Tag:SEC
Posted on: January 2, 2012 4:29 pm
Edited on: January 5, 2012 12:22 pm
 

QUICK HITS: South Carolina 30, Nebraska 13

Posted by Jerry Hinnen



SOUTH CAROLINA WON: Bowl games haven't been Steve Spurrier's specialty at South Carolina -- he was just 1-4 with the Gamecocks entering Monday's game -- but thanks to another big game from Connor Shaw and a huge play from Alshon Jeffery to close the first half, that might have changed at the Capital One Bowl. The Gamecocks trailed 13-9 when Shaw dialed up a Hail Mary in Jeffery's direction to end the second quarter, and the big junior -- likely playing in his final game as a collegian -- hauled it in and dove into the end zone (see above) for a 16-13 halftime lead.

With Shaw throwing for an efficient 229 yards (13.5 per attempt) and running for 42 more, that was all the momentum the Gamecocks would need. Taylor Martinez was entirely bottled up in the second half, finishing with just 153 total yards of offense (117 passing, 36 rushing) and unable to get his team on the scoreboard over the final two quarters.

WHY SOUTH CAROLINA WON: Because with Martinez always erratic in the pass game and the dynamic Gamecock front always likely to cause some problems with the Husker ground game, Nebraska couldn't afford to waste opportunities--especially ones that could have put them in firm control of the game. But that's precisely what they did late in the first half, when Ameer Abdullah picked up a first down on a 3rd-and-3 from the Gamecock 8, his team on the verge of extending their 13-9 lead to double-digits ... and then got hit by D.J. Swearinger and fumbled the ball away.

The Huskers could have retaken the lead after Jeffery's Hail Mary, driving to a first-and-goal at the Carolina 8 on their first drive of the third quarter. First down: crazy pass from Martinez for loss of 8. Second: rush for 5. Third: delay of game. Then a screen for a loss of 2. Fourth: a missed 35-yard field goal, Brett Maher's first miss from under 40 this season. The Huskers would go on to commit four penalties on their next drive and never threatened again. The Gamecocks were the better team, but if Nebraska had been able to keep their composure in the red zon, they could have at least stayed competitive.

WHEN SOUTH CAROLINA WON: Taking over up 23-13 with just over 9 minutes to play, Shaw led the Gamecocks on a methodical, clock-killing march that would eventually burn off more than 6 minutes and end with a Kenny Miles touchdown, putting the game entirely out of the Huskers' reach.

THAT WAS CRAZY: If this was indeed the final game for Jeffery and star Nebraska corner Alfonzo Dennard, their careers didn't end the way either player would have liked. The pair scuffled after a third-quarter play, with Dennard throwing a series of punches and Jeffery delivering a two-handed shove to Dennard's facemask; both players were ejected. And though Jeffery is the bigger name nationally, the Huskers seemed to suffer more from Dennard's ejection, their secondary losing its way over the remainder of the game.

WHAT SOUTH CAROLINA WON: Their 11th game of the season, for the first time in school history. Though the Gamecocks were always aiming for a repeat trip to the SEC title game, 11-2 with Shaw and Marcus Lattimore returning isn't a bad consolation.

WHAT NEBRASKA LOST: Their fourth game of the 2011 campaign, wrapping up the Huskers' first year in the Big Ten at 9-4. Bo Pelini has now lost his last two bowl games.

FINAL GRADE: The first half had the makings of a classic, with both teams exchanging big plays and long drives, capped by the Hail Mary lightning bolt. But the second was a major letdown, with the Huskers totally unabe to get out of their own way and Carolina slowly squeezing the life out of Nebraska's chances--and the game. B-.

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Posted on: December 31, 2011 7:15 pm
Edited on: December 31, 2011 7:24 pm
 

QUICK HITS: Cincinnati 31, Vanderbilt 24



Posted by Chip Patterson


CINCINNATI WON. Senior quarterback Zach Collaros took the field less than two months after breaking his ankle, and finished his Cincinnati career a winner as the Bearcats won a wild and crazy Liberty Bowl 31-24.

HOW CINCINNATI WON: Collaros' timing in the passing game looked off all afternoon, and he struggled to hit his wide receivers in stride. Luckily, the Bearcats' defense held Vanderbilt to just 295 total yards of offense and delivered an interception to set up Isaiah Pead's touchdown run to seal the victory. With the passing game struggling, Pead was the reliable workhorse in the offensive backfield for head coach Butch Jones. The Big East Offensive Player of the Year also finished his career in style: with 150 yards on 28 carries and the final touchdown with less than two minutes remaining. Credit Vanderbilt for fighting through their offensive woes to keep it interesting in the end, particularly the play of All-SEC cornerback Casey Hayward who led the way with two interceptions. But the offensive miscues ended up costing Vanderbilt in the end, and Cincinnati picked up a huge win in Year 2 of the Butch Jones era.

WHAT CINCINNATI WON: Their fourth 10+ win season in five years. Butch Jones has done an incredible job putting the pieces together after the 4-8 finish last season and quickly bringing Cincinnati right back to the place where Brian Kelly left it. Bearcats' fans had become accustomed to competing for Big East titles and playing in bowl games, so the struggles of 2010 were unfamiliar territory. With a share of the Big East title, and another 10-win season for the program; Jones has proven to the administration he's worth every penny of his restructured contract.

WHAT VANDERBILT LOST: A disappointing performance for Jordan Rodgers. After finishing the season with the starting job locked up, he looked shaky at the start and was eventually replaced by Larry Smith. Word from Vanderbilt during the game was a hip injury, but after completing just 4 of 14 passes for 26 yards and throwing an interception his substitution from the starting lineup may have been performance-related.

THAT WAS CRAZY: In the first minute of the fourth quarter, Vanderbilt took a 21-17 lead on Chris Boyd's 68 yard touchdown reception from Smith. Boyd was suffering from cramp in his right leg, but exploded down the sideline when he hauled in the catch. He began to limp as he approached the goal line, and collapsed to the ground once he reached the end zone. Cincinnati's defensive backs have been better this season, but getting burned for a deep touchdown by an injured wide receiver looked more like the unit that suffered against the pass in 2010.

BOWL GRADE: B+. I would have liked to see a better showing from both Collaros and Rodgers, but the forced turnovers and big special teams plays were exactly what I expected from these two squads. Two very promising young coaches on the rise featured here, and I'd guess we will see both coaches back in the postseason in 2012.

Preview the next games on the bowl slate at the Bowl Schedule Pregame

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Posted on: December 31, 2011 12:57 pm
 

Key Matchup: Capital One Bowl

Posted by Jerry Hinnen



A look at the key matchup that could determine the
 Capital One Bowl.

Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez, RB Rex Burkhead vs. South Carolina S Antonio Allen, S D.J. Swearinger

For most teams, the primary back seven defenders assigned to stop a lethally mobile quarterback and his No. 1 rushing option in the backfield would be a pair of burly run-stuffing linebackers. But South Carolina is not most teams. The Gamecocks run an unusual (especially in the SEC) 4-2-5 scheme in which the "Spur" -- kind of a safety, kind of a linebacker -- ranges back and forth between the front seven and the secondary, and his fellow safeties have more run-stopping duties than usual as the corners play man-to-man. 

Result? "Spur" and nominal safety Antonio Allen led the Gamecocks with 81 tackles, followed closely by safety D.J. Swearinger with 73. That performance earned Allen a second-team All-SEC nod from the league's media, even though Allen -- as you would expect from a player expected to both fly to the ball and play sharp pass coverage -- checks in a relatively light 6'2", 202 pounds. Likewise, if Allen's small by SEC linebacker standards, Swearinger's on the small side even by the SEC's safety standards at 5'10", 208. 

That's caused occasional problems against the power-running games of the SEC the past couple of seasons, but in theory it should be nothing but a positive against a Nebraska team that looks to get their most dangerous rushing threat -- Taylor Martinez -- out in space using the option and various keepers. Where Martinez is able to routinely beat slower defenders one-on-one, Allen and Swearinger's tackle total speak to just how effective they were making exactly those kind of stops against elusive rushers like Martinez.

But here's the bad news for the Gamecocks: the Huskers have Rex Burkhead, too, and aren't afraid of sending the junior battering ram straight ahead in much the same way Auburn spent their entire matchup with South Carolina pounding Michael Dyer into the line. Dyer carried 41 times, gained 141 yards, and powered the Tigers to a major upset; if Burkhead has similar success, it's easy to see him doing the same for the Huskers.

But if Allen and Swearinger can shut down Martinez, hold Burkhead's longer gains in check, and allow the rest of the Gamecocks to do their thing vs. the Husker run, Nebraska may not have much of a chance. As we wrote in our Keys to the Game, the Huskers went 9-0 when they topped 180 yards on the ground, 0-3 when they didn't. Allen and Swearinger will play a major role in whether or not they reach that benchmark.

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Posted on: December 29, 2011 10:40 pm
 

Liberty Bowl Key Matchup



Posted by Chip Patterson


A look at the key matchup that could determine the Liberty Bowl

Zac Stacy, RB, Vanderbilt vs. Derek Wolfe, DT, Cincinnati

Running back Zach Stacy has been the most consistent piece of the Vanderbilt offensive attack all season. Stacy has put together five different 100-yard performances thus far, and will be counted on to stabilize the offense against a stout Cincinnati rushing defense. But the junior running back enters the bowl game with a heightened sense for the goal line, scoring seven of his 13 touchdowns in the final three contests of the regular season.

Lining up opposite of Stacy on the defensive line will be Cincinnati's dominant tackle Derek Wolfe. Wolfe led the Big East with 19.5 tackles for loss and added 9.5 sacks to lead the top ranked defensive unit. With mobile quarterback Jordan Rodgers also in the Vanderbilt backfield, Wolfe and the rest of the Bearcats defensive line will need to get penetration through the offensive line to disrupt the rushing game.

The Commodores have taken after their first-year head coach with a hard-nosed attitude and their success this season has come thanks to a strong rushing attack and much-improved defense. The best way for Cincinnati to make life easy for Zach Collaros, making his first appearance since breaking his ankle on Nov. 14, is to shut down Vanderbilt's rushing attack early and give the senior quarterback plenty of early snaps to find his groove. In order to make that happen, they'll need a big-time performance from Derek Wolfe.

Keep up with all the latest on Vanderbilt and Cincinnati at the Liberty Bowl Pregame

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Posted on: December 29, 2011 10:35 pm
Edited on: December 29, 2011 10:37 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Liberty Bowl

Posted by Chip Patterson

VANDERBILT WILL WIN IF: Zac Stacy and Jordan Rodgers can find success on the ground. One way or another, the Commodores need pick up yards on the ground against a stout Cincinnati defense. The Bearcats rank in the Top 10 nationally in rushing defense, giving up just 92.67 yards per game. But they did not have to face many rushers as strong as Vanderbilt's Zac Stacy, the SEC's third-leading rusher with 1,136 yards this season. Stacy has been reliable all season, and quarterback Jordan Rodgers has shown an impressive ability to make plays with his feet since taking over as the starter midseason. Both Stacy and Rodgers need to get comfortable and produce early, or else the Bearcats will be able to key in on their attack with hopes of holding another opponent under 100 yards rushing.

CINCINNATI WILL WIN IF: They take care of the ball on offense. One of Vanderbilt's strengths has been their ability to create turnovers at opportune times. Improving the turnover margin has been one of the biggest differences between the four-win 2010 squad and the Co-Big East champions this year. The Bearcats' best chance offensively is to stay multiple and stay productive, constantly keeping that Commodores defense on their heels. The unit needs to hit a rhythm and get quarterback Zach Collaros rolling in his first game back since breaking his ankle on Nov. 12. The fastest way to disrupt that rhythm is to end a drive by giving the ball away.

X-FACTOR: Zach Collaros' health. The biggest story heading into this year's Liberty Bowl is also the biggest unknown. Collaros clearly wants to play his final game in a Bearcat uniform, and the Cincinnati staff appears to believe he can give that injured ankle a run. The all-conference senior will likely be able to throw from the pocket, but one of Collaros' greatest strengths is his mobility. How his ankle is able to handle rolling out of the pocket, and possibly scrambling downfield will play a huge role in how aggressively the Vanderbilt defense can bring pressure. If Collaros is a sitting duck in the pocket, it will be a green light for an opportunistic defense to try and create a big play.

Keep up with all the latest on Vanderbilt and Cincinnati at the Liberty Bowl Pregame

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Posted on: December 29, 2011 6:27 pm
Edited on: December 30, 2011 4:48 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Chick-Fil-A Bowl

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

AUBURN WILL WIN IF: Gene Chizik still has some of that old defensive coordinating magic tucked away somewhere. With the exception of a handful of games during his team's 2010 national title run, Chizik -- a Broyles Award winner as a DC with a long and exemplary track record at both Auburn and Texas -- has never been able to translate that acumen to his defenses as a head coach, either at Iowa State or Auburn. That continued this year, as the Tigers slumped to a 79th-place finish in total defense, their formerly stout rush defense (which led the SEC in 2010) plummeting to 98th nationally.

With the Auburn offense an out-and-out shambles by season's end (the Tigers failed to score more than 17 points against any SEC team outside the state of Mississippi) and Gus Malzahn unlikely to fix it while splitting time with his new head coaching duties at Arkansas State, Chizik's winning formula will have to be the same as it was in his team's midseason upset of South Carolina and defeat of Florida: a stifling defensive effort paired with just enough points to get by. In up-and-coming defensive end Corey Lemonier and fiery senior linebacker Eltoro Freeman, Chizik has some of the pieces necessary to reprise those game-winning performances from earlier in the year. With Ted Roof out of the picture and the Dec. 31 date giving him plenty of time to work with his defense, this is Chizik's chance to prove he can still make a difference on the defensive side of the ball; if he's not up to it, it's highly doubtful his team will be up to winning the game, either.

VIRGINIA WILL WIN IF: they take advantage of their opportunities. There aren't many teams with a wider gap between their FBS rank in total offense and scoring offense than the Cavaliers, who finished a respectable 48th in yards but managed to come in 88th in points. The culprit's an easy one to spot: Virginia converted just 21 of its 42 red zone possessions into touchdowns, a 50 percent mark that placed them 105th nationally. Starting running back Perry Jones (883 yards) and sophomore quarterback Michael Rocco (2,359 passing yards, 7.3 an attempt) have been capable when it comes to moving the chains, but aren't much for the big play; Jones has only five touchdowns on 176 attempts, Rocco 11 TD throws (to 11 interceptions) on 325 passes.

Given Auburn's defensive frailties, Rocco, Jones and the Cavs are likely to move the ball and add a few more red zone possessions to their total of opportunities. But if they don't cash in, the game could devolve into the kind of diown-to-the-wire white-knuckler in which Chizik's teams have had so much success.

THE X-FACTOR: A major reason Auburn won those slugfests with the Gamecocks and Gators, or its season-opening shootout with Utah State? Its special teams, which feature Ray Guy award finalist Steven Clark at punter, dangerous kick returners Onterio McCalebb and Tre Mason (who each have a return for a score this season), and touchback machine Cody Parkey handling kickoffs. According to Phil Steele's special teams ratings, Auburn finished the year eighth in the kicking game and Virginia 91st. If those numbers prove accurate, the Cavs could have a hard time overcoming what might be a decisive Tiger advantage in field position.

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Posted on: December 29, 2011 6:04 pm
Edited on: December 29, 2011 6:06 pm
 

Vol frosh WR DeAnthony Arnett asks for release

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

A tumultuous season for Derek Dooley and the Tennessee Volunteers has bled into what's already a tumultuous offseason, with coaching changes, alleged suspensions, and now a one-time star recruit asking for a contentious release from the program.

According to multiple reports, freshman wide receiver DeAnthony Arnett has asked for a release from his scholarship and intends to transfer out of the Volunteer program. A Saginaw, Mich. native, Arnett is looking to transfer to a school somewhere in Michigan to be closer to his ailing father, whose picture Arnett tweeted a photo of Thursday afternoon.

Tennessee has since confirmed Arnett's request and agreed to the release--but with conditions attached, as the Knoxville News-Sentinel reports. According to an e-mail sent by Arnett to ESPN, the Volunteers have refused to release him to the state's BCS-level programs (Michigan and Michigan State), and the statement from Tennessee spokesman Jimmy Stanton would seem to confirm this:

"We're not denying him a release to be near his family, get a good education and play Division I football at the same time, but we do have a policy of not releasing players to schools we either play or recruit against," Stanton said Thursday. "Where he's from, there are several good D-I schools nearby that would be good options to play football, get a good education and keep him near his family." 

Not surprisingly, Arnett is less than happy with that decision:

"Coach Dooley, myself or anybody doesn't know what the future holds for my father," Arnett said in the email. "I feel that I represented the University of Tennessee the best way I can on and off the field and I feel I have earned the right to be released unconditional to all schools in Michigan."

Quite frankly, we don't blame him; unless Arnett has forfeited his good standing with Dooley and the Vols through some kind of unreported off-the-field incident, refusing to allow him to play on scholarship at Arnett's school of choice while he helps care for an ill parent strikes us as stunningly petty. Whatever benefit is gained from Tennessee playing keep-away from noted recruiting rivals Michigan and Michigan State (if you say so, Mr. Stanton), is it really worth punishing Arnett for doing nothing wrong? (Nothing "wrong" other than wanting out of Knoxville, anyway.) This is also nothing new for Dooley, who previously refused a release to the late Aaron Douglas unless he transferred to a location eight hours' drive away, and kept Bryce Brown off of scholarship at Kansas State for a year while refusing him a release as well.

A highly sought-after four-star recruit, Arnett played in all 12 games his freshman season, finishing third on the team in receptions with 24 and fourth in yards with 242.

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Posted on: December 29, 2011 2:47 pm
 

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.

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