LSU can't afford for what-ifs to linger

November, 10, 2014
BATON ROUGE, La. – Saturday’s overtime loss to Alabama was the kind that will sting for a long while at LSU.

Not only were the Tigers disappointed by the missed opportunities that allowed Alabama to tie the game in the final 50 seconds and then win in overtime, they also were seething over multiple calls that went the Crimson Tide’s way at crucial junctures.

“I think that game could have ended a lot of different ways with the Tigers in front,” LSU coach Les Miles said.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Jennings
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesAnthony Jennings believes the LSU Tigers will get off the deck after the loss to Alabama and finish strong.
Miles credited Alabama and acknowledged his team’s own execution issues -- particularly the multitude of dropped passes that could have extended drives -- but he seemed particularly peeved about an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against left guard Vadal Alexander on LSU’s final drive in regulation.

LSU linebacker Kendell Beckwith had just recovered a T.J. Yeldon fumble at Alabama’s 6-yard line, giving the Tigers first-and-goal with 1:13 to play in a 10-10 game. After Terrence Magee’s first-down run up the middle for no gain, Alexander shoved Alabama’s A'Shawn Robinson when the defensive end grabbed him and pulled his leg.

The 15-yard penalty pushed LSU back to the 21-yard line, so instead of a touchdown, they settled for a Colby Delahoussaye field goal with 50 seconds remaining. Miles said he didn’t have a good view of what transpired, but questioned whether it warranted a flag.

“That changed the complexion of the game,” Miles said. “That call was the single most significant piece, minus their turnover, in the game.”

The play -- only one factor in LSU’s late collapse -- also changed the complexion of the Tigers’ season. With a win, they were still alive in the SEC West race and a potential dark horse for a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff. Now at 7-3 overall and 3-3 in SEC play, the Tigers are an afterthought in the conference race and must win out in order to extend their school-record streak of four consecutive seasons with at least 10 wins.

“We have strong character in the locker room, and we’re going to push and push and push until we can’t push no more,” said senior center Elliott Porter, who played the final home game of his career on Saturday. “That’s the biggest thing. You keep on fighting. It’s tough losing this game in Death Valley, a senior in my last game in Death Valley. It hurts, but that’s what we signed up for.”

The challenge for the Tigers now is to make sure that the hangover from the Alabama game doesn’t extend into their next game, Saturday at Arkansas (4-5, 0-5). Despite not having won an SEC game since October 2012 -- a losing streak that now sits at 17 games -- the Razorbacks actually opened as a slight betting favorite over LSU on Sunday.

While it hasn’t won a conference game, Arkansas has hung tight with Alabama (losing 14-13), Mississippi State (losing 17-10 when quarterback Brandon Allen threw an interception at the goal line in the closing seconds) and Texas A&M (blowing a late lead and falling 35-28 in overtime). The Tigers likely can’t afford to enter this game with less than their full focus and expect to beat the improved Razorbacks.

Miles expressed confidence that his team will regroup and not allow the Alabama loss to linger.

“I think our football team has got more character than that, to be honest,” Miles said. “I think we’ll have to play well. I think this Arkansas team is a good football team. We’ll have to prepare well. That will be a challenge for us.”

The Tigers rallied from a much more hopeless situation earlier this season, and many of them say a players-only meeting after they dropped their first two SEC games was the turning point that helped them move in the right direction. Quarterback Anthony Jennings said he believes they will bounce back again.

“I think this team is very resilient,” Jennings said. “They never give up, so I think that early, we had that players meeting to say we’re still a great team and we’re going to fight until the end of the season and we’re going to continue to do that.”

SEC plays of the week: Week 11

November, 9, 2014
Another exciting week of SEC football and plenty of great plays to choose from. Here's our five favorites from the weekend that was:

Dandy catch for Dupre
Malachi Dupre is an SEC star in the making. The heavily-recruited true freshman displayed his skills with a nifty one-handed catch near the sideline for a 14-yard touchdown catch with a Alabama defensive back, Cyrus Jones, following step-for-step with him. The call was initially ruled an incompletion but upon an official review, it was shown that Dupre got a foot in bounds with control of the ball for the Tigers' touchdown.

Is that a catch? Yes it is
Vanderbilt was fighting to try to make it a game with Florida late and Davis Dudchock showed some impressive effort. When quarterback Johnny McCrary rolled left and fired a deep pass to Dudchock, the well-covered tight end fended off a defensive back and hauled in the pass with one hand, diving to the turf. It was perhaps the best catch seen in the SEC on Saturday.

video Twice is nice for McKenzie
Georgia was dominant vs. Kentucky and that included on special teams where Isaiah McKenzie had himself a day. He returned the opening kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown, then in the third quarter had this nifty 59-yard punt return for his second touchdown of the day. McKenzie made two nice moves to make the Wildcats miss early, split a couple defenders, got a huge block from a teammate, then hit the gas to sprint to the end zone.

video Tabor's one-handed interception
Florida rolled to a 34-10 win against Vanderbilt and it included big plays on both sides of the ball. Though the game was mostly out of reach for the Commodores late, that didn't keep Florida from making plays like this one-handed interception by Jalen Tabor in the end zone.

video Special teams score for Texas A&M
In what turned out to be a huge play, the Aggies showed off their special teams skills in their upset win at Auburn. With the Tigers lining up for a field goal to end the half, true freshman defensive end Myles Garrett got his hand on the football to block it and cornerback Deshazor Everett, who was playing with a torn elbow tendon, picked it up and sprinted 65 yards to the end zone for a score. It was a 10-point swing right before the half.

Auburn falls to No. 9 in AP poll

November, 9, 2014

Baylor, Arizona State and Ohio State all took big steps forward in The Associated Press college football poll after big wins, and Auburn dropped out of the top five after being upset.

For the fifth straight week, the top two are Mississippi State (9-0) and Florida State (9-0). The No. 1 Bulldogs received 49 first-place votes Sunday. The second-ranked Seminoles have 12.

Oregon jumped to No. 3 past Alabama, which remained No. 4. No. 5 TCU also moved up a spot.

Baylor climbed four places to sixth after romping at Oklahoma

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SEC Power Rankings: Week 11

November, 9, 2014
It was a Saturday in which Auburn and Les Miles both ran out of magic, Mississippi State and Alabama set up an epic showdown next week, and two young quarterbacks, Texas A&M's Kyle Allen and Florida's Treon Harris, gave their teams hope for the future. How does it all affect this week's power rankings? Let's find out.

LSU freshman tracker: Week 11

November, 9, 2014
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Several LSU true freshmen played key roles in the Tigers’ 20-13 overtime loss to Alabama on Saturday.

Here is a recap of their performances against the Crimson Tide:

S Jamal Adams

What he did: With LSU opening in a nickel defense, Adams earned his first career start. He had a relatively quiet night, finishing with two tackles.

What it means: Regardless, Adams is already one of LSU’s most valuable special-teams players and is quickly developing into a defensive star. He was already playing a bigger role on defense prior to cornerback Rashard Robinson’s indefinite suspension, which LSU announced prior to kickoff. If Robinson remains sidelined, that might mean even more playing time for Adams.

WR Malachi Dupre

What he did: Dupre ended a two-game drought without a catch by hauling in a one-handed touchdown catch in the first quarter. The 14-yard grab was Dupre’s only catch of the night, although he was also the intended receiver on Anthony Jennings’ fourth-down incomplete pass in overtime.

What it means: The touchdown catch was one of LSU’s top offensive highlights, but Dupre and fellow freshman Trey Quinn also had some crucial drops on third down. Those missed opportunities came back to bite the Tigers when Alabama rallied to tie and then win in overtime.

RB Leonard Fournette

What he did: Fournette came off the bench for the first time in four games, but still finished as the Tigers’ leading rusher. He ran 21 times for 79 tough yards and also returned a pair of kickoffs for a total of 45 yards.

What it means: Fournette is up to 736 rushing yards for the season, so he should have an opportunity to crack the 1,000-yard mark as a true freshman. He has been the Tigers’ leading rusher in eight of the past nine games and has clearly established himself as the top option in the backfield.

DT Davon Godchaux

What he did: Godchaux started at defensive tackle for the sixth straight game and finished with three tackles and half a tackle for loss.

What it means: He was particularly effective in LSU’s dominant third quarter, when he and Kwon Alexander once combined to stop T.J. Yeldon for a short gain and later when he and Danielle Hunter stopped Yeldon for a 2-yard loss later in the quarter. On the same series, Godchaux pressured Alabama quarterback Blake Sims into an incomplete pass.

RB Darrel Williams
What he did:
With Kenny Hilliard sidelined by a shoulder injury, Williams emerged as a third option out of the backfield during the second half. He ran five times for 14 yards and also caught a pass for an 8-yard gain.

What it means: Williams doesn’t get a ton of touches, but he frequently makes good things happen when the Tigers put the ball in his hands. He spelled Fournette and Terrence Magee nicely in the second half and kept a fourth-quarter drive alive by converting a third-and-short with a 5-yard run.

BATON ROUGE, La. -- As Nick Saban walked into a small, crowded media room tucked away inside the depths of Tiger Stadium, he weaved around a throng of cameramen to find his wife, Terry.

The two embraced and shared a short kiss of both happiness and relief following No. 5 Alabama’s exhausting 20-13 win overtime win over No. 16 LSU.

“That was hard,” Saban said as he walked away from his wife.

You bet it was.

It was incredibly hard for two sledgehammers that bashed each other’s brains in for nearly four hours on a brisk night under the lights in Death Valley. In front of a raucous crowd of 102,321, the Crimson Tide came from the brink of possible SEC and playoff elimination to drowning out college football’s most famous four notes with a deafening “Roll Tide.”

[+] EnlargeAlabama, LSU
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsNo. 16 LSU crunched No. 5 Alabama at every turn, but the Crimson Tide toughed it out and got a big win for their SEC and playoff hopes.
In a season in which everything a team does is meticulously dissected and criticized because of the new College Football Playoff, Alabama hasn't been dominant, but this win proved how resilient it is and how hard it's going to be to beat the Tide going forward.

“It was tough down there, and I’m really, really proud of our players for finishing the game the way they did,” said Saban, whose Tide improved to 8-1 and 5-1 in SEC play. “Great win. Great win for Alabama, and I’m really proud of our players.”

With the college football season in its final weeks, this was another one of the SEC West’s defacto play-in games for both a trip to Atlanta and the College Football Playoff. With the sport’s best division devouring itself in this bloody month of November, Alabama couldn’t risk being yet another victim.

The Crimson Tide nearly succumbed to the fates of Auburn and Ole Miss before it with a last-minute fumble inside its own 6-yard line by T.J. Yeldon with the game tied 10-10. Shortly after, Saban rallied his players and told them this was where his team showed how to win a game.

Alabama forced a field goal, then drove 55 yards in 50 seconds -- with no timeouts -- to tie it at 13-13 before Blake Sims threw a beautiful, back-shoulder touchdown pass to DeAndrew White for the eventual game-winner in overtime.

Players and coaches celebrated like children after LSU’s offense went four-and-out. Sims, who couldn’t get out of his own way for the better part of the game, sprinted toward Alabama’s band and the team’s section of fans as if he were going to leap into the stands. Players jumped in each other’s arms and hugged a few lingering fans in the back of the very end zone, where Alabama crushed LSU’s upset hopes. Offensive lineman Leon Brown strutted toward the party with his hands raised and tongue out.

Saban even smiled as he jogged off the field, thumbs up, radiating toward the crimson faithful who made the trip.

“When Coach Saban’s smiling, you know that we did a good job,” Sims said.

No other rivalry game hits like this one or causes so much pain and anguish for the loser. In the ultimate play-in game, Alabama ground out an old-school slugfest to stay in control of its own destiny and show the country it’s very much a real threat to be one of the last four teams standing when the playoff rolls around.

There was even another Alabama missed field goal in a game that perfectly summed up this hellacious rivalry.

“That’s a tough, physical game,” Saban said. “That’s old-fashioned ball. That’s the kind of football that, when I played, we played. Nothing spread about that.”

There’s nothing soft about this Alabama team. It isn’t the team that won games by halftime in previous years, but it’s tough and wears down opponents. There were 85 rushing plays in this game and hardly a passing game to save anyone’s life, but Alabama never stopped chugging.

It wore down an equally tenacious LSU team and made critical plays in critical moments while stopping LSU in even bigger moments.

This wasn’t sexy by any means, but it was the kind of game these two teams thrive in and play better than anyone.

We’ve quietly wondered if this Alabama team is elite or even great. Honestly, we still don’t know because of its inconsistencies. But it’s winning, and I’m sure there are a lot of teams outside the SEC that wouldn’t want to see the Tide in January with the national championship on the line.

Alabama didn’t earn style points Saturday night. It earned respect.

“You’re not going to be able to blow everybody out by 45 points every game,” center Ryan Kelly said. “You look at playing in Baton Rouge at night time, we knew it was going to be a hard game. We anticipated a four-quarter fight, and that’s what we got.

“This is the SEC. This is football to me. ... This is the only football I’ve ever known. You know in the SEC that this is what you’re going to get.”

With Mississippi State and Auburn looming, there’s no question Alabama has to get better, but Saban and his players know that. But a win like this can do wonders for a team’s confidence and serve as a turning point with so much left to still play for.

“It’s always good when you go in a hostile environment in the SEC and you make a statement win,” defensive end Jonathan Allen said. “I feel like games like this will keep your hope high. When you’re in a tough situation, you think back to games like this.”

Alabama quarterback Blake Sims came up with the big plays when his team needed them most and pushed the Crimson Tide into overtime before getting the win over LSU.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 11

November, 9, 2014
Another eventful Saturday in the SEC. Here’s what we learned:

Bama is still alive but needs work: It wasn’t pretty, but Alabama’s playoff hopes are still intact after the Crimson Tide survived a thriller in Death Valley 20-13 in overtime. Despite a critical T.J. Yeldon fumble in the final minutes of regulation, the Tide were able to hold LSU to a field goal then benefited from a special-teams miscue as Trent Domingue booted the ensuing kickoff out of bounds. Blake Sims came up big by directing a game-tying drive then threw a picturesque pass to DeAndrew White for the game-winning touchdown in overtime. With No. 3 Auburn losing on Saturday, Alabama looks poised to move into the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings, and with No. 1 Mississippi State coming to town next week and the Iron Bowl in three weeks, the Crimson Tide control their own destiny. One thing is clear though: They can’t make the mistakes they did Saturday if they’re going to win out. Sims has to be better in the earlier portions of the game (he missed some open receivers), they can’t drop the football (Amari Cooper had one in crunch time) and surviving a late turnover like the one they had Saturday is hard to replicate against elite teams. They were fortunate to win Saturday; now they must turn the page and improve before the Bulldogs come to Tuscaloosa.

[+] EnlargeKyle Allen
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesTexas A&M's Kyle Allen helped diminish Auburn's playoff hopes with a four-touchdown effort.
Auburn’s playoff hopes are likely done: There are a lot of quality one-loss teams remaining in the field; a second loss is a killer for Auburn -- especially coming at home to an unranked team that hadn’t played well since September. For a little bit, it looked like the Tigers would pull off some of the late-game magic that has become a signature trait of theirs in the Gus Malzahn era, but two late fourth-quarter fumbles squashed their hopes and left them with a 41-38 loss. “It hurts,” Malzahn said. “It hurts our team. We have goals and dreams, and we did not get it done tonight.” The turnovers on offense late were one factor, but there were others: the first-half defense was poor and the secondary was torched in the first two quarters. On special teams, an Auburn field goal attempt was blocked and returned for a touchdown to end the first half. The Tigers were sloppy quite a bit on Saturday and they paid for it in the end. Now the Tigers must turn around and head to Georgia next week and close out at Alabama in three weeks, so the road remains tough down the stretch.

No hangover for Georgia: If you thought the Bulldogs were going to let the upset loss to Florida affect them moving forward, think again. Mark Richt’s crew responded emphatically, jumping out to a quick three-touchdown lead in Lexington and rolling to a 63-31 win over Kentucky. Georgia had success in all three phases, rolling up 559 offensive yards, holding Kentucky to 139 passing yards on 16 of 31 attempts and scored two special-teams touchdowns -- a kickoff return (90 yards) and punt return (59 yards) for scores by Isaiah McKenzie. Nick Chubb had another great performance at running back (13 carries, 170 yards) and Hutson Mason threw for four scores. The Bulldogs still need help from Missouri in the form of a loss, but they’re still very much alive in the SEC East.

Treon Harris can throw it around: Last week, the Florida quarterback attempted only six passes versus Georgia but on Saturday, the Gators trusted their true freshman more and Harris delivered, completing 13 of 21 passes for 215 yards. There were no touchdown passes, but more importantly, no interceptions and Harris was accurate and showed off his deep ball with this 59-yard beauty to Quinton Dunbar. Harris did solid work on the ground, too, rushing for 49 yards and two touchdowns in Florida’s 34-10 win over Vanderbilt. The Gators need to continue to win and need help from others, but they still have a pulse in the SEC East race.

Kevin Sumlin can still pull a rabbit out of his visor: Texas A&M was a 23-point underdog going into Jordan-Hare Stadium, lost its past three SEC games, had a true freshman quarterback, a beat up offensive line and a defense with a lot of youngsters starting. All the Aggies did was jump out to a 35-17 halftime lead and hang on for dear life to upset the No. 3 team in the nation in its own house. Sumlin’s Aggies pulled off a similar stunt almost two years to the day when they went into Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and took down the No. 1 Crimson Tide 29-24 behind freshman quarterback and eventual Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. Is Kyle Allen (four touchdown passes) the next star quarterback in Aggieland? It’s too early to say but he had a memorable performance on Saturday at Auburn and he gives the seemingly left-for-dead Aggies some reason for optimism in the final weeks of the regular season. Sure, Auburn made a lot of mistakes, but Texas A&M played better than it had in more than a month, showing flashes of the team that started 5-0 this season.

Saturday's top plays in the SEC

November, 9, 2014


Look back at an exciting week 11 in the Southeastern Conference.

Nick Saban singled out his defense as the biggest key to Alabama's escape from LSU.

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Alabama found another way to break LSU fans’ hearts.

The Crimson Tide kicked a game-tying field goal with three seconds left in regulation, then beat the Tigers 20-13 in overtime on DeAndrew White's 6-yard touchdown catch.

After beating LSU (7-3, 3-3 SEC) for the fourth straight time, No. 5 Alabama (8-1, 5-1) seems likely to jump into the top four in the next College Football Playoff rankings.

Let’s recap how the Tide rallied for a key SEC West victory.

How the game was won: LSU’s defense dominated the second half, but Alabama managed to drive 55 yards in the final minute of regulation and force overtime with Adam Griffith's 27-yard field goal. After White’s OT touchdown, Cyrus Jones broke up Anthony Jennings' fourth-down pass to Malachi Dupre in the end zone to secure the win.

Game ball goes to: Blake Sims. Alabama’s quarterback couldn’t get anything done for much of the second half, but Sims (20-for-45, 209 yards, 2 TDs) coolly led the Tide downfield after LSU kicker Colby Delahoussaye's 39-yard field goal put the Tigers up 13-10 with 50 seconds to play. After forcing overtime, Sims hit White with what turned out to be the game-winning pass.

What it means: Alabama is alive and well in the playoff and division races. The Crimson Tide can jump into the driver’s seat in the SEC West by beating top-ranked Mississippi State on Saturday in Tuscaloosa. LSU had a chance to re-enter the division and playoff pictures but likely drops out of contention for both with its third conference loss.

Playoff implication: Thanks to Auburn’s loss to Texas A&M, Alabama will probably enter the top four in the College Football Playoff rankings this week. Meanwhile, any talk of LSU becoming a playoff dark horse ended with Saturday’s loss.

What’s next: Alabama will host No. 1 Mississippi State on Saturday. LSU will play at Arkansas next Saturday night.

No. 5 Alabama rallies to escape No. 16 LSU with OT win

November, 9, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Blake Sims drove Alabama 55 yards in the final 50 seconds of regulation for a tying field goal, and threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to DeAndrew White in overtime to lift Alabama (No. 5 CFP, No. 4 AP) to a 20-13 victory over LSU (No. 16, CFP, No. 14 AP) on Saturday night.

With the victory and Auburn's upset loss to Texas A&M earlier in the day, Alabama (8-1, 5-1 Southeastern Conference) is alone in second place in the SEC West Division with a game against first-place Mississippi State still on its schedule.

Amari Cooper had eight catches for 83 yards and a 23-yard touchdown while setting Alabama career and single-season records for yards receiving, as well as the school's single-season mark for catches with 79.

T.J. Yeldon's fumble deep in Alabama territory set up Colby Delahoussaye's 39-yard field goal that gave LSU (7-3, 3-3) a 13-10 lead with 50 seconds left.

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LSU suspends Rashard Robinson

November, 8, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU sophomore cornerback Rashard Robinson has been suspended indefinitely and missed Saturday night's 20-13 loss to fifth-ranked Alabama, coach Les Miles announced. 

Robinson is being suspended for a violation of team rules, the school said in a statement.

Robinson has started the past six games for No. 16 LSU. This season he has been credited with 17 tackles, including one tackle for a loss, and one pass breakup.

He has been sharing time at cornerback with Jalen Collins. Both Alabama and LSU are on three-game winning streaks.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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