Alabama Crimson Tide: Tray Matthews
Nick Marshall and Ricardo Louis (and Tray Matthews and Josh Harvey-Clemons): Let's be clear. It was nothing more than a 1-in-1-million occurrence that allowed Louis to catch a 73-yard pass from Marshall, deflected between Matthews and Harvey-Clemons, to score the game-winning touchdown with 25 seconds remaining on Saturday. But the Tigers scored that touchdown, and kept their SEC championship hopes alive in the process. Marshall finished the day with 229 passing yards against his old team, plus 89 rushing yards and two more scores. And Louis had 131 receiving yards, 66 rushing yards and two touchdowns. It was certainly a winning combination.
Aaron Murray: The Georgia quarterback's ridiculous second half will fade in relevance over time, but the only reason Marshall even needed to complete the last-minute touchdown pass to Louis was because Murray carried his team into the lead in the second half. Georgia stunk it up in the first half, but Murray rallied the Bulldogs to a 38-37 lead with 1:49 to play after trailing by 20 points early in the fourth quarter. Murray finished with 415 passing yards, two touchdowns and one interception, while also rushing for 37 yards and two more scores -- including a diving go-ahead touchdown in the closing minutes -- although Auburn's Hail Mary minimized the importance of Georgia's rally.
Alabama's defense: By this point, this should be obvious. The reason anyone is talking about AJ McCarron contending for the Heisman Trophy is that we can't collectively give it to his defense. Alabama turned the ball over four times Saturday against Mississippi State -- including two interceptions from McCarron -- but the defense allowed just seven points and 197 total yards. Heck, State's one touchdown came on a fumble forward into the end zone. Alabama led 10-7 at one point in a mediocre third quarter, but the defense didn't allow things to get truly scary. McCarron should be taking THOSE guys out to dinner this week.
Jordan Matthews: The Vanderbilt receiver caught 12 passes for 141 yards, becoming the first Commodores wideout to post back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, and rushed twice for 31 yards in Vandy's 22-6 win over Kentucky. He's within three catches of former Vandy receiver Earl Bennett's SEC record of 236 career catches. And the Commodores (6-4) are bowl eligible for three straight years for the first time in program history -- thanks in large part to the contributions from their senior receiver.
Elliott Fry: I almost went with Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace here -- his four touchdowns in Ole Miss' 751-yard effort against Troy were impressive -- but place-kicker Fry's four field goals in Saturday's 19-14 win against Florida were much more important. The Gators led 14-13 entering the fourth quarter on Saturday, but Fry knocked down a 22-yard kick with 6:43 remaining and a 43-yard field goal with 2:16 to play to extend the Gamecocks' lead to five points. Fry went 4-for-5 on field goals Saturday and hit his only PAT as South Carolina put pressure on Missouri to claim the SEC East title.
After Auburn's unbelievable 43-38 win against Georgia on Saturday, the Tigers will still miraculously control their destiny when Alabama visits the Plains on Nov. 30.
Everybody who predicted that in August, raise your hands. For those two or three true believers, wow, congratulations. Your team is set to play in the most impactful meeting between the nation's most heated rivals since 1994. (I was there at Legion Field that night, and if you try to convince me Frank Sanders was short on that fourth down, I'll fight you.)
Sure, 2010 was huge -- and with the way that game evolved, with Cam Newton's Auburn team rallying for a 28-27 win, it lived up to every bit of the pregame hype. But Auburn and Alabama haven't entered this game with one or no losses since that crazy matchup I mentioned in Birmingham. And I expect every bit of the same buildup and mayhem that preceded that game, in the heyday of what has been an extremely cyclical rivalry ever since.
Back then, this was a fairly common occurrence. The Iron Bowl regularly had mutual national-championship implications in the late 1980s and early '90s. But this rivalry hasn't been in that position in some time, and here we are.
Auburn is off next week. And Alabama might as well be, with FCS opponent Chattanooga visiting Tuscaloosa next weekend. The outcome is incidental, as AJ McCarron and C.J. Mosley will be on the sidelines early in the third quarter, while the reserves complete a sure blowout and only add to the buildup for a winner-take-all showdown in Auburn the following Saturday.
When they meet at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Nov. 30, the implications are simple. Win and play for the SEC (and maybe the BCS) title. The loser ... well who cares where they go bowling? You win or you lose in this one, and that's all anyone in Atmore and Gordo and Sylacauga will discuss for the next 364 days -- and for a long while after that. Although I haven't lived in Alabama in the past 14 years, I can tell you who won the Iron Bowl every single year that I've been alive.
Comparatively, it flew under the radar, but we also gained a bit of clarity on who might face the Auburn-Alabama winner in the SEC championship game. With its heartbreaking loss, in which safeties Tray Matthews and Josh Harvey-Clemons failed to break up Auburn's game-winning Hail Mary touchdown pass, Georgia is out of the running in the SEC East. Meanwhile, South Carolina's 19-14 win over Florida ensured that the Gamecocks are still alive and well in the division race.
We could discover next weekend whether South Carolina or Missouri will face the Iron Bowl winner. But the West will go right down to the wire -- and it will see its two most heated rivals determine the division championship.
We haven't seen it come down to that most bitter rivalry for a while, but that's what is now approaching over the next two weeks. Buckle up. It's a trip straight into this league's past.
- Alabama freshmen Reuben Foster, Derrick Henry and Altee Tenpenny are all having to change their jersey numbers because the UA coaches want to be able to use the trio on special teams.
- Georgia starting safety Tray Matthews joined Todd Gurley on the injury report after the freshman “tweaked” his hamstring in practice Wednesday.
- Texas A&M plans to use the open week to recover, both physically and mentally.
- The targeting rule has had a profound effect on the SEC this year, leading to penalties, ejections and even suspensions, but LSU coach Les Miles is a proponent for the rule. He said it has not affected his players.
- South Carolina wide receiver/punt return specialist David Wilkins walked on to the Gamecocks’ football team, but after just four games, he earned a scholarship from the coaching staff.
- When Dominique Easley went down for the season, Florida moved defensive end Jonathan Bullard inside to defensive tackle. He thrived in his first game against Kentucky last weekend.
- The friendship between Auburn coach Gus Malzahn and Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze will have to be put on hold this week as the two square off Saturday.
- Freshman quarterback Jeremy Johnson, an ESPN 300 recruit, competed for the starting job at Auburn in the fall. Now, it looks like he might redshirt his first year.
- Despite Dak Prescott’s recent success as the Mississippi State quarterback, coach Dan Mullen plans to go with Tyler Russell as the starter against LSU on Saturday.
- Kentucky coach Mark Stoops was visibly upset with his team after practice Wednesday. The last time the Wildcats played at South Carolina, they got rolled, 54-3.
- Alabama's secondary was torched earlier this month when it faced Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M. After rotating players against Colorado State, head coach Nick Saban said the competition at cornerback is ongoing.
- Georgia has a young secondary, with two freshmen (Brendan Langley, Tray Matthews) and a sophomore (Josh Harvey-Clemons) in the starting lineup. They say they are ready for their showdown with LSU.
- LSU will embrace the hostility at Georgia when the teams meet this weekend, when the Tigers will play at an opponent's home stadium for the first time this season.
- After sophomore running back Brian Kimbrow had a tirade on Twitter that was apparently about playing time, Vanderbilt coach James Franklin said he has handled the matter internally.
- Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace is confident in his offense, telling reporters "we can put points" on Alabama when the teams meet.
- A handful of players from Georgia, Georgia Tech and Northwestern wrote the letters "APU" on their football gear over the weekend to make a statement against the NCAA and for players participating in the Ed O'Bannon lawsuit. The National College Players Association has become the key voice in the movement.
- There were several positives to take away from Texas A&M's win over SMU on Saturday.
- With a lot of success on third down in particular, South Carolina's defense showed improvement in its last game against Vanderbilt, Steve Spurrier said.
- Florida quarterback Tyler Murphy made the most out of his opportunity to play when starter Jeff Driskel went down with an injury.
- Kentucky hasn't beaten Florida in its last 26 tries. That's something coach Mark Stoops believes needs to be talked about, but that it can't be the focal point.
- Tennessee quarterback Nathan Peterman will be out up to four weeks after having surgery on his right hand and Tennessee coach Butch Jones says that for now, Justin Worley is the starter. Jones wants to see his quarterbacks eliminate mistakes.
- Missouri used something Gary Pinkel called a "30 defense" in its victory over Indiana on Saturday.
- Arkansas blew a 17-point lead in its loss to Rutgers on Saturday, but coach Bret Bielema said the Razorbacks must move on with Texas A&M coming to town.
- Auburn receiver Jaylon Denson, who tore the patellar tendon in his left leg and is out for the season, vows to come back stronger.
- Alabama has long been known for its defensive prowess but could a high-powered offense be the reason the No. 1 Crimson Tide make a run at a fourth championship in five seasons?
- There's a lot of youth on Arkansas' initial depth chart, as 15 freshmen or redshirt freshmen are on the offensive or defensive two-deep, which was released Sunday night.
- The status of Georgia true freshman safety Tray Matthews is uncertain, as the Bulldogs prepare for their opener against Clemson. Matthews has been listed as the starter at free safety since the end of spring practice.
- Under new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, LSU's fullbacks are going to be asked to do more than just block.
- Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel was the center of attention on Saturday as the school hosted its annual "Meet the Aggies" autograph event for fans. Manziel signed an estimated 500 autographs as he smiled and greeted a line of hundreds who were eager to meet him.
- There's a certain feeling Steve Spurrier gets when facing North Carolina, one the South Carolina coach can date back to his days at Duke. The Gamecocks host the Tar Heels on Thursday night to open the season.
- At 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, Tennessee's Marquez North isn't your typical freshman. Players and coaches are praising the young playmaker, who figures to see plenty of field time this fall.
- Missouri quarterback James Franklin is trying to move past a disappointing 2012 campaign. Steps he took this offseason to work toward that goal included improving his health and attitude, despite the criticism he took from fans.
- The relationship between Kentucky defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot and head coach Mark Stoops goes back more than 15 years. Now Eliot is trying to improve a defense that struggled mightily in 2012.
- Auburn senior defensive end Craig Sanders expects to make his first career start on Saturday against Washington State in place of the injured Dee Ford. Sanders is fired up about the opportunity.
Leading the way was Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, who as a redshirt freshman burst onto the scene with an SEC-record 5,116 yards of total offense and captured the Heisman Trophy. Manziel was the first-team quarterback along with junior college transfer Cordarrelle Patterson, who was the first-team all-purpose player in his only season at Tennessee. Georgia true freshman Todd Gurley earned second-team honors at running back.
Who are the new faces this season most likely to earn All-SEC honors?
It's always an educated guess at this point. After all, Manziel didn't even win the Aggies' starting quarterback job until last preseason when he beat out Jameill Showers.
We've come up with five choices (And, yes, there are others who could have easily been on the list), but we're counting on you to tell us which newcomer will make the most profound impact this season.
Four of the five will be true freshmen. Of the true freshmen, Alabama running back Derrick Henry and Georgia safety Tray Matthews enrolled early and both went through spring practice, although Henry is coming off a broken fibula in the spring. The reports this preseason, though, are that the 6-foot-3, 242-pound Henry is still as tough as ever to get on the ground. Matthews was one of the stars of the spring on Georgia's defense and is a big-time hitter.
Ole Miss defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, the No. 1 high school prospect in the country last year, and Arkansas running back Alex Collins both arrived on their respective campuses this summer. They both had a lot of hype coming in and haven't disappointed during preseason practices.
Texas A&M running back Brandon Williams is a transfer. He sat out last season after playing as a freshman at Oklahoma. The 6-foot, 192-pound Williams has some serious acceleration and is an absolute blur when he gets into the open field. The Aggies are hoping for more than a few big plays from Williams.
Get your votes in and we'll review the results next week.
1. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Jr., Alabama: He might be the nation's best safety prospect with his range, speed, athleticism and physical nature. Clinton-Dix has a great football mind when he's on the field and isn't afraid to play high or in the box. What makes him so good is that he's not only a ballhawk and a banger, but he's excellent in coverage, too. He had five interceptions and defended nine passes last season.
2. Craig Loston, Sr., LSU: It has taken some time for Loston to come into his own at LSU, but he is in position to be one of the nation's best. It's not like he ever lacked the talent, but his work ethic needed some improvement. Having more responsibility thrown his way helped turn his game up and he started to play like the top-flight athlete LSU's coaching staff had been waiting for. He's a ballhawk and can lay the lumber with ease.
4. Nickoe Whitley, Sr., Mississippi State: He's basically the grandpa of Mississippi State's secondary, but he certainly doesn't play like an old man. He has 10 career interceptions and was third on Mississippi State's team with 88 tackles last season. Whitley is a big-play threat at the safety spot and covers a lot of ground with his speed.
5. Byron Moore, Sr., Tennessee: His team-high five interceptions were probably overlooked because of how poorly Tennessee's defense played, but Moore was a heck of a player. Moore, who was second on the team with 86 tackles last year, is extremely versatile as well. He started the first three games of the season at strong safety before moving over to free safety after Brian Randolph got hurt. He started the final nine games there.
6. Jaylen Watkins, Sr., Florida: He's played in 36 games with 19 starts, but the majority of his work has come at cornerback. But Watkins is talented enough and knows Florida's defense well enough that moving to safety wasn't an issue. He played there at the end of last season and cross-trained there all year. He's a physical player, has good coverage skills and should be able to fly all over the field.
7. Demetruce McNeal, Sr., Auburn: There weren't many positive things to say about Auburn's defense last year, but McNeal was pretty impressive. Off-field issues this spring made his status for the fall uncertain, but now that he's cleared everything up, he should be good to go. He notched a team-high 53 solo tackles last year and was tied for first with seven tackles for loss. Anytime you have a safety who isn't afraid to get rough up front, that's a very good thing.
8. Trae Elston, So., Ole Miss: The Rebels expected him to play early last year and he didn't disappoint. He played in 12 games and made nine starts as the Rebels' Rover. Elston led the team with six pass breakups, had a sack and recovered a fumble last year. Elston is a big-hitting safety who can play all over. He'll get in the box and cover guys. He's a very dynamic athlete in the Rebels' defense.
9. T.J. Gurley, So., South Carolina: A knee injury cut his 2012 season short, but even with only eight games under his belt he was selected to the SEC All-Freshman team. South Carolina's coaches are extremely excited about his potential and think he could have been a tremendous player if he was able to finish last season. He didn't go through spring, but should be 100 percent this fall. Gurley has the skill to make plays all over the field and be a solid ballhawk.
10. Tray Matthews, Fr., Georgia: No, he hasn't played a down in college, but he could be one of the most physically gifted safeties in the SEC right now. He made an immediate impression on his coaches, especially defensive coordinator Todd Grantham this spring, and was an easy choice for the starting free safety spot. He's an excellent tackler, lays bone-crushing hits and has tremendous field range.
Alabama lost nine draft picks, including three first-rounders, but Nick Saban has a host of talent returning on both sides of the ball, and the Tide's schedule isn't too daunting after the first two games.
But there are teams that will test the Tide's road to a national championship trifecta in 2013. Colleague Travis Haney picked five teams from around the country that could challenge Alabama's title hopes this fall. Ohio State topped his list, while Texas A&M made it from the SEC.
No surprise there with the Aggies. Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel returns with a bundle of riches to accompany him in the Aggies' backfield.
Johnny Football might not have Luke Joeckel protecting him, but Jake Matthews provides quite the safety net with his move to left tackle, and there is still talent and experience up front. Mike Evans leads a young but talented group of pass-catchers.
The defense is a concern, with five members of last season's front seven gone, but the Aggies will still be equipped to win most shootouts.
A&M benefits from getting Alabama at home early in the season, but has to play Arkansas, Ole Miss, LSU and Missouri on the road. Even beating Alabama early doesn't guarantee the Aggies will make it to Atlanta over the Tide.
Here are four other SEC teams that could wreck Alabama's title train this fall:
The Gators will yet again be elite on defense. First-round draft picks Sharrif Floyd and Matt Elam might be gone, but Dominique Easley moves back to his more natural position at defensive tackle and could one of the best at his position this fall. Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy could be the top cornerback duo in the SEC, while inside linebacker Antonio Morrison has the makings of being a budding star.
The offense is still a concern, especially with the lack of proven receiving talent, but quarterback Jeff Driskel has found a lot more confidence in his second year under offensive coordinator Brent Pease, and he'll have a much tougher offensive line and another loaded backfield to work with.
Sure, the defense is younger and less experienced, but people in Athens are excited about the younger guys taking over. They were very receptive to coaching and showed continued improvement this spring. Linebacker Jordan Jenkins has playmaker written all over him, while freshman Tray Matthews could be the next big thing at safety. Having Damian Swann back at cornerback is huge.
Offensively, Georgia will be able to score on just about everyone. Aaron Murray is looking to be the first SEC quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards in four seasons, and should leave with a handful of SEC/Georgia records. He has five offensive linemen returning, the best one-two running back punch (Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall) and plenty of receivers to throw to, including Malcolm Mitchell, who has moved back to offense full-time.
Yes, the Tigers lost a ton of talent on the defensive side of the ball, but Les Miles seemed pretty happy with where his defense was -- especially his defensive line -- at the end of spring. Jermauria Rasco could be a big-time player at defensive end for LSU, while linebacker Lamin Barrow has the talent to be an All-SEC performer. The return of cornerbacks Jalen Collins and Jalen Mills should continue the Tigers' trend of having an elite secondary.
The offense should be better, too. Zach Mettenberger is way more comfortable in the offense and has developed better chemistry with his receiving targets, which all return from last season. He'll have a solid offensive line in front of him and a loaded backfield. Although, it will be important to see what happens to the suspended Jeremy Hill, who could be the Tigers' top offensive weapon.
Jadeveon Clowney hasn't left, and the Gamecocks should once again be stacked along their defensive line. South Carolina does have to replace its two-deep at linebacker and has a couple of holes in its secondary, but we all know that a good defensive line can mask weaknesses behind it.
And the offense should be pretty balanced this fall. South Carolina possesses two solid quarterbacks and a talented running back stable led by rising sophomore Mike Davis. Bruce Ellington is back at receiver, and it sounds like the very talented Shaq Roland is finally starting to come around and should be a valuable receiving target this fall. This team has the personnel to make it back to Atlanta.
In the SEC, getting a high number of early enrollees is becoming more and more of a priority for coaches. This year, all 14 SEC teams had players from their 2013 classes enroll in school early. Georgia leads the SEC with 13, Alabama has nine, and Florida and Texas A&M both have eight. In fact, 73 players from this year's recruiting class enrolled early at SEC schools in this year.
ESPN colleague Travis Haney unveiled his top impact early enrollees from around the country Wednesday, and of his five players who made the cut, three came from the SEC. Well, four, because he said defensive backs Tray Matthews and Reggie Wilkerson would make immediate impacts at Georgia.
Florida running back Kelvin Taylor, who was the nation's No. 1 running back, and Alabama tight end O.J. Howard, who was an ESPN 150 member, also made the list.
Those all make sense. Georgia is basically replacing its entire secondary outside of cornerback Damian Swann, so the Bulldogs will need all the help they can get in the secondary. Florida proved that it could survive -- for the most part -- on a very strong running game last fall, but workhorse Mike Gillislee is gone, so the Gators will need help for Matt Jones and Mack Brown. Taylor is an elusive, physical back who could find himself getting a boatload of carries this fall. And Howard is a real difference-maker at tight end. The Alabama coaches are very excited about his big-play ability and his ability to create a lot of mismatches for defenders.
Haney also gave Tennessee wide receiver Paul Harris the honorable mention nod. Harris comes in at a position of great need, and it will only benefit, well, everyone, having him on campus early.
But what other players who decided to trade in their prom tuxes for shoulder pads could make immediate impacts in the SEC? Glad you asked, because here are some other guys I think you should all keep an eye on:
Christian LaCouture, DL, LSU: With LSU losing starters at both end spots and one at defensive tackle, LaCouture has a chance to get immediate playing time. He can play inside or outside for the Tigers.
Christian Morgan, TE, Ole Miss: The Rebels lost three senior tight ends from last season's team, and the returning players lack experience, so Morgan could step right into a starting spot with a successful spring.
Demarcus Robinson, WR, Florida: The Gators need receiving weapons, and Robinson might be the most versatile of the bunch on campus right now. He's the play-making type this offense desperately needs.
Junior college transfers
Leon Brown, OL, Alabama: Three starting offensive linemen are gone, which means Brown could find himself playing a lot this fall. He could be in line to take the vacant right tackle spot left by D.J. Fluker.
Justin Cox, DB, Mississippi State: Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay are gone, and Cox is already impressing people around the program. Word is he's already one of the fastest guys on the team, and could come in and start immediately at cornerback.
Za'Darius Smith, DE, Kentucky: With all the late movement in UK's class, Smith might have been overlooked, but Mark Stoops is very excited about him. He's been a monster in the weight room and could play right away this fall.
LB Reuben Foster: There hasn’t been a recruitment quite like Foster’s -- maybe ever. The ESPN 150 linebacker originally committed to Alabama the summer before his junior year. However, when he moved from Georgia to Alabama last spring and transferred to Auburn High School, that changed everything. Just months later, Foster flipped his pledge from the Tide to the Tigers and went as far as to get an Auburn tattoo on his arm. Still, it was far from over. Both Alabama and Georgia continued to recruit him, and when former AU coach Gene Chizik was let go along along with his staff, Foster opted to reopen his recruitment. Since then he’s taken all five of his official visits, including trips to San Diego State and Washington. At 9 p.m. CT on Monday, he’s expected to choose between Alabama, Auburn and Georgia.
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No. 1 ILB Reuben Foster has voiced his desire to play with at least one of his SEC-bound friends next season. But will he follow Tray Matthews to Georgia or hook up with Dee Liner wherever the ESPN 150 DL settles? It remains to be seen, but the mystery surrounding his recruitment keeps Foster at the top of our #BlueChipBattles.
Each week, RecruitingNation summons its writers from around the country to compile a list of the top 10 battles for elite football recruits leading up to February's signing day.
Here are this week's top battles , and you can take a shot at ranking the top 10 recruiting battles on SportsNation.
In this week’s update:
- Foster, Matthews plan visits
- McNeil delays decision
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And while the meeting had a few hiccups overall, Wiggins was pleased by the progress.
"We probably didn't hang out for as long as we could have but Reuben [Foster] left early so we had to deal with that," Wiggins said. "Still it was a good meeting and I think everyone knows what's up."
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Matthews says they will make their announcement together before the beginning of the season, and he feels two others could be joining them.
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