Georgia Bulldogs: Odell Beckham Jr.

SEC lunchtime links

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
12:00
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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:

SEC's Heisman hopefuls in 2014

January, 17, 2014
Jan 17
10:00
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The SEC did pretty well for itself in the Heisman Trophy balloting last year. Even though Florida State's Jameis Winston ultimately wound up hoisting the prize, three SEC players found themselves among the top six receiving votes.

All three of those players are gone. AJ McCarron, Johnny Manziel and Tre Mason are off to try their hand in the National Football League.

With that, we're left to wonder who will emerge as the SEC's Heisman favorites in 2014. With so many big names gone -- Aaron Murray, Jadeveon Clowney, Odell Beckham Jr., Zach Mettenberger -- the field of favorites is as wide open as ever.

Here is our list of the top five candidates to win the 2014 Heisman Trophy from the SEC:

Georgia RB Todd Gurley: Had Gurley stayed healthy, he may have had a seat in New York last year. Had he not missed all of October, he might have had the stats to support such a trip. Even so, the talented tailback averaged 98.9 yards per game and had one of the most impressive touchdown-to-rush ratios in the country at 6.1 percent, a full percentage point more than Boston College's Andre Williams, who finished fourth in the Heisman balloting. At the Gator Bowl, Gurley showed that even on a sore ankle he is one of the best backs in the country, racking up 183 total yards of offense against the Blackshirts of Nebraska. With a full offseason to heal and a new quarterback under center, Gurley could be asked to do even more in 2014.

[+] EnlargeNick Marshall
Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY SportsAuburn's Nick Marshall has been a Division I QB for just one season and is already one of the SEC's biggest playmakers. His potential is scary.
Auburn QB Nick Marshall: Gus Malzahn brought this point up an awful lot last season, but it bears repeating: Marshall became a Division I quarterback only some seven months ago. He didn't have the benefit of spring practice and still won the starting quarterback job at Auburn. After a few bumpy starts, he became one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the league. For the first six games of the season, he ranked 40th in the country in Adjusted QBR. From then on he would rank third in Adjusted QBR with 20 total touchdowns, two interceptions and an average of 231.8 total yards per game. Now imagine all he could do with that kind of momentum and a full offseason to prepare.

South Carolina RB Mike Davis: We entered last season touting the SEC's stellar class of young running backs with Gurley, Marshall and Mason. For a while we left out Davis, a relative unknown after staying in the shadow of Marcus Lattimore at South Carolina. But Davis let us know who he was right away, running for 115 yards in the season opener against North Carolina and 149 more in a prime-time matchup with Georgia. He wound up rushing for 100 or more yards in all but two of the Gamecocks' first nine games. He fell off the map some in his final three games, due in no small part to a nagging ankle injury. If he can get that corrected, he could be one of the league's most productive backs in 2014.

Alabama RB T.J. Yeldon: He's not thought of as an explosive back, but why not? Yeldon finished last season with an impressive 34 rushes for 10 or more yards, more than every running back in the SEC not named Tre Mason or Jeremy Hill. All told, Yeldon rushed for 1,235 yards and 14 touchdowns -- both improvements from his freshman year. With the help of Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake, Yeldon won't have to shoulder the load next season, but he'll still be the man with the most carries and the best shot at making it to New York.

Mississippi State QB Dak Prescott: He's a dark horse, no doubt, but don't count out Prescott. He didn't finish the season 10th in Adjusted QBR for no reason. The talented sophomore quietly put up some big numbers and ended the year strong, coming off the bench to lead a fourth-quarter comeback against Ole Miss and following that up with a five-touchdown performance in the Bulldogs' bowl win over Rice. With so many veteran quarterbacks of the SEC gone, he could quickly pick up the mantle as the league's best.

SEC sleepers for Heisman in 2014

December, 19, 2013
12/19/13
3:30
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Now that Jameis Winston has been crowned this year's Heisman Trophy winner, it's time to take an early peak at the top candidates for next season. Our own Travis Haney did all the hard work for us earlier this week when he debuted his list of the top 10 candidates who should be up for the award in 2014.

Winston tops his list, but he also had four players from the SEC -- Georgia running back Todd Gurley, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall, Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon and Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham -- on there.

I like all four of those choices, and it should be noted that like me, he doesn't see Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel or Auburn running back Tre Mason returning to school in 2014. That's why you won't find them on his list.

I think Gurley might have the best chance out of this bunch because he pretty much proved that he's one of the country's best players -- regardless of position -- when he's healthy. And he really was never 100 percent after that ankle injury, yet still managed to finish with 903 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. He also caught 30 passes for 344 yards and five more scores.

In what could be his final year in Athens, Gurley could have a big, big year if he stays healthy.

So who are some other SEC players to keep an eye on in the Heisman race? Well it's way, way too early, but who cares? I'd love to have A&M's Mike Evans on this list, but I think after back-to-back monster seasons, Manziel's top receiving target is off to greener pastures.

[+] EnlargeMike Davis
AP Photo/John RaouxSophomore Mike Davis had five 100-yard games in SEC play.
Here are five other guys who you should pay attention to:

1. Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina: Because I think LSU running back Jeremy Hill isn't long for the SEC and will likely take his talents to the NFL, Davis gets my top spot. He's great between the tackles, can hit the home run play on the outside and isn't too bad in the passing game. He's fourth in the SEC with 1,134 rushing yards and has 11 touchdowns. He also has caught 32 passes for 342 yards.

2. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU: It might be hard for him to stay at LSU after a tremendous junior year, but if he does, he should get some early Heisman love. He'll have a new quarterback, but Beckham showed this season that he certainly has go-to talent and he'll get some extra Heisman attention with his play in the return game. Not only did Beckham catch 57 passes for 1,117 yards and eight touchdowns during the regular season, he registered 947 return yards.

3. Henry Josey, RB, Missouri: A year and a half removed from shredding his knee, Josey made the ultimate comeback with 1,074 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. He was one of the most explosive backs in the SEC and averaged 6.6 yards per carry. More than 700 of Josey's yards came in SEC play this season. DGB will get most of the preseason love in Columbia this fall, but Josey has everything it takes to be an elite back in this league.

4. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama: He had a relatively quiet regular season, but Cooper has what it takes to be a real superstar in this league. We saw major flashes of it during his freshman year, but nagging injuries cut his production in 2013. He caught 36 passes for 615 yards and four touchdowns, including a 99-yarder against Auburn. Cooper is a deep threat and can make the tough catches in traffic. If he's healthy, he could make a Heisman push, as he becomes the prime go-to guy for Alabama's new quarterback.

5. Maty Mauk, QB, Missouri: OK, so we've been down this path before. A lot of hype dumped on a relatively inexperienced player. Usually, it doesn't pan out. The good news for Mauk is that he got some valuable playing time during the regular season. He learned from James Franklin and then performed swimmingly in his place after Franklin missed a month with a shoulder injury. Mauk knows the offense backward and forward, is a threat to run and pass, and should still have some nice offensive weapons around him next fall. During the regular season, he threw for 1,039 yards and 10 touchdowns, and he rushed for another 156 yards and a touchdown.

SEC lunchtime links

December, 16, 2013
12/16/13
12:00
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Yes, it's Monday and we've survived the Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award and everything in between. Maybe we can move on to the matter at hand: bowl season.

Hot and Not in the SEC: Week 7

October, 14, 2013
10/14/13
11:00
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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.

SEC Power Rankings: Week 6

October, 7, 2013
10/07/13
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Things are getting very interesting in the SEC and we have a little more movement in our Power Rankings this week:

1. Alabama (5-0, 2-0 SEC; last week: 1): Alabama did everything it was supposed to do in its tuneup against a very overmatched Georgia State team. Nick Saban wanted to get a chunk of his youngsters into the game and 70 players saw action. After its most complete game of the season, Alabama travels to Kentucky for another chance to work on execution.

2. Georgia (4-1, 3-0 SEC; LW: 2): The Bulldogs won a wild one against Tennessee Saturday, but they lost three key players on offense. Running back Keith Marshall and wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley are both out for the year with season-ending knee injuries, and receiver Michael Bennett will miss Saturday's game with a knee injury. Aaron Murray has been superb, but now it's time for this defense to step up and make crucial improvements if Georgia is going to make it back to Atlanta.

3. Texas A&M (4-1, 1-1 SEC; LW: 3): The Aggies were off over the weekend, which gave this team a chance to rest and work on everything concerning its defense. Texas A&M still owns the SEC's worst defense (476.8 yards allowed per game), but when you have Johnny Manziel making play after play, it takes some pressure off everyone else. Still, this defense will have to be on point against Ole Miss' high-powered offense in Oxford.

4. LSU (5-1, 2-1 SEC; LW: 4): Well, the Tigers offense just looks terrific right now. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger, running back Jeremy Hill and receiver Odell Beckham Jr. should all be in contention for the title of "best at their position" in the SEC. The Tigers have churned out more than 400 yards in every game and more than 500 in two. The defense still has its issues, especially stopping the run, but this offense is deadly.

5. Florida (4-1, 3-0 SEC; LW: 6): Believe it or not, the Gators are looking more and more like the most balanced team in the SEC East. Florida owns the SEC's best defense (217 yards allowed per game) and the offense has amassed 400 yards of offense three times this season. In Florida's blowout win over Arkansas on Saturday, new quarterback Tyler Murphy threw for 240 yards and three touchdowns. With this defense and an improving offense, are the Gators turning into a legit contender in the SEC?

6. South Carolina (4-1, 2-1 SEC; LW: 5): No, the Gamecocks didn't lose to Kentucky over the weekend, but this team just doesn't look focused right now, especially on defense. In their past three games, the Gamecocks have blown a 28-point lead to Vanderbilt, an 18-point lead to UCF and a 21-point lead to Kentucky. The good news is that South Carolina has gone 3-0 during that span, but that sort of sloppy play will catch up to you in this league.

7. Missouri (5-0, 1-0 SEC; LW: 8): Don't look now, but here come the midwestern Tigers! Mizzou is turning into quite the unit, especially on offense, after blowing out Vanderbilt in Nashville. With its trail mix of offensive talent, the Tigers dropped 51 on the Commodores and found themselves back in the Top 25. Mizzou is second to only Texas A&M in offense in the SEC and has registered more than 500 yards three times, including against Vandy.

8. Auburn (4-1, 2-1 SEC; LW: 9): These Tigers tried to give away a 27-9 lead in the third quarter against Ole Miss, but held on for a huge 30-22 win. One thing that really helped out Auburn was the play of its defensive line, as the Rebels only had 124 rushing yards Saturday. On offense, Auburn knows it's going to have to rely heavily on its running game, which churned out 282 yards and three touchdowns Saturday.

9. Ole Miss (3-2, 1-2 SEC; LW: 7): This team has now lost two in a row after such a hot start. The offense was shut out against Alabama and then couldn't run on Auburn's defense. Quarterback Bo Wallace made some bad decisions in Saturday's loss and this team just became way too one-dimensional on the Plains. Who's next? Oh, that would be Johnny Football.

10. Vanderbilt (3-3, 0-3 SEC; LW: 10): The Commodores need a lot of help on defense. It's clear that there are holes all over and if Vandy is going to continue its upward progression, the defense has to improve. Vandy's defense has given up more than 500 yards twice and more than 360 yards four times.

11. Arkansas (3-3, 0-2 SEC; LW: 11): When Florida forced Arkansas to throw the ball, the Razorbacks just couldn't get anything going. Brandon Allen completed only 17 of his 41 pass attempts, threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown and registered a QBR of 9.8. For the second time this season, the Hogs had no spark on offense when the running game got stuffed.

12. Tennessee (3-3, 0-2 SEC; LW: 13): What a fight by Tennessee in that heartbreaking loss to Georgia. The Bulldogs did sustain some serious injuries, but Justin Worley delivered some big-time throws and wide receiver Pig Howard is turning into a real playmaker, except for that goal-line fumble. This defense still has a long way to go, but Saturday showed that this team truly has heart.

13. Mississippi State (2-3, 0-2 SEC; LW: 12): This defense was impressive in the Bulldogs' two victories over lesser competition, but in three losses, Mississippi State has given up more than 400 yards each time. LSU racked up 59 points and more than 500 yards of offense Saturday. The Bulldogs kept things close for most of the night against the Tigers, but were totally overmatched in the fourth quarter, getting outscored 28-0.

14. Kentucky (1-4, 0-2 SEC; LW: 14): The Wildcats put up quite the fight against South Carolina and almost pulled off a huge upset at home. You could see some improvement and development on the offensive side against the Gamecocks, and it's important that it carry over going forward. This team just doesn't have the horses right now to really compete in the SEC.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 6

October, 6, 2013
10/06/13
10:00
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Another solid weekend of SEC football is in the books. Georgia and Tennessee gave the fans a treat, but there were plenty of other takeaways. Here are five things we learned from around the league in Week 6:

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
Jeffrey Vest/Icon SMIGeorgia quarterback Aaron Murray was 19-of-35 passing vs. Tennessee, with 196 yards and three touchdowns.
Murray, Georgia have the clutch gene: Remember when people wondered whether Aaron Murray could or would ever win a big game? That's been pretty much put to rest, especially after last week's 44-41 win over LSU, but on Saturday, Murray and Co. came up with a touchdown drive when they absolutely had to have it in the final minutes of regulation to send their dramatic battle with Tennessee into overtime. The Bulldogs benefited from a fumble by Tennessee running back Pig Howard as he dove for the pylon in the first overtime, but still, credit is due to Georgia for finding a way to win when Tennessee came roaring back from a two-touchdown deficit to take a 31-24 lead with all of Neyland Stadium singing "Rocky Top." Not to mention, injuries eliminated key player after key player from the Bulldogs' lineup, leaving them depleted in some areas -- particularly receiver and running back -- down the stretch. The Bulldogs' title hopes are still alive as a result of their fight.

Tennessee has reason for optimism: The loss hurts and it looked like the Volunteers were going to pull off the upset of the No. 6 team in the country, but there are definitely positives to be taken away. For starters, the kind of fight and grittiness Tennessee showed is what you want to see in your football team and something that hasn't necessarily been there in recent years. The Vols could have easily folded up like a tent when down 17-3 and Georgia was on the verge of taking a three-score lead before a missed field goal. Instead, they fought to the point that they put themselves in position to win. That's a huge positive for new coach Butch Jones. Secondly, quarterback Justin Worley played his best game of the year and made some big-time throws down the stretch. The execution by Worley down the stretch -- as well as the offense as a whole on three fourth-down plays in the second half -- was terrific.

Auburn and Mizzou are worth keeping an eye on: We weren't sure what to make of undefeated Missouri coming into Saturday, because all of the Tigers' opponents had been of the nonconference variety and none were particularly formidable. But in their first SEC contest on Saturday, the offense did what it has done much of the season -- score points -- en route to a 51-28 win over Vanderbilt. Missouri racked up 523 yards and got a great performance from quarterback James Franklin (19-of-28 passing, 278 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions). Mizzou is now 5-0 heading into a showdown with Georgia in Athens next week. Auburn, meanwhile, withstood a late rally from Ole Miss to secure a 30-22 win. Defensively, Auburn was relentless in rushing Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace, collecting six sacks. Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall gave the Rebels trouble on the ground, rushing for a team-high 140 yards and two touchdowns while also throwing for 93 yards on 11-of-17 passing. Auburn's now 2-1 in the SEC and has surpassed its win total from a year ago.

Odell Beckham Jr. is the truth: He has already shown how good he is this season by recording more than 100 receiving yards in three games, but on Saturday against Mississippi State the LSU junior receiver recorded career highs in catches (nine) and receiving yards (179) with two touchdowns in a 59-26 road win. The Bulldogs had absolutely no answer for Beckham all night as LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger threw him a variety of passes, including some jump balls that he made look unfair to defenders.

South Carolina is struggling to close games: Last week the Gamecocks saw Central Florida reel off 15 unanswered points in the final 10 minutes, but they hung on to win 28-25, and on Saturday, Kentucky rallied to make another Gamecocks win close late. South Carolina came into the fourth quarter with a 27-7 lead but the Wildcats pulled to within six with 11:50 remaining and seven with 4:02 to go. The Gamecocks held on, but it certainly isn't all roses for Steve Spurrier and Co. Not to mention, Jadeveon Clowney sat out the game with bruised ribs.

SEC helmet stickers: Week 6

October, 6, 2013
10/06/13
9:00
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Let's hand out some recognition for outstanding play on Saturday with this week's SEC helmet stickers.

Nick Marshall: Auburn's quarterback led the Tigers to their first win over a ranked opponent under Gus Malzahn by rushing for 140 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries in a 30-22 win against No. 24 Ole Miss. Marshall was clearly bothered by a leg injury that kept him from running as Ole Miss attempted a late comeback, but his earlier rushing yards -- plus an 11-for-17 passing performance for 93 yards -- allowed the Tigers to hold on for a win.

Missouri's offense: There was more than enough reason to question what unbeaten Missouri had accomplished thus far before jumping into SEC play at Vanderbilt on Saturday. But the Tigers' offensive explosion in a 51-28 win in Nashville showed what they can do. James Franklin passed for 278 yards and four touchdowns and ran for 63 more, and the Tigers totaled 245 rushing yards to move to 5-0 with a trip to Georgia on deck next weekend.

Solomon Patton: Undersized senior receiver Patton came into Florida's game against Arkansas with just 303 career receiving yards and two touchdowns, but he made some of the biggest plays in the Gators' 30-10 victory. Patton hauled in touchdown passes of 51 and 38 yards and finished with six catches for 124 yards. The Gators' stout defense did a good job limiting Arkansas' powerful rushing attack and Patton provided enough of an offensive spark to help the Gators to pull away in the second half.

Aaron Murray: With All-SEC tailback Todd Gurley already sidelined by injury, Murray lost tailback Keith Marshall and receivers Michael Bennett and Justin Scott-Wesley to apparently serious injuries during Saturday's game against Tennessee. But somehow Georgia's senior quarterback led his cobbled-together offense to just enough points to win 34-31 in overtime. Murray broke David Greene's SEC career passing record in the first half and led the Bulldogs to the game-tying touchdown with a 2-yard pass to Rantavious Wooten with 5 seconds remaining. Murray finished 19 of 35 for 196 yards and three touchdowns and also set up a key second-half touchdown with a 57-yard run.

Odell Beckham Jr.: He had a critical fumble in last week's loss to Georgia, but Beckham Jr. was nearly unstoppable in Saturday's 59-26 win against Mississippi State. He sparked LSU's 28-0 run to close the game with a 33-yard touchdown catch and run from Zach Mettenberger, who was also outstanding with 340 yards on 25 of 29 passing. Beckham finished with nine catches for 179 yards and two touchdowns, with his first a leaping 14-yard grab with 17 seconds left until halftime, giving the Tigers a 28-23 edge at the break.

Offense bails out Georgia again

September, 28, 2013
9/28/13
11:11
PM ET
ATHENS, Ga. – Aaron Murray knelt down on the final play in No. 9 Georgia's 44-41 win over LSU and then turned and heaved the ball high into the air in celebration.

Georgia's quarterback had just completed another brilliant performance that allowed the Bulldogs to escape the most grueling opening month in school history – with games against three top-10 opponents, and the Bulldogs winning two – and helped his team remain a legitimate national championship contender.

[+] EnlargeMurray
Scott Clarke/ESPN ImagesAaron Murray's four TD passes moved him closer to Danny Wuerffel's SEC career mark.
“That was awesome,” said Murray, who passed for 298 yards, four touchdowns and one interception and hit Justin Scott-Wesley with the game-winning 25-yard touchdown pass with 1:47 to play. “I'm so proud of the entire team and how we came out today. It's been a tough start to the season, playing three top-10 teams in our first four games, and I am so proud of the way our team has gotten through it.”

That pride was evident throughout Sanford Stadium in the electric celebration that followed Georgia's fourth-down stop when a Zach Mettenberger pass fell incomplete at midfield. Mettenberger and LSU's offense produced in such situations over and over throughout the game, but the Bulldogs forced four consecutive incompletions to close out one of their biggest home wins in years.

“We knew if we stopped them from converting on third down, we would win the game,” said Georgia defensive lineman Chris Mayes, who recorded his first career start and first career sack against LSU. “At the end, we finally did that on third and fourth down and it got us a big team win.”

Georgia coach Mark Richt's uncharacteristically emotional postgame celebration showed that he was as caught up in the moment as his players and fans. Richt walked from corner to corner of the field, repeatedly raising his arms in victory with the home fans cheering enthusiastically each time.

“You can't ask for anything better than what happened today,” Richt said. “It just showed how great the University of Georgia can be.”

And the inside of the locker room looked like a disaster area, covered in water and other debris – the remnants of a raucous postgame celebration that Georgia might typically reserve for a win that clinched a division championship. Once they finished celebrating in the locker room, the Bulldogs took it back to the field, making a victory lap around the hedges that line the playing surface to slap hands with the thousands of fans who were still celebrating the win.

“We were in here and [offensive coordinator Mike] Bobo said, 'The fans are still here. You need to go thank them.' It was a great idea, so we went back out and sure enough, they were there,” said receiver Michael Bennett, who caught a pair of touchdown passes.

Georgia's offense once again saved the day despite an outstanding performance by Mettenberger, making his return to the school where he started his college career. LSU's quarterback – whom Richt dismissed from the team in 2010 following an arrest – showed no signs of being adversely affected by the emotions of the day. He went 23-for-37 for 372 yards and three touchdowns and kept LSU's offense afloat when the Tigers' vaunted running game produced only 77 yards on 36 carries.

Mettenberger gashed the Bulldogs' secondary repeatedly on third downs – LSU went 10-for-15 – and converted a 25-yard bullet to Odell Beckham Jr. on third-and-22 at his own 13. That kept alive LSU's go-ahead touchdown drive that ended with Jeremy Hill's 8-yard scoring run that gave the Tigers a 41-37 advantage – their first lead since the first quarter – with 4:14 to play.

That was more than enough time for Georgia's explosive offense to answer, however, as it has almost every time its young defense has put the Bulldogs in a tight spot. That was certainly the case here, but Murray calmly completed all four of his passes on Georgia's ensuing drive, hitting a wide-open Scott-Wesley on the final throw to regain the lead when a less veteran team might have lost its composure in the pressure of the moment.

“I think we're about as composed a group as you can find, from the freshmen to the sophomores to the guys who have been here 12 years like Aaron and I,” said Georgia senior tight end Arthur Lynch, who caught two passes on the final touchdown drive. “We've got guys who aren't afraid of a challenge, which has been a good thing. Especially in this league, I think guys can be a little intimidated. But for us to handle that situation the way we did I think is pretty impressive.”

It was far from a perfect first month for Georgia, particularly on defense. LSU gained 449 yards against a defense that came in allowing 388.7 per game (11th in the SEC). Richt reminded reporters after the game that his team is still “very vulnerable to getting whipped if we don't just put it all together,” starting with next week's venture to Tennessee.

But as long as Murray and Georgia's offense function as capably as they did on Saturday, the Bulldogs are going to be awfully difficult to beat. By surviving yet another close call against a top-10 opponent, all of Georgia's preseason goals remain within reach despite the grueling nature of its opening schedule.

“We know if we just continue to win games and continue to put up points, we're going to be in the national championship, bottom line,” Bennett said. “We've just got to keep doing that.”

Instant analysis: UGA 44, LSU 41

September, 28, 2013
9/28/13
7:42
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ATHENS, Ga. -- The games are always memorable when Georgia and LSU meet, and Saturday's meeting at Sanford Stadium might have been the best ever. No. 9 Georgia (3-1, 2-0 SEC) won a 44-41 shootout against the No. 6 Tigers (4-0, 1-1), handing LSU its first loss of the season and keeping alive the Bulldogs' BCS championship hopes.

It was over when: LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger sailed a fourth-down pass incomplete on the Tigers' final drive, giving Georgia possession at the 50 with 52 seconds to play. Up to that point, it was truly anyone's game.

Game ball goes to: Aaron Murray. With his star tailback out of the game and the running game struggling to dominate the way it did early, Murray took the game into his own hands with four touchdown passes -- including the go-ahead score to Justin Scott-Wesley with 1:47 to play.

Stat of the game: 10-for-15. LSU's offense was superb on third down throughout, converting 10 of 15 opportunities, none bigger than Mettenberger's 25-yard pass to Odell Beckham Jr. on third-and-22 on the Tigers' go-ahead touchdown drive in the fourth quarter.

What it means: Georgia emerges from the most difficult first month in school history with a 3-1 record and two wins against top-10 teams (South Carolina and LSU). The Bulldogs are clearly in the driver's seat in the SEC East and remain a BCS championship contender. LSU is certainly not out of it, but the Tigers still have some difficult competition ahead in the Western Division.

Five things: Georgia-LSU

September, 28, 2013
9/28/13
7:00
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No. 9 Georgia's grueling first month of the season ends today, but not before the Bulldogs (2-1, 1-0 SEC) host No. 6 LSU (4-0, 1-0) at Sanford Stadium – Georgia's third matchup against a top-10 team in its first four games. Let's take a look at five things to watch today, with a statistical assist from ESPN's Stats and Information group:

Special teams impact: After at least one special teams blunder in its first three games – including two that led to touchdowns last week against North Texas – Georgia can't feel good about its matchup this week. LSU has had the nation's best special teams units for the past five years, according to ESPN Stats and Info. Between 2008 to 2012, LSU's special teams were responsible for 3.2 expected points added per game – the best in the nation and well ahead of second-place Florida State's 2.6 EPA. After failing to contain Tyrann Mathieu in the teams' last meeting, Georgia must keep explosive Tigers return man Odell Beckham Jr. under wraps today.

Getting after Mettenberger: LSU's second-year quarterback Zach Mettenberger has been more than impressive thus far, with his 49-point increase in Total QBR (from 39.3 to an SEC-high 88.3) helping him rank as the nation's most improved quarterback this season. Georgia will no doubt try to pressure Mettenberger – a former Bulldog who was dismissed during the 2010 offseason following an arrest – into mistakes in his first true road game of the season. Last fall, Mettenberger never posted an above average (above 50) QBR in any of his four conference road games, was sacked at least twice in each game and never completed more than 56 percent of his passes.

Can Dawgs get deep?: Over the past two seasons, Georgia's offense has been as good as any at generating explosive plays. Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray has averaged an FBS-high 10.5 yards per pass attempt since the start of last season, with the most touchdowns (24) and second-most completions (78) of at least 20 yards during that period. He's 12-for-19 on throws of 15 yards or more this season, including a 98-yard touchdown pass to Reggie Davis last week. But LSU's defense has been outstanding against the long ball thus far. Tigers opponents are just 6-for-25 on passes of 15 yards or more and no opponent has completed more than two such passes in a game thus far. Auburn went 2-for-10 with two interceptions on throws of 15-plus last week against LSU.

Handling Tigers' run: LSU's running game has started to find its stride in recent weeks, rolling up 307 yards against Kent State and 228 last week against Auburn. Tigers tailback Jeremy Hill led the way against Auburn with 183 yards and three touchdowns and will be the most physical test yet for a rebuilt Georgia run defense that allowed 132 yards to Clemson's Rod McDowell and 149 to South Carolina's Mike Davis the next week. The Bulldogs improved significantly against the run versus North Texas, surrendering just 7 yards on 25 carries – a total that is tied for the second-best in an FBS game this season, trailing only Louisville's performance last week against Florida International (3 yards on 34 attempts). But how will defensive coordinator Todd Grantham's young Bulldogs fare against a physical LSU ground game?

Young defenses adjusting: Both defenses have replaced a ton of key players from last season and John Chavis' LSU defense has been the statistically superior group thus far, tying for third in the SEC in total defense (310 ypg) compared to Georgia's 11th (388.7). In fact, the Tigers are allowing just 2.4 yards per game more than last season, when they ranked eighth in the FBS in total defense. Granted, they haven't faced the level of competition – TCU, UAB, Kent State and Auburn – that they will face today from a Georgia offense that is averaging 40.3 points and 574 yards per game. The Tigers took a commanding lead and then allowed Auburn to make things interesting with 333 yards in the second half last week. Such letdowns against the Bulldogs could produce devastating results.

SEC lunchtime links

September, 26, 2013
9/26/13
12:15
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We're a little closer to game day in the SEC. With several notable conference matchups on tap, here's look at some of the storylines, news and notes from around the league:

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.”


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.”

ATHENS, Ga. -- Arthur Lynch refused to let snapper Nathan Theus remain the only scapegoat after North Texas blocked a Georgia punt for a touchdown, the fourth huge special teams error by the Bulldogs in three games.

Although Theus' snap was high -- an error that led Georgia's coaching staff to replace him with Trent Frix later in the game -- senior punt protector Lynch said he misdiagnosed what the Mean Green's rushers were preparing to do and shifted the Bulldogs' coverage.

“That was my fault,” Lynch said. “I should have shifted the protection to the left. The snap and the punter had nothing to do with that. If I would have just gotten the protection corrected … I'll put that on me. We'll correct that.

“It's unfortunate, I knew what was going on and I should have called timeout so we could have shifted it. And that's inexcusable, especially for the fact that I've been doing it for three years.”

No. 9 Georgia (2-1) thoroughly dominated Saturday's game statistically, but two special teams touchdowns by North Texas -- the Mean Green also returned a kickoff for a 99-yard score -- helped make it 21-all early in the third quarter.

It continued a string of early mishaps in the kicking game -- Theus' high snap late in the third quarter against Clemson prevented the Bulldogs from attempting a potential game-tying 20-yard field goal, plus punter Collin Barber dropped a snap in the second quarter against South Carolina, setting up a short touchdown drive – that form an alarming trend.

[+] EnlargeNorth Texas
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsNorth Texas players celebrate after a blocked punt resulted in a touchdown against Georgia.
“We've probably had 100 special teams plays by now, but you just hate that the bad ones have been really bad,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said.

The timing of those errors might be useful for Georgia's coaches, however, considering the opponent preparing to visit on Saturday. Traditionally dangerous on special teams, players from No. 6 LSU (4-0) are no doubt excited over the possibility of making a game-changing play off a return or fake kick against the Bulldogs.

That's a convenient reminder where Richt's coaching staff can reinforce the importance of special teams in this week's practices.

“It's OK to be on high alert this week, so maybe it will help us,” Richt said.

The older players on Georgia's roster probably don't need the reminder on how LSU's return teams can shift the course of a game. The last time these teams played, in the 2011 SEC championship game, LSU punt returner Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu helped swing a game that Georgia controlled early with a 62-yard touchdown return and helped turn it into a rout with a 47-yard runback later in the game.

Mathieu is now in the NFL, but the Tigers' current return specialist, Odell Beckham Jr., is nearly as explosive.

“Unfortunately for us, we've seen what their return teams can do: The Honey Badger,” Lynch said.

Auburn didn't give Beckham many opportunities to break a long return on Saturday night. He was able to return just one kickoff and one punt thanks to Auburn's deep and high kicks, neutralizing an explosive player who returned a missed UAB field goal 109 yards for a touchdown earlier this season.

There were still a couple of big special teams plays on Saturday, however -- one that helped LSU and one that hurt. Auburn punter Steven Clark dropped a snap and dove on the ball for a 16-yard loss at his own 10 early in the game, setting up an LSU touchdown on the next play that helped the Tigers go up 14-0.

Leading 28-7 in the third quarter, LSU coach Les Miles elected to fake a field goal at Auburn's 14. Seth Fruge ran 8 yards on the fake, but was stopped short of a first down. Auburn then drove 94 yards for a touchdown that made it a more competitive game, although LSU still won 35-21.

That aggressiveness is part of the reason the Bulldogs know they can't afford to keep making sloppy errors in the kicking game.

“We've just had a couple of off calls. I'm not worried about it,” said Barber, who averaged 49.8 yards per punt against North Texas. “I trust my protection, pride team. We're going to be the best. There's no doubt in my mind that we can't fix it and get it better by LSU.”

That could mean using different personnel on the coverage units, Richt said, beyond simply using Frix as the punt snapper -- although he said it's likely that change will remain in place this week.

“Your center can't afford to be spraying one a game. You can't afford it,” Richt said. “It's got to be on the money. It's got to be where it's supposed to be when it's supposed to be there.”

The coaches will make those decisions this week after reviewing what went wrong -- as well as what went right -- against the Mean Green. And Richt made the point on his Sunday teleconference that there has been more right than wrong.

“We'd been really covering kicks extremely well all year long and then you get one like that [touchdown],” he said. “You might think it's broken, but it's really not broken. We've just got to go back to doing what we've been doing all year long and that's placing the ball where we want it and getting guys down there covering it, being in the right spots and making the play when they get there.”

The Bulldogs would do themselves an enormous favor if they get back to doing that on Saturday. Beckham is one of the nation's most dangerous all-purpose performers and he will absolutely exploit any crack in Georgia's kick coverage schemes.

Cleaning up those mistakes was one of the first objectives when the Bulldogs began preparing for LSU on Sunday afternoon.

“Trust me, we know what kind of guys they've got,” Lynch said. “… Special teams will be a deciding factor in this game, I think.”

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