Tag:Casey Hayward
Posted on: December 29, 2011 2:47 pm
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Music City Bowl Key Matchup

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

A look at the key matchup that could decide the Music City Bowl. 



Mississippi State CB Johnthan Banks vs. Wake Forest WR Chris Givens.

As we pointed out in our Keys to the Game for the Music City Bowl, the Demon Deacons don't have much to hang their hat on from a statistical perspective; they rank in the bottom half of the FBS in scoring, rush and total offense and as well as rush, pass, total and scoring defense. They aren't even particularly good on special teams, where Phil Steele's ratings place them 71st despite a 16-of-20 performance from placekicker Jimmy Newman.

But there is one thing Wake does well, and at times has done spectacularly: get the ball from quarterback Tanner Price to wide receiver Chris Givens. The two have hooked up 74 times this season for 1,276 yards and 9 touchdowns, earning the 6'0" junior from Texas first-team All-ACC honors. The most remarkable thing about Givens' 2011 performance was its consistency; he caught at least four passes in all 12 games (though never more than eight) and hauled in at least one touchdown in eight (though never more than two). As Givens' overall production went, though, so went the Deacons. In the eight games in which he finished with 80 receiving yards or more, Wake went 6-2; in the four in which he didn't (all of which came in the final five games of the season), they went 0-4.

Here's the bad news for Givens, and the Deacons: much like season finale opponent Vanderbilt and Casey Hayward -- who held Givens to four quiet receptions for 69 yards and no TDs -- Mississippi State has a lockdown corner to throw at Wake's best (and arguably only) offensive weapon. Junior Johnthan Banks isn't a household name and didn't even make the coaches' first- or second-team All-SEC thanks to the glut of premier corners in the conference, but Banks was the No. 1 reason why State finished 23rd nationally in pass defense and 11th in opponent's yards-per-pass attempt. Both rugged and quick, Banks has the skills to keep Givens every bit as quiet as the Commodores did.

But that doesn't mean he'll actually do it, not when Givens has the kind of talent he does and a veteran quarterback in Price who knows how to get him the ball. If Givens can't get the better of Banks, though, it shapes up as a difficult evening for the Deacons.

Keep up with the latest college football news from around the country. From the regular season all the way through the bowl games, CBSSports.com has you covered with this daily newsletter. | Preview

Posted on: December 29, 2011 2:04 pm
Edited on: December 29, 2011 2:05 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Music City Bowl

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

WAKE FOREST WILL WIN IF: they can control the Mississippi State ground game. The Bulldogs have never been comfortable throwing the ball under Dan Mullen, and it showed again in 2011; in the six games in which State threw for 30 or more yards more than they gained on the ground, they finished 1-5, with the only win coming against hapless Kentucky. In the six outings in which they ran more yards than they threw or approached a 50-50 balance, they went 5-1. That might not be particularly good news for a Demon Deacon defense that ranked 70th in the country in stopping the run and finished the season giving up 175 rushing yards or more to six of their final seven opponents; the last of those was State's SEC colleagues from Vanderbilt, who racked up a whopping 297 yards on 5.4 a pop in their 41-7 win. But State's rush offense wasn't quite its usual dominant self in 2011, finishing 45th in the FBS, and in dynamic sophomore nose tackle Nikita Whitlock and senior linebacker Kyle Wilber, Wake has some of the pieces necessary to slow the Bulldogs down. If they don't, it's going to be as long an evening as it was for Wake vs. the Commodores.
  MISSISSIPPI STATE WILL WIN IF: their secondary does to quarterback Tanner Price and the Wake passing attack what it's capable of doing to it. Throwing the ball is the only thing the Demon Deacons do particularly well from a statistical standpoint -- between rush, pass and total offense and rush, pass, and total defense, their 37th-ranked pass offense is the only category in which they finished better than 70th in the FBS -- but unfortunately for Wake, stopping those throws is what the Bulldogs do best. Led by All-SEC-caliber corner* Johnthan Banks and a pair of sharp senior safeties in Charles Mitchell and Wade Bonner, the Bulldogs finished 23rd nationally in pass defense and held opponents to just 6.1 yards an attempt--the 11th-best mark in the FBS. If the Bulldog secondary lives up to those numbers and bottles up Price and Co., it's all-but-impossible to see the Demon Deacons putting up enough points to win.

THE X-FACTOR: Whether or not Mississippi State will be as focused as they could be. The Bulldogs came into 2011 with higher expectations than 6-6 and the Music City Bowl, and nothing they do against the Demon Deacons will keep their 2011 campaign from being a legitimate disappointment. Mullen almost certainly has a better, more talented team than Jim Grobe, but Grobe has pulled off plenty of upsets over better, more talented teams in his Wake career, and if State isn't ready to play there's no reason they can't be his latest victim.

*In most leagues, or maybe even most years in the SEC, Banks would have been all-conference. But this year he shared a league with Dre Kirkpatrick, Tyrann Mathieu, Morris Claiborne and Casey Hayward. So it goes.

Keep up with the latest college football news from around the country. From the regular season all the way through the bowl games, CBSSports.com has you covered with this daily newsletter. | Preview
Posted on: December 7, 2011 8:24 pm
Edited on: December 7, 2011 11:53 pm
 

CBSSports.com 2011 All-SEC team

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

The season has wrapped, the bowl games are set and it's time to hand out some awards. As part of CBSSports.com's look at the regular season, here is the best of the SEC.

Awards

OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR 

Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama. No SEC player was more electrifying to watch on a weekly basis than the Tide workhorse, whose raw strength and unmatched determination could turn an average four-yard gain (usually into the teeth of half the opposing defense) into must-see TV. Of course, the elusive, explosive 70-plus-yard bursts -- like his showstoppers against Ole Miss and Auburn -- weren't too shabby, either. Few have ever combined those gifts like Richardson, and no one in the SEC was any better this season.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU. Claiborne wasn't just the best one-on-one man-coverage corner we saw this season, bar-none, SEC or elsewhere--he might have been the best defender we saw this season, SEC or elsewhere. By erasing his side of the field (except for those lone occasions when he was tested and -- as AJ McCarron found out -- usually ready to make a pick), Claiborne set the tone for the best secondary in the country and played arguably the biggest role of any LSU defender in getting the Tigers to the national title game.

COACH OF THE YEAR

Les Miles, LSU. James Franklin 
has earned legitimate consideration for his work at Vanderbilt. But when you look at not only the juggernaut constructed by Miles in Baton Rouge but his ability in steering it through the storms of the preseason bar fight incident, suspensions, and quarterback controversy, there's not really any other choice to make in this slot.

FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR

Brad Wing, P, LSU. A punter, over a running back like Isaiah Crowell? When we're talking about the nation's third-best net punting average for a No. 1-ranked prfect-record team that thrived on field position, you bet. That Wing's best two games came at the best possible times -- at Alabama and vs. Georgia in Atlanta -- makes his selection even easier.

Offense

QUARTERBACK

Tyler Wilson, Jr., Arkansas. It was far from a banner year for quarterbacking in the SEC -- only three teams were even able to keep the same starter for all 12 games -- but you wouldn't know it from watching Wilson, whose 3,422 passing yards led the league by nearly 600 yards. No team in the conference was more dependent on their quarterback, but despite taking frequent poundings behind a suspect line Wilson repaid that faith to the tune of a 10-2 record.

Honorable mention: Georgia's Aaron Murray led the league with 33 touchdowns and was the East champions' clearcut best offensive player, but his 12 interceptions were also an SEC high. AJ McCarron struggled for Alabama in the LSU showdown but still finished the year with an SEC-best QB rating and that spot in the BCS title game.

RUNNING BACK

Trent Richardson, Jr., Alabama. It won't win him the Heisman Trophy, but Richardson's brilliant 2011 season -- 1,583 yards, 23 total touchdowns, an eye-popping 6.0 per-carry average despite a league-high 263 carries, and more highlight-reel runs than any running back in the country -- deserves to have cemented his status among the SEC's all-time backfield greats. Not even his predecessor Mark Ingram was ever better.

Michael Dyer, Soph., Auburn. The only back besides Richardson to average more than 100 yards per SEC game, Dyer was often the only thing the sputtering Auburn offense had going for it--and he still finished with 1,242 yards while averaging better than 5 yards a carry.

Honorable mention: Vanderbilt's Zac Stacy quietly enjoyed a breakout season as the league's second-most explosive back behind Richardson, scoring 13 touchdowns and averaging 6.2 yards a carry.

WIDE RECEIVER

Jarius Wright, Sr. Arkansas. Though not the most heralded of the Hogs' star-studded receiving corps entering the season, Wright quickly established himself as Wilson's go-to receiver and arguably the league's top wideout, finishing in the SEC's top two in receptions (63), yards (1,029), touchdowns (11), and average per reception (16.3).

Da'Rick Rogers, Soph., Tennessee. Like Wright, Rogers was supposed to take a back seat to fellow Vol wideout Justin Hunter. But when Hunter went down with an ACL injury in Week 3, Hunter stepped forward to lead the SEC with 1,040 receiving yards and 67 receptions--despite often being the woeful Volunteer offense's only threatening playmaker.

Rueben Randle, Jr., LSU. Rather than take a tight end, we're promoting a third receiver to our first team to make room for the SEC's biggest downfield threat. Randle caught "only" 50 passes (fourth in the conference) but saw eight of them go for touchdowns and averaged 18.1 yards per completion, making him one of only three BCS-conference receivers nationally to clear both 50 total catches and 18 yards a reception.

Honorable mention: If we'd gone with a tight end, Georgia's Orson Charles (44 receptions, 572 yards, 5 TDs) would have been an easy choice. Alshon Jeffery didn't have anything like the All-American season expected of him at South Carolina, but he was still the only receiver outside Wright, Rogers, and Randle to finish in the league's top seven in receptions, yards, and touchdowns.

OFFENSIVE LINE

OT/OG Barrett Jones, Sr., Alabama. Whether at guard or tackle, Jones was hands-down one of the nation's best offensive linemen and a deserving All-American who's about to become quite the wealthy individual in the NFL. An easy selection.

OG Will Blackwell, Sr., LSU. The league's best prototype guard this season, Blackwell punished opponents in run blocking and played a major role in LSU's weekly second-half bulldozings on the ground.

C William Vlachos, Sr., Alabama. The SEC's best center, Vlachos put both his considerable strength and veteran guile to use in leading Alabama to the SEC's most productive rushing attack.

OT Alex Hurst, Sr., LSU. As effective as the LSU ground game was, the line also had to give Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson time to uncork those bombs to Randle. And thanks in large part to senior tackle Hurst, they did; the Tigers allowed the fewest sacks in the SEC.

OT Rokevious Watkins, Sr., South Carolina. Even without Marcus Lattimore, the Gamecocks averaged more yards per-carry and scored more rushing touchdowns than any team in the league outside of Alabama and LSU, and the much-improved Watkins was a huge reason why.

Honorable mention: Both Georgia tackle Cordy Glenn and center Ben Jones had strong senior campaigns (following) iffier junior seasons and have strong arguments for first-team inclusion. Kentucky never got anything going on offense, but guard Larry Warford was a bright spot.

ALL-PURPOSE

PR/WR/KR Joe Adams, Sr., Arkansas. Instead of reading this comment or looking up his stats, just watch this video:
 

Defense

DEFENSIVE LINE

DE Melvin Ingram, Sr, South Carolina. His 13.5 sacks and 8.5 sacks -- both among the SEC's top five totals -- might have been enough anyway. Add in his two defensive touchdowns, critical fake punt touchdown rumble vs. Georgia, and skill at kick-blocking, and he's a total no-brainer.

DT Josh Chapman, Sr., Alabama. When you're the nose tackle that anchors a run defense that not only finishes No. 1 in the nation but allows an unbelievable three rushing touchdowns all season, yes, you've had quite the campaign.

DT Malik Jackson, Sr., Tennessee. Don't hold the Vols' poor team numbers (or record) against Jackson; the ever-active veteran finished with 11 tackles-for-loss (second among SEC tackles) despite receiving constant attention from opposing offensive lines.

DE Sam Montgomery, Soph., LSU. Picking the best LSU defensive lineman is like picking which cast member of Arrested Development How I Met Your Mother is your favorite, but we'll go with Montgomery, who combined incredible disruption (9 sacks, 13 tackles-for-loss) with stout down-to-down run defense.

Honorable mention: Mississippi State's Fletcher Cox led all SEC tackles in tackles-for-loss with 12.5 and Auburn's Corey Lemonier led all SEC ends with 9.5 sacks; both deserve a tip of the cap.

LINEBACKERS

Jarvis Jones, Soph., Georgia. Todd Grantham's 3-4 system made a star out of Justin Houston a year ago, but it paid even bigger dividends for Jones, who led the SEC in both tackles-for-loss and sacks and his Georgia defense -- one of the nation's best -- in tackles overall.

Courtney Upshaw, Sr., Alabama. Of the many terrors in the Tide linebacking corps, Upshaw may have been the biggest, collecting 17.5 tackles-for-loss, 8.5 sacks, and as much general havoc caused as any player in the country.

Danny Trevathan, Sr., Kentucky. No SEC player filled the whirling-dervish tackling-machine middle linebacker role better than the veteran Wildcat, who led the league in tackles for a second straight year and seemed to be three or four places at once late in the season.

Honorable mention: We're pretty sure that Crimson Tide inside linebacker Dont'a Hightower makes the first team in any other league in the nation; given the Tide's unreal rushing defense numbers and Hightower's role in them, we won't argue if you want to put him first in this league, too.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

CB Dre Kirkpatrick, Jr., Alabama. Much as we've talked up Alabama's run defense, the Tide's pass defense was No. 1, too, and Kirkpatrick was the best player in pass coverage Nick Saban had in 2011--quite the accomplishment considering the competition.

CB Morris Claiborne, Jr., LSU. As much as we admire Claiborne's mustelid teammate in the LSU secondary, Claiborne's outrageous cover-corner skills means that if forced to pick one or the other to build our secondary (or team) around, we don't even have to think very long before taking Claiborne.

S Mark Barron, Sr., Alabama. Ho-hum, just another All-American season as the leader of the nation's top pass defense and the second-leading tackler on the nation's top rush defense.

CB/S Tyrann Mathieu, Soph., LSU. The Honey Badger is a tad overrated as a corner--which is why he wound up playing safety late in the year when Eric Reid suffered an injury. But it's pretty much impossible to overrate his nose for the ball or knack for the big play, which stands alone as the best in the nation.

Honorable mention: Casey Hayward and his five interceptions (and outstanding ball skills) for Vandy could and maybe should have him in the All-American discussion ... but since this is the SEC secondary we're talking about, he's here. The same goes for Georgia safety Bacarri Rambo and LSU's Reid, and though not quite in that class, Mississippi State corner Johnthan Banks had a season worth mentioning as well.

SPECIALISTS

P Brad Wing, rFr., LSU. We're assuming the Ray Guy Award voters left him off because they expected to simply hand the thing over each of the next two seasons.

PK Caleb Sturgis, Jr. Florida. His 21-of-25 season was a rare positive for the Gators in difficult season.
Posted on: December 5, 2011 4:55 pm
Edited on: December 5, 2011 4:57 pm
 

Richardson, Mathieu headline AP All-SEC team

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

The Associated Press has released its selections for the 2011 All-SEC team, with Alabama running back Trent Richardson named the league's Offensive Player of the Year and Tyrann Mathieu the Defensive Player of the Year. Les Miles was unsurprisingly named the SEC Coach of the Year and Isaiah Crowell the Freshman of the Year.

Here's the full first and second teams ("u" signaling a unanimous choice), with some commentary after:
FIRST TEAM

Offense


WR — Jarius Wright, Arkansas, 5-10, 180, Sr.
WR — Da'Rick Rogers, Tennessee, 6-3, 215, So.
L — u-Barrett Jones, Alabama, 6-5, 311, Jr.
L — Will Blackwell, LSU, 6-4, 290, Sr.
L — Cordy Glenn, Georgia, 6-5, 348, Sr.
L — Rokevious Watkins, South Carolina, 6-4, 340, Sr.
C — William Vlachos, Alabama, 6-1, 294, Sr.
TE — Orson Charles, Georgia, 6-3, 241, Jr.
QB — Tyler Wilson, Arkansas, 6-3, 220, Jr.
RB — u-Trent Richardson, Alabama, 5-11, 224, Jr.
RB — Michael Dyer, Auburn, 5-9, 210, So.
K — Caleb Sturgis, Florida, 5-11, 183, Jr.

All-Purpose — Joe Adams, Arkansas, 5-11, 190, Sr.

Defense

T — Fletcher Cox, Mississippi State, 6-4, 295, Jr.
T — Malik Jackson, Tennessee, 6-5, 270, Sr.
E — Melvin Ingram, South Carolina, 6-2, 276, Sr.
E — Sam Montgomery, LSU, 6-4, 245, So.
LB — u-Jarvis Jones, Georgia, 6-3, 241, So.
LB — Danny Trevathan, Kentucky, 6-1, 232, Sr.
LB — Courtney Upshaw, Alabama, 6-2, 265, Sr.
CB — u-Tyrann Mathieu, LSU, 5-9, 175, So.
CB — Morris Claiborne, LSU, 6-0, 185, Jr.
S — Mark Barron, Alabama, 6-2, 218, Sr.
S — Bacarri Rambo, Georgia, 6-0, 218, Jr.
P — Brad Wing, LSU, 6-3, 184, Fr.

SECOND TEAM

Offense


WR — Rueben Randle, LSU, 6-4, 208, Jr.
WR — Alshon Jeffrey, South Carolina, 6-4, 229, Jr.
L — Chris Faulk, LSU, 6-6, 325, So.
L — Alvin Bailey, Arkansas, 6-5, 319, So.
L — Larry Warford, Kentucky, 6-3, 336, Jr.
L — Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State, 6-4, 320, So.
C — Ben Jones, Georgia, 6-3, 316, Sr.
TE — Philip Lutzenkirchen, Auburn, 6-5, 250, Jr.
QB — Aaron Murray, Georgia, 6-1, 211, So.
RB — Zac Stacy, Vanderbilt, 5-9, 208, Jr.
RB — Vick Ballard, Mississippi St., 5-11, 220, Sr.
K — Drew Alleman, LSU, 5-11, 183, Jr.

All-Purpose — Dennis Johnson, Arkansas, 5-9, 213, Jr.

Defense

T — Josh Chapman, Alabama, 6-1, 310, Sr.
T — Michael Brockers, LSU, 6-6, 306, So.
E — Corey Lemonier, Auburn, 6-4, 240, So.
E — Barkevious Mingo, LSU, 6-5, 240, So.
LB — Dont'A Hightower, Alabama, 6-4, 260, Jr.
LB — Chris Marve, Vanderbilt, 6-0, 242, Sr.
LB — Jerry Franklin, Arkansas, 6-1, 245, Sr.
CB — Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama, 6-3, 192, Jr.
CB — Casey Hayward, Vanderbilt, 5-11, 188, Sr.
S — Antonio Allen, South Carolina, 6-2, 202, Sr.
S — Eric Reid, LSU, 6-2, 208, So.
P — Dylan Breeding, Arkansas, 6-1, 211, Jr. 
Our thoughts:

The linebackers in this conference are pretty good. If you didn't know it already, we'd think seeing Dont'a Hightower -- a Butkus Award finalist -- reduced to a second-teamer would be proof enough.

How do you solve a problem like Tyrann? The kind of season Mathieu has enjoyed clearly deserves to see him named a first-team All-SEC player ... but if we're strictly talking about who we'd take to play cornerback, we'd go with either second team player (Alabama's excellent Dre Kirkpatrick or Vanderbilt's Casey Hayward) over the Honey Badger, whose strengths lie more in his unparalleled knack for the big play and ferocious run support rather than one-on-one coverage. If we're in charge, we either drop one of the safeties for Kirkpatrick and simply name three corners, or we assign Mathieu to the all-purpose role.

Not always about the numbers. Nothing against Fletcher Cox or Malik Jackson, who each had oustanding seasons for Mississippi State and Tennessee, respectively. But given that this is the conference boasting both the No. 1 and No. 3 rush defenses in the country, it's something of a surprise to see both first-team interior defensive linemen come from teams. Alabama's Josh Chapman, in particular, didn't rack up many tackles or sacks but was the rock-solid anchor that paced the Tide rush defense to their top-ranked billing.

Sorry, Rueben. Can we just add a third wideout to the first team? LSU's Rueben Randle doesn't have the overall numbers of either of the first team receivers, but no wideout in the league was a more consistent, more dangerous downfield threat than Randle, as his 18-yard average per reception illustrates. As with Hightower, we're not sure who we'd drop from the first team, but Randle's nonetheless had a full All-SEC caliber season.

Nope, still scratching our heads. Certainly Auburn punter Steve Clark had a fine year. But we were nonetheless more than a little surprised when he was named a Ray Guy Award finalist, and it looks like the AP voters were, too; they've gone with LSU's impeccable Brad Wing first-team and Arkansas's Dylan Breeding for the second.
Posted on: November 2, 2011 5:22 pm
Edited on: November 3, 2011 1:58 pm
 

LSU-Alabama Daily, Nov. 2: Unsung impact players

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Counting down to LSU-Alabama with a daily dose of analysis and news.




DAYS REMAINING TO KICKOFF: 3, or .6 yards less than Alabama outgains their opponents on an average play; the difference between their 6.8 yards gained per-play and 3.2 allowed is the widest in the nation. LSU's per-play margin checks in at an impressive +1.6 (5.6 offensive, 4.0 defensive), and it's worth noting that that number has come against a tougher schedule than Alabama's ... though that 2.0-yard gap between the teams is still, statistically speaking, an enormous one (and explains why the Tide have been established as the Vegas favorite). 3 is also the number worn by Tide freshman DB/LB Vinnie Sunseri, and that Richardson kid everyone's always going on about.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: We know about the stars on both teams. But of course not every player who'll make an impact on the game will be a star. Who are some of the under-the-radar players that could/should shine Saturday?

Before we answer that, let's note that when we say there are stars on both teams, we mean it. Take a look over this excellent breakdown of the two teams' NFL draft prospects by CBSSports.com draft analyst Rob Rang, and it's obvious that -- despite a light crop of NFL prospects in the Tigers' senior class -- what's "crystal clear as the BCS trophy is that Alabama and LSU are loaded," as Rang writes.

(Maybe the most interesting nugget from Rang's piece? That LSU's Morris Claiborne is "arguably the elite cover corner in the SEC." Wonder what Dre Kirkpatrick, Casey Hayward and even LSU teammate Tyrann Mathieu would say about that.)

But as much fun as it is to discuss the Trent Richardsons and Rueben Randles of the world, we know there's always 22 players on the field and better than 80 on each roster. Saturday's game won't be decided by the draftable athletes alone. So here's three players from each team whose impact could outshine their press clippings:

Alabama

Anthony Steen, RG.
Steen took some heat from Tide fans after struggling mightily with Nick Fairley during his team's collapse from 24-0 ahead in the 2010 Iron Bowl, but the sophomore has rebounded nicely to help the Alabama running game reestablish itself as one of the best in the nation. If Steen can show exactly how much he's improved by handling LSU's powerful tackle tandem of Michael Brockers and Anthony Johnson, the Tide will have taken a big step towards keeping that run game going.

Jesse Williams, DT. The Australian native and former JUCO standout (pictured at left) took a bit to find his feet in Tuscaloosa, but has come on in recent weeks and played a major part in stuffing Arkansas with five tackles overall and two for loss. If he shows similar big-game flair Saturday, LSU will have a tough time moving the ball on the ground.

DeQuan Menzie, CB. The de facto fifth Beatle of the Tide secondary, Menzie will no doubt have just as much to do as his more celebrated teammates, whether it's helping on Randle, gang-tackling Spencer Ware or Michael Ford, or tracking the likes of Odell Beckham Jr. The way Jarrett Lee has been playing, if Menzie plays like a weak link in the Tide defensive backfield, the Tigers will take advantage.

LSU

Odell Beckham Jr., WR. Speaking of the true freshman Beckham, Randle can't be the only legitimate threat in the Tiger receiving corps or Barron and Co. will squeeze him out of the game. Beckham (right) and tight end DeAngelo Peterson must make their presence felt.

Will Blackwell, RG. Moving the Tide's front seven out of the holes needed for the LSU running game won't be easy, but if any of the LSU linemen are up to it, it's got to be the agile 6'4", 303-pound senior. It's going to take both power and guile to maintain any running consistency vs. the Tide front, and we like Blackwell's combination of those qualities as much as anyone's on the LSU front.

Kevin Minter, LB. We mentioned two days ago that the LSU linebacking corps hasn't been quite as special as most of the other units on the team, but that doesn't mean this fast-rising sophomore and fellow 'backer Ryan Baker don't have the potential to rise up and play over their heads. They may have to to keep Richardson in check.

THE LATEST HERE AT CBSSPORTS.COM: In addition to Rang's draft breakdown, there's a metric ton of cool LSU-Alabama content here at CBSSports.com. Dennis Dodd has taken a look at the LSU defense under John Chavis and Bruce Feldman the Tide's linebacker-driven D. Bryan Fischer has profiled LSU's budding 2012 recruiting class with Alabama due the get the same treatment at Eye on Recruiting later Wednesday. The Free Bruce Podcast Wednesday with Feldman previewed the game with special guest Paul Finebaum. And here's CBS Sports Network's Jason Horowitz and Spencer Tillman offering their takes on the game:



Tide fans, though, will want to make sure they read Tony Barnhart's Q&A with Nick Saban, as well as watching the video of the interview below:



THE LATEST FROM TUSCALOOSA: We've got some bad news for LSU: Dont'a Hightower says that the Bryant-Denny Stadium crowd has already shown itself capable of hampering opposing offenses ... and maybe even the Tide's own?

"They did an excellent job at Tennessee," Hightower said. "Even when our offense was on the field, they were so loud I couldn’t really hear or know what Coach (Kirby) Smart was saying." That's quite the accomplishment, and considering that the crowd should be much livelier for a game it knows could propel their Tide into the BCS national championship ... well, let's just say we're hoping LSU has practiced their silent counts.

Is Richardson not the only Heisman candidate on the Tide roster? Center William Vlachos revealed Tuesday that he, too, has received a Heisman vote ... from Heisman winner and former Tide star Mark Ingram. "Seriously," Vlachos said. "Seriously." We believe you, William.

Also: Saban compares telling his players to ignore the hype to setting down ground rules for a son or daughter's date ... Williams talks about his tradition of painting his face for games ... Duron Carter is playing the part of Jordan Jefferson in practice ... Richardson says Mathieu is a "tremendous player."

THE LATEST FROM BATON ROUGE: Apparently it's not just the Tigers' Australian punter Brad Wing who could use a crash course in the history of their opponent this week; end Sam Montgomery admitted Tuesday he thought of Bear Bryant as a Tide player and said "I don't know anything" about the Alabama legend. We might chalk this up as some kind of odd smack talk if Montgomery didn't also admit to not recognizing Steve Spurrier when the Ol' Ball Coach paid Montgomery's high school a recruiting visit.

We already gave you Saban, so here's Les Miles talking to Tim Brando about the game:



Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal and Alabama governor Robert Bentley have made the politicians' traditional food-based bet on the game, with Bentley offering a Tuscaloosa sandwich shop's "13 National Championships BLT" (with 13 strips of bacon) vs. Jindal's Louisiana seafood dinner. Frankly, as much as we like bacon, we think Bentley's coming out a bit ahead here. But Jindal sonds by far the more confident of the two.

“He (Bentley) is a nice man and a good friend,“ Jindal said. “But we expect to beat them and treat them badly. We will not be gracious guests.“ Oh snap!

Also: Miles suggests his team ignore their social media for a week, saying "we needed no Twitter personalities in this game" ... Mathieu, speaking publicly for the first time since his suspension for the Auburn game, says he "let a lot of people down ... Miles said that Jefferson will "play a key role" and be "oiled up and ready."


Posted on: October 16, 2011 2:42 am
 

SEC Winners and Losers, Week 7


Posted by Jerry Hinnen

A handy recap of who (and what) really won and really lost in the SEC's Week 6.

WINNER: Trent Richardson. On a day when the SEC failed mightily to produce anything resembling a classic game -- of the league's five matchups, two were won in overpowering fashion by its resident pair of 500-pound gorillas, and the other three were all varying degrees of "slopfest" -- Richardson nonetheless delivered a classic performance. The career highs in yards (183 yards) and touchdowns (four) were nice, but lots of running backs can amass gaudy numbers. What made Richardson's night special was the fury with which he punished Ole Miss's defenders on his runs between the tackles, and then the startling elusiveness he flashed once he found the open field; this juke is going to be a staple of highlight reels for weeks to come. The statistic that best reflects Richardson's night? The 11.2 yards he averaged across his relatively meager 19 touches.

With Marcus Lattimore going down with an injury today (more on this in a moment) and Tyrann Mathieu having a quiet day by his standards despite the total domination shown by his LSU secondary (1 pass broken up, 1 tackle, nothing in special teams), Richardson is now the SEC's far-and-away most viable Heisman candidate. And if the Ole Miss game is any indication, his campaign might just be getting warmed up.

LOSER: the SEC East. Thanks to the decline of Mississippi State, the East's record vs. the West isn't quite as lopsided as it was last year. But that doesn't mean the top of the division is any stronger than it was last year; based on the evidence of Saturday, it's even worse. South Carolina scored a total of two touchdowns while wheezing their way to a four-point win over a State team in offensive disarray. Georgia collected four turnovers from Vanderbilt and outgained the 'Dores by nearly 100 yards and still came within one Hail Mary off a receiver's hands from losing in Nashville. And Florida gained all of 194 yards against the nation's 105th-ranked defense at Auburn. Sure, the East champion won't have a prayer against LSU or Alabama, but with two of its title contenders having already lost to Gene Chizik's team and the third barely any less convincing-looking, the East champion might not even be any better than fifth-place in the West. Still.

WINNER: Ted Roof. After his Tiger defense was eviscerated for more than 1,150 yards in just two weeks by Mississippi State and Clemson, Roof was the most unpopular person on the Plains this side of Harvey Updyke. But thanks to the rapid maturation of players like sophomore defensive end Corey Lemonier (three tackles-for-loss, two sacks, four QB hurries vs. Florida) and sophomore cornerback Chris Davis (five tackles, one pass breakup), Roof's unit suddenly looks in much better shape than celebrated coordinating counterpart Gus Malzahn's--and was largely responsible for both Auburn's win in South Carolina and over Florida Saturday. The Gators' quarterbacking woes no doubt helped, but short, quick running backs like Chris Rainey have given Roof's defenses fits in the past. In the present, Rainey was bottled up to the tune of just 33 yards on 16 carries.

LOSER: South Carolina's offense. Let's get the obvious out of the way first: if Lattimore's injury keeps him out for any extended length of time, that's a massive, massive blow for the Gamecocks. Players of the big sophomore's ability simply aren't replaceable in midseason (if ever), and Carolina doesn't have much depth behind Lattimore to begin with; his substitute against the Bulldogs was true freshman Brandon Wilds, who entered the game with all of eight career carries. 

But there's even more worries for Steve Spurrier past his running back situation. Connor Shaw's explosive performance against Kentucky looked like a mirage after he threw for an average of just 5.5 yards on his 28 attempts, with two interceptions; his banged-up offensive line opened holes for just 2.6 yards a carry, two weeks after Lattimore averaged less than 4 vs. Auburn; and Alshon Jeffery continues to be nearly invisible, collecting the game-winning TD vs. State but just four other receptions for all of 20 yards. If Spurrier can't fix things -- and likely do it without Lattimore -- his team may not win again until the Citadel visits on Nov. 19.

WINNER: Rueben Randle. Is anyone happier about Jarrett Lee's late-career renaissance than LSU's No. 1 receiver? The former five-star struggled to make an impact his first two years in Baton Rouge, but with Lee at the controls Randle has become one of the league's biggest deep threats. After 5 more receptions for 86 yards and a score against Tennessee, Randle is averaging an even 19 yards per reception--the best mark in the SEC for any receiver with more than 20 catches for the year.

LOSERS: Anyone who tuned away from Georgia-Vanderbilt. Though it was too sloppy by half to qualify as a good game, the ending of Bulldogs-Commodores was as wild as any game in the SEC this season. Up 33-28, the Dawgs drove deep into Vandy territory and looked to have the game salted away before Aaron Murray was picked off by Casey Hayward at the Vandy 2 with 2:30 to play. But Jordan Rodgers was only able to drive the 'Dores to their own 25 before being picked off himself with 1:10 left. The Bulldogs weren't able to run out the entire clock, though, and had their punt blocked, almost returned for a game-winning touchdown, and eventually recovered by Vandy at the Bulldog 20 with 7 seconds left. Rodgers' Hail Mary hit a falling Chris Boyd in the hands, but Boyd was unable to bring it in, and one final desperation play fell short ... after which Vandy head coach James Franklin and Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham nearly sparked a brawl by angrily yelling at each other at midfield. 

Not a bad bit of drama for a game the few people who were watching potentially turned off once Georgia went up 33-21 early in the fourth quarter.

LOSERS: Gamblers who took South Carolina to cover the 3.5 points against Mississippi State. The Gamecocks' voluntary safety on the final play of the game -- reducing a four-point margin to two and flipping the result of the game against the spread -- cost worldwide bettors as much as $30 million, according to one report. We're skeptical the numbers for your run-of-the-mill SEC game run quite that high, but we'd still advise Spurrier not to walk down any dark alleys this week.

WINNERS: Hearts belonging to fans of Alabama and LSU. While fans in Columbia and Auburn and Athens and Starkville have all had their turns reaching for the blood pressure medication (Auburn's more than once), those in Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge haven't had to worry. After winning their two games Saturday by a combined 90-14 score, the Tide and Tigers have now won their eight total SEC games by an average score of 37-8. The closest call? LSU's 19-6 "escape" at Mississippi State, which at the time was viewed as a disappointment for the Bulldogs.

Now, we're wondering if maybe they ought to put up a plaque to commemorate the achievement.


Posted on: October 8, 2011 10:34 pm
Edited on: October 8, 2011 10:36 pm
 

QUICK HITS: No. 2 Alabama 34, Vanderbilt 0

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

ALABAMA WON: Congratulations to Vanderbilt for their two long first-half drives, possessions that at one point gave them an almost-unthinkable 142-116 yardage advantage over the co-national title favorites. But once both those drives ended in missed field goals, there was only one final outcome. (Actually, there was only one outcome even if they'd been made, but things would have been somewhat more interesting.) Trent Richardson overcame a slow start to finish with 107 yards and a touchdown.

WHY ALABAMA WON: That it was Alabama playing Vanderbilt in Tuscaloosa is, really, all the analysis you need. But the game might have amounted to more of a competitive contest if AJ McCarron didn't have his best day yet throwing the ball for the Crimson Tide. The Vanderbilt secondary is legitimately one of the best in the SEC, if not the country -- corner Casey Hayward deserves some All-American consideration, if we're any judge -- and McCarron still finished his night completing 23-of-30 for 237 yards, 4 touchdowns and no interceptions. 

That last fact is no doubt what Nick Saban will come away happiest about (especially against an overmatched opponent like the 'Dores), but the rest of us can applaud the third of those touchdowns, a pretty 39-yarder to DeAndrew White. 

WHEN ALABAMA WON: Since "when the team bus successfully navigated its way to the stadium" isn't a fair answer, we'll say when Carey Spear missed the second of those two aforementioned field goals, a 38-yarder with 4:18 to play in the second quarter and the 'Dores still trailing just 7-0. The Commodore sideline visibly wilted seeing 7 plays and 59 yards' worth of work come to nothing, and the Tide's touchdown just before the half was the proverbial nail in the coffin.

WHAT ALABAMA WON: There isn't really anything to win in a home game against the Commodores, but the Tide likely avoided losing any momentum in the polls (such as theirs is as they bump up against the LSU-Oklahoma ceiling), didn't suffer any major injuries, and saw their quarterback play his best game of the year. We doubt anyone in T-Town is complaining.

WHAT VANDERBILT LOST: Starting quarterback Larry Smith left the game with an injury, but even that doesn't seem so bad after backup Jordan Rodgers performed admirably given the circumstances (11-of-18 and that 59-yard drive). Certainly James Franklin would have liked to have kept things more competitive, but this just isn't the kind of game by which his team's improvement should be measured.


Posted on: September 18, 2011 1:44 am
 

What I Learned in the SEC, Week 3

Posted by Jerry Hinnen


Until proven otherwise, yes, Arkansas is a step behind LSU and Alabama. Thursday, the Bayou Bengals put together what we'd confidently call the most impressive defensive performance by any FBS team this season. Saturday, well, Alabama didn't do a whole lot in their 41-0 workout against North Texas. But we know what the Tide are capable of with that defense, as the previous week's throttling of Penn State proved.

But Arkansas? Their Saturday performance against Troy might be the first one by any of the consensus top three teams in the West you could legitimately describe as "disappointing." After scrimmages against FCS Missouri State and FBS-in-name-only New Mexico, the Trojans were the first Hog opponent of the year capable of doing much more than meekly rolling over ... and Troy did much more than that in Fayetteville, rolling to 457 total yards (three more than the Hogs) and cutting a 31-7 deficit to 31-21 midway through the third quarter. Bobby Petrino's teams made major mistakes on both sides of the ball, turning it over three times on offense -- including a pick-six from Tyler Wilson -- and allowing the Trojans seven plays of 20 yards or more.

It might be just a one-week fluke; it might be the Hogs looking ahead to next week's showdown against the Tide; it might be something more serious. Whatever it is, it's the kind of sloppiness we haven't seen yet from the Tide or Tigers--and reason enough to doubt the Hogs can upset the LSU-Alabama apple cart until they do.

Florida is a frightening, frightening football team. The old adage says that to win in the SEC, you have to run and stop the run, and everything else will take care of itself. So maybe it's time to start taking the Gators as a serious conference contender--and not just on the East divisional side of things. Defensively, Will Muschamp's team held Tennessee to minus-9 yards on the ground and their tailbacks to less than two yards a carry; offensively, they netted 134 themselves with Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey averaging 5 yards an attempt.

No doubt there will be stronger running games to shut down and stronger front sevens to run against down the road. But as long as Florida stays anywhere near this productive on the ground, their hat will remain in the ring.

Houston Nutt is on the hottest seat in the SEC. It's one thing to lose to Vanderbilt; the Commodores don't do it often, but occasionally they do leap up like those crocodiles in a Discovery Channel documentary about African water holes and drag some unsuspecting SEC wildebeest into the mud. And with James Franklin having instilled a stunning amount of confidence in the downtrodden 'Dores and NFL-bound corner Casey Hayward leading one of the league's best secondaries (one that now has three pick-sixes in three weeks), that's an occurrence you can expect to happen more often.

But to lose to Vandy 30-7? To go without a single point against Vandy for 57 minutes? To be outgained by the 'Dores by 153 yards? There's no other word for it than "embarrassment," one that without question ranks along the very lowest points of the Ed Orgeron era. Nutt's biggest misstep has been his butchering of the Rebel quarterback situation; after waffling all offseason between Randall Mackey and Barry Brunetti, Nutt seemed to settle on JUCO Zack Stoudt against BYU on little more than a whim. Stoudt responded by fumbling away that game, then topping himself with five interceptions Saturday in Nashville.

With the Rebel offense in total disarray and what seems like the team's only potential SEC win on the road (at Kentucky in November), an Oregeron-esque 0-8 mark in the conference -- and a 2-10 or 3-9 overall record -- is entirely in play. And as much support as Nutt earned in his back-to-back Cotton Bowl seasons, last year's loss to Jacksonville State and Saturday's horrorshow has burned through virtually all of it with the Rebel fanbase ... and maybe even Nutt's boss. When Georgia comes to Oxford next week, Mark Richt will clearly need a win in almost the worst possible way. But we'd argue Nutt will, somehow, need one even more badly.

Auburn's defense is even worse than it should be. Yes, the Tigers are ridiculously, fatally young. Yes, Clemson is loaded with explosive playmakers that will give more veteran units fits, too. Yes, the up-tempo nature of Gus Malzahn's offense --particularly when it struggles, as it did for the final two-and-a-half quarters Saturday -- puts a hefty portion of extra pressure on that defense.

But that's still no excuse for numbers like Clemson's 14-of-18 mark on third-down conversions or 624 total yards, numbers far beyond what Dabo Swinney's squad managed against either Troy or Wofford. While Ted Roof is public enemy No. 1 among Auburn fans right now, Gene Chizik also has some questions to answer. As many, many positive things as he's done at Auburn (for which he's rarely received enough credit), Chizik also has yet to translate the acumen that made him such a successful assistant into any kind of defensive consistency on the Plains.

South Carolina hasn't put it together yet. A week after edging Georgia as much on Georgia's fatal mistakes as the Gamecocks' own play, Carolina needed a last-minute stop to hold off Navy. The talent in Columbia demands that the Gamecocks remain the SEC East favorites, but they haven't played like it yet.

Kentucky's bowl streak is in serious, serious jeopardy. With the Wildcats unable to overcome an inexperienced Louisville team in Lexington, it's a difficult, difficult thing to find four more wins on the UK schedule. Jacksonville State, you'd hope. Home to Ole Miss, sure. And after that? Best of luck, Joker Phillips.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com