SEC: Davonte Lambert

Will Muschamp is a wanted man. The former Florida coach was once a premier defensive coordinator in college football, and now he’s being sought out for the same position by both Auburn and Texas A&M.

Muschamp isn’t the only name to have come up. Others have been linked to the two openings, including former Nebraska coach Bo Pelini, who won a national championship as LSU’s defensive coordinator in 2007, as well as current Houston defensive coordinator David Gibbs, who spent a year at Auburn in 2005 and is not far from Texas A&M.

The question is – whether it’s Muschamp, Pelini or even Gibbs – which defensive coordinator job is more attractive to potential suitors, Auburn or Texas A&M?

Greg Ostendorf: If the goal is to play for national championships, then this is a no-brainer. Auburn won a national championship in 2010 and played for another one just last season. As long as Gus Malzahn is the head coach, the Tigers will be good enough offensively to make the playoff year in and year out.

They’re also better suited to make a run next year. Despite all the young talent on the Aggies’ roster, I argue that an incoming defensive coordinator will have more to work with at Auburn than he would at Texas A&M.

 Assuming nobody leaves early, the Tigers will have seven starters returning on defense, including the top three leading tacklers (Johnathan Ford, Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost), the team leader in sacks (DaVonte Lambert) and the team leader in interceptions (Jonathan Jones). Can Texas A&M say the same thing?

The defense will also welcome back Carl Lawson, the team’s top pass rusher who missed the entire season due to injury. Lawson didn’t have the same type of production as the Aggies' Myles Garrett did his freshman year, but when healthy, he still has NFL potential written all over him.

That alone is a solid group, especially with Lawson coming back, but when you throw in Tre' Williams, Nick Ruffin and Stephen Roberts, a trio of promising young freshmen who all played this season and gained valuable experience, the potential for a turnaround is there as long as Auburn finds the right guy to take charge.

Some argue that Malzahn focuses primarily on offense when it comes to recruiting, but Auburn’s current 2015 class has three linebackers ranked in the ESPN 300, and the right hire could be just what the Tigers need to land a star like Jeffery Holland or Daron Payne. Can you imagine the success Muschamp would have in Florida, a state Auburn recruits well already? He would have no trouble convincing top defensive targets to join him on the Plains.

The question I have for the future defensive coordinator at Texas A&M is how long will your head coach be around? Kevin Sumlin’s name has been linked to NFL jobs the past two seasons, and it will likely come up again this offseason. Granted, Malzahn might also have a future in the NFL, but Sumlin seems closer to realizing that dream.

Let’s be honest. Both schools have money, both have top-notch facilities, and both have the resources to be successful. The difference is Auburn has better players and a better opportunity to win next year. For a defensive coordinator who might want to coach again soon, i.e. Muschamp or Pelini, there’s not a better job out there.

Sam Khan: Texas A&M’s defensive coordinator position is an appealing opportunity for prospective defensive coaches.

For starters, there is nowhere to go but up. The Aggies ranked last in the SEC in yards per game allowed in each of the past two seasons, so the room for improvement is plentiful.

 The real reason it’s a good opportunity though, is the personnel. The Aggies have ripe young talent to work with. Myles Garrett. Armani Watts. Otaro Alaka. Josh Walker. Zaycoven Henderson. Those are all true freshmen who started games for the Aggies this year.

Garrett is a bonafide star. He shattered Jadeveon Clowney’s SEC freshman sack record (Garrett has 11 sacks this season) and is the type of player the Aggies’ next defensive coordinator can build around the next two seasons (let’s be honest, the chances of Garrett exhausting his college eligibility seem slim given his production so far).

Watts showed promise at safety this season with three interceptions and seven pass breakups. Alaka and Walker performed admirably when inserted into the starting lineup late in the season and look like the linebackers of the future. Henderson is a big body with quickness to plug in the middle. And that’s not to mention a host of other underclassmen who were forced into action each of the past two seasons who will continue to grow in the coming years.

The Aggies have more young talent coming in via the 2015 recruiting class, like 5-star defensive tackle Daylon Mack, four-star defensive end James Lockhart and ESPN 300 safeties Larry Pryor Jr. and Justin Dunning. The foundation for future success is there.

Money won’t be an issue for the Aggies when it comes to paying their defensive coordinator of choice. The school is in the middle of spending nearly $500 million on football facilities upgrades and shelled out $5 million per season for Kevin Sumlin. They’re not going to go cheap on the defensive coordinator, which is a pivotal hire heading into Sumlin’s fourth season in Aggieland, just for the sake of saving a few bucks. They have to get this hire right, and they’ll spend what’s necessary to do it.

The resources to attract more defensive talent is there. The player’s locker room and lounge is second-to-none. The Aggies have one of the best weight rooms in the country. Sumlin is a master recruiter who excels at closing the deal with elite recruits.

And Sumlin is willing to give his choice a chance. Auburn has had seven defensive coordinators in the past 10 seasons. Sumlin, who has been a head coach since 2008, is going on his fourth. Sumlin has no problem making changes when necessary, but he usually isn’t the type to overreact to one season’s worth of results.

SEC morning links

November, 24, 2014
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Florida probably needs all the help it can get if it is to have a chance against Florida State on Saturday.

The Gators got some good news on that front when they learned that quarterback Treon Harris, who injured his knee Saturday against Eastern Kentucky, should be able to practice this week and start against the Seminoles.

FSU might not be the juggernaut it was last season, but not much has been able to slow down the Seminoles. Not even the game officials.

Beating FSU would be a poetic ending for Will Muschamp in his final season as Florida’s head coach, who had to work to keep the team together after the news broke that he will not return in 2015.

Razorbacks playing spoiler: Bret Bielema’s Arkansas Razorbacks are suddenly the darlings of the SEC following back-to-back shutouts against LSU and Ole Miss that ended a two-year conference losing streak. Some are already discussing the Hogs as potential SEC contenders in 2015, but they still have work to do this season. They could play spoiler again with a win this weekend at Missouri. The Tigers must win to represent the SEC East in the conference championship game. Otherwise Georgia will be the Eastern Division team in Atlanta. Missouri believes it has come into its own in the second half of the season, and it’s hard to argue with a team that’s riding a five-game winning streak. In fact, the Tigers seem to be handling the underdog role fairly well.

Rocky road for Auburn: Coordinators Rhett Lashlee and Ellis Johnson made their weekly visits with reporters on Sunday night and acknowledged they’ll have their work cut out when Auburn visits No. 1 Alabama on Saturday. For one thing, they’re not entirely sure whether all of their most valuable personnel will be available. Johnson said that team sack leader DaVonte Lambert probably will not play after suffering a leg injury against Samford over the weekend. On the offensive side, Lashlee said Duke Williams is still day to day, but he’s optimistic that the star receiver will be able to play. On a separate note, Lashlee said he had a laugh afterward over Samford -- where he coached in 2011 -- using play-calling placards that featured pictures of him in Saturday’s game.

Around the SEC:

" Oxford, Mississippi, is bracing for a massive crowd for Saturday’s Ole Miss-Mississippi State game -- a matchup that could be the most pivotal game in Egg Bowl history.

" The Baton Rouge Advocate’s Ross Dellenger examines LSU’s issues at quarterback and the parallels between this season and 2008, Les Miles’ least successful season as the Tigers’ coach to this point.

" Looking toward the future, a number of young reserves got a chance to shine in Alabama’s win against Western Carolina on Saturday.

" Arkansas coach Bielema said running back Korliss Marshall will likely not return to the Razorbacks' program.

" By the numbers, rivals Georgia and Georgia Tech appear to be closely matched.

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Auburn vs. Ole Miss primer

October, 31, 2014
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It’s the battle of the best one-loss teams in the country Saturday in Oxford, Mississippi. The College Football Playoff rankings debuted this week, and Auburn and Ole Miss are ranked No. 3 and No. 4, respectively. The winner still controls its own destiny. The loser might be knocked out of contention entirely.

Auburn has a 28-10 advantage in the series and has won nine of the 12 games played in Oxford, but the Rebels are off to their best start (7-1) since 1990.

Here is a breakdown of Saturday’s game:

Auburn’s key to victory: Auburn has to protect the football. The Tigers have five turnovers in the past two games after committing five total in the first five. The last time they played in the Magnolia State, they turned the ball over on their first two possessions, digging a 21-0 hole against Mississippi State. This Ole Miss defense is even better. The Rebels lead the nation in interceptions (17), turnover margin (+13) and points off turnovers (97). Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall, who has thrown all three of his interceptions on the road this season, has to be smart with the football. Expect the Tigers to try to run early and often.

Ole Miss' key to victory: Speaking of Auburn’s rushing attack, it will be critical for Ole Miss to slow that down, but if the Rebels want to win Saturday, it’s up to quarterback Bo Wallace. The senior looked to be past his late-game struggles, completing 73 percent of his passes in the fourth quarter with six touchdowns and no interceptions through the first seven games. Then he threw the interception against LSU last weekend that sealed the game. How does Wallace respond? The talent is there, and this Auburn defense can be exposed on the back end, but there is no telling which Bo will show up Saturday.

Auburn X factor: Somebody has to get to Wallace and make plays in the Ole Miss backfield. At this point, Auburn is still searching for that guy. Junior college transfer DaVonte Lambert leads the team with 3.5 sacks, but the player to keep an eye on is linebacker Kris Frost. He has been as good as anybody on the defense the past two games with 21 tackles. Despite missing significant time against Louisiana Tech, Frost is fourth on the team in tackles (37). He also has 5.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and six quarterback hurries. The Tigers will need Frost and fellow linebacker Cassanova McKinzy to be active on Saturday.

Ole Miss X factor: The Rebels' wide receiver to know is Laquon Treadwell, who leads the team in receptions and yards, but don’t sleep on Cody Core. The junior hails from Auburn, Alabama, so there will be a little extra motivation Saturday when he faces his hometown team, the same team that never offered him a scholarship. Core has 26 catches for 390 yards this season, and leads all receivers with five touchdowns. At 6-foot-3, 196 pounds, his length and athleticism could cause problems for an Auburn secondary that has struggled in recent weeks, especially against bigger wide receivers like Mississippi State’s De'Runnya Wilson.

Playoff impact: It’s not quite an elimination game for the College Football Playoff, but it sure feels like it. Auburn might be able to climb back into contention with two losses based solely on strength of schedule. The Tigers still have trips to Georgia and Alabama on the schedule. But if Ole Miss loses, that might be it for the Rebels. They have a quality win against Alabama and a chance to take down the nation’s No. 1 team, but a weak nonconference schedule and cross-division games against Tennessee and Vanderbilt won’t help.
AUBURN, Ala. – Before the season, everybody talked about Nick Marshall and this Auburn offense. How was anybody in the SEC going to stop the Tigers? The only thing holding them back was their defense, a unit that finished No. 79 in total defense in 2013.

Five games into this season, the defense hasn’t been holding them back. In fact, it’s been the catalyst for Auburn in several games this season.

In the season opener against Arkansas, an interception return for a touchdown by Jermaine Whitehead changed the complexion of the game. When the offense struggled on the road at Kansas State, the defense stepped up and held the Wildcats to 285 total yards and 14 points. In Auburn’s most recent victory over LSU, the offense was clicking, but the defense did its part too, holding LSU to 0-of-13 on third down.

[+] EnlargeJermaine Whitehead
AP Photo/Butch DillJermaine Whitehead's interception return for a touchdown helped Auburn pull away from Arkansas.
Still skeptical? Take a look at these stats:

  • Auburn has only surrendered 24 second-half points this season (4.8 per game).
  • Auburn has allowed 21 or fewer points in five consecutive games for the first time since an eight-game stretch in 2007-08.
  • Auburn has allowed just one passing touchdown in the last 18 quarters.
  • SEC opponents have converted first downs on 2 of 24 chances on third down this season (8.3 percent).

“Our defense has played outstanding, and we’ve played some pretty good offenses,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “It’s the second year in the system. Our front is a very physical front. They’ve done a great job against the run. And our back end has done a great job.

“Even though we’ve got a lot of inexperienced guys -- we’ve got two freshmen running around back there -- I’ve been very pleased with the way those guys have played.”

Despite losing its top pass rusher and top cornerback from last year, the Tigers have made strides in Ellis Johnson’s second season as defensive coordinator.

What’s the biggest reason for improvement? The unit still returned seven starters, and a handful of newcomers from Auburn’s 2014 recruiting class – players such as Davonte Lambert and Nick Ruffin -- have already made an impact. But senior defensive tackle Gabe Wright believes it has more to do with the bond they have developed with their coaches in the second year.

“I would say guys have bought in,” Wright said. “Trust is a big factor between your coaches. I feel like cohesion really didn’t settle in, and that’s kind of obvious your first year. You’ve got to be able to build those relationships, and as the season went on last year, we drastically progressed. Going through another spring and fall, I feel like that really helped us.”

As good as the defense has been to this point in the season, Wright says there are still plenty of mistakes that can be cleaned up. The Tigers haven’t even reached their full potential.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that Auburn travels to Starkville, Mississippi, on Saturday to face a Mississippi State team that’s averaging 42 points per game. The Tigers haven’t seen a quarterback as talented as the Bulldogs' Dak Prescott since Jameis Winston in last year’s BCS title game.

“[Prescott] puts a tremendous amount of pressure on you,” Wright said. “He is a dual-threat quarterback, and I think that in itself already speaks volumes.”

The Mississippi State quarterback is getting plenty of Heisman buzz after a five-touchdown performance against Texas A&M last Saturday.

“Honestly, that’s not something that we really talk about a lot or as much as you might think,” Wright said when asked about facing a Heisman Trophy contender. “We enjoy the challenge, and like Coach G [Rodney Garner] always says, this is why we came to the SEC. Ultimately, that’s why we came to Auburn –- to play these big games.”

Saturday is a big game, and while most people will be talking about the Auburn offense, it’s the defense that holds the key.

“They’re certainly well-deserving to be one of the top defenses in the country,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said.
HOOVER, Ala. -- At SEC media days, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn confirmed the worst -- sophomore defensive end Carl Lawson had indeed undergone ACL surgery on the knee that he injured the last week of spring practice.

[+] EnlargeCarl Lawson
AP Photo/Todd J. Van EmstCarl Lawson's absence at defensive end will be felt, but Auburn has capable bodies ready to fill in.
Lawson waited until the first week of May to have the surgery, and now, the Auburn coaches are hoping to get him back "toward the end of the year."

"That's yet to be determined," Malzahn said of Lawson's return date. "But he is an unbelievable worker. He's a physical specimen, put together extremely well. He's very determined, so we'll see where that goes."

The former five-star recruit, ranked No. 2 overall in the 2013 class, was in line to replace top pass-rusher Dee Ford this fall. Ford led the team with 10.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss last season, but Lawson showed glimpses of greatness when he got the opportunity. As a freshman, he was second on the team with four sacks.

However, it's time for Auburn to move on. If the Tigers get him back for the last two, three, four games, it would be a huge lift, but they have to worry about how to replace his production prior to his return, if he comes back at all.

Senior LaDarius Owens is already penciled in at one of the two starting defensive end spots. He started 12 games a season ago, and, though he missed all of spring practice, he's expected back for the beginning of fall camp.

The question will be who starts opposite of Owens and who else will be in the rotation once the season gets underway.

The candidates

Elijah Daniel, sophomore: If not for Lawson, Daniel might have been talked about more last season. He too was a top recruit coming out of high school, ranked No. 34 overall in the ESPN 300, and he wasn't far behind his teammate with 2.5 sacks as a freshman. The plan was for the duo to play opposite each other down the road, but with Lawson out for the foreseeable future, the time is now for Daniel. Can he step out of Lawson's shadow and make his own mark?

DaVonte Lambert, junior: Fans don't know his name yet, but Lambert might prove to make the biggest impact of anyone in Auburn's 2014 recruiting class. He arrived on campus last month, meaning he'll have to pick up the defense in a hurry, but there's no doubting his physical tools. The 6-foot-2, 275-pound junior college transfer was the top-rated defensive lineman in the ESPN JC50, and he's eager to get on the field for the Tigers.

Andrew Williams, freshman: As the other newcomer on this list, Williams has yet to go through an organized practice with his new team. He was in high school just two months ago. Don't be fooled, though. That didn't stop Lawson and Daniel from making an impact their freshman season, and Williams could be on a similar path. The Georgia native practically lives in the weight room, which should help ease his transition at the next level.

Gabe Wright, senior: The Auburn coaching staff experimented with Wright at defensive end this spring due to injuries and a lack of depth at the position, but nobody thought it would stick. That sentiment has since changed with Lawson's injury, and there's a chance the so-called "Rhino Package," with Wright on the edge, will be used more often than not.

Montravius Adams, sophomore: Wright wasn't the only defensive tackle to try his hand on the edge this spring. Adams, who measures in at 6-foot-4, 306 pounds, took reps at defensive end, and Malzahn mentioned his name, along with Wright's, as a player who could help fill the void left by Lawson's injury.

Analysis

The early leader in the clubhouse is Daniel because he has the experience to go along with the talent, and both Wright and Adams are better suited for defensive tackle. However, fall camp will be critical for the newcomers, specifically Lambert. If he can pick up the defense and impress the coaches, he has as good a chance as anybody to start the season opener.

Regardless of who starts, expect Ellis Johnson and Rodney Garner to rotate a lot of bodies throughout the game and use a variety of packages. The key will be generating a pass rush, an area in which they struggled last season when Ford wasn't on the field.

The loss of Lawson shouldn't be understated -- the coaches will try to get him back as quickly as possible -- but there are enough capable bodies to make do without him.

SEC recruiting storylines: Aug. 15 

August, 15, 2013
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The college football season is quickly approaching, but there is still a lot of recruiting action happening around the SEC. Here is a closer look at some of the hot topics throughout the conference:

3-star ATH set to announce on Saturday

The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's latest feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today's offerings: Tennessee having tremendous success in the junior college ranks is a good thing for the Volunteers, Michigan's attempt to crack Ohio State’s Glenville pipeline, and why Florida State landing a player in Maryland is bad news for the rest of the ACC.

Tennessee rebuilds with juco players


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SEC recruiting storylines: Aug. 8 

August, 8, 2013
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As we get closer to football season several SEC programs are continuing with their summer momentum and some big names could be on the verge of decisions.

Lorenzo Carter announces his top seven

Five-star defensive end Lorenzo Carter (Norcross, Ga./Norcross) announced his top five via Twitter on Wednesday. To no one's surprise, Alabama, Florida and Georgia made the cut, but Oregon, Notre Dame, LSU and Florida State were also on his list.

The Under Armour All-American is planning to trim his list to three sometime during his senior year and could take all five of his official visits before deciding.
Blessed to have the power of choice... So many can only dream of what I'm doing #GodFirst

— lorenzo carter (@LCarter_25) August 7, 2013
Mississippi State adds talented DE/LB

Talented linebacker/defensive end Gerri Green (Greenville, Miss./Greenville Weston) verbally committed to Mississippi State on Wednesday afternoon. The 6-foot-5, 210-pound defender chose the Bulldogs over offers from Auburn, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Vanderbilt and Tennessee.

For Mississippi State, it now has 15 commitments including 12 that are ranked as three-star prospects or higher. The Bulldogs have the No. 34 recruiting class in the country according to the RecruitingNation class rankings.

Georgia close to landing a DB commit?

Loganville (Ga.) Hutchinson Community College cornerback Shattle Fenteng is set to announce his decision on Friday. The 6-2, defensive back has offers from Kansas State, Ole Miss, Kentucky and West Virginia.

Fenteng had a solid year at Hutchinson last year and told DawgNation writer Radi Nabulsi his school plans to use him in a way, similar to what Georgia likes to do with their current DBs.

“I had four interceptions and 16 pass breakups last year,” Fenteg said. “I had 57 tackles and two tackles-for-loss. We didn’t do any corner blitzes last year but we might do that this years since we are sophomores and more experienced. Georgia likes to do that.”

Decision dates and other notes

  • Five-star defensive end Da'Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va./Woodbridge) announced he will make a decision on Nov. 14. He will likely choose between his top three schools of Michigan, Alabama, and Florida, but LSU and USC are still in the mix.

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