NCF Nation: J.C. Copeland

SEC Power Rankings: Week 11

November, 11, 2013
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We're inching closer and closer to the finish line, and our No. 1 doesn't look to be budging anytime soon:

1. Alabama (9-0, 6-0 SEC; last week: 1): The Crimson Tide faced its biggest test since Texas A&M and passed with flying colors Saturday night with a resounding 38-17 win over LSU. Alabama didn't need a lot of yards, but the defense stood tall, holding LSU to a season-low 284 yards and 17 points. People continue to wonder if this truly is the No. 1 team in the country, but Alabama has tackled every obstacle that has come its way. Also, Phil Knight was decked out in Alabama gear in Tuscaloosa, so clearly the bandwagon still has room.

2. Auburn (9-1, 5-1 SEC; LW: 2): It seems like Auburn is getting better and better each week. The Tigers weren't intimidated at all by the atmosphere inside Neyland Stadium and walked out with a commanding 55-23 win over Tennessee. The offense rolled up 444 rushing yards, and the defense is getting better and better -- just in time for this week's showdown with Georgia on the Plains.

3. Missouri (9-1, 5-1 SEC; LW: 5): These Tigers continue to impress and had no problem handling a weary Kentucky team on the road. Maty Mauk is growing for the future, and Dorial Green-Beckham showed us all why he was the No. 1 recruit in the country last year with his school-record four touchdown catches in Mizzou's 48-17 thumping of the Wildcats. This upcoming bye week should give quarterback James Franklin even more time to rest his shoulder before a trip to Ole Miss.

4. Texas A&M (8-2, 4-2 SEC; LW: 3): We all know the Aggies can score at will when Johnny Manziel is under center, but the defense took a few steps back (again) in A&M's 51-41 win over Mississippi State on Saturday. Right when you think that unit is getting better, it starts to lag behind, like surrendering 556 total yards to the Bulldogs. Still, the Aggies won in spite of the defense and get a bye week before taking on LSU and Mizzou on the road.

5. South Carolina (7-2, 5-2 SEC; LW: 4): The Gamecocks were off this weekend, which should help them rest any nicks or bruises. South Carolina is approaching its final SEC game, which is big, because a win over Florida on Saturday would get the Gamecocks one step closer to Atlanta. South Carolina still needs help, but the Gamecocks will have every opportunity to take care of business against a struggling Florida team.

6. Georgia (6-3, 4-2 SEC; LW: 7): The Bulldogs had a nice tuneup game before facing Auburn on the road. Even after a sluggish start, the Bulldogs routed Appalachian State 45-6. If Georgia wants a shot at the SEC Eastern Division title, the Bulldogs have to beat Auburn and hope for Mizzou to fall off late. Aaron Murray continues to rack up records, and this offense regained its form Saturday. The defense will have to be at its best against a very good Auburn running game.

7. Ole Miss (6-3, 3-3 SEC; LW: 8): After winning just six combined games from 2010-11, the Rebels are going bowling for the second straight year. Coach Hugh Freeze has led a very impressive turnaround in Oxford. Ole Miss let things get a bit interesting in its 34-24 win over Arkansas, but the outcome never really seemed in doubt. The Rebels go for win No. 7 against Troy before hosting Missouri.

8. LSU (7-3, 3-3 SEC; LW: 6): It really has been a season of what-ifs for the Bayou Bengals. Turnovers and mental errors have plagued this team in its three losses, and Saturday's 21-point loss to Alabama was no different. Fumbles by J.C. Copeland and Zach Mettenberger proved costly, as they created a 10-point swing that didn't go in LSU's favor. The Tigers were left scratching their heads in Tuscaloosa and get another bye week to stew over it.

9. Vanderbilt (5-4, 2-4 SEC; LW: 11): Remember when head coach James Franklin said you'd never see the old Vanderbilt again under his watch? Well, after taking the Commodores to back-to-back bowl games for the first time in school history, Saturday's 34-17 win over Florida marked the first time the Commodores have beaten Florida in Gainesville since 1945, and the first time ever the Dores beat Florida and Georgia in the same season. Vandy's blowout win in the Swamp came thanks to four takeaways by the Commodores and only 183 yards of offense, and Vandy is a win away from making its third-straight bowl.

10. Florida (4-5, 3-4 SEC; LW: 9): It has been a challenging season in Gainesville, and Saturday's ugly loss to Vandy (snapping a 22-game winning streak over the Dores) didn't help. The injuries have piled up, Florida has lost four straight and the Gators are in danger of missing out on a bowl game for the first time since 1990. Coach Will Muschamp said his team has a "woe is me" attitude right now, and the fans are restless. Seeing all those empty seats and hearing all those boos told you everything you need to know about the state of Florida football.

11. Tennessee (4-6, 1-5 SEC; LW: 10): It was another long day for head coach Butch Jones and his Vols. Auburn ran up 444 rushing yards, averaging 8.4 yards per carry, and had the game well in hand before the second quarter even ended. Tennessee has to be encouraged by the growth of quarterback Joshua Dobbs and receiver Marquez North, but it's just not enough right now. Five times this year Tennessee has given up 400 yards and gained less than 350.

12. Mississippi State (4-5, 1-4 SEC; LW: 12): Hats off to quarterback Dak Prescott for going out and playing Saturday just days after his mother passed away after her battle with cancer. He and his Bulldogs didn't beat Texas A&M, but they never quit. Still, this has been a trying year for Mississippi State, which has to win two of its last three games in order to keep its three-year bowl streak going.

13. Arkansas (3-7, 0-6 SEC; LW: 13): Another weekend, another loss for the hapless Hogs. Arkansas' 34-24 loss to Ole Miss marked the seventh straight for Bret Bielema and his squad. It's the longest of Bielema's coaching career, and the Razorbacks are officially out of the bowl hunt for the second straight year. Arkansas has the SEC's No. 12 offense and a defense that ranks 11th in the league, after surrendering 531 yards to Ole Miss.

14. Kentucky (2-7, 0-5 SEC; LW: 14): For the third straight year, the Wildcats aren't going bowling. They certainly have shown heart, but the talent on both sides of the ball just isn't there right now for Kentucky to actually compete week in and week out against its SEC foes. Kentucky has now lost 13 straight SEC games.


TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Standing at the front of a cramped room filled with a throng of media members, LSU coach Les Miles gazed toward the back wall as he recalled two gut-wrenching plays that changed the complexion of Saturday night's game against top-ranked Alabama.

It appeared as though he was struggling with the images of a J.C. Copeland fumble at the goal line and an early snap that ricocheted off Zach Mettenberger before being scooped up by Crimson Tide linebacker Trey DePriest on back-to-back drives in the first quarter.

[+] EnlargeZach Mettenberger
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsZach Mettenberger and the offense were stifled in the second half.
They happened in an instant but would linger for three more quarters, as LSU dropped its third straight to Alabama with a 38-17 loss inside Bryant-Denny Stadium. The scoreboard showed a 21-point defeat, and those two plays easily could have cost the Tigers an early double-digit lead against the No. 1 team in the nation.

"Here we are, frankly going off left tackle here to take the lead 7-0," Miles said of Copeland's careless fumble on second and goal at Alabama's 3 with more than 8 minutes remaining in the first quarter.

LSU coaches were seen tossing their headsets after Copeland's turnover. Maybe it was because the miscue came on only his 13th carry of the season, or because star back Jeremy Hill wasn't in the game. Nevertheless, it played out like the same old story with this year's LSU team. Mistakes have crippled it in big games, leaving so many questions about what this squad could and should look like right now.

In the loss to Georgia, an Odell Beckham Jr. fumble on a punt return led to a Georgia touchdown that gave the Bulldogs a late third-quarter lead. Three weeks ago, Mettenberger dug his team into a major hole with three first-half interceptions at Ole Miss. Both games ended in LSU losses.

"Going back to every loss we've had this season, the turnovers have just killed us," said Hill, who ran for a season-low 42 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. "You take the turnovers away from us this season, and who knows what our record would be right now?"

On paper, Saturday's loss knocked 13th-ranked LSU to 7-3 on the season and 3-3 in SEC play. But when you look closer, it's tough to say where this team might be without those costly errors. Saturday night clearly showed that LSU can play with the best. The Tigers held Alabama to just 372 yards, grabbed the lead once and tied the game once before the Crimson Tide broke things open with a 14-point fourth quarter.

If Copeland doesn't fumble, the Tigers go up seven and put a damper on Alabama's raucous crowd. If Mettenberger and center Elliott Porter don't botch the exchange a drive later, Alabama isn't put in great position to take a 3-0 lead with Cade Foster's 41-yard field goal.

That's a 10-point swing that eventually changed everything.

"When you play in games like this, you just can't turn the ball over," receiver Jarvis Landry said. "We put ourselves into bad position.

"When you turn the ball over ... it's hard to beat a team like Alabama."

What made things that much more frustrating for the Tigers was the defense's inability to get off of the field. Alabama owned nearly 34 minutes of the clock, leaving LSU's potent offense to stew on the sideline. As badly as that unit wanted to make up for its early mistakes, it had to suffer through watching the Tide work like an efficient, mistake-free football team should.

It didn't help that penalties and missed tackles added to the offense's stay on the sideline. The defense's play was frustrating, but Landry showed his displeasure for calls that only added to his irritation.

"It was kind of sad and made me kind of mad looking at it from the sideline," Landry said. "There were a lot of calls toward Alabama's favor that were kind of questionable and kept their drives alive."

Landry can scoff at the officiating and vent about the defense's struggles, but the early offensive mistakes cost this team. The Tigers rebounded to an extent, but you could feel the deflation after both fumbles. This could have been a special night for LSU, but devastating turnovers only fueled Alabama and left the Tigers once again asking, "What if?"

"You can't turn the ball over," Hill said. "If we don't turn the ball over, there's no telling what this team could do."

Video: J.C. Copeland's family

November, 9, 2013
11/09/13
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Gene Wojciechowski narrates why "family" is LSU fullback J.C. Copeland's favorite word.

Instant analysis: Alabama 21, LSU 17

November, 4, 2012
11/04/12
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Top-ranked Alabama (9-0, 6-0) and No. 5 LSU (7-2, 3-2) saved the best for Game 3. It came right down to the final drive, as Alabama squeaked out its 21-17 win with a 28-yard screen play from quarterback AJ McCarron to running back T.J. Yeldon with 51 seconds remaining.

After struggling mightily for most of the second half, McCarron connected on four of his final five passes for 72 yards and that touchdown.

While McCarron played his best at the end, LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger played the best game of his career, completing 24 of 35 passes for a career-high 298 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions.

LSU actually outgained Alabama 435 yards to 331.

Alabama is clearly in the driver's seat for a trip to Atlanta for the SEC title game, but it also controls its destiny for the Discover BCS National Championship in Miami.

It was over when: McCarron and Yeldon orchestrated a beautiful screen call that went 28 yards for a touchdown to make it 21-17 with 51 seconds left. LSU got the ball back, but Mettenberger was sacked on the third play of the drive as time ran out.

Game ball goes to: Outside of that costly fumble that led to LSU's final scoring drive, Yeldon was a beast for the Tide. He scored the game-winning touchdown and finished with 76 yards on 11 carries. He averaged 6.9 yards per carry and had a long of 23 yards.

Stat of the game: LSU did a very good job of extending drives against Alabama's vaunted defense, converting 10 of 20 third downs, while Alabama converted just 1 of 9 third downs.

Stat of the game II: McCarron completed 4 of 5 pass attempts on Alabama's final drive for 72 yards and a touchdown. Before that, he completed 1 of 7 second-half passes.

Second-guessing: LSU fullback J.C. Copeland's penalty took away all the momentum the Tigers gained from Jeremy Hill's 19-yard run to Alabama's 13-yard line. He foolishly knocked an Alabama player to the ground after the play was over and well away from where the play ended. It pushed the Tigers back, and they eventually failed to execute a fake field goal that took crucial points off the board.

Second-guessing II: Les Miles' decision to go for a fake field goal on a 47-yard attempt and then actually go for a 54-yarder in the second quarter will haunt him. Both decisions didn't work out, and that left the Tigers without a crucial second score before halftime. Alabama drove down the field 63 yards and scored a touchdown to make it 14-3 after Drew Alleman's 54-yard miss. Miles also decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 at Alabama's 24 with just under 9 minutes left and LSU leading 17-14.

What it means for Alabama: The SEC title is still in sight and so is the national championship. A win over Texas A&M next week and Alabama is guaranteed a trip to Atlanta for the first time since 2009. If Alabama wins out, it will play for its second national title in as many years.

What it means for LSU: The Tigers' BCS national title hopes are all but gone, but there's still some hope in Baton Rouge that LSU can still sneak into the Sugar Bowl. If the Tigers win out, they could still be in position to play in New Orleans in January. This was also a big step for Mettenberger, who came into the game as one of the SEC's most scrutinized quarterbacks but grew tremendously against the nation's No. 1 defense.
Watching film of last year's LSU game must be traumatizing for Florida's defense.

All the Gators will notice is the constant pounding LSU's run game put on it. All those defenders were good for was getting pushed around and making each of LSU’s running backs look like a Heisman candidate.

That film is probably burning in a trash heap this very moment. And that's perfectly acceptable when you consider the Gators surrendered 238 rushing yards to the Tigers last season.

For as much push as Florida tried to give LSU up front, the Tigers doubled that intensity, constantly knocking the Gators back as they cruised to a 41-14 win at Tiger Stadium.

[+] EnlargeRonald Powell
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireThe Tigers gashed the Gators defense for 238 yards on the ground in last year's meeting.
If the Gators are going to pull off the upset in the Swamp this weekend, the rush defense has to be infinitely better, and it's tangling with basically the same backfield that wore it out last year. LSU's multiback system is alive and pounding, as the Tigers are second in the SEC in rushing, averaging 229.6 yards per game and 5.3 yards per carry.

"They're a team that really likes to run the ball and grind down a team and win the game in the third and fourth quarter,” Florida linebacker Jon Bostic said.

"We have to come out and make plays, too. We can't just let them come out and run the ball down our throats."

And that's exactly what happened to the Gators last year in October. In back-to-back weeks against the league's strongest running teams in Alabama and LSU, the Gators gave up a combined 464 yards and allowed both teams to run for more than 4 yards per carry.

It's obvious that toughness in the trenches was lacking. As the Gators enter the first weekend in October, they are light-years ahead of last year's squad in the toughness department. The blue-collar approach Will Muschamp wants from his defense is finally starting to come together, and that will go a long way against LSU.

"Toughness is everything," defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd said of stopping the run. "You have to have toughness, smartness and discipline. We're working on all of it. Toughness is a big factor when the run game is involved."

Florida is allowing a little less than 120 rushing yards a game and just 3.8 yards per carry, but the Gators have yet to play a team as physical and as deep in the run game.

LSU can throw four backs out on any given drive. There's the quick bruiser in Kenny Hilliard, the speedy Michael Ford, the pounding Spencer Ware and the dynamic Jeremy Hill, who has yet to really be unleashed this year. Also, the Tigers have a certified battering ram in 272-pound fullback J.C. Copeland.

All five are averaging more than 4 yards per carry, with Hilliard leading the group with 6.9 yards per rush.

"We have guys who can run fast and run hard. It's hard for defenses to prepare for," said Ford, who has 224 yards, but is averaging 5.9 yards per carry.

"Even our defense, it's kind of hard because they always get a different look."

Fresh legs against huffing, puffing defenders is never a fair fight, and that's why the Gators found themselves on defense for the majority of the second half in last season’s game. Florida's defense couldn't get off the field on third downs, and you can’t win games like that.

"That's just an important storyline in this game -- winning on third down -- because this is a team that knows how to run it, and if they can possess the ball and continue to convert on third downs, it's a hard day," Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said.

The good news for Florida is that opponents have converted on third downs just 29 percent of the time this fall.

Part of Muschamp’s plan against the rush is to add defensive backs to the box and control the perimeter. He’s also harping on gap control.

But to Bostic, positioning isn’t everything. The mental side will be just as important and he wants players to have more composure and be more restrained this time. Overzealous play in pursuit could be detrimental against this running game, so patience is key.

"A lot of guys will get antsy and want to go make a play," he said. "You've got to let the big plays come to you."

LSU will go right at them ... again and again.

SEC mailbag: Florida a BCS buster?

September, 28, 2012
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It's time to take some questions as we enter the weekend:

Robert in Salt Lake City writes: How much of a role does UF have in determining who plays for the national title? Will possibly knocking off FSU put someone in it, or will FSU be on the outside looking in at that point?

Edward Aschoff: The Gators could be a real BCS buster for a few teams. For starters, Florida hosts LSU next week and a Gator win could throw a wrench in the Tigers' plans for a return to the national championship. Oh, and there are the games against Georgia and South Carolina. All three of those teams are ranked within the top 6, so the Gators are very much going to be a part of the national championship picture in some form or fashion. That doesn't mean Florida will be competing for it, but it could determine who plays in it because the Gators have a chance to beat each one of those teams. Now, will they? I don't know, but this team is better equipped to than it has been in the past two years. As for Florida State, the Seminoles still have to prove to me that they're back. Yes, they beat Clemson, but wasn't that supposed to be a vaunted defense? I believe it gave up 462 yards and gave up 37 points in the process. Also, beware of the Thursday night game at Virginia Tech. FSU has a way of losing those games it shouldn't …




Bobby in Ludowici, Ga., writes: Kentucky, Vandy, Arkansas, and Auburn are clearly the most struggling teams in the SEC, who has the best chance at making a bowl game?

EA: Right now, it's hard to say if any will make a bowl game. All sit at 1-3, and all have tough roads ahead. Arkansas has four home games left, but could drop to 1-5 with back-to-back road games at Texas A&M and Auburn coming up. Auburn has five home games left, but Georgia and Texas A&M are on that list and Alabama is on the road. Three of Kentucky's remaining five home opponents are currently ranked, and Vanderbilt ends the season with three road games in the final four weeks. For Arkansas and Auburn, next week's matchup between the two will make or break the Hogs' bowl chances. A loss will likely terminate Arkansas' real bowl chances. Same for when Vandy plays Kentucky. At this point, I'm going to go with Auburn because of those five home games and road games at Ole Miss and Vandy. Auburn has to at least split those two road games and win three of its final five home games.




Steve in Virginia writes: Just from looking at the stats this year, it's starting to look like the Gamecocks might be more of a pass first team this year instead of a run first team. Do you think this will continue, or will the Gamecocks have to adjust back more to the running game against teams with solid DBs?

EA: I think as Marcus Lattimore gets stronger and healthier, Steve Spurrier will go back to him more. He was South Carolina's bread and butter for a year and a half, and once this team gets into the meat of the SEC season, look for him to get more carries. He's already starting to look stronger out there, and he carried the ball 21 times against Missouri. Connor Shaw has done a good job of spreading the wealth around in the passing game, but I'm sure he'd like to see someone other than Ace Sanders step up as a consistent target. If that doesn't happen, expect more from the running game.




Scott in Atlanta writes: Other than perhaps money, what are teams like Vandy and Kentucky (or even Ole Miss/Miss St) missing to consistently catch up to the rest of the SEC considering the amount of exposure the SEC has now after winning so many championships? Certainly they should be able to get some great kids that were not picked up by other SEC teams that want to play in the SEC instead of other conferences.

EA: Well, you have to consider that schools like Alabama, Florida, Georgia and LSU don't really recruit, they just kind of gather talent. When you have that ability, you can pluck kids from just about anywhere. And that means schools like the ones you mentioned get hurt in the process. The schools you mentioned have to do a better job of developing players once their on campus. These schools won't just automatically start out-recruiting the Alabamas and LSUs. They have to start with development and getting more wins and getting signature wins over the big guys in the league. That will attract better players. They also have to fend off bigger schools from out side of the SEC. That's where you see a lot of the "great" players you referred to go. I think development will help with recruiting, but I don't see those schools getting to "plucking" status in this league.




Mark inTulsa, Okla., writes: I'm just curious to know how you can have a QB poll and NOT have A&M's Manziel on a list of the seven QB's. I mean, I could understand leaving him off of a Top 2 or even a Top 3 list, but Top 5? Look at the numbers per game.

EA: There's no doubt that Johnny Manziel has been impressive. He's really picked up on A&M's offense and brings a great element to it with his legs. But he was a no-show in the second half of the Aggies' loss to Florida -- the only real competition for Texas A&M this year. He was tremendous against SMU and South Carolina State, but the other quarterbacks on our list have done more against better competition. That's not to say Manziel won't make this last at the end of the year, but for now we want to see more from him against better talent.




Jblackburner in Atlanta writes: Which SEC team has the best RB depth, top-to-bottom, in your opinion? I say Bama.

EA: I'm still going with LSU. While I'm impressed with the slew of talent in Alabama's backfield, I just think the Tigers have a little more punch in their group. And both have injuries to key players in Jalston Fowler and Alfred Blue. Take Blue out of the equation, and Kenny Hilliard, Michael Ford Spencer Ware and Jeremy Hill have rushed for 680 yards and nine touchdowns. Not to mention, they are averaging 6.3 yards per carry. But look beyond stats. These guys are absolute animals on the field. Ware just never goes down after one hit. It takes a couple of guys to bring him down, while Hilliard is more of the complete package with his strength and speed. Ford led the team in rushing last year and really looks like he's getting his burst back And Hill might be the most talented, but hasn't really been able to show all of his stuff. Also, add fullback J.C. Copeland to the mix and this is the tough backfield to face. With Fowler out, Alabama doesn't have the same big-bodied blocker and pounder that LSU has in Copeland.

LSU steals lineman away from Tennessee

February, 3, 2010
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Score one for Les Miles and the LSU Tigers.

Defensive lineman J.C. Copeland of LaGrange, Ga., backed out of his commitment with Tennessee and signed with LSU on Wednesday morning. Copeland had been committed to the Vols since his junior year, but had a change of heart after visiting LSU last weekend.

It's a big get for LSU, which was looking to restock its defensive line. Copeland is likely to grow into a defensive tackle in college. It was also a little payback for the Tigers after losing safety Janzen Jackson to the Vols the day after signing day a year ago.

Losing Copeland really hurts the Vols, who look like they're going to come up short on defensive tackle prospects in this class. They were already thin at that position, especially with Dan Williams departing.

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