SEC: Dan Skipper

SEC morning links

October, 3, 2014
1. The week started off with Ole Miss calling out Alabama. Now it’s Florida’s turn. On Thursday, Gators’ linebacker Jarrad Davis called out Tennessee’s freshman running back Jalen Hurd, saying “I don’t think he can hang with us.” You can bet the UT coaches showed that to Hurd as a way to motivate him, and from knowing him as a recruit, he’s the type of player who will play with a little extra chip on his shoulder come Saturday. There is good news for Florida. Starting left tackle D.J. Humphries will be back after missing the past two games with an ankle injury. Instead of losing a key player, the Gators get one back.

2. How great will the atmosphere on the Grove be this weekend? College Gameday is making its first trip to Oxford, and there’s word that famous singer Katy Perry will be the celebrity guest picker on Saturday. As Wright Thompson said in a recent promo, “bow ties, boat shoes and football, please dress accordingly.” All I know is that it’s a good time to be a student at Ole Miss. With what might be the largest crowd the campus has ever seen and the loudest crowd Vaught-Hemingway has ever heard, I should be concerned for the visitor. I’m not. Alabama has been here before, and no one in the SEC travels better than the Crimson Tide.

3. Speaking of great atmospheres, don’t sleep on Kentucky this weekend. The Wildcats are planning a blackout for Saturday’s game against South Carolina. For me, it’s one of the more underrated games on the slate. No, it’s not going to decide who wins the SEC or who makes the college football playoff, but it’s a huge game for the Kentucky program. It’s also an interesting contrast of coaches. South Carolina has the savvy veteran in Steve Spurrier while the Wildcats have a young, up-and-comer in Mark Stoops. Some say Kentucky is better off with Stoops, and long term maybe they’re right. But if I had my pick Saturday, I’m taking the HBC.

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Arkansas striding toward SEC relevance

September, 29, 2014
ARLINGTON, Texas — The stage was set for Arkansas to make a significant statement to the rest of the SEC West.

Once possessing a two-touchdown, second-half lead and on the verge of making it three touchdowns, the Razorbacks gave No. 6 Texas A&M all it could handle on Saturday at AT&T Stadium. They had the Aggies on the ropes; all they needed was one decisive knockout blow.

They couldn’t land it. As a result, the Razorbacks (3-2, 0-2 SEC) remain on the hunt for their first league win since 2012.

“When you got your foot on somebody’s throat, keep on it,” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said after his team’s 35-28 overtime loss to Texas A&M. “I think we need to have that killer mentality, to put that thing away.”

[+] EnlargeJonathan Williams
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezJonathan Williams and the Hogs face six ranked foes in their final seven games, but their recent play has put all opponents on notice.
Despite the loss, Arkansas continues to take big steps forward. Bielema’s first year in Fayetteville was lined with struggles as the Razorbacks finished 3-9. This season they’ve already matched that win total and their two losses have come to teams ranked in the top six nationally (Auburn and Texas A&M).

In their season opener against Auburn, they went toe-to-toe with the Tigers for a half before Auburn broke the game open in the third quarter. On Saturday, the Razorbacks looked even better -- and probably should have won, considering how they controlled the game in the first three quarters.

“For whatever reason, we weren't able to have the success we wanted to in the end here,” Bielema said. “But there are a lot of positive steps. But I didn't fly to Dallas to make a positive step. I came here to win, and I think our players did, and to get that close and to not have it, it's a critical week for us.”

That’s the kind of mentality that has to be fostered if the Razorbacks are going to start closing these types of games out. The SEC West is unapologetically difficult. Arkansas’ schedule is brutal down the stretch after their open date this week. Alabama is waiting on the other side of it. So are dates with Georgia, Mississippi State, LSU, Ole Miss and Missouri.

What’s clear is the Hogs have a system and a style they believe in and they continue to improve while staying true to both. Bielema has a well-documented history of success with his teams playing this physical, old-school style, and the seeds are being planted for future success in Fayetteville now. There is quality on both the offensive and defensive lines and that’s where everything starts. Their running back tandem of Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams is a challenge for any team to deal with.

Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin argued leading up to Saturday's game that Arkansas should have been considered to be a top-25 team. The Razorbacks validated that opinion for much of the day, and it's clear Arkansas is moving closer to being a real factor in the SEC.

The disconnect came late for the Razorbacks, who couldn’t close things out Saturday. By leaving the door creaked open slightly, the Aggies burst right through it, scoring a come-from-behind win, something they’re quite used to. The Aggies have learned how to finish tight games in their still-young SEC tenure. The Razorbacks, in their second season under Bielema, are still learning how to close games out against good teams in crunch time, perhaps signaling the difference between where the two programs are currently.

The Razorbacks were on the losing end of an SEC game for the 14th consecutive time because of critical mistakes that prevented them from building an even bigger lead than the 14-point advantage they once held Saturday.

In the first quarter, Arkansas fumbled a center-snap exchange in Texas A&M territory that killed a drive. In the second, a 34-yard touchdown pass from Brandon Allen to Hunter Henry was wiped off the board thanks to a holding penalty by left tackle Dan Skipper. In the fourth, a 56-yard run by Williams all the way to the Texas A&M 2-yard line was also revoked because of a tripping call on Skipper. If not for the penalty, Arkansas would have had a prime opportunity for a 21-point lead.

“It comes down to playing clean and not doing anything to hurt ourselves,” Allen said. “That’s what it came down to [Saturday]. Anytime you get those big plays called back on something you’re doing to yourself, it’s tough to win.”

Bielema and everyone in that locker room knew that minus those mistakes, things could have been different. Even so, the Razorbacks had their chance to finish late, missing a field goal, breaking down on defense and not getting a first down in overtime. They couldn’t take advantage of their opportunities. The Aggies made them pay for it as a result.

What's clear though, is that the necessary steps are being taken in Fayetteville, but growth doesn't come without growing pains. Saturday was evidence of both for Arkansas.

“There's a lot of really good things coming,” Bielema said. “This could be a very exciting time ahead of us.”

Second-year stars: Arkansas

June, 3, 2014
Arkansas was forced to play a handful of first-year players last season in Bret Bielema's first year on the job, and the Hogs like their nucleus of young talent.

They're up next in our second-year stars series.

Class recap: Bielema's first recruiting class at Arkansas was highlighted by a pair of ESPN 300 gets from South Florida -- running back Alex Collins and offensive lineman Denver Kirkland. The third ESPN 300 prospect in the class was in-state tight end Hunter Henry, who was ranked as the No. 2 tight end in the country. All three earned freshman All-SEC honors and were key contributors. The class was ranked 12th in the SEC and included five four-star prospects.

[+] EnlargeDan Skipper
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesDan Skipper started the final eight games of 2013 at guard. But this fall, he'll move over to left tackle on Arkansas' offensive line.
Second-year star: OT Dan Skipper (6-foot-10, 315 pounds)

Recruiting stock: Skipper was a three-star prospect out of Arvada, Colo., and ranked as the No. 53 offensive tackle prospect nationally.

2013 in review: Skipper played in all 12 games and started the final eight at guard. He was named to several freshman All-America teams and was part of an Arkansas offensive line that produced eight 100-yard rushing performances. Skipper was also a force on special teams and set a school-record with three blocked field goals.

2014 potential: With his towering size, Skipper is better suited to play tackle and will move outside as a sophomore to man the Hogs' left tackle spot. He's coming off an excellent spring, and even though Kirkland was the higher-rated prospect a year ago, Skipper is the one who's been pegged as Arkansas' left tackle of the future. Bielema has a long track record of producing quality offensive linemen, and Skipper has the size, physical tools and temperament to be an All-SEC player before he leaves Arkansas.

Also watch out for: Outside linebacker Martrell Spaight and cornerback Carroll Washington are a pair of second-year junior college players who should make much bigger impacts in 2014. Sophomore Brooks Ellis is a thumper at middle linebacker and started the final four games a year ago. Redshirt freshman safety De'Andre Coley had a big spring that was highlighted by more than a few big hits. He has a chance to emerge as one of the Hogs' starting safeties. Kirkland has settled in at right guard, and Henry returns as one of the top tight ends in the league. And even though the Hogs return both Collins and Jonathan Williams at running back, there's a reason sophomore Korliss Marshall is back at running back full time after previously spending some time on defense. Marshall is the fastest and most explosive running back of the bunch and gives the Hogs a true home-run threat.

SEC freshmen power rankings

September, 25, 2013

We're continuing to look at the first quarter of the 2013 college football season today by checking out the effect true freshmen have had. We know that the days of freshmen sitting back and watching are over, and SEC teams have made sure to get the youngsters on the field as quickly as possible.

Who has received the best results from their freshmen through the first four weeks? Who not only has quantity but quality when it comes from the freshmen impact? Take a look:

[+] EnlargeLaquon Treadwell
Frederick Breedon/Getty ImagesTrue freshman WR Laquon Treadwell has been one of several instant-impact rookies for Ole Miss.
1. Ole Miss: The Rebels might have had the most talked about recruiting class this past spring, and boy has it delivered. Coach Hugh Freeze was concerned about the class receiving too much hype, but these kids haven't had trouble adapting to the college game. Heading into this week's Alabama game, Ole Miss has five true freshmen as starters on the depth chart. The headliners in the class have been defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, who has 10 tackles, including four for loss, and wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, who is averaging 5.3 catches per game and has 154 receiving yards. Tight end Evan Engram has also had a major impact, catching 11 passes for 175 yards and two touchdowns, while offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil will make his second straight start at left tackle. Starting nickel corner Tony Conner intercepted a pass on his first career defensive snap, while offensive lineman Austin Golson has played around 50 percent of the snaps.

2. Georgia: The Bulldogs knew they were going to have to get a lot out of their freshman class, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Through the first four weeks of the season, six of Georgia's top 15 tacklers are freshmen: safety Tray Matthews (14), linebacker Leonard Floyd (12), cornerback Brendan Langley (10), safety Quincy Mauger (five), defensive lineman John Taylor (four) and linebacker Reggie Carter (four). The Bulldogs have played 14 true freshmen this season, which ranks third nationally. Ten of them have played on the defensive side of the ball and three of them -- Matthews, Floyd and Langley -- have started. In addition, freshman receiver Reggie Davis has two catches for 134 yards, including a school-record 98-yard touchdown reception against North Texas.

3. Arkansas: The first thing you think about when you see this Razorbacks team is the running game. Alex Collins became the first freshman in SEC history to begin his career with three straight 100-yard rushing games and the first true freshman in the NCAA to record three straight 100-yard rushing games to start his career since Oklahoma’s Adrian Peterson had nine straight in 2004. Collins leads the SEC with 481 rushing yards, is averaging 120.3 yards per game and has been named the SEC Freshman of the Week twice. Tight end Hunter Henry is second on the team with eight catches for 125 yards and a touchdown. Offensive tackle Denver Kirkland grabbed a handful of snaps against Southern Miss, while fellow tackle Dan Skipper blocked a field goal against Rutgers. Cornerback D.J. Dean has received a lot of snaps this fall as well.

4. Tennessee: Fourteen true freshmen and 22 freshmen overall have played for the Vols this season. Three true freshmen have made starts this season: wide receiver Marquez North (four), defensive back Cameron Sutton (four) and wide receiver Josh Smith (two). North, who leads the team with 12 catches for 112 yards, became the first true freshman to start the season opener for Tennessee at receiver since Marsalis Teague in 2009, while Sutton is the first true freshman defensive back to start a season opener since Justin Coleman in 2011. Defensive back Malik Foreman intercepted a pass in his debut against Austin Peay, becoming the first true freshman to record a pick in his Vols debut in the season opener since Dwayne Goodrich in 1996. Defensive back Devaun Swafford recorded a pick-six in Tennessee's loss to Florida last week.

5. LSU: The Tigers have played 14 true freshmen this season, and eight of those are defensive players. Cornerback Tre'Davious White is the only freshman to make a start this year, doing so against Kent State and Auburn. White has 17 tackles on the season, including one for loss, and has also forced a fumble and broken up a pass. Kendell Beckwith has received some good snaps at linebacker and on special teams. He also lines up at defensive end to provide more of a pass-rushing threat on third downs. Defensive lineman Christian LaCouture has seen time in the rotation along the Tigers' defensive line.