a 21-6 lead over Millsaps before the break. The Warriors didn’t slow down in the second half, either, building a 28-6 lead in the third quarter.

Millsaps put up a meaningless touchdown near the end of the game to make the final score 42-14 in favor of Hendrix. The loss dropped the Majors to 1-3 for the season.

Mississippi State University took a long road trip to face the University of Massachusetts. The Bulldogs jumped out to a 3-0 lead before the Minutemen broke out with an 83-yard run to take a 7-3 lead in the first quarter.

MSU added another field goal before UMass scored its second touchdown to go up 14-6 in the second quarter. The Bulldogs scored a late touchdown to bring the game to 14-13 at halftime.

In the third quarter, MSU started to take over, outscoring UMass 28-7 to take an overall 41-21 lead heading into the fourth quarter. The pesky Minutemen wouldn’t go away, though, and they cut the Bulldogs to 41-35 in the final quarter.

The Bulldogs scored a late touchdown to finally put away UMass, escaping with a 47-35 win over a team that has battled in all three of its losses.

While the Bulldogs were dealing with the Minutemen, closer to home, Mississippi Valley State University was kicking off against Prairie View A&M University.

For the second time, a team from Mississippi found itself outmatched in a game. The Panthers quickly got out to a 7-0 lead on the Delta Devils.

MVSU tied the game briefly at 7-7 before Prairie View scored 15 unanswered points ...

September 23, 2016

Rebels’ and Bulldogs’ Bowl Hopes

By bryanflynn

Every Football Bowl Subdivision college wants to win its conference, but if the team can’t win the conference, it at least wants to go to a bowl game. Fans, for the most part, like bowl games, and coaches like the extra practice time and exposure.

The University of Southern Mississippi has the best shot of winning its division and conference out of the three FBS schools in Mississippi. Unfortunately, in their first loss, the Golden Eagles did as much to beat themselves as Troy University did to win.

If Southern Miss played against the Trojans like they did in their first two games of the season, USM would still be undefeated. The Golden Eagles still look like one of the better teams in Conference USA, though.

Meanwhile, this is a big weekend for the University of Mississippi with the University of Georgia coming to town. UM needs a quick turnaround after blowing a big lead to the University of Alabama last week, but the Rebels haven’t beaten the Georgia Bulldogs since 1996.

At 1-2, the Rebels still could fall to Georgia and get a chance to go to a bowl game. That isn’t a given with the schedule that UM has remaining.

After Georgia, UM hosts the University of Memphis, a team that upset the Rebels last season. Currently, the Tigers are undefeated and could be a tough game.

The Rebels have back-to-back road trips to No. 17-ranked University of Arkansas and No. 18-ranked Louisiana State University. The Razorbacks have looked tough this season, and the LSU Tigers might be dangerous if they figure out their quarterback situation.

UM hosts Auburn University and Georgia Southern University after its road games. Auburn still hasn’t found its offense, and Georgia Southern should be a win.

After that, another two-game road trip is up for the Rebels, with games against No. 10-ranked Texas A&M University and Vanderbilt University. The Aggies have started strong but are known for second-half-of-the-season swoons, while the Commodores boast a tough defense but lack a lot on offense.

The Rebels’ end the season at Mississippi State University. The Egg Bowl could see one or both squads needing a win to reach bowl eligibility.

This weekend will also put the season on the line for an MSU team with a 1-2 record. Better yet, the next five games might mean the season for the Bulldogs.

First up for the Bulldogs is a trip to the University of Massachusetts. Don’t sleep on the Minutemen. UMass trailed the University of Florida 10-7 at halftime recently before falling 24-7 to the mighty Gators.

The Minutemen trailed Boston College 13-7 at halftime before falling 26-7 to the Eagles. UMass put two halves together to beat Florida International University last weekend.

If the Bulldogs are sloppy or commit several turnovers, UMass could beat this team like the University of South Alabama did at the start of the season. The Bulldogs must ...

September 22, 2016

Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame 2017 Class

By bryanflynn

The Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum announced the 2017 Hall of Fame class today. As usual, the class features some of the best athletes, coaches and people involved with sports in the state of Mississippi.

The 2017 class features arguably the greatest sports writer in Mississippi history, Rick Cleveland. The son of Ace Cleveland, who was a great sports writer in his own right, Rick Cleveland began writing in grade school and went on to become a seven-time Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year.

Cleveland covered sports in high school and college for the Hattiesburg American. After graduating from the University of Southern Mississippi, he went to work for The Clarion-Ledger until retiring in 2012.

Most recently, Cleveland was executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. He has recently returned to writing sports for Mississippi Today, and he has authored four books.

Joining Cleveland is one of the greatest football players in Mississippi history who never became one of the greatest football players ever. Marcus Dupree was a man among boys during his days at Philadelphia High School.

Dupree finished his high-school career with 5,284 yards and 87 touchdowns, which broke Herschel Walker’s national high-school record for touchdowns. He ended up choosing the University of Oklahoma over every other college in the nation.

While at Oklahoma, Dupree was Fiesta Bowl MVP and first-team All-Big Eight as a freshman. After butting heads with then-Sooners coach Barry Switzer, he decided to transfer to USM but left after being told he would have to sit out due to a NCAA transfer rule.

Dupree decided to leave college for the United States Football League and signed with the New Orleans Breakers.

The running back eventually found his way to the NFL, but injuries have robbed him of his physical gifts, and he never was the player he could have been. Dupree was the subject of ESPN’s “30 for 30” Series: “The Best That Never Was” and Willie Morris’ book “The Courting of Marcus Dupree.”

Jay Powell has been a winner at every level of baseball. He won a state championship at West Lauderdale High School, a starter and relief pitcher at Mississippi State University and won game seven of the 1997 World Series with the Florida Marlins.

When he left MSU, Powell was second on the school's all-time list with 17. The Baltimore Orioles drafted him in the first round of the 1993 MLB Draft, and he ended up playing for five different clubs during his 11-year career.

Since retiring from MLB, he returned home to become head coach at Jackson Academy. He has added a state championship as a coach to his collection.

The tiny town of Florence, Miss. produced the winningest baseball coach in SWAC history. Bob Braddy ended his career with an 824-546-3 record, as he guided Jackson State University from NAIA to Division I baseball.

Braddy won 12 SWAC championships, and ...

September 21, 2016

MNF Returns to New Orleans 10-years to the Day of Gleason’s Punt Block

By bryanflynn

Monday Night Football returns to the scene of one of its most iconic moments 10 years and a day later with the same week-three matchup. On September 25, 2006, MNF and the New Orleans Saints returned to the Big Easy for the first time since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast region.

Just four plays into the MNF contest against the Atlanta Falcons, safety Steve Gleason blocked a Falcons punt, and a teammate recovered it for a touchdown.

Gleason’s blocked punt helped New Orleans get a 23-3 win over Atlanta and a 3-0 record to start the season. That 2006 season was the beginning of something magical for Saints fans.

Not only did the team return to New Orleans after the hurricane—the 2006 season also brought head coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees to the franchise. Payton and Brees were a major part of the Saints’ rebuilding job, but the 2006 draft class played a major role as well.

The season ended with a 10-6 regular season record and the team winning the NFC South.New Orleans won its first playoff game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

In its 40th season, New Orleans reached its first NFC Championship Game but fell at Chicago against the Bears. The Saints took a step back in the 2007 and 2008 seasons with a 7-9 and 8-8 record, but the best was yet to come.

In the 2009 season, New Orleans finished with a 13-3 record and stormed its way to a victory in Super Bowl XLIV. It was a dream season that began with the Payton’s hiring and Brees’ signing, but the punt block on MNF meant the Saints were truly back in New Orleans.

Gleason’s punt block is now forever captured in a 9-foot statue titled “Rebirth” outside of the Superdome. He retired from the NFL in 2008, and in 2011, he was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), which is a nervous system disease that causes muscle weakness and impacts a person’s physical function.

Last year in a Thursday night game, New Orleans blocked a punt, sparking its win against the Falcons. Gleason tweeted out to Atlanta “Hey, Falcons. #NeverPunt –SG.”

Things have changed a lot with both the Saints and Falcons since that punt block on MNF. New Orleans enters the game 0-2 instead of 2-0, and Atlanta now has Matt Ryan at quarterback instead of Michael Vick.

Some things are the same for New Orleans—Brees is still the Saints man behind center, and Payton still roams the sideline.

This Monday night, the game won’t be about a city looking for a rebirth. This game will be about the Saints’ season needing a rebirth.

Maybe the Saints will block another punt, and it will change the franchise’s path again. Maybe New Orleans can get its first victory this season on the 10th anniversary of that iconic block.

September 20, 2016

Saints Look to Avoid Dreaded 0-3 Start

By bryanflynn

The New Orleans Saints are 0-2 but their two defeats were only by a combined four points. Both losses have come in the final minute of each game.

That is something that a team still looking for its first win can build upon. New Orleans is in danger of missing the playoffs with their slow start, however.

This team started the last two seasons at 0-2 and finished 7-9 both years. In 2014, the Saints started with two losses by a combined five points, and in 2015, they started with three straight losses with only the third loss less than six points.

Just once in the Saints’ history have they made the playoffs after a 0-2 start, and that was in 1990. History gives New Orleans a 12 percent chance of making the playoffs this season.

The Saints face a must-win game on Monday Night Football against their most hated rival, the Atlanta Falcons. While a 0-2 start is bad, only five teams have reached the playoffs since starting 0-3, and that was the 1998 Buffalo Bills.

It has been a strange start to the season for New Orleans. The team had a shootout to begin the season against the Oakland Raiders but were in a defensive battle against the New York Giants.

The Saints’ passing offense looks like its normal self with 333 yards per game for fourth in the NFL. New Orleans needs to get more out of the rushing attack, which is averaging 64.5 yards per game, tied for 28th in the league.

Play-calling could be one reason why the Saints rushing attack seems lacking. New Orleans has attempted 78 passes in two games. The Saints have only 35 rushing attempts over the same span.

Only the Washington Redskins, also 0-2, have few rushing attempts. The five teams with the fewest rushing attempts are Washington, New Orleans, the Miami Dolphins, the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Cincinnati Bengals.

Of those five teams, only the Bengals have a victory this season. In fact, all eight of the teams that are 0-2 have 44 or less rush attempts this season. Only two teams, Cincinnati and the Kansas City Chiefs, have a win with fewer than 45 rushing attempts.

On the reverse side, the top four teams in passing attempts are Washington, Jacksonville, the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans. All four teams are 0-2 to start the season.

The Colts only have 40 rushing attempts. Of the other 0-2 teams, the Chicago Bears have 38 rush attempts, the Buffalo Bills have 43 rush attempts, and the Cleveland Browns has 44 rushing attempts.

Buffalo, Cleveland and Chicago are in the bottom five in passing attempts. That tells us that the Bills, Browns and Bears are very bad offensive teams.

Some of the teams that are at the bottom of the rushing attempts and top of passing attempts could ...

September 19, 2016

Mississippi’s Terrible Football Week

By bryanflynn

Losing stinks, but this weekend in college football ended up giving the whole state of Mississippi a giant punch to the gut. Every four-year college or university ended up losing this week.

If you are keeping score, that means the state went 0 for 10. All three FBS schools lost by a total of 14 points, all three FCS schools lost and two weren’t even close, both Division II schools lost by 10 or more points, and both Division III schools were blown out.

Our state’s bad week started on Thursday night when University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff upset two-time defending SWAC champions Alcorn State University 45-43. The Braves lost in triple overtime as they let the Golden Lions score two late touchdowns and convert two two-point conversions.

ASU had a chance to win the game in regulation but missed a 47-yard field goal. Both teams fumbled away the ball in their first overtime drives.

In the second overtime, both teams scored, and in the third overtime, the Braves found the end zone but missed on their two-point try. UAPB was able to score a touchdown and convert its two-point try to end the game.

The terrible week continued with Millsaps College and Belhaven University kicking off at 1 p.m. with Delta State University's 2 p.m. kickoff after. The Blazers never led in a 65-21 loss to Huntingdon College, and the Majors never led in a 35-16 loss to the University of Chicago.

The Statesmen jumped out to a 12-0 lead on the University of West Georgia but fell behind 13-12 at the half. DSU rallied late, but the Wolves held on for the 34-24 win.

Things kept getting worse in the afternoon. The University of Mississippi jumped out to a 24-3 lead on the University of Alabama.

The top-ranked Tide rallied to cut their deficit to 24-17 at the break. Alabama continued its comeback as it built an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter.

UM rallied to cut the Crimson Tide’s lead down to 48-43, as they scored two quick touchdowns and recovered an onside kick, with plenty of time left on the clock and three timeouts. Instead of going for another onside kick, the Rebels decided to kick the ball deep, and Alabama ran out the clock, winning the game 48-43.

After an 0-4 afternoon, the devastation continued into the night. Five teams kicked off early Saturday evening before the sun set.

Mississippi State University faced Louisiana State University in a game that saw the Tigers in control as they built a 23-3 lead at halftime. The Bulldogs held LSU scoreless in the second half and mounted a furious rally in the fourth quarter.

MSU kicked a field goal in the third quarter and scored two late touchdowns, cutting the LSU lead down to 23-20. The Tigers were able to run out the clock on the Bulldogs, holding on for the win.

...
September 16, 2016

The Most Important Numbers in Sports

By bryanflynn

Before this weekend’s games kickoff, let’s have some fun with numbers. What are the most important numbers in all of sports? The score.

You can’t have a winner or a loser without the score, and every game counts in college football, so the score means nearly everything. Let’s look at the numbers of the big four teams in this state before their games this weekend.

Mississippi State University plays Louisiana State University at 6 p.m. on ESPN2. The Bulldogs might want work on playing a full 60 minutes. In its two games, MSU has scored 41 points and has given up zero points in the first half. After the break, the Bulldogs have scored just six points and have given up 28.

MSU has the fast-start part down, but playing for four full quarters has eluded this team. Against LSU, the Bulldogs need to start fast and finish strong if they are going to pull off the upset.

The University of Mississippi faces the University of Alabama in what might be the most anticipated game in the SEC. The Rebels are looking to win three straight games against the Crimson Tide. Watch this clash at 2:30 p.m. on CBS.

In eight quarters of football, the Rebels have failed to score in only one. They also have the quick-start down by outscoring their opponents 52 to 16. But they did struggle in the second half against Florida State University in their first game of the season.

Against the Crimson Tide, UM will have a second chance to have a strong second half against a highly ranked foe. Just like MSU against LSU, the Rebels’ play in the second half will be worth watching.

Jackson State University is still looking for the first win of the Tony Hughes era. JSU will try to get that win against SWAC rival Grambling State University. Watch the game at 6 p.m. on ESPN3, and ESPNU will replay it at 9:30 p.m..

While the Rebels and Bulldogs have been great at the fast start, the Tigers need some work on their first half performance. JSU has been outscored 61 to 33 in the first half of the team's first two games. The second half hasn’t been much kinder to JSU. The Tigers have been outscored 42 to six after the break. Overall, JSU has been outscored 103 to 39 this season.

JSU is one of three SWAC teams that is still looking for their first win of the season. Mississippi Valley State University and Southern University are also looking theirs.

The Tigers are only averaging 19.5 points per game and are allowing an average of 51.5 points per game. Starting SWAC play is a great time for JSU to reverse those numbers.

No team in the country might be on more of a roll than the University of Southern Mississippi. The Golden Eagles will try to keep a couple of streaks alive against ...

September 16, 2016

Nick Fitzgerald Rights MSU Season

By bryanflynn

Most college football teams don’t want to feel like week two of the season is a must-win situation. That is exactly what it seemed like for Mississippi State University after a season-opening loss to South Alabama.

If the team was to have any hope of keeping its bowl streak alive, MSU badly needed a victory against the University of South Carolina in week two. With the Bulldogs’ six SEC West foes remaining, a loss and a 0-2 start may seem nearly impossible to overcome.

Bulldogs head coach Dan Mullen turned to quarterback Nick Fitzgerald against the Gamecocks. Fitzgerald started against South Alabama but was pulled after a 0-3 start passing with two rushes for 11 yards and playing just seven snaps. MSU went with Damian Williams the rest of the way against the Jaguars.

Against the Gamecocks, Fitzgerald put together a breakout performance. He was 19 for 29, passing for 178 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. On the ground, Fitzgerald ripped the Gamecocks for 195 yards, rushing on 17 carries.

Fitzgerald’s 195 rushing yards broke the school record for most rushing yards by a quarterback in a single game. Former Bulldog great John Bond set the old mark of 163 yards in the 1980 Egg Bowl against the University of Mississippi. And it’s one of the records at quarterback that former MSU star Dak Prescott does not own.

MSU jumped out to a 24-0 halftime lead before a 32-minute lightning delay sucked most of the momentum from the Bulldogs. South Carolina scored two second-half touchdowns but couldn’t overcome its first-half deficit in the Bulldogs’ 27-14 win.

Fitzgerald stared at Richmond Hill High School, where he ended up a four-year letter winner. He led his team to a 10-2 record overall as a senior and to the second round of the Georgia High School Association Class 5A State Championship.

In high school, Fitzgerald was named Region 3-5A Player of the Year, honorable mention Georgia Sports Writers Association and Atlanta Journal Constitution 5A All-State selection. Fitzgerald rushed for 1,429 yards on 182 carries with 25 touchdowns as a senior.

He passed for 778 yards on 33 of 76 passing with 12 touchdowns in the triple-option offense he ran in high school. The quarterback was also on the basketball team for three years, where he scored 7.9 points and 5.8 rebounds as a junior.

Fitzgerald earned scholarship offers from MSU and Middle Tennessee State University. The Bulldogs redshirted him as a freshman in 2014.

Last season, Fitzgerald served as Prescott’s primary backup. He saw action in eight games and went 11 of 14, passing for 235 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. The quarterback rushed 23 times for 127 yards and three touchdowns.

Fitzgerald entered this season as the speculated favorite to be the starter for the Bulldogs but couldn’t completely pull away from his competition. His performance against South Carolina might have finally ...

September 14, 2016

SEC VS Other Power Five Conferences

By bryanflynn

Doom and gloom surrounded the SEC in week one of the college football season. With high-profile losses and losses to lesser conferences, it wasn’t its normal self

But is the SEC really in danger of becoming the weakest of the new Power Five conferences? Now that two weeks have been played, there is a larger sample size to judge the SEC to the other four.

The SEC has five wins over other Power Five conferences: the University of Southern California, University of California, Los Angeles, Texas Christian University, Virginia Tech University and the University of North Carolina. But the SEC suffered four losses to Power Five conferences: Auburn University, Louisiana State University, University of Mississippi and University of Missouri.

Mississippi State University and the University of Kentucky both lost to non-Power Five conference schools. The SEC is the only Power Five conference not to have lost, yet, to a FCS school.

Here is how the other Power Five conferences have fared two weeks into the season.

The ACC has four wins over other Power Five conferences, with wins over Auburn, Mississippi, Pennsylvania State University and the University of Illinois. It also has three losses to Power Five schools: Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia and North Carolina.

North Carolina State lost to non-Power Five school East Carolina University, which was a bad loss for the ACC. Virginia also lost to a FCS school: the University of Richmond.

So the ACC has a 4-3 record against other Power Five conferences and two losses to either a non-Power Five or FCS team. Not bad, and the conference has several high-profile wins over the SEC, although Virginia did suffer a 17-point loss to a FCS school.

The Big 12 has just two wins over Power Five schools, with victories over Missouri and the University of Notre Dame. Of all the Power Five conferences, the Big 12 is the only one with a losing record, with four losses to other Power Five schools: TCU, Kansas State University, Iowa State University and Texas Tech University.

No Power Five conference has more losses to non-Power Five and FCS schools. Oklahoma State University, University of Oklahoma and the University of Kansas all lost to non-Power Five schools, and Iowa State lost to an FCS school.

Two weeks into the season, it is reasonable to believe that the weakest Power Five conference is the Big 12. Iowa State and Kansas might be the weakest Power Five schools after two weeks.

The Big Ten has the fewest wins over other Power Five schools, with just three over Oregon State University, LSU and Iowa State. The conference just has three losses to Power Five schools: Rutgers University, Penn State and Illinois.

In keeping with its theme, the Big Ten has three losses to non-Power Five or FCS schools. Northwestern University has lost to a non-Power Five school and a FCS school, and Purdue University has a loss to ...

September 13, 2016

Rebels Heisman and Playoff Hopes

By bryanflynn

University of Alabama coach Nick Saban doesn’t lose a lot of games. Since finishing with a perfect season in 2009, Saban has lost just 10 games.

He has lost just three games over the past two seasons, and two of those have come against the University of Mississippi. With the Rebels’ recent wins, they have been a thorn in the side of arguably the best coach in college football.

In 2014, UM won a dramatic affair when the team scored the game-winning touchdown with under three minutes to go and a late interception, sealing the victory. Last season, the Crimson Tide committed five turnovers and couldn’t overcome a 30-10 Rebels lead as the Alabama rally ran out of time.

Plenty of eyes will be on the Rebels and Tide this weekend. The game could have a major say in the postseason hopes for both teams.

This game means more to the Rebels than the Tide. In the past two years, UM has beaten Alabama, but the Tide righted the ship, making the College Football Playoff at the end of the seasons.

Last season, Alabama lost to the Rebels and still ended up winning the championship. The Crimson Tide has shown they can overcome a loss, but UM hasn’t been able to turn either win over Alabama into a SEC West title or a spot in the four-team playoff.

For the past two years, both teams entered this game undefeated. That is not the case this year, after the Rebels blew a 28-13 lead to Florida State University in their season opener.

Alabama will want to beat the team that has provided its only blemish in the regular season the last two years, but theTide could still make the playoffs even with a loss. For the Rebels, this is a must-win game in the middle of September.

UM quarterback Chad Kelly could see his Heisman Trophy hopes end and the Rebels’ playoff aspirations dashed before the first month of the season ends. If the Rebels lose the game, there is no tomorrow for them.

Kelly put up solid numbers against the Seminoles, going 21 for 39 passing with four touchdowns, but three interceptions and a fumble lost were really ugly for a Heisman hopeful. In fact, Kelly’s poor play late in the second quarter through the second half is part of the reason the Rebels lost.

A second loss in another marquee game would pretty much spell doom. No one really cares what numbers Kelly put up against Wofford College last week when it comes to winning the Heisman. He was supposed to put up big numbers, and did as he went 20 for 27 with three touchdowns.

If the team loses to the Tide, he would need to be out of this world the rest of the season to have any hopes to make a trip to New York. It wouldn’t be impossible for ...

September 12, 2016

Prescott Solid but Not Spectacular in Debut

By bryanflynn

The Dallas Cowboys might have given the keys to the car, or offense in this case, to rookie quarterback Dak Prescott, but they wouldn’t let him get out of second gear. In the Cowboys’ 20-19 loss to the New York Giants, the offense looked unexpectedly conservative.

Prescott was solid in his first start as an NFL quarterback—preseason games don’t technically count for starting—but he wasn’t as spectacular as he was in the preseason. The former Mississippi State University star didn’t throw an interception and wasn’t sacked, but he only completed just 55.6 percent of his passes.

The Cowboys’ game plan and the Giants defense took away the Cowboys’ biggest offensive threat out the game. Wide receiver Dez Bryant finished the game with one catch for eight yards on five targets.

Bryant did have a catch that was nearly a touchdown, but replay caused it to be overturned. Prescott didn’t throw any interceptions, but he didn’t throw any touchdowns either. To be fair, he did have Bryant’s drop and a wide receiver Cole Beasley’s drop that might have went for a score.

Prescott went 25 out of 45 passing for 227 yards, but he averaged just five yards per pass. He also missed on a number of passes that were high, although a couple that Prescott didn’t miss in the preseason should have been caught,.

Beasley and tight end Jason Witten were targeted on 26 of Prescott’s passing attempts, and running backs and a backup tight end were targeted on five more passes. Prescott hit one pass over 20 yards to a wide receiver and was one-for-nine on deep throws.

There was no question that Prescott knew the game plan and was prepared to play. It was also obvious that the coaches didn’t fully open up the playbook, and stressed safe throws and not turning the ball over.

The game plan also seemed to take away one of Prescott’s strengths, which is running the ball. He only ran twice for 12 yards. Allowing Prescott to run might have forced the Giants defense to cover differently and freed Bryant up.

Dallas wanted to run the ball but could only manage 3.4 yards per carry on 30 attempts. The Cowboys rushed for 101 yards as a team, but it amounted to very little.

Most of all, the conservative game plan showed up in the red zone. Dallas was one-for-three in red-zone attempts and had to settle for field goals, as they totaled just 13 points. The Giants scored 20 points in the red zone and were a perfect three-for-three on their attempts.

If Prescott is going to be the man, the offense has to open up. Prescott has to be allowed to, metaphorically speaking, take the car on the freeway, because he was barely able to go around the neighborhood.

Even with the conservative game plan and offense, Prescott still had a chance to win ...

September 9, 2016

Saints’ Winless Preseason Foreshadows Regular Season Failure

By bryanflynn

The New Orleans Saints ended the preseason doing something they haven’t done since 2006 and achieved something the team had never done in franchise history: It played quarterback Drew Brees in the final preseason game for a series.

Brees hadn’t played in the final preseason game since 2006, which was his first season with the team. That year, he was coming off a shoulder injury and was trying to find his groove again.

As shocking as Brees playing might be, even more shocking might be the fact the Saints would go winless in back-to-back preseasons for the first time in franchise history. Before the 2015 preseason, the last time New Orleans went winless in the preseason was 1971.

When the Saints went winless during the 2015 preseason, they finished the year with a 7-9 record in the regular season. The 1971 team went 0-6 in the preseason and finished the regular season with a 4-8-2 record.

Every preseason you hear, “Don’t put too much stock in preseason games,” but you can glean certain things during these games, such as the fact that most teams that look bad and have issues in the preseason will have issues in the regular season.

When starters are facing starters, it’s another good indication of how well a team could be in the regular season. Plenty of teams win games in the third and fourth quarter of the preseason with players who won’t be on the roster when the regular season starts.

The scores don’t matter. Unless it is first- and second-string players, it is the look of a team that is worth the watch. This season, the Saints have given glimpses to several questions going into the season.

Can the starting and backups on the offensive line protect the quarterback and make holes in the running game?

Can the defense make tackles, stop the run and cover receivers in the passing game?

Can the team force and avoid turnovers?

New Orleans has struggled on the offensive line in pass and run-blocking. Overall, the offense has struggled to keep drives going and score points.

If this team is going to reach the playoffs, the offensive line must play better. Brees needs the running game to help take pressure off him having to make every play.

The New Orleans defense wasn’t terrible in the first two preseason games. Then came the Pittsburgh Steelers’ first-string offense, which took the Saints defense behind the woodshed.

Pittsburgh did whatever it wanted, for the most part, against New Orleans. The Steelers’ passing game torched the Saints’ pass defense.

New Orleans has forced three turnovers but has committed 10 turnovers for a minus-seven turnover margin. It is hard to win games in the preseason when you can’t keep the ball.

Still, winning at least one game in the preseason is a good idea.

Since 1990, 49 ...

September 9, 2016

Helping Dak

By bryanflynn

Dallas Cowboys rookie quarterback Dak Prescott was truly impressive in the preseason, as he racked up 454 passing yards on 39 of 50 passes. He threw for five touchdowns and didn’t throw an interception while rushing for two more scores.

When Tony Romo went down, Prescott was named the starter, and Dallas didn’t panic into getting another single caller. The Cowboys are prepared to hand the reins over to the rookie in week one against the New York Giants.

While Prescott was nearly flawless in the preseason, that is rarely the case once the regular season starts. Defensive starters play the entire game, and defensive schemes get more complex.

The Giants will do everything they can to try to confuse Prescott and disguise coverage. The rookie quarterback will be well-prepared, but nothing is the same as game experience.

There are a few things the Cowboys can do help Prescott.

Scott Linehan's play-calling:

Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan will be a big part of the success Prescott has early in the season. It will be his play-calling that will help ease the rookie into the game.

Linehan will know what plays Prescott is most comfortable with and which plays he doesn’t like to run. The offensive coordinator will need to get Prescott in a rhythm throwing the ball early.

Play-calling is one of the most important parts of the offense. When it works, no one notices it, and when it doesn’t work, it is the story the next day.

Linehan has to make sure that Prescott’s play at quarterback is the story, not the play-calling. He has to put Prescott into situations and plays where the quarterback can succeed.

Letting Prescott run on designed plays will be a big part of Linehan’s job. Prescott can be effective in the read-option and on quarterback runs.

Offensive line and running backs:

Last season when Romo was injured, the rushing offense slipped from second the previous season to ninth. Defenses were able to stack the box to stuff the Cowboys’ running game and force the quarterback to beat them.

The offensive line and running backs will have to be able to get yards in the run game. Getting rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott going will be a major factor.

Elliott can take pressure off Prescott if he keeps the offense ahead of the chains. That means being in second and short and third and short. Being in second and long and third in long typically favors the defense.

The whole offense is open on second and short and third and short. That means the defense can’t just key in the passing game in later downs.

The offensive line has to protect Prescott and give him time to make reads. Depending on which Cowboy makes protection calls, the center will have to help the rookie get protection right on passing plays.

Prescott will ...

September 8, 2016

Thursday Night Kickoff Game History

By bryanflynn

While you wait for the Denver Broncos to face the Carolina Panthers, here is a little history of the NFL’s Thursday night kickoff game

It wasn’t until 2002 that the NFL started its new season with the kickoff game on Thursday night. The first two years didn’t feature the past year’s Super Bowl winner.

New York and San Francisco kicked off the season in 2002, a year after 9/11. In that game, the 49ers beat the Giants 16-13 in a rare road win.

In 2003, Washington hosted the New York Jets, and the Big Apple went 0-2 in the first two games with the Redskins 16-13 win. Overall, the two teams from New York are 1-3 in kickoff games.

The defending Super Bowl champions began kicking off the season in 2004. New England made the first of three kickoff games and won 27-24 over the Indianapolis Colts. The Patriots repeated as kickoff game participants in 2005 and are 3-0 in the games.

Things changed a bit in 2006 when the kickoff game moved to NBC, and Monday Night Football began to broadcast a double-header. In 2005, there was an unscheduled Monday Night Football double-header, but that was because of Hurricane Katrina.

The 2008 kickoff game was the first NFL game to be streamed over the Internet, and all of the Sunday Night Football games were also carried online. The Giants got the only win for the city of New York at the start of the 2008 season.

New Orleans and Minnesota met in the 2010 kickoff game, which was a rematch of the previous year’s NFC Championship Game. The Saints won 14-9 over the Vikings in what would be Brett Favre’s final season.

New Orleans took part in the kickoff game the following year against Green Bay. The game was a matchup of the past two Super Bowl champions, and the first time that has occurred. The Packers won the game 42-34 over the Saints.

New Orleans is the only team to play in back-to-back kickoff games without winning the Super Bowl in both of those seasons. New England is the first team to play in back-to-back kickoff games. The Saints are 1-2 in kickoff games, with a 2007 loss to Colts, and are one of four teams to have played the kickoff game three times, joining the Steelers, Patriots and Giants.

Due to the Democratic National Convention in 2012, the Thursday kickoff game was moved to Wednesday. In that game, the Giants hosted the Dallas Cowboys, and it was the first time the defending Super Bowl champion lost the kickoff game.

The Cowboys won 24-17 in the kickoff game in Dallas’ only appearance. The team is one of four teams with a perfect record in the kickoff game, joining New England, San Francisco and Denver.

In 2013, a scheduling conflict between the Baltimore Orioles and Ravens forced the Super Bowl champion Ravens to go on the ...

September 7, 2016

Saints, Brees Reach New Deal

By bryanflynn

Finally!

The New Orleans Saints and quarterback Drew Brees have reached a new deal that will keep him with the club for the next two years. The contract is for five years but has an automatic void at two years.

Both sides reached the new deal before Brees’ self-imposed week-one deadline. The Saints start the season on Sunday, meaning the two sides came to an agreement with just four days before the start of the 2016 season.

This deal also includes a no-trade clause and forbids the Saints from using the franchise tag on the player. While the deal is on paper for five years, it helps the team reduce Brees’ $30-million cap hit this season.

In reality, Brees gets $20 million this year and $24.25 million for next season, with the total of $44.25 million fully guaranteed. Before the deal, Brees’ $30-million cap hit was the largest in NFL history.

Since joining the Saints in 2006 as a free agent from the San Diego Chargers, the quarterback has produced the most prolific 10-year runs in NFL history. He has amassed 48,555 yards and 348 touchdowns during his time in New Orleans.

Both are the most for a quarterback in his 10-year stint with the Saints, the Elias Sports Bureau says. Brees was entering his final year of his contract in the 2016 season.

He became the NFL’s highest paid player when he signed his $100 million, five-year contract in 2012. Other players have since passed that contract.

While with the Saints, Brees has won 100 games with the team and led the franchise to its only Super Bowl appearance and win. The quarterback was the MVP of Super Bowl XLIV in a 31-17 win over the Indianapolis Colts.

At age 37, Brees will need to play for a few more years if he is going to catch former Colts and Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning’s passing records. Manning has the most passing yards in NFL history, with 71,940 yards, and touchdowns, with 539.

Brees is currently fourth in all-time passing yards with 60,903 yards and third in passing touchdowns with 428. He is tied with New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for third in passing touchdowns.

To catch Manning, Brees will possibly need three to four more seasons. He will get at least the next two in New Orleans.

Brees is still playing at a high level, with 4,870 passing yards in just 15 games last season. He has led the NFL in passing yards in four of the last five seasons.

September 7, 2016

Rebels Lose Two Players to Knee Injuries for Rest of Season

By bryanflynn

The fallout from the University of Mississippi’s loss to Florida State University continued on Tuesday, Sept. 6. Hugh Freeze confirmed to ESPN.com that starting cornerback Ken Webster and backup running back Eric Swinney are lost for the rest of the 2016 season with knee injuries.

Both injuries hurt units that lacked depth even before the season started. Those thin units showed in the Rebels 45-34 loss to the Seminoles on Labor Day night.

Webster’s injury might have turned the game around for FSU. Until he was hurt on the fourth play of the Seminoles’ opening drive, Webster allowed UM to play man-to-man coverage against the Seminole receivers and let the linebackers and defensive line stuff the run and pass rush.

During the second quarter, the FSU offense got rolling, as both teams made adjustments with Webster’s injury. The Seminoles were able to pick on weaker defensive backs all night when the Rebels tried to play man-to-man.

Freshman FSU quarterback Deondre Francois was able to pass for 419 yards and two touchdowns with no turnovers against the Rebels. Webster’s injury played a big part in Francois being able to settle down and make throws in his first college start.

Webster’s teammates surrounded him just moments before being carted off the field, and then, he was still yelling words of encouragement and coaching up the defense. The Rebels defense still was able to contain FSU’s offense before the Seminoles fully figured out the team’s defense right before halftime.

The Rebels were already thin at running back after redshirt junior Jordan Wilkins was suspended for the 2016 season. They got even thinner at the position when redshirt freshman Swinney injured his knee on his first carry of the game.

While no one expected the Rebels to out-rush the Seminoles, with FSU running back Dalvin Cook being healthy at the start of the season, UM did need to run the ball to give its offense balance. FSU finished the game with 161 rushing yards to the Rebels’ 61 rushing yards.

Cook out-rushed the Rebels by himself with 91 yards on 23 carries. Akeem Judd led UM in rushing with 44 yards on eight carries.

FSU was able to build a 42:39 to 17:21 advantage in time of possession. The amount of possession showed late in the game, as the Rebels defense was worn out from being on the field for so long.

The Rebels are going to need players to step up for the rest of the season. They will have to figure out their problems quickly with the University of Alabama coming to town in two weeks.

September 6, 2016

Comebacks Tie Together USM, MSU and UM on Opening Weekend

By bryanflynn

It was a great first weekend of college football, with memorable games from Thursday to Monday. Hopefully the rest of the season will be a great, as the first week has had surprising turnouts.

One interesting thing from this past weekend is that all three FBS teams from this state were involved in games that featured comebacks. Two of those teams, University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University, were on the wrong end of comebacks, and the University of Southern Mississippi stormed back from what looked like a loss to a win.

MSU looked in total control of the University of South Alabama on Saturday in the first half. The Bulldogs were up 17-0 at halftime and looked like they were going to cruise to their first win of the post-Dak Prescott era.

Then the wheels came off in the second half, as the Jaguars outscored the Bulldogs 21-3 in the second half. MSU had a chance to win the game but missed a field goal attempt that bounced off the upright in the game’s final seconds.

It was the first win over a SEC team in USA history. Before then, the team was 0-4 in tits history against the conference, with two losses against MSU in 2012 and 2014. Both teams missed two field goals, but everyone will remember the field goal MSU missed for a long time.

In the second half, the Bulldogs defense struggled to get off the field as the Jaguars had touchdown drives of 75 yards, 99 yards and 71 yards. The MSU offense stalled most of the second half, as the team could only muster 143 passing yards on the day.

Saturday night was a different story between USM and the University of Kentucky. It was the Wildcats that stormed out to a big lead of 35-10 as the game neared halftime.

USM used a late drive to cut the Wildcats’ lead to 35-17 with 22 seconds left before halftime. The Golden Eagles outscored UK in the second half 27-0 and scored 34 unanswered points, winning the game.

The win was on a night when quarterback Nick Mullens was just so-so in the pocket, as he threw for 258 yards and two touchdowns but had three interceptions. It was on the ground where USM tore away at Kentucky’s will to compete.

Southern Miss had 262 rushing yards, and the Wildcats had just 96 yards. Both Ito Smith and George Payne went more than 100 yards rushing that night.

The USM defense struggled in the first half but became the “Nasty Bunch” in second half. The Southern Miss defense forced three turnovers in the second half, including a fumble that ended any hopes for a Kentucky rally.

Southern Miss offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson got ran out of Lexington last year as the Wildcats offensive coordinator. He saw his new team put up 520 total yards against his old team, as Kentucky amassed 409 total yards.

...
August 31, 2016

Former USM Quarterback Austin Davis to Workout for Dallas

By bryanflynn

With the injury to Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, former Mississippi State University star Dak Prescott is taking the reins as the team’s starting quarterback. Sports media sources have already discussed in great detail how well Prescott has played in the preseason.

He is putting up numbers that have been rarely, if ever, seen from a rookie quarterback in the preseason. Prescott has earned the right to be the starter with his play, and if he stays hot, he should keep the position of starter even when Romo returns.

But the Cowboys are also looking to add depth with second-year player Jameill Showers as the only backup quarterback. Now that teams have trimmed their rosters to 75 players, there are several quarterbacks now looking for new jobs.

Dallas plans to workout former University of Southern Mississippi quarterback Austin Davis today, Wednesday, Aug. 31. Davis signed with the Los Angeles Rams when they were still in St. Louis after he went undrafted in 2012.

He spent the first two years of his career as a backup and didn’t see any playing time. Davis finally got a chance to get on the field in 2014 when he played in 10 games and made eight starts for the Rams.

Last season, Davis signed with the Cleveland Browns and saw action in three games with two starts. This week, though, the quarterback-heavy Browns cut him from their roster, making him a free agent.

In limited playing time, he has thrown for 2,548 yards with 13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He has fumbled seven times and lost five of those fumbles, and has a career quarterback rating of 80.4 for his career.

To be fair to Davis, he has played on some really bad teams and has never been a full-time starter. He would provide depth for the Cowboys, acting as an alternative if Prescott gets injured or struggles, and he is entering his fifth year in the league.

There are other quarterbacks that the Cowboys could look at, as well, with the recent round of roster cuts. Dallas will have to act quickly with the season-ending knee injury to Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

Two names that stand out after the cuts to 75 players on Tuesday, Aug. 30, are Sean Renfree, who the Atlanta Falcons cut, and Zach Mettenberger, who the San Diego Chargers cut.

The Falcons drafted Renfree out of Duke University in the seventh round of the 2013 NFL Draft. He has seen action in just two games as he enters his fourth year in the NFL. At Duke, Renfree played for former University of Mississippi head coach and quarterback guru David Cutcliffe. Eli Manning still gets advice from his former coach, as did Peyton Manning before he retired. Renfree could be worth a look if Davis doesn’t impress in his workout.

The Tennessee Titans drafted Mettenberger out of Louisiana State University in the sixth ...

August 30, 2016

College Football Viewing Schedule

By bryanflynn

The first weekend of college-football action begins on Thursday, Sept. 1, with five games kicking off at 6 p.m. and streaming on ESPN3. None of those games are worth rushing home for, unless you’re a big fan of Tulane University, as the Greenwave faces Wake Forest University.

Thursday doesn’t really have any marquee matchups. The best game of the night could be watching Vanderbilt University at home against the University of South Carolina at 7 p.m. on ESPN, while you wait for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas to begin at 9 p.m. against Jackson State University.

If the Commodores and Gamecocks don’t keep your attention, watch Oregon State University at Indiana University, Bloomington. Overall, there’s a good bit of football on Thursday night, but if the team you root for isn’t playing, there are not really any games between top teams.

Friday begins with four games at 6 p.m. on ESPN3, including Mississippi Valley State University on the road against Eastern Michigan University. Two games on TV also begin at 6 p.m. on CBS Sports Network and Big Ten Network.

Neither game on the BTN or CBSN is going to keep you up late if you miss any part of them. While most of Friday night is like Thursday, a trio of games could be interesting.

Colorado State University faces the University of Colorado, Boulder at 7 p.m. on ESPN in a big in-state rivalry game. Two games kickoff at 8 p.m., with Kansas State University at Stanford University on FS1 and the University of Toledo at Arkansas State University on ESPNU.

Saturday is the day you have waited for to start this season. You can begin early with a 6:30 a.m. kickoff between Georgia Tech and Boston College from Dublin, Ireland.

After knocking off a pot of coffee to stay awake during the early kickoff, a real good game kicks off at 11 a.m. on ABC. That’s when No. 3 University of Oklahoma starts the season on the road against No. 15 University of Houston.

This game could be Houston’s audition for Big 12 membership. The Sooners are one of the few teams with a chance to make a statement on opening weekend.

Mississippi State University and the University of South Alabama also kickoff at 11 a.m. on the SEC Network. Boise State University, with an 11 a.m. start against the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, is interesting, with the Broncos getting the early kickoff.

The University of Missouri at West Virginia University on FS1 at 11 a.m. is an intringing out-of-conference game. None of the other 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. games look to be worth keeping an eye on, unless an out-of-the-blue upset starts brewing.

Get ready to work your remote starting at 2:30 p.m., with two good games kicking off. On CBS, Texas A&M University will host the University of Los Angeles, and on ABC, Louisiana State University faces Wisconsin from Lambeau Field.

While ...

August 30, 2016

Before Kaepernick, There was Abdul-Rauf

By bryanflynn

News this weekend was like reliving 1996 again. That summer Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf caught the eye of the nation and media when people found out that he would stay in the locker room or stretch on the sideline during the national anthem.

Abdul-Rauf, whose birth name is Chris Jackson, converted to Islam in 1991. He changed his name in 1993. He was drafted by the Denver Nuggets in 1990 and could light up the scoreboard in the NBA on any given night.

Born in Gulfport, Miss., Abdul-Rauf became one of the most highly recruited basketball players in the history of the state. When he was known as Chris Jackson, Abdul-Rauf was a standout player at Gulfport High School and Louisiana State University.

Abdul-Rauf was a smooth guard in high school and college and could score with the best in the country. He was a two-time Mr. Basketball in Mississippi and played in the McDonald’s All-American game.

He was also one of the best free-throw shooters in NBA history. Maybe, if not for the national-anthem firestorm, he could have earned the best free-throw percentage in league history.

Abdul-Rauf called the American flag “a symbol of oppression, of tyranny” when asked why he didn’t join his teammates during the national anthem. Fans, media, fellow players and more were divided on how to respond to him.

In June 1996, Abdul-Rauf was traded to Sacramento Kings, where he spent the next two years as mainly a reserve. He played overseas before resurfacing from 2000 to 2001 to play with the Memphis Grizzlies.

Abdul-Rauf didn’t play another minute in the NBA after his single season with the Grizzlies. He finished his career playing overseas in several countries.

Injuries played a part in Abdul-Rauf’s fall from the NBA, but the national anthem controversy without a doubt played a part in his exit from the league.

Fast-forward 20 years, and we are nearly at the same moment once again.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was the focus of a ton of media and social media attention this weekend for not standing for the national anthem.

"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game. "To me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."

The quarterback is entering his sixth year in the league, and there is a chance that his decision could cause him to not make the final roster. There are a few reasons he could make the team, but this would be his final year.

Just a couple of seasons ago, Kaepernick looked like he was going to be one of the

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