LSU Tigers: Onterio McCalebb
The Auburn defensive end stripped Zach Mettenberger on a sack at the LSU 26 yard-line and Angelo Blackson recovered it, setting up a touchdown that cut what had been a dominating early, 9-point LSU lead to a 2-point game game. It was the second of two turnovers by Mettenberger in his first road and SEC start.
The game stayed close the rest of the first half, with Auburn taking a 10-9 halftime lead on Cody Parkey's 40-yard field goal with 1:21 left in the half.
Stat of the half: 182-88. LSU's total yardage advantage, which was offset by Mettenberger's two redzone turnovers.
The LSU quarterback was otherwise effective, completing 10-of-13 passes for 78 yards, but he felt Auburn's pressure and turned the ball over.
Player of the half: Lemonier, whose sack changed the game, spearheaded AU's effort to stay close to LSU. It offset a solid 70-yard rushing half for LSU's Spencer Ware.
What's working for LSU: LSU's defense allowed four first downs and just 90 yards in the first half, killing Auburn's efforts to get to the edge with Onterio McCalebb with penetration. Sam Montgomery had a tackle in the end zone of Tre Mason of Auburn for a safety.
What's not working for LSU: Mettenberger, with his two fumbles in his first SEC start, allowed Auburn to get off the hook, possibly for 14 points. His fumbled snap at the Auburn 3 yard-line in the first quarter, recovered by Auburn Jeffrey Whitaker, might have negated an eventual LSU touchdown and his second fumble set up an Auburn touchdown.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- It's a series that has brought us earthquakes (during LSU's 1988 win in Baton Rouge), fires (in 1996, when the old Auburn Sports Arena burned down outside Jordan-Hare Stadium) and hurricanes (in 2004, when Hurricane Ivan brushed by Auburn).
There have been plenty of strange happenings around the Auburn-LSU series, which will be renewed Saturday when No. 2 LSU (3-0) visits Jordan-Hare to face AU (1-2), but perhaps none more strange for LSU than the story of Cecil "The Diesel" Collins.
To those who follow LSU closely, Collins is one of the great talents ever to play running back at LSU, but he played a mere four games for the Tigers. In his only season, he was suspended for the 1997 opener for violating team rules, then piled up 596 yards in four games before being lost for the season to a broken leg.
His highlight game was 15 years ago Thursday, when he piled up 232 rushing yards against an Auburn team that eventually won the SEC West, in no small part because it escaped Baton Rouge with a 31-28 win on Collins' big night. But so good was Collins, there was talk that he would become a front-runner for the Heisman Trophy the next season.
Instead, in June 1998, he was arrested for unauthorized entry into an inhabited dwelling and assault (reduced from sexual assault) in a Baton Rouge apartment, an incident he blamed on sleepwalking. He was kicked off LSU's team, resurfaced at McNeese State, and washed up after two unspectacular games for failing a drug test.
He briefly went to jail (the failed drug test was a violation of his bond for the original charges), got a shot with the Miami Dolphins in 1999, had a decent rookie season, then broke into another apartment in 1999 in Miami, for which he was sentenced to 15 years in prison. The incident, he said, occurred because he wanted to watch a woman sleep.
A strange story, indeed. Perhaps every bit as strange as arenas burning down outside a stadium or touchdown celebrations that register as earthquakes (that was on Eddie Fuller's game-winning touchdown catch in LSU's 7-6 win in 1988).
Will another strange chapter be written Saturday?
Three Things to Watch:
1. Running like a Diesel?: Every week, AU's defense must feel like the 1997 defense trying to stop Collins. Auburn is last in the SEC in rush defense, allowing 217 yards a game. LSU leads the SEC in rushing (269.3 ypg). Even with LSU missing injured starting RB Alfred Blue, Auburn has its hands full.
2. Youth is served: LSU first-year starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger will get his first road start and first SEC start Saturday. His counterpart, Kiehl Frazier, is also a first-year starter who has struggled (two touchdowns, five interceptions).
3. Still Badgering: Even without Tyrann Mathieu, LSU leads the SEC in total defense (205 yards per game), bettering even the impressive numbers of Alabama (210 ypg). Can Frazier and Auburn make a dent?
LSU Tigers to Watch
1. RB Kenny Hilliard: The most likely choice to replace Blue as the starter, he leads LSU and is third in the SEC with 303 rushing yards, and he leads the SEC with six touchdowns.
2. DT Anthony Johnson: Off to a strong start (11 tackles, 2.5 for loss), the sophomore will be a key figure against an Auburn team that will present LSU's defense with the most physical rushing game it has faced so far.
3. Mettenberger: In his first true road and SEC test, will the LSU quarterback continue to blossom or be overwhelmed by a road environment?
Auburn Tigers to watch
1. RB Onterio McCalebb: McCalebb is second on the team in rushing (214 yards on 31 carries), but has game-changing, big-play ability. He has a 100-yard kick return for a TD this season, and in 2010 his 70-yard TD run against LSU was a game-winner in a 24-17 AU win.
2. DE Corey Lemonier: With three sacks and a blocked kick, Lemonier's the kind of disruptive force who can change the course of a game for an underdog.
3. Frazier: The sophomore will probably have to play the best game of his young career for Auburn to have a chance.
AU special teams vs. LSU special teams: LSU prides itself on special teams and has an all-American punter (Brad Wing), the SEC's most accurate field goal kicker in 2011 (Drew Alleman) and return threats (Odell Beckham, Jr., already has a punt return for a TD). Auburn is also good with McCalebb's TD return, a 6-for-6 season so far for kicker Cody Parkey, and three blocked kicks.
By the numbers
5-1: Auburn's record in the last five home games against LSU.
1980: The last year Auburn started SEC play 0-2, a record it's hoping to avoid Saturday.
8: SEC West championships claimed by the winner of the LSU-Auburn game in the last 12 years.
1. An opportunity, a stumbling block?
For 1-2 Auburn, a win Saturday would erase the memories of early struggles, including losses to Clemson and Mississippi State and a near-loss, in overtime, against Louisiana-Monroe while cooling down the seat of coach Gene Chizik. For 3-0 LSU, Auburn represents the first team with the physicality and SEC speed to challenge LSU at its strengths.
Like many stadiums around the SEC and around the country, it's a puzzle that's added pieces over time. It began as a modest 7,500-seat venue in 1939 and has skyrocketed over time to the 87,451-seat monstrosity it is now, the result of nine expansions since the original concrete and steel was put down around the same time World War II was beginning.
It's the same story that can be told about numerous SEC venues, including LSU's own Tiger Stadium. Unlike NFL stadiums, which tend to get built from scratch after teams win staredowns with municipalities who have to build them, college stadiums tend to be like old trees -- each layer of the stadium going out (and up) tells a more recent chapter of the arena's history.
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- Top 10 quarterbacks
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Here are our top return men in the SEC:
2. Dennis Johnson, Sr., Arkansas: He was one of the top returners out there before an injury cut his 2010 season short. He returned in 2011 to average 25.6 yards on 18 returns and had a 98-yard touchdown. Johnson will have even more energy on returns with Knile Davis returning to the backfield. For his career, Johnson enters the fall as the SEC’s active leader in career kickoff return yards and total return yards with 2,475.
Like all the other positions, we're looking at overall talent, game-changing ability and experience. We also looked at past performances and projections for 2012.
Here are our top 10 SEC running backs:
2. Knile Davis, Jr., Arkansas: Like Lattimore, Davis is coming off of a devastating injury from last year. He had yet another ankle injury that cost him all of his 2011 season, but it sounds like he's more than ready to return to the playing field. He's one of the most dynamic rushers in the country, and when he was healthy in 2010 he averaged 146.9 yards in the last seven games of the season.
3. Christine Michael, Sr., Texas A&M: He's another back coming off a season-ending injury. Before he tore his ACL last fall, Michael rushed for 899 yards and is a true workhorse. His punch-you-in-the-mouth, explosive, downhill running style will fit right in in the SEC. He should be good to go this fall, and if he's 100 percent he'll certainly challenge for the rushing title.
4. Zac Stacy, Sr., Vanderbilt: He was a real surprise in the SEC last season and returns as the league's top statistical rusher, with 1,193 yards from a year ago. He isn't the fastest back, but he's strong, works hard and has excellent vision. Last season, Stacy tied for the SEC lead with runs of 40 or more yards, and averaged 5.7 yards per carry against SEC defenses.
5. Eddie Lacy, Jr., Alabama: Lacy takes over for the very talented Trent Richardson, but he's no slouch. Lacy has shown pretty good explosion and strength when he's had the ball, averaging 7.1 yards per carry last season. Nagging injuries have slowed him in the past, but if he's healthy he'll make plenty of defenders miserable -- and sore -- this fall.
6. Spencer Ware, Jr., LSU: Ware was one of the top backs in the league during the first part of last season, but was never the same after his midseason suspension. Word is that he's very determined to redeem himself this fall. He's a true bruiser who can soften defenses, and has a knack for pushing through for an extra yard or three.
7. Michael Ford, Jr., LSU: He's considered the fastest of LSU's five-headed rushing monster and ended up leading the Tigers in rushing last season (756), after starting just three games. Ford might be LSU's best big-play threat at running back, but he's also not afraid to put his head down and knock someone over.
8. Onterio McCalebb, Sr., Auburn: McCalebb might not be the every-down back the Tigers need in replacing Michael Dyer, but he's one of the best home run threats in the league. He's at his best when he takes runs to the outside, and can be deadly in the passing game, too.
9. Dennis Johnson, Sr., Arkansas: After taking over for Davis last season, Johnson led the Hogs with 670 yards on just 106 carries. He might be known more for his kick return ability, but Johnson could probably start at running back for a few teams in the SEC. He has a solid blend of power and speed, but has to get over his fumbling issues.
10. Nick Griffin, So, Mississippi State: LaDarius Perkins might be the starter to open the season and has big-time speed, but Griffin is the complete package and is probably the closest thing the Bulldogs have on their roster to the departed Vick Ballard. The coaches are especially excited about his potential, and it would be no surprise if Griffin eventually takes the bulk of the carries for the Bulldogs this fall.
QB: Connor Shaw, South Carolina: Shaw didn't seem to feel the pressure of a bowl game, as he completed 11-of-17 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns, and rushed for 42 yards and another score in the Gamecocks' win against Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl. He even gave South Carolina all the momentum in the second half with a touchdown on a Hail Mary to end the first half.
RB: Onterio McCalebb, Auburn: As Auburn's lead back in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, McCalebb had a game-high 109 rushing yards, including a long of 60. He also recorded a 3-yard touchdown run and caught two passes for 53 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown in Auburn's win against Virginia.
WR: Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina: Jeffery's day would have been even better if he hadn't been ejected. However, he still caught four passes for a game-high 148 yards and snagged Shaw's Hail Mary touchdown pass at the end of the first half. He also had a 78-yard reception.
WR: Tavarres King, Georgia: King tried his best to get Georgia a victory in the Outback Bowl against Michigan State. He was Aaron Murray's best friend, catching six passes for a career-high 205 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown pass that at one point stood as the longest play in Outback Bowl history.
TE: Brad Smelley, Alabama: The Crimson Tide got its passing game going with Smelley in Monday's Allstate BCS National Championship win against LSU. He was AJ McCarron's safety net when plays broke down, and the young quarterback also used Smelley on rollouts. Smelley finished the game with seven catches for 39 yards.
OL: Barrett Jones, Alabama: Behind one of the most versatile linemen in the entire country, Alabama's line held back LSU's defensive front for most of Monday night's game. Alabama ran for 150 yards against LSU's vaunted defense. He also kept McCarron safe, as the youngster was only sacked twice and threw for 234 yards.
OL: Alvin Bailey, Arkansas: He just keeps looking better and better for the Razorbacks. In Arkansas' AT&T Cotton Bowl victory against Kansas State, he helped Arkansas churn out 129 rushing yards, including 4.3 yards per carry, and helped a line give quarterback Tyler Wilson enough time to pass for 216 yards and two touchdowns.
OL: Kyle Nunn, South Carolina: The Gamecocks' offensive line gave up four sacks to Nebraska, but Shaw was still able to throw for 230 yards and two touchdowns. With Nunn's help, the Gamecocks also rushed for 121 yards against the Cornhuskers.
OL: Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State: Ballard's outstanding performance for the Bulldogs wouldn't have been possible if not for some solid line play. Jackson had one of his best outings, as he helped Mississippi State rush for 253 yard and pass for another 129. Mississippi State gave up just one sack to Wake Forest.
C: William Vlachos, Alabama: Vlachos had his hands full with the interior of LSU's defensive line, but he more than held his own. He battled all night with LSU's Michael Brockers and allowed him to assist on just one tackle for loss. He provided a ton of protection in the passing game and helped Alabama rush for 150 yards on LSU's defense.
DE: Jake Bequette, Arkansas: Bequette said before Arkansas' bowl game that the Hogs' defense needed to make a statement. Bequette certainly made a few in his final game with the Razorbacks, registering two sacks, forcing a fumble and totaling three tackles.
DE: Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina: The freshman put a nice bow on his first season with the Gamecocks. He put a ton of pressure on Nebraska's backfield with two sacks for a loss of 13 yards, and finished the game with four total tackles.
DT: Fletcher Cox, Mississippi State: Cox wanted to make a lasting impression in his final game with the Bulldogs and he certainly did by totally disrupting Wake Forest's offensive line in the Music City Bowl. He finished the game with seven tackles, including two for loss and a sack, and blocked his fifth career kick, which is a Mississippi State record.
DT: Michael Brockers, LSU: Brockers had a tough time with Vlachos in the middle, but that didn't stop him from making plays. He did a tremendous job of clogging holes in the middle for the Tigers and finished the game with seven tackles, assisting on one for loss, and blocked a field-goal attempt.
LB: Courtney Upshaw, Alabama: It came as no surprise that Upshaw was named the Defensive Most Valuable Player in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game. He was nearly unblockable for LSU on Monday night. He put immense pressure on LSU's backfield and finished the game leading Alabama with seven tackles, including a sack.
LB: Archibald Barnes, Vanderbilt: Barnes was a true rover for Vanderbilt against Cincinnati in the Liberty Bowl. He had a game-high 10 tackles, assisted on one for a loss, and blocked a field goal attempt in the fourth quarter that gave Vandy some life late.
LB: Alec Ogletree, Georgia: Georgia might not have come up with the win in the Outback Bowl, but it wasn't because of how Ogletree played. He was all over the field for the Bulldogs, grabbing a game-high 13 tackles, including two for loss, breaking up two passes and getting a sack.
CB: Casey Hayward, Vanderbilt: Yet again, Hayward was tremendous in coverage for the Commodores. He grabbed two interceptions and broke up another pass. He was also second on the team with eight tackles, including one for loss. Cincinnati threw for just 80 yards against the Commodores.
CB: Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina: Gilmore ended his South Carolina career on a very high note. He recorded five tackles, including one for loss, and an interception. He also returned a blocked extra point for South Carolina's first points of the game. Nebraska threw for just 116 yards on the Gamecocks' secondary.
S: Mark Barron, Alabama: Barron recorded just two tackles, including a sack, but he was outstanding in coverage. He roamed the back part of the field for the Crimson Tide and didn't allow LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson stretch the field at all because of his positioning. Jefferson threw for just 53 yards on Alabama.
S: Matt Elam, Florida: Elam was Florida's most consistent player during the regular season, and he was all over the field for the Gators in the Taxslayer.com Outback Bowl against Ohio State. He finished the game with six tackles, two for loss and a sack.
PK: Jeremy Shelley, Alabama: Talk about redeeming the position that spoiled Alabama's first game against LSU. Shelley hit five of his seven field-goal attempts against the Tigers and even rebounded to hit four of his last five after having his second attempt blocked in the second quarter.
P: Dylan Breeding, Arkansas: He punted four times for an average of 46.8 yards per kick. He had a long of 63 yards and dropped two inside the 20-yard line against Kansas State.
RS: Joe Adams, Arkansas: Surprise, surprise, Adams made another special teams unit look silly. Against Kansas State in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, Adams got things started for the Hogs with a nifty 51-yard punt return for a touchdown. His return sparked a 16-point second quarter for the Hogs.
AP: Brandon Boykin, Georgia: Boykin found a way to put points on the board three different ways in the Outback Bowl. He forced a safety when he stuffed Michigan State's Keshawn Martin on the Spartans' first offensive play, returned a punt 92 yards for a touchdown, and caught a 13-yard touchdown late. His punt return was the longest play in Outback Bowl history.
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