NCAA

College Football Roundup: Watson shines in a classic; Stanford trending up, Cal down

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USATSI/AP

College Football Roundup: Watson shines in a classic; Stanford trending up, Cal down

Back-to-back classics.

That’s what we’ve witnessed in the National Championship Game the past two seasons. Even in their wildest dreams, the organizers of the College Football Playoff couldn’t have imagined two games of this caliber in successive seasons.

Last year, you’ll recall No. 2 ranked Alabama edged No. 1 ranked Clemson, 45-40. This year, the tables were turned, as No. 2 Clemson edged No. 1 Alabama, 35-31. A year ago, after defense dominated the first three quarters, the teams erupted for 40 points in the fourth quarter. This year’s game followed the same script, with the teams combining for 28 points in the final period (21 by Clemson).

Divine Deshaun: The game confirmed the unparalleled brilliance of Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, who passed for 420 yards and 3 touchdowns, including the game-winner with one second remaining. In two games against the No. 1 defense in the country, playing for the national championship under the brightest lights and greatest pressure, all Watson did was pass for 825 yards, rush for another 116, and account for eight touchdowns.

Watson’s performance capped a career in which he went 32-3 as a starter, graduated in three years, and finished second and third in the Heisman Trophy balloting (behind Alabama’s Derrick Henry and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey last year, and behind Louisville’s Lamar Jackson this year).

Looking back through the post-season prism, one wonders how Jackson could out-vote Watson. Clemson, after all, beat Louisville 42-36 early in the season. Jackson won despite finishing the season with two straight sub-par performances in upset losses to Houston and Kentucky, then was shut down by LSU in a 29-9 clunker in the Citrus Bowl.

Watson didn’t have quite the same glittering stats, but beat Jackson head to head and won the national title. Like Stanford greats Andrew Luck (who finished second twice), and John Elway (who finished second to Herschel Walker), Watson will go down as one of the best college players never to win the Heisman.

Dykes Dismissed: Earlier this week, Cal fired head coach Sonny Dykes after four seasons at the helm of the Golden Bear program. While the timing was unusual — in that it came six weeks after the end of the season — the decision was not surprising. There were three main issues with the Dykes regime: 1) The inability to develop anything resembling a defense. The Bears ranked near the bottom of NCAA defensive statistics for all four years, and there was no sign of improvement.

2) Dykes publicly pursued other coaching jobs almost from the first moment he arrived in Berkeley, most recently at Houston and Baylor. This was embarrassing to the University and the Old Blues who understandably want a coach who is committed to the school and wants to be in Berkeley.

3) Lagging ticket sales and donor support. Cal had a university-wide debt of $150 million last year, $21 million of it in athletics (largely related to debt service on the stadium renovation). The athletic department needs to fill seats in Memorial Stadium and get the donors excited again.

Like many others, we had recommended then-San Jose State Coach Mike MacIntyre to the Cal athletic department four years ago. One can only wonder where the Bears might be right now if MacIntyre, who has done such an amazing job at Colorado, would’ve been hired instead of Dykes.

Recruiting Trail: Stanford is reportedly on the way to signing one of the nation’s finest recruiting classes. According to Scout.com, coach David Shaw has already garnered commitments from the country’s No. 1 ranked quarterback (Davis Mills of Greater Atlanta Christian School), No. 1 and 2 ranked offensive linemen (Foster Sarell of Graham Kapowsin HS in Graham, Washington, and Walker Little of Episcopal HS in Bellaire, Texas) and No. 1 tight end Colby Parkinson of Oaks Christian HS in Westlake Village). Nationally, Scout rates Sarell the second best player in the country and Mills No. 3.

Speaking of recruiting, Alabama didn’t go home empty-handed this week, as the nation’s top recruit, running back Najee Harris from Antioch HS, decided to go with the Crimson Tide. Harris had verbally committed earlier, then flirted with Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh before sticking with Alabama.

Unsung Utah: With his Foster Farms Bowl victory over Indiana, Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham now has the best bowl record of any active coach. Since taking over the reins in Salt Lake City, Coach Whit is 10-1 in postseason play.

USC Finishes at No. 3: After its scintillating win in the Rose Bowl, USC climbed to No. 3 in the final AP poll. If star Adoree Jackson opts to come back for another year, the Trojans will contend for the national title next season.

Chargers to LA: San Diego Chargers owner Dean Spanos announced on Thursday that the Chargers will move to Los Angeles next season. One can only wonder what this means for the future of Qualcomm Stadium, home of the Holiday and Poinsettia Bowls, and San Diego State football?

From feeding homeless to doing the splits, Stanford's Phillips a rare find

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From feeding homeless to doing the splits, Stanford's Phillips a rare find

Stanford has a penchant for recruiting the overachieving student-athlete. Even among those standards, Harrison Phillips is a rare find. The senior defensive tackle helps feed the homeless every Friday morning at a local shelter. He often visits the kids in the oncology ward at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. He was named to the Pac-12 All Academic First Team and will graduate in December with a double major and a minor. He is a team captain and heir apparent to Solomon Thomas, the 49ers third overall pick in this year’s NFL draft.

“One thing you love about Harrison is, every day he’s going to get something done,” head coach David Shaw told NBC Sports Bay Area. “On the field, off the field, in the community, he’s always got a million things going on. But nothing ever suffers.

"He does everything at a high level.”

At 6-foot-4, 290 pounds, Phillips is a mountain of a man. His skill set is different than that of Thomas, but he can be just as disruptive. He plays over the center. He plays over the guards. His self-proclaimed job is to eat as many blocks as possible to keep the linebackers free.

“He’s such that hard point for us. He’s that guy up front that’s getting knock back, that force in the run game that you gotta have,” defensive coordinator Lance Anderson explained. “You have to have that strong solid point in the middle of your defense, and he provides that.”

Phillips had a game-high 11 tackles, five of them solo, in the Cardinal’s loss to USC. No other defensive lineman on the field had more than three.

“He’s outstanding against the run. He’s a very good pass rusher,” Shaw added. “He’s got a lot of tools that can work inside.”

Phillips main instruments of domination are strength, knowledge of leverage and abnormal flexibility for a man of his size.

“He can do the splits on command,” Thomas said laughing from in front of his locker after a recent 49ers practice. “He loves showing it off. We get on him for it. But he loves doing it.

And, according to Thomas, his former Stanford teammate loves to bench. So it comes as no surprise that Phillips’ upper body strength stands out.

“He’ll be really low in a position that you think he’d get knocked over in,” Thomas explained. “Because of how flexible he is, it’s not a problem for him to get in that position and stay there and move on from there. It definitely shows up on his film.”

No doubt, Phillips says, that ability comes from his wrestling experience. His high school curriculum vitae includes, “Nebraska State Wrestling Champion, Heavy Weight Division, Sophomore, Junior and Senior years.”

Phillips first year on The Farm, he vividly remembers his Stanford coaches testing him. Just a mere 245 pounds at the time, they put him up against Joshua Garnett and Andrus Peat, two offensive linemen now in the NFL and each well over 300 pounds.

“They’d double team me, almost 700 pounds on you, and I would somehow find leverage and be able to sit on some of those double teams,” Phillips said. “I think the violence that wrestling brings, and balance and being comfortable in weird positions, wrestling has a ton of scrambling, as it's called, you just know your body and know what you can do. I have tremendous flexibility, and I use everything to my advantage.”

One thing Phillips is not allowed to do is use his explosiveness away from the football field. At one time, Phillips could do a back flip off the wall, but he no longer attempts it.

“I’m not a big fan of the back hand springs,” Shaw said. “I’d like for him to stay on his feet.”

Phillips doesn’t argue. He lost his entire sophomore year to a knee injury, and doesn’t want to risk another. He has NFL aspirations and put himself in position to graduate in three-and-a-half years should he choose to enter the 2018 draft. But just as he has done at Stanford, he is looking to be more than just a name on a jersey should he play on a professional level.

“I want to build something that is really lasting,” Phillips said of his life goal, “and put my name on something to touch people’s lives and change people’s lives, pay it forward as much as I can.”

No. 6 USC routs No. 14 Stanford for 11th straight win

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USASTI

No. 6 USC routs No. 14 Stanford for 11th straight win

LOS ANGELES  — Steven Mitchell and Deontay Burnett caught two touchdown passes apiece from Sam Darnold, and No. 6 Southern California extended its winning streak to 11 games with a bruising 42-24 victory over No. 14 Stanford on Saturday night.

Darnold went 21 of 26 with 316 yards passing for the Trojans (2-0, 1-0 Pac-12), who snapped their three-game losing streak in this California private-school rivalry. USC racked up 623 total yards and won the first Pac-12 game of the new season by beating the hard-nosed Cardinal (1-1, 0-1) at their own physical game.

Ronald Jones II rushed for 116 yards and scored a touchdown in his ninth consecutive game as USC excelled at Stanford's traditional strengths, running the ball for 307 yards and controlling both lines of scrimmage. Turnovers and penalties by the Trojans kept it fairly close, but freshman Stephen Carr added 119 yards rushing, and Jones cartwheeled into the end zone with a clinching 23-yard TD run with 4:15 to play.

Keller Chryst passed for 172 yards and two touchdowns, while Bryce Love had a 75-yard TD run among his 160 yards rushing for the Cardinal, who hadn't played since their season-opening win over Rice in Australia last month.

After a scoreless third quarter, USC made a 90-yard scoring drive capped by Mitchell's second TD on a feathery 11-yard TD pass by Darnold with 9:42 to play. Stanford stayed close with J.J. Arcega-Whiteside's TD catch with 6:41 to play, but Jones' incredible second TD run capped a smooth 75-yard drive in USC's 11th consecutive win at the Coliseum.

Stanford had won eight of its last 11 meetings with USC in a dominant stretch that began with its historic 2007 upset victory at the Coliseum.

After USC scored 49 points in its season opener, Darnold's offense again was in fine form from the start. USC scored four touchdowns on five lengthy drives in the first half, with Darnold hitting Burnett for two of his three TD passes.

USC moved 74 yards on two plays late in the half to take a 28-17 lead on Burnett's leaping 25-yard TD grab.

THE TAKEAWAY

Stanford: That 62-point performance in the season opener Down Under was impossible to replicate against a top Pac-12 defense, and the Cardinal's offense will know it must add versatility to the attack. Stanford's defense also had big problems at the line of scrimmage, and that isn't a problem with which the Cardinal have much experience.

USC: This talent-laden offense has appeared to have the makings of a juggernaut so far. Darnold returned to 2016 form with a smooth, poised performance against a vaunted conference opponent, while the Trojans' receivers appear to be much more reliable than coach Clay Helton feared. USC's defense also stepped up after halftime and shut down one of the Pac-12's best.

UP NEXT

Stanford: The Cardinal's three-game stretch away from home to open the season concludes at San Diego State.

USC: The Trojans welcome Texas to the Coliseum for a meeting of two powerhouse programs.