Tag:Jordan Jefferson
Posted on: November 12, 2011 6:55 pm
 

QUICK HITS: No. 14 Georgia 45, No. 24 Auburn 7

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

GEORGIA WON: 
The Bulldogs are one should-be gimme vs. Kentucky from going to Atlanta--and they took Saturday's step towards that SEC East title in some style, running their Auburn rivals clean out of Sanford Stadium with a 28-0 first-half burst. Aaron Murray looked every bit the league's preseason first-team quarterback, totaling more first-half touchdowns (four) than incompletions (three) and finishing 14-of-18 for 224 yards and no interceptions. The Bulldog defense continued to cement themselves as one of the nation's best, holding Auburn to 89 first-half yards and turning the Tigers over three times for the game.

WHY GEORGIA WON: When you're talking about a 38-point victory, there's a lot of things to point to. But there's this, more than anything: against competent quarterbacking, Auburn's secondary simply hasn't been up to the task in 2011. Tajh Boyd? 386 yards, 4 scores, 0 INTs. Tyler Wilson? 262, 2, 0. The Jarrett Lee/ Jordan Jefferson tag team? 219, 3, 0. When not going up against Stephen Garcia at his lowest point or Florida's freshman backups, the Tiger defensive backs may as well have been had "TORCH US" signs pinned to their backs.

Murray looked like he might not quite rise to that "competent" level in an erratic performance against the Gators two weeks ago, but he was razor-sharp from the gun against Auburn--and duly shredded the Tiger defensive backs, with corner T'Sharvan Bell (among others) burned again and again by Murray's accurate back-shoulder throws. For all the things done well by the Dawg defense, running game and special teams (whose sore-spot kick return coverage totally shut down the Tiger return game), as soon as Murray showed his brief midseason slump was behind him, the Tigers were done. Until Gene Chizik and Ted Roof can solve their woes in stopping the pass, the Tiger defense -- as it has been since Chizik's hire -- will remain an up-and-down, roller coaster proposition at best.

WHEN GEORGIA WON: Auburn was already in a deep hole midway through the second quarter, down 21-7 and facing a 3rd-and-7 on their own 17. Clint Moseley's gift of a pick-six to Bacarri Rambo, however, made it the kind of hole that the Tigers wouldn't be able to climb out of if they had all week.

WHAT GEORGIA WON: the right to play Kentucky next Saturday with the SEC East on the line. But you know what? Given that Kentucky lost by 30 points to Vanderbilt, let's go ahead and call a spade a spade: the Bulldogs won the division today. They're going to go to Atlanta.

WHAT AUBURN LOST: any sense of defensive improvement over the course of the season for one thing. Likewise, any illusion that the Tigers belonged in the top third of the SEC this season. To lose to teams like Arkansas, LSU and Georgia, all on the road, is one thing--and given how incredibly young the Tigers remain, probably forgivable. But for Auburn to not even be able to stay competitive shows how far Chizik's team will have to go between 2011 and 2012 to return to the conference's elite.

Posted on: November 10, 2011 3:10 pm
 

Les Miles doesn't have a starting quarterback

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

If there was any dark lining to the great, shimmering silver cloud of LSU's victory over Alabama last Saturday, it was the play of quarterback Jarrett Lee. After eight mostly perfect games as the Tigers' unquestioned starter, Lee hit just 3 of his 7 passes against the Tide for only 24 yards and no touchdowns. Even worse, Lee tossd a pair of ugly interceptions that brought to mind his disastrously pick-prone 2008 season.

The result during the game was that Jordan Jefferson played the majority of the second half and the Tigers' lone overtime series. But the fallout for Lee could last even longer, as Les Miles has been steadfast in his refusal to name Lee (or Jefferson) the Tigers' starter for their sparring match Saturday against Western Kentucky.

 "I haven't given it a lot of thought, to be honest with you," Miles said Wednesday, telling reporters that a starter wouldn't be named until kickoff. "It's my same two guys.  I'm looking forward to them playing."

Asked Tuesday whether Miles would want to name Lee the starter or take other measures vs. the overmatched Hilltoppers to restore Lee's confidence, the coach said that 1. he would not 2.Lee didn't need the coddling anyway:
"We're not soothing or trying to comfort a young ego. I think that's the motivation that Jarrett responds to. He understands football. This is a quality young man. He's more veteran ...

I don't really care about getting back on the horse, or the philosophy 'let's make the QB comfortable.' Hell, we need to execute the offense. We need to play."
In the hands of a less confident coach, with less experienced quarterbacks, this kind of juggling under center might drag down an entire team. But Miles, of course, has juggled QBs for years and showed against the Tide that he's as crafty at it as ever; Lee and Jefferson are, of course, both highly experienced seniors who have had their ups-and-downs and won't be fazed by a little bench time or open competition; and the team, of course, doesn't care who the quarterback is as long as they're winning. That both players will see plenty of snaps regardless of who the "No. 1" QB is makes the "controversy" even less significant.

So as it weird as it seems to type that the unanimous No. 1 team in the country has no starting quarterback but that it doesn't really matter, we're forced to conclude it's true: the unanimous No. 1 team in the country has no starting quarterback, but it doesn't really matter.

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 4, 2011 4:27 pm
Edited on: November 4, 2011 5:05 pm
 

LSU-Alabama Daily, Nov. 4: The prediction

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

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




DAYS REMAINING TO KICKOFF: 1, or the number of times -- it bears repeating -- No. 1 and No. 2 have met in a regular season SEC game as of this Saturday night. Tune in, and you'll be seeing something that quite literally has never happened before in college football. That the two teams are entirely worthy of their rankings (as best we can tell) is just the icing on the cake.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Who wins?

We've spent two weeks and thousands upon thousands of words breaking down this game here at the LSU-Alabama Daily, and the only thing we feel completely certain about is that you can't be certain of a winner in a matchup like this. When nearly every advantage one team has over the other is the kind of advantage you have to split hairs in naming it an advantage at all, it's it's fair to call it an out-and-out "tossup" or "coinflip." We fully expect the game to come down to one play, and with both teams loaded to the gills with the sort of athletes who could make that play, the winner truly is anybody's guess.

But since it's no fun not making a guess all the same, we'll offer one here. We've given LSU slight edges in special teams and quarterbacking, Alabama slight edges in the running game, front seven and secondary (though we know LSU partisans will debate that last one fiercely). On paper, as you'd expect, it's just about even.

But we think one of the edges, even if slight, is worth more than others: Alabama's in the front seven. Thanks to their relative weakness at linebacker, LSU already has trouble defending the run without bringing in help from the secondary; as we've noted, nearly all of the Tigers' top tacklers are safeties and corners. Against some of the quarterbacks the Tigers have faced, this hasn't an issue, but vs. a well-drilled AJ McCarron playing at home? It easily could be.

Mark Barron of course also ranks amongst the Tide's top tacklers, but for the most part, Nick Saban is happy to let his front seven stop the run on their own. And though that's easier said than done vs. Spencer Ware and Co., the boost of adrenaline and energy provided by the home crowd should make it a more achievable goal.

In short: even if Trent Richardson doesn't have his usual gaudy day on the ground, he's almost certain to force the LSU defensive backs to cheat up and open holes for the passing game. We can't say the same for the LSU ground game, and we think Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson's greater difficulty finding those holes could prove to be the difference.

(One other minor factor worth mentioning about LSU's linebackers: they'll be the ones responsible for dealing with Alabama's screen game, bar-none the best in the country. When caught between getting stuffed on the ground and throwing into the teeth of the opponent's vicious secondary, Alabama still has the option of going to Richardson and forcing either Ryan Baker or Kevin Minter to make a play; with only seven receptions on the season [or barely a quarter of the 25 pulled in by the Richardson-Eddie Lacy tag team], Ware doesn't offer the same kind of alternative for LSU.)

There's that, and then there's simply this: we don't think anyone's beating this Alabama team in Alabama. When everything else is equal -- and we think things are ever-so-slightly unequal, in the Tide's favor -- take the home team.

So we are. Alabama 23, LSU 17.



THE LATEST FROM TUSCALOOSA: By this point, there's not a whole lot left for either team to say or report. Saban himself enjoyed his usual Thursday radio call-in show but didn't have much of interest to discuss where the game was concerned. He did say that LSU has "the best special teams" in the country and "probably the best running team" since Les Miles's arrival.

Perhaps the most intriguing pre-game point? CBSSports.com RapidReporter Jim Dunn reports that Tide players have made allusions to unseen tricks still in Saban's and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart's bag, since the long series of Tide bludgeonings hasn't required much in the way of schematic ingenuity. This could be a plus for the Tide--but we have no doubt LSU's equally lopsided series of wins means John Chavis and the LSU defense can say precisely the same.

Alabama's players have studiously avoided smack talk of any kind, including pointedly refusing to address Deangelo Peterson's claim that the Tide's "slow" linebackers wouldn't be able to cover him. So maybe it's fitting that maybe the most eyebrow-raising comment of the week comes from receiver Darius Hanks about ... the Tide's own former players?

"Last year, the leadership wasn't there like we needed it to be," Hanks said of the team's 2010 defeat in Baton Rouge. "This year, we have many leaders at every position." So, Greg McElroy, Mark Ingram, Julio Jones ... you guys' thoughts on that?

Not that everyone would disagree with Hanks. An anonymous "veteran coach who's faced both Alabama and LSU this season" spoke to the Bimringham News and said the game would come down to McCarron making the throws needed to win the game--throws the coach pointedly said McElroy didn't make last year.



THE LATEST FROM BATON ROUGE: It's not just the pundits who are saying the two teams are strikingly similar for a game like this: LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers told reporters that after watching film, going up against Alabama is like "looking in a mirror."

Push is going to have to come to shove when it comes to coaching trends. Miles has gone a sparkling 10-3 in his last 13 games after bye weeks or in bowl games, and an even better 11-1 in road night games ... so it's too bad Saban has gone 12-0 in his last 12 vs. coaches who defeated him the year before.

We suppose this was inevitable:



Yes, that's Miles appearing in a government-sponsored advertisement for Louisiana-grown turfgrass.

"Nothing beats Louisiana-grown turfgrass," Miles is quoted as saying in the spot. "It's local, fresh and reliable. And it's the grass of champions, whether you chew it for luck or not." It's always nice when you see a celebrity endorser who you know really does use the product they're shilling for, isn't it?



SIGNING OFF: Here's hoping you've enjoyed our two-week run here with the LSU-Alabama Daily. For more, check out Dennis Dodd's take on whether the game deserves the "Game of the Century" tag, Bruce Feldman's and Brett McMurphy's predictions for the game, BCS expert Jerry Palm's take on whether we could see a rematch, and enough LSU-Alabama videos to just about take you up to gametime.
Posted on: November 3, 2011 5:36 pm
Edited on: November 4, 2011 1:11 pm
 

LSU-Alabama Daily, Nov. 3: QB showdown

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

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




DAYS REMAINING TO KICKOFF: 2, or the number of fumbles LSU has lost all season, the third-fewest total in the FBS. What's incredible is that that number is still one more than the number of interceptions thrown by Tiger quarterbacks in 2011; only Utah State has also tossed just one. Not surprisingly, LSU's total of three turnovers is the lowest in the nation. But Alabama's not that far behind--the Tide's eight ties them for sixth-fewest nationally.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Which team has the advantage at quarterback?

Just before the season -- even given that AJ McCarron had yet to start a game at the collegiate level and hadn't even been delcared the full-time Alabama starter -- this was a no-brainer. LSU was mired in a quarterbacking slump that had lasted three full seasons, and their best hope for a change in fortunes seemed already dashed by the indefinite suspension of the reportedly much-improved Jordan Jefferson. Jarrett Lee couldn't really be the answer, could he?

Not only has Lee been the answer, he's been such a positive that if the question is still a no-brainer, it's a no-brainer in the Tigers' favor. With an incredible 13-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, the highest quarterback ratio in the SEC (and one of the top 20 in the nation), and the single biggest hand in an offense averaging an unthinkable 39 points per-game, the senior isn't just having a career year--the former turnover machine is having the sort of season we believed would have to be some other quarterback's career year. If we were picking the first-team All-SEC quarterback today, Tyler Wilson would be Lee's only serious competition.

But what takes LSU's quarterback position from merely "outstanding" to "nearly as good as any that's not Stanford's" is that Lee's only part of the equation. Les Miles has always handled the two-QB, change-of-pace rotation expertly, and so it's no surprise that hasn't changed with Jefferson back and the "running" quarterback also a senior with three years' worth of starts behind him. The numbers for the LSU quarterback spot in the three games since Jefferson's full-time return speak for themselves: 70 percent of passes completed, 10.2 yards per-attempt, 8 touchdowns, no interceptions, 82 yards rushing and a rush TD (courtesy of Jefferson) for good measure.

It's a testament to how strongly McCarron has come on since being named the Tide starter that, for all of that, it's not a no-brainer to declare LSU with the advantage here; his 67 percent completion rate and 8.3 yards per-attempt are both better marks than Lee's, and since throwing two picks Week 1 vs. Kent State, McCarron's 9-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio will stand with anyone's. Particularly worrying for the Tigers is that McCarron has been particularly money at home: 15-of-20 without a pick vs. Arkansas, a 4-to-0 TD-to-INT ratio vs. Vanderbilt, a season-high 10.9 yards per-attempt against Tennessee last Saturday.

Combine McCarron's penchant for such strong showings at Bryant-Denny with an LSU secondary we feel is just a hair more boom-or-bust than the lockdown unit Lee and Jefferson will face, and it's possible that the redshirt sophomore will outplay his LSU counterparts--especially if he can keep the ball out of the hands of the LSU ballhawks. That would be a win that would no doubt put LSU in deep, deep trouble.

But at this point in the season, Lee and Jefferson have done enough that even on the road, even against Alabama, we're expecting them to get the better in the head-to-head matchup. That doesn't mean LSU will necessarily come away with the victory in a game this tight--but if they don't, we are confident in saying it won't be on the guys under center.



THE LATEST FROM BATON ROUGE: You won't find much in the way of bulletin board material in the above video interviews with Les Miles, T-Bob Hebert and Eric Reid, which is why CBS Sports maybe should have spoken to LSU senior tight end Deangelo Peterson instead. Asked about his matchups Saturday, Peterson had this to say(emphasis added):
"I think I can play a big role because I feel like their linebackers can't guard me one-on-one. They're slow ... I don't think their safeties can either. If the ball comes my way, I'll make an opportunity with it."
Well then, Mr. Peterson. CBSSports.com RapidReporter Glenn Guilbeau is correct when he points out that the Tide's linebackers are larger than the ones typically faced by the Tigers, and no doubt Miles appreciates his player's confidence. We still have no question Miles would much rather not have his player challenging the likes of Dont'a Hightower and Mark Barron to prove they can, in fact, cover him.

It's not often that a team facing a bunch of dedicated road-graders like Alabama willingly gets smaller, but Miles said Wednesday that he won't shy away from using the nickel -- a move that would put more emphasis on his loaded secondary and less on his merely-good linebackers -- when the game calls for it.

“It depends on the situations that we run into, but there’s also a point in time where the fast guys will make it more difficult for the big guys to block at times,” Miles said. “We’ll play that nickel package in some marginal downs and distances.”

Crazy stat of the day: LSU hasn't won its first six SEC games of the season since 1961.

VIDEO BREAK: If there's one person we wouldn't blame for being tired of the LSU-Alabama hype, it's CBS analyst Gary Danielson, who' been previewing the game in one form or another seemingly since the start of October. But that's also made Danielson as knowledgable as anyone on the game, so we suggests watching the two following clips as Danielson discusses the game first for CBSSports.com, and then on the Tony Barnhart Show:





THE LATEST FROM TUSCALOOSA:
How much can Trent Richardson bench press? God only knows, and we mean that literally: neither Richardson himself nor his trainers have a firm figure since said trainers won't allow Richardson to press more than 475 pounds. "I did 475 easily," Richardson told the Dan Patrick Show, "and they won't let go above 475." (Less interesting, but more germane to preparation for Saturday: when asked which LSU defenders stood out on film, Richardson mentioned a safety we assume is leading tackler Brandon Taylor and Morris Claiborne ... and not a certain Honey Badger.)

Reporters allowed to get a glimpse of Wednesday's practice reported that Tide backup running back Eddie Lacy was still exhibiting a "noticeable limp," the sophomore having injured his foot against Arkansas Sept. 24. But LAcy wore a full-contact white jersey at the practice and Nick Saban said he had no injury news to report. "We don't have any personnel injuries, problems or anything you don't know about. Everybody's been practicing all week,” Saban said.

The guess here: Lacy isn't 100 percent. But whatever percent he is, it's nowhere near low enough to keep him out of a game like this.

And we're guessing everyone saw this coming as soon as ticket prices hit quadruple digits, but yes, there's counterfeits out there. Be careful if you're getting yours late.
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: 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: October 23, 2011 3:03 am
Edited on: October 23, 2011 3:11 am
 

SEC Winners and Losers, Week 8


Posted by Jerry Hinnen

A handy recap of who (and what) really won and really lost in the SEC's Week 8.

WINNERS: Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson. On the eve of the 2011 season, the LSU quarterback situation was supposed to be the team's Achilles heel. The senior Lee had spent his entire career as erratic at best and a turnover machine at worst; Jefferson was suspended and might never return; and despite intense fan interest, Zach Mettenberger hadn't been able to beat either out for so much as the backup's job. But after the Tigers' demolition of Auburn, it's time to give the Bayou Bengal quarterbacks their due: not only are they not a weakness, they're a major reason LSU is 8-0 and now preparing for an undefeated megatilt against Alabama.

The stats are argument enough: a combined 16-of-23 for 219 yards (9.5 an attempt), three touchdowns, and no interceptions. (This was LSU's fifth straight game without a turnover, by the way.) But the two touchdown throws they made in the second quarter -- one by each, both of 40-plus yards, both to the rapidly-improving Rueben Randle -- are an even better argument. On the first, Jefferson was leveled by an Auburn blitzer and stood strong in the pocket to deliver Randle a precision strike; on the second, Lee "dropped it in a bucket," as they say, allowing Randle to beat double coverage. The end result was that a quarter that began 7-3 and with Auburn in a dogfight ended with LSU up 21-3 and the game over. If those two throws are examples of what LSU can expect in two weeks, even Alabama might not be good enough to beat the Tigers. At this point, it seems obvious no one else in the SEC can.

LOSER: Houston Nutt. Honestly, this isn't entirely fair to Nutt, who just coaxed the best performance from his team all season and has nothing to hang his head about, final score-wise; losing to a legitimate top-10 outfit like the Razorbacks by five points is an accomplishment, especially when the outcome is still in doubt in the final minute. Still: a 17-0 second-quarter lead over that kind of opponent -- not only one of the best teams in the country, but an opponent whose fans enjoy needling Nutt and the Rebels about their failures -- is the kind of golden opportunity that Nutt and his team simply couldn't afford to let slip through their fingers. In the end, solid performance or not, it's just Nutt's 10th straight SEC loss ... and another few before the year's end could be the end for Nutt.

WINNER: James Franklin. On the other end of the spectrum, we've got a coach for whom beating Army isn't really that big a deal ... but beating them by a comprehensive 23 points is. The Commodores had only one week of study for the Black Knights' triple option and held them to 288 total yards anyway, forcing three turnovers in the process. The 'Dore running game racked up a stout 344 yards and Vandy may have finally found a quarterback in Jordan Rodgers, who didn't set the world on fire (10-of-27, one touchdown, two interceptions) but whose 10 completions did go for better than 18 yards a pop. In short: this was the kind of performance that suggests the 'Dores 3-3 record wasn't a fluke, and that they could go bowling in Franklin's first year. It won't be enough to win him Coach of the Year with Miles and Saban around, but it's still a heck of a job.

LOSER: Drama. Another week, another series of blowouts in the SEC. Save for Arkansas's escape from Oxford, the average score of the four Week 8 games involving SEC teams was 41-13. After another week of winning their two games by some outrageous combined score -- 66 points' worth this go-round -- LSU's and Alabama's average margin of victory has ballooned to a full 30 points. It's a good thing the Tide and Tigers have next week off; not only will it give us another week to savor the buildup to the Game of the Century of the Year, but maybe it'll give us a chance to enjoy more than a single helping of competitive SEC football.

WINNERS: Alabama's receiving corps. The Tide's wideouts were alleged to be the team's one weakness entering this season, and doubly so once Duron Carter was ruled ineligible. But Marquis Maze, Darius Hanks and Kenny Bell made that expectation look more ridiculous than ever in the second half Saturday night, hauling in acrobatic circus grab after acrobatic circus grab and eventually totaling 11 receptions, 213 yards, and Bell's game-clinching touchdown. AJ McCarron didn't have his best night, but Maze, Hanks, and Bell made him look awfully good all the same.

LOSERS: Auburn's special teams. The way LSU (and their quarterbacks in particular) are playing, it didn't matter what Auburn did today. But the one area where you can't show any weakness vs. Les Miles's team is in special teams, where they will kill you with field position if given the opportunity. Given the Tigers' strength in this area so far in 2011, Gene Chizik was probably expecting a draw in this phase, at least. Nope: punter Steven Clark had his worst game of the year, repeatedly failing to pin LSU deep when given the chance, and dynamic freshman kick returner Tre Mason fumbled away a second-half return to turn the game from decisive LSU advantage to full-on rout.

LOSER: Matt Simms. Ugly as Simms' final line in the box score was (8-of-17, 3.4 yards an attempt, no touchdowns, one interception), he was facing Alabama on the road; lots of quarterbacks would have looked just as bad, and Simms did play a role in getting the Vols to a 6-6 halftime tie. But Derek Dooley's decision to burn Justin Worley's redshirt late could indicate a move towards getting the freshman snaps at Simms' expense, and though he had a lot of company on the Tennessee sideline, he wasn't able to do much in preventing the Tide onslaught in the second half.

WINNER: College football. No. 1 LSU and (now consensus) No. 2 Alabama are going to meet in two weeks, both undefeated, both extremely heavy favorites to finish their regular season schedule perfect and run a way with the SEC East with a win over the other, both having established their national championship contender's bona fides weeks ago. It really, really, really shouldn't get any better than what we now know we'll see Nov. 5.


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