Tag:Nico Johnson
Posted on: October 31, 2011 6:17 pm
 

LSU-Alabama Daily, Oct. 31: Better front seven?

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

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




DAYS REMAINING TO KICKOFF: 5, or years in a row (counting 2011) in which both the Tigers and Tide have entered this matchup ranked. The average AP ranking for the two teams in that span? Alabama 5.6, LSU 8. But the Tide were the last of the pair to come into the game outside the polls; they weren't ranked for the Nov. 11, 2006 matchup.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: These are two of the best run defenses in college football. But is one front seven better than the other?

When we say "of the best," let's stipulate that we're maybe selling Alabama short here. Among the many statistics in which the Tide defense leads the nation are rush defense, yards per-carry allowed, and rushing touchdowns allowed ... but particularly interesting is that the Tide is well ahead of the pack in each category, ranking 28 yards per-game, .48 yards per-rush, and 2 touchdowns ahead of the No. 2 team in all three.

Which is why it's something of a surprise to say that LSU appears to have a clear head-to-head edge on the defensive line. It's true that 1. the Tide run a 3-4 instead of the Tigers' 4-3 and 2. thus don't ask their linemen to make plays as much as occupy blockers and let the linebackers behind them make plays, so the comparison's not entirely valid. Nose tackle Josh Chapman's value to the Tide is never going to be measured in tackles and sacks.

Still, it's surprising to see just how little statistical production the Tide is getting from their defensive line in the wake of Marcel Dareus's departure. Only one Tide lineman, backup DT Nick Gentry, has more than a single sack and the line as a whole is averaging less than one per-game. Though Jesse Williams, Ed Stinson and Gentry all have 3.5 tackles-for-loss or more, only 19.5 of the Tide's 61 TFLs (32 percent) come from linemen.

Contrast that with LSU, where four different linemen -- ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery and tackles Michael Brockers and Bennie Logan -- have as many or more TFLs as Stinsons' line-leading 5 at Alabama. Mingo, Montgomery and Logan have already combined for more than half of the Tigers' 19 sacks on the season, with Mingo in particular coming on a true terror in recent weeks. If the game comes down to one line or the other making a game-changing play, you'd be forced to bet on LSU.

But when weighing up the front sevens as a whole, we're still forced to give the edge to the Tide, because their advantage at linebacker is outright lopsided. Again, it's not an apples-to-apples comparison since LSU only uses 3 LBs in their base set and the Tide 4, but it's still bizarre to look at the Tigers' list of top tacklers and see just two linebackers in the top 11. Senior Ryan Baker and sophomore Kevin Minter have been productive, and you can't knock the linebacking unit of the nation's No. 3 rush defense too hard. But it seems that gaudy ranking has more to do the hyper-aggressive LSU secondary, and forget about LSU's LBs making a play in the backfield; Baker's two TFLs lead the unit.

Meanwhile, the Tide have a pair of legitimate All-Americans in Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw, plus Nico Johnson, Jerrell Harris (pictured above) and several other veterans and blue-chips even if C.J. Mosley can't go. Add that bunch to a line that -- while not as spectacular as the Tigers' -- is expertly coached and does its job to perfection, and you get the best front seven in college football. LSU's is awful, awful good, maybe the second-best, but we still think Alabama's causes more problems for LSU's offense than vice versa.

THE LATEST FROM TUSCALOOSA: If you're a Tide fan looking for an encouraging trend before Saturday, you could do much, much worse than this tidbit from the Birmingham News's Jon Solomon:
Ten years have passed since Saban lost in consecutive years to the same coach in college. Ever since Steve Spurrier pounded Saban's LSU teams 41-9 in 2000 and 44-15 in 2001, Saban has won 12 straight rematch games ... Saban has a 13-1 record as an SEC coach in rematch games against opponents he lost to the previous season. In those 14 initial defeats, Saban lost by an average of 14.4 points; in those 14 rematches the next year, he won by an average of 14.7 points.
Solomon points out that good records in these kinds of games aren't unusual; Spurrier went 13-5-1 in "rematch" opportunities at Florida, and Bob Stoops is currently 11-3 at Oklahoma. But neither of those records are quite what Saban's is, and the swing in points -- from two TDs down to two TDs up -- suggests that these are games Saban does take a little seriously than most.

Not that he'd ever admit such a thing, of course; at his Monday press conference Saban said he "loses sleep over every game, even the ones we win ... I don't know that there's any motivation from last year. There's lessons to be learned when you play year in and year out."

And he may be right on the motivation part in this particular case--once you've reached the kind of stakes that accompany Saturday's game, revenge is pretty far down the list of potential rewards. But we're betting all the same Saban studied the film of last year's loss a little bit harder than he would have if the Tide have won.

The other highlight of Saban's presser, which fell on his 60th birthday: his reveal that the players had given him a signed jersey with the number 60 on it. "I can't wear this, I'm a skill position guy," he said, proving that Les Miles won't have all the good one-liners this week.



THE LATEST FROM BATON ROUGE: Most coaches would treat a question about a potential rematch between the Tide and Tigers for the national championship with a curt "I'm just focused on the game this week." Miles is of course not most coaches, and told reporters Monday he would be A-OK the opportunity to play the Tide again.

"If in some way the guy that finishes left of the championship in the SEC can demonstrate statistically what kind of team he has, I'm for the SEC," Miles said. "I look forward to playing any and all."

Could he get his hypothetical post-loss wish? We'll stand by our earlier evaluation that it's highly unlikely (even after Clemson's loss), but that hasn't kept down the chatter; almost five years after CBS Sports' Gary Danielson and Lloyd Carr disagreed over whether Michigan should get a second shot at Ohio State, their comments to the Times-Picayune show they're still disagreeing over the issue of a rematch.

But back to Miles, who dropped a number of gems in today's comments. A sampling:
"The contact that takes place when our defense is on the field is very sincere and requires a ball carrier to hold onto the ball. That piece is the characteristic of a great defense."

"I saw the move [Trent Richardson] did against Ole Miss. That would have thrown my hip out its joint."

On whether he and Saban have friendly "correspondence":  "Correspondence would imply letters. I don't know that we send a lot of letters back and forth."

"How wonderful it is in college football that you have two quality teams that represent two great institutions that will take their best effort to the field to decide something that is difficult, clean and pure as a contest. How wonderful it is for the region to be able to look and enjoy the time of celebration of hard work and team values. The school wins, the team wins and the state wins. It is a beautiful time. I am very fortunate to have such a great institution to represent and I look forward to a great afternoon and great evening in college football."
Miles also said that his roster was entirely suspension-free, a rare (and news-worthy) occasion for the Tigers this year. But who wants to bother with nuts-and-bolts reporting when we discuss "how wonderful it is for the region to be able to look and enjoy the time of celebration of hard work and team values." We've said it before, we'll say it again: never change, Les.

Posted on: October 27, 2011 5:07 pm
Edited on: October 27, 2011 5:34 pm
 

LSU-Alabama Daily, Oct. 27: Special teams edge?

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

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



DAYS REMAINING TO KICKOFF: 9, or the number worn by Jordan Jefferson. Jarrett Lee obviously isn't going anywhere as the Tiger starter, but could Jefferson see even more time than usual as the designated change-of-pace? The senior has ranged from effective-to-excellent in his two meetings with the Tide, going 10-of-17 for 6.7 yards-an-attempt (above-average numbers by the Tide's defensive standards) and a touchdown in 2009 and a sterling 10-of-13 for 10.8 an attempt with another TD last season. Lee isn't the same quarterback he was when squaring off with the Tide in 2008 and 2009, but still, the difference in the two signal-callers is staggering; in three career meetings vs. Alabama Lee has completed just 41 percent of his passes for 5.7 yards an attempt with a hideous 1-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Something for Les Miles to think about?

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Who has the advantage on special teams? And how much of an impact will special teams play have?

To answer the second question first: a tremendous impact, most likely, particularly where LSU's offense is concerned. As we've mentioned multiple times before, what's special about the Bayou Bengal attack -- ranked 78th in the FBS in total offense -- isn't its explosiveness (though with Rueben Randle, it can be explosive) or its ability to grind out long drives (though with Spencer Ware, it can grind out long drives). What is special is its ruthless efficiency in converting its scoring opportunities into maximum points, as the Tigers' 97 percent scoring rate (second-best in the FBS) and 79 percent touchdown rate (third-best) on their red zone possessions illustrates.

But to get those opportunities, LSU sometimes needs the help of its special teams. And as they always have under Miles, those special teams have offered their help in a big way, to the tune of the 15th-best unit in the country per Phil Steele's rankings. Even casual fans can likely pinpoint a handful of Tiger special teams plays that have had game-turning consequences: Tyrann Mathieu's forced fumble and TD return in punt coverage vs. Oregon, Morris Claiborne's 99-yard return for touchdown against West Virginia, punter Brad Wing's infamous shoulda-been touchdown on a fake vs. Florida.

But to anyone who remembers only those plays and decides that special teams is a guaranteed win for the Tigers, Marquis Maze would like to have a word with you:



In many areas, the two special teams units' are in a statistical dead heat. In kickoff returns, Alabama ranks 34th in the FBS, LSU (despite Claiborne's return) 37th. Kickoff return yardage allowed, LSU ranks 32nd, Alabama 34th. Neither team has hit a field goal longer than 50 yards yet this season (in three total tries), but both teams are money inside of 50: LSU's Drew Alleman is 10-of-11, Alabama's Jeremy Shelley and Cade Foster 12-of-14.

All of which is to say it's the punting game where the special teams battle is likely to be decided. Thanks to a huge year from Wing and a punt coverage team allowing less than a yard in returns per game, the Tigers rank sixth in the nation at just over 41 net yards per punt--a huge leg up on the Tide's 36-yard average and 71st ranking. But the Tigers may not have the return unit to take advantage of that generosity -- their 8-yard average ranks 63rd -- while Maze and the 18th-ranked Tide punt return could put a big dent in that glittering LSU net punting average.

The bottom line? Special teams are going to play a massive role in swinging the outcome--but despite giving the Tigers the slightest of edges based on Wing's ability to neutralize Maze and Miles's propensity for the successful fake, it's too close to call which team gets that swing.

THE LATEST FROM BATON ROUGE: If you're surprised to hear that tickets for what's arguably be the biggest regular season game in SEC history have become extraordinarily expensive, you are surprised very easily. But that they're going for more three times the highest recorded value for an SEC championship game -- $5,000 to $1,500 on Stubhub, according to CBSSports.com RapidReporter Glenn Guilbeau -- is a pretty effective testimonial to demand all the same.

Despite Alabama's reputation as being every bit LSU's equals when it comes to grinding opponents to dust in the rushing game, the Birmingham News found that the Tigers have been substantially more committed to the run this season, throwing on first down half as often as the Tide and running on a full two-thirds of all downs as oppose to the Tide's 58 percent.

To hear Miles tell it, though, those statistics may not mean as much as they'd seem to mean come game time:
“With an extra week to prepare, we go through a self [evaluation], and whatever statistics or tendencies that we have, we try very significantly to break them,” Miles said. “It becomes an open week issue for me and those coordinators to make sure that there’s some change that reflects our standard play but also reflects what would allow us to change up what would be a very strong tendency ... we’ll play more against LSU in this open week more than we’ll play against Alabama.”
More good injury news for LSU: center P.J. Lonergan is officially a go, and the renewed health of veteran backup T-Bob Hebert means the Tiger line is the healthiest it's been since the start of the season.

VIDEO BREAK: Didn't get enough discussion of the possibility of an LSU-Alabama title game rematch in yesterday's Daily? Then check out CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd answering that looming question on the CBS Sports Network's Tony Barnhart Show:



THE LATEST FROM TUSCALOOSA: If you ever doubt that the Crimson Tide have taken on the personaliy of their coach, try hearing a Tide player talk about an upcoming game sometime. A player like, say, linebacker Nico Johnson, when asked about the building hype on campus:
“I got asked about it by a teacher, but I try to avoid the question,” Johnson said. “If you get overwhelmed, get too emotional, or think about it all the time, bad things happen.”
We don't think Nick Saban could have said it any better himself. And speaking of Saban, both he and his Nov. 5 coaching counterpart have been named to the 20-member Bryant Award watch list, given annually to the nation's college football Coach of the Year.

Again from the Birmingham News, one paragraph to sum up the obscene dominance of the Alabama defense at this point in the season:
Alabama has given up six TDs, 55 points, 6.9 points per game, 359 rushing yards, 1.67 yards per carry, two rushing TDs, 44.88 rushing yards per game, 48.1 percent completion rate, 4.5 yards per passing attempt, four passing TDs, 83.68 passing efficiency rating, 1,444 total yards, 3.2 yards per play, 180.5 yards per game (42.4 yards per game better than second-place Michigan State), 21 rushing first downs, 79 first downs and 9.9 first downs per game -- all national lows. Alabama's 47 passes broken up and 56 passes defended are national highs.
If you're counting, that's an FBS-best mark in 19 different statistical categories.

Posted on: September 30, 2011 1:30 pm
Edited on: September 30, 2011 1:31 pm
 

Tide to miss LB Mosley, but Gators banged up too

Posted by Jerry Hinnen



Saturday night's showdown between Alabama and Florida (8 p.m. ET, on CBS) is the biggest one of the season yet, for both national title hopefuls. Unfortunately, neither side will enter it at 100 percent.

Nick Saban confirmed on his radio show Thursday night that starting inside linebacker C.J. Mosley would very likely miss the game in Gainesville with the elbow injury suffered the previous week against Arkansas. Mosley had been described as a "game-time decision" earlier in the week, but apparently the elbow has not progressed as quickly as Saban would have liked.

Saban didn't attempt to downplay the importance of the loss, even with several high-quality candidates -- Jerrell Harris, Nico Johnson and five-star freshman Trey DePriest, already third on the team in tackles -- working together to replace him.

More Alabama-Florida
Preview
Jerry Hinnen Jerry Hinnen
If AJ McCarron stays upright, Tide should roll Read >>
Related links
Video
"C.J. is the perfect kind of guy to have for this kind of game ... because he can run," Saban said. Despite a slow start to the 2011 season statistically, Mosley finished third on the team in tackles in 2010 with 67 stops.

But due to the presence of players like Harris, Johnson, and DePriest, Saban might still take his own defensive injury woes over the Gators'. According to the Gainesville Sun, starting defensive linemen Dominique Easley and Sharrif Floyd are both battling injuries and could be forced to sit out the game.

The good news for Florida is that neither should be forced to sit. Easley tweaked an ankle injury in Tuesday's practice and is reportedly "probable," while Floyd suffered a shoulder stinger and is likewise expected to play. Both players have practiced throughout the week.

But if ever there was a time a defensive lineman would want to be completely healthy, it's the week Alabama comes to town. It's no secret that the Tide are going to run Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy (himself an injury risk) into the teeth of that Gator line as often as down-and-distance allows. If Easley and Floyd aren't at the top of their game, Florida runs the risk of being flat bulldozed over by halftime--to say nothing of the fourth quarter.

Of course, this is already the tail end of September, when nearly every team has at least one starter out and a few more banged-up. Neither the Gators nor Tide will use their injuries as an excuse in the event of a loss--but neither situation is going to help them pull out the victory Saturday, either.

Posted on: January 1, 2011 4:41 pm
Edited on: January 1, 2011 7:21 pm
 

Bowl Grades: Capital One Bowl

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Alabama dominates Michigan State from start to finish, bludgeoning the Spartans 49-7.

ALABAMA

Offense: The Tide were entirely too physical for the Spartans from the get-go, with both members of the Mark Ingram-Trent Richardson tag team at running back punishing State tacklers of all varieties, particularly at the goal line. The Alabama offensive line mauled the Spartan defensive front, giving the backs huge lanes and quarterback Greg McElroy all day to throw. Julio Jones simply abused the defensive backs assigned to cover him (as shown). And McElroy showed off the precision that marked his 2009 national title run, completing 13 of his 17 passes for a whopping 12.9 yards per attempt.

Yes, that should about cover it. But somehow, given the degree of domination -- 265 first-half yards to Sparty's 67 and an easy touchdown on the first possession of the second half to push the lead to 35-0 -- it doesn't. GRADE: A

Defense:
Just as overwhelming as the Tide offense. Led by a huge game from linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Nico Johnson, the Tide so limited what had been one of the Big Ten's best rushing attacks that the Spartans finished the day with -48 rushing yards. (Yes, that's right: 48 rushing yards fewer than no rushing yards at all.) The Tide pass rush did everything to poor pounded State quarterback Kirk Cousins (who left the game in the third quarter after a particularly brutal sack) but tap dance on his helmet. It took until the dying minutes of the third quarter (by which point 'Bama had already pulled many of their starters) for the Spartans to even crack triple digits in total offense. In all, a total whitewashing. GRADE: A

Coaching: The Tide came out focused and motivated, immediately applied the boot to Sparty's throat, and never removed it. Can't ask for anything more than that. GRADE: A

MICHIGAN STATE

Offense:
Cousins led a couple of nice first-half drives, one that reached the Alabama 32 and another the Tide 2. But he also had a major hand in submarining both those drives, throwing a Robert Lester interception to end the first and (following a crucial illegal substitution penalty that pushed the ball back to the 7) fumbling on yet another sack to end the second.

After those, well, the Spartan offense's day would be best summed up by a montage of quarterbacks desperately scrambling back to cover a ball 10 yards behind them, State receivers dragged down 10 yards behind the line-of-scrimmage on futile end-arounds, and wobbly players of various positions limping off the field. It was U-G-L-Y past the point of alibi. GRADE: F+

Defense:
With the kind of talent boasted by the Tide, when Alabama (and particularly McElroy) is on their game, there's not always a lot any defense can do. But the "tackling" display by the Spartans -- proud, always-energetic All-American middle linebacker Greg Jones mostly excepted -- would have been borderline-embarrassing if they'd been facing the New Orleans Saints. Alabama's first five possessions, not counting the run-out-the-clock situation at the end of the first half, covered an average of 69 yards and ended: touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown. That, folks, is not good. GRADE: F+

Coaching: Mark Dantonio
and his crew did an excellent job with this team during the season and were facing a substantial talent deficit today, but his team was far too sloppy to hang with the likes of Alabama and showed zero fight after going in at the half down 28. Offensive coordinator Don Treadwell did one of the best jobs in the country this year, but his attempts to use misdirection on slow-developing end-arounds and screens were never goign to work against a team with 'Bama's speed. GRADE: F

FINAL GRADE:
Unless you were an Alabama fan or the sort who enjoys burning insects to death with a magnifying glass, this game was interesting for the 120 seconds or so Sparty drove inside the Tide 10 and a forgone-concluded utter slog for every minute thereafter. Grade: D-

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