NCF Nation: Bennie Logan

Inconsistency an issue for UGA, LSU

September, 24, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- For all the ink spilled over the numerous defensive holes that Georgia had to fill before this season, perhaps no defense in the country suffered greater losses than LSU.

Just as Georgia had 12 key defensive players to replace this fall, LSU actually set an NFL draft record with six defensive players selected in the 2013 draft's first two days. And just as the Bulldogs have discovered, it has been difficult for LSU to pick up exactly where it left off without players like Barkevious Mingo, Kevin Minter, Eric Reid, Sam Montgomery, Tharold Simon and Bennie Logan.

So as No. 9 Georgia (2-1) and No. 6 LSU (4-0) prepare to meet on Saturday, they do so with young in places defenses that have delivered uneven results. Neither group lack potential, but they both have dealt with the understandable lapses that typically arise when new players take over for established stars.

“I think our players are as talented as we've ever had and I think there's a maturity that needs to take place so they can play with their cleats headed north and south and ready to make a tackle and show the style of confidence, if you will, that other defenses that have played in this uniform have shown,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “I think that's coming. I see it, in last week, better in certain spots and certainly that's got to continue.”

In Saturday's win against Auburn, Miles' Tigers could not have been more impressive early. They limited Auburn to just 41 yards of offense in the first quarter in jumping out to a quick 21-0 lead. However, Auburn made it a more competitive game -- LSU still won 35-21 -- by generating 333 yards in the second half and running a whopping 85 plays against a suddenly reeling LSU defense that was facing its first legitimate test.

“Everybody probably mentally may have gotten a little bit down. We had a couple of calls that were questionable, but we've got to be able to shrug that off,” LSU defensive end Jordan Allen said. “We have a couple things happening and not sure what's going on and we're not communicating on some things and we'll get it straight.”

LSU's early schedule was much more generous toward its defensive rebuilding effort than was Georgia's. The Tigers played TCU, UAB, Kent State and Auburn in the first four games, with only the TCU game -- it was held at the Dallas Cowboys' stadium in Arlington, Texas -- being played away from Tiger Stadium.

Their defensive statistics reflect that advantage, as LSU is tied for third in the SEC in total defense (310 yards per game), is second against the pass (173.8 ypg), seventh against the run (136.2) and fifth in scoring (19.5 points per game).

Because its first two opponents were top-10 teams with impressive skill talent, Georgia's defense looks much worse on paper. The Bulldogs are 13th in the league in scoring defense (29.7 ppg), 11th in total defense (388.7 ypg), eighth against the run (143.3) and ninth against the pass (245.3 ypg).

However, they actually enter the LSU game after their best performance yet. In Saturday's 45-21 win against North Texas, Georgia surrendered just 7 rushing yards and 245 total yards -- nearly 400 fewer than the Bulldogs' offense generated that afternoon. Further, the Mean Green scored just one offensive touchdown -- the other two came on special-teams plays -- and otherwise sputtered on offense .

“I feel like we really stepped up this game,” Georgia sophomore safety Josh Harvey-Clemons said. “We had the off week to kind of get everybody in the right spot or whatever, and I feel like we're really jelling together and really getting that chemistry that we're going to need next week against LSU.”

It was still far from a perfect effort, but Georgia has now allowed opponents to score just 13 points in their last 18 drives, dating back to halftime of the South Carolina game when the score was tied at 24-24 before the Bulldogs pulled away for a 41-30 win.

“You want to have confidence,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said of his defense after the North Texas win. “I don't think this bunch is going to be overconfident after this game. I think they did begin to play well together and I think they can be proud of what happened. It was a very good performance. But LSU's a good team, and we want them as confident as possible, but we don't want them to think they've arrived, that's for sure, because we've got a long way to go.”

Miles' coaching staff can certainly empathize with that sentiment, particularly as it prepares to face a Georgia team that ranks sixth nationally in total offense at 574 ypg -- in the Tigers' first true road game of the season, no less.

Inconsistency has characterized both defenses over the first month of the season, but they realize that excuses over inexperience have nearly lost their shelf life. The defense that is better at minimizing its mistakes on Saturday will almost certainly win what should be one of the most impactful games either team will play this fall.
Early into LSU's fall camp, defensive tackle Anthony Johnson took a chance with his comfort zone.

Normally one to sit back, listen and watch, Johnson stood up in front of his teammates and coaches and delivered his own set of motivating words. It wasn't anything special, but it caught everyone's attention because of who was speaking.

It took a lot for Johnson, who is viewed as one of the nation's best defensive tackles, to stand up and show himself in that light. And it was a big step in the junior's personal growth as he looks to become the centerpiece of LSU's rebuilt defensive line this fall.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Johnson
Crystal Logiudice/USA TODAY SportsDefensive tackle Anthony Johnson plans to keep the LSU defense strutting this season.
"I've been waiting for this moment for a long time," said Johnson, who has 13 career tackles for loss and four sacks. "I want to take a lead role and show my teammates that I'm here for them and I'm ready to play for them, along with the coaches. I want everybody to get on the same page early so we don't have to worry about it later."

Johnson arrived at LSU as the No. 2 overall player in the 2011 recruiting class, according to ESPN recruiting services. He dealt with the pressure to deliver instant gratification because of his high expectations while trying to adapt to a new way of approaching the game.

Like most freshmen who carry so much hype on their shoulders, the stress built up for Johnson. He wanted to impress and play at a higher level so badly that it sometimes hurt his concentration.

But Johnson quickly found a release.

A tyrant on the football field, Johnson is almost a Teddy bear away from it after rediscovering his passion for singing and joining the campus choir.

He was able to relax through his baritone voice. He'd been singing since his great grandmother introduced him to the 18th-century hymn "Oh Happy Day" when he was four. To this day, that remains his favorite song to sing.

Johnson was able to convey many emotions through song, and while football consumed him to the point of quitting the choir, that year helped him regain some clarity.

"I have to try and stay smooth. I have to keep my tough on-field persona, but when I step off the field I have to get back to the regular me," he said.

The regular him was feeling more confident and ready to learn more. He acted like a giant sponge as he soaked up run-stopping advice from older linemen like Michael Brockers and Bennie Logan. He took notes whenever Barkevious Mingo gave him pass-rushing tips. And he spent hours working with defensive coordinator John Chavis in and out of the film room to perfect his technique and movements.

He might have been getting the essentials down in his head, but in order to carry them out properly, Johnson needed to change his body. Johnson figured his 330-plus-pound playing weight as a freshman gave him an edge at clogging holes, but it was his mother who didn't approve. After seeing her following his first season, his mother noticed his gut spilling over his belt and diagnosed him with "Dunlop Disease" because of the Dunlop tire-shaped stomach Johnson had developed.

Humbled by his mother's assessment, Johnson jumped right into weight room harder and chose grilled over fried.

When Johnson addressed his teammates this month, he did so at a leaner 295 pounds. He doesn't feel like a featherweight, but he's moving faster (he ran a 4.7 40-yard dash this year) and frustrating his offensive teammates more.

"That helped get me back on my feet and do what I did back in high school: get in the backfield," Johnson said of shedding the weight.

"I still have my power and everything, but I'm just a little bit quicker and run to the ball a lot faster."

Trimming down resulted in more disruption from Johnson last fall. He registered 42 tackles, including 10 tackles for loss and three sacks last season, and rediscovered the nasty edge that made him so dominant in high school. That nastiness has only grown since the beginning of spring, Johnson said.

Labeled "The Freak" since his high school days and trying his best to mirror NFL superstar Geno Atkins on the field, Johnson is hungry to not only elevate his game, but that of the entire defense around him. He's making it his responsibility to get a defense that lost so much back into championship form.

That starts with anchoring a line that lost four NFL draft picks. It's a tall task, but Johnson has already changed so much that this seems easier than everything else he's done.

"They think this is going to be a rebuilding year, but we're doing nothing but reloading," Johnson said.
There's no question that this year's NFL draft really hit LSU's defense hard -- especially up front.

Gone is projected first-round draft pick Barkevious Mingo at defensive end, along with very productive leader Sam Montgomery. The Tigers also said good-bye to their plug in the middle, Bennie Logan.

That trio combined for 27 tackles for loss, 14.5 sacks and 17 quarterback hurries in 2012. It's a lot production to replace, but coach Les Miles said during Wednesday's SEC coaches teleconference that he was pleased with the way his new defensive line looked this spring.

And it's not hard to believe him when you think about the talent and the numbers he and his staff have to work with.

The Tigers welcomed true freshman Christian LeCouture this spring and watched him play his way into the two-deep at defensive tackle. Miles also said he was pleased with the play of veteran tackles Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson.

People know about the skill these two possess, especially Johnson, but it's all about being more consistent for these two. Miles seemed pleased with that this spring, and he's also hoping junior Jordan Allen finally comes into his own at defensive end after suffering a season-ending knee injury last year.

He was also very happy with the improvements made by rising junior Jermauria Rasco, who played in 13 games last season and recorded 10 tackles (two for loss). He'll have the responsibility of replacing one of LSU's talented ends, but Miles feels very confident in his ability to get the job done.

"Jermauria Rasco, in my opinion, is going to be a guy that can step right in there and play just as well as any of the guys we'll lose to the NFL draft," Miles said.

That's a lot to ask of someone who has had to wait in the wings for a while, but Miles and his coaches have no choice but to push players like him.

Sophomore Danielle Hunter is also expected to make a strong impact this fall, too, after he played in 12 games as a true freshman. Miles said Hunter, who stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 235 pounds, "has all of the ability that we would be comfortable with at the defensive end spot."

And once fall rolls around, the Tigers will have even more bodies to work with up front. LSU signed seven defensive linemen in its 2013 class, meaning six more, including ESPN 150 members Tashawn Bower (DE), Maquedius Bain (DT) and Greg Gilmore (DT).

"We're going to have a number of guys who will come in behind them as true freshman," Miles said.

LSU will recover from mass junior exodus

January, 21, 2013
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Sam Montgomery, Barkevious MingoCal Sport Media via AP Images, Getty ImagesSam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, projected to be first-round picks, highlight LSU's group of juniors leaving early for the NFL draft.
Les Miles isn’t sweating the mass exodus, so maybe everybody in Tigerland shouldn’t be sweating the 10 underclassmen leaving early for the NFL draft.

That number swells to 11 if you count Tyrann Mathieu, but Mathieu didn’t play this past season for LSU after being dismissed and had no chance of returning in 2013.

To put LSU’s 10 early NFL draft entrants into perspective, the entire SEC had 11 in 2012.

Then again, the SEC saw that number climb to 33 this year.

And, yes, there were a number of head-scratchers. That's always the case.

Players leave early for all sorts of reasons. Most of the time, they’re simply ready to take their shot at the NFL. Sometimes, they land in the doghouse and really don’t have much choice. Others listen to the wrong people and get bad advice.

There’s a reason LSU has been one of the elite programs in college football the past few years. The Tigers have recruited and developed players about as well as anyone.

The sobering reality for everybody else in the SEC is that nobody has done it as well as Alabama, and the Tigers and Crimson Tide just happen to reside in the same division.

So it’s understandable that fans on all sides would see 10 underclassmen leaving early in one year and wonder if LSU was about to hit one of those embankments that all elite programs fear. The cyclical nature of college football, particularly in the SEC, is a fact of life.

The other obvious question: Is there something amiss in LSU’s program right now that’s driving players away? After all, we hear constantly how players love playing for Miles, but we don’t see a lot of those guys hanging around for another chance at that coveted crystal trophy.

Those guys do exist, although they’re getting rarer.

AJ McCarron and C.J. Mosley chose to stay at Alabama for another season. So did Jake Matthews at Texas A&M, Aaron Murray at Georgia and Jordan Matthews at Vanderbilt.

In LSU’s case, most of the guys who are leaving already knew coming into this past season that this would likely be their farewell.

Go back to that star-studded 2009 signing class by LSU that was ranked No. 1 in the country by ESPN. Six of the players leaving early were in that class -- defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, defensive tackle Bennie Logan, linebacker Kevin Minter, offensive tackle Chris Faulk and running back Michael Ford.

All six of those players redshirted their first season, meaning this was their fourth year in the program.

Mingo and Montgomery are both projected as top-20 picks, while Minter and Logan both have a chance to slip into the latter part of the first round.

Ford probably saw the writing on the wall with the emergence of Jeremy Hill at running back this season, and Faulk had already missed most of this past season with an injury. He wasn’t willing to risk coming back to school and being injured again.

That 2009 signing class also included cornerback Morris Claiborne, defensive tackle Michael Brockers and receiver Rueben Randle, all of whom left early last year and were taken in the first two rounds. Claiborne and Brockers were both top-15 picks.

The Tigers’ 2010 signing class was ranked No. 8 nationally and included safety Eric Reid, cornerback Tharold Simon, running back Spencer Ware, not to mention Mathieu.

It was pretty much a given prior to this season that Reid was coming out. He’s rated as one of the top safeties in the draft. Simon has all the measurables and will probably help himself in workouts, while Ware had seen his role on LSU’s team reduced ever since his suspension in 2011 after reportedly testing positive for synthetic marijuana.

Even for a program that rakes in the talent the way LSU does, losing 10 players early in one year is bound to have an effect. The Tigers will be forced to depend on a lot of young players next season, and several others will have to step up their roles considerably.

Miles has built a strong enough foundation that LSU isn’t going to all of a sudden drop off the radar. But losing so many good players at once will make it that much more difficult to climb out from under Alabama’s growing shadow, and that’s not what anybody wants to hear on the Bayou.

Miles knows how the game works, though, and he also knows that it’s never a bad thing to be sending so many players to the NFL, or at least in the direction of the NFL. When you're recruiting in the waters that LSU does, the overriding question that just about every one of those recruits has is: How can you help me get to the NFL?

“I like the state of the program,” Miles told The Baton Rouge Advocate. “I like the fact that we send guys to the NFL early and recruit guys with the potential to go to the NFL early.”

Something says that cycle's not going to end any time soon at LSU and that the Tigers aren't going to lose their membership in college football's upper class.
Now that all of the early entries for this year's NFL draft are in, we decided to take a closer look at some of the players who decided to leave school early.

We're checking in on how teams were affected and who some of the winners and losers were from all of these early departures:

[+] EnlargeJoeckel
Brett Davis/US PresswireIt was a no-brainer for Luke Joeckel to take his talents to the NFL.
1. Biggest winners: Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel flirted with staying in school for his senior year, but it appears that would have been a major mistake for the nation's top left tackle. He was a guaranteed top-10 pick for most of the season, but with the draft creeping closer, Joeckel has a great chance of being the top pick come April. He definitely made the right decision to leave school early, and so did his teammate Damontre Moore. After a monster 2012 season, Moore could follow Joeckel as the second player taken off the board. He moved to defensive end last fall and is a very attractive pick for teams because of his versatility. Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones and Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner could also hear their names called very early in April, as they too could both be top-five picks.

2. Biggest loser: LSU was ravaged by the NFL draft, as ten underclassmen declared early. Some were pretty obvious, but others left people confused. It didn't shock anyone that defensive linemen Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo and Bennie Logan declared. Montgomery and Mingo could be first-round draft picks, while Logan could go within the first three rounds. Safety Eric Reid and linebacker Kevin Minter made sense as well, but seeing punter Brad Wing, cornerback Tharold Simon, offensive lineman Chris Faulk and running backs Spencer Ware and Michael Ford all leave was pretty surprising. The Tigers will be losing seven quality starters and basically their entire defensive line. LSU has a lot of quality youngsters who will be vying for major playing time, but losing all that experience will hurt the Tigers in 2013.

3. Head-scratchers: Ware, Ford and Simon could all have benefited from another year in Baton Rouge. Neither Ford nor Ware hit the 400-yard rushing mark and combined for just four touchdowns on the season. Maybe the emergence of freshman running back Jeremy Hill helped influence their decisions. South Carolina wide receiver Ace Sanders shocked everyone when he decided to turn pro at the last minute. Sanders was one of the league's top multipurpose weapons, and while he isn't going to get any taller (he's a generous 5-foot-8), he could use another year to improve his receiving skills. He'll be looked at as a returner first in the NFL and won't likely be drafted very high at all. Also, Florida linebacker Jelani Jenkins could have used another year of school as well. He was banged up in 2012, only playing in nine games, and registered just 29 tackles. He's a very smart player, but another year could have helped his draft status even more.

4. The replacements:

  • LSU loses a lot, but that doesn't mean that the Bayou is void of talent. Wing will be replaced by sophomore-to-be Jamie Keehn, who started in Wing's place for the Chick-fil-A Bowl. With Ware and Ford gone, Hill will be helped out by Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard in the run game. Junior-to-be Anthony Johnson should get more reps at defensive tackle with Logan gone, and he'll also be helped by Ego Ferguson. Jalen Mills and Jalen Collins both had solid seasons at corner, so expect more of each with Simon gone.
  • With Eddie Lacy leaving Alabama, rising sophomore T.J. Yeldon will now be the guy at running back for the Crimson Tide. With his 1,000-yard season, he's already proven that he can more than handle himself in this league. He'll also be helped by Dee Hart and Jalston Fowler, who are both returning from knee injuries, and Kenyan Drake, who looked impressive in mop-up duty last season. Also, keep an eye on incoming freshman Derrick Henry, who is already on campus and should be a factor in the run game.
  • Sanders' departure at South Carolina means Bruce Ellington is now the top returning receiver for the Gamecocks, and it also puts more on the shoulders of Shaq Roland, who was expected to make an immediate impact during his freshman year. Roland has the skills to be a big-time threat in the passing game.
  • Georgia lost some key juniors on defense, but no one will be missed more than Jones. Jordan Jenkins came on strong in his first year last fall, and will do his best to replace Jones' pass-rushing ability.
  • Florida only lost three underclassmen to the draft, but replacing safety Matt Elam and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd will be tough. There are a host of youngsters who could vie for Elam's spot (keep an eye on freshman Marcus Maye), while Damien Jacobs will help man the middle of Florida's line with Leon Orr.

SEC weekend movement

January, 7, 2013
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All the attention is on tonight's Discover BCS National Championship, but eyes were all over the SEC over the weekend, with a handful of players making decisions about their futures.

Here's a look at some of the movers and shakers from the weekend to check up on:

FLORIDA

Backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who was beaten by Jeff Driskel for the starting spot at the beginning of the season, and reserve running back Chris Johnson, who was primarily used on special teams, have decided to transfer. Brissett's decision didn't shock anyone. He was behind Driskel all year and played in just five games and his only start came late in the year when Driskel was out with an ankle injury. Johnson arrived at Florida as a safety, but moved to running back, where he was buried on the depth chart. His lasting image with the team was being ejected in the Gators' loss to Louisville in the Allstate Sugar Bowl for punching a Louisville player.

The loss of Brissett is significant when it comes to depth. After Driskel, the Gators will have three scholarship quarterbacks entering the 2013 season, but basically no experience. Tyler Murphy will be a redshirt junior, but has never thrown a pass at the college level, while Skyler Mornhinweg will be a redshirt freshman and Max Staver will be a true freshman. That means Driskel's health becomes the top priority in 2013 for the Gators.

GEORGIA

While Florida lost a quarterback, Georgia kept one, with Aaron Murray deciding to stay for one last year with the Bulldogs. Murray seriously considered leaving school early for the NFL, but will return for one final attempt at making a run to a championship. With the defense Georgia had in 2012, this past season felt like the best chance Murray had at winning multiple championships with the Bulldogs. Next year's defense will be gutted, so it will be back to the drawing board for that side of the ball.

One thing that has been counted against Murray when it comes to the pro level is his height. At 6-foot-1, he doesn't have ideal height for a quarterback, but what might have helped him in this year's draft was the play of Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who stands just 5-11, but has had a tremendous rookie year. Murray isn't going to get any taller, but he does have a chance to break even more records in a Bulldogs uniform and could improve his stock for the 2014 NFL draft.

On Friday, linebacker Jarvis Jones decided to enter April's NFL draft. No shocker at all, as he's No. 1 on ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.'s Big Board. Jones is a two-time All-American and has been right at the top of the list for the nation's best defensive player for the past two years. He would have been silly to come back for a final year at Georgia, and he's going to make himself -- and his family -- a ton of money. He was one of the league's most exciting players to watch, but it was his time to move on.

LSU

There was a mass exodus from LSU over the weekend, as eight underclassmen decided to leave the Bayou. It started with linebacker Kevin Minter last week. Then, safety Eric Reid, cornerback Tharold Simon, running back Spencer Ware and punter Brad Wing decided to leave LSU early Friday. On Sunday, sources told ESPN's Joe Schad that defensive linemen Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo and Bennie Logan would also enter the NFL draft.

Losing those linemen wasn't much of a surprise, as Mingo and Montgomery are projected to be first-round draft picks, and Logan is rated as Kiper's fifth-best defensive tackle among juniors. Wing's time in Baton Rouge seemed to be coming to an end, and his bowl suspension didn't help, but Simon and Ware could have benefited from another year of football. With the emergence of freshman Jeremy Hill, Ware saw his carries decline in 2012, while Simon still has some room to improve. He's rated the No. 15 cornerback by ESPN Scouts Inc., but didn't blow a ton of people away in 2012. He has great size and instincts, but it was surprising to see him leave early.

Another one of LSU's top defensive weapons is leaving, as the school announced Friday that junior safety Eric Reid will forgo his senior season and enter the NFL draft.

It's hardly a surprise that the All-American decided to throw his hat into the draft, but the Tigers will really miss their leader and ball hawk. Reid is ranked third among junior safeties by ESPN Insider Mel Kiper Jr. and is No. 42 overall by ESPN's Scouts Inc. He joins linebacker Kevin Minter and cornerback Tharold Simon as the LSU juniors leaving early for the NFL, but he probably won't be the last with all the top junior talent sitting on LSU's defense.

As the only returning starter in LSU's secondary this year, Reid finished the season with 91 tackles and two interceptions. During his three-year career, Reid started 29 games and recorded 194 tackles with six interceptions.

Reid wasn't just an outstanding player for the Tigers, he was a top-notch individual as well. The Baton Rouge native bled purple and gold long before he stepped on LSU's campus and he was the ultimate leader for the Tigers during his career. LSU will certainly miss that aspect of Reid's game and the Tigers will definitely miss his tremendous play as the last line of defense for them.

"I've been very fortunate and blessed to have been able to play football at LSU," Reid said in a news release. "It was always my dream to go to LSU and play football."

LSU's defense is expected to also lose junior defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo. Defensive tackle Bennie Logan and punter Brad Wing also are considering making the jump to the NFL.

Greetings from Atlanta

December, 31, 2012
12/31/12
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ATLANTA -- Welcome to the Georgia Dome!

We're in for quite the game tonight here at the Chick-fil-A Bowl, as No. 8 LSU takes on No. 14 Clemson in a battle of the Tigers. I hear that the naming rights to Death Valley and a whole bunch of chicken sandwiches are on the line in this one.

It's a great way to ring in the new year, as Clemson's high-powered offense takes on LSU's top-ranked defense. There will be a battle of top 10s tonight, with Clemson entering with the eighth-ranked offense (518.3 yards per game) and LSU coming in with the No. 7 defense (296.2).

Some down on the Bayou weren't too pleased about this being the bowl destination for their beloved Tigers after a 10-2 season, but we could see a real classic with LSU's defense taking on Clemson's offense. Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd enters with more than 3,500 passing yards and led the ACC with 34 touchdowns, while LSU's defense has allowed more than 276 passing yards only three times this season. However, all three of those games came during the last three games of the season.

LSU has a load of speed on the defensive side, and has been extremely good at getting to the quarterback with its elite defensive line, headlined by Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo and Bennie Logan. The Tigers put a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks, but mainly do it without the use of the blitz. The last time Boyd and this Clemson line played a solid defensive line, South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney ate Boyd up and the junior quarterback completed less than 50 percent of his passes and threw two interceptions.

But Clemson has two elite receiving weapons in DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins, who combined for 125 catches for 19 touchdowns and more than 1,900 yards. Both make a lot of plays after the catch, so LSU will not only have to worry about eliminating the deep ball, it will have to worry about stopping Clemson in the YAC department.

Stay glued to this one because we have a good one on our hands.

Pregame: Chick-fil-A Bowl

December, 31, 2012
12/31/12
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No. 8 LSU (10-2, 6-2 SEC) vs. No. 14 Clemson (10-2, 7-1 ACC)

Who to watch: Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd. The junior finished second in the ACC with 3,550 passing yards and led the league with 34 touchdown passes, but now faces one of his toughest challenges in LSU's exceptional defensive line. The last time Boyd faced a real quality defensive line, he was eaten up by South Carolina and ferocious defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Boyd completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes and threw one touchdown to two interceptions. Boyd must take on a line that features ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo and defensive tackle Bennie Logan, who combined for 13 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss. Oh, and then there are defensive tackles Anthony Johnson and Josh Downs, who added 13.5 more tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. If Boyd can escape the pressure, he could have a chance to make some plays on LSU's secondary. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Boyd has completed 54.3 percent of his passes thrown 25 yards or longer, with 14 touchdowns to four interceptions. LSU's defense is allowing quarterbacks to complete just 21.2 percent of those passes, with two touchdowns to four interceptions, but it also allowed multiple receptions of 25 yards or more in the last two games of the season.

What to watch: Although Clemson has received the bulk of the offensive attention, LSU has been extremely successful with the ball in its past few games. The Bayou Bengals have always been able to run, averaging nearly 180 yards rushing per game, but passing with a purpose was rare for most of the season. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger didn't exactly get off to a great start in conference play, and he didn't register back-to-back 200-yard passing games until November. But he came through in the final four games, averaging 267.5 passing yards. He'll face a defense that ranks 75th in total defense, allowing 411 yards per game, including 250 passing. Clemson also has allowed 22 passing touchdowns and 7.4 yards per pass attempt. If LSU's offense is able to be as balanced as it has been, Clemson's defense could be in for another long bowl night.

Why watch: One of the nation's most high-powered offenses takes on one of the country's best defenses. Tigers vs. Tigers. Death Valley owners meet for the first time since 1996, when they played in what was then called the Peach Bowl. More had been expected from both teams after they won their respective conferences in 2011. LSU was a legitimate national championship contender before the season, while Clemson was a win away from trying to defend its ACC title. You'll see a ton of speed on the offensive side of the ball for Clemson, and just as much speed from LSU's defense. It's the perfect way to ring in the new year!

Prediction: LSU 31, Clemson 17. With Mettenberger's improved play, LSU now has a tougher offense for Clemson to battle. The fact that Clemson's defense is still struggling to stop anyone is a major concern. LSU will pound Clemson's defensive front with its tremendously strong running game, and that should help open up things for Mettenberger over the top. Clemson's offensive line had issues against South Carolina's defensive front a month ago, and now has to face one of the best lines in the country. LSU is going to make it very hard for Boyd to move around and use his talented set of receiving weapons, while keeping running back Andre Ellington in check.

Frustrated LSU comes up empty

November, 4, 2012
11/04/12
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Bennie Logan almost snarled with frustration.

Alabama, he said after the top-ranked Tide survived a 21-17 war against No. 5 LSU at Tiger Stadium, wasn't what some have made it out to be.

"They're a good team, don't get me wrong," Logan said. "But to go against a team that everybody is comparing to, you know, an NFL team ... we dominated them from snap to snap. There was just that one play that cost us."

Actually, one might call it one costly drive. Alabama, out of timeouts, went 72 yards on five plays to score the winning touchdown on a 28-yard AJ McCarron-to-T.J. Yeldon screen pass with 51 seconds left.

There was a blown assignment on the wide-open screen, though Tigers who were asked didn't know who was at fault or, more likely, didn't care to throw the culprit under a bus.

Didn't matter. Whoever the guilty party might have been was part of what was otherwise a near-flawless effort by what was probably the better of the two defenses most of the night.

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Every once in a little while, we here at the SEC blog take a topic and break it down by delivering our opinions on both sides. We like to call it a "Take two."

Today, we're checking out two players who could be surprise heroes in Saturday's Alabama-LSU game. We're looking at two players coming in relatively under the radar who could lead their respective teams to victory with big games. That means no AJ McCarron, Zach Mettenberger or Sam Montgomery. We already know they all have to have big games.

Edward Aschoff's take: Alabama enters Saturday's game with arguably the nation's best offensive line. That line will have the responsibility of blocking maybe the country's best defensive line. LSU has a lot of power in the middle and a ton of speed and strength outside. But Alabama has a ton of experience up front (135 combined starts), and a load of NFL talent (just like LSU's defensive line). However, the right side of Alabama's offensive line, made up of right tackle D.J. Fluker and right guard Anthony Steen has had some communication issues here and there that have resulted in negative plays for the Tide. Fluker is a future first-round pick, and he'll have his hands full with LSU's ends (Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo), but keep an eye on Steen. He'll have to help All-America center Barrett Jones clog the middle against Bennie Logan and Anthony Johnson. They've combined for 13 tackles for loss and four sacks and have been extremely disruptive this season. He'll also have to keep an eye on linebacker Kevin Minter, who has made a handful of plays coming through the middle of the line. Steen has played well all year, but this will be his biggest test of the season. Alabama loves running up the middle, so opening up those running lanes there will be very important, and Steen will have a ton of pressure thrown his way.

Chris Low's take: LSU coach Les Miles vowed before the season that the Tigers would open up their passing game with Zach Mettenberger taking over at quarterback. And while it’s true that they’ve thrown more passes, they haven’t connected on a lot of those passes. LSU is 12th in the SEC in passing offense. Mettenberger has gotten most of the blame for the Tigers’ woes in the passing game, but his receivers haven’t made much happen down the field. That has to change Saturday night in Tiger Stadium if LSU is going to spring the upset over Alabama. Sophomore receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. is due for a breakout game. He sparkled at times last season as the No. 2 option to Rueben Randle, but hasn't played with much consistency this season. He’s averaging 16.2 yards per catch, but only has two touchdown receptions. The Tigers were counting on Beckham for big plays, and he’s certainly capable. He hauled in a deep ball against Florida earlier this season that would have completely changed the complexion of that game, but coughed it up when he was tackled by the Gators’ Matt Elam. Look for the Tigers to take a few more deep shots to Beckham against Alabama and try to keep the Crimson Tide from loading the box.

Welcome to Auburn

September, 22, 2012
9/22/12
6:01
PM ET
AUBURN, Ala. -- Greetings from the Plains.

It's a hot one out here, even though it's technically fall. But that's the South ...

Props to Auburn's student section for coming out early and coming out fired up. While I was walking around this town and eating at Momma Goldberg's, I didn't get much of a positive vibe from Auburn fans. People who I talked to seemed to be hoping for more of a good effort from their Tigers than a win over No. 2 LSU.

But the students flooded the student section as soon as they were let loose inside Jordan-Hare Stadium. Good for them.

Hey, crazy things always happen in this game.

On paper, things certainly aren't in Auburn's favor. LSU pounds the ball with its running game and pounds opponents up front with its defensive line. LSU entered the day with the SEC's best rushing game and defense. The Bayou Bengals like to pressure the quarterback, and that isn't good for Auburn quarterback Kiehl Frazier, who has struggled mightily through the first three games of the season. He has to play with more confidence, but he'll have his hands full with the likes of Barkevious Mingo, Sam Montgomery and Bennie Logan up front.

If Auburn is going to pull the upset, its offense has to generate some sort of running game in order to open things up for Frazier. The problem, however, is that LSU doesn't like to give up rushing yards. Through three games, LSU has surrendered just 141 rushing yards.

To put that in perspective, LSU has scored 145 points on the season.

If Auburn wants to have a chance in this game, it has to toughen up on both offense and defense. Coach Gene Chizik has stressed just how physical this team has to be week in and week out in the SEC, and through three weeks, these Tigers just haven't been tough enough.

That has to change this evening.
Bennie Logan had known for a while that he would have the honor of wearing the prestigious No. 18 jersey this season for LSU.

“They actually told me during the spring. I just didn’t tell anybody,” Logan said. “I wanted it to come out the right way and at the right time.”

That’s vintage Logan.

It’s one of the main reasons he’ll be sporting No. 18 for the No. 1-ranked Tigers this season.

He does things the right way.

[+] EnlargeBennie Logan
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesBennie Logan will be wearing No. 18 this season, which is traditionally given to the player who best represents what it means to be a Tiger both on and off the field.
“When you’ve got a guy in your room that’s going to provide that kind of leadership, it’s important,” LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis said. “It’s important to help your young guys learn how to practice, and leadership is not just in the games. It’s every day. It’s every minute you’re on the field, and when you’ve got a guy like Bennie Logan in your room, he’s going to set the tempo.”

The 6-foot-3, 295-pound junior sets that same tempo on the field. He was one of the most underrated players in college football last season.

While Michael Brockers received most of the publicity in the interior of that LSU defensive line, Logan racked up more total tackles and more sacks. In fact, his 57 tackles led all LSU defensive linemen, and his three sacks led all LSU defensive tackles.

Soon after Brockers was selected in the first round of the NFL draft last April, Chavis was quick to note that Logan has that same kind of potential.

“He has a chance to be right up there with anybody I’ve coached at tackle,” Chavis said.

Keep in mind that along with Drake Nevis and Brockers at LSU that Chavis also coached the likes of John Henderson, Albert Haynesworth, Darwin Walker, Jesse Mahelona and Dan Williams at Tennessee.

Logan, who barely played as a redshirt freshman, is well aware of how much the stakes have been raised for his junior season.

His way of dealing with those expectations is setting his standards higher than anybody would dream of setting them.

“I’ve got to step up in all areas, and that’s what I plan to do,” Logan said. “That’s what I expect of myself. I’ve got to contribute on the field. I’ve got to be more of a leader. I’ve got to make sure I’m patrolling that defensive line.

“All it does is motivate me to achieve my dream, and that’s bringing this team a national championship.”

Logan has bulked up and gotten a lot stronger since coming to LSU. He’s also quick enough that he could potentially play outside at the next level.

He’s proficient at eating up blocks on the interior, but he’s also plenty active from his tackle position. He had more total tackles a year ago than any of the top returning interior defensive linemen in the SEC, including Alabama’s Jesse Williams, Georgia’s John Jenkins, Florida’s Sharrif Floyd, Mississippi State’s Josh Boyd and Vanderbilt’s Rob Lohr.

Nonetheless, the SEC coaches didn’t vote Logan to the first, second or third team of the 2012 preseason All-SEC team, which makes you wonder who’s doing the voting and if those people doing the voting even bothered to turn on the tape.

“I had a lot of people telling me to keep my head up because of that, but it doesn’t bother me at all,” Logan said. “It’s a great honor to be on any All-SEC team, but I’d rather be a part of a great defensive line.

“My job is to go out every Saturday and dominate the guy in front of me, and at the end of the season, we’ll see where we are. A lot of the preseason rankings are caught up on hype. The way I look at it is that you’ve got to go out there and earn it.

“Nothing is going to be given to you in this league.”

The fact that Logan is wearing No. 18 this season tells you what the coaches, players and everybody in the LSU program think of him. It’s a tradition that goes back to quarterback Matt Mauck, who wore No. 18 and helped lead LSU to the 2003 national championship. The jersey is handed down to a player who best represents what it means to be a Tiger both on and off the field.

Logan inherits it from Brandon Taylor. Jacob Hester, Richard Murphy and Richard Dickson have also donned the No. 18 jersey.

“A lot of great guys have worn this jersey before me,” Logan said. “I’m not going to go out and try to do anything different. I’m just going to be myself and do the things I’ve always been doing.”
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LSU’s football team has been down this road before.

It was almost a year ago that the brawl in the parking lot of a Baton Rouge bar went down and starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson was subsequently suspended for the first four games of the season after initially being charged with felony second-degree battery.

Jefferson was accused of kicking somebody in the face, and everybody wondered at the time whether it would also be a kick in the face to the Tigers’ season.

Well, we all know how things played out. LSU won 13 straight games against a killer schedule before losing to Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game, and the team was the essence of resiliency.

[+] EnlargeTyrann Mathieu
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesTyrann Mathieu proved to be a clutch playmaker on both defense and special teams last season.
The Tigers are going to need that same fortitude this season after Friday’s announcement by coach Les Miles that All-American junior cornerback and return specialist Tyrann Mathieu had been dismissed from the team for a violation of team and school policy.

Before anybody says that Mathieu won’t be that big a loss and that he was overrated as a cover cornerback, I say go back and look at how many clutch plays he made, how many times he changed the entire complexion of games with a turnover or punt return and how he was the one who so many times set the tone for LSU's defense.

He was an outstanding college football player and as dynamic a difference-maker on special teams as he was on defense.

As Miles said in his news conference, the Tigers will definitely miss him.

But this was already a team on a mission after last season’s bitter disappointment in New Orleans, a team brimming with strong leadership and a team that has the talent and the wherewithal to overcome a loss like Mathieu.

Even before Friday’s news broke, LSU junior defensive tackle Bennie Logan was raving the day before about the makeup of this team.

“What makes this team so good is that all we know is working hard and working together,” Logan said. “We were wounded by what happened last year in the [national] championship game. Now, it’s just a scar, but it’s a scar that reminds us and motivates us, and we’re not going to let anything get in the way of getting back there and finishing the job this year.”

Don’t underestimate the role Miles plays in these situations, either. We’ve all made fun of his Les-isms and the way he comes across at times, but he’s a master at rallying his team in the face of adversity.

And no matter what you think of his clock management, his offensive game plan last season against Alabama in the title game or the way he wears his cap, he relates well to his players. More importantly, his players play their rear ends off for him.

It also helps that LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis has been adamant about playing so many young players and getting guys ready to play.

The Tigers don’t have a proven roamer in the defensive backfield the caliber of Mathieu, but they have plenty of talent. Junior cornerback Tharold Simon was already a more polished cover guy than Mathieu, and Simon needs to show just how good he is this season.

Junior Eric Reid is one of the premier safeties in America and the unquestioned leader back there now.

Chavis was already excited about what redshirt freshman cornerback Jalen Collins and redshirt freshman safety Micah Eugene could add to the equation this season. Their roles just got a whole lot bigger.

True freshmen Jalen Mills and Dwayne Thomas also will see more reps at cornerback.

Depth at cornerback will be an issue, and taking away a playmaker like Mathieu is a blow to any defense. But these Tigers know the drill.

They’re too talented, too battle-tested and too driven to let one player’s dismissal -- as decorated as that player might be -- sidetrack them from getting back to college football’s biggest stage in January.
With two new teams added to the mix, let’s take a look at what we learned in the SEC this spring:

1. Quarterback Central: The SEC gets a bad rap for not piling up Xbox-like passing yards, and granted, it wasn’t a great year for quarterbacks in the league last season. But did you know that an SEC quarterback has been taken in the first round of the NFL draft eight of the last 10 years? And that includes four quarterbacks taken No. 1 overall. The 2012 season has a chance to be one of the best in recent memory for SEC quarterbacks, especially if Missouri’s James Franklin returns to form after undergoing surgery in the spring to repair a torn labrum. Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson and Georgia’s Aaron Murray are the two most established quarterbacks. Wilson likely would have gone in the first round had he come out this year. Murray has thrown 59 touchdown passes in his first two seasons, and he also has one of the more talented backups in the league in sophomore Hutson Mason, who shared Offensive MVP honors with Murray in the spring. Some early mock drafts have Tennessee’s Tyler Bray going in the first round, and Bray has one of the strongest arms in the league. Alabama’s AJ McCarron demonstrated in the BCS National Championship Game what he’s capable of and is poised to have a big junior season. South Carolina’s Connor Shaw is one of the more improved quarterbacks in the league, and the new guy on the block to watch is LSU’s Zach Mettenberger.

2. Lining up at LSU: How many defenses out there could lose a pair of first-rounders and come back the next season and potentially be even better? LSU’s defense certainly had that look to it this spring despite the loss of cornerback Morris Claiborne and defensive tackle Michael Brockers, both of whom declared early for the NFL draft and were taken in the first round. It starts up front for the Tigers, who have the best pair of bookend defensive ends in the country in Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo. Both are potential top 10 picks in the 2013 NFL draft. In the middle of that LSU defensive line is tackle Bennie Logan, who also has a chance to be a first-rounder. And from a pure talent standpoint, sophomore tackle Anthony “Freak” Johnson is exactly what his nickname suggests. Kevin Minter was one of the Tigers’ most improved players this spring at middle linebacker, and in the secondary, Tyrann Mathieu, Eric Reid and Tharold Simon are all future pros. It’s obviously a defense that’s oozing with talent, but it’s also a defense that still has a chip on its shoulder with the way last season ended.

3. Fighting back: A long list of marquee players in this league missed the spring with injuries and still have to prove they’re all the way back in the fall. Franklin’s surgically repaired shoulder will be a huge key for Missouri in its first season in the SEC, and a lot of eyes will be on the two best running backs in the league. South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore missed the second half of last season after tearing knee ligaments, while Arkansas’ Knile Davis missed the entire season after fracturing his ankle in the preseason. At Ole Miss, they’re keeping their fingers crossed that linebacker D.T. Shackelford can return after he underwent a second knee surgery in March. He missed all of last season after tearing his ACL in the spring. Texas A&M running back Christine Michael is also coming back from an ACL tear. Tennessee receiver Justin Hunter went down in the third game last season with a torn ACL, and Florida defensive tackle Dominique Easley is trying to work his way back from a torn ACL suffered in the regular-season finale against Florida State last season.

4. Hogs hanging tough: Sure, the whole Bobby Petrino scandal was embarrassing to the entire state of Arkansas. But the players and coaches on the team didn’t lose focus this spring, and the leadership really came to the forefront. Quarterback Tyler Wilson, running back Knile Davis and linebacker Tenarius Wright picked the team up and made sure that nobody was feeling sorry for themselves, and in the process, reminded everyone that all of their goals were still intact. Credit also goes to the Arkansas coaching staff for handing a very difficult matter about as well as it could be handled. There are more tests to come, but now that John L. Smith is in place as the interim head coach, the program has a clear leader for these next eight months. Nothing is more valuable than strong player leadership, though, and the Hogs proved during that turbulent month of April that they’re made of the right stuff.

5. Getting physical: It was obvious that Florida coach Will Muschamp never felt good about his team’s ability to line up and be physical last season in his first year on the job. There were times that the Gators were downright soft on their way to going 0-6 against FBS teams that finished the season with a winning record. So this spring, just about everything they did was directed at being a more physical football team, a football team committed to running the ball and a football team determined to finish games. Muschamp has repeated several times since the end of spring practice that the Gators are a better team right now than at any point last season, and a lot of that goes back to this team adopting the kind of blue-collar, hit-you-in-the-mouth approach that has defined Muschamp’s coaching career. Clearly, he’s excited about where the program is headed, and he’s equally excited that he’ll be better equipped to play the way he wants to during the 2012 season.

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