NCF Nation: Rashad Johnson

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

One of the most compelling stories of the 2008 SEC football season was Alabama nose tackle Terrence Cody.

 
  Kelly Kline/Icon SMI
  "Mount Cody," aka Alabama nose tackle Terrence Cody, is a cult figure on campus.
Most people know him now simply as Mount Cody.

He's a mountain of a man, the ultimate run-stuffer and returns as one of the most dominant interior linemen in all of college football. The 6-5 Cody says he's down around 365 pounds again after getting up close to 375 when last season ended.

His progress was impeded by a sprained MCL in his right knee that caused him to miss two games. When he returned, it took him a while to regain confidence in the knee, and he wasn't nearly as effective.

This is Cody's first spring practice at Alabama, as he came straight from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College a year ago. Nobody really knew what to expect out of him. He only played two years of high school ball in Fort Myers, Fla., and wasn't recruited by anybody out of high school because he weighed more than 400 pounds.

Even out of junior college, there was only passing interest in him, but Alabama coach Nick Saban loved his agility for such a big man and felt like he could be a dominant nose tackle in the Crimson Tide's 3-4 scheme if he got his weight down.

Sure enough, Cody lost about 30 pounds before he ever arrived at Alabama (per Saban's orders), and a legend was born.

Here's our Q&A with Cody, who says he's in even better shape now than he was a year ago when he earned consensus All-America honors for the Crimson Tide:

How did you lose all that weight, and what was the highest you ever got?

Terrence Cody: I was 385 when I came to Alabama, but I actually lost a lot of weight before I got here. I got up every day and did my own program and worked harder than I ever had in my life. I knew I wouldn't make it here at 400 pounds. I gained too much weight in junior college. The most I was up to was around 420.

Do you have a target weight you want to get to?

TC: At least 350 by the time the season starts and hopefully 345.

When's the last time you've been under 350 pounds?

TC: Probably my junior year of high school, but I wasn't too far off from 300 when I was a freshman.

How much difference can you tell now that you're nearly 40 pounds lighter than you were in junior college?

TC: Just how I move and that I'm much more agile. I'm not nearly as stiff as I was when I was carrying that weight.

Will the knee limit you this spring?

TC: I'm full go this spring. My knee is a lot stronger than it was, but I can get it even better.

Did you exceed your expectations last year?

TC: When I came in, I didn't think I was going to do what all I did last season and dominate like that. But my mentality when I got here was that I wasn't going to let anybody block me. I wasn't going to let anybody block me one-on-one. I wasn't going to let anybody drive me off the ball. I just kept working, and when the season started, I came out with that same mindset. I wasn't going to let anybody beat me, and I used that as my motivation every game.

How many double teams did you face?

TC: Pretty much every game. But my first game back against LSU after I got hurt, I really didn't feel comfortable on my knee. Once I started playing in that game, it felt weird trying to do the things I was doing before I got hurt, and I know I wasn't as hard to block.

How much better can you be in 2009, and what can fans expect to see from you?

TC: They can plan to see me on third down. They were taking me out on third down and passing plays last year. That's one of the main reasons I worked so hard this offseason, getting in better shape, getting better at pass-rushing and sustaining it the whole game. Instead of playing on two downs, I want to play on three downs this year.

Fans love the big guy, especially one who's as dominant on the field and as good-natured off the field as you are. You sort of became a cult hero at Alabama, didn't you?

TC: Any store or restaurant I walk in, everybody knows me. I sign autographs and take pictures and stuff. Everybody thinks it bothers me, but it really doesn't. I like the fans here and the way they've treated me. I wasn't really used to that at junior college. But then I got up here, and it was crazy. Everybody started calling me Mount Cody.

What's the funniest encounter you've had with fans?

TC: The funniest ones are always after games, because you've got the fans there who've been doing a little drinking and they'll say anything. They're already acting crazy, and then when you autograph something for them, they go even crazier. I've had a few people come up to me and say, 'I can take you on.' I look at them and laugh.

Losing Rashad Johnson at safety was a big blow, but can you guys take it to another level defensively next season?

TC: I think we can be even better next year than we were this year. We've got a lot of good players returning and a lot of younger players who didn't play as much who're going to be a year better. They've been working hard this offseason, and you can tell they're ready to show what they can do this year. You saw it in the first practice of the spring.

In your eyes, who will be some of the younger guys to watch on defense next season?

TC: Marcel Dareus, Courtney Upshaw, Jerrell Harris, Chris Jordan and Robby Green. They've all been looking good this offseason. We've got a lot of guys hungry to get on the field, and that's going to make us all better.

How did you come to settle on Alabama?

TC: Coach Saban was what sold me. I know some people think he's a little bit crazy, but the way he coaches is that he wants to bring out the best in you. That's why we go through this tough offseason. It teaches you not to give up, because you never quit playing if you're going to play for him.

Did you ever seriously consider turning pro last year?

TC: I told Coach Saban I didn't even want to get (an evaluation from the NFL draft advisory committee). He asked me if I wanted to, and I said, 'Nah, because I already had my mind made up when I signed that I was going to stay both years,' and I didn't see any reason to change. I know some people had me going high in the draft, but I didn't think I was ready yet.

Is it true you can dunk a basketball?

TC: Any way you want me to.

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

It's been nine years since Alabama last walked among college football's elite in the BCS bowl bonanza.

Chances are it won't be another nine years or even another three or four years. Chances are the Crimson Tide are here to stay.

"This is where Alabama football is supposed to be," Alabama senior center Antoine Caldwell said. "This is where everybody associated with the program made a commitment to get it to, and the foundation is in place to keep it here."

 
 Marvin Gentry/US Presswire
 John Parker Wilson hopes to finish his college career with a win in the Sugar Bowl.

Alabama, which spent the month of November as the country's No. 1-ranked team, will do its best Friday night against Utah in the Allstate Sugar Bowl to put a cap on what's been a memorable season.

The suspension of star left offensive tackle Andre Smith on Monday was a downer, and so was the bitter 31-20 loss to Florida in the SEC championship game.

Still, this is the kind of season you build on, the kind of season that proclaims to the rest of the college football world that you're indeed back.

But there is one caveat, according to the Alabama players.

Winning this game is a must if the Crimson Tide are going to make that proclamation stick.

"We've had a great season up to this point, something we'll all remember," Alabama senior quarterback John Parker Wilson said. "But I think if we don't go out and win this game, it's going to be all for nothing. We're looking at this as a one-game season, that we're going to go out and take care of business and kind of put a cap on our legacy as seniors.

"It's a huge game. We're playing in the Sugar Bowl. We're putting a lot on this game."

(Read full post)

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 All-SEC team

December, 10, 2008
12/10/08
11:03
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

The ballots are in, and we're pleased to announce the "official" All-SEC team for the 2008 season. Interestingly enough, 16 of the 22 position players are underclassmen. All of those players won't be back for their senior seasons. Still, there's a lot of young talent in this league:

OFFENSE

QB: Tim Tebow, Florida
RB: Knowshon Moreno, Georgia
RB: Glen Coffee, Alabama
WR: Percy Harvin, Florida
WR: Julio Jones, Alabama
TE: D.J. Williams, Arkansas
OL: Andre Smith, Alabama
OL: Michael Oher, Ole Miss
OL: Ciron Black, LSU
OL: Phil Trautwein, Florida
C: Antoine Caldwell, Alabama

DEFENSE

DE: Carlos Dunlap, Florida
DE: Robert Ayers, Tennessee
DT: Peria Jerry, Ole Miss
DT: Terrence Cody, Alabama
LB: Brandon Spikes, Florida
LB: Rolando McClain, Alabama
LB: Eric Norwood, South Carolina
CB: D.J. Moore, Vanderbilt
CB: Trevard Lindley, Kentucky
S: Eric Berry, Tennessee
S: Rashad Johnson, Alabama

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Colt David, LSU
P: Tim Masthay, Kentucky
KR: Tristan Davis, Auburn
PR: Brandon James, Florida

What to watch in the SEC, Week 14

November, 26, 2008
11/26/08
12:35
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Are we really entering the final weekend of the regular season? This season has flown by. And even though the SEC Championship Game has been set for a while now, this is still a compelling week. It's Rivalry Week in the SEC, headlined by the Iron Bowl. Everybody knows that strange things tend to happen these last few weeks, so sit back and enjoy. Here's a checklist of what to watch in the SEC in Week 14:

1. Bleeding crimson: Alabama's senior class consists of just nine players. Don't let that fool you. This is one of the strongest senior classes the Crimson Tide have had in some time and a big reason they head into Saturday's Iron Bowl matchup with Auburn unbeaten and ranked No. 1 in the country. The senior leadership on this team is rock-solid, and that goes back to the offseason when they made sure everybody was on the same page. From quarterback John Parker Wilson, to center Antoine Caldwell, to safety Rashad Johnson, to tight ends Travis McCall and Nick Walker, the seniors have set the tone for what's been one of the more memorable seasons at Alabama in the last two decades.

2. Taking charge: Everybody knows how effective Alabama has been this season at jumping on teams early. The Crimson Tide have led after the first quarter in 10 of their 11 games and have outscored teams 120-20 in the first quarter. They run into an Auburn team, though, that has also been tough to dent defensively in the first quarter. The Tigers haven't allowed a first-quarter touchdown all season and have outscored opponents 63-13 in the first quarter. But get this: Auburn has been especially stingy against Alabama over the years in the first quarter. The last time the Tide scored a first-quarter touchdown against the Tigers was 1996.

3. Trouble in Tallahassee? If you're looking for a reason to believe that Florida State could upset Florida, history says the Gators don't fare very well in this game the week before playing in the SEC Championship Game. Florida is just 2-5-1 against Florida State in those years that the Gators have gone on to play in the SEC Championship Game. The only win in Tallahassee came during the 2006 national championship season when the Gators broke a 14-14 tie with a fourth-quarter touchdown to win 21-14. During the 1996 national championship season, Florida lost 24-21 to Florida State in Tallahassee before getting a second shot at the Seminoles in the Sugar Bowl and rolling to a 52-20 rout.

4. Turning pro: This could be the final regular-season games for several talented underclassmen in the league. Among those most likely to come out early are Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford, Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno, Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith, Florida running back/receiver Percy Harvin, Vanderbilt cornerback D.J. Moore, Auburn defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks, Auburn defensive end Antonio Coleman, South Carolina safety Emanuel Cook, South Carolina tight end Jared Cook, Ole Miss defensive end Greg Hardy, LSU offensive tackle Ciron Black and LSU defensive tackle Ricky Jean-Francois.

5. Fulmer's farewell: After 30-plus years at his alma mater as a player, assistant coach and head coach, Tennessee's Phillip Fulmer coaches his final game for the Vols on Saturday against Kentucky. It's a shame that Fulmer didn't get to go out on his terms. Then again, how many coaches do anymore? His legacy will endure at Tennessee, and while the last five or six years haven't been the best, he took Tennessee football to dizzying heights in the 1990s that ultimately contributed to his ouster. When you go 45-5 over a four-year span and win two SEC championships and one national championship, nothing you do is ever going to be good enough again.

6. Tuberville's fate: There won't be a postseason for Auburn unless the Tigers upset No. 1-ranked Alabama on Saturday. That means we should know pretty soon whether Tommy Tuberville is going to be back at Auburn next season. Who could blame Tuberville if he took a walk? They tried to get him in 2003, and something tells me he'd already be gone if he didn't have that $6 million buyout hanging over his head. Assuming Tuberville is back next season, he's almost certainly going to have to make some changes on his staff with some guys who've been with him for a long time. We'll see if Tuberville is willing to do that.

7. Cobb's return: You think Randall Cobb wants to win this game? He's going to say all the right things and is mature beyond his years for a true freshman. But he'd like nothing more than to waltz into Neyland Stadium and be a big part of ending Kentucky's 23-game losing streak to Tennessee. Cobb grew up about 10 minutes from Tennessee's campus in nearby Alcoa, Tenn., and used to sell concessions at Neyland Stadium as a kid. The Vols sort of thumbed their noses upward at Cobb until late in the recruiting process. By that time, he'd already committed to Kentucky and wasn't about to renege on his pledge to the Wildcats.

8. Any more fake punts? Houston Nutt and the Rebels are 2-for-2 this year with fake punts in their two biggest wins. They ran one for 15 yards to keep a scoring drive alive in the 31-30 win at Florida when Lionel Breaux scooted around the corner on a reverse. That play set up the fake punt last week against LSU. Jason Cook, the upback on the play, took the snap and faked a handoff to Breaux. Cook then threw a 33-yard pass to a wide-open Kendrick Lewis, who ran to the LSU 5. The Rebels scored to go ahead 14-3 and never looked back in winning 31-13.

9. D.J. Time: With Arkansas headed for a losing season and not going anywhere for the postseason, one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the country has sort of flown under the radar. So if you haven't seen sophomore D.J. Williams play, do yourself a favor and watch him Friday against LSU. He leads the team with 53 catches for 672 yards and ranks sixth in the nation among tight ends in catches per game (4.82) and receiving yards per game (61.1). He's caught at least four passes in nine of 11 games this season, knows how to get open and is a treat to watch after the catch.

10. Defending their pride: South Carolina's defense has had two weeks to fume and stew over the 56 points Florida put up against the Gamecocks on Nov. 15 in the Swamp. But before anybody suggests that Ellis Johnson's bunch got a dose of a reality after going into that game ranked third nationally in total defense, they might want to consider that Florida's first 21 points came courtesy of offensive or special teams blunders by the Gamecocks. This is easily the best defense Steve Spurrier has had at South Carolina, and the Gamecocks get another chance to prove that Saturday at Clemson.

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

 
 AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
 Rashad Johnson had three interceptions in the 27-21 overtime win against LSU.

It hit me after scanning back through the list of semifinalists for the Jim Thorpe Award.

Rashad Johnson's name wasn't on there.

Five other SEC defensive backs made the cut, and all five are deserving. But I'm still not buying that there are 13 better defensive backs in college football than Johnson. And I'm not buying that there are 13 defensive backs out there who have meant more to their teams and had better seasons than Johnson.

The senior safety has been Alabama's quarterback in the secondary. He's a very cerebral player and knows the Crimson Tide's defense inside and out. But he also has great instincts and is just one of those guys who always seems to be around the ball.

Four of his five interceptions have come in his last two games, and he's returned two of those for touchdowns. His three interceptions in the 27-21 overtime win against LSU last week were all pivotal plays, and he was named the FWAA/Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against the Tigers.

Something tells me that had the Thorpe semifinalists been announced a week later that Johnson would have been included. He's certainly deserving and the epitome of what college sports are supposed to be about.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Making the rounds to see what else is out there in the world of SEC football:

Week 11 SEC helmet stickers

November, 9, 2008
11/09/08
2:13
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Now that we know for sure that Alabama and Florida will play in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 6, let's reward the primetime performers from this past weekend with some helmet stickers:

Rashad Johnson, safety, Alabama: How about Johnson's running skills? On his 54-yard interception return for a touchdown, he showed speed, vision and acceleration. It was his second interception return for a touchdown in as many weeks. Johnson tied a school record with three interceptions against LSU. All three were pivotal plays in the game, too. His first one set up the Tide's first touchdown. He scored the Tide's second touchdown, and his third one ended LSU's possession in overtime.

Tim Tebow, quarterback, Florida: For the second straight week, the Gators' junior quarterback accounted for five touchdowns. Tebow almost made it look too easy against Vanderbilt with three touchdown passes and two touchdown runs. In each of his last three games, he's had two touchdown runs and two touchdown passes. Sounds like Heisman Trophy stuff to me.

Kenny McKinley, receiver, South Carolina: He's fought back from a frustrating hamstring injury earlier this season to solidify his position as one of the Gamecocks' greatest receivers ever. McKinley had seven catches for 130 yards and a touchdown in South Carolina's 34-21 win over Arkansas. In doing so, he passed Sterling Sharpe as South Carolina's career receiving leader.

Demarcus Dobbs, defensive end, Georgia: These aren't the best of times for the Georgia defense, but Dobbs came through during crunch time for the Bulldogs. He intercepted Kentucky quarterback Randall Cobb's screen pass with 46 seconds to play after the Wildcats had driven to the Bulldogs' 13-yard line.

Julio Jones, receiver, Alabama: You can watch football a long time and not see a freshman as good and physically ready to play as Jones. He's oozing talent, but works feverishly on his game. There's not a tougher cover one-on-one in the SEC. Jones finished with seven catches for a season-high 128 yards in the win over LSU and set up the game-winning touchdown in overtime with a nifty 24-yard grab where he showed freakish body control to pull in the ball and then drag the defender to the 1.

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Senior safety Rashad Johnson has been the rock of the Alabama secondary all season.

"He makes up for a lot of things that go wrong," Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain said.

 
  AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
 Alabama safety Rashad Johnson (49) makes an interception on a pass intended for LSU's Brandon LaFell (1) in overtime. The Tide defeated the Tigers 27-21.

From the perspective of beleaguered LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee, Johnson also made a lot of things go wrong Saturday in Alabama's 27-21 overtime escape against LSU.

Without Johnson, the Crimson Tide probably aren't unbeaten right now.

Without Lee, they probably aren't, either.

Johnson and the Alabama defense preyed on the LSU redshirt freshman quarterback, who served up four interceptions and has now thrown 14 for the season.

Three of those picks went to Johnson, who returned one 54 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter to tie the game at 14-14. It was the sixth interception Lee has thrown this season that the opponent has returned for a touchdown.

"We knew if we put pressure on him, he would throw us a couple," Alabama defensive end Brandon Deaderick said.

But four?

The last one was the worst of the night. LSU had first shot in overtime. And on third down from the 21, Lee threw into double coverage into the end zone. Johnson was in perfect position to make the pick.

"It's trying to make big-time plays in the ballgame that aren't there," said Lee, doing his best to explain the four picks.

It was obvious as the game wore on that LSU wasn't completely comfortable with Lee throwing the football. But Alabama was loading up the line of scrimmage so much that the Tigers had no choice.

"Just from watching film, I knew he had a lot of pick-sixes and made some mistakes," said Johnson, who tied a school record with his three interceptions. "I knew there was a possibility we could come in here and rattle him."

Johnson returned his first interception 10 yards to the LSU 15, setting up Alabama's first touchdown in the first quarter. He took his second interception to the house in the second quarter, the second consecutive game in which Johnson has scored on an interception return.

Still, it was his third one that might have been the most important.

Tiger Stadium was rocking after Ricky Jean-Francois blocked Leigh Tiffin's 29-yard field goal attempt to send the game into overtime. It's the kind of game-changing play that beats most teams on the road.

But not this Alabama team ... and not with Johnson patrolling the Crimson Tide secondary.

"Before we went out there, coach (Kirby) Smart said, 'Make a play to where we have the possibility to go ahead and end the game now,' " recounted Johnson, who saw Lee roll out and knew what was coming.

"It was a great play-call, to blitz him on that side so he couldn't get all the way out and throw the out route like he normally does. He looked for seven and overthrew it."

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Alabama was far from perfect and looked downright vulnerable at times.

But the No. 1 Crimson Tide found a way to win Saturday night when they weren't at their best, escaping with a 27-21 overtime victory against LSU at Tiger Stadium to clinch the Western Division title.

Alabama (10-0, 6-0 SEC) had a chance to win at the end of regulation, but LSU's Ricky Jean-Francois blocked Leigh Tiffin's 29-yard field goal attempt as time expired.

The Tigers (6-3, 3-3 SEC) took it to the Crimson Tide up front like nobody else has this season. But in the end, they couldn't overcome four interceptions from redshirt freshman quarterback Jarrett Lee.

His final pick came in overtime when he threw into double coverage on third down, and Rashad Johnson was there to collar his third interception of the game in the end zone for a touchback.

Johnson returned his second pick 54 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. It was the sixth interception Lee has thrown this season that was returned for a touchdown by the opposition.

Alabama didn't waste any time in overtime. Quarterback John Parker Wilson hit freshman receiver Julio Jones for 24 yards on first down and bulled in for the winning touchdown two plays later.

Halftime: Alabama 14, LSU 14

November, 8, 2008
11/08/08
5:49
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Alabama isn't making a convincing case for being the best team in the country.

And there's still the matter of whether or not the Crimson Tide are even the best team on the field Saturday.

Alabama and LSU are tied at 14-14 in a game that's been more sloppy than anything. The two teams have combined for five turnovers in the first half.

The only reason the Crimson Tide are not trailing is LSU redshirt freshman quarterback Jarrett Lee, who has had a horrid first half.

The Tigers have played some of their best football of the season on the offensive line with 154 rushing yards at the half. They're doing to Alabama what nobody has been able to do all season -- run the football.

Remember, Alabama was second nationally against the run coming into this game.

As well as LSU is playing up front offensively and defensively, the Tigers are going to have to get more consistent play from Lee in the second half. He's 4-of-16 passing in the first half and threw his sixth interception of the season that was returned for a touchdown.

Alabama safety Rashad Johnson picked off an errant Lee pass over the middle and returned it 54 yards for a touchdown with 4:33 to play in the second quarter.

If Lee can just be serviceable in the second half, you've got to like the Tigers' chances.

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Alabama gets a chance to finish the job a year later. And in the process, the Crimson Tide can go a long way toward finishing what they started this season.

"Everything we do -- in the weight room, during offseason runs, in practice, in the huddle in the fourth quarter -- we talk about finishing," Alabama junior tailback Glen Coffee said. "It's what we do. It's what you have to do if you're going to play in this program for Coach Saban."

As all the hoopla over Nick Saban returning to LSU reaches a fever pitch, the question du jour for Alabama fans has nothing to do with revenge or nasty receptions or proving that their coach is at the right place.

It has everything to do with finishing the job.

Can Alabama keep alive this improbable run to the SEC Championship Game and ultimately to the BCS National Championship Game?

"You definitely think about it and want to finish it off and be a part of the legacy here," Alabama safety Rashad Johnson said. "But at the same time, we have to stay focused on what's right in front of us.

"That's what has gotten us here."

There's a bit of irony that the LSU game is Alabama's first chance to clinch the Western Division title.

The Crimson Tide were leading the Tigers by 10 points late in the third quarter a year ago, and Bryant-Denny Stadium was bursting at the seams with excitement.

With a little more than seven minutes to play, Alabama led by a touchdown following a Javier Arenas punt. But it was all downhill from there.

The Tigers scored 14 points in the final 2:49 of the game to win 41-34 and went on to win their second BCS national championship in the last five years.

It all unraveled for the Crimson Tide, who didn't win again in the regular season and lost four straight. It was a loss that stuck with them all summer.

"We learned a lot from that game," said Coffee, who was suspended because of the textbook ordeal and didn't play. "It wasn't just that game. It was the way we let the season get away from us. You've got to play every game for 60 minutes.

"We've had some struggles finishing games this year and some second halves where we didn't put teams away. But this is the time of year where you better put everybody away."

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Glen Coffee's running style is pretty simple.

 
 Andy Lyons/Getty Images
 Glen Coffee is fourth in the SEC in rushing with 894 yards.

"Be tougher than the defender trying to tackle you," said Coffee, who's not exceptionally fast or exceptionally big. "I've never really been a shifty guy, and I know I have to make up for my size. So when I'm running the ball, I want to make sure I'm the one delivering the blow."

The Alabama junior tailback is listed at 198 pounds, but runs a lot bigger.

"He's one of those guys who will try to get inside your pads when you tackle him," Alabama safety Rashad Johnson said.

It was like that the day Coffee stepped foot on campus. It's like that now with Coffee having a career year in what's been a magical ride for No. 1-ranked Alabama heading into Saturday's showdown with LSU at Tiger Stadium.

For Coffee, the big difference has been his health, both physical and spiritual.

"Last year, I played as hard as I could, but I think I played for the wrong reasons," said Coffee, who's fourth in the SEC in rushing with 894 yards. "In the middle of the season last year, I found Christ. One of my goals this year was to glorify his name and run with a passion."

He's certainly done that and has gained a reputation around the SEC as one of the most rugged ball-carriers in the league. He's averaging 6.6 yards per carry, which is second only to LSU's Charles Scott. Scott is averaging 6.7 yards.

Coffee, vying to become the 13th player in Alabama history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season, has been able to stay fresh as part of the Crimson Tide's three-pronged rushing attack. He's shared the carries along with freshman Mark Ingram and junior Roy Upchurch.

Alabama leads the SEC in rushing with an average of 205.3 yards per game, and Coffee takes pride in the fact that the Crimson Tide make no pretenses about how they plan to move the ball.

"Other teams know what we're about to bring to the table, and it's a challenge to see them try to stop it even though they know what we're doing," he said.

(Read full post)

Week 10 SEC helmet stickers

November, 2, 2008
11/02/08
11:14
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Get ready Alabama fans. With Texas being upset by Texas Tech, you're getting ready to go to No. 1 in the country for the first time since winning the national championship in 1992. Of course, that was at the end of the season following the bowl games. The last time Alabama was ranked No. 1 during the season was 1980. The Crimson Tide did their part Saturday by mauling Arkansas State, 35-0, and head to Baton Rouge next weekend for the big one against LSU. Before we look too far ahead, though, let's award some helmet stickers for Week 10:

Tim Tebow, quarterback, Florida: He might not be putting up Heisman Trophy numbers, but Tim Tebow is pushing all the right buttons now on a Florida offense that's putting up crazy numbers. The Gators have scored 203 points in their last four games. Tebow accounted for five touchdowns Saturday in returning to his hometown of Jacksonville and avenging last season's 42-30 loss to Georgia with a 49-10 demolition of the Bulldogs. Tebow rushed for three touchdowns and threw for two more. He broke Emmitt Smith's career record for rushing touchdowns at Florida. "Just to be in the same sentence with Emmitt Smith is a huge honor," said Tebow, who now has 39 career rushing touchdowns.

Arkansas' defense: There was a time this season when you wondered if Arkansas could stop anybody on defense. But despite playing a frightening number of younger players, the Razorbacks have improved on that side of the ball and held the nation's No. 1 offense to less than half its output Saturday in winning 30-23 over No. 18 Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane came into the game averaging 55.6 points and hadn't scored fewer than 37 points all season. The Hogs clinched the win by stopping Tulsa on downs inside the Arkansas 10 in the final minute.

Ellis Johnson, defensive coordinator, South Carolina: Steve Spurrier was fortunate to get Johnson after Brian VanGorder bolted for the NFL. South Carolina's defense has been rock-solid under Johnson and was again Saturday in a 27-6 win over Tennessee. The Gamecocks entered the game ranked fourth nationally in total defense and didn't disappoint against one of the worst offenses in the country. They forced the Vols into three turnovers, one of those an interception returned for a touchdown by Stoney Woodson, and held Tennessee to no first downs and 2 total yards in the fourth quarter.

Rashad Johnson, safety, Alabama: Most of the defensive pub this season has gone to nose tackle Terrence Cody and middle linebacker Rolando McClain, but Johnson has been Mr. Steady in the secondary and is also one of the strongest leaders on the team. His 32-yard interception return for a touchdown in the second quarter highlighted another defensive gem by Alabama in its 35-0 win over Arkansas State. The Crimson Tide held the Red Wolves to 158 total yards and sacked quarterback Corey Leonard four times. In its last three games, the Alabama defense has allowed just three touchdowns.

 
 Stephen Dunn/Getty Images and Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
 Freshman phenom receivers A.J. Green, left, and Julio Jones will face off this week when the Crimson Tide visits Georgia.

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

If you find yourself staring at the twin No. 8's Saturday night in Sanford Stadium, it's not just you.

A.J. Green and Julio Jones, who share the same jersey number, tend to have that effect.

They're true freshman receivers in classification only. They look more like NFL receivers, and with each snap, they're starting to play that way.

"Honestly, I went back about five classes and have not seen two wide receivers be this ready, this good and capable of an impact this early," said Tom Luginbill, the national recruiting director for ESPN Scouts.

Alabama senior safety Rashad Johnson went one better.

"It's unbelievable what those two guys are capable of," Johnson said. "They're freshmen, but they don't have freshman bodies. You see some of the things they've already done in games and practice, and you're like, 'What's next?' "

Indeed, Green's 300 receiving yards lead the SEC. He's also averaging 18.8 yards per catch for Georgia, which is best in the league. Jones leads Alabama with 132 receiving yards. He's caught 11 passes in the Crimson Tide's first four games, and three of those have gone for touchdowns.

"If there's a freshman receiver better than Julio right now, he must be really, really good," Johnson said.

Green was that and then some at Arizona State last Saturday. He dominated the game in the first half with seven catches for 150 yards and had a hand in all three touchdown drives in his breakout game for the Bulldogs. The Sun Devils simply couldn't cover him down the field.

"We got a good little showing last Saturday," quipped Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford when asked if that was the Green all the recruiting craze was about last year. "That would be huge for our offense, to get that kind of performance from him on a consistent basis. We need to get him the ball."

As many of the high-profile recruits do these days, Green and Jones became rock stars during the recruiting process, bigger-than-life figures that fans couldn't wait to get on campus.

According to the ESPN Scouts ratings, Jones was the No. 2 overall prospect in the country and the top-rated receiver. Green was the No. 5 overall prospect and the second-rated receiver behind only Jones.

Green, who played for the legendary John McKissick in Summerville, S.C., got his recruitment over early and never really wavered. It went down to signing day for Jones, who chose Alabama over Oklahoma.

The madness of it all was almost too much for even Jones' high school coach in Foley, Ala., to handle. Todd Watson said he had upward of 100 calls and messages on his cell phone every day.

"When we got into January and February, my phone holds 100 calls, and it would be full by the end of the day," Watson said.

In this case, the hype was justified.

Alabama fans were leaking closed scrimmage videos of Jones making deep catches down the field before he'd ever played in a game. Alabama coach Nick Saban, who plays it extremely close to the vest with his freshmen, thought enough of Jones to start him in the Tide's first game against Clemson.

"The thing about Julio is his work ethic," Johnson said. "He came in the first day determined to work harder than anybody and hasn't let off since. None of it's gone to his head."

Jones and Green are similar type playmakers. They're both 6-foot-4 and both have that instinctive ability to go get the football.

"A lot of people compare [Jones] to [Terrell Owens] and me to Randy Moss," said Green, who first met Jones at the Under Armour High School All-Star game last year.

Jones did not speak to the media this week, as Saban doesn't allow any of his freshmen to do interviews.

Still, the buzz surrounding seeing these two guys on the same field so early in their careers is just one of the things that makes Saturday's Alabama-Georgia showdown so intriguing.

Even Saban says it's not every day that you see two players of this magnitude coming out in the same class at the same position.

"I think both of those guys are fantastic players," Saban said. "A.J. Green was outstanding in the last game at Arizona State especially. The guy has great size and speed and has great hands. He's a real difficult vertical threat to deal with. I think he's a fantastic player. I'd say maybe it is unusual, but it does happen on rare occasions where you get a couple of great guys coming out at the same time."

The best part about both players is that they're just now starting to get fully acclimated to the speed of the college game and up to speed on the playbooks.

The translation: Sit back and enjoy, because you're about to see them both take it to another level.

"It's going to be scary how good these guys are a year from now," Johnson said.

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