SEC: Darius Slay

Lunchtime links

April, 26, 2013
Twelve SEC players taken in the first round, huh? What an overrated league ...
More and more, college coaches expect early enrollees to make immediate impacts. They don't necessarily have to start, but you don't bring guys in early just to sit and watch.

Especially if they are junior college players.

One of those early enrolling JUCO standouts expected to jump right into the fire this spring is Mississippi State defensive back Justin Cox. He signed with the Bulldogs as a safety, but with both Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay gone, Cox is expected to step right in at cornerback when spring practice starts next week.

And when I say "step right in" I mean it sounds like people in Starkville think one of those cornerback spots is his job to lose. That might sound like a lot of pressure, but JUCO players don't come in to ride the pine. They come in to play early and often, and Cox was brought in to be a starter.

At 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, he already has great size to matchup with the biggest receivers in the SEC. What is even more impressive is that he wowed teammates and staffers during the early workouts of the year by being one of the team's fastest players.

So, he's 6-3 and has receiver-like speed? That's not intimidating or anything.

Obviously, measurements and speed aren't everything. Cox has to mix in instinct, smarts, toughness and technique, but the early word out of Starkville is that he shouldn't have much trouble showing all of that off once he gets out on the playing field and into game situations.

During his two years at East Mississippi Community College, Cox recorded 11 interceptions and broke up 19 passes. He also racked up 119 tackles, including seven for loss.

To put those interception numbers into perspective, Banks had 12 interceptions in the three years leading up to his Thorpe Award-winning season in 2012. It might be JUCO ball, but that's still pretty impressive.

He's an aggressive player, and the staff is hoping that he's kind of a mixture between Banks and Slay. Banks was a big-play guy, who covered a lot of ground, while Slay was a relentless cover guy.

Certainly, nothing is a given in this sport, but Cox has a lot of responsibility to deal with moving forward, and should be pretty fun to follow heading into the fall.
Tuesday brought us the final day of the NFL combine and even more speed, as defensive backs showcased their stuff in Indianapolis.

Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner arrived at the combine as the top-rated defensive back in this year's NFL draft, but had an up-and-down day. He had an impressive official 40-yard dash time of 4.37 seconds, which was the second-fastest 40 time of the day, but he struggled during drills -- dropping a handful of balls. Milliner also had a 36-inch vertical jump and a 122-inch broad jump. He's probably still the top-rated corner in this year's draft with his 40 time and it doesn't sound like his field drills will knock him out of that top spot.

[+] EnlargeDarius Slay
AP Photo/Dave MartinMississippi State CB Darius Slay showed off his leaping ability during NFL combine workouts.
Mississippi State cornerback Darius Slay made some good noise as well after he won the 40 battle, sporting a time of 4.36. That sort of time will certainly help his draft stock, especially after his name was buried a bit heading into the combine. He also had 14 reps of the 225-pound bench press, registered a 35.5-inch vertical and claimed 124 inches in the broad jump.

While Slay helped himself in Indy, teammate Johnthan Banks didn't. He might have won the Thorpe Award, as the nation's best defensive back, but Banks didn't have a good day at the combine. He ran an unflattering 4.61 in the 40 and struggled during field work. He had just 10 bench reps, but sported a 34-inch vertical and a 125-inch broad jump. Banks will have a chance to make up for Tuesday at Mississippi State's pro day.

When it came to showcasing some real strength, Georgia safety Shawn Williams topped all SEC defensive backs with his 25 bench reps. That number ranked third among defensive backs at the combine. He was also one of the fastest safeties out there with his 4.46 in the 40. He also had a 36-inch vertical. Williams really helped himself out with all that strength and speed he showed.

LSU safety Eric Reid also impressed when it came to speed and strength. He tied for the best vertical jump of the day with a height of 40.5 inches and he also tied for the top broad jump (134 inches). Reid also ran a 4.53 40 and did 17 reps on bench.

Florida safety Matt Elam had a big drop in field drills, but he turned some heads with his 4.54 40 time and he was able to get 17 reps on the bench. The 5-foot-10 Elam also registered a 35.5-inch vertical.

The other big story of the day revolved around the performance of former LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu. A lot of questions surrounded the Honey Badger, who was dismissed from LSU's team before the 2012 season, but he looked like he was in pretty good shape during Tuesday's workouts. While he tied for last with just four reps on bench, Mathieu was very impressive during field drills, showed good speed with his 4.50 in the 40, and registered a 34-inch vertical and a 117-inch broad jump.

Mathieu might have a lot of past off-field issues, but there's no doubt that he's a ballplayer, and Tuesday certainly helped him as far as the draft is concerned.

You can read about all the defensive back performances during the final day of the combine here.

Lunchtime links

February, 26, 2013
OK, I get it. These former college players are faster and stronger than me. They don't have to rub it in. Although, I'd own them on the soccer pitch and in a distance run!

Impact early enrollees in the SEC

February, 21, 2013
Enrolling into college has become a growing trend in college football. Missing prom and Senior Skip Day has become a regular for a lot of high schoolers these days.

In the SEC, getting a high number of early enrollees is becoming more and more of a priority for coaches. This year, all 14 SEC teams had players from their 2013 classes enroll in school early. Georgia leads the SEC with 13, Alabama has nine, and Florida and Texas A&M both have eight. In fact, 73 players from this year's recruiting class enrolled early at SEC schools in this year.

ESPN colleague Travis Haney unveiled his top impact early enrollees Insider from around the country Wednesday, and of his five players who made the cut, three came from the SEC. Well, four, because he said defensive backs Tray Matthews and Reggie Wilkerson would make immediate impacts at Georgia.

Florida running back Kelvin Taylor, who was the nation's No. 1 running back, and Alabama tight end O.J. Howard, who was an ESPN 150 member, also made the list.

Those all make sense. Georgia is basically replacing its entire secondary outside of cornerback Damian Swann, so the Bulldogs will need all the help they can get in the secondary. Florida proved that it could survive -- for the most part -- on a very strong running game last fall, but workhorse Mike Gillislee is gone, so the Gators will need help for Matt Jones and Mack Brown. Taylor is an elusive, physical back who could find himself getting a boatload of carries this fall. And Howard is a real difference-maker at tight end. The Alabama coaches are very excited about his big-play ability and his ability to create a lot of mismatches for defenders.

Haney also gave Tennessee wide receiver Paul Harris the honorable mention nod. Harris comes in at a position of great need, and it will only benefit, well, everyone, having him on campus early.

But what other players who decided to trade in their prom tuxes for shoulder pads could make immediate impacts in the SEC? Glad you asked, because here are some other guys I think you should all keep an eye on:

True freshmen

Christian LaCouture, DL, LSU: With LSU losing starters at both end spots and one at defensive tackle, LaCouture has a chance to get immediate playing time. He can play inside or outside for the Tigers.

Christian Morgan, TE, Ole Miss: The Rebels lost three senior tight ends from last season's team, and the returning players lack experience, so Morgan could step right into a starting spot with a successful spring.

Demarcus Robinson, WR, Florida: The Gators need receiving weapons, and Robinson might be the most versatile of the bunch on campus right now. He's the play-making type this offense desperately needs.

Junior college transfers

Leon Brown, OL, Alabama: Three starting offensive linemen are gone, which means Brown could find himself playing a lot this fall. He could be in line to take the vacant right tackle spot left by D.J. Fluker.

Justin Cox, DB, Mississippi State: Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay are gone, and Cox is already impressing people around the program. Word is he's already one of the fastest guys on the team, and could come in and start immediately at cornerback.

Za'Darius Smith, DE, Kentucky: With all the late movement in UK's class, Smith might have been overlooked, but Mark Stoops is very excited about him. He's been a monster in the weight room and could play right away this fall.
It's time for teams to focus on the future. That means replacing all of those holes left by departing seniors and underclassmen.

But which exiting players will be toughest to replace in 2013? ESPN NFL Insider KC Joyner tackled that exact question earlier this week Insider.

When it came to the SEC, Texas A&M's loss of defensive end Damontre Moore and Mississippi State's loss of cornerbacks Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay were chosen as the toughest voids to fill in the SEC this fall.

As far as Moore goes, he was easily the best defender for the Aggies and ended the season as one of the top overall players in the country. He was a game-changer with his speed, strength and versatility and the Aggies will have to replace 21 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks.

Replacing Moore's talent and playmaking skills would be tough for any team, but it makes it that much harder for the Aggies to mask the loss of Moore because of all the other defenders leaving with him. Senior linebackers Sean Porter, Jonathan Stewart and Steven Jenkins will all be gone, and so will senior defensive linemen Spencer Nealy and Jonathan Mathis. That's a lot of missing bodies. As Joyner points out, the Aggies will be losing 23.5 of its 31 total sacks from this past season.

For Mississippi State, the Bulldogs are losing both starting cornerbacks, who at one time were considered the best corner duo in the country. Banks, who had a tremendous career at Mississippi State, won the Jim Thorpe Award in 2012 as the top defensive back, while Slay led the team with five interceptions.

While both struggled in the second half of the season, Joyner has them on because Banks' big-play ability will be missed and Slay coverage skills will be missed. While Banks garnered all of the attention -- and the Thorpe Award -- Slay was a better cover man in 2012. Joyner writes that in nine games against BCS teams, Slay allowed 5.5 yards per attempt with two interceptions, while Banks allowed 11.5 YPA with no interceptions.

Couple that with losing senior Corey Broomfield in the defensive backfield, and the Bulldogs have a lot of work to do in the secondary in 2013.
The 2012 grades are in for the Mississippi State Bulldogs:

OFFENSE: During the first seven games of the season, the Bulldogs displayed one of the most balanced offensive attacks in the SEC. During that span, Mississippi State was running for 180 yards per game and throwing for 236 yards. The Bulldogs were also scoring just under 37 points per game. Tyler Russell was one of the most efficient passers in the country and had just one interception during that time. Helping him was running back LaDarius Perkins, who was one of the SEC's top offensive weapons when it came to all-purpose yards. But things quickly changed once the Bulldogs reached the teeth of the season. Starting with the Alabama game on Oct. 27, the Bulldogs' offense fell flat, averaging just 21 points in the final six games of the season. The Bulldogs were held under 20 points in three of those games. Russell threw nine interceptions in the final six games and the run game became nonexistent in the second half of the season, as Mississippi State rushed for less than 100 yards four times in the last six games. In three of those games, the Bulldogs generated less than 50 yards on the ground. Russell finished the year with 2,897 yards and 24 touchdowns to 10 interceptions, but he capped the year with a 106-yard, four-interception performance in the loss to Northwestern in the Gator Bowl. Perkins finished the year with 1,024 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, while wide receiver Chad Bumphis had his best season as a Bulldog, catching a career-high 58 passes for a career-high 922 yards and 12 touchdowns. Grade: C

DEFENSE: Like Mississippi State's offense, the first seven games of the year were relatively good to the Bulldogs' defense. But games against much weaker opponents masked glaring issues that this team had on defense. There was hardly any sort of consistent pass rush from the Bulldogs, who finished the year with just 18 sacks (second-worst in the SEC), the front seven was gutted in the second half against the run, allowing an average of 196.5 yards in the last six games, and the secondary played uncharacteristically bad during the last month of the season. This defense ranked eighth in the SEC in yards allowed (387.4 per game) and surrendered 5.5 yards per play. During the season, the Bulldogs allowed more than 500 yards of offense three times, including giving up 693 yards in a 38-13 loss to Texas A&M. After giving up 30-plus points just once during the first seven games, the Bulldogs allowed 34 or more points in all five of their losses. There were a couple of bright spots, as Mississippi State tied LSU for the league lead and tied for sixth nationally with 33 takeaways. Cornerback Johnthan Banks won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back, while linebacker Cameron Lawrence registered 120 tackles, including 10 for loss. Grade: C-

OVERALL: The Bulldogs were in play to win 10 games for the first time since 1999 after their 7-0 start, but that quickly faded away after a disastrous second half of the season. We saw two vastly different Mississippi State teams in 2012. The Bulldogs were outscored by at least 20 points in three of their four SEC losses and ended the year with a 34-20 loss to Northwestern. The regular season ended with a 41-24 loss to archrival Ole Miss, and Mississippi State missed out on winning nine games for the second time in a span of four years for the first time in school history. There's no question that Dan Mullen has done a tremendous job during his tenure in Starkville, especially with three straight winning seasons, but losing five of your last six games puts a major stain on the start of the season. Grade: C

Past grades:

Pregame: Gator Bowl

December, 30, 2012
Mississippi State (8-4, 4-4 SEC) vs. Northwestern (9-3, 5-3 Big Ten)

WHO TO WATCH: Northwestern running back Venric Mark. A year ago, Mark was a nonfactor at receiver. Now he's an All-American because of his explosiveness both as a running back and as a return man. The junior gave Northwestern its first true threat at running back since 2008 and, alongside quarterback Kain Colter, changed the offense from a pass-happy attack to more ground-based. He ranks 23rd nationally in rushing (109.2 yards per game), first in punt-return average (20.1 ypr) and ninth in all-purpose yards (170.7 ypg). He needs 148 yards in the bowl to set Northwestern's single-season record. Despite his size (5-foot-8, 175 pounds), Mark likes running between the tackles and challenging much bigger defenders. But his breakaway speed is his best attribute, and he's responsible for 23 plays of 20 yards or longer and 10 plays of 40 yards or longer.

WHAT TO WATCH: Mississippi State's secondary. There might not be a better cornerback tandem in the country than Johnthan Banks, the Thorpe Award winner, and All-SEC selection Darius Slay. Banks and Slay combined for nine interceptions, 22 passes defended, two fumble recoveries and three tackles for loss. Northwestern doesn't throw the ball nearly as much as it did in previous seasons and might be even more hesitant to challenge Banks and Slay. It'll be interesting to see how both men help against the run, an area in which Mississippi State has had some issues (69th nationally). The Bulldogs are very experienced and dangerous in the secondary with 124 starts and 40 interceptions (eight returned for touchdowns) combined among the starting four.

WHY TO WATCH: Northwestern is a young team that exceeded most expectations with nine wins and easily could have had more (three blown fourth-quarter leads). The program is enjoying an unprecedented period of sustained success, but it continues to be haunted by a bowl losing streak that stretches back to the 1949 Rose. Northwestern hopes to erase the "final negative," as coach Pat Fitzgerald puts it, and notch just the third 10-win season in team history. Mississippi State, meanwhile, does its best work in the postseason and brings the nation's longest active bowl win streak (five games) to Jacksonville, Fla. The Bulldogs struggled down the stretch after a 7-0 start and are still seeking a signature win to cap the season. Quarterback Tyler Russell leads a record-setting Mississippi State pass attack against a Northwestern defense that, while improved, still is prone to breakdowns.

PREDICTION: Northwestern 27, Mississippi State 24. Russell will make some plays in this one, but Northwestern has the better résumé, easily could be in a better bowl and ended the season playing much better than Dan Mullen's Bulldogs (lost four of last five). Mark and Colter will find enough space against an average Mississippi State run defense, and Northwestern will force a key turnover or two in the second half. It'll be close, but Northwestern prevails to end the bowl losing streak.
Saturday serves as both a blessing and a curse for Mississippi State's defense.

On one hand, the Bulldogs' defense has a chance to redeem itself after Alabama rolled right over this unit last week. The problem is that Mississippi State is taking on the SEC's best offense.

Texas A&M has the fifth-best offense nationally, averaging 542.9 yards per game, and is third in scoring (45.5). Thanks to a group of talented skill players, a veteran offensive line and the human highlight reel at quarterback, the Aggies' offense has been one of the most fun ones to watch this season.

[+] EnlargeDan Mullen
Mark Zerof/US PresswireMississippi State coach Dan Mullen hopes his talented secondary can help slow Texas A&M's explosive offense.
"They are going to spread you out across the field and create those matchups for their talent," Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said.

Mike Evans and Ryan Swope have been outstanding at wide receiver this season for the Aggies, combining for 83 catches for 1,225 yards and seven touchdowns. Ben Malena has been a pleasant surprise at running back (525 yards and five touchdowns).

But we know what really makes this A&M offense tick: Johnny Manziel.

The redshirt freshman has received Heisman love, and he has killed teams with his arm and his legs. He's averaging 277 yards passing and 99 rushing each game. He also has combined to score 29 touchdowns in his first season on the field.

"If you give him all day to stand back there and throw, he'll throw and beat you with his arm. If you give him open spaces, he's going to take off and beat you with his legs," Mullen said. "You have to do everything to contain him."

And good defenses have done so in the second half of games. Florida and LSU clamped down on Johnny Football in their wins against the Aggies, and the Bulldogs are looking to take some of what the Gators and Tigers did and expand on it Saturday.

Mullen knows he has to put pressure on Manziel, but he can't be too aggressive because running lanes could open up. And you obviously can't give him time to stand in the pocket.

Only two defenses have calmed Manziel's storm, and the Bulldogs certainly have the talent to do it, as well, especially with such a talented secondary.

This is the same unit that gave up some big plays against Alabama, but it's also the same unit that has arguably the nation's top cornerback duo in Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay, who have combined for 10 of Mississippi State's 12 interceptions.

Communication issues hurt this group against Alabama, but don't expect these players to have the same sort of issues Saturday. And with the way Manziel likes to improvise, things could get tricky for him if he doesn't settle down under duress.

"Your concern is that this is a really, really good secondary," A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. "Not only is it a good secondary, it's an experienced secondary."

To take some of the pressure off that secondary, all eyes will be on Mississippi State's defensive line. What was expected to be a strong part of this defense hasn't really lived up to expectations.

The line has combined for eight sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss through eight games. The core was supposed to be junior college transfer Denico Autry and veteran Josh Boyd. They've combined for just three sacks and seven tackles for loss.

"I want pressure every play," Mullen said. "I guess if every time a team tries to throw the ball and it ends in a sack, that's what I want."

In a perfect world, Mullen would get that. For now, he'll have to hope for flat-out improvement up front. And he'll need it if this defense is going to rebound Saturday.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 7

October, 11, 2012
We have a few exciting matchups in the SEC this weekend, so let's check out what to watch in Week 7:

1. Mettenberger's poise: LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger just hasn't looked comfortable in his two SEC starts. Granted, they were on the road, but we all expected a lot more from him. But in two SEC starts, Mettenberger has averaged 163.5 passing yards and has completed 50 percent of his passes with no touchdowns and an interception. It appears his confidence has been shot, and he has to get it back or this offense will be in trouble against such a talented South Carolina defense. Expect that Gamecocks front to put a ton of pressure on Mettenberger, which is something he's struggled against all year. If LSU can't balance its offense with the run and pass, it won't beat South Carolina.

[+] EnlargeBo Wallace
John David Mercer/US PresswireCan quarterback Bo Wallace get the Rebels a win against conference rival Auburn this week?
2. Chaney's patience: Tennessee is in must-win mode against Mississippi State, but it has the tall task of putting its offense up against the Bulldogs' vaunted secondary. If Tennessee is going to best Mississippi State's defense, it has to be able to run the ball consistently. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said this week that balance is the key and he has to be more patient with his running game. Rajion Neal has been very impressive during the Vols' last two games, but he'll have to be on top of his game again in order to take some of the pressure off of quarterback Tyler Bray. Chaney wants to run the ball more, but he has a tendency to get too pass-heavy at times when things get rough. His patience in the running game will be important.

3. Ending an embarrassing streak: Could this be the weekend Ole Miss finally gets over the SEC hump? The Rebels haven't won an SEC game in 16 tries and are fresh off a heartbreaking loss to Texas A&M. But the Rebels host an Auburn team that has struggled in every phase of the game this year. If Ole Miss is going to turn things around in SEC play, this is the weekend to do it. Auburn is giving up 409.8 yards of offense a game and is last in the SEC in total offense, generating a little more than 300 yards a game. The Rebels have one of the league's best offenses and shouldn't have an issue scoring.

4. Slowing down Marcus Lattimore: South Carolina's running back appears to be getting stronger and healthier each week. He has rushed for 314 yards and five touchdowns in three SEC games and has to be salivating at the thought of facing an LSU defense that surrendered 146 rushing yards and two touchdowns to Florida's Mike Gillislee last week. Gillislee absolutely wore down the Tigers' front, and that's something Lattimore knows a thing or two about. LSU's offense kept its defense on the field and tired in the Swamp, and South Carolina's defense is capable of doing the same thing to the Tigers, so Lattimore could get plenty of chances to exhaust this unit with his pounding style.

5. South Carolina taking another step: The Gamecocks are all the rage in college football. Steve Spurrier has this team ranked in the top five, and a win Saturday might propel South Carolina into the No. 2 spot. But with all the attention on the Gamecocks, can they keep their composure? Atlanta has been the goal all along, but even this team probably didn't expect to receive the attention it has this early in the year. LSU might be wounded, but this is South Carolina's first true road test. This team will be ready for South Carolina, and the Tigers haven't lost back-to-back games since 2008. If South Carolina is going to take the next step in its SEC journey this year, it has to beat LSU in hostile Tiger Stadium.

6. Scoreboard outage in Shreveport: We know that Texas A&M can score points. The Aggies have averaged 51.5 points in four games since their opening loss to Florida. Johnny Manziel and his explosive crew have crippled defenses this year, but they might send Louisiana Tech's defense running. The Bulldogs rank 123rd nationally in total defense, giving up 531 yards a game. They are also giving up 35.8 points per game. Texas A&M has the ability to really light the scoreboard up against this team, but Louisiana Tech has a very talented offense as well. The Bulldogs actually average more yards than the Aggies and are scoring 53.2 points per game. We could have a Big 12 game on our hands.

7. Florida's focus: The Gators are riding high off that emotional win over LSU last week. Coach Will Muschamp was celebrating like a little kid, violently pumping his fists and crowd surfing in the locker room. This was a huge win for him and his team, but now it's time to get back to playing football. But this group of Gators isn't used to success. Florida is ranked No. 4 nationally and is starting to get BCS love, but all that would come to a screeching halt with a loss to Vanderbilt on Saturday. The Commodores are feeling good after that road win against Missouri and are fighting for a bowl berth. Florida is on the road, and with South Carolina up next, the Gators can't get caught looking ahead this weekend.

8. Mississippi State's secondary vs Tennessee's passing game: You have the SEC's top passing offense taking on one of the top secondary units around with arguably the best cornerback duo in Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay. Bray has an impressive set of receiving toys to play with, but he'll have his hands full against Banks and Slay, who have combined for seven interceptions and haven't allowed any touchdowns. As a whole, Mississippi State has allowed just three passing touchdowns, while Bray has tossed 14 touchdowns. He has six interceptions on the year, and has had an issue with pressing. He can't afford to force things against this secondary because it will make him pay.

9. Alabama's offensive attack: There aren't a lot of glaring issues with No. 1 Alabama, but it will be interesting to see what the offense looks like this weekend against Missouri. Injuries have Alabama down to three scholarship running backs, while the Tide is looking for another deep threat with DeAndrew White going down with a season-ending knee injury. Players have said that execution issues have hurt the offense at times, and now that this team is down some bodies, the little things have to get cleaned up. The good news for Alabama is that Nick Saban got an extra week to prep and get this offense ready with the bye.

10. An Arkansas revival: Don't look now, but Arkansas is slowly crawling out of the canyon it created with a terrible September. Bowl hopes were dashed, but last week's win over Auburn has given this team new life. You still don't know what you're going to get from coach John L. Smith, but his players showed a lot of pride last week. The Razorbacks are dealing with a ton of injuries, but face a Kentucky team riddled with injuries as well. A win for the Razorbacks would really put them right back in the bowl hunt.
With Tennessee coach Derek Dooley recovering from hip surgery, offensive coordinator Jim Chaney took his spot on Wednesday's SEC coaches call.

But that shouldn't worry Vols fans when it comes to what capacity Dooley will be coaching in on Saturday against Mississippi State. Even with Dooley coaching from the coaches box, Chaney said he doesn't anticipate much change in how plays are relayed and it might make things easier between the two with them sitting right next to each other.

"It's really going to be not a lot of difference for us," Chaney said. "I'm not anticipating a lot of change in any environment in that regard."

In such a big game for the program against a talented team that has one of the best secondaries around, clear and open dialogue between Dooley and his offensive coordinator are going to very important.

The Bulldogs sport the country's top cornerback duo in Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay, who have combined for seven interceptions this season, and have a veteran safety unit in Corey Broomfield and Nickoe Whitley. The Bulldogs are giving up fewer than 200 yards through the air per game and have surrendered just three passing touchdowns this season, while grabbing nine interceptions.

Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray has struggled in his two SEC games (both losses), throwing four touchdowns to five interceptions. Chaney said making sure Bray slows down Saturday and quits pressing will be crucial against Mississippi State's defensive backfield.

"We're just trying to get him to calm down and realize sometimes there's not a play to be made," Chaney said. "And what Tyler believes is he believes in his own skill so much that he'll try to force some things once in a while. We're just trying to get that out of him.

"We throw it up to [Mississippi State's secondary] and they're going to make the play."

In order to help take some of the pressure off of Bray, Chaney said the running game has to continue to grind things out like it has the past few weeks. Running back Rajion Neal has rushed for 255 yards and a touchdown in his last two contests, including 104 yards against Georgia two weeks ago.

Being able to run the ball won't just help Bray, it will help Chaney be more patient on offense and help balance things about in order to create more plays against the Bulldogs' defense.

"As a playcaller, I don't have to throw the ball as often as I have in the past," Chaney said. "As long as we are running the ball efficiently, it's pretty comfortable and easy to stay with it."

Week 7 in the SEC

October, 8, 2012
Here's a quick primer for Week 7 in the SEC:

Auburn (1-4) at Ole Miss (3-3), 12:21 p.m. ET, SEC Network: Ole Miss is coming off of a heartbreaking home loss to Texas A&M, while Auburn had absolutely nothing in the tank against Arkansas. The Rebels will be very upset heading into this one and will be looking to end that 16-game SEC losing streak. Plus, it's homecoming in Oxford. Major pride is on the line for an Auburn team that just can't move the ball to save its life right now.

No. 1 Alabama (5-0) at Missouri (3-3), 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS: The Tigers are banged up both mentally and physically. Now, they are without their starting quarterback and have to play the best team in the country. Making matters worse, the Tide are coming off of a bye and refreshed. Corbin Berkstresser will have to show the utmost poise this weekend or it could be a very long night for the Tigers Saturday.

No. 4 Florida (5-0) at Vanderbilt (2-3), 6 p.m. ET, ESPNU: The Gators are hot after that win over LSU in the Swamp, but you have to wonder how much emotion was spent by this team over the weekend. But Vanderbilt is a team fighting to get to six wins and make it back to a bowl game. The Commodores walked out of Missouri's house with a win and it would be silly for Florida to overlook Vandy. This one has trap game written all over it.

Kentucky (1-5) at Arkansas (2-4), 7 p.m. ET, FSN: The Razorbacks finally saw their defense come together in a big win over Auburn. Yes, Auburn's offense barely has a pulse, but Arkansas has to feel much better about this unit. Now, the Razorbacks get a Kentucky team that has major offensive injuries and there are issues across the board with this team. All of a sudden, Arkansas' bowl hopes are still alive.

No. 3 South Carolina (6-0) at No. 9 LSU (5-1), 8 p.m. ET, ESPN: Things on LSU's offense just aren't working right now. Zach Mettenberger hasn't shown much poise in the pocket since the Washington game. The Tigers crossed the 50-yard line just once in the second half against Florida. Now, they have to play the SEC's third-best defense. The Gamecocks smothered Georgia's high-flying offense over the weekend and will be riding high down to Baton Rouge. Also, Marcus Lattimore had to be happy with what he saw from Florida's run game against LSU.

Tennessee (3-2) at No. 19 Mississippi State (5-0), 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2: This will be a fun matchup between Mississippi State's secondary and Tennessee's wide receivers. We know the Vols can sling it around, but the Bulldogs are equipped with league's best corner tandem in Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay. This is a must win for Tennessee or Derek Dooley's hot seat might explode, while Mississippi State knows that if it's going to truly get respect, it has to get a signature win like this one.

No. 22 Texas A&M (4-1) at No. 23 Louisiana Tech (5-0), 9:15 p.m., ET, ESPNU: The Aggies are one of the hottest teams in the country right now, but Louisiana Tech has been pretty impressive thus far. Remember, this game was supposed to be played at the beginning of the season, but Hurricane Isaac postponed it. There is a lot more excitement surrounding this game now with both teams playing as well as they are. Texas A&M is coming off of that comeback win at Ole Miss, but has to clean things up against a solid Bulldogs team.

Did you know?

October, 5, 2012
It's time to take a look at some weekly notes from the SEC and ESPN Stats & Information:
  • Alabama and LSU are tied for the longest active streak of being ranked in the top five of the AP Top 25 poll at 22 weeks each. Georgia is fifth at three weeks.
  • Alabama and LSU are tied for the longest active streak of being ranked in the top 10 of the AP Top 25 poll at 23 weeks each. South Carolina is fourth at eight weeks and Georgia tied for fifth (with Florida State) at six weeks.
  • On offense, the SEC teams run the ball 56.0 percent of the time, which is the third highest percentage of all FBS conferences. The Mountain West runs the ball 59.6 percent of the time while the Big Ten is at 56.6 percent. In the SEC, teams run the ball an average of 38.1 times per game and pass the ball 29.9 times per game.
  • SEC teams are scoring an average of 33.2 points per game, which is third among all FBS conferences. The Big 12 leads the nation at 41.0 points per game and the ACC is second at 33.9 points per game. Last year, the SEC scored at an average of 27.3 points per game, which was the lowest since 2008 (25.6 points per game). After five weeks last season, SEC teams were scoring at a 31.2 points per game clip.
  • SEC defenses are allowing an average of 20.86 points per game, which is third among all FBS conferences. The Big Ten leads the nation at 19.84 points per game and the Big East is second at 20.33 points per game. Last year, the SEC defenses gave up an average of 20.7 points per game, which was the lowest since 2008 (20.5). After five weeks last season, SEC teams were giving up an average of 20.0 points per game.
  • In nonconference games this season, SEC defenses are allowing 17.03 points per game.
  • Arkansas’ Dennis Johnson became the SEC career record holder for kickoff return yardage last week. In his career, he has 2,755 yards (on 115 returns), which surpassed Brandon James of Florida’s total of 2,718 yards (112 returns).
  • Zach Mettenberger has completed 60.7 percent of his passes thrown 15 yards or more downfield and has been worse than 50 percent in only one game (Auburn). The Tigers are 13-0 since the start of 2010 when they complete more than 50 percent of their throws of 15 yards or more.
  • LSU’s defense has pressured the quarterback on 59 of 161 (36.6 pct) of opponents’ drop-backs this season. Barkevious Mingo leads the Tigers in pressuring the opposing quarterback 13 times. Sam Montgomery is second with eight. Of those 59 plays, 41 of them (69.5 pct) came when the Tigers sent four or fewer pass-rushers.
  • Jeff Driskel has at least one rush that gained 20 yards or more in each game this season. Driskel gained two of the four 20-yard runs on bootlegs. For the season, Driskel is averaging 11.1 yards per carry on designed running plays and 9.4 yards per rush on scrambles.
  • Georgia already has 11 touchdowns of 30 yards or longer this season which is one fewer than they had all of last season. The Bulldogs have 43 plays that have gained 20 yards or more, six more than any other FBS team.
  • Todd Gurley has eight rushes of 20 yards or longer this season, tied for the most in FBS. Fellow freshman, Keith Marshall, has five such runs. Last season no Georgia player had more than six rushes of 20 yards or longer and as a team they had a combined three 20-yard rushing touchdowns. Gurley (four) and Marshall (three) have a combined seven 20-yard rushing touchdowns already this season.
  • Georgia has run the ball on 62.8 percent of its first-down plays, averaging 6.9 yards per rush.
  • Marcus Lattimore has run for 358 yards and three touchdowns in two games against Georgia in his career. Lattimore is averaging 3.2 yards before contact against Georgia and has more 10-plus yard rushes against the Bulldogs than any other opponent.
  • Mississippi State’s opponents have converted a first down on third and at least 7 yards on just 3 of 28 attempts this season (10.7 percent), tied for the lowest percentage in FBS.
  • Tyler Russell completed 7 of 9 passes for 143 yards and a touchdown after a play-action fake last year against Kentucky.
Arkansas at Auburn
Auburn holds an 11-9-1 advantage in the series … Teams have split the last 10 meetings with Arkansas winning four of the last six matchups … Auburn is tied for fourth in the nation in kickoff returns with Onterio McCalebb third in the nation … Tiger linebacker Daren Bates leads the SEC and is tied for fifth in the nation in tackles per game … Arkansas wide receiver Cobi Hamilton is ninth in the nation in receiving yards per game and Dylan Breeding is ninth in the nation in punting … Arkansas ran 98 plays on offense at Texas A&M last week, the most by an SEC team since 2007 and tied for the ninth-highest single-game total in SEC history.

Mississippi State at Kentucky
The Wildcats lead the series with the Bulldogs 21-18 … UK leads 13-7 in games played in Lexington … State is making the trip to Lexington in back-to-back years (State won, 28-16, last year) … Wildcats made the trip to Starkville in back-to-back years in 2001 and 2002 … State has scored 144 points through the first four games, which is the most by a Bulldog team since 1994 … Bulldogs lead nation in turnover margin (3.25 margin) and interceptions per game (2.25) … MSU’s Darius Slay leads nation in interceptions (four) and teammate Johnthan Banks (three) is sixth .. Wildcats’ Avery Williamson is tied for 19th in the nation in tackles per game.

LSU at Florida
Florida leads series with LSU, 30-25-3 … The teams have met every year since 1971 … Since 2000, the teams have split the last 12 meetings … LSU has won the last two meetings, 41-11 last year at LSU, and 33-29, in 2010 at the Swamp … Florida’s last win over LSU came in 2009 at Tiger Stadium (13-3), which is the last loss by LSU at home … Gators are fifth in the nation in pass efficiency defense and 10th in scoring defense … Florida and LSU’s special teams excel -- Gators’ Caleb Sturgis is tied for fifth in the nation in field goals and Kyle Christy is 10th in punting; Tigers’ Brad Wing is 13th in the nation in punting.

Vanderbilt at Missouri
The Tigers lead the series, 2-1-1 … This is the first meeting between the two schools since 1958 (Vandy, 12-8) … The game was the first game at Missouri for then-head coach Dan Devine … Vanderbilt’s Zac Stacy has 2,343 career rushing yards, which is third in school history … His 21 career rushing TDs is fourth in school history … The Tigers, behind Marcus Murphy, are fourth in the nation in punt returns with Murphy seventh … Missouri is also tied for ninth in the nation in tackles for loss per game … Vandy is eighth in the nation in pass defense and Carey Spear is tied for fifth in the nation in field goals per game … Vandy is one of four teams (Florida, Miss. State and Texas A&M) to lead SEC this season in least amount of passing TDs allowed (two).

Texas A&M at Ole Miss
The Aggies lead the series with Rebels, 4-0 … A&M is the third team from state of Texas to play at Ole Miss this season … Rebs looking to break seven-game loss streak in SEC home openers (last win was versus Vanderbilt in 2004) … Texas A&M leads nation in net punting … Aggies defensive end Damontre Moore is second in the nation in tackles for loss per game and tied for second in sacks per game … Texas A&M and Ole Miss are tied for third in SEC with 13 rushing TDs this season (19-UGA; 16-LSU) … A&M is tied for SEC lead in least TDs allowed (five with Alabama and South Carolina).

Georgia at South Carolina
For the first time in the Georgia-South Carolina series, both teams are ranked in the top 10 coming into the matchup … Georgia leads series, 46-16-2, and 19-8-2 in games played at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia … The Gamecocks have won the last two meetings … USC head coach Steve Spurrier is 14-5 lifetime against Georgia while UGA head coach Mark Richt is 7-4 against South Carolina … The Gamecocks have won nine straight games (Florida, Citadel, Clemson, Nebraska, Vanderbilt, East Carolina, UAB, Missouri, Kentucky) dating back to last season. It matches the longest winning streak in school history, set in 1984 … The Bulldogs are second in the nation in passing efficiency, eighth in scoring offense, 11th in rushing offense and 11th in total offense … UGA quarterback Aaron Murray is third in the nation in passing efficiency while freshman tailback Todd Gurley is fifth in kickoff returns, tied for sixth in scoring and tied for 19th in rushing and all-purpose rushing … The Gamecocks are second in the nation in sacks, sixth in scoring defense, seventh in rushing defense, eighth in passing efficiency and tied for ninth in tackles for loss … Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw is 10th in the nation in passing efficiency and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is tied for 12th in tackles for loss and tied for 18th in sacks.
Those who have the unfortunate task of facing Mississippi State's secondary must deal with the thought of going into lockdown mode.

Wide receivers have to face facts as they enter "Precinct 913” run by cornerbacks Darius Slay (9) and Johnthan Banks (13).

The clever title involving both players’ uniform numbers supposedly came from the mind of a fan, but the two have grown to love and live it, as they own the title of the SEC’s best corner duo.

"Me and Slay work real good together," Banks said.

[+] EnlargeDarius Slay
Spruce Derden/US PresswireDarius Slay is helping Mississippi State make its case for having the best secondary in the country.
Their seven combined interceptions (Slay 4, Banks 3) are more interceptions than 108 Football Bowl Subdivision teams have, they haven’t allowed a touchdown against them, Slay is one of four players nationally averaging 1.0 interceptions per game and Banks is allowing just 4.2 yards per pass thrown his way in man coverage.

Banks was thrown at 11 times through the first three games, but watched offenses pay the price, as Slay ended up being the only player in the nation to intercept a pass in each of the first three weeks of the season.

South Alabama avoided Slay, throwing 10 passes at Banks, but he left the game with yet another interception.

Things only get better when you add safeties Corey Broomfield, who moved from corner, and Nickoe Whitley. The foursome has combined to defend 12 passes and intercept eight. It's also helped Mississippi State's defense allow just 53 points in four games, the lowest allowed through the first four games since 1999 (28).

The Bulldogs are giving up 213.5 passing yards per game, but have allowed just two passing touchdowns while registering nine interceptions.

Yet, Banks feels the jury is still out on this unit.

"I don't think anybody else thinks we have a really good secondary, but we know we have a good secondary," Banks said. "It kind of makes us mad that I get singled out, out of the four. That motivates us. We know that people are going to come watch me and praise me, but that makes them go even harder to show what I can do, they can do, and maybe do it better."

Added Broomfield: "You can say what you want to say. You can put any list together that you want to, but we're going to put it on tape that we're the best secondary in the nation."

Through three seasons of work, these players have 32 career interceptions among them, but nearly half go to Banks, who ranks first among active FBS players with 15 career interceptions. He's also tied for third nationally with Broomfield with three interceptions returned for touchdowns. He's an excellent cover man who moonlights as a ball hawk.

But he’s nothing without his posse.

"I know I get all the praise, but I'd say we're all dangerous," Banks said. "All those guys just get it done -- 'Broom,' Slay, Nickoe -- all of them do the same things I do. It's just ridiculous how good these three guys that play with me are."

Banks said the crew really started to jell when Slay moved into the starting lineup. It gave the Bulldogs a chance to be in nickel on every down with Broomfield still on the field. Having three corners on the field at all times makes for more versatile packages for the secondary and provides more opportunities for man coverage, which they all love.

It’s also helped make them more competitive in practice. Defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said his players have to keep an edge in the secondary, and they do that by constantly challenging each other in practice.

It’s almost another game to see who can out-do the other each day in order to eliminate complacency.

“In the big picture, if these guys can really prepare as well as I think they can, week in and week out, they'll only get better,” Wilson said.

Saturday, this secondary should feast off Kentucky's pass game, which will be without starting quarterback Maxwell Smith. The thought of possibly playing against two true freshmen quarterbacks has to make State's foursome salivate uncontrollably.

But in two weeks, Tennessee comes to town. Tyler Bray and his band of receiving threats will invade Starkville on a mission to rule the skies. However, they should tread lightly when around the precinct.

Handcuffing is its specialty.

“We're ready,” Slay said. “We're built for good competition and we look forward to playing good receivers.”

Week 6 in the SEC

October, 1, 2012
Here's a quick primer for the SEC in Week 6:

Arkansas (1-4) at Auburn (1-3), 12 p.m. ET, ESPN2: This game is extremely important to both teams. A loss for either will essentially end any bowl hopes. Both defenses are at the bottom of the SEC, so that's good news for both offenses, especially Auburn's offense, which is last in the SEC and ranks 117th nationally in total offense (297.8 yards per game). Auburn also has the advantage of coming off of a bye, which should have helped quarterback Kiehl Frazier regroup from a rough September.

No. 20 Mississippi State (4-0) at Kentucky (1-4), 12:21 p.m. ET, SEC Network: The Bulldogs have had a solid start to the season, but it's been overshadowed to an extent. The Bulldogs are 13th nationally in scoring defense and might have the nation's best cornerback combination in Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay, who have combined for seven interceptions through four games. Kentucky hasn't had much to be happy about this season and quarterback Maxwell Smith (ankle) is injured again. This offense has to have him in the lineup if it's going to hang with the Bulldogs.

No. 4 LSU (5-0) at No. 10 Florida (4-0), 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS: We don't really know what to expect from this game. Both defenses were both very solid in September, but who knows what we'll see from the offenses? Florida's offense is much better than it has been the past two years, but it hasn't faced a front like LSU, while the Tigers have been very inconsistent on offense to start the year. The Swamp should be fired up for this game, as both are undefeated going into the game for the fifth time ever and this is just the fourth time both enter ranked in the Top 10 in the Associated Press Poll.

Texas A&M (3-1) at Ole Miss (3-2), 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU: Both of these offenses know how to move and score points. This should be a real fun one to watch in Oxford, but both defensive coordinators could be pulling their hair out by the third quarter. Both teams are averaging more than 200 rushing yards a game, so line play will be critical. Ole Miss has to find a way to slow quarterback Johnny Manziel, or his hot run will continue. The first team to 40 points might win this game.

No. 5 Georgia (5-0) at No. 6 South Carolina (5-0), 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: This is a major battle in the East race. The winner basically takes a two-game lead over the loser. Both lit up the scoreboard in South Carolina's win last year, and the Bulldogs' defense was gouged by Tennessee last week. Georgia's run defense has to come to play this weekend because Marcus Lattimore is getting stronger and stronger and has rushed for 358 yards and three touchdowns in his two games against the Bulldogs.

Vanderbilt (1-3) at Missouri (3-2), 7 p.m. ET, FSN: The Tigers are struggling to get their offense going, while Vanderbilt owns the nation's No. 29 defense. This should be a good test for Missouri. There is just too much talent at Missouri for this team not to put up more points or be more consistent moving the ball. James Franklin is dealing with shoulder pain, but the parts around him have to help out more, especially that banged up offensive line. The Commodores have their own issues on offense and having a quarterback controversy doesn't help.



Thursday, 9/18
Saturday, 9/20