Video: Alabama RB Trent Richardson

January, 7, 2012

Chris Low interviewed Alabama running back Trent Richardson at media day.
NEW ORLEANS -- When Alabama’s defensive players think about Round 1 with LSU, all those blown assignments in the running game stand out.

LSU was one of only two FBS teams to rush for more than 100 yards against Alabama’s defense. The Tigers rushed for 148 yards on 41 carries and wore down one of the best front sevens in the nation.

No matter how good or gritty the defense is, it’s tough to stop a running game that throws fresh legs out there like LSU does. The Tigers can have four to five backs carry the ball on any given drive. It keeps the Tigers’ legs fresh and defenders exhausted.

“It’s hard for teams to prepare for us because they don’t know who they’re going to get or what they’re going to get,” said LSU running back Michael Ford, who led the Tigers with 72 rushing yards against Alabama in November.

[+] EnlargeJordan Jefferson
Spruce Derden/US PresswireOne of the Crimson Tide's biggest challenges will be containing Jordan Jefferson, who thrives at escaping pressure and breaking big plays.
Tide players are certainly giving LSU’s backs their due. They understand that those guys can play. But they feel some of their own mistakes definitely helped get the Tigers rolling.

Players were out of position. Running gaps weren’t filled. Jobs didn’t get done.

“We had guys in the right spot, but then we’d have another guy who’s not,” Alabama linebacker Courtney Upshaw said. “It’s on all 11 players on defense to get to the ball and be in the right spot.”

The most frustrating part for players is that stopping the run is what Alabama does. Alabama leads the nation in rushing defense and is giving up just 2.5 yards per carry.

Defensive tackle Josh Chapman said the key is to own the big uglies up front and force LSU to throw. The more teams try to beat Alabama through the air, the more mistakes are made.

“We have to go out and create a new line of scrimmage,” Chapman said. “One thing we do try to do is make teams one-dimensional, and that’s by throwing the ball. Once you throw the ball, our DBs have a mindset that once it’s in the air, it’s ours.”

But that won’t be so easy with this LSU team. The Tigers have yet another running threat that creates a supreme multiheaded backfield monster.

When asked what Alabama’s defense had to account for most during Monday’s Allstate BCS National Championship Game, linebacker Dont’a Hightower emphatically said two words: Jordan Jefferson.

“He’s their MVP,” Hightower said. “He’s the reason why they’re doing so good right now.”

He’s become such a weapon because he has the ability to run. He can squirm his way out of tough situations when the pocket collapses, opening up running lanes and passing plays.

Defensive breakdowns helped Jefferson be successful on designed runs, options and wild scrambles. Tide players are particularly worried about the option because it brings the element of Jefferson running AND one of the many running backs right back into the picture.

For Alabama’s defense to be successful in stopping LSU’s rushing attack, which led the SEC with 220.4 yards against league opponents, Hightower said it comes down to closing in on rushing lanes, filling gaps and throwing in some tricky defensive looks to confuse Jefferson.

When Jefferson keeps the ball, it’s all about containment.

“I feel like once you keep a dual-threat quarterback inside the pocket, I feel like he’s kind of done,” Hightower said.

LSU’s ground game can hurt Alabama in so many different ways. From Jefferson’s legs, to runners that average well over 220 pounds, LSU’s backfield is a physical force that overpowered Alabama the first time.

Well, Hightower says bring it. Hightower is excited for his shot at redemption and wants to prove that Alabama is just as tough.

Hightower wants that robust running game to come right at this defense.

“I like power guys,” he said. “I don’t like chasing the guys who run the 4.23s. I don’t like that. I’d rather them line up in the I-formation and just run at me.”

SEC headed toward historic finish

January, 7, 2012
With Arkansas winning 29-16 over Kansas State on Friday night in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, the SEC is poised for what would be an historic finish in the final polls.

There’s a very good chance that four SEC teams will be ranked among the top 8 teams in at least one of the final polls when they come out next week.

LSU was No. 1 and Alabama No. 2 in both the Associated Press and USA Today coaches’ polls to end the regular season, and they will meet on Monday night in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game.

Arkansas was No. 7 in both polls prior to its Cotton Bowl victory, and No. 4 Stanford lost in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

South Carolina, which thumped Nebraska 30-13 in the Capital One Bowl, was No. 9 in the coaches’ poll and No. 10 in the AP poll. Wisconsin was ahead of the Gamecocks by one spot in both polls, but lost in the Rose Bowl.

It would be the first top 10 finish in school history for the Gamecocks.

The best the SEC had previously done was four teams in the AP’s top 9 in 1952, and one of those was former league member Georgia Tech at No. 2. The Yellow Jackets are now in the ACC. The SEC also had four teams in the AP’s top 10 in 1959 (No. 2 Ole Miss, No. 3 LSU, No. 5 Georgia and No. 10 Alabama) and 1942 (No. 2 Georgia, No. 5 Georgia Tech, No. 7 Tennessee and No. 10 Alabama).

In the old UPI poll, the SEC had four teams finish in the top 9 in 1971.

This season also marks the first time in SEC history that four teams have won 11 or more games. Alabama, Arkansas and South Carolina have all won 11, while LSU has won 14.

No other league in the country this season has produced four 11-game winners.

No lack of respect in the trenches

January, 7, 2012
NEW ORLEANS -- The trenches were no place for the meek the last time Alabama and LSU tangled, and that’s where this game will be won on Monday night in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game.

Alabama center William Vlachos said LSU’s depth up front in the defensive line was staggering, and that every time he looked up there were three or four fresh guys running into the game.

“They’re deep, but they’re also good and very well-coached,” Vlachos said. “They don’t make many mistakes.”

"I was like, 'Dang, he's short,' and he is short. But he's got the leverage all the time. I'm 6-6 and don't know how tall he is, 6-1 or 6-2, but he's under my pads pretty much every play. "

-- LSU's Michael Brokers on Alabama's William Vlachos
That respect is mutual.

LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers said Vlachos, who’s listed at 6-1 (which is probably a stretch), is one of the best he’s gone against. The 6-6 Brockers has Vlachos by a good five or six inches, which is not always ideal for an interior defensive lineman.

“I kind of took it as funny at first because he’s so short,” Brockers said. “I was like, ‘Dang, he’s short,’ and he is short. But he’s got the leverage all the time. I’m 6-6 and don’t know how tall he is, 6-1 or 6-2, but he’s under my pads pretty much every play.

“Sometimes he’s blocking me and I’m looking over him and saying, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m getting blocked.’ That guy uses his strength and leverage to his advantage.”

Brockers said the only thing more difficult than going up against Alabama’s offensive line is trying to tackle Trent Richardson.

“After the (first) game, my neck was hurting, shoulders, everything,” Brockers said. “It’s like hitting a brick wall constantly. He gets the ball a lot, so you have to hit him a lot. You can’t know how solid he really is.

“We’ve got to get all 11 hats to the ball. You can’t take that dude down with one guy.”

Richardson rushed for 89 hard-earned yards on 23 carries in the first game against LSU and also caught five passes for 80 yards, but the Crimson Tide were stymied any time they moved inside the 30.

This time, Richardson said Alabama needs to “step on the throat."

Four different times back on Nov. 5, Alabama had a first-and-10 at the LSU 30 (or closer) only to be bogged down by a negative play on first down. Twice they lost yardage, once on a reverse to receiver Marquis Maze. They also had 5-yard penalty on a substitution infraction, and Maze’s pass out of the Wildcat formation was intercepted by LSU’s Eric Reid at the 1.

In overtime, the Crimson Tide had another 5-yard penalty on a substitution infraction with it second-and-1o at the 25.

“Everybody wants to talk about our kickers not making their field goals,” Richardson said. “Those were long field goals. We’re the ones who need to finish drives.”

Maze suggested that Alabama might have gotten too cute with a few of the trick plays and needs to do what it does best on offense and go right after the Tigers.

Of course, that’s easier said than done against an LSU defense that simply doesn’t give up many touchdowns, period, and specializes in knocking teams out of scoring position.

“Here’s the deal. If a couple of those things had worked, we would have been geniuses,” Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain said. “If we would have just run the ball inside, it would have been the other way. That’s the beauty of this sport. That’s the beauty of you guys (the media). You’ve got to have something to write about. You either make a great call or you don’t.

“Give them the credit on defense. They stopped us.”

Video: Arkansas DE Tank Wright

January, 7, 2012
AM ET Big 12 blogger David Ubben talks with Arkansas DE Tank Wright following the Razorbacks' victory in the Cotton Bowl.

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Arkansas punt returner Joe Adams made one quick cut between a wall of Kansas State defenders, and sprinted toward the sideline before turning upfield.

Around 40 or so yards later, Adams crossed the goal line and emphatically slammed the ball into the Cowboys Stadium turf.

The Hogs were rolling. They led by double digits. The red half of the 80,956 in attendance was going hog wild.

All that, and Arkansas' offense hadn't even recorded a first down yet on the way to its 29-16 victory over the Wildcats in Friday night's AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic.

So much for Snyderball.

[+] EnlargeTyler Wilson
Tim Heitman/US PresswireQB Tyler Wilson helped Arkansas win 11 games for the first time in 34 seasons.
Arkansas showed up to the Cotton Bowl and K-Stated K-State.

"That's why it's a team game," Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said. "Our defense gave us three points right off the bat. Special teams scored seven."

All season long, Kansas State's physical running offense plodded along to a ninth-place finish in total offense in the pass-happy Big 12 while an opportunistic defense and special teams waited for opponents to make mistakes.

Earlier this season, the Wildcats won four consecutive games as an underdog while also being outgained.

This time, against Arkansas, Kansas State made the mistakes it had collected from opponents all year long.

"We got off to an awfully bad start and really couldn't overcome the damage that we did," said K-State's 72-year-old coaching savant, Bill Snyder, "and most of it was pretty obvious."

Yeah, it was.

On the game's second possession, Arkansas defensive end Jake Bequette slipped into the backfield and stripped Wildcats quarterback Collin Klein from behind, but Arkansas' offense couldn't capitalize on the great field position and settled for a 26-yard field goal.

The Wildcats fielded an Arkansas' punt on the next possession at the 3-yard line, getting stuffed at the 4 and tightening up an offense that was bothered by dropped passes for much of the first half.

A predictable three-and-out followed to set up Adams' key return.

"It obviously made a major difference. How did I like it? I didn't like it a bit," Snyder said. "But, you know, we knew he's a talented player. We knew that he could make you miss him. We knew they were probably tired of me talking about being able to contain Joe Adams and not let him bounce the ball outside. Sure enough, he bounced it outside.

"But he's a very, very talented player. That's not the first time he's done that."

In fact, it was the fifth time — and fourth this season, an SEC single-season record. That was highlighted by a work of art against Tennessee in which Adams made approximately 52 tacklers miss on the way to an impossible return that might be the greatest highlight of the 2011 season.

"It was another one of those where you just go, 'Wow!" Petrino said. "You could see when he made the catch he had in mind what he was going to do. ... Joe showed great acceleration, made another spectacular play for us."

Kansas State's special-teams wizardry was muted. Ralph Guidry blocked his fifth kick of the year. Nigel Malone scooped up the extra point and ran it back for two points, but it wasn't enough. The Wildcats' answer for Adams, kick returner Tyler Lockett, dressed but didn't play after suffering a lacerated kidney this season. He ran back two kicks for scores and emerged as the Big 12's most dangerous special-teams player. He could only watch as Adams did to his team what he'd done to so many others in 2011.

"The difference in the game was how well we played on defense and the field position we were able to give our offense," Petrino said.

Kansas State's running game was mostly unproductive foot-shuffling that got it nowhere. The Wildcats carried the ball 40 times for just 86 yards and gave up six sacks.

Like so many other games this season, the Wildcats were outgained. This time, it was 345-260. Unlike so many other games this season, Kansas State couldn't find a way to win. Early mistakes made sure it hardly had a chance. It climbed back to 19-16 before Arkansas' offense, the best in the SEC, started to click.

"This game was about we need to stop this run, stop this quarterback. We tightened them up," Petrino said. "Once it became third down, (our defensive ends) widened out and teed off, made huge plays for us, the turnover early and the sacks."

The mistakes were too much. On an off-night for Kansas State's offense, it had far from enough.

Kansas State and Arkansas left Dallas with a pair of memorable double-digit-victory seasons, but Arkansas, as the three SEC teams in this game before it, will look back fondly on the finale.

"We really wanted to get them 11 wins," said Petrino, who has won 21 games in the past two seasons, giving Arkansas its first 11-win season since 1977 and third in program history. "Make sure that everybody remembered this football team."

Arkansans will. And so will Kansas State.

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Arkansas proved it was the better team on Friday night with a performance solid enough to keep Kansas State at an arm's length for most of the night.

Time for some analysis. Plenty more on the way tonight.

How the game was won: Neither team brought its A game, but Arkansas' defense played one of its best games of the season and the Kansas State offense didn't do enough to chase down the Hogs, who jumped out to a 19-0 second-quarter lead, and a late third-quarter score helped put the game out of reach before Kansas State's Anthony Cantele missed a 43-yard kick with 6:36 to play.

Turning point: Kansas State took the momentum with 16 consecutive points to get within 19-16 less than four minutes into the second half, but the Hogs' Tyler Wilson put together a huge drive, going 58 yards in 11 plays to put the lead back to 26-16. He capped it with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Cobi Hamilton and completed 5 of 7 passes for 60 yards on the drive, thanks to penalties.

Stat of the game: Kansas State rushed 40 times for 86 yards. That average of just over 2 yards per carry isn't good enough for K-State's run-oriented offense to have a chance. Credit Arkansas' defense on that one.

Second-guessing: Kansas State's decision to punt to Joe Adams. He was dangerous more in the first half, but he broke a 51-yard return for a score to put Arkansas up 10-0. Kansas State should have known better or avoided him more deliberately. You don't need to look far to see why.

What it means: Arkansas becomes the fourth consecutive SEC team to win the Cotton Bowl and grabs the third 11-win season in school history and first since 1977, a year after making the school's first BCS bowl. Coach Bobby Petrino has the Hogs rolling. They'll come back in 2012 with plenty of potential to chase after an SEC title. Wilson loses three of his top four receivers, but he proved his worth as a quarterback this season.

Kansas State finished with 10 victories, its first double-digit win season since winning the Big 12 in 2003. The Wildcats' pluckiness ran out in this one, and they couldn't earn a seventh win as an underdog this season.

Record performance: Collin Klein became the Big 12's single-season leader for rushing touchdowns with a 6-yard run in the third quarter for his 27th of the season, tying Texas' Ricky Williams.

Record performance II: Adams' first-half punt return was his fourth on the season, giving him the SEC single-season for punt return touchdowns. He has five for his career.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Kansas State defensive end Meshak Williams was injured late in the first half of the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic after helmet-to-helmet contact with a teammate while trying to make a tackle.

Williams remained on his back after the play in the closing seconds of the second quarter.

Medical personnel tended to Williams on the field for several minutes before putting him on a stretcher, then on a cart. Williams gave a thumbs-up signal while being placed on the cart, then extended his right arm high and flashed a Wildcats sign.

Williams was pursuing Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson, who ducked to avoid being hit. Williams then made contact with linebacker Emmanuel Lamur, who was coming from the other side.

There was no immediate word of Williams' specific injury or condition.

Schlabach: It's the kicks

January, 6, 2012
NEW ORLEANS -- The most important development in No. 2 Alabama's preparations for its rematch against No. 1 LSU in Monday night's Allstate BCS National Championship Game might have come on the last play of their final practice in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Only a couple of hours before the Crimson Tide boarded a plane for New Orleans on Wednesday, sophomore kicker Cade Foster booted a 54-yard field goal at the end of a one-minute drill against the team's No. 1 defense.

It might have been the emotional lift that Foster -- and his teammates -- needed before playing the Tigers again.

On Nov. 5, Foster and fellow Alabama kicker Jeremy Shelley combined to miss four field goals in the Crimson Tide's 9-6 overtime loss to LSU in Tuscaloosa. If the Crimson Tide hadn't managed to earn a trip to New Orleans to play LSU on Monday night -- the first regular-season rematch in BCS title game history -- the earlier loss might have haunted the Crimson Tide forever.

"It's a huge relief and a huge opportunity," Shelley said. "We've got to come back and show them what we can do and hopefully put them away."

For Mark Schlabach's full column, click here.

Tyrann Mathieu not running from past

January, 6, 2012

NEW ORLEANS -- Before the "Honey Badger" learned to take what he wanted, his aunt and uncle had to give him what he needed.

As No. 1 LSU prepares to play No. 2 Alabama in Monday night's Allstate BCS National Championship Game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Tigers star cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, who has affectionately become known as the "Honey Badger," has returned to the city where he was raised.

Mathieu, who was named a Heisman Trophy finalist and won the Bednarik Award as the country's top defensive player as a sophomore, said his troubled childhood helped him become the player he is today.

For Mark Schlabach's full story, click here.

Video: Collins to Bama, mom wanted LSU

January, 6, 2012

Landon Collins joins SportsCenter after choosing Alabama over LSU, upsetting his mother.
NEW ORLEANS – Thoughts race through Tyrann Mathieu’s brain as his piercing stare finds the opposing offense’s huddle.

For only a split second his eyes wander, as he scans his surroundings. He checks to see what down it is. Glances at the yard marker to calculate the precise distance needed for the first down, then communicates with his teammates.

[+] EnlargeTyrann Mathieu
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireHis game instinct and hours of study help Tyrann Mathieu make the most of his physical abilities.
LSU’s superstar sophomore cornerback finds some sort of order with his defensive comrades before fixing his eyes back on the huddle. In real time, it’s been only a matter of seconds, maybe shorter, but in Mathieu’s brain it’s been an eternity.

Before the unassuming quarterback even receives the snap, Mathieu already has a pretty good idea of where the ball is headed.

In fact, he knows before the huddle is broken.

The Honey Badger is well into hunter mode as he waits for the exact moment to strike.

Once the quarterback has the ball, he assumes it’s his decision on where to send it and how to avoid Mathieu, but usually it isn’t. Usually, the Honey Badger’s instincts direct him toward where the ball should go. If they fail, he’s usually too fast for anyone to notice.

“You kind of see the play before it happens and put yourself in position to make a play,” Mathieu said.

“Practicing plays and seeing it in real speed is one thing, but to know what formation they may line up in before the snap, just off down and distance, that gives you an advantage.”

For all the talk about how physically gifted Mathieu is, it’s his brain and his eyes that do the lifting. What you don’t see are the brain waves zipping around, helping him determine where to position himself. What you don’t see are his eyes zeroing in on a player, a part of the field or the ball.

Because of countless hours Mathieu puts in during game weeks meticulously dissecting each play, each player tendency, how long it takes for a quarterback to release the ball, what receivers’ favorite routes are and each trend of every team he faces, Mathieu has an acute sense of vision and exemplary timing that make him the nation’s most exciting – and feared – defensive player.

“Tyrann has an unusual view,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “His eye gets a little bit big and he says, ‘We’re fixin’ to do something,’ and generally it happens.”

Mathieu should obviously credit his ability to good genes, but he mostly attributes his mental advantages to his homework. While he can have a very big personality out on the field, Mathieu is quietly a nerd of the game. He puts just as much time into honing his ball skills and shaping his body as he does studying his opponents.

Junior corner Morris Claiborne couldn’t come close to counting the hours the two spend watching game film. It’s almost second nature for both to wander into the film room at odd times of the day.

Claiborne and Mathieu constantly pick each other’s brains for new material and not a film session goes by where both don’t learn something new about a player or formation.

Mathieu’s speed and athleticism played a major role in his ability to lead LSU with 70 tackles, grab seven takeaways, force six fumbles and defend nine passes this season, but he’d be nowhere without his awareness.

“Some people can make plays, but they don’t know actually what to do,” Claiborne said. “When you can put both of them together, it’s amazing.”

Another important ingredient in Mathieu’s game is his confidence. The Honey Badger feeds off his mettle. Mathieu said he tries to play within the defensive scheme as much as he can, but there’s no escaping his need for improvisation. If he thinks he can get to the ball, he’ll make a break for it.

“He thinks he can make every play,” defensive coordinator John Chavis said.

Added Mathieu: “The things you see, you have to believe in it. You can’t second-guess yourself. When you see something that looks familiar, just go ahead on and make the play.”

Mathieu’s array of talents will be put to the test one last time this season in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game on Monday — against an Alabama team he says he played poorly against the first time.

Mathieu didn’t exactly take what he wanted back on Nov. 5 … but the Honey Badger is a relentless animal.

“Oh, he always finds a way to get to the ball,” cornerback Brandon Taylor said.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- We may have a developing situation in pregame.

Arkansas running back Knile Davis and Kansas State receiver/kick returner Tyler Lockett were both dressed for the game and went through warmups.

Davis mostly worked with the second team.

Davis suffered a broken ankle in preseason, and coach Bobby Petrino ruled him out, noting that he still had a screw in his ankle from the original surgery. That's now gone, but Davis hasn't been fully removed from the lineup.

Keep an eye on that.

Lockett, meanwhile, suffered a lacerated kidney earlier this season and was considered out for the season, but he's wearing his No. 16 uniform and joined the team for warm-ups.

Lockett emerged this season as Kansas State's biggest home-run hitter on offense and special teams, where he took two kicks back for scores and became the Big 12's best return man.

Davis led Arkansas in rushing last year with 1,322 yards and 13 touchdowns, but he hasn't played this season.

Video: AJ McCarron in the spotlight

January, 6, 2012

Chris Low and Edward Aschoff discuss A.J. McCarron and the Alabama offense.
NEW ORLEANS -- Alabama cornerback DeQuan Menzie said he tweaked his hamstring during the final practices in Tuscaloosa before coming to New Orleans and said Friday it remains sore.

“We’re just trying to be as careful as we can with it,” said Menzie, whose thigh was heavily wrapped in practice on Thursday. “I’ll be ready to go by Monday.”

Asked what it would take for him not to play, Menzie said, “You’d have to cut my arm off.”

Menzie said he’s gotten better each day, although he was limping some in practice on Thursday.

Safety Mark Barron suffered an injury to his ribs in the regular-season finale against Auburn. He said upon arriving Wednesday that his ribs weren’t an issue.

But the Crimson Tide also aren’t taking any chances with him during practice.

“I’ll be able to do what I need to do,” Barron said.

Cornerback Dee Milliner is another secondary member who’s been plagued with hamstring issues.