SEC: LSU Tigers

SEC morning links

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
8:10
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Arkansas' continued progress has been interesting to see this season and one area they showed significant progress in is third-down success. Last season the Razorbacks were 54th nationally in offensive third-down success rate (41.7 percent) but this season, they're 10th (49.3 percent). That's a huge improvement and it was evident in their 17-0 win over LSU when the Hogs were 10-of-17 against the Tigers on third down, a team that usually stops teams on third down (the Tigers are second in the SEC allowing only a 33.1 percent third-down conversion rate to opponents).

Nobody's happy with the defensive performances this season at South Carolina, but the same can be said at other places around the conference, or the country for that matter. The Gamecocks aren't alone. Texas A&M has seen its fair share of struggles that has its defensive coordinator under the microscope. Auburn has had a rough go lately too, though Gus Malzahn showed support for Ellis Johnson. Still, fans want results and they haven't been good for the Gamecocks, who are last in the league in scoring defense (32.7 points per game).

Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs is the Volunteers' present and future at the position but his predecessor, Justin Worley celebrated his 22nd birthday on Thursday by sharing words with Tennessee fans in an open letter. Worley, whose senior season was cut short after he underwent surgery for a torn labrum earlier this month, shares plenty of candid words and vivid images of his time in Knoxville, which is pretty cool to see.

Around the SEC
BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU has played in some games where opposing offenses leaned heavily on the pass, but the Tigers have yet to face an opponent that likes to fling it around as much as Texas A&M.

Only five teams in the nation have attempted more passes than Texas A&M's 452, a total that is 77 more than the next-closest SEC team. That sets up an intriguing matchup with an LSU secondary that ranks second nationally in pass-efficiency defense (97.57), fifth in passing yards allowed (164) and leads the SEC in both categories.

"As a defensive back, you look forward to that," said LSU cornerback Tre'Davious White, whose team will visit Texas A&M on Thanksgiving night. "You want to match up against passing teams because it gives you more opportunities to get your hands on balls and make plays."

LSU (7-4, 3-4 SEC) has faced eight opposing quarterbacks who attempted at least 25 passes in a game, with Alabama's Blake Sims (20-for-45 for 209 yards and two touchdowns in an overtime win) attempting the most. Nobody else has come particularly close to Texas A&M's average of 41.1 attempts per game.

That means White and his fellow defensive backs could be busy, and their task might be even more demanding with cornerback Rashard Robinson -- one of the stars of LSU's 34-10 win against A&M (7-4, 3-4) last season -- not expected to play.

"He's indefinitely suspended," LSU coach Les Miles said Wednesday night when asked about Robinson's status for the A&M game.

Robinson spent most of last season's game matched up against Aggies star Mike Evans, and Robinson more than held his own by limiting the Biletnikoff Award finalist to four catches for 51 yards -- 38 of which came on a late reception with another Tiger in coverage.

With or without Robinson, LSU will have its hands full against the Aggies' dynamic receiving corps. Evans is now playing in the NFL, but A&M still has a group that is reminiscent of Missouri's talented bunch last season. Not only are they productive receivers -- the Aggies have five players with at least 443 receiving yards -- but they possess NFL size.

Three of the Aggies' top five wideouts (Ricky Seals-Jones, Josh Reynolds and Edward Pope) are listed at either 6-foot-4 or 6-foot-5. That creates a matchup advantage for A&M over most defensive backs, LSU's included. Robinson is the Tigers' tallest defensive back at 6-3, and the next-tallest contributors are Collins and safety Ronald Martin at 6-2.

Miles said starters White and Collins will obviously see the majority of the cornerback reps, with the next options being freshman Ed Paris and safety Jalen Mills if necessary.

"I think it'll be interesting," Miles said. "I think one that'll be a challenge for our guys to get to the passer and I think there'll be certainly some coverage responsibilities that have to be shored up and technique worked on, but I think that's being done. I kind of like the plan thus far."

Pressuring Aggies starter Kyle Allen into rushed throws would definitely help LSU's cause. In two SEC starts, the true freshman quarterback has tossed seven touchdowns against two interceptions and is averaging 257 passing yards per game.

The Tigers have done a decent job of applying pressure, but have cashed in with just 17 sacks and nine interceptions -- totals that rank 10th and ninth in the conference.

"I think we're in around the passer pretty much," Miles said. "I wish we'd have gotten [sacks], chasing quarterbacks around when we'd liked to have gotten some contact on [them] -- several different games. But I think we have the potential to get into the backfield."

However the Tigers can generate some mistakes -- particularly if they lead to turnovers -- it will come in handy next week. LSU's slumping offense was without starting offensive linemen Vadal Alexander and Elliott Porter for most of the Arkansas game, when it generated just 123 total yards, and Miles said Wednesday that Alexander should be back for A&M, but Porter will not.

Even against A&M's mediocre defense, next week's game might be another slog for LSU's offense, which could certainly use all the field-position advantages it can get. If those breaks don't come, A&M won't have the only passing offense that will be an X factor in the game.

Tigers quarterback Anthony Jennings passed for just 87 yards against Arkansas, which probably would not be enough for LSU to keep up with with a prolific Aggies offense.

"We needed to not be as predictable, run and pass, and we needed to certainly hit," Miles said after Wednesday's practice. "When we go to pass, we need to complete and throw better, and we're not throwing the ball like we can. We threw the ball extremely well tonight and we'll throw the ball better in this game Thursday."

 
BATON ROUGE, La. -- La'el Collins could be cashing NFL paychecks right now, but LSU's senior left tackle said he does not regret returning for his senior season. He soon could have reason to feel good about becoming one of the rare Tigers to put off the pros when becoming an underclassman draft pick was a legitimate possibility.

LSU coaches Les Miles and Frank Wilson both predicted recently that Collins could become a first-round pick in the 2015 NFL draft. And multiple draft analysts seem to agree.

"I think he's a dominant player in a dominant league," Miles said. "I think he looks and can defend himself at the left tackle and left guard spot. Anytime you start looking at guys that can play left guard and tackle, that's pretty strong stuff.

"The point is is what guys need and how they fit. A guy that can play left tackle and left guard, or a guy that is certainly a left tackle or a left-side guy, it just really increases his worth."

One of Collins' stated goals in returning for another year was to prove that he could play left tackle in the pros. He'd shifted there from guard in 2013 and wanted to prove he could handle either spot in the NFL in order to maximize his earning potential.

Collins believes he has done that this fall, when he has been one of the most consistent performers on the team.

"I feel like I kind of established that I can play tackle on the next level, but hey, wherever a team wants to play me at, that's what I'm willing to do," Collins said. "So it doesn't even matter to me. But just the ability to be able to play inside and outside is always a great thing, and right to left side doesn't even matter to me.

"I just try to continue to get better where I'm at right now, though, and that's left tackle. I'm just going out and working hard and just trying to make sure I can get everything that I can out of playing this position."

Apparently Collins and his coaches are not alone in that opinion.

Had he jumped to the pros after his junior season, Collins seemed likely to be selected late in the first round or in the middle rounds of the draft. However, the most recent prospect rankings from NFLDraftScout.com, ESPN's Scouts Inc. and ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. all include Collins among the top 20 players.

"I believe he's played tremendously, especially compared to last year," right tackle Jerald Hawkins said. "He just seemed to upgrade his game, especially being with Coach [Jeff] Grimes."

The newest rankings from Scouts Inc. and Todd McShay rank Collins as the No. 16 overall prospect and No. 3 offensive tackle in the upcoming draft class. Collins said he has already been invited to participate in two postseason all-star games, including the Senior Bowl, although he had not accepted an invitation as of last week.

"I just kind of take it one week at a time, especially now," Collins said. "I definitely know in the future I'm going to have to take on everything that's coming my way, but I'm just taking it and just trying to embrace my last couple of weeks that I have here and just enjoy it, enjoy it with my teammates."

His time at LSU is winding toward its conclusion. After last Saturday's loss at Arkansas, LSU is 7-4 and far out of the conversation for the SEC title Collins hoped to claim when he decided to play one more college season. He has two games left as a Tiger: the regular-season finale at Texas A&M on Thanksgiving night and what will be a mid-level bowl game.

That is far from what Collins envisioned, and yet he will be richer -- figuratively and financially -- for having spent one more season at LSU. Collins believes his time spent with first-year offensive line coach Grimes has benefited him, and he seems to treasure having played a full college career at his hometown college.

"I've been just overwhelmed with falling in love with this place. Ever since I got here, it was always just a great place for me," Collins said. "LSU has just been nothing but good for me. I love the program, I love my coaches, I've learned a lot this year.

"So by me learning so much this year, it really made me realize, ‘Wow, I really wasn't ready to move onto the next level.' So that's why I never really can think about it."

SEC bowl projections: Week 12

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
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How important is earning the top overall seed in the College Football Playoff? For Alabama, it's very important. It would allow the Tide to play a virtual home game in the Sugar Bowl as opposed to going out West to possibly face Oregon in the Rose Bowl.

That's why Nick Saban and his team have to be ecstatic with their No. 1 ranking in the latest playoff rankings. As long as they win out and win the SEC title, they're headed to New Orleans for the first semifinal game.

Meanwhile, if everything plays out as it should -- and it never does -- the Tide's opponent in the Sugar Bowl would be none other than Mississippi State. That's right. The Bulldogs only dropped to No. 4 after Saturday's loss to Alabama, and that means they're still in good shape for the playoff if they can take care of business against Vanderbilt and Ole Miss.

The next two weeks should also be interesting for the rest of the conference as a number of teams are fighting for that sixth win and bowl eligibility. Both Florida and South Carolina should get there this Saturday as they play Eastern Kentucky and South Alabama, respectively. It won't be as easy, though, for teams like of Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky.

We predict a total of 12 SEC teams becoming bowl eligible by season's end.

College Football Playoff semifinal (Sugar Bowl): Alabama
College Football Playoff semifinal (Sugar Bowl): Mississippi State
Capital One Orange Bowl: Ole Miss
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Georgia
Citrus Bowl: Auburn
TaxSlayer Bowl: Florida
Outback Bowl: Missouri
AdvoCare 100 Texas Bowl: Texas A&M
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Tennessee
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: LSU
Belk Bowl: South Carolina
Birmingham Bowl: Arkansas
BATON ROUGE, La. – Anthony Jennings is not LSU’s only problem, but he knows he is on the list.

Even before Saturday’s shutout loss at Arkansas, the sophomore quarterback was frank in admitting that he must do a better job if he is to remain the Tigers’ starter.

“I think that we had the potential to go undefeated this year. I think if I would have played better in a couple of those games, I think we would have won those games,” Jennings said last week, speaking to reporters after an LSU practice for the first time this season. “So we just have to continue to get better, and I think that if we continue to get better, we’ll be a great team.”

[+] Enlarge
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesAnthony Jennings is completing just 47.9 percent of his passes.
That is clearly not what the Tigers (7-4, 3-4 SEC) are today. Not after Saturday’s 17-0 defeat where an LSU offense was shut out for the first time in the regular season since 2002.

Much of the blame falls on an offense that accounted for just 123 yards against the Razorbacks while missing starting left guard Vadal Alexander for the entire game and starting center Elliott Porter for much of it. The resulting shuffle left the only aspect of LSU’s offense that has shown any consistency -- its downhill running game -- in shambles.

“Those starting five had a cohesiveness that they built throughout the season,” Jennings said after the game. “So having those two guys go down, it was big.”

Jennings’ inability to move the offense with the pass only compounded the problem, as the first-year starter passed for fewer than 100 yards for the second straight week. He completed 12 of 22 passes for 87 yards against Arkansas, a week after going 8-of-26 for 76 yards in an overtime loss to Alabama.

“[It was] subpar at best,” Jennings said. “I have to improve.”

In fairness to Jennings, he regularly had to run for his life after dropping back to throw. The reworked offensive line rarely gave him time to survey the field, but Jennings continued to struggle at delivering accurate throws even when the protection was adequate.

That’s why Tigers coach Les Miles said after the game that his biggest concern was not quarterback play, but the protection issues that occurred with Alexander and Porter out of the lineup.

Miles said Alexander will likely be back in time for the Tigers’ visit to Texas A&M (7-4, 3-4) on Thanksgiving Day, but Porter is doubtful. Thus, Miles and his staff have about 10 days to figure out a backup plan along the line -- and perhaps with the player taking snaps behind it.

“At this point in time, the guy sitting in my seat, we’re looking for answers,” Miles said after the Arkansas game.

It would be simplistic -- and probably incorrect -- to say that a quarterback change would solve the Tigers’ offensive problems. But earlier in the year when Jennings struggled against Mississippi State and New Mexico State, Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron turned to true freshman Brandon Harris, and he delivered positive results both times.

Harris has barely seen the field since making a lone disastrous start against Auburn (3-of-14, 58 yards), on a night when LSU failed to achieve a single third-down conversion. Whether angry fans like it or not, Harris clearly does not have his coaches’ confidence, as evidenced by Miles’ post-Arkansas explanation for why he never played Harris against the Razorbacks.

“What we’re trying to do is make 10 other players effective, as well,” Miles said. “But at this point in time, I think it’s a quality opinion. Could I get some other guys some playing time? I wouldn’t disagree with that. But I think we went with Anthony for the reasons that it gives us our best chance at victory.”

Perhaps the extra time between games will give Harris a better chance to steal snaps from Jennings. But if Miles and Cameron stick with the sophomore for the A&M game and the bowl game that follows, Jennings knows what he’s giving the offense is not good enough.

Not now, and not if he expects to become more than a one-year starter.

“I know that if I play better, the other guys around me play better and this team plays better, so I don’t know if [I’m taking the] blame,” Jennings said last week. “I know that I can play better, knowing my abilities to play football at a high level. So I just have to go out on the practice field, continue to get better and then when game day comes, I’ve got to continue to execute.”
This week, USA Today, in the latest of its fan index lists, catalogued the top 10 traditions in college football.

Among them, dotting the "i" at Ohio State, lighting the Tower at Texas and rolling Toomer's Corner at Auburn. All fine events, but no list of such customs in the sport is complete without the latest craze: the wait for Tuesday night.

I say that somewhat jokingly, so refrain from the angry tweets. No, I don't really think it's more fun to dream about the details of a five-minute interview with Jeff Long than to decorate an intersection with toilet paper.

But it's close.

So welcome to the fourth of seven Tuesday College Football Playoff poll unveils, where it finally gets real in the selection-committee room.

Why is this Tuesday different? Because after last Saturday, none of the remaining unbeaten or one-loss Power 5 contenders will meet in the regular season or in conference-title games.

SEC morning links

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
8:00
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1. Has Florida hired a coach yet? OK, I guess I'm being impatient. Nothing is going to happen until after the season, but athletic director Jeremy Foley did say he hopes to have a coach by December, which means it might only be a month before we know who is going to replace Will Muschamp. Foley also said he plans to look for a coach who can bring that offensive spark back to The Swamp. Gus Malzahn, anyone? Malzahn's buddy Hugh Freeze would also fit the description, but it sounds like the Ole Miss coach is in line for a raise after the season. Freeze added that he and his family are extremely happy in Oxford, which is no surprise considering he grew up there. It hasn't been that long, though, since Rich Rodriguez left his alma mater West Virginia to take the Michigan job. I'm just saying.

2. Rushing the field after a win over the No. 17 team in the country? That's what happens when you haven't won a conference game in over two years. Arkansas paid the price, though. On Monday, the school was fined $25,000 by the SEC for the post-game celebration, a fine I'm guessing coach Bret Bielema would be happy to pay back after Saturday's win against LSU. The atmosphere hasn't been as jubilant in Baton Rouge this week. It was a historically bad performance by the offense, and Glenn Guilbeau of the Shreveport Times writes that it's time for change and more specifically, time for a new quarterback and new offensive coordinator at LSU. The Tigers should fare better next Thursday against a bad Texas A&M defense.

3. What's the one thing we can almost always count on when Alabama plays an FCS team? Nick Saban going off during his weekly news conference about the quality of the opponent and how it doesn't matter. He didn't let us down this week. Saban got a little heated Monday when a reporter asked about the possibility of looking ahead to the rest of the season, aka the Iron Bowl. I think the Crimson Tide should be pretty safe this weekend against Western Carolina. On a different note, Saban was also asked about the music selection in Bryant-Denny Stadium and the updated playlist from Saturday's win against No. 1 Mississippi State. Unfortunately, he's not the DJ. He has nothing to do with what songs play or don't play during games.

Around the SEC
  • Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson unfazed by criticism during brutal stretch.
  • Running back Todd Gurley goes out the same way he came in at Georgia: A superstar.
  • Steve Spurrier laments firing of Muschamp, shoots down rumors of his return to Florida.
Tweet of the day
When an LSU offense's performance evokes comparisons to the Tigers' effort against Alabama in the 2012 BCS championship, something has gone horribly awry.

LSU's 92-yard outing that night in New Orleans is like Harry Potter's Lord Voldemort among Tigers fans: the game that must not be named. One of the most pitiful performances in memory for an offense on a big stage. An absolute embarrassment. And highly similar to the Tigers' production in Saturday's 17-0 loss at Arkansas.

[+] EnlargeDamon Mitchell
Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY SportsThe LSU Tigers' defense, as well as their offense, failed to stop Arkansas on Saturday.
The difference, of course, is that the stakes were nowhere near the same.

In the Alabama disaster, a previously unbeaten LSU team crossed midfield just once and was dominated throughout with a national championship hanging in the balance. Saturday night's game in Fayetteville pitted an injury-riddled, three-loss LSU team against an Arkansas club that hadn't won a conference game in its last 17 tries. The on-field results, though, were every bit as ugly.

By missing a pair of field goals and losing a fourth-quarter fumble at the Arkansas 19-yard line on Saturday, LSU failed to score in a game for the first time since its infamous Alabama loss. The Tigers' 123 yards of total offense were also their worst performance since that Alabama defeat -- and the program's worst performance in a regular-season game in a generation.

The last time LSU produced fewer yards in a regular-season game was Sept. 20, 1975, when No. 11 Texas A&M beat Charlie McClendon's Tigers 39-8 in Baton Rouge. The Tigers ran 66 plays for 114 yards and picked up just seven first downs. LSU's only touchdown came on a blocked punt in the fourth quarter.

Saturday's performance against Arkansas sent writers scrambling for the record books, as well, to determine exactly how historic this face plant was in LSU history. Let's throw out the BCS title game against Alabama and focus solely on regular-season games. Here are some other "last times" that LSU approached on Saturday:

  • The Tigers hadn't been shut out in a regular-season game since falling 31-0 to Alabama in 2002.
  • Their 36 rushing yards on 32 carries were the fewest by an LSU offense in a regular-season game since running 31 times for 30 yards against Mississippi State in 2009.
  • Terrence Magee's team-high 24 rushing yards were the fewest by the Tigers' leading rusher in a game since Spencer Ware's 21 against Florida in 2012.
  • And their 87 passing yards were their fewest since ... the previous Saturday, when they totaled 76 in an overtime loss against Alabama.
Saturday's game featured a perfect storm of horrible circumstances for the Tigers. Two veteran offensive linemen (center Elliott Porter and left guard Vadal Alexander) missed all or most of the game with injuries, as did senior running back Kenny Hilliard. LSU's average field position was its own 24-yard line, and the Tigers couldn't stay out of their own way even when they had decent starting field position on the freezing-cold night.

Arkansas focused on stopping the LSU running game and Tigers quarterback Anthony Jennings was unable to keep the offense moving with the pass. That wasn't much of a surprise given that Jennings has been inconsistent at best this season, but it further angered fans hoping to see backup Brandon Harris get a chance when LSU coach Les Miles never put the freshman in the game in an effort to spark the offense.

Miles fell back on his well-worn line that leaving Jennings in gave LSU the best chance to win -- and perhaps that was the case -- but this open week is the time for Miles and his offensive coaches to do some soul searching about what is working and what is not.

Obviously if we're comparing the Tigers' performance to what happened against Alabama on that fateful night in New Orleans, there isn't much to be happy about these days from an offensive perspective.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 12

November, 15, 2014
Nov 15
11:59
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We’re getting close to resolution in the SEC’s division races after another wild weekend of conference play.

Here are five things we learned after the conclusion of Saturday’s games:

[+] EnlargeAmari Cooper
AP Photo/Butch DillWith their win over Mississippi State, Amari Cooper and Alabama are on track to play for the SEC title.
Georgia-Alabama?: We went through all of that to get to this? After beating No. 1 Mississippi State 25-20 on Saturday, Alabama is back in the driver’s seat in the SEC West, as many prognosticators expected before the season. Meanwhile, Georgia (9-2, 6-2 SEC) destroyed Auburn 34-7 in its final SEC game of the season, which put the pressure on Missouri to win out if it wants to win the SEC East. Otherwise, it’ll be Alabama-Georgia in the SEC championship game, which seemed the most likely outcome before the Mississippi schools and Missouri made unexpected title pushes. Mizzou (8-2, 5-1) still leads the way in the East, though, with games remaining at Tennessee and versus Arkansas. The Tigers can still spoil the Bulldogs’ title hopes, and Georgia tailback Todd Gurley's injury status will also have a bearing on the Bulldogs' prospects moving forward.

It tolls for thee, Muschamp: Maybe there was a way for Will Muschamp to save his job after Florida shocked Georgia a couple weeks ago. But the way the Gators blew a late lead and fell 23-20 in overtime against South Carolina on Saturday -- getting two kicks blocked in the last 3:30 -- probably removed any doubt. The Gators are now 5-4 and can become bowl eligible with a win against Eastern Kentucky next week, but this has to be the end for Muschamp. The Gators should have won this game but imploded at home in the closing minutes.

A breakthrough for Arkansas: It was a long time coming, but Bret Bielema finally got the first league win of his Arkansas tenure when the Razorbacks shut out LSU 17-0 on Saturday. Oddly enough, the win ended a 17-game SEC losing streak. The Hogs came close against several teams this season -- most notably Alabama and Mississippi State -- but they controlled the night against LSU. They even handed the Tigers their first shutout loss since they fell 21-0 to Alabama in the BCS title game to end the 2011 season. Clearly, it meant something to the Razorbacks’ fans, though. They rushed the field to celebrate the win.

Gus Bus hits a speed bump: Saturday’s loss was by far the worst for No. 9 Auburn since Gus Malzahn became head coach last season. The Tigers scored seven points in a loss to Georgia -- well below their previous scoring low (20 points in a win against Kansas State earlier this season) under Malzahn. Auburn came in averaging 506.9 yards and 38.7 points per game and mustered just 292 yards and seven points against a UGA defense that got dominated by lowly Florida two weeks ago. The Tigers also lost for the second straight week and fell out of the SEC West and playoff conversations.

Look out for the Vols: They lost their first four games in SEC play, but here come the Tennessee Volunteers (5-5, 2-4). With quarterback Josh Dobbs leading the charge, the Vols blasted Kentucky 50-16 on Saturday after beating South Carolina in overtime two weeks ago. Dobbs passed for 297 yards and three touchdowns on Saturday and ran for 48 yards and another score. They’ll host Missouri on Saturday with a chance to spoil the Tigers’ hopes of winning the SEC East.

SEC viewer's guide: Week 12

November, 14, 2014
Nov 14
10:00
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It's now or never for many teams in the SEC.

After Saturday, only two weeks of the regular season remain.

Want to reach Atlanta and play in the conference championship? This is the time to prove it.

Noon

South Carolina at Florida, SEC Network: A win over South Carolina would mean a lot of things for Florida. It would mean an automatic bowl bid, continued hope of winning the East and, possibly, another year for coach Will Muschamp. It's funny how a month ago none of those things seemed likely, but thanks to the spark Treon Harris has provided at quarterback, Florida is in a much different place today. Meanwhile, South Carolina is moving in the opposite direction. Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks have lost two straight, and the coach's future is suddenly a topic for debate.

[+] EnlargeDan Mullen, Nick Saban
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesWill Dan Mullen and No. 1 Mississippi State finally get a win over Nick Saban and No. 5 Alabama?
3:30 p.m.

No. 1 Mississippi State at No. 5 Alabama, CBS: Dan Mullen already got the Texas A&M and LSU monkeys off his back this season. So will he keep up the good work and finally beat Alabama, the only remaining SEC West team that has eluded him as coach of Mississippi State? It won't be easy, and Mullen's Bulldogs won't be favored heading into Tuscaloosa despite their No. 1 overall ranking.

4 p.m.

Kentucky at Tennessee, SEC Network: These are two young teams moving toward a bright future, but which will reach a bowl game ahead of schedule? Because that's what this game ultimately boils down to. Tennessee, at 4-5, must win two of its next three to get into a bowl. Meanwhile, Kentucky either takes care of business against the Volunteers or waits two weeks to try and upset Louisville to reach six wins and a bowl berth.

7:15 p.m.

No. 9 Auburn at No. 15 Georgia, ESPN: We could wind up seeing the most rushing yards in a single game this season when Georgia hosts Auburn between the hedges. After all, neither defense is particularly adept at stopping the run and, at the same time, both offenses are catered to the running game. And that's not to mention the return of Todd Gurley. Georgia's star running back has been itching to get back on the football field after his four-game suspension. He might just try and make up for all those lost carries in one game.

7:30 p.m.

Missouri at No. 24 Texas A&M, SEC Network: It has been a roller-coaster ride for Texas A&M, as it started off 5-0 before losing three straight. The fall from No. 6 in the AP poll to unranked felt devastating. Starting quarterback Kenny Hill was suspended, and it seemed as if the Aggies would throw in the towel on the season. But then last weekend happened. Kyle Allen made some plays in the passing game, and Texas A&M upset Auburn. Now the question becomes where the Aggies go from here. With no hope of reaching the playoff, will they continue their upward climb against a Missouri team that sits atop the SEC East?

8 p.m.

No. 17 LSU at Arkansas, ESPN 2: Fans of old-school football, rejoice! We have the game for you. When Arkansas hosts LSU, there will be fullbacks and offensive linemen galore, plenty of huddling and an abundance of running the football. There will even be freezing temperatures to set the mood. Bret Bielema has to be positively giddy. This is the "normal American football" Arkansas' coach so cherishes. Plus, it's an opportunity for his Razorbacks to break their unlucky streak of 17 conference games without a win.

SEC morning links

November, 14, 2014
Nov 14
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In a piece posted Thursday on Grantland, writer Matt Hinton asked the question that all SEC fans are asking entering Saturday’s games: "Is Mississippi State really the best team, or just another victim for the Alabama Death Star?"

This is put-up-or-shut-up time for the unbeaten Bulldogs, who earned their No. 1 ranking by beating three straight top-10 teams this season. Winning at Alabama, where it has won twice since 1957, is a different animal entirely for a program with a history filled with long periods of mediocrity -- and worse.

This is where the Bulldogs can truly prove they belong among the sport’s heavyweights, much like Cam Newton and the 2010 Auburn team did when it won in Tuscaloosa en route to the BCS championship. In fact, there are several similarities between 2014 Mississippi State and 2010 Auburn, as identified by AL.com’s Kevin Scarbinsky on Thursday.

Nick Saban’s Alabama teams have made a habit of winning games like this, especially at home, which might be why the MSU program turned to a superhero to provide the theme for its pregame hype video. In the video, Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne/Batman character says, "I’m not afraid, I’m angry."

The Bulldogs probably need to summon all the anger inside of them to make it through this weekend unbeaten. Never mind beating LSU in Tiger Stadium or outlasting Auburn in Starkville, this is the biggest test of their season, and most college football prognosticators expect them to fail.

They will either prove them right or they’ll prove that they’re legit, just like Newton and Auburn did in 2010.

Around the SEC

The last time Missouri and BYU met -- as they will next November according to a scheduling arrangement announced Thursday -- was when BYU quarterback Steve Young led the Cougars past Mizzou in the 1983 Holiday Bowl.

The Tennessean’s Matt Slovin asks if Tennessee quarterback Josh Dobbs can lead the Vols (4-5) to a bowl game. They might need a win against Kentucky on Saturday to keep their hopes alive.

Texas A&M receivers Josh Reynolds and Ricky Seals-Jones returned to form in last week’s upset win at Auburn.

His Florida State team edged Auburn 34-31 in last season’s BCS championship game despite Auburn gaining 449 yards of total offense. Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt gets another shot at the Tigers on Saturday.

Former LSU football and baseball player and MLB all-star Alvin Dark died Thursday at age 92.

The State’s "Big Game Graphic" reminds us that Florida was averaging 255 yards per game and 17.5 points per game before Treon Harris became the Gators’ starting quarterback, and 437 yards and 36 points in the two games since he entered the starting lineup.

Tweet of the day

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BATON ROUGE, La. -- To heck with the misdirection plays and spread offenses that dominate LSU’s schedule. The Tigers know that effectively defending Saturday’s opponent starts with slowing down Arkansas’ downhill running game.

While Arkansas coach Bret Bielema is known for pulling a trick play out of his hat once in a while, the Razorbacks’ offensive identity is fairly straight-forward. They typically attempt to pound opposing defenses with tailbacks Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams running behind a bruising offensive line.

“You get to show what you’ve been doing all summer with [LSU strength and conditioning coach Tommy] Moffitt: strength and training and running, being physical,” strongside linebacker Lamar Louis said. “Old-school football, that’s what I like to call it. Pretty much the football we’ve been playing since we were younger. So I like games like this.”

[+] EnlargeJonathan Williams
Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY SportsJonathan Williams and the Arkansas offense churns out an average of 248 rushing yards per game.
LSU’s defense got off to an awful start against opponents’ running games, regardless of whether they ran traditional schemes (Wisconsin) or read-option spreads (Mississippi State and Auburn). However, the Tigers turned things around during their three-game winning streak and the progress continued even in last week’s overtime loss to Alabama.

In the past four games, LSU has largely shut down opponents' rushing attacks, surrendering 109.3 yards per game and just one touchdown. That’s a complete turnaround from its first three games against Power 5 opponents (Wisconsin, Mississippi State and Auburn), when opponents averaged 289.3 yards per game on the ground and totaled seven rushing scores.

The Alabama game might have been the season’s high-water mark for LSU, as the Tigers limited the Crimson Tide’s talented backfield duo of T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry to a combined 72 yards on the ground, and Louis also forced a Yeldon fumble that allowed the Tigers to kick the go-ahead field goal with 50 seconds left in regulation.

“I think the whole game we were very physical,” defensive tackle Christian LaCouture said. “Alabama’s a physical team. We had to counter that with being very physical, as well.”

That mentality will be necessary again on Saturday.

Williams (137 carries, 877 yards, 10 TDs) is fourth in the SEC with 97.4 rushing yards per game and Collins (134 carries, 840 yards, 10 TDs) is fifth at 93.3. They run behind an offensive line that averages 328.4 pounds per man, making the group heftier than most offensive lines in the NFL.

And they come right at you -- which shouldn’t seem too unfamiliar to a group that practices against a Les Miles offense every day.

“We’ve seen it all spring with our offense, the way they run the ball, so it shouldn’t be too complicated for us,” middle linebacker Kendell Beckwith said.

A word of caution, though: Arkansas’ passing attack is more dangerous this season with a healthy Brandon Allen at quarterback. The Razorbacks attempted 40 passes for 246 yards in a 14-13 loss to Alabama and 44 passes for 238 yards in a near-miss against top-ranked Mississippi State.

It’s easy to get so caught up in defending Collins and Williams that Allen can catch a defense by surprise with a play-action pass for a big gain.

“That’s what they’re setting you up for,” safety Jalen Mills said. “You know that they’re a big run team, but then again, you see where the quarterback may have a lot of passing yards. That’s where guys are biting for the play-action and then he’s hitting you over the top.”

The Razorbacks seem unlikely to win on Saturday by throwing 40 passes against LSU, which boasts the SEC’s top pass defense (163.5 yards allowed per game), however. The Razorbacks’ hopes of ending a 17-game SEC losing streak likely hinge on their ability to move the ball on the ground -- and LSU’s defenders expect the Razorbacks to come straight at them.

“[We need to] knock their heads back, make sure they know that we came to play,” LaCouture said of the LSU defensive line’s approach, which will come in handy again this week.

“Alabama’s a very physical team. We knew that coming in, so we knew that we had to attack the line of scrimmage, first and foremost, push the offensive line back into the running back’s face and make them go sideways so guys like Kwon [Alexander, LSU’s starting weakside linebacker] could make plays. And if they come up the middle, that’s when we make our plays.”

SEC morning links

November, 13, 2014
Nov 13
8:00
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The weather has been a common topic at LSU this week.

Not the unusually cool temperatures in the low 40s that the Tigers practiced in on Wednesday. Even worse. The weather forecast for Saturday night’s game at Arkansas shows lows in the 20s and a 70 percent chance of snow.

Considering how 90 percent of Les Miles’ LSU roster hails from Louisiana and the surrounding Southern states, most Tigers have barely seen snow, much less played a competitive football game in it.

If it really comes down on Saturday, it will be interesting to see how the Tigers handle an entirely different climate than what they are accustomed. Miles’ staff seemed amused to turn it into a game of sorts, with one support staff member going shirtless at Wednesday’s chilly practice, but it could be a genuine area of concern.

Arkansas’ players aren’t especially prepared for snowy weather, however. Yes, far more Razorbacks are from states with cooler weather -- and Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said that might be an advantage -- but the Arkansas News Bureau’s Robbie Neiswanger wrote this week that the last Razorbacks game impacted by snow was in 1993 against Auburn.

Arkansas initially planned to allow students to camp outside Reynolds Razorback Stadium on Friday night, but the school announced on Wednesday that camping is now canceled because of possible inclement weather.

One likely outcome is that two run-oriented offenses will lean even more heavily on their ground games in snowy weather. If that happens, the Razorbacks and Tigers might play the fastest televised SEC game of the entire season with few pass attempts to stop the game clock.

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BATON ROUGE, La. -- The game rested on Anthony Jennings' young shoulders when he took the field last season against Arkansas. This was no time for the 19-year-old quarterback to play like a tentative true freshman.

"Obviously if you come in like a mouse talking to the huddle and things, they won't believe me," Jennings recalled, "so I had to come in with confidence high and tell the guys, 'Here we go. We're going to go score.'"

[+] EnlargeAnthony Jennings
Crystal LoGiudice/USA TODAY SportsThe last time LSU played Arkansas, on Nov. 29, 2013, Anthony Jennings (pictured) and Travin Dural forged a lasting quarterback-to-receiver bond.
Jennings' LSU team trailed the Razorbacks 27-24 in the fourth quarter and Jennings was standing in his own end zone when he took the first snap on a possession that would forever tie his name with that of Travin Dural in LSU lore.

To that point in the season, Jennings had appeared only on a few select running plays and in garbage time, but here he was replacing injured senior starter Zach Mettenberger and needing to drive the Tigers 99 yards in the game's final 3:04 if LSU was to avoid a huge upset.

When the Tigers' backup quarterback entered the huddle, he projected the necessary confident tone, said Dural, then a redshirt freshman who spent most of the season in veteran stars Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham's shadows.

"He came in like he had been playing the whole game and came in like he was the starter and the offense never missed a beat," said Dural, whose Tigers (7-3, 3-3 SEC) will visit Arkansas (4-5, 0-5) on Saturday.

The drive started with a 2-yard Jennings run to get the Tigers some breathing room away from the goal line. Completions of 16 yards to tight end Dillon Gordon and 11 yards to Landry soon followed. Then Jennings broke a 21-yard run to push the Tigers past midfield.

The drive started to stall from there, however. Jennings tossed an incomplete pass to Kadron Boone and then completed a screen pass to tailback Jeremy Hill, but Arkansas' Deatrich Wise stopped him for no gain. The Tigers called a timeout, facing third-and-10 from the Arkansas 49-yard line with just 1:22 to play.

That's when Jennings lined up in the shotgun and launched a perfect strike down the left sideline to a wide-open Dural, who had streaked 10 yards behind Arkansas defensive back Jared Collins. Dural hauled in the pass and crossed the goal line to give LSU a 31-27 lead, and the final score, with 1:15 remaining.

It was one of the most exciting moments of the entire season for the Tigers, and it was a pair of freshmen who hooked up to make it happen.

"You're always going to remember that play and that 99-yard drive," Jennings said. "That's the story and then being a freshman at that, I'm always going to remember that."

Jennings and Dural used that game-winning touchdown pass as a launching point, with both players enjoying much more prominent roles in the Tigers' offense as sophomores.

Dural (30 catches for 701 yards, 7 TDs), who has started every game this season and ranks fourth in the SEC with an average of 70.1 receiving yards per game, said the Arkansas touchdown gave him confidence that he could become an impact player in the SEC.

"It was coming, but after that play it was really there," Dural said. "It kind of showed me, 'OK, I can make plays. I can do this.'"

Jennings (80-170, 1,266 yards, 9 TDs, 6 INTs) has had an up-and-down sophomore season, but the Tigers have won eight of his 10 starts since he took over for Mettenberger.

He said he didn't need the Arkansas comeback to believe he belonged at LSU, although he first credited his teammates and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Cam Cameron for making the drive a success.

"I don't think it was confirmation. I think I always had that confidence in myself that I could play at a high level," Jennings said. "So just that happening was a product of all the teammates around me helping me, guiding me, coaching me, Coach Cameron calling great plays there. So it really was not on me. It's about the guys around me."

The duo has already combined to provide several other huge plays for the Tigers since the Arkansas game. They hooked up for an 80-yard touchdown in a season-opening win against Wisconsin and combined for a school-record 94-yard touchdown on LSU's first offensive play the following week against Sam Houston State.

Dural was also the recipient of a 41-yard pass from Jennings on third-and-25 that extended the Tigers' go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter against Florida. He made a one-handed, 11-yard touchdown catch to cap the drive and give LSU a 27-24 lead with 2:40 to play.

Needless to say, Jennings-to-Dural has become one of the SEC's top big-play combinations this season, and it all started with an unlikely 99-yard drive last season against Arkansas where two freshmen showed up at the game's biggest moment.

"That was a big moment for both of those guys. It kind of jumpstarted both of their careers," senior running back Terrence Magee said. "They've made big plays throughout the year this year and we've counted on both of those guys and we're going to continue to count on them through the rest of this season.

"I think the big-play ability and the connection that they have with each other is going to be vital to the rest of this season and into the future for those guys."

SEC Freshman Tracker: Week 11

November, 12, 2014
Nov 12
10:00
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In a season where true freshmen have been regular contributors for SEC teams, last Saturday might have been the biggest weekend yet for the league’s newcomers.

Not only did true freshman quarterbacks Kyle Allen and Treon Harris lead their teams to key conference victories, but their fellow first-year players also made huge differences in all three phases of the game. Heck, the Georgia-Kentucky game alone could have filled out this week’s five most notable performers.

At any rate, here are five SEC true freshmen who stood out last Saturday and then 11 more who deserve recognition:

QB Kyle Allen, Texas A&M

What he did: Making his first SEC start, Allen led the Aggies to an upset win at Auburn by completing 19 of 29 passes for 277 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. Allen tossed a touchdown pass on four of Texas A&M’s first five drives.

What it means: The freshman wasn’t great in his first start against Louisiana-Monroe, but he got off to a hot start against Auburn and helped the Aggies save face somewhat after a brutal October slump. It’s safe to say that Kenny Hill put his starting status in serious jeopardy by getting himself suspended and allowing Allen to get some valuable playing time.

OLB Lorenzo Carter, Georgia

What he did: Carter started for the first time against Kentucky, taking Leonard Floyd’s spot in the starting lineup, and had easily his best game as a Bulldog. He posted nine tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and four quarterback hurries in Georgia’s blowout win.

What it means: We’ll see whether Floyd gets back into the starting lineup at some point. He played very little against Kentucky after a disappointing performance the previous week against Florida. Regardless, Carter has already started to make an impact as a pass rusher. He’s second on the team with 3.5 sacks, third with 13 quarterback hurries and fifth with five TFLs.

RB Nick Chubb, Georgia

What he did: In his fourth game filling in for Todd Gurley as the Bulldogs’ starting tailback, Chubb posted his fourth game with at least 140 rushing yards – matching the longest such streak for any back in the nation this season. Chubb ran 13 times for 170 yards and scored on an 18-yard touchdown run against Kentucky.

What it means: Gurley will return this week against Auburn, and Sony Michel is also back from a four-game injury absence, so Chubb won’t have to carry the load alone. By this point, though, he has certainly proven himself as a capable runner, leading the Bulldogs with 895 rushing yards and scoring seven times on the ground.

KR/WR Isaiah McKenzie, Georgia
What he did:
The shifty return man took a kickoff back 90 yards for Georgia’s first touchdown against Kentucky and brought back a punt 59 yards for a score in the third quarter. He finished with two kickoff returns for 116 yards. McKenzie also ran once for a 12-yard gain.

What it means: McKenzie continues to breathe life into Georgia’s formerly stagnant return game. The Bulldogs had gone two seasons without a punt return touchdown before McKenzie took one back for a score earlier this season against Troy. He’s averaging 15.1 yards per punt return with two touchdowns and 29.7 yards per kickoff return with one score.

RB/KR Stanley Williams, Kentucky

What he did: Not to be outdone by his opponents from Georgia, Williams also had a big game against his home-state team on Saturday. He ran 10 times for 100 yards and scored on a 56-yard burst in the second quarter. He also caught a pass for a 1-yard gain and returned five kickoffs for 135 yards with a long of 37.

What it means: Williams has established himself as one of the SEC’s top young all-purpose players. He’s averaging a team-best 110.6 all-purpose yards per game and is averaging 6.9 yards per carry while sharing carries in Kentucky’s four-man backfield rotation.

Other notables:

TE Jeb Blazevich, Georgia: Caught three passes for 29 yards and touchdowns of 10 and 8 yards against Kentucky.

S Duke Dawson, Florida: Tied for the team lead with six tackles and also recorded a tackle for loss and a pass breakup in a win against Vanderbilt.

WR Malachi Dupre, LSU: Made a one-handed, 14-yard touchdown catch in a loss to Alabama.

RB Leonard Fournette, LSU: Ran 21 times for 79 yards in a loss to Alabama.

DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M: Recorded four tackles and blocked a field goal which Deshazor Everett returned 65 yards for a touchdown to give the Aggies a 35-17 halftime lead in a win against Auburn.

WR Jamoral Graham, Mississippi State: Caught a 44-yard touchdown pass in a win against Tennessee-Martin.

QB Treon Harris, Florida: Completed 13 of 21 passes for 215 yards and ran 10 times for 49 yards and two touchdowns in a win against Vanderbilt.

RB Sony Michel, Georgia: Ran 16 times for 84 yards and scored on a 23-yard touchdown against Kentucky.

WR Speedy Noil, Texas A&M: Caught a pass for 16 yards, returned two punts for 2 yards and returned three kickoffs for 81 yards (with a long of 36) in a win against Auburn.

P J.K. Scott, Alabama: Punted nine times for 437 yards (48.6 per punt) with a long of 66 yards and placed two punts inside the 20 in a win against LSU.

CB Jalen Tabor, Florida: Recorded two tackles, broke up a pass and made a leaping, one-handed interception in a win against Vanderbilt.

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