SEC: LSU Tigers
Florida's Jeff Driskel, a redshirt junior, and LSU's Anthony Jennings, a true sophomore, have been too inconsistent to start the year to not try some new things at quarterback. That means true freshmen Treon Harris (Florida) and Brandon Harris (LSU) need more quality reps in practice and games.
Against good defenses, Florida and LSU watched their offenses back-peddle on Saturday because of nonexistent passing games. It might be good for both schools to ease their freshmen quarterbacks onto the field a little bit more going forward because there are obvious issues under center.
This was supposed to be a brand new year for Driskel with new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper installing a spread offense that would fit with his skill set more, but the last two weeks have raised the same questions about Driskel's composure. He had a troubling Jekyll-and-Hyde performance in that triple-overtime win against Kentucky and then looked flat and had zero rhythm in the blowout loss to Alabama. Driskel was off on just about every one of his down-field passes against a shaky Alabama secondary that gave him plenty of good looks in the first half and he couldn't get the ball out fast enough. He finished a paltry 9 of 28 passing for 93 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.
Driskel's confidence was shot, as the struggles that have plagued his college career returned in Tuscaloosa. With the bye week here, Florida's coaches have two weeks to prepare for Tennessee and get things right with their offense. And that should include more quality reps from Treon Harris.
Benching Driskel for Treon Harris right now would be a mistake, but keeping the frosh off the field is too. His first two college passes went for 148 yards and two touchdowns against Eastern Michigan. That will never happen again, but there have to be plays in Roper's playbook for him to make. He's at least a change of pace for the Gators at quarterback, and some sort of change has to come.
Coach Will Muschamp hinted at some quarterback re-evaluation in the next two weeks.
“The execution is not where it needs to be,” Muschamp told reporters Saturday. “We missed a deep ball to (Demarcus Robinson) early in the game where he got on top of a guy. We had a dropped third down.
“Against a team like that, you have to make plays when you have the opportunities, and we didn't do that. We need to go back and evaluate the decisions we made going into the game and during the game.”
One Florida great, Emmitt Smith, even tweeted his unhappiness with Driskel.
Put Jeff Driskel on the bench please, I have seen enough.— Emmitt Smith (@EmmittSmith22) September 20, 2014
At LSU, Jennings went from hero in the comeback win over Arkansas last year to a wildly inconsistent gunslinger. To his credit, he made some big throws in that valiant comeback over Wisconsin, but against a Mississippi State defense that is the best he's seen to date, Jennings threw for 157 yards and missed too many passes that were there. Granted, the Bulldogs frustrated him all night with pressure, but Jennings just wasn't efficient enough to win the game for the Tigers. He had no composure.
Jennings has been more of a game manager than anything for the Tigers to start the year, as LSU has spent more time running the ball. When the Tigers had to throw down field against Mississippi State, which held LSU to 89 rushing yards, they couldn't.
Until Brandon Harris came in late and delivered touchdown passes for 30 and 31 yards to almost pull the dramatic comeback win. Harris completed 6 of 9 passes for 140 yards in relief duty.
The thing about this situation is that it looked like Jennings got hurt in the Mississippi State game, so Brandon Harris might have no choice but to see more time. But he's also a better down-field passer and appears to be the more talented option. He really struggled against Wisconsin, but delivered some beauties against Mississippi State. Let him play. Build his confidence.
The seasons aren't over for either of these programs, but they will be soon enough if they don't create a passing threat. It might not be time for a changing of the guard for either school, but there's no point in keeping some talented guys on the bench.
Let the kids play.
Spurrier on GameDay coming to SC: "I heard there was a good chance they'd come if us and Missour won. I guess only one of us had to win."— Dave Matter (@Dave_Matter) September 21, 2014
2. There wasn't much to learn about Georgia in its 66-0 win against Troy. Or was there? We already knew Todd Gurley was one of the nation's finest players. He hardly broke a sweat on Saturday with six carries for 73 yards, but Georgia hasn't had to overwork Gurley, and still his 9.8 yards per carry leads the FBS. We knew the Bulldogs had some talented youngsters, but who knew true freshmen Sony Michel and Isaiah McKenzie were ready to completely overshadow another injury to former five-star running back Keith Marshall? It seems the only question surrounding Georgia is wither the passing game, fellas? Georgia welcomes Tennessee this weekend along with the chance to see if Hutson Mason needs to do anything other than hand off. For their part, the Vols enjoyed a perfectly timed bye week after three nonconference games and can now go about the business of clawing their way back to SEC relevance.
3. That sound of laughter you're hearing off in the distance? It's Lane Kiffin basking in the afterglow of Alabama's 42-21 smackdown of the Gators. His offense so thoroughly dominated Florida's defense, the Gators set a record for the most yards allowed in school history. Dating to his time as head coach at Tennessee, that kind of performance against the hated Gators was something Kiffin could only dream about. On Saturday, his quarterback threw for 445 yards -- second only to Scott Hunter's 484 in Alabama history -- and his money wide receiver was the clear winner in a much-anticipated matchup with one of the best cover cornerbacks in college football. Today, receiver Amari Cooper is a legitimate Heisman candidate. We suspected he might be the best wideout in the country, but there is now a totally different perception of quarterback Blake Sims (who deflected some of the praise to Kiffin, by the way). If Alabama's offense can keep up this kind of balance and ruthless efficiency, the only sound we'll be hearing will be the chattering teeth of defensive coordinators.
Around the SEC
- Mississippi State center Dillon Day stepped on two LSU players on Saturday. He was flagged once.
- Arkansas is clicking in all phases. The Hogs' next test -- against Texas A&M at Jerry World -- offers a chance to break their 13-game SEC losing streak.
- Vandy played much better on Saturday, albeit in a losing effort. Derek Mason is still looking for his first league win, as is his next counterpart, UK's Mark Stoops.
- There wasn't much to learn about Texas A&M in its romp against SMU, so the national media turned its attention to a cadet saving the Aggies' canine mascot.
- Les Miles took the blame for his Tigers' big loss at home: "I've got to be a better head coach."
Fairly disappointing to see ONLY 4 SEC West schools in top 10 in new AP poll.— Paul Finebaum (@finebaum) September 21, 2014
We’re also adding a 12th team -- Arkansas -- to the list after the Razorbacks crushed Northern Illinois to improve to 3-1. Arkansas has an awfully difficult schedule down the stretch, but we will give Bret Bielema's club the benefit of the doubt for now and project it to reach at least six wins.
Here is our full SEC list entering the fifth week of the season:
College Football Playoff semifinal (Rose Bowl): Alabama
Orange Bowl: Texas A&M
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Auburn
Capital One Bowl: Georgia
TaxSlayer Bowl: South Carolina
Outback Bowl: Mississippi State
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Ole Miss
Belk Bowl: Missouri
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: LSU
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Tennessee
Birmingham Bowl: Arkansas
Duck Commander Independence Bowl: Florida
Auburn commit D’Anfernee McGriff took an unofficial visit to Alabama for it’s impressive 42-21 victory over Florida on Saturday. The ESPN 300 member has been committed to Auburn since April but it appears the Alabama visit made quite an impression on him.
Here is a photo of five-star Alabama quarterback commit Blake Barnett, his father Lance Barnett and Nick Saban during an unofficial visit to Tuscaloosa, Alabama over the summer. Barnett did attend the game on Saturday and his father tweeted out his thoughts on how Alabama's offense looked in the first half against the Gators.
Bama visit was A1???? #RollTideRoll— D'anfernee Mcgriff (@Dmcgriff1) September 21, 2014
ESPN 300 outside linebacker Adonis Thomas, a Florida commit, was scheduled to visit Alabama but was not able to attend. Thomas chose Florida over Alabama back at the beginning of August, but after the game yesterday, it appears things could be changing based on a tweet he sent out.
Yeah, I love Coach Kiffin's offense! That's how you call a 1st half. Sims 17-23 341 yds 3TDs. #RollTide— Lance Barnett (@LanceBarnett) September 20, 2014
Though LSU suffered a disappointing 34-29 home loss to Mississippi State, the Tigers still had several visitors on campus. ESPN Jr. 300 cornerback Chad Clay Tweeted a photo of himself along with who appears to be former NBA great Karl Malone in the background.
Decisions to be made— Adonis Thomas (@_SimplyThatGuy5) September 21, 2014
With Mississippi State's big win, several recruits were impressed with what the Bulldogs were able to do in Death Valley. Florida commit Tre Jackson was impressed with what he saw from MSU as was current commit Keith Mixon.
Sitting at the LSU game with THE one and only Karl Malone?? pic.twitter.com/kUVnc0IWNX— ChadClay (@TheReal_Chad4) September 21, 2014
#HailState nuff said ????— Tre Jackson (@CB_EJ3) September 21, 2014
2016 cornerback prospect Elijah Pankey attended Vanderbilt's game against South Carolina. Even though the Commodores fell short against the Gamecocks they still put on a impressive performance in front of several recruits.
Hailstate !!!!— Keith Mixon (@ShadesValley23) September 21, 2014
Vandy/South Carolina: At the game and on the field with the Top D1 prospects. pic.twitter.com/mFsMUa4Uhh— EPankey_#81 (@elijahpankey) September 20, 2014
Blake Sims and Amari Cooper, Alabama: Everyone suspected Cooper might be the nation's best receiver, but who saw this coming from Sims? The Crimson Tide dismantled Florida 42-21 and Sims' 445 yards passing -- second best in the school's storied history -- was the biggest reason why. Equally unstoppable was Cooper, who caught 10 passes for 201 yards and three TDs. Much of Cooper's production came against the defense of UF cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, thought to be one of the nation's finest.
Dak Prescott and Josh Robinson, Mississippi State: Time after time this dynamic duo sliced through the heart of the LSU defense en route to the Bulldogs' first win in Baton Rouge in nearly 23 years. LSU's late rally made the final score 34-29, which diminished State's dominance for most of the game. Prescott passed for 268 yards and two TDs. He ran 22 times for 105 yards and another score in building MSU's 34-10 lead. Meanwhile, Robinson was a deadly efficient complement, running for a career-high 197 yards and a TD on 16 carries (12.3 yards per carry). The Bulldogs' offense was firing on all cylinders and racked up 570 yards with standouts all around. The empty seats in Death Valley were a testament to just how demoralizing Mississippi State's performance was for the No. 8 Tigers and their fans.
Auburn's run defense: Holding a run-heavy team like Kansas State to 40 yards on the ground is exactly how you win huge nonconference road games. The Tigers did that in Thursday's 20-14 win in Manhattan, Kansas. The Wildcats came in averaging 236 yards a game on the ground, but Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson had his front seven ready. When called upon, safeties Joshua Holsey (11 tackles) and Rudy Ford (eight tackles) cleaned up the leftovers.
Arkansas' run game: We might want to reserve a weekly spot for this unit, as it seems there is absolutely no slowing down Alex Collins, Jonathan Williams and their under-appreciated blockers. The Razorbacks were rolling once again in their 52-14 rout of Northern Illinois on Saturday. Collins, Williams and Korliss Marshall combined to rush for 188 yards on 36 carries. Right guard Denver Kirkland (6-foot-5, 330 pounds), left tackle Dan Skipper (6-10, 316) -- both sophomores -- and senior tight end AJ Derby (6-5, 255) had great success opening some gaping holes.
Sony Michel, Georgia: We knew the heralded true freshman was good, but in garbage time against Troy he laid any doubt to rest. Michel needed just 10 carries to pile up 155 yards (15.5 yards per carry) and three touchdowns. Occasionally running out of the Wildcat, he's already proven to be more than a backup. The future is looking bright for a Bulldogs team that suffocated Troy in a 66-0 romp.
1. The SEC West is clearly the best ... again: It's the same story in the SEC: The West is the best. None of these teams are perfect, but they are the best of the bunch in the SEC. Alabama throttled Florida at home, Auburn went on the road and gutted out a tough win over No. 20 Kansas State, Texas A&M just continues to roll over everyone, Arkansas can run on anyone, Ole Miss is a top-10 team, and Mississippi State walked into Death Valley at night and beat No. 8 LSU team in what turned into a late thriller. We know this LSU team has issues with its passing game and young defense, but give Mississippi State a lot of credit for that performance. There's a reason the West entered the weekend with five ranked teams -- all in the top 10. On the other side of the conference, everyone in the East has issues. The thing about the West is no team is really sticking out as the dominant team in the division, and every one of them is a work in progress, but they've all had really good moments. This is easily the toughest division in all of college football. Whoever comes out of this division might have an automatic ticket to the playoff on principle alone.
3. Mississippi State will challenge for the West title: I wondered why this team wasn't ranked in the Top 25 to begin the season, and then the defense fell asleep in Week 2 and I started to wonder if Mississippi State was for real. Now, after a 34-29 win over LSU in Baton Rouge, you can't sleep on Dan Mullen and his Bulldogs. Sure, this was a rout that got pretty tight late in the fourth quarter, but this is a win the Bulldogs should be ecstatic about. And how about quarterback Dak Prescott? He had his best performance to date in his home state with 373 yards of offense and three touchdowns. Fellow Louisiana native Josh Robinson wasn't too shabby either, as he rushed for 197 yards and a score. Take the Bulldogs lightly at your own risk.
4. The East race is a total crapshoot: Besides a dominating performance from Georgia over Troy, the SEC East didn't have a great day. Florida was blown out by Alabama, Missouri was stunned at home by unranked Big Ten representative Indiana 31-27, and South Carolina slogged through a 48-34 win at Vanderbilt. We saw that Florida's offense still has major issues and Missouri's interior defensive linemen need a lot of work, as Indiana ran for 241 yards on the Tigers. South Carolina still controls its own destiny when it comes to going to Atlanta for the SEC title game, but no one would be shocked to see the Gamecocks drop another one. Will Georgia's defense get better? Will Florida have an offense? Was this a fluke loss for Mizzou? Is Tennessee a real sleeper? A two-loss SEC East champ is not out of the question with so many uncertainties.
5. Will Muschamp's seat is hotter than ever: I have a feeling Bill from Gainesville won't be calling into many radio shows this week. With a loss in which the Gators faded quickly in the second half, Muschamp's seat is roasting in Gainesville. Last year's injury-riddled, 4-8 season was one thing, but Florida has regressed in the past two games this season, which means the Gators have to show vast improvement in two weeks at Tennessee in order to perk an already downtrodden and disheartened fan base. You have to let the season play out, but this was a bad loss for Muschamp's squad, even if Alabama was the No. 3 team in the country. Florida should be competitive in games such as this, and the Gators just weren't after Alabama cleaned up its mistakes in the second half. There were plenty of opportunities for Florida in this one, but the Gators just didn't execute. Florida fans are frustrated with their coach and their quarterback, who are both in their fourth years at UF.
Troy at No. 13 Georgia, SEC Network: Georgia is coming off a 38-35 loss at South Carolina and is looking for a resounding victory here. The last time these teams met (2007), Georgia won 44-34. This Troy team, however, is 0-3 and allowing 40 points per game while averaging only 20.7. Look for the Bulldogs to jump out early in this one.
3:30 p.m. ET
No. 6 Texas A&M at SMU, ABC/ESPN2: The Aggies come in at 3-0 and they’ve been rolling so far this season. SMU has been a mess, 0-2 and with a new coach: June Jones resigned last week; Tom Mason is serving as the interim head coach and is making his debut. Perhaps the Mustangs are fired up and have a renewed energy, but even if they do, the Aggies are in position for a convincing victory. These teams' past three meetings, dating to 2011, have resulted in a 35.3-point average margin of victory for A&M.
4 p.m. ET
Indiana at No. 18 Missouri, SEC Network: The Tigers are quietly getting it done and look to close out their nonconference schedule 4-0. If they do, it would be the eighth 4-0 start under Gary Pinkel and seventh in nine seasons. Maty Mauk is coming off a four-touchdown-pass performance and Shane Ray is coming off a two-sack, four-tackles-for-loss performance.
7 p.m. ET
Northern Illinois at Arkansas, ESPNU: A victory would give the Razorbacks as many wins this season (three) as they had in all of 2013. That would be a big step forward for Bret Bielema's crew. Northern Illinois is a quality road team, having won 17 in a row in opponents' home stadiums, including one at Northwestern on Sept. 6. Arkansas brings in a second-best-in-the-nation 362 rushing yards per game.
Mississippi State at No. 8 LSU, ESPN: Saturday nights in Death Valley are always fun -- typically for the Tigers. They're 43-2 under Les Miles in Saturday night games at Tiger Stadium. This is a big "prove-it" game for Mississippi State, a team that's 3-0 and trying to take a big step into SEC West contention. Last year's meeting between these two was competitive until a 28-point fourth quarter by LSU.
7:30 p.m. ET
No. 14 South Carolina at Vanderbilt, SEC Network: The Gamecocks got a huge win versus Georgia and are looking to go to 2-1 in league play with a victory here. South Carolina jumped out to a big lead over Vandy the last time these teams met and it's likely to happen again if the Commodores don't get on track quickly. They've struggled mightily out of the gate and had to rally to beat UMass last week. Patton Robinette will start at QB; will coach Derek Mason stick with him this time?
Let’s look at five key storylines for the Bulldogs and Tigers as Saturday’s kickoff approaches.
Defending Dak: On Thursday we took a look at the numerous ways that Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott can affect the game. Last week against South Alabama, the Heisman Trophy dark horse became one of only two SEC players in the last decade to have two games where they ran for a touchdown, passed for a touchdown and caught a touchdown pass (teammate Jameon Lewis is the other).
However, Prescott was only 9-for-20 for 106 yards and an interception against the Tigers’ secondary -- and that bunch has only improved since then. ESPN Stats & Information reports that LSU has limited opposing quarterbacks to an 11.2 Total QBR, which is the best for any FBS pass defense. The Tigers are allowing a 40.2 completion percentage and 3.5 yards per pass attempt, both of which rank second nationally.
With that in mind, if the Tigers’ front can force Prescott to try to beat them with his arm, they would probably consider that a win.
Battle of front sevens: Although containing Prescott will be a challenge, perhaps the biggest test for LSU on Saturday will be along the line of scrimmage.
LSU’s defensive front has dominated since getting gashed early by Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon & Co., but Mississippi State’s running game will provide the toughest challenge since Gordon for the Tigers’ interior line. And State boasts an impressive defensive front seven that could overwhelm what has been a so-so LSU offensive line.
The Bulldogs’ defense ranks second nationally with 29 tackles for loss, fourth with 18 pass breakups and eighth with 11 sacks. Defensive end Preston Smith has been named SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week in all three weeks this season and linebacker Benardrick McKinney (20 tackles, five tackles for loss) is an impact player. The Bulldogs are surrendering just 80.3 rushing yards per game and 2.3 yards per carry, both of which rank second in the SEC.
That doesn’t bode well for an LSU offense that clearly wants to pound the run. No SEC team has more rushing attempts than LSU’s 157, but the Tigers’ average of 4.3 yards per carry ranks 10th in the conference.
Throwing deep: Then again, if the Anthony Jennings-to-Travin Dural show makes an encore, LSU might not be in such a bad position after all. Mississippi State’s secondary has been susceptible to the big play -- in the UAB game alone, the Blazers passed for 435 yards and had touchdown passes of 88, 81 and 75 yards -- and is surrendering 311.7 passing yards per game.
Jennings connected with Dural for an 80-yard touchdown against Wisconsin and a school-record 94-yard touchdown against Sam Houston State, but Dural has accounted for 58 percent of LSU’s passing yardage (370 of 642 yards) to date. Rest assured that Mississippi State will do its best to force Jennings to spread the ball around to other receivers so that Dural doesn’t take over again.
Eliminating big plays: Mississippi State’s offense has been remarkably productive on first down. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Bulldogs have an FBS-high 17 plays on first downs that covered 20 yards or more.
That creates an interesting matchup, as LSU has been stingy about allowing big plays on any down. John Chavis' defense is among three from Power Five conferences that have not allowed a completion covering 15 yards or more. LSU's sports information staff discovered that Louisiana-Monroe’s longest play last Saturday (a 12-yard completion) was the worst in a game against LSU since Mississippi State’s longest play in a 1971 loss also covered just 12 yards.
Mississippi State has spread around its big-play production. Prescott, Lewis, Josh Robinson (who is sixth in the SEC with 96 rushing ypg), Nick Griffin and Damian Williams all have runs of 20 yards or more, while 10 receivers have catches of at least 20 yards.
In contrast, LSU has only seven players who have caught a pass, period, much less one that went for a 20-yard gain. Aside from Dural, only John Diarse and running back Leonard Fournette have receptions that covered at least 20 yards.
Series history: Recent history certainly does not look too pleasant for MSU.
LSU has won 14 in a row against the Bulldogs and 21 of the last 22. State hasn’t beaten LSU since 1999 in Starkville and hasn’t won at Tiger Stadium since 1991. LSU’s average margin of victory over State in four home games since Les Miles became the Tigers’ coach is 20.75 points.
All of that said, coaches on both sides have emphasized that history has nothing to do with what will happen at Tiger Stadium on Saturday night. And while that’s true, the historical trends reinforce why Tiger Stadium developed a reputation as an unpleasant destination for opponents. With its wins coming against Southern Miss, UAB and South Alabama – teams ranked 120th, 87th and 94th in ESPN’s Football Power Index – State likely must play its best game of the season in order to leave Death Valley with a victory.
Prescott is a dark-horse candidate in the Heisman Trophy race because of the multiple ways he can affect the game, as evidenced by last week’s win against South Alabama, when he threw a touchdown pass, ran for a touchdown and caught a touchdown pass on a trick play.
As a passer, Prescott (43-for-72, 696 yards, nine TDs, two INTs in 2014) is effective, but it’s his running ability that makes him especially scary. He is eighth in the SEC with an average of 91.0 rushing yards per game, and he’s averaging 6.8 yards per rushing attempt thus far.
That run-pass combination will be tough to defend, as LSU coach Les Miles is well aware. Miles called Prescott “as good of a player as there is in his position in our conference.”
Let’s take a look at some of the issues LSU must contend with in defending Mississippi State’s quarterback:
RUNS WITH POWER
The multidimensional quarterbacks LSU will face down the road are more from the finesse mold -- think Auburn’s Nick Marshall, Texas A&M’s Kenny Hill and Ole Miss’ Bo Wallace -- than the power mold. Like previous SEC stars Cam Newton and Tim Tebow, the 230-pound Prescott is content to run over tacklers instead of around them.
“I don't know exactly how fast he is, but he carves through the ground very quickly, and when you go to tackle him, you better hit him hard,” Miles said. ”You’d better take him off his feet because he's just a big, physical kid.”
Florida fans might recognize this Tebow-style play from Dan Mullen’s time as the Gators’ offensive coordinator. In last season’s South Carolina game, Prescott takes a shotgun snap, follows a block from running back LaDarius Perkins, and plows between left guard and left tackle for a 1-yard touchdown.
We could pull any number of short-yardage Prescott clips as visual evidence that there’s more to the Tebow comparison than their matching No. 15 jerseys. Most defenders failed to drag either of them down with arm tackles.
BREAKING FROM POCKET
In addition to power, Prescott runs with impressive speed. Check out this 28-yard touchdown scramble from last season’s LSU game.
LSU defensive end Jermauria Rasco destroys left tackle Charles Siddoway with a spin move and has a clear shot at Prescott, but the Mississippi State quarterback steps forward into the pocket and slips between Ego Ferguson and Danielle Hunter into the open field. Then it becomes a footrace, and he sprints away from linebacker D.J. Welter for a first-quarter touchdown.
LSU’s defensive front seven will certainly have its hands full trying to contain Prescott once he scrambles after initially dropping back to pass.
“It looks like he’s got even bigger since last year, but we’re ready to play physical and run fast. That’s basically what we have to do to prepare for him,” LSU outside linebacker Lamar Louis said.
RUNNING GAME IS DANGEROUS
Prescott’s running ability -- and Mississippi State’s running game in general -- makes defenses that sell out to stop the run susceptible to the occasional big passing play.
Take this 35-yard touchdown pass to Fred Ross from the 2014 opener against Southern Miss. When cornerback Jomez Applewhite abandons Ross to blitz off the edge, Prescott easily hits Ross several yards away from safety Emmanuel Johnson, who is slow in coverage after Prescott fakes a handoff in the backfield. All Ross has to do is make a wide-open catch and break a Johnson tackle attempt at the 5 and he’s in the end zone.
The threat of Prescott runs and similar run fakes will test LSU’s defensive discipline. If Prescott catches defensive backs looking into the backfield like this, a big play for State might follow.
PRESSURING HIS THROWS
No quarterback likes to throw under pressure. Prescott is not a pro-style passer, but he’s capable of making some impressive throws if he has time to survey the field.
Here’s a pass to Fred Brown from last week’s win against South Alabama that Prescott completes despite cornerback Montell Garner's attempt to disrupt Brown’s route by holding him. Prescott places the ball perfectly over safety Roman Buchanan for a 36-yard gain.
Earlier in the South Alabama game, Prescott has plenty of time to zip a 15-yard touchdown pass over the middle to Malcolm Johnson where safety Terrell Brigham has no chance to deflect or intercept the pass.
Thus, LSU’s pass rushers know it will be incumbent on them to keep Prescott in the pocket and make him uncomfortable when he attempts to throw.
“With them having a really good offensive line, we have to make sure that we just attack the line of scrimmage and make sure that we stay in our gaps and clog the holes” LSU defensive tackle Christian LaCouture said.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, Prescott has handled the blitz fairly well -- he has five touchdown passes and no interceptions against five or more pass rushers -- although his Total QBR against the blitz is just 48.5. He’ll definitely face extra rushers Saturday, like when defensive back Dwayne Thomas blitzes from LSU’s “Mustang” package.
Regardless of who applies the pressure, the Tigers' rushers will greatly help their cause if they get a hand in Prescott’s line of vision. Take this throw from last season’s 59-26 win in Starkville. Hunter gets in Prescott’s face before he overthrows Jameon Lewis, and Tre'Davious White intercepts the bad throw at the Mississippi State 45. His 40-yard return to the 5 sets up Jeremy Hill's touchdown run on the next play that essentially puts away the LSU win.
Spurrier got his 16th win over Georgia -- the most by any coach over the Dawgs -- and his fourth out of the last five meetings. He and his team also showed that what we thought of South Carolina heading into last weekend wasn't exactly true. There are still issues with the Gamecocks, especially on defense, but we were quick to write off the very team picked in the preseason to win the SEC Eastern Division.
"This is a good one," Spurrier said of Saturday's win. "I knew we had a good chance to beat them when I heard [ESPN radio host Paul] Finebaum picked them [Georgia] to win by about 25 points. He picked Alabama to beat Oklahoma by 25 [in last season’s Allstate Sugar Bowl] too. I said, 'We gotta chance tonight then.'”
Yeah, all that negativity we showed the Gamecocks last week didn't go unnoticed in Columbia.
“I’m not going to lie and tell you that I wasn’t watching TV, seeing people say that Georgia was the No. 1 team, have them winning the playoff," South Carolina running back Mike Davis said. "Watching GameDay and seeing all those guys pick UGA, and having [ESPN college football analyst] Kirk [Herbstreit] being the only one who said we were going to win. This is a big confidence booster for our team.”
So South Carolina isn't dead, and it's clear that the SEC East is still very much wide open.
What else were we quick to assume about the SEC?
1. Jake Coker isn't ready: We all thought Coker would be Alabama's starting quarterback. Well, it's Florida week and veteran Blake Sims is very much the guy and has a big lead on Coker. Unlike Coker, Sims is limited with his arm, but he's done nothing to lose the starting job, while Coker has done nothing to take it.
2. Arkansas isn't the pushover it has been: We figured it'd be another ho-hum year for the Razorbacks. Then they challenged Auburn in the first half of their opener and literally ran over Nicholls State and Texas Tech with 933 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground. Arkansas looks like it can run on anyone.
3. Vanderbilt is in trouble: We thought the talent was still there for Vanderbilt to make another quality run under Derek Mason in his first year with the Commodores. Well, we aren't sure what's up, but the Commodores are lucky to be 1-2 at this point. After getting outscored 78-10 against Temple and Ole Miss, the Dores needed a last-second missed field goal to escape the UMass game.
4. Florida's defense has to climb back to elite status: We questioned Florida's offense, which still has concerns, but we didn't press the defense. Well, it turns out that there are actually real concerns with this younger unit. Coverage breakdowns fueled 369 Kentucky passing yards and three touchdowns. Also, can anyone besides Dante Fowler Jr. rush the passer?
5. Mississippi State's secondary has questions: It's early, but the Bulldogs have had issues in the back end of their defense. Through three games, the Bulldogs have allowed an average of 311.7 passing yards per game. Corner Taveze Calhoun, who garnered tons of preseason praise, and the guys around him at corner and safety have really underperformed to start the season.
6. Texas A&M is still pretty good: Wasn't this team supposed to take a few steps back without Johnny Manziel? Well, the Aggies didn't get the memo. Texas A&M upset South Carolina 52-28 to start the year, the defense looks better and quarterback Kenny Hill leads the SEC with 1,094 yards and has 11 touchdowns. I can't believe someone didn't think an A&M quarterback would throw for 3,000 yards this season ...
7. Kentucky can upset someone: If you watched any part of Florida's triple-overtime win over Kentucky, you'd know the Wildcats are better than they have been in years. Patrick Towles threw for almost 400 yards on the Gators with a handful of playmakers to use that this team hasn't had in a while. Also, that defense is much better with Bud Dupree and Za'Darius Smith battling for the top defensive end duo in the SEC.
8. Tennessee doesn't have a quarterback issue: We thought there was too much uncertainty surrounding Tennessee's quarterbacks. Well, we were wrong, as Justin Worley has been solid, making tremendous throws through the first two games. He struggled against Oklahoma but is averaging 240 yards per game and has six touchdown passes.
9. Missouri isn't ready to take a step back: We thought there were a lot of questions for Mizzou on both sides of the ball, and there still might be, but this team isn't ready to bow out in the SEC. The competition hasn't been great, but Mizzou has done exactly what's been asked, outscoring teams 125-52.
10. Leonard Fournette isn't Michael Jordan ... yet: We thought Fournette would have at least 1,000 rushing yards and, like, 20 touchdowns at this point. What a disappointment! It's a long season folks, but Fournette is still learning and has just 162 yards and two touchdowns. He'll be great, but we actually have to be patient with him.
2. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn will turn 49 next month, one year away from the big 5-0, but that’s nothing compared to his coaching counterpart Thursday night. Bill Snyder, who is in his second stint at Kansas State, is 74 years old. The stadium his team plays in is already named after him. Not a lot of coaches can say that. As for Malzahn, he doesn’t see himself coaching at 74 because according to him, “college football ages you in dog years.” It’s not all that uncommon in the SEC, though. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier turns 70 in April, and others -- including Nick Saban (Alabama), Gary Pinkel (Missouri), and Les Miles (LSU) are all over the age of 60. My guess is that Malzahn will be coaching in the NFL long before he reaches that age, but you never know.
3. It’s been awhile since Mississippi State last beat LSU -- 15 years to be exact. In fact, the Bulldogs have never beat Les Miles since he’s been in Baton Rouge, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen this season. On Wednesday, Miles called this Mississippi State team “as talented and as complete” as any Mississippi State team he’s coached against. He’s not taking this game lightly, and neither will the fans. You can bet that the newly renovated Tiger Stadium will be rocking Saturday night. There are games -- like Sam Houston State and Louisiana Monroe -- and then there are SEC games. This weekend marks the first SEC game.
Around the SEC
- Alabama freshman cornerback Tony Brown "will play a lot" against Florida.
- Four downs: Arkansas RB Korliss Marshall must ‘earn’ carries in Hogs’ backfield.
- Q&A with Jeremy Pruitt: UGA defensive coordinator addresses South Carolina game.
- Vanderbilt’s quarterback position is still just a guess heading into Saturday.
The Tigers used that backfield combination -- typically featuring either Darrel Williams or Kenny Hilliard at fullback and either Leonard Fournette or Terrence Magee at tailback -- seven times in last Saturday's 31-0 win against Louisiana-Monroe. Six of those were short-yardage situations where LSU ran a simple fullback dive, achieving three touchdowns, but opposing defensive coordinators must also realize how that personnel grouping presents other threats.
"Obviously we're not going to show all of what we have in our arsenal, but it could be dangerous and I'm all for it. I think maybe I could be in there, too, but you know, it is what it is," chuckled Neighbors, LSU's regular fullback who sacrifices playing time when the Tigers go to the two-tailback look. "As long as we get the W, I don't care how it happens -- if I don't play a snap or if I play 100."
Let's give Neighbors the benefit of the doubt and agree he could do some of the same things that the tailbacks do. Even so, nobody will confuse him for any member of the foursome for whom he typically blocks. Neighbors ran the ball twice and caught seven passes in the entire 2013 season, and he does not have a touch yet this season. The four tailbacks, meanwhile, are threats to break a long run at any time.
Take Williams' 22-yard touchdown burst in the second quarter of the ULM game, for example. He lined up at fullback in front of fellow freshman Fournette on third-and-1 at the ULM 22. But after taking the dive handoff from quarterback Anthony Jennings, not only did Williams achieve a first down, he broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage and escaped for the Tigers' first touchdown.
Williams was the recipient of four fullback dive handoffs from that alignment against ULM and rushed for 28 yards, including touchdowns of 22 and 1 yards, as well as gains of 2 and 3 yards that both achieved first downs.
Hilliard got the other two fullback carries, picking up a first down with a 4-yard run early in the second quarter and scoring a touchdown on a 4-yard run in the fourth quarter. He lined up in front of Magee on the touchdown run, flattening ULM safety Cordero Smith as he barreled into the end zone for a score that helped LSU go up 31-0.
"We all practice it," Hilliard said of the dive play. "Me and Darrel have been the main ones getting the reps at it, but it's just something that's going to stay in the playbook and in the game plan. If Coach Cam [Cameron] likes it with the opponent, it's something we're going to keep in."
The play's key to success, Hilliard said, is for the offensive line to get a strong push at the line of scrimmage and for the recipient of the handoff to read the blocking properly.
"If the big guys can move the D-line, just find a little crease and get in there and get a first down or a touchdown," Hilliard said.
One of the Tigers' toughest runners, Hilliard said he has occasionally moonlighted in the fullback role since his freshman season. He has never caught a pass or done more than carry the ball straight ahead from the position, but there is always the possibility that LSU could add a new wrinkle to the game plan.
"We haven't gotten that fancy with it," Hilliard said of the possibility of catching a fullback screen. "Maybe throughout the year they might give it to me."
Only once did the Tigers attempt something other than a fullback dive in the two-tailback package against ULM, but that play gives opponents something to consider for the future.
On a first-and-10 play at the ULM 46, quarterback Brandon Harris rolled right after faking a handoff to Magee. Fullback Williams was available to Harris as a target for a screen pass, but the quarterback instead overthrew receiver John Diarse along the sideline.
Nonetheless, the play showed that the Tigers can do much more than run fullback dives when they move their tailbacks to fullback -- or any other skill position.
"Every guy that plays in this offense has the ability to line up in the backfield, out there at slot receiver or at the X or Z [receiver], tight end, anything," Magee said. "You have to know because at any given time, somebody may go down and you've got to go in for them and play so you have to know what's going on.
"So it's just something that when they recruit you here and you're learning this offense, it's something that you have to learn. You have to learn every position on the field."
Raising three boys on her own in Louisiana, Peggy needed to be heard. Her whistle, how it cut through the crowd from the bleachers to the football field below, is still ringing in her sons’ ears today, 11 months after she passed away from a year-and-a-half-long bout with cancer.
She loved football and was there for every one of her sons’ games. Before she passed, she broke down and got her first tattoo: a football on her ankle with the number three written inside it for her boys.
“With the cannon going off on the football field and people yelling you could still hear my mom's sharp whistle over everybody,” Tad, her eldest, recalled. “She was not the mom that sat under a blanket and kept her mouth shut the entire game. You could hear her screaming, 'Hit him! Get your hands off him!’”
Besides, it was LSU that recruited Peggy the hardest, 10 times harder than Dak, he said.
“They knew whatever Mom said was going to matter,” Dak said. “They battled her and battled her, but I wanted to be an honest guy, and when I give my word I’m committed.”
That decision didn’t come easily. Dak had to keep his mother up until 2 a.m. to finally convince her why Mississippi State and coach Dan Mullen were the right choice.
“I didn’t want to go to a team that had already won a championship and had been in the top 10 every year,” Dak explained. “I wanted to help a team grow and be a part of something special, and I thought Mississippi State had the best chance at the time.”
LSU, he felt, was telling him what he wanted to hear. Mullen said redshirting his first year on campus was a possibility while Miles told him he wanted him to play right away, he said.
“I feel like I’m a smart guy and I can see through bull crap,” Dak said.
“I wanted to get to where LSU and all those other schools were and beat them.”
On Saturday, he’ll have that chance.
If only Peggy could be in Baton Rouge to see it.
For the first time in a long time, there’s hope among Mississippi State fans that beating LSU is a real possibility. The Tigers have won 14 consecutive times in the series, after all.
But the Bulldogs are 3-0 themselves, the defense is as deep as it’s ever been and Dak is quietly building a case for the Heisman Trophy. He’s an outsider at this point, but his numbers speak volumes: 43 of 72 passing for 696 yards and nine touchdowns. He’s rushed for 273 yards and two touchdowns. And for good measure, he’s also caught a touchdown pass.
Between his number (15) and his charismatic leadership, there have been comparisons to Tim Tebow. Mullen, after all, was Tebow’s offensive coordinator at Florida when he won the Heisman in 2007.
“He’s evolved,” said safety Jay Hughes, who hosted Dak and his mother on their official way back when. “Just his knowledge and understanding of the game have gone to another level.”
“I don’t even think he knows how good he can be,” he added.
But while putting up big numbers against LSU would surely catapult Dak into the Heisman conversation, Mullen doesn’t want him thinking that way.
“There will be plays he has to make to win the game for us, but not every play,” Mullen said. “Disperse the ball, get it to the playmakers, lead the offense, and then when there are plays to be made go make them.”
Dak insists he’s ready to do just that. He knows Tiger Stadium will be loud, but he’s excited for it. With more than 20 family members expected to be on hand, he knows, “All eyes will be on us and LSU this time.”
The same quarterback who turned down LSU and convinced his mother it was the right decision is now returning to his home state with hopes of an upset. Mississippi State is ready to break through, he thinks. Now is the time to prove it.
“There’s nothing like starting 1-0,” he said. “Starting off against a top-10 opponent would be a great chance to put ourselves ahead and let the nation know.”
And in some way, it would let Dak know, too.
A win would do more than lift Mississippi State in the SEC West. A win would do more than lift Dak’s Heisman chances.
A win would make Dak right about that 2 a.m. conversation so many years ago. A win would be the perfect way to say to his mother that leaving home and helping build something in Starkville was well worth it.
Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
What he did: Another week, another sack (or two) for Myles Garrett. In Texas A&M’s 38-10 win over Rice, the 6-foot-5, 255-pound Garrett tallied 2.5 sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss and eight total tackles. He continues to live up to the hype that surrounded his recruitment and is now second in the country in sacks with 5.5 this season.
What it means: Garrett has already tied the Aggies’ school record for sacks in a season by a freshman and he is on pace to shatter Jadeveon Clowney’s SEC record for sacks by a freshman (eight). If Garrett continues to play the way he has as competition stiffens on A&M’s schedule, we're now talking about an All-SEC-caliber season. (Sam Khan)
Garrett Johnson, Kentucky
What he did: Johnson led the Wildcats with six receptions for 154 yards and two touchdowns. He had three of UK’s biggest plays of the game: A 60-yard touchdown in which Johnson danced between two Florida safeties before running to the end zone; a back-breaking third-down conversion when he beat his man on a 30-yard catch and absorbed a big hit from the safety; then on the next play, Johnson gave Kentucky a 17-13 lead back when he streaked past a confused secondary and hauled in an easy 33-yard touchdown.
What it means: Johnson was Patrick Towles' favorite receiver in a triple-overtime game that opened a lot of eyes. Although the Cats lost, Johnson must have been especially pleased with his performance in The Swamp. The three-star recruit from Winter Garden, Florida, was rated the No. 84 prospect in the state and didn’t have a committable offer from the Gators. (Jeff Barlis)
Jalen Hurd, Tennessee
What he did: Although Oklahoma’s defense completely shut down the Tennessee running game in the first half, Hurd broke runs of 43 and 29 yards after halftime as the Volunteers tried to stay in the game. Oklahoma ultimately pulled away for a 34-10 win, but Hurd gave a standout performance with 97 rushing yards on 14 carries, plus 24 receiving yards on two catches. It was the best rushing outing by a Tennessee true freshman since Bryce Brown in 2009.
What it means: Although he hasn’t started yet, Hurd is Tennessee’s leading rusher with 48 carries for 209 yards and one touchdown. Each week he emerges a bit more as a star in the Vols’ backfield. Up next for Hurd and the Vols’ young offensive line will be a Sept. 27 trip to Georgia in Tennessee’s SEC opener. If the Bulldogs don’t clean up the run defense that South Carolina exploited last Saturday, Hurd might have a field day. (David Ching)
Armani Watts, Texas A&M
What he did: Watts had six tackles against Rice, but perhaps most notable was a play that won't end up on the stat sheet. After a blocked field goal, Watts raced to his own 7-yard line to pick up the ball and run across the width and length of the field for a 93-yard touchdown return. The only problem? A&M was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct as players on the sideline entered the field.
What it means: Though Watts' return didn't count, he has had three good games in an Aggies uniform. He has been one of the pleasant surprises at a position the Aggies sorely needed help: Safety. He's fifth on the team in tackles, leads in pass breakups (three) and has made an interception and two tackles for loss. He has been an impact player with a nose for the football, huge for an A&M defense trying to improve. (Sam Khan)
Darrel Williams, LSU
What he did: Williams took the fewest carries of anyone in LSU’s four-man tailback rotation, but he scored twice -- once on a nifty fullback dive where he broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage and broke away for a 22-yard scoring run -- and again showed off a powerful running style. Williams finished the game against Louisiana-Monroe with seven carries for 37 yards and is now tied with senior Kenny Hilliard for the team lead in rushing touchdowns with three.
What it means: Williams has been impressive in limited work in the Tigers’ last two nonconference games. While he won’t become LSU’s No. 1 running back this season, he has flashed some versatility by contributing at both tailback and fullback. He and Hilliard took the bulk of LSU’s short-yardage carries against ULM, so Williams has clearly done enough to expect to see more of him once the Tigers open SEC play this weekend against Mississippi State. (David Ching)
OLB Lorenzo Carter, Georgia: Carter recovered a Brandon Wilds fumble at the South Carolina 26-yard line to set up a field goal that gave Georgia a 10-7 lead in the first quarter. He finished the day with three tackles, a fumble recovery and a quarterback pressure.
RB Leonard Fournette, LSU: Fournette ran 10 times for 52 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown, caught a 20-yard pass and returned the opening kickoff 40 yards in a win against Louisiana-Monroe.
WR Speedy Noil, Texas A&M: Noil caught three passes for 71 yards and scored on a 14-yard touchdown pass against Rice before leaving the game in the third quarter with an injury.
CB Henre' Toliver, Arkansas: Toliver started for the first time and helped the Razorbacks put the finishing touches on an enormous win over Texas Tech by intercepting a Davis Webb pass at the Arkansas 15-yard line on the Red Raiders’ final possession.
RB Stanley Williams, Kentucky: Williams made one of Kentucky’s plays of the night against Florida. On the Wildcats’ first overtime possession, he ran right after catching a pass, then reversed field all the way to the opposite sideline and dove to the pylon for a 25-yard touchdown that put Kentucky up 27-20.
That leaves Alabama, LSU and Vanderbilt. All three schools seem to have settled on a signal caller for the time being, but how long will it last? We should find out a lot more this Saturday as they all have SEC opponents on the docket.
Starter: Blake Sims
Backup: Jake Coker
How Sims performed: Alabama fans are starting to accept that Sims is the team’s quarterback and why not? The senior hasn’t done anything to relinquish the job. If anything, he’s shown improvement with each game. On Saturday against Southern Miss, he completed 12 of his 17 passes for 168 yards and a touchdown and also rushed for 46 yards and a score. Both Coker and Alec Morris came in during the second half, but neither played meaningful minutes.
What it means: Sims is the starting quarterback until he gives up the job. If he keeps managing the offense and not turning over the football, the coaches are not going to pull him. That said, he faces his toughest test this Saturday against Florida. The Gators return all four starters on the defensive line, and with Vernon Hargreaves III at cornerback, Sims can no longer only throw the ball to his favorite receiver Amari Cooper. Will we see Coker? Not unless things go awry, but Sims has to play well for Alabama to win. – Greg Ostendorf
Sims’ hold on position: 8.5
Starter: Anthony Jennings
Backup: Brandon Harris
How Jennings performed: Although Jennings (11-for-18 for 139 yards, INT) tossed his first interception of the season in last Saturday’s 31-0 win against Louisiana-Monroe, he continues to do a solid if unspectacular job at quarterback. His passing numbers would have been better if not for a series of drops and he’s minimizing his mistakes. He also showed some nifty moves in escaping from a sack and then ran for a 22-yard gain. To this point, he has been what LSU’s coaches want him to be: A steady game manager.
What it means: The ULM game made it even more evident that Jennings holds a clear lead over Harris as the starter. Jennings played every offensive snap until the Tigers led 24-0 late in the third quarter. Once Harris got into the game, he screwed up at least two play calls and had to scramble for yardage once everyone else ran a different direction than he expected. Until he has a firm grasp on the playbook, Harris won’t truly challenge for the starting job. – David Ching
Jennings’ hold on position: 8
Starter: Patton Robinette
Backup: Wade Freebeck, Stephen Rivers, Johnny McCrary
How Robinette performed: Exploring all options to find a quarterback, Derek Mason went with the true freshman Freebeck against UMass. That experiment lasted all of a quarter before Mason pulled him in favor of Robinette, the team’s original starter. The sophomore took advantage. In three quarters, Robinette threw for 147 yards, rushed for 35 yards and scored two touchdowns to lead the Commodores back from an 11-point second-half deficit and notch their first win of the season.
What it means: Has Vanderbilt finally settled on a quarterback? Don’t assume anything with Mason calling the shots, but he did say Tuesday that Robinette is their guy until something happens to change that. It sounds like Robinette will have a longer leash this Saturday against South Carolina, and maybe that will give him a little added confidence. It also wouldn’t be surprising if a different quarterback finished the game. – Greg Ostendorf
Robinette’s hold on position: 4
Final Troy 0 13 Georgia 66 Final 6 Texas A&M 58 SMU 6 Final Florida 21 3 Alabama 42 Final Indiana 31 18 Missouri 27 Final Northern Illinois 14 Arkansas 52 Final Mississippi State 34 8 LSU 29 Final 14 South Carolina 48 Vanderbilt 34