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Tag:D.J. Fluker
Posted on: September 29, 2011 1:22 pm
Edited on: September 30, 2011 3:32 pm
 

SEC shakedown: Florida vs. Alabama

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

In which we break down the SEC's biggest games. This week: Gators and Crimson Tide, 8 p.m. ET Saturday on CBS.




AT STAKE: Nothing less than the winner's continued presence in the national championship race. Yes, Alabama could potentially lose and still work their way back in via a victory over LSU, but the way teams like Oklahoma and Wisconsin are playing, we wouldn't risk it if we were them. And no, Florida isn't widely viewed as a national title contender at the moment--but a win over the Tide would change that in the biggest of hurries.

WHEN ALABAMA HAS THE BALL, THEY MUST: Give AJ McCarron time to throw. The Tide's pass protection hasn't exactly been an Achilles heel so far this 2011 season, but it hasn't been a strength, either; the Tide have given up eight sacks in their four games, ranking them 77th in the FBS in that department, and that's with the offense heavily favoring the run game and North Texas and Kent State on the schedule.

Now tackles Barrett Jones and D.J. Fluker will have to deal with the most fearsome pass rush they've faced yet. The Gators have collected seven sacks the past two weeks alone, and it's not the result of just one superstar player; Will Muschamp's blitz packages have resulted in six different Gators collecting at least one sack, with linebacker Jonathan Bostic and defensive end Ronald Powell tying for the team lead with two. Tackles Jaye Howard, Dominique Easley and Sharrif Floyd mean the Gator pass rush is just as strong inside as it is outside, too. In short: the Tide offensive line is going to have its hands full.

But the rewards for keeping McCarron clean should be lavish. The Gator secondary is athletic and has been highly productive to date (four interceptions in the last two games, 4.7 yards per-attempt allowed for the season), but they're also young, mistake-prone (as the avalanche of penalties vs Tennessee showed) and no doubt highly concerned with the Tide rushing attack. Keeping McCarron upright likely also means the handful of big plays that would keep the Gators defense honest ... and honesty is no way to deal with Trent Richardson.

WHEN FLORIDA HAS THE BALL, THEY MUST:
break Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey free for big plays--and we mean really big plays, plays of the 60-, 70-yard touchdown variety the Gators have already enjoyed vs. Tennessee and Kentucky.

Against the Tide, that's easier said than done, of course. But that's also the Gators' best hope. The Tide have allowed only four plays all season longer than 20 yards (second-fewest in the nation), and yielded just one to Arkansas. Result? Being forced to drive the length of the field, neither the Razorbacks nor Penn State before them were able to muster more than one serious drive before the game was well out of reach.

And it's not as if the Gators are any better built for pounding out long, methodical possessions; for all their brilliance neither Demps nor Rainey is the sort of back to move a pile of Crimson Tide defenders on 3rd-and-2, and while much improved, John Brantley still only completed 59 percent of his passes in the Gators' two SEC contests to date. Charlie Weis must figure out a way to get Demps and Rainey into space -- we suggest a heavy dose of the screen passes and check-downs that so damaged the Vols -- and hope they can work their magic. Otherwise, first-year punter David Lerner is going to get an awful lot of work.

WHAT ALABAMA CAN'T ACCOUNT FOR: The Florida Field crowd. The Swamp hasn't always been The Swamp as of late -- it was just last year the Gators conspired to lose an unthinkable three consecutive home games -- but with the 4-0 start, the burst of energy from Muschamp, the primetime start, and no less an opponent than Nick Saban's Alabama, the atmosphere in Gainesville promises to be as hostile as any college football will see this year.

On the whole, a veteran team like the Tide should be able to handle it. But can McCarron? And if the Tide fall behind, will he be alone in feeling the pressure?

WHAT FLORIDA CAN'T ACCOUNT FOR: The inevitable deflation of that crowd. At some point, Alabama will connect for a big play, whether it's Marquis Maze on special teams, Richardson breaking loose on a screen pass or Eddie Lacy coming off the bench to thunder for 40 yards or so. While Florida has any number of upperclassmen leaders, this remains a young team on the whole, with a first-year coaching staff, that's enjoyed nothing but prosperity so far in 2011. When Alabama socks them in the mouth and the crowd loses its buzz momentarily, there's no guaranteeing how the Gators will respond.

AND IN THE END: Buoyed by the home crowd, Florida's defense holds up much better in the face of the Tide running game than Arkansas's did. But there's not enough weapons in the Gator passing game to keep Demps and Rainey from being swarmed under, and the Tide seizes control early in the second half. Alabama 27, Florida 16.

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Posted on: April 19, 2011 4:42 pm
Edited on: April 19, 2011 4:55 pm
 

What I Learned This Spring: SEC West

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

With all six spring games completed, we wrap up spring practice in the SEC West, team by team. In alphabetical order:

ALABAMA: The two big headlines for Tide fans this spring were the quarterback battle between A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims (pictured), and the unveiling of the new Nick Saban statue added to those of the school's first three national title-winning head coaches. As our own Dennis Dodd reported (and as you can hear for yourself in the reverent tone of this student news broadcast), the statue left the Tide faithful plenty satisfied; the quarterback battle, not so much, as neither McCarron nor Sims was able to create any real separation from the other. (How close were they? At A-Day, McCarron went 21-of-38 for 222 yards and one interception, Sims 19-of-38 for 229 yards and an interception.)

But as we pointed out in our Tide spring primer, who's at the reins of the offense isn't nearly as important as whether the offense can remain productive without Mark Ingram, Julio Jones, et al. With Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower each looking like terrors this spring in the linebacking unit and All-American safety Mark Barron showing few ill effects of his postseason pectoral muscle surgery (he returned a fumble 96 yards for a score at A-Day), the defense looks poised to live up the "best in the nation, or damn close" expectations. All the offense has to do is not screw things up, and the running game -- behind Trent Richardson, a dynamo on A-Day with 167 all-purpose yards, and a loaded line with former five-star right tackle D.J. Fluker beginning to fulfill his vast potential -- appeared ready to do the job nearly by itself.

The Tide still haven't found what looks like a go-to receiver in the wake of Jones' departure (Richardson led both sides in receptions and yards at A-Day), and the McCarron/Sims derby could be a distraction lasting well into the fall. But given the help either one will receive from the running game (and line) on display Saturday, none of that might matter.

ARKANSAS: The big question before spring started was simply "can the Hogs handle losing Ryan Mallett?" And though the Red-White game certainly isn't a guarantee, it's definitely an arrow pointed in the direction of "goodness, yes." Likely new quarterback Tyler Wilson averaged 9.7 yards per his 25 attempts, with three touchdowns and no interceptions. His receiving corps -- on paper, the SEC's best, hands-down -- lived up to its billing, with Jarius Wright hauling in five balls for 157 yards and two scores. The White team defense had its moments, too, holding All-SEC candidate Knile Davis to just 44 yards on 16 carries.

The Hogs' spring wasn't perfect -- backup tailback Broderick Green went down for the year with an ACL tear -- and Bobby Petrino hasn't even officially named Wilson the starter yet. But with the quarterback position looking solid and the defense boasting its best spring in years, the loss of Mallett sure hasn't put much of a dent in the Hogs' new position as West challengers just yet.

AUBURN: The Tigers entered the spring looking for playmakers to fill at least part of the colossal void left by Cam Newton's and Nick Fairley's departures. And at defensive end, they may have found some; sophomores Corey Lemonier and Nosa Eguae both drew positive reviews throughout the spring, and previously little-used junior Dee Ford burst into the rotation with a big camp and a pair of sacks at Auburn's A-Day game. New line coach Mike Pelton said he was impressed by -- and would use -- all three this fall.

The rest of the defense didn't have a shabby A-Day, either, as they defeated the offense 63-32 in Gene Chizik's unique scrimmage scoring system. But most of the offense's efforts went towards polishing up the passing attack (tailbacks Michael Dyer and Onterio McCalebb combined for just seven carries), and those efforts didn't yield much in terms in terms of finding big-play potential. Tight end Phillip Lutzenkirchen (pictured) won MVP honors for his 65 yards receiving and catching the lone touchdown of the scrimmage, and DeAngelo Benton added one 48-yard reception. But otherwise, offensive excitement was hard to come by, and Chizik afterwards called the quarterbacking from Barrett Trotter and Clint Moseley "inconsistent." (The two will compete for the starting job into the fall.)

Under Chizik, Auburn hasn't made much of an effort to put on a show in their spring game -- the reviews on Newton's debut in the 2010 version were universally ho-hum -- but there still seems little doubt Gus Malzahn will look for much more explosiveness out of his attack come fall camp.

LSU: It's the same old story on the bayou. The Tigers entered spring hoping to finally put their quarterbacking issues to rest behind someone, be it incumbent starter Jordan Jefferson or someone else ... and left it with Jefferson still the starter and still on less-than-firm ground after an ugly 4-of-14, no touchdowns, one interception performance.

Well, less-than-firm ground with the LSU fanbase , anyway. Bayou Bengal supporters seem to have universally pinned their hopes on JUCO transfer Zach Mettenberger, despite Mettenberger being mired at third on the depth chart entering the spring game. But you can't blame them when Jefferson struggled the way he did, Jarrett Lee averaged all of 4.5 yards per-attempt (with a pick, of course) and Mettenberger did this:
 


None of that made any difference to Les Miles and the LSU staff, who gave Jefferson the team's "Jim Taylor Award" for his spring effort and leadership. And quarterback or no quarterback, LSU showed how formidable they'd be all the same: Spencer Ware followed up his breakout Cotton Bowl performance with a huge spring, the secondary looks as airtight as ever even without Patrick Peterson, and there's plenty of playmakers on both sides of the ball.

But unless Jefferson lives up to his coaches' faith in him -- and that spring game performance did little to assure anyone he will -- LSU's still going to have some headaches.

MISSISSIPPI STATE, OLE MISS: Despite their wildly divergent 2010 seasons, the question for both Mississippi schools was the same entering the spring: how would their defenses fare after losing several major contributors from last year?

In Oxford, that question was all the more important for last year's defense having been such a disappointment in the first place. And it got even harder to answer mid-spring when potentially the unit's best player, linebacker D.J. Shackelford, was lost for the year with an ACL tear. The Rebel defense had a successful spring game all the same, holding the two offenses to just 27 total points and scoring seven of their own on an Ivan Nicholas interception return. But coming against a Rebel offense in flux after seeing former JUCO Randall Mackey ascend to the likely starter's job (and former favorite Nathan Stanley leave the program), the jury will remain out despite the positive signs.

Up the road in Starkville, the news seemed more unambiguously positive: Dan Mullen said his defensive line "dominated" the Marron-White Game, producing 11 tackles-for-loss. The Bulldogs already seemed happy with their new linebackers, and that was before redshirt freshman Ferlando Bohanna blew up for eight tackles and a pair of sacks in the spring game. The secondary may remain a work-in-progress (State quarterbacks, including backup Dylan "Yes, That" Favre, combined to average a healthy 7.8 yards per-attempt), but the front seven looks like it shouldn't take too big a step back.

We'll cover the SEC East next week once the slowpokes at Kentucky hold their spring game this weekend.


Posted on: March 21, 2011 4:01 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Alabama

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice . So we here at the Eye on College Football  will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers . Today, we look at Alabama , who starts spring practice today .

Spring Practice Question: Does Alabama have the offense to win another national championship? Or, alternatively, do they really need one?

As spring practice opens today in Tuscaloosa, most eyes are going to be on the revamped Tide offense, and with good reason; with no Greg McElroy, no Mark Ingram, and no Julio Jones, the Alabama attack is going to undergo a more thorough overhaul than any it's undergone since Jones and Ingram burst onto the scene in 2008.

But it's also because there's not a lot for most eyes to see on the Tide defense. With 9 or 10 starters back from a unit already ranked fifth in the nation in total defense, including the entirety of the Tide's linebacking and secondary groups with those including All-American safety Mark Barron and potential All-American linebacker Dont'a Hightower , on paper this will certainly be one of the FBS's best defenses. And the Tide may look even better on the field than they do on paper; after last year's (relative) 10-3 disappointment and occasional backbreaking defensive letdowns (as vs. Auburn and LSU), there's little doubt Nick Saban is going to be at his most firebreathingly intense (and most scrupulously detailed) this offseason.

In short, the defensive show put on this spring isn't likely to be any different from what Tide observers already saw prior to the Tide's undefeated regular seasons in 2008 and 2009. The offense, on the other hand, has several issues to resolve:

Quarterback: Certainly the most high-profile of those issues, the starting quarterback job will be contested this spring by sophomore A.J. McCarron and redshirt freshman Phillip Sims. McCarron boasts the advantages of an extra year in Jim McElwain's offense and a modicum of playing time in 2010 (that's him at right in the Tide's laugher against Duke), but in the end Saban seems likely to select whichever quarterback can be safer with the ball. Opposite that defense, playmaking ability may come second in importance to not-turnover-making ability. That goes double considering the ...

Offensive line: One of college football's biggest mysteries during the 2010 season was why a previously dominant rushing attack featuring a Heisman Trophy winner at tailback and an offensive line loaded with both talent and experience wound up seventh in the SEC in total rushing in conference games. Don't expect Saban to let it happen again, Ingram or no Ingram, with new line coach Jeff Stoutland lighting a fire under talents like former five-star tackle D.J. Fluker, All-SEC guard Barrett Jones, and veteran center William Vlachos. Still, Tide fans will no doubt want to be reassured that numbers like the 2.3 yards per-carry Alabama averaged in their three losses a year ago are a thing of the past.

More SEC
Receivers: Of McElroy, Ingram, and Jones, it's easy to see how McElroy (with the McCarron-Sims duo) and Ingram (with Trent Richardson) might be replaced. With Jones, it's a different story, as projected starting seniors Darius Hanks and Marquis Maze have--to this point in their careers--been more steady possession types than Jones-style uber-athletic gamebreakers. Again, the Tide likely won't need a Jones-style gamebreaker if the defense and running game return to their 2009 form, but it will nonetheless bear close watching to see if Hanks and Maze (or fellow senior Brandon Gibson or sophomore Kenny Bell or anyone else) can add at least a little explosiveness to the passing game.

The running backs aren't nearly as much of a question mark; after biding his time for two years alongside Ingram, Richardson should be ready to fully establish himself one of the SEC's best, and even if he's not (or struggles with injuries), powerful sophomore Eddie Lacy or true freshman (and spring enrollee) Dee Hart should be able to pick up the slack. Pair them with the defense described above, and it's easy to see the Tide making a run at yet another national title if the line can get back to its road-grading ways and the passing attack can be simply competent.

How big an "if" is that? We'll start to find out these next few weeks, and there's no doubt plenty of observers across the SEC (and maybe the country) hoping it proves bigger than we expect it to be.

Posted on: October 12, 2010 12:14 pm
Edited on: October 12, 2010 12:22 pm
 

Alabama OL Fluker likely out for Ole Miss

Posted by Chip Patterson

Less than a week ago, nearly the entire nation was wondering if anyone would be able to topple the seemingly unstoppable Alabama Crimson Tide.  The fantasy ended in a 35-21 loss to South Carolina in Columbia on Saturday, and the charmed life of the Alabama football team has quickly come to a halt.  Whether it be head coach Nick Saban's foul tongue or wide receiver Julio Jones' broken hand, the news out of Tuscaloosa has not great since falling from the top of the mountain.  Jones wasn't the only offensive starter hurt against the Gamecocks, right tackle D.J. Fluker sustained a groin injury in the game and has already been ruled out for this week's matchup with Ole Miss.  

“D.J. Fluker has got a pretty severe groin injury that will probably keep him out at least a week,” Saban told reporters on Monday, “maybe longer, depending on how he responds to treatment ... McCulllough was the guy that went in the game. He’s the guy that has been sort of our swing, third tackle. He’ll move up as a starter.”

The Crimson Tide should find their rhythm again against the Rebels this weekend, regardless of the different health concerns.  Continued struggles would hint the beginnings of a complete unraveling, and this team is simply too good for that.  However, the Tide will need to find a way to overcome these struggles quickly if they plan on defending the SEC Championship on December 4 in Atlanta.  Luckily, they do still hold their own SEC West fate in their hands.  Alabama still has division leaders LSU and Auburn left on the schedule, and if the Tide can win out the worst case scenario would be a three-way tie for first place in the West.  With the first tiebreaker being head-to-head competition, Alabama would get the nod to compete for the SEC Championship.  While the loss to South Carolina may have put a national championship out of reach, they can still find a way to win the conference.  They just can't afford any slip ups along the way.

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