NCF Nation: Peria Jerry

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

We start a week-long primer today that should further get you ready for the start of spring practice in the SEC.

The first topic: Who are the five players or coaches in the SEC that will be the toughest to replace in 2009?

Let's face it. There are some big shoes to fill in this league.

Here goes:

 
  Charles Sonnenblick/Getty Images
  It won't be easy for Florida to replace Percy Harvin.

1. Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith: This was an easy choice for the top spot. For one, Smith is one of the best left tackles to come through the SEC in the last decade. He was dominant in every way. But go back and look at what the Crimson Tide did (or didn't do) without him last season in the two games he missed. They struggled mightily against Tulane and were torched by Utah in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Retooling the offensive line will be a major undertaking for Alabama. Also gone are All-American center Antoine Davis and steady guard Marlon Davis. A couple of first-year players could be in line to replace Smith -- junior college newcomer James Carpenter and highly rated true freshman D.J. Fluker, who won't be on campus until this summer. If neither are ready, Alabama might have to move Mike Johnson over to left tackle from his guard spot. Johnson filled in for Smith in the bowl game before leaving with an ankle injury.

2. Florida running back/receiver Percy Harvin: How do you replace the most explosive player in the SEC, maybe the explosive player in all of college football? Harvin was a threat to go the distance as a running back and a receiver, and it didn't matter where you lined him up. The only knock on him was that he was prone to injury. He was coming back from a nasty sprained ankle in the FedEx BCS National Championship Game, but still managed to rush for 122 yards on nine carries, catch five passes for 49 yards and score a touchdown in the 15th straight game in which he'd played. Without him, Florida probably doesn't beat Oklahoma. Don't feel too sorry for the Gators, though. They still have plenty of speedy playmakers -- just nobody quite like Harvin. Some of the guys to watch are Deonte Thompson, David Nelson and incoming true freshman Andre Debose. Florida also redshirted three receivers last season who were all highly rated coming out of high school.

3. Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford: As great as running back Knowshon Moreno was, strong-armed quarterbacks like Stafford, who've started since their freshman season, are invaluable. His leaving early for the NFL draft also means Georgia will be going with somebody at quarterback (whoever it is) that has little or no experience in SEC competition. With Stafford's ability to make every throw, he kept defensive coordinators honest. He could beat you a number of different ways. Some of the Georgia fans got down on him at times because of untimely interceptions, but he led the SEC with an average of 266.1 passing yards per game last season and was second with 25 touchdowns, while completing 61.4 percent of his passes. Those numbers won't be easy to replace. Taking his shot will be fifth-year senior Joe Cox, who rallied Georgia past Colorado as a redshirt freshman in 2006. True freshmen Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger are already on campus and will go through spring practice, and sophomore Logan Gray is one of the best all-around athletes on the team.

4. Tennessee defensive end Robert Ayers: If you've been keeping up with the NFL combine, you're getting a feel for what kind of talent Ayers is. He was the second-best player on Tennessee's team last season behind All-American safety Eric Berry. The 6-foot-3, 270-pound Ayers was the kind of defensive lineman coaches love. He could play inside or outside and finished third in the SEC with 15.5 tackles for loss. Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith said Ayers was the best player he faced last season and was equally good as a pass rusher and against the run. The other thing that makes Ayers so difficult to replace is that the Vols are scary thin on the defensive line, and they certainly don't have a proven difference-maker at this point in Ayers' mold. This is a big spring for junior defensive ends Ben Martin and Chris Walker, but neither are big enough to slide inside and help. Senior Wes Brown may get a look inside after having a solid 2008 season at end. But other than senior tackle Dan Williams, there's not much there on the interior for the Vols.

5. Ole Miss defensive tackle Peria Jerry: The only reason Jerry's not a little higher up on this list is because Ole Miss does have some quality depth in its defensive line. Former Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron had recruited extremely well in the defensive line, and Jerry was the gem of that group. He was the SEC's most dominant defensive tackle during the last half of the 2008 season and completely took over games at times. He wrecked opposing teams' plays before they ever had a chance to get started and lifted the play of everybody else around him. Jerry was a first-team All-American who led the SEC with 18.5 tackles for loss from his tackle position, and that kind of player doesn't come around every day. He was also one of the leaders of the Rebels' defense. Ole Miss returns Ted Laurent, Lawon Scott and Jerrell Powe in the middle. Laurent and Scott both have star potential, and if the 335-pound Powe can keep his weight down, he also has a chance to be a real factor next season.

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

It's time to say so long to the 2008 SEC football season -- the highs, lows, great plays, crippling fumbles, clutch performances and fiery exchanges. I'll say my farewell with the 10 things I'll remember most about this season:

1. The greatness of Tim Tebow just sort of wears on you. He's not the purest passer, the fastest runner or even the best quarterback you're ever going to see. That said, I've yet to see a better player or a better winner at the collegiate level in my lifetime.

2. The first half of football in Alabama's 41-30 win over Georgia rates up there with as perfect a half of football as I've seen in the SEC in a long time. The Crimson Tide led 31-0, and a blacked-out Sanford Stadium sounded more like a funeral parlor.

3. The tears in Tebow's eyes told you all you needed to know. Minutes after Ole Miss' shocking 31-30 win over Florida at the Swamp on Sept. 27, an emotional Tebow promised Florida fans that they would never see a player or a team play any harder than he and the Gators would the rest of the way. They never lost again en route to their second BCS national championship in the last three years.

4. The incomparable Larry Munson broadcast his final Georgia football game on Sept. 6 against Central Michigan. There will never be another Munson, who's as much a part of Georgia lore as Uga, Herschel Walker, silver britches and The Hedges.

5. After 30-plus years at his alma mater, a teary-eyed Phillip Fulmer struggled through his forced resignation letter at a press conference that nearly got out of hand. An angry bunch of Tennessee players glared at Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton the whole time, and at least one shouted something as the players stormed off.

6. Ole Miss defensive tackle Peria Jerry probably still hasn't received the publicity that he deserves. He was the most dominant defender in the SEC this season, and that was never more apparent than the second half of the LSU game when he completely took over that contest.

7. Andre Smith's suspension changed the whole complexion of Alabama's otherwise brilliant season. As soon as the news came out, you could just sense that the Crimson Tide were in trouble ... and they were. They were manhandled by Utah in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

8. How much nastier has the Florida-Georgia rivalry become in the last two years? Rewind back to the final 49 seconds this season with Florida leading 49-10. Urban Meyer called, not one, but two timeouts in those waning seconds to rub it in and remind Mark Richt just exactly what he thought of the Bulldogs' end zone celebration from the year before.

9. Seeing Vanderbilt go to 5-0 for the first time since World War II with its 14-13 win over Auburn on Oct. 4 and seeing the electricity in Vanderbilt Stadium that night was something to behold. It was truly a special season for the Commodores, culminating with their first bowl victory in 53 years.

10. Watching Tommy Tuberville walk off the Bryant-Denny Stadium field on Nov. 29 after a humiliating 36-0 loss to Alabama was a sobering reminder of how quickly it all can change in the SEC. It turned out to be the last game he would coach at Auburn, which had flourished for much of the decade under his tutelage.

AT&T Cotton Bowl preview

January, 2, 2009
1/02/09
7:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

A quick preview of today's AT&T Cotton Bowl between Ole Miss (8-4) and Texas Tech (11-1):

WHO TO WATCH: He didn't get as much national publicity as his teammate, offensive tackle Michael Oher, but defensive tackle Peria Jerry had a dominant senior season. He led the SEC with 18 tackles for loss and is one of those rare interior linemen that has the power to overwhelm opposing offensive linemen with his strength and the burst to also beat them with his quickness. Jerry is part of a talent-laden Ole Miss defensive line that needs to play that way today if the Rebels are going to slow down Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell.

WHAT TO WATCH: When the Rebels were playing their best football in winning their last five games of the regular season, they were able to keep teams guessing with a perfect balance on offense. Quarterback Jevan Snead threw 13 touchdown passes and only two interceptions during the five-game winning streak, and the Rebels were also able to run the ball whether it was out of their Wild Rebel formation or standard sets. Driving the football and keeping it away from Harrell and the Texas Tech offense will be crucial, as well as not turning it over. The Rebels had just four turnovers in their five-game winning streak. That's after turning it over 18 times in their first seven games.

WHY TO WATCH: This is the prelim in the Big 12 vs. SEC debate. The biggie, of course, is the Florida-Oklahoma tussle in the FedEx BCS National Championship Game. But watching the Rebels' defense go up against the No. 7 ranked Red Raiders' offense should answer some questions that have raged all season: Are the Big 12 offenses that good? Or are the Big 12 defenses that bad? Are the SEC offenses that bad. Or are the SEC defenses that good? Moreover, a win could really propel Ole Miss into the offseason with the kind of momentum this program hasn't had in a long time.

The SEC's 10 best games in 2008

December, 22, 2008
12/22/08
9:13
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

The ballots have come in from near and far. I even received one from Heidelberg. With your help, I've managed to rank the top 10 games and the top 20 plays from the SEC this season. So sit back and enjoy a look back at a year that just may produce the fourth national champion from this conference in the past six years. We'll do the games first and then the plays a little bit later in the day. Thanks again for all you input. Here goes:

 
 Dale Zanine/US Presswire
 Quarterback Tim Tebow led Florida past then-No. 1 Alabama in the SEC title game.

1. Florida 31, Alabama 20, Atlanta, Dec. 6: In one of the most anticipated SEC games of the last quarter century, Florida played a near-perfect fourth quarter to rally past previously unbeaten and then No. 1-ranked Alabama in the SEC championship game. The showdown between two teams that had won a combined 20 straight games was essentially a play-in for a berth in the FedEx BCS National Championship Game. Florida earned that right and will take on Oklahoma on Jan. 8 in Miami. The game was extremely well-played. The only turnover was a meaningless one and came in the final seconds. Alabama's offensive line and Florida quarterback Tim Tebow each had points where they took over the game, but two long drives by the Gators in the fourth quarter after falling behind 20-17 were the difference. Tebow finished with three touchdown passes, and all three came on third down. The Crimson Tide only had the ball for six offensive plays in the fourth quarter, as Florida defensive end Jermaine Cunningham had a key third-down sack of Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson. The Gators showed their mettle by winning without their most dynamic playmaker, Percy Harvin, who missed the game with a sprained ankle.

2. Alabama 27, LSU 21 (OT), Baton Rouge, Nov. 8: The return of Nick Saban to Baton Rouge was pretty uneventful off the field, but the game itself was filled with drama. It was a disappointing season for the defending national champion Tigers, but they were ready to play in this one. The two teams slugged it out for four quarters, and Alabama had a chance to win it with three seconds left in regulation. But LSU's Ricky Jean-Francois blocked Leigh Tiffin's 29-yard field goal attempt. With Tiger Stadium rocking, LSU redshirt freshman quarterback Jarrett Lee put a damper on things by throwing his fourth interception of the game on the Tigers' first possession in overtime. Fittingly, Alabama safety Rashad Johnson was there in the back of the end zone to collar the pick. It was his third of the game, and he took one of those back for a 54-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Alabama went right to freshman receiver Julio Jones on its first play in overtime, and Jones went up high and made a sweet adjustment in the air for a 24-yard catch at the 1. Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson plunged in for the touchdown to keep the Tide unbeaten and clinch a trip to the SEC championship game.

3. Ole Miss 31, Florida 30, Gainesville, Sept. 27: The upset of the year in the SEC doesn't look like quite the shocker now that it did back in September. The Rebels, who were a three-touchdown underdog when they went into the Swamp, ended the season on a five-game winning streak and head to the Cotton Bowl playing some of the best football in the league. But nobody saw their upset of the Gators coming. They'd just lost to Vanderbilt at home a week earlier. Quarterback Jevan Snead, though, grew up in a hurry with two touchdown passes, including an 86-yarder to Shay Hodge, with 5:26 to play, and the Rebels came up big on special teams and defense in the final minutes to snap a 14-game SEC road losing streak. Kentrell Lockett blocked the Gators' extra point attempt when it appeared they had tied the game with 3:28 left, and then Peria Jerry and a host of his Ole Miss defensive mates smothered Florida quarterback Tim Tebow on fourth-and-short at the Rebels' 32-yard line with 41 seconds remaining to seal the upset. Tebow and the Gators were fueled by the gut-wrenching setback and haven't lost since. In fact, nobody has come within double figures of them.

4. Arkansas 31, LSU 30, Little Rock, Nov. 28: After being decimated by Alabama, Texas and Florida earlier in the season, the Razorbacks hung on under first-year coach Bobby Petrino and improved greatly during the second half of the season. They caught an LSU team that was teetering on the Friday after Thanksgiving, and senior quarterback Casey Dick came off the bench in his final college game to deliver a memorable performance. A starter for the first 11 games of the season, Dick relieved his younger brother, Nathan Dick, who'd been injured. Casey Dick entered the game in the second half and rallied the Razorbacks from a 30-14 deficit. His 24-yard touchdown pass to London Crawford on a fourth-down play with 22 seconds remaining won it for the Hogs, who still had to sweat out a Colt David 63-yard field goal attempt with 2.4 seconds to play that was no good.

(Read full post)

2008 SEC regular-season wrap-up

December, 10, 2008
12/10/08
10:23
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Alabama was supposed to be a year or two away. Somebody obviously forgot to tell Nick Saban as much.

Florida was supposed to be pretty good. But this good?

And Auburn, LSU and Tennessee ...

Is there anybody on the planet that envisioned 19 losses among those three teams?

Here we are heading into another postseason, and for the third straight year and the fourth time in the past six years, the SEC has a team in the BCS National Championship Game.

 
 Dale Zanine/US Presswire
 Tim Tebow made every big play the Gators needed him to make this season.

Florida beat previously unbeaten Alabama 31-20 in a thrilling SEC championship game last weekend in Atlanta and now sets its sights on a second national championship in the last three years, which would be the SEC's fourth national title in the last six years.

Wasn't it just yesterday that Urban Meyer was taking over at Florida and everybody was wondering if his spread option offense would work in the SEC?

Of course, with Tim Tebow, any offense would work. His emotional speech and inspired play after the loss to Ole Miss on Sept. 27 galvanized the Gators, who proceeded to go on a nine-game winning streak during which they averaged 49.4 points per game and beat opponents by an average margin of 36.4 points.

The league, getting more volatile every year, said so long to three coaches: Mississippi State's Sylvester Croom, Tennessee's Phillip Fulmer and Auburn's Tommy Tuberville.

Ole Miss rebounded from an 0-8 SEC record in 2007 to win eight games overall and earn a bid to the Cotton Bowl in Houston Nutt's first year in Oxford.

While the Rebels finished with a flurry and Alabama and Florida were dominant all season, it wasn't one of the SEC's better years from top to bottom. The league was unable to fill all of its bowl slots, and eight teams finished with at least five losses.

Offensive MVP: Florida quarterback Tim Tebow
This was a lot more difficult to choose at the midway point this season. Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno was right there, and LSU running back Charles Scott also had a hot start to the season. But the best football player in this conference, period, is Florida quarterback Tim Tebow. He didn't put up the rushing touchdowns he did a year ago when he won the Heisman Trophy, but he was a more efficient quarterback this season and made every big play the Gators needed him to make. Go back and look at the defenses Tebow faced, too. Five of them were ranked among the top 20 defenses in the country.

Defensive MVP: Ole Miss tackle Peria Jerry
Four or five guys could make strong cases. Among them: Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes, Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain, Tennessee safety Eric Berry and South Carolina linebacker Eric Norwood. But in the end, it came down to the most dominant and the most consistent interior lineman in the league this season -- Ole Miss tackle Peria Jerry. He had some of his best games against the best competition and led the SEC with 17 tackles for loss. He was virtually unblockable down the stretch when the Rebels went on their five-game winning streak.

Newcomer of the Year: Alabama nose tackle Terrence Cody
It's hard to ignore the numbers Georgia freshman receiver A.J. Green put up, and the versatility of Florida running back Jeffery Demps was equally impressive. But the pick here boiled down to a pair of Alabama teammates. Watching freshman receiver Julio Jones break tackles, make acrobatic adjustments on the ball and look NFL-ready from the day he stepped onto campus made him an obvious choice. But an even more obvious choice was junior nose tackle Terrence Cody, who was 400-plus pounds when he arrived from junior college. He committed himself to getting into shape and became a one-man defensive front for the Tide. He changed the way offenses tried to attack Alabama and freed up everybody else around him to make a lot of plays.

Coach of the Year: Alabama's Nick Saban
Vanderbilt's Bobby Johnson was the choice during the fist half of the season, and Ole Miss' Houston Nutt deserves some serious props for the way his Rebels finished the season. But to take a program where Nick Saban took Alabama in only his second season on the job makes him an easy choice for SEC Coach of the Year honors. The Crimson Tide played with incredible focus all season. They played with discipline, played with pride and played far above anybody's expectations. It was Saban at his best.

Biggest surprise: Ole Miss
The Rebels didn't win a single SEC football game during the 2007 season. They hadn't won two games in a row since the 2004 season. They hadn't been to a bowl game since the 2003 season. Houston Nutt was taking over the program after a messy divorce with Arkansas. Some would say the Rebels were due. Whatever it was, they rose up and won eight football games and head to the Cotton Bowl on a five-game winning streak. They're the only team to beat Florida and also whipped LSU in Baton Rouge. Had it not been for some crippling fumbles at the goal line against Vanderbilt and South Carolina, they'd be sitting here right now with 10 wins.

Biggest disappointment: Auburn
Lot of choices here. Tennessee went into the tank, and Phillip Fulmer lost his job. LSU certainly qualifies. It's been more than 60 years since the consensus national champion followed up its crown with five or more conference losses. Even Georgia, which was No. 1 in the preseason poll, didn't live up to the hype, especially when you consider how poorly the Bulldogs played defensively in big games. The nod, though, goes to Auburn, which started the season in the Top 10 and ended the season at home for the holidays with a losing record and looking for a new coach. There have been many memorable seasons on the Plains. This won't be one of them.

Game of the year: Alabama vs. Florida
Considering that it was the first No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in history involving SEC teams (using the Associated Press poll), the SEC championship game between Alabama and Florida is pretty hard to top. The Gators won 31-20 thanks to a pair of long fourth-quarter touchdown drives engineered by Tim Tebow in an environment that's impossible to describe unless you were there. Alabama made Florida play at its pace for most of the game, and the Crimson Tide's offensive line took over the game in the second and third quarters. But Tebow was spectacular when it counted, and the Gators' defense came up big with several key stops.

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

We're down to the final week of the regular season and then it's on to Alabama vs. Florida in the SEC Championship Game. These last few weeks have been anti-climatic with the title game being set so early, especially when you consider what's at stake when the Gators and Crimson Tide clash on Dec. 6 in Atlanta. Still, there were more than a few eye-opening developments around the league in Week 13. Here's a look at what we learned:

1. Ole Miss is for real: Here's a teaser for Ole Miss fans: You're going to like the newest edition of the SEC power rankings when they come out on Monday. The Rebels (7-4, 4-3 SEC) left little doubt that they should be included among the SEC's elite teams this season with their 31-13 pummeling of No. 18-ranked LSU in Tiger Stadium. Houston Nutt showed once again why he's such a solid big-game coach. The Rebels were aggressive on defense, ran a fake punt, ran reverses and never quit attacking. Their defensive line has few peers in the league right now. Peria Jerry and Co. held the Tigers to one of their worst rushing days this decade -- 37 yards on 29 carries. If the Rebels can take care of business at home Friday against Mississippi State, they're headed to the Cotton Bowl with the kind of momentum Ole Miss hasn't seen in football since Eli Manning was flinging passes.

2. Something's amiss at LSU: This team is far too talented to be getting trampled at home. The defending national champion Tigers (7-4, 3-4 SEC) have lost three games at home this season after losing three games total at Tiger Stadium from 2003-07. The 31-13 loss Saturday to Ole Miss was another reminder of everything that's gone wrong. Sure, the quarterback issues have been tough to deal with, but most disappointing in the Tigers' collapse has been a defense (and a defense with several future pros) that has repeatedly taken it on the chin. The Tigers gave up 409 total yards to the Rebels. That's three SEC games that LSU has been shredded for 400 or more yards this season. Florida had 475 and Georgia 443. At this point, you can't help but wonder if LSU coach Les Miles will re-consider his two-defensive coordinator system of Doug Mallory and Bradley Dale Peveto at the end of the season.

3. Simply the best: Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis doesn't make it a habit to compare players. But when he says sophomore safety Eric Berry is, in his opinion, the best defensive player in the country, you can bet that Chavis means it. Outgoing Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer goes one step further when he says Berry is already one of the greatest players to play at Tennessee and could be one of the best to ever play in the SEC. Berry intercepted his seventh pass of the season Saturday in Tennessee's 20-10 victory over Vanderbilt and returned it for a 45-yard touchdown. Berry now has 12 career interceptions in 25 career games and has returned three of those picks for touchdowns. He has 487 return yards for his career, which is 14 yards shy of the all-time FBS record held by Florida State's Terrell Buckley from 1989-91.

4. Bulldogs still swinging: Talk about a tormented season. It's been that and more for Mississippi State, which was eliminated from bowl contention two weeks ago in a loss to Alabama. The questions about Sylvester Croom's job security have intensified, not to mention the calls for him to purge his staff. In short, it's been one big mess of a season for the Bulldogs, but they proved Saturday in a 31-28 win over Arkansas that they haven't shut it down. They easily could have after falling behind 14-0 midway through the first quarter to the Hogs, but they battled back behind their best and most complete offensive performance of the season. Mississippi State finished with a season-high 445 yards, and junior running back Anthony Dixon had a career-high 179 yards rushing and also caught five passes for 32 yards, two that went for touchdowns.

5. Quarterback horror show: Parental guidance was suggested for the quarterback play in the Tennessee-Vanderbilt game. Simply, it was rotten. Four different quarterbacks threw passes, and all four threw interceptions to go along with no touchdowns. Of course, that doesn't count the touchdowns they threw to the other team. Vanderbilt's Chris Nickson threw a second-quarter pass that was returned 45 yards for a touchdown, and Tennessee's B.J. Coleman threw a third-quarter pass that was returned 42 yards for a touchdown. The Vols managed to win despite finishing with just 21 passing yards. It's the worst they've been at quarterback in at least 30 years and maybe going all the way back to the single-wing days. The Commodores wound up with 188 passing yards, but 66 of those came in the final 1:21 when the game was already over and the Vols were giving Mackenzi Adams the underneath throws. You'd have to watch a lot of football to find a game with poorer play at the quarterback position.

SEC Week 13 helmet stickers

November, 23, 2008
11/23/08
11:51
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Anybody surprised Florida didn't score 100 points Saturday against The Citadel? Anybody surprised LSU couldn't budge Ole Miss' defense on the ground? Anybody surprised Tennessee's defense has played as well as it has with an offense as wretchedly bad as the one the Vols have put on the field this season? Anybody surprised the SEC isn't going to be able to fill all of its bowl slots? Just a few questions to ponder as we pass out a few helmet stickers for the week:

Jevan Snead, quarterback, Ole Miss: His numbers were impressive, but his performance was even more so. The Rebels' sophomore quarterback made one NFL-type throw after another in a brilliant first half, as Ole Miss jumped out to a 21-3 lead. He threw touchdown passes of 34 and 25 yards to Mike Wallace on his way to a 274-yard passing day in Ole Miss' 31-13 win. Snead is now second in the SEC with 19 touchdown passes and hasn't thrown an interception in his last three games.

Peria Jerry, defensive tackle, Ole Miss: Playing like a first-round NFL draft choice, Jerry was unblockable in the 31-13 win over LSU. Just ask the Tigers' players trying to block him. He finished with 2.5 tackles for loss, had the hit that put LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee out of the game and was a big reason the Rebels held the Tigers to a season-low 37 rushing yards.

John Chavis, defensive coordinator, Tennessee: Nicknamed "Chief," Chavis has gotten his Tennessee defense to play at a high level all season despite absolutely no help from the offense and a forgettable season otherwise. Like Phillip Fulmer, Chavis has been at his alma mater most of his coaching career and seeing it end this way has been heartbreaking. But the Vols showed their pride defensively Saturday by totally shutting down Vanderbilt in a 20-10 win.

Anthony Dixon, running back, Mississippi State: It hasn't been the kind of season Dixon was hoping for, both individually and from a team standpoint. But Dixon took out some frustration on the Arkansas defense Saturday with a career-high 179 yards rushing on 23 carries and also scored three touchdowns, two of those touchdown catches. His third touchdown was a 63-yard run to give the Bulldogs a 10-point lead in the third quarter.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 13

November, 21, 2008
11/21/08
10:13
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

It's a quiet week in the SEC, as only seven teams are playing. The LSU-Ole Miss contest (aka the Magnolia Bowl) is the marquee matchup. The winner will move to the top of the list for a Cotton Bowl bid. If Vanderbilt can beat Tennessee, the Commodores will solidify only their second winning season in SEC play in the last 48 years. Alabama is off and has Auburn at home on Nov. 29. Think there's any chance Nick Saban might take a peek at some Florida tape this weekend? The Gators might as well be off. They face The Citadel at home. Here's a look at what to watch in the SEC in Week 13:

1. Peria Jerry: When the season began, the defensive tackles around the league getting most of the ink were LSU's Ricky Jean-Francois and Auburn's Sen'Derrick Marks. Turn on the tape from the last several games, though, and find a better tackle in the SEC right now than Ole Miss' Peria Jerry. You can't. He's been dominant, and it's obvious that he's healthy after undergoing surgery in the preseason to repair meniscus damage in his knee. The 6-foot-2, 290-pound Jerry is second among all SEC defensive tackles with 10.5 tackles for loss and will be a huge key if Ole Miss is going to end its six-game losing streak Saturday against LSU.

2. LSU's O-line vs. Ole Miss' D-line: This has to be one of the best matchups of the season. LSU has had its problems this season, but they haven't been on the offensive line. The Tigers have at least two future pros in tackle Ciron Black and guard Herman Johnson. One of the keys, though, will be senior center Brett Helms, who's not 100 percent and trying to gut it out. The Rebels also have two or three future pros in their defensive line and are finally healthy. Even enigmatic defensive endGreg Hardy looked like his old self last week. Ole Miss won't hold anything back, which is why the Rebels have an SEC-leading 80 tackles for loss this season.

3. Showcase for Snead: His numbers suggest he's one of the best young quarterbacks in the league, maybe the best. But to really make this a season to remember, Ole Miss sophomore quarterback Jevan Snead needs to lead his team to a big win on the road. Here's his chance against storied rival LSU. Ole Miss offensive coordinator Kent Austin has done a nice job of bringing Snead along at just the right pace. But like all first-year quarterbacks in this league, Snead has blown hot and cold at times. He seems to be hitting his stride now and will no doubt take his shots against an LSU secondary that has given up its share of big plays this season.

4. Hold on tightly: The surest way for Ole Miss to go into Tiger Stadium on Saturday and lose the football game is to turn it over a bunch of times. The Rebels know that drill well. They turned it over 15 times in their four losses this season, but have lost just one turnover during their three-game winning streak. Forcing turnovers hasn't been LSU's forte, either. The Tigers have forced just 14 turnovers this season, which is tied for next to last in the league along with Georgia. That's in direct contrast to LSU's ball-hawking defense from a year ago. The Tigers forced 36 turnovers on their way to the BCS national championship in 2007.

5. A brotherly thing: Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino won't make a final call on his starting quarterback for the Mississippi State game until later in the day on Friday. It sounds like he's leaning toward making a change and going with the younger of the Dick brothers, redshirt freshman Nathan. Casey, a senior, has started 28 consecutive games, but left the South Carolina game two weeks ago with a concussion after throwing three interceptions. Petrino said there's a chance that both of the brothers could play in the game and that they've been energized by the competition this week in practice. For Nathan, it's a chance to generate some momentum going into the offseason. He'll need to play well if he's going to beat out Michigan transfer Ryan Mallett for the job next season.

6. Malcolm who?: The offensive linemen who've gone against Arkansas defensive tackle Malcolm Sheppard this season know who he is. Still, the 6-foot-3, 277-pound junior is one of the more underrated defenders in the league. He's tied for second in the SEC with 11.5 tackles for loss and leads all defensive tackles in that category. He also has 5.5 sacks, which is an SEC-high for defensive tackles. Sheppard, one of the Arkansas team captains, has helped to keep a defense together that went through a brutal three-game stretch in which it gave up 139 points to Alabama, Texas and Florida. The Hogs have played more respectably on defense ever since, and Sheppard has been a big reason why.

7. Croom's future: The fans at Mississippi State are growing increasingly more restless each week, and many of them are calling for Sylvester Croom to hit the road. Yep, the same Sylvester Croom that won SEC Coach of the Year honors last season and led the Bulldogs to eight wins and a Liberty Bowl victory. Mississippi State (3-7, 1-5 SEC) needs to show some improvement these last two weeks, especially on offense. Croom may shake it up some Saturday against Arkansas. He wants to get both redshirt freshman quarterback Chris Relf and redshirt freshman running back Wade Bonner on the field, while J.C. Brignone will return to center and Michael Gates will move to left guard.

8. Tennessee defensive pride: It's been a horrible season for the Vols. There's no way to sugarcoat it. But through the agony of it all, John Chavis' defense has continued to play with pride and deserves far better than how this thing is going to end up. Tennessee enters Saturday's game at Vanderbilt ranked No. 7 nationally in total defense, which is remarkable when you consider how little help the defense has received from an offense that has been held to single digits in its last three games. Chavis has had better defenses at Tennessee, but few have played with more resolve than this group.

9. Less orange in Vanderbilt Stadium: This may actually be an honest-to-goodness home game for Vanderbilt, which hasn't beaten Tennessee in Nashville since 1982. Traditionally, the orange in the Vanderbilt Stadium stands when these two teams meet is as prevalent as the black and gold. There have been years when it almost sounded like a home game for the Vols. But not this year. Tennessee is putting the wraps on one of the worst seasons in school history, while Vanderbilt is headed to a bowl game for the first time in 26 years. "I hope we have a huge black and gold advantage in our stadium," Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson said.

10. 50, 60 and counting: How many points will Florida score on The Citadel, and how long will Urban Meyer play his starters? It's really one of those games that the Gators get very little out of, particularly this late in the season. In fact, you know Meyer and his staff will be holding their breath the entire time hoping somebody doesn't get rolled up and injured. It's no time to play scared, but you can bet that Meyer will be smart about how long he leaves guys like Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin and Brandon Spikes in the game. Florida hasn't lost to a current non-FBS school since losing to Villanova in 1946.

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Looking purely at the hard numbers, Auburn and Ole Miss are having comparable football seasons.

 
 AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis
 Auburn's Tommy Tuberville might be in trouble despite having won 42 football games in the four seasons prior to this one.

They meet Saturday at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium with identical records. Both teams are 4-4, 2-3 in the SEC. Both teams are fighting to get bowl eligible. Both teams are jockeying for that third spot in the Western Division standings, and both teams have lost some bitterly close games this season.

But that's where the similarities end.

Take a stroll on the Plains these days and check out the climate. Then do the same through the Grove.

What you'll find is two programs that look the same on paper, but two programs with distinctly different outlooks about where everything is headed.

At Auburn, there is increasing chatter that veteran coach Tommy Tuberville might be in trouble despite the fact that he'd won 42 football games in the four seasons prior to this one, has won nine of his last 13 games against top 10 opponents and has won six straight against Alabama.

The offense has been a disaster, so much so that Tuberville fired first-year coordinator Tony Franklin six games into the season after the spread experiment failed miserably. The Tigers are ranked 109th nationally in total offense and 102nd in scoring offense, haven't been able to get any consistent play at the quarterback position and have lost four of their last five games.

In their last six games, the Tigers have been outscored 77-16 in the second half -- never a good sign when you start examining a team's resolve.

(Read full post)

 
 Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
 Greg Hardy was in Florida's backfield often during the Rebels' upset of the Gators last Saturday.

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Greg Hardy's not ready to say he's all the way back. But there were certainly flashes last week against Florida that would suggest as much.

Florida quarterback Tim Tebow would probably be on board with that assessment after spending a good portion of the game trying to get away from Hardy.

"Trust me, there's more ... a lot more," Hardy said.

The Ole Miss junior defensive end was playing in just his second game this season against the Gators after undergoing surgery to repair a stress fracture in his foot during the preseason. He finished with 1.5 sacks and another tackle for loss in the Rebels' 31-30 upset victory.

But more important than those numbers was the way he played. He was relentless, the renowned burst off the edge that made him the SEC's top sack man a year ago was readily apparent.

He was the kind of player the Gators had to account for on every down.

"They're different when he's not in there," Florida coach Urban Meyer said. "I have great respect for great players, and he's a great player."

(Read full post)

Internal affairs in the SEC

September, 10, 2008
9/10/08
11:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Week No. 3 is almost upon us, meaning there are two different conference games on tap. No. 2-ranked Georgia visits South Carolina, and No. 9-ranked Auburn travels to Mississippi State. Here's our weekly installment of "Internal Affairs" in the SEC:

Bosley to stay at tackle: Jason Bosley hadn't played tackle in a game since he was a freshman in high school. That all changed last Saturday when he moved out to right tackle and Ryan Pugh moved into Bosley's old center spot. The Tigers liked that lineup so much that they're probably going to stick with it. For one, Bosley has been plagued with a shoulder injury that's particularly bothersome when you're having to make the shotgun snap on just about every play in Auburn's new spread offense. Bosley, one of the Tigers' most consistent linemen, graded out higher than anybody in the win over Southern Miss. He's smart enough and good enough that he could play any of the positions up front. It never hurts to have guys who can move around in the offensive line.

Running to glory: While the Vols want to give Jonathan Crompton every chance to be more consistent throwing the ball with the Florida game looming, look for them to really try to rev up their running game this week against Alabama-Birmingham. Establishing some semblance of a running game and sticking with it is the only way they're going to have a chance to beat Florida. Crompton plays a big role in that, too. He has to be sharper in managing the running game and making sure the Vols are in the right sets. They had several run plays called against UCLA that never materialized or never really had a chance when they broke the huddle because of different miscommunications.

Rebels getting healthier: Ole Miss is getting a little healthier in its defensive line, which means the Rebels are trying to get people back to their natural positions. The best news for them was that defensive tackle Peria Jerry was able to play last week against Wake Forest after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery during the preseason. Because of that, Marcus Tillman has moved back outside to end after starting the first two games at tackle. Tillman (260 pounds) is undersized to play tackle in this league. The Rebels are still waiting on end Greg Hardy, who led the SEC in sacks last season and is recovering from foot surgery. Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt is hopeful that Hardy will be able to play some in the Rebels' SEC opener against Vanderbilt on Sept. 20.

More Cobb sightings: Kentucky coach Rich Brooks and his staff will be careful about the way they juggle their two-quarterback system of third-year sophomore Mike Hartline and true freshman Randall Cobb. They don't want to kill Hartline's confidence, and they don't want to throw Cobb in there head-first too early. But make no mistake, Brooks is intrigued by the possibilities with Cobb running the show. Kentucky fans saw a glimpse of it last week when he led the Wildcats to touchdowns on three consecutive drives against Norfolk State. He also turned the ball over twice. Cobb's role in this offense will continue to expand, to the point where he could be getting the bulk of the snaps by the time Kentucky travels to Alabama on Oct. 4.

Mississippi State eyeing change: The loss of senior middle linebacker Jamar Chaney for the season to a broken leg continues to haunt Mississippi State. Not only was he an All-SEC performer on the field, but he was one of the Bulldogs' strongest leaders in the locker room. Redshirt freshman Jamie Jones started at middle linebacker last week in the win over Southeastern Louisiana, but Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom may opt for experience this week against Auburn. Croom is leaning toward going with sophomore Karlin Brown in the middle. Whereas the Bulldogs will pick up some experience with Brown, they'll lose size. The 5-foot-9, 195-pound Brown looks more like a safety than he does a middle linebacker.

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