Georgia Bulldogs: Marcus Mariota

SEC helmet stickers: Week 10

November, 3, 2013
11/03/13
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The SEC might be a quarterback league this season, but it was the running backs who stepped up across the conference on Saturday. But who all deserves a helmet sticker for Week 10? It's time to find out, as we look at the top performances from the day that was.

Tre Mason, RB, Auburn: Arkansas is supposed to have the smash-mouth offense, but Auburn's Mason gave Bret Bielema a dose of his own medicine in Saturday's 35-17 win. Mason rushed for 168 yards and a career-high four touchdowns on 32 carries. He had the hot hand early against the Razorbacks, and head coach Gus Malzahn rode him to the end. The junior running back scored twice in the first half, once on the opening drive of the second half, and he put the game away with a sensational 12-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. He now has 13 touchdowns this season and has at least one rushing touchdown in six straight games. He's been a major reason why the Tigers have the SEC's top rushing offense.

Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia: Boy was Georgia glad to have Gurley back. The sophomore running back had missed the last three games with a sprained ankle, but it didn't take long for him to return to form. He rushed for 30 yards and a touchdown on the opening drive, and he caught a 73-yard touchdown pass on the Bulldogs' second series. He finished with 17 carries for 100 yards, three catches for 87 yards and the two scores. When things got a little chippy against the Gators, Gurley was in there mixing it up, defending his teammates. With a win, Georgia stayed alive in the SEC East, and the Bulldogs will need Gurley to be healthy from this point forward, especially when they travel to No. 11 Auburn in two weeks.

Gary Pinkel, HC, Missouri: Any number of Missouri players could be on this list. Maty Mauk accounted for 277 total yards and three touchdowns. The defense held Tennessee to three points and forced a turnover for the 39th straight game, the longest current streak in the FBS. But credit Pinkel for getting his team ready to play after a heartbreaking loss to South Carolina the week before. The Tigers could've come out and flat or laid an egg, but they didn't. Instead, they dominated the Volunteers, 31-3. It was Missouri's largest margin of victory in SEC play since joining the conference, and don't forget, they still control their own destiny in the East.

Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina: How would Connor Shaw replicate last week's heroic performance? By throwing four touchdown passes in a 34-16 win over Mississippi State. But despite another impressive performance from the South Carolina quarterback, it was Davis who played the best game. The SEC's leading rusher went for 128 yards on 15 carries, averaging 8.5 yards per carry. He now has 1,058 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season and becomes the first Gamecock to rush for more than 1,000 yards since Marcus Lattimore did it as a freshman in 2010. Shaw was inconsistent at times Saturday, but Davis was as steady as they come.

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: It was only UTEP, but Manziel accounted for 340 yards and six touchdowns as Texas A&M cruised to a 57-7 victory. The Aggies' quarterback finished 16 of 24 for 273 yards and four touchdowns through the air, and he also added 67 yards and two scores on the ground. He's on pace to have a better season than he did a year ago, but the reigning Heisman Trophy winner will have trouble passing Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Florida State's Jameis Winston for the award. Manziel still has road games at LSU and Missouri to help make his case, but first, the Aggies will host Mississippi State next week.

SEC Week 7: Did you know?

October, 11, 2013
10/11/13
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We've reached Week 7 in the SEC. Here are some random tidbits you might not have known.

• The matchup between Florida's stellar defense and LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger should be highly intriguing. The Gators lead the nation in Total QBR allowed, with opposing quarterbacks rating just a 13.0 against Florida and completing just 21.1 percent of their passes of 15 yards or longer. Meanwhile, Mettenberger has completed 60 percent of his throws of 15-plus for eight touchdowns, no interceptions and an average of 15.8 yards per attempt.

• Florida quarterback Tyler Murphy has led an offensive revival since taking over for Jeff Driskel as the Gators' signal-caller. He hasn't played enough snaps to qualify for ESPN's Total QBR rankings, but only Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Baylor's Bryce Petty have higher QBRs than Murphy's 93.7 among QBs who have participated in at least 80 action plays.

• South Carolina expects star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney to start this week after missing last week's game with a much-debated injury. ESPN Stats and Information reports that Clowney has played 63 percent of South Carolina's defensive snaps this season. Opponents are averaging 5.9 yards per play with Clowney on the field versus 4.8 ypp when he's off.

• Georgia enters Saturday's game against Missouri riding a 15-game winning streak. That's the longest active home winning streak in the conference and the third-longest such streak in school history. The Bulldogs last lost at home against South Carolina on Sept. 10, 2011.

• Expect Alabama to look to establish the run against Kentucky on Saturday. The Crimson Tide are averaging an SEC-high 6.6 yards per designed run in SEC games. Meanwhile, the Wildcats are allowing 5.2 yards per designed run -- second-most in the league. Kentucky has allowed an SEC-high 629 yards before contact on such runs.

• Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray claimed the SEC's career passing yards lead last week against Tennessee. He's closing in on two more career marks. With 11,908 yards of career total offense, Murray is 324 yards behind Tim Tebow's SEC record (12,232). And with 109 career touchdown passes, he's five behind Danny Wuerffel's SEC record of 114.

• Ole Miss' no-huddle offense has been a mess of late after a strong start. The Rebels averaged just 1.6 yards per play last week against Auburn when employing the no-huddle after averaging 7.6 yards per play through the first four games when operating out of the no-huddle. Quarterback Bo Wallace was 2-for-10 on passes out of the no-huddle against Auburn after going 19-for-23 in the first four games.

• Arkansas freshman Alex Collins leads the SEC with 651 rushing yards, but his workload has decreased in his first two conference games. Collins was averaging 21.5 carries against nonconference opponents, but that average dipped to 13.5 in SEC play. His average yards per game dipped from 120.3 to 85.0 and his yards after contact per game have dropped steeply, from 73.0 to 27.5.

• Aside from its shaky performance in a win against Texas A&M, Alabama's defense has been impressive. Following a shutout against Ole Miss and a 45-3 win last week against Georgia State, the Crimson Tide are now tied with Florida for the SEC lead in scoring defense at 12.2 ppg. Alabama is second in rushing defense (85.8 ypg), second in total defense (299.8) and fifth in pass defense (214.0). The Tide have an SEC-low 25 missed tackles according to ESPN Stats and Information.

• Missouri is first in the SEC in rushing (258.8 ypg) and fourth in passing (285.0). The Tigers rank among only five FBS teams averaging at least 255 yards on the ground and 285 through the air alongside Baylor, Oregon, Washington and UCLA.

• Auburn will hold its 100th observance and 87th homecoming game on Saturday against Western Carolina. The Tigers are 74-8-4 in their previous homecomings. They own a 2-0 all-time record against the Catamounts, winning by a combined 111-6 margin.

• It's also homecoming at Mississippi State and a reunion between three Bulldogs coaches with a program where they once worked: Bowling Green. Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen and assistants Billy Gonzales and John Hevesy coached at Bowling Green in 2001-02. Mullen also met his wife Megan while coaching there.

SEC Friday mailbag: Week 6

October, 4, 2013
10/04/13
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From Chaz Pike (@a_drpike): Aaron Murray for Heisman!!! When will the nation show him the love and respect he deserves for his body of work?

He’s currently fifth on ESPN’s Heisman Watch, which is too low in my estimation. If Georgia wins the season opener against Clemson, he’s close to the top, if not at the top, but it wasn’t Murray who lost that first game. He threw for 323 yards and ran for a touchdown. Since that loss, he’s helped the Bulldogs knock off two top-10 opponents, throwing for four touchdowns in each game. You can make a strong case for Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, but Murray deserves to be in the conversation with those two. If Georgia keeps winning and makes it to Atlanta for the SEC championship game, expect him to move up on the experts’ poll.




From Ryan Buschmeyer (@rbuschmeyer): Georgia shut down LSU’s running game and put up 196 with Todd Gurley for a half. Concern for Les Miles?

I think there’s more concern with the defense. The talk of Jeremy Hill for Heisman might have been a little premature, but the LSU running back will be fine this season. He still averaged more than four yards per carry against the Bulldogs. However, the defensive woes were troubling. The Tigers lost a lot of talented players off last year’s team. Everybody expected the newcomers to come in and not miss a beat, but it takes time. The unit will improve as the season progresses, but Miles needs to get it fixed before they travel to Ole Miss in two weeks.




From Mike Johnson (@DontAskMeYo): Do you think if Tyler Murphy has a big season that Jeff Driskel gets his job back? What about the recruits’ reaction?

That will be an interesting storyline heading into next season. I would expect the Florida coaches to give Driskel every opportunity to win back the starting quarterback job, but he was less than impressive before he got hurt. As for Murphy, it’s still too early to get a read on him. He’s been solid in his first two appearances, but he has yet to face an upper-echelon team. We’ll know more after the Gators travel to Death Valley next weekend. If Murphy can continue to improve and play well within Florida’s offense, it will be difficult to take the job away. Also, I doubt it has an affect on recruits. It’s still a popular destination for quarterbacks, because the Gators offer the chance to play early.




From Hunter York (@hunteryork1128): Assuming they beat Auburn, if Ole Miss beats Texas A&M, do the Rebels have a realistic chance of going 11-1?

Those are two big ifs. Auburn presents a difficult challenge on the road this weekend, and that Manziel kid at Texas A&M is pretty good. However, if they win both games, I still don’t see the Rebels going 11-1. Right after they play the Aggies, they host LSU, their third top-10 opponent in four weeks. Under the right circumstances, Ole Miss could pull an upset over the Tigers, but not coming off three SEC West games in a row. After that brutal stretch, the schedule does set up nicely for the Rebels the rest of the way. It wouldn’t surprise me if they win out after LSU, but 11-1 is a little too optimistic for this team.




From Joey Smith (@JoeySmithMIZ): Is a road win at Vandy enough for Mizzou to start earning some respect and to be seen as a real threat in the East?

From Jordan Walker (@JabberWalker01): Where do you see Mizzou finishing this year?

Missouri is one of two undefeated teams left in the SEC, but it’s hard to get too excited when the Tigers, who finished 2-6 in the SEC a year ago, have yet to play a conference game. A win at Vanderbilt would definitely be a good start, but the real tests come later in the month when they host Florida and South Carolina in back-to-back weeks. Still, Saturday’s game will be a good measuring stick for this team. If Missouri wins, I think they can finish as high as third in the East, but with a loss, I see them finishing towards the bottom again and possibly looking for a new coach after the season.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 3

September, 15, 2013
9/15/13
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The Alabama-Texas A&M game was as exciting as we could have hoped, but it was far from the only entertaining game on the SEC slate this weekend.

Here are five things we learned around the league on Saturday:

[+] EnlargeJonathan Williams
Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY SportsJonathan Williams helped power Arkansas to 258 rushing yards against Southern Miss.
The SEC is a defense-first league?: For a minute there, it looked like Alabama (2-0) was preparing to blow out Texas A&M (2-1), as the Tide held a three-touchdown lead at the start of the fourth quarter. But Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel reminded us in the fourth that he's pretty darn good. Manziel tossed three touchdown passes in the final period -- including a 95-yard bomb to Mike Evans -- and helped A&M climb within a touchdown in the final minute. There wasn't much defense on display at Kyle Field -- the teams combined for 1,196 yards, 62 first downs and 91 points -- but Alabama avenged its upset loss last year by holding on at the end for a thrilling 49-42 victory.

Rumors of South Carolina's demise were greatly exaggerated: For South Carolina fans who were concerned that last week's loss to Georgia was a sign of impending doom, the Gamecocks (2-1) provided a reminder that they've still got a strong pulse in the first quarter against Vanderbilt (1-2). Steve Spurrier's team rode strong early performances by quarterbacks Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson to jump out to a 21-0 lead by the end of the first quarter and led 28-0 before a better-than-average Vanderbilt team notched its first points. Vanderbilt mounted a rally in the fourth quarter to make things interesting, but make no mistake, the Gamecocks will still be a force to reckon with in the SEC East race.

Arkansas' running game is worth watching: When quarterback Brandon Allen went down with a shoulder injury in the first quarter, Arkansas (3-0) abandoned the passing game almost entirely against Southern Miss. The Razorbacks didn't need to pass much with Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams in the backfield. Williams had a team-high 116 rushing yards and Collins added 115, making him the first freshman in SEC history to rush for more than 100 yards in each of his first three games, and the first in any conference since Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson in 2004. Collins entered the weekend as the SEC's top rusher and Williams was third, and the duo didn't do anything to damage their standing on Saturday. They haven't faced a powerful defense yet -- next week's game at Rutgers will be their biggest test to date -- but Collins and Williams’ considerable running skills have helped Arkansas jump out to a 3-0 start.

One slide ends, another continues: It's hard to say who needed a win more at Jordan-Hare Stadium: an Auburn team that hadn't won an SEC game since 2011 or a Mississippi State team that had lost six of its last eight games. It was Gus Malzahn's Auburn club (3-0) that rallied for the game-winning touchdown with 10 seconds to play on Saturday, handing Mississippi State (1-2) another gut-wrenching defeat. Auburn's victory ended a 10-game league losing streak that provides an enormous boost with a trip to LSU on tap next weekend.

Vols aren't back yet: Tennessee (2-1) couldn't keep its game with No. 2 Oregon interesting for long, as the promise the Volunteers showed in wins against Austin Peay and Western Kentucky didn't translate into remaining competitive with one of the nation's better teams. The Ducks scored 59 straight points and ran up 687 yards -- 456 passing by quarterback Marcus Mariota -- in blowing new coach Butch Jones' club off the field. In the next five games, the Vols will face four ranked teams: No. 18 Florida, No. 9 Georgia, No. 13 South Carolina and No. 1 Alabama. So the road could get rocky quickly for the Vols.

Gurley is off and running for Georgia

September, 10, 2013
9/10/13
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ATHENS, Ga. -- As he does each Sunday, Mark Richt sat down and rewatched his Georgia team's game from the previous day -- this time a 41-30 win against then-No. 6 South Carolina.

Asked Sunday evening what he took away from that second viewing, Richt's first comments concerned his starting tailback, Todd Gurley.

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesTodd Gurley is seventh in the nation with 286 rushing yards and tied for fourth with four TDs.
“Just watching Gurley run was fun,” Richt said. “He's just such a powerful back. He's got such great balance, speed.”

Fans -- and Heisman Trophy voters -- have had the opportunity to make similar observations over the last two weeks as Richt's Bulldogs played two top-10 opponents. And all Gurley has done is dominate in both games, despite missing a portion of the opener at Clemson with a quad injury and despite facing one of the nation's better run defenses from last season in South Carolina.

Gurley on Monday received two rounds of treatment on the thigh injury that kept him from practicing much last week, but it didn't prevent him from dominating on the ground Saturday and fulfilling one of his few stated offseason goals of contributing more in the passing game. He hauled in his first career touchdown catch in the third quarter of the Bulldogs' win.

“I really didn't sit down this offseason and say, 'I'm trying to do this, I'm trying to do that,' ” Gurley said. “One of my main things was just to get more plays in the passing game and just work on playing without the ball. That was about all.”

After his 30-carry, 132-yard effort, which included one rushing and one receiving touchdown, Gurley is seventh nationally with 286 rushing yards and tied for fourth with four touchdowns.


“He probably is at the top of the group of running backs who are going for the Heisman right now,” said Chris Huston, whose Heisman Pundit website tracks the race closely throughout the season. “I'd say he has pushed himself to the top of that group.”

Obviously it's early, but Gurley has already continued his upward trajectory from a breakout freshman season where he rushed for 1,385 yards and scored 18 touchdowns.

There was his 75-yard touchdown run against Clemson where he exploded through a hole and outran everyone to the end zone. And then there were runs Saturday like the one where he somehow stayed on his feet when South Carolina defensive lineman Kelcy Quarles ripped off his helmet by the facemask, and very well might have scored a helmetless touchdown if not for the rule that requires such a play to be blown dead. Or when he burst down the sideline during a second-quarter touchdown drive and easily tossed Gamecocks cornerback Jimmy Legree aside with a vicious stiff-arm.

“Watching film on him, he's by far in my opinion -- anyone who watched him would probably agree with me -- the best player in the country. I don't think there's anyone like Todd,” Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray said Monday.

He might not enjoy the spotlight, but Gurley possesses the total package that a Heisman-contending running back needs in order to generate national attention. Now he needs his teammates to help him remain in the conversation.

Spread-offense quarterbacks have the odds in their favor in this day and age, although that position held the advantage even before dual-threat passers like Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel claimed each of the last three Heismans. Quarterbacks have won 11 of the last 13 years, so Gurley not only needs to separate himself from other running backs with impressive yardage totals and highlight-reel runs, he needs Georgia to remain in the BCS conversation in order to remain a viable alternative to quarterbacks like Manziel, Clemson's Tajh Boyd, Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Ohio State's Braxton Miller.

“It's hard for a running back to win, but if he does win, he has to have as little competition from other running backs in the race as possible,” Huston said. “Gurley's first task is to sort of establish himself as the running back alternative to whatever quarterbacks there are.”

Then again, he must also separate himself from his own teammate to become a true Heisman frontrunner.

Murray reignited his Heisman hopes with a nearly flawless 309-yard, four-touchdown performance against South Carolina. Interestingly enough, however, Huston said the perception that two contending teammates might siphon votes away from one another isn't necessarily accurate.

As an example, he used the 2004 race where USC quarterback Matt Leinart won and running back teammate Reggie Bush finished fifth. Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson and Jason White finished second and third that year. In other words, members of the two teams that played for the BCS championship took up four of the top five spots in the voting -- and their respective abilities likely helped their teammates from a performance and publicity standpoint.

“You could argue that Jason White's support cost Peterson the Heisman, but you could also say that Bush's support cost Leinart more votes in that situation,” Huston said. “Would Peterson have gotten more votes if White wasn't as good? So it's kind of a symbiotic relationship between the two. If Aaron Murray wasn't as good, Gurley probably wouldn't be as successful because teams would be able to key on him more.”

Dark-horse candidates for Heisman

August, 15, 2013
8/15/13
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Braxton Miller. Jadeveon Clowney. Teddy Bridgewater. They're the Heisman favorites for the 2013 season. But what about the dark-horse candidates? Travis Haney looks at some players, including Oregon's Marcus Mariota, Georgia's Todd Gurley and Alabama's T.J. Yeldon, who may become relevant as the season progresses. Read his story here Insider.

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