Georgia Bulldogs: Jarvis Landry

SEC lunchtime links

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
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Plenty going on as spring practices continue in the SEC. We have pro days, coaching talk, players adapting to new positions and even reality TV news in today's lunch links:
AUBURN, Ala. -- There wasn’t much fire in the voice of Gus Malzahn as he stood at the podium following Auburn’s first scrimmage of the spring on Saturday. All told, it was a pretty boring scene. No injuries to report. No position changes to speak of. Only one turnover and a handful of big plays. His team had to move indoors because of the threat of rain, but as he said, “It didn’t bother us a bit.”

Watching Malzahn, you got the feeling he wasn’t playing coy. This was the difference a year makes. Last spring was an anxious time for Auburn. There was no quarterback, no depth chart and no sense of expectations. Malzahn and Co. were simply trying to pick up the pieces left behind from the previous staff.

This spring has a much different tone. All one needed to do was look at the long-sleeve, collared shirt Malzahn wore after practice, the one with the SEC championship patch on its left shoulder. The building phase of Malzahn’s tenure is over. The questions are much fewer this year than the last. And with that, the sense of urgency is far more diminished.

“We've got more information now, so we're not as urgent,” Malzahn said. “We pretty much know a lot about the guys returning.”

Not every coach in the SEC is in the same enviable position.

“You've also got to keep in mind next year," Malzahn said. "You want to get your guys as much reps as you can moving forward for next year, because that's what it's all about ... but I would say, probably, for the most part, that we've got guys in the position that we want them to be in."

Not every coach can afford to look ahead this spring. Not every coach has the time.

With that said, let’s take a look at the programs with the most to accomplish this spring, ranking all 14 schools by the length of their to-do list.

Vanderbilt: Any new coaching staff has the most work to do, from determining the roster to installing new schemes on both sides of the ball. Throw in a new starting quarterback and the raid James Franklin put on the recruiting class, and it adds up to an enormously important spring for Derek Mason.

Kentucky: Mark Stoops has done a lot to turn around the culture at Kentucky. In fact, veteran defensive end Alvin Dupree said it feels like more of a football school now. But the fact remains that Stoops has a very young group to deal with, so inexperienced that true freshman Drew Barker is in contention to start at quarterback.

Tennessee: The Vols are facing many of the same challenges in Year 2 under Butch Jones. He has brought in a wealth of talent, including a remarkable 14 early enrollees. Considering the Vols lost all of their starters on both the offensive and defensive lines, there’s a lot of work to do.

Florida: The hot seat knows no reason. All is good in Gator Land right now as a new offense under a new coordinator is installed, injured players -- including starting quarterback Jeff Driskel -- return, and expectations creep upward. But a bad showing in the spring game could change the conversation quickly for Will Muschamp.

Arkansas: There’s nowhere to go but up for Bret Bielema after a 3-9 finish his first year with the program. The good news is he has young playmakers on offense (Hunter Henry, Alex Collins, etc.). The bad news is the quarterback position is unsettled and his defensive coaching staff is almost entirely overhauled from a year ago.

LSU: A depth chart full of question marks is nothing new for Les Miles, who has endured plenty of underclassmen leaving for the NFL before. But missing almost every skill player on offense (Zach Mettenberger, Jeremy Hill, Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry) hurts. He has to find replacements at several key positions, and we haven’t even gotten into the defense.

Texas A&M: Cedric Ogbuehi can replace Jake Matthews at left tackle. The combination of Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil can replace Mike Evans at receiver. But who replaces the legend of Johnny Football? Determining a starter under center won’t be easy, but neither will be overhauling a defense that was far and away the worst in the SEC last year.

Georgia: Jeremy Pruitt should breathe some new life into a struggling Georgia defense. Having Hutson Mason to replace Aaron Murray helps as well. But off-the-field problems continue to plague Mark Richt’s program. With stars such as Todd Gurley, the players are there. The pieces just need to come together.

Missouri: After 13 seasons in Columbia, Gary Pinkel knows how to handle the spring. Maty Mauk appears ready to take over for James Franklin at quarterback, and even with the loss of Henry Josey, there are still plenty of weapons on offense. The real challenge will be on defense, where the Tigers must replace six starters, including cornerstones E.J. Gaines, Kony Ealy and Michael Sam.

Alabama: The quarterback position won’t be settled this spring, so we can hold off on that. But still, Nick Saban faces several challenges, including finding two new starters on the offensive line, replacing C.J. Mosley on defense and completely overhauling a secondary that includes Landon Collins and a series of question marks.

Ole Miss: Hugh Freeze has his players. Now he just has to develop them. With emerging stars Robert Nkemdiche, Tony Conner, Laremy Tunsil, Evan Engram and Laquon Treadwell, there’s plenty to build around. Include a veteran starting quarterback in Bo Wallace and there’s a lot to feel good about in Oxford.

Mississippi State: It’s a new day in the state of Mississippi as both state institutions have high expectations this spring. Mississippi State returns a veteran defense, a solid offensive line and a quarterback in Dak Prescott who could turn into a Heisman Trophy contender. A few months after Dan Mullen was on the hot seat, he now appears to be riding high.

Auburn: Losing Tre Mason and Greg Robinson hurts, but outside of those two stars, the roster remains fairly intact. Nick Marshall figures to improve as a passer, the running back corps is well off, and the receivers stand to improve with the addition of D’haquille Williams. The defense should get better as youngsters such as Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson gain experience.

South Carolina: Steve Spurrier would like to remind everyone that Dylan Thompson was the only quarterback in the country to beat Central Florida last season. Sure, Thompson wasn’t the full-time starter last year, but he has plenty of experience and is ready to be the man. Throw in a healthy and eager Mike Davis and an improving set of skill players, and the offense should improve. The defense has some making up to do on the defensive line, but there’s no reason to panic, considering the rotation they used last year.
He is still six weeks away from Georgia's pro day on April 16, but former Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray says his surgically repaired left knee is already back between 80 to 85 percent when he tries to run at full speed.

On Monday, Murray discussed his rehabilitation from an ACL tear in the Bulldogs' Nov. 23 win against Kentucky, his experiences at the Senior Bowl and NFL combine and his upcoming appearance on “Gruden's QB Camp” with former NFL coach and current ESPN analyst Jon Gruden.

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
AP Photo/Mike StewartFormer Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray says he has been progressing daily from the knee injury he suffered in November.
Here's what Murray had to say:

Q: Your experience was different at the Senior Bowl and combine since you couldn't compete, but you still sat in on meetings and practices. Did you gain some insight by participating?

A: I definitely learned a lot. I love football, so it was fun to be in those meetings. The [Jacksonville] Jaguars were our team's coaches at the Senior Bowl and sitting in the meetings, I learned a couple new concepts here and there, and some concepts we did at Georgia, maybe they did a little different twist on them. So it's fun learning new things, watching film, seeing how they critique film and critique the quarterbacks in practices and things like that. So it was definitely a successful week.

Obviously the meetings with the teams, the interviews, sitting with them and getting to talk to them and letting them know me a little bit and what I did at Georgia and then figuring out if I fit in their system or not -- overall the Senior Bowl was a great success.

The combine was the same thing. Obviously I couldn't do the drills, but getting to meet the coaches, getting to watch the drills that the quarterbacks were doing, it was definitely helpful.

Q: From a preparation standpoint, what's your game plan between now and pro day?

A: We've got a long time. Just continue training and continue rehabbing. Right now I feel great. I'm already running pretty well -- probably 80 percent to 85 percent running sprints -- and doing side-to-side work. I've been doing drops and throwing for about three or four weeks now, jumping.

I'm pretty much doing everything. Like I said, I'm at about 80 percent now, so I think in another month-and-a-half, it'll be way, way better than we are now, so I'm looking to surprise a lot of people at pro day.

Q: What's that process been like? You often hear that ACL rehab is grueling.

A: It's actually been quite easy. You know me, I love to work, so every day I walk in there with a smile on my face and a lot of energy and ready to conquer the day. Really, you've just got to take no days off and really just get after it. We really haven't had any setbacks at all.

There hasn't been a day where I've shown up sore or hurting or needing to take a day off. Every day I feel like we've been progressing and getting better and better. It's exciting for me to get in there every day and to do stuff and continue to push the limits a little bit.

Q: Have you been in Pensacola [at the Athletes' Performance Institute facility in Gulf Breeze, Fla.] the whole time?

A: Yeah, I got here Jan. 1 right after the bowl game. Really, right when the game ended, I drove and got here that night and have been here ever since. … I've been here with [LSU's] Jarvis Landry, [L'Damian] Washington from Missouri, Eric Ebron from North Carolina. Obviously [South Carolina's Jadeveon] Clowney is here. We had about 40 guys here and it's been a great time. A couple of receivers from smaller schools, too, so it's been pretty good.

Q: You're doing the Gruden camp on TV. He's consistent about pointing out your positives and negatives. Have you thought about what he's going to throw at you?

A: Not really. I did a little mini one with him before the Outback Bowl and that was a lot of fun. But I think you've just got to relax and be honest and if he puts you on the spot, so be it. I'm not too worried about that. It should be fun.

Q: At the combine, you always hear about crazy questions that teams ask. Did you have a favorite question?

A: I actually didn't get any crazy questions at all. It was fine. The majority of my stuff was about the knee. They wanted to know how's the knee feeling, if I'm going to be back and ready to go. So nothing crazy at all.

It was mostly that and getting on the board and drawing up some plays and then installing some plays of their own and I have to memorize them and regurgitate what they said and rewrite them and describe what they said. So it was fun. It wasn't too difficult at all. I think I did extremely well with all of them, too.

Q: Obviously showing that your knee is stable will be Goal No. 1 for pro day. But aside from that, what do you want to show these teams at pro day?

A: First of all, I want to show that I'm healthy at pro day. I want them to say, 'Hey, we don't have to worry about this kid where if we draft him that he has to take a year off. He's ready to go and if we need him to play right now, he can.' That's the major thing that I want to prove when I get there. And then just show off -- show off my arm strength, my accuracy.

And then the more meetings I get, that's where I can really separate myself, just with my knowledge of the game. So the more meetings I get, the more time with these coaches to talk to them, I think that's where I can do well.

SEC lunchtime links

February, 24, 2014
Feb 24
12:00
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Forty-yard dash times and bench-press figures. Measuring height and weight down to the seventh of an inch. It's the annual meat-market bonanza known as the NFL combine and it came to you fast and furious throughout the weekend. When you're done scrolling through the day's SEC links, be sure to check out the rest of ESPN's NFL draft coverage at our combine headquarters.

Our All-SEC second team choices

December, 17, 2013
12/17/13
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On Monday, we gave you guys our All-SEC first team. Today, we thought we'd unveil our second team for 2013. There are so many guys in this league who deserve recognition that we just wouldn't feel good about not having another team to give props to during the holiday season:

OFFENSE

QB: AJ McCarron, Alabama
RB: Jeremy Hill, LSU
RB: Mike Davis, South Carolina
WR: Jarvis Landry, LSU
WR: Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri
TE: Hunter Henry, Arkansas
OL: Wesley Johnson, Vanderbilt
OL: Justin Britt, Missouri
OL: A.J. Cann, South Carolina
OL: La'el Collins, LSU
C: Reese Dismukes, Auburn
AP: Todd Gurley, Georgia

DEFENSE

DL: Kony Ealy, Missouri
DL: Chris Smith, Arkansas
DL: Ego Ferguson, LSU
DL: Markus Golden, Missouri
LB: A.J. Johnson, Tennessee
LB: Avery Williamson, Kentucky
LB: Jordan Jenkins, Georgia
DB: Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida
DB: Andre Hal, Vanderbilt
DB: Chris Davis, Auburn
DB: Taveze Calhoun, Mississippi State

SPECIAL TEAMS

PK: Colby Delahoussaye, LSU
P: Drew Kaser, Texas A&M
PR: Christion Jones, Alabama
KR: Christion Jones, Alabama

Hot and Not in the SEC: Week 7

October, 14, 2013
10/14/13
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We've reached the midway point of the season. And, well, some teams are hot while others are certainly not. Let's take a look.

GLOWING EMBERS

Missouri: Who knew? Prognosticators, both professional and amateur, are surely coming out of the woodwork by now, telling anyone who will listen how they had Missouri atop the SEC East before the start of the season. But tell those people to politely remove their tinfoil hats and drift slowly back to earth. No one had Missouri competing for a chance at the SEC championship. James Franklin hadn't even won the starting quarterback job entering fall camp. And the defense, without its best player in Sheldon Richardson, looked like a significant question mark. Sure, Gary Pinkel's bunch had to get better after all the injuries a year ago, but this? Pinkel's bunch is playing great football and we're only now starting to take notice after the way the Tigers throttled Georgia on the road 41-26. Missouri is in the top three in the SEC in scoring, passing and rushing offense, and most importantly the Tigers are leading the league in turnover margin.

[+] EnlargeMaty Mauk
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesMissouri is riding high after beating Georgia to remain unbeaten and climb to No. 14 in the AP poll.
HOT

SEC in the polls: The SEC set a record on Sunday for the most schools (eight) in The Associated Press college football poll. Though just Alabama remains in the top five, having so many teams scattered throughout the poll says something about the depth of the league. LSU and Texas A&M are both title contenders despite having one loss, and South Carolina isn't far behind at all. Florida, despite losing its starting quarterback, has maintained course, and Georgia, while seriously decimated by injuries, should remain in the top 25 this season. The surprises, though, are what make the league so special. No one had Missouri in the top 15 and very few thought Gus Malzahn could turn around Auburn so quickly, getting it back into the top 25 for the first time since November 2011.

NOT

Ole Miss: One team that would have made nine SEC schools in the AP Top 25, Ole Miss, dropped from the rankings two weeks ago when it lost to Auburn on the road. That defeat was bad enough. Losing at home to Texas A&M on a last-minute field Saturday night made it even worse. Sure, Ole Miss wasn't favored to win the game, but that didn't dull the sting of seeing another win slip away. Hugh Freeze told anyone who'd listen this offseason to expect some bumps in the road, that his team couldn't live up to the sky-high expectations being forced upon it. But Freeze couldn't help going 3-0 and beating Vanderbilt and Texas on the road. Now his team has come down from its early-season high and the holes we all expected -- offensive line, depth on defense, etc. -- are once again glaring. And with No. 6 LSU up next, things aren't getting any easier for the Rebels.

HOT

The Mad Hatter: Was Florida's defense that good? Was LSU's offense that bad? Did any of that matter? Nitpick all you want at LSU's 17-6 win at home over Florida, but the fact remains Les Miles' bunch won the game, improved to 6-1 on the season and remains right in the thick of the championship race. Yes, we all expected Zach Mettenberger, Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry to do more through the air, but like a pitcher on the mound without his best stuff, LSU found a way to survive the day with a W. Jeremy Hill proved once again why he's one of the best running backs in the country, and we may have seen LSU's embattled young defense take an important step forward.

NOT

Clowney the villain: I'm reminded of the Jay-Z song "Can I Live," and no, it's not because of the rumor that the rap mogul tried to sign Jadeveon Clowney before the start of the season. Instead, you have to look at South Carolina's embattled defensive end as a point of over-speculation. Let's just let the man live. No, he's not having the Heisman Trophy campaign many hoped for, but so what? How many defensive players win the trophy, anyway? Forget the missed snaps and missed practices and all of the talk that surrounds Clowney and just appreciate his talent. Remember, he'll be gone to the NFL soon. Maybe after weeks and weeks of harping on the negative with very little to show for it, we can just let him play the game and watch him like we would any other player.

[+] EnlargeAlabama Defense
AP Photo/Garry JonesThe Alabama defense had a streak of 14 quarters without yielding a touchdown snapped at Kentucky.
HOT

Alabama's defense: It took two defenders literally running into each other for Alabama to finally surrender an offensive touchdown. Against Kentucky, cornerbacks John Fulton and Jarrick Williams collided in coverage and both fell to the turf. UK wideout Javess Blue gladly caught the wide-open pass and trotted untouched into the end zone. And thus ended Alabama's streak of 14 quarters without allowing a single offensive touchdown. Alabama's defense, which garnered its fair share of criticism after being lit up by Texas A&M -- what defense hasn't? -- has played lights out since.

NOT

Kentucky's offense: The Air Raid 2.0 didn't get an inch off the ground Saturday in Lexington. Kentucky's young offense was dominated by Alabama, held to under 200 yards. It took a fluke play for the Wildcats to even score (see above). Converting on 2 of 12 third downs is bad no matter how you slice it. And to make matters worse, UK starting quarterback Jalen Whitlow looks like he'll miss some time after injuring his ankle. The good news is nothing was broken, but for a player who relies heavily on his mobility, coming back early isn't an option. Give Mark Stoops credit for what he has done on defense, but he has some work to do on the other side of the ball. You're not going to score many points in this league when you're starting a walk-on at wide receiver as UK did on Saturday night.

FREEZER BURN

Homecoming disaster: Steve Spurrier's words after the game said it all. "I do feel badly for Arkansas," the South Carolina coach explained. "That's not fun getting your butt beat at home, homecoming and all." Why Arkansas scheduled the Gamecocks for its homecoming game is anyone's guess. But whoever did it should be second-guessing himself or herself today. In front of alumni and fans, the Hogs jumped out to a 7-0 lead, only to see South Carolina score 52 unanswered points and win going away. The Gamecocks threw for 260 yards to Arkansas' 30 and held the football 43:25 to Arkansas' 16:35. Watching, it felt like there was barely enough time to throw a parade, let alone name a homecoming queen.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 7

October, 10, 2013
10/10/13
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1. Will Clowney play?: There have been a lot of rumors flying around about South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney and his last-minute decision to sit out against Kentucky. It didn’t go over well with coach Steve Spurrier based on the postgame comments. However, Spurrier defended his star player this week. Once again, Clowney is listed as questionable for Saturday’s game at Arkansas with a muscle strain near his rib area. He returned to practice on Wednesday.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
Getty ImagesJames Franklin and Missouri can prove they're legit SEC contenders with a win at Georgia on Saturday.
2. Health concerns at UGA: The Bulldogs survived a scare in Knoxville last weekend, but they didn’t come out unscathed. They lost both running back Keith Marshall and wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley to season-ending injuries while fellow wide receiver Michael Bennett will miss an extended period of time with a knee injury. Georgia will have to bounce back quickly with No. 25 Missouri coming to town on Saturday.

3. Mizzou a legitimate contender? It’s safe to say nobody had Missouri as one of the two unbeaten teams in the SEC heading into Week 7. But after an impressive road win at Vanderbilt, the Tigers are 5-0 and finally starting to gain some respect around the league. The next three weeks will be telling, though, as they play Georgia, Florida and South Carolina.

4. LSU’s WRs versus Florida’s CBs: It’s a dream matchup for NFL scouts. LSU features what many consider to be the top wide receiver tandem in college football with Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. However, Florida’s Loucheiz Purifoy is arguably the top cornerback in the SEC, and playing opposite of him is freshman Vernon Hargreaves III, who already has three interceptions. The Gators are also expecting the return of corner Marcus Roberson, another one who could soon be playing on Sundays.

5. Tyler Murphy in Death Valley: Since replacing the injured Jeff Driskel at quarterback, Murphy has exceeded expectations for the Gators. In three games, he has thrown for 530 yards with five touchdowns and just one interception, and he’s progressively gotten better. However, the junior signal-caller is in for his toughest assignment yet when Florida travels to LSU this weekend. How will he perform in a hostile atmosphere?

6. The return of Cooper: When will we see the real Amari Cooper, the one who had 1,000 yards receiving as a freshman for Alabama? The star wide receiver has been slowed by nagging injuries all season, but he expects to play Saturday against Kentucky. Will he be 100 percent? Quarterback AJ McCarron would love to have him back sooner rather than later.

7. Aggies without Ennis: As if Texas A&M’s rush defense wasn’t bad enough, the Aggies lost Kirby Ennis, one of their top interior linemen, for the season with a torn ACL. The injury comes at a bad time for the Aggies, who have to visit Ole Miss this weekend and deal with Rebels running back Jeff Scott, not to mention quarterback Bo Wallace. The staff will turn to freshman Isaiah Golden, who is expected to start alongside Alonzo Williams in the middle.

8. Shootout in Oxford: The SEC has featured its fair share of shootouts early in the college football season, and Saturday’s game between Ole Miss and Texas A&M could be right up there. Both teams feature an up-tempo offense, and neither one likes to waste much time between plays. It could be a long day for both defenses.

9. Big game for Bielema: After a 3-0 start, Arkansas has quickly fallen back to .500 with three consecutive losses. However, first-year coach Brett Bielema has a chance to notch his first signature victory with the Razorbacks this Saturday when they host No. 14 South Carolina. The Gamecocks have struggled in recent weeks and could be prime for an upset. It’s likely a must-win scenario for Arkansas if the Hogs want to reach a bowl game.

10. Auburn’s quarterback: Who will start for the Tigers against Western Carolina? Starter Nick Marshall injured his knee last weekend against Ole Miss, and although he’s expected to play, coach Gus Malzahn hasn’t made a ruling one way or the other. If Marshall can’t go, Auburn will either turn to returning starter Jonathan Wallace or true freshman Jeremy Johnson.

SEC helmet stickers: Week 5

September, 29, 2013
9/29/13
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Week 5 in the SEC provided what could have been the game of the year between Georgia and LSU. The nation’s No. 1 team played up to its ranking, and there were plenty of impressive performances across the league. It’s time to hand out the helmet stickers.

Aaron Murray, QB Georgia: It wasn’t long ago when Murray was labeled the quarterback who couldn’t win the big game. It’s time to throw that away. The senior finished 20-of-34 for 298 yards and five total touchdowns in Georgia’s biggest game of the year. He has always been productive -- he could soon become the SEC’s most productive quarterback of all time -- but add the clutch factor and there’s no reason not to think he’s a top contender for the Heisman this year. The Bulldogs control their own destiny in the SEC East, and Murray and company would love nothing more than a chance to avenge last year’s loss to Alabama in the conference championship. They have to get through Florida first.

Zach Mettenberger, QB LSU: It doesn’t matter how well somebody plays, there has to be a winner and there has to be a loser. Unfortunately for Mettenberger, he finished on the losing side Saturday, but the former Georgia quarterback played admirably against his former team. He finished 23-of-37 for 372 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Down the stretch, he made clutch throw after clutch throw to keep the Tigers in the game. LSU wide receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry had close to 300 yards receiving between them, but it starts with Mettenberger. He had a terrific homecoming but came up just short.

The Alabama secondary: Before the game, Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace said he thought they could score on anybody. Evidently not Alabama. The No. 1 team in the nation shut out the Rebels, 25-0. Wallace singled out the Crimson Tide cornerbacks, saying they weren’t exactly first-rounders, but Deion Belue and Eddie Jackson stepped up on Saturday. Jackson, a true freshman, was especially impressive locking up Wallace’s favorite target Donte Moncrief for most of the game. He also came down with the Tide’s lone interception. As a whole, the UA secondary held Ole Miss to just 159 yards through the air.

Mike Davis, RB South Carolina: At halftime, it didn’t look good for South Carolina. The Gamecocks trailed Central Florida, 10-0, and quarterback Connor Shaw was lost for the game with a shoulder injury. But Davis didn’t care. He put his team on his back and carried it to victory. It started with a 53-yard touchdown run on the opening drive of the third quarter, the first points of the game for the Gamecocks. He scored twice more in the fourth quarter to extend the lead and put the game away. The sophomore back finished with 26 carries for 167 yards and three touchdowns as South Carolina survived a difficult road test.

The Texas A&M offensive line: Johnny Manziel gets most of the credit for Texas A&M’s high-powered offense, but it was the offensive line that absolutely dominated Arkansas up front on Saturday. The Aggies rushed for 262 yards against the Razorbacks, averaging six yards per carry. No one player reached 100 yards rushing, but Trey Williams and Tra Carson played well down the stretch, and starting running back Ben Malena scored twice. Manziel still finished with 261 yards and two touchdowns through the air and another 59 yards on the ground, but it all started with the offensive line.

Planning for success: Georgia Bulldogs

September, 26, 2013
9/26/13
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia's players made no secret during the offseason that their 2013 goal was to advance one step past where they ended last year, with a potential game-winning drive dying deep in Alabama territory in the SEC championship game and costing the Bulldogs a chance to play for the BCS title.

The No. 9 Bulldogs (2-1, 1-0 SEC) know they lost any margin for error when they dropped their opener at Clemson, making Saturday's date with No. 6 LSU (4-0, 1-0) nothing less than a must-win game for Georgia.

“This is like an elimination game,” Georgia cornerback Damian Swann said. “To get to that Game 7, you've got to win Game 6 and I think this is a Game 6 for us and that's how we're going to approach it and that's how we're going to take it.”

The Bulldogs focused this week on a number of areas in need of improvement, most notably special teams, where Georgia has committed at least one glaring error in each game. Georgia coach Mark Richt opened the long snapping job for competition and said his coaching staff would re-evaluate the personnel on the various kicking units, potentially utilizing more starters on the coverage teams.

But aside from that department, this week is all about quality control for both teams -- each of which has been plagued by consistency issues. In particular, their young defenses must minimize the mistakes that characterized their play at points in the season's first month, and they must do it against opponents who establish themselves with powerful running games.

Georgia and LSU boast two of the SEC's top tailbacks in Todd Gurley (125.7 ypg, first in the SEC) and Jeremy Hill (117, third), who rushed for 184 yards in LSU's 35-21 win against Auburn last Saturday.

“It will be interesting to see who can run the ball and who can run it well,” Richt said. “Both teams are very capable of it, but on any given Saturday you don't know what's going to happen. We like ours and I'm sure they like theirs, and I like theirs and they probably like ours. They're just great players and it's going to be fun to watch.”

While both teams' main defensive objectives will be to limit the opponent's running games, overemphasizing the run could make them vulnerable to the play-action pass. Georgia's offense is perhaps a bit more potent through the air -- quarterback Aaron Murray leads the SEC with 346.7 ypg . LSU's improved passing game with quarterback Zach Mettenberger and receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry will certainly test Georgia's secondary.

“I feel like we'll see a lot more of the famous play-action play Bama ran against us with Amari Cooper [for the game-winning touchdown last season],” Georgia outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “I feel like if we can stop the run, then we won't be so worried about it and we can run a little bit more pressures and stunts to throw Mettenberger off his passing game. But I feel like our mindset this week is really going to be towards stopping the run and preventing them from getting that asset this game.”

Saturday's winner will likely be the team that minimizes its mistakes most effectively.

Georgia and LSU's respective resumes are among the most impressive in the league over the last few years, and their 2013 iterations appear to be evenly matched on paper. When teams like that meet, the victor is often the team that makes the fewest errors.
“You keep fighting like mad to not give up big plays,” Richt said. “You fight like mad to get turnovers. You fight like mad to find ways to get a big stop and a momentum-changing stop somewhere along the way, and that's what we're trying to do.”

LSU excited to play at Georgia

September, 25, 2013
9/25/13
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Before the season, many pundits said LSU was an afterthought, a team destined for a Cotton Bowl berth. There was no talk of a national championship. Five SEC teams were ranked ahead of the Tigers.

Now, after a 4-0 start and wins over Auburn and TCU, the Tigers are ranked No. 6 and back in the national title conversation. But the real barometer will come this weekend when LSU visits Georgia for a top-10 matchup "between the hedges."

“You choose to come to LSU to look forward to playing in a game between the hedges, nationally ranked,” coach Les Miles said. “Our guys are looking forward to it. We know it’s going to be a great environment. We’ve been there before. We’ll do our part to prepare to give us all a great game.”

For LSU, the matchup will be its first true road game of the season, and the Tigers fully expect a raucous crowd inside Sanford Stadium on Saturday. It won’t be a “blackout” according to Georgia coach Mark Richt, but it will still be unlike any environment this LSU team has seen to this point.

The Tigers do have recent success on their side. They blew out Georgia, 42-10, in the 2011 SEC championship game, and back in 2009, they won their last trip to Athens thanks to a late touchdown run from Charles Scott. They’re 7-6 all-time when playing at Georgia.

The game will be extra special for LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger. He began his career at Georgia, and he returns as one of the most improved players and top signal-callers in the conference. The senior has thrown for over 1,000 yards with 10 touchdowns and just one interception through the first four games.

He has not forgotten his past, though. His mother, who works in the UGA athletic office, is a daily reminder of where he came from.

“I’m told that Zach’s mother was given the week off,” Miles joked. “We were really kind of hoping that we’d get the call sheet, several of the other key pieces of information, but Mark [Richt] kind of knew that we needed to get that done.”

All joking aside, it’s a big game for Mettenberger. He has improved drastically since last year, but how he responds on the road against an elite team will be key for LSU in Saturday’s game. He has plenty of help in the form of Jeremy Hill, Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry, but he’s still the one directing this offense.

If the Tigers survive the trip to Georgia and Mettenberger wins in his homecoming, they go from being in the BCS conversation to being a potential front-runner.


ATHENS, Ga. -- With new coordinator Cam Cameron in charge, LSU's offense this season is more diverse than it has been in several years -- and yet the overriding philosophy remains the same.

“If we don't slow down the run game,” Georgia coach Mark Richt told a caller on his Monday night radio show, “it's going to be a long day for Georgia.”

[+] EnlargeJeremy Hill
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireThe Bulldogs must slow down LSU tailback Jeremy Hill, who has rushed for 350 yards and six touchdowns this season.
When Richt's Bulldogs last faced LSU -- in the 2011 SEC championship game -- LSU completed only five passes for a total of 30 yards, but the Tigers' stable of running backs combined for 207 yards and three touchdowns in a 42-10 victory.

Their pound-the-rock strategy was in place last season, as well, with quarterback Zach Mettenberger's 12 touchdown passes tying for the fewest among regular starters in the SEC and the Tigers relying on Jeremy Hill and the other tailbacks to make their offense go.

“Ain't no trickery, ain't no razzle-dazzle,” Georgia defensive lineman Garrison Smith said. “It's just all about playing the best you can and seeing who's going to make the fewest mistakes.”

On the occasions where that physical approach wasn't enough, LSU's offense bogged down, with the Tigers ranking 10th in the SEC in total offense (374.2 yards per game) and 11th in passing (200.5 ypg). LSU's defense was as imposing as ever, but its lack of offensive creativity was a clear liability.

Enter former NFL coordinator Cameron, who still leans heavily on Hill and the running game, but has helped Mettenberger (1,026 passing yards, 10 TDs, one interception through four games) rank among the nation's most improved quarterbacks. The senior is eighth nationally with an 88.3 Total QBR, up substantially from his dismal 47.1 rating a season ago.

“Sometimes a guy has a coach that may have a tremendous scheme, but doesn't really have a feel for how to handle your quarterback. You better handle him properly,” Richt said. “Cam's been doing that forever, and he's been doing it at all levels of ball. I'm just very impressed with what he's doing.”

It helps that Mettenberger has two impressive receivers at his disposal in Odell Beckham Jr. (third in the SEC with 97.2 receiving ypg) and Jarvis Landry (fourth, 91.0) -- a duo who make it difficult for an opponent to sell out to stop the run. And Mettenberger's continued development -- he's completing 64.8 percent of his passes and averaging 11.28 yards per attempt compared to 58.8 and 7.4 in 2012 -- makes LSU even more of a test at all levels of a defense.

“[Georgia, LSU and Alabama] run the ball very well, and I think that's what opened up the downfield passing game,” Georgia cornerback Damian Swann said. “Because once you're done trying to stack the box on a team that can throw the ball like [Georgia's Aaron] Murray can, like [Alabama's AJ] McCarron can, like Zach can, that's when people beat you.”

Nonetheless, the Bulldogs know that their defense won't have a prayer on Saturday if it fails to match LSU's physicality up front.

Slowing down the Tigers' running game remains every opposing defense's first objective, but it is not a particularly easy goal to accomplish. Auburn certainly knew Hill was the top player it had to stop last Saturday and LSU's bellcow back still rolled up 184 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-21 win.

Neutralizing LSU's running game will be the Bulldogs' first objective on Saturday, coming off an impressive performance against North Texas where Georgia allowed the Mean Green to accumulate just 7 rushing yards on 25 attempts. It's a difficult goal to meet, but if they can pull it off, the Bulldogs' chances of victory increase exponentially.

“That's just the style of football that they play with Les Miles being an offensive guy, and that's how he likes to run it” Swann said. “He's going to line it up and run it at you. You just have to prepare for it.

“You have to tackle well, you have to play your gaps well -- everything has to be fundamentally sound because it's not going to be no trickeration going on. It's going to be line up, smashmouth football. You have to be ready for that.”

Hot and Not in the SEC: Week 4

September, 23, 2013
9/23/13
11:45
AM ET
Hard to believe the first month of the college football season has come and gone.

And while it’s still hot throughout much of the South, that’s not necessarily the case for everybody in the SEC.

GLOWING EMBERS

SEC offenses: What’s with this offensive explosion in the SEC? Seven of the top 35 offenses in the country, in terms of total offense, belong to SEC teams. Texas A&M (No. 5), Georgia (No. 6) and Missouri (No. 7) are all in the top 10. Surprisingly enough, two-time defending national champion Alabama isn’t in the top 50 nationally in total offense and ranks 13th in the SEC. The running game simply hasn’t been very consistent for the Crimson Tide. Two of the more potent offenses in the SEC will go at it this coming weekend when LSU visits Georgia. Both teams have scored 35 or more points and racked up more than 400 yards of total offense in all of their games this season. Could yet another shootout be on the horizon in Athens? We've already seen more in this league than we're accustomed to seeing.

[+] EnlargeJarvis Landry
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsJarvis Landry has had at least four receptions in each game this season, including seven in the victory over Auburn.
HOT

LSU receiver Jarvis Landry: There’s not a hotter receiver in the SEC right now than Landry, who leads the SEC with six touchdown catches and has caught one in eight of his past nine games. He had a 32-yard catch and run for a score against Auburn and finished with seven catches for 118 yards. Landry is a baller, meaning he’d be a star no matter where you lined him up on the field.

NOT

Georgia’s special teams: At one point in the third quarter of Georgia’s 45-21 win over North Texas, it was a 21-21 game. Two of North Texas’ three touchdowns came on special teams, a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and a blocked punt that was recovered in the end zone for a touchdown. Remember, too, that the Dawgs had a high snap in the Clemson game that cost them on a short field goal attempt. Special-teams breakdowns always have a way of catching up to you.

HOT

Florida defensive end Dante Fowler Jr.: The Vols never had any answers for Fowler, who finished with three tackles for loss and had a hand in two of the Gators’ six takeaways in the game. The truth is that not many people will have answers for Fowler, who’s quickly becoming one of the SEC’s premier defensive difference-makers.

NOT

Alabama on third down: No wonder Alabama is wallowing down at 13th in the SEC in total offense. The Crimson Tide have been awful on third down. They’re ranked 98th nationally and have converted just 11 of 33 third downs through their first three games. Part of the problem is that they’re not running the ball as consistently as they have in the past and have faced a lot of third-and-long situations. Of their 33 third downs this season, 17 have been third-and-9 or longer.

HOT

Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott: Making his third consecutive start for the injured Tyler Russell, Prescott passed for 233 yards and a touchdown in the blowout win over Troy. He also rushed for a couple of short touchdowns and even caught a 36-yard touchdown pass. About the only thing he didn’t do was hand out cowbells before the game.

NOT

Arian Foster’s Vol For Life membership: Foster has always been a speak-his-mind kind of guy. But with Tennessee already on NCAA probation, the last thing the Vols needed was one of their former players coming out five years after he left and saying publicly that he took money on the side. Maybe Foster will get a taco endorsement out of the publicity. Tennessee is sure to get more scrutiny.

HOT

NCAA: Everywhere you look, the heat is being turned up on the NCAA, especially now with players openly protesting during games. The current model is archaic, and you can’t help but wonder if we’re headed toward a model where the bigger schools break off from the NCAA, take their ball and go form their own league.

NOT

Arkansas’ bowl chances: In blowing a 24-7 lead midway through the third quarter and falling at Rutgers, Arkansas’ pathway to a bowl game this season just got a lot more complicated. The Hogs’ next four games are against Texas A&M, Florida, South Carolina and Alabama. They also have to play at Ole Miss and at LSU later in the season. We'll see if the Hogs can win one nobody expected them to win.

FREEZER BURN

First half of Florida-Tennessee game: Don’t look for Florida’s 31-17 win over Tennessee to pop up on any instant-classic replays in the near future, particularly the first half of that turnover-fest. The teams combined for seven turnovers in the first half alone, and that doesn’t count a dropped snap by Florida punter Kyle Christy at his own 15. Tennessee managed just 31 total yards in 25 plays in the first half and turned it over four times. Redshirt freshman quarterback Nathan Peterman was making his first start for Tennessee and was swamped. He finished 4-of-11 for 5 yards and three turnovers and suffered an injury to his hand before taking a seat on the bench just before halftime. The Vols’ only touchdown in the first half came on an interception return of a Jeff Driskel pass. For the Gators, the first half was bad over and above their issues on the field. Driskel was lost for the season after breaking his fibula in the first quarter.
Justin Hunter and Da'Rick RogersAP Photo/Wade PayneJustin Hunter (11) and Da'Rick Rogers (21) are considered to be the best receiving duo in the SEC.
Our SEC position rankings continue with a look at schools' wide receiver and tight end groups.

Past rankings:
On to the league's wide receiver/tight end groups:

1. Tennessee: The Vols are equipped with two of the top wideouts in the league with Da'Rick Rogers, who was second in the SEC in receiving last year, and Justin Hunter, who might be the SEC's top deep threat. It sounds like Hunter will be 100 percent this fall after his ACL injury last year. Junior college transfer Cordarrelle Patterson is big, fast and possesses the big-play gene. The speedy Zach Rogers is back and is so is talented tight end Mychal Rivera.

(Read full post)

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