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NCF Nation: Josh Clemons

1. Penn State did what the smart programs do. If the NCAA bans you from the postseason, create your own “bowl.” Alabama and USC both played at Hawaii during their probations last decade. The Nittany Lions one-upped them by agreeing to play Central Florida in Dublin, Ireland, to open the 2014 season. It’s the only “bowl” that Penn State will play during its four-year probation, though the Nittany Lions still list the Big Ten Championship Game on their schedule for the next three seasons. That’s optimism.

2. Kentucky tailback Josh Clemons hasn’t played since the middle of 2011, his freshman year, because of a knee injury. He came back this spring and looked good. But now an Achilles tendon injury will force Clemons to miss a second consecutive season. Clemons brings to mind former Alabama receiver Tyrone Prothro, who made a legendary touchdown catch against Southern Mississippi in 2005 shortly before suffering a career-ending injury. Here’s hoping Clemons’ 87-yard touchdown run against Central Michigan isn’t his last big play.

3. Just wanted to let everyone know that, despite what you may have read about SEC Media Days, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and Alabama head coach Nick Saban are not the only two people scheduled to appear over the next three days. The hoopla over both is a great example of how SEC Media Days has become more like Super Bowl Media Day and less like a working event. I’m all for embracing the hype, as long as no one confuses the next three days with actual news gathering.
The other day I was asked a question about the SEC that caught me off guard a little.

And no, it wasn't about Bob Stoops or scheduling.

I was asked if the league would be a quarterback or running back league in 2013. Obviously, when you think about the SEC, you think of pound-it-out, grind-it-out football. Games are won and lost in the trenches and running backs are usually a team's most coveted asset. The more the merrier, too.

But the SEC returns some pretty good experience at both positions.

At running back, the SEC will be without four of the league's top 10 rushers -- Eddie Lacy, Mike Gillislee, Zac Stacy and Kendial Lawrence -- from the 2012 season. The SEC will be without three of the top 10 passers -- Tyler Bray, Tyler Wilson and Jordan Rodgers.

Now, my math skills tell me that seven top players at a position is better than six, but the SEC is deep at running back this season. Of the seven top quarterbacks returning, six reached 2,500 passing yards, while only two made it to 3,000 yards -- Aaron Murray and Johnny Manziel. Nine true starters return (Kentucky's Maxwell Smith missed most of last season and ended the spring behind Jalen Whitlow). So five teams are breaking in new starters.

The SEC saw eight running backs hit the 1,000-yard mark last season. There's a chance the league could not only reach that number again but it could eclipse it.

[+] EnlargeT.J. Yeldon
AP Photo/Romeo GuzmanT.J. Yeldon takes over for running back Eddie Lacy as "the guy" for Alabama.
Alabama lost Lacy -- and his 1,322 yards/17 touchdowns -- but rising sophomore T.J. Yeldon appears more than ready to take over as the lead back. He rushed for 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns last year, and it sounds like he looked even better as the guy. He'll also have help from fellow sophomore Kenyan Drake, who played in 12 games last year, and Jalston Fowler and Dee Hart, who are both returning from season-ending knee injuries. Remember, Fowler had nearly 400 rushing yards in 2011. True freshman Derrick Henry, who was tearing it up this spring before his leg injury, should help once he's healthy this fall.

Oh, and Alabama will welcome three more backs this summer, including ESPN 150 member Alvn Kamara.

Texas A&M and Florida will also have the luxury of a packed backfield. The Aggies return leading rusher (for a running back) Ben Malena (808 yards), but will also have rising sophomore Trey Williams, and transfers Brandon Williams and Tra Carson. Brandon Williams might be the most talented of the bunch, and none of these guys should get too tired with all those legs to work with.

The Gators lost Gillislee, but sophomore-to-be Matt Jones had an excellent spring. He knew the playbook backward and forward and showed a more physical style. He already has the goal of getting 1,500 yards. But he'll have help from redshirt junior Mack Brown, who had a very solid spring, and freshmen Kelvin Taylor (early enrollee) and Adam Lane. The coaches feel very good about all four contributing a lot this fall.

Georgia is a little thin at running back, but with Gurley and Keith Marshall returning, the Dawgs could have the best running back duo in the SEC -- maybe the country.

Here's a quick look at how other SEC teams currently fare at running back heading into the summer:

Arkansas

The Razorbacks lack experience at the position, but sophomore Jonathan Williams made good strides this spring and looks poised to be the top back. He'll also have incoming freshman Alex Collins to help him this fall.

Auburn

Tre Mason and his 1,000 yards return. He should have even more space to work with in Gus Malzahn's spread, which could spell trouble for defenses. Junior college transfer Cameron Artis-Payne had a solid spring, and Corey Grant returns.

Kentucky

Leading rushers Raymond Sanders (669 yards) and Jonathan George (504 yards) return with two talented youngsters to help out. Dyshawn Mobley had an excellent spring and Josh Clemons is back from a devastating knee injury he suffered in 2011.

LSU

Legal issues have Jeremy Hill's fall status unknown for the fall. If he returns, he gives the Tigers on of the top backs in the league. Kenny Hilliard and Alfred Blue return, but LSU will be thin at the position without Hill.

Mississippi State

LaDarius Perkins returns after his 1,000-yard season. He's a complete back and can hurt teams running and catching. Josh Robinson returns after a productive year as the backup. Nick Griffin has a ton of skill, but still hasn't reached his potential.

Missouri

Lawrence is gone, but Henry Josey is back and says he's 100 percent after his devastating knee injury in 2011. He was one of the Big 12's best and most explosive running backs before his injury. The Tigers have plenty of bodies at running back and should get good use out of Marcus Murphy and Russell Hansbrough.

Ole Miss

Leading rusher Jeff Scott (846) is back and he'll be working with some solid sophomores in I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton. True freshman Mark Dodson had a productive spring as well. Along with the six returning lettermen, Ole Miss will have three more signees on campus this fall.

South Carolina

Mike Davis isn't trying to be Marcus Lattimore, but he did a good job of taking his spot this spring. The rising sophomore can pound it or break out for that home run play. Brandon Wilds and Shon Carson are back from injuries and ESPN 150 member David Williams will be in town this fall.

Tennessee

Marlin Lane's off-field problems didn't help things this spring, but Butch Jones was very happy with the play of Alden Hill and Rajion Neal this spring. Lane has every chance to come back and if he does the Vols will have a pretty solid three-headed rushing monster.

Vanderbilt

Stacy is gone, but Wesley Tate and Brian Kimbrow had good springs in Nashville. Jerron Seymour gives Vandy another body to use, as well. Tate and Kimbrow both have big-play ability, but they'll have to stay healthy because there isn't a lot of experience behind them.
The SEC welcomed in four new head coaches this spring. There are always awkward moments with new coaching staffs, but this spring saw a lot of positives from the four new faces.

Here's a quick look at how all four have done during their first few months on the job:

Bret Bielema (Arkansas)

The one thing Bielema wanted to instill in his new players was a more physical mentality. This team lost its edge early last season and never regained it. But under new management, Bielema made sure his tough, hard-nosed persona from Wisconsin rubbed off on his players. That seemed to be the case, especially with running back Jonathan Williams, who really toughened up this spring. Another positive from Bielema's arrival has been the increased confidence he's brought with his own bravado he showed at times.

There are still questions with depth, especially at linebacker, and true playmakers need to be found at wide receiver. Bielema also said goodbye to four players after the spring. The biggest loss was backup quarterback Brandon Mitchell, who could have been used in a few different ways in Arkansas' offense. Form an athletic standpoint, Mitchell is a big loss for Bielema. The good news is that he'll have some decent offensive weapons, including running back Alex Collins, to work with from this 2013 class in the fall.

Gus Malzahn (Auburn)

The big thing for Malzahn is that he was already very comfortable with the program after serving as the offensive coordinator under former coach Gene Chizik. But talk about having a lot more on his plate than he wanted during his first spring. Not only was he slowly trying to change the mind-set of a program that really has fallen since its 2010 national championship, he had to deal with allegations over past off-field incidents with that same 2010 team. Instead of making it a bigger deal for his staff and players, Malzahn didn't even bring it up. He said all the right things and made sure his players were focused on field issues, not the media. Major kudos to him for keeping his players on track.

It's obvious that the offensive players are more comfortable with Malzahn's spread, compared to Scot Loeffler's pro-style from 2012, so that was a big lift for this team. Malzahn's next goal is to find his starting quarterback. There are options, but it's really down to Kiehl Frazier, who is very familiar with Malzahn, and Jonathan Wallace. He also needs to find reliable receiving targets to help whichever quarterback emerges this fall.

Mark Stoops (Kentucky)

There certainly is a lot more excitement around Kentucky's program. That became very obvious when a record crowd of 50,831 showed up for the Wildcats' spring game. He really got things going with a strong closing in his first recruiting class and his personality is really rubbing Big Blue Nation the right way.

But Stoops has quite the uphill trek in front of him. While he has a very solid foundation along his defensive line, he's thin at linebacker and in the secondary. He also has to figure out who his quarterback is and where the production will come from at the wide receiver spot. Consistency is still an issue there. The good news is that he does like where his running game is with the return of Raymond Sanders, Dyshawn Mobley and Josh Clemons.

Butch Jones (Tennessee)

Like Stoops, Jones has a bit of a fight in front of him. He has some good experience coming back on defense, but he's thin in the secondary. Still, the front seven looked much more aggressive this spring with the Vols going back to a 4-3 scheme. This group was much more comfortable with the changes made on defense and as whole, this group is trending upward.

Jones' new up-tempo offense could bring some real growing pains to an offense that is breaking in a new quarterback and new receivers. There isn't a lot of experience at all at either position and there were some real shaky moments on offense this spring, especially in the spring game. Having a beastly offensive line back will help.

Jones has made a ton of noise off the field, though. He's recruiting like a madman and has injected some excitement back into this program. I think a lot of people are surprised at how well he's recruited in such a short amount of time, and it could only get better.

SEC spring preview: Eastern Division

February, 25, 2013
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We're taking a look at key storylines for all seven teams in the SEC Eastern Division.

Chris will take a look at the main issues in the Western Division on Tuesday.

FLORIDA GATORS

Spring start: March 13

Spring game: April 6

What to watch:
1. Rebuilding at linebacker: The Gators have to start figuring out the linebacker situation. Do they go with redshirt junior Michael Taylor in the middle, who’s a run-stuffer but has to come off the field in passing downs? Or do they try sophomore Antonio Morrison, who played outside at 218 pounds as a freshman and has hopefully bulked up a bit? The most likely scenario is Morrison, which means UF has to find a weakside linebacker. That could be freshmen early enrollee Daniel McMillian or Alex Anzalone. The strongside starter should be, at least entering the spring, redshirt junior Neiron Ball.

2. Robinson's growth: One of the most scrutinized players this spring will be receiver Demarcus Robinson. He was the only one of UF’s five receiver signees to enroll early and he’ll be given every chance to win a starting spot. UF’s receivers have been below average for the past three seasons and the Gators desperately need someone to become a consistent playmaker. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Robinson, who caught 53 passes for more than 1,000 yards and scored 15 touchdowns as a senior at Fort Valley (Ga.) Peach County, is going to be under a lot of pressure to produce.

3. Driskel's confidence: Quarterback Jeff Driskel returns for his second season as a starter, and it’ll be interesting to see how much he improves on his decision-making, release and accuracy. He’s sure to benefit from not splitting reps 50-50 any longer. But just as important as Driskel’s development is what happens behind him with redshirt junior Tyler Murphy and redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg. Neither has thrown a pass in a college game. Why is that important? Because Driskel has not been able to stay healthy in his first two seasons in Gainesville. He missed starts as a freshman and sophomore because of ankle injuries. UF was lucky in 2012 to have Jacoby Brissett, who had played significantly as John Brantley’s backup in 2011. With Brissett transferring to NC State, the Gators no longer have that luxury.

-- Mike DiRocco, GatorNation

GEORGIA BULLDOGS

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 6

What to watch:
1. Rebuilding the defense: Georgia begins its transition to a completely new collection of defensive talent this spring. No longer are Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree, Shawn Williams, Bacarri Rambo and John Jenkins on the roster. In fact, the Bulldogs must replace a total of 12 defensive players who were either full-time starters or key contributors, and at some positions, the possible replacements have little to no college experience. That makes this a pivotal time for defensive coordinator Todd Grantham to begin identifying which players will fill those roles, as the Bulldogs will have little margin for error when they open the season against Clemson’s explosive offense Aug. 31. Some names to watch this spring: Josh Harvey-Clemons, Sheldon Dawson and Jonathan Taylor.

2. Developing the youngsters: The good news for Grantham and the other defensive coaches is that they brought in a number of January enrollees who should be able to help immediately. Junior college transfer Chris Mayes and John Atkins hope to fill the void left by Jenkins and Kwame Geathers at noseguard. Ryne Rankin and Reggie Carter will immediately enter the mix at linebacker. And cornerback Reggie Wilkerson and safeties Tray Matthews and Quincy Mauger can help address Georgia’s depth shortage in a secondary that lost four key players. Georgia’s 13 early enrollees -- more than twice as many January enrollees as Georgia coach Mark Richt has ever brought in before -- will help fill needs on both sides of the ball, but the defense is where the newcomers were most necessary.

3. Offensive line reps: For the most part, Georgia used the same starting lineup along its offensive line throughout the 2012 season and each of those starters should return this fall. But two of those starters -- right guard Chris Burnette and right tackle John Theus -- underwent surgeries during the offseason and will miss all or part of spring practice. There was a good chance that offensive line coach Will Friend was going to deploy more players in his line rotation this fall anyway, but the valuable practice reps that will be available with Burnette and Theus sidelined might make a deeper rotation even more likely. Someone still has to take advantage of the opportunity, however.

-- David Ching, DawgNation

KENTUCKY WILDCATS

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
1. Getting used to new coaches: New coaches are roaming Kentucky’s football facility this spring. Mark Stoops brings a more defense-minded philosophy to Lexington, but his coaches will have to get things going on offense if the Wildcats are going to improve in 2013. There are always awkward moments when transitioning to a new staff, but now’s the time to create valuable trust on both sides.

2. Finding offensive playmakers: Stoops might have a strong defensive background, but the Wildcats have to find answers on offense. Injuries were an issue last year, but for two straight years the Wildcats had real problems finding consistent playmakers on offense. Quarterback Maxwell Smith returns, but he needs more than just wide receiver La’Rod King to help him. Getting running back Josh Clemons back would be big, but expect the coaches to turn to a young group of receivers and running backs.

3. Tougher team: One thing Stoops wants from his players is a tougher identity. Stoops wants to build a stronger team from the ground up. He’s taking a page from Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin when it comes to preparing his new team. This spring, we’ll see just how much of an emphasis the coaches put on the weight room and conditioning before hitting the football side of things.

MISSOURI TIGERS

Spring start: March 12

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
1. Josey's rehab: The Tigers will be keeping tabs on running back Henry Josey, who missed all of 2012 after suffering a devastating knee injury midway through the 2011 season. He was the Big 12’s best running back before his injury and Mizzou needs him back. The staff has had to be patient, but this could be a crucial time in his rehab, as he looks to get his football legs back.

2. Rebuilding the front seven: Mizzou must replace a lot in its front seven. Star defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson’s absence leaves a gaping hole up front, while linebackers Will Ebner and Zaviar Gooden must be replaced. Lucas Vincent will be first in line to take Richardson’s spot, while Darvin Ruise, Donovan Bonner and Michael Scherer are three players to watch at linebacker.

3. Toughening up: Injuries ravaged Mizzou’s offense last year, but it’s clear that Mizzou wasn’t in the playing shape that it would have liked to be in during its first year in the SEC. Injuries are part of the game, but gaining that toughness factor this spring will go a long way for the Tigers in 2013. The SEC is more than just a grind, and the Tigers found out the hard way that conditioning in this league is a little different than in the Big 12.

SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
1. New backfield options: Marcus Lattimore and Kenny Miles are gone, so the Gamecocks will have to turn to their younger backs. Brandon Wilds missed the 2012 season with an ankle injury but should return this spring. Rising sophomore Mike Davis has all the tools to be a big-time player for the Gamecocks and could be the top option in the Gamecocks’ backfield. Shifty Shon Carson also returns from a knee injury, so South Carolina will have a solid group to work with this spring.

2. QB controversy: Quarterback Connor Shaw might be tabbed as the starter, but with him out for the spring, Dylan Thompson will take the first-team reps. Thompson proved to be very valuable last year, and both will play this fall. Thompson has become one of the most vocal players on the team and is a strong leader. A good spring could bring some real controversy to the position.

3. Holes at linebacker: South Carolina will be without its two-deep at linebacker and “Spur” DeVonte Holloman is gone. That means there’s a lot of work to be done when it comes to finding viable replacements. Sharrod Golightly will get the early crack at the Spur, and keep an eye on Kaiwan Lews, who was a true freshman last year and has a lot of potential to work with.

TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS

Spring start: March 9

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
1. New coaches on the block: With Butch Jones in town, the Vols have to get used to their third head coach in five springs. Jones and his staff have helped bring some much-needed energy to the program since arriving, but now it’s time to develop vital on-field chemistry between the coaches and players.

2. Receiving help: The Vols’ offense took at major hit at receiver. Juniors Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson made the leap to the NFL, while deep threat Zach Rogers and tight end Mychal Rivera graduated. Tennessee will now turn to a host of inexperienced receiving targets, including rising sophomore Alton Howard and early enrollee Paul Harris.

3. Quarterback battle: With Tyler Bray leaving for the NFL, Tennessee will work with rising junior Justin Worley and redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman. Worley has the edge when it comes to game experience, but with a new staff, this battle will be wide-open. They will also need to make strides before freshmen Joshua Dobbs and Riley Ferguson get on campus this summer.

VANDERBILT COMMODORES

Spring start: March 15

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
1. Replacing Rodgers: Quarterback Jordan Rodgers is gone. The good news is Austyn Carta-Samuels has good experience after starting two years at Wyoming before transferring to Vandy. Redshirt freshman Patton Robinette is someone the coaches also are excited about, especially with his dual-threat ability, and should really push Carta-Samuels the whole spring.

2. Running back battles: The Commodores lost star running back Zac Stacy, so veteran Wesley Tate, who has bounced around positions, and rising sophomore Brian Kimbrow, who has the do-everything look to him at running back, will share reps. Warren Norman and Jerron Seymour also return, making for quite the talented backfield.

3. Keeping the edge: Now that another very successful season under James Franklin is over, the Dores have to continue to keep the edge that got them to where they are. It might sound like a broken record, but Vanderbilt still has to prove that it isn’t the Vandy of old. People are certainly taking the Dores more seriously, but keeping that edge is important for more growth.

Halloween in the SEC

October, 31, 2012
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We're saying Happy Halloween to everyone from the SEC blog. It's been another scary good year for the SEC, and all of this southern success must be truly frightening for the rest of the country.

Also, it's Nick Saban's birthday. You can't make this stuff up.

I can't wait to see all the Honey Boo Boos (not) and PSY (Gangnam Style) costumes parading around Atlanta tonight. But before we all go trick or treating, check out our most spine-chilling post of the year:

[+] EnlargeGene Chizik
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesGene Chizik's Auburn squad has been scary bad this season.
Cursed: Two seasons removed from winning a national championship, Auburn is sitting at the bottom of the SEC with eight straight conference losses dating to last season. Auburn has the SEC's worst offense and is second to last in total defense. The Tigers are also near the bottom of the offensive barrel nationally. Auburn is on its third starting quarterback of the season, and coach Gene Chizik's seat is getting hotter and hotter on the Plains, as Auburn enters the weekend with a 1-7 record.

Trick: This spring, Arkansas was considered a real SEC championship contender, then, Bobby Petrino took that now infamous motorcycle ride. After Petrino, who thought he had a national championship-caliber team, was dismissed and John L. Smith took over, the thought was that there was still enough talent for this team to make a run in the SEC West. However, two weeks into the season, we found that not to be the case, as the Razorbacks lost in overtime to unranked Louisiana-Monroe. Alabama then shellacked the Hogs, and Arkansas went 1-4 in September. Arkansas' bowl chances are all but gone with a 3-5 record and blood-curdling November coming up.

Treat: Heading into the season, not much was expected from Ole Miss. But Hugh Freeze has played a perfect Dr. Frankenstein, creating a monster at Ole Miss. The Rebels might not be as menacing as Frankenstein's original monster, but they've been more challenging than the past two years. Oh, and Ole Miss is a win away from being bowl eligible for the first time since 2009. Freeze is just hoping that his monster doesn't have a tragic end like the one with the bolts in his neck.

Boo (boo): No question, the biggest injury of the season occurred over the weekend when South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore suffered that gruesome season-ending knee injury against Tennessee. Not only was the injury hard to watch, but you hate to see bad things happen to good people like Lattimore. He is one of the most respected individuals in college football, and the sport seemed to temporarily stop when word spread about his devastating injury.

Thriller: The play of the season right now might be Jarvis Jones' wicked fumble forced on Florida tight end Jordan Reed last week. Georgia's linebacker was having a monster game already, and capped it by sealing the game for the Bulldogs when he poked the ball out of Reed's hands as he tried to jump into the end zone for a potential game-tying touchdown. The ball flew out of Reed's hand, bounced off his knee and fell into the back of the end zone, where the Bulldogs fell on it.

The Walking Dead: Kentucky's football team looks like something right out of the minds of Robert Kirkman and Frank Darabont. It hasn't been healthy all season. Starting quarterback Maxwell Smith has suffered shoulder and ankle injuries and is out indefinitely. Backup Patrick Towles then suffered his own ankle injury. Former starting running back CoShik Williams is out for the season, and running back Josh Clemons, who might be the Wildcats' most talented back, has been out all season. Starting safety Dakotah Tyler is also out for the season. This team has had to play a handful of freshman because of all the injuries piling up.

House of Horrors: LSU has won a school-record 22 straight games at home. It's the nation's longest home winning streak, and it will be put to the test against No. 1 Alabama. But expect all those rabid Tigers fans to try to make the Crimson Tide's experience frightening.

Scary: As in just how scary good Alabama has been this season. The Tide has totally dominated the competition this season. It hasn't even been close. Alabama has one of the nation's most balanced offenses (1,776 passing/1,715 rushing) and is first nationally in scoring, rushing and total defense.

Scariest: Tennessee's defense has been downright terrifying to watch this season. New defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri's 3-4 scheme just hasn't translated well with his players, and the Vols have been beaten up by opposing offenses. Tennessee is last in the SEC in total defense (453.4 yards per game) and scoring (33.9), and 13th in passing (271.9) and rushing (181.5) defense.

Halloween costumes: LSU coach Les Miles/The Mad Hatter (just too easy, again); Jarvis Jones/Predator; South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney/Michael Myers (doesn't talk much, but he's terrifying on the field); Tennessee defensive tackle Daniel McCullers/Great Smokey Mountain; Vanderbilt coach James Franklin/College football bowl planner; Florida coach Will Muschamp/Lionel Messi (separated at birth?); Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel/Iron Man/Johnny Football; Ole Miss running back Jeff Scott/Mighty Mouse.
The injuries just keep piling up at Kentucky.

After losing starting quarterback Maxwell Smith indefinitely after he suffered a serious ankle injury, Kentucky is now down its starting running back, as coach Joker Phillips announced Wednesday that senior CoShik Williams is out for the season with a torn labrum in his hip.

Williams, who led the Wildcats in rushing last season, has battled injuries all season and only saw action on a total of 14 plays in just two games of work. He had rushed for 66 yards, including 62 in the opener against Louisville.

This is yet another blow to the Wildcats' running game. Sophomore Josh Clemons, who might be the most talented of Kentucky's running backs, has yet to play this season because he's still recovering from a knee injury suffered last season. Phillips said Wednesday that Clemons is still out, so the possibility of him redshirting this season has become more and more of a reality.

This season, Kentucky is 13th in the SEC in rushing, averaging just 119.6 yards per game.

So, the Wildcats will turn to junior Raymond Sanders, who leads Kentucky with 260 rushing yards and has two touchdowns on 40 carries. Junior Jonathan George, who has started the past two games, will also help. He's rushed for 182 yards and a team-high three touchdowns on 35 carries.

"Those two have played well," Phillips said of Sanders and George. "The thing that we must do is give them more opportunities.

"We're running the ball efficiently, just gotta get more opportunities."

Those opportunities haven't come because of offensive turnovers and the defense's inability to get off of the field, Phillips said.

Phillips is planning to give more reps to freshman Dyshawn Mobley and is considering stripping away Justin Taylor's redshirt if needed.

What you won't see are more designed runs for Kentucky's quarterbacks, as neither Jalen Whitlow nor Patrick Towles are fit to be effective runners, Phillips said.
After trudging through a season of inconsistency and anguish, Kentucky offensive lineman Larry Warford found hope on his final day in pads last fall.

It didn’t come in a bowl victory, although you might not have known that by the jubilant celebration held by the Wildcat faithful on Nov. 26.

No, it came in the form of a regular-season win that didn’t feel regular at all, as the Wildcats ended a 26-game skid to archrival Tennessee with a 10-7 win in front of their home crowd.

The Wildcats added just a fifth win to their record, but they made history, while knocking the Vols out of bowl contention.

For Warford, it sent a message throughout the team that things could get better. It was used as a motivational tool for the offseason and Warford said he was ready to get back out on the field with his teammates almost immediately after Kentucky’s monumental win.

[+] EnlargeKentucky Wildcats
Mark Zerof/US PresswireThe Wildcats rush the field following their season ending win over Tennessee, which snapped a 26-game losing streak to the Vols.
“After that Tennessee game, man, I couldn’t wait,” Warford said.

“We didn’t have the best season or the season we were hoping for, but after that win everybody’s spirits rose up drastically because throughout the season, before that game, we were getting beaten down, momentum-wise.”

Now, Warford and his teammates are hoping that signature win acts as a launching pad. According to Warford, it has so far as players entered offseason workouts with improved attitudes. The youngsters who struggled through their first season at Kentucky looked refreshed and energized. Players hit drills harder and pushed longer.

While the coaches have tried to downplay the Tennessee victory, players still talk about it. They relish in the win because it stands for something and it continues to motivate the players to do more for the future.

“The Tennessee win was great for us and it did help us out a lot,” Warford said, “but we definitely want to have a better season than what we did.”

To do that, Warford said the chemistry has to improve from where it was last season, when the Wildcats’ offense stumbled around, ranking last in the SEC and 118th nationally. Kentucky averaged a minuscule 4.1 yards per play and 14 first downs a game.

To say that Kentucky’s offensive game floundered in 2011 is an understatement.

Warford didn’t point to the injuries or the loss of playmakers from the 2010 team as excuses. He said Kentucky’s struggles were internal. There wasn’t as much comraderie as past teams had. The locker room was a mess and it translated to the play on the field.

The little mistakes that ruin drives were apparent on “just about every play,” Warford said, and it killed the Wildcats’ chances of harnessing any sort of momentum.

But Warford sees changes. Players are being held more accountable and trust is building. The underclassmen are buying in and are picking up plays. Things are starting to get a little easier for them, and that’s encouraging.

“They really will progress into SEC players,” he said.

It won’t be an easy spring for the Wildcats. Kentucky enters down three starters on the offensive line, stud running back Josh Clemons (knee) is limited, quarterback Morgan Newton isn’t doing much as he rehabs frpm shoulder surgery and Kentucky is still looking for playmakers at wide receiver.

It’s still an uphill battle, but Warford is making the effort to put as much of this team on his back as possible. This is the last season, so he wants to go out the right way.

Kentucky’s old man, who went from scared and nervous when he debuted as a freshman in 2009 to an outspoken leader, wants to enjoy what little time he has remaining by helping this program get back on track.

“I’m trying to embrace it,” Warford said of his final year at Kentucky. “I only get four years of this and this is the last one. I’m trying to take it all in and enjoy it while I’m here. It’s not going to last forever, so while I’m here I’m going to make the best of it.”

Making the best of it would include getting Kentucky back to the postseason. Kentucky's five-year bowl streak was snapped last season and that really hit home for Warford because it was new territory for him. He was accustomed to the postseason and he felt as if the coaches and past players who helped rejuvenate Kentucky were let down.

Warford wants to make amends this fall.

“I want this program to succeed,” he said. “Nobody deserves anything, but I feel like with the effort that this team gives … we should be a better program than we are right now.”

Post-signing day SEC Power Rankings

February, 6, 2012
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Now that national signing day is out of the way, we're going to take another look at our SEC power rankings.

You won't see any change really, but we have more confidence in some teams now than we did before:

1. Alabama: The Crimson Tide hauled in the nation's No. 1 recruiting class last week and not only did Nick Saban sign a handful of top-rated players, but he met all of Alabama's major needs with the 2012 class. There are a few freshmen who could make early impacts in Tuscaloosa, including athlete Eddie Williams (Panama City, Fla./Arnold), and wide receivers Chris Black (Jacksonville, Fla./First Coast) and Amari Cooper (Miami/Miami Northwestern).

2. LSU: The Tigers' class wasn't as highly rated as some recent ones, but Les Miles and his coaches brought in a solid group and there are a few defense players who might see some playing time early. Three starting linebackers need to be replaced and a few freshmen will get their chances. While LSU lost Torshiro Davis (Shreveport, La./Woodlawn) flipped to Texas, the Tigers brought in ESPNU 150 linebackers Kwon Alexander (Oxford, Ala.) and Ronnie Feist (Edgard, La./West Saint John).

3. Georgia: The Bulldogs needed to get bigger up front and add a couple of playmaking linebackers. Georgia did just that with the handful of athletic defensive linemen signed and grabbed top outside linebacker Josh Harvey-Clemons (Valdosta, Ga./Lowndes), who should thrive in Todd Grantham's 3-4. Georgia's offense could be even better this fall with Keith Marshall (Raleigh, N.C./Millbrook) helping Isaiah Crowell, and the wide receiver depth returning.

4. South Carolina: Talk about underrated. South Carolina didn't make much noise at all on national signing day, but the Gamecocks brought in a very balanced class and have a few players who should contribute early to a team that will yet again compete for the SEC East title. Two freshmen to keep an eye on in 2012 are wide receiver Shaq Roland (Lexington, S.C.) and safety Chaz Elder (College Park, Ga./Benjamin E. Banneker).

5. Arkansas: It seemed like the Razorbacks were headed for a very strong finish to their 2012 recruiting class, but watched as top receiver Dorial Green-Beckham (Springfield, Mo./Hillcrest) and four-star offensive tackle Jordan Diamond (Chicago/Simeon) committed elsewhere. However, Arkansas is still waiting on top athlete Davonte Neal (Scottsdale, Ariz./Chaparral) and signed some pretty talented wide receivers to add to that high-flying offense. Defensive depth was a need and Arkansas added six defensive linemen and snatched Tennessee linebacker commit Otha Peters (Covington, La./Covington) late.

6. Auburn: Before Auburn could complete its recruiting class, it had to find someone to run its offense. The Tigers lured Scot Loeffler away from Temple, getting a coach who knows a thing about teaching quarterbacks. Clint Moseley and Kiehl Frazier should be ecstatic. The loss of Michael Dyer hurts, but Auburn has a stable of running backs to work with and signed one of the best offensive line classes around. Also, athlete Ricardo Louis (Miami Beach, Fla/Miami Beach Senior) could be a real playmaker at wide receiver.

7. Florida: Will Muschamp wanted his team to get tougher and he took a step in the right direction by hitting the line of scrimmage hard in his first full recruiting class. He also got a big back in Matt Jones (Seffner, Fla./Armwood) and having D.J. Humphries (Charlotte, N.C./Mallard Creek) in early should really help the offensive line. Florida is also waiting for a potential receiving threat in Stefon Diggs (Olney, Md./Our Lady of Good Counsel). Muschamp feels better about this team's attitude and expects a more resilient squad in 2012.

8. Missouri: These Tigers could come in and frustrate some of its new SEC East family with the depth it returns. No one is quite sure if top running back Henry Josey will return in 2012 after a major knee injury, but the Tigers added a very complete back in Morgan Steward (Kansas City, Mo./Staley), who could compete for playing time early. But Missouri took home the biggest national signing day prize when Green-Beckham picked Missouri. Mizzou lacked a big-play receiving threat until now.

9. Tennessee: There is a lot of talent returning in Knoxville and the Vols added some quality depth with its 2012 recruiting class. Tennessee took a hit when top inside linebacker Dalton Santos (Van, Texas) flipped to Texas and needed to add a big-time running back to help that offense, but grabbing junior college wide receiver Cordarrelle Paterson (Rock Hill, S.C./Hutchinson Community College) was big. He'll add to an already solid receiving tandem and could provide more leadership. Tyler Bray should have a fun offseason.

10. Texas A&M: The Aggies lose a lot heading into their first season as a part of the SEC Western Division, but helped the future by signing a top-25 class. Running back Trey Williams (Houston/Andy Dekaney) could provide an early spark for the offense with Cyrus Gray leaving. The receivers got some needed help with the signing of No. 3 receiver Thomas Johnson of Dallas, and outside linebacker Jordan Richmond (Denton, Texas/Billy Ryan) should see early playing time as well.

11. Vanderbilt: James Franklin's first full class at Vanderbilt was a total success. He showed that he won't just compete on the field with the SEC big boys but he'll recruit with them too. He beat out a few bigger schools for ESPNU 150 athlete Brian Kimbrow (Memphis, Tenn./East) and the Commodores added a lot of bigger bodies up front and at linebacker. Vandy's veterans shouldn't have an issue mingling with this solid recruiting class.

12. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs will head into the spring looking to jump start their offense. There is a lot of depth and three senior starters returning at wide receiver, but some oomph needs to return to this offense. It's officially Tyler Russell's time at QB and LaDarius Perkins and Nick Griffin could be a powerful one-two running back punch. Where Mississippi State really struck gold in recruiting was up front, where the Bulldogs added three top defensive linemen, including No. 13 tackle Quay Evans (Morton, Miss.).

13. Kentucky: The Wildcats need playmakers on offense and having running back Josh Clemons come back at full health this year, will go a long way. But Kentucky desperately needed to add more with its 2012 recruiting class. The Wildcats are hoping dual-threat quarterback Patrick Towles (Fort Thomas, Ky./Highlands) can help in that department. Kentucky won't get anywhere without developing the talent already on campus and that's most important at this point.

14. Ole Miss: Hugh Freeze had some defensive success in his first recruiting class as the Rebels' head coach. There is a good foundation with ESPNU 150 defensive tackle Issac Gross of Batesville, Miss., and ESPNU 150 defensive end Channing Ward of Aberdeen, Miss., and the secondary got a boost when safety Trae Elston (Oxford, Ala.) picked Ole Miss over LSU. Now, Freeze turns his attention to players a part of a two-win 2011 season. Generating discipline and finding leaders are key for a program glued to the bottom of the SEC.

Halftime: LSU 14, Kentucky 0

October, 1, 2011
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Well, we saw some interesting things in the first half of the Kentucky-LSU game this afternoon.

First, Jordan Jefferson made his season debut and on his first and only touch of the game he scored a touchdown on a 1-yard run to give the Tigers the 7-0 lead. Jefferson hasn't done anything since, but he made his presence known on his one play.

But we've also seen Kentucky's defense step up against the No. 1 team in the country. LSU might lead 14-0, but is just 3-of-10 on third downs. Jarrett Lee has 124 passing yards and a 51-yard touchdown pass to freshman Odell Beckham, but he has completed just 6-of-18 passes.

LSU had 77 rushing yards at the half, but Michael Ford and Spencer Ware combined for just 9 yards on eight carries. Alfred Blue leads LSU with 39 yards on eight carries.

Kudos to Kentucky's defense for not being pushed around by that physical LSU offense.

As for Kentucky's own offense, things are pretty much the same for the Wildcats. The offense is still pretty lackluster, with only 45 total yards. Quarterback Morgan Newton has 12 passing yards and freshman Josh Clemons leads all rushers with 40 yards. Kentucky is 0-for-7 on third downs, but hasn't turned the ball over, so that's a plus.

Kentucky isn't totally out of this one, but if the Wildcats want a shot at upsetting the nation's top team, the offense has to do something, anything, and the defense needs to force turnovers. Let's see what happens in the second half.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 5

September, 29, 2011
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We are starting to learn more about every team in the SEC, but there is still room for growth on every squad.

We know that LSU and Alabama are the teams to beat in the conference and are setting up for a national championship knockout game in November.

We know that Florida's defense is better than we expected and the running game is very tough to stop with all that speed. We still don't really know much about the passing game, but it has been efficient enough to this point.

We know that South Carolina has the talent and the athletes, but the focus isn't always there. We saw tremendous improvement in the defense last week and something tells me that trend will continue. We also know that running back Marcus Lattimore won't be able to continue carrying the heavy load he has had through the first part of the season.

And we know that Arkansas just isn't the same team that it was last year. The defense is much-improved, but not having Knile Davis in the backfield has held the offense back at times.

We'll know even more after this weekend, and here's what to watch in Week 5:

1. Something has to give in Columbia: Outside of ultimate workhorse Lattimore, South Carolina’s offense looked awful against Vanderbilt last week. For most of the season, the Gamecocks have struggled to get anything really going on offense when Lattimore isn’t touching the ball. Oh, and Stephen Garcia seems to be more mistake-prone than ever. Enter Auburn’s defense. The Tigers are allowing 477.5 yards per game, which is most in the SEC and 110th nationally. So, maybe South Carolina’s offense can rebound against Auburn. Or maybe it will be the complete opposite. Someone has to win this game and someone will. But which team will come to play for longer?

[+] EnlargeAJ McCarron
Jeffrey G. Pittenger/US PresswireAJ McCarron and his Gators counterpart, John Brantley, will need to open up their downfield passing games Saturday.
2. Downfield passing games: Alabama and Florida have spent most of the season cramming the ball down opponents’ throats with their running games. The two are first and second in the league, respectively, in rushing offense and are in the top three in rushing defense. Passing the ball, however, hasn’t looked as pretty. Alabama ranks 64th nationally in passing (225.25 yards a game), while Florida is 79th (202.75). With two defenses that eat up the run like Cookie Monster does Chips Ahoy, Alabama’s AJ McCarron and Florida’s John Brantley might have to look downfield more in this contest. Those passes to the flat and check downs won’t come as easily in this one for either team.

3. Jet lag: If a rough start in Oxford, Miss., isn’t bad enough, Ole Miss has to travel across the country to take on Fresno State. Last year, the Rebels hung 55 on the Bulldogs, but that was at home. Ole Miss hasn’t been able to get much done offensively this season, especially with a quarterback shuffle on its hands. The running game doesn’t have the same grit it has during the past three years under coach Houston Nutt and the offensive line isn’t playing to its potential. This trip comes at the worst time for this team. It’s a long flight and could be an even longer game with the way the Bulldogs score points, meaning the Rebels’ offense will have to step up even more.

4. Arkansas’ pass rush: The Razorbacks will be without defensive end Tenarius Wright, who is out four to six weeks with a broken arm, and could have to play without end Jake Bequette for the third game in a row. During the two weeks in which Bequette was out, the Hogs had just three sacks. Arkansas’ inability to consistently get to the quarterback really hurt it when Troy put up 373 passing yards and three touchdowns through the air. Arkansas was better against Alabama last week, but not having both these players won’t help them against Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill, who is averaging just under 300 yards a game.

5. Life without Justin Hunter: Tennessee suffered a devastating loss when sophomore wide receiver Hunter tore his ACL very early in the Florida game two weeks ago. Now coach Derek Dooley will look to fill Hunter’s spot at the “X” position by committee. Zach Rogers will get the first shot, starting in the X, but expect Dooley to call on a few other young receivers to help out quarterback Tyler Bray. Da’Rick Rogers also needs someone else out there to lessen the double-teams he’s likely to see from here on out. Freshman DeAnthony Arnett, who had a breakout game against Florida, is listed as the backup to Rogers and so is former running back Rajion Neal, who has seven career catches.

6. Bounce-back Bulldogs: Georgia hosts Mississippi State this weekend, and both teams are in must-win situations. Georgia is already behind the eight ball in the East with both South Carolina and Florida getting early conference wins. Two SEC losses won’t kill Georgia, but this team is looking to build momentum to get through the heart of the SEC, and losing now could drain this team. Mississippi State just hasn’t looked like the team that put up 93 points and 1,176 yards through the first two weeks. Since then, this pack of Bulldogs has averaged 266.5 yards in the past two games and has scored just 32 points. Mississippi State is 0-2 in conference play and desperately needs to get in the win column in conference play.

7. Teacher vs. student: Will Muschamp might not know much about “Star Wars,” but he definitely knows that people are extremely interested in seeing him take on his former mentor in Nick Saban. Florida and Muschamp are the underdogs at home, while Saban and his Alabama team will enter Gainesville as the villains. It’s a great storyline for us in the media, but publicly neither cares too much about it. However, neither wants to be bested by the other. Expect Muschamp to unveil a few wrinkles that should frustrate Saban a bit. But don’t think Saban won’t have a few things up his sleeve to trick his former pupil.

8. Quarterback shuffle: As we’ve said time and time again on the blog, Ole Miss’ offense has really struggled this season. It’s also had three quarterbacks line up and take snaps. Barry Brunetti started off the season as the Rebels’ signal-caller, then he was benched for Zack Stoudt, and eventually Randall Mackey came in. Stoudt has taken the majority of the snaps, but Mackey took reps with the first-team offense during Wednesday’s practice. Nutt said he would like to redshirt Brunetti, but there’s a chance he could still play again this year. Nutt wasn’t made available to the media after practice, so let the speculation begin on who will line up under center first in California this weekend. Regardless of who makes the start, if things get bad, you can bet there will be a quarterback switch at some point.

9. Even more SEC flare in Arlington: Saturday’s game between Texas A&M and Arkansas is a preview of even more to come from the Aggies and the SEC in the future. With Texas A&M officially making the move to the SEC in time to start athletic competition next season, expect to hear more than the normal amount of SEC chants echoing throughout Cowboys Stadium. In fact, you might hear it right when the Aggies take the field. Will that cause Arkansas players and fans to go easy on their future family members? Absolutely not. There will be handshakes and hugs early, but it will be all business after kickoff.

10. A youth jolt for Kentucky’s offense:
Freshman Josh Clemons will continue to be the guy at running back for Kentucky this weekend when the Wildcats travel to Baton Rouge to take on No. 1 LSU. The youngster is healthy and ready to take on one of the most smothering defensive fronts in the entire country. Besting LSU’s defense probably isn’t going to be something Clemons and Kentucky do often Saturday, but coach Joker Phillips is hoping that he can generate some more consistency for Kentucky’s offense. The Wildcats haven’t moved the ball well, but Clemons has been a bright spot at times. Clemons is getting ready for a major road test, but it will be good experience for the frosh, who is in charge of this running game with Raymond Sanders sidelined with a knee injury.

Kentucky's Sanders injures knee

September, 15, 2011
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Kentucky will be without sophomore running back Raymond Sanders for the next two to three weeks after he aggravated a knee injury in practice.

Sanders, who started the first two games, had surgery Thursday morning to repair a sight cartilage tear, meaning a door that had already been opened for true freshman Josh Clemons just got a lot wider. Clemons will move in as the Wildcats' starting running back Saturday against Louisville.

The Wildcats are looking for any help they can get on offense. They're 11th in the SEC in total offense, averaging 267 yards per game, and have scored just five touchdowns in their first two games.

One of the few highlights has been Clemons, who had an 87-yard touchdown run last week against Central Michigan. He's averaging 6.6 yards per carry, and coach Joker Phillips is committed to getting him more touches from here on out. Clemons carried the ball 14 times for 126 yards last week and might be adding some special teams duties this week. Sanders was also the Wildcats' kickoff returner.

"He's a guy we're going to continue to give a bigger role in our offense, and we're going to ask him to play some on special teams in the return game," Phillips said. "I haven't locked in on who our return guy will be this week, and we may give him an opportunity. His role needs to expand, definitely. He's a guy who can catch the ball out of the backfield, and we need to do a little more in that area with him. He's a talented guy and very mature for a freshman."

After Louisville, Kentucky faces Florida at home the next week. The earliest Sanders would probably be able to return is the trip to LSU on Oct. 1.

SEC power rankings: Week 3

September, 12, 2011
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Power Rankings: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Another week means more movement in our power rankings:

1. LSU: The Tigers (2-0) have shown that you don't need a powerful offense to succeed. It's all about defense for LSU and that defense has been very good for the Bayou Bengals. After shutting down Oregon in Cowboys Stadium, LSU sported the purple jerseys in its home opener and totally dismantled an over-matched Northwestern State team, allowing just 95 total yards of offense. Moving the ball against this group looks like it will be a tall order for any team this fall.

2. Alabama: The Tide (2-0) isn't flashy on offense by any means, but this team manages the game well and is efficient. AJ McCarron seems to have cemented himself as the starter in Tuscaloosa after an impressive day in Happy Valley over the weekend. Help will eventually be on the way on offense, once receiver Duron Carter is cleared to play. He should provide a much-needed deep threat to the offense. Like LSU, consistently moving the ball on this defense is beyond hard.

3. Arkansas: This team has quietly put up a ton of points in its first two games. The Razorbacks (2-0) have outscored their opponents 103-10. Granted, Arkansas isn't playing top-level talent, but we can see that this offense can still move the ball, despite losing Ryan Mallett to the NFL draft and Knile Davis to a knee injury. It will be interesting to watch how injuries in Week 2 affect the Hogs. Quarterback Tyler Wilson left the game with concussion-like symptoms, receiver Jarius Wright suffered a strained knee, and defensive end Jake Bequette injured his hamstring. Arkansas won't need them against Troy this weekend, but they'll need to be healthy for the trip to Alabama to close the month.

4. South Carolina: The defense hasn't been pretty, but it made the necessary plays to squeak by Georgia in Athens on Saturday. South Carolina (2-0) has really been pushed in the first two weeks, but the Gamecocks have showed resiliency. They aren't winning the way they'd like to, but the Gamecocks are undefeated and have the early lead in the SEC East. Teams know Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffery are going to be heavily targeted and both are still making plays.

5. Florida: We still don't really know what to expect from the Gators (2-0). Florida's defense has looked faster and much more aggressive under new head coach Will Muschamp and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, but Florida hasn't faced SEC-quality opponents. This week, the Gators will as Tennessee comes to town with its high-flying offense. Chris Rainey has been the star on offense and John Brantley isn't making a lot of mistakes, but the playbook will have to open up as the Gators get ready for the conference season.

6. Auburn: This team just doesn't know how to lose. Auburn (2-0) has won a nation-leading 17 straight games -- 10 by eight points or fewer. The Tigers kept that winning streak intact after a back-and-forth slugfest with Mississippi State Saturday. The defense still has a lot of question marks, but when a play had to be made, the Tigers did it. The offense isn't too exciting, but plays were made at critical times and Michael Dyer looked like his running legs were back as he made the Bulldogs' defense look silly. Will taking it down to the wire eventually catch up with these cats?

7. Tennessee: Well, we know the Volunteers (2-0) will keep the scoreboard lights on. Quarterback Tyler Bray has looked like the league's best quarterback through the first two weeks, passing for 678 yards and seven touchdowns. Receivers Da'Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter have made things easy for Bray, combining for 31 catches for 502 yards and five touchdowns. The Vols' offense will get a major test in Gainesville this weekend, where the winner will become top contender to challenge South Carolina for the division.

8. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs (1-1) came into the season as a trendy dark horse pick in the West, but left the weekend with yet another loss to the West under Dan Mullen. Mississippi State's defense showed it misses defense coordinator Manny Diaz and its three starting linebackers from last year as Auburn carved up the defense for 235 rushing yards. Chris Relf was most of the offense for the Bulldogs Saturday, until running back Vick Ballard finally got things going late, but Mississippi State needs much more from its receiving corps.

9. Georgia: This group of Bulldogs (0-2) has had a rough start to the season, but things get a little lighter from here on out. After losing a tough one in the Georgia Dome to Boise State, Georgia dropped a heart-breaker to South Carolina at home. Fans are no doubt growing more impatient, but the Bulldogs aren't out of the East race by any means. It will be a fight to get ahead now, but the season is far from over. It's all about staying together and making sure the Bulldogs are mentally ready for the rest of the season.

10. Vanderbilt: Getting that win over Connecticut Saturday was huge. The confidence is through the roof in Nashville and the Commodores (2-0) have a two-game winning streak for the first time since 2008. New coach James Franklin injected some swagger into this Commodores team and it showed when Vandy was down 21-14 in the fourth and scored 10 unanswered points. This defense is flying around and has been much more aggressive under defensive coordinator Bob Shoop.

11. Ole Miss: The Rebels (1-1) got into the win column over the weekend, but the offense still has a ton of question marks around it. Jeff Scott showed that he is a solid option at running back with Brandon Bolden and Enrique Davis out with injuries, but he looked like the only consistent weapon Ole Miss has on offense. The defense, which played very well against BYU in the first week, made things interesting against Southern Illinois by giving up 21 points in the second half.

12. Kentucky: The Wildcats (2-0) might be undefeated, but the offense is still struggling, especially in the passing game. Morgan Newton has been a starter before, but he hasn't looked very comfortable out there on the field yet. He has just 211 yards passing, two touchdowns and four interceptions in two games this year. Someone needs to step up alongside La'Rod King in the receiving game to give Newton some help. Two bright spots have been a faster, more effective defense and the play of freshman running back Josh Clemons, who has 165 rushing yards and two scores this year.

Clemons provides a spark for Cats

September, 10, 2011
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One of the most promising young players in the SEC this season is Kentucky true freshman running back Josh Clemons.

He's also the best thing the Wildcats have going right now offensively.

Clemons ripped off an 87-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to break a 13-13 tie, and the Wildcats have now pulled away late in the fourth quarter and lead Central Michigan 27-13.

He has the kind of power and speed to be a special player, and Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said this week that Clemons' role was only going to grow in the offense.

Judging from what I've seen to this point, he's a guy that probably needs to carry the ball 15 to 20 times a game.

There's still a lot of kinks to work out in the Wildcats' offense, but Rick Minter's defense is holding up its end of the bargain.

Central Michigan has been able to move the ball. But through seven quarters this season, Kentucky has allowed just one touchdown. The Wildcats' fourth-down stop in the third quarter was huge and completely changed the complexion of this game.

It's just that kind of game-turning play defensively that Phillips was envisioning when he made the decision to bring in Minter as his defensive coordinator following last season.
Joker Phillips isn’t sugarcoating anything when he talks about Kentucky’s ugly 14-3 win against Western Kentucky.

[+] EnlargeMorgan Newton
Jim Brown/US PresswireMorgan Newton and the Kentucky offense never hit stride in a 14-3 win against Western Kentucky.
It wasn’t pretty and there were way too many offensive mistakes. Phillips has acknowledged as much this week. He watched like the rest of us as his offense, led by junior quarterback Morgan Newton, sputtered along in Nashville.

Kentucky gained a SEC-low 190 yards of offense, including an SEC-worst 97 yards passing. Newton, who started most of his freshman season, was expected to have good command of the offense, but struggled to find in any sort of rhythm. He finished the game with three interceptions to one touchdown.

His passing was more erratic than normal and when he did hit receivers, they had trouble holding onto the ball.

The lack of a passing threat caused Kentucky’s running game (93 yards) to stall more most of the game.

“It’s been said that we’re a better throwing team, but our offense starts with our running game and we could never get our running game going to open up the passing game,” Phillips said. “Once we dropped back, we didn’t do a very good job of protecting.”

One offensive bright spot was freshman running back Josh Clemons, who led Kentucky with 39 rushing yards and a touchdown. Phillips said he wanted to get Clemons the ball more, but because of the way the game went he couldn’t.

Phillips expects that to change from here on out and wants Clemons to be more of a factor.

The main focus for Kentucky’s defense this week has been cleaning up the mistakes -- and we’re talking major spring-cleaning here.

Throwing, running, blocking and catching need to improve, Phillips said, putting pretty much everyone on offense on notice.

What doesn’t help is that the offensive line is more banged up now than it was heading into the season. Center Matt Smith, who missed the opener with an undisclosed injury, is doubtful this weekend against Central Michigan and right tackle Billy Joe Murphy, who was healthy heading into the season, is also doubtful after suffering a knee injury in last week’s game.

Redshirt freshman Teven Eatmon-Nared could get the start at right tackle if Murphy can’t go.

But don’t count on Phillips using injuries up front as an excuse.

“We’re banged up, but a lot of people are this time of the year,” he said. “We expect production not to drop off, especially the way it did last week. We expect those guys to go in and play like veterans when they get a chance and we did not do that last week.”

One thing that keeps Phillips hopeful is the play of his defense. The defense didn’t allow the Hilltoppers to find the end zone and forced four turnovers.

If the defense keeps this up and the offense finds a spark, Phillips likes the Wildcats’ chances this fall.

“The way our defense is playing right now, you could win a lot of games if we score 14 points and those guys do what they did last week with shutting people down,” he said.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 2

September, 8, 2011
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LSU made the SEC’s biggest splash in Week 1, while Georgia hardly splashed at all in a disappointing 35-21 loss to Boise State in the Georgia Dome.

Now, it’s on to Week 2, which is highlighted by a couple of key conference clashes, one of those involving Georgia.

Here’s a look at what to watch this weekend:

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
AP Photo/David TulisQB Aaron Murray, center, and Georgia face a huge game Saturday against SEC rival South Carolina.
1. Georgia’s shot at redemption: As disappointing as the Boise State loss was last week, a win against South Carolina would go a long way toward giving the Bulldogs a new lease on life. In fact, when you survey Georgia’s remaining SEC schedule, you could make the case that the Bulldogs would emerge as the favorite to win the East if they can take down the Gamecocks on Saturday at Sanford Stadium. That’s how quickly it can change in this league. Georgia, which would own the head-to-head tiebreaker against South Carolina, doesn’t play Alabama, Arkansas or LSU from the Western Division this season. It’s just one game, but it’s a game that could completely change the complexion of the Bulldogs’ season.

2. Lassoing Lattimore: South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore introduced himself to the SEC, and in particular Georgia, last season with 182 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 37 carries. The Bulldogs simply couldn’t tackle him, which has been a recurring problem for just about everybody who’s faced Lattimore. The Bulldogs get another shot at him on Saturday, but will be shorthanded. Starting inside linebacker Alec Ogletree fractured his foot in the opener and will miss the next four to six weeks. Georgia coach Mark Richt said Lattimore gains yards after contact as well as anybody Richt has seen in a long time.

3. Garcia to the rescue: This week, it’s Stephen Garcia’s show, at least until he takes a sack or throws it somewhere he’s not supposed to. Steve Spurrier almost seems to revel in playing two quarterbacks. He’s quick to remind you that he’s played two quarterbacks on four of the eight conference championship teams he’s coached. And while sophomore Connor Shaw started the opener last week against East Carolina, South Carolina had more success on offense once Garcia entered the game in the second quarter. So it’s Garcia’s turn to start this week at Georgia. Tune in Saturday to see if he finishes the game.

4. Going on the road: There’s still no definitive answer on which quarterback gives Alabama the best chance to win. Nick Saban is content, for now anyway, to keep playing AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims, which means they will get their road indoctrination this weekend at Penn State. Going against the Nittany Lions’ defense in a hostile environment should provide a much clearer picture of who’s best equipped to lead the Tide’s offense right now. McCarron looked comfortable throwing from the pocket in the opener and finished with 224 passing yards, but he also threw two interceptions. So did Sims. Four more interceptions this weekend could make for some long faces at the Capstone, where they’d almost forgotten what an offensive interception looked like. Greg McElroy threw just five interceptions in 313 attempts a year ago.

5. Maroon-faced crowd: There’s no such thing as a welcome mat being laid out for any visiting team in the SEC, but Mississippi State’s sure to get an extra nasty reception Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Remember, it was Mississippi State that went to the NCAA about Cecil Newton’s solicitation of money from Mississippi State boosters in order for his son, Cam, to sign with the Bulldogs. What ensued was a firestorm of controversy with Newton being declared ineligible for a day and then having his eligibility reinstated by the NCAA in time for the Tigers’ stretch run to a national championship. Newton won’t be around this weekend, but you can bet some bad blood still remains … on both sides.

6. Tennessee air show: By now, it’s safe to say that sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray has established that he can throw the football. Dating to last season, he’s thrown 18 touchdown passes in his past six games. He’s yet to go against any juggernaut defenses as a starter and won’t again this Saturday against Cincinnati, but the Vols are going to need him to continue stretching the field to help get their running game going. They were just OK running the ball against Montana in the opener, and as talented as Bray is, they don’t want to get into the kind of rut where they’re having to throw the ball 40-plus times to have a chance against the better teams.

7. Two-way Hayward: One of Vanderbilt first-year coach James Franklin’s priorities was to find more playmakers on offense. He might have found one … on defense. Casey Hayward, the Commodores’ All-SEC senior cornerback, had a 23-yard run on offense in the opener. It’s a package that Franklin would like to see expand. Hayward, who had six interceptions last season, also had a 22-yard interception return in the opener. One of the best all-around athletes on the team, Hayward could help fill the void on offense with junior running back Warren Norman slowed by a sore knee. Norman didn’t play in the opener, but is expected to return against Connecticut.

8. More touches for Clemons: Watching Kentucky’s listless performance on offense last week was one thing. But listen to coach Joker Phillips, and the disappointment in his voice drives home just how bad the Wildcats were in the opener on the offensive side of the ball. Help might be on the way. Phillips wants to get true freshman running back Josh Clemons more touches after Clemons was one of the few offensive players to show a spark last week. He had a 14-yard touchdown run and had four of Kentucky’s seven runs that were 5 yards or longer. Phillips felt before the season that Clemons had a chance to be special, and the Kentucky coach has seen enough one game into the season to know that the 5-10, 200-pound freshman needs to be a bigger part of the Wildcats’ offense.

9. Quarterbacking the Rebels: The Ole Miss quarterback situation remains murky. Barry Brunetti started the opener and wasn’t very effective, although he threw the ball just three times. Zack Stoudt entered the game late in the second quarter and went the rest of the way. He’s the Rebels’ best pocket passer and gave them a lift, but also fumbled the ball away when he was sacked late in the game. Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said Stoudt would open the game as the starter Saturday against Southern Illinois, but there’s also a chance that Randall Mackey could see his first action. Mackey gives the Rebels a run-pass dimension and was impressive in the preseason. He was arrested, though, in August and charged with disorderly conduct, and Nutt suspended him for the opener.

10. Touchdowns to go around: Four different players scored touchdowns for Arkansas in the opener, including Joe Adams on a pair of punt returns. That number is only going to go up, which is one of the reasons the Hogs are so explosive on offense. Defenses have to make tough choices on who to shadow. Jarius Wright had two touchdown catches last week, and you know it’s just a matter of time before Greg Childs and Cobi Hamilton get into the act. The Arkansas staff also has big plans for freshman receiver Marquel Wade. The Hogs’ longest run in the opener was 14 yards by De’Anthony Curtis, so you can bet that they’ll be looking for a few more explosive plays in the running game Saturday against New Mexico.

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