Alabama Crimson Tide: John Chavis
Missouri's running game: The backfield committee of Henry Josey, Marcus Murphy, James Franklin and Russell Hansbrough led the way, as the Tigers racked up 260 yards rushing to handle Ole Miss on the road. Josey was Mizzou's statistical standout with 95 yards, a 6.3-yard average and two touchdowns. Murphy added 67 yards and a touchdown, and Franklin chipped in 42 yards in his return to the starting lineup. The senior quarterback, who averaged 5.3 yards a carry, showed just what a challenge he presents to defenses when they must account for his snap decisions to run, throw or do both. The Tigers have a reliable offense built on the foundation of their diverse running game. It should come in handy at home next week as they aim for Atlanta.
John Chavis: With an assist from some nasty weather, LSU's defensive coordinator architected what might have been a Heisman bid-killer in Death Valley on Saturday. Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel was gunning for back-to-back trophies but ran smack into a determined Tigers' D. Manziel was only 16-of-41 passing (a career-low 39 percent) for 224 yards with two interceptions and two sacks. He also had only 54 rushing yards on 12 carries. All told, Johnny Football recorded a career-low 14.9 Total QBR on Saturday. Just as it was in a win at College Station last season, Chavis' key was having his front focus on containment in order to limit Manziel's improvisational magic. Mission accomplished.
Jordan Matthews: Any time Vanderbilt beats instate rival Tennessee in back-to-back seasons (Hint: It hadn't happened since 1925-26), a helmet sticker must be awarded. In a game that was more about two defenses fighting for every yard, the senior wide receiver caught 13 passes for 133 yards and broke the SEC record for career receptions. Matthews now has 246 career receptions and owns the mark previously held by Vandy's Earl Bennett, who caught 236 passes from 2005-07. Matthews also has the SEC record for career yards receiving (3,491).
AJ McCarron: We'll give a nod to Georgia QB Aaron Murray, who similarly feasted on an inferior opponent (four touchdown passes before leaving with an injury). But McCarron had much more on the line in leading the undefeated top-ranked Tide past Chattanooga. Like Murray at Sanford Stadium, McCarron also bore the emotional burden of playing in his final home game at Bryant-Denny Stadium. He was a brutally efficient 13-of-16 passing for 171 yards and two touchdowns (95.9 Total QBR), and he even found time to deliver brother Corey his first career reception. But the most important statistic in McCarron's sterling legacy at Bama is his 36-2 record as a starter, which broke a tie with Jay Barker for the school record.
Terrence Magee: Sure, the junior tailback has played second fiddle to Jeremy Hill all season. But Magee broke out on Saturday with a career-high 149 yards rushing in LSU's win against visiting Texas A&M. The conditions -- cold, wet, blustery and generally miserable -- called for a strong running game. Magee answered the bell early with a 65-yard sprint that put the Aggies defense on its heels and set up the Tigers' first touchdown. Magee led the way for LSU to amass 324 yards on 55 rushes, a ground assault for which A&M had no answer.
It’s that time again as we review the week that was in the SEC.
Alabama’s intel: Alabama’s defense was already fired up thanks to what the Tide perceived as smack talk by some of the Ole Miss players leading up to the game. Let’s face it: There’s a fine line sometimes between a player answering a question honestly and his comments mushrooming into full-blown bulletin board material. Either way, the Alabama defense was amped by some of the things Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace was quoted as saying earlier in the week, even though what Wallace said was pretty tame. We’re not exactly talking about any “Archie who?” banter here. But where the Crimson Tide really stuck it to the Rebels was with a little inside intel thanks to Tyler Siskey, Alabama’s assistant director of football operations. Siskey was on the Ole Miss staff last season as director of recruiting development. He was in the Alabama coaches' booth for the game with a set of binoculars, and even though Ole Miss changed up its signals, there weren’t many times that the Tide were fooled by what the Rebels were doing offensively. As ESPN analyst Todd Blackledge noted during the broadcast, Siskey’s knowledge of the Ole Miss offense was a big asset to an already imposing Alabama defense in its preparation for the game. The Tide might not have had the Rebels’ signals, but they were sure locked in to the Rebels’ tendencies on offense and played lights-out in shutting out a Hugh Freeze-coached team for the first time in his college career.
Missouri cornerback E.J. Gaines: When you start reeling off the top cornerbacks in this league, don’t forget about Gaines. He’s off to a terrific start to the season. In the 41-19 win over Arkansas State, he had nine total tackles, including one for loss, and his third interception of the season to set up Missouri’s final touchdown. Gaines is more than just a cover guy. He leads the Tigers with 19 solo tackles.
LSU’s defense: The Tigers have a way to go defensively. When you lose as many good defensive players early to the NFL draft as they have over the last couple of years, that kind of talent drain has a way of catching up with even the best defenses. Veteran coordinator John Chavis knew this defense would be a work in progress, but seeing all the blown coverages in the 44-41 loss at Georgia and wide-open receivers running free in the LSU secondary was difficult for anybody on that LSU staff to stomach.
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray: So much for the “can’t win the big game” label. Murray has been fabulous in Georgia’s two wins over top-10 teams this season, with eight touchdown passes and just one interception. There’s no substitute for his experience, and it shows in the way he’s carving apart defenses right now.
SEC defenses: Only one SEC team (Florida at No. 2) is ranked in the top 10 nationally in total defense this week. For that matter, only two are ranked in the top 20. Mississippi State is 20th. In scoring defense, Alabama is still among the national leaders at No. 13. The offenses have taken center stage this season in the SEC, and suddenly the defenses are trying to catch up. Keep in mind, too, that six of the seven national champions during the SEC’s streak have finished in the top 10 nationally in total defense.
South Carolina running back Mike Davis: He’s the SEC’s rushing leader heading into the month of October and seemingly gets better every week. He carried the Gamecocks in the 28-25 win over UCF after Connor Shaw went down, and finished with a career-high 167 yards and three touchdowns. He has had a run of 50 yards or longer in three of his four games.
Schedule balance: Talk about a contrast in October schedules. Alabama doesn’t play anyone that should come within 20 points of the Crimson Tide (and that’s being kind) until LSU comes to town on Nov. 9. Arkansas, meanwhile, has Florida, South Carolina and Alabama over the next three weeks, and Florida and Alabama are on the road. Tennessee gets Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama in October. Ole Miss also has a tough October stretch that will go a long way toward shaping the Rebels’ season. They travel to Auburn this weekend and then come back home for back-to-back games against Texas A&M and LSU. Georgia gets a little bit of a break, although the Bulldogs do have to go on the road to face both Tennessee and Vanderbilt in October. Given their September gantlet (three top-10 opponents), nothing should seem too daunting the rest of the way.
Staying healthy: Geez, what a bad week on the injury front for a handful of SEC teams and players. Florida was already reeling after losing starting quarterback Jeff Driskel to a season-ending injury two weeks ago against Tennessee. And then last week in practice, star defensive tackle Dominique Easley was lost for the season with a torn ACL. Easley was playing as well as any defensive lineman in the league. This past weekend, we saw South Carolina quarterback Shaw go down with a right (throwing) shoulder sprain that will sideline him for two to three weeks. Alabama will be without starting center Ryan Kelly for two to three weeks after he suffered an MCL injury to his knee, and Georgia running back Todd Gurley injured his ankle in the win over LSU. Georgia coach Mark Richt said Gurley would be “day-to-day” in preparation for Saturday’s game at Tennessee and wouldn’t need any kind of surgery. The Bulldogs played the final three quarters without Gurley. Texas A&M defensive tackle Kirby Ennis had to leave the Arkansas game with a left knee injury. Depending on the severity of Ennis’ injury, he will have some extra time to recover. The Aggies are off this week before traveling to Ole Miss on Oct. 12.
- The SEC has secured bowl spots for at least 10 of its member schools starting in 2014.
- If anyone thought Alabama receiver Amari Cooper was about to slow down after a stellar freshman season, his explosive first scrimmage would indicate otherwise.
- Defensive coordinator John Chavis is fine with the many fresh faces on LSU’s rebuilt defense.
- An intriguing football triangle is taking shape between Georgia, South Carolina and Clemson.
- Tennessee running back Rajion Neal is confident that the Volunteers’ passing game will open up space for him to run.
- With Paul Finebaum returning to the airwaves today, al.com breaks down some of the infamous radio host’s most noteworthy callers who we’ve missed during his radio absence.
- Florida’s Ronald Powell is using Adrian Peterson as an example as he works to return from a season-ending knee injury suffered in spring 2012.
- James Franklin states his case for Missouri’s starting quarterback job.
- Georgia defensive end Sterling Bailey might start for the first time since high school, in 2010, when the Bulldogs open the season at Clemson.
- Approximately 5,000 people turned out for Vanderbilt’s fan day on Sunday despite the cloud of four former players having been arrested for rape hanging over the program.
- Auburn safety Justin Garrett was unable to practice on Sunday because of a foot injury.
- Speaking of Auburn, newly minted PGA champion Jason Dufner dedicated his victory to all the people in his adopted hometown.
Saban and LSU coach Les Miles have won four of the past six SEC titles and four of the last six BCS national championships. They've pushed each program to greater heights and established themselves as two of the top coaches in the game, all the while competing against one another on and off the field.
So far, Alabama holds the slight edge over LSU in terms of head-to-head wins and national championships, but will that last? Who will own the rivalry in the years to come? That's what we asked of TideNation writer Alex Scarborough and GeauxTigerNation writer Gary Laney. Each looked into their crystal ball to come up with three things each school must do to win the rivalry moving into 2014 and beyond.
What LSU must do to own the rivalry
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It's never too early to look forward to a good old-fashioned rivalry game. So with more than 100 days remaining between now and the Alabama-LSU regular-season matchup in Tuscaloosa, Ala., we asked TideNation writer Alex Scarborough and GeauxTigerNation writer Gary Laney to break down three keys for each school to come out on top.
A lot can happen between now and Nov. 9, but its safe to say the plans laid out by each writer will be as true today as they are four months from now when Nick Saban and Les Miles meet at midfield in Bryant-Denny Stadium to renew a rivalry that's been boiling intensely in recent years.
How LSU wins in 2013
2. Pressure points: Alabama has some work to do on its offensive line, and LSU has some holes to fill on its defensive line. This should not be a huge issue for the Tigers' run defense -- defensive coordinator John Chavis is a master of scheming extra men in the box to negate the run -- but if a now well-seasoned A.J. McCarron has time to sit back and go through his progressions in the passing game, even "DBU" won't be able to cover. Don't believe it? Look at the winning drive last season. Defensive tackle Anthony Johnson should be a pass-rushing force this season. But if the Tigers enter the LSU game still waiting for one of the young ends to emerge as a consistent sack threat, they could be in for a world of hurt.
3. Kicking it around: The last time the Tigers beat Alabama, Drew Alleman gave LSU all of its points with three field goals. Under Les Miles, LSU always seems to enjoy a special teams edge. That's especially important against this team because it will take a mighty effort to just be close to the Tide, based on what they have coming back with offensive skill players and defensive talent. That might be a problem for LSU, which is breaking in a new starting punter in Jamie Keehn and is entering August camp still searching for Alleman's replacement at kicker.
How Alabama wins in 2013
1. Pressure Mettenberger: It's odd that the silver lining in Mettenberger's otherwise lackluster 2012 campaign was a defeat, but such was the case for the rising senior quarterback who threw for a season-high 298 yards against Alabama in early November. Give him credit for making all the throws, but a fair share of the blame lies with the Tide defense, which had three sacks and no quarterback hurries in Baton Rouge. Allowing a big, strong-armed quarterback such as Mettenberger to set his feet like that was just asking for trouble. Combined with a season-low two pass breakups, it's a wonder he didn't throw for more than one touchdown. For Alabama to survive LSU in Tuscaloosa this season, the defense can't afford Mettenberger another career-making day where he has the time to sit back and pick the secondary apart.
2. Stay with the running game: There were times last season when the Alabama offense got too far ahead of its skis and lost balance -- twice to be exact. The LSU game was the first such instance when offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier called more passes than runs, and the lack of continuity showed in the second half, when McCarron and Co. went three-and-out on four of six drives. Alabama, of course, survived that bit of unbalance, but the next week it did not as the Tide threw the ball more than it ran and lost in heartbreaking fashion to Texas A&M. While the temptation to pass will be even greater with McCarron a year wiser and with more weapons at wide receiver, the fact remains that the Alabama offense is based on running the football and controlling the line of scrimmage. Handing the ball off to T.J. Yeldon and the rest of the stable of running backs might not be sexy, but it gets the job done.
3. Stay special: A bad kicking game doomed Alabama the last time LSU came to Tuscaloosa as the Tide missed four-of-six field goal attempts in its only loss of the 2011 season. And while Cade Foster appears to have gotten over the hiccup of that game, he comes into the 2013 season with even greater expectations now that short-range specialist Jeremy Shelley is gone. Making the most of every opportunity will be important for whoever handles field goals for the Tide this go-around, whether it's Foster or redshirt freshman Adam Griffith, who could take over for Shelley as the short- to intermediate-range kicker. Getting the ball through the uprights won't be the only thing that's important, though. The Tide must do well in coverage and take care of the ball in the return game, as five of the past seven meetings between the schools have been decided by a touchdown or less.
The head coaches are the ones who make the big money in the SEC.
But without a quality staff, a head coach isn’t going to survive very long in this league.
So as we look back on the 2012 regular season, let’s pay tribute to 12 assistant coaches who separated themselves from the rest. Each of these guys made a huge difference in their development of players and units.
We’ll call it our “Dandy Dozen” of SEC assistant coaches, and they’re listed in alphabetical order:
Mike Bobo, Georgia, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks: A finalist for the Broyles Award, Bobo has the Bulldogs ranked in the top four in the SEC in both rushing and passing offense. They scored 28 or more points in 11 of their 13 games, and did it with an offensive line that was both young and unproven when the season began.
Burton Burns, Alabama, associate head coach/running backs: Despite injuries to Dee Hart and Jalston Fowler, Alabama didn’t miss a beat in its running game. In fact, Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon became the first two players in school history to each rush for 1,000 yards in the same season.
John Chavis, LSU, defensive coordinator/linebackers: Like clockwork, Chavis just keeps on churning out rock-solid defenses at LSU. The Tigers are No. 8 nationally in total defense and No. 11 in scoring defense, and that’s despite losing their top playmaker on defense (Tyrann Mathieu) in the preseason.
D.J. Durkin, Florida, special teams coordinator/linebackers: When you play as many close games as the Gators did this season, you better be good on special teams. They weren’t just good. They were excellent in all facets, which is a credit to Durkin and the job he did in coordinating the entire kicking game.
Herb Hand, Vanderbilt, offensive line: For the second year in a row, Zac Stacy rushed for 1,000 yards, and for the second year in a row, the Commodores more than held their own up front offensively. One of the best decisions James Franklin made when he took the job was holding onto Hand from the previous staff.
Kliff Kingsbury, Texas A&M, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks: Just his work with Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel alone was enough to get Kingsbury some serious props. But Texas A&M’s offense also put up crazy numbers in its first season in the SEC. Kingsbury, a finalist for the Broyles Award, has suddenly become a hot commodity in the head coaching ranks.
Brad Lawing, South Carolina, defensive line: One of the more underrated coaches in the SEC, Lawing has been doing it for a long time at a very high level. His defensive lines at South Carolina have been excellent the past few years and are one of the big reasons the Gamecocks have made their move into the SEC’s upper tier.
Matt Luke, Ole Miss, co-offensive coordinator/offensive line: Just about everybody agreed in the preseason that the offensive line was Ole Miss’ weakest link, but Luke was able to get everything and then some out of that group after a lackluster showing by the Rebels in the trenches in 2011. What’s more, Ole Miss was one of only three teams in the league (Texas A&M and Georgia) to average more than 250 yards passing and 165 yards rushing this season.
Sam Pittman, Tennessee, offensive line: Few units in the league improved as much from 2011 to 2012 as Tennessee’s offensive line. The Vols gave up just eight sacks in 12 games, which was tied for fourth nationally, and padded their rushing average by more than 70 yards per game. Pittman’s approach was exactly what the Vols needed up front, and they blossomed into one of the top offensive lines in the SEC.
Dan Quinn, Florida, defensive coordinator/defensive line: The Gators won 11 games in the regular season, and they held the opposition to 17 or fewer points nine times. Quinn, a Broyles Award finalist, put a defense on the field during his first season at Florida that was very good. But the one this season played at a championship level. The Gators head to the Allstate Sugar Bowl ranked No. 3 nationally in scoring defense and No. 5 in total defense.
Bob Shoop, Vanderbilt, defensive coordinator/safeties: For the second straight season, the Commodores rank among the top 20 teams nationally in total defense. They’re also No. 15 in scoring defense. They’re not real big up front and lost three key players from last season (Chris Marve, Casey Hayward and Tim Fugger), but Shoop keeps finding ways to stop people.
Kirby Smart, Alabama, defensive coordinator/linebackers: Alabama fans were holding their breath when it looked like Smart might be going to Auburn as head coach. The Crimson Tide had six players drafted off of their 2011 national championship defense, but here they are again going back to the national title game and ranked No. 1 nationally in total defense and No. 2 in scoring defense.
Alabama's undefeated record and 40.6 points per game is a testament to the play of the team all the way around, not just the man under center.
"It's the body of work of everybody on the offense," Nussmeier told ESPN's Samantha Steele, crediting the offensive line, running backs and wide receivers.
If anything, it's been a team effort. McCarron just happens to be the face of it.
The junior quarterback from South Alabama has taken on a greater role on offense this season after leading the Tide to a national championship in his first year starting under center. Nussmeier, who is in his first season at Alabama, said McCarron came in this past offseason ready to work on the finer points of his game, things like footwork and selling the play-action pass better. It was music to the former pro quarterback's ears.
Coordinator and quarterback jelled quickly and McCarron's newfound attention to detail has paid off on the football field. The same pundits and and prognosticators that labeled McCarron a "game manager," are calling him something different this season. They're calling him one of the best quarterbacks in the country.
Not that UA coach Nick Saban is ready to abandon the title of "game manager" any time soon. To him, it's a compliment more than an insult.