LSU Tigers: J.C. Copeland

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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Barely three months removed from surgery to repair the torn ACL and MCL in his left knee, Zach Mettenberger hardly took it easy in his first public throwing session before NFL talent evaluators.

The former LSU quarterback gave NFL eyeballs plenty to see -- and looked both frustrated and exhausted by the end -- when he completed 93 for 107 pass attempts at the Tigers’ pro day workouts on Wednesday.

“I’m three months out of surgery and not in playing shape and my legs are kind of tired. So yeah, that’s kind of something to expect,” said Mettenberger, who will visit the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday and said he will work out with the Detroit Lions on Saturday. “But I’m doing everything I can to work through that to be ready for rookie camp.”

Like Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel at his pro day, Mettenberger threw passes while wearing a helmet and shoulder pads. LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said before the workout that they had been planning the move since well before Manziel did it, and Mettenberger added that the trend will likely continue.

“You play the game in pads,” Mettenberger said. “We talked about that probably three months ago and really started talking about it seriously two months ago. People can believe it or not, but I just think it’s going to be a new trend for quarterbacks to work out with pads on.”

Mettenberger, who wore a brace on the left knee, said he’s between 85 and 90 percent and predicted he’d be operating at full strength in time for a rookie camp in May. He showed the teams in attendance -- a group that was several hundred strong and included five head coaches and seven general managers -- a variety of drops and rollouts in order to indicate that his knee is stable.

LSU director of athletic training Jack Marucci, who helped coordinate Mettenberger’s rehab, said he placed no limitations on what Mettenberger would attempt in the workout.

“If he was practicing in spring ball, we would have let him do spring ball,” Marucci said.

Overall, it seemed to go well. Mettenberger has never had a problem zipping passes with authority, and although he wasn’t thrilled with the 14 incompletions -- about half of which came on dropped passes -- he understood that some rust was inevitable.

“Timing was a little off,” Mettenberger said. “It wasn’t the most disciplined route running that we’ve had here, something Coach Cam wouldn’t allow. But all things considered, with guys being gone and we haven’t been with Coach Cam every day for the last three months, it was a pretty good day.”

Mettenberger had a big collection of former LSU teammates to throw to on Wednesday. Among the 21 overall participants were receivers Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Kadron Boone and James Wright and running backs Jeremy Hill, Alfred Blue and J.C. Copeland.

[+] EnlargeZach Mettenberger
AP Photo/Jonathan BachmanZach Mettenberger predicted he'd be operating at full strength in time for a rookie camp in May.
Not only were they looking to impress NFL execs with their pass-catching skills and positional abilities, some of them wanted to improve upon their workouts at the combine. Aside from Mettenberger’s throwing, perhaps the biggest storyline of the day would be whether Landry could complete the 40-yard dash faster than the 4.77 seconds he posted while nursing a hamstring injury in Indianapolis.

Problem solved. Landry’s two official times on Wednesday were 4.58 and 4.51, and he improved his production in all of the testing drills in which he participated at the combine.

“Even though it took a while [since the combine in late February], I feel like today was a positive day,” Landry said. “I got a lot out of today. I’m getting great feedback. I think now is just not letting up, just continue working and continuing to impress people.”

Landry has never been one to test particularly well, but his on-field production in 2013 was unquestioned. He ranked among the SEC’s top receivers with 77 catches for 1,193 yards and 10 touchdowns and flashed some of the most reliable hands of any receiver in the country -- reminding Cameron of a star wideout he once coached with the Baltimore Ravens.

“Guys know he can run,” Cameron said. “They’ve already told me, ‘We know this guy can run.’ They’re going to look at the tape when it comes to a guy like that. We had Anquan Boldin, and I don’t know that Anquan ever ran a 4.58, but all he does is catch the ball, compete and win world championships. So I guess he helped himself.”

Hill also improved upon his 40 time at the combine, going from a 4.66 in Indianapolis to a 4.52 and a 4.54 on Wednesday, helping reinforce Cameron’s prediction that he can be a valuable every-down back in the pros.

One player who didn’t need to run again, however, was Beckham. He posted a 4.43 40 time at the combine and joked that he felt so good on Wednesday that he thought about trying to beat that time at pro day.

“I was warming up and I was kind of telling my dad, ‘I want to run again.’ And they were all like, ‘There’s just no point,’ ” Beckham said. “So there was a part of me that wanted to run again, just to show that I do have that speed and it wasn’t just a one-time thing.”

He seems to be the highest-rated Tiger in this draft, with some projections placing him in the middle of the first round. Beckham -- who has workouts ahead with the New York Jets, Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills -- said he has already accepted an invitation to attend next month’s draft and is proud to be considered one of the best prospects in a loaded class of receivers.

“Honestly I wouldn’t say that I didn’t expect it, but it’s a little surprising now to finally see that they’re saying that if not the best, you’re one of the best,” Beckham said. “So it’s a great feeling to me and it’s something that I worked for.”
BATON ROUGE, La. -- The race to become the first quarterback selected in next month’s NFL draft is apparently down to three players: Central Florida’s Blake Bortles, Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel.

[+] EnlargeZach Mettenberger
AP Photo, Cal Sport MediaZach Mettenberger will get a chance to show he's 100 percent healthy at LSU's pro day on Wednesday.
But according to quarterback guru George Whitfield, who recently visited LSU to speak at a coaches clinic, there easily could have been another contender had Tigers quarterback Zach Mettenberger avoided the late-season injury that prevented him from showing off in postseason all-star games and at the pre-draft combine.

“If he was healthy, I think he’s right in this,” said Whitfield, who tutored Manziel and Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas this year, after working with such prospects as Cam Newton and Andrew Luck in previous draft cycles. “I don’t think it’s a conversation of three, it could be a conversation of four if Zach was healthy coming down the back stretch. But I don’t think it’s going to be a shock at all if you see him go in the top couple rounds. Not at all. I think somebody’s going to get a great return on investment.”

At LSU’s pro day on Wednesday, Mettenberger gets his first major opportunity to prove that the knee he injured in the regular-season finale against Arkansas is stable. He already has proven that his arm is NFL caliber, which is why some draft projections have Mettenberger going as high as the second round after a standout senior season.

Mettenberger (3,082 passing yards, 22 touchdowns, eight interceptions) was sixth among FBS quarterbacks with an 85.1 Total Quarterback Rating last season. According to ESPN Stats and Information, he made the biggest jump of any qualified FBS quarterback after ranking 80th out of 122 qualified quarterbacks with a 47.1 Total QBR in 2012.

“I think he’s one of the best quarterbacks in this draft,” Whitfield said. “I thought the year he had and the growth he had this year, especially with [LSU offensive coordinator] Cam Cameron, just getting a chance to get out there and operate in that system -- [and to] have more responsibility. He was better in the pocket. It was just a shame he did take that injury toward the end of the season, but he just looked more confident, and he wasn’t just a big guy [who] was pitching anymore.”

Mettenberger is just one member of a large group of LSU prospects who will work out in front of NFL scouts, coaches and player personnel executives on Wednesday. Among those expected to participate are running backs Jeremy Hill, J.C. Copeland and Alfred Blue, receivers Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry and Kadron Boone, defensive linemen Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson, linebacker Lamin Barrow, safety Craig Loston and offensive lineman Trai Turner.

ESPN Scouts Inc. rates seven of them among the draft’s top 150 prospects: Beckham (No. 21), Landry (47), Hill (69), Turner (109), Loston (110), Ferguson (120) and Johnson (139).

Let’s take a closer look at three of them -- Mettenberger, Beckham and Hill -- with a statistical assist from ESPN Stats and Info.

ZACH METTENBERGER
In his first season working with Cameron, Mettenberger greatly improved as a downfield passer. He raised his completion percentage on throws of 15 yards or longer 14 points, to 53.4 percent, in 2013. Among ESPN’s top-10 quarterback prospects in this draft, only Clemson’s Tajh Boyd (53.7 percent) completed a higher percentage of long balls. Of the 10, Mettenberger had by far the highest percentage of total completions (67.7) travel at least 10 yards. Bridgewater was next at 57.1.

He was also outstanding against the blitz and on third down -- assets that should help convince a team looking for a pro-style pocket passer to keep him in mind. Mettenberger (57-for-85, 883 yards, eight touchdowns, two interceptions against blitzing defenses) had the second-highest completion percentage (67.1) against the blitz of any of the top-10 quarterbacks. And on third down, his 53.7 conversion percentage was the best of the bunch. Mettenberger went 58-for-89 with nine touchdowns and one interception on third down, and his 65.2 completion percentage in those situations was third among the top-10 quarterbacks.

JEREMY HILL
Because of the declining value attached to running backs in the NFL, it seems entirely likely that no running backs will go in the first round of this draft. Last year, the first running back went at No. 37 -- the latest the first running back was picked in the common draft era.

Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde is generally considered the top running back prospect in this draft, although Hill’s physical ability makes him an enticing target.

Hill faced eight or more defenders in a stacked box on nearly half of his carries last season (96 of 203), and yet, he still averaged an AQ-best 8 yards per rush in those situations and scored 15 touchdowns.

He was also a phenomenal between-the-tackles runner, picking up 7.9 yards per carry on runs up the middle, with about one in every five (24 of 118) going for at least 10 yards. On runs outside the tackles, Hill had 16 of 85 attempts go for at least 10 yards.

ODELL BECKHAM
Beckham is one of the draft’s most explosive playmakers, which is why ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. had him going 18th overall to the New York Jets in his most recent mock draft. He and Landry are both among the 15 wideouts who rank among Scouts Inc.’s Top 100 players -- the most receivers in the top 100 since 2005.

Beckham (59 catches, 1,152 yards, eight touchdowns, 178.1 all-purpose ypg last season) had an AQ-high 26 receptions on passes thrown at least 15 yards last season. He had at least two catches that covered such a distance in seven of 13 games in 2013, which certainly speaks to the big-play ability that has him so high on Kiper’s mock draft board.

LSU NFL draft combine primer

February, 20, 2014
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BATON ROUGE, La. – The NFL draft combine has begun, and LSU is well represented with 11 former Tigers on the list of invited players.

Here's a look at the Tigers who are scheduled to be in attendance and when their position groups will take the field for workouts in Indianapolis.

Saturday: Tight ends, offensive line, special teams
Trai Turner will be the first Tiger to take the stage. The right guard surprised some by entering the draft after his redshirt sophomore season. This is his chance to prove that decision wasn't a mistake. If Turner shows up in good shape and excels in the workouts and positional drills, perhaps he can work his way up some teams' draft boards.

Sunday: Quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers
This is the showcase day for LSU talent, with five former Tigers set to take the field for workouts. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger would have made it six, but he is still rehabilitating an ACL tear suffered in LSU's Nov. 29 win against Arkansas.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Hill
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesAt the NFL combine, Jeremy Hill will try to prove any off-the-field issues are in the past.
Nonetheless, tailbacks Jeremy Hill and Alfred Blue, fullback J.C. Copeland and receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham are scheduled to participate in workouts on Sunday, so the NFL Network announcers should spend plenty of time talking Tigers.

Hill is one of the more intriguing running backs in the draft because of his physical abilities, but his off-the-field issues will probably come up, as well. Hill will be fine in the workouts. The most important part of his trip to Indy won't air on television. He must satisfy at least one team that his disciplinary issues are behind him and that he can be a reliable professional. Performing well in these job interviews is essential for a player with a checkered past.

Meanwhile, it wouldn't be much of a surprise to see Blue perform well in the drills and positional workouts and elevate his draft stock. He was overshadowed by Hill at LSU, but Blue has the tools to be an NFL player and he might just emerge on some radars if he's healthy and has an impressive afternoon.

Landry can help himself with a solid time in the 40-yard dash, should he choose to run in Indy. Dependable hands are his best asset, but he will wear the possession receiver label unless he surprises scouts by flashing some top-end speed. ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. wrote this week that a strong combine workout might help Landry work his way into the first round. Conversely, Beckham could help his cause by catching the ball consistently and displaying some polished route-running skills. He's electric with the ball in his hands – and ESPN's Todd McShay is hyping him as one of the draft's fastest prospects – so his biggest hurdle is proving that he's more than a raw athlete.

Monday: Defensive linemen, linebackers
All three of LSU's Monday participants – defensive linemen Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson and linebacker Lamin Barrow – have something to prove to NFL scouts.

At 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds, Barrow is not the biggest guy in the world, so most teams likely view him as a situational linebacker and special-teams performer instead of an every-down player. He's athletic and has some intangibles that will probably help him interview well, but he needs to flash some physical tools during the workouts that might help him stand out a bit more.

On the other hand, Johnson and Ferguson should excel in the workouts. After all, Johnson's nickname is “Freak” and he possesses the raw athleticism to back up the hype. The problem for both players is that scouts question their motors. They look the part, but must convince teams that they can refine their games and become more consistent performers at the pro level than they were in college.

Tuesday: Defensive backs
Craig Loston closes out LSU's long list of combine participants when he competes with the defensive backs on the final day of workouts. Loston projects as an inside-the-box safety who is best as a hitter and run stopper. He was a bit brittle in college, which might affect his draft stock, but Loston can probably help his cause in Indy by flashing some fluidity and ball skills during the defensive back drills. If teams determine he can play coverage the way he can run and hit, Loston will rise as a prospect.

SEC Power Rankings: Week 11

November, 11, 2013
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We're inching closer and closer to the finish line, and our No. 1 doesn't look to be budging anytime soon:

1. Alabama (9-0, 6-0 SEC; last week: 1): The Crimson Tide faced its biggest test since Texas A&M and passed with flying colors Saturday night with a resounding 38-17 win over LSU. Alabama didn't need a lot of yards, but the defense stood tall, holding LSU to a season-low 284 yards and 17 points. People continue to wonder if this truly is the No. 1 team in the country, but Alabama has tackled every obstacle that has come its way. Also, Phil Knight was decked out in Alabama gear in Tuscaloosa, so clearly the bandwagon still has room.

2. Auburn (9-1, 5-1 SEC; LW: 2): It seems like Auburn is getting better and better each week. The Tigers weren't intimidated at all by the atmosphere inside Neyland Stadium and walked out with a commanding 55-23 win over Tennessee. The offense rolled up 444 rushing yards, and the defense is getting better and better -- just in time for this week's showdown with Georgia on the Plains.

3. Missouri (9-1, 5-1 SEC; LW: 5): These Tigers continue to impress and had no problem handling a weary Kentucky team on the road. Maty Mauk is growing for the future, and Dorial Green-Beckham showed us all why he was the No. 1 recruit in the country last year with his school-record four touchdown catches in Mizzou's 48-17 thumping of the Wildcats. This upcoming bye week should give quarterback James Franklin even more time to rest his shoulder before a trip to Ole Miss.

4. Texas A&M (8-2, 4-2 SEC; LW: 3): We all know the Aggies can score at will when Johnny Manziel is under center, but the defense took a few steps back (again) in A&M's 51-41 win over Mississippi State on Saturday. Right when you think that unit is getting better, it starts to lag behind, like surrendering 556 total yards to the Bulldogs. Still, the Aggies won in spite of the defense and get a bye week before taking on LSU and Mizzou on the road.

5. South Carolina (7-2, 5-2 SEC; LW: 4): The Gamecocks were off this weekend, which should help them rest any nicks or bruises. South Carolina is approaching its final SEC game, which is big, because a win over Florida on Saturday would get the Gamecocks one step closer to Atlanta. South Carolina still needs help, but the Gamecocks will have every opportunity to take care of business against a struggling Florida team.

6. Georgia (6-3, 4-2 SEC; LW: 7): The Bulldogs had a nice tuneup game before facing Auburn on the road. Even after a sluggish start, the Bulldogs routed Appalachian State 45-6. If Georgia wants a shot at the SEC Eastern Division title, the Bulldogs have to beat Auburn and hope for Mizzou to fall off late. Aaron Murray continues to rack up records, and this offense regained its form Saturday. The defense will have to be at its best against a very good Auburn running game.

7. Ole Miss (6-3, 3-3 SEC; LW: 8): After winning just six combined games from 2010-11, the Rebels are going bowling for the second straight year. Coach Hugh Freeze has led a very impressive turnaround in Oxford. Ole Miss let things get a bit interesting in its 34-24 win over Arkansas, but the outcome never really seemed in doubt. The Rebels go for win No. 7 against Troy before hosting Missouri.

8. LSU (7-3, 3-3 SEC; LW: 6): It really has been a season of what-ifs for the Bayou Bengals. Turnovers and mental errors have plagued this team in its three losses, and Saturday's 21-point loss to Alabama was no different. Fumbles by J.C. Copeland and Zach Mettenberger proved costly, as they created a 10-point swing that didn't go in LSU's favor. The Tigers were left scratching their heads in Tuscaloosa and get another bye week to stew over it.

9. Vanderbilt (5-4, 2-4 SEC; LW: 11): Remember when head coach James Franklin said you'd never see the old Vanderbilt again under his watch? Well, after taking the Commodores to back-to-back bowl games for the first time in school history, Saturday's 34-17 win over Florida marked the first time the Commodores have beaten Florida in Gainesville since 1945, and the first time ever the Dores beat Florida and Georgia in the same season. Vandy's blowout win in the Swamp came thanks to four takeaways by the Commodores and only 183 yards of offense, and Vandy is a win away from making its third-straight bowl.

10. Florida (4-5, 3-4 SEC; LW: 9): It has been a challenging season in Gainesville, and Saturday's ugly loss to Vandy (snapping a 22-game winning streak over the Dores) didn't help. The injuries have piled up, Florida has lost four straight and the Gators are in danger of missing out on a bowl game for the first time since 1990. Coach Will Muschamp said his team has a "woe is me" attitude right now, and the fans are restless. Seeing all those empty seats and hearing all those boos told you everything you need to know about the state of Florida football.

11. Tennessee (4-6, 1-5 SEC; LW: 10): It was another long day for head coach Butch Jones and his Vols. Auburn ran up 444 rushing yards, averaging 8.4 yards per carry, and had the game well in hand before the second quarter even ended. Tennessee has to be encouraged by the growth of quarterback Joshua Dobbs and receiver Marquez North, but it's just not enough right now. Five times this year Tennessee has given up 400 yards and gained less than 350.

12. Mississippi State (4-5, 1-4 SEC; LW: 12): Hats off to quarterback Dak Prescott for going out and playing Saturday just days after his mother passed away after her battle with cancer. He and his Bulldogs didn't beat Texas A&M, but they never quit. Still, this has been a trying year for Mississippi State, which has to win two of its last three games in order to keep its three-year bowl streak going.

13. Arkansas (3-7, 0-6 SEC; LW: 13): Another weekend, another loss for the hapless Hogs. Arkansas' 34-24 loss to Ole Miss marked the seventh straight for Bret Bielema and his squad. It's the longest of Bielema's coaching career, and the Razorbacks are officially out of the bowl hunt for the second straight year. Arkansas has the SEC's No. 12 offense and a defense that ranks 11th in the league, after surrendering 531 yards to Ole Miss.

14. Kentucky (2-7, 0-5 SEC; LW: 14): For the third straight year, the Wildcats aren't going bowling. They certainly have shown heart, but the talent on both sides of the ball just isn't there right now for Kentucky to actually compete week in and week out against its SEC foes. Kentucky has now lost 13 straight SEC games.

What we learned: Week 11

November, 10, 2013
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Here's what we learned from LSU's 38-17 loss to Alabama:

1. This team is full of what-ifs: Yet again, mistakes hurt a team that could have added to its win total Saturday. While Alabama certainly was the superior team, the Tigers shot themselves in the foot early with a careless goal-line fumble by fullback J.C. Copeland and a poor snap to quarterback Zach Mettenberger. Both fumbles were recovered by Alabama and led to a 10-point swing that didn't go in favor of the Tigers. Instead of possibly having a double-digit lead on the Crimson Tide early, LSU had to battle back, just like in previous losses to Ole Miss and Georgia. Careless turnovers plagued LSU in those games as well, leaving a lot to be desired with this team. LSU is younger than last year on defense, but costly turnovers have certainly hurt this team in the win-loss column. While this isn't the talented team that took the field last year -- or even the year before that -- we aren't sure if this should be a three-loss team. A lot of what-ifs remain after mistakes cost the Tigers early.

2. Getting away from Hill is a mistake: Running back Jeremy Hill is the X-factor in LSU's offense. To get the ball out of his hands when you want to run the ball is a mistake. But LSU decided to hand the ball to Copeland at the 2-yard line for what should have been an easy touchdown in the first quarter. Instead, he fumbled on just his 13th carry of the season. The 235-pound Hill, who entered the day second in the SEC with 922 yards and 12 touchdowns, carried the ball just 13 times against Alabama and rushed for a season-low 42 yards. The Tigers decided to get junior Terrence Magee involved, giving him nine carries. According to ESPN Stats & Information, LSU ran for 62 yards on designed runs in the first half, but had just 10 in the second, as the Tigers then abandoned the running game in the second half, where Hill carried the ball just four times.

3. The holes on defense are still obvious: There were plenty of missed tackles and Alabama was able to extend drives with 25 first downs and more than 33 minutes of possession. LSU's blitz was ineffective, as quarterback AJ McCarron threw for all three of his touchdowns against five-or-more pass rushers, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Against the blitz, McCarron completed 9 of 13 passes for 137 yards and three touchdowns, according to ESPN Stats & Information. What's more is that the Tigers couldn't stop the run, either. Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon abused LSU's front seven, rushing for 133 of Alabama's 193 yards. According to ESPN Stats & Information, 100 yards of his yards came on runs inside the tackles. Entering Saturday, LSU had not allowed a team to run for 100 yards inside the tackles in a game this season. In the biggest game of the season, LSU's defense had four costly penalties that helped three Alabama scoring drives. LSU's offense didn't always help with field position, but LSU's defense showed that there are still a lot of holes that need to be plugged.



TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Standing at the front of a cramped room filled with a throng of media members, LSU coach Les Miles gazed toward the back wall as he recalled two gut-wrenching plays that changed the complexion of Saturday night's game against top-ranked Alabama.

It appeared as though he was struggling with the images of a J.C. Copeland fumble at the goal line and an early snap that ricocheted off Zach Mettenberger before being scooped up by Crimson Tide linebacker Trey DePriest on back-to-back drives in the first quarter.

[+] EnlargeZach Mettenberger
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsZach Mettenberger and the offense were stifled in the second half.
They happened in an instant but would linger for three more quarters, as LSU dropped its third straight to Alabama with a 38-17 loss inside Bryant-Denny Stadium. The scoreboard showed a 21-point defeat, and those two plays easily could have cost the Tigers an early double-digit lead against the No. 1 team in the nation.

"Here we are, frankly going off left tackle here to take the lead 7-0," Miles said of Copeland's careless fumble on second and goal at Alabama's 3 with more than 8 minutes remaining in the first quarter.

LSU coaches were seen tossing their headsets after Copeland's turnover. Maybe it was because the miscue came on only his 13th carry of the season, or because star back Jeremy Hill wasn't in the game. Nevertheless, it played out like the same old story with this year's LSU team. Mistakes have crippled it in big games, leaving so many questions about what this squad could and should look like right now.

In the loss to Georgia, an Odell Beckham Jr. fumble on a punt return led to a Georgia touchdown that gave the Bulldogs a late third-quarter lead. Three weeks ago, Mettenberger dug his team into a major hole with three first-half interceptions at Ole Miss. Both games ended in LSU losses.

"Going back to every loss we've had this season, the turnovers have just killed us," said Hill, who ran for a season-low 42 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. "You take the turnovers away from us this season, and who knows what our record would be right now?"

On paper, Saturday's loss knocked 13th-ranked LSU to 7-3 on the season and 3-3 in SEC play. But when you look closer, it's tough to say where this team might be without those costly errors. Saturday night clearly showed that LSU can play with the best. The Tigers held Alabama to just 372 yards, grabbed the lead once and tied the game once before the Crimson Tide broke things open with a 14-point fourth quarter.

If Copeland doesn't fumble, the Tigers go up seven and put a damper on Alabama's raucous crowd. If Mettenberger and center Elliott Porter don't botch the exchange a drive later, Alabama isn't put in great position to take a 3-0 lead with Cade Foster's 41-yard field goal.

That's a 10-point swing that eventually changed everything.

"When you play in games like this, you just can't turn the ball over," receiver Jarvis Landry said. "We put ourselves into bad position.

"When you turn the ball over ... it's hard to beat a team like Alabama."

What made things that much more frustrating for the Tigers was the defense's inability to get off of the field. Alabama owned nearly 34 minutes of the clock, leaving LSU's potent offense to stew on the sideline. As badly as that unit wanted to make up for its early mistakes, it had to suffer through watching the Tide work like an efficient, mistake-free football team should.

It didn't help that penalties and missed tackles added to the offense's stay on the sideline. The defense's play was frustrating, but Landry showed his displeasure for calls that only added to his irritation.

"It was kind of sad and made me kind of mad looking at it from the sideline," Landry said. "There were a lot of calls toward Alabama's favor that were kind of questionable and kept their drives alive."

Landry can scoff at the officiating and vent about the defense's struggles, but the early offensive mistakes cost this team. The Tigers rebounded to an extent, but you could feel the deflation after both fumbles. This could have been a special night for LSU, but devastating turnovers only fueled Alabama and left the Tigers once again asking, "What if?"

"You can't turn the ball over," Hill said. "If we don't turn the ball over, there's no telling what this team could do."

SEC lunchtime links

November, 7, 2013
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We've got football tonight. In fact, there are a couple of pretty big games. That means we're almost to what could be an important weekend in the SEC.

Here are some links from around the league:

SEC lunchtime links

October, 24, 2013
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It's game day! Sort of. While most of the league plays on Saturday, as usual, the SEC gets an early start this week with Kentucky and Mississippi State kicking off Thursday night on ESPN. So we'll start there with today's lunchtime links:

Planning for success: LSU

October, 17, 2013
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There are no shortage of athletes on LSU’s defense, but the Tigers hadn’t been able to stop anybody of late. They allowed more than 20 points in each of their first three SEC games which included a 44-41 loss to Georgia just three weeks ago.

Still, Les Miles remained confident in his defense, and they responded this past weekend against Florida. They held the Gators to just 240 total yards and six points.

“I think our defense is improving,” Miles said. “I think they’re working at it every day. I think they’re realizing that they need to take care of their responsibilities, and they got 10 other guys beside them that can really play. That’s how defense has always been played best.

“I think last week allowed them that opportunity to go to the field, do the things we’ve asked them to do and have success.”

The LSU defense will face a much more difficult challenge this weekend when they visit Ole Miss for an SEC West showdown.

Last year, LSU barely escaped against Ole Miss, winning 41-35 in the final seconds, but the Rebels still racked up 463 yards of offense. Quarterback Bo Wallace threw for 310 yards and two touchdowns while also rushing for 54 yards and two scores. It will be up to this Tiger defense to contain Wallace and prove that last week wasn’t a fluke.

What LSU needs to do to win: If the first half of the season is any indication, LSU should have no trouble putting points on the board. They were slowed down last weekend against a stingy Florida defense, but Zach Mettenberger is still playing at a high level. When he has weapons around him like Jeremy Hill, Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham, it’s a safe bet that they bounce back on Saturday. However, LSU’s ‘improved’ defense still has to stop Ole Miss. If it turns into another shootout like last year, it could come down to who has the ball last.

Players to watch

FB J.C. Copeland: It’s no secret why Hill is averaging 9.2 yards per carry on runs inside the tackles, the highest by any SEC running back this season. He’s running behind Copeland, the league’s top fullback. Against Florida, Copeland finished with a season-high five carries for 20 yards and scored his third touchdown of the year.

DE Jordan Allen: Both Alabama and Auburn showed that if you get pressure on Wallace, he can get rattled. The only problem is LSU hasn’t been able to generate much of a pass rush this season. They lost top defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, and Allen hasn’t stepped up like they thought. This would be an ideal time for a breakout game.

Quotable
“We go into Tiger Stadium and have never been disappointed, period. It’s as live a venue as there is, and we’re happy about it. But it did appear that some of our faithful stayed out of the heat and kind of stayed in the air-conditioning at the beginning of the game.” -- Les Miles on the attendance at the Florida game

Running back tops LSU 2014 needs 

February, 13, 2013
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- It's a bit of a gamble.

LSU took no running backs in its 2013 signing class and enters 2014 with only four scholarship running backs on its roster. Given a good season by sophomore Jeremy Hill -- who will be three years out of high school by season's end and, thus, draft eligible -- LSU might lose two more at season's end (Alfred Blue is a senior).

It would have made sense to prop up the numbers this year by taking a running back. The goal is to leave a void and use it to entice 2014 star Leonard Fournette (New Orleans/St. Augustine), the top running back to come out of the state in years. If LSU lands Fournette, the gamble pays off. If not, well, the Tigers better find somebody to fill the void.

Running back headlines the list of needs LSU will be looking to address in the 2014 recruiting cycle. Here are LSU's biggest areas of need:


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Where LSU will need help: Offense 

January, 4, 2013
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- There are some unknown variables when trying to figure out where true freshmen might play a big role on a team.

Avery Johnson
Davide De Pas/ESPN.comClass of 2012 wide receiver Avery Johnson looks to re-enroll after going to prep school for a year. He could contribute to LSU as soon as next season.
Take LSU right tackle Vadal Alexander. The 2012 signee became a true freshman starter at right tackle halfway through the season, something nobody saw coming. But when left tackle Chris Faulk suffered a season-ending knee injury, it opened the door for Alexander to move into the lineup, and he took the job and ran with it after another veteran starting tackle, Alex Hurst, left the team.

Similarly, with a veteran stable of running backs returning, few saw true freshman Jeremy Hill emerging as a primary running back for LSU this year. Yet, it took only one injury -- to original starter Alfred Blue -- to get Hill the break he needed to start getting carries and eventually become the starter and the Tigers' leading rusher.

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Tiger Tale: J.C. Copeland

December, 31, 2012
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Leading up to the Chick-fil-A Bowl, we'll take a daily look at a key LSU player. We'll examine how he has done and what his challenges are for the Clemson game.

J.C. Copeland, FB, Junior

[+] EnlargeNeiron Ball, J.C. Copeland
Kim Klement/US PRESSWIRELSU fullback J.C. Copeland had 21 carries for 67 yards and four touchdowns but is better known for his blocking prowess.
Accomplishments: An old-school battering ram of a fullback, Copeland's vicious lead blocking is a key reason why LSU piled up 2,159 rushing yards and was able to carry the offense for more than half the season while the passing game went through growing pains. A converted high school defensive tackle, Copeland improved his ball skills enough to carry 21 times this season, gaining 67 yards and four touchdowns. In the age of the spread offense, he'll stay on the field far more than one would expect from a fullback.

Shortcomings: While Copeland was a reliable ball carrier, attempts to get him involved in the passing game went mostly for naught as he only caught three passes, though one was a 42-yard catch-and-run against Alabama. Copeland had a habit of picking up bad personal fouls, sometimes killing drives with hits well after the whistle. It's aggressiveness LSU accepted because it's a product of the mean streak that makes him an effective blocker, but it would sometimes cost the Tigers dearly.

Against Clemson: Unless they fall behind, expect the Tigers to perhaps try to use their running game to keep Clemson's high-powered offense off the field. Copeland's lead blocking, plus his ability to convert on short-yardage situations as a runner, can play a huge part in that kind of game plan.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- When news came down last week that LSU had lost a pair of commitments from wide receiver Chuck Baker and fullback Kennard Swanson, it wasn't met with the angst from fans that one might think.

It wasn't long before the 4-star receiver and 3-star fullback parted ways that some were wondering how LSU would make room if all the star prospects who are considering LSU and still available -- including the nation's top two athletes in Ricky Seals-Jones and Kendell Beckwith -- want to come.

That doesn't seem to be an issue now.

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3 Up, 3 Down: Alabama 21, LSU 17 

November, 4, 2012
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- What we liked, and didn't like, in LSU's 21-17 loss to Alabama Saturday.

THREE UP

1. The passing game: Not just quarterback Zach Mettenberger, but also his receivers. The Tigers quarterback completed 24 of 35 passes for 298 yards and a touchdown. After a shaky start, the junior played his best game, by far, and the receivers made tough catches. Jarvis Landry (8 receptions, 76 yards, one touchdown) was outstanding.

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Instant analysis: Alabama 21, LSU 17

November, 4, 2012
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Top-ranked Alabama (9-0, 6-0) and No. 5 LSU (7-2, 3-2) saved the best for Game 3. It came right down to the final drive, as Alabama squeaked out its 21-17 win with a 28-yard screen play from quarterback AJ McCarron to running back T.J. Yeldon with 51 seconds remaining.

After struggling mightily for most of the second half, McCarron connected on four of his final five passes for 72 yards and that touchdown.

While McCarron played his best at the end, LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger played the best game of his career, completing 24 of 35 passes for a career-high 298 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions.

LSU actually outgained Alabama 435 yards to 331.

Alabama is clearly in the driver's seat for a trip to Atlanta for the SEC title game, but it also controls its destiny for the Discover BCS National Championship in Miami.

It was over when: McCarron and Yeldon orchestrated a beautiful screen call that went 28 yards for a touchdown to make it 21-17 with 51 seconds left. LSU got the ball back, but Mettenberger was sacked on the third play of the drive as time ran out.

Game ball goes to: Outside of that costly fumble that led to LSU's final scoring drive, Yeldon was a beast for the Tide. He scored the game-winning touchdown and finished with 76 yards on 11 carries. He averaged 6.9 yards per carry and had a long of 23 yards.

Stat of the game: LSU did a very good job of extending drives against Alabama's vaunted defense, converting 10 of 20 third downs, while Alabama converted just 1 of 9 third downs.

Stat of the game II: McCarron completed 4 of 5 pass attempts on Alabama's final drive for 72 yards and a touchdown. Before that, he completed 1 of 7 second-half passes.

Second-guessing: LSU fullback J.C. Copeland's penalty took away all the momentum the Tigers gained from Jeremy Hill's 19-yard run to Alabama's 13-yard line. He foolishly knocked an Alabama player to the ground after the play was over and well away from where the play ended. It pushed the Tigers back, and they eventually failed to execute a fake field goal that took crucial points off the board.

Second-guessing II: Les Miles' decision to go for a fake field goal on a 47-yard attempt and then actually go for a 54-yarder in the second quarter will haunt him. Both decisions didn't work out, and that left the Tigers without a crucial second score before halftime. Alabama drove down the field 63 yards and scored a touchdown to make it 14-3 after Drew Alleman's 54-yard miss. Miles also decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 at Alabama's 24 with just under 9 minutes left and LSU leading 17-14.

What it means for Alabama: The SEC title is still in sight and so is the national championship. A win over Texas A&M next week and Alabama is guaranteed a trip to Atlanta for the first time since 2009. If Alabama wins out, it will play for its second national title in as many years.

What it means for LSU: The Tigers' BCS national title hopes are all but gone, but there's still some hope in Baton Rouge that LSU can still sneak into the Sugar Bowl. If the Tigers win out, they could still be in position to play in New Orleans in January. This was also a big step for Mettenberger, who came into the game as one of the SEC's most scrutinized quarterbacks but grew tremendously against the nation's No. 1 defense.

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