Tag:Justin Houston
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.



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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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



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.


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.


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.


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: March 10, 2011 12:58 pm

Georgia LB: former teammates were "cancerous"

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

A whole host of explanations have been floated over the past few months for Georgia's 6-7 disaster of a 2010 college football season, from a shoddy temporary weight room to bad fourth quarter luck to poor coaching from Mark Richt and his staff to plain ol' "not that good."

But few of those explanations have carried the kind of force that junior linebacker Christian Robinson's does. Speaking with Chris Low, Robinson blamed the 2010 collapse on a lack of leadership in no uncertain terms (emphasis added) :
“We’re holding each other accountable and have the right kind of attitude,” Robinson said. “I think we’ve eliminated some people maybe that were cancerous , whether it was people who graduated or might not be here anymore. We’ve become a team of guys that want to be here and want to do well for Georgia.”
Obviously, that's some awfully strong (and not particularly sensitive) language Robinson's wielding. But is he wrong? The reason there's been so much speculation regarding Georgia's season is because in some ways, it defied explanation; for a team with supreme talents like A.J. Green, Justin Houston and Clint Boling to go under .500 with their freshman quarterback generally excelling and the Bulldogs statistical profile perfectly intact (UGA finished fourth in the SEC in both yards per-play and yards per-play allowed) doesn't make much sense.

So the leadership void is as good an explanation as any. And if Robinson's correct that that void has been filled, Georgia could find themselves returning to the conference title conversation in a hurry.

Posted on: January 5, 2011 5:49 pm

Recruit says he'll choose school with coin flips

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

At 7 p.m. Eastern tonight, college football fans can get a look at some of the proverbial stars of the future in the Under Armour All-American Game, which will feature any number of top-flight recruits and the commitment decisions of maybe a dozen or more currently uncommitted prospects.

One of those players is expected to be Griffin (Ga.) defensive end Xzavier Dickson, who'll be choosing between Alabama and Georgia. Or, if he's telling the Atlanta Journal-Constitution the truth, he'll be letting random fate choose for him . The AJC's Chip Towers relayed the following conversation:

I asked [Dickson] if he already knew which way he was going at that moment. He admitted he had not.

“So I’m going to flip a coin,” he told me. “It’s that close.

“Come on,” I said incredulously. “You’re kidding, right?”

“No, I’m serious,” Dickson said. “I’m going to flip it five times and the one that comes up the most is the one I’m going to go with. They both can provide me with what I need at the next level, so I can’t go wrong.”

Fellow Georgia blue-chip Quan Bray (a wideout/running back from LaGrange), Dickson's roommate at the game, told Towers that Dickson had told him the same thing. So at the very least, it's not some elaborate lie told solely for Towers' benefit.

It could, of course, be an elaborate lie to add some extra drama to his announcement all the same; while he's right that both the Bulldogs and Tide would provide him with plenty of top-flight coaching and SEC excitement (not to mention a role as the outside pass rusher in the teams' respective 3-4 defenses that have made players like Justin Houston and Courtney Upshaw), surely Dickson wouldn't see them as such dead equals as to let a coin decide for him. And the coin flip won't happen live on camera, as Dickson said he'd do it the night before.

But if Dickson is dead-set on making a decision at the game (and, more to the point, on ESPN) and truly doesn't see any difference between the Tide and Bulldogs, well, plenty of far important choices have been made with even more unreliable decision-making processes before.
Posted on: December 29, 2010 3:57 pm

CBS Bowl Bonanza: Liberty Bowl

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

The Basics: UCF (10-3) vs. Georgia (6-6), Dec. 31, 3:30 p.m. EST.

Why You Should Watch: The SEC's bowl tie-ins give the non-AQ teams of the world just one shot at the nation's highest-profile conference, and this is it; the Liberty annually pairs one of the SEC's also-rans against the Conference USA champion. But even with the field seemingly as tilted in favor of the C-USA upset as it could possibly be, it hasn't happened yet, as the SEC has swept all four of the SEC-vs.-C-USA Liberty Bowls to date. UCF represents maybe the best chance for C-USA yet, as they have both the airtight defense (18th nationally) and offensive starpower (in freshman quarterbacking prodigy Jeff Godfrey) to give Georgia all they want.

Of course, the Dawgs have A.J. Green and Justin Houston and Aaron Murray and a whole bunch of other SEC athletes, not to mention a statistical profile much better than their 6-6 record. Last year's Liberty went into overtime, and on paper this one's evenly-matched enough to make it 2-for-2. For depth of talent on display and a well-balanced, competitive matchup, you're not going to do much better before New Year's than the Liberty.

Keys to Victory for UCF: Frankly, the Knights should come into this game the substantially more motivated team. They're coming off of a championship season, but one without a win over BCS competition (after close losses vs. N.C. State and at Kansas State); they couldn't ask for a more perfect finishing touch than beating a traditional SEC power for the program's first-ever bowl victory. That should give the Knights an emotional edge, one that could give them a fast start against a Bulldogs team that badly underachieved to land at 6-6 and no doubt had their sights set on a bowl destination more glamorous than Memphis.

If the Knights do come away with a halftime or three-quarters lead, Georgia will be in trouble. Godfrey was a revelation after taking over for the injured Rob Calabrese at midseason, finishing eighth in the country in passer rating with a sparkling 68.4 completion percentage and 9.8 yards-per-attempt average. He added 10 touchdowns and 546 yards on the ground for good measure, pacing the Knights to the kind of balance (2,502 rushing yards, 2,493 passing) and steady efficiency (fifth in the FBS in time-of-possession at 33:09 a game) that most teams can only talk about.

But as effective as the Knight offense was, it was the defense that did the heavy lifting, starting with a secondary that placed both corner Josh Robinson and safety Kemal Ishmael on the All-C-USA first team and finished in the national top 30 in opponent's passer rating, opponent's yards-per-attempt, and interceptions. But the Knights also have a pair of fearsome defensive ends in Bruce Miller and Darius Nall, who combined for 21 tackles-for-loss and 15.5 sacks to give UCF the nation's 10th-ranked rush defense. (Ishmael's team-leading 82 tackles helped, too.) The absence of a big-play passing game means they won't want to fall behind, but if the Knights can get out in front, their combination of sound defense and clock-killing offense will have them well-positioned for the victory.

Keys to Victory for Georgia: It's simple: if the Dawgs overcome their disappointment of a season and match UCF's levels of energy and focus, they win.

Because while UCF might have several awfully solid players, Georgia has several All-Americans. Houston led the SEC in sacks, finished second in tackles-for-loss, and was a finalist for multiple national awards; Murray might be the only freshman quarterback in the country to have had an even more impressive season than Godfrey, posting an incredible 24-to-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio; and Green might be the most purely talented college receiver since Larry Fitzgerald. And even aside from their headlining stars, Georgia can boast an offensive line packed with both experience and future NFL players like senior tackle Clint Boling; dangerous skill position weapons like tight end Orson Charles and running back Washaun Ealey; maybe the nation's best pair of specialists in punter Drew Butler and cannon-legged kicker Blair Walsh; kickoff returner Brandon Boykin, who's taken four kicks to the house the past two seasons; two steady senior linebackers in Akeem Dent and Darryl Gamble; etc.

All of that talent means it's something of a mystery how Georgia ever wound up at .500, though plain old bad luck in the form of poorly-timed fumbles and critical defensive breakdowns in close games -- the Dawgs went 0-3 in games decided by 7 points or fewer -- probably had something to do with it. Their average per-play margin of +1.2 (6.4 gained per snap, 5.2 allowed)
ranked first by a wide margin in the SEC East and fourth in the conference behind the leagues' two BCS teams and Alabama. In short, this is a team that's been much better than their place in the SEC standings (or their Liberty berth) would indicate, and if they play to that same standard, they should have enough to overpower the less-talented Knights.

The Liberty Bowl is like: That one sharp-witted, twinkly-eyed elderly gentleman in your neighborhood who you knew from church, or the diner down the street, or maybe just the rocking chair on his front porch, who told stories and though not all of them were classics, he always had one you'd never heard before and some of them stayed with you like Louisville beating Boise State 44-40 in 2004. The Liberty has been in business since 1959, making it one of the oldest pre-New Year's games, and though it's not the game it once was, UCF and Georgia promise to give it another memorable chapter in its distinguished history.

Posted on: November 17, 2010 12:10 pm

Nagurski Trophy finalists announced

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

The Nagurski Trophy is handed out annually to the nation's best defensive player by the Football Writers Association of America , and if there's no slam-dunk choice for the FWAA this year like Ndamukong Suh in 2009, it's hard to argue -- depending on how you feel about the under-fire Nick Fairley -- that any of the five finalists for the award wouldn't be entirely deserving. They are:

Da'Quan Bowers, End, Clemson, 6-4, 275, Jr. (Bamberg, S.C)
Nick Fairley, Tackle, Auburn, 6-5, 298, Jr. (Mobile, Ala.)
Justin Houston, Linebacker, Georgia, 6-3, 258, Jr. (Statesboro, Ga.)
Luke Kuechly, Linebacker, Boston College, 6-3, 235, So. (Cincinnati, Ohio)
Patrick Peterson, Cornerback, LSU 6-1, 222, Jr. (Pompano Beach, Fla.)

You know Bowers as the nation's leading sackmaster with 13.5 takedowns of opposing quarterbacks, but he's also added 22 tackles-for-loss, second in the nation; Fairley as the SEC 's most purely disruptive defender (with possible apologies to Houston and LSU tackle Drake Nevis ), and his 18 tackles-for-loss rank first in the country amongst defensive tackles; Peterson as the nation's consensus best cover corner, the absolute prototype for the next level with his combination of size and breathtaking speed; and Houston as the SEC's leader in both sacks (11) and tackles-for-loss (18.5) from his position as a rush linebacker in Georgia 'a new-for-2010 3-4 defense.

But you may not know Kuechly at all, and not without reason; when you share not just a team or a defense but a linebacking unit with an incredible story like fellow Eagle Mark Herzlich and his recovery from cancer, it's hard to get noticed in the national press no matter what you do on the field. But as the nationa's most efficient, productive tackling machine, what Kuechly has accomplished has been no less impressive than the achievements of any of the other four Nagurski finalists. He leads the nation in both total tackles with 146 (or 14.6 per game ) and solo stops with 83; no other player in college football has yet crossed the 80 threshold. Kuechly is also the only player in the country to make 20 or more tackles in one game, and has done so twice: once against North Carolina State and again against Duke this past Saturday, when he also added two pass breakups, a forced fumble, and recovered fumble just for good measure.

So even if the most under-the-radar finalist for the Nagurski goes home with the hardware, complaints should be kept to a minimum. Though anyone other than Suh would have been a mistake a year ago, this year the FWAA cannot go wrong.
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