NCF Nation: Russell Shepard

A decade of Les: Building a persona

August, 4, 2014
BATON ROUGE, La. -- With Les Miles opening his 10th season as LSU’s head coach today, we’ll use each day this week to review the decade under the eccentric Miles. Today we look back at some of the wacky moments, gutsy decisions and memorable press conferences that helped define Les as the entertaining figure that he is today.

[+] EnlargeLes Miles
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesLes Miles has been known to keep things interesting on the LSU sideline.
 10. The Harlem Shake: LSU wasn’t left out of the “Harlem Shake” video craze that swept the nation last spring. In the Tigers’ version, it first appears as if they are participating in their regular “Big Cat” drill before Miles breaks into an awkward solo dance while the players “argue” behind him. Then the beat drops and mayhem ensues.

9. “It must have been the shoes:” The Legend of Les was already fully developed even before he filmed a 2011 backyard basketball video where he went from hapless to hero while playing against (and dunking on) two of his children. The secret weapon in Miles’ turnaround was a pair of purple-and-gold high tops sent by ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt following an on-air conversation where he made fun of Miles’ all-white game shoes.

8. Les being Les: Unlike many of his buttoned-up counterparts, Miles has never been afraid to show off his oddball side. It’s not particularly unusual to see him answer a reporter’s phone during a press conference, clap like a weirdo or fill everyone in on the difference between Columbus Day and St. Patrick’s Day. Nor is it surprising to see him kiss a pig or rappel off the side of a 24-story building, all in the name of charity. Around Baton Rouge, that’s simply known as Les being Les.

7. Crazy wins vs. Tennessee, Florida: Another example of Les being Les is how his teams have found some wild ways to win (and occasionally lose) ballgames. Two perfect examples came in back-to-back weeks in 2010, when LSU beat Tennessee and Florida to miraculously improve to 6-0.

First, the Tigers were on the verge of a devastating home loss to Tennessee -- and it looked like that’s exactly what happened when the Volunteers thwarted LSU’s last-gasp effort to score at the goal line. However, the referees determined that on the chaotic final play, the Vols actually had 13 defenders on the field instead of the allowed limit of 11. The ensuing penalty gave LSU one final chance to score, and Stevan Ridley plowed into the end zone on that play to give LSU a 16-14 victory.

Miles caught plenty of grief over the next week about LSU’s sloppy final moments in regulation before the Tennessee penalty bailed out the Tigers. It would have been understandable if he became a bit gun shy, but timidity is not in Miles’ DNA. When the Tigers’ final drive stalled late in the Florida game, Miles sent out Josh Jasper to attempt the game-tying field goal -- or so we all thought. Instead, holder Derek Helton flipped the ball over his head to Jasper on a fake field goal, and the kicker’s 5-yard run achieved a first down that kept the drive alive.

The Tigers eventually scored the game-winning touchdown on a 3-yard pass from Jarrett Lee to Terrence Toliver with six seconds to play. It was yet another example of how you never know what to expect when Miles is making decisions on the sideline.

6. Fourth downs vs. Florida: Miles already had an SEC West title on his résumé when his third team at LSU in 2007 became one of the most impressive college football squads of the 2000s. There are plenty of moments from that BCS championship season that helped cement Miles’ risk-taking reputation, but among the most memorable were his decisions to go for it on fourth down against Florida over and over. In all, Miles and the Jacob Hester-led Tigers went for it on fourth down five times. They achieved a first down or a touchdown all five times in knocking off the defending BCS-champion Gators 28-24 in one of the greatest games ever played at Tiger Stadium.

 5. “Give them a big kiss on the mouth:” It’s difficult to say whether Miles is better known for the wacky things he says behind a microphone or for the gutsy -- and sometimes crazy -- calls he makes on the field.

We’ve already discussed a couple of the crazy calls. Now let’s touch on one of the most memorable press conferences. Following a narrow 2012 win over Ole Miss, he launched into a profane rant that evolved into a standup comedy routine. In response to a story that characterized receiver (and former hotshot recruit) Russell Shepard’s college career as a disappointment, Miles vehemently defended the contributions his seniors (including Shepard) had made to the program.

The rant ended with Miles instructing those within earshot, “You go find them, you throw your arms around them, you give them a big kiss on the mouth … if you’re a girl,” before breaking into a wacky grin as the reporters in attendance laughed.

4. Touchdown bomb against Auburn: In yet another perfectly Les moment from the 2007 season, Miles’ Tigers were in position to kick the game-winning field goal while trailing Auburn 24-23 in the final minute.

Tommy Tuberville’s defense might have expected LSU to down the ball in the middle of the field to set up a more manageable kick, but Miles had other ideas -- and the unorthodox call caught Auburn off guard. LSU quarterback Matt Flynn dropped back and hit Demetrius Byrd with a 22-yard touchdown pass with just 1 second showing on the clock. The enormous risk had paid off, and two weeks after the amazing Florida win, the Tigers delivered some more Miles magic.

3. The Mad Hatter: Miles has been given plenty of nicknames through the years -- some more family-friendly than others -- but the one that seems to resonate most is “The Mad Hatter.” ESPN’s Rece Davis apparently gave Miles that one, in part because of the white ball caps that awkwardly sit atop his head each fall Saturday and in part because of Miles’ general craziness that we’ve already covered, even if he once told sideline reporter Holly Rowe, “Understand something, it’s the hat I wear. There’s nothing mad underneath it.”

2. Eating grass: Shortly after LSU scored the go-ahead touchdown in a 2010 win against Alabama – just before the Tigers attempted a two-point pass that would put them up 21-14 – CBS’ TV cameras caught Miles in the middle of an unusual ritual that he said dates back to adolescence. He leaned down, pinched a blade or two of grass and put it in his mouth.

Miles has made hay out of his grass-eating ways since then, even participating in an ESPN commercial that gleefully ridiculed the practice.

1. “Have a great day:” One of the most unorthodox moments from Miles’ first nine seasons at LSU came when he participated in an impromptu press conference BEFORE the 2007 SEC championship game in order to shoot down a report that he was preparing to leave to coach at his alma mater, Michigan.

Miles told those in attendance that, “I’ve got a championship game to play, and I’m excited about the opportunity of my damn strong football team to play in it. … Please ask me [about Michigan] after. I’m busy.”

His smirking line to close, “Have a great day,” was so memorable that LSU added those words to the rear door of the football team’s equipment hauler.

The real LSU offense is finally here

November, 15, 2012
Zach MettenbergerAP Photo/Aaron M. SprecherThe LSU offense, led by Zach Mettenberger, has gained 827 yards in two games since the bye week.

The more LSU film Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze watches, the more he shakes his head.

What he’s seen in preparation for Saturday’s game is nothing like what he caught glimpses of for most of the season.

In the past two weeks, the Tigers’ offense has finally looked like it was supposed to all season. LSU racked up 435 yards on Alabama two weeks ago before registering 30 offensive points and nearly 400 yards on Mississippi State. Enigmatic quarterback Zach Mettenberger has also thrown for 296 and 273 yards -- the first time he’s recorded back-to-back 200-plus-yard games.

“I wish they had waited until after our game to become good at it,” Freeze said.

So, what’s with the delay?

That offense screamed athleticism and Mettenberger was supposed to be Sliced Bread 2.0. Instead, he was more like breadcrumbs, averaging just 177 yards and tossing seven touchdown passes compared to four interceptions through the first eight games.

There wasn’t a lot of confidence in the pocket or zip on his passes. He looked nothing like the passing savior LSU expected. He knew he was playing poorly, but he also knew that there were some impractical expectations for him and LSU’s offense.

“The expectations and hype were somewhat unrealistic,” Mettenberger said.

Maybe he was right. His physical tools indicated he would be a major upgrade in the passing game over last season, but he was new to being a starter and he didn’t have a lot of experience to work with at wide receiver.

Mettenberger’s current top four receiving targets entered the season with 63 combined catches, with 41 coming from sophomore Odell Beckham Jr. That lack of experience created confusion on the field, Mettenberger said, and had some receivers not “running their routes like they’re supposed to.”

The offense line was also banged up and was constantly being reshuffled.

Players and coaches were frustrated, but they knew it’d take time to jell and they had to be patient, even if others weren’t.

“Fans and media, they don’t work with us every day. They don’t put in the preparation,” Mettenberger said. “They don’t really know how hard this league is.”

Then, the bye week came. With extra days to prep for Alabama, Mettenberger said emotions swirled as the light started coming on for players. The game was slowing down for him and his receivers and the offensive line started to get more consistent. Practices ran more smoothly, as they prepped with more fire.

“Guys were tired of hearing about how great Alabama’s defense was and how bad our offense is,” Mettenberger said. “And people saying we weren’t going to cross the 50 again. People really took that to heart.”

The Tigers crossed the 50 on their opening drive and found holes we hadn’t seen in Alabama’s defense. However, the Tigers lost, but instead of regressing after such a tough game, they came out swinging against Mississippi State last week.

“This is us,” coach Les Miles said about the offense’s last two performances.

It’s an offense that is making defenses more honest. Teams can’t just stuff the box and take the run away. They have to respect the pass and LSU’s receivers, who have really turned things up.

In the past two weeks, Beckham, Jarvis Landry and Kadron Boone have combined for 31 catches, with 17 coming from Landry. Before the Alabama game, Mettenberger hadn’t completed more than four passes to any receiver in an SEC game.

“When they get on the same page, you’re going to be scared,” wide receiver Russell Shepard said.

It helped that Mettenberger was spot-on. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Mettenberger completed half his passes thrown 15 yards or longer in his last two games, including a season-high seven completions against Mississippi State. In his first four SEC games, he completed 16.7 percent such passes.

(Ole Miss’ defense has allowed ranked teams to complete 17 of 22 (77.3 percent) passes thrown 15 yards or longer with seven touchdowns and no interceptions.)

The numbers are nice, but Mettenberger wants wins -- he wants a BCS bowl -- and he knows he’ll have to keep up his recent level of play to get them.

In order to stay the course, Mettenberger is using that early negativity as motivation.

“That hurt. That hurt my pride a lot,” he said. “I’m staying focused to keep that success going because I definitely don’t want that criticism to ever come back again.”

When Tyrann Mathieu was dismissed from LSU, everyone knew his loss would be felt in a big way.

It wasn’t his coverage skills that everyone worried about. It was the fact that he could change a game in the blink of an eye. He had the uncanny ability to make a play from anywhere and send the game soaring in LSU’s favor.

He was dynamic returning the ball -- just ask Arkansas and Georgia -- and he could force a turnover out of nowhere to put a dent in any sort of offensive momentum for one of LSU’s opponents.

We knew Mathieu’s absence would hurt, but it’s become clear that the spark he had for the Tigers is being missed more and more as the season goes on.

As we approach the halfway point of the college football season, the team long thought to be a legitimate national title contender is in search of some sort of jolt that will catapult it back into the title chase. The offense is too much of a mess right now, and points won’t come unless a spark is found.

Who can do his best to pick up where the Honey Badger left off? Right now, it’s hard to find anyone who fits that mold on offense, defense or special teams.

[+] EnlargeOdell Beckham
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertLSU is hoping that Odell Beckham Jr. can consistently be a spark for its sluggish offense.
No one can be Mathieu. That’s obvious. But someone has to be able to give this offense -- and this team -- some life. And the way the offense has sputtered along for the past few weeks, it needs it in a hurry or things could really get away from LSU.

Remember, this team didn’t exactly have an explosive offense last season. Having Rueben Randle as a legit deep threat helped, but LSU never scared anyone with its offense. It toppled teams with a wave of momentum that started with a play from Mathieu. Even when LSU’s offense looked pitiful last year, Mathieu saved it. LSU doesn’t have that right now.

There are a few candidates, but I think a lot more has to be put on the plate of wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. He’s an extremely talented athlete and has the kind of elusiveness and speed that just screams “playmaker.”

We’ve seen flashes from him, but they’ve been in small doses. He had a 70-yard punt return that went for a touchdown against North Texas in the opener and had that five-catch, 128-yard performance against Towson two weeks ago, when he caught touchdown passes of 27 and 53 yards.

After being mired in inconsistency for the first four weeks, we finally saw this young star, who was one of LSU’s best offensive players last year, break out the way people were waiting for. But it didn’t last very long.

Against Florida this past weekend, Beckham was nearly eliminated from the game plan by Florida. He was ineffective returning the ball, totaling 22 yards on four returns, and his only big play on offense actually benefited the Gators.

You know, the 56-yard catch-and-run that he fumbled over to Florida after he decided to challenge Matt Elam instead of staying in stride. That play changed everything for LSU and led to the Gators’ game-winning scoring drive.

With quarterback Zach Mettenberger struggling with just about everything that comes with the position right now, he could really, really benefit from having Beckham be a real star for this team.

Beckham has the speed to be a true deep threat. He’s agile enough to make defenders look silly. And he’s a tough player. He could hurt teams returning the ball or catching it. But he’s just too inconsistent, and Mettenberger can’t find him enough.

Russell Shepard is another player with all the skill to be great, but inconsistency and focus continue to weigh him down when he steps on the field. And LSU just doesn’t appear to have that game-changing defender back there -- at least no one close to having the playmaking skills of the Honey Badger -- but maybe one of those young corners can step up.

Not having that spark has really hurt this team, especially with all of the offensive issues. This offense is not good enough right now. It needs help. Not having that jolt to pick the offense up and put it in good field position doesn’t help. This team is going backward far too much, and it has to find someone who will push it forward.

The enthusiasm and excitement we were used to seeing from the Tigers has been lost. The Honey Badger isn’t coming back, but someone has to give this team some sort of juice if it wants to make another title run.
Justin Hunter and Da'Rick RogersAP Photo/Wade PayneJustin Hunter (11) and Da'Rick Rogers (21) are considered to be the best receiving duo in the SEC.
Our SEC position rankings continue with a look at schools' wide receiver and tight end groups.

Past rankings:
On to the league's wide receiver/tight end groups:

1. Tennessee: The Vols are equipped with two of the top wideouts in the league with Da'Rick Rogers, who was second in the SEC in receiving last year, and Justin Hunter, who might be the SEC's top deep threat. It sounds like Hunter will be 100 percent this fall after his ACL injury last year. Junior college transfer Cordarrelle Patterson is big, fast and possesses the big-play gene. The speedy Zach Rogers is back and is so is talented tight end Mychal Rivera.

2. Arkansas: Cobi Hamilton is now Arkansas' primary receiver, and he might be the league's most complete wideout. He can make the big-play and elude defenders along the way. While Marquel Wade's status is still unclear, if he does return, he'll be a major lift for this offense because of his playmaking ability in the slot. Julian Horton and Javontee Herndon have always impressed coaches in practice and now will get their chances to in games. Tight end Chris Gragg should be even more involved and is the league's top tight end.

3. Georgia: While Malcolm Mitchell could go back and forth between receiver and corner, when he's at receiver he's Georgia's top offensive threat and was one of the league's best as a rookie. There are vets behind him, starting with reliable senior Tavarres King, who had a very good spring, senior Marlon Brown, who seemed to take a big step in his game this spring. Sophomores Michael Bennett and Chris Conley combined for 48 catches for 608 yards and seven touchdowns last year. Unproven tight ends Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome will replace Orson Charles and Aron White.

4. Texas A&M: This isn't the fastest group out there, but there are some pretty reliable weapons, starting with star Ryan Swope, who could have left for the NFL after catching 89 passes for 1,207 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. Uzoma Nwachukwu was third on the team with 50 catches for 639 yards and three tight ends -- Nehemiah Hicks, Michael Lamothe and Hutson Prioleau -- return. Keep an eye on junior Nate Askew, who could be a downfield threat this fall.

5. LSU: Odell Beckham Jr. was one of the top rookies last year and could be even better in Year 2. He'll be joined by potential deep threat and big-play target Jarvis Landry, who developed some good chemistry with quarterback Zach Mettenberger this spring. Russell Shepard is talented, but he's been wildly inconsistent. Keep an eye on junior James Wright and incoming frosh Avery Johnson, who is the younger brother of Patrick Peterson. Also, tight end Chase Clement is on the John Mackey watch list.

[+] EnlargeJordan Matthews
Don McPeak/US PresswireWide receiver Jordan Matthews is one player the Commodores will be counting on this fall.
6. Vanderbilt: This group surprised last year and returns most of its components, starting with Jordan Matthews, who was fourth in the SEC in receiving last year. Sophomore Chris Boyd was solid last year, hauling in 31 catches and eight touchdowns. Jonathan Krause is very good in space and should see his role increase this fall after a solid spring. The coaches are excited about former QB Josh Grady moving to receiver. Replacing tight end Brandon Barden won't be easy.

7. Alabama: There is more speed out wide in Tuscaloosa, but there's a lot more youth. The Tide could turn to freshmen Chris Black, Amari Cooper and Eddie Williams to help develop a more downfield passing game. More will be expected from veterans Kenny Bell and Kevin Norwood, while sophomore DeAndrew White possesses a ton of speed. Still no word on Duron Carter. Tight end Michael Williams was solid last year, but will be used even more this fall.

8. Mississippi State: There is a lot of experience here, but this group has still underperformed at times, especially senior Chad Bumphis, who has yet to live up to all the hype that followed him from high school. Seniors Chris Smith and Arceto Clark combined for 65 catches last year, while the staff is very excited about the big-play potential redshirt freshman Joe Morrow possesses. Tight end Malcolm Johnson serves as a very reliable tight end target, as well.

9. Missouri: The Tigers lost two starting receivers and stud tight end Michael Egnew, but three of the top five pass catchers are back, including inside threat T.J. Moe, who led Mizzou in receiving last year. Big things are expected from Marcus Lucas, who can stretch the field with his speed and physicality, and the coaches think L'Damian Washington can also be a downfield threat. Also, Dorial Green-Beckham, last year's top recruit, should make an immediate impact. Eric Waters is replacing Egnew, but has just two career catches and suffered a knee injury this spring.

10. Auburn: Emory Blake is one of the league's top downfield threats and has been one of Auburn's most consistent offensive weapons. So has tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, who should be more of a passing threat with the addition of transfer fullback Jay Prosch. There is a lot of depth, but it's unproven. Trovon Reed was supposed to be a star, but had a lackluster second year. Seniors Travante Stallworth and DeAngelo Benton have 15 and 14 career catches, respectively. Quan Bray has shown potential and could have a bigger role this season and keep an eye on freshman Ricardo Louis.

11. Florida: The Gators have struggled here since 2009 and still lack proven playmakers. Andre Debose is probably the best bet to be one, but he's been very inconsistent. Quinton Dunbar has the speed to be an outside threat, but caught just 14 passes last year. And the coaches are still waiting for senior Frankie Hammond Jr. to turn things up. True freshman Latroy Pittman had a great spring and the coaches are excited about his potential. Tight end Jordan Reed is one of the most athletic players in the league and will be a bigger target with two young quarterbacks throwing the ball.

12. South Carolina: Now that Alshon Jeffery is gone, the Gamecocks have questions and inexperience here. The fast, athletic Ace Sanders is the only returning pass catcher with at least 20 catches from last year (29). The hope is Bruce Ellington will be more of a factor this fall. Tight ends Justice Cunningham and Rory Anderson combined for 26 catches and four touchdowns. Damiere Byrd has blazing speed, but caught just one pass last year. DeAngelo Smith had a solid spring, and the coaches hope he can be a downfield threat. A lot will be expected from incoming freshman Shaq Roland.

13. Ole Miss: Sophomore Donte Moncrief is a budding star in this league and thinks he'll be even better in Hugh Freeze's spread offense. Ja-Mes Logan caught 20 passes last year, but had a very good spring. But Nickolas Brassell was an academic casualty and Randall Mackey had to move over from quarterback. The coaches are looking for consistency from Terrell Grant and Vince Sanders, who are both pretty unproven. Tight end Jamal Mosley is expected to do more in the spread and averaged 13.8 yards per catch last year.

14. Kentucky: Joker Phillips' goal this spring was to find more playmakers and he thinks he did with sophomore Demarco Robinson, who had five receptions last year, and redshirt freshman Daryl Collins. The hope is that they'll take some pressure off of La'Rod King, who is really the only proven receiving threat on the team. Tight ends Ronnie Shields and Tyler Robinson did well this spring, but combined for just 10 catches last year.
NEW ORLEANS -- With every bomb LSU punter Brad Wing launches from his left foot, the American football culture gap shrinks in Australia.

The freshman’s meteoric rise this season has a nation in his birth land captivated by a sport that still is a little confusing to those back home.

“The way it’s progressing is just really crazy,” Wing said.

Wing, who is originally from Melbourne, Australia, has no one to thank but himself. From his taunting penalty that negated a fancy touchdown run against Florida, to his marvelous 73-yard punt against Alabama that helped put that game in LSU’s favor, Wing has become sort of a national celebrity (both here and abroad) and even the co-face (with the "Honey Badger" himself, Tyrann Mathieu) of LSU football.

[+] EnlargeLSU's Brad Wing
AP Photo/Steve FranzPunter Brad Wing has become a celebrity on the LSU campus and in his home country of Australia.
Did I mention he’s a punter?

Wing gets girly catcalls when he’s walking around campus and is sometimes the first one noticed in a football posse patrolling Baton Rouge, La. Kicker Drew Alleman said girls even revert to elementary school ways of embarrassingly whispering Wing’s name when he passes by.

His game seems to be on another level on and off the field.

“There are a few people around that are starting to know my face, and I guess that’s a compliment,” Wing said.

No, what’s really a compliment is that Wing now can throw his hat into the ring of random, made up dances, as his premature celebration against Florida inspired a simplistic dance that's safe, effortless and, most importantly, funny to look at.

“It’s a pretty easy dance, but it’s funny as crap,” defensive end Barkevious Mingo said.

But where Wing really makes his mark is back home. Thousands of miles away, Wing’s fame is catching on, even if his hobby is still very foreign to family and friends. Wing said people in Melbourne are slowly starting to understand American football because of the airtime he’s getting in Australia.

Wing said six or seven of LSU’s games have been broadcast live there, and it’s helping to increase American football’s popularity. Some are still getting lost in translation with the sport, Wing said, and he still has to explain to a few of his brother’s friends that he’s playing in college, not the NFL.

Wing might have reached celebrity status in college football, but you wouldn’t know it looking at him. Outside of his slender, nonimposing frame, Wing is extremely humble. It takes his teammates to brag about him. And even then, Wing’s story grows.

Wide receiver Russell Shepard said Wing shows a lot of skill on the football field, but his real talent lies in the rap game.

“He’s in love with Lil Wayne. He loves Lil Wayne,” Shepard said. “He can tell you every Lil Wayne verse that Wayne has written, and he didn’t listen to Wayne when he was in Australia.”

(Any viral video of Wing spittin’ Wayne over his highlights would be YouTube gold!)

In the end, it’s Wing’s foot that jump-started his popularity. He has deadly accuracy and a cannon for a left leg. Wing averaged 44.1 yards per punt, pinned 23 inside the opposing 20-yard line, with 11 landing inside the 10, and had 18 punts of 50-plus yards this season.

Forty-six percent of his punts were downed inside the 20, yet he wasn’t even a finalist for the Ray Guy Award, which is given to the nation’s best punter. He was a first-team All-American, but getting slighted in the Ray Guy race is something Shepard said still eats at Wing.

“He feels like he should have won the Ray Guy Award,” Shepard said. “As his teammates, we feel like he’s the best punter in the country. Brad has a chip on his shoulder, and Brad feels like he needs to show everybody in the world that he is the best and why he is the best.”

For Wing, talk of accolades and snubs can wait. He isn’t focused on impressing; he’s focused on winning on the biggest stage of all: the Allstate BCS National Championship Game.

“We’re still on a journey,” he said. “This season is not over. We’ve got one game left, and this game has been in our sight for the whole year.”

LSU chasing more than just a title

January, 3, 2012
Les MilesCharles LeClaire/US PresswireLes Miles has the LSU Tigers on the brink of a historical accomplishment.
It’s a phrase you’re going to hear often over the next week as we get closer to Monday night’s Allstate BCS National Championship Game.

Chasing history.

If LSU wins Round 2 over Alabama and effectively sweeps the Crimson Tide, where do these Tigers rank among the best college football teams of all time?

For starters, they would have to be considered among the most worthy national champions of all time.

Already, the Tigers have eight wins over nationally ranked foes. Since the advent of The Associated Press Top 25 poll in 1937, no national champion has recorded eight wins over ranked foes.

And with a win over Alabama, LSU could make it nine conquests over nationally ranked foes.

“We want to be remembered as the best ever, here at LSU and maybe even in college football,” LSU senior offensive guard Will Blackwell said. “I don’t think it’s fair that we have to beat Alabama again to win the national championship, but that’s the way it’s set up. That’s the system we’re in.

“We have to go through them a second time to get where we want to get, and then, there shouldn’t be any questions.”

The only team to come within single digits of LSU (13-0) this season was Alabama in the 9-6 overtime game back on Nov. 5. If you eliminate that game, the Tigers have beaten their other 12 opponents by an average margin of 30 points.

Not only that, but LSU owns seven double-digit victories over nationally ranked teams and has scored 40 or more points against six ranked clubs.

For perspective, the most double-digit wins over ranked opponents by a team that went on to win the national championship in the AP poll era is six, which Florida accomplished in 2008.

So, in short, it’s difficult to imagine a more impressive résumé than what LSU would put together if the Tigers finish this season with a 14-0 record, beating Alabama two times along the way.

Not just any Alabama team, either, but an Alabama team that boasts a defense that’s being compared to some of the best in that program’s storied history.

The Crimson Tide are ranked No. 1 nationally in all four of the major statistical categories defensively -- total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense and passing defense -- and the last team to do that was Oklahoma in 1986.

Plus, a win over Alabama would give LSU a fourth win over a top-5 team. The Tigers have already beaten Oregon, Arkansas and Alabama, and two of those wins came away from home.

Even though the title game is in New Orleans, that’s still not a home game, which means LSU has a chance to win three of its four games against top-5 opponents away from home.

Only one national champion in history, Notre Dame in 1943, has beaten four opponents ranked in the top 5 of the AP poll.

But that 1943 Notre Dame team also lost a game en route to winning the national title.

The 2000 Oklahoma national championship team and 1988 Notre Dame national championship team both won three games over top-5 opponents, and both the Sooners and Irish finished unbeaten.

At least in modern times, both of those teams are also considered among the strongest national champions ever.

In the BCS era, it’s difficult to top that 2001 Miami team, although the 2004 USC team, the 1999 Florida State team and each of the last three national champions from the SEC -- Auburn last season, Alabama in 2009 and Florida in 2008 -- may all beg to differ.

In the realm of the SEC, you can also add the 1979 Alabama team, 1980 Georgia team, 1992 Alabama team, 1996 Florida team and 1998 Tennessee team when ranking the best national champions from this league over the past 40 years.

Where the Tigers would fit in remains to be seen, but it’s clear that simply winning a national title isn’t enough for this team.

“We want to do something that hasn’t been done, something we’ll always be remembered for,” LSU junior receiver Russell Shepard said. “We’ve dealt with everything that has come our way this season.

“We know what’s at stake.”

Les Miles named AP coach of the year

December, 21, 2011
Add yet another accolade to LSU's tremendous 2011 season.

A win away from the school's first 14-0 season and a third BCS championship, coach Les Miles was voted The Associated Press coach of the year Tuesday.

Of the 56 votes cast, 30 went to Miles. Kansas' Bill Snyder was second with 16; Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy had six; Michigan's Brady Hoke got three and USC's Lane Kiffin had one.

It really should come as no surprise that Miles took home the honor. Miles has been through a lot in order to get his Tigers to a 13-0 record. For starters, LSU and Miles had to deal with a handful of off-the-field incidents that could have easily derailed the Tigers' special season.

Things started when Steve Kragthorpe stepped down as offensive coordinator during the offseason and became the team's quarterback coach after being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Kragthorpe had reportedly done wonders for embattled quarterback Jordan Jefferson's game during the spring and offseason, but when Kragthorpe stepped down, questions surrounded how Jefferson would play this season.

Even more questions arose after Jefferson was involved in an off-campus bar fight that got him suspended for the first four games of the season. Starting wide receiver Russell Shepard was absent for three of those games, after talking out of turn about an NCAA probe.

LSU never missed a beat on the field and eventually became the No. 1 team in the country. Even with LSU playing the best ball around, the Tigers weren't free from off-field distractions. Halfway into the year, star cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, starting running back Spencer Ware and talented third corner Tharold Simon were suspended for a game after each reportedly failed a drug test.

Remarkably, LSU stayed the course, but felt adversity again when the Tigers met double-digit deficits to Arkansas and Georgia in consecutive weeks.

However, all the Tigers did was pull off back-to-back 40-plus-point runs to catapult into the Allstate BCS National Championship Game.

This season might not only be the best in LSU history but it could be the best in SEC history. Of LSU's 13 wins, 12 have come by double digits and seven by 30 or more points. The Tigers beat eight ranked opponents, with seven of them coming by double digits.

If LSU beats Alabama in the national title game, the Tigers will be the first team to beat nine AP Top 25 teams in one season.

More is made of Miles' quirky behavior than his actual coaching ability, but he has more than proved himself this season. Honestly, Miles has more than proved himself before, but this year he and his team were front and center for so long -- and not always for the right reasons -- yet never fell to the pressure and Miles was a major part of that.

Miles didn't score any touchdowns or intercept any passes for the Tigers this season, but he did a wonderful job of pushing and motivating those who did.

Making the case for LSU's Tyrann Mathieu

December, 9, 2011
The catchy nickname is one of the reasons Tyrann Mathieu has become the rage this season in college football.

He’ll forever be known as the “Honey Badger.” It’s just one of those monikers that sticks.

Something else that sticks is the way he plays the game, the impact he has on the game and his uncanny ability to make game-changing plays when his team needs them most.

This LSU football team is crawling with talent. Anybody who doesn’t think so might want to turn on the television in a couple of years and watch the NFL.

[+] EnlargeTyrann Mathieu
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireTyrann Mathieu has consistently made big plays when the Tigers seem to need them most.
Where Mathieu fits into that equation remains to be seen. His teammate, junior receiver Russell Shepard, said it best last week following the Tigers’ SEC championship game win over Georgia.

“He’s not the fastest, and he’s not the biggest,” Shepard said. “But he plays with a lot of passion.”

And it’s no secret to anyone who’s played against him why he just happens to always be around the ball.

“When you play as hard as he does, good things happen to you,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said.

Indeed they do. There’s a reason the 5-foot-9, 175-pound dynamo has recovered five fumbles, tied for the most in the country. The same goes for his six forced fumbles, which is tied for third nationally.

He’s scored two of his four touchdowns on fumble returns and the other two on punt returns. His 92-yard punt return against Arkansas two weeks ago was jaw-dropping. His 62-yard return last week against Georgia was even better, and then came one that topped them all.

Mathieu didn’t score on his 47-yard return, but he left as many as seven Georgia defenders in his wake while cutting, starting and stopping and weaving his way to the Bulldogs’ 17-yard line before the last guy finally got him.

Here’s the common denominator on all three returns: They came at points in the game when the Tigers needed a spark.

Mathieu, who’s played cornerback, nickelback and safety on defense this season, has his own built-in clock. He can sense when his team needs that big play.

And the way he attacks the ball, you’d swear he also has a built-in homing device.

“It goes deeper than football what Tyrann Mathieu means to this team,” LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery said. “He might be a young guy, but we have a lot of young guys who are leaders that make plays, and nobody has made more of them this season than Tyrann.

“He’s a leader of leaders.”

Also the Tigers’ leading tackler, Mathieu hit a lull late in the season when he was suspended for the Auburn game for reportedly testing positive for synthetic marijuana.

It’s the reason some people may choose not to vote for Mathieu for the Heisman Trophy.

That’s a whole different debate.

But if you’re looking for the player who’s impacted his team in the most areas and has done it on the brightest stages, the next thing the “Honey Badger” takes will be the Heisman Trophy on Saturday night in New York City.

SEC takes home seven awards Thursday

December, 9, 2011
The SEC made out like a fat rat right at "The Home Depot College Football Awards Show" Thursday night.

LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu got things started for the conference by taking home the Chuck Bednarik Award, which is given to the nation's best defensive player.

It's hard to argue against Mathieu winning. He was arguably the most exciting player to watch this season, regardless of position. He flew around the field, picking up tackles, stripping balls, batting balls away and genuinely frustrating just about every offensive player he came in contact with.

Quarterbacks had to shift things around in order to direct passes away from him, but that rarely worked. The Honey Badger led LSU with 70 tackles, forced six fumbles, recovered five fumbles and had four non-offensive touchdowns.

He took what he wanted all year, took the Bednarik and is hoping the take the Heisman Trophy on Saturday night.

Joining his partner in crime was fellow cornerback Morris Claiborne, who won the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the country's top defensive back. Claiborne led LSU and was second in the SEC with six interceptions and also defended 12 passes. Claiborne might be the best cover corner in the country. A lot was made about Patrick Peterson leaving LSU, but Claiborne made it seem like Peterson never left. It's no surprise that Claiborne is projected to be the top cornerback taken in next year's NFL draft.

Alabama running back Trent Richardson was named the top running back in the country, winning the Doak Walker Award. Richardson led the SEC with 1,583 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns. He averaged 137 yards in SEC play and ran for 100-plus yards in nine games this season. He was easily the most valuable player for Alabama this season, and the offense really did go through him.

Like Mathieu, he's headed to New York as a finalist for the Heisman. Can Richardson follow in the footsteps of close friend and former Bama back Mark Ingram?

There was also a very special moment Thursday night when Alabama was awarded the Disney Spirit Award, which is given to the most inspirational team or player. Alabama players received a tremendously loud ovation as they went to receive their award. This team stood as a symbol of hope for the city of Tuscaloosa, Ala., after devastating tornadoes swept through the state of the Alabama and decimated parts of Tuscaloosa.

Long snapper Carson Tinker, who lost his girlfriend during the storm, was interviewed on stage, making for a very powerful moment. Tinker showed such composure and strength as he recounted the months after those devastating storms. The moment touched a lot of people, including LSU wide receiver Russell Shepard, who sent a very supportive tweet for the Alabama program, from his account @LSUShep10.

Here's what Shepard tweeted:

"Watching this segment I look at Bama in a different light.. I'm proud of you boys lets make this game Historic ... Geaux Tigers. #RollTide."

Here are the rest of the SEC award winners:

Outland Trophy (best interior lineman): Barrett Jones, Alabama

The Home Depot Award (Coach of the Year):
Les Miles, LSU

Frank Broyles Award (Assistant Coach of the Year): John Chavis, LSU

SEC 2011 regular-season wrap

December, 6, 2011
Before the season, we all had an inkling that the SEC Western Division would be just a little bit stronger than its Eastern counterpart.

The West dominated the East in 2010, and with little overall improvement from that side of the conference, the consensus was that the road to SEC supremacy was headed through Alabama, Arkansas or Louisiana.

But getting out of that frighteningly tough division was another chore in itself.

Most of us put our cards in Alabama’s camp. With a defense that looked like it was copied and pasted from an NFL roster, a bulldozing running back in Trent Richardson and Nick Saban leading things, the Crimson Tide seemed like a safe bet.

[+] EnlargeLes Miles
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesLes Miles and his Tigers have one more game to win before possibly capping off LSU's best season ever.
But it was once again the Year of the Tiger.

LSU teased us with its talent before the season. No one questioned the assortment of riches coach Les Miles had at his disposal, but we were worried about the youth, Miles’ quirkiness and a troubling quarterback situation.

All of that came into play during LSU’s magical season, and the Tigers never blinked.

The year started with the suspension of starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson and the ineligibility of starting wide receiver Russell Shepard. That didn’t seem to matter as equally embattled quarterback Jarrett Lee stepped up and led the Tigers to a 4-0 start with wins over three ranked teams, including No. 3 Oregon, all on the road.

We saw an efficient, powerful offense and an athletic, selfish defense. The Mad Hatter appeared to have something special, but we wouldn’t be certain until more controversy hit.

Outside of the obvious awkward quarterback situation once Jefferson came back, Miles watched as national darling Tyrann Mathieu, who became known as the “Honey Badger,” and starting running back Spencer Ware were suspended two weeks before the Alabama game.

Again, LSU didn’t flinch.

In a showdown that received more hype than some national championship games, we saw two SEC sledgehammers bludgeon each other before LSU escaped with a 9-6 overtime win at Alabama. LSU controlled not only the SEC but the nation.

LSU met two more REAL challenges before clinching a spot in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game. Thanks to some fancy punt returns from the Honey Badger, LSU erased 14- and 10-point deficits to Arkansas and Georgia with 40-plus runs.

LSU is 13-0 for the first time, and a win in New Orleans could make this the greatest season for an SEC team.

The Tigers will have to play Alabama, again. The Tide never left the national scene after their lone loss, only dropping as far as third in the BCS standings. Even after watching the final weekend, it had enough support to be thrust into the title game for what should be an epic rematch.

The West will send three other teams bowling, including an Arkansas team that flirted with the BCS until the final weekend. Bobby Petrino reeled off another 10-win season and did so without one of the SEC’s most complete running backs in Knile Davis.

A year removed from winning the national championship, Auburn had to deal with harsh realities of rebuilding. The Tigers started 4-1, but their young players hit the wall shortly after. Still, there looks to be some solid talent on the Plains.

Mississippi State didn’t live up to lofty expectations, but will be bowling in back-to-back seasons for the first time in more than a decade, while Ole Miss’ 2-10 season got its head coach fired.

As for the East, South Carolina and Georgia battled until the very end, while Florida and Tennessee sank further into mediocrity. Vanderbilt was the feel-good story, as new coach James Franklin truly re-energized that program, leading the Commodores back to the postseason.

Georgia’s rebound from a 0-2 start was exactly what coach Mark Richt needed. With his seat getting hotter and hotter in Athens, Richt helped orchestrate a 10-game winning streak that took the Dawgs back to the SEC title game.

The Gamecocks might have been the preseason favorites in the East, but came up short after losing starting quarterback Stephen Garcia and running back Marcus Lattimore. Still, 10 wins is nothing to scoff at.

We knew the West was bigger, stronger and better than the East, but with LSU and Alabama set to collide once more, it now seems like it’s bigger, stronger and better than anyone.

Offensive MVP: Alabama running back Trent Richardson

Richardson has a chance to be Alabama’s second Heisman Trophy winner after a tremendous junior year. It usually takes a handful of defenders strapped to his back to finally bring Richardson down. As Alabama’s main back, Richardson led the SEC with 1,583 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns. Against SEC competition, Richardson averaged 137 yards a game and 6 yards per carry. In 12 games, he accumulated more than 100 rushing yards nine times. In five of those games, he registered more than 160 yards. Richardson not only carried opposing defenders throughout the season but he carried Alabama’s offense and dictated the way the Tide moved the ball.

Defensive MVP: LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu

The Honey Badger was one of the most exciting players to watch in college football this season. It didn’t matter where he was on the field, he knew how to find the ball, forcing offenses to change their game plans in order to direct plays away from him. Mathieu led LSU in tackles (70), intercepted two passes, defended nine passes, forced six fumbles, recovered five fumbles and scored four non-offensive touchdowns. Mathieu was the commander of the Tigers’ back-to-back 40-point runs against Arkansas and Georgia with punt returns that went for scores of 92 and 62 yards. He forced and recovered two fumbles in those games and like Richardson, is headed to New York for the Heisman ceremony.

Newcomer of the Year: Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones

Jones officially came back home this season. Because of transfer rules he had to sit last year after leaving USC, but was more than ready for his return to college football. Jones was asked to come in and replace former Bulldog star Justin Houston and, boy, did he make Houston’s departure easier to stomach. Jones wasn’t just one of the best linebackers in the SEC; he was one of the best at his position in the country. Jones found ways all season to disrupt opposing backfields and led the SEC with 19.5 tackles for loss, including 13.5 sacks. He had the speed to make plays all over the field for the Bulldogs and helped make Georgia’s defense rank third nationally.

[+] EnlargeJordan Rodgers
Jeremy Brevard/US PresswireCoach James Franklin gave his Commodores a midseason boost by starting Jordan Rodgers at QB.
Coach of the year: LSU’s Les Miles

Somehow, the Mad Hatter has done it again. Despite his sometimes-odd decisions, Miles has his Tigers undefeated and a win away from capturing their second national title during his tenure. Miles hasn’t only had his team prepared every week; he’s been able to direct his players through the off-field sludge that could have derailed LSU’s special season. With every distraction LSU faced, the Tigers just got stronger. Players credit LSU’s mental strength to Miles, who found ways to keep his team focused and relaxed on the way to a season that saw eight wins over ranked teams, with five coming away from Baton Rouge.

Biggest Surprise: Vanderbilt

It wasn’t just the fact that Vanderbilt made it back to a bowl game for the first time since 2008 that made this season special; it was the way Vandy did it. First-year coach James Franklin wanted to instill a new attitude at Vandy. Mission accomplished. The Commodores didn’t back down to anyone and were fun to watch on both offense and defense. Once Jordan Rodgers took over at quarterback midway through the year, the Commodores were equipped with one of the more explosive SEC offenses, while the defense was extremely aggressive, forcing 27 turnovers. The Commodores were a few mistakes away from possibly winning eight or nine games. Franklin’s bravado and postgame antics showed the Commodores weren’t going to be taken lightly.

Biggest Disappointment: Florida

The Gators are in this category for the second straight year because of the offensive nightmare Florida endured. Florida went through a coaching transition in 2011, but with it came offensive guru Charlie Weis and a pro-style offense. Senior quarterback John Brantley was supposed to fit much better into Weis’ system, and after the first four weeks it looked like he did. However, after suffering a severe ankle injury in the Alabama game, Brantley and Florida’s season went south. Even after Brantley returned, Florida’s offense never fully recovered, and all the highly rated recruits Florida was stocked with struggled to stay consistent. Will Muschamp’s first regular season as head coach ended with a 6-6 record and the Gators had a losing record in SEC play for the first time since 1986.

Best Game: South Carolina 45, Georgia 42, Sept. 10

LSU and Alabama’s game of the century was the perfect display of SEC power, but South Carolina’s comeback win over Georgia in Week 2 had everything. There were 831 combined yards of total offense, 87 points, a special-teams touchdown by a defensive lineman, seven lead changes and a late touchdown that almost set up an eighth and final lead change. The biggest lead was 10 points, and that came with a little more than three minutes left after South Carolina defensive end Melvin Ingram, who went 68 yards for a touchdown on a fake punt, took an Aaron Murray fumble into the end zone to make it 45-35. Murray cut the lead to three less than a minute later with a 33-yard touchdown pass, but a failed on-side kick and two clutch runs by Lattimore sealed the game for the Gamecocks.

Honey Badger sends Tigers on their way

December, 3, 2011

ATLANTA -- They say the Honey Badger takes what he wants.

On Saturday, with the LSU offense running on embalming fluid in the first half, Tyrann Mathieu plucked the SEC championship right out from under the noses of an inspired Georgia team. In the process, he sent the No. 1 Tigers on their way to the Allstate BCS National Championship Game.

They’re crazy about Mathieu on the Bayou, for sure. But the BCS organizers might be even bigger fans, because without his heroics in jump-starting LSU to its 42-10 dismantling of Georgia, there could have been utter chaos when those final BCS standings come out on Sunday night.

Not anymore.

Mathieu took a snooze-fest in the first half and turned it into his own little highlight show.

“Everybody calls him the Honey Badger. I call him the Chosen One,” LSU receiver Russell Shepard said. “When we need a play, he makes that play. The dude is a great testament to those kids who didn’t get recruited highly and just got overlooked.

“He’s not the fastest, and he’s not the biggest. But he plays with a lot of passion.”

[+] EnlargeTyrann Mathieu
AP Photo/John BazemoreTyrann Mathieu's punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter sparked LSU's win over Georgia.
Mathieu, making yet another case as to why he belongs at the Heisman Trophy ceremonies next weekend, broke loose on a 62-yard punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter -- his fourth touchdown of the season.

Remember, he hasn’t taken an offensive snap all season.

“Last night, I envisioned having three touchdowns,” Mathieu said. “I think I came close to that. What it came down to is me trying to do what I can for my team. I put the pressure on myself at times.”

And when it comes to the other team, he keeps applying that pressure.

Georgia, playing great defense, managed to get into halftime with a 10-7 lead.

But then on the first possession of the second half, LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers leveled a scrambling Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray. The ball popped loose, and Mathieu was there to pounce on it at the Bulldogs’ 27, setting up the Tigers’ second touchdown.

Georgia again couldn’t go anywhere on its next possession and did the unthinkable. The Bulldogs kicked it to Mathieu again, and he turned in his second dazzling punt return of the night to send the Bulldogs packing for good.

On this return, as many as seven Georgia defenders had chances at Mathieu. He was eventually dragged down at the Bulldogs’ 17-yard line.

“He breaks people down. He breaks their spirit down,” LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery said. “That’s what you’ve got to do, take away people’s heart, and he does that.”

Mathieu, voted the SEC championship game MVP, called it an “honor” to pick up his team.

And, man, did the Tigers needed a pick-me-up. They didn’t manage their first first down until the 13:26 mark of the third quarter. That’s after netting 1 yard of total offense in the second quarter.

“My teammates do a great job of having my back,” said Mathieu, who’s now forced six fumbles and has recovered five this season. “Anything I can do for those guys to lift their spirit, I think the Honey Badger [does] that sometimes.”

In a lot of ways, he embodies this entire LSU football team.

Mathieu’s one-game suspension for testing positive for synthetic marijuana back in October was the kind of thing that would have rocked a lot of teams. Teammates Spencer Ware and Tharold Simon were also suspended against Auburn.

Obviously this isn’t just any team.

The Tigers have weathered bar brawls, suspensions and injuries. They even came back after offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe gave up play-calling duties in August after announcing that he had Parkinson’s disease.

But as LSU coach Les Miles said last week following the Tigers’ 41-17 rout of Arkansas, this team doesn’t flinch.

“We’ve just been through so much together,” Mathieu said.

When Mathieu rejoined the team in October, he was determined to make amends.

“He just said, ‘I’m going to make it up,’” Shepard recounted. “It was a short statement, but it meant a lot. He knew he was one of our leaders. We’re all brothers, and we’re in this together.

“We want to make history. Our ultimate goal is to be one of the best teams in college football history.”

Mathieu said he’ll let the voters determine whether he’ll get a trip to New York City next week for the Heisman Trophy ceremonies.

“I just try to go out there and play my best football for my team and my coaches,” said Mathieu.

The replay on his punt return for a touchdown looked like he might have tossed the ball to the official prior to crossing the goal line.

“I could see the referee looking at me kind of strange,” Mathieu conceded. “I’ll be sure next time to make sure I cross the goal line.”

It’s about the only thing he did wrong Saturday.

The ultimate compliment came from Georgia coach Mark Richt.

“I’ll be honest with you,” Richt said. “I enjoy watching the guy play football other than when he plays against us, because when you see a guy like that, you can appreciate it. You appreciate it because of how he plays.

“There’s something about him that he seems to find a way to do something special just about every game … and he did it again.”

Something says it won’t be the last time, either.

Final: LSU 41, Arkansas 17

November, 25, 2011
BATON ROUGE, La. -- No. 1 LSU remained perfect Friday by sprinting past No. 3 Arkansas for a 41-17 victory at Tiger Stadium after trailing 14-0 early.

Here's an instant analysis:

How the game was won: LSU trailed 14-0 in the first quarter, but scored 21 unanswered points in the second quarter and then dominated the second half with a combination of its bruising running game and big plays on defense.

Turning point: Leading 24-17 entering the fourth quarter, LSU scored a touchdown on its first possession of the fourth quarter and came right back and scored another one following Morris Claiborne's leaping interception, breaking the game wide open.

Stat of the game: LSU held Arkansas to 89 total yards in the second half. For the game, the Hogs were held to 254 total yards. They entered the game averaging 463.3 yards per game, which led the SEC.

Stat of the game II: It was LSU's third win of the season against a top 5 team.

Player of the game: LSU's Tyrann Mathieu, switching over to safety from cornerback to fill in for the injured Eric Reid, had a 92-yard punt return for a touchdown to tie the game at 14-14 in the second quarter. He also forced two fumbles, the first one leading to the Tigers' third touchdown, which put them ahead 21-14 at the half.

Unsung hero: Despite a couple of shaky plays in the first half, LSU senior quarterback Jordan Jefferson came back strong with his best all-around outing of the season. He was 18-of-29 for 208 passing yards, including a 9-yard touchdown to Russell Shepard, and also ran 48 yards for a touchdown.

What it means: LSU (12-0, 8-0) completes a perfect regular season and heads to Atlanta next week to face Georgia in the SEC championship game. The Tigers also put themselves in great shape for a berth in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game, even if they lose to the Bulldogs.

Wing has a few more 'G'days' in him

November, 9, 2011
LSU punter Brad Wing is easily the most popular Aussie on the Bayou these days, and he knows a bad impression of an Australian accent when he hears one.

He’s heard some real winners ever since his starring role last Saturday in LSU’s 9-6 overtime conquest of Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

People that Wing doesn’t even know have been coming up to him on campus and trying out their “G’day mate … great kick.”

And, yes, his teammates have been getting into the act, too.

[+] EnlargePunter Brad Wing
AP Photo/Dave MartinPunter Brad Wing played a critical role in LSU's victory against Alabama on Saturday.
For the record, freshman receiver Odell Beckham has the best fake Aussie accent. Junior receiver Russell Shepard has the worst, and apparently, it’s not even close.

“Russell’s is shockingly bad,” Wing said. “I tell Odell we could probably pass for brothers over in Australia, but maybe not.”

Wing said even LSU coach Les Miles will take a crack at it every once in a while.

“His is OK. We’ll just leave it at that, but Russell takes the cake for the worst one ever,” Wing said.

Of course, with the way Wing is punting the ball, he could be speaking in Russian and nobody would mind.

“I can’t tell you what a weapon it is when you have a punter like (Wing) who can put the ball where he can,” LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis said.

How good has Wing been this season for the Tigers?

He’s punted the ball 37 times, and 19 of those have been downed inside the 20-yard line. LSU opponents have been limited to a total of 7 punt return yards all season.

Against Alabama, Wing kept the Crimson Tide pinned in deep just about the entire game. He sailed one punt out of bounds at the Alabama 5, had another one downed at the Alabama 4 and a third one fair caught at the Alabama 11.

But it was Wing’s 73-yard punt in the fourth quarter that was the big blow for the Tigers. LSU was backed up on its own 9-yard line in a 6-6 game, and it looked like Alabama was about to get the ball near midfield.

Wing, standing in his own end zone, had other ideas. He launched a missile that just kept going and landed well over Marquis Maze’s head, rolling all the way down to the Alabama 18.

“I hadn’t hit any like that in the games,” Wing said. “Back in high school, I hit one like that. It was just good to do it in the game.”

Prior to this season, Wing had played just two years of American football. He grew up playing Australian Rules Football, but came to Baton Rouge prior to his senior year in high school as part of an exchange program.

His father, David Wing, punted for the Detroit Lions in 1990 and also punted in NFL Europe.

In just one season at Parkview Baptist in Baton Rouge, Wing showed enough promise that LSU offered him a scholarship.

Initially, he was planning to be in the United States for only one year, but that all changed when the Tigers offered the full ride.

“It’s all happened so fast,” said Wing, who’s averaging 43.4 yards per punt. “In two years, my life has taken a complete turn. Just to be a part of a program like this is unbelievable. To come from Australia and be a part of the No. 1 team in the country is crazy. It’s like a dream come true.”

The best news for the Tigers is that he’s just getting started.

A redshirt freshman, Wing has been kicking a ball since he was 5 years old. But he didn’t kick a football until two years ago. For that matter, he knew very little about American football, period, and what he did know was about the NFL.

“I probably could have named three or four quarterbacks,” Wing said. “I definitely didn’t know about college football. I’m still learning all the rules. I still don’t know them all, but we’ll get there, I think.”

Wing had a 44-yard touchdown run on a fake punt nullified against Florida earlier this season when he briefly stuck out his arms to celebrate before crossing the goal line.

Even though the call was borderline at best, Wing is quick to add, “I learned that rule pretty quick. I’ve got that one down.”

He’s still adjusting to the spiral style of punting, but has the pooch kicks down pat.

“That kick is my Australian kick, the kick we use to pass around to one another, so I’m very comfortable with that kick,” Wing said. “That’s the type of kick I’ve been doing ever since I could stand up. That’s why I look so relaxed.

“I’m still working on the consistency of the longer kick, but am more comfortable with the end-over-end kick.”

Just in the last few weeks, Wing’s family moved to Baton Rouge from Australia to be with him during his college career. His father along with his mother, Kathleen, and younger brother, Tom, are digging the whole college football experience every bit as much as Wing.

“They’re beginning to understand just how big a deal college football is in the United States,” Wing said.

That’s fitting because it didn’t take Wing long to understand just how big a deal the kicking game is at LSU.

“Special teams are huge around here,” Wing said. “We start off every single day with special teams. Coach Miles really holds special teams in high regard, and we take it just as serious as an offensive or defensive snap.

“Guys are fighting to get on special teams here, and we take huge pride in it.”

The fake Aussie accents are a different story.

At the half: Alabama 3, LSU 3

November, 5, 2011
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama and LSU traded field goals in the first half and went into halftime Saturday night tied at 3-3 in Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Here's a quick halftime analysis:

Turning point: After missing three long field goal attempts, Alabama got a 34-yard field goal from Jeremy Shelley to take a 3-0 lead with 3:53 left in the half. LSU answered with its only extended drive of the half, marching 74 yards in 11 plays for Drew Alleman's 19-yard field goal as the second-quarter clock expired. The big play for the Tigers was Jordan Jefferson's 29-yard completion to Russell Shepard down to the Alabama 8-yard line.

Stat of the half: LSU had managed just 50 yards of total offense in the first half until driving for the late field goal.

Stat of the half II: The Tigers committed their first turnover since the third week of the season when Jarrett Lee was intercepted by Robert Lester late in the first quarter. Jefferson came in at quarterback for LSU after that and played the rest of the way.

Player of the half: LSU punter Brad Wing has pinned Alabama at its own 5 and its own 4.
If you want to find the SEC's leading receiver in yardage and touchdowns, you might be surprised to find where he resides.

He isn't in Fayetteville, Ark., Columbia, S.C., or Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Head farther south and you'll find him.

[+] EnlargeRueben Randle
Rob Foldy/Icon SMIWith Eli Manning throwing the ball, can ex-LSU receiver Rueben Randle flourish with the Giants?
Through eight games, LSU's Rueben Randle leads the league with 638 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. He’s averaging 19.3 yards per catch and 4.1 catches per game. He has failed to record a touchdown in just two games this season.

Randle has already equaled his catches (33) from last year and has almost 100 more yards and four more touchdowns. There is no question that Randle has benefited from a much more aggressive offense, thanks to the addition of Steve Kragthorpe to the coaching staff, but Randle said he was more focused heading into this third season.

He took more time to work on his game during the offseason by training at Sonic Boom Speed Conditioning & Strength Training Academy in New Orleans on the weekends, where he worked with high school and junior high athletes to get more one-on-one work in a more hands-on environment.

Randle said he got more explosive out of his breaks, developed better route-running ability and got quicker off the line.

His teammates were impressed with the new and improved Randle who showed up for summer workouts, but they weren’t surprised by how good he looked.

“I saw improvements as soon as I got back,” Randle said. “The guys saw it from me during 7-on-7s and as soon as we got into camp. It was a big help for me going into the season.

“They all knew that I had it and I’d get more opportunities this year. I’m taking full advantage of them.”

He sure has and the interesting thing is that before the season, it was Russell Shepard who got most of the receiving attention outside of camp. He talked about becoming more of a focal point in LSU’s offense and vowed to improve on his sophomore season.

With his ability to play both inside and outside of the backfield, Shepard figured to grab a ton of touches in the fall. But after he was suspended for the first three games of the seasons, Randle took hold of the limelight.

And he’s made his quarterbacks’ jobs much easier along the way.

Senior Jarrett Lee said working with Randle has been almost effortless. In fact, it’s been that way since Randle came on campus three years ago. Randle’s time as a high school quarterback gives him the ability to know when his quarterbacks will get the snap and when and where to be in his routes at the right times.

“He’s a special playmaker,” Lee said of Randle. “He was a former high school quarterback, so he understands football and a quarterback’s mindset. That’s what makes him a special player. He works hard each and every day because he wants the football in his hands.

“From the spring to the summer, he grew up a lot because he knew this could be a special season for him. During the summer, I felt like he became more aggressive. He wanted the ball more.”

Randle doesn’t brag about his abilities, but no one would blame him if he flaunted his speed or the fact that his 6-foot-4, 207-pound frame makes him nearly impossible to adequately defend in one-on-one situations. Oh, and don’t forget those hands made of magnets.

Randle discusses the little things that separate him from his SEC receiving counterparts. He talks about running crisper routes, making the right checks at the line and learning how to improve his blocking.

Those are the things he says he does differently.

It also helps that the offense has expanded tremendously this year. A more open and vigorous passing game has made it easier for him to do his thing. Also having two quarterbacks slinging the ball like they have isn’t too bad, either.

“It’s fun when you get your opportunities,” Randle said. “Now, you’re running full stride and you don’t have to break stride and the ball just lands in your hands. It’s also exciting to have quarterbacks that can deliver the ball like that.”