SEC: DeQuan Menzie

SEC viewer's guide: Week 9

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
A look ahead to Saturday's games in the Southeastern Conference. All times Eastern:


UAB at Arkansas, SEC Network: Bret Bielema will have to wait at least one more week before notching that first SEC victory, but after three straight losses, this Arkansas team needs a win in the worst way. It’s not like the Razorbacks are playing poorly. Even Saturday, after falling apart in the first half, they didn’t give up. They responded in the second half and outplayed Georgia the final 30 minutes. That first conference win is coming. In the meantime, Arkansas can’t afford to overlook UAB. The Blazers put up 34 points on No. 1 Mississippi State earlier in the season, so they’re at least capable of getting in the end zone.

[+] EnlargeDak Prescott
AP Photo/Rogelio V. SolisDak Prescott threw for 268 yards and ran for 33 last season in a 28-22 home victory over Kentucky.
3:30 p.m.

No. 1 Mississippi State at Kentucky, CBS: What happened to Kentucky? This game was shaping up to be one of the biggest games in program history – a top-25 matchup, a chance to take down the No. 1 team in the country – and then it all fell apart at LSU on Saturday. Losing close is one thing, but the Wildcats were dominated in Death Valley. The good news is that they can still take down No. 1 this weekend as this will be Mississippi State’s first game since taking over the top spot. For the Bulldogs, it’s a chance to prove they’re worthy of No. 1 and it’s another opportunity for Dak Prescott to shine in front of a national audience.

4 p.m.

Vanderbilt at Missouri, SEC Network: A week after everybody left Missouri for dead, the Tigers are back in the SEC East race and rolling after a 42-13 win at Florida. The defense feasted on the Gators’ offense, forcing six turnovers and taking two back for touchdowns. That’s bad news for Vanderbilt quarterback Johnny McCrary, who will be making his first start for the Commodores. In his first action since the season opener, McCrary went 10-of-16 for 169 yards with one touchdown and one interception Saturday against Charleston Southern. But that was Charleston Southern. This is Missouri. Good luck Mr. McCrary.

7:15 p.m.

No. 3 Ole Miss at No. 24 LSU, ESPN: Don’t assume that Ole Miss is going to just go to Baton Rouge and handle its business. Yes, the Rebels have arguably the top defense in the SEC. And yes, they’re ranked No. 3 for a reason. But winning on the road at LSU is no easy task. Just ask Les Miles, who is 45-4 as LSU coach in night games at Tiger Stadium. There’s something special about when the sun sets over Death Valley. So don’t be surprised if this game is close in the fourth quarter, and it’s up to Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace to make a play. Wallace did account for more than 350 yards and four touchdowns at LSU two years ago.

7:30 p.m.

No. 4 Alabama at Tennessee, ESPN2: Thank you, Lane Kiffin, for infusing a little life back into this rivalry. He made it interesting back in 2009 when his Tennessee team nearly knocked off the eventual national champs, and he’s doing it again this year with his return to Knoxville as Alabama’s offensive coordinator. You can bet the fans will be a little more rowdy in welcoming Kiffin back to Neyland Stadium on Saturday. But despite all the hoopla surrounding Kiffin, there’s still a game to be played. Alabama comes in as a heavy favorite, and the Vols could be in trouble if quarterback Justin Worley isn’t able to play.

South Carolina at No. 5 Auburn, SEC Network: Gus Malzahn admitted this week that he wears a visor every game because of Steve Spurrier. That’s how much respect and admiration he has for the Head Ball Coach. On Saturday, Malzahn will face Spurrier for the first time as a head coach in a game that Auburn has to win for its playoff hopes. The Tigers are coming off a loss to Mississippi State, and this is their first of four SEC games in four weeks. Meanwhile, South Carolina has not delivered on the preseason hype. A top-10 team before the season, the Gamecocks are barely above water at 4-3.
We all know that defense wins championships and the SEC is very much a testament to that. Alabama possessed the nation's No. 1 defense last season and now possesses another national championship. Runner-up LSU ranked second nationally.

Alabama ran away with the crown as the nation's and the SEC's best defense, but that title is for the taking in 2012. Alabama is down key players from last year's squad, like linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower, defensive tackle Josh Chapman, and defensive backs Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick, and DeQuan Menzie.


Who will have the best defense in 2012?


Discuss (Total votes: 12,039)

Alabama's defense isn't as green as the 2010 group, but it's still drawing some comparisons to it. That's exactly what the Tide wants to hear. Nico Johnson seems primed to be a true leader at linebacker, while Adrian Hubbard could be a budding star at Upshaw's old position. Defensive backs Robert Lester and Dee Milliner are back and will be joined by a couple of JUCO standouts and talented sophomores Vinnie Sunseri and Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix. Jesse Williams could be a real force at defensive tackle along with end Damion Square.

Then you have LSU. The Tigers lost All-World cornerback Morris Claiborne to the NFL draft and two starting linebackers. Michael Brockers is gone at defensive tackle as well. But LSU is still loaded. The Tigers return Heisman finalist Tyrann Mathieu and Tharold Simon, who should be fine with an expanded role at cornerback. Junior Kevin Minter really stepped up at linebacker last year and should pick up right where he left off. Even without Brockers, the line is solid with future first-rounder Sam Montgomery at one end position and the underrated Barkevious Mingo at the other. The two combined for 17 sacks last season.

Bennie Logan and Anthony Johnson should provide some meat nastiness in the interior, while the very talented Eric Reid is back at free safety.

Georgia and South Carolina both finished the 2011 season ranked in the top five nationally in total defense. South Carolina was third, while Georgia was fifth, respectively. The Gamecocks lost first-round defensive end Melvin Ingram, but return freshman standout Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor, who many thought would be better than Ingram last season. Kelcy Quarles is back at defensive tackle and the coaches think he'll be even better in his second year.

Shaq Wilson and Reginald Bowens, who combined for 96 tackles last year, will grab time at linebacker again, while the very athletic DeVonte Holloman returns to the Spur for his senior year. There are questions in the secondary, but seniors D.J. Swearinger (safety) and Akeem Auguste (cornerback) return.

Georgia returns nine defensive starters. Brandon Boykin is gone at corner, and the Bulldogs will enter the fall with a lot questions in the secondary, especially with starters Branden Smith, Sanders Commings and Bacarri Rambo suspended to start the season. Star freshman receiver Malcolm Mitchell moved to corner this spring and fits right in, but there are depth issues at the position.

Other than that, the Bulldogs are still pretty stacked. Inside linebacker Alec Ogletree will serve a suspension to start the year, but Georgia will fill his spot by committee. Mike Gilliard, Cornelius Washington, Christian Robinson, Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson provide Georgia with a very solid linebacking unit alongside star Jarvis Jones, who racked up 19.5 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks. Georgia's defensive line should also be pretty stout with the massive John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers battling in the middle. Abry Jones really progressed at end as well this spring.

Or maybe someone else will step up and take the crown ...

SEC newcomers to watch

April, 3, 2012
Newcomers come in all shapes and sizes.

There are freshmen newcomers, junior college transfers and regular transfers. Regardless, they all come in with the expectations of playing immediately. JUCO standouts and transfers maybe more so than rookies, but the days of automatically redshirting true freshmen are over. Like, dead.

Last year, the SEC saw a few newcomers make immediate impacts. A great example is Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones, who transferred from USC back in 2010, but didn't play until last fall. All he did was lead the SEC in sacks and tackles for loss. There was Arkansas linebacker Alonzo Highsmith, who came from the JUCO ranks to be one of the Hogs' most productive linebackers.

Freshman Isaiah Crowell had an up-and-down season, but was sixth in the SEC rushing, and was named the SEC's freshman of the year. His classmate, wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell, wasn't too bad, either. You also can't forget about South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who was seventh in the SEC with eight sacks.

So, as spring practice begins to wind down around the conference, we're taking a look at five newcomers to keep an eye on in 2012. Some are on campuses, some aren't. Some are obvious choices, and you could be surprised by a couple. Top newcomers can be top league players, or players who will make big impacts on their teams at a position of need.

We're going in alphabetical order, so here's our list:
  • Denico Autry, DE, JUCO, Mississippi State: The Bulldogs are looking to replace Sean Ferguson at one of the defensive line spots, and Autry was brought in to do just that. The coaches have been extremely impressed with how the former East Mississippi Community College standout has looked in spring practice. People around the program have simply described Autry as a "beast," and the thought is that he'll enter the fall starting at one of the end spots.
  • Travell Dixon, CB, JUCO, Alabama: Dixon has had a pretty successful spring, and has had the honor of playing at Alabama's "star" (nickel) cornerback spot. That shows you just how much coach Nick Saban respects Dixon's game. Saban usually puts his most complete defensive backs at the star. That's where Javier Arenas played, and DeQuan Menzie after him. With Alabama losing Menzie and Dre Kirkpatrick at cornerback, Dixon has a chance to come in and start immediately.
  • Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Fr., Missouri: It was hard to find another 2012 recruit who received the attention that Green-Beckham did. He has drawn comparisons to A.J. Green, Julio Jones, and Calvin Johnson. That's pretty good company, and Missouri is expecting DGB to contribute immediately. DGB stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 220 pounds, making him a huge, physical target for quarterback James Franklin. DGB might arrive this summer as Missouri's most talented receiver. It also helps that he has top speed, and could be the deep threat that Missouri's offense needs.
  • Latroy Pittman, WR, Fr., Florida: Haven't heard of him? Don't worry, not many have. Pittman committed to Florida so long before national signing day, his recruitment wasn't too exciting or noticeable. However, Pittman, who was ranked the No. 24 wide receiver by ESPN recruiting services, has been very productive in spring practice. He isn't the fastest receiver, but with Florida struggling to find a true go-to receiving target, Pittman has really shined by being one of the Gators' most consistent receivers this spring. Word around Florida's program is that Pittman will definitely see playing time this fall. Receiver is wide open in Gainesville, so Pittman could play his way into quality time.
  • Shaq Roland, WR, Fr., South Carolina: With Alshon Jeffery gone, South Carolina is searching for a wide receiver to step up and become a primary target for quarterback Connor Shaw. Right now, Ace Sanders and Bruce Ellington will get the first shots, but a lot of players at the position are pretty unproven. Roland was one of the top high school receiving targets last year, and has the playmaking ability that could really spark the Gamecocks' passing game. Roland could be a deep threat or make plays over the middle. He wasn't afraid of contact in high school, and that mentality should carry over to the college level. Adding some weight will be key, but coach Steve Spurrier should have fun working him into the offense.

ATLANTA -- Geno Smith hasn't had much of a problem dealing with attention.

Whether it was being the nation's No. 2 cornerback in the 2012 class, according to ESPN recruiting services, consuming all the hype and excitement surrounding his Alabama commitment, or feeling the wrath of angry Twitter followers, the former Saint Pius X Catholic High (Atlanta) standout thinks he's handled things pretty well.

Of everything, the Twitter engagements were probably the thing that helped him the most when it came to dealing with pressure and negativity. What started out as fun when he was basically a free agent, turned into quite the ordeal at times when he committed to Alabama in August. He received his fair share of craziness through the Twittersphere.

"Oh, there have been a lot (of crazy messages)," Smith said with a laugh. "A lot of inappropriate tweets. A lot of funny tweets, especially from Auburn fans."

Well, it's going to get a lot crazier, real soon.

Smith has a very small window between normal and Alabama football. He'll graduate from high school on May 19 and will be in Tuscaloosa to start his college career on May 27.

A quick turnaround means he'll have to take advantage of every training opportunity he has now in order to be physically ready for working at the college level. The good thing for Smith is that he received Alabama's workout plan the day after national signing day, so he's already had five weeks to get a glimpse of what he can expect when he arrives in a couple of months.

The first day with Alabama's full-body workout was a bear for Smith to handle, but he's slowly getting used to the supersets and all the running. He's even gained four pounds to reach 186 and he hopes to break the 190-pound mark before he leaves.

Right from the start, Smith will have the opportunity to earn playing time. Alabama loses potential first-round picks Mark Barron and Dre Kirkpatrick from its secondary and also graduated cornerback DeQuan Menzie. That means two corner spots are open and Smith wants one.

"Now that I'm closer to it, I have to just keep improving and keep working hard so that I can be able to start or at least get a chance to play next year -- special teams or starter," Smith said.

But before Smith can think about taking a job, he'll have to make sure he takes in Alabama's playbook. That might be the toughest part, Smith said, and for him to accomplish anything in his first year, he'll have to get a grasp on Kirby Smart's defense and make sure that the formations and terminology don't swallow him up.

"I know it's complicated, but I'm willing to take that chance and go in there and learn every part of it," Smith said.

It will take time for Smith to get used to his new surroundings, but one thing that will help is the fact that he'll have plenty of guys to lean in his classmates. Smith was a part of Alabama's No. 1 recruiting class and he made sure he helped get some of those players to join him by working his cellphone to death.

He is very excited about the players coming in with him and he believes that getting the top class won't be the only headline this group makes. He's confident that once this class gets together and has a chance to bond, great things will happen for the Crimson Tide.

"Having all of these great players come in, I feel like if we stay focused we can definitely win a national championship," he said.

Tide Nation is counting on it.

TideNation: Alabama's pro day

March, 7, 2012
TideNation has more on Alabama football.

Alex Scarborough writes Insider: Former Alabama defensive back Dre Kirkpatrick performed well at Alabama’s pro day on Wednesday and proved why he is considered a top pick in the NFL draft.

Greg Ostendorf writes: Former Alabama defensive back DeQuan Menzie did not have a great showing at the NFL combine recently but he might have improved his stock on Wednesday.

Ostendorf writes: Notebook from Alabama’s pro day, including a strong performance from linebacker Dont’a Hightower.

Video : ESPN TideNation's Alex Scarborough and Greg Ostendorf give their analysis from pro day.

Video: Kirkpatrick talks to TideNation after working out at pro day on Wednesday.

Video: Hightower talks to the media after working out at pro day on Wednesday.
Speed and athleticism are always immediately mentioned when talking about SEC defenses, but there’s a mental side that’s often overlooked.

For Alabama linebacker Nico Johnson, it’s the first thing he notices when he sees youngsters competing in practices. Their speed is always impressive, but the way younger players are dissecting and learning defenses these days has Johnson shocked. It also has defensive coordinators around the league giddy with the thought of not having to simplify things for youngsters.

“The more recruits that come in, year in and year out, it seems like they’re smarter and faster figures,” Johnson said. “It just keeps going and going.

[+] EnlargeNico Johnson
Marvin Gentry/US PresswireAlabama linebacker Nico Johnson says today's young SEC players enter the league with an impressive grasp of defensive schemes.
“I don’t know how it’s happening, but it’s happening.”

That accelerated learning is one of the main reasons Johnson thinks the SEC has been so dominant defensively, and why the conference will continue to be for years to come. Since 2007, the SEC has had at least two teams ranked in the top 10 nationally in total defense, including having four ranked in the top five in 2011.

Johnson says the way players respond to coaching and changes in defensive schemes have been enhanced since he arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2009. The senior-to-be said it was amazing to see younger players, like linebackers C.J. Mosley and Trey DePriest, pick up things so quickly, and admitted they were much farther ahead during their first camps than he was.

And Johnson thinks that it’s going on all around the league.

As the SEC looks to earn its seventh straight national title, teams are looking to continue the tradition of having the staunchest defenses around. Like Johnson, Georgia coach Mark Richt believes that will start with the quicker breed of players who have entered the league.

Richt said he thinks the SEC’s defensive success should absolutely be attributed to the type of athletes who circulate throughout the league, but he also thinks the speed with which athletes adapt to the college level helps. He sees what he and his coaching staff are doing being duplicated at the high school level by coaching staffs, but he also sees younger athletes understanding the game more, especially in the Southeast.

Explaining schemes has almost become a thing of the past.

But it isn’t just preparation that will go into making sure SEC teams return to their defensive perches in 2012. Richt and Johnson agreed that it comes down to having the right mindset -- to be better than those before.

At Alabama, that won’t be easy. The Crimson Tide had one of the all-time best defenses in 2011, ranking first nationally in total defense, rushing defense, passing defense and scoring defense, and will lose a host of players who made all that possible.

Linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower are gone. So is defensive tackle Josh Chapman and defensive backs Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick and DeQuan Menzie. It seems like Alabama will be in a rebuilding mode similar to 2010, but Johnson disagrees. With a handful of juniors and seniors returning, Johnson said Alabama’s defense will be far from inexperienced, and will feed off the talk of possibly resembling the 2010 squad.

“We want to make ourselves better than the defense last year,” Johnson said. “We want to create our own identity.

“We know what we’re capable of, and we know what can happen if we don’t do our job 24/7. We use that ... to keep us motivated to keep us going, because we don’t want that to happen anymore.”

But what about the other top defenses? Well, there isn’t much drop-off …

LSU returns nearly everyone who helped the Tigers rank second in total defense. What’s scary is that while Morris Claiborne is gone at cornerback, Tyrann Mathieu could be better this fall, and Tharold Simon could be just as deadly in coverage.

LSU must replace two linebackers, including leader Ryan Baker, but returns three starting defense linemen, including ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery, who combined for 16 sacks in 2011.

Georgia loses star cornerback Brandon Boykin, but returns 10 starters, including top pass-rusher Jarvis Jones, from a defense that ranked fifth nationally last season. In order to keep its edge, Richt said his players must eliminate complacency and can’t think 2011’s success will propel them.

“We don’t want to rest on any accomplishments of the past,” Richt said. “I don’t think our coaches will allow that. I don’t think our leaders will allow that.”

South Carolina and Florida are in similar situations. The Gamecocks ranked third nationally in total defense, while Florida was eighth. South Carolina loses playmakers in defensive end Melvin Ingram, Spur Antonio Allen and cornerback Stephon Gilmore, but welcomes back six starters and a hefty line that features Jadeveon Clowney, Devin Taylor and Kelcy Quarles, or 22.5 tackles for loss and 14 sacks.

South Carolina also returns most of its front seven, including linebackers Shaq Wilson and Reginald Bowens, who combined for 96 tackles last season.

The Gators lose defensive tackle Jaye Howard, but should be equipped with all of their remaining defensive parts, including rising star Matt Elam at safety. Dominique Easley will be recovering from a serious knee injury he suffered at the end of the season, but the Gators added depth up front and moved Sharrif Floyd back inside.

The SEC’s top defenses from a season ago return enough talent in 2012 to keep their names near the top of the national rankings. The talent will always remain in the SEC, but the idea of maintaining the tradition of defensive dominance for players keeps teams at the top of the defensive charts, Johnson said.

“I don’t see how anybody in any other conference can compare to it, because of what we do year in and year out,” he said. “We take pride in it, and it makes me feel good that people do look at us like that. We want to go out and prove to every team that’s not in the SEC that it’s no fluke that we’re that good.”

SEC players invited to NFL combine

February, 7, 2012
The NFL has released its list of invites to this years NFL combine. Of the more than 300 prospects taking part in the pre-draft shenanigans starting Feb. 22, 62 are from the SEC (for fun we are including Missouri and Texas A&M).

Here are the SEC representatives: School breakdown:
  • Alabama: 9
  • Arkansas: 4
  • Auburn: 3
  • Florida: 3
  • Georgia: 8
  • Kentucky: 2
  • LSU: 8
  • Missouri: 4
  • Mississippi State: 4
  • Ole Miss: 2
  • South Carolina: 5
  • Tennessee: 2
  • Texas A&M: 6
  • Vanderbilt: 2
NEW ORLEANS -- There has been no shortage of complaining since the Allstate BCS National Championship Game teams were announced.

It’s understandable when you consider that No. 1 LSU (13-0, 8-0) and No. 2 Alabama (11-1, 7-1) have already played. But most of the protests stemmed from the fact neither team scored a touchdown when they played in November.

Something called “defense” was played in Tuscaloosa, Ala., but apparently there was too much.

Monday, you won’t see PlayStation-like numbers that have been the norm during bowl season, but both teams promise things will be different when they have the ball.

“We’re going to have a better game plan this time and hopefully put some more points on the board,” LSU wide receiver Rueben Randle said.

“I don’t think anyone’s going to be able to come out 9-6 and win this game.”

For Monday’s rematch to look different, some things need to change on both sides. Here’s a look at why things will be different inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome:

[+] EnlargeRueben Randle
Rob Foldy/Icon SMI"Our passing game is going to have to loosen some things up in order to get our running game started," LSU receiver Rueben Randle said.
LSU’s passing game will be more vertical

In November, LSU’s passing game was ineffective. Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee combined to throw under the century mark and just four passes for double-digit yardage.

Now, the talk from LSU’s side is how vertical the Tigers want to get against Alabama’s defense. LSU ran for 148 yards last time, so Alabama will be keying in on the run.

LSU will want to start on the ground but wants Jefferson to air it out a little more.

“Our passing game is going to have to loosen some things up in order to get our running game started,” Randle said. “They’re going to fill that box to stop the run, so we need to be ready as receivers to make those plays down field.”

Alabama’s wide receivers want to prove themselves

Alabama might have had 100 more passing yards than LSU in November, but it never looked great. Quarterback AJ McCarron made some mistakes, but wide receiver Darius Hanks said the ones who catch the ball need to step up.

Alabama got two catches from tight ends and eight from receivers. Hanks, who caught two, said that should improve Monday.

“Our tight ends and our receivers will be the difference-makers in this game,” he said. “They think that if they stop our run game, then they’re going to win the game, but I feel differently.

“We can see a lot of their weaknesses, so we’re going to attack those areas, go strong and put the ball in the air this time.”

He also expects to spearhead Alabama’s passing game because he feels he can beat All-American cornerbacks Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu.

“I definitely feel like those guys, they can’t cover me,” he said.

P.J. Lonergan is 100 percent

Last time, LSU’s starting center wasn’t at full speed. He was hobbled by an ankle injury and played sparingly against Alabama.

While LSU was able to run the ball well without Lonergan, he should bolster LSU’s pass blocking, which will give Jefferson more time to look downfield.

“It’s definitely good that he’s back healthy,” LSU offensive guard Will Blackwell said.

“A healthy P.J. now will definitely be better than the P.J. that played Nov. 5.”

Alabama is prepared for the option

The Tide’s defense wasn’t as ready for Jefferson and the option in November. The team was prepared to see more of Lee, so when Jefferson came in, holes opened up in Alabama’s rush defense.

Now, Alabama knows that Jefferson will be LSU’s guy and the defense knows that Jefferson likes the option. LSU might want to throw more, but the running game is the heart of the offense.

Tide defensive tackle Josh Chapman said the key will be locking up the run gaps that were open too often when Jefferson ran the ball. Players were out of position because they weren’t ready.

“If we keep our running lanes right and affect him,” he said, “we’ll have a great ballgame.”

[+] EnlargeAJ McCarron
AP Photo/Rick Wilson"I definitely gotta come out and play with emotion in this game like I always do," Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron said.
McCarron will have more confidence and emotion

McCarron didn’t play his game last time. He toned down the emotion and that sucked away his confidence.

His teammates had nothing to feed off of, and that hurt Alabama. McCarron has been given the green light to ramp up those emotions, and that should keep his spirits up against LSU’s defense.

“I definitely gotta come out and play with emotion in this game like I always do,” McCarron said. “Just play my game.”

If McCarron can get going, it will help Alabama in the red zone. The Tide moved the ball well between the 30s against LSU but reached the red zone just once.

Alabama’s secondary is nicked up

LSU could move the ball through the air better this time because Alabama’s secondary is banged up. Safety Mark Barron injured his ribs against Auburn, while cornerbacks DeQuan Menzie and Dee Milliner have leg injuries.

Menzie has a hamstring injury that bothered him all season, while Milliner suffered a thigh injury against Auburn. They say they’re fine, but they’re called “nagging” for a reason.

Backup safety Will Lowery is also out with a season-ending knee injury he suffered against Georgia Southern.

On the flip side, LSU is healthier.

“The most important thing about this break is we’re fresh,” LSU linebacker Ryan Baker said. “Going into Nov. 5, guys were nicked up. … The game plan is pretty much the same, it’s just those guys [who weren’t healthy] will be making plays."

Most of the focus will be on points, but these teams are too old school for this to be a track meet. Defense will continue to be the constant for both teams.

“I'd expect it to be big-boy football,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “And I'd expect it to be very, very physical and that it would be a game that would be representative of two quality football teams.”

Hightower: Upshaw Tide's defensive MVP

January, 7, 2012
NEW ORLEANS -- Depending on the week, and depending on whom you ask, the MVP for this Alabama defense could be any number of guys.

Linebacker Dont’a Hightower, linebacker Courtney Upshaw, safety Mark Barron and cornerback DeQuan Menzie would all get votes.

Hightower’s vote goes to Upshaw, who enters the Allstate BCS National Championship Game on Monday second in the SEC with 17 tackles for loss.

“In my eyes, he’s the MVP of this defense,” Hightower said Friday. “He’s the one who gets everybody going. He’s always the one who makes the big tackle for a loss or who makes a sack or who forces a fumble.

“I definitely feel like we kind feed off of him throughout the game.”

For his part, Upshaw said playing with so many talented players around him opens up a lot of chances.

“We push each other, and I think we all make each other better,” said Upshaw, who leads Alabama with 8.5 sacks. “And in this defense, you’re always in position to make plays because our coaches are so good. I don’t know how they do it, but it seems like they’re always a step ahead of the other team.”
NEW ORLEANS -- Alabama cornerback DeQuan Menzie said he tweaked his hamstring during the final practices in Tuscaloosa before coming to New Orleans and said Friday it remains sore.

“We’re just trying to be as careful as we can with it,” said Menzie, whose thigh was heavily wrapped in practice on Thursday. “I’ll be ready to go by Monday.”

Asked what it would take for him not to play, Menzie said, “You’d have to cut my arm off.”

Menzie said he’s gotten better each day, although he was limping some in practice on Thursday.

Safety Mark Barron suffered an injury to his ribs in the regular-season finale against Auburn. He said upon arriving Wednesday that his ribs weren’t an issue.

But the Crimson Tide also aren’t taking any chances with him during practice.

“I’ll be able to do what I need to do,” Barron said.

Cornerback Dee Milliner is another secondary member who’s been plagued with hamstring issues.
NEW ORLEANS -- The buzz coming out of the portion of Alabama's practice that was open to the media Thursday centered around cornerbacks DeQuan Menzie and Dee Milliner wearing wraps on their upper thighs.

The Crimson Tide were already banged up in the secondary to end the season. Starting safety Mark Barron injured his ribs against Auburn, although Barron said Wednesday that his ribs were fine and no longer an issue for him. Reserve safety Will Lowery suffered a season-ending knee injury against Georgia Southern.

Menzie is one of Alabama's starting corners and also plays the "star" position when the Tide go to five defensive backs. He was said to be limping some Thursday in practice with his right leg injury. Milliner comes in at cornerback when Menzie shifts to the nickel position.

Jake Bequette named Super Senior

January, 2, 2012
The readers have spoken, and Arkansas defensive end Jake Bequette was voted as our last SEC Super Senior.

With more than 6,400 votes cast in our Super Senior poll, Bequette came away with 39 percent of the vote.

Well done readers, I'm siding with you on this one. Bequette had another solid year for the Razorbacks, and he didn't even play the entire season. He wasn't always healthy, but despite playing in just nine games, Bequette ranked sixth in the SEC during the regular season in sacks, with eight.

When Bequette is on the field, Arkansas' defense is just that much better. He's the ultimate leader and wreaks havoc on opposing backfields. I'm still pretty certain the hit he put on South Carolina's Connor Shaw in early November triggered the tremor we felt in the press box at Razorback Stadium.

Coming in second was Alabama cornerback DeQuan Menzie. With players like Tyrann Mathieu, Morris Claiborne and Mark Barron in the league, Menzie was often overshadowed. Menzie was superb in coverage this season. He had just one interception, but defended 12 passes. He also was fifth on the team with 37 tackles.

Tennessee defensive tackle Malik Jackson was third, getting 18 percent of the vote. He might have been the Vols' best player in 2011. He was an excellent leader for Tennessee and also knew his way around the field. He was third on the team with 56 tackles and led the Vols with 11 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. He was also the leader in quarterback hurries, with 10.

Mississippi State running back Vick Ballard was fourth, gaining nine percent of the vote, and Florida running back Chris Rainey was last with seven percent of the vote.

Poll: Another SEC Super Senior?

December, 27, 2011
Monday, fellow SEC blogger Chris Low presented us with his list of SEC Super Seniors.

It's hard to argue against this list and it's tough to squeeze more players in. We'd have a pretty long list if we did and that would just get a little silly.

But after chatting with Chris about the list, we felt that there were a few other players who probably should have been on it as well. So, we're giving you guys the chance to speak out and let us know who we foolishly left off.

Should Arkansas defensive end Jake Bequette have been on the list? Personally, I think he should have. Bequette wasn't totally healthy for the entire year, but still finished the regular season sixth in the SEC in sacks with eight. That's pretty good, considering he only played in nine games this season. Plus, Arkansas' defense just isn't the same without him.

What about Florida running back Chris Rainey? He was easily the best Florida had on offense all year. He scored a touchdown three different ways in the season opener and led the Gators in rushing (790), receiving (350), and punt return yards (75). He obviously didn't look the same after the first four games, but he meant a lot to that offense this season.

Tennessee defensive tackle Malik Jackson had a heck of a year as well. Anchoring the Vols' line, he finished third on the team with 56 tackles, including 11 for loss, and accumulated 10 quarterback hurries. Jackson was the ultimate leader for the Vols this year and was arguably Tennessee's best defensive player in 2011.

How about Alabama cornerback DeQuan Menzie? Nick Saban has said before that Menzie might be the most talented player in Alabama's secondary and he had pretty good senior season. Menzie defended 12 passes and recorded 37 tackles. He's a great cover corner and really forces quarterbacks to direct plays away from him.

There's also Mississippi State running back Vick Ballard. Quietly, he eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark and was the Bulldogs' best offensive player. Ballard didn't get a ton of publicity this season and that could be attributed to Mississippi State's 6-6 record or the fact that he scored 19 rushing touchdown last year and just eight this year. Still, I'm sure there are some linebackers around the league that are happy to see him leave.

Which one of these players should have been added to the list?
The SEC dominance continued this week, as nine players from the league made the 2011 AFCAFBS Coaches’ All-America Team.

The SEC now ranks third all-time among the major conferences with 244 selections for the AFCA All-America Team.

Alabama led the SEC with five selections -- OL Barrett Jones, RB Trent Richardson, LB Dont’a Hightower, S Mark Barron and CB DeQuan Menzie -- which are the second most players from one school to make the All-America Team.

Georgia was second in the SEC with two selections -- TE Orson Charles and LB Jarvis Jones.

Here are all of the SEC players selected:
  • RB Trent Richardson, Alabama
  • TE Orson Charles, Georgia
  • OL Barrett Jones, Alabama
  • DE Melvin Ingram, South Carolina
  • LB Dont'a Hightower, Alabama
  • LB Jarvis Jones, Georgia
  • S Mark Barron, Alabama
  • CB Morris Claiborne, LSU
  • CB DeQuan Menzie, Alabama

I'm surprised to see two LSU players not on this list. First, no Tyrann Mathieu? He only been LSU's best player in the last two weeks and has sparked their gigantic runs against Arkansas and Georgia. Plus, he leads LSU in total tackles, is a turnover machine and has been one of the most exciting players to watch this season, regardless of position.

Also, no Brad Wing? He's one of the most accurate punters out there. He seems to hit the exact spots he wants on every kick he has. He gets just enough lift and distance on his punts to make returns nearly impossible. He has pinned 23 inside the 20-yard line, has 18 of 50-plus yards and opponents have 6 total punt return yards against LSU. He should have been Co-MVP for the Alabama game and the SEC title.

You could also make the argument for Auburn punter Steven Clark, who is a Ray Guy Award finalist. Thirty-four of his punts resulted in fair catches and 32 were downed inside the 20.

Lunchtime links

November, 15, 2011
Get your SEC linkage on while you get your chicken salad sandwich on.



Saturday, 10/25