LSU Tigers: Mike Gillislee

Impact early enrollees in the SEC

February, 21, 2013
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Enrolling into college has become a growing trend in college football. Missing prom and Senior Skip Day has become a regular for a lot of high schoolers these days.

In the SEC, getting a high number of early enrollees is becoming more and more of a priority for coaches. This year, all 14 SEC teams had players from their 2013 classes enroll in school early. Georgia leads the SEC with 13, Alabama has nine, and Florida and Texas A&M both have eight. In fact, 73 players from this year's recruiting class enrolled early at SEC schools in this year.

ESPN colleague Travis Haney unveiled his top impact early enrollees Insider from around the country Wednesday, and of his five players who made the cut, three came from the SEC. Well, four, because he said defensive backs Tray Matthews and Reggie Wilkerson would make immediate impacts at Georgia.

Florida running back Kelvin Taylor, who was the nation's No. 1 running back, and Alabama tight end O.J. Howard, who was an ESPN 150 member, also made the list.

Those all make sense. Georgia is basically replacing its entire secondary outside of cornerback Damian Swann, so the Bulldogs will need all the help they can get in the secondary. Florida proved that it could survive -- for the most part -- on a very strong running game last fall, but workhorse Mike Gillislee is gone, so the Gators will need help for Matt Jones and Mack Brown. Taylor is an elusive, physical back who could find himself getting a boatload of carries this fall. And Howard is a real difference-maker at tight end. The Alabama coaches are very excited about his big-play ability and his ability to create a lot of mismatches for defenders.

Haney also gave Tennessee wide receiver Paul Harris the honorable mention nod. Harris comes in at a position of great need, and it will only benefit, well, everyone, having him on campus early.

But what other players who decided to trade in their prom tuxes for shoulder pads could make immediate impacts in the SEC? Glad you asked, because here are some other guys I think you should all keep an eye on:

True freshmen

Christian LaCouture, DL, LSU: With LSU losing starters at both end spots and one at defensive tackle, LaCouture has a chance to get immediate playing time. He can play inside or outside for the Tigers.

Christian Morgan, TE, Ole Miss: The Rebels lost three senior tight ends from last season's team, and the returning players lack experience, so Morgan could step right into a starting spot with a successful spring.

Demarcus Robinson, WR, Florida: The Gators need receiving weapons, and Robinson might be the most versatile of the bunch on campus right now. He's the play-making type this offense desperately needs.

Junior college transfers

Leon Brown, OL, Alabama: Three starting offensive linemen are gone, which means Brown could find himself playing a lot this fall. He could be in line to take the vacant right tackle spot left by D.J. Fluker.

Justin Cox, DB, Mississippi State: Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay are gone, and Cox is already impressing people around the program. Word is he's already one of the fastest guys on the team, and could come in and start immediately at cornerback.

Za'Darius Smith, DE, Kentucky: With all the late movement in UK's class, Smith might have been overlooked, but Mark Stoops is very excited about him. He's been a monster in the weight room and could play right away this fall.

SEC sends several RBs to NFL combine

February, 19, 2013
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Several of RecruitingNation's SEC sites will look this week at the players headed to the NFL combine, which begins Friday in Indianapolis. Today: Quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers.

LSU Tigers


Perhaps it says something about LSU's offense in 2012 that among a record 13 players invited to the NFL combine from the Tigers, only two are offensive skill players who are generally considered, at this point, marginal talents. Running backs Spencer Ware and Michael Ford are the only skill players invited to Indianapolis, which is understandable when one considers LSU was 10th in the SEC in total offense. It's also a sign of youth. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger, fullback J.C. Copeland, running back Jeremy Hill and all of LSU's primary threats at wide receiver will return in 2013.

(Read full post)

What we learned in the SEC bowls

January, 9, 2013
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Now that the bowl season is over, it's time to take a look back at what we learned in the SEC during the postseason:

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesNick Saban and Alabama will be among the favorites to win the national title again next season.
1. It really is Alabama's world: For the second straight year and for the third time in four years, Alabama took home college football's crystal hardware. After the first 15 minutes of the Discover BCS National Championship, it didn't even look like No. 1 Notre Dame deserved to be on the same field as the Crimson Tide. Alabama wore down the Irish defense in the first half, and its defense tormented Notre Dame's offense for about 90 percent of Monday night's game. Nick Saban didn't have his most talented team, but he had his squad way more prepared than Brian Kelly did. Saban's way of making sure his players approach every game the same way proved to be excellent again. Notre Dame was completely overmatched, and with the talent coming back in 2013, Alabama should again be the favorite to win it all. Three-peat?

2. The SEC's dominance is still being challenged: Even though Alabama brought home the SEC's seventh straight BCS title, the SEC's perception is still being challenged. Social media has been buzzing with chants of "overrated" directed toward the SEC because Mississippi State, LSU and Florida all fell flat in their bowl games. Mississippi State lost by 14 to Northwestern, LSU lost to Clemson on a last-second field goal and Florida was run ragged by Louisville in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Heading into bowl season, Florida and LSU weren't expected to lose, but they got away from their ground games and paid for it dearly. Still, the SEC went 6-3 (.667) in bowl games, including Texas A&M's 41-13 rout of Oklahoma in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, and Georgia and South Carolina downing Big Ten teams. Only the WAC (2-0) and C-USA (4-1) had better winning percentages, and neither had nearly as many bowl teams. So is the SEC down? Well, while the SEC took a couple of bad losses in bowl season, seven teams finished the year in the Associated Press Top 25, including five in the top 10. The Big Ten and Big 12 had losing bowl records, the Pac-12 went 4-4 and the ACC was 4-2. So, if the SEC is overrated, what are the other conferences?

3. Florida's offensive issues are still a major problem: All season, we wondered what we'd see from Florida's offense. However, for 11 games, even if the offense came up short, the Gators found ways to win. Against Louisville, the Gators went in reverse and never got right again. Jeff Driskel threw a pick-six on the first possession, and the offense imploded from there. Mike Gillislee, who was easily Florida's best offensive weapon, carried the ball just nine times. The Gators panicked, but when they had to pass, they couldn't.

This has to be a major concern for the Gators going forward, because Gillislee is graduating and tight end Jordan Reed declared for the NFL draft. Driskel has to find some major help in the passing game this spring/summer, or Florida's offense will get pummeled again. Driskel's health is now a major concern because backup Jacoby Brissett is transferring, leaving the Gators with no experience behind Driskel.

4. More eyes will be on Ole Miss ... and Vanderbilt: Before the season, no one gave Ole Miss a chance at the postseason -- or even five wins -- but the Rebels went out and had a tremendous first year under Hugh Freeze. If not for a couple of horrendous second halves, the Rebels might have won eight games during the regular season. After a dominating performance in their BBVA Compass Bowl win against Pittsburgh, the Rebels could be looking at a spot in preseason Top 25 polls. Most of this team, including what could be a stellar recruiting class, will be in Oxford next fall, so expectations will be much higher.

The same can be said about James Franklin's Vanderbilt Commodores. After a historic nine-win season that ended with a commanding bowl win over NC State, the Commodores will be expected to keep up this act after being even better in Year 2 of the Franklin era. Vandy will lose some talent up front defensively, and Jordan Rodgers and Zac Stacy will be gone, but a host of playmakers will return, including receivers Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd.

5. Johnny Football's legend just keeps growing: After Texas A&M lost offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury to Texas Tech, Johnny Manziel's field maturity was really going to be judged in the AT&T Cotton Bowl against the Sooners. Well, all he did without one of his best mentors was set a bowl record for total yards (516) in the Aggies' rout inside Jerry's World. Manziel zigged and zagged as though Kingsbury was feeding him info through an earpiece. People don't understand how much Kingsbury helped Manziel with his composure during games, but Manziel did just fine without him. It shows how much he's grown during his Heisman year. Things will be different next season with some key players also missing on offense, but to see Manziel play like that without Kingsbury has to be very encouraging for Kevin Sumlin and the rest of the Aggies' coaching staff.
LSU fans almost forgot what a regular-season loss felt like for a bit. Considering the undefeated 2011 regular season and the 10-2 seasons that bookended it in 2010 and 2012, the Tigers haven't had to deal with defeat too often recently.

[+] EnlargeMatt Elam
Kim Klement/US PresswireMatt Elam's strip of Odell Beckham Jr. turned the tide in LSU's 14-6 loss to the Gators.
That's what made two huge miscues so glaring in LSU's 14-6 loss to Florida on Oct. 6 -- it was the first time the Tigers hadn't overcome their setbacks in 18 months.

Tuesday's post trumpeted Odell Beckham Jr.'s heroics against Ole Miss, so it's only fair that today we recall perhaps the biggest play of the Tigers' loss to the Gators, in which Beckham made a monstrous play that quickly turned into a disaster.

With LSU trailing Florida 7-6 late in the third quarter, Zach Mettenberger found Beckham on a 3rd and 7 from the LSU 21. Beckham took off along the west sideline for a 56-yard gain -- all the way down to the Gators' 23 yard line. The gain would have set the Tigers up in the Florida red zone with a chance to take the lead heading into the fourth quarter.

Instead, Florida safety Matt Elam interjected. The junior caught up to Beckham and ripped the ball from the receiver's grasp, and the Gators recovered.

That would have been a major turning point all on its own, but Florida wrested control of the game following the turnover. The ensuing possession was a smashmouth 11-play, 77-yard touchdown drive that featured nothing but running plays. Gators running back Mike Gillislee plowed into the end zone six minutes later to put Florida up by eight with just 13 minutes to play.

LSU had three more possessions in the game, and not one of them crossed midfield -- Beckham's fumble ended the Tigers' final scoring threat.

In a game where LSU managed just two field goals, this was the second time the Tigers goofed up a chance at a game-changing touchdown. A fumble by Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel set LSU up on the Gators' 7-yard line with two minutes until halftime. A Spencer Ware run got the ball down to the 4-yard line, but that was as far as the Tigers could go.

After Mettenberger threw incomplete on second down, the Tigers called two timeouts in a row. The third down play looked destined to be an unlooked-for jump pass from Terrence Magee, but the receiver wasn't there and Magee plowed forward for no gain. The Tigers settled for a field goal and did not come close to the end zone again.

Plenty of fans questioned the playcall at the time, especially considering a touchdown would have given LSU a 10-0 lead at half. The loss was the first of two painful setbacks for LSU in 2012.

2012 SEC midseason overview

October, 15, 2012
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The sun sets in the West, but it’s the rise of the East that has been the big story during the first part of the SEC season.

Not since Florida in 2008 has a team from the East won the SEC championship, and it was only two years ago that a three-loss team in the East (South Carolina) made it to the SEC championship game.

In fact, South Carolina was the only team in the East with a winning conference record that season, and four of the six teams in the East finished with losing overall records.

It was a similar story a year ago. Four of the six teams in the East finished with losing conference records.

The “Least of the East” jokes were well deserved.

But as we look ahead to the second half of this season, the landscape has changed.

The first BCS standings were released Sunday night, and three of the top 11 teams were from the Eastern Division. Right there behind Alabama at No. 1 was Florida at No. 2, while South Carolina was No. 7 and Georgia No. 11.

“I think people would say there are more than two teams [from the SEC] that could contend for a national title right now,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said.

And, yes, those same two teams from a year ago are still right there in the hunt, the same two teams that played for the national championship last season: Alabama and LSU.

Alabama has yet to have a close game this season. The only thing that remotely qualifies was the Crimson Tide’s 33-14 win over Ole Miss the last weekend of September. Alabama actually trailed in the second quarter of that game (for 15 seconds), which was the first time the Crimson Tide had trailed after the first quarter in regulation since the end of the 2010 season.

Alabama, which hasn’t allowed more than 14 points in its first six games, will find out a lot more about itself over the next month. The Crimson Tide travel to Tennessee on Saturday, and then it’s three straight games against nationally ranked foes -- No. 12 Mississippi State at home, No. 6 LSU on the road and No. 18 Texas A&M at home.

The Alabama players have become accustomed to being the team everybody is gunning for, but they’re more worried about themselves than they are anybody else.

“There are a lot of great teams all over college football,” Alabama senior safety Robert Lester said. “Any team is capable of beating you if they execute and do what they need to do.

“We’re not worried about being No. 1 and looking at any other teams in our conference and wondering about what they’re doing or how they’re playing, because as long as we do what we’re capable of doing, we feel like we’re going to beat them.”

So far, that formula has worked just fine for the Crimson Tide, who have won two of the past three national championships.

But with six SEC teams in the top 12 of the first BCS standings, Alabama is far from the only team in this league with its eyes on the top prize in 2012.

[+] EnlargeMike Gillislee
Kim Klement/US PresswireHis numbers may not wow you, but RB Mike Gillislee has been vital to Florida's success this season.
Offensive MVP: Florida RB Mike Gillislee

He’s not the leading rusher in the league, and his numbers aren’t nearly as gaudy as what Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel has put up to this point. Nonetheless, Gillislee has meant everything to that Florida offense. He’s rushed for 615 yards in his first six games and has allowed the Gators to play their physical brand of football that’s been so successful. He was sensational in the second half of the 14-6 win over LSU and has come through every time the Gators have needed him. Without him, there’s no way this team would be where it is right now.

Defensive MVP: South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney

Although LSU was able to keep Clowney at bay in the second half Saturday, he’s been the SEC’s premier game-changer defensively through the first half of the season. He’s freakishly athletic and, at 6-foot-6 and 256 pounds, has the size to give anybody he goes against fits. Good luck in trying to block him one-on-one. Clowney has 12 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks, both second in the SEC. That’s not counting all of the other big plays he’s created for the South Carolina defense with his relentless pressure. Honorable mention goes to Texas A&M defensive end Damontre Moore and Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley.

Newcomer of the Year: Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel

Manziel’s numbers as a senior in high school were straight out of a video game. He passed for 45 touchdowns and rushed for 30 touchdowns. Obviously, he’s not going to put up those kind of numbers in the SEC, but he’s still making life miserable for opposing defensive coordinators. He’s second nationally in total offense with 2,356 yards and is becoming much more than just an athlete playing quarterback. Already, he has two games this season in which he’s surpassed the 500-yard mark in total offense, making him the first player in SEC history to do that. Not bad for a redshirt freshman who’s played just six college games.

Biggest surprise: Florida

There was hope in Gator Land that Florida would be better in Will Muschamp’s second season, and for that matter, the Gators needed to be better. No team in the league, though, has made the kind of improvement from last season to this season as Florida, which has already won five league games and debuted at No. 2 in the first BCS standings on Sunday night. The Gators are doing all the things it takes to win a title and can take another big step toward winning the East this Saturday with a win over South Carolina in the Swamp.

Biggest disappointment: Arkansas

Even though the Hogs (3-4, 2-2) have won their past two games, their September collapse was stunning. You’re talking about a team that started the season ranked No. 10 nationally and harbored national championship hopes. Those hopes were gone by the second week of the season when Louisiana-Monroe came into Little Rock and upset Arkansas 34-31 in overtime. It was the start of a four-game losing streak for the Hogs, who gave up 179 points along the way. The good news is that it looks like they could be getting well physically and emotionally for the stretch run.

Best game: LSU 23, South Carolina 21, Oct. 13

Tiger Stadium came alive as only it can on a Saturday night, and LSU’s offense also came alive, at least on the ground, to send the previously unbeaten Gamecocks packing. It was an unbelievably physical game with some big-time plays from Marcus Lattimore’s never-give-up touchdown run to Clowney’s tipped passes to Jeremy Hill’s 50-yard touchdown run that seemingly put the game away for the Tigers. South Carolina, though, fought back to pull within two and had the ball with 35 seconds remaining. Craig Loston’s interception finally sealed it.

Best coach: Florida’s Will Muschamp

It’s amazing what Muschamp has done with the Florida program in a year and the way he’s transformed it into exactly what he had envisioned when he took the job. The Gators are physical. They’re committed to running the ball, and they play championship-caliber defense. What’s more, they’ve allowed just 23 second-half points in six games. That’s after melting in the fourth quarter for most of their SEC games a year ago. Muschamp also gets props for hiring offensive coordinator Brent Pease, who’s given this offense new life. Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze and Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen also deserve mention for the jobs they’ve done to this point, but Muschamp takes home the midseason award.

SEC power rankings: Week 7

October, 8, 2012
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There's movement all over as we check out the SEC power rankings for Week 7:

1. Alabama (5-0; LW: 1): The Tide was off last week, so it didn't have a chance to widen its lead on the SEC and the rest of the country. The last thing Alabama's upcoming opponents want is a rested Tide team. I can only imagine the extra work Nick Saban put his team through in order to clean up all those little things.

2. South Carolina (6-0; LW: 4): The Gamecocks completely dominated Georgia over the weekend. South Carolina's offense is extremely balanced and looks like it can just jump on Marcus Lattimore's shoulders at this point. He's just getting stronger and stronger. The defense is smothering up front and stopping that defensive line has been a nightmare for teams. But road games at LSU and Florida will be tough.

3. Florida (5-0; LW: 5): The Gators might not have the most exciting offense, but that defense is tremendous. Florida put a load of pressure on LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger over the weekend and clobbered the Tigers' running game. Behind Mike Gillislee, the Gators pounded LSU with their running game, but the passing game is still a concern. If Florida can get more through the air, this offense could start to really give defenses fits.

4. LSU (5-1; LW: 2): It's obvious that the Tigers can't put everything on their defense. Even with how talented LSU is on the defensive side of the ball, the offense needs major work, especially in the passing game. Mettenberger hasn't come close to living up to the hype and just doesn't look comfortable standing in LSU's pocket. The running game was one of the SEC's best, but was quieted against Florida because there just wasn't the threat to pass. No offensive balance could doom this team.

5. Georgia (5-1; LW: 3): The concern about the defense continues to grow after the Bulldogs' 28-point loss to the Gamecocks. USC was intent on running and Georgia couldn't do anything to stop it, allowing 232 rushing yards. Jarvis Jones has been a non-factor for the past two weeks and Aaron Murray's big-game struggles came right back in Columbia, S.C. The good news is the Bulldogs have the SEC East's easiest schedule from here on out.

6. Mississippi State (5-0; LW: 6): These Bulldogs weren't flashy, but they were very efficient against Kentucky. Tyler Russell is one of seven FBS quarterbacks with 10-plus passing touchdowns and fewer than two interceptions this season, while LaDarius Perkins is the only player in the SEC to be in the top two in rushing yards per game (99.8) and all-purpose yards per game (130.0). That defense has been pretty stout as well, as the Bulldogs have trailed for just 10:19 this season.

7. Texas A&M (4-1; LW: 7): Johnny Manziel grabbed hero status in Oxford, Miss., over the weekend. The redshirt freshman quarterback led the Aggies to 13 straight points in the fourth quarter, after trailing Ole Miss by 10. He had a nifty 29-yard touchdown run to trim the Rebels' lead to four and then found Ryan Swope for the game-winning 20-yard touchdown pass with 1:46 remaining. What's more impressive is the Aggies got the win despite committing six turnovers.

8. Tennessee (3-2; LW: 8): The Vols were off, but have a very important matchup with Mississippi State this weekend. We finally saw good balance out of the Vols against an SEC opponent in their shootout loss to Georgia two weeks ago, but most of the extra time Tennessee had better have been devoted to doing something about that defense. The Vols are 13th in the SEC in total defense (425.8 yards per game), and that just won't cut it if Tennessee is going to make any sort of second-half run.

9. Vanderbilt (2-3; LW: 12): The Commodores got a big win on the road at Missouri. Like prior games, Vandy wasn't great when it had the ball, but it played tough for four quarters and outlasted a banged-up Mizzou team. The defense really has been impressive for most of the season, but the Commodores have to get more out of the offense.

10. Ole Miss (3-3; LW: 10): After a heartbreaking loss to the Aggies, Ole Miss now has lost 16 straight SEC games. Blowing that 10-point lead in the fourth quarter probably will haunt this team all week. There's no doubt the Rebels can move the ball, but costly turnovers have doomed this offense. The defense has made strides since last season, but there's still too much break in this unit.

11. Arkansas (2-4; LW: 13): Just when you think the Hogs are done, they find some strength and walk out of Auburn with a huge win over the struggling Tigers. Auburn has had a plethora of issues this season, but from a mental aspect, this was a big win for Arkansas' team. The Razorbacks aren't totally out of the bowl hunt now, but there's still a lot of ground for this team to make up. Finally holding an offense in check, forcing five turnovers and getting eight sacks is a good start.

12. Missouri (3-3; LW: 9): This has not been the SEC welcome the Tigers expected. Mizzou has been banged up all year and pushed around by its SEC counterparts. James Franklin is out for a few weeks with a knee sprain. Corbin Berkstresser is now the starting quarterback, and he'd better get over his rough performance against Vandy, where he hit only 9 of his 30 passes. Things just get harder, as the Tigers host No. 1 Alabama Saturday.

13. Auburn (1-4; LW: 11): Things just aren't working on the Plains. With an extra week to prepare for the SEC's worst defense, the Tigers mustered only 321 yards of offense against Arkansas and found the end zone once. Kiehl Frazier was benched for Clint Moseley at quarterback, but two fourth-quarter interceptions doomed Auburn. The offense just has too many issues right now, and the Tigers might have lost their chance at a postseason berth with Saturday's no-show.

14. Kentucky (1-5; LW: 14): Injuries have crippled this team and things just aren't getting any better for the Wildcats. Kentucky was forced to play two freshmen at quarterback, and lost one (Patrick Towles) to an ankle injury, against Mississippi State. The Wildcats already were working without their starting running back. Things continue to heat up around Joker Phillips, whose team is hovering around the bottom of the SEC in most offensive and defensive categories.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- When Kevin Minter left LSU's 14-6 loss to Florida with cramps in the third quarter, LSU was leading 6-0 and had stymied Florida's offense all day.

When he came trotting out of the locker room and into the game some 20 minutes later, the Tigers were behind 7-6 and Florida was driving again.

That's the kind of impact LSU's junior middle linebacker had on the game.
[+] EnlargeKevin Minter
Kim Klement/US PresswireLinebacker Kevin Minter led the Tigers with 20 tackles against Florida.

His 20-tackle day was the second best effort in LSU history, one tackle short of Al Richardson's school record set in 1982. What further illustrates Minter's contribution, though, is what happened when he left the game. Seams that Florida started to find with a misdirection running game -- Minter would often close the gaps in a heartbeat and turned promising plays into minimal gains -- turned into gaping holes. A Gators running game that had struggled to find ways to piece together a couple of good plays was, all of a sudden, gashing the LSU defensive front.

"He showed up with a tremendous game to help us try to take a win," defensive end Barkevious Mingo said. "But it takes a team effort. The team should've rallied around that and got him off the field."

He did get off the field, but not in the way he wanted. With LSU's offense going three-and-out on six straight possessions, Minter, like many of his defensive teammates, wore down and Florida's running game was ready to take advantage. It forced Minter to the locker room for intravenous fluids to solve a cramping issue in both legs on a hot, muggy day.

(Read full post)

Instant analysis: Florida 14, LSU 6

October, 6, 2012
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It had to be surreal for LSU coach Les Miles to see the events that unfolded Saturday in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. That No. 10 Florida upset Miles' No. 4 Tigers, 14-6, wasn't a huge surprise. What was shocking was the way the Gators did it: They beat the Tigers at their own game.

Florida attempted a measly 12 passes for 61 yards and scored only 14 points, forgoing the high-flying offense that has long defined Gators football for a smashmouth, powerful running game and a hard-hitting, opportunistic defense. The Gators looked overwhelmed by LSU for much of the early going but overcame a 6-0 first-half deficit to roar back and make a statement in the SEC pecking order.

Here's how it played out in front of a sold-out Swamp:

It was over when: Just like in the Sept. 8 win against Texas A&M, Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel rolled out on third-and-3 and picked up a crucial first down with his feet in the game's dying minutes. Driskel managed just six yards as opposed to his 21-yard run against the Aggies, but it was enough to kill three minutes off the clock and end LSU's chances of a game-winning drive.

Game ball: Florida running back Mike Gillislee. Stop if this sounds familiar: The senior got stronger as the game went on, tallying an absurd 34 carries for 146 yards and both Gators touchdowns. Gillislee had a hard time running against a stout LSU defensive front in the first half, but he kept pounding and wore the Tigers down. He averaged 4.3 yards per carry.

Game ball, part II: LSU linebacker Kevin Minter. The junior was a one-man wrecking crew on the Tigers' defense, smashing his way to 20 total tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble. It's not a coincidence that Florida pounded its way to its first touchdown of the game while Minter was briefly out injured.

Key stat: Take your pick from several telling ones. LSU notched just eight first downs -- three of which were earned via a Florida penalty. A big reason for that was the Tigers' atrocious performance on third down, a horrendous 1-for-13. Meanwhile, the Gators' halftime adjustments were almost breathtaking in comparison. Florida went into the break with 49 yards of total offense and finished the game with 237 yards -- 176 of those coming on the ground. Florida won the possession battle 37:17 to 22:43.

Perhaps the craziest stat of all: After shutting out the Tigers after halftime, Florida has outscored its six opponents 78-13 in the second half this season.

Key play: It looked as if the Tigers had grabbed hold of the momentum when, trailing 7-6 in the third quarter, LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger found wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. open for a 56-yard gain to the Florida 23-yard line. What looked like a huge gain for LSU quickly turned into a momentum swing for Florida, though, as safety Matt Elam stripped the ball and recovered it at the Florida 21. What followed was an 11-play, 77-yard Gators touchdown drive to grab the game-winning 14-6 margin.

What it means: With either Georgia or South Carolina guaranteed to lose tonight, Florida controls its destiny in the SEC East. The Gators leave Florida only one more time this season, which has to make them a contender for the division championship. The Tigers' offensive struggles were concerning while they were still winning games, but the ineptitude on display in Gainesville has to be sounding some panic alarms. LSU still has games against South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi State -- all of which boast equally stout defenses. That said, one loss won't sink the Tigers if they can handle their business the rest of the way.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- The tough part of beating an elite program like Florida by 30 points, which LSU did a year ago, comes the next time you meet.

LSU's 41-11 win last year at Tiger Stadium, a game most remembered for Tiger punter Brad Wing's fake punt run for a touchdown that was called back because he was flagged for taunting on his way to the end zone, was the most lopsided LSU win in the history of the series.

[+] EnlargeBrad Wing
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireLast season, LSU punter Brad Wing (38) scored on a fake punt that caught Florida's defense napping. But it was called back because of a taunting penalty on Wing.
It was that kind of day for the Gators -- so bad, so one-sided, that even the LSU punter was having fun and their expense.

GatorNation Q&A with Mike DiRocco

October, 4, 2012
10/04/12
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With LSU heading to Gainesville this weekend to play Florida, we caught up with Mike DiRocco of GatorNation to check in on the 4-0, 10th-ranked Gators

Q: Does Florida get enough out of Jeff Driskel to win against the better teams it will face in the SEC?

Despite being a sophomore who rarely played last season, Driskel has been surprisingly efficient: He doesn’t turn the ball over, he’s accurate with his throws, and he’s been able to check the Gators into the correct runs when he gets to the line of scrimmage and sees the defense.

(Read full post)

Five storylines: LSU-Florida 

October, 4, 2012
10/04/12
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Five things to watch Saturday when No. 4 LSU visits Florida.

1. Clean up the Act
LSU has played poorly in two recent wins over Auburn and Towson, plagued by penalties and turnovers. Can the Tigers "flip a switch" against a much tougher opponent, or have bad habits crept in during a relatively soft early schedule?

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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?
BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU is off to a 5-0 start, but the Tigers have seen their ranking drop from No. 1 in the first preseason poll to No. 4 in Sunday's latest AP poll.

Why?

A schedule against five teams with a combined 8-14 record -- a list that includes teams from the FCS (2-2 Towson), the WAC (0-5 Idaho) and The Sun Belt (2-3 North Texas) -- has done little to inspire. Even LSU's one SEC game so far was versus a 1-3 Auburn team that appears to be going through a down year. And LSU struggled to win that one, holding on for a 12-10 win.

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Best of the 2012 SEC media days

July, 20, 2012
7/20/12
11:12
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HOOVER, Ala. -- Now that another year of SEC media days are through, it's time to take a look back at the best moments from this year's three days in the Wynfrey Hotel:

Best interview: Yes, Missouri wide receiver T.J. Moe had a pretty good time with the media in Hoover and Arkansas coach John L. Smith seemed to win over the main ballroom during his press conference, but the best interview of the week had to go to Alabama offensive lineman Barrett Jones. The veteran strolled right into our interview room munching on pecan pie bites without a care in the world. But the real magic came during his video interview where he playfully crushed his best friend and former teammate William Vlachos and gave fellow SEC blogger Chris Low a shout out during his hit. Jones came prepared and knew how to have fun.

[+] EnlargeDonte Moncrief
Butch Dill/AP PhotoOle Miss WR Donte Moncrief dresses to the nines for his appearance at SEC media days.
Best quote: There were so many good one-liners from Moe that we're giving you our top three from the week:

  • Moe on what's different about the SEC: “They say girls are prettier here, air’s fresher and toilet paper is thicker.” -- Offensive lineman Elvis Fisher later told us that this line was planned after a conversation during the trip over.
  • But Moe wasn't done there: "Apparently Ryan Swope is a god because he can come in and get first-team all-SEC. But that’s fine.”
  • And this one really got to Arkansas running back Knile Davis: “In the Big 12, we put our best athletes on offense. [In the SEC], they put their best athletes on defense."
Best outfit: The players came out and dressed well this week, like Auburn's Corey Lemonier and bow tie and red-striped socks and Vanderbilt's Trey Wilson in his slick charcoal suit with the black checkered shirt and red tie. But Ole Miss wide receiver Donte Moncrief stole the show with his colorful outfit. He rocked a light beige jacket over a checkered mint shirt and a blue bow tie. He was also equipped with salmon pants and a bright pink pocket square. The man dresses with confidence.

Best moment: Davis was as cool and relaxed as ever during his time in Hoover. He had no problem proclaiming that he still was the league's best running back, but the best moment came when he was leaving our room. As Davis headed toward the door, Chris asked him if he still thought he was the best and Davis replied with a smile, "Still the best and tell Marcus [Lattimore] I'm coming for him."

Best interviewer: We paled in comparison to the journalistic skills of Mississippi State offensive lineman Gabe Jackson, who took some time to interview Chris on camera. Chris looked like a deer in headlights when Jackson started firing hard-hitting questions and then asked him to name as many dog breeds as he could in 10 seconds. The tongue-tied Chris didn't even mention bulldog.

Most improved: LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger has had a very up-and-down college career, but he walked right into media days without a nervous fiber in his body. He's known to boast a little about his talents and had every opportunity to once again, but didn't. He was very humble and praised his teammates before even mentioning his ability. Plus, he handled questions about his past at Georgia like a pro.

Most confident: We're naming our top four here:

  • Moe: He's sick of hearing about transitioning over to the SEC and he let everyone know about it.
  • Davis: No hesitation in claiming he's the SEC's best running back.
  • Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray: He doesn't talk much, but he made the statement that Tennessee will win the SEC this season. That's pretty gutsy.
  • Florida running back Mike Gillislee: His goal for the season: 1,500 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns. Florida hasn't had a 1,000-yard rusher since Ciatrick Fason in 2004 and 24 rushing touchdowns would break Tim Tebow's record of 23.
Best hair: Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones had his hair braided in a very creative, funky way and it looked clean. It also took three and a half hours to do.

Coming out of his shell: Florida outside linebacker/defensive end Lerentee McCray is pretty soft-spoken and can be shy around the media, but not in Hoover. He was talkative and showed a little confidence when he said his favorite part of football is hitting the quarterback so he can "wipe the smiles off their faces."

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