LSU Tigers: Jonathan Wallace

What to watch in the SEC: Week 7

October, 10, 2013
10/10/13
10:20
AM ET
1. Will Clowney play?: There have been a lot of rumors flying around about South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney and his last-minute decision to sit out against Kentucky. It didn’t go over well with coach Steve Spurrier based on the postgame comments. However, Spurrier defended his star player this week. Once again, Clowney is listed as questionable for Saturday’s game at Arkansas with a muscle strain near his rib area. He returned to practice on Wednesday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SEC media days primer

July, 12, 2013
7/12/13
4:28
PM ET
When: Tuesday through Thursday

Where: Hoover, Ala.

Big names in attendance: QB AJ McCarron, Alabama; QB Jeff Driskel, Florida; QB Aaron Murray, Georgia; QB Zach Mettenberger, LSU; WR Donte Moncrief, Ole Miss; QB Tyler Russell, Mississippi State; QB James Franklin, Missouri; DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina; QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M

Five biggest topics:

1. What's to be done about Johnny Football? There's no question that Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel has all of the talent to own the college football landscape in what likely will be his final season in College Station, but his off-field social media persona has drawn too much attention. Manziel is allowed to have as much fun as he wants. He's in college and he's young. But he's also one of the best college athletes around, and his team can't repeat what it did last season if he's not 100 percent focused. He, coach Kevin Sumlin and offensive lineman Jake Matthews will get bombarded with questions about controlling Johnny Football away from the field. What will Manziel's take be, and how will he handle the media circus?

2. This hasn't been the best summer for the SEC. Outside all of the Manziel social media drama, the SEC faced some embarrassing arrests during the offseason. The biggest scandal revolves around Vanderbilt's football program, which suspended and then dismissed four players during an investigation by the Nashville Metro Police sex crimes unit. The police and coach James Franklin have been quiet about the situation, but Franklin will have to address it. The earlier he does, the better. He might not have to give too many details, but meeting the incident head-on will save him from further scrutiny and questions. Sumlin also will be asked about the recent arrests of defensive backs Deshazor Everett and Floyd Raven and the status of suspended defensive tackle Kirby Ennis. LSU coach Les Miles has been very quiet about running back Jeremy Hill's recent arrest and is letting it play out in the legal system, but chances are Miles will field plenty of questions about Hill and the effect on the team.

3. Four coaches are making their first trips to SEC media days: Arkansas' Bret Bielema, Auburn's Gus Malzahn (first as head coach), Kentucky's Mark Stoops and Tennessee's Butch Jones. All have made early splashes in their own ways, but it's time to deal with the circus that is SEC media days. We'll ask them all about their quarterbacks, offenses and early recruiting success, especially of Jones and Stoops. Bielema likely will field questions about comparing the Big Ten to the SEC ... and his Twitter account. Malzahn will be asked about getting Auburn's offense back to where it was when he was the offensive coordinator. These guys should have "fun" answering every single one of these, too.

4. Will Alabama make it three in a row? And which teams from the SEC can stop the Tide? We know that it's Alabama's world and we are all just trying to figure out the "process." Coach Nick Saban has all of the parts in place to win his third straight national championship and fourth at Alabama in five years. Saban & Co. will continue to talk about avoiding complacency and "fixing" whatever they deem isn't working at 100 percent. But what the country wants to know is who is ready to end the Bama dynasty? Can A&M tackle the Tide for a second straight year? Is LSU tough enough? Can Georgia's defense grow up fast enough? Can Florida's offense figure it out? Does Steve Spurrier have something up his sleeve? The people want to know!

5. There are a lot of unsettled quarterback spots. Auburn had a two-man battle this spring between veteran Kiehl Frazier and rising sophomore Jonathan Wallace. Both left the spring pretty even. Kentucky had three vying for the No. 1 spot in Jalen Whitlow, Patrick Towles and Maxwell Smith. Whitlow has the slight edge. Missouri had James Franklin, Maty Mauk and Corbin Berkstresser fight it out. It looks like it's down to Franklin and Mauk, but coach Gary Pinkel has been quiet about it. Tennessee has Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman competing. Worley has the edge but little experience. And Vanderbilt watched Austyn Carta-Samuels and Patton Robinette compete. Carta-Samuels has the lead, but Robinette isn't out of it.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU so physically dominated Florida last season in a 41-11 romp at Tiger Stadium, it might be hard to image this: Offensively, the 2012 Gators will be one of the more physical offenses the Tigers play all season.

Led by the SEC's second-best rusher in Mike Gillislee (402 yards on 69 carries), the 10th-ranked Gators run the ball more (44.5 times a game) and throw fewer passes (21.3 a game) than any other team in the SEC. And they do it well, as a 4-0 start and 30.5 points per game against a relatively competitive early schedule would attest.

The emergence of quarterback Jeff Driskel has indeed been a nice story for Florida. But make no mistake: The Gators are a running team.

So it's a steady dose of Gillislee and the more physical run game for which LSU's defense must prepare when the Tigers visit the Gators on Saturday at The Swamp. Forget the spread and high-powered passing attacks of years past. This season, Florida comes right at you.

"They look more downhill this year," LSU linebacker Luke Muncie said. "I wouldn't say more physical, but more downhill-style running."

Downhill is how things went for Florida almost from the opening kickoff last season against LSU. A young Gators team was outgained by more than a 2-1 margin in Baton Rouge, en route to an un-Florida-like 7-6 season in Will Muschamp's first year as coach.

"We faced some good athletes," Florida center Jon Harrison said. "We didn't come out there completely locked in."

This season, Muschamp's second, a more mature Florida team has looked quite dialed in.

The Gators have averaged 224.5 yards rushing a game, third best in the SEC. What's deceptive about it is while some SEC teams -- LSU included -- have played the bulk of their nonconference "gimme" games early, Florida has played three of its first four games against SEC opponents. While Florida's rushing stats trail LSU's (229 yards per game), the Gators' numbers have been compiled against Texas A&M, Tennessee and Kentucky while LSU has played a relatively light nonconference schedule.

"We know they are better [than last year]," LSU cornerback Tharold Simon said. "We see it on film."

Before the second half of last week's 38-22 win over Towson, facing a physical running game might not have seemed like a big concern for LSU. But Towson, led by one of the FCS's best running backs in Terrance West, gashed the LSU defense in two touchdown drives in which the Tigers missed tackles and gave up 69 rushing yards on 12 carries on Towson's last two possessions.

"That was uncharacteristic," LSU linebacker Kevin Minter said. "Usually, we finish games."

On paper, LSU's defense should be built to defend a team that runs like Florida or, for that matter, Towson's often straightforward attack. The fourth quarter of the Towson game aside, the Tigers have been outstanding against the run, third best in the SEC at 83 yards a game. One might think of the pass rush of Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery when thinking of the Tigers' front four, but really, it's built just as well to handle the run.

In its first SEC game, a 12-10 win at Auburn, LSU saw Auburn choose to go with a misdirection running game toward the edges to avoid running right at the talented middle of LSU's defense, where tackles Bennie Logan and Anthony Johnson have dominated the point of attack and where Minter has been emerging as a first-rate middle linebacker.

Even with its remarkable speed, Auburn's misdirection didn't work, for the most part. Montgomery had 3.5 tackles for loss, often the result of staying home on misdirection plays. It's a trend this season. While the 5-0 Tigers have a fair share of quarterback sacks (11), the 41 tackles for loss are more remarkable. Considering that opponents have attempted 155 rushes, 41 tackles for loss means LSU is dumping opponents for loss on more than a quarter of their rush attempts.

The good thing for LSU was that Florida uses some of the same misdirection elements Auburn used. And, when Auburn did have success, it was mostly with a Wildcat look with backup quarterback Jonathan Wallace, a look Florida also uses at times with Trey Burton.

After LSU stymied Auburn's rush attack, the Tigers' rushing defense looked almost impenetrable. It stayed that way until the fourth quarter of the Towson game until an FCS team ran roughshod over LSU on back-to-back possessions.

"Our defense is known for playing the run hard and having that killer instinct," Minter said after the Towson game. "We just didn't today."

Like Florida in Baton Rouge a season ago, LSU wasn't "locked in."

A year more mature and a year better, Florida's run game is focused this season. The question is, will LSU's defense find itself again after an off night against Towson?

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