NCF Nation: Senquez Golson



OXFORD, Miss. -- Even though Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze isn’t one to make excuses, he had plenty of room to do so this week. The Rebels, who had lost three consecutive games, were without five starters on defense and the team’s leading rusher when they hosted No. 6 LSU on Saturday.

Turns out Freeze and the Rebels didn’t need any excuses as they stunned the Tigers, 27-24.

“I couldn’t be more proud of that staff and those kids to go through what they’ve been through, with the injuries and the outside world having their opinion of things,” Freeze said. “In the back of your mind, you always wonder as a coach if you can get a team ready to do those things like this when you’re shorthanded and coming off an extremely disappointing loss.”

The Rebels were in a similar situation last week when Texas A&M came to town. The game was tied with three minutes left, and it was up to quarterback Bo Wallace and the offense to drive down the field and win the game. Instead, they went three-and-out, punted the ball and watched as the Aggies drove down and kicked the game-winning field goal.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Ritter
Spruce Derden/USA TODAY SportsAndrew Ritter drilled a 41-yard, game-winning field goal with 2 seconds remaining that gave the short-handed Rebels a stunning win over LSU.
“For A&M to beat us the way they did, I wasn’t letting that happen to us again,” Wallace said. “Ja-Mes [Logan] made a huge catch in the same situation that he had last week. He took a shot and hung onto it. Everybody just came together and fought hard on that last drive.”

It was Ole Miss who kicked the game-winning field goal this week, but it wouldn’t have happened had it not been for a number of players who stepped up when called upon.

The defense lost four starters due to injury against Texas A&M, and Freeze told his team Friday that starting cornerback Senquez Golson would be suspended for the visit from LSU. Four more Rebels defenders went down during Saturday's game, and yet, they forced three turnovers in the first half and held on for the upset.

“I think it was a God thing,” defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said. “We sat in there on Sunday and said, ‘We got 14 players, not starters, 14 players for seven spots between the defensive line and the linebackers. We tried to make D.T. [Shackelford] do two different things, and he was able to do that. Fortunately, Tony Conner made a big difference because we were able to teach him some linebacker stuff. The kids are warriors. We needed that for our program.”

On offense, running backs Jaylen Walton and I'Tavius Mathers more than made up the absence of starter Jeff Scott. Walton finished with 106 yards rushing and two touchdowns while Mathers added 51 yards on 12 carries.

“We ran the football against a really good defense,” Freeze said. “Our offensive line played against a good defensive front. I have great confidence in Jaylen and I’Tavius. Jaylen has quick acceleration. He did really well tonight and protected the ball.”

It was a crushing loss for Les Miles and his LSU team, who lost any chance they had to play in the BCS National Championship, but the victory shouldn’t be understated for Ole Miss. The Rebels were down, but they showed they’re not out.

“We really needed a win,” Walton said. “We came close last week where we should’ve won, but this week, we got the W and now we can keep moving forward with wins.”
Someone has to chase down all those speedy skill position players, and the SEC is well equipped with some fine secondaries this fall.

Here's how they rank going into the 2013 season:

1. Florida: The Gators will have arguably the nation's best cornerback duo in potential future first-rounders Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson. Purifoy is viewed by many as the nation's top cornerback. He's still raw, but he's a tremendous athlete, has great speed and is getting better at being a pure cover corner. Though Roberson isn't as athletic, he's more polished and has real lockdown ability (14 passes defensed in 2012). Sophomore Brian Poole made tremendous strides this spring at corner, and many think incoming freshman Vernon Hargreaves III has the ability to play now. At safety, veterans Jaylen Watkins and Cody Riggs have moved from corner. Coach Will Muschamp wants to see more from this position, but has plenty of bodies to help Watkins and Riggs, starting with Marcus Maye and Jabari Gorman.

[+] EnlargeHaHa Clinton-Dix
AP Photo/Butch DillHaHa Clinton-Dix could emerge as one of the best safeties in the nation.
2. Alabama: First-round corner Dee Milliner and reliable safety Robert Lester are gone, but there's a wealth of young talent in the secondary. Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is poised to be an All-American and could be the top safety in the country. Deion Belue emerged as a very reliable cornerback and should be one of the top players at his position in the SEC this year. Sophomore Geno Smith matured quickly last year and was solid this spring, so he shouldn't have a problem stepping into a starting role. Vinnie Sunseri gives Alabama a veteran leader at safety, while sophomore Landon Collins might be ready go from special teams workhorse to starting safety for the Tide.

3. Vanderbilt: Andre Hal is one of the best cornerbacks in the SEC, while Kenny Ladler ranks near the top at the safety position in the SEC. Hal was second in the SEC with 14 pass breakups and added two interceptions last season. Ladler figured out a way to be all over the field last year, leading the team with 90 tackles. His safety partner, Javon Marshall, is back. Marshall and Ladler tied for the team lead with 60 solo tackles and will be one of the league's best safety duos. Replacing Trey Wilson won't be easy, but there are plenty of options, starting with senior Steven Clarke, who was the primary nickel corner.

4. LSU: The Tigers have to replace Eric Reid and Tharold Simon, but have the bodies to make things right, starting with corners Jalen Mills, Jalen Collins and safety Craig Loston. Mills and Collins were thrown onto the field early last season after Tyrann Mathieu's dismissal and grew up in a hurry. Mills started all 13 games and defended seven passes with two interceptions. Loston had trouble reaching his potential early in his career, but has really turned the corner and should be one of the top SEC safeties. Junior Ronald Martin should be fine at the other safety spot, while sophomores Micah Eugene and Corey Thompson are solid backups. Freshman Jeryl Brazil is a freak athlete who should help at corner.

5. Ole Miss: The Rebels gave up more yards and touchdowns through the air than they would have liked last season, but this group showed good flashes here and there. A good spring and a healthy dose of experience should go a long way this fall. Senior Charles Sawyer was very steady at corner after moving from safety and is the leader of this group, while hard-hitting sophomore safety Trae Elston has what it takes to be a top safety in this league. Junior Cody Prewitt leads the charge at the other safety spot, while Senquez Golson will start opposite Sawyer. Highly-touted freshman Antonio Conner could enter the season as the starter at the hybrid "Husky" position. There is a ton of depth in the secondary, starting with big-play machine Nick Brassell, who is back after a juco stint. Quintavius Burdette and Chief Brown provide good reserve options at safety.

6. Texas A&M: What was a young unit in 2012 is all grown up now. The top player back there is corner Deshazor Everett, who became a national name after his game-sealing interception against Alabama. While Everett could be a star, he and top safety Floyd Raven are dealing with legal issues after they were arrested in connection with an April incident at a College Station apartment complex. Getting them on the field is critical for the Aggies. De'Vante Harris enjoyed a solid freshman campaign and proved he can be a shutdown corner. Safety is stacked with veterans such as Raven, Howard Matthews and Toney Hurd Jr., so this unit should be drastically better in 2013.

7. South Carolina: The Gamecocks lost a top-flight safety in D.J. Swearinger and an experienced corner in Akeem Auguste, but they bring back a lot of athleticism and speed. It starts with junior corner Victor Hampton, who has turned into one of South Carolina's best overall players. Jimmy Legree moved back to corner from safety last season and tied for a team-high three interceptions and six pass breakups. Talented sophomore Ahmad Christian will also push to get on the field. Brison Williams is solid at strong safety, while sophomore T.J. Gurley could be a stud at free safety. He'll have to battle with the much-improved Kadetrix Marcus, but Gurley is one of the team's most talented players. There's a lot of inexperience behind the main guys, and the staff is hoping to get more out of former top safety recruit Chaz Elder.

[+] EnlargeTray Matthews
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsTray Matthews could crack the starting lineup in time for the season opener.
8. Georgia: The Bulldogs lost a ton of production here, but defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is excited by the talent his youngsters have, especially safety Tray Matthews, who might already be one of the top players at his position in the SEC. He covers a lot of ground, has great instincts and hits with the best of them. There's "old man" Damian Swann, who excelled as both a nickel and boundary corner last year. He's now the guy at corner. Sophomore "Star" Josh Harvey-Clemons might be the most talented player in the secondary and he'll work at both safety and linebacker in certain packages. Sophomore Sheldon Dawson left spring as the other starting corner, and the coaches are excited about his potential, while talented early enrollee Reggie Wilkerson will miss the season after suffering an ACL injury. Sophomore Devin Bowman should help at corner, along with true freshman Shaq Wiggins, a former ESPN 150 member.

9. Mississippi State: Jim Thorpe Award winner Johnthan Banks, top interception man Darius Slay and longtime starter Corey Broomfield are all gone. It hurts, but the Bulldogs aren't lost in the secondary. Senior Nickoe Whitley has loads of experience, while fellow safety Jay Hughes really stepped up as a valuable leader this spring. Jamerson Love is the most experienced corner coming back and the coaches expect him to break out very soon. But a lot of attention is going to juco transfer Justin Cox, who might be the team's fastest player and looks ready to step right in and be a shutdown corner. The top four guys seem solid, but there is a lot of inexperience behind them.

10. Auburn: Auburn has a lot of experience coming back to a unit that ranked eighth in pass defense last season. That number should be better this year, especially with Ellis Johnson taking over the defense. Corner Chris Davis might have only played nine games last season, but Johnson thinks he could be a special player. Corners Jonathon Mincy and Josh Holsey also saw plenty of time last year, while Jonathan Jones provides solid depth. Safety is covered by the high-flying Demetruce McNeal and Jermaine Whitehead, who were two of the Tigers' top tacklers last year. This group has to be more consistent and has to generate turnovers. Auburn had just two interceptions last year, with one coming from reserve safety Trent Fisher.

11. Missouri: Senior corner E.J. Gaines is one of the best cover corners in the SEC. What he lacks in size, he makes up in athleticism, speed and toughness. He has 27 pass breakups and three interceptions in the last two seasons. Randy Ponder had a solid spring and should start opposite Gaines. He has played in 25 games with five starts. Safety Braylon Webb is back after starting 12 games last year at free safety, while senior Matt White should hold down the other safety spot. Only Gaines and Ponder return with interceptions from last year (one each) and this unit surrendered an average of 333.3 passing yards per game last November.

12. Tennessee: The Vols do bring back experience, but this same group contributed to Tennessee owning the SEC's second worst pass defense (282.5 yards allowed per game). So that means these players have to grow and simply get better on the field. It won't come over night, but the experience gained last season should help. Safeties Byron Moore and Brian Randolph, who is coming back from an ACL injury, provide a solid foundation at safety, while returning starting corner Justin Coleman has to be much better than he was in 2012. Fortunately for the Vols, Coleman made very good strides this spring. Juco transfer Riyahd Jones could come in and start immediately.

13. Arkansas: This is another group that returns a lot of experience, but it was also the SEC's worst pass defense last year. The Razorbacks surrendered 8.2 yards per pass, 285.8 passing yards per game and gave up 24 touchdowns with six interceptions. All four starters -- corners Tevin Mitchel and Will Hines and safeties Eric Bennett and Rohan Gaines -- but all of them have to get better. Mitchel and Gaines have the potential to be big-time players, but they have to be more consistent. This unit should get a boost from juco transfers Tiquention Coleman and Carroll Washington, while redshirt freshman Jared Collins had a pretty good spring.

14. Kentucky: The Wildcats lost two quality starters and are now stuck with a lot of young players. Coach Mark Stoops wasn't too pleased with the play of the secondary this spring, so this won't be a quick fix. Junior safety Ashely Lowery has the playmaking ability Stoops wants back there, but he just resumed working out after his horrific car accident from earlier this year. Youngsters Daron and Zack Blaylock, J.D. Harmon, Cody Quinn, and Fred Tiller all saw good time last season, but their growing pains lasted for most of the season. There was some improvement this spring, but this unit has a long way to go before fall.
OXFORD, Miss. -- Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze knew things weren’t going to be easy in Oxford. He returned to the town and program he loved, but he did so knowing he’d be inheriting a slew of issues, both on and off the field.

However, he didn’t know that the biggest would be in the academic world.

With final exams only days away, Freeze is still concerned about the academic standing of a few players, including key starters Jeff Scott (running back) and Nickolas Brassell (cornerback/receiver).

[+] EnlargeHugh Freeze
Shelby Daniel/Icon SMIOle Miss coach Hugh Freeze is hoping to invigorate his team's fan base in his debut season at the school.
“I knew that there were some issues, but probably found out it was a little tougher than what I thought it was when I got here,” Freeze said about Ole Miss’ academic issues.

“We’ve made some headway, but we inherited such a mountain to climb that I think it would be presumptuous for me to believe we’re going to climb every single mountain. I don’t think that’s going to be reality.”

The reality of losing those players makes Freeze nervous heading into summer workouts. While he’s seen improvement from them throughout the spring, he’s not ready to say they’ll be academically eligible once the spring semester finishes.

“I feel better because I see improvement, but if you’re asking me do I feel confident at this point to say that they’re going to make it, no, I don’t feel confident to say that,” Freeze said.

“When you start out at nearly zero, it’s a tall task to climb in one semester.”

Although the next few days will be nerve-racking for Freeze and his coaching staff, he is very proud of the way some players improved their classroom habits, especially Scott. The struggles Scott was going through when Freeze first arrived seemed to dissipate as spring progressed.

“I’m extremely proud of Jeff Scott. He has bought in,” Freeze said. “Couldn’t be more pleased with what we’re getting from him right now, as far as effort in the classroom. I’m [hopeful] that he has a good chance of making it. He didn’t have as far to come as some others.”

Having Scott in Ole Miss’ starting lineup this fall will be huge for the Rebels. Last season, Scott was eighth in the SEC in all-purpose yardage, averaging 101.4 yards per game. He also led the Rebels with 529 rushing yards and six touchdowns in his nine starts.

Scott, who will be a junior this fall, entered spring as Ole Miss’ top playmaker, but there isn’t much depth at all behind him at running back. He’s one of three scholarship running backs that include senior Devin Thomas (20 career carries) and Nicholas Parker, who has spent two years on the scout team. Freeze said those two will have to compete with the four incoming freshmen due in this summer if Scott can't go.

“We’re so thin there,” Freeze said. “I’ve never inherited any team that’s as thin at running back as we are here.”

Ole Miss would benefit from Brassell’s athleticism, no matter where he lines up, but the Rebels do have pretty good depth in the secondary and Freeze said cornerback was the most productive unit for the team this spring. Wesley Pendleton and Dehendret Collins, who grabbed two interceptions in Ole Miss’ spring game, made the most progress this spring and the former junior college teammates should be pretty solid players this fall.

Standout Senquez Golson will be back after baseball and the Rebels will welcome talented incoming freshmen Trae Elston and Anthony Standifer.

Freeze will sweat out the next few days as he awaits the fate of some of his players, but he’s pleased with how his team responded to the new coaching staff this spring. It was tough to get players on board at first, and he still thinks less than 80 percent of the team has bought in, but it’s certainly higher than when he first arrived.

This would be a tough job for any coach and Freeze knows that patience will be key to getting this program back on track.

“It won’t be an overnight fix,” he said. “It probably won’t be a one-year fix. It’s a process. I call it the ‘Journey.’”
Now that you've seen Chris' top 10, here's mine. Let's see where we were the same and where we differed:

1. LSU's Tyrann Mathieu against Arkansas: Mathieu replaced the injured Eric Reid and played safety for the first time in his career. All he did was record eight tackles, force two fumbles, and recovered a fumble. With LSU down 14-7 in the second quarter, he ignited a dominating run when he returned a punt 92 yards for a touchdown in LSU’s 41-17 win over Arkansas. A loss to the Hogs might have cost LSU a chance at the national title game.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Boykin
Jeff Griffith/US PresswireGeorgia's Brandon Boykin recorded a safety, had a punt return TD and a TD catch in the Outback Bowl.
2. Georgia’s Brandon Boykin in the Outback Bowl: Boykin sure went out in style, scoring three different ways in the loss to Michigan State. On Michigan State's first offensive play, he recorded a safety when he tackled Keshawn Martin in the end zone on a pass play. He later scored on 92-yard punt return, which is the longest play in Outback Bowl history, and scored on a 13-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter to give Georgia a 27-20 lead. He also had seven tackles, including two for loss.

3. LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu in the SEC championship game: He saved LSU yet again with his special-teams work. His 62-yard punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter got LSU on the board after trailing 10-0. On Georgia’s first drive of the second half, Mathieu recovered a fumble at the Bulldogs’ 27 to set up the Tigers’ second touchdown. He set up LSU's third score with a scintillating return that left just about every Georgia player's head spinning.

4. Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson against Texas A&M: Wilson not only helped orchestrate a tremendous second-half comeback against the Aggies, but he passed for a school-record 510 passing yards, had three touchdowns and no interceptions on 30-of-51 passing.

5. Alabama’s Trent Richardson against Ole Miss: Richardson couldn't be stopped in Oxford, as he rushed for 183 yards and four touchdowns in Alabama's 52-7 drubbing of the Rebels. Richardson grabbed his signature play as well when he put on a show at the end of his 76-yard touchdown run by literally shaking Ole Miss' Senquez Golsen to the ground with his cut seen round the college football world.

6. Georgia’s Jarvis Jones against Florida: Jones had four sacks in the Bulldogs’ 24-20 win over Florida and forced a fumble at the Gators' 18-yard line in the third quarter that led to the game-tying touchdown. His fourth sack came in the fourth and basically sealed the Bulldogs' win.

7. Arkansas’ Jarius Wright against Texas A&M: Wilson couldn't have done his thing without Wright, who caught 13 passes, which tied a school record, for a school-record 281 yards and a touchdown. Wright surpassed the old record of 204 yards by halftime. He also recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown that tied the game at 35 in the fourth quarter.

8. Florida’s Chris Rainey against Florida Atlantic: Rainey kicked off the Will Muschamp era by scoring touchdowns three different ways in the season opener. He scored rushing, receiving and on a blocked punt. Rainey also registered 146 yards of total offense.

9. South Carolina’s Antonio Allen against East Carolina: Allen started the year off pretty well when he had 16 tackles, forced two fumbles, recovered two fumbles and broke up two passes in a season-opening 56-37 win over East Carolina. He also returned a fumble 25 yards for a touchdown.

10. LSU’s Brad Wing against Alabama Part I: In a game in which kicking mattered, four of his six punts were downed inside Alabama's 20-yard line. One punt was downed at the 5 and another at the 4. His 73-yarder in the fourth quarter saved LSU's defense from having to work with a short field and helped propel the game into overtime.

Here are five more that just missed the cut:

  • South Carolina's Melvin Ingram ran for a 68-yard touchdown on a fake punt against Georgia and scored a second touchdown on a 5-yard fumble return. He sealed the Gamecocks' 45-42 win when he recovered an onsides kick.
  • Tennessee's Tyler Bray passed for a career-high 405 passing yards, had four touchdown passes and no interceptions in a 45-23 win over Cincinnati. He also had a rushing touchdown and completed 34 of 41 passes.
  • Vanderbilt’s Zac Stacy rushed for 184 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-7 road victory over Wake Forest that sent the Commodores bowling. Stacy also became the school’s single-season record holder for rushing yards after his performance.
  • Kentucky’s Danny Trevathan registered 17 tackles, including 12 solo and three for loss in a 19-10 loss to Georgia. He also forced two fumbles.
  • Arkansas' Joe Adams had one of the best special-teams performance of the season in Week 1 against Missouri State when he had two punt returns for touchdowns of 69 and 61 yards in the 51-7 win. He had a school-record 174 yards on six punt returns.

The SEC's top 10 moments in 2011

January, 12, 2012
1/12/12
11:22
AM ET
As we take another look at the 2011 season, we'll check out the top 10 moments from the SEC's year.

It's not as easy as it looks, but someone has to do it.

I'm sure we'll think of a couple more as the days go by, but here are our top 10 moments from 2011 in reverse order:

10. Houston Nutt's dismissal:
Ole Miss said goodbye to its head coach after Nutt was fired toward the end of the season. After back-to-back nine-win seasons that ended with Cotton Bowl victories, Nutt was fired after two dismal seasons in Oxford. He coached the entire season, but ended his tenure with 14 straight losses to SEC opponents.

9. Kentucky's last stand: There wasn't much for the Wildcats to be proud of in 2011, but Kentucky's 10-7 win over Tennessee was truly memorable. It snapped a 26-game losing streak to the Vols (dating back to when Joker Phillips played at Kentucky) and eliminated Tennessee from postseason play.

[+] EnlargeMark Richt
AP Photo/David GoldmanMark Richt and the Bulldogs overcame an 0-2 start to the season to win the SEC's Eastern Division.
8. Georgia clinching the East: After starting the season 0-2, Georgia won 10 straight, but its ninth win meant the most. Georgia's 19-10 win over Kentucky on Nov. 19 clinched the SEC Eastern Division and sent the Bulldogs back to the SEC championship for the first time since 2005.

7. Vandy's bowl bid: Coach James Franklin promised change at Vanderbilt and he got it in his first year. The Commodores reeled off six wins and their 41-7 win over Wake Forest on the last weekend of the regular season sent Vandy bowling for the first time since 2008.

6. Richardson's run: Trent Richardson's Heisman moment came on a run and a move for the ages. Before he could finish off his eventual 76-yard touchdown run in the third quarter against Ole Miss, he had to embarrass defender Senquez Golson by cutting back and then immediately forward, leaving the rookie stumbling to the turf just before the end zone.

5. Adams' return: No plays were as exciting to watch in the SEC -- and probably nationally -- than Joe Adams' amazing punt return against Tennessee. Adams was scintillating, as he reversed field 10 yards and shook off five tackles before darting down the right sideline for what stood as a 60-yard touchdown return.

4. South Carolina's 11th win: Last year, the Gamecocks made history when they made it to their first SEC championship game. In 2011, South Carolina won 11 games in a season for the first time when the Gamecocks routed Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl. It also ended a streak of three straight bowl losses.

3. Reid's interception: When you think back at the 2011 season, Eric Reid's interception against Alabama at LSU's own 1-yard line has to be one of the first images you see. With the Tide running a trick play involving a pass from receiver Marquis Maze to tight end Michael Williams, Reid out-muscled Williams for the ball in midair. The play propelled LSU on its magical run and sent Alabama home with what seemed like a season-changing loss.

2. LSU's magical run ends: LSU was a win away from entering the "best ever" conversation, with eight wins over ranked teams, but LSU ran into a freight train named Alabama in the hated rematch in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game. LSU's offense fell flat as the Tide ran over the Tigers 21-0 in their own backyard of New Orleans.

1. Alabama hoists the crystal football ... again:
The state of Alabama clearly owns college football at the moment. Alabama's 21-0 win over LSU in the national championship gave the state three straight crystal footballs and was the second for the Crimson Tide in three years. Nick Saban admitted that this championship (his third) was the sweetest and you could tell because he actually smiled afterward and took his Gatorade bath like a true champ.
NEW ORLEANS -- If Alabama running back Trent Richardson is looking for a president for his fan club, he should look no further than LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery.

Montgomery, who has the unflattering job of trying to contain Richardson during Monday's Allstate BCS National Championship Game, thinks the world of Richardson. The 5-foot-11, 224-pound tank has impressed Montgomery so much that he's ready to put the Doak Walker Award winner on the highest pedestal ... in all the game of football.

"He’s the best running back in the world," Montgomery said without hesitation. "NFL –- best running back in the world."

[+] EnlargeTrent Richardson
Spruce Derden/US PresswireTrent Richardson's 183-yard, four-touchdown performance against Ole Miss caught the eye of LSU's Sam Montgomery.
Ask Montgomery twice, and he won't even think of changing his answer.

"I stand by that," he said.

Richardson, who was a Heisman Trophy finalist, led the SEC with 1,583 rushing yards and 20 rushing touchdowns. He also averaged 136.6 yards a game against SEC competition, so you can see why Montgomery had such complimentary things to say about the future first-round draft pick.

Montgomery has been eye-balling Richardson for a while, but he really started focusing on him after his 183-yard, four-touchdown performance against Ole Miss. That's also the game where he faked Ole Miss defensive back Senquez Golson out of his cleats with an amazing move he put on the youngster on his 76-yard touchdown run.

A few weeks later, Montgomery got to see Richardson in the flesh. Richardson totaled 169 yards of total offense, but had a few runs that left some LSU players looking silly and others bruised.

"He knows when to step in, when to hit moves," Montgomery said. "The move he hit in the Ole Miss game -- unbelievable. How does somebody think like that in that split second of time? How does he know to step in and step back and go forward?

"He’s an amazing, well-minded, well-rounded running back."

Montgomery coming back to school

Speaking of well-rounded, Montgomery has done pretty well for himself during his time at LSU. He's been a monster on the field (he was third in the SEC with nine sacks this year) and is 38 hours away from graduating with a kinesiology degree.

Montgomery sent in his NFL paper work to see how he might fair in this year's NFL draft, but even after getting a pretty good grade, Montgomery decided he needed another year of college football and wants to finish his schooling.

"I was very impressed, but I feel like I need to come back and learn more football, practice on my technique," he said.

Getting Montgomery back just adds to the embarrassment of riches that LSU's defense will have in 2012. This unit isn't particularly old, so the Tigers will be stacked on the defensive side of the ball yet again.

The thing about Montgomery is that this is his first full season of college football. He redshirted his freshman year and suffered a season-ending knee injury early in 2010. He's a physical freak who would have received a lot of interest from NFL teams this year.

He'll receive even more next year.
I found out something very interesting this morning when I went to check my overcrowded Gmail inbox.

Sitting there was a message from friend, colleague and soccer enthusiast here at ESPN informing me that fellow SEC blogger Chris Low and I were the only ones to have Alabama running back Trent Richardson at the top of our Heisman ballots for this week.

(Full disclosure: he’s been at the top of mine for the past two weeks.)

Jokes went back and forth between us as he let me know that our SEC bias was showing and I simply told him that I put the best player in the country at the top of the list for the most prestigious award in the sport.

[+] EnlargeTrent Richardson
AP Photo/Rogelio V. SolisTrent Richardson ran around and through the Ole Miss defense on Saturday.
How only two people could see that at this point is baffling. Yes, Andrew Luck continues to be spectacular and Kellen Moore probably doesn’t -- and won’t -- get the respect he deserves.

But to put them, or anyone, ahead of Richardson right now is totally bogus.

After his 17-carry, 183-yard, four-touchdown performance against Ole Miss, he leads the SEC and is fourth nationally in rushing (912), yards per game (130.3) and is third in the nation with 15 rushing touchdowns and with 13.7 points per game.

Seven of his rushing touchdowns have come against SEC opponents and he’s currently averaging 149 yards against conference foes.

However, if that wasn’t enough to nail his name to the top of a ballot, how about his scintillating 76-yard touchdown run against Ole Miss? Every candidate needs his Heisman moment and Richardson had his Saturday when he showed off all the tools that make him great.

First, it was his strength and agility that got him to shake a defender -- who had the audacity to try to arm tackle Richardson deep in his own backfield -- and cut to his left. Next, with his legs churning, his explosiveness took over; guiding him through two more tackle attempts before he even crossed the line of scrimmage.

With him in total flight, his keen eyesight kicked in, allowing him to see the Ole Miss defenders fading one direction so he cut to his right about 30 yards away from where the play originated.

But it wasn’t until he made everyone’s jaw fall to the floor that he had his moment.

Right at about the 14-yard line, Richardson saw Ole Miss cornerback Senquez Golson trying to stop him. Instead of running out of bounds or trying to bowl him over, Richardson faked like he was going to cut around behind Golson, but right as Golson went right, Richardson juked back toward the end zone and sprinted into the end zone. He left Golson stumbling to the turf -- ankles removed -- and throwing his arms up in disgust once Richardson scored.

The only thing that would have made Richardson’s run better was if Duke Tango from the AND1 Mixtape Tour breaking out an “OOOOOOOOOHHHHHHH BABY!!” after Golson was shaken out of his cleats.

And what did Richardson say about his tantalizing play? He said it wasn’t even his best run. That he could have done better. That he was proud of his blockers.

“I had to get in the end zone some type of way,” Richardson said. “I couldn’t let them blocks go to waste.”

Come on! Showboat a little!

No boasting or bragging. He never really complimented himself other than to say that it was a nice run.

It is so hard to find such a humble individual who is blessed with such talent, but we have Richardson.

The junior, who has now rushed for more than 100 yards in six straight games and needs one more to break Shaun Alexander’s school record of seven set in 1999, is built like a tank, but runs like a track star and is proving to be the best player the SEC has to offer.

The scary thing is that he thinks he can get better … and he’s probably right.

“There’s more to come,” Richardson said.

Alabama steamrolls over Ole Miss

October, 15, 2011
10/15/11
10:33
PM ET
LSU might have the No. 1 ranking, but Alabama certainly deserves to share that title.

The Tide ran over and around Ole Miss in its 52-7 drubbing of the Rebels. After Ole Miss opened the game with a 72-yard touchdown drive, Alabama's defense allowed just 69 more yards the rest of the game.

Offensively, Alabama handed the rock off to running back Trent Richardson and just watched the magic unfold. He had a career-high 183 rushing yards and four touchdowns. And if his stellar first half of the season wasn't enough to put him near the top of the Heisman Trophy race, his thrilling 76-yard touchdown run in the third quarter might have been his official Heisman moment. Not only did Richardson show off his track speed and elusiveness, but when he stopped and started near the end of his run to shake Ole Miss' Senquez Golson down to the ground, jaws around the country simultaneously dropped to the floor.

My ankle was turned on that play all the way over here in Atlanta.

AJ McCarron was sharp as well, passing for 224 yards and a touchdown. It was another efficient day for the sophomore, who just gets better and better every week.

As a whole, Alabama put up 615 yards of offense, with 389 coming on the ground. Backup running back Jalston Fowler cranked out 125 of those yards and had two touchdowns to his name.

Again, Alabama dominated the line of scrimmage and moved wherever and however it wanted to against Ole Miss, while the Rebels couldn't figure out which way was north. Ole Miss ran the ball 31 times for just 28 yards.

Ole Miss' offense line was gobbled up and with it went any hope of moving the ball on this tenacious Tide defense. The Rebels had offensive issues coming into the game, but nothing got cleared up against Alabama. And nothing was going to get cleared up.

Alabama looked like a team from another football planet out there. This was major mismatch in the worst way, but Alabama has made it look that way all season.

It doesn't look like this Tide team will be slowing down anytime soon.
Ole Miss’ defense is getting back to the roots of it all.

Fundamentals, attitude, a blue-collar work ethic and trying to outwork others will be the foundation of a defense that was a disaster in 2010.

Defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix said his players took their talents and what those before them did for granted last season. Players strutted around thinking the red carpet was going to roll out for them each game.

It didn’t come close to working that way as the Rebels ranked last in the SEC in scoring defense (35.2 points per game) and 11th in total defense (399.2) and passing defense (246.3). Ole Miss also allowed opponents to score a league-high 95 percent of the time when they ventured into the red zone (27 touchdowns and eight field goals in 37 attempts).

[+] EnlargeJoel Kight
Nelson Chenault/US PresswireJoel Kight is part of an Ole Miss defense that expects to be improved this season.
That’s a far cry from the defenses Nix led at Ole Miss in the previous two seasons. Those defenses commanded respect and delivered results. Last year’s defense just struggled to keep its head above water.

This season, Ole Miss is dealing with a slew of younger players on defense. It has been both exciting and tiresome for Nix and his defensive staff, but with days until the Rebels’ tough season-opener against BYU, Nix says he’s happy with where his defense is.

“These kids have really worked hard and are trying to restore some of the respect that was lost last year,” Nix said. “We built this thing up in the first couple of years and earned a lot of respect defensively and we’re going to continue to work toward that.”

In order to do that, this group has had to shovel away its pride and start over. Nix said he’s seen players getting to meetings on time or earlier this time around. Players are holding each other accountable instead of assuming they’ll get it right on the next play.

There is fire and determination in practice, Nix said, and he sees that in his coaching staff as well. Nix said the addition of Keith Burns as the secondary coach has been a major boost for the defense and added that the coaches have become better teachers. They too took past talents for granted.

Senior linebacker Joel Kight agrees: This team thought the past would push it in 2010. He was also wrong, but he also sees a change.

Kight sees more togetherness and trust among players. Youngsters are being vocal, but they are also willing to listen to veterans. Kight is being looked at as a leader, but he’s made sure he hasn’t fallen off in practice or his words will mean zilch to players, especially the young ones -- and there are a lot who will see the field early.

Top-rated linebackers C.J. Johnson and Serderius Bryant are expected make major impacts. So are defensive backs Cody Prewitt and Senquez Golson.

While Nix admits no true freshmen are ready to be regular starters, he thinks they’ll contribute a lot, starting with the opener.

Seasoned players will also guide this team. Senior end Kentrell Lockett is back after blowing out his knee last season, providing a tremendous presence in the pass rush. Wayne Dorsey will be assisting opposite, while Marcus Temple will lead a more athletic defensive backfield.

The hope, Kight said, is that everyone doesn't hold back this year.

“They say we have a lot of potential. I don’t really like the word potential,” he said. “I want to see us use that potential. We’re very talented and it’s up to us to be a good overall, all-around defense.”

But there will be plenty of hiccups. It’s hard for a unit to perform an instant 360, and Nix is fine with that. What he won’t tolerate is complacency. For the defense to shake last season’s setback, it will have to rediscover itself and get back to the foundation of football.

“You’re either at the top or at the bottom because everybody sitting in between is just a juggling act,” he said. “Right now, we’re at the bottom of it and we want to finish on top and all we can do is control the present and that’s play the best we can, play as a team and play fundamentally sound. If we do those things I think we’ll be happy with our season this year.”

SPONSORED HEADLINES