Posted on: October 19, 2011 2:42 pm
Edited on: October 19, 2011 9:05 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Reports out of Baton Rouge are that Tyrann Mathieu's Heisman campaign is about to hit a major speed bump--and that his team may be about to have a more difficult time with visiting Auburn Saturday than initially thought.
According to the Associated Press, a "person familiar with the decision" has indicated that Mathieu is one of three players who will be suspended for (at the minimum) LSU's game against the visiting Tigers this Saturday. Also due to sit is starting tailback and leading rusher Spencer Ware and nickelback Tharold Simon.
At his Wednesday evening press conference, Les Miles declined to confirm or deny the reports. He said all healthy roster members had practiced.
"There is no real information about any specific player," he said. "When there is information to share, I will. The problem with this is it's internal. I am not inclined to be forthcoming with any information on this."
The Daily Reveille, the LSU student newspaper, reported that Mathieu and Ware will be suspended as a result of failing a random drug test. According to a source who spoke to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the players tested positive for "synthetic marijuana." At this time there is no indication the suspensions will be for longer than one game.
The good news for LSU is that while both Mathieu and Ware have made major impacts on the Bayou Bengals' 7-0 start, Les Miles has solid options for replacing both. Even with Simon out as the planned "next man up" at corner, Miles can call on experienced senior Ron Brooks to handle that position, or move either Eric Reid or Brandon Taylor from safety to corner and start the other. And against Auburn's 106th-ranked passing offense, the secondary may not be tested much anyway.
There's plenty of depth at tailback, too. Second-leading rusher Michael Ford is already averaging more than a yard more per carry than Ware and third-stringer-in-name-only Alfred Blue has rushed for better than 150 yards the past three weeks.
The bad news for LSU is that Brooks (or a moonlighting Reid or Taylor) is simply not Mathieu, and Ford and Blue are simply not Ware. That's not likely to matter when it comes to the final outcome Saturday, at least according to Vegas; LSU is installed as a 21-point-plus favorite.
But things might not be as comfortable as Miles or the Death Valley crowd would like, and after a season already plagued with off-field distractions like the Jordan Jefferson bar fight and Russell Shepard suspension, Miles would no doubt have preferred to ramp up toward the Alabama megatilt with his team's focus solely on football. Even if the suspensions prove to be of the one-game variety, that doesn't look like it's going to be the case.
Posted on: October 18, 2011 12:51 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
AUBURN WILL WIN IF: they catch the kind of game-turning cavalcade of breaks that Les Miles's team is the one usually known for receiving ... and creating. With the visiting Tigers' offense firmly in milk-clock-don't-turn-it-over-play-field-position mode thanks to its first-time starter at quarterback, the chances are awfully, awfully slim that Auburn is going to go into Death Valley and beat LSU straight-up. But Auburn's underclassmen-laden defense has showed some legitimate spark in the previous few weeks, particularly against offenses similar to LSU's pro-style ground-pound attack (see: South Carolina and Florida). If Auburn has some success holding the line against Spencer Ware and Co. (and they should), a sudden reversion to Jarrett Lee's turnover-happy 2008 form or a series of uncharacteristic special teams gaffes could keep Gene Chizik's team competitive into the fourth quarter. And then ... who knows?
LSU WILL WIN IF: they do anything other than commit that catastrophic series of mistakes. The host Tigers are three-touchdown favorites for a reason, namely that Auburn's likely strategy of winning the field-position battle and capitalizing opponent mistakes is what LSU does--and how likely are the Bayoun Bengals to be beaten at their own game in their own house? As long as Lee continues to play error-free football, the defense continues to make up for its occasional lapses with twice as many big plays, and the special teams continues to pin opponents deep, LSU has precious little to worry about from any team that's not championship-caliber--and Auburn is far too young to have earned that label yet.
THE X-FACTOR: Lee. All LSU fans were hoping from their senior signal-caller this season was for him to -- to put it politely -- not screw things up for the running game and defense. But the former turnover machine has suddenly become a legitimate weapon, completing 71 percent of his passes the previous two weeks for an eye-popping 11.2 yards an attempt (a number which, stretched over the season, would have him second in the nation)--and against quality SEC competition in Florida and Tennessee at that. Lee hasn't thrown an interception since Week 3 and sports a 10-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio for the season. It's simple: if he even comes close to playing up to his recent standards, Auburn's not going to stand a chance.
Posted on: October 18, 2011 10:36 am
Edited on: October 18, 2011 2:57 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
At the top, midseason 2011 remains the best of times for the SEC. Alabama and LSU have given the conference not one but two highly viable -- some might even say favored -- candidates for a sixth straight national title. It's not even such bad news that one seems all-but-destined to eliminate the other from the title race when they meet in Tuscaloosa Nov. 5; assuming both clear their final hurdles this week, that game should arrive with more hype, more anticipation, more coverage and more viewers than any regular season college football game since Ohio State and Michigan clashed as undefeateds the final week of 2006. From a national title perspective, the SEC has never mattered more.
But anywhere other than the top, these are the worst times for the SEC in a while. A plague of injuries, inexperience, and ineffective coaching has gutted much of the league's offensive bite and turned what used to be riveting battles amongst the league's wealthier-than-thou middle class into glorified slapfights. Take this past weekend: Auburn, Florida, Mississippi State and South Carolina combined for a total of 49 points across two hideous games; lambs-to-the-slaughter Tennessee and Ole Miss lost to the league's top two by a combined 76 points; and Georgia and Vanderbilt played a game most notable for the screaming match between its coaches afterwards. It was ugliness all the way around--and that's with the conference's worst offense, Kentucky, on a bye.
Alabama vs. LSU should be a classic. And Arkansas, still easily top-10 caliber and as exciting as ever, is blameless. But are the hobbled back-nine of the SEC capable of giving us anything else deserving of that label in 2011's second half?
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Trent Richardson, running back, Alabama. It's easy to forget Richardson's 2011 season actually got off to a slow start, with only 148 yards on a 3.8 per-carry average through the Crimson Tide's first two games. Since then: five games, 764 yards, 10 touchdowns, and 8.2 yards-per-carry, the sort of per-attempt number starting tailbacks for national title contenders achieve only in video games. It's not just the production, either; Richardson has showed off the proverbial total package and then some, flashing breakaway speed, bone-rattling power, and startling elusiveness, sometimes -- as in his Heisman-reel tour de force against Ole Miss -- all on the same play.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Tyrann Mathieu, cornerback, LSU. The only serious defensive candidate for the 2011 Heisman, the Honey Badger has stormed onto the national scene on the back of a wave of big plays: the strip-and-fumble-return for touchdown against Oregon, the dazzling interception-and-return-to-the-1 against West Virginia, the sack-strip-and-fumble-return for touchdown against Kentucky. But those game-changing efforts shouldn't obscure what Mathieu does on an every-down basis: namely, lead the nation's No. 4 defense in solo tackles and spearhead the nation's No. 6 secondary in opponent's passer rating.
COACH OF THE YEAR: Les Miles, LSU. Nick Saban obviously deserves commendation as well, but with the ridiculous stockpile of defensive talent in Tuscaloosa and the rock-steady stability of Saban's program, the Tide were never in any danger of not being really, really good. Miles, however, had to navigate a major offseason shakeup of his offensive coaching staff, the Jordan Jefferson barfight brouhaha on the eve of the season (amongst other distractions), and a handful of offensive line injuries to have his team where it is now--atop the AP poll and well on their way to bringing an 8-0 record to Bryant-Denny Stadium.
SURPRISE: Auburn. Few SEC teams have legitimately exceeded expectations in 2011 -- LSU and Vandy are the only other two, frankly -- but none has been as big a shock as the Tigers, who had been predicted by many to sink to fifth (or worse) in the West and general irrelevancy in Year One A.C. (i.e., after Cam). But despite being a Vegas underdog in all four of their SEC games (and scoring 20 points or fewer in their most recent three), a newly-energized defense and timely plays on offense and special teams have Auburn sitting at 3-1 in the league and 5-2 overall. If Miles's and Saban's teams hadn't run so far away from the pack, Gene Chizik would be a hot favorite for SEC Coach of the Year.
DISAPPOINTMENT: Mississippi State. The 0-4 SEC record isn't that bad, honestly; at Auburn, vs. LSU, at Georgia, and vs. South Carolina is a reasonably tough road to hoe. What is that bad is that Dan Mullen's veteran offense has looked so lost, scoring just one offensive touchdown over its last three conference games. This was supposed to be the season Mullen started winning games against the heavier hitters of the SEC, but thanks to his team's offensive struggles, the Bulldogs are now losing games (and in uglier fashion) to the same caliber of team they defeated in 2010.
GAME OF THE YEAR--SO FAR: South Carolina 45, Georgia 42, Sept. 10. Thanks to the lack of offensive fireworks and Alabama and LSU horse-whipping opponents on a weekly basis, candidates for this honor are few and far between, But back in Week 2 the Gamecocks and Bulldogs played a back-and-forth thriller that may still wind up deciding the SEC East. Marcus Lattimore powered for 176 bruising yards, but the player of the game was Gamecock defensive end Melvin Ingram, who scored touchdowns on both defense and special teams and capped his breakout performance by snaring the Dawgs' last-gasp onsides kick.
GAME OF THE YEAR TO COME: Alabama vs. LSU, Nov. 5. Do we even have to spell out why? Consider that the average score to-date between one of these two behemoths and an SEC opponent has been 37-8, and the only thing keeping either one from being heavy, heavy favorites to win the league title is the other. With the pair currently ranked No. 1 and 2 in the BCS standings, it's not an exaggeration to think of this as a BCS championship semifinal.
AND YOUR SEC CHAMPIONS ARE: Alabama out of the West, purely on the basis of getting to host the Game of the Century of the Year, and Georgia out of the East--the Bulldogs have far fewer offensive question marks than the Gamecocks and the easier schedule down the stretch. And as for the SEC Championship Game, well, when the best of this year's West meets the best of this year's East, there's only one outcome worth predicting. We like Alabama to win this year's SEC title and advance to the BCS national championship.
Tags: Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Dan Mullen, Florida, Gene Chizik, Georgia, Jerry Hinnen, Jordan Jefferson, Kentucky, Les Miles, LSU, Marcus Lattimore, Melvin Ingram, Michigan, Midseason Report, Midseason Reports, Mississippi State, Nick Saban, Ohio State, Ole Miss, Oregon, SEC, South Carolina, Tennessee, Trent Richardson, Tyrann Mathieu, Vanderbilt, West Virginia
Posted on: October 16, 2011 9:18 pm
Edited on: October 17, 2011 12:01 pm
Posted by Eye On College Football
On Sunday night the first BCS standings of the season were released. While the Coaches Poll and AP remain divided on the order of the top three, the most important rankings have LSU with a slight numerical advantage over Alabama for the No. 1 spot. The Bedlam rivals hold down 3 and 4, while Boise State is holding down the familiar position of the outside looking in.
You can check out a rundown of the Top 10 below, with some thoughts from our College Football Bloggers. For a full breakdown of the Top 25 teams in the BCS formula, you can check out the comprehensive standings.
1. LSU : Les Miles' team is in the drivers seat, so it's pretty simple. Keep winning and the Tigers are playing for a national title. Though with games against Alabama, Arkansas and the SEC title game left, it won't be easy. - Tom Fornelli
2. Alabama: The Crimson Tide have faced three ranked opponents, played four SEC conference games, and still are only allowing 7.0 points per game. The methodical beatdowns of Alabama's opponents have set up the armageddon match against LSU on Nov. 5. If the Tide win that game and continue their high level of play, they will find themselves competing for Nick Saban's third championship in New Orleans come January. - Chip Patterson
3. Oklahoma: The Sooners find themselves behind both LSU and Alabama, which means that Oklahoma wouldn't be playing for a national title if the season ended now. The good news for Oklahoma is that LSU and Alabama still have to play each other, so if the Sooners win out, they'll likely finish in the top two. - TF
4. Oklahoma State : The computers love the Cowboys, but that's not enough to get them into the top two spots. Good news for them, though, is they still control their own destiny as they get to play Oklahoma and LSU will play Alabama. - TF
5. Boise State: The Broncos' best chance for a late quality win was assumed to be their one-time MWC showdown with TCU. With the Horned Frogs suffering a significant drop-off from 2010, Boise could easily finish the season undefeated and find themselves outside the top 2 (or 4) in the polls and BCS rankings. Boise State's best chance to make their first appearance in a title game is to get a lot of upset help from the Big 12 and SEC - CP
6. Wisconsin: While it's certainly disappointing to see a team of Wisconsin's caliber rated this low in the BCS, it's not exactly surprising; Wisconsin's first half of the season has been one blowout after another, and in a rating system that's not allowed to consider margin of victory, the only thing that matters is the teams you play. At the very least, Wisconsin is set to face some tougher competition in the coming weeks, so don't expect to see the Badgers ranked at 10th or lower in as many polls by the time November rolls around. - Adam Jacobi
7. Clemson: While the nation waits for Clemson's suspected collapse, Dabo Swinney's squad continues to grind out victories and hang out just inside the Top 10. Tajh Boyd's development and Sammy Watkins' arrival have come at the perfect time for the Tigers, who are four victories away from running the table in the ACC. - CP
8. Stanford:The Cardinal find themselves eighth in the initial BCS standings this year, an improvement from the 13th spot they debuted at last season. While some expected Andrew Luck and company to be slightly higher, their schedule has hurt them in the computer rankings because they have not played a ranked team yet. Stanford still controls their own destiny for the Rose Bowl but have a remote national title shot unless they get some help. - Bryan Fischer
9. Arkansas:The highest ranked one-loss team in the initial BCS standings, the Razorbacks could wind up in a BCS bowl again this year. They also have the chance to play spoiler for top ranked LSU and Alabama and cause some serious chaos in the national title race.- BF
10. Oregon: Fresh off a victory over probably Pac-12 South division winner Arizona State, the Ducks are in a good spot in the top 10 of the initial standings. They are the second highest one-loss team, right behind Arkansas, and their only loss is to top-ranked LSU. The computers send a mixed message about Oregon but as long as they keep winning, they have nowhere to go but up. - BF
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Tags: ACC, Adam Jacobi, Alabama, Andre Ellington, Andrew Luck, Arkansas, BCS Formula, BCS Order, BCS Rankings, BCS Standings, BCS Standings, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Bob Stoops, Bobby Petrino, Boise State, Bryan Fischer, Chip Kelly, Chip Patterson, Chris Peterson, Clemson, College Football Order, College Football Rankings, College Football Standings, Dabo Swinney, Jerry Hinnen, LaMichael James, Landry Jones, Les Miles, LSU, Mike Gundy, Nick Saban, Non-BCS, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Pac-12, Russell Wilson, Sammy Watkins, SEC, Stanford, Tajh Boyd, Tom Fornelli
Posted on: October 12, 2011 2:14 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Running down everything you need to know from the current news in the SEC, courtesy of our CBSSports.com RapidReporters (and others).
AUBURN. Despite a miserable 6-for-19, 81-yard, 2-INT performance against Arkansas, Tiger quarterback Barrett Trotter will still be the starter in Saturday's showdown with Florida. "He's our quarterback today; he'll be our quarterback Saturday," Gene Chizik said. Many Tiger fans have been clamoring for a greater role for true freshman Kiehl Frazier, but Chizik reiterated that Frazier would remain a "changeup."
For their part, both offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn and Frazier himself agreed that the freshman isn't ready to take on the full-time quarterbacking responsibility. Auburn will have to face Florida without starting senior guard Jared Cooper, out with an ankle injury. He'll likely be replaced by redshirt freshman Chad Slade.
FLORIDA. Meanwhile, Auburn's Saturday opponents have their own worries at quarterback with John Brantley out. But freshman backup Jeff Driskel has returned from his ankle injury and split reps during Tuesday's practice with fellow freshman (and starter vs. LSU) Jacoby Brissett. Though the two are now locked in close competition to be the starter at Auburn, Will Muschamp said he doesn't plan on keeping his decision a secret once it's made ... though he has also hinted at leaning in either Brissett's or Driskel's direction.
Despite reports suggesting his Gator career was over, sophomore linebacker Dee Finley has not yet made a final decision on whether to transfer out of the program or not, Muschamp said.
VANDERBILT. More QB drama: for the first time this season, the Commodore depth chart at quarterback has an "or" between starter Larry Smith and backup Jordan Rodgers, younger brother of Aaron Rodgers. Head coach James Franklin said the team would "kind of have a competition" at the position and whichever quarterback performs better in practice this week would get the nod against Georgia. Rodgers came on in relief of Smith vs. Alabama and completed 11 of 18 passes, but with two interceptions.
LSU. The No. 1 Bayou Bengals' Nov. 5 trip to Alabama is already being marked on many college football fans' calendars as the Game of the Year--including LSU's, who chanted "We Want 'Bama" at the end of their team's beatdown of Florida. But don't tell that to Les Miles. "I hear the talk," he said. "But I promise you that talk doesn't exist in our building. That's fan chat or a media buzz. That buzz doesn't take place in our building."
With Miles stressing ball security, LSU has now gone three games without a turnover. At +11, the Tigers rank fourth in the nation in turnover margin. With the Auburn game a week from Saturday set for a 2:30 CT kickoff (on CBS), LSU will go an entire season without playing an SEC night game for the first time since 1935.
ELSEWHERE: The already-struggling Tennessee running game could be without starting tailback Tauren Poole, day-to-day with a hamstring injury ... new/old starting quarterback Matt Simms is happy to return to the starter's role against LSU, the team he nearly defeated last season ... Arkansas's bye week comes at a good time for quarterback Tyler Wilson, who needs the extra time to recover his lost voice ...
Don't expect to beat Alabama on the Tide's mistakes: they're committing the second-fewest penalties in the nation and AJ McCarron hasn't thrown an interception in 127 pass attempts ... Good news and bad news on the injury front for Georgia, who should see inside linebacker Alec Ogletree back on the field as scheduled come the Bulldogs' Oct. 29 meeting with Florida, but will miss receiver Malcolm Mitchell for this week's trip to Vanderbilt ...
Amidst the higher-profile stories breaking in Columbia Tuesday, Andrew Clifford and Dylan Thompson are battling to be this week's backup quarterback against Mississippi State. Steve Spurrier said picking one or the other could be a game-time decision ... Ole Miss will stick with Randall Mackey as the starter at quarterback against Alabama Saturday, but there's no set backup there, either ... But at least the Gamecocks and Rebels have a starter. Dan Mullen has said he won't name Mississippi State's until kickoff, if then. Chris Relf is attempting to fend off a challenge from Tyler Russell, who sparked the offense to three second-half touchdowns against UAB.
Tags: Aaron Rodgers, AJ McCarron, Alabama, Alec Ogletree, Andrew Clifford, Arkansas, Auburn, Barrett Trotter, Chad Slade, Chris Relf, Dan Mullen, Dee Finley, Dylan Thompson, Florida, Gene Chizik, Georgia, Gus Malzahn, Jacoby Brissett, James Franklin, James Franklin the Vanderbilt coach not the Missouri quarterback, Jared Cooper, Jeff Driskel, Jerry Hinnen, John Brantley, Jordan Rodgers, Kiehl Frazier, Larry Smith, Les Miles, LSU, Malcolm Mitchell, Matt Simms, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Randall Mackey, SEC, South Carolina, Steve Spurrier, Tauren Poole, Tennessee, Tyler Russell, Tyler Wilson, Vanderbilt, Will Muschamp
Posted on: October 11, 2011 11:35 am
Edited on: October 11, 2011 11:36 am
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
LSU WILL WIN IF: They do anything other than take careful aim at their own foot and blow it off. We've seen enough of both of these teams by now to know that down-to-down, play-to-play, drive-to-drive, the Tigers are the far superior team--especially considering the gigantic advantage LSU has in the running department, where Tennessee is the only team in the SEC averaging less than 100 yards per game. The only way LSU loses to the Vols is if the game becomes less about who's winning the down-to-down battle and more about who's capitalizing on the big play. The Bayou Bengals have made an art out of being that team under Les Miles, but all the same, if the Tigers blow a coverage for a long touchdown against Matt Simms ... if they allow a long return to dynamic Vol freshman Devrin Young ... if Jarrett Lee's old pick-six demons suddenly return to haunt him ... if those kinds of plays bring what could be an unhappy and dormant Neyland Stadium crowd to life ... the Vols could make this a game.
Unfortunately for the Vols, though, if LSU doesn't suffer any self-inflicted wounds, their advantages on both lines-of-scrimmage are such that they may not suffer any wounds at all.
TENNESSEE WILL WIN IF: Well, the aforementioned disaster scenario taking place on LSU's side of things would help immensely. But even in that case, the Vols will need something from their offense to actually pull out a victory. And with Simms in for the injured Tyler Bray, that means offensive coordinator Jim Chaney will have to find some way of snapping the Volunteer running game out of its current stupor. In the Vols two SEC games to date, Chaney's unit has totaled -- this is not a misprint -- minus-29 rushing yards. LSU's hardly the opponent you want to face when trying to fix that kind of problem, but the Vols don't have a choice: either get some measure of push up front, or watch the Tigers swallow your backup quarterback whole. Just ask Florida.
THE X-FACTOR: The echoes of last season. If there's one team the Vols might be irrationally confident about facing, even after last week's dud against Georgia, it's LSU. Despite entering that 2010 game as underdogs nearly as big as they are this year, Tennessee famously had Miles's team beaten until a replay review showed that the Vols had 13 players on the field for the game's chaotic final play--necessitating one more final play, on which the Tigers scored. If Derek Dooley can seize on that performance as reason to believe his Vols can play with the nation's No. 1 team -- and can get some early success to convince the crowd of the same -- they might just do it.
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Posted on: October 10, 2011 5:17 pm
Edited on: October 10, 2011 5:18 pm
Posted by Tom Fornelli
LSU safety Tyrann Mathieu has quickly made LSU fans forget all about former cornerback Patrick Peterson by dominating games on defense. Quite simply, the Honey Badger is out there taking whatever he wants, when he wants. Still, it seems Mathieu is not content being the single biggest playmaker on defense in all of college football, but he wants to take over Twitter as well.
Which is fine by me, because when players take to Twitter to talk smack rather than just spew cliches, it makes for free blog posts. Like this tweet from Mathieu directed at Florida's Trey Burton, who made a comment about LSU's secondary not being all that good.
Now, admittedly, this does go a bit against Mathieu's honey badger persona. After all, the honey badger don't care, so the honey badger should probably just ignore Burton's comments. That being said, if Mathieu wants to tweet about Tennessee this week, that's cool with me too.
Also, when asked for comment about Mathieu's tweet, head coach Les Miles had this to say.
Posted on: October 9, 2011 3:43 am
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
A handy recap of who (and what) really won and really lost in the SEC's Week 6.
WINNER: Les Miles.
For years, college football fans have come up with excuse after excuse for why Miles has been less than a terrifiic head football coach, despite his gaudy records and 2007 national title. He's just lucky. Anyone can recruit that kind of talent to LSU. His clock management is terrible. Never lost fewer than two games in a season. He can't get his offense fixed. Did we mention he's lucky? This offseason, one prominent blogger went so far as to place Miles No. 1 on a list of "the Worst Coaches in College Football."
But after today's dominating 41-11 win over Florida and the Tigers' 6-0 start to the 2011 season -- a start that includes wins over four different ranked teams -- even Miles's most ardent detractors have to admit the Mad Hatter has put together the kind of upper-upper-echelon team that can't be explained by recruiting or luck or happenstance alone. Yes, it helps to have Ryan Baker and Tyrann Mathieu and Michael Brockers around, but even superstars like those don't make the kind of terror-inducing defense LSU has today without the guidance of John Chavis, who Miles recruited to Baton Rouge personally. Yes, it's tough to not have a strong running game with Spencer Ware and a veteran line, but that running game wouldn't be nearly so effective if Jarrett Lee hadn't shaken off a career's worth of failures to become exactly the steady, accurate (and vs. the Gators, bomb-tossing) quarterback the offense needs--a development that can be directly traced to Miles's much-derided hire of Steve Kragthorpe as his team's new quarterbacks coach. The Tigers have been special teams killers for far too long under Miles to dismiss their contributions as mere "luck," as evidenced once again Saturday when punter Brad Wing noticed the lack of a Gator punt safety and took off for what should have been a 44-yard touchdown.
In short: to watch the Tigers' rise to 6-0 and their dismantling of the Gators and not see Miles's fingerprints all over them is an exercise in willful ignorance. Luck can explain some of his successes, and the natural advantages of being LSU does explain a little more. But these Tigers? They are only explained by having a coach at the very, very top of his field.
LOSERS: Auburn's wide receivers.
Tiger quarterback Barrett Trotter hasn't played well of late, and has the numbers to prove it--6 of 19 for 81 yards and a pick against Arkansas, to be specific. But he also hasn't gotten much help from his wideouts with leading receiver Emory Blake out ... if he's gotten any at all. Remove a 44-yard reception for Travante Stallworth on a second-half flea flicker completion, and Auburn's wideouts combined for all of three receptions for 21 yards. DeAngelo Benton had a particularly rough evening, dropping one late first-half pass that could have set up an Auburn field goal, getting called for a hold that would eventually force an Auburn punt, and letting a late Trotter pass whistle through his hands for the aformentioned interception.
WINNERS: Backup quarterbacks.
Jacoby Brissett aside, it was a good day to be a current (or recent) second-stringer in the SEC. Connor Shaw cemented himself as the new South Carolina starter and then some with his 311-yard, 4-touchdown, zero-pick performance vs. Kentucky. Mississippi State's Tyler Russell came off the bench to complete 11 of his 13 passes, three of them going for second-half touchdowns that turned what had been a 3-0 halftime deficit into a 21-3 win over UAB. Vanderbilt's Jordan Rodgers didn't have much of an impact statistically (11-of-18, 104 yards, 2 INTs), but led a couple of decent drives and looked as composed vs. the Alabama pass rush as you could hope.
And then there's Lee, who you'll remember was not only Jordan Jefferson's backup with just days remaining before the season, but many fans' favorite to drop to third-string behind JUCO transfer Zach Mettenberger. Against Florida Lee completed only 7 passes--but he also only attempted 10, and those 7 completions averaged a gain of 22 yards.
LOSER: Stephen Garcia.
The career of one of the SEC's most recognizable stars, magnetic talents, and frustrating enigmas appears poised to end not with a bang, but with a whimper. Though you can't ever say never with Steve Spurrier, Shaw's confident command performance against Kentucky suggests he's going to be the Gamecock quarterback for quite some time to come. There's going to be much more difficult opponents ahead for him than the hapless Wildcats, but does it matter? Spurrier's surprising patience with Garcia through his awkward start to this season now looks poised to be turned against him as Spurrier lets Shaw work through the same rough patches Garcia endured.
Which means that in the end, Garcia's senior season hasn't been undone by the off-field troubles that so many have expected to be his downfall. It's gone south because he simply hasn't produced on the field, because aside from one half against East Carolina, he's never looked as good in 2011 as Shaw looked Saturday. It's not how we expected things to come to an end for Garcia (if this is the end), but nothing about Garcia's time in Columbia has ever played out as expected, has it?
LOSERS: Kentucky fans.
The Wildcats kicked off to open their game against the Gamecocks, forced a fumble on the return, and recovered just outside the Carolina 20. Cue the shots in the stands of overjoyed Kentucky fans high-fiving each other and celebrating the best possible start.
60 minutes later -- and only 96 Wildcat yards, 6 Wildcat first downs, and 3 Wildcat points which came immediately following that fumble recovery later -- those same fans had to be some of the most miserable in the country. It's one thing to watch a poor football team; it's another to watch a team that seems so hopelessly outmatched on offense and doesn't seem to be showing any kind of week-to-week improvement. After failing to top 300 total yards against Louisville or Florida, the Wildcats have now failed to top 300 yards in their games against LSU and Carolina combined.
So about that kickoff: were those fans happy to have that one moment of joy? Or all the angrier for that joy being so completely misleading?
WINNER: Georgia's defense.
Before the game, we asked if the Bulldog secondary could live up its gaudy post-Boise State numbers against the likes of Tyler Bray and Da'Rick Rogers on the road at Tennessee. The answer: mostly. Bray and late-game injury replacement Matt Simms did throw for 290 yards at a perfectly respectable 7.3 yards-per-attempt clip, and without an interception.
But they never did throw a touchdown, either; in fact, the Volunteers were kept out of the end zone entirely until Simms snuck in from a yard out with only 2:45 to play in the game. Thanks to the Dawg defensive backs keeping the Vols in front of them, and the UGA front seven stuffing the pathetic Tennessee ground game to the tune of .4 yards per rush (yes, .4), Bray and Co. finished the game with all of 12 points on the scoreboard. The Bulldogs offense wasn't much to write home about -- Isaiah Crowell didn't even hit the 60-yard mark on the ground, the red zone offense sputtered, and like his Vol counterparts Aaron Murray threw neither an interception nor touchdown pass -- but after years of seeing their team score like a pinball machine only to lose after another lackluster defensive display, we expect Dawg fans will take it.
LOSER: Clarity in the SEC East.
South Carolina was the preseason favorite. They were the favorite after they beat Georgia. But then Garcia struggled and Florida beat Tennessee, and the Gators were the favorite. And then Carolina lost to Auburn and Florida lost to both Alabama, and lots of people considered Georgia as the new favorite. But now that Shaw looks to have healed the Gamecocks' Achilles heel ... are they the favorites? Or is Georgia, still, after beating Tennessee? Or is Florida just ripe to return once their schedule eases up? All we really know is that none of the other three teams is winning the division, and that the East winner is going to be a two-touchdown underdog to the West's come December. Past that? your guess is as good as ours.
WINNERS: Everyone who loves college football. Let's not go crazy by saying something like "LSU and Alabama isn't going to be the only game that matters in college football this season"; with Wisconsin, Stanford, Clemson, Boise State and of course Oklahoma all looking at potential undefeated seasons, it's too hasty to even lay claim to LSU and Alabama as the nation's best two teams.
That said: if you're a college football fan, and you've watched Alabama and LSU play this season, and you know how good they are, and you've considered how much fun it would be to watch them meet, undefeated, with a trip to Atlanta on the line on Nov. 5 ... then every week that passes with the two of them still unblemished is a good thing. This was one such week.
Tags: Aaron Murray, Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Barrett Trotter, Boise State, Brad Wing, Clemson, Connor Shaw, Da'Rick Rogers, DeAngelo Benton, East Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Isaiah Crowell, Jacoby Brissett, Jarrett Lee, Jerry Hinnen, John Chavis, Jordan Jefferson, Jordan Rodgers, Kentucky, Les Miles, Louisville, LSU, Matt Simms, Michael Brockers, Mississippi State, Oklahoma, Ryan Baker, SEC, South Carolina, Spencer Ware, Stanford, Stephen Garcia, Steve Kragthorpe, Steve Spurrier, Tennessee, Travante Stallworth, Tyler Bray, Tyler Russell, Tyrann Mathieu, UAB, Vanderbilt, Wisconsin, Zach Mettenberger