CFB News of the Week: Jan. 29, 2021

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Derrik Klassen
·8 min read
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Georgia pull 2022 five-star QB Gunner Stockton

The Bulldogs are no strangers to pulling elite QB recruits as of late. In 2016, it was Jacob Eason. In 2018, it was Justin Fields. In 2020, they lured former five-star JT Daniels away from USC as a transfer. 2021 five-star Brock Vandagriff is headed down the pipeline for next season. All of those pulls are without even considering some of the top-end four-star recruits the Bulldogs pulled over that span, including three-year starter Jake Fromm.

Now Georgia has another five-star coming in hot. Though more than a year out from him being able to take the field for the Bulldogs, 2022 five-star QB Gunner Stockton made his commitment to Georgia this weekend.

Stockton, a sturdy 6-foot-1 and 220-pound Georgia native, currently sits as the top dual-threat QB in the country per 247 Sports’ composite rating. He has made a name for himself in large part due to his ability to get moving and make plays out of the pocket, as his dual-threat label suggests. Stockton may not have the most blistering pair of burners, but he’s more than mobile to make plenty of SEC defenders whiffing and has the arm talent to throw comfortably on the move.

At his size, Stockton is also a great player for hard-nosed QB rushing concepts, such as power, counter, and draw. Stockton’s got the same beefiness to him that Dan Mullen-style quarterbacks like Tim Tebow and Dak Prescott were able to use on those very same rushing concepts. Getting some QB run game into the mix at Georgia could be a fun way to see their offense open up down the line.

RBs on the move: Eric Gray to Oklahoma, Keaontay Ingram to USC

Transfer season often brings a handful of moments with some key transfers going through at about the same time. We got that this week with some of the best RBs on the “free agent market” finding their new destinations. Former Tennessee RB Eric Gray is now at Oklahoma, while former Texas RB Keaontay Ingram is headed to the west coast to play for USC.

Gray’s commitment to Oklahoma came just days after a report that Oklahoma and Texas were down to his last two choices. On the one hand, Ingram was out the door at Texas, leaving some potential snaps for Gray. On the other hand, Texas already has a stud RB in Bijan Robinson, so it made more sense for Gray to move to a more open Oklahoma backfield. During his time at Tennessee, Gray handled 258 carries for 1,311 yards (5.1 YPC) and eight touchdowns while snagging 43 passes for 369 yards and three scores over the course of two seasons.

Ingram, by contrast, had started to lose carries towards the end there at Texas. He earned over 250 carries through 2018 and 2019, but when Robinson got to campus for 2020, Ingram ended up getting buried a bit. That does not make Ingram a bad player — he was plenty effective when he saw the field during his three years as a Longhorn — it’s just that he is not the special, game-changing talent Robinson seems to be, and that’s okay.

Now with the Trojans, Ingram will get a new chance to prove he should not have been pushed down the roster. The Trojans backfield rotated between Vavae Malapeai, Stephen Carr, and Markese Stepp, but none of them ever really ascended into a leading roll. Whether or not Ingram will, who knows, but he's got a decent shot to take the top spot in a fairly open backfield.

Josh Heupel replacing Jeremy Pruitt at Tennessee

In goes a defensive-minded head coach, in comes an offensive guru. It’s a tale as old as time and the Tennessee Volunteers are just the latest to tell it. With Jeremy Pruitt being fired with cause over an NCAA investigation related to recruiting violations, the Vols have tapped UCF HC Josh Heupel to be their new head coach.

A former quarterback himself, Heupel spent most of the first decade of his coaching career as a QB coach, and later OC, with the Oklahoma Sooners. After 2014, he left for a one-year stint with Utah State before heading east to Missouri. Heupel coached now-NFL QB Drew Lock for a couple of seasons in 2016 and 2017, in which Lock threw for over 7,500 yards as well as 67 touchdowns.

Heupel’s last stop at UCF was his first as a head coach. He kicked off his tenure with the Knights with a banger, going 12-0 through the regular season and earning faint CFB playoff whispers before narrowly losing to LSU in the Fiesta bowl. Each season after that got slightly worse, however, as the Knights went 10-3 in 2019 and 6-4 in a whirlwind 2020 season. However, the UCF offense still finished top-15 in ESPN’s SP+ rating for those two seasons, which is especially considering they were playing Dillon Gabriel, a true freshman in 2019, at QB in the wake of Mackenzie Milton’s devastating knee injury.

The young head coach will need to make sure his defensive staff is sound and let them handle that side of the ball, but Heupel should be able to bring a spark to a lackluster Tennessee offense. Heupel is a big proponent of spreading the field with four and five wide receivers and attacking down the field as often as possible. How fast Heupel can get things turned around is to be seen, but we can at least expect a new flavor on offense.

Pat Fitzgerald sticking around at Northwestern through 2030

Pat Fitzgerald could always get bought out. Everyone has their price. If a top program really comes calling, there has to be an offer Fitzgerald would not be able to refuse. With Fitzgerald’s decade-long extension this week, however, it sounds like any kind of deal to get him out of Northwestern would have to be an absolute splash.

The new extension keeps Fitzgerald around until 2030. Given the team’s recent success, especially relative to anyone’s expectations of the program, it’s hard to make the case Fitzgerald is not deserving. While the 2019 season was a bit of a disaster as the squad finished 3-9, Fitzgerald has won at least seven games in every other season since 2015, including two 10-win seasons.

Fitzgerald even proved his fortitude and figure-it-out-ittude in bouncing back from that 3-9 season. He spent time continuing to build up the defense while bringing in Indiana transfer QB Peyton Ramsey to lead the offense. While Ramsey was no world beater, his mere competent level of play allowed Northwestern’s third-ranked defense (per SP+) to take over games.

Heading into Year 16 as the Wildcats’ head coach, Fitzgerald holds a 106-81 record with five bowl wins.

SEC coaches going pro: Former Tennessee HC Jeremy Pruitt to Giants, Florida OC BrIan Johnson to Eagles

The SEC is losing a ton of coaches to the pros as of late. Some were fired, some simply chose to leave for a better opportunity, but a lot of solid coaches bailed however you want to dice it.

Former Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt is the most notable departure. Pruitt’s exit from Tennessee was warranted given the recruiting investigation he brought on and he may not have been cut out to be a head coach (yet), but that’s not to say he is a worthless coach. Pruitt is still a good defensive mind, particularly with respect to the Nick Saban tree of coverages. By all accounts, Pruitt is a smart coach and a good teacher for his side of the ball. He even has a coaching clinic for split-field coverages against 3x1 sets on Youtube that is packed full of info, if you want to see for yourself. Anyway, that pool of knowledge will now be serving a role on the New York Giants.

BrIan Johnson, former OC for the Florida Gators, is a lesser known departure, but still a big one. Just 33 years old, Johnson has worked through the ranks as a QB coach for about 10 years now, starting at Utah in 2010. By 2014, Johnson found himself on Dan Mullen’s Mississippi State staff as a quarterbacks coach during the Dak Prescott era. Johnson left in 2017 for a one-year ride at Houston as their OC, before returning to Mullen’s side at Florida from 2018 and on. Johnson took over OC duties, in addition to being the QB coach, in 2020 as the Gators offense exploded. Of course, much of the burden of the offense still lies on Mullen himself, but having the OC title for a year like that is huge. It’s no surprise Johnson was able to net himself his first pro job as the Phialdephia Eagles QB coach after a year like that.