Film review: Defending Dak Prescott

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
2:30
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU’s defense will face no shortage of dual-threat quarterbacks in SEC play, and it will attempt to contain one of the best -- Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott -- right out of the gates in Saturday’s conference opener.

Prescott is a dark-horse candidate in the Heisman Trophy race because of the multiple ways he can affect the game, as evidenced by last week’s win against South Alabama, when he threw a touchdown pass, ran for a touchdown and caught a touchdown pass on a trick play.

As a passer, Prescott (43-for-72, 696 yards, nine TDs, two INTs in 2014) is effective, but it’s his running ability that makes him especially scary. He is eighth in the SEC with an average of 91.0 rushing yards per game, and he’s averaging 6.8 yards per rushing attempt thus far.

That run-pass combination will be tough to defend, as LSU coach Les Miles is well aware. Miles called Prescott “as good of a player as there is in his position in our conference.”

Let’s take a look at some of the issues LSU must contend with in defending Mississippi State’s quarterback:

RUNS WITH POWER

The multidimensional quarterbacks LSU will face down the road are more from the finesse mold -- think Auburn’s Nick Marshall, Texas A&M’s Kenny Hill and Ole Miss’ Bo Wallace -- than the power mold. Like previous SEC stars Cam Newton and Tim Tebow, the 230-pound Prescott is content to run over tacklers instead of around them.

“I don't know exactly how fast he is, but he carves through the ground very quickly, and when you go to tackle him, you better hit him hard,” Miles said. ”You’d better take him off his feet because he's just a big, physical kid.”

Florida fans might recognize this Tebow-style play from Dan Mullen’s time as the Gators’ offensive coordinator. In last season’s South Carolina game, Prescott takes a shotgun snap, follows a block from running back LaDarius Perkins, and plows between left guard and left tackle for a 1-yard touchdown.

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We could pull any number of short-yardage Prescott clips as visual evidence that there’s more to the Tebow comparison than their matching No. 15 jerseys. Most defenders failed to drag either of them down with arm tackles.

BREAKING FROM POCKET

In addition to power, Prescott runs with impressive speed. Check out this 28-yard touchdown scramble from last season’s LSU game.

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LSU defensive end Jermauria Rasco destroys left tackle Charles Siddoway with a spin move and has a clear shot at Prescott, but the Mississippi State quarterback steps forward into the pocket and slips between Ego Ferguson and Danielle Hunter into the open field. Then it becomes a footrace, and he sprints away from linebacker D.J. Welter for a first-quarter touchdown.

LSU’s defensive front seven will certainly have its hands full trying to contain Prescott once he scrambles after initially dropping back to pass.

“It looks like he’s got even bigger since last year, but we’re ready to play physical and run fast. That’s basically what we have to do to prepare for him,” LSU outside linebacker Lamar Louis said.

RUNNING GAME IS DANGEROUS

Prescott’s running ability -- and Mississippi State’s running game in general -- makes defenses that sell out to stop the run susceptible to the occasional big passing play.

Take this 35-yard touchdown pass to Fred Ross from the 2014 opener against Southern Miss. When cornerback Jomez Applewhite abandons Ross to blitz off the edge, Prescott easily hits Ross several yards away from safety Emmanuel Johnson, who is slow in coverage after Prescott fakes a handoff in the backfield. All Ross has to do is make a wide-open catch and break a Johnson tackle attempt at the 5 and he’s in the end zone.

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The threat of Prescott runs and similar run fakes will test LSU’s defensive discipline. If Prescott catches defensive backs looking into the backfield like this, a big play for State might follow.

PRESSURING HIS THROWS

No quarterback likes to throw under pressure. Prescott is not a pro-style passer, but he’s capable of making some impressive throws if he has time to survey the field.

Here’s a pass to Fred Brown from last week’s win against South Alabama that Prescott completes despite cornerback Montell Garner's attempt to disrupt Brown’s route by holding him. Prescott places the ball perfectly over safety Roman Buchanan for a 36-yard gain.

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Earlier in the South Alabama game, Prescott has plenty of time to zip a 15-yard touchdown pass over the middle to Malcolm Johnson where safety Terrell Brigham has no chance to deflect or intercept the pass.

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Thus, LSU’s pass rushers know it will be incumbent on them to keep Prescott in the pocket and make him uncomfortable when he attempts to throw.

“With them having a really good offensive line, we have to make sure that we just attack the line of scrimmage and make sure that we stay in our gaps and clog the holes” LSU defensive tackle Christian LaCouture said.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, Prescott has handled the blitz fairly well -- he has five touchdown passes and no interceptions against five or more pass rushers -- although his Total QBR against the blitz is just 48.5. He’ll definitely face extra rushers Saturday, like when defensive back Dwayne Thomas blitzes from LSU’s “Mustang” package.

Regardless of who applies the pressure, the Tigers' rushers will greatly help their cause if they get a hand in Prescott’s line of vision. Take this throw from last season’s 59-26 win in Starkville. Hunter gets in Prescott’s face before he overthrows Jameon Lewis, and Tre'Davious White intercepts the bad throw at the Mississippi State 45. His 40-yard return to the 5 sets up Jeremy Hill's touchdown run on the next play that essentially puts away the LSU win.

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COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier beamed when he sprang into his postgame press conference room Saturday evening. He had just watched his Gamecocks shock No. 6 Georgia -- the team picked by many to represent the SEC in the College Football Playoff after just one game -- 38-35 with a gutsy, yet controversial, call to go for it on fourth-and-inches.

[+] EnlargeSteve Spurrier
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsSteve Spurrier again got the best of Georgia and showed that South Carolina will make noise in the SEC Eastern Division.
The Head Ball Coach, who was labeled "done" by some after an unconvincing 1-1 start that featured an epic beat down from Texas A&M, was smiling once again after besting his favorite SEC pinata -- Georgia.

Spurrier got his 16th win over Georgia -- the most by any coach over the Dawgs -- and his fourth out of the last five meetings. He and his team also showed that what we thought of South Carolina heading into last weekend wasn't exactly true. There are still issues with the Gamecocks, especially on defense, but we were quick to write off the very team picked in the preseason to win the SEC Eastern Division.

"This is a good one," Spurrier said of Saturday's win. "I knew we had a good chance to beat them when I heard [ESPN radio host Paul] Finebaum picked them [Georgia] to win by about 25 points. He picked Alabama to beat Oklahoma by 25 [in last season’s Allstate Sugar Bowl] too. I said, 'We gotta chance tonight then.'”

Yeah, all that negativity we showed the Gamecocks last week didn't go unnoticed in Columbia.

“I’m not going to lie and tell you that I wasn’t watching TV, seeing people say that Georgia was the No. 1 team, have them winning the playoff," South Carolina running back Mike Davis said. "Watching GameDay and seeing all those guys pick UGA, and having [ESPN college football analyst] Kirk [Herbstreit] being the only one who said we were going to win. This is a big confidence booster for our team.”

So South Carolina isn't dead, and it's clear that the SEC East is still very much wide open.

What else were we quick to assume about the SEC?

1. Jake Coker isn't ready: We all thought Coker would be Alabama's starting quarterback. Well, it's Florida week and veteran Blake Sims is very much the guy and has a big lead on Coker. Unlike Coker, Sims is limited with his arm, but he's done nothing to lose the starting job, while Coker has done nothing to take it.

2. Arkansas isn't the pushover it has been: We figured it'd be another ho-hum year for the Razorbacks. Then they challenged Auburn in the first half of their opener and literally ran over Nicholls State and Texas Tech with 933 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground. Arkansas looks like it can run on anyone.

3. Vanderbilt is in trouble: We thought the talent was still there for Vanderbilt to make another quality run under Derek Mason in his first year with the Commodores. Well, we aren't sure what's up, but the Commodores are lucky to be 1-2 at this point. After getting outscored 78-10 against Temple and Ole Miss, the Dores needed a last-second missed field goal to escape the UMass game.

4. Florida's defense has to climb back to elite status: We questioned Florida's offense, which still has concerns, but we didn't press the defense. Well, it turns out that there are actually real concerns with this younger unit. Coverage breakdowns fueled 369 Kentucky passing yards and three touchdowns. Also, can anyone besides Dante Fowler Jr. rush the passer?

5. Mississippi State's secondary has questions: It's early, but the Bulldogs have had issues in the back end of their defense. Through three games, the Bulldogs have allowed an average of 311.7 passing yards per game. Corner Taveze Calhoun, who garnered tons of preseason praise, and the guys around him at corner and safety have really underperformed to start the season.

6. Texas A&M is still pretty good: Wasn't this team supposed to take a few steps back without Johnny Manziel? Well, the Aggies didn't get the memo. Texas A&M upset South Carolina 52-28 to start the year, the defense looks better and quarterback Kenny Hill leads the SEC with 1,094 yards and has 11 touchdowns. I can't believe someone didn't think an A&M quarterback would throw for 3,000 yards this season ...

7. Kentucky can upset someone: If you watched any part of Florida's triple-overtime win over Kentucky, you'd know the Wildcats are better than they have been in years. Patrick Towles threw for almost 400 yards on the Gators with a handful of playmakers to use that this team hasn't had in a while. Also, that defense is much better with Bud Dupree and Za'Darius Smith battling for the top defensive end duo in the SEC.

8. Tennessee doesn't have a quarterback issue: We thought there was too much uncertainty surrounding Tennessee's quarterbacks. Well, we were wrong, as Justin Worley has been solid, making tremendous throws through the first two games. He struggled against Oklahoma but is averaging 240 yards per game and has six touchdown passes.

9. Missouri isn't ready to take a step back: We thought there were a lot of questions for Mizzou on both sides of the ball, and there still might be, but this team isn't ready to bow out in the SEC. The competition hasn't been great, but Mizzou has done exactly what's been asked, outscoring teams 125-52.

10. Leonard Fournette isn't Michael Jordan ... yet: We thought Fournette would have at least 1,000 rushing yards and, like, 20 touchdowns at this point. What a disappointment! It's a long season folks, but Fournette is still learning and has just 162 yards and two touchdowns. He'll be great, but we actually have to be patient with him.

SEC Week 4 predictions

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
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Week 3 brought some serious action in the SEC, including Florida surviving triple overtime against Kentucky and Vanderbilt escaping against UMass. (And to think, Alex, everyone laughed when you picked the Minutemen.) With three high-profile games on the docket this week, let's get on with the picks.


Why Auburn wins big: Kansas State isn't going to be scared by Auburn's breakneck tempo -- the Wildcats see it against Baylor annually. The difference will come in that tempo combined with the strength and athleticism in Auburn's offensive line that powers the Tigers' running game. Look for the game to be close and competitive initially before the Tigers pull away in the fourth quarter as they wear down the Wildcats up front. Auburn 45, Kansas State 24 -- Sam Khan Jr.

Why Kansas State keeps it close: When was the last time the SEC ventured into the Midwest to play a Power 5 opponent? Exactly. It's just not done, and with good reason. Expect Kansas State to load the box and dare Auburn to pass. Nick Marshall hasn't thrown the ball all that well thus far, completing 56 percent of his passes for just 151 yards. Auburn 31, Kansas State 24 -- Alex Scarborough


Why LSU wins: LSU has won 14 in a row in this series, but that won’t matter on Saturday. The Tigers will beat Mississippi State again on Saturday because they are the better team -- and it doesn’t hurt that they’re playing at night at Tiger Stadium, a scenario in which they’re 43-3 under Les Miles. LSU 28, Mississippi State 14 -- David Ching

Why Mississippi State wins: How good is LSU? I watched the first half against Wisconsin and was less than impressed. I still don’t trust Anthony Jennings at quarterback. Meanwhile, Mississippi State comes in with a little bit of a chip on its shoulder, having not won in Death Valley since 1991, and Dak Prescott, a Louisiana native, gave the LSU defense fits in last year’s game. Mississippi State 24, LSU 21 -- Greg Ostendorf


Why Alabama wins big: After scoring just three points in the first half and needing triple overtime to beat Kentucky last week, there are some serious concerns for Florida heading into a tough environment at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama's defensive line should create a miserable afternoon for Florida's offense, specifically quarterback Jeff Driskel. Alabama 36, Florida 16 -- Jeff Barlis

Why Florida keeps it close: After a triple-overtime win against Kentucky, people are down on the Gators. But despite last week's scare, Florida is better than it was last year. I can already hear the silly homer chants, and I'm sure Jeff is snickering at me, but if Florida's communication and pass protection hadn't been so bad last week, I'd be tempted to pick Florida in the upset. Notice that I said "tempted." I think you'll see a defensive struggle, but Alabama's running game will be too much and the Crimson Tide will pull away late. Alabama 24, Florida 13 -- Edward Aschoff

More unanimous picks:

Georgia over Troy: Now you can show off that passing game, Georgia. The Bulldogs won't need much of Todd Gurley, as the coaches look to get more out of Hutson Mason's arm. Georgia 51, Troy 10

Texas A&M over SMU: Kenny Trill adds to his flashy numbers and the defense continues to look better in a road rout that will leave Eric Dickerson looking to take a blowtorch to his former program. Texas A&M 65, SMU 13

Missouri over Indiana: These Tigers don't need -- or want -- respect, and they'll continue to quietly go about their business with another convincing victory that will just lead to more Mizzou fans yelling at that @AschoffESPN Twitter account. Missouri 45, Indiana 20

Arkansas over Northern Illinois: Northern Illinois actually has had a respectable run defense through three games, so maybe the Hogs won't rush for 400 yards on Saturday. Maybe. Arkansas 48, Northern Illinois 21

South Carolina over Vanderbilt: After a thrilling 38-35 victory over SEC East favorite Georgia, the Gamecocks must get back on the field. Expect a slow start, but no fourth-quarter visor-throwing from the HBC. South Carolina 34, Vanderbilt 14

Unanimous summaries and scores by Edward Aschoff.

Standings
Chris Low 32-2
Edward Aschoff 31-3
Jeff Barlis 31-3
David Ching 31-3
Sam Khan Jr. 30-4
Greg Ostendorf 29-5
Alex Scarborough 27-7

SEC morning links

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
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1. The big storyline Wednesday wasn’t from the SEC. It was from the ACC. Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, a name SEC fans surely know by now, will sit the first half against Clemson for yet another off-field incident. ESPN’s Mark Schlabach summed it up well in his column: “Funny, the last time I checked, you can’t spell Jameis without ‘me’ and ‘I.’” This got me thinking, though. What player in the SEC could their team not afford to lose for a half? Auburn already showed it can win without its quarterback Nick Marshall, who sat out the first half against Arkansas. Losing Todd Gurley would be rough, but Georgia has a full stable of running backs behind him. Maybe Amari Cooper at Alabama? Or how about on the other side of the ball with Vernon Hargreaves III at Florida? The two will be squaring off this Saturday. But what do you think? Who’s the SEC’s most indispensable player?

2. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn will turn 49 next month, one year away from the big 5-0, but that’s nothing compared to his coaching counterpart Thursday night. Bill Snyder, who is in his second stint at Kansas State, is 74 years old. The stadium his team plays in is already named after him. Not a lot of coaches can say that. As for Malzahn, he doesn’t see himself coaching at 74 because according to him, “college football ages you in dog years.” It’s not all that uncommon in the SEC, though. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier turns 70 in April, and others -- including Nick Saban (Alabama), Gary Pinkel (Missouri), and Les Miles (LSU) are all over the age of 60. My guess is that Malzahn will be coaching in the NFL long before he reaches that age, but you never know.

3. It’s been awhile since Mississippi State last beat LSU -- 15 years to be exact. In fact, the Bulldogs have never beat Les Miles since he’s been in Baton Rouge, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen this season. On Wednesday, Miles called this Mississippi State team “as talented and as complete” as any Mississippi State team he’s coached against. He’s not taking this game lightly, and neither will the fans. You can bet that the newly renovated Tiger Stadium will be rocking Saturday night. There are games -- like Sam Houston State and Louisiana Monroe -- and then there are SEC games. This weekend marks the first SEC game.

Around the SEC
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Of course he doesn't want to come out of the game, but even Connor Neighbors understands the unique threat LSU presents by playing two of its traditional tailbacks at the same time.

The Tigers used that backfield combination -- typically featuring either Darrel Williams or Kenny Hilliard at fullback and either Leonard Fournette or Terrence Magee at tailback -- seven times in last Saturday's 31-0 win against Louisiana-Monroe. Six of those were short-yardage situations where LSU ran a simple fullback dive, achieving three touchdowns, but opposing defensive coordinators must also realize how that personnel grouping presents other threats.

"Obviously we're not going to show all of what we have in our arsenal, but it could be dangerous and I'm all for it. I think maybe I could be in there, too, but you know, it is what it is," chuckled Neighbors, LSU's regular fullback who sacrifices playing time when the Tigers go to the two-tailback look. "As long as we get the W, I don't care how it happens -- if I don't play a snap or if I play 100."

Let's give Neighbors the benefit of the doubt and agree he could do some of the same things that the tailbacks do. Even so, nobody will confuse him for any member of the foursome for whom he typically blocks. Neighbors ran the ball twice and caught seven passes in the entire 2013 season, and he does not have a touch yet this season. The four tailbacks, meanwhile, are threats to break a long run at any time.

Take Williams' 22-yard touchdown burst in the second quarter of the ULM game, for example. He lined up at fullback in front of fellow freshman Fournette on third-and-1 at the ULM 22. But after taking the dive handoff from quarterback Anthony Jennings, not only did Williams achieve a first down, he broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage and escaped for the Tigers' first touchdown.

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Williams was the recipient of four fullback dive handoffs from that alignment against ULM and rushed for 28 yards, including touchdowns of 22 and 1 yards, as well as gains of 2 and 3 yards that both achieved first downs.

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Hilliard got the other two fullback carries, picking up a first down with a 4-yard run early in the second quarter and scoring a touchdown on a 4-yard run in the fourth quarter. He lined up in front of Magee on the touchdown run, flattening ULM safety Cordero Smith as he barreled into the end zone for a score that helped LSU go up 31-0.

"We all practice it," Hilliard said of the dive play. "Me and Darrel have been the main ones getting the reps at it, but it's just something that's going to stay in the playbook and in the game plan. If Coach Cam [Cameron] likes it with the opponent, it's something we're going to keep in."

The play's key to success, Hilliard said, is for the offensive line to get a strong push at the line of scrimmage and for the recipient of the handoff to read the blocking properly.

"If the big guys can move the D-line, just find a little crease and get in there and get a first down or a touchdown," Hilliard said.

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One of the Tigers' toughest runners, Hilliard said he has occasionally moonlighted in the fullback role since his freshman season. He has never caught a pass or done more than carry the ball straight ahead from the position, but there is always the possibility that LSU could add a new wrinkle to the game plan.

"We haven't gotten that fancy with it," Hilliard said of the possibility of catching a fullback screen. "Maybe throughout the year they might give it to me."

Only once did the Tigers attempt something other than a fullback dive in the two-tailback package against ULM, but that play gives opponents something to consider for the future.

On a first-and-10 play at the ULM 46, quarterback Brandon Harris rolled right after faking a handoff to Magee. Fullback Williams was available to Harris as a target for a screen pass, but the quarterback instead overthrew receiver John Diarse along the sideline.

Nonetheless, the play showed that the Tigers can do much more than run fullback dives when they move their tailbacks to fullback -- or any other skill position.

"Every guy that plays in this offense has the ability to line up in the backfield, out there at slot receiver or at the X or Z [receiver], tight end, anything," Magee said. "You have to know because at any given time, somebody may go down and you've got to go in for them and play so you have to know what's going on.

"So it's just something that when they recruit you here and you're learning this offense, it's something that you have to learn. You have to learn every position on the field."

Watch: SEC Spreecast replay

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
2:50
PM ET
ESPN.com reporters Edward Aschoff, David Ching, Greg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough got together to debate the hottest topics in the SEC as well as preview this weekend's biggest games, including Auburn-Kansas State, Florida-Alabama and Mississippi State-LSU. Get ready for this week's big games by watching now.

SEC Freshman Tracker: Week 3

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
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Here are five true freshmen in the SEC who stood out (and five more worth mentioning) from the Week 3:

Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
What he did: Another week, another sack (or two) for Myles Garrett. In Texas A&M’s 38-10 win over Rice, the 6-foot-5, 255-pound Garrett tallied 2.5 sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss and eight total tackles. He continues to live up to the hype that surrounded his recruitment and is now second in the country in sacks with 5.5 this season.

What it means: Garrett has already tied the Aggies’ school record for sacks in a season by a freshman and he is on pace to shatter Jadeveon Clowney’s SEC record for sacks by a freshman (eight). If Garrett continues to play the way he has as competition stiffens on A&M’s schedule, we're now talking about an All-SEC-caliber season. (Sam Khan)

Garrett Johnson, Kentucky
What he did: Johnson led the Wildcats with six receptions for 154 yards and two touchdowns. He had three of UK’s biggest plays of the game: A 60-yard touchdown in which Johnson danced between two Florida safeties before running to the end zone; a back-breaking third-down conversion when he beat his man on a 30-yard catch and absorbed a big hit from the safety; then on the next play, Johnson gave Kentucky a 17-13 lead back when he streaked past a confused secondary and hauled in an easy 33-yard touchdown.

What it means: Johnson was Patrick Towles' favorite receiver in a triple-overtime game that opened a lot of eyes. Although the Cats lost, Johnson must have been especially pleased with his performance in The Swamp. The three-star recruit from Winter Garden, Florida, was rated the No. 84 prospect in the state and didn’t have a committable offer from the Gators. (Jeff Barlis)

Jalen Hurd, Tennessee
What he did: Although Oklahoma’s defense completely shut down the Tennessee running game in the first half, Hurd broke runs of 43 and 29 yards after halftime as the Volunteers tried to stay in the game. Oklahoma ultimately pulled away for a 34-10 win, but Hurd gave a standout performance with 97 rushing yards on 14 carries, plus 24 receiving yards on two catches. It was the best rushing outing by a Tennessee true freshman since Bryce Brown in 2009.

What it means: Although he hasn’t started yet, Hurd is Tennessee’s leading rusher with 48 carries for 209 yards and one touchdown. Each week he emerges a bit more as a star in the Vols’ backfield. Up next for Hurd and the Vols’ young offensive line will be a Sept. 27 trip to Georgia in Tennessee’s SEC opener. If the Bulldogs don’t clean up the run defense that South Carolina exploited last Saturday, Hurd might have a field day. (David Ching)

Armani Watts, Texas A&M
What he did: Watts had six tackles against Rice, but perhaps most notable was a play that won't end up on the stat sheet. After a blocked field goal, Watts raced to his own 7-yard line to pick up the ball and run across the width and length of the field for a 93-yard touchdown return. The only problem? A&M was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct as players on the sideline entered the field.

What it means: Though Watts' return didn't count, he has had three good games in an Aggies uniform. He has been one of the pleasant surprises at a position the Aggies sorely needed help: Safety. He's fifth on the team in tackles, leads in pass breakups (three) and has made an interception and two tackles for loss. He has been an impact player with a nose for the football, huge for an A&M defense trying to improve. (Sam Khan)

Darrel Williams, LSU
What he did: Williams took the fewest carries of anyone in LSU’s four-man tailback rotation, but he scored twice -- once on a nifty fullback dive where he broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage and broke away for a 22-yard scoring run -- and again showed off a powerful running style. Williams finished the game against Louisiana-Monroe with seven carries for 37 yards and is now tied with senior Kenny Hilliard for the team lead in rushing touchdowns with three.

What it means: Williams has been impressive in limited work in the Tigers’ last two nonconference games. While he won’t become LSU’s No. 1 running back this season, he has flashed some versatility by contributing at both tailback and fullback. He and Hilliard took the bulk of LSU’s short-yardage carries against ULM, so Williams has clearly done enough to expect to see more of him once the Tigers open SEC play this weekend against Mississippi State. (David Ching)

Other notables:

OLB Lorenzo Carter, Georgia: Carter recovered a Brandon Wilds fumble at the South Carolina 26-yard line to set up a field goal that gave Georgia a 10-7 lead in the first quarter. He finished the day with three tackles, a fumble recovery and a quarterback pressure.

RB Leonard Fournette, LSU: Fournette ran 10 times for 52 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown, caught a 20-yard pass and returned the opening kickoff 40 yards in a win against Louisiana-Monroe.

WR Speedy Noil, Texas A&M: Noil caught three passes for 71 yards and scored on a 14-yard touchdown pass against Rice before leaving the game in the third quarter with an injury.

CB Henre' Toliver, Arkansas: Toliver started for the first time and helped the Razorbacks put the finishing touches on an enormous win over Texas Tech by intercepting a Davis Webb pass at the Arkansas 15-yard line on the Red Raiders’ final possession.

RB Stanley Williams, Kentucky: Williams made one of Kentucky’s plays of the night against Florida. On the Wildcats’ first overtime possession, he ran right after catching a pass, then reversed field all the way to the opposite sideline and dove to the pylon for a 25-yard touchdown that put Kentucky up 27-20.

SEC Quarterback Tracker: Week 3

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
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The SEC quarterback competitions are fading fast. Nick Marshall is back for Auburn. Patrick Towles (Kentucky) and Justin Worley (Tennessee) have exceeded expectations. And Kenny Hill has gone from competing for the starting job to competing for the Heisman Trophy.

That leaves Alabama, LSU and Vanderbilt. All three schools seem to have settled on a signal caller for the time being, but how long will it last? We should find out a lot more this Saturday as they all have SEC opponents on the docket.

Alabama
Starter: Blake Sims
Backup: Jake Coker

How Sims performed: Alabama fans are starting to accept that Sims is the team’s quarterback and why not? The senior hasn’t done anything to relinquish the job. If anything, he’s shown improvement with each game. On Saturday against Southern Miss, he completed 12 of his 17 passes for 168 yards and a touchdown and also rushed for 46 yards and a score. Both Coker and Alec Morris came in during the second half, but neither played meaningful minutes.

What it means: Sims is the starting quarterback until he gives up the job. If he keeps managing the offense and not turning over the football, the coaches are not going to pull him. That said, he faces his toughest test this Saturday against Florida. The Gators return all four starters on the defensive line, and with Vernon Hargreaves III at cornerback, Sims can no longer only throw the ball to his favorite receiver Amari Cooper. Will we see Coker? Not unless things go awry, but Sims has to play well for Alabama to win. – Greg Ostendorf

Sims’ hold on position: 8.5

LSU
Starter: Anthony Jennings
Backup: Brandon Harris

How Jennings performed: Although Jennings (11-for-18 for 139 yards, INT) tossed his first interception of the season in last Saturday’s 31-0 win against Louisiana-Monroe, he continues to do a solid if unspectacular job at quarterback. His passing numbers would have been better if not for a series of drops and he’s minimizing his mistakes. He also showed some nifty moves in escaping from a sack and then ran for a 22-yard gain. To this point, he has been what LSU’s coaches want him to be: A steady game manager.

What it means: The ULM game made it even more evident that Jennings holds a clear lead over Harris as the starter. Jennings played every offensive snap until the Tigers led 24-0 late in the third quarter. Once Harris got into the game, he screwed up at least two play calls and had to scramble for yardage once everyone else ran a different direction than he expected. Until he has a firm grasp on the playbook, Harris won’t truly challenge for the starting job. – David Ching

Jennings’ hold on position: 8

Vanderbilt
Starter: Patton Robinette
Backup: Wade Freebeck, Stephen Rivers, Johnny McCrary

How Robinette performed: Exploring all options to find a quarterback, Derek Mason went with the true freshman Freebeck against UMass. That experiment lasted all of a quarter before Mason pulled him in favor of Robinette, the team’s original starter. The sophomore took advantage. In three quarters, Robinette threw for 147 yards, rushed for 35 yards and scored two touchdowns to lead the Commodores back from an 11-point second-half deficit and notch their first win of the season.

What it means: Has Vanderbilt finally settled on a quarterback? Don’t assume anything with Mason calling the shots, but he did say Tuesday that Robinette is their guy until something happens to change that. It sounds like Robinette will have a longer leash this Saturday against South Carolina, and maybe that will give him a little added confidence. It also wouldn’t be surprising if a different quarterback finished the game. – Greg Ostendorf

Robinette’s hold on position: 4

SEC Heisman watch: Week 3

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
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Despite Saturday's loss to South Carolina, Todd Gurley is still among the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy this season.

Georgia's stud running back did just about everything he could have to win that game Saturday. He broke through tackles, changed the field on a dime during a wild 17-yard gain, drug Gamecocks -- likely kicking and screaming -- on his back and legs, and flattened guys in his way inside Williams-Brice Stadium.

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesTodd Gurley did everything he could do to get Georgia a big road victory at South Carolina. Although the Bulldogs lost, he's still a top Heisman candidate.
Call this hyperbole if you want, but it wouldn't shock me if the lightning that delayed Saturday's game and the thunder heard in the distance that day wasn't linked to Gurley's presence in Columbia.

Still, it wasn't enough, but who knows what would have happened if he'd been given the ball on that first-and-goal from South Carolina's 4-yard line with 5:24 left in the fourth quarter. I know Bulldogs fans are wondering how the Dawgs went away from their workhorse back at such a critical moment ...

Through two games, Gurley is second in the SEC with 329 rushing yards on 35 attempts. He's averaging a whopping 9.4 yards per carry and has four rushing touchdowns. He also has a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

Gurley is your leader in the Heisman clubhouse nationally and the unquestioned one when it comes to SEC candidates. He has that special, rare blend of power, speed and agility that Playstation footballers wish they could compute.

But we already knew all that. So today, I thought we'd talk a little bit about the quarterbacks.

We can't have 10 legitimate Heisman candidates in the SEC. It's just not logical. But we can talk about a handful of guys who could throw themselves into the mix as the season goes on.

  • Kenny Hill, Texas A&M: Obviously, he's the leader out of the quarterback gate. He leads the SEC with 1,094 passing yards and has 11 passing touchdowns with zero interceptions. It doesn't matter who he's played since that phenomenal performance at South Carolina, the kid deserves Heisman love.
  • Dak Prescott, Mississippi State: He's the SEC's best dual-threat quarterback with his 696 passing yards and 273 rushing yards. Prescott has accounted for 11 touchdowns and looks much sharper as a passer in the pocket. The next step is seeing how he performs in SEC play. Oh, hello road trip to LSU.
  • Bo Wallace, Ole Miss: OK, so we never really know which Wallace we'll get in games, but when he's on, he's not too shabby. He's second in the SEC with 1,023 yards and has nine touchdowns to four interceptions (three in the opener). With his 316 yards in a blowout win over Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday, Wallace tied Eli Manning's mark of 10 300-yard passing games at Ole Miss, which is a school record. Wallace will break that record soon enough.
  • Maty Mauk, Missouri: It's pretty obvious that the Tigers are just fine at quarterback with Mauk. All he's done as the full-time starter is throw for 647 yards and a league-high 12 touchdowns. Mauk can run if he needs to, and has really improved his pocket footwork, but he'd rather just stand and throw down field, which he does really well.

Now, will all of these guys be in the Heisman discussion in November? No. In fact, there's a good chance that by October most of this list will be eliminated from serious contention. But at this early part of the season, it was necessary to mention what these guys had done so far.

Here are a couple of other players to watch when it comes to SEC Heisman chances:

  • Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama: Still the best receiver around. Leads the SEC and the nation with 33 receptions and has a conference-leading 454 yards with two touchdowns.
  • Arkansas RBs: Alex Collins leads the SEC 411 rushing yards and has five touchdowns. Jonathan Williams is third with 322 yards and leads the league with six rushing touchdowns. Honestly, just take your pick with either back because they are both averaging more than 8 yards per carry.
  • Cameron Artis-Payne, RB, Auburn: He was off this weekend, but is still fourth in the SEC with 289 rushing yards and has four touchdowns.
  • Travin Dural, WR, LSU: He was finally kept out of the end zone against Louisiana-Monroe, but is still second in the SEC with 370 receiving yards and has a league-leading four touchdowns.
  • Demarcus Robinson, WR, Florida: Through two games, he has 21 receptions for 339 yards and three touchdowns. If he's not on the field, Florida doesn't beat Kentucky Saturday.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Travin Dural had already learned a painful lesson about perspective during his LSU career, even before a late-night car wreck nine days ago placed him in the hospital with a head wound that required 13 stitches to close.

[+] EnlargeLSU's Travin Dural
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty ImagesTravin Dural had three catches for 151 yards and a touchdown against Wisconsin.
As a true freshman who seemed during preseason camp to be on track to contribute to the offense in 2012, Dural's knee buckled while trying to outjump cornerback Jalen Collins and make a catch in practice. The ACL tear he suffered on the play cost the Tigers' speedster a season, but he believes it spawned personal growth that has helped him since then, as it did in the aftermath of the wreck that occurred a few hours after LSU's 56-0 win against Sam Houston State on Sept. 6.

"I'd say that helped me out a lot," Dural said of the injury. "It showed that football isn't guaranteed. You've got to play every play like it's your last play. In fall camp, I was never thinking that I was going to get hurt, especially the way that I got hurt. I didn't get touched, I didn't get hit, my leg just snapped. So that showed me that football isn't always guaranteed and it made me grow up a lot."

Perhaps the experiences from Dural's lost 2012 season might also help him enjoy the success he's experiencing today. He entered last Saturday's 31-0 win against Louisiana-Monroe averaging a ridiculous 48.5 yards per catch, having scored four touchdowns -- including bombs of 94 and 80 yards -- in six catches.

As No. 8 LSU (3-0) prepares for its SEC opener against Mississippi State (3-0) on Saturday, Dural once again looks like the playmaker teammates expected him to become when he arrived on campus. He ranks second in the SEC with 370 receiving yards and is tied for first with four touchdown catches.

"I remember his freshman year when he came in, we knew he was going to be a great player because he was out there making unbelievable catches just like Jarvis [Landry] and Odell [Beckham]," senior running back Kenny Hilliard said. "He got hurt from there. But now he just has this little firepower that's in him and he's just been great."

Dural put a serious dent in his yards-per-catch average against ULM -- he finished the night with six grabs for 79 yards, lowering his average to only 30.8 yards per reception -- but that didn't seem to bother him much afterward.

"It doesn't matter. We got the win," Dural chuckled. "I'm going to just come out next week and try to make up for it, try to have a better game than this game."

In truth, Dural doesn't need to make up for anything. He played Saturday with the 13 stitches still in his forehead -- he waited until Sunday to have them removed – and still finished as the Tigers' most productive receiver for the third time in three games.

Through three games, Dural leads LSU in receptions (12, six more than John Diarse, the Tigers' next most-productive wideout), receiving yards (370, 254 more than Diarse) and touchdown catches (four, three more than Diarse and Malachi Dupre). LSU quarterbacks have targeted Dural with 21 passes, more than twice as many as the next receiver.

Perhaps instead of Dural making up for only getting 79 yards in a game, his fellow receivers need to get on his level, helping LSU's passing game become something other than the Dural-or-bust show that it has mostly been to date.

But just as the third-year sophomore is one of the leaders in the Tigers' receivers meeting room -- partially a product of his personality and partially because of his status as by far the most experienced player in the room -- he has also become their most reliable pass-catcher.

"He's the highest on the totem pole, and sometimes I go to him because in the room, he's the only person that really played last year," Diarse said. "We look up to Travin. He has the most game experience, he knows what the defense looks like, he knows what the corners look like, so we go to him."

He's also one of the most explosive players on the LSU offense. An ACL injury can be particularly scary for a player who relies on speed the way that Dural, a state champion sprinter in high school, does at receiver. But through hard work during the grueling rehab process, Dural is once again a dangerous deep-ball threat -- as he proved last season while catching the game-winning touchdown in the closing moments against Arkansas, or when he blazed past the Wisconsin and SHSU secondaries this season for long-scoring catches.

As Dural mentioned, he certainly understands how playing sports is a volatile activity where a freak occurrence can take it away at any moment. But he has made plenty out of his opportunities so far in 2013, once Landry and Beckham's early exits for the NFL gave him the chance to become LSU's No. 1 wideout.

"I know he's not one of those guys who gets complacent," Diarse said after practice last week. "He was out here pushing me today at practice: 'Hey man, you've got to make that catch' or 'You've got to get out of that break faster.' Because we all need each other, and I'm happy to see him finally achieve what he's been working for."

Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

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As always, there was a ton of recruiting news from around the SEC this past weekend. Ole Miss picked up a commitment, while the Rebels, Gators and Gamecocks all had big visitors for their games Saturday. Here’s a closer look at the top recruiting news from around the conference.

SEC morning links

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It's a fact frequently brought up in Missouri circles but not necessarily around the league, and it's one I find fascinating. The Tigers continued their nation-long active streak of forcing turnovers to 47 consecutive games on Saturday and it started with an interception by Missouri defensive tackle Josh Augusta. That triggered a run that would see the Tigers collect four turnovers in a 38-10 rout of Central Florida. It was one of the highlights of a great day by the Tigers' defensive line, including a strong performance from Shane Ray, who was eventually named SEC Defensive Player of the Week. The Tigers continue to simply play well and win. They have one more non-conference game (Indiana) before getting their chance to defend their SEC East division crown.

If Florida wants to be successful defensively, pressuring quarterbacks is paramount. On Saturday against Kentucky, Dante Fowler Jr. did a good job of it but didn't have a ton of help. That has to change when the Gators play Alabama this week. The individual matchup involving Fowler should be interesting -- he is facing Alabama true freshman Cam Robinson, the No. 1 offensive tackle in the 2014 recruiting class. For what its worth, the Gators said they needed some adversity, like Saturday's game provided, before going to Tuscaloosa.

Days after its loss at South Carolina, Georgia is still the subject of much conversation. A lot of it centers around the offensive playcalling and coordinator Mike Bobo. My colleague Edward Aschoff said not giving the ball to running back Todd Gurley near the goal line late in the game was the wrong call. That topic was even the first question posed to Mark Richt by a caller on his weekly radio show and he admitted that “I think we were all thinking the same thing on the ride home.” The Bulldogs play Troy this week, so don't expect that chatter to calm anytime soon.

Read more here.

Around the SEC
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Early Offer: Could LSU lose RB pledge? 

September, 15, 2014
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Should LSU fans be worried that Tigers running back commit Nick Brossette plans to take official visits to other schools, and South Carolina's defense is about to get even better thanks to JUCO linebacker Davon Durant?


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ESPN 300 OL Matt Burrell names a leader 

September, 15, 2014
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ESPN 300 offensive lineman Matt Burrell Jr. has already taken an official visit to Ohio State, and that trip has resonated with the No. 61 ranked prospect. He still has four more official visits to take, but Burrell says he has his list in order as it stands.


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