SEC: Player of the Week

Player of the week: SEC

December, 9, 2013
Was there any doubt?

Tre Mason was easily the most impressive player in the SEC, if not the country, over the weekend when he almost single-handedly beat Missouri to win the conference championship for Auburn.

Against a defensive front Alabama coach Nick Saban called the best in the league, Mason had his way. He left the Georgia Dome with a record 304 yards and four touchdowns. He was a workhorse, too, carrying the ball 46 times without a single fumble.

SEC and Auburn legend Bo Jackson looked on from the sideline and had to be impressed.

"He was like, 'You're probably one of the best players to ever put on an Auburn helmet,'" Mason said of Jackson. "He just was thanking me for being here. I was thanking him for being a mentor to me."

If one game can win the Heisman Trophy, Mason did as much anyone could to sway voters his way against Missouri. In fact, you could argue he did it in back-to-back weeks after gashing Alabama for 164 yards and a touchdown in the Iron Bowl.

Auburn senior defensive end Dee Ford thinks Mason deserves all the recognition he can get.

"Tre for Heisman," a giddy Ford said as he walked away from a brief session with reporters on Sunday. "It's going viral."

"I see a performance like that out of Tre every week," Auburn fullback Jay Prosch said a day earlier. "He runs hard, and he's the same runner every time. I love the guy."

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn checked in with Mason during the course of the game against Missouri and asked if he needed a break.

"He had that look on his face," Malzahn explained. "He said, 'Coach, keep giving it to me.'"

And what he did in Atlanta convinced Malzahn that he has a special player on his hands.

"He's proved he's one of the best running backs in the country, if not the best."

For at least one week, and probably a few more, he's shown he is.

Player of the week: SEC

December, 2, 2013
Without Nick Marshall, Chris Davis' grand finale -- the play now etched in history as Auburn's "Kick-Six," -- couldn't have happened. It was an Iron Bowl for the ages, as Marshall's Tigers pulled the staggering upset.

The Tigers' junior college transfer quarterback has come through in the clutch repeatedly throughout this miracle of a season. Saturday, in his and Auburn's biggest game of the season, he did it again.

As usual, Marshall directed Gus Malzahn's offense to great success with his arm and legs. He had the first big play of the game, a 45-yard TD sprint untouched on a read-option keeper that showed off his blazing speed. Marshall's uncanny connection on the read-option with tailback Tre Mason, the SEC's leading rusher, was on full display in the first half as the Tigers racked up 162 yards on the ground.

Alabama's defense came into Saturday's game with imposing numbers -- fourth in the nation in rushing defense, giving up 91.3 yards a game, and one touchdown or less allowed in nine of 11 games.

After it was over, Marshall and the Tigers' running game had earned the respect of Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban.

"They are a very difficult offense to defend. Like I said, it takes a lot of discipline," he said. "You certainly have to stop the run a little better than we did today to have a chance to beat a team like this."

Perhaps most impressive was the Tigers' fortitude in fighting back to tie the score twice after being down 21-7 in the second quarter.

"You've got to maintain your poise and play football until the clock says zero," Mason said. "He's the leader, he's the quarterback, he has to lead us and he's doing a good job of [showing poise]."

Marshall finished 11-of-16 passing for 97 yards and two touchdowns, none bigger than his nifty toss to a wide-open Sammie Coates for a 39-yard score that tied the score at 28-28 with 32 seconds remaining.

With 99 yards on 17 carries, Marshall now has the fourth-most rushing yards in the nation among QBs (922) to go along with 10 TDs. He's averaging 83.8 yards a game, fifth in the nation among QBs.

More importantly, after two straight miracle finishes, Marshall has the No. 3 Tigers in the SEC championship game and poised to challenge for the BCS national championship game.

For the former Georgia Bulldog defensive back who transformed back into a quarterback at little Garden City (Kan.) Community College, it doesn't get any more impressive than the arc of this season's journey.

Player of the week: SEC

November, 25, 2013
You have to feel for Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, whose college career ended on Saturday when he tore the ACL in his left knee during the second quarter of the Bulldogs' rout of Kentucky. It happened in the final home game of his storied career, his family watching in horror as Murray grimaced in pain when he was helped off the field.

It's hard to believe what happened just a short time after the Bulldogs fans in Sanford Stadium rose to shower their love and applause on Murray, the last of 28 seniors who were introduced during a pre-game ceremony.

In the short time that he played on Saturday, Murray picked apart the hapless Wildcats in a performance as worthy as any in a weekend slate of SEC games that featured more defensive battles (and FCS opponents) than we've grown accustomed to this season.

Murray was 18-for-23 passing for 183 yards and four touchdown passes and made some more history, which is another thing SEC fans have grown accustomed to this season. In the first quarter he became the fifth player in FBS history -- and the first SEC quarterback -- to pass for 3,000 yards or more in four seasons.

This season, Murray had already become the SEC's all-time leader in touchdown passes, a record previously held by Florida QB Danny Wuerffel (1993-96). He also became the conference's all-time leading passer, breaking the record of Florida's Tim Tebow (2006-09). The previous week, in a loss to Auburn, Murray claimed the all-time SEC record for completions.

Murray finished his college career with 1,478 pass attempts, 921 completions, 13,166 yards passing, 121 touchdowns and 41 interceptions. Even before Saturday's untimely end to his career, he had already earned the respect and admiration of so many across the SEC.

“I will say Aaron Murray is one of the best passers to ever play in the SEC,” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said last week.

Of that there is no doubt. Unfortunately for Murray, Georgia and Bulldogs fans everywhere, his time in the iconic red-and-black uniform is history as well.

Player of the week: SEC

November, 18, 2013
All Jordan Matthews has done is produce.

Throughout his Vanderbilt career and in the past two seasons especially, the senior receiver has simply gotten the job done for the Commodores, catching passes and showing why he's one of the best receivers in the league -- and the country.

This past weekend was no different, though Matthews even set a personal record with a career-high 12 catches for 141 yards in Vanderbilt's 22-6 win over Kentucky.

Matthews is first in the SEC in receptions (83) and second in the league in receiving yards (1,076). He's the only receiver in SEC history to post two seasons of 80 or more catches.

This is the homestretch of a pretty impressive career, statistically. Matthews is the SEC's career leader in receiving yards with 3,358 and needs just four catches to become the league's all-time leader in receptions (the current record is held by former Vanderbilt receiver Earl Bennett, who has 236).

"I think it is his determination. He has unbelievable understanding of who he is and what his strengths are," Vanderbilt coach James Franklin said of Matthews on Monday. "As a staff, we like to find different ways each week to get him the ball. He is a kind of guy that exemplifies our program, with having a chip on his shoulder."

Not surprisingly, Matthews' ascent has coincided with Vanderbilt's under Franklin. Last season the Commodores went 9-4 and this season they're trying to finish the same way and have already clinched bowl eligibility for the third straight season.

On Monday, Matthews was also among three SEC receivers to be named one of 10 semifinalists for the Biletnikoff Award, which goes to the nation's best receiver at the end of the season. LSU's Odell Beckham and Texas A&M's Mike Evans join him as semifinalists. Saturday's performance against Kentucky was Matthews' 16th career 100-yard receiving game and his 31st straight game with a reception, which leads the SEC.

Player of the week: SEC

November, 11, 2013
The Gus Bus is humming along at Auburn.

A 55-23 win at Tennessee on Saturday has Gus Malzahn looking like a genius, as Nick Marshall, the man he's put behind the wheel has made all the right turns on offense.

Marshall said he was simply "going with the flow" when he carved up the Vols defense, rushing for 214 yards and two touchdowns on just 14 carries. Tennessee's defenders couldn't figure him out, and when they had their hands on him, they couldn't bring him down.

"They were giving us a lot of choices," Marshall told reporters, "but they can't really stop the run. So we kept our foot on their throat and ran it down their throat."

It was clear watching Auburn dismantle Tennessee: Malzahn might be the best play-caller in the SEC, and he might have found the perfect quarterback to execute his plays in Marshall.

"He's a great athlete," Malzahn said of Marshall. "He's starting to understand the offense, he's making the right decisions and when he gets the ball out in space, he can really do some things."

Auburn doesn't throw the ball much, averaging 11.3 attempts in its past three games, but it doesn't have to. Passing has become optional with Marshall orchestrating the offense.

Running the read-option, Marshall helped Auburn to a total of 444 yards on the ground at Neyland Stadium, increasing its lead as the league's top rushing attack. Tre Mason benefited to the tune of 117 yards and three touchdowns. Marshall, meanwhile, finished eight yards shy of a school record for rushing yards by a quarterback. His 214 yards were the most of any player in the SEC this season and tied for third in Auburn's history behind Cam Newton's 217-yard performance against LSU in 2010.

There was no doubt that Marshall, who was named the SEC Player of the Week on offense, was at his best against Tennessee. Of the 30 best single-game rushing performances in the FBS this year, his 15.29 yards per rush against the Vols trailed only Army's Terry Baggett, who ran for 16.89 yards per rush against Eastern Michigan.

Now he just has to keep it up.

If the Gus Bus is going to reach a BCS bowl, Marshall will be the one driving it.

Next stop: Georgia.

Player of the week: SEC

November, 4, 2013
Growing up, Tre Mason said he was always looked at as an underdog. Those days are over. The Auburn running back rushed for 168 yards and a career-high four touchdowns in the Tigers’ 35-17 win at Arkansas on Saturday.

It was obvious early on that it was going to be one of those days for Mason. He picked up 15 yards on his first carry, and he had 59 yards and a touchdown on the first two Auburn drives. The coaches knew it, too. They kept giving him the rock, and by the end of the game, the junior had a career-high 32 carries. He scored a touchdown in every quarter.

Before the season, it was Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon and Georgia’s Todd Gurley who were first-team All-SEC nominations, but through nine games, Mason has surpassed both of them and is on par with South Carolina’s Mike Davis as the league’s best running back.

He leads the SEC (third nationally) with 13 touchdowns, and he’s third in the conference (13th nationally) with 921 yards.

More importantly, he has become a workhorse for this Auburn team. Early in the season, he split carries with Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant, but that changed when the Tigers began their SEC slate. The coaches put the offense on Mason’s back, and he has delivered. He’s averaging a league-best 23.2 carries per game in the team’s five conference games.

The 5-foot-10, 205-pound back rushed for 132 yards and two touchdowns at LSU. He had 178 yards and a touchdown at Texas A&M. And he put together maybe his performance yet with 168 yards and four scores Saturday at Arkansas.

Auburn is ranked No. 9 in the latest BCS standings, and with three games still to play, the Tigers control their own destiny in the SEC West.

“Our goal is the national championship,” Mason said. “It’s a team goal. And it’s not going to change.”

The bar is set pretty high for a team that finished 3-9 a season ago, but if Mason keeps running this way, who is going to stop them? Next up is another road game with Tennessee, and you can bet Mason’s name will be called early and often against the Volunteers.

Player of the week: SEC

October, 28, 2013
Is there a tougher player in the SEC than South Carolina’s Connor Shaw? The senior quarterback wasn’t expected to play Saturday at Missouri after he sprained his knee the week before. To make matters worse, Shaw came down with a stomach virus before the game. He still made the trip to Columbia, Mo., and coach Steve Spurrier is glad he did.

Through three quarters, the Gamecocks had yet to score with Dylan Thompson under center. That’s when Spurrier turned to Shaw -- sick, injured and all. The South Carolina star delivered yet again for the Head Ball Coach.

Shaw went 14 of 18 for 168 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter alone as the Gamecocks rallied from 17 down to tie the game. He added another touchdown in the first overtime, and by the end of the game, he had accumulated more than 200 yards through the air.

He came in sick and injured, not expecting to play. He left on his teammates’ shoulders, hoisting the “The Mayor’s Cup,” given to the winner in the “Battle of Columbia.”

It was a legendary performance from Shaw, but it’s not the first time he has played through injury. Earlier this season, he was doubtful for the Kentucky game with an injured shoulder but played and played well. He finished 17 of 20 for 262 yards and a touchdown against the Wildcats. He also rushed for 50 yards and a score despite the bum shoulder.

On the year, Shaw has now thrown for more than 1,500 yards with 14 touchdowns and just one interception. He has rushed for 389 yards and three scores.

More importantly, South Carolina is back in contention for the SEC East crown. Missouri still holds a game advantage, but a trip to Ole Miss later in the year and a matchup with Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M to finish the season could be troublesome for the Tigers. One loss and there could be a three-way tie with the Gamecocks and the winner of this weekend’s Florida-Georgia game.

Regardless of what happens to South Carolina, this is Shaw’s team.

Player of the week: SEC

October, 21, 2013
If Mike Evans could play against a team from Alabama each week, he might break every receiving record in SEC history.

The Texas A&M sophomore might be well on his way to doing that, regardless.

In Saturday's 45-41 loss to Auburn, Evans nearly posted the best single-game performance by an SEC receiver, finishing with 11 catches for 287 yards and four touchdowns. That left him just 16 yards shy of the league record that Arkansas' Cobi Hamilton set last year against Rutgers.

That he did it in a loss is somewhat remarkable (so did Hamilton, for that matter), as Auburn's defense had absolutely no answer for Evans. By the end of the first quarter, the 6-foot-5 star already had 140 yards and two touchdowns. The Tigers certainly tried to make some halftime adjustments to slow him down, but Evans still had 105 yards and another TD catch in the second half.

It was a ridiculous performance that surpassed even his unbelievable day against Alabama earlier this season, when he logged seven receptions for 279 yards. That's 18 catches for 566 yards in two games against teams from the state of Alabama. And crazily enough, those are the only two games the Aggies have lost.

But you certainly can't lay that at Evans' feet. He already has more than 1,000 receiving yards (1,024 on 43 receptions) in just seven games -- with his 146.3 yards per game leading the SEC and ranking second nationally behind only Oregon State's Brandin Cooks (168.0).

With five games to go in the regular season -- plus whatever he achieves in the postseason -- Evans has LSU great Josh Reed's 2001 record pace within his sights. Reed finished that season with 94 catches for 1,740 yards and 145 yards per game, all SEC records.

It might take another performance like Saturday's to put him over the top, but Evans has quickly emerged as one of the nation's most dangerous receivers. With Texas A&M putting up huge offensive numbers on a weekly basis, he just might get there.

Player of the week: SEC

October, 14, 2013
Just when you thought Johnny Manziel showed you everything in his bag of tricks, he pulls another one out of it to satisfy his audience.

On Saturday, it was overcoming a brief scare from a first-half knee injury and overcoming a pair of second-half turnovers to lead Texas A&M to a 41-38 come-from-behind win at Ole Miss, the second straight season the Aggies had to overcome a fourth-quarter deficit in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

Manziel was once again dazzling in his performance, completing 31-of-39 passes for 349 yards and rushing for 113 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries. It is the fourth time in his career that he has thrown for 300 or more and rushed for 100 or more in the same game, more times than anybody in FBS history.

Most of those numbers were garnered after Manziel fell to the turf, clutching his left knee, with 5:58 remaining in the second quarter, after throwing an incomplete pass. After some brief uncertainty, Manziel was tended to by the trainers, slid a brace onto the knee, tested it and returned to the field for another in what has been a long line of impressive performances for the reigning Heisman Trophy winner.

In the fourth quarter he helped engineer three late scoring drives, two that kept the Aggies neck and neck with the Rebels after falling behind by a touchdown on two occasions and the game-winning drive, which was capped by a 33-yard Josh Lambo field goal as time expired.

"The thing that makes him different is that he's one of the greatest competitors that I've ever been around," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. "He takes chances, plays a little bit on the edge but because of that, that's what makes him [who he is]. He's only got one way to do things."

If Manziel keeps it up, the No. 7 Aggies (5-1, 2-1 SEC) can feel good about what's ahead in the second half of the season.

Player of the week: SEC

October, 7, 2013
He and his team have flown largely under the radar this season, but Missouri defensive end Michael Sam is quietly putting together an impressive résumé.

With his three sacks in the Tigers' 51-28 thumping of Vanderbilt on Saturday, Sam jumped past some better-known players on the SEC's season sack list and tied Arkansas' Chris Smith for the league lead with six. Sam also claimed the SEC lead in tackles for a loss with 10, good for an average of two per game.

Two of Sam's sacks against the Commodores came on fourth-down plays in the fourth quarter, halting drives when Vandy was attempting to rally from a big early deficit.

It was actually Sam's second straight three-sack game. He recorded the trifecta a week earlier against Arkansas State and also forced a fumble in the Tigers' 41-19 win. The SEC named Sam as its defensive lineman of the week after each of his last two standout performances.

Fifteen players have recorded three sacks in a game this season across all of FBS football, but only Sam has done it twice thus far. He ranks fifth nationally with an average of 1.2 sacks per game and is sixth in tackles for a loss (2.0).

Sam will have his work cut out this week, however. After allowing Clemson to sack quarterback Aaron Murray four times in its opener, Georgia's offensive line has surrendered just three sacks since. With Sam leading the charge, Missouri ranks second in the SEC with 15 team sacks, so that will be one of the key matchups to watch in Saturday's game between the No. 7 Bulldogs (4-1, 3-0 SEC) and No. 25 Tigers (5-0, 1-0) in Athens.

Regardless, the fifth-year senior already has posted career highs for sacks and tackles for a loss through just five games, helping resurgent Missouri enter the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time since early in the 2011 season. If Sam can help the Tigers keep it up on Saturday, his team will become one of the legitimate favorites to win the SEC East.

Player of the Week: SEC

September, 30, 2013
By now you're probably well-versed in the Zach Mettenberger homecoming angle from last Saturday's Georgia-LSU game. You might even be tired of it.

But considering the circumstances surrounding the game -- his return to play against the program he grew up cheering for, where his mother still works, despite his having been kicked off Georgia's team in 2010 following an offseason arrest -- LSU's quarterback is a no-brainer as the SEC's top performer on Saturday.

His typically powerful running game was accomplishing very little and his defense was completely ineffective. That left it up to Mettenberger and his talented team of wide receivers to help the Tigers stay in the game, and they did, scratching back to take the lead late in the fourth quarter before Georgia ultimately scored the game-winning touchdown with 1:47 to play, giving the Bulldogs a 44-41 victory.

Mettenberger had one final opportunity to complete his homecoming with a storybook ending, but his fourth-down pass sailed high and Georgia escaped with the win.

Nonetheless, Mettenberger --already one of the most improved quarterbacks in college football this season == delivered the finest performance of his career, completing 23 of 37 passes for 372 yards and three touchdowns.

He showed no signs of distraction following a week of questions about emotional conflicts and previous off-the-field issues when he returned to the stadium where he once hoped to become a star wearing red and black. It would have been understandable if Mettenberger turned in a tight performance under such circumstances, but it was quite the opposite.

Yes it was in a losing effort, but Mettenberger's play against Georgia was about as impressive as it gets.

Player of the week: SEC

September, 23, 2013
The sophomore running back class in the SEC is as good as it gets. It’s a group that includes Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon, Georgia’s Todd Gurley and South Carolina’s Mike Davis among others, but it was LSU sophomore Jeremy Hill who outshined them all in a 35-21 win against Auburn on Saturday night.

Hill sat out the season opener against TCU and the first quarter of LSU's second game after he was arrested in a bar scuffle last spring. But his teammates voted him back on the team before the season, and he’s taken full advantage of it since his return to the field.

Against Auburn, the 6-foot-2, 235-pound back rushed for a career-high 184 yards and two touchdowns. He did most of his damage in the first half with 152 yards and all three scores coming before the intermission.

On his first carry, Hill broke through the line and took it 49 yards to the house. He followed that up with a 10-yard touchdown run on his very next touch. Before Auburn knew what hit them, the LSU star had 59 yards and two scores on just two carries. Both teams battled heavy rain and nasty weather conditions, but Hill set the tone early for the home-standing Tigers.

“He looked pretty good to me,” LSU coach Les Miles said after the game. “He ran hard, and it’s nice to have him back.”

Quarterback Zach Mettenberger has stolen most of the attention with his turnaround -- and he likely will again this week with his return to Georgia -- but Hill has already rushed for 350 yards and six touchdowns since returning to the team. He’s averaging 8.3 yards per carry, tied for 10th best in college football.

The sophomore could really make a name for himself this weekend when LSU travels to Georgia in the SEC’s marquee game of the week. Davis rushed for 149 yards and a touchdown against the Bulldogs in week two.

Player of the Week: SEC

September, 16, 2013
Either of the quarterbacks from Saturday's Alabama-Texas A&M could make a compelling argument to be named the SEC's top performer of the week. After all, Alabama's AJ McCarron threw for 339 yards and four touchdowns in a 49-42 win, while Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel was as electric as ever in compiling 562 total yards and five scores.

But let's go a different direction with this week's pick: Ole Miss running back Jeff Scott, who helped the Rebels get off to a 3-0 start for the first time since 1989.

Ole Miss hammered reeling Texas 44-23 -- in Austin no less -- with the speedy back dominating on the ground and dealing the Longhorns a crushing blow by returning a punt 73 yards for a touchdown at the end of the third quarter.

The Rebels earned an enormous program-building victory by outscoring Texas 27-0 in the second half, and Scott's running ability was a key factor. The 5-foot-7 speedster took handoff after handoff on speed option running plays that Texas had no answer for, with Scott compiling 164 rushing yards, one touchdown and averaging 8.6 yards per carry.

The biggest play of the night was probably Scott's punt return, however. It was still a one-score game at 31-23 late in the third quarter when Scott caught an Anthony Fera punt at his own 27 and immediately slithered away from a pack of four Longhorns to break into the open field. Similar to his game-winning 75-yard touchdown run late in Week 1 against Vanderbilt, Scott managed to slip multiple tackle attempts and then turned on his impressive speed to turn in a highlight-reel touchdown.

Ole Miss' victory garnered only a fraction of the attention that Alabama's win in College Station received, but it's as big a win as the Rebels have earned in years -- and Scott was one of the leading factors in his team's toppling one of the traditional powers in the sport.

Player of the week: SEC

September, 9, 2013
More than a few eyebrows were raised in the preseason when the SEC coaches chose Georgia’s Aaron Murray over Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and Alabama’s AJ McCarron as the league’s top quarterback.

Murray, a fifth-year senior, has generated eye-popping numbers during his career, but the knock on him was that he hadn’t won enough big games or played particularly well in big games.

That knock rings hollow now after his virtuoso performance against No. 6 South Carolina on Saturday in Georgia’s 41-30 win. Murray finished 17-of-23 for 309 yards and four touchdowns and didn’t throw an interception.

Through two games, Murray leads the SEC with 632 passing yards and is completing 71.2 percent of his passes. There were two plays in the win over the Gamecocks (both touchdowns and both coming on third down) that epitomized what Murray means to the Bulldogs.

The first one was an 8-yard touchdown pass to Todd Gurley in the third quarter. Murray had the presence while scrambling to motion to Gurley to cut back toward the corner of the end zone, and the play popped wide open for the touchdown.

Then in the fourth quarter, South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney burst up the middle on an inside move, but Murray sprinted to the left side and threw a strike on the run to Justin Scott-Wesley for an 85-yard touchdown.

“Every time we needed a play or every time it looked like South Carolina was making a move, Aaron was there to shoot them down,” Georgia tight end Arthur Lynch said.

Video: National player of the week

September, 9, 2013

Mark Schlabach picks Aaron Murray for his five-star player of the week after the Georgia quarterback threw four TDs in the Bulldogs' win over South Carolina.



Wednesday, 12/24
Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
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Friday, 12/26
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Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
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Thursday, 1/1
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Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12