NCF Nation: Jawanza Starling

Pac-12 sees 38 invited to NFL combine

February, 8, 2013
2/08/13
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The official list of college players invited to the NFL combine is out and 38 from the Pac-12 made the cut. At least one player from every team in the conference was invited. A total of 333 players were invited and workouts begin Feb. 23. You can see the complete list here.

Weekend rewind: Pac-12

October, 24, 2011
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Taking stock of the eighth week of games in the Pac-12.

Team of the week: Arizona. The Wildcats ended a 10-game losing streak to FBS foes with a bang, thumping UCLA 48-12 on ESPN last Thursday. Little has gone right for the Wildcats this season, including the termination of coach Mike Stoops, but an outstanding performance on both sides of the ball in interim coach Tim Kish's debut merits a tip of the cap.

Best game: No game was closer than two touchdowns, but USC's 31-17 whipping of Notre Dame speaks well for the conference. The Trojans dominated the action on both sides of the ball, and perhaps sent a message to Stanford and Oregon that both have more than a one-game season ahead.

[+] EnlargeRobert Woods
Matt Cashore/US PresswireReceiver Robert Woods and USC had much to celebrate after beating Notre Dame.
Biggest play: No question here. Trailing just 17-10, Notre Dame faced a third-and-goal on the USC 1-yard line, with the home fans certain a tie game was at hand. But Irish quarterback Dayne Crist -- who was in because starter Tommy Rees hurt his knee -- fumbled the snap. Trojans safety Jawanza Starling scooped up the rolling ball and went 80 yards for a touchdown the other way. That, my friends, is a game-changing moment.

Offensive standout: Forget the skill guys this week -- Stanford's offensive line takes this one. The Cardinal dominated the line of scrimmage against Washington, opening holes for a school-record 446 yards rushing and yielding no sacks. The Cardinal have surrendered just two sacks this season -- fewest in the nation -- and rank 17th in rushing offense with 219 yards per game.

Defensive standout: Oregon linebacker Josh Kaddu had 10 tackles -- all solo -- three for a loss, and two sacks in the 45-2 win at Colorado. He was the best player on a defense that pitched a shutout.

Special-teams standout: Darragh O’Neill. Colorado's punter was the lone bright spot for the Buffaloes in the loss to Oregon. He punted 12 times for a 43.2 average, with a net of 40.3. He set school records with six punts downed inside the 20 and four inside the 10 (two of those inside the 5), as Oregon’s average starting field position after his kicks was its own 23. Four of the kicks traveled 50-plus yards.

Smiley face: USC's and Stanford's impressive wins against quality foes sets up a marquee national game on Saturday in the Coliseum with ESPN's "College GameDay" on hand. After a slow start to the season, the Pac-12 is now on the national map, with the Cardinal solidly in the national championship hunt and the conference potentially in position to land two BCS bowl berths.

Frowny face: Utah and Colorado are now 0-8 in Pac-12 play. They combined for 409 yards and 12 points in blowout losses Saturday. Recall how, in the past, the Pac-10 had to defend its defensive performances by pointing out its defenses had to play Pac-10 offenses? Well, here you go. The old Pac-10 can play defense. It just needed some new blood -- teams lacking offensive playmakers -- to prove it.

Thought of the week: The Pac-12's bottom and muddled middle need to rally -- big -- if the conference is going to fill its bowl slots, particularly if the conference produces two BCS bowl teams. USC is ineligible and Colorado already is guaranteed a losing season. That leaves 10 teams. The conference has bowl contracts with seven games, which would increase to eight spots with two BCS bowl teams. While four teams -- Stanford, Oregon, Washington and Arizona State -- are already bowl-eligible or are nearly certain to get there, six teams have between two and four wins. How many teams get off the carpet? Or does the conference have five to seven losing teams?

Questions for the week: Will there be a monumental upset this season? While it's possible to reduce the season to a small handful of games centered around Oregon's visit to Stanford on Nov. 12, most years one of the conference's topflight teams falls to a mediocre one -- recall how USC used to do that. It didn't happen last season, as Oregon and Stanford rolled, with just the Ducks' win against the Cardinal in Autzen Stadium between them. Will that be the case again? Or will the Cardinal or Ducks -- or Sun Devils -- get clipped by a team they don't see coming?

Weekend rewind: Notre Dame

October, 24, 2011
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It's time to take a look back at the weekend that was in Notre Dame football, as the 83rd meeting with rival USC ended with a 31-17 loss.

The Good: There wasn't a whole lot to point to on the field, but the recruiting implications from the first home night game in 21 years could be big. Brian Kelly said Sunday he received positive reactions from the recruits in attendance, with most of the comments centering around the atmosphere and home-field advantage Notre Dame helped to create. Said Kelly: "I think maybe for the first time since I've been here we clearly had that."

The Bad: Notre Dame rushed for just 41 yards, averaging 2.9 yards per rush. Starter Cierre Wood netted just 5 yards on five carries. On the other side, USC's ground game had its best performance of the season, rushing for 219 yards and averaging 5 yards per carry in what to many was a surprisingly impressive performance.

The Ugly: The yips returned again, with the Irish turning the ball over three times in the second half and killing any chance of completing a comeback from their early 17-0 deficit. The turnovers were particularly frustrating for Notre Dame given the Irish's consecutive no-turnover performances in their previous two games before Saturday's.

Turning point: The Irish faced a third-and-goal from the 1 and were about to tie the game. But Dayne Crist fumbled the snap from Braxston Cave and USC's Jawanza Starling took it back 80 yards for a Trojans touchdown and a 14-point turnaround.

Call of the day: This will anger and surprise many, but USC coach Lane Kiffin deserves a lot of credit for getting his team to focus on the field. Kiffin often referred to Saturday as an event for Notre Dame, and he was able to get his players to block out all of the extracurriculars and play their best game of the year.

Next up: Notre Dame hosts a Navy team coming off a 38-35 loss to East Carolina, its fifth consecutive defeat after a 2-0 start. Nonetheless, the Irish cannot overlook the Midshipmen, having dropped three of the last four meetings between the two. Navy also boasts the No. 3 rushing game in the nation.

BCS hopes vanish in latest loss to USC

October, 23, 2011
10/23/11
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — They tailgated all day and they waved blue towels and they bounced up and down to seemingly every possible sports pump-up song imaginable. They enjoyed the bright lights and marveled at the shiny new helmets and saw Saturday's matchup build into more than just another game on their schedule.

And though it wasn't exactly clear what Notre Dame fans could have expected when looking back at a USC squad that ran through the home team and slowed its ground game to a halt, it was certainly more than this:

A 31-17 loss to the arch-rival, its ninth defeat in the past 10 meetings. A turnover-plagued performance that brought to mind the adventures of the season's first two weeks. And, most of all, the harsh reality that the BCS-bowl dreams that began before the season are all but officially over just seven games into 2011.

"I think from a player's standpoint, maybe we didn't stay true to who we were," fifth-year safety and captain Harrison Smith said. "Maybe we did buy into the hype, and we can't do that again. We didn't play with poise and there were penalties that you just can't have if you wanna win."

The five penalties will sting but not as much as the three turnovers, particularly after consecutive games without any. An early and surprising 17-0 deficit gave the Irish no margin for error in attemping their comeback, one made easier by — who would have thunk it? — special teams.

George Atkinson's 96-yard kick return for a touchdown brought the Irish to life in the second quarter, and they managed to tack on a field goal before the break to somehow make a seven-point game out of a half that saw them outgained by nearly a 2-to-1 margin.

[+] EnlargeAfter Notre Dame's Tommy Rees went down with an injury, backup Dayne Crist's fumble sank the Irish.
Matt Cashore/US PRESSWIRETommy Rees hyperextended his knee during a painful evening for the Irish.
Tommy Rees went down with a hyperextended right knee midway through the third quarter and Dayne Crist stepped in — and this looked like redemption for the California kid against USC, first hitting Cierre Wood for 4 yards, then hitting Tyler Eifert two plays later on a crucial fourth down, the ball moving and Notre Dame closing in on the Trojans after being outplayed for a majority of the game before that point.

Three plays later, third-and-goal at the 1, Crist fumbled the snap. Eighty yards later and Jawanza Starling was in the end zone with the ball and a 14-point Trojans lead, one that looked so big yet so familiar given Crist's last third-and-goal-from-the-1 play this season, even if he wasn't to blame for the opening-drive gaffe against South Florida in Week 1.

"Losing stinks. For me, it's hard for me to put a stink-meter on losing. They all stink," coach Brian Kelly said. "You know what I'm disappointed in? This is the first time that I've leaned on my guys pretty hard in the locker room. I was not happy. Because we're better than that. We're better than that. And, to turn the ball over in the ridiculous fashion that we have, I just, just makes me crazy. In terms of, I just don't understand how something so easy can come out the way it does.

"So I told our guys, 'Listen, every time we try to take a step forward, we seem to wanna take one step back.' I'm not gonna tolerate it. It's not gonna be pretty this week in practice. If we gotta go back and tackle every day, we'll tackle every day, because they know how I feel about the way we played."

The hypothetical playoffs that Notre Dame talked about so much have come to an unceremonious end, and now comes the more challenging part, re-focusing on the next-best-thing with plenty of season remaining, five games to prove to all that this is not a lost cause after its record fell to 4-3 with a return of similar frustration.

Perhaps the normal 3:30 p.m. start next week against Navy will spark what had become a familiarity with this team in its previous four games, moving the ball efficiently while eliminating the bad mistakes.

For now, rebounding from this letdown and controlling emotions is the next step, one Notre Dame received a hard lesson in Saturday night from its rival out West.

"You're trying to get at something that I think is real, and we talked about this," Kelly said when asked if his players could have been too excited going into Saturday. "We had some guys that didn't play with poise that need to play with poise. Championship football teams play with competitive greatness, which means when the stakes are high and the stage is great, they raise their game.

"Today, in that same situation, some of our players didn't raise their level of play. That to me is poise, and we're still building that. That's a hard thing to dig at. But we're still building that."

End of third: USC 24, Irish 10

October, 22, 2011
10/22/11
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Just when it looked like things were going Notre Dame's way, an injury and a return case of the yips proved devastating for the Irish.

Seven plays after Tommy Rees went down with an apparent right leg injury, Dayne Crist fumbled a snap at the USC 1-yard line, resulting in an 80-yard touchdown the other way courtesy of Jawanza Starling.

In the blink of an eye, a potentially tied game swung to 24-10 USC, and the Irish now find themselves in an uphill battle as the fourth quarter gets underway.

The good news? What looked at first like a potentially bad injury to Rees proved to be nothing, as the sophomore was back in on the Irish's next drive. Still, the end of that drive has to be heartbreaking for Crist, who completed 4 of 5 passes before his fumble and had Notre Dame moving.

Right now, 15 minutes stand between the Irish and any hope of a BCS bowl bid being crushed.

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