SEC: Alabama

SEC lunchtime links

August, 23, 2013
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Just think, the next time you click on the SEC lunchtime links post it will be Monday of the first game week of the college football season. Ready or not, it's that time again.
  • Tennessee lost two defensive ends over the course of the preseason and spent much of the past week or so looking for their replacements. In 6-foot-5, 260-pound Jordan Williams, the Vols may have found their man to start.
  • Damiere Byrd is already the fastest player on the South Carolina roster. Now the speedy wide receiver wants to make the biggest plays in the biggest situations.
  • Matt Elam was a playmaker and an All-American at safety for the Gators last year. Marcus Maye, his replacement, worked with Elam this offseason and has impressed coaches with his work ethic so far. With the season nearly underway, Maye hopes to be the same type of presence on defense as his predecessor.
  • Vanderbilt's seniors Kenny Ladler and Javon Marshall have so much familiarity with one another that they rarely need to speak. The Commodores are hoping that experience and comfort level pays off as the two form what could be a stellar safety net for the secondary.
  • It won't be easy, but Missouri's defensive linemen must replace Sheldon Richardson's disruptive presence on the Tigers' defense.
  • Arkansas struggled to defend the pass last year, finishing dead last in the SEC in passing yards allowed. Eric Bennett and Rohan Gaines are hoping to change that. The two safeties expect big years.
  • Keihl Frazier surprised many when he dropped out of the quarterback race to start over in the Auburn secondary at safety. That move happened less than two weeks ago. And ready or not, he'll need to be ready to play just over a week from now when the Tigers host Washington State in their season opener.
  • Arie Kouandjio was starting at guard for all spring and most of preseason camp before an abrupt move to tackle last week. Austin Shepherd experienced the same thing, switched from tackle to guard in a position experiment by the Alabama coaching staff. Now, it appears that those experiments are over and the Tide can get to the job of establishing chemistry.
  • The Egg Bowl is months away, but Mississippi State went ahead and released its new snazzy uniform combination for the rivalry game against Ole Miss.
  • D.J. Welter and Lamar Louis are expected to start, but how do the rest of LSU's inside linebackers stack up?

SEC lunchtime links

August, 21, 2013
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Starters are being named, injuries are being assessed and coaches are seeking consistency. Yup, the season is drawing closer. Take a look around the SEC and see.
In the SEC, it's all about recruiting and player development. It's the big reason why the league has won seven straight BCS championships and produced more NFL players than any other conference. The two go hand-in-hand.

The Senior Bowl, which released its 2014 Watch List on Tuesday, further illustrated that fact, selecting nearly 20 percent (72) of its 400 candidates from the SEC. The ACC twas nearly lapped with 48 selections, followed by the Big 10 (46) and the Pac-12 (38).

And the team with the most players should come as no surprise as defending-champion Alabama had 10 make the list, including quarterback AJ McCarron and All-American linebacker C.J. Mosley. Florida, Mississippi State and Missouri tied for the second-most players taken from the SEC with six apiece.

Alabama: WR Kenny Bell, CB Deion Belue, CB John Fulton, P Cody Mandell, QB AJ McCarron, LB C.J. Mosley, WR Kevin Norwood, RG Anthony Steen, S Nick Perry.

Arkansas: WR Jevontee Herndon, DT Brian Jones, DE Chris Smith, C Travis Swanson, DT Robert Thomas.

Auburn: P Steven Clark, DC Chris Davis, DE Nosa Eguae, DE Dee Ford, FB Jay Prosch, DT Jeffrey Whitaker

Florida: WR Andre Debose, DE Dominique Easley, OG Jon Halapio, C Jonatthan Harrison, WR Soloman Patton, DC Jaylen Watkins.

Georgia: OG Chris Burnett, OG Kernarious Gates, TE Arthur Lynch, QB Aaron Murray, OB Garrison Smith.

Kentucky: IB Avery Williamson

LSU: IB Lamin Barrow, RB Alfred Blue, FB JC Copeland, FS Craig Loston, QB Zach Mettenberger

Mississippi State: DE Denico Autry, OG Gabe Jackson, RB LeDarious Perkins, QB Tyler Russell, OB Deontae Skinner, FS Nickoe Whitley

Missouri: OT Justin Britt, QB James Franklin, DC EJ Gaines, WR Marcus Lucas, WR L'Damian Washington, IB Andrew Wilson

Ole Miss: PT Tyler Campbell, IB Mike Marry, DC Charles Sawyer, RB Jeff Scott, IB DT Shackleford

South Carolina: DC Jimmy Legree, QB Connor Shaw, DE Chaz Sutton

Tennessee: OT Ju'Wuan James, DT Daniel McCuller, RB Rajon Neal, DE Jacques Smith, C James Stone

Texas A&M: LB Steven Jenkins, RB Ben Malena, OT Jake Matthews

Vanderbilt: IB Chase Garnham, DC Andre Hal, OT Wesley Johnson, FS Kenny Ladler, WR Jordan Matthews

Alabama powers its way to SEC title

December, 1, 2012
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John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsEddie Lacy ran for 181 yards for Alabama.

Alabama won its first SEC championship since 2009, handing Georgia an SEC championship game loss for the second straight season.

The Tide got it done on the ground. They ran for 350 rushing yards, the most in SEC championship game history.

Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon became the first teammates to each run for 100 yards in SEC championship game history. Lacy’s 181 rushing yards are the third-most in the history of the SEC title game.

The Tide were committed to the run, as they ran the ball 51 times, two shy of the SEC championship game record of 53.

Two tight ends, too much

Alabama ran 36 times for a season-high 298 yards with two or more tight ends in the formation. The Tide ran out of this personnel package on 26 of their 34 second-half plays, gaining 199 yards and two touchdowns. Alabama averaged a season-high 5.5 yards before contact out of this formation.

AJ McCarron completed 8 of 9 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown with two or more tight ends in the formation.

Getting it done inside the tackles

Alabama outrushed Georgia 304-72 inside the tackles. The Tide averaged 8.0 yards per carry on such runs, including a season-high 13 that gained 10 yards or more. Lacy (172) and Yeldon (125) led the way for Alabama, with both running backs gaining over 100 yards inside the tackles for the second time this season. They also did it against Missouri.

Strong run game leads to play action

McCarron completed 5 of 7 passes off play action for 116 yards and a touchdown. McCarron has 11 touchdown passes off a run fake this season, six more than he had all of last season. Eight of the 11 touchdowns have been on passes thrown 20 yards or longer, including Cooper’s 45-yard touchdown against Georgia.

Georgia’s defense allowed a season-high 512 total yards, just the second time the Bulldogs allowed 500 yards in the past seven seasons. For the first time since at least 2000, they’ve allowed 300 rushing yards in three straight games.

Alabama will most assuredly face Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship Game on January 7, as the SEC goes for its seventh straight BCS National Championship.

Inside the program: Kirby Smart

October, 31, 2012
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Kirby Smart came in with scruff on his face that looked less like a 5 o'clock shadow and more like a day-after cover. In fact, it was only midday on the University of Alabama campus and the Crimson Tide's defensive coordinator was in a hurry.

It's LSU week in the football offices and Smart has his work cut out for him. His young defense has been the best in the country this season, coming in first in all four major defensive categories, but on Saturday it will face a top-5 team that knows its strength: power football.

"They really run the ball well," Smart told ESPN's Samantha Steele. "You have to stop them."

Even when they do get bogged down, the Tigers don't give up.

"They're stubborn with the run and that's toughest to defend," Smart continued.

Alabama has the bodies to match up with LSU up front. Smart said that despite losing three-quarters of his starters from a year ago, he feels UA has more depth on the line, and possibly less in the secondary. When you're going up against a team with a sometimes shaky starter in Zach Mettenberger and a consistently bruising rushing attack, that's a good thing. Not that Smart is sleeping on the passing game.

"Zach throws a good deep ball," Smart explained. The lanky quarterback who transferred to LSU from Georgia has thrown for 1,419 yards, seven touchdowns and four interceptions this season.

Starting cornerbacks Dee Milliner and Deion Belue will be tasked with defending LSU's weapons on the outside. Milliner leads the country in passes defended, a stat that combines pass breakups with interceptions. Belue hasn't been much easier to throw on either. The junior college transfer stepped in as the starter opposite Milliner right away.

LSU coach Les Miles told ESPN on Tuesday that his team will have to throw the ball against Alabama, something the secondary is prepared for.

“We know they are going to run the ball and take shots down the field," UA safety Robert Lester said. The senior from southern Alabama has gone back-to-back weeks with an interception, his last coming in the end zone against then-undefeated Mississippi State. "As long as we’re prepared for it and we know at least something that is coming, I think we’ll be good.”

Lester is one of the few returning starters from a year ago. Smart and head coach Nick Saban had to rebuild Alabama's defense this offseason, incorporating first-time starters such as Milliner and Belue, as well as sophomores such as Trey DePriest and Vinnie Sunseri who starred on special teams last season.

Smart said he's seen a more hungry, more coachable group of players this season. The latter might contribute to the scruffy beard.

"There's a lot of work, a lot of effort," Smart explained.

In Baton Rouge, the Crimson Tide will need all the effort they can muster. Only one team will leave Death Valley on the fast track to the SEC Championship Game, and the defense is likely to be the difference in who comes out on top.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- At the University of Alabama, Goliath feels more like David. The team with the undisputed No. 1 defense in the country has a pair of stars playing with a chip on their shoulders.

"All we heard all summer is we wouldn't be good enough," UA linebacker Nico Johnson told ESPN's Samantha Steele.

Johnson said he didn't feel like the defense got the respect they deserved after losing seven starters to the NFL over the offseason. Those who returned came back during spring and fall practice ready to work hard to prove the doubters wrong, incorporating rookies like Deion Belue at cornerback, Xzavier Dickson at Jack linebacker and Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix at safety.

The transition, by all accounts, has been seamless. UA is No. 1 in the country in all four major defensive categories, giving up less than 9 points per game. In fact, the defense has actually gotten better at creating more big plays, coming in this week on pace to surpass last year's number of interceptions, fumble recoveries and sacks.

But there's a standard Alabama's defense is living up to, said fellow linebacker C.J. Mosley. The standard isn't about statistics or standings. It's about blocking out the hype and getting better every week. With LSU on tap Saturday, the challenge is bigger than ever. The Tigers have a physical running game unlike anything the Tide has seen this season.

"We know what kind of game it's going to be," Mosley told Steele.

Johnson said the defense is preparing as it does for every game: "Like it's our last."

Two years ago, LSU beat Alabama with a late touchdown in Baton Rouge. That season, Alabama fell to South Carolina and Auburn in dramatic fashion as well. Johnson said he felt like the defense let them down then and he's not ready for a repeat this season.

"We feel like this year we can't let that happen," Johnson said.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Jalston Fowler, who will likely miss the rest of the season recovering from knee surgery, wasn't the leading rusher, the leading blocker or the leading receiver for the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide. His name didn't appear first on any depth chart. In fact, he shared the distinction of being the No. 2 tailback with true freshman T.J. Yeldon.

But what Fowler lacked for in distinction on paper he made up for in usefulness on the field. His unique skill set -- a power runner with light feet and soft hands -- was put to use by the Alabama coaching staff. He was second on the team in yards rushing, but he was also a reason why the Alabama rushing game has been so effective this season in his role as a lead blocker at H-back.

[+] EnlargeJalston Fowler
John David Mercer/US PresswireTide running back Jalston Fowler gets helped off the field during the fourth quarter against W. Kentucky.
Alabama coach Nick Saban said replacing Fowler's production will be a team effort. His loss at tailback hurts when considering starter Eddie Lacy's health concerns. He missed all of spring practice recovering from surgery to fix his battle with turf toe, only to sprain his ankle late in fall camp. He's been limited thus far, carrying the ball less than 10 times in each of the first two games.

The good news is Yeldon has emerged so quickly. The rookie was the first freshman in school history to rush for 100 yards in his debut. He followed up that performance by leading the team in receptions against Western Kentucky on Saturday. He and fellow freshmen Dee Hart and Kenyan Drake will take on more responsibility in Fowler's absence.

"I think we have what we have," Saban said. "We have backups at every one of the positions and roles that he filled. There may not be one particular guy. I think on special teams, there's a different guy on each special team that would take his place now. At running back, Dee Hart, Kenyan Drake will have a little more opportunity. Kelly [Johnson] was his backup at fullback, which is where he plays anyway. So we are going to miss him. It's going to take a number of people to replace him in various roles that he played on our team."

Junior receiver Kevin Norwood, who caught two touchdowns against Western Kentucky, said there's not much the team can do now other than move on.

"We're all going to pray for Jalston that hopefully he'll get back our there soon," Norwood said. "But the only thing we really can do is move on and make sure everybody is focused and preparing right for this team."

Guard Chance Warmack said he hasn't spoken to Fowler since the injury and hopes his recovery will happen swiftly. In the meantime, he said Alabama's lost a weapon on offense.

"Phenomenal player," Warmack explained. "Brought a lot to the offense. I don't want to count him out just yet. I don't know the specifics about how the injury is. Great guy, brought a lot to the offense. Very powerful back."

Fowler was one of three tailbacks in the SEC to average better than 6.9 yards per carry in 2011-12. He ran for 395 yards and four touchdowns on 56 carries.

Linebacker Nico Johnson went up against Fowler every day in practice. The 6-foot-1, 242-pound wrecking ball at tailback was routinely considered the most difficult man to bring down with the ball in his hands.

"He's more like a back like Trent (Richardson)," Johnson said. "He can run, catch out of the backfield, and he's tough to tackle. So, it's going to be real tough, but we've got enough guys and depth for somebody to step in and fill his role."

TideNation: Yeldon continues to impress

April, 16, 2012
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TideNation has more on Alabama football.

Alex Scarborough writes : For those who have seen freshman running back T.J. Yeldon up close this spring, his remarkable performance during Alabama’s A-Day game came as no surprise.

Scarborough writes : TideNation’s Alex Scarborough was invited to be a coach during Saturday’s A-Day game. He didn’t call any plays, but was impressed with T.J. Yeldon’s composure and Kirby Smart’s endless energy.

Greg Ostendorf writes Insider: 2013 LB Walker Jones, brother of Alabama’s Barrett Jones and Harrison Jones, attended A-Day and is considering playing for the Tide. But he also visited Tennessee, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt in the last week.
The price to see No. 1 LSU vs. No. 2 Alabama in person is growing alongside the hype for this weekend’s matchup.

The average ticket price of $402 prior to the season is starting to look like a bargain, as fans are now looking at an average of $508 -- a 28% increase.

The cost is even more impressive when compared with ticket prices to the SEC Championship Game, annually college football’s most financially successful conference championship game. A ticket to last year’s game between Auburn and South Carolina went for an average of $460 on StubHub. Games in 2009 and 2008, which pitted Alabama against Florida, went for an average price of $573 and $488.

Glenn Lehrman of StubHub said this week’s matchup has become the highest-demand ticket his company has seen for an Alabama home game. It’s on pace to be the highest-selling college football game of the season and is only trailing the LSU-Oregon season opener. The highest-priced ticket Thursday morning was selling for about $5,000.

The hotel industry in Tuscaloosa is benefitting as well, although surprisingly there were still rooms available as of last week. A search last Thursday on Hotels.com indicated 22 hotels in Tuscaloosa ranging from $40 to $200 for the night of the game, and a search on Travelocity.com showed 20 hotels ranging from $40 to $215. Didn’t buy then? You’re out of luck -- the closest you’ll get now is Birmingham, about 55 miles away.

Media members aren’t faring much better in terms of trying to cover the game. Alabama expects approximately 600 credentialed media members. For an average game, roughly 350 credentials are granted.

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