NEW ORLEANS -- LSU running back Kenny Hilliard will miss the final two games of the regular season because of a shoulder injury, a person familiar with the situation said Friday.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press because the coaching staff had not released specifics about the injury. The person said Hilliard has not been ruled out for any possible bowl game.
On Twitter, Hilliard had referenced the injury, saying: "Gotta get healthy." Earlier Friday, he said it was going to be a "lay low weekend."
Hilliard had 434 yards and six touchdowns for the No. 17 Tigers (7-3, 3-3, No. 20 AP) before injuring his shoulder and leaving last Saturday's game against Alabama (No. 5 CFP, No. 4 AP).
LSU plays at Arkansas on Saturday. The Tigers then have an open date before closing their season at Texas A&M (No. 24 CFP) on Thanksgiving Day.
The 6-foot-2, 232-pound Hilliard has been part of a four-back rotation with Leonard Fournette, Terrence Magee and Darrell Williams. Hilliard was one of the featured runners during LSU's winning touchdown drive against then-No. 3 Mississippi on Oct. 25. The drive was highlighted by his 16-yard gain in which he used his free hand to throw down 6-foot-5, 243-pound defensive end Carlos Thompson along the LSU sideline.
Against Alabama, however, Hilliard carried only three times for 15 yards early in the game before sitting out the remainder of a 20-13 overtime loss.
Alabama Crimson Tide
2015 nonconference opponents: Wisconsin, Middle Tennessee, Louisiana-Monroe, Charleston Southern
Alabama follows its traditional nonconference scheduling pattern in 2015: a big-name Power 5 opener at a neutral site -- this time Wisconsin in Arlington, Texas -- and three gimmes against small-school teams that will not mount much of a challenge. It's not the most challenging schedule, but combined with what should be another difficult SEC West slate, it's hard to envision the selection committee penalizing Alabama for its schedule.
2015 nonconference opponents: Louisville, Jacksonville State, San Jose State, Idaho
Much like cross-state rival Alabama, the Tigers will challenge themselves right out of the gate with a Power 5 opener at a neutral site (Louisville in Atlanta). The rest of the nonconference schedule seems extremely winnable. As with Alabama, the Tigers will face an FCS opponent (Jacksonville State). One game that might help Auburn's strength of schedule is San Jose State, which has been mediocre this season, but occasionally ranks among the better Group of 5 programs. There's no road trip similar to this year's Kansas State game on the 2015 schedule to ramp up Auburn's schedule strength, but this is not bad.
2015 nonconference opponents: New Mexico State, East Carolina, Florida Atlantic, Florida State
Any nonconference schedule that includes Florida State can't be criticized too heavily. Considering how FSU hasn't lost since losing to the Gators in November 2012, that game will certainly buoy Florida's 2015 schedule. Beware of East Carolina, however. The Pirates are on the verge of playing in their fourth consecutive bowl game and will be capable of giving the Gators a challenging game. Their presence on the schedule could help with the selection committee should Florida take care of business in the SEC East -- particularly since the Gators also host Ole Miss and visit LSU next season.
2015 nonconference opponents: Louisiana-Monroe, Southern, Georgia Southern, at Georgia Tech
The first three games -- Louisiana-Monroe, FCS Southern and FBS newcomer Georgia Southern -- are nothing special. Georgia Southern has given some FBS teams fits through the years with its option running game and even defeated a downtrodden Florida team last season, but the Eagles' presence on the schedule will not sway the selection committee much. We never know what to expect from Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets are 8-2 this season but have typically hovered around .500 by the time the UGA game arrived in recent years. Georgia's nonconference schedule won't help much, but non-division games against Auburn and Alabama should.
2015 nonconference opponents: McNeese State, at Syracuse, Eastern Michigan, Western Kentucky
This isn't the weakest nonconference slate among the SEC's likely playoff contenders, but it's not going to help the Tigers' playoff chances much. Facing FCS McNeese State, a relatively new FBS program in Western Kentucky and MAC cellar dweller Eastern Michigan won't impress anyone on the selection committee. A trip to Syracuse is somewhat ambitious, although the Orange will need to be better than the .500 club they usually are for that game to compel committee members. In addition to its SEC West slate, LSU will visit South Carolina and host Florida, which could help its cause.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
2015 nonconference opponents: at Southern Miss, Northwestern State, Troy, Louisiana Tech
The Bulldogs will have to hope they clean up in the SEC West again next season because this nonconference schedule is not going to help their cause. Then again, their nonconference schedule this season (USM, UAB, South Alabama and Tennessee-Martin) is a joke and the Bulldogs are ranked No. 1. It’s hard to argue against a team that is undefeated in the SEC West, so they get the benefit of the doubt for now. But if State is on the bubble for a No. 4 spot in this season or next, its nonconference schedule will hurt its case.
2015 nonconference opponents: Southeast Missouri State, at Arkansas State, UConn, BYU
On Thursday, Missouri announced it would play BYU at Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium next season, which beefs up the Tigers' otherwise unimpressive slate. Since joining the SEC in 2012, the Tigers have played only one team that could be described as a big-name nonconference opponent (Arizona State in 2012). Otherwise, they tend to stick to mediocre Power 5 programs (such as Indiana, which beat Missouri this season) and home-and-home series with Group of 5 teams such as Toledo, UConn and Arkansas State. Although that philosophy won't wow the selection committee, it's producing lots of wins for Missouri.
Ole Miss Rebels
2015 nonconference opponents: Tennessee-Martin, Fresno State, New Mexico State, at Memphis
In-state rivals seem to share scheduling philosophies, don't they? As with Auburn and Alabama, Ole Miss and Mississippi State are playing highly similar nonconference slates in 2015. There is a road game against a regional rival (Ole Miss at Memphis, Mississippi State at Southern Miss), an FCS opponent (UT-Martin for Ole Miss, Northwestern State for MSU) and then a couple of middling Group of 5 programs. Fresno State might help Ole Miss' cause a bit. The Bulldogs have been a better-than-average program in the recent past, although they have not been particularly good this season.
Texas A&M Aggies
2015 nonconference opponents: Arizona State, Ball State, Nevada, Western Carolina
It will be interesting to see how the selection committee views Texas A&M's schedule should the Aggies be in contention for a playoff spot. They open with a neutral-site game against Arizona State in Houston, and that game should boost A&M's strength of schedule. However, the Aggies play outside the state of Texas only once between the opener and their Nov. 21 trip to Vanderbilt, when they visit Ole Miss on Oct. 24. Will they face criticism for not challenging themselves more away from Texas? Possibly, but there are still some difficult games on the schedule.
Here are four key storylines to watch as kickoff approaches:
Snow Tigers: The weather could become a major storyline in this game, and it will be interesting to see whether it impacts the style of play in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
As of Thursday afternoon, the weather forecast for Saturday’s game called for temperatures in the 20s at kickoff along with a 10 percent chance of snow.
If that prediction comes through, it would be the coldest game in Les Miles’ tenure as the Tigers’ coach. To date, the coldest temperature at kickoff since Miles arrived at LSU in 2005 was 43 degrees for a 2005 game at Ole Miss. The Tigers have played just three games under Miles in which the temperature was 50 degrees or cooler at kickoff (the others were 47 degrees for a 2012 game at Arkansas and 50 degrees for a 2008 home game against Troy).
It could also be the coldest LSU game from at least the last 40 years. According to LSU’s online archive of box scores, the coldest temperature at kickoff since 1974 was 31 degrees for the 1992 LSU-Arkansas game in Fayetteville. The Tigers played 28 games in that timespan when the temperature was 50 degrees or cooler at kickoff and just seven when it was 40 or cooler.
Run and run some more: If it does snow, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see two run-heavy teams rely even more heavily on the ground game.
ESPN Stats & Information reports that LSU has run the ball an SEC-high 67 percent of the time this season, and its rushing success seems to have a correlation to its wins and losses. The Tigers are 5-0 when they rush for at least 200 yards and 2-3 when they do not.
Likewise, Arkansas has run for more than 200 yards in all four of its wins, but it has broken the 200-yard mark just once in its five losses (in an overtime loss to Texas A&M).
So if Arkansas’ backfield duo of Jonathan Williams (137 carries, 877 yards, 10 TDs) and Alex Collins (134-840, 10 TDs) enjoys more success moving the ball on the ground than LSU’s Leonard Fournette (152-736, 7 TDs) and Terrence Magee (81-447, 3 TDs), the Razorbacks are likely the favorite to win. LSU senior Kenny Hilliard (87-431, 6 TDs) is questionable to play after injuring his shoulder against Alabama last Saturday.
Loading the box: The worse the weather, the more likely it will be that the two defenses crowd the line of scrimmage to defend the run. That would be nothing new for the three top running backs in this game.
Fournette (67) has the most carries of any SEC back against defenses with eight or more defenders in the box. Williams (59) and Collins (56) are next in line behind the Tigers’ star freshman.
ESPN Stats & Information reports that Fournette is averaging 4.1 yards per carry against defenses with eight or more men in the box and 5.4 yards per carry against seven or fewer defenders.
LSU defense trending upward: It didn’t seem like it at the time, but the Tigers’ 41-7 loss to Auburn was a turning point in their season – particularly for their run defense.
In LSU’s first three games against Power 5 opponents (Wisconsin, Mississippi State and Auburn), the Tigers surrendered 289.3 rushing yards per game. In the last four games (Florida, Kentucky, Ole Miss and Alabama), LSU gave up 109.3 rushing yards per game.
They have done an excellent job of shutting down drives in a hurry, too. Overall, LSU has forced 46 three-and-outs this season, which is tied for third in the FBS. Of those 46 three-and-outs, 18 came in the last four games – seven of which were by Alabama last week.
Defensive end Danielle Hunter (24 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss) was a key figure in that four-game stretch, as were weakside linebacker Kwon Alexander (31 tackles, 5 TFLs), middle linebacker Kendell Beckwith (30 tackles, 2 TFLs) and defensive end Jermauria Rasco (28 tackles, 2 TFLs).
In the last three games, LSU’s defense has allowed just two touchdowns in regulation: passes by Ole Miss and Alabama. The Tigers haven’t surrendered a rushing touchdown since the first quarter of the Florida game on Oct. 11.
This is put-up-or-shut-up time for the unbeaten Bulldogs, who earned their No. 1 ranking by beating three straight top-10 teams this season. Winning at Alabama, where it has won twice since 1957, is a different animal entirely for a program with a history filled with long periods of mediocrity -- and worse.
This is where the Bulldogs can truly prove they belong among the sport’s heavyweights, much like Cam Newton and the 2010 Auburn team did when it won in Tuscaloosa en route to the BCS championship. In fact, there are several similarities between 2014 Mississippi State and 2010 Auburn, as identified by AL.com’s Kevin Scarbinsky on Thursday.
Nick Saban’s Alabama teams have made a habit of winning games like this, especially at home, which might be why the MSU program turned to a superhero to provide the theme for its pregame hype video. In the video, Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne/Batman character says, "I’m not afraid, I’m angry."
The Bulldogs probably need to summon all the anger inside of them to make it through this weekend unbeaten. Never mind beating LSU in Tiger Stadium or outlasting Auburn in Starkville, this is the biggest test of their season, and most college football prognosticators expect them to fail.
They will either prove them right or they’ll prove that they’re legit, just like Newton and Auburn did in 2010.
Around the SEC
The last time Missouri and BYU met -- as they will next November according to a scheduling arrangement announced Thursday -- was when BYU quarterback Steve Young led the Cougars past Mizzou in the 1983 Holiday Bowl.
The Tennessean’s Matt Slovin asks if Tennessee quarterback Josh Dobbs can lead the Vols (4-5) to a bowl game. They might need a win against Kentucky on Saturday to keep their hopes alive.
Texas A&M receivers Josh Reynolds and Ricky Seals-Jones returned to form in last week’s upset win at Auburn.
His Florida State team edged Auburn 34-31 in last season’s BCS championship game despite Auburn gaining 449 yards of total offense. Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt gets another shot at the Tigers on Saturday.
Former LSU football and baseball player and MLB all-star Alvin Dark died Thursday at age 92.
The State’s "Big Game Graphic" reminds us that Florida was averaging 255 yards per game and 17.5 points per game before Treon Harris became the Gators’ starting quarterback, and 437 yards and 36 points in the two games since he entered the starting lineup.
Tweet of the day
Family, friends and teammates packed the gymnasium at Baton Rouge’s University Laboratory School, and Brossette had to give a speech in front of the horde of media members that were just feet away from his face with flashing cameras. Following that, Brossette, the nation’s No. 10 running back, spent the next 45 minutes answering questions from reporters and posing for pictures with almost everybody in attendance.
"Whew," Brossette said after he finally got a chance to sit down and catch his breath.
These jersey presentations are always a big deal for the schools and communities, but Brossette’s was especially unique because of his recruiting status. Brossette pledged to LSU -- the school that is literally across the street from University Lab -- last August, and he is one of the most dominating offensive players Baton Rouge has seen in years. But when Brossette announced a few months back that he was going to also visit Notre Dame, Texas and Arizona State, the spotlight focused on him even more.
"I think I'm doing a good job of keeping things in perspective and handling the whole recruiting stuff," said Brossette, who visited Notre Dame in early October and will take trips to the Longhorns, Tigers and Sun Devils after his season is over.
"It has taken up a lot of my time. I just try to stay focused with my team, and I’m just trying to get back to the state championship and win it this time. That time on the football field has kind of become my sanctuary. That’s my time away where nobody is asking me where I’m going to school. Just being around my guys and having fun with them helps keep it all in perspective. It keeps me really grounded."
That is another reason he is excited to play in the Under Armour Game. Yes, he knows there will be plenty of questions about his future asked during the week, but he also knows there will be plenty of football.
"Fans are going to see that I work hard," Brossette said. "They're going to see my vision, how powerful I am, and they're also going to see my speed. Everybody questions me about my speed. I think I'm a full package at running back. This is my chance to show them.
"I’ve been looking at the roster and checking out all of the linebackers. I know there are some good ones in the game. I’m looking forward to going up against all of those guys. I can’t wait to blow up a linebacker on the first day of practice."
While Arkansas coach Bret Bielema is known for pulling a trick play out of his hat once in a while, the Razorbacks’ offensive identity is fairly straight-forward. They typically attempt to pound opposing defenses with tailbacks Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams running behind a bruising offensive line.
“You get to show what you’ve been doing all summer with [LSU strength and conditioning coach Tommy] Moffitt: strength and training and running, being physical,” strongside linebacker Lamar Louis said. “Old-school football, that’s what I like to call it. Pretty much the football we’ve been playing since we were younger. So I like games like this.”
In the past four games, LSU has largely shut down opponents' rushing attacks, surrendering 109.3 yards per game and just one touchdown. That’s a complete turnaround from its first three games against Power 5 opponents (Wisconsin, Mississippi State and Auburn), when opponents averaged 289.3 yards per game on the ground and totaled seven rushing scores.
The Alabama game might have been the season’s high-water mark for LSU, as the Tigers limited the Crimson Tide’s talented backfield duo of T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry to a combined 72 yards on the ground, and Louis also forced a Yeldon fumble that allowed the Tigers to kick the go-ahead field goal with 50 seconds left in regulation.
“I think the whole game we were very physical,” defensive tackle Christian LaCouture said. “Alabama’s a physical team. We had to counter that with being very physical, as well.”
That mentality will be necessary again on Saturday.
Williams (137 carries, 877 yards, 10 TDs) is fourth in the SEC with 97.4 rushing yards per game and Collins (134 carries, 840 yards, 10 TDs) is fifth at 93.3. They run behind an offensive line that averages 328.4 pounds per man, making the group heftier than most offensive lines in the NFL.
And they come right at you -- which shouldn’t seem too unfamiliar to a group that practices against a Les Miles offense every day.
“We’ve seen it all spring with our offense, the way they run the ball, so it shouldn’t be too complicated for us,” middle linebacker Kendell Beckwith said.
A word of caution, though: Arkansas’ passing attack is more dangerous this season with a healthy Brandon Allen at quarterback. The Razorbacks attempted 40 passes for 246 yards in a 14-13 loss to Alabama and 44 passes for 238 yards in a near-miss against top-ranked Mississippi State.
It’s easy to get so caught up in defending Collins and Williams that Allen can catch a defense by surprise with a play-action pass for a big gain.
“That’s what they’re setting you up for,” safety Jalen Mills said. “You know that they’re a big run team, but then again, you see where the quarterback may have a lot of passing yards. That’s where guys are biting for the play-action and then he’s hitting you over the top.”
The Razorbacks seem unlikely to win on Saturday by throwing 40 passes against LSU, which boasts the SEC’s top pass defense (163.5 yards allowed per game), however. The Razorbacks’ hopes of ending a 17-game SEC losing streak likely hinge on their ability to move the ball on the ground -- and LSU’s defenders expect the Razorbacks to come straight at them.
“[We need to] knock their heads back, make sure they know that we came to play,” LaCouture said of the LSU defensive line’s approach, which will come in handy again this week.
“Alabama’s a very physical team. We knew that coming in, so we knew that we had to attack the line of scrimmage, first and foremost, push the offensive line back into the running back’s face and make them go sideways so guys like Kwon [Alexander, LSU’s starting weakside linebacker] could make plays. And if they come up the middle, that’s when we make our plays.”
Why Alabama wins: This isn’t a pretty Alabama team, but it doesn’t matter. It’s tough as nails and plays so much better at home. Mississippi State is back to being the underdog and Alabama’s defense will force Dak Prescott to make early mistakes. The Tide are banged up? Yeah, but their SEC and playoff runs are over with a loss. Who wouldn’t want Nick Saban in this matchup? Alabama 27, Mississippi State 20 -- Edward Aschoff
Why Mississippi State wins: People argue that the Bulldogs have struggled in recent weeks. What if they were just sitting back, waiting for Alabama? I expect this team to be ready and open the game like it did against LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn earlier in the season. And if it comes down to quarterback play, I’ll take my chances with Prescott over Blake Sims. Mississippi State 28, Alabama 24 -- Greg Ostendorf
Why Georgia wins: Auburn’s defense was abysmal in the loss to Texas A&M and Georgia gets Todd Gurley back. You think he’s jacked up to play in this one? This one has shootout written all over it, but the return of Gurley coupled with a chance to win the East will boost the Dawgs to a close win. Georgia 38, Auburn 35 -- Edward Aschoff
Why Auburn wins: The only prediction I'm confident about in this one is that the scoreboard operator is going to be busy tallying points. It's hard to imagine either of these defenses having much success on Saturday, so it might come down to who makes one more stop than the opponent. Auburn's offense is slightly more balanced, so I'll give the Tigers a tiny edge in a shootout. Auburn 38, Georgia 35 -- David Ching
Why LSU wins: Arkansas has come close to ending its SEC losing streak several times this season, and it seems like the popular pick to predict that it happens this week. But what the Razorbacks do best -- run downhill -- is something that LSU is equipped to defend. This will come down to whether Arkansas' defense can slow down LSU's power running game, and I don't think it can. LSU 28, Arkansas 24 -- David Ching
Why Arkansas wins: The Razorbacks are rested after an off week while LSU must travel to Fayetteville, Arkansas, after a grueling overtime battle with Alabama. Arkansas took LSU down to the wire when they met a year ago and this is a better Razorbacks team. Arkansas has been close several times this year to ending its SEC losing streak against quality teams (Alabama, Mississippi State, Texas A&M). This time, the Razorbacks break through. Arkansas 20, LSU 16 -- Sam Khan Jr.
Why Florida wins: The Gators have been much more explosive offensively lately and the confidence level has picked up considerably thanks to the spark Treon Harris has provided at quarterback. South Carolina hasn't had many answers defensively for opponents lately, allowing more than 40 points to each of its past three SEC opponents. Florida 34, South Carolina, 27 -- Sam Khan Jr.
Why South Carolina wins: Yes, I know the Gamecocks have lost four straight SEC games. I know they’re trending in the wrong direction. But I like the Head Ball Coach in this one. Steve Spurrier has won six straight games coming off a bye week, and I just don’t think Florida’s offense can keep pace if it's a shootout. South Carolina, 34, Florida 31 -- Greg Ostendorf
Why Missouri keeps it close: Missouri is the SEC's ultimate "find a way" team this year. The Tigers aren't particularly good at anything and yet here they are with a 7-2 record and a chance to win the SEC East. Heck, they beat the doors off Florida despite mustering all of 119 yards of offense and seven first downs. Their pass rush is good enough to fluster Kyle Allen and maybe they'll return a kick or a turnover for a score to keep it close, but superior talent and home-field advantage give the Aggies the edge. Texas A&M 24, Missouri 21 -- David Ching
Why Texas A&M wins big: It's all about confidence for Texas A&M. Between its shaky defense and true freshman quarterback, emotions play a factor. So coming off a big win at Auburn is huge. The Aggies’ ability to throw the ball will turn this into a shootout the Tigers can't survive. Why? Because Maty Mauk is too careless with the ball, and he'll likely be running for his life with Myles Garrett chasing him. Texas A&M 41, Missouri 20 -- Alex Scarborough
Why Tennessee wins: A bowl berth is on the line for two teams going in opposite directions. The Wildcats have lost four straight since starting 5-1, while the Vols are riding high off a comeback win at South Carolina and might have found their quarterback of the future in Joshua Dobbs, who will have another big weekend after getting to rest and absorb more of the offense during the bye week. Tennessee 31, Kentucky 24 -- Edward Aschoff
Why Kentucky wins: If Justin Worley were still Tennessee's QB, I'd feel differently. If the Vols' offensive line had shown more improvement, I'd wonder about this pick. But I can't change those things. Kentucky is just better. Its defense, with playmakers Bud Dupree, Za'Darius Smith and A.J. Stamps, should force Dobbs into a few bad plays. So long as Patrick Towles is careful with the football, Kentucky should be able to run effectively and score enough points. Kentucky 35, Tennessee 34 -- Alex Scarborough
Greg Ostendorf 73-15
Edward Aschoff 71-17
David Ching 71-17
Chris Low 71-17
Alex Scarborough 69-19
Sam Khan Jr. 66-22
Not the unusually cool temperatures in the low 40s that the Tigers practiced in on Wednesday. Even worse. The weather forecast for Saturday night’s game at Arkansas shows lows in the 20s and a 70 percent chance of snow.
Considering how 90 percent of Les Miles’ LSU roster hails from Louisiana and the surrounding Southern states, most Tigers have barely seen snow, much less played a competitive football game in it.
If it really comes down on Saturday, it will be interesting to see how the Tigers handle an entirely different climate than what they are accustomed. Miles’ staff seemed amused to turn it into a game of sorts, with one support staff member going shirtless at Wednesday’s chilly practice, but it could be a genuine area of concern.
Arkansas’ players aren’t especially prepared for snowy weather, however. Yes, far more Razorbacks are from states with cooler weather -- and Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said that might be an advantage -- but the Arkansas News Bureau’s Robbie Neiswanger wrote this week that the last Razorbacks game impacted by snow was in 1993 against Auburn.
Arkansas initially planned to allow students to camp outside Reynolds Razorback Stadium on Friday night, but the school announced on Wednesday that camping is now canceled because of possible inclement weather.
One likely outcome is that two run-oriented offenses will lean even more heavily on their ground games in snowy weather. If that happens, the Razorbacks and Tigers might play the fastest televised SEC game of the entire season with few pass attempts to stop the game clock.
Around the SEC
- The thought of returning to a bowl game and finishing his senior year in a positive fashion fuels Tennessee offensive lineman Jacob Gilliam, who continues to play with a torn ACL in his left knee.
- The friendship between Florida’s Will Muschamp and South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier developed more because of mutual travel arrangements than that both of them have been head coaches in Gainesville.
- Playing the part of Mississippi State Heisman Trophy contender Dak Prescott this week in practice for Alabama? Redshirt freshman quarterback Cooper Bateman.
- Missouri will attempt to slow down Texas A&M’s passing attack with a reshuffled secondary.
- That said, it was the running game that helped Texas A&M escape with an upset win last Saturday against Auburn, allowing the Aggies to eat nearly 11 minutes off the clock in two second-half drives.
- Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said he is shaking things up in practice this week in an attempt to avoid another horrible start on Saturday against Georgia.
"Obviously if you come in like a mouse talking to the huddle and things, they won't believe me," Jennings recalled, "so I had to come in with confidence high and tell the guys, 'Here we go. We're going to go score.'"
To that point in the season, Jennings had appeared only on a few select running plays and in garbage time, but here he was replacing injured senior starter Zach Mettenberger and needing to drive the Tigers 99 yards in the game's final 3:04 if LSU was to avoid a huge upset.
When the Tigers' backup quarterback entered the huddle, he projected the necessary confident tone, said Dural, then a redshirt freshman who spent most of the season in veteran stars Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham's shadows.
"He came in like he had been playing the whole game and came in like he was the starter and the offense never missed a beat," said Dural, whose Tigers (7-3, 3-3 SEC) will visit Arkansas (4-5, 0-5) on Saturday.
The drive started with a 2-yard Jennings run to get the Tigers some breathing room away from the goal line. Completions of 16 yards to tight end Dillon Gordon and 11 yards to Landry soon followed. Then Jennings broke a 21-yard run to push the Tigers past midfield.
The drive started to stall from there, however. Jennings tossed an incomplete pass to Kadron Boone and then completed a screen pass to tailback Jeremy Hill, but Arkansas' Deatrich Wise stopped him for no gain. The Tigers called a timeout, facing third-and-10 from the Arkansas 49-yard line with just 1:22 to play.
That's when Jennings lined up in the shotgun and launched a perfect strike down the left sideline to a wide-open Dural, who had streaked 10 yards behind Arkansas defensive back Jared Collins. Dural hauled in the pass and crossed the goal line to give LSU a 31-27 lead, and the final score, with 1:15 remaining.
It was one of the most exciting moments of the entire season for the Tigers, and it was a pair of freshmen who hooked up to make it happen.
"You're always going to remember that play and that 99-yard drive," Jennings said. "That's the story and then being a freshman at that, I'm always going to remember that."
Jennings and Dural used that game-winning touchdown pass as a launching point, with both players enjoying much more prominent roles in the Tigers' offense as sophomores.
Dural (30 catches for 701 yards, 7 TDs), who has started every game this season and ranks fourth in the SEC with an average of 70.1 receiving yards per game, said the Arkansas touchdown gave him confidence that he could become an impact player in the SEC.
"It was coming, but after that play it was really there," Dural said. "It kind of showed me, 'OK, I can make plays. I can do this.'"
Jennings (80-170, 1,266 yards, 9 TDs, 6 INTs) has had an up-and-down sophomore season, but the Tigers have won eight of his 10 starts since he took over for Mettenberger.
He said he didn't need the Arkansas comeback to believe he belonged at LSU, although he first credited his teammates and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Cam Cameron for making the drive a success.
"I don't think it was confirmation. I think I always had that confidence in myself that I could play at a high level," Jennings said. "So just that happening was a product of all the teammates around me helping me, guiding me, coaching me, Coach Cameron calling great plays there. So it really was not on me. It's about the guys around me."
The duo has already combined to provide several other huge plays for the Tigers since the Arkansas game. They hooked up for an 80-yard touchdown in a season-opening win against Wisconsin and combined for a school-record 94-yard touchdown on LSU's first offensive play the following week against Sam Houston State.
Dural was also the recipient of a 41-yard pass from Jennings on third-and-25 that extended the Tigers' go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter against Florida. He made a one-handed, 11-yard touchdown catch to cap the drive and give LSU a 27-24 lead with 2:40 to play.
Needless to say, Jennings-to-Dural has become one of the SEC's top big-play combinations this season, and it all started with an unlikely 99-yard drive last season against Arkansas where two freshmen showed up at the game's biggest moment.
"That was a big moment for both of those guys. It kind of jumpstarted both of their careers," senior running back Terrence Magee said. "They've made big plays throughout the year this year and we've counted on both of those guys and we're going to continue to count on them through the rest of this season.
"I think the big-play ability and the connection that they have with each other is going to be vital to the rest of this season and into the future for those guys."
Not only did true freshman quarterbacks Kyle Allen and Treon Harris lead their teams to key conference victories, but their fellow first-year players also made huge differences in all three phases of the game. Heck, the Georgia-Kentucky game alone could have filled out this week’s five most notable performers.
At any rate, here are five SEC true freshmen who stood out last Saturday and then 11 more who deserve recognition:
QB Kyle Allen, Texas A&M
What he did: Making his first SEC start, Allen led the Aggies to an upset win at Auburn by completing 19 of 29 passes for 277 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. Allen tossed a touchdown pass on four of Texas A&M’s first five drives.
What it means: The freshman wasn’t great in his first start against Louisiana-Monroe, but he got off to a hot start against Auburn and helped the Aggies save face somewhat after a brutal October slump. It’s safe to say that Kenny Hill put his starting status in serious jeopardy by getting himself suspended and allowing Allen to get some valuable playing time.
OLB Lorenzo Carter, Georgia
What he did: Carter started for the first time against Kentucky, taking Leonard Floyd’s spot in the starting lineup, and had easily his best game as a Bulldog. He posted nine tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and four quarterback hurries in Georgia’s blowout win.
What it means: We’ll see whether Floyd gets back into the starting lineup at some point. He played very little against Kentucky after a disappointing performance the previous week against Florida. Regardless, Carter has already started to make an impact as a pass rusher. He’s second on the team with 3.5 sacks, third with 13 quarterback hurries and fifth with five TFLs.
RB Nick Chubb, Georgia
What he did: In his fourth game filling in for Todd Gurley as the Bulldogs’ starting tailback, Chubb posted his fourth game with at least 140 rushing yards – matching the longest such streak for any back in the nation this season. Chubb ran 13 times for 170 yards and scored on an 18-yard touchdown run against Kentucky.
What it means: Gurley will return this week against Auburn, and Sony Michel is also back from a four-game injury absence, so Chubb won’t have to carry the load alone. By this point, though, he has certainly proven himself as a capable runner, leading the Bulldogs with 895 rushing yards and scoring seven times on the ground.
KR/WR Isaiah McKenzie, Georgia
What he did: The shifty return man took a kickoff back 90 yards for Georgia’s first touchdown against Kentucky and brought back a punt 59 yards for a score in the third quarter. He finished with two kickoff returns for 116 yards. McKenzie also ran once for a 12-yard gain.
What it means: McKenzie continues to breathe life into Georgia’s formerly stagnant return game. The Bulldogs had gone two seasons without a punt return touchdown before McKenzie took one back for a score earlier this season against Troy. He’s averaging 15.1 yards per punt return with two touchdowns and 29.7 yards per kickoff return with one score.
RB/KR Stanley Williams, Kentucky
What he did: Not to be outdone by his opponents from Georgia, Williams also had a big game against his home-state team on Saturday. He ran 10 times for 100 yards and scored on a 56-yard burst in the second quarter. He also caught a pass for a 1-yard gain and returned five kickoffs for 135 yards with a long of 37.
What it means: Williams has established himself as one of the SEC’s top young all-purpose players. He’s averaging a team-best 110.6 all-purpose yards per game and is averaging 6.9 yards per carry while sharing carries in Kentucky’s four-man backfield rotation.
TE Jeb Blazevich, Georgia: Caught three passes for 29 yards and touchdowns of 10 and 8 yards against Kentucky.
S Duke Dawson, Florida: Tied for the team lead with six tackles and also recorded a tackle for loss and a pass breakup in a win against Vanderbilt.
WR Malachi Dupre, LSU: Made a one-handed, 14-yard touchdown catch in a loss to Alabama.
RB Leonard Fournette, LSU: Ran 21 times for 79 yards in a loss to Alabama.
DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M: Recorded four tackles and blocked a field goal which Deshazor Everett returned 65 yards for a touchdown to give the Aggies a 35-17 halftime lead in a win against Auburn.
WR Jamoral Graham, Mississippi State: Caught a 44-yard touchdown pass in a win against Tennessee-Martin.
QB Treon Harris, Florida: Completed 13 of 21 passes for 215 yards and ran 10 times for 49 yards and two touchdowns in a win against Vanderbilt.
RB Sony Michel, Georgia: Ran 16 times for 84 yards and scored on a 23-yard touchdown against Kentucky.
WR Speedy Noil, Texas A&M: Caught a pass for 16 yards, returned two punts for 2 yards and returned three kickoffs for 81 yards (with a long of 36) in a win against Auburn.
P J.K. Scott, Alabama: Punted nine times for 437 yards (48.6 per punt) with a long of 66 yards and placed two punts inside the 20 in a win against LSU.
CB Jalen Tabor, Florida: Recorded two tackles, broke up a pass and made a leaping, one-handed interception in a win against Vanderbilt.
Probably the most intriguing matchup in the game is Dak Prescott, one of the top two players in ESPN’s latest Heisman Watch, against an Alabama defense that ranks third in defensive efficiency.
The Tide are the only FBS team that has held each of its opponents to fewer than 25 points this season. In comparison, Mississippi State has scored at least 34 points in eight of its nine games, and Prescott has accounted for at least three touchdowns in all eight of those games.
The only game that Mississippi State’s offense was stymied was a 17-10 win against Arkansas on Nov. 1, a game played a week after Prescott was seen wearing a walking boot on his left foot.
This is a matchup of strengths. Prescott has accounted for an SEC-high 30 touchdowns, 19 more than Alabama’s defense has allowed in nine games. Alabama’s FBS-low 11 touchdowns allowed are as many as Prescott has accounted for in three games against ranked opponents.
Below is a breakdown of specific areas where Prescott and Alabama will be tested.
When Prescott runs
Running against Alabama is a tough proposition. During Nick Saban’s eight-year tenure as coach, Alabama has allowed the fewest rushing yards per game (91.0) and yards per rush (2.9) in the FBS. In that time, the Tide have allowed an FBS-low nine players to rush for at least 100 yards, none of them quarterbacks.
If any quarterback is going to rush for 100 yards against Alabama, it might be Prescott, who has had eight such games since the start of last season, tied for the second-most by an FBS quarterback behind Navy’s Keenan Reynolds. Prescott ranks in the top three among FBS quarterbacks in most rushing categories this season. He is third in yards (779), tied for first in touchdowns (11) and tied for second in first downs (52).
One scenario to watch is when Prescott runs the ball between the tackles. Mississippi State is averaging a Power 5-high 174.3 rush yards per game between the tackles. On such runs, Prescott is second in the SEC in yards (667) and yards per rush (7.6), and he leads the conference with nine touchdowns (minimum 40 rushes).
In comparison, Alabama has allowed an SEC-low 68.4 rush yards per game and two touchdowns between the tackles. Last week, the Tide held LSU to a season-low 3.1 yards per rush up the middle.
On third down, Prescott has been responsible for an FBS-high 14 touchdowns and is converting a first down on 52 percent of his plays. The FBS average for third-down conversion percentage is 41 percent.
Alabama’s defense ranks eighth in the SEC in third-down conversion percentage (36 percent) but has been a different team at home. At home, the Tide have allowed their opponents to convert 18 percent of their third downs, which leads the FBS. Away from Tuscaloosa, the Tide have allowed a 46 percent third-down conversion percentage, tied for 86th in the FBS.
Prescott has an SEC-high 45 plays, including 15 touchdowns, of 20 yards or longer. He has at least three plays of 20-plus yards in every game this season, including 17 against three ranked opponents. Alabama has allowed an SEC-low 25 plays (three touchdowns) of 20 yards or longer. The Tide have held their opponents to fewer than three 20-yards plays in four of nine games.
Alabama’s ability to stop big plays should be a determining factor against Mississippi State. The Bulldogs have gained 47 percent of their total offense on 20-yard plays, which is the highest percentage in the SEC and fifth-highest percentage in the FBS.
Something has to give
Mississippi State and Alabama rank first and second in Strength of Record and Game Control, respectively.
At 9-0, Mississippi State has the best resume in the country, but FPI projects that Alabama is the strongest team in the nation on a neutral field. We will learn a lot about these teams Saturday, but Alabama’s ability to stop Prescott should go a long way toward determining which team has the upper hand in the SEC West.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier and Florida coach Will Muschamp have a little bit of a friendship thanks to sharing a few flights. Spurrier said it sparked from traveling to ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut, for the annual coaches "Car Wash." Spurrier simply dialed up Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley and asked if Florida's jet, which flies over Columbia, South Carolina, en route to Bristol, could stop and pick him up. Foley obliged and Spurrier and Muschamp have shared those flights and gotten to know each other in that time. The two face off on the field this Saturday and will naturally push that relationship aside when kickoff comes.
Though it hasn't always been pretty, Missouri leads the SEC East and controls its own destiny as the only team in the division with one conference loss. The Tigers have been able to do that despite having an offense that ranks last in the conference in yards per game (250.2) and yards per play (4.05). Still, they control their own destiny with three games left, the first one coming at Texas A&M. They've beaten the Aggies four of the last five meetings and the teams have split their two meetings since each joined the SEC. Gary Pinkel's teams seem to have a knack for being in the mix for division titles even in his days in the Big 12 and the Tigers are chasing their second straight SEC East title. Notably, Missouri will be without cornerback Aaron Penton -- who has started all nine games so far this season -- because Pinkel suspended him after Penton was arrested for marijuana possession.
Around the SEC
- Will Muschamp said South Carolina will have the best offense Florida has seen this season.
- Alabama's final drive in regulation on Saturday left LSU's defensive players sleepless.
- Texas A&M quarterback Kyle Allen showed leadership and smarts in his second start, a win over Auburn.
- Kentucky needs to get back to attacking.
- Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason talked about his late friend, former Auburn tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, ahead of the Dawgs game with Auburn.
Yep, so glad the College Football Playoff Rankings are going to have so much less controversy than the BCS. Whew!— Radi Nabulsi (@RadiNabulsi) November 12, 2014
While he was being introduced, somebody in the crowded gymnasium of students loudly asked where Charlot, the nation’s No. 8 receiver, would be attending college at. Across the gym, an emphatic reply of “LSU, baby” came from another student.
At this point, nobody knows where Charlot is going to end up. He committed to Alabama back in early February, but that was before LSU offered him a scholarship. The Tigers eventually did and haven’t stopped pursuing him since.
“It's going to be a hard decision,” Charlot said. “It's either Bama or LSU. It's 60 Alabama, 40-percent chance LSU. When the time comes, everyone will find out. It's just crazy because everywhere I go people ask me the question ‘Where are you going to school at.’ I wear my ID on an LSU lanyard here at school, so people think that means I’m going there, but no one knows where I want to go, including me. If I don't know, then no one else does.”
Tuesday wasn’t about where Charlot will be attending college, though. It was a celebration for him being selected to play in the nation’s most prestigious high school football all-star game. Charlot said that fact hadn’t sunk in with him until he put on the black and red Under Armour jersey during the ceremony.
“It’s real now,” Charlot said with a big smile. “It was a goal of mine to play in this game, so I’m going to take advantage of it. I want to show everybody I’m the best receiver in the country.”
He plans to do that by doing anything and everything the coaches ask of him during the practices leading up to the Jan. 2 game that will be televised on ESPN2.
“I'll play corner,” he said. “I'll play receiver. I'll kick. I’ll play on the kickoff and punt return teams. I'll even drive the bus if that's what coach thinks will help the team win the game and show people what I’ve got. I think I'm electric with the ball in my hands. I know how to make people miss and get away from people very easily.”
Charlot also hopes to settle a score with five-star Kevin Toliver II, the nation’s No. 1 cornerback.
“At LSU’s camp in my freshman and sophomore years, we were going at it back and forth,” Charlot said. It was basically a tie. I want to break the tie at Under Armour.”
No. 1 Mississippi State and No. 5 Alabama are both lurking, but one of those teams will likely drop after they meet this weekend. Thus we’ll project one SEC club making the playoff field, and it will be the winner of Saturday’s game in Tuscaloosa.
A secondary question will be how many SEC clubs will appear in the postseason. The conference already has eight bowl-eligible teams: Mississippi State (9-0), Alabama (8-1), Ole Miss (8-2), Auburn (7-2), Georgia (7-2), Missouri (7-2), LSU (7-3) and Texas A&M (7-3).
Florida (5-3, with games left against South Carolina, Eastern Kentucky and Florida State) and Kentucky (5-5, with games left against Tennessee and Louisville) could reach bowl eligibility with a win in any of their remaining games. Meanwhile, Tennessee, South Carolina and Arkansas (all at 4-5) each need to win two of their final three games to reach the six-win plateau and appear in a bowl game.
We’re projecting 10 teams to reach six wins, with Florida and Tennessee (which must beat two of three against Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt) achieving bowl eligibility.
Here’s the full list:
College Football Playoff semifinal (Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual): Alabama
Capital One Orange Bowl: Mississippi State
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Auburn
Citrus Bowl: LSU
TaxSlayer Bowl: Ole Miss
Outback Bowl: Georgia
AdvoCare 100 Texas Bowl: Texas A&M
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Missouri
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Florida
Belk Bowl: Tennessee
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TBD San JosÚ St Auburn TBD Ole Miss Florida TBD Alabama Georgia TBD Eastern Kentucky Kentucky TBD Eastern Michigan LSU TBD Vanderbilt Middle Tennessee TBD South Carolina Missouri TBD Arkansas Tennessee TBD Mississippi State Texas A&M