NCF Nation: John Thompson


Arkansas State (8-5) defeated Ball State (10-3) 23-20 in the GoDaddy Bowl on a wet, windy Sunday night in Mobile, Ala.

It was over when: Arkansas State blocked Scott Secor's attempt at a 38-yard game-tying field goal with two seconds left. Earlier, quarterback Fredi Knighten rallied ASU from down four by engineering a 59-yard drive with 1:33 left. He gave Arkansas State the lead for good when he threw a perfect 13-yard strike to Allen Muse in the corner of the end zone.

Game ball goes to: Knighten, a sophomore, who came off the bench late in the first quarter and sparked the Red Wolves with his ability to run and pass. When starter Adam Kennedy was ineffective, Knighten stepped up and led ASU in rushing 19 times for 97 yards and completing 15 of 20 passes for 115 yards and the game-winning touchdown. His last pass, the TD pass, was his best of the night.

Stat of the game: Ball State QB Keith Wenning threw just his seventh interception of the season, but it was a costly one that blunted the Cardinals' momentum early in the fourth quarter. Arkansas State's defense harassed Wenning into one of his worst performances in an exceptional season, as he was 23-of-44 passing for 215 yards. That's about 112 yards below his average.

Unsung hero of the game: Running back Jahwan Edwards did everything he could to keep Ball State in the game and make up for Wenning's difficulties. He paced the offense in the first half with 92 yards on 14 carries and finished with 28 carries for 146 yards and a touchdown. He even pounced on a Wenning fumble just two plays before scoring his go-ahead TD.

Second guessing: After a long scoring drive to start the second half, Arkansas State had all the momentum and didn't need a big mistake by Ball State. But that's exactly what the Red Wolves got when BSU coach Pete Lembo inexplicably called for a fake punt on his own 34-yard line. Freshman punter Kyle Schmidt lost four yards on the play, and ASU took over at its own 30. It wasn't a total disaster because the Ball State defense prevented a touchdown, but Arkansas State extended its lead to 16-10 with a field goal.

What it means: The Red Wolves played with passion as their new coach, Blake Anderson, looked on from the sideline. John Thompson is now 2-0 as interim coach at Arkansas State, with both wins in the GoDaddy Bowl. The defensive coordinator, who stuck around when former coach Gus Malzahn left to take over at Auburn a year ago, made a good case for himself as he now hits the job market. Ball State was oh-so-close to the first bowl win in program history, but the Cardinals fell to 0-7.

To watch the trophy presentation of the GoDaddy Bowl, click here.

3-point stance: Lupoi allegations

December, 20, 2013
12/20/13
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1. Remember when universities went on probation because student athletes got extra benefits like cars, or their parents got a house? The Los Angeles Times story alleging NCAA violations by Washington assistant Tosh Lupoi came as a revelation. Lupoi is accused of paying for tutoring and online classes for a recruit trying to academically qualify to enroll at UW. Not a car, not a house: Lupoi allegedly paid for schooling. You say it’s an NCAA violation. I say it’s progress.

2. My colleague Heather Dinich listed three ACC teams that have something to prove in bowls and didn’t even make it to Clemson. She was right about Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Miami, but Clemson has a big stage in the Discover Orange Bowl, too. The Tigers got boat raced at Dolphins Stadium by West Virginia two years ago, and this season, lost games to top-10 archrivals Florida State and South Carolina by a combined 51 points. If nothing else, No. 7 Ohio State gives Clemson a shot at redemption.

3. They say every head coach must find his niche. John Thompson washed out at East Carolina, where he went 3-20 in 2003-04. Thompson returned to being a defensive coordinator, and landed last year at Arkansas State. When Gus Malzahn left the Red Wolves to return to Auburn, interim coach Thompson led Arkansas State to a 17-13 victory over Kent State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl. Once Bryan Harsin left Arkansas State for Boise State, Thompson again will fill in as head coach at the GoDaddy.com Bowl. Another win, and he’ll be on pace to even his record at .500 in 2028.

Pregame: GoDaddy.com Bowl

January, 6, 2013
1/06/13
12:00
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Kent State (11-2, 8-1 Mid-American Conference) vs. Arkansas State (9-3, 7-1 Sun Belt)

WHO TO WATCH: Kent State's Dri Archer. He became the school's first ever consensus All-American, earning a spot as the returner/all-purpose player after leading the nation in kickoff returns at 38.2 yards per attempt. He has returned three of his 15 kicks for touchdowns. But Archer, who stands just 5-foot-8, is more than just a special-teams ace. He ran for 1,352 yards while averaging 9 yards per carry and piled up 15 rushing touchdowns. He's also caught 35 passes for 539 yards and four scores. Quite simply, Archer is one of the most exciting players in the country to watch.

WHAT TO WATCH: The offenses. Both teams ranked in the top 25 nationally in rushing. Trayion Durham joined Archer as a 1,000-yard rusher for Kent State, which averaged more than 228 yards per game on the ground. Arkansas State piled up more than 217 rushing yards per game and has its own 1,000-yard back in David Oku. But the Red Wolves also have a strong passing game with Ryan Aplin, who threw for more than 3,000 yards with 23 touchdowns and only four interceptions this season. While the Kent State passing defense is vulnerable, the Golden Flashes were second in the nation with 23 interceptions.

WHY TO WATCH: These might not be name-brand programs, but this game features two good teams. Kent State won 10 games in a row before losing to Northern Illinois in double overtime at the MAC title game. Had the Golden Flashes pulled that game out, they likely would have made a BCS game instead of NIU. Arkansas State brings a seven-game winning streak into the game and won the Sun Belt title. In fact, both teams were so good that their head coaches got hired by bigger schools -- Kent State's Darrell Hazell by Purdue, Arkansas State's Gus Malzahn by Auburn. Hazell will still coach in this game, while defensive coordinator John Thompson will serve as interim coach for the Red Wolves, who also lost head coach Hugh Freeze before last year's GoDaddy.com Bowl. Kent State is playing in its first bowl game in 40 years. Both teams have exciting offenses. Purdue fans will want to get a look at their future coach. And this is the second-to-last college football game we'll see until next August. Enjoy it.

PREDICTION: Kent State 31, Arkansas State 28. The Red Wolves have a more balanced offense, but the Golden Flashes faced better competition in a terrific year for the MAC. They also have had more stability during bowl preparation as Hazell admirably stayed aboard to finish off this historic season for the program. Kent State has been great at coming up with turnovers all year and will do the same in Mobile, Ala. That and some big plays from Archer will be just enough.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Several Big Ten teams might have a case of the Mondays, but you shouldn't. The most exciting month in college football is right around the corner. 

Here are some links to get you through the day. 

  • Illinois coach Ron Zook wasn't happy the day after a loss to Wisconsin, calling out his team and quarterback Juice Williams, Bob Asmussen writes in The News-Gazette. 

"This is what Juice doesn't sometimes maybe understand, one minute everybody tells him how good of a player he is," Zook said. "Somebody brought up the thing about coming out at the end of three years. Let me tell you something, he better worry about next week. Then he better worry about the next week."

  • Some good Michigan State nuggets from Joe Rexrode's blog in the Lansing State Journal. Running back Javon Ringer and safety Otis Wiley both should be available Saturday against Wisconsin. Also check out this post on Michigan State's mostly civil postgame celebration at Michigan. Roland Martin = hilarious.
Tonight, civility and competitiveness returned to this rivalry at once. Not that there wasn't some woofing. Roland Martin said U-M's players were doing a lot of it during the game. He said linebacker John Thompson called him "Uncle Roland" a couple times.
"Uncle Roland gave you a spanking, son," Martin taunted back afterward.
  • Northwestern saw the risk-reward to using its quarterback on the move against Indiana, and Minnesota is toeing the same line with Adam Weber, Kent Youngblood writes in the Star Tribune.  
  • For the first time, Ohio State lost the gamble of playing Terrelle Pryor at quarterback. The toughest challenge will be picking up the freshman after a crushing loss, Doug Lesmerises writes in The Cleveland Plain Dealer.  
After the Purdue game, Pryor said the college game was just like high school, only faster, even as teammates reminded him that this wasn't high school. If Pryor jukes Penn State's Mark Rubin in the open field after that bounce and hits the end zone, he's a hero this week. In high school, undoubtedly that's how it would have gone down. At this level, the other guys are pretty good, too. So Pryor fumbled. And that was it.
  • After Michigan's latest loss, coach Rich Rodriguez might have come to the conclusion that he simply needs better players to turn things around, Mark Snyder writes in the Detroit Free Press. 
  • Even though Penn State has stepped up this fall, the Big Ten doesn't deserve another team in the title game, Rivals.com's Tom Dienhart writes.

Big Ten helmet stickers

September, 28, 2008
9/28/08
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

An exciting first weekend of Big Ten play is in the books. Penn State has established itself as the class of the conference, while Ohio State could be surging soon behind Beanie Wells and Terrelle Pryor. Michigan resurrected its season, while Northwestern and Michigan State continue to roll.

Helmet sticker time.

Penn State WR Derrick Williams -- The senior became the first Penn State player under coach Joe Paterno to rush for a touchdown, catch a touchdown pass and score on a special teams return in the same game. Williams made six catches for 75 yards and had a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that put Penn State up 31-17 in the fourth quarter. Williams is averaging 36 yards per runback this season.

Michigan State RB Javon Ringer -- By this point, this guy deserves his own custom-designed helmet sticker. Ringer continued his feverish pace against Indiana, rushing for 198 yards and a touchdown on 44 carries. Ringer's 681 rushing yards in the last three games marks the best three-game stretch for a Spartans running back in team history.

Michigan's defense -- Too many contributors on this unit to pick just one. The Wolverines survived myriad miscues by the offense and performed in pressure situations in a historic comeback against No. 9 Wisconsin. From defensive end Brandon Graham (3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles) to nose tackle Terrance Taylor (8 tackles, fumble recovery) to linebacker John Thompson (INT return for touchdown), Michigan's defense stepped up big.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 AP Photo/Tony Ding
 Michigan cornerback Morgan Trent (14) pulls down Wisconsin receiver Kyle Jefferson (7) during the second quarter of the Wolverines' stunning 27-25 win Saturday.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- They're called sudden-change situations, and Michigan defenders have grown quite accustomed to them during the first four games this season.

"It's when we have to run on the field unexpectedly when the ball's on our side of the 50," Wolverines defensive coordinator Scott Shafer explained.

Shafer's defense entered five sudden-change situations in the first half Saturday against No. 9 Wisconsin. Five times the Wolverines kept the Badgers out of the end zone.

The defense's damage control bought enough time for a sputtering offense to stage an incredible second-half turnaround and rally to a 27-25 victory at Michigan Stadium. The constant back-to-the-wall jams usually take a mental toll on a defense, but the opposite effect holds true for the Wolverines.

"That's what's different from last year," said nose tackle Terrance Taylor, who had eight tackles and a fumble recovery in the comeback win. "We want to be out there when it's crunch time. It's fun. We like situations like that, sudden change and we've got to stop them for a field goal. The game's on the line. Stuff like that, that's what we play for."

Michigan's transitioning offense has repeatedly put the defense in compromising positions. In the opener against Utah, the defense limited damage and gave the offense a chance in the fourth quarter. Two weeks ago at Notre Dame, the Wolverines committed six turnovers, including two first-quarter giveaways in their own end that the Fighting Irish converted for touchdown drives of 11 yards and 14 yards.

Taylor and his teammates weren't about to give away another game.

"The good defenses that I've coached have all been the same," Shafer said. "It's been, 'Just put the ball down. Put it down wherever you want and we're going to come after you hard.' ... You look at the first couple games, we had a ton of sudden-change opportunities and we stuffed 'em. I'm proud of those kids. Those percentages are way up there on our board. They are getting a good sense of pride in those tough situations."

The pride, Taylor said, comes from being in superior condition, which has shown in the second half.

Wisconsin's desperation touchdown with 13 seconds left marked the first offensive touchdown Michigan has allowed after halftime this season. Several Wolverines players felt they were in superior condition to Wisconsin down the stretch.

"It's not just the shape, it's also a mind-set," head coach Rich Rodriguez said. "The way we practice lends itself to getting in better shape as the season goes along. Sometimes it takes a win like this to maybe prove that and verify that, that, 'Hey, the reason we run so much and our practices are up-tempo is so the games are easier."

It was only fitting that the defense, which allowed just 34 yards in the third quarter, put Michigan on top for good. Linebacker John Thompson, who received stitches in his chin after a first-half injury, returned an interception 25 yards to the end zone.

"A swing can happen at any time," Thompson said. "Sudden change is part of the game. We've got to fight."

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