SEC: 2011-SEC-Champ

A closer look: Mark Richt vs. Les Miles

December, 2, 2011
12/02/11
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Between them, they’ve won three SEC championships and have coached 18 seasons in the league.

Georgia’s Mark Richt and LSU’s Les Miles meet up in the SEC championship game on Saturday in Atlanta, and like it has so many times over the years, this game has national championship implications.

No. 1 LSU could lock up a berth in the Allstate BCS National Championship game with a win, although the Tigers would still be in good shape to finish in one of those top two spots in the final BCS standings even if they lost a close game.

No. 14 Georgia is trying to win its first SEC championship since 2005 and a berth in the Sugar Bowl.

Here’s a closer look at Richt and Miles from a statistical perspective. The numbers are from their tenures at their current schools. Richt holds a 2-1 edge in head-to-head meetings:

How LSU, UGa fared vs. same opponents

December, 2, 2011
12/02/11
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Even though No. 1 LSU is a big favorite over No. 14 Georgia on Saturday in the SEC championship game, their numbers against common opponents this season are pretty close.

Really, with the exception of points scored and points allowed, they're almost identical.

The fine folks at ESPN Stats & Info give us a closer look at LSU and Georgia before the SEC championship game.

There are a lot of interesting numbers to check out for both teams.

Tigers’ defense has good hands
  • LSU has held opponents to a completion percentage of 13.3 on throws of 20 yards or longer this season. The Tigers have more interceptions (eight) than their opponents have receptions (six) and only Mississippi State has completed more than two such passes in a game.
  • LSU has allowed just 27 plays of 20 yards or longer this season, second fewest in FBS. As a result, it takes an average of 10 plays per drive to score a touchdown against LSU this season, highest average in FBS.
  • Georgia has 20 offensive touchdowns of 20 yards or longer this season, most in the SEC and tied for 9th in FBS with Oklahoma State.
  • No player has more than one reception on a throw that traveled 20 yards or longer against LSU this season. LSU, on the other hand, has two players who have intercepted at least two of these passes. Cornerback Morris Claiborne has three and safety Eric Reid has two.
Aaron Murray throws of 20-plus yards
  • In his past two games, Aaron Murray completed 2 of 12 passes of 20 yards or longer, including two interceptions and no touchdowns. For the season, Murray has completed 28.8 percent of these throws with four interceptions. Last season, Murray completed 48.4 percent of his throws of 20-plus yards with just one interception in 64 attempts.
LSU limits the big play
  • LSU has allowed just 27 plays of 20 yards or longer this season, second fewest in FBS. As a result, it takes an average of 10.0 plays per drive to score a touchdown against LSU this season, the highest average in FBS.
Fewest Plays Of 20-plus Yards Allowed, 2011

Alabama: 20
LSU: 27
South Carolina: 28
Texas: 29
  • Georgia has 20 offensive touchdowns of 20 yards or longer this season, most in the SEC and tied for ninth in FBS with Oklahoma State.
Jefferson throwing a better ball
  • LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson has completed 10 of 18 passes thrown 15 yards or longer in the air this season. Jefferson’s success has been aided by the Tigers’ running game, as he is 7-of-10 on these throws after a run fake. Jarrett Lee, on the other hand, has struggled to get the ball down field in his past three games.
  • Jefferson has completed 55.6 percent of his passes that have traveled 15 yards or longer this season. Last season, Jefferson did not have one game where he completed more than 55.6 percent of the same throws.
Tigers excel with pressure
  • LSU is the only team in FBS this season that has not allowed a touchdown pass on third down. One reason for the Tigers’ success has been the blitz. LSU has sent five or more pass-rushers on 38.5 percent of its opponents’ drop-backs on third down this season and it has been much more successful when bringing the pressure.
  • When LSU blitzes, opposing quarterbacks are completing 43.2 percent of their passes, compared to 62.2 when the Tigers don't blitz. LSU has six sacks with the blitz and opponents are converting third downs 26 percent of the time in these situations.
Murray third-down passing
  • Murray has been blitzed on 45.8 percent (44 of 96) of his pass plays on third down this season and has struggled on these attempts.
The Bulldogs are stingy
  • Saturday’s SEC championship game pits the top two defenses in FBS at holding opponents to no gain or losses on plays. Georgia is the only SEC team this season to force its conference opponents to no gain or a loss on at least 40 percent of their plays in every game this season.
Highest percentage of opponents' plays that have gone for no gain or less, 2011

Georgia: 43.1
LSU: 42.1
Alabama: 42.0
Texas: 41.8
Virginia Tech: 41.2
  • On offense, LSU is held to no gain or a loss on 24.9 percent of its plays, the lowest percentage in the SEC and the eighth lowest in FBS.
Georgia needs Crowell for balance
  • When Murray was asked about Isaiah Crowell this week he answered, “We really want to be able to run the ball, and I think we need to be able to run the ball against LSU to get the victory and put some points on the board.” Crowell has been Georgia’s guy between the tackles this year, averaging almost 5 yards a carry.
  • Crowell also has six 20-plus-yard runs when he goes between the tackles and none when he goes outside.
  • If Georgia is unable to run the ball, it could make the Bulldogs predictable on first down. Murray leads the SEC and is sixth nationally with 16 touchdown passes on first down this season.

Did you know? SEC championship game

December, 2, 2011
12/02/11
10:23
AM ET
A little bit of this and a little bit of that, with the help of ESPN Stats & Information, as we point to Saturday's SEC championship game between Georgia and LSU:
  • The past five winners of the SEC championship game have gone on to win the BCS national championship. Ironically, the last winner that didn’t was Georgia in 2005 after beating LSU. That year, the Dawgs lost in the Sugar Bowl to West Virginia.
  • If the Tigers win Saturday, they would be just the fifth team in the BCS era to be a wire-to-wire No. 1 in the BCS standings. But they should beware that two of the previous four that went wire-to-wire lost in their shot at the title -- Ohio State in 2006 and Oklahoma in 2003.
  • For the fourth straight year, the SEC championship game will feature either the AP No. 1 or No. 2 team (or both). Last year featured No. 1 Auburn, while 2009 featured No. 1 Florida vs No. 2 Alabama. In 2008, it was No. 1 Alabama vs No. 2 Florida.
  • Last season’s SEC championship game between Auburn and South Carolina drew a 6.0 rating. The 2009 game between Florida and Alabama became the highest rated SEC title game earning a national household rating/share of 11.1/23. The 1994 SEC championship game was the previous high with a 10.5/26.
  • Auburn played the most true freshmen in the SEC this season with 17 and was second nationally to Texas' 18. Tennessee was tied for fifth nationally with 15 true freshmen playing. Florida and Georgia were tied for eighth nationally, each with 13 true freshmen playing.
  • LSU ranks in the top 10 nationally in all major defensive categories and leads the nation in turnover margin. The Tigers have turned the ball over only eight times in 12 games and have forced 27 turnovers.
  • This marks the 20th SEC championship game, and more times than not, the outcome has been decided fairly early. The last three games were decided by a total of 69 points. In fact, of the last 13 SEC championship games, only one has been decided by single digits (LSU 21, Tennessee 14 in 2007).
  • Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray has thrown a school-record 32 touchdown passes this season, including 14 in his past four games. He has 10 interceptions this season, but six of those came in his first five games.
  • Murray has thrown touchdown passes to 10 different players this season, and six Georgia players have more than 200 receiving yards. Four of those players have at least 30 catches.
  • Georgia has won 12 SEC championships with the most recent one coming in 2005. That tally ranks third in league history behind Alabama (22) and Tennessee (13).
  • Georgia is 1-3 all-time against No. 1 ranked teams in the AP poll with its only win coming in 1985 against top-ranked Florida. This is the first time that Georgia has played a No. 1-ranked team not named Florida since the 1977 Sugar Bowl when it lost to Pittsburgh 27-3.
  • LSU has held opponents to a completion percentage of 13.3 percent on throws of 20 yards or longer this season. The Tigers have more interceptions (8) than their opponents have receptions (6) on passes of 20 yards or longer downfield, and only Mississippi State has completed more than two such passes in a game.
  • Playing a nationally ranked opponent shouldn't faze LSU in the least. This season, LSU has had three matchups against AP top-four teams. This season, No. 1 LSU won at No. 2 Alabama and No. 4 LSU beat No. 3 Oregon in Arlington, Texas. Last week, the Tigers took care of third-ranked Arkansas. Only one other time in history has a team been involved in three pre-bowl matchups of AP top-four teams. That came in 1943 when Notre Dame actually played in four matchups of top four teams, winning them all, as the Irish defeated No. 2 Iowa Pre-Flight, No. 3 Army, No. 3 Navy and No. 2 Michigan as the nations’ top-ranked team.

Dawgs' Jones making up for lost time

December, 1, 2011
12/01/11
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Back in August, before Jarvis Jones had ever played a down for Georgia, he passed along his sincere thinks to the Bulldog Nation for allowing him back in the state.

Jones, a Columbus, Ga., product, spurned the Bulldogs three years ago when he headed to the West Coast to play for USC.

But, now, in his own words, he’s back where he belongs. And given what he’s meant to this Georgia defense this season, something says the Bulldogs’ fans will be lining up to thank him.

“I think they love me,” Jones said. “I really care about the University of Georgia, the people here, and I really think they care about me.”

The 6-3, 241-pound Jones has been a perfect fit at outside linebacker in Todd Grantham’s 3-4 scheme. He leads the SEC in sacks (13.5) and tackles for loss (19.5).

[+] EnlargeGeorgia's Jarvis Jones
Kim Klement/US PRESSWIREJarvis Jones has 13.5 sacks this season and can break David Pollack's Georgia record with one more.
With one more sack, Jones will break David Pollack’s school record of 14 sacks in a season, set in 2002.

He’s played big in big games (four sacks and a forced fumble in the 24-20 win over Florida), and he’s had an even bigger impact on a Georgia defense that’s played lights out during the Bulldogs’ 10-game winning streak.

“I couldn't have predicted this much productivity as far as sacks and tackles for loss, but we knew we had a special player,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said.

They knew as early as last season when Jones was a terror on the scout team. Nobody could block him.

“All the things that he's done this year and all the accomplishments he's made and the sack records that he's put up isn't a surprise to me or any of my teammates,” Georgia senior cornerback Brandon Boykin said. “This is his first year really getting adjusted to the defense. He can only continue to get better.

“He'll definitely be one of the great linebackers to lead Georgia.”

Jones, a third-year sophomore, has already said that he will be back next season and isn’t entertaining an early jump to the NFL.

There’s a lot more Jones wants to prove at the college level. He missed the final five games of his freshman season at USC after injuring his neck.

That next year, he wasn’t medically cleared by USC because of the neck injury, and at one point, thought his football career was over. But he decided to transfer and was cleared to play by Georgia’s medical personnel.

“All that stuff is kind of used for motivation,” Jones said. “Being at SC and not being able to play no more, it was a big drop-off for me. It was crazy not being there to play football no more. Now that I've got the opportunity, I take advantage of it every time I step on the field, practice or in the game. I try to leave everything I've got. I try to respect the game.

“They say that if you don't respect the game, the game doesn’t respect you. Every opportunity I get, I try to make something of it.”

There’s been plenty of respect to go around, too.

Grantham said Jones has been just the finisher he was looking for at outside linebacker, but a playmaker in other parts of the game, too. Jones also plays the run well, which will be critical Saturday against an LSU offense that has steamrolled teams in the second half this season with its running game.

But, then, this Georgia defense hasn’t given up much of anything over the past two months. During the 10-game winning streak, the Bulldogs’ first-team defense has allowed just 10 touchdowns.

Jones isn’t taking anything away from LSU’s defense, but he said Georgia’s defense takes a backseat to nobody this season -- including the Tigers.

“I know we've got a pretty good defense,” Jones said. “We're not cocky at all. We're just going to play. We do our job and get out on the field. We like having fun. We love playing football. We're aggressive. We play just as well as them.

“A lot of people don't give us credit of how they play and how we play. I think we play two different styles. I think our defense is just as good as theirs … if not better.”

Georgia seniors help guide Bulldogs

December, 1, 2011
12/01/11
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Brandon Boykin was close to being out of the Bulldog door.

Georgia’s senior cornerback basically had his bags packed for the NFL shortly after a solid junior year, and it seemed like he’d thrust himself over the fence and onto the side filled with millions.

After all, there was one point in which Boykin was considered one of the top corner prospects available for last year’s NFL draft.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Boykin
Dale Zanine/US PresswireBrandon Boykin returned for his senior season, and after the year UGA has had, he's thankful he did.
Boykin, along with others juniors thinking of foregoing their senior seasons, went to meet with Georgia coaches when a snowstorm -- a blizzard by Georgia standards -- shut down Athens, Ga.

Conveniently trapped with his coaches for a couple of days, Boykin was left with his thoughts. He took more time to mull over turning pro and discussed feelings with coach Mark Richt.

“I felt like it was kind of a sign from God,” Boykin said.

Boykin took that sign, turned down his shot at jumping to the league and decided to stay in school for one more year.

Looking back on his decision, Boykin couldn’t be happier with sticking around. He’s headed to the SEC championship game to face No. 1 LSU (12-0, 8-0), he might have helped save his coach’s job and he got one more go-round with his teammates.

Just thinking about giving all that up seems like madness to Boykin.

“I feel foolish for even considering it just because of the impact of this senior season on my life and the way that it turned out and just how much more I've learned and just the overall effect of coming back for a senior year,” Boykin said.

And while this year has had an effect on Boykin, he and his fellow seniors have had a profound effect on the rest of this team.

Richt gets a lot of credit for leading the 14th-ranked Bulldogs' turnaround after its 0-2 start, but this senior class helped push the Bulldogs out of their early rut and toward their run back to the Georgia Dome.

To Richt, this senior class’ positive influence began when the NFL-ready ones returned for 2011. They showed they not only wanted to be around the program but they wanted to bring a championship back to Athens. Their buying into Georgia’s offseason training was infectious with younger players.

“Boykin and Ben Jones and Cordy Glenn and guys like that, they had the opportunity -- they knew they were going to be NFL players or have a shot at that, but they chose to stay and wanted to have a special season,” Richt said.

So when that 0-2 start sent Georgia fans into a panic, the seniors stood tall, making sure the Bulldogs didn’t fall to the enemy that is adversity. The seniors made sure there was no internal dismay or finger pointing. The focus remained.

While people were ready to dub this as the “same old Georgia,” Boykin took it upon himself to step forward and say something to his team after the opening loss to Boise State.

“I kind of wanted to make it a point to just step up and tell everybody to continue to grind and we were a great team, no matter what this first game had,” he said. “And after the second game as well, people would continue to stay positive. It definitely worked out for us.”

Sophomore linebacker Jarvis Jones said the seniors’ attitudes definitely rubbed off on the underclassmen. The younger players watched as the upperclassmen went longer in harder in practices. They owned the film sessions. That approach forced younger players to replicate the seniors’ efforts.

It wasn’t just that the seniors wanted to energize this team and get it past a rough opening to the season, they wanted to win and make their last season memorable.

“They really didn't want their last time here at the University of Georgia go out like it started,” Jones said, “like most people thought it was going to be.”

Georgia has now won 10 straight, sports a quarterback leading the SEC with 32 touchdown passes and has a defense that ranks fifth nationally. The Bulldogs are plus-10 in turnover ratio and are in play for a BCS bowl berth.

The Bulldogs’ level of play has helped guide them to their strong finish, but Jones said the poise and leadership of the senior class kept the spirits of the other players up. As long as the old guys stayed the course, the youngsters would follow suit.

“They're the reason why we kept our faith,” he said. “We gelled closer together, and we just kept believing in each other. Every day, they were like, ‘Just believe. Just come out here and work hard, and we control our own destiny.’

“Every day, that's what we did.”

Podcast: LSU CB Morris Claiborne

November, 30, 2011
11/30/11
4:30
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LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne covers the Tigers' win over Arkansas, his team's improvement during the season, Patrick Peterson, preparing for the SEC title game and more.

LSU completely focused on SEC title

November, 30, 2011
11/30/11
3:00
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Since LSU’s 41-17 win over Arkansas, most of the chatter has centered around how the Tigers could lose to Georgia in Atlanta but still play in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game.

Basically, LSU just needs to not be blown out by the red-hot Bulldogs.

[+] EnlargeLSU's Spencer Ware
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesSpencer Ware and the Tigers are focused on the conference championship before anything else.
No one is expecting that, so it appears LSU fans can start booking their French Quarter hotel rooms -- if they haven’t done so already.

Still, anything can happen, and while LSU might be a shoo-in for the national championship, players aren’t worried about that. They aren’t looking to make the 500-plus-mile trek to Atlanta just to check out the Fox Theatre. Like the rest of the season, it’s business as usual for LSU.

“We've had a lot of people on the outside say a lot of different things,” LSU offensive lineman Will Blackwell said. “As you know, that hasn't really slowed us up, hasn't stopped us at all. We do a very good job around here keeping things on the outside on the perimeter and not letting them affect us in any way.”

Somehow, the Tigers have done a masterful job of not allowing off-the-field distractions ruin this season. From losing starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson for the first four games because of his role in a fight at an off-campus bar, to failed drug tests that resulted in one-game suspensions for three players, including starters Tyrann Mathieu, who was at one time near the top of the Heisman race, and Spencer Ware.

With every obstacle and distraction, the Tigers seem to get stronger, and while the national championship is the main goal, getting an SEC title is the immediate objective. Talk of them not focusing on that is almost silly.

“It is kind of weird. We don't look at it like that,” safety Brandon Taylor said. “That's kind of like a distraction to us, because if you win the SEC championship you get two rings, and that's what we've been playing for. It wouldn't feel as great going to the national championship if you don't win the SEC championship because we feel it's not right.”

Georgia coach Mark Richt isn’t expecting any sort of letdown from LSU. He could only envision it if there was a 100 percent guarantee that LSU would be in the national title game regardless of Saturday's outcome. However, with nothing written in ink, Richt isn’t holding out hope for an unfocused LSU team.

“I don't think it's going to be a factor at all, and I think that, when a team is as good as they are and are in the habit of winning, all they know is winning,” Richt said. “They're not going to let that creep in there in their mindset, I wouldn't think.”

Podcast: Breaking down the SEC

November, 30, 2011
11/30/11
2:00
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ESPN.com SEC bloggers Chris Low and Edward Aschoff preview the conference title game and talk about the recent coaching moves.

Link: Les Miles leads the way

November, 30, 2011
11/30/11
1:32
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Chris Low profiles Les Miles' rise to the top of the college football world:
Les Miles knows all about raising kids. He and his wife, Kathy, have four of their own.

Anybody who has ever raised kids knows a big part of doing it successfully requires pressing the right buttons at the right times and, all the while, drawing a line in the sand that isn't crossed.

Miles drew a line on the gridiron with this LSU football team in August in the tense moments of the fallout from the bar brawl and the negative publicity that followed.

It was a fine line, and one he has navigated beautifully in bringing the Tigers to the brink of one of the most treasured seasons in LSU football history.
Read more of Low's story here.

Aaron Murray ready for LSU secondary

November, 30, 2011
11/30/11
10:20
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Aaron Murray understands what Saturday could do for his legacy.

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMIQB Aaron Murray is aiming for championships, not statistical crowns, while at Georgia.
He’s a quarterback -- the quarterback at Georgia -- and he knows that no matter how many yards he passes for or how many touchdown he tosses, people will judge him by his championship numbers.

“When people talk about stats or this and that, I think the biggest stat is how many championships you've won,” Murray said. “My goal is to win a few while I'm here, and my first one, my first opportunity is this weekend. So, hopefully get that win, and from here on out, get a couple more.”

That first shot comes in the Georgia Dome against No. 1 LSU (12-0, 8-0).

If Murray plays like he did during the second half of the Bulldogs’ season, No. 14 Georgia (10-2, 7-1) will have a chance to prove most of the country wrong. In his past six games, Murray, a redshirt sophomore, has passed for 19 touchdowns to four interceptions. Georgia averaged 36 points in all six wins.

To his standards, Murray had a sluggish start but took the second part of the season by storm. He downplays his improvements, saying he hunkered down in his playbook, talked with offensive coordinator Mike Bobo more often and tried to develop better timing and chemistry with his wide receivers.

It certainly paid off for Murray, who is second in the SEC with 2,698 passing yards and 32 touchdowns, and his Bulldogs, as Georgia is in the SEC title game for the first time since 2005.

For all the good that Murray has done, he is about to get the matchup every quarterback both loves and fears.

LSU’s secondary has terrorized quarterbacks for most of 2011. With a defensive backfield that starts with Tyrann Mathieu and Morris Claiborne and ends with 46 pass breakups and 16 interceptions, you have the makings of a quarterback’s worst nightmare.

“You think of SEC defenses, you think of speed,” Murray said, “and they have a whole other speed on top of that.”

LSU sports a legit track team in its secondary, forcing quarterbacks to crumble with decision-making.

“It's going to take everybody to have some success in the passing game, for sure,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said.

It will also take patience from LSU to have success against Murray.

LSU coach Les Miles compared Murray’s ability to Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson’s, but said Murray is better when it comes to pocket presence. He’s more mature and confident back there, Miles said.

“He's the kind of guy that you have to make sure you're responsible,” Miles said. “Your coverage, you have to focus your eyes and make sure you're over the top. The guy that can move the ball around to as many receivers as he gets it to, you have to have the ability to play coverage and certainly play coverage with the ability to get some pressure on that quarterback without necessarily calling extra guys in the rush.”

Murray doesn’t let pressure get to him that often because he has the legs to move around and outside the pocket. He provides his receivers with more time, and when nothing opens up, he can take off. He’s no speedster, but he gets just enough burst to slip by defenders.

“He actually can run a lot better than people actually think, and he's probably one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the SEC,” LSU safety Brandon Taylor said. “He knows how to manage a game well, and he limits his mistakes, and he doesn't make very many of them.”

Mistakes are a death sentence when facing LSU defensive backs who joke about and compare their big plays, like big game hunters boast about their kills.

“You just can't point just anyone out because the whole secondary as a whole, we've made a ton of plays,” Claiborne said.

This group has done just as well when it’s had all of its parts compared to when it hasn’t. When Mathieu was suspended for the Auburn game, LSU gave up 161 passing yards. When Eric Reid -– maybe LSU’s best safety –- missed the Arkansas game, the Tigers held the league’s top passing team to just 207 yards.

But Murray said he believes he has a crew good enough to stand up to the Tigers. He has grit and speed in tight end Orson Charles. Tavarres King provides the leadership and big-catch ability. And freshman Malcolm Mitchell has every bit the talent of most veteran wideouts.

Murray has some fun pieces to work with, and they’ve improved, just like him.

“Right now, they're feeling confident,” he said. “I have a lot of confidence in our young guys, and we're ready to go.”
There are a lot of theories as to why Georgia made such a turnaround after its 0-2 start.

The defense has been lights out. Aaron Murray truly got his groove back.

But when talking to Murray about Georgia’s resurgence, the sophomore quarterback pointed to the Bulldogs’ ability to win the turnover battle.

“We've done a great job all year of limiting the turnovers, and our defense has done an awesome job of giving us the ball back, giving us great field position all year,” Murray said. “Just those little mistakes here and there, I think we've cleaned up since those first two games.”

Georgia turned the ball over three times against South Carolina in Week 2, but that was the only time Georgia lost the turnover game this season. During the Bulldogs’ 10-game winning streak, Georgia won in turnovers seven times and tied three times.

Now, the Bulldogs are second in the SEC in turnover margin at plus-10, with 29 takeaways. In the last six games, Murray has been especially good at keeping the ball away from opposing teams, as he’s thrown 19 touchdowns to just four interceptions.

LSU knows all about winning the turnover margin. The Tigers sit atop the SEC and are first nationally with a turnover margin of plus-19.

Georgia coach Mark Richt has stressed winning the game of turnovers all year, but with LSU looming, he’s hitting that subject extra hard.

“I'm a broken record on the turnover ratio, but that's huge,” Richt said. “If we can come out of there and win that part of the game we have a lot better chance of winning it.”
The Arkansas defense wore down more and more with each bone-crushing hit delivered on the Bayou last Friday.

The Tigers’ packed running backs corps punished the Razorbacks with 286 rushing yards on 46 carries, but this wasn’t the first time LSU’s backfield took total control of a game.

LSU’s stable of running backs has pounded opposing defenses all year. The Tigers are second in the SEC in rushing, churning out 216 yards on the ground a game, and have 32 rushing touchdowns.

It starts with Spencer Ware, who head coach Les Miles labeled as the hard-nosed bruiser. Then there’s Michael Ford, who packs a punch, but has a bit more acceleration. Alfred Blue is the slasher and Kenny Hilliard, a true freshman, might be the most gifted with his size, speed and power.

“They're very well equipped to run the football and to run it in such a way that they just wear you down as the game goes on from what I've seen,” said Georgia coach Mark Richt, who must prepare his defense for LSU’s running game in Saturday’s SEC championship game.

“Everybody's having trouble with it. That's why they're undefeated. They're big and physical.”

It almost seems unfair that LSU can rotate four quality backs throughout a game and have an offensive line that has played so well throughout the season. The O-line is pushing and pulling at the defense perfectly to get backs free and gets help from fullback James Stampley, whom Richt referred to as a “beast.”

[+] EnlargeJarvis Jones
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMIGeorgia linebacker Jarvis Jones insists the Bulldogs are not intimidated by LSU's ground game. "We're physical, just like they are," he said.
But Saturday could be different for the Tigers. Their running dominance will face quite the challenge inside the Georgia Dome once the Bulldogs’ vaunted rushing defense says hello -- and it won’t be a very welcoming hello, either.

Georgia’s rush defense ranks sixth nationally (95 yards allowed a game) and is giving up just 2.5 yards per carry to SEC teams.

Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones said he and his teammates aren't intimidated by LSU’s power running game. He said they’re excited to see what LSU has to show and thinks Georgia can match LSU’s intensity.

“We're physical, just like they are,” said Jones, who has an SEC-high 19.5 tackles for loss, including 13.5 sacks. “I believe we've just got to penetrate, get on the ball, make plays. When we get our hand on them, we've just got to bring it to the ground no matter what.”

You have to like the confidence.

It’s no secret that Georgia won’t be favored Saturday, but the Bulldogs are riding a 10-game winning streak and have one of the most underrated defenses out there.

Still, Saturday poses Georgia’s toughest defensive assignment up front.

“It helps to wear down a defense in the sense that our guys don't get as tired,” LSU offensive lineman Will Blackwell said of the Tigers’ running game. “We got fresh legs here at the end of the season. We've got three, four, maybe five guys that can all run the ball and run it hard.

“The best thing for us is we don't have to put the whole load on one guy. When one of those guys comes in, he can just pound it as much as he can and look forward to getting a little break.”

However, Georgia is no stranger to making plays behind the line of scrimmage. The Bulldogs are first in the SEC, and 12th nationally, with 91 tackles for loss and opposing offenses have lost 390 yards on those tackles.

“We've prided ourselves all year on being stout against the run,” Georgia cornerback Brandon Boykin said.

“If we can contain their run game, that will be a big plus for us and help us be successful.”

Containing it won’t be easy, but Georgia’s fully aware of that. A good running game not only wears down defenses but it opens up the passing game, something LSU did well against Arkansas.

For Miles, there’s no question his offense -- and team -- wouldn’t be this successful without its tough running game.

“We're fortunate there that we have guys that can step on the field and give us some advantages,” Miles said.

“We're capable any time you have those kind of guys. It allows you to run the football effectively. You have to have that matching tailback that can take a pitch and go speed or come downhill into a tight space and run with physical ability. I'd have to think that our running back group gives us that.”

There's depth and then there's LSU's depth

November, 29, 2011
11/29/11
10:31
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Without sophomore safety Eric Reid, LSU probably wouldn’t have beaten Alabama.

His interception at the goal line might have been the play of the year in the SEC.

Reid didn’t play at all Friday against Arkansas because of an injury to his quadriceps, and LSU pummeled Arkansas 41-17.

Senior quarterback Jordan Jefferson’s ability to run the option was the offensive edge the Tigers needed to squeeze past the Crimson Tide.

Jefferson didn’t play at all in LSU's first four games, including its 40-27 win over No. 3 Oregon, while serving his suspension.

The Tigers were missing five starters in their 45-10 romp over Auburn back on Oct. 22.

[+] EnlargeLes Miles
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesBecause of the depth he has built, Les Miles' Tigers have been able to overcome injuries and suspensions.
Junior receiver Russell Shepard served an NCAA-mandated suspension the first three games.

One of the Tigers’ best offensive linemen, guard Josh Dworacyzk, hasn’t played at all this season with a knee injury, and junior center P.J. Lonergan was hit-and-miss during the middle part of the schedule with injuries.

Notice a trend?

The No. 1 Tigers have suffered the kind of injuries and suspensions this season that would have crippled most teams.

But this isn’t most teams.

LSU’s depth is staggering and one of the main reasons the Tigers are unbeaten heading into their SEC championship game matchup with Georgia on Saturday.

It’s like Alabama center William Vlachos said prior to their big showdown back on Nov. 5. The Tigers run one group of athletic defensive linemen out there for one series.

And then on the next series, there’s a whole new group out there.

Here’s the catch: You can’t tell the difference.

“That’s the standard that’s been set here,” said LSU sophomore defensive end Sam Montgomery, who’s tied for the team lead with eight sacks. “If you want to play on this team, you’ve got to earn your way onto the field. There aren’t any free passes.

“There’s always somebody on this team pushing to take your spot. They’ve recruited great players, but we also have great competition on the practice field. All that does is carry over to the games.”

One of LSU’s hottest runners of late has been freshman Kenny Hilliard, who burst onto the scene in that Auburn game when Spencer Ware was serving a one-game suspension along with cornerbacks Tyrann Mathieu and Tharold Simon.

Up until that game, Hilliard had been listed No. 4 on the depth chart and had carried the ball just five times all season.

Now he might be the Tigers’ most effective power runner, although they come at you in waves in the second half with a fresh set of legs.

“The thing with this team is we recruit you,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “You come in to make a contribution, and we put you on the field, and we give you an assignment and a place. If you're talented and you're capable as a freshman, like a Tyrann Mathieu or Patrick Peterson, or for that matter, an Anthony Johnson or a Kenny Hilliard, we send you to the field, and we expect you to play big. We expect you to play as you've been trained to play.”

In a lot of ways, Miles views it as an apprenticeship.

After all, how many teams could lose players the caliber of Peterson, linebacker Kelvin Sheppard and tackle Drake Nevis and come back even stronger the next year on defense?

That’s exactly what the Tigers have done this season, and 13 of their top 22 players on the defensive two-deep are sophomores or younger.

“Mo Claiborne played opposite Patrick Peterson,” Miles said. “Now it's Tyrann Mathieu playing opposite Mo Claiborne. There's an implied peer pressure, if you will, that says this is how we do it, this is what we do and that you come of age when you step on the field.”

That peer pressure ensures that younger players are ready, but more importantly, it creates the kind of depth that overwhelms teams in the second half.

“They have the mindset of running the ball down your throat,” Arkansas safety Tramain Thomas said following Friday’s game.

That and the mindset of suffocating you defensively in the second half.

LSU’s first-team defense has now gone six straight games without allowing a touchdown in the second half.

With Reid out last week, the Tigers retooled their secondary with Mathieu moving to safety.

Never mind that Arkansas was the SEC’s top offense coming into the game with the best corps of receivers the Tigers had faced all season.

The results were the same.

“It's a good team to be a part of because week in and week out there won’t be any letdown if anybody gets hurt or anybody isn't playing that week because we have so much depth and talent,” LSU senior safety Brandon Taylor said. “Backups have just as much talent as the starters.

“We just put somebody else in.”

Miles gives Mathieu some Heisman love

November, 28, 2011
11/28/11
3:30
PM ET
For the first part of the season, Tyrann Mathieu was one of the most popular figures in college football.

His "Honey Badger" persona took LSU's campus by storm and he showed each week that even with his 5-foot-9, 175-pound frame that he did indeed have the ability to take what he wanted.

But what started off as a promising season was tarnished by a one-game suspension stemming from a failed drug test. His Heisman campaign was all but over and his reputation took a major hit. Mathieu even admitted afterward that he let his celebrity status get the better of him.

The Honey Badger had been relatively quiet since his suspension, but came back with a fury against Arkansas over the weekend. He made his first start at free safety in place of the injured Eric Reid and finished the game with eight total tackles, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and a 92-yard punt return for a touchdown in LSU’s 41-17 win over Arkansas.

Mathieu's performance against the Razorbacks has his name being thrown back into the Heisman mix. His campaign certainly isn't as loud or alive, but he's inching back into the discussion.

When asked if Mathieu deserved to be placed back into the Heisman race, LSU coach Les Miles said Mathieu deserved to be in any discussion that involved a national award that his sophomore defensive back was eligible for.

"I think that Tyrann is a very special player, and I think in the national award that might get viewed of him would have to understand how important he is to our team," Miles said. "So, that being said, he plays special teams, he plays defense and he just seems to make plays. I would think he could be in consideration for any national award, including the Heisman."

Miles said it was hard to compare Mathieu, who leads LSU with 66 tackles, has two interceptions and has forced six fumbles, with other players around the country, but he said that Mathieu is one of the best players he's coached.

"Having been around some very, very fine players in my career ... Tyrann Mathieu matches as well as any," he said.

Injury updates

Miles said Sunday that he expects Reid, who missed the Arkansas game with a quad injury, to play Saturday against Georgia in the SEC title game.

MIles said Reid went through warmups last week and looked good, but he decided against playing him.

Georgia coach Mark Richt said wasn't sure if defensive end DeAngelo Tyson would be available for Saturday after leaving the Georgia Tech game with an ankle injury that occurred when Yellow Jacket's lineman Omoregie Uzzi was flagged for an illegal chop block on Tyson.

"I know he won't be practicing (Monday)," Richt said. "That's all I know at this point."

Richt was also uncertain about running back Richard Samuel, who has been out since undergoing ankle surgery on Nov. 1. Richt said he didn't think Samuel would practice Monday.

The good news for Georgia is that Richt believes starting running back Isaiah Crowell will be back in the lineup after missing the Georgia Tech game with an ankle injury.

"Unless there’s a setback I would think he would play in the game,” Richt said.

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