Tag:Michael Ford
Posted on: January 10, 2012 3:04 am
Edited on: January 10, 2012 1:05 pm
 

Jefferson switch backfires on Miles as Lee sits

Posted by Jerry Hinnen



Bringing Jordan Jefferson off the bench on Nov. 5 might have won Les Miles his first meeting with Alabama this season. But that same decision might also have lost him the meeting that mattered.

Jefferson's mobility and the option looks he opened up help rescue what had been a flailing offense in Tuscaloosa, with his final option pitch of the night -- a 15-yard gain by Michael Ford -- clinching the win in overtime. It was after that first Alabama game that Miles and the LSU staff went away from 9-0 starter Jarrett Lee and towards Jefferson for good, with Lee attempting just five passes total over the Tigers' final four games. And Jefferson appeared to have repaid that leap of faith, putting together effective showings against Ole Miss and Arkansas.

But Monday in New Orleans, it appeared Jefferson's earlier success against the Tide had been nothing more than purple-and-fool's gold. The same option plays went nowhere when they didn't go backwards. Jefferson was hopeless as a passer anywhere beyond the line-of-scrimmage, completing 11-of-his-17 passes but for a useless 3.1 yards an attempt. His legs rarely helped him against the vicious Tide pass rush, as he finished with 14 carries for 15 yards. And Jefferson capped his night with the game's only interception, a mind-bending on-the-run chest pass to a running back -- Spencer Ware -- who had already turned to block for him. 

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It got so bad that Jefferson was booed by his own fans, in a national title game, in New Orleans. But still, even with the LSU offense looking more likely to put points on the board for the Tide than for their own team, Lee never entered the game. His final game as a collegian ended without his having taken a snap.

"I did feel like I'd get opportunity tonight," Lee said, "and I didn't."

Neither Lee nor the Tiger faithful were the only ones wondering if Miles had Jefferson a longer leash in the Superdome than he'd earned.

"Jarrett didn't get a shot. I felt like maybe he should have," said senior offensive lineman Will Blackwell. "He didn't, but that's not the reason we lost. Jarrett Lee not playing is not the reason we lost.

"Jarrett won nine games for us and we did very well in those nine games. He throws the ball a little bit better than Jordan, but Jordan runs it a little better. It's kind of a pick-your-poison kind of deal. Unfortunately, tonight we picked the wrong one."

Even Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart admitted he's expected to see Lee, saying he was "real shocked" Miles had never gone to the bullpen, before politely adding "They kind of rode the horse that brought them." 

In his postgame press conference, Miles was asked multiple times about his decision to stick with Jefferson -- once by former New Orleans Saints quarterback and current radio host Bobby Hebert, father of LSU lineman T-Bob Hebert, in a rambling and confrontational "question" that has to be read to be believed -- and stated (in his own Milesian style) that he felt Jefferson was better-suite to handle the Tide pass rush.

"We did consider Jarrett Lee," Miles said. " But we felt like with the pass rush that we were getting that we needed a guy that could move the seat and not sustain that pass rush ... As much as I would have liked to have put Jarrett Lee in because the program owes him a lot, he really did a great job for us in the beginning of the year and really throughout his career, I felt like it would be unfair to him with the pass rush ... That was my call."

Certainly the threat of the Tide sack artists was a factor to consider. And Blackwell is right that the Crimson Tide would have won that game if Tom Brady was at the LSU controls. But between LSU's stubborn determination to make the option "work," Miles's refusal to bench Jefferson (even if only to get his head on straight) and the phasing out of Lee over the season's final weeks, it seems fair to ask if the much larger factor was simply that LSU's staff was convinced that Jefferson gave them the best chance to win--no matter the evidence mounting in front of their eyes.

Why would they be so certain? The only logical explanation is because that's how things had worked out for them the first time around, and after weeks of preparation, LSU simply wasn't prepared for them to not work out a second time. In switching to Jefferson in the Game of the Century, Miles won a huge battle. But after Monday, that same choice seems to have helped cost him the national championship war.

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Posted on: January 9, 2012 4:25 pm
 

RapidReport Roundup: LSU vs. Alabama

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Rounding up all the latest from CBSSports.com Alabama and LSU Rapid Reporters Jim Dunn and Glenn Guilbeau ... and what it might mean for the big game.

  
  

Don't expect a blowout. “Every game I think we played against LSU in the last five games comes right down to the wire, some kind of way," Nick Saban said Sunday, and he's not exaggerating. Those five games -- all since Saban took over in Tuscaloosa, transforming what had been your average SEC blood feud into something even more intense between his former and current teams -- and have been decided by a total of 28 points, with two games going into overtime and none featuring a margin greater than 2009's nine. Whether or not the rematch lives up to the hype of the first meeting from an aesthetics standpoint (and there are those, of course, who will argue the first meeting already did), there's little doubt the final minutes will be as dramatic as ever.

Optioning away from the option? One of the key factors in LSU's win in the Prematch was their success with an option play featuring Jordan Jefferson and Michael Ford, a look which -- thanks to Jefferson's reduced role as Jarrett Lee started -- the Tigers had barely shown entering the game. The usually uber-prepared Tide defense seemed to be caught off guard, but Ford isn't expecting that to be the case the second time around.  "Alabama will be better against it this time," Ford said. "So we've just got to trick 'em -- act like we're going to run the option and run something different. When me, (tailback/fullback) Kenny Hilliard and Jordan Jefferson are in there, it's scary. It opens everything up. We can run between the tackles with Kenny. We can go option with me. Or we can throw it. You don't know what's coming at you."

That's not wrong, and both Jefferson's ascension and Hilliard's late-season charge are two reasons that the Tigers can hope for more offensive success than they saw on Nov. 5. But with the Tide knowing that LSU knows they might have to move away from the option, we might encourage the Tigers to stick with it--big plays against the Tide defense are precious, and proper execution might give them one against a defense that's looking for the change-up away from it.

First opponent: the layoff. Saban has never lacked for confidence in his coaching approach (and why would he, given the results), so it was somewhat surprising to hear him admit Sunday -- even after taking his Tide to the BCS national championship game in 2009-10 -- he isn't entirely sure how to handle the lengthy span between the end of the regular season and the title game. “When you have this much time between games, obviously you're always wondering as a coach. 'Are we practicing enough? Are we practicing too much?'" Saban said.

One could argue that uncertainty has played itself out in Saban's bowl record--his 6-3 mark is well above-average, but it's included a couple of clunkers, like the 2008 Tide's inexplicable blowout loss to Utah. (Miles, meanwhile, is 5-1 at LSU.) That's probably too small a sample size to make any firm conclusions, and it's not like the Tide haven't had several impressive bowl wins under Saban, too--last year's utter demolition of Michigan State being Exhibit A. But if we had to pick a team that might come out a little less certain than the other, especially in New Orleans, we'd lean towards Alabama.

Other tidbits. Miles says his team is ready. "They're a team that loves to play. The lights come on, and they want it. This will be a game that will be very representative of that" ... Saban said win or lose, there's one change coming Monday. “Every time we play LSU, I've got to change my phone number because people blow up my phone,” he joked ... Judging from the reaction to games like the Alamo Bowl and Rose Bowl, we're not sure fans are really clamoring for another field goal-decided slugfest. But Ford disagrees. "I don't think that's a game," he said of the pinball bowl games. "I think people get tired of seeing all those points on the board. They want to see a hard-fought game" ... LSU isn't a bigger rival for Alabama than Auburn, but Mark Barron says the gap is shrinking. “This is a rivalry that's grown over the years here recently due to the level of competition. I wouldn't say it's bigger than the Auburn rivalry, but it's growing slowly." After two No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchups in the space of three months, here's wondering if by the end of the night, it's moved far past growing "slowly."

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Posted on: November 25, 2011 6:28 pm
 

QUICK HITS: No. 1 LSU 41, No. 3 Arkansas 17

Posted by Jerry Hinnen



LSU WON: 
The Tigers had to work harder than they have against any 2011 opponent other than Alabama -- a 14-0 second quarter deficit was more than three times larger than the previous largest deficit faced by LSU this year -- but in the end, Arkansas fell by the wayside just like the first 11 teams on LSU's schedule. LSU pounded on the run-averse Arkansas front for 286 bruising rushing yards, 102 of them by the impressive Kenny Hilliard, and held Tyler Wilson to just 207 passing yards with an interception. Tyrann Mathieu put a huge stamp on the game, returning a punt 92 yards to erase the last of that early deficit, forcing one fumble and recovering another.

WHY LSU WON: The biggest factor in the win was arguably the overpowering nature of the Bayou Bengal ground game; behind Hilliard, Michael Ford, Spencer Ware, Jordan Jefferson and another devastating performance from the LSU offensive line, the second half entirely belonged to the Tiger running game. Once LSU got the ball back in the fourth quarter up 21-17, they challenged Arkansas's front seven to match them physically or get run out of Tiger Stadium ... and the Hogs simply couldn't meet that challenge.

But that overlooks the fact that the somehow still underappreciated LSU defense allowed a 62-yard Hog touchdown drive on the visitors' third possession of the game ... and then held the SEC's best offense to zero touchdowns and just three points the remainder of the game. Wilson was sacked five times, the Hogs gained just 254 yards for the game, and only one of their final seven possessions lasted more than four plays. The Hog offensive line had no answer for the LSU front or John Chavis's blitzes (Barkevious Mingo was a particular terror), and the vaunted Hog receivers had precious little success against Mathieu, the amazing Morris Claiborne, and the rest of the LSU secondary. The LSU running game was incredible. Given the competition, LSU's defense might have been even better than that.

WHEN LSU WON: When Ware carried in from seven yards out to cap a nine-play touchdown drive -- eight of them runs -- with 11:04 to play in the game, the score was still only 31-17. But the way those eight runs had seemed to physically overwhelm the Arkansas defense, no one watching believed the game was anything but decided.

WHAT LSU WON: A perfect regular season, an outright SEC West title and trip to Atlanta, a third win over a top-5 opponent, and -- given results in other Bedlam-based games -- possibly a BCS title game berth already. But that's it.

WHAT ARKANSAS LOST: Just a second game this year, but when you lose your SEC and national title dreams in that one fell swoop, that's a lot to lose all the same.

THAT WAS CRAZY: Behold the Mathieu punt return in all its glory:

Posted on: November 22, 2011 2:25 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Arkansas at LSU

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

ARKANSAS WILL WIN IF: the Hog defensive line plays the game of its collective life. As noted here in the run-up to LSU-Alabama, the Tigers' big plays come almost exclusively in the passing game; even with Spencer Ware and Michael Ford around, LSU ranks among the nation's lowest producers of long runs even as they rank among its most consistent in grinding out 4, 5, or 6 yards a carry. Without that steady diet of chain-moving runs, though, what happens? Against Alabama, what happened was that Jarrett Lee found Rueben Randle blanketed, the LSU passing game got neither big plays nor small ones, and the Bayou Bengal offense as a whole (even in victory) limped to its worst offensive showing of the year.

Obviously, the Hog defense isn't going to be able to do the things Alabama's did, and there's a danger it could get run over completely; already, the Razorbacks have given up 197 rushing yards to Alabama, 381 to Texas A&M, 291 to Auburn, 222 to Vanderbilt. But in players like ends Jake Bequette and Tenarius Wright and tackles D.D. Jones and Byran Jones, the Hogs have the potential to play much better than those numbers would suggest. If they can occasionally slow down Ware and Ford and force the LSU passing game to methodically move down the field rather than pop the big one to Randle on second- or third-and-short, their offense will have a chance at outscoring an LSU unit that -- for all its many strengths -- isn't as consistently explosive.


LSU WILL WIN IF:
their secondary comes to play. Let's be honest: Dennis Johnson has given the Razorback running game a real spark over the past several weeks, and the potential return of Knile Davis might spark them further still. But against the nation's No. 4 run defense, the Hogs simply aren't going to win the game on the ground. Tyler Wilson, Jarius Wright, Joe Adams and Co. are going to have to get theirs. And they've got some hope--against the only other truly dedicated pass-first offense they've faced this year, LSU gave up 463 yards, 7.1 an attempt, and two touchdowns to West Virginia.

But since then, Morris Claiborne, Eric Reid, Tyrann Mathieu, Ron Brooks, Brandon Taylor (and the rest) have been on lockdown, allowing zero touchdown passes over their last seven games while collecting seven interceptions. Nationally, only Alabama boasts a lower opposing QB rating. If the LSU defensive backs do anything similar to Wilson like they'd done to everyone else this season that wasn't West Virginia, the Hogs won't stand a chance.

THE X-FACTOR: Adams has long since proven his ability to change a game with his punt returns, but Brad Wing and the elite LSU punt coverage unit mean he may not get much of a chance. The bigger issue: if the Hogs can avoid the backbreaking turnover. Wilson has been largely careful with the ball but may face heavy pressure and has had a brainfart or two here or there; see his gift-wrapped pick-six vs. South Carolina. And Johnson has already given up a handful of critical fumbles this season. If the Hogs hand an LSU team that thrives on field position those kinds of early Christmas presents, forget winning--they'll be lucky to keep the game competitive.  
Posted on: November 6, 2011 2:45 am
 

SEC Winners and Losers, Week 10

Posted by Jerry Hinnen



WINNER: LSU. 

Usually, we'd find some specific angle to take within the team or the coaching staff when naming our "top" winner. Saying LSU was your big winner this SEC Saturday is like saying fire is hot.

But the stakes were so high for their win over Alabama, the rewards so lavish, that there's no real need to split those kind of hairs. LSU will now be the unquestioned, unanimous No. 1 team in the nation in every available poll, BCS standings included; they are only two games away from clinching the SEC West championship, one of which is against a team that's lost 12 straight SEC games and the other at home against a team whose last two road trips ended in death-defying escapes from that same 12-game losing streak team and Vanderbilt; they are three SEC games, then, from playing for the national championship in their own home state, at the same site where they won it in 2003 and 2007. And they accomplished all of that by defeating what might be their bitterest rival's best team in 20 years in that rival's own stadium and forced their forme head coach under the .500 mark against their current head coach. It's 100 percent possible LSU just cleared the highest hurdle between themselves and the national championship and did so in the sweetest possible fashion.

Not bad for 60-plus minutes of work.

LOSER: "Make his ass quit." 

That's the phrase Nick Saban used in a pregame speech to his players before the 2008 meeting with LSU, and one popularized as a kind of motto amongst Tide fans for the program's philosophy of oustanding conditioning work, physical play, perfect execution, and -- specifically -- the combination of all three forcing the opponent to surrender as the second half drags on. It's worked spectacularly for the most part under Saban, and until Saturday 2011 was no exception: the Tide didn't even allow a second-half point in the month of October. 

But in recent big games, the Tide have been strangely unable to force anyone on the other side to "quit"--and in fact, have come closer to doing it themselves. There was the fourth-quarter failures against LSU in Baton Rouge last season. Then the fall from 24 points ahead against Auburn. And tonight, there was this in the second half: five first downs, 104 yards, two turnovers and three three-and-outs, the last of which was the disastrous overtime possession which covered minus-10 yards.  LSU did next-to-nothing on offense in regulation too, of course, but in overtime their Jordan Jefferson/Michael Ford speed option still worked as well as it ever did.

Result: another championship-level game in which it was the other team outplaying the Tide over the final 30 minutes-plus and walking off the winners. It's not conditioning (we have little doubt every team at this level is as fit as they're going to be), but those second-half woes are something Saban's going to have to figure out all the same if he wants his teams hoisting trophies again.

WINNER: the Baton Rouge ticket market. 

Oh, Arkansas's visit on Nov. 25 won't be a second "Game of the Century" ... but with the Hogs seeing off the Gamecocks and LSU triumphing in Tuscaloosa, that game now becomes the biggest tilt remaining in the SEC's 2011 season by some margin. Despite the Razorback road woes mentioned above, Arkansas's history with LSU makes them the only realistic obstacle standing between the Tigers and Atlanta ... maybe even the BCS title game. The hype starts now. Can Dennis Johnson also bring that wood?



LOSERS: Rematch advocates. 

The stipulation was always that the best scenario for a rematch was for Alabama to win a narrow, competitive game over the Tigers that left voters wondering what would happen on a neutral field. We got the "narrow, competitive game" part, but voters won't need to see LSU on a neutral field ... since they've already beaten the Tide on Bryant-Denny Stadium's highly hostile field. Beyond that, while the first half featured plenty of smart offensive football countered only by outstanding defense, the second more often seemed like a sloppy, grind-it-out affair with neither team taking much in the way of offensive risks or producing anything resembling attacking "flair." Aesthetic value shouldn't play a part when deciding who gets to play for a national title, but voters are human all the same--and they may not be thrilled by the prospect of a second touchdown-less meeting.

WINNER: Joker Phillips.

There were more than a few people who saw Kentucky's opening-week slog against Western Kentucky, their wipeout against Florida, the epic pratfall at South Carolina, and pegged them for an 0-8 season in the SEC. Even as recently as last week, a dispiriting double-digit home loss to Mississippi State didn't suggest a corner was about to be turned.

But Phillips kept his team believing, and Saturday they comprehensively outplayed an Ole Miss team that -- at the very least -- has more offensive playmakers and comparable defensive talent. No one, Phillips included, would claim he's done a great coaching job this season, but likewise no one would argue he and his staff didn't badly outprepare the staff on the opposite sideline. 

LOSER: Pete Boone.

Whether he chooses between them now or at the end of what will likely be an 0-8 SEC campaign, the Ole Miss athletic director has two choices ahead of him after today's Rebel loss in Lexington: he can either stand behind Houston Nutt and make his own less-than-popular hold on the AD's chair that much less popular, or he can swallow Nutt's gigantic contractual bullet and go in search of a new coach even as he also fundraises for a new basketball facility and other capital improvements. Before today, Boone could entertain the possibility that a big finish by Nutt would allow him to put the ax away for at least one more year and still save face. Not any more--Nutt will enter 2012 as a virtual lame duck, or employed somewhere else, and there's nothing else Boone can realistically hope for any longer.

WINNER: Jeff Demps. 

For weeks, Demps has been nagged by various injuries. And not coincidentally -- though God knows the Gators' issues weren't that simple -- for weeks the Gators' ground game has all the effectiveness of the proverbial submarine's screen door. Against Vanderbilt, Demps finally looked like his old self, and not just on the juke-the-first-tackler-out-of-his-j
ock 52-yard touchdown that all-but-clinched the Gator victory. Also not a coincidence: with a little bit of help from Mike Gillislee, the Gators ran for 197 yards -- 158 of them Demps' -- and won their first game since September. 

LOSERS: Mark Richt's circadian rhythms. 

You know, sleep patterns. Not that college football coaches ever have particularly regular ones, but Richt's might have stayed within shouting of distance of normal if he'd known his Bulldogs didn't have everything to lose against Auburn this coming Saturday. That's not to say there's any worries about the Dawgs' total dismantling of New Mexico State -- if anything, that was a calming performance, especially where Aaron Murray's return to his usual accurate form was concerned -- but when the day started, his team didn't have to worry about the pressure that comes with being two winnable home games away from a return to Atlanta. Thanks to South Carolina's loss, that's the case, but it's also the case that Richt's teams have not performed particularly well under this new kind of pressure the last few seasons.

That's not to say, of course, that Richt wouldn't take having his team control its own destiny in a heartbeat over the alternative. But we're guessing there's a few more exhausted stares at the digital clock at 2:47 a.m. this week, too, now that Richt knows the fallout from a loss will be greater than ever.

Posted on: November 2, 2011 5:22 pm
Edited on: November 3, 2011 1:58 pm
 

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

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

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




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

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

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

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

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

Alabama

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

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

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

LSU

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

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

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

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



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



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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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


Posted on: November 1, 2011 6:06 pm
Edited on: November 1, 2011 6:07 pm
 

LSU-Alabama Daily, Nov. 1: Run game breakdown

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

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




DAYS REMAINING TO KICKOFF: 4, or the number of special teams and defensive touchdowns scored this season by LSU: two fumble returns for scores by Tyrann Mathieu, a kickoff return by Morris Claiborne, and pick-six by Ron Brooks. The Tide have three: a Marquis Maze punt return, and pick-sixes by Courtney Upshaw and DeQuan Menzie. Also the number worn (as you can see) by Tide All-American safety Mark Barron, who (despite our raving about the Alabama linebackers yesterday) leads the Tide defense in solo tackles with 25.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: We know both these teams can run the ball. But which one does it better?

You might be surprised just how decisively the statistics will tell you that answer is "Alabama."

Yes, the Bayou Bengals have an out-and-out stud carrying the ball in Spencer Ware, a veteran offensive line loaded with former blue-chips playing its best football in years, solid backups in Alfred Blue and Michael Ford (not to mention bruising freshman fullback Kenny Hilliard, who collected 65 yards and two touchdowns vs. Auburn), and a successful vertical passing game to keep defenses honest. But it hasn't added up to statistical dominance just yet: the Tigers rank a respectable-but-not-spectacular 31st in rushing offense, but a downright middle-of-the-pack 55th in yards per-carry. Ware's 73 yards per-game rank him 66th in the country, sandwiched between Nevada's Cody Fajardo and USF's Darrell Scott.

The Tide, meanwhile, have the numbers to back up Trent Richardson and Co.'s reputation: 14th nationally in rushing yards, but sixth in yards per-carry at 5.84 an attempt and fourth in touchdowns with 27. Richardson ranks seventh at 123 yards per-game, third in touchdowns, and first in yards per-carry (6.64) among backs with more than 125 attempts. And given that backups Eddie Lacy and Jalston Fowler are averaging a fairly ridiculous 7.6 yards per-carry between them, it's not just the Heisman candidate guy; Barrett Jones and the rest of the Alabama offensive line are, as the kids say, bringing the wood.

So would we agree with the numbers that this is that major an edge for the Tide? Not in the slightest, for two reasons:

1. LSU's stats are being dragged down by an usually slow start to the season; through their first five weeks, the Tigers were averaging just 3.96 yards per attempt despite facing the likes of Kentucky and FCS Northwestern State. That's changed in a big way over their past three games, with the Tigers gashing Florida, Tennessee and Auburn to the tune of 216 yards per game and 4.8 yards per-carry. That 4.8 is even more impressive when you consider ...

2. the Tigers simply don't get huge gains on the ground. The Tigers have just one run of 30 yards or more this season, tying them for the lowest mark in the SEC. 20 yards or more? They're still ninth, and those numbers are despite attempting the second-most runs in the league.

The Tide, by contrast, already have 12 30-plus yard runs; only four teams nationally have more, and two of them are option squads. When comparing the two sides, yes, it's fair to say that Richardon's explosiveness and LSU's confirmed lack of an out-and-out breakway threat make the Tide more likely to bust a long one.

But how likely is one of those long ones? Given the quality of both teams' secondaries in run support, not all that likely. Which running game gets the upper hand is going to come down to which team can slug forward for four, five, six yards at a time, which line can create just the slightest creases for their backs, which backs can consistently wriggle and drive for the extra yard here and there.

No one in the SEC -- not even Alabama -- does those things better than a focused Ware and the Tigers. We still have to give the Tide's ground game the slimmest of edges due to Richardson's extraordinary ability and the higher likelihood of a big gainer ... but in a game like this one, we do mean "slimmest."

THE LATEST FROM BATON ROUGE: Judging from his Twitter feed, Mathieu already plays with a decent-size chip on his shoulder. So we're curious to see how he responds to being snubbed from the list of 15 semifinalists for the Jim Thorpe Award, announced Monday. The Thorpe is given annually to the nation's best defensive back, and while all 15 are worthy candidates, it's hard to see how Mathieu isn't one of them ... unless the Thorpe organization is punishing him for his recent drug-related suspension. Fair or not, we wonder if a big day Saturday won't result in some Thorpe-related chirping from Mathieu in the near future.

Speaking of chirping, remember when Claiborne said he'd go for Richardson's legs if asked to tackle him one-on-one? Ryan Baker doesn't sound quite so impressed:
"Oh yeah, I can tackle him. I can tackle anybody in the country," Baker said of Richardson. "Don't need any help."
Wonder if Mr. Richardson will make any note of that. Other LSU defenders, for what it's worth, were not quite so brash. (For more from Baker, check out this well-done brief interview clip from the SEC Digital Network.)

If anyone ever decides to make another Australian fish-out-of-water comedy, we'd suggest they start with the story of LSU punter Brad Wing. Not only did Wing express bemusement at the exorbitant sums now being requested for tickets to the game in which his punting could make a dramatic difference -- "I think a Grand Final ticket in Australia might be 200 bucks. That’s crazy" -- but he's also getting a quick education in the history of the game he's stumbled into. Asked about Bear Bryant, Wing responded that the name "sounds familiar" before asking "Should I know [him]?"

Actually, Brad, it's more funny if you don't.

VIDEO BREAK: CBSSports.com's Tony Barnhart appears on the Tim Brando Show to preview the game:



THE LATEST FROM TUSCALOOSA:
Taking cues from their head coach, the Tide players have been admirably steadfast in their refusal to say anything other than boilerplate one-game-at-a-time-LSU's-a-great-team comments to reporters.

Examples from Monday: "We want to win every game, and LSU is the next team standing in our way, but I wouldn’t say ‘revenge'"; "They have a great defense. They also have a great offense, and we have a great offense and a great offense. It’s just about going out there and playing at our standards and not anybody else’s standards"; "I pay no attention to who the (LSU) coaches play (at quarterback). Having other factors at play just kind of throws us off, and we don’t want that to happen."

Richardson also had praise for the Tiger defense, saying they "don’t back down for anyone. They are going to come for me." But he also admitted that the game is hugely important to him personally--not just because of the stakes involved, but because he wasn't able to help prevent last year's defeat in Baton Rouge.

"I tore an abdominal muscle and I had a slightly torn MCL," he said. "This game means a lot to me, because I didn't get to play in it last year except for about one quarter. So I really can't wait to showcase what a healthy Trent can do in this game."

There's a lot of people, we would guess, that would love to see what a healthy Trent can do in this game. As for what his coach might do, we wrote Sunday that we shouldn't be too shocked if Nick Saban defies his reputation and pulls a trick out of the bag. So we were intrigued to find out that former Tide player and current Houston Texan DeMeco Ryans told the Sporting News that he wouldn't be surprised, either:
"I think the X factor could be a trick play. If you look at coach (Nick) Saban's history, he's got some tricks up his sleeve. I could see him calling a fake punt or an option pass or something like that to break open a close game. He's known for doing that. I hate to admit it, but when I played, he got me on one (fake punt) of those (when Saban was at LSU). As a defensive player or a special teams player, you've got to be aware of the possibility, but you can't let it affect your aggressiveness."
Ryans was one of four current NFL players and LSU/Bama program alums to offer their take on the game; you'll be shocked, shocked to learn that all four picked their former teams to win the game.

Posted on: October 19, 2011 2:42 pm
Edited on: October 19, 2011 9:05 pm
 

LSU's Mathieu, Ware, Simon suspended for Auburn

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