Tag:Kenny Hilliard
Posted on: January 9, 2012 4:25 pm
  •  
 

RapidReport Roundup: LSU vs. Alabama

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Rounding up all the latest from CBSSports.com Alabama and LSU Rapid Reporters Jim Dunn and Glenn Guilbeau ... and what it might mean for the big game.

  
  

Don't expect a blowout. “Every game I think we played against LSU in the last five games comes right down to the wire, some kind of way," Nick Saban said Sunday, and he's not exaggerating. Those five games -- all since Saban took over in Tuscaloosa, transforming what had been your average SEC blood feud into something even more intense between his former and current teams -- and have been decided by a total of 28 points, with two games going into overtime and none featuring a margin greater than 2009's nine. Whether or not the rematch lives up to the hype of the first meeting from an aesthetics standpoint (and there are those, of course, who will argue the first meeting already did), there's little doubt the final minutes will be as dramatic as ever.

Optioning away from the option? One of the key factors in LSU's win in the Prematch was their success with an option play featuring Jordan Jefferson and Michael Ford, a look which -- thanks to Jefferson's reduced role as Jarrett Lee started -- the Tigers had barely shown entering the game. The usually uber-prepared Tide defense seemed to be caught off guard, but Ford isn't expecting that to be the case the second time around.  "Alabama will be better against it this time," Ford said. "So we've just got to trick 'em -- act like we're going to run the option and run something different. When me, (tailback/fullback) Kenny Hilliard and Jordan Jefferson are in there, it's scary. It opens everything up. We can run between the tackles with Kenny. We can go option with me. Or we can throw it. You don't know what's coming at you."

That's not wrong, and both Jefferson's ascension and Hilliard's late-season charge are two reasons that the Tigers can hope for more offensive success than they saw on Nov. 5. But with the Tide knowing that LSU knows they might have to move away from the option, we might encourage the Tigers to stick with it--big plays against the Tide defense are precious, and proper execution might give them one against a defense that's looking for the change-up away from it.

First opponent: the layoff. Saban has never lacked for confidence in his coaching approach (and why would he, given the results), so it was somewhat surprising to hear him admit Sunday -- even after taking his Tide to the BCS national championship game in 2009-10 -- he isn't entirely sure how to handle the lengthy span between the end of the regular season and the title game. “When you have this much time between games, obviously you're always wondering as a coach. 'Are we practicing enough? Are we practicing too much?'" Saban said.

One could argue that uncertainty has played itself out in Saban's bowl record--his 6-3 mark is well above-average, but it's included a couple of clunkers, like the 2008 Tide's inexplicable blowout loss to Utah. (Miles, meanwhile, is 5-1 at LSU.) That's probably too small a sample size to make any firm conclusions, and it's not like the Tide haven't had several impressive bowl wins under Saban, too--last year's utter demolition of Michigan State being Exhibit A. But if we had to pick a team that might come out a little less certain than the other, especially in New Orleans, we'd lean towards Alabama.

Other tidbits. Miles says his team is ready. "They're a team that loves to play. The lights come on, and they want it. This will be a game that will be very representative of that" ... Saban said win or lose, there's one change coming Monday. “Every time we play LSU, I've got to change my phone number because people blow up my phone,” he joked ... Judging from the reaction to games like the Alamo Bowl and Rose Bowl, we're not sure fans are really clamoring for another field goal-decided slugfest. But Ford disagrees. "I don't think that's a game," he said of the pinball bowl games. "I think people get tired of seeing all those points on the board. They want to see a hard-fought game" ... LSU isn't a bigger rival for Alabama than Auburn, but Mark Barron says the gap is shrinking. “This is a rivalry that's grown over the years here recently due to the level of competition. I wouldn't say it's bigger than the Auburn rivalry, but it's growing slowly." After two No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchups in the space of three months, here's wondering if by the end of the night, it's moved far past growing "slowly."

Keep up with the latest college football news from around the country. From the regular season all the way through the bowl games, CBSSports.com has you covered with this daily newsletter. View a preview. Like us? Tell our Facebook page.

Posted on: December 3, 2011 8:19 pm
 

QUICK HITS: No. 1 LSU 42, No. 12 Georgia 10

Posted by Jerry Hinnen



LSU WON: For 30 minutes, save for one moment of Tyrann Mathieu brilliance, the Tigers barely looked like a team that deserved to be ranked at all, much less No. 1. Becoming the first SEC team in nine years to go the entire first half without a first down will do that. But -- as it usually is -- the second half was all Tigers, with another long Mathieu punt return and a pair of Aaron Murray turnovers yielding a 21-0 third quarter run. Despite a valiant defensive effort (the Tigers finished with just 238 total yards and had one scoring drive longer than 26 yards), the Bulldogs were toast at that point; the Georgia offense totaled just 28 yards across the second and third quarters and had twice as many more turnovers/punts (8 total) than first downs (4). Mathieu took home MVP honors after his two electric punt returns and a fumble recovery.

WHY LSU WON: The same reason it always wins: the big play. Do you know how hard it is to rank 62nd in the nation in total yardage and still score more points than any other SEC team, and more than all but 12 other teams in the country? It takes special teams and defense that aren't just good but flat phenomenal, that time and again hand that offense the shortest of fields to work with.

And so it was yet again in the Georgia Dome. First, there was this:

Seven points. Then, there was Michael Brockers forcing a Murray fumble at the Georgia 27. Seven more points. Then Mathieu's ridiculous second return, which started LSU's next drive at the 17. Seven more. 44 yards ... 21 points.

LSU's offense isn't the best. But the combination of the Tigers' defense and their special teams -- not just Mathieu, but punter Brad Wing, who helped LSU stay withing touching distance in that disastrous first half with a ridiculous 50.8 yard net average on six punts -- isn't just the best; it's so much better than anyone else's it's barely playing the same sport. 

WHEN LSU WON: Kenny Hillard's second touchdown, which capped the quick 17-yard touchdown drive after Mathieu's second big return, put LSU up 21-10 with 26 minutes remaining. To overcome a two-possession deficit against that LSU defense would take Georgia much, much, much more time than that.

WHAT LSU WON: An SEC championship, a certain-beyond-every-doubt appearance in the national title game, and -- if the AP voters are feeling feisty following a hypothetical Alabama rematch victory -- possibly a share of the national title already.

WHAT GEORGIA LOST: A shot at the Sugar Bowl and Mark Richt's first conference title since 2005. But after those 10 straight wins and victories over Florida, Auburn and Georgia Tech, no one's going to complain too bitterly, we think. Maybe.

Posted on: November 28, 2011 1:07 pm
Edited on: November 28, 2011 1:36 pm
 

Surveying the Field: Reviewing Week 13



Posted by Bryan Fischer


There's just something about a few helpings of turkey and some good old fashioned hate for a rival football team.

As the season winds down and, in most cases, ends for teams that don't qualify for a bowl game or conference championship, rivalry week is when many schools put all the eggs in the basket to go into the offseason knowing they went out on a high note.

Because of that, there was no better scene in college football this weekend than Lexington, Kentucky.

Despite using a wide receiver at quarterback due to injuries, Kentucky still managed to pull off a win against Tennessee for the first time since 1984. On the whole, it was a disappointing year but the win over the Volunteers will give the team something positive to think about in the offseason. That AD Mitch Barnhart announced that head coach Joker Phillips would be back for sure next season also added to a historic day for the program.

The scene afterward was what college football was all about. Fans rushed the field to celebrate with players, everyone of whom had a gigantic smile on their face. That they attempted just six passes for 15 yards to win ugly didn't matter, a win is a win and this one meant more than the other four they had during the season.

Perhaps it was appropriate that the Wildcats wore black jerseys because it felt afterward like a funeral for Tennessee, who lost out on a chance to go to a bowl game with the loss. The Derek Dooley era is on shaky ground after barely beating Vanderbilt and, now, ending the streak over Kentucky. No doubt the slick-haired, orange pants wearing Dooley had to take over a difficult situation but it's still Tennessee. There are players there and the defense isn't too bad with Justin Wilcox running things but there has been zero consistency.

The losses are one thing for Dooley but the lack of wins might be the most concerning part if you're a Vols fan. He's never beaten a ranked team and has no signature victory that he can hold his hat on. You can understand why they're clamoring for his head in Knoxville.

It was a slightly different scene in College Station - except for the clamoring for the head coach's head part.

It was once again a second half to forget for Texas A&M, as they ended their final scheduled game with Texas by falling on their face. There was plenty of optimism coming in that the Aggies would get the last laugh before leaving for the SEC but it was the Longhorn players who had no problem starting up an "S-E-C!" chant following the victory.

"Sports can be really cruel," Mack Brown said. "I think it was a time tonight where both teams deserved to win."

After 118 meetings, it was pretty cruel for things to end that way. Kyle Field had erupted following Ryan Tannehill's pass to Jeff Fuller for a 16 yard touchdown to take the lead but was silent after Justin Tucker's 40 yard field goal sailed through the uprights.

"They played their hearts out tonight," Tucker said. "But sending them off to the SEC with a sour taste in their mouth feels pretty good."

Nothing like beating a rival.

Stat of the week

In 26 games among BCS AQ schools or ranked non-AQ schools on Saturday, just two were within seven points and the average margin of victory was 20 points.

Stats of week

- Alabama held Auburn to a 3-and-out on 7-of-10 drives and now has 72 3-and-outs in 143 opponent drives (50.3%)

- Since 2007, Tennessee and Kentucky are both 33-31. The Wildcats beat the Vols for the first time in 26 games, a span of 9,863 days. Tennessee finishes the year with consecutive losing records for the first time since 1910-11.

- Texas A&M was outscored 76-7 in the third quarter of their losses.

- Via the AP, Nebraska has nine or more wins for the 38th time in 42 seasons (90%).

 - LSU's secondary has scored as many touchdowns (6) as they've allowed.

Yard-by-yard

- Not sure if Trent Richardson helped win the Heisman with his career-high 203 yards in the Iron Bowl but he did nothing but bolster his resume. Remarkably the score at halftime was the same (24-7) as it was a year ago when some guy named Cam wiped out the deficit on the way to a championship. There would be no comeback from the Tigers this time thanks in large part to the suffocating Tide defense that allowed just 140 yards of offense. The lone bright spot for the home team was Onterio McCalebb's 83-yard kick return (the first ever in Iron Bowl history) that seemed to give the team some hope before Alabama quickly closed the door. All in all, a dominating effort for a team that has well over a month to prepare for their rematch with LSU.

- Impressive season for Louisville's Charlie Strong, who has done one of the best coaching jobs in the country by clinching at least a share of the Big East title with a win 34-24 over South Florida. Early losses, including one to FIU, seemed to show that the team was at least a year away from being in contention in the league but Strong righted the ship and freshman quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has really come on as of late, passing for three touchdowns against USF. Amazingly, the win snapped a 16-game losing streak in the state of Florida during the regular season. That the Cardinals are in contention for a BCS bowl berth boggles the mind if you watched this team early in the year.

- You would not have expected Rex Burkhead to play against Iowa if you saw him on Monday when he had his foot in a walking boot. He shredded the boot by Saturday however and had no issues pounding away at the Hawkeyes defense, rushing for 160 yards and a touchdown in Nebraska's 20-7 win. Surprisingly, his 38 carries were a school-record and came just a week after one of his worst games of his career against Michigan. It was just part of a punishing offensive attack against Iowa that gave the team an amazing 16 minute time of possession advantage. You can tell why Bo Pellini decided to keep things on the ground after Taylor Martinez tossed a few arm punts early in the game.

- Andrew Luck's final home game ended on a high note as he passed John Elway's school record for career touchdown passes and gave Heisman voters some more to think about. Beating a marquee opponent like Notre Dame on national television helps too, as the Cardinal jumped out to a 21-0 lead at halftime and never really lost control of the game.

- Down the road in Los Angeles, Matt Barkley made his case to be invited to New York. In what could have been his final game in cardinal and gold, he passed for 423 yards and six touchdowns on a record setting night to throttle UCLA 50-0. "One more year" chants were heard throughout the game but it was a heck of a way for USC to end their bowl ban and put an exclamation point on what has been a terrific season under Lane Kiffin. Things aren't too pretty for the other side as the Bruins were not only humiliated at the Coliseum, but likely will be blitzed just as bad in the Pac-12 Championship game. The "gap" between the two programs that Rick Neuheisel talked about being closed appeared to have never been wider than it was Saturday night.

- Tulsa was supposed to represent Houston's stiffest test of the season but the trip to Oklahoma proved to be anything but as the Cougars rolled in the second half to secure Conference USA hosting duties. As good as Case Keenum was at quarterback, Patrick Edwards was the star of the show, grabbing four touchdowns and 181 yards to break the conference career record for receiving yards. The Golden Hurricanes had been undefeated in league play but Keenum found Edwards on 4th down in the 3rd quarter and it was away they go. Houston converted several 4th downs and built up style points as Keenum threw for 457 yards and a ho-hum five touchdowns before being pulled. Perhaps the biggest surprise was the Cougars defense, who held a normally high-scoring Tulsa attack to just 16 points.

- When Arkansas came into Baton Rouge, the Hogs represented the toughest passing attack LSU would see all season. Luckily the Tigers had the nation's best secondary and one player in particular - the Honey Badger. Tyrann Mathieu is simply a playmaker whenever his team needs it most and you could tell Friday when he returned a punt 92 yards for a touchdown that seemed to turn the tide just when it looked like Arkansas was making a game of it. The offense was pretty good too, with Kenny Hilliard, Spencer Ware and even Jordan Jefferson (despite a boneheaded play or two) causing the Razorbacks defense issues. The 21 third quarter points - keyed in part by Mathieu - might have pushed LSU ahead but it was the rushing attack in the 4th quarter that turned a solid win into a blowout. It's no surprise that plenty of people invoked the name Billy Cannon after the game considering that the last time there was a top-three match up in Death Valley, Cannon returned a punt for a score against Ole Miss. Of course it was Mathieu doing the honors this time as the Tigers kept their record perfect on the road to Atlanta and on to New Orleans.

- If you had to say a team was due before the year was up, Colorado was a good choice. The Buffaloes, despite their record, had a pretty decent offense but just couldn't perform on defense or on the road. Although Utah was at home and playing for a chance to go to the Pac-12 title game, the Buffs jumped out to an early lead and managed to hang on to beat the Utes 17-14. Normally reliable field goal kicker Coleman Petersen missed the final kick with seconds left to go 0-3 on the day and diminish Utah's hopes of a solid debut season in a BCS conference. What was billed as the start of a new rivalry between new conference foes turned out to be a historic win for Colorado, as the team ended a 23-game road losing streak. Utah was hampered by the loss of running back John White but there was no question that they should have won this game but a few breaks went the way of CU. Before the season head coach Jon Embree talked about putting up bricks to build a wall of success that the program had done in its glory days and on a chilly Friday afternoon, he added one more thanks to the upset on the road.

- The Countdown Clock on the Columbus Dispatch's website was probably already setup to change following Saturday's Ohio State-Michigan game. Things were closer than expected in the Wolverines 40-34 win at the Big House, a testament to just how hard the Buckeyes fought to keep their streak alive. Braxton Miller was great until his final play, an interception to seal the game, and out-played his counterpart Denard Robinson for much of the afternoon. UM got the last laugh when the gun sounded by ending a streak that had gone nearly 3,000 days but if there was one take away from the annual rivalry game, it's that Miller should be fun to watch in Urban Meyer's offense.

- Most impressive victory this weekend might have been Wisconsin throttling Penn State 45-7. The Nittany Lions have the best defense in the Big Ten but they were ran over by Montee Ball, who scored four touchdowns and has a chance at setting the NCAA single-season record. The rematch with Michigan State for a trip to the Rose Bowl just got a little more interesting.

- If you haven't been able to watch Luke Kuechly play linebacker at Boston College, you missed out on one of the hardest working players in the game. Don't worry, he'll probably be a 10+ year vet in the NFL so there should be plenty of chances to see him in the future though. Surprisingly, Kuechly didn't reach the double-digit tackles plateau for the first time since his freshman year but he did run back an interception for a touchdown and made life tough for Miami in a 24-17 upset. The talented 'backer also became the school's all-time tackles leader and showed why he could be a potential first round pick if he decides to leave school early. On the flip side, Jacory Harris - after perhaps his best season - reverted to the Harris of old by tossing four interceptions in his final college game. While there were not many people watching (in the stands or on TV), the result was overshadowed by the news of the day as Miami announced head coach Al Golden had agreed to a four-year extension that would keep in in Coral Gables until 2020.

- In a/the Backyard Brawl, all rules are off. The intense series between Pitt and West Virginia faced an uncertain future with both moving to different conferences but on the field in 2011 the two had no problem giving everybody a compelling game. The Panthers had jumped out to a 17-7 half-time lead but were simply shut down by a swarming Mountaineers defense in the second half that kept things close enough that the sputtering WVU offense could eventually cash-in a game-winning touchdown. It was a wild ending in a series full of them but Dana Holgorsen's squad managed to pull things out. Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri had a rough night, being sacked 10 (!) times, four of which came on a crazy final drive.

- If you want to know why Dennis Erickson was shown the door at Arizona State, look no further than the late night showdown against an improving California team. It was in many ways it was young (Bears) against and the old (Sun Devils). Erickson's squad was trying to salvage the season and his job, Jeff Tedford's group was trying to build upon the second half of their season. It was a defense-optional shootout like the Pac-10 days of old but Cal managed to force four turnovers that likely ended up as the deciding factor. Credit to Tedford who helped his cause while Erickson killed his, this was a fun game but defense - surprisingly - decided things and that ended up in Cal's favor.

- In terms of surprises, Virginia Tech shutting out a hot Virginia team at home might be highly ranked on the list. It was the Cavaliers first home shutout loss since 1984 and they had zero ground game to speak of (30 yards on 26 carries). It was likely the Hokies best win of the season to date and continued a strong run by quarterback Logan Thomas.

Tweet of the week

"USC card stunts say "We run LA." Based on how poorly the city is run, I would not brag about that.

- Chris Huston, The Hesiman Pundit

Fisch's Finest

1. LSU

2. Alabama

3. Oklahoma State

4. Stanford

5. USC

6. Oregon

7. Boise State

8. Arkansas

9. Houston

10. Virginia Tech


Where we'll be this week

I draw the early assignment and will head up Eugene for the Pac-12 Championship game with Oregon and UCLA on Friday. Eye on College Football bloggers Chip Patterson and Adam Jacobi will head to the ACC and Big Ten Championships respectively. Brett McMurphy makes the trip to see Bedlam between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State while Dennis Dodd joins Tony Barnhart in Atlanta for the SEC Championship.

Leaning this way

Georgia vs. LSU

Do the Bulldogs have a chance? No, not really. Even if they did, it appears the Tigers are locked into a trip to the BCS National Championship game in New Orleans either way. Les Miles' secondary already took care of the best quarterback in the SEC West last week and will do pretty much the same to the best quarterback in the SEC East down in Atlanta.

Oklahoma at Oklahoma State

Don't let the loss to Iowa State fool you, Oklahoma State is still a very good team and their opportunistic defense should enjoy playing Landry Jones on the road. The Sooners haven't really been the same team they were earlier in the season thanks to several injuries - their top running back and wide receiver among them - and they've had their troubles at Boone Pickens Stadium before. Expect it to be close but ultimately the Cowboys will win the game and the Big 12.

Wisconsin vs. Michigan State

These teams are so evenly matched that it took a hail mary for the Spartans to beat the Badgers the first time. That pass isn't something that Wisconsin players forgot about and have a chance to avenge it for a trip to the Rose Bowl. The offense has been rolling the past couple of weeks behind Montee Ball and Russell Wilson so look for them to do some damage against Michigan State the second time around.


Posted on: November 19, 2011 10:21 pm
 

QUICK HITS: No. 1 LSU 52, Ole Miss 3

Posted by Jerry Hinnen



LSU WON: 
Really, a matchup between the nation's No. 1 team (and only remaining BCS conference undefeated) and a winless-in-the-SEC team with no head coach that lost 27-7 to Louisiana Tech last week was only going to end one way. Jordan Jefferson had another highly efficient outing in his second week as the starter -- going 7-of-7 for 88 yards and a touchdown -- but the story was the LSU defense, which got touchdowns from corner Ron Brooks and linebacker Kevin Minter to outscore the Rebels all by themselves.

WHY LSU WON: The part where they played a team that fired its head coach two weeks ago and had its starting quarterback and leading rusher suspended, mostly. But Ole Miss could have least made the game competitive -- well, made it less of a total laugher -- if they'd taken care of the ball and not handed LSU easy scores.

But of course, with Randall Mackey unavailable, the Rebels were forced to turn to Zack Stoudt and Barry Brunetti, quarterbacks that had already proven themselves turnover-prone against the likes of BYU and Vanderbilt. So, yeah, vs. LSU? Stoudt threw a sloppy pass picked of by Brooks and housed to put his team in a 7-0 hole after the first drive of the game. Brunetti took over in the second quarter, only to help botch an end-around handoff in the end zone that Minter recovered for LSU's second defensive touchdown.

Ole Miss's chances were just-this-side-of-nonexistent already. Their odds of a win with their quarterbacks making seven-point mistakes like those? Entirely nil.

WHEN LSU WON: Kenny Hilliard scored on a one-yard touchdown run with 6:45 left in the first quarter, capping a 9-play, 86-yard drive to make it 14-0. The Rebels weren't scoring 14 points on the Tigers if the game lasted 12 quarters.

WHAT LSU WON: Given the state of the Rebels, not much more than another notch on the belt on the way to facing Arkansas next Saturday with the SEC West on the line. But Les Miles can't be unhappy with the level of domination shown by his team in Oxford, as compared to the sluggish start vs. Western Kentucky last week.

WHAT OLE MISS LOST: Just their 13th straight conference game and ninth loss of the season, dropping the Rebels to a woeful 2-9 record on the year.

THAT WAS CRAZY: It was already 42-3 when Miles had his team punch in on 4th-and-goal from the 1 midway through the fourth quarter. So maybe it was some measure of remorse that the next time his team reached the Rebel 1, he opted to put his team in victory formation and kneel four times, going from the 1 to the 4 to the 7 to the 10 and giving the ball back on the 13 ... with more than four minutes still remaining in the game. While we're guessing Miles was trying not to make the score look any worse than it was, the guess here is that that decision made the Rebels feel much more humiliated than even another touchdown would have.

Posted on: November 1, 2011 6:06 pm
Edited on: November 1, 2011 6:07 pm
 

LSU-Alabama Daily, Nov. 1: Run game breakdown

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Counting down to LSU-Alabama with a daily dose of analysis and news.




DAYS REMAINING TO KICKOFF: 4, or the number of special teams and defensive touchdowns scored this season by LSU: two fumble returns for scores by Tyrann Mathieu, a kickoff return by Morris Claiborne, and pick-six by Ron Brooks. The Tide have three: a Marquis Maze punt return, and pick-sixes by Courtney Upshaw and DeQuan Menzie. Also the number worn (as you can see) by Tide All-American safety Mark Barron, who (despite our raving about the Alabama linebackers yesterday) leads the Tide defense in solo tackles with 25.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: We know both these teams can run the ball. But which one does it better?

You might be surprised just how decisively the statistics will tell you that answer is "Alabama."

Yes, the Bayou Bengals have an out-and-out stud carrying the ball in Spencer Ware, a veteran offensive line loaded with former blue-chips playing its best football in years, solid backups in Alfred Blue and Michael Ford (not to mention bruising freshman fullback Kenny Hilliard, who collected 65 yards and two touchdowns vs. Auburn), and a successful vertical passing game to keep defenses honest. But it hasn't added up to statistical dominance just yet: the Tigers rank a respectable-but-not-spectacular 31st in rushing offense, but a downright middle-of-the-pack 55th in yards per-carry. Ware's 73 yards per-game rank him 66th in the country, sandwiched between Nevada's Cody Fajardo and USF's Darrell Scott.

The Tide, meanwhile, have the numbers to back up Trent Richardson and Co.'s reputation: 14th nationally in rushing yards, but sixth in yards per-carry at 5.84 an attempt and fourth in touchdowns with 27. Richardson ranks seventh at 123 yards per-game, third in touchdowns, and first in yards per-carry (6.64) among backs with more than 125 attempts. And given that backups Eddie Lacy and Jalston Fowler are averaging a fairly ridiculous 7.6 yards per-carry between them, it's not just the Heisman candidate guy; Barrett Jones and the rest of the Alabama offensive line are, as the kids say, bringing the wood.

So would we agree with the numbers that this is that major an edge for the Tide? Not in the slightest, for two reasons:

1. LSU's stats are being dragged down by an usually slow start to the season; through their first five weeks, the Tigers were averaging just 3.96 yards per attempt despite facing the likes of Kentucky and FCS Northwestern State. That's changed in a big way over their past three games, with the Tigers gashing Florida, Tennessee and Auburn to the tune of 216 yards per game and 4.8 yards per-carry. That 4.8 is even more impressive when you consider ...

2. the Tigers simply don't get huge gains on the ground. The Tigers have just one run of 30 yards or more this season, tying them for the lowest mark in the SEC. 20 yards or more? They're still ninth, and those numbers are despite attempting the second-most runs in the league.

The Tide, by contrast, already have 12 30-plus yard runs; only four teams nationally have more, and two of them are option squads. When comparing the two sides, yes, it's fair to say that Richardon's explosiveness and LSU's confirmed lack of an out-and-out breakway threat make the Tide more likely to bust a long one.

But how likely is one of those long ones? Given the quality of both teams' secondaries in run support, not all that likely. Which running game gets the upper hand is going to come down to which team can slug forward for four, five, six yards at a time, which line can create just the slightest creases for their backs, which backs can consistently wriggle and drive for the extra yard here and there.

No one in the SEC -- not even Alabama -- does those things better than a focused Ware and the Tigers. We still have to give the Tide's ground game the slimmest of edges due to Richardson's extraordinary ability and the higher likelihood of a big gainer ... but in a game like this one, we do mean "slimmest."

THE LATEST FROM BATON ROUGE: Judging from his Twitter feed, Mathieu already plays with a decent-size chip on his shoulder. So we're curious to see how he responds to being snubbed from the list of 15 semifinalists for the Jim Thorpe Award, announced Monday. The Thorpe is given annually to the nation's best defensive back, and while all 15 are worthy candidates, it's hard to see how Mathieu isn't one of them ... unless the Thorpe organization is punishing him for his recent drug-related suspension. Fair or not, we wonder if a big day Saturday won't result in some Thorpe-related chirping from Mathieu in the near future.

Speaking of chirping, remember when Claiborne said he'd go for Richardson's legs if asked to tackle him one-on-one? Ryan Baker doesn't sound quite so impressed:
"Oh yeah, I can tackle him. I can tackle anybody in the country," Baker said of Richardson. "Don't need any help."
Wonder if Mr. Richardson will make any note of that. Other LSU defenders, for what it's worth, were not quite so brash. (For more from Baker, check out this well-done brief interview clip from the SEC Digital Network.)

If anyone ever decides to make another Australian fish-out-of-water comedy, we'd suggest they start with the story of LSU punter Brad Wing. Not only did Wing express bemusement at the exorbitant sums now being requested for tickets to the game in which his punting could make a dramatic difference -- "I think a Grand Final ticket in Australia might be 200 bucks. That’s crazy" -- but he's also getting a quick education in the history of the game he's stumbled into. Asked about Bear Bryant, Wing responded that the name "sounds familiar" before asking "Should I know [him]?"

Actually, Brad, it's more funny if you don't.

VIDEO BREAK: CBSSports.com's Tony Barnhart appears on the Tim Brando Show to preview the game:



THE LATEST FROM TUSCALOOSA:
Taking cues from their head coach, the Tide players have been admirably steadfast in their refusal to say anything other than boilerplate one-game-at-a-time-LSU's-a-great-team comments to reporters.

Examples from Monday: "We want to win every game, and LSU is the next team standing in our way, but I wouldn’t say ‘revenge'"; "They have a great defense. They also have a great offense, and we have a great offense and a great offense. It’s just about going out there and playing at our standards and not anybody else’s standards"; "I pay no attention to who the (LSU) coaches play (at quarterback). Having other factors at play just kind of throws us off, and we don’t want that to happen."

Richardson also had praise for the Tiger defense, saying they "don’t back down for anyone. They are going to come for me." But he also admitted that the game is hugely important to him personally--not just because of the stakes involved, but because he wasn't able to help prevent last year's defeat in Baton Rouge.

"I tore an abdominal muscle and I had a slightly torn MCL," he said. "This game means a lot to me, because I didn't get to play in it last year except for about one quarter. So I really can't wait to showcase what a healthy Trent can do in this game."

There's a lot of people, we would guess, that would love to see what a healthy Trent can do in this game. As for what his coach might do, we wrote Sunday that we shouldn't be too shocked if Nick Saban defies his reputation and pulls a trick out of the bag. So we were intrigued to find out that former Tide player and current Houston Texan DeMeco Ryans told the Sporting News that he wouldn't be surprised, either:
"I think the X factor could be a trick play. If you look at coach (Nick) Saban's history, he's got some tricks up his sleeve. I could see him calling a fake punt or an option pass or something like that to break open a close game. He's known for doing that. I hate to admit it, but when I played, he got me on one (fake punt) of those (when Saban was at LSU). As a defensive player or a special teams player, you've got to be aware of the possibility, but you can't let it affect your aggressiveness."
Ryans was one of four current NFL players and LSU/Bama program alums to offer their take on the game; you'll be shocked, shocked to learn that all four picked their former teams to win the game.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com