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Tag:Ryan Baker
Posted on: November 4, 2011 4:27 pm
Edited on: November 4, 2011 5:05 pm
 

LSU-Alabama Daily, Nov. 4: The prediction

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

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




DAYS REMAINING TO KICKOFF: 1, or the number of times -- it bears repeating -- No. 1 and No. 2 have met in a regular season SEC game as of this Saturday night. Tune in, and you'll be seeing something that quite literally has never happened before in college football. That the two teams are entirely worthy of their rankings (as best we can tell) is just the icing on the cake.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Who wins?

We've spent two weeks and thousands upon thousands of words breaking down this game here at the LSU-Alabama Daily, and the only thing we feel completely certain about is that you can't be certain of a winner in a matchup like this. When nearly every advantage one team has over the other is the kind of advantage you have to split hairs in naming it an advantage at all, it's it's fair to call it an out-and-out "tossup" or "coinflip." We fully expect the game to come down to one play, and with both teams loaded to the gills with the sort of athletes who could make that play, the winner truly is anybody's guess.

But since it's no fun not making a guess all the same, we'll offer one here. We've given LSU slight edges in special teams and quarterbacking, Alabama slight edges in the running game, front seven and secondary (though we know LSU partisans will debate that last one fiercely). On paper, as you'd expect, it's just about even.

But we think one of the edges, even if slight, is worth more than others: Alabama's in the front seven. Thanks to their relative weakness at linebacker, LSU already has trouble defending the run without bringing in help from the secondary; as we've noted, nearly all of the Tigers' top tacklers are safeties and corners. Against some of the quarterbacks the Tigers have faced, this hasn't an issue, but vs. a well-drilled AJ McCarron playing at home? It easily could be.

Mark Barron of course also ranks amongst the Tide's top tacklers, but for the most part, Nick Saban is happy to let his front seven stop the run on their own. And though that's easier said than done vs. Spencer Ware and Co., the boost of adrenaline and energy provided by the home crowd should make it a more achievable goal.

In short: even if Trent Richardson doesn't have his usual gaudy day on the ground, he's almost certain to force the LSU defensive backs to cheat up and open holes for the passing game. We can't say the same for the LSU ground game, and we think Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson's greater difficulty finding those holes could prove to be the difference.

(One other minor factor worth mentioning about LSU's linebackers: they'll be the ones responsible for dealing with Alabama's screen game, bar-none the best in the country. When caught between getting stuffed on the ground and throwing into the teeth of the opponent's vicious secondary, Alabama still has the option of going to Richardson and forcing either Ryan Baker or Kevin Minter to make a play; with only seven receptions on the season [or barely a quarter of the 25 pulled in by the Richardson-Eddie Lacy tag team], Ware doesn't offer the same kind of alternative for LSU.)

There's that, and then there's simply this: we don't think anyone's beating this Alabama team in Alabama. When everything else is equal -- and we think things are ever-so-slightly unequal, in the Tide's favor -- take the home team.

So we are. Alabama 23, LSU 17.



THE LATEST FROM TUSCALOOSA: By this point, there's not a whole lot left for either team to say or report. Saban himself enjoyed his usual Thursday radio call-in show but didn't have much of interest to discuss where the game was concerned. He did say that LSU has "the best special teams" in the country and "probably the best running team" since Les Miles's arrival.

Perhaps the most intriguing pre-game point? CBSSports.com RapidReporter Jim Dunn reports that Tide players have made allusions to unseen tricks still in Saban's and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart's bag, since the long series of Tide bludgeonings hasn't required much in the way of schematic ingenuity. This could be a plus for the Tide--but we have no doubt LSU's equally lopsided series of wins means John Chavis and the LSU defense can say precisely the same.

Alabama's players have studiously avoided smack talk of any kind, including pointedly refusing to address Deangelo Peterson's claim that the Tide's "slow" linebackers wouldn't be able to cover him. So maybe it's fitting that maybe the most eyebrow-raising comment of the week comes from receiver Darius Hanks about ... the Tide's own former players?

"Last year, the leadership wasn't there like we needed it to be," Hanks said of the team's 2010 defeat in Baton Rouge. "This year, we have many leaders at every position." So, Greg McElroy, Mark Ingram, Julio Jones ... you guys' thoughts on that?

Not that everyone would disagree with Hanks. An anonymous "veteran coach who's faced both Alabama and LSU this season" spoke to the Bimringham News and said the game would come down to McCarron making the throws needed to win the game--throws the coach pointedly said McElroy didn't make last year.



THE LATEST FROM BATON ROUGE: It's not just the pundits who are saying the two teams are strikingly similar for a game like this: LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers told reporters that after watching film, going up against Alabama is like "looking in a mirror."

Push is going to have to come to shove when it comes to coaching trends. Miles has gone a sparkling 10-3 in his last 13 games after bye weeks or in bowl games, and an even better 11-1 in road night games ... so it's too bad Saban has gone 12-0 in his last 12 vs. coaches who defeated him the year before.

We suppose this was inevitable:



Yes, that's Miles appearing in a government-sponsored advertisement for Louisiana-grown turfgrass.

"Nothing beats Louisiana-grown turfgrass," Miles is quoted as saying in the spot. "It's local, fresh and reliable. And it's the grass of champions, whether you chew it for luck or not." It's always nice when you see a celebrity endorser who you know really does use the product they're shilling for, isn't it?



SIGNING OFF: Here's hoping you've enjoyed our two-week run here with the LSU-Alabama Daily. For more, check out Dennis Dodd's take on whether the game deserves the "Game of the Century" tag, Bruce Feldman's and Brett McMurphy's predictions for the game, BCS expert Jerry Palm's take on whether we could see a rematch, and enough LSU-Alabama videos to just about take you up to gametime.
Posted on: November 2, 2011 5:22 pm
Edited on: November 3, 2011 1:58 pm
 

LSU-Alabama Daily, Nov. 2: Unsung impact players

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

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




DAYS REMAINING TO KICKOFF: 3, or .6 yards less than Alabama outgains their opponents on an average play; the difference between their 6.8 yards gained per-play and 3.2 allowed is the widest in the nation. LSU's per-play margin checks in at an impressive +1.6 (5.6 offensive, 4.0 defensive), and it's worth noting that that number has come against a tougher schedule than Alabama's ... though that 2.0-yard gap between the teams is still, statistically speaking, an enormous one (and explains why the Tide have been established as the Vegas favorite). 3 is also the number worn by Tide freshman DB/LB Vinnie Sunseri, and that Richardson kid everyone's always going on about.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: We know about the stars on both teams. But of course not every player who'll make an impact on the game will be a star. Who are some of the under-the-radar players that could/should shine Saturday?

Before we answer that, let's note that when we say there are stars on both teams, we mean it. Take a look over this excellent breakdown of the two teams' NFL draft prospects by CBSSports.com draft analyst Rob Rang, and it's obvious that -- despite a light crop of NFL prospects in the Tigers' senior class -- what's "crystal clear as the BCS trophy is that Alabama and LSU are loaded," as Rang writes.

(Maybe the most interesting nugget from Rang's piece? That LSU's Morris Claiborne is "arguably the elite cover corner in the SEC." Wonder what Dre Kirkpatrick, Casey Hayward and even LSU teammate Tyrann Mathieu would say about that.)

But as much fun as it is to discuss the Trent Richardsons and Rueben Randles of the world, we know there's always 22 players on the field and better than 80 on each roster. Saturday's game won't be decided by the draftable athletes alone. So here's three players from each team whose impact could outshine their press clippings:

Alabama

Anthony Steen, RG.
Steen took some heat from Tide fans after struggling mightily with Nick Fairley during his team's collapse from 24-0 ahead in the 2010 Iron Bowl, but the sophomore has rebounded nicely to help the Alabama running game reestablish itself as one of the best in the nation. If Steen can show exactly how much he's improved by handling LSU's powerful tackle tandem of Michael Brockers and Anthony Johnson, the Tide will have taken a big step towards keeping that run game going.

Jesse Williams, DT. The Australian native and former JUCO standout (pictured at left) took a bit to find his feet in Tuscaloosa, but has come on in recent weeks and played a major part in stuffing Arkansas with five tackles overall and two for loss. If he shows similar big-game flair Saturday, LSU will have a tough time moving the ball on the ground.

DeQuan Menzie, CB. The de facto fifth Beatle of the Tide secondary, Menzie will no doubt have just as much to do as his more celebrated teammates, whether it's helping on Randle, gang-tackling Spencer Ware or Michael Ford, or tracking the likes of Odell Beckham Jr. The way Jarrett Lee has been playing, if Menzie plays like a weak link in the Tide defensive backfield, the Tigers will take advantage.

LSU

Odell Beckham Jr., WR. Speaking of the true freshman Beckham, Randle can't be the only legitimate threat in the Tiger receiving corps or Barron and Co. will squeeze him out of the game. Beckham (right) and tight end DeAngelo Peterson must make their presence felt.

Will Blackwell, RG. Moving the Tide's front seven out of the holes needed for the LSU running game won't be easy, but if any of the LSU linemen are up to it, it's got to be the agile 6'4", 303-pound senior. It's going to take both power and guile to maintain any running consistency vs. the Tide front, and we like Blackwell's combination of those qualities as much as anyone's on the LSU front.

Kevin Minter, LB. We mentioned two days ago that the LSU linebacking corps hasn't been quite as special as most of the other units on the team, but that doesn't mean this fast-rising sophomore and fellow 'backer Ryan Baker don't have the potential to rise up and play over their heads. They may have to to keep Richardson in check.

THE LATEST HERE AT CBSSPORTS.COM: In addition to Rang's draft breakdown, there's a metric ton of cool LSU-Alabama content here at CBSSports.com. Dennis Dodd has taken a look at the LSU defense under John Chavis and Bruce Feldman the Tide's linebacker-driven D. Bryan Fischer has profiled LSU's budding 2012 recruiting class with Alabama due the get the same treatment at Eye on Recruiting later Wednesday. The Free Bruce Podcast Wednesday with Feldman previewed the game with special guest Paul Finebaum. And here's CBS Sports Network's Jason Horowitz and Spencer Tillman offering their takes on the game:



Tide fans, though, will want to make sure they read Tony Barnhart's Q&A with Nick Saban, as well as watching the video of the interview below:



THE LATEST FROM TUSCALOOSA: We've got some bad news for LSU: Dont'a Hightower says that the Bryant-Denny Stadium crowd has already shown itself capable of hampering opposing offenses ... and maybe even the Tide's own?

"They did an excellent job at Tennessee," Hightower said. "Even when our offense was on the field, they were so loud I couldn’t really hear or know what Coach (Kirby) Smart was saying." That's quite the accomplishment, and considering that the crowd should be much livelier for a game it knows could propel their Tide into the BCS national championship ... well, let's just say we're hoping LSU has practiced their silent counts.

Is Richardson not the only Heisman candidate on the Tide roster? Center William Vlachos revealed Tuesday that he, too, has received a Heisman vote ... from Heisman winner and former Tide star Mark Ingram. "Seriously," Vlachos said. "Seriously." We believe you, William.

Also: Saban compares telling his players to ignore the hype to setting down ground rules for a son or daughter's date ... Williams talks about his tradition of painting his face for games ... Duron Carter is playing the part of Jordan Jefferson in practice ... Richardson says Mathieu is a "tremendous player."

THE LATEST FROM BATON ROUGE: Apparently it's not just the Tigers' Australian punter Brad Wing who could use a crash course in the history of their opponent this week; end Sam Montgomery admitted Tuesday he thought of Bear Bryant as a Tide player and said "I don't know anything" about the Alabama legend. We might chalk this up as some kind of odd smack talk if Montgomery didn't also admit to not recognizing Steve Spurrier when the Ol' Ball Coach paid Montgomery's high school a recruiting visit.

We already gave you Saban, so here's Les Miles talking to Tim Brando about the game:



Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal and Alabama governor Robert Bentley have made the politicians' traditional food-based bet on the game, with Bentley offering a Tuscaloosa sandwich shop's "13 National Championships BLT" (with 13 strips of bacon) vs. Jindal's Louisiana seafood dinner. Frankly, as much as we like bacon, we think Bentley's coming out a bit ahead here. But Jindal sonds by far the more confident of the two.

“He (Bentley) is a nice man and a good friend,“ Jindal said. “But we expect to beat them and treat them badly. We will not be gracious guests.“ Oh snap!

Also: Miles suggests his team ignore their social media for a week, saying "we needed no Twitter personalities in this game" ... Mathieu, speaking publicly for the first time since his suspension for the Auburn game, says he "let a lot of people down ... Miles said that Jefferson will "play a key role" and be "oiled up and ready."


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.

Posted on: October 31, 2011 6:17 pm
 

LSU-Alabama Daily, Oct. 31: Better front seven?

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

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




DAYS REMAINING TO KICKOFF: 5, or years in a row (counting 2011) in which both the Tigers and Tide have entered this matchup ranked. The average AP ranking for the two teams in that span? Alabama 5.6, LSU 8. But the Tide were the last of the pair to come into the game outside the polls; they weren't ranked for the Nov. 11, 2006 matchup.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: These are two of the best run defenses in college football. But is one front seven better than the other?

When we say "of the best," let's stipulate that we're maybe selling Alabama short here. Among the many statistics in which the Tide defense leads the nation are rush defense, yards per-carry allowed, and rushing touchdowns allowed ... but particularly interesting is that the Tide is well ahead of the pack in each category, ranking 28 yards per-game, .48 yards per-rush, and 2 touchdowns ahead of the No. 2 team in all three.

Which is why it's something of a surprise to say that LSU appears to have a clear head-to-head edge on the defensive line. It's true that 1. the Tide run a 3-4 instead of the Tigers' 4-3 and 2. thus don't ask their linemen to make plays as much as occupy blockers and let the linebackers behind them make plays, so the comparison's not entirely valid. Nose tackle Josh Chapman's value to the Tide is never going to be measured in tackles and sacks.

Still, it's surprising to see just how little statistical production the Tide is getting from their defensive line in the wake of Marcel Dareus's departure. Only one Tide lineman, backup DT Nick Gentry, has more than a single sack and the line as a whole is averaging less than one per-game. Though Jesse Williams, Ed Stinson and Gentry all have 3.5 tackles-for-loss or more, only 19.5 of the Tide's 61 TFLs (32 percent) come from linemen.

Contrast that with LSU, where four different linemen -- ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery and tackles Michael Brockers and Bennie Logan -- have as many or more TFLs as Stinsons' line-leading 5 at Alabama. Mingo, Montgomery and Logan have already combined for more than half of the Tigers' 19 sacks on the season, with Mingo in particular coming on a true terror in recent weeks. If the game comes down to one line or the other making a game-changing play, you'd be forced to bet on LSU.

But when weighing up the front sevens as a whole, we're still forced to give the edge to the Tide, because their advantage at linebacker is outright lopsided. Again, it's not an apples-to-apples comparison since LSU only uses 3 LBs in their base set and the Tide 4, but it's still bizarre to look at the Tigers' list of top tacklers and see just two linebackers in the top 11. Senior Ryan Baker and sophomore Kevin Minter have been productive, and you can't knock the linebacking unit of the nation's No. 3 rush defense too hard. But it seems that gaudy ranking has more to do the hyper-aggressive LSU secondary, and forget about LSU's LBs making a play in the backfield; Baker's two TFLs lead the unit.

Meanwhile, the Tide have a pair of legitimate All-Americans in Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw, plus Nico Johnson, Jerrell Harris (pictured above) and several other veterans and blue-chips even if C.J. Mosley can't go. Add that bunch to a line that -- while not as spectacular as the Tigers' -- is expertly coached and does its job to perfection, and you get the best front seven in college football. LSU's is awful, awful good, maybe the second-best, but we still think Alabama's causes more problems for LSU's offense than vice versa.

THE LATEST FROM TUSCALOOSA: If you're a Tide fan looking for an encouraging trend before Saturday, you could do much, much worse than this tidbit from the Birmingham News's Jon Solomon:
Ten years have passed since Saban lost in consecutive years to the same coach in college. Ever since Steve Spurrier pounded Saban's LSU teams 41-9 in 2000 and 44-15 in 2001, Saban has won 12 straight rematch games ... Saban has a 13-1 record as an SEC coach in rematch games against opponents he lost to the previous season. In those 14 initial defeats, Saban lost by an average of 14.4 points; in those 14 rematches the next year, he won by an average of 14.7 points.
Solomon points out that good records in these kinds of games aren't unusual; Spurrier went 13-5-1 in "rematch" opportunities at Florida, and Bob Stoops is currently 11-3 at Oklahoma. But neither of those records are quite what Saban's is, and the swing in points -- from two TDs down to two TDs up -- suggests that these are games Saban does take a little seriously than most.

Not that he'd ever admit such a thing, of course; at his Monday press conference Saban said he "loses sleep over every game, even the ones we win ... I don't know that there's any motivation from last year. There's lessons to be learned when you play year in and year out."

And he may be right on the motivation part in this particular case--once you've reached the kind of stakes that accompany Saturday's game, revenge is pretty far down the list of potential rewards. But we're betting all the same Saban studied the film of last year's loss a little bit harder than he would have if the Tide have won.

The other highlight of Saban's presser, which fell on his 60th birthday: his reveal that the players had given him a signed jersey with the number 60 on it. "I can't wear this, I'm a skill position guy," he said, proving that Les Miles won't have all the good one-liners this week.



THE LATEST FROM BATON ROUGE: Most coaches would treat a question about a potential rematch between the Tide and Tigers for the national championship with a curt "I'm just focused on the game this week." Miles is of course not most coaches, and told reporters Monday he would be A-OK the opportunity to play the Tide again.

"If in some way the guy that finishes left of the championship in the SEC can demonstrate statistically what kind of team he has, I'm for the SEC," Miles said. "I look forward to playing any and all."

Could he get his hypothetical post-loss wish? We'll stand by our earlier evaluation that it's highly unlikely (even after Clemson's loss), but that hasn't kept down the chatter; almost five years after CBS Sports' Gary Danielson and Lloyd Carr disagreed over whether Michigan should get a second shot at Ohio State, their comments to the Times-Picayune show they're still disagreeing over the issue of a rematch.

But back to Miles, who dropped a number of gems in today's comments. A sampling:
"The contact that takes place when our defense is on the field is very sincere and requires a ball carrier to hold onto the ball. That piece is the characteristic of a great defense."

"I saw the move [Trent Richardson] did against Ole Miss. That would have thrown my hip out its joint."

On whether he and Saban have friendly "correspondence":  "Correspondence would imply letters. I don't know that we send a lot of letters back and forth."

"How wonderful it is in college football that you have two quality teams that represent two great institutions that will take their best effort to the field to decide something that is difficult, clean and pure as a contest. How wonderful it is for the region to be able to look and enjoy the time of celebration of hard work and team values. The school wins, the team wins and the state wins. It is a beautiful time. I am very fortunate to have such a great institution to represent and I look forward to a great afternoon and great evening in college football."
Miles also said that his roster was entirely suspension-free, a rare (and news-worthy) occasion for the Tigers this year. But who wants to bother with nuts-and-bolts reporting when we discuss "how wonderful it is for the region to be able to look and enjoy the time of celebration of hard work and team values." We've said it before, we'll say it again: never change, Les.

Posted on: October 9, 2011 3:43 am
 

SEC Winners and Losers, Week 6



Posted by Jerry Hinnen

A handy recap of who (and what) really won and really lost in the SEC's Week 6.

WINNER: Les Miles.

For years, college football fans have come up with excuse after excuse for why Miles has been less than a terrifiic head football coach, despite his gaudy records and 2007 national title. He's just lucky. Anyone can recruit that kind of talent to LSU. His clock management is terrible. Never lost fewer than two games in a season. He can't get his offense fixed. Did we mention he's lucky? This offseason, one prominent blogger went so far as to place Miles No. 1 on a list of "the Worst Coaches in College Football."

But after today's dominating 41-11 win over Florida and the Tigers' 6-0 start to the 2011 season -- a start that includes wins over four different ranked teams -- even Miles's most ardent detractors have to admit the Mad Hatter has put together the kind of upper-upper-echelon team that can't be explained by recruiting or luck or happenstance alone. Yes, it helps to have Ryan Baker and Tyrann Mathieu and Michael Brockers around, but even superstars like those don't make the kind of terror-inducing defense LSU has today without the guidance of John Chavis, who Miles recruited to Baton Rouge personally. Yes, it's tough to not have a strong running game with Spencer Ware and a veteran line, but that running game wouldn't be nearly so effective if Jarrett Lee hadn't shaken off a career's worth of failures to become exactly the steady, accurate (and vs. the Gators, bomb-tossing) quarterback the offense needs--a development that can be directly traced to Miles's much-derided hire of Steve Kragthorpe as his team's new quarterbacks coach. The Tigers have been special teams killers for far too long under Miles to dismiss their contributions as mere "luck," as evidenced once again Saturday when punter Brad Wing noticed the lack of a Gator punt safety and took off for what should have been a 44-yard touchdown.

In short: to watch the Tigers' rise to 6-0 and their dismantling of the Gators and not see Miles's fingerprints all over them is an exercise in willful ignorance. Luck can explain some of his successes, and the natural advantages of being LSU does explain a little more. But these Tigers? They are only explained by having a coach at the very, very top of his field.

LOSERS: Auburn's wide receivers.

Tiger quarterback Barrett Trotter hasn't played well of late, and has the numbers to prove it--6 of 19 for 81 yards and a pick against Arkansas, to be specific. But he also hasn't gotten much help from his wideouts with leading receiver Emory Blake out ... if he's gotten any at all. Remove a 44-yard reception for Travante Stallworth on a second-half flea flicker completion, and Auburn's wideouts combined for all of three receptions for 21 yards. DeAngelo Benton had a particularly rough evening, dropping one late first-half pass that could have set up an Auburn field goal, getting called for a hold that would eventually force an Auburn punt, and letting a late Trotter pass whistle through his hands for the aformentioned interception.

WINNERS: Backup quarterbacks.

Jacoby Brissett aside, it was a good day to be a current (or recent) second-stringer in the SEC. Connor Shaw cemented himself as the new South Carolina starter and then some with his 311-yard, 4-touchdown, zero-pick performance vs. Kentucky. Mississippi State's Tyler Russell came off the bench to complete 11 of his 13 passes, three of them going for second-half touchdowns that turned what had been a 3-0 halftime deficit into a 21-3 win over UAB. Vanderbilt's Jordan Rodgers didn't have much of an impact statistically (11-of-18, 104 yards, 2 INTs), but led a couple of decent drives and looked as composed vs. the Alabama pass rush as you could hope.

And then there's Lee, who you'll remember was not only Jordan Jefferson's backup with just days remaining before the season, but many fans' favorite to drop to third-string behind JUCO transfer Zach Mettenberger. Against Florida Lee completed only 7 passes--but he also only attempted 10, and those 7 completions averaged a gain of 22 yards.

LOSER: Stephen Garcia.

The career of one of the SEC's most recognizable stars, magnetic talents, and frustrating enigmas appears poised to end not with a bang, but with a whimper. Though you can't ever say never with Steve Spurrier, Shaw's confident command performance against Kentucky suggests he's going to be the Gamecock quarterback for quite some time to come. There's going to be much more difficult opponents ahead for him than the hapless Wildcats, but does it matter? Spurrier's surprising patience with Garcia through his awkward start to this season now looks poised to be turned against him as Spurrier lets Shaw work through the same rough patches Garcia endured.

Which means that in the end, Garcia's senior season hasn't been undone by the off-field troubles that so many have expected to be his downfall. It's gone south because he simply hasn't produced on the field, because aside from one half against East Carolina, he's never looked as good in 2011 as Shaw looked Saturday. It's not how we expected things to come to an end for Garcia (if this is the end), but nothing about Garcia's time in Columbia has ever played out as expected, has it?

LOSERS: Kentucky fans.

The Wildcats kicked off to open their game against the Gamecocks, forced a fumble on the return, and recovered just outside the Carolina 20. Cue the shots in the stands of overjoyed Kentucky fans high-fiving each other and celebrating the best possible start.

60 minutes later -- and only 96 Wildcat yards, 6 Wildcat first downs, and 3 Wildcat points which came immediately following that fumble recovery later -- those same fans had to be some of the most miserable in the country. It's one thing to watch a poor football team; it's another to watch a team that seems so hopelessly outmatched on offense and doesn't seem to be showing any kind of week-to-week improvement. After failing to top 300 total yards against Louisville or Florida, the Wildcats have now failed to top 300 yards in their games against LSU and Carolina combined.

So about that kickoff: were those fans happy to have that one moment of joy? Or all the angrier for that joy being so completely misleading?

WINNER: Georgia's defense.

Before the game, we asked if the Bulldog secondary could live up its gaudy post-Boise State numbers against the likes of Tyler Bray and Da'Rick Rogers on the road at Tennessee. The answer: mostly. Bray and late-game injury replacement Matt Simms did throw for 290 yards at a perfectly respectable 7.3 yards-per-attempt clip, and without an interception.

But they never did throw a touchdown, either; in fact, the Volunteers were kept out of the end zone entirely until Simms snuck in from a yard out with only 2:45 to play in the game. Thanks to the Dawg defensive backs keeping the Vols in front of them, and the UGA front seven stuffing the pathetic Tennessee ground game to the tune of .4 yards per rush (yes, .4), Bray and Co. finished the game with all of 12 points on the scoreboard. The Bulldogs offense wasn't much to write home about -- Isaiah Crowell didn't even hit the 60-yard mark on the ground, the red zone offense sputtered, and like his Vol counterparts Aaron Murray threw neither an interception nor touchdown pass -- but after years of seeing their team score like a pinball machine only to lose after another lackluster defensive display, we expect Dawg fans will take it.

LOSER: Clarity in the SEC East.

South Carolina was the preseason favorite. They were the favorite after they beat Georgia. But then Garcia struggled and Florida beat Tennessee, and the Gators were the favorite. And then Carolina lost to Auburn and Florida lost to both Alabama, and lots of people considered Georgia as the new favorite. But now that Shaw looks to have healed the Gamecocks' Achilles heel ... are they the favorites? Or is Georgia, still, after beating Tennessee? Or is Florida just ripe to return once their schedule eases up? All we really know is that none of the other three teams is winning the division, and that the East winner is going to be a two-touchdown underdog to the West's come December. Past that? your guess is as good as ours.

WINNERS: Everyone who loves college football. Let's not go crazy by saying something like "LSU and Alabama isn't going to be the only game that matters in college football this season"; with Wisconsin, Stanford, Clemson, Boise State and of course Oklahoma all looking at potential undefeated seasons, it's too hasty to even lay claim to LSU and Alabama as the nation's best two teams.

That said: if you're a college football fan, and you've watched Alabama and LSU play this season, and you know how good they are, and you've considered how much fun it would be to watch them meet, undefeated, with a trip to Atlanta on the line on Nov. 5 ... then every week that passes with the two of them still unblemished is a good thing. This was one such week.





Posted on: August 8, 2011 9:48 pm
Edited on: August 9, 2011 1:27 pm
 

CBSSports.com Preseason All-SEC team

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

As part of CBSSports.com's season preview, we offer one blogger's choices for preseason All-SEC.
Our team includes 11 players on either side of the ball, because any more is cheating.

Offense

QUARTERBACK

Aaron Murray, rSoph., Georgia.
A 24-to-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio would be damn good for any quarterback. For a redshirt freshman in his first year on the job playing without the benefit of a strong running game, it was downright outstanding. (And, in fact, made him the most efficient underclassman quarterback in the country.) Murray should emerge as the conference's clearcut best passer as a sophomore.

Also watch for: Mississippi State's Chris Relf, the conference's best rushing quarterback and option operator; Arkansas's Tyler Wilson, like all Bobby Petrino pupils a 300-yard day waiting to happen; and South Carolina's Stephen Garcia, Murray's biggest competition for first-team honors if he can eliminate the backbreaking turnovers that have plagued his career.

RUNNING BACK

Trent Richardson, Jr., Alabama.
Boasting arguably the nation's best combination of power and speed at the position, Richardson should find himself carrying the lion's share of the load for a Tide offense that's never shied away from pounding out wins on the ground--and will shy away even less in 2011 with an unsettled passing game and ruthless defense.

Marcus Lattimore, Soph., South Carolina. The league's near-unquestioned leader in yards-after-contact, Lattimore's ruggedness and stamina sometimes overshadowed his other stunning gifts: his Mark Ingram-esque balance, surprising acceleration, and maybe the best pair of hands for a back in the SEC. Maybe the nation's best all-around back.

Also watch for: pretty much everyone, given even the SEC's least-heralded backs (like, say, Tennessee's overlooked Tauren Poole) have the potential for a 1,200- to 1,300-yard season. But we'll spotlight Arkansas workhorse Knile Davis, a good bet to finish as the league's top rusher despite the Heisman candidates above.

WIDE RECEIVER

Alshon Jeffery, Jr., South Carolina.
The league's leading receiver in 2010 by nearly 400 yards, there are sea urchins that could tell you Jeffery belongs here. A consensus preseason All-American and first-round lock, don't be surprised if he walks away with this year's Biletnikoff Award.

Greg Childs, Sr., Arkansas.
We're five selections in now and have yet to break ranks with preseason consensus, but we're not going to in this slot, either; at an NFL-ready 6'3", 215, Childs was step-for-statistical-step with Jeffery last season before an injury cut things short. Expect him to make up for lost time in 2011.

Also watch for: Childs' Razorback teammates Joe Adams and Jarius Wright, either of which could top 1,000 yards themselves; Tennessee sophomore home-run threat Justin Hunter; and junior Emory Blake, who could see a massive statistical bump as the No. 1 receiver in Auburn's more aerial-friendly offense.

OFFENSIVE LINE

C William Vlachos, Sr., Alabama.
The senior leader of what shapes up as the conference's best offensive line, Vlachos will have a shot at the Rimington Trophy.

OT Barrett Jones, Jr., Alabama.
After two years at guard, the All-SEC performer and All-American candidate moves to tackle for 2011.

OT Bobby Massie, Jr., Ole Miss.
Senior teammate Bradley Sowell could fit in this slot, but we like the immensely talented 6'6", 315-pound mauler to take another big step forward, especially in the run game.

OG Alvin Bailey, rSoph., Arkansas. Speaking of steps forward, Bailey started all 13 games in 2010, earned freshman All-American honors, and should be the focal point of an improved Hog ground game.

OG Larry Warford, Sr., Kentucky. The future pro was named second-team All-SEC a year ago and preseason All-SEC this year by both the media and coaches--not an easy thing to do at Kentucky.

Also watch for: Sowell, for one. But every SEC team has at least one player or two with all-conference potential. Perhaps the most likely candidates not listed above are at Georgia, where center Ben Jones and tackle Cordy Glenn could put an end to the Bulldogs' years of line underachievement in their senior seasons.

TIGHT END

Orson Charles, Jr. Georgia.
No other returning tight end in the league was close to his 26 receptions for 422 yards last year--and with A.J. Green and Kris Durham gone, Charles's role in the Bulldog offense should only expand from here.

Also watch for: Auburn's Phillip Lutzenkirchen, also due to see a numbers spike thanks to other receivers' departures. And if Florida jack-of-all-trades Jordan Reed sticks to TE, expect an impact from him as well.

Defense

DEFENSIVE LINE

DE Jake Bequette, Sr. Arkansas. In collecting seven sacks a year ago, Bequette emerged as the most explosive performer in the Hogs' highly-underrated front seven.

DE Devin Taylor, Jr., South Carolina. The Gamecocks finished a quiet third in the SEC last season in rush defense, due in large part to Taylor's 13 tackles-for-loss (tops among returning linemen) and 7.5 sacks.

DT Malik Jackson, Sr., Tennessee. It won't be easy for the talkative Jackson this season--he's the Vols' only returning starter in the front seven, and he's already missing two weeks of practice with a knee injury--but no returning SEC tackle was as disruptive in 2010.

DT Sharrif Floyd, Soph., Florida. Part of Urban Meyer's famous five-star haul in February 2010, Floyd collected 6.5 tackles-for-loss despite only starting two games and has reportedly been unblockable in recent Gator practices.

Also watch for: the nose tackles in either Alabama's or Georgia's 3-4 schemes--Josh Chapman in Tuscaloosa, and Kwame Geathers or Johnathan Jenkins in Athens. Ole Miss end Kentrell Lockett is in his sixth year and could lead the league in sacks if healthy. And the early reports are that megarecruits Jadeveon Clowney (at Carolina) and Anthony Johnson (at LSU) are as good as advertised.

LINEBACKERS

OLB Courtney Upshaw, Sr. Alabama.
Seven sacks and 14.5 tackles-for-loss a year ago, and those numbers should only improve as Nick Saban makes him the cornerstone of a more-dedicated Tide pass rush.

ILB Dont'a Hightower, Jr. Alabama. Hightower's rusty 2010 return from an ACL injury doesn't merit inclusion here, but his experience -- combined with the expected return of the athleticism he flashed a freshman All-American in 2008 -- certainly does.

MLB Danny Trevathan, Sr., Kentucky. We're fudging the formation a bit with two inside 'backers and just one OLB, but it's worth it to make room for the SEC's leading tackler from a year ago.

Also watch for: the excellent tandem of Jerico Nelson and Jerry Franklin at Arkansas, or Chris Marve at Vanderbilt, or LSU's underrated Ryan Baker.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

CB Tyrann Mathieu, Soph., LSU.
Teammate Morris Claiborne has received most of the preseason love, but Mathieu came on like gangbusters at the end of his freshman season -- culminating in an MVP performance at the Cotton Bowl -- and should be ready for an all-conference season.

CB Casey Hayward, Sr., Vanderbilt. The Commodores' disappointing 2010 wasn't Hayward's fault; his 17 passes defended led the SEC, and his six interceptions placed him second.

S Mark Barron, Sr., Alabama. His All-American status overrates him ever-so-slightly -- it's possible to get deep on Barron occasionally, if not frequently -- but no defensive back in the league (and maybe the country) has a better nose for the ball or knack for the game-changing play.

S Robert Lester, Jr., Alabama. Two Tide safeties might feel like overkill, but there's not really any arguing with numbers like these: an SEC-high eight interceptions, 12 passes defended, 52 tackles, and the Tide's league-best opposing passer rating of just 103.56.

Also watch for: Tennessee's Janzen Jackson, now that he's reportedly reported to camp in great shape after his layoff; Claiborne, obviously; Razorback safety Tramain Thomas; Georgia corner Brandon Boykin; and oh, fine, Stephon Gilmore. We don't think netting two pass breakups and three picks for a Gamecock pass defense ranked 97th in the country adds up to being an All-SEC player, but we're in the minority.

SPECIALISTS

P Drew Butler, Sr., Georgia; PK Blair Walsh, Sr., Georgia.
We wish the Bulldog specialists the best of luck in their 11th year in Athens. (No, we refuse to believe the pair of them have only had four years of eligibility each.)

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