SEC: Les Miles

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BATON ROUGE, La. -- A player can’t be considered a star when the average fan still reaches for a roster after he makes a play in order to make the connection between name and jersey number.

[+] EnlargeJamal Adams
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesLSU has already seen the impact Jamal Adams can have on and off the field.
 LSU’s Jamal Adams might be on the verge of making the transition from hyped newcomer to household name.

“That’s what’s kind of happening to him: ‘Who’s No. 33?’ and then they go look him up in the program because simply put, he’s making plays wherever you line him up at,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “That’s a great characteristic.”

The freshman safety’s name was already well known among recruitniks, as the No. 2 safety and No. 18 overall prospect on this year’s ESPN 300. He was the highest-rated defensive player to sign with LSU in February. He’s quickly gaining recognition among more casual fans -- and not just because of his dramatic flop against Florida after Gators punt returner Andre Debose lightly shoved Adams’ facemask.

That play, which went viral on the Internet and drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Debose, has been a source of nonstop comedy in the LSU locker room, with several teammates comparing Adams’ antics to that of NBA superstar and noted flop king LeBron James.

“That was too funny. That was something I expect out of him,” safety Rickey Jefferson said. “Then he tweeted and said LeBron taught me.”

Linebacker Deion Jones agreed, adding, “It was hilarious. I laughed about it on the field.”

Running back Terrence Magee, who was only a few feet away when Debose’s attack occurred, also got a laugh out of the play.

“He’s been watching basketball too much,” Magee said.

Adams said the play exemplified his energetic on-field personality, which Miles has described as “electric.”

“I’m a character and I do whatever for the team,” Adams said. “That flop, everybody’s blowing it up, so it was just definitely something I needed to do at the time.”

His contributions of late are not limited to appearances on SportsCenter’s Not Top 10, however. Adams is getting significant playing time in LSU’s nickel and dime defensive packages and is one of the team’s most valuable special-teams performers. He leads the Tigers with nine special-teams tackles and delivered the key block that sprung Tre’Davious White for a 67-yard punt return touchdown last Saturday against Kentucky.

On White’s first return of the night, Adams noticed that his side of the field was wide open for a return and pleaded with White to bring the next punt his way. Sure enough, White ran toward the Kentucky sideline with his next return and Adams crushed Kentucky’s A.J. Stamps with the block that helped White sprint into the open field.

 “He’s put himself in a great position to make big-time blocks for us,” White said. “I went back and watched the first punt that actually I took [17] yards. It could have been another touchdown if I would have just went outside. He was right and I did it that time and he made a big block like he said I would and sprung me for a touchdown.”

It was Adams’ most notable play in what was probably his best night as a Tiger to date. He continued to shine on the coverage teams, posting two special-teams tackles and also made his biggest impact yet on defensive downs. Adams finished with a career-high eight tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack.

“He has a motor that don’t stop,” White said. “He’s a guy that brings so much energy. He’s just not like that in games, he’s like that around practice. Very vocal, and he’s a young leader and we look forward to him making plays down the road for us.”

In truth, Adams is making plays now. Although he hasn’t started a game yet, he ranks fifth on the team with 37 tackles and is starting to live up to the preseason comparisons that LSU insiders made to former All-America safety Eric Reid.

Asked why he is becoming a more productive player, Adams fell back on the attributes that so many teammates cited while describing his game: He consistently shows great effort and energy.

“[LSU’s coaches have] been stressing how to be the player that you want to be,” Adams said. “They stress it hard in practice. It’s practice how you play, so every time in practice I’m going hard, I’m running hard, doing the little things. The little things separate you.”
BATON ROUGE, La. -- After a rocky start in SEC play, LSU is finally starting to accomplish some of its objectives on offense.

The initial spark, according to offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, was settling on the starting lineup of offensive linemen that has been in place for each of the past four games.

“It’s a pretty good line,” LSU coach Les Miles said after last Saturday’s 41-3 win against Kentucky. “They’re starting to play like they’re capable.”

[+] EnlargeAnthony Jennings
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsAnthony Jennings and the LSU offense will surely get a stiff test against Ole Miss on Saturday.
Playing like they’re capable was a lengthier process than most expected for a line that returned four starters. Not only did center Elliott Porter miss the first two games on suspension, but guards Vadal Alexander and Ethan Pocic had struggled with injuries.

“Something that’s overlooked is all the movement we had early in the year,” Cameron said after the Kentucky game. “It was significant, not only with Elliott not starting the season, but with some injuries, with Pocic and so forth, and just our style of wanting to be physical and getting better each week. Our guys played tonight like they practiced all week.”

LSU has long prided itself on a physical, run-first mentality, but the line’s general ineffectiveness was one of the lowlights from a bumpy first half of the season. Perhaps the group has turned a corner after back-to-back solid outings against Florida and Kentucky.

Although it ran the ball reasonably well against Auburn (36 carries, 138 yards), LSU didn’t deliver a strong performance against a good run defense until Leonard Fournette was the driving force in a 195-yard night against Florida. The Tigers followed that by wearing down a mediocre Kentucky run defense, rushing for 231 of their 303 yards in the second half.

The Kentucky game was the first time LSU rushed for 200 yards against a Power 5 opponent after Wisconsin, Mississippi State and Auburn -- all of which rank among the nation’s top 26 defenses against the run, as does Florida -- effectively defended the Tigers’ running game.

“We’re getting better,” said Cameron, who participated in postgame interviews for the first time all season after the Kentucky game. “I think our guys up front really did a nice job. That was the plan coming in. Obviously [Kentucky employs] a pressure front. They bring a lot of field blitzes, a lot of boundary blitzes and I thought our guys did a nice job once we got on track.”

Pinning the Tigers’ offensive improvement solely on improved play from the offensive line would be too simplistic, however. It’s also receivers running better routes and getting separation from defensive backs. It’s running backs hitting the correct holes and making tacklers miss. It’s playing with a full complement of fullbacks for the first time in weeks and having them create consistent running space for the backs.

It also helps that the Tigers (6-2, 2-2 SEC) recently faced two mediocre teams from the SEC East -- clearly the lesser of the conference’s two divisions -- in Florida and Kentucky after opening league play against Mississippi State and Auburn, teams ranked No. 1 and 5, respectively, in the newest Associated Press Top 25.

They’ll move back toward the tougher end of the SEC spectrum on Saturday when No. 3 Ole Miss (7-0, 4-0) visits Tiger Stadium, bringing a run defense that ranks sixth nationally at 97.1 yards per game.

Facing the Rebels’ defense will be the true test of the progress LSU has made recently – and whether quarterback Anthony Jennings can truly be an effective performer against a top-flight defense. Although LSU seems to have settled on sophomore Jennings as the starter after freshman Brandon Harris struggled mightily in his lone start at Auburn, Jennings has hardly scared the major-conference defenses LSU has faced thus far.

“He really can play better than he played [against Kentucky],” Miles said. “There are a number of guys that he could have chosen to throw the ball to early on in the game and I think that he’ll see this and learn from that and I think he will be a better quarterback when we get to next Saturday.”

Jennings was 7-for-14 for 120 yards and a touchdown against Kentucky and 10-for-21 for 110 yards and one score against Florida. Harris threw an interception in his only pass attempt against Kentucky and didn’t play against Florida.

“I don’t know that it’s a competition as much as it’s just guys working to get better,” Cameron said. “It’s two guys that are growing just day by day, snap by snap and just maturing and understanding what we’re trying to get done.”

One objective that Jennings has met is taking care of the football. He briefly lost the starting job with three early turnovers against New Mexico State, but otherwise Jennings has not been plagued by turnovers. He has thrown three interceptions and lost one fumble through eight games, helping LSU tie for 11th nationally with a plus-7 turnover margin.

If all LSU asks of Jennings is to be a game manager, it will probably need to have more games like last Saturday’s, where it made big plays on special teams and controlled the contest with stout defense and a powerful running attack. It was the type of performance that LSU fans have grown accustomed to seeing under Miles.

“We’re trying not to put our defense in a tough position if we can help it. They do a great job of getting us the ball,” Cameron said. “Our special teams got us in great position. They scored tonight. I think it’s a collective effort.

“Anytime you block well and take care of the football, whether it be run blocking, pass protection, you should be successful. ... We’re in the back half of the season and we’re still getting better, and that’s a good thing.”

Four key storylines in LSU-Kentucky

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17
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BATON ROUGE, La. – Upstart Kentucky (5-1, 2-1 SEC) gets another chance on Saturday to prove that its fast start is legitimate. The Wildcats will visit LSU (5-2, 1-2), which notched its first SEC win in last weekend’s 30-27 thriller against Florida.

One of these teams will be bowl eligible by the end of Saturday night, while the other will start looking over a tough second-half schedule and hoping another win is on there somewhere.

Let’s take a look at four key factors in Saturday’s game:

Contributions from newcomers: A unique attribute that both of these teams share is how heavily their offenses rely on players who are filling new roles.

True freshman have accounted for 22 of LSU’s 31 touchdowns, and they have actually scored 16 of those touchdowns. Freshman running back Leonard Fournette, who rushed for 140 yards and scored twice against Florida, has six touchdowns. Receiver Malachi Dupre has four, and running back Darrel Williams three. Quarterback Brandon Harris has passed for six touchdowns and run for three.

After he rushed 27 times against Florida, one of only nine backs ever to run more than 25 times in a game under LSU coach Les Miles, keep an eye on whether the Tigers use Fournette as the feature back again. Previously they had distributed carries among Fournette, Williams and seniors Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee.

The Tigers have already played 17 true freshmen this season, which is the most for any LSU freshman class under Miles.

Kentucky, meanwhile, is also getting a majority of its production from players who didn’t play for the Wildcats in 2013. Nebraska transfer Braylon Heard (38-282, 3 TDs) and freshman Stanley Williams (23-202, 2 TDs) help Kentucky newcomers account for 73 percent of the team’s rushing yards. Players who didn’t play for Kentucky last season have also accounted for 67 percent of its points (147 of 171).

Williams, who also leads the SEC with an average of 36 yards per kickoff return, had a big game last Saturday against Louisiana-Monroe. He ran seven times for 104 yards and a touchdown and also returned the opening kickoff 75 yards.

Rare air for Kentucky: In Mark Stoops’ second season, the Wildcats are vastly improved from their back-to-back two-win seasons of 2012 and 2013. In fact, they would be undefeated today if their upset bid at Florida hadn’t fallen just short in a 36-30 triple-overtime loss.

They haven’t been on the road since that painful loss in The Swamp, so posting a win Saturday at Tiger Stadium would be an even greater milestone for Stoops than Kentucky’s thrilling 45-38 win over South Carolina two weeks ago.

It would also secure Kentucky’s first four-game winning streak since 2008, its first three-game SEC winning streak since 2006 and its first 3-1 start in SEC play since 1999.

If the Wildcats are 6-1 by the end of Saturday night, it would be only the fourth time since 1950 that Kentucky had won six or more games in the first seven games of the season.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Fournette
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertLeonard Fournette got a career-high 27 carries against Florida and turned them into 140 yards.and two TDs.
Turnover battle: Finishing on the positive side in turnover margin is often a way to earn a victory, and these teams have done that consistently. LSU and Kentucky are both plus-eight in turnover margin, which ties for second in the SEC.

A remarkable turnaround by Kentucky’s secondary is the driving force in its success generating turnovers. Of Kentucky’s 16 takeaways, 11 have come on interceptions -- a total that is fourth nationally and second on the SEC behind Ole Miss’ 12. Kentucky had just three interceptions in the entire 2013 season.

Junior college transfer A.J. Stamps is the Wildcats’ leader in pass coverage, notching three interceptions and six passes defended.

Safety Marcus McWilson and linebacker Josh Forrest both returned interceptions for touchdowns last week against Louisiana-Monroe, marking the first time since 1986 that the Wildcats had two pick-sixes in a game.

LSU has been more balanced in turnovers, both in its takeaways and giveaways. The defense has generated 16 turnovers (eight fumbles and eight interceptions) and the offense has committed eight turnovers (four fumbles and four interceptions).

Linebacker Kwon Alexander is one of the Tigers to watch on the turnover front. He forced a fumble that Danielle Hunter recovered and returned for a touchdown against Mississippi State and then forced a Jeff Driskel fumble last week in Florida territory that led to a short touchdown drive.

Safety Rickey Jefferson made a key late interception against the Gators to set up Colby Delahoussaye’s game-winning field goal. Jefferson and cornerback Tre'Davious White are tied for the team lead with two interceptions apiece.

Pounding the run: If Kentucky is to win on Saturday, its success in the running game will almost certainly be a deciding factor.

The Wildcats have one of the SEC’s most balanced offenses, but LSU has been much more vulnerable against the run than the pass. The Tigers are 12th in the SEC against the run (175.6 yards per game), but boast the conference’s top pass defense (157.7).

Don’t be surprised to see the Wildcats feed Williams and Heard, have Jojo Kemp take direct snaps and even run a bit with quarterback Patrick Towles in an effort to duplicate previous teams’ successes running against LSU.

The Wildcats also must do a better job on the ground against the run-heavy Tigers. South Carolina ran for 282 yards against Kentucky two weeks ago, led by 183 yards and three touchdowns from Mike Davis. LSU runs the ball more than any SEC team; its 332 rushing attempts are 43 more than the next-closest team. So the Wildcats know that slowing down Fournette and Co. is their No. 1 task.

Kentucky is eighth in the SEC in run defense at 152.0 ypg. LSU is sixth in the league in rushing offense (209.1), but had one of its best outings of the season against Florida. Although the Gators have one of the toughest defensive fronts in the league, LSU ran 50 times for 195 yards.
BATON ROUGE, La. – Les Miles says Leonard Fournette is the type of running back who is built to handle the heavy workload he received in last Saturday’s win against Florida.

“I think he’s one of those backs that gets stronger as the day gets longer,” Miles said at his Monday press luncheon. “I think he’s cut out to be that kind of back.”

However, nothing about the way college running backs are used these days – or about how carries are typically distributed at LSU – would indicate that LSU’s star freshman will be a regular recipient of the 27 carries he handled in the 30-27 victory over the Gators.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Fournette
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesLeonard Fournette is a throwback kind of running back, says LSU coach Les Miles, a player who gets stronger as the game progresses.
Entering Saturday’s game against Kentucky (5-1, 2-1 SEC), Fournette has led LSU (5-2, 1-2) in rushing in six straight games. The Florida game was his first 20-carry outing, however, and marked just the ninth time in Miles’ LSU tenure that a Tigers back logged 25 or more carries in a game.

It felt like something straight out of the 1980s, which of course would satisfy any run-oriented offensive line.

“It was definitely cool,” right tackle Jerald Hawkins said. “I pretty much love that type of game, the ground-and-pound game. As an offensive line, you’ve got to love it.”

Two or three decades ago, Fournette’s workload Saturday was commonplace in college football, but the game has changed drastically in the era of wide-open passing attacks and spread offenses. Only four players in the entire FBS average more than 25 carries per game, led by Central Michigan’s Thomas Rawls (30.6). The SEC’s leading ballcarrier, Auburn’s Cameron Artis-Payne (21.0 carries per game), is the conference’s only back to average at least 20.

Since Miles arrived at LSU in 2005, the Tigers have typically distributed the carries between a group of backs, much as they did in the first six games of this season. No LSU back has averaged 20 carries per game under Miles – Stevan Ridley came closest with 19.15 in 2010 – and Fournette (13.29) will have to have several more games like last Saturday before he comes close.

Before the Florida game, Fournette (93 carries, 504 yards, 6 TDs), Kenny Hilliard (65-324, 6 TDs), Terrence Magee (48-217, 1 TD) and Darrel Williams (39-188, 3 TDs) handled fairly similar workloads each Saturday. But against the Gators, Fournette (27-140, 2 TDs) became the center of attention over Magee (6-50), Hilliard (4-15, TD) and Williams (2-4).

“I certainly like the three other backs that we have, including Magee and Hilliard, certainly Williams,” Miles said. “But I think that Leonard gives us that big, fast back that can really push the ball at a defense.”

The former No. 1 overall national prospect certainly did that, plowing through Florida defenders, breaking away with spin moves and generally running with more confidence than he displayed earlier in the season.

“He was hitting the hole with great decisiveness,” said left guard Vadal Alexander, the reigning SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week after recording 11 knockdown blocks against Florida. “He would hit it, he’ll make a cut without thinking about it and he’ll just go and let his athleticism and talent take over.

“That’s the best thing to do as a running back is we open the holes for you and you just let your talent guide you – your vision and your feel for the defense and things like that. He did that.”

Fournette apparently agrees with that assessment, telling reporters after the game that he is starting to catch on after running more tentatively in the first few games.

“I’m a lot better than where I was when the season started,” Fournette said. “The game, it slowed down for me a lot for me now. That’s why I’m being able to see the cutbacks now. [It’s] just coaching and getting help from Kenny and Terrence and Connor and all the older guys. They help me a lot.”

Even if Fournette fails to log that many carries in a game again this season, it’s evident that he is establishing himself as the Tigers’ top option in the ground game.

He got off to a fast start against Florida with 44 rushing yards and a touchdown in the first quarter, and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron decided to keep feeding him. Why tinker with something that was working, especially when LSU was in desperate need of an offensive spark?

“We found something we liked in the run game, or a couple things we liked, and we kept doing it and it kept working, so Coach Cam usually sticks with it,” Alexander said.

Perhaps that will be the key to whether Fournette’s carry total sits in the 20s on most future Saturdays. If the offensive line keeps blocking the way it did against Florida and if Fournette keeps piling up yardage the way he did against the Gators, perhaps he will finally become the centerpiece of the Tigers’ offense that many expected when he signed with LSU in February.

An examination of the current state of SEC defenses will tell you a couple of things.

Scoring and yardage are both down halfway through the season in head-to-head conference play compared to where the league was at this point last year. On paper, defenses appear to be on pace to look more like they did in 2012 than 2013.

But the numbers – and there were lots of them – aren’t too far off from last season, compared to the halfway point and the final totals.

With nine teams breaking in new starting quarterbacks – five underclassmen – I wanted to see if there would be a drastic difference in how defenses looked statistically.

(Note: The numbers used in this research came via ESPN Stats & Information’s statistical database.)

SEC defenses are allowing 358.6 yards per game and 402.3 yards per game in conference play. Seven defenses are ranked within the top 50 in total defense; six made the cut halfway through last year. At this point last year, defenses were allowing 376.3 yards per game and 423.5 yards per game in SEC play. In 2012, when defense was king, those numbers were down to 361.3 and 373.8 at the end of the season.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Fournette
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertSEC defenses such as Mississippi State's are statistically a little more stout than they were in 2013.
Defenses are currently allowing 5.66 yards per play in league games and 3.28 offensive touchdowns per game. Last year, SEC defenses ended the season allowing 5.91 yards per play and 3.54 offensive touchdowns in conference play.

Those numbers aren’t too far off, but it’s interesting that at this point last year, defenses were allowing 3.68 offensive touchdowns per game and 6.14 yards per play in conference play. At the halfway point in 2012, those numbers were 2.75 touchdowns allowed in league play and 5.31 yards per play.

Those numbers dipped slightly in 2013, as eight teams finished in the top 50 in total defense, meaning SEC defenses got better as the year progressed in a league that featured a plethora of talented, veteran quarterbacks.

Scoring is down at the moment, as teams are averaging 1.92 points per drive in SEC play, down from 2.21 last year. Teams are also scoring touchdowns on 24.4 percent of drives after scoring on 27.7 percent last season. Overall, teams are scoring 21.6 points per game on SEC defenses, which is down from 24.2 through Week 7 of last year. The total scoring percentage in league play for offenses is the same as in 2012 (31.9), which is down from 36.9 percent last year.

While the numbers show that defenses are steadily improving, it’s important to note that prolific offenses appear here to stay in a conference built on stout defensive play. That becomes obvious when you look at the fact that teams are allowing just 21.2 less yards per game and almost the same amount of yards per play and touchdowns per game while facing a less-heralded group of quarterbacks.

With more offenses implementing some sort of variation of the spread, teams should continue to move the ball. The addition of more tempo around the league has helped teams, too.

“There has been a push to more athleticism and speed," LSU coach Les Miles said of the evolution of SEC offenses. "We’ve tried to make that adjustment.”

Another interesting note is that takeaways and sacks are up for defenses in 2014, yet offenses are responding well. Defenses have forced 81 turnovers with 48 interceptions. Midway through the 2013 season, defenses forced just 63 turnovers (34 interceptions). In 2012, teams forced 88 turnovers (45 interceptions).

As for sacks, teams have 91 this year after having 90 at this point last year and 123 in 2012, when teams were allowing just 198.85 passing yards per game halfway through the season.

Pressuring quarterbacks is up, but teams are still averaging 234.6 passing yards per game (nearly 10 fewer yards than last year at this time) in SEC play. To Florida coach Will Muschamp, spread offenses help counter the pressure.

"The ball is out of the quarterbacks' hands quickly," Muschamp said. "Pressure is a little overrated, in my opinion, depending on the type of passing game and the passing concepts they're using. You have to be able to play man-to-man. You gotta be able to deny the ball, mix zone with that. It certainly can expose you, as far as deficiencies in coverage and guys who can't tackle in space."

As we go forward, it’ll be interesting to see if defenses continue to trend up or if offenses heat up. Last year, numbers dropped as defenses adjusted to such good quarterback play. Last year's experience isn't there, but could quarterbacks -- and offenses -- catch up to defenses by the end of the year with teams working in space more?

“It’s a different style of football,” said Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, who runs the spread. “... It gives some people advantages that years ago they didn’t have.”

“The defense figures it out and the offense goes and finds something else."
Give Anthony Jennings credit for this much: The guy has been a good closer.

LSU's sophomore quarterback has endured plenty of criticism this season because of his inconsistent play, and his first three quarters in Saturday's win against Florida gave his detractors additional fodder. But Jennings made a couple of crucial throws in the game's closing minutes -- most importantly a third-and-25 connection with Travin Dural that went for a 41-yard gain and an 11-yard fade where Dural made a one-handed touchdown grab -- that made the Tigers' 30-27 win possible.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Jennings
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsAnthony Jennings has been clutch for the Tigers in the fourth quarter.
"He's come through on some huge plays. If you remember that Arkansas play, he threw a deep ball," LSU coach Les Miles said, referring to Jennings' game-winning 49-yard touchdown pass to Dural with barely over a minute left in a 31-27 victory last season. "What we've got to do is get him comfortable throwing some of those intermediate balls that we would have liked to have him throw in there."

For most of the Florida game, Jennings didn't display much touch on any of his throws. Entering the final period, LSU was clinging to a 20-17 lead and Jennings was 6-for-12 for 37 yards, while Leonard Fournette and the Tigers' running game had essentially provided the Tigers' only offensive spark.

But with the game on the line -- as was the case last fall against Arkansas and in the Tigers' season-opening win against Wisconsin -- Jennings displayed a strong finishing kick.

He went 4-for-9 for 73 yards in the final period on Saturday, connecting with Dural on the Tigers' two biggest passing plays of the evening.

The 41-yard bomb to Dural looked highly similar to the Arkansas play, although Miles pointed out after the game that the Florida pass went down the right sideline instead of the left like the Arkansas throw. Either way, the result was nearly the same. Jennings and Dural got the Tigers out of a hole with the long pass and then connected again two plays later for a touchdown that helped LSU go back ahead 27-24.

"[I was] just going through my reads," Jennings told ESPN sideline reporter Maria Taylor of the big plays to Dural. "I have the utmost confidence in that guy."

It was not Dural, but redshirt freshman John Diarse who was the target of a key Jennings throw against Wisconsin. Diarse caught an intermediate throw from Jennings on third-and-21 early in the fourth quarter, then blasted through a host of Badgers defenders on the way to the end zone for a 36-yard touchdown that helped cut Wisconsin's lead to 24-21.

The Tigers relied on the run for much of its comeback in that game en route to a 28-24 win, but Jennings was 2-for-3 for 63 yards in the fourth quarter, including the big touchdown pass to Diarse.

In the four games where Jennings has appeared in the fourth quarter, he is 10-for-23 for 235 yards and two touchdowns and no interceptions on fourth-quarter passes. Half of his completions went for gains of at least 20 yards and eight of them achieved a first down.

His fourth-quarter passing efficiency score of 158.0 ranks 23rd among FBS quarterbacks, which is considerably better than his 130.5 score for all four quarters that ranks 69th nationally according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Of course, none of this resolves LSU's quarterback quandary between Jennings and freshman Brandon Harris. Harris didn't play against Florida after falling flat and injuring his ankle while making his first career start the previous Saturday against Auburn. Afterward, Miles hesitated to predict how much Harris might play when LSU (5-2, 1-2 SEC) hosts Kentucky (5-1, 2-1) on Saturday.

Jennings hardly gave a standout performance against the Gators -- his final passing line was 10-for-21 for 110 yards and a touchdown -- but Miles defended LSU's quarterback decision after the game.

"We'd like to have gotten Brandon Harris in the game," Miles said. "That was certainly something that we thought about because he does give us a very explosive piece and his talent there is pretty special. But in a game like this, we just couldn't miss serve and we felt like Anthony Jennings was the guy to stay with."

On this occasion, at least, Jennings and Dural combined to reward the coaches for their patience.

At first glance: SEC Week 8

October, 13, 2014
Oct 13
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There is never a dull moment in the SEC, is there?

Between Mississippi State’s ascension, Ole Miss’ continued rise and Alabama’s sudden ineptitude, this past weekend was a thrill-a-minute. It had everything, even a bit of Les Miles magic and Will Muschamp melodrama.

Sadly, that is all behind us. Only the replays remain.

Now we get to look forward to what promises to be another compelling slate of SEC action.

Game of the week: Texas A&M at Alabama

Talk about two teams with something to prove.

Alabama survived Arkansas in the purest sense of the word. After all, you normally don't go 4-of-15 on third downs, turn the ball over twice and win. But now comes the real test. Everything from the play of the offensive line to the play of the secondary to the play of the quarterback needs fixing.

Texas A&M, on the other hand, must decided whether or not it wants to compete for the postseason. One more loss and it’s over. Heck, after losing by two touchdowns to Ole Miss, it may already be that time. But a win over Alabama on Saturday could change that. Quarterback Kenny Hill still has potential and the Aggies still have plenty of talent. Will they find a way to put it together before it's too late? That’s the million dollar question.

Player under pressure: Maty Mauk

No one in the SEC had a worse week than Missouri quarterback Mauk. He looked absolutely hopeless against Georgia on Saturday, throwing four interceptions.

But Mauk is a gunslinger, and you never know when someone with his gambler’s mentality will find himself riding a hot hand.

Against Florida, we will find out exactly what kind of quarterback Mauk wants to be. Does he want to learn to play within the offense, or will he continue to force passes? Does he want to hit his check down from time to time, or will he continue his all-or-nothing play? Does he want to rediscover his promise from late last season, or will he continue down this path of interceptions and failed opportunities?

Coach under the microscope: Nick Saban

Nick Saban was visibly upset, repeatedly disappointed and then simply frustrated. The only player who got a smile and a pat on the back from Alabama's demanding head coach was the punter, JK Scott. When Blake Sims failed to convert on a fourth-and-inches quarterback sneak, you thought Saban might implode right there on the sideline. Poof. He’s burned away in a white hot fury.

Now Saban gets to take out his frustrations. Now, despite getting the 1-point win, Saban gets to try to make things right.

It’s clear now that the blend of talent and experience of past Alabama teams isn’t there this season. But it’s the uncharacteristic things -- turnovers, penalties, poor decision-making -- that have been plagued the Crimson Tide this season. If you didn't see Saban gesticulating furiously on the sideline, you might say it was bad coaching.

Storyline to watch: Mississippi takes a break

The hierarchy of the SEC has been turned on its ear. The Magnolia State, forever the doormat in the West, is now occupying the penthouse suite.

But this week we get to take a break from all that. Mississippi State’s cowbells will be silent and Ole Miss, a heavy favorite at home against Tennessee, won’t have the chance to Hotty Toddy up the rankings any further.

Instead, this week the rest of the SEC gets to play catchup.

Georgia, which looked good even without Todd Gurley against Missouri, has a chance at Arkansas to further separate itself as the leader in the East. And Alabama or Texas A&M will emerge from Saturday alive and well, while the other will ostensibly be shut out of the division race.

Intriguing matchup: Georgia at Arkansas

Give the Bulldogs’ defense credit. Leonard Floyd played like a beast and Georgia’s much criticized secondary delivered four interceptions against Missouri. The Tigers mustered only 50 yards rushing against Mark Richt’s stout front seven.

But that was nothing compared to what awaits in Fayetteville, Arkansas, this weekend. Where Missouri’s backs try to dance around and hope for a hole, Arkansas’ run straight ahead and make a path by force.

Georgia, quite simply, hasn’t seen an offensive line and a group of running backs like Arkansas’ this season. Between Alex Collins, Jonathan Williams and Korliss Marshall, there isn’t a back you want to see coming off the sideline. Floyd and the rest of that Bulldogs defense will be in for a real test.

Don’t forget about ...: Kentucky at LSU

No one wants a piece of Mark Stoops’ Wildcats these days. Patrick Towles, Javess Blue and Stanley "Boom" Williams have turned around that offense. And A.J. Stamps, Alvin "Bud" Dupree and Za'Darius Smith are wreaking havoc on defense. Kentucky, despite its history of mediocrity, is now a dangerous football team, a young team brimming with confidence and the youthful charm of not knowing any better.

On the other hand, there is LSU. Miles’ young Tigers haven’t been sharp this season, but you wonder about their confidence after going on the road and beating Florida in a close game. It could be just what the the doctor ordered. If Anthony Jennings can take care of the football and Leonard Fournette can continue his success running between the tackles, LSU could turn it around in a hurry.

Something will have to give when these teams meet in Baton Rouge. Either LSU is going to start heading the right direction again, or Kentucky will continue its ascent in the SEC.

LSU vs. Florida primer

October, 9, 2014
Oct 9
5:00
PM ET

Here is something we’re completely unaccustomed to seeing when LSU and Florida gear up for their annual cross-division matchup: neither is ranked and both are in crisis mode. LSU (4-2, 0-2 SEC) had spent the past 87 weeks in the AP Top 25 before last week’s 41-7 loss to Auburn. And though Florida (3-1, 2-1) somehow beat Tennessee 10-9 last Saturday, nobody would confuse the Gators with a team that has its act together.

It might not have its typical national implications, but Florida-LSU is still one of the league’s top cross-division rivalries. Let’s take a look at some of the key factors in Saturday’s game.

Florida’s key to victory:The Gators are playing like it’s 2012 all over again. The formula that led to an 11-1 regular season was run the ball, run some more, don't screw things up in the passing game, play great defense and special teams. It's not pretty football, and there is almost no margin for error. But what choice does Florida have with struggling quarterback Jeff Driskel at the controls? With quarterback Treon Harris suspended, there is little potential for a new look in the passing game. In fact, if Driskel struggles again it's possible that another true freshman -- Will Grier -- could come off the bench this time.

LSU’s key to victory: Driskel has done nothing to scare an opposing defense in the passing game, and LSU is actually good there, anyway. It’s the run that should concern the Tigers. They have played two spread running teams thus far -- Mississippi State and Auburn -- and couldn’t do anything against them. Nobody is going to confuse those two offenses with what LSU will face on Saturday, though. LSU’s run defense actually improved throughout the Auburn game, and if LSU’s progress continues against the Gators, the Tigers should win.

Florida's X-factor:These teams have some similarities, like the revolving quarterbacks, and secondaries that have been decimated by the NFL draft in recent years. LSU's offense ranks 13th in the SEC, with an average of 18 points a game in conference play, but the defense has given up an uncharacteristic 37.5 points a game. The Tigers have the SEC's worst run defense, giving up an average of 300 yards a game. Florida will rely on 6-foot-2, 235-pound junior running back Matt Jones, who ranks fourth in the SEC with an average of 102.3 yards a game in league games.

LSU’s X-factor: Although Les Miles hasn’t named a starting quarterback, let’s assume it will be Anthony Jennings. Can the sophomore -- who is 5-1 as the Tigers’ starter, but who was booed off the field by fans at Tiger Stadium because of poor play against New Mexico State -- play better than he did in his most recent outings? Florida has a talented secondary, but it’s not a particularly strong opponent this season. That said, the LSU starting quarterback’s performance will be the biggest determining factor on Saturday.

What a win will mean for Florida:LSU's season might have ended last week at Auburn for all intents and purposes, but the Gators have more modest expectations. Beating a talented Tigers team on Saturday would be cause for celebration, as it would keep Florida firmly in contention in the SEC East race. If the Gators beat LSU, it will be because of their defense and running game.

What a win will mean for LSU: If not for last season, this would be the worst Florida team LSU has faced in years. Still, this is a big rivalry game and a win that LSU desperately needs after falling flat in its first two SEC games. Beating an extremely beatable Gators team won’t cause folks in Baton Rouge to start thinking about conference titles or playoff spots, but it would be a nice change from the disappointment that has prevailed in recent weeks.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Brandon Harris fell on the sword after Saturday's 41-7 loss to Auburn, which seemed noble for a true freshman who just made his first career start -- especially since it came against a No. 5 team that played for a national championship last season.

Without question, it was an awful debut for LSU's quarterback, who said he told teammates in the locker room afterward, "Wake me and tell me this is a nightmare." And while it was a painful experience in front of a prime-time TV audience, Harris still learned some valuable lessons in his 3-for-14, 58-yard performance.

[+] EnlargeLSU's Brandon Harris
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesBrandon Harris struggled in his first start on Saturday, completing just 3 of 14 passes for 58 yards.
"A lot of it gets back to technique, having a plan and using the right technique and not standing up like a wooden Indian," Harris said. "To play the quarterback position, you've got to play with your knees bent."

Quarterbacks make technique adjustments after every game, but Harris' issues went beyond making those simple corrections. He insisted after the game that he wasn't nervous and that the crowd at Auburn's Jordan-Hare Stadium didn't affect his play, but Harris clearly abandoned the pocket too early on a few plays, botched an early snap and generally played like a nervous freshman who was starting for the first time.

With that in mind, perhaps it's no surprise that LSU coach Les Miles delayed naming a starting quarterback for Saturday's visit to another of the SEC's toughest road venues: Florida's Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

"We have not decided on who's starting this weekend," Miles said. "We'll let them both compete through the week and make a decision as we get closer to game time."

The game was already out of hand by the time that Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron went with previous starter Anthony Jennings late in the third quarter, after Harris played most of the period with an injured right ankle.

Jennings played better (5-for-10 for 84 yards), but neither quarterback turned in a particularly impressive performance. And Jennings had already built an underwhelming body of work as the Tigers' starter through the first five games.

"I think both of them realize that they're both going to play better as they go forward," Miles said. "I think there's confidence that we will, that both quarterbacks will play better than they played in the last game."

In Harris' case in particular, that improvement will likely come with game experience.

Jennings started LSU's last six games prior to Auburn and got booed off the field two Saturday's ago at Tiger Stadium when he committed three turnovers in just over a quarter of game play against New Mexico State.

Despite winning SEC Freshman of the Week honors last week for his impressive work off the bench against NMSU, in hindsight Harris was not yet ready for prime time against Auburn.

He admitted as much after the game.

"I just think coming into the game we had a great game plan," Harris said. "Cam did a great job of game planning this game. Again he gave me safe throws and easy completions that you can hit with your eyes closed and I just missed them. It was a terrible, terrible performance today by me."

Then again, LSU's coaches made it immediately clear on Saturday that this would not be their most ambitious game plan. Auburn's staff might have expected LSU to open up its offense more after Harris' dazzling performance against NMSU, but by the end of the first quarter, LSU had run the ball 12 times and attempted just two passes (Harris was 1-for-2 with a 52-yard completion to Malachi Dupre that set up a touchdown) and trailed 17-7.

The run-pass split was 17 runs versus two passes -- and the Tigers trailed 24-7 -- by the time they ran more pass plays than runs in a series. In the coaches' defense, Harris threw five straight incompletions on that drive and the Tigers punted for the sixth time in seven possessions, so they could certainly argue that their early conservatism was warranted.

Nonetheless, LSU's coaches didn't ask Harris to be a difference maker very often, and he didn't do himself any favors when they did.

"You never could get in rhythm because you get a completion … and then you miss and then we get in third-and-1 and then you should have known it's third-and-1, we get out of the pocket before it's time to get out of the pocket and just miss throws," Harris said. "It was just terrible."

The good news, Harris said, is that he refuses to allow a disappointing performance linger. He seemed unfazed while answering reporters' questions after the game and said his first order of business on the trip home would be to grab his iPad and watch film of the Auburn game so he could evaluate his missteps in the loss.

"A guy who played here years ago texted me after the game and he said, ‘The great ones have bad games.' So like I said, I'm going to watch this film and we're going to get ready for Florida," Harris said. "Once we get on the plane, [Sunday], this game's over with. We lost. Obviously this is not what we wanted to come out here and do. And we've got to get better."
BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU’s 2014 season is halfway home, but in some ways it feels like it’s already over.

The Tigers’ 41-7 loss to Auburn on Saturday night was the worst in Les Miles’ nine-plus seasons at LSU, a program that Miles and his staff have kept among the annual contenders in the SEC and national championship pictures. Not this year, though.

Today the Tigers (4-2, 0-2 SEC) are in an unfamiliar position: unranked and an afterthought in the loaded SEC West. After losing their first two games in conference play -- the first time that has happened since 2001 -- it's natural to wonder what LSU can do to salvage this season.

“Well, win, stupid,” you’re probably saying. Yes, closing the regular season with a six-game winning streak would certainly be a perfect salve for the wounds LSU suffered in its two SEC games thus far: losses to No. 2 Auburn and No. 3 Mississippi State, which combined for 1,136 yards of total offense against John Chavis’ struggling defense.

But let’s be realistic. ESPN’s Football Power Index shows that LSU has the nation’s toughest remaining schedule. It hasn’t lost for the final time this season.

A program can’t lose this much underclassman talent to the NFL and reasonably expect not to feel the effects of those departures. Miles surely hoped talent (and LSU has plenty of that) would trump experience, but this is the wrong season in the West to test that assumption.

Mississippi State and Auburn both destroyed LSU with runs up the middle. Surprise, surprise, the Tigers lost both of last season’s starting defensive tackles, Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson, who handled the vast majority of snaps at the position before entering the draft as underclassmen.

This year’s defensive line is young and has been ineffective. The Tigers have signed some coveted defensive line prospects in recent years, but many of those players either aren’t healthy or aren’t ready to perform.

Last year, LSU was the best offense in the nation at converting third downs, but all four of the most important skill players in that standing (quarterback Zach Mettenberger, running back Jeremy Hill and receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry) are gone. Three of them had eligibility remaining when they entered the draft.

With the exception of the disappointing offensive line, evaluations of just about any position group at LSU sound like a broken record: Talented, but inexperienced. Not playing to its potential yet. Over and over and over.

LSU’s problem, as a friend said to me last week, is that there is no free agency in college football. The Tigers aren’t the New York Yankees. They can’t break out the checkbook and sign a high-priced free agent who can fill an immediate need or trade prospects for a veteran who can help them contend for championships today.

The only way LSU can salvage this season is by developing the talent that will help the Tigers return to the top of the SEC West heap in the future. It might be painful in the short term, but this team has more than enough talent to compete for a College Football Playoff spot in the next couple of years. It wouldn’t hurt to think about the bigger picture, even if Miles understandably will refuse to write off this season.

Settle on a quarterback between Brandon Harris and Anthony Jennings and then let that guy endure the growing pains that will help him at crunch time in 2015 and 2016. Give lots of reps to sophomore linebacker Kendell Beckwith and freshman safety Jamal Adams, the future leaders of the Tigers’ defense. Get those young defensive tackles on the field. Miles said last week on his radio show that true freshman Trey Lealaimatafao might play Saturday against Florida and that fellow signee Travonte Valentine might become eligible in the near future. Get that back to being the position of strength that it usually is at LSU.

Getting those guys on the field is how LSU can make the second half of this season a productive one. Tigers fans might not like the immediate results, but something tells me that when those players are winning All-SEC honors and the Tigers are winning big again in the next couple of years, they’ll agree that having enduring those temporary (and unavoidable) growing pains made the wins that much more enjoyable.

Instant Analysis: Auburn 41, LSU 7

October, 4, 2014
Oct 4
10:32
PM ET
video
This one was over almost as soon as it started.

Auburn's Nick Marshall was the runaway winner in the quarterback battle with LSU freshman Brandon Harris, who struggled mightily in his first college start. Harris' LSU teammates didn't fare much better, failing to provide much of a challenge in a 41-7 loss to the defending SEC champs at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

How the game was won: Auburn scored on each of its first four possessions -- three touchdowns and a field goal -- to overwhelm LSU from the get-go. Auburn rolled up 247 yards of total offense in the first quarter, which were the most for the Tigers in any quarter since Gus Malzahn became head coach last season.

Game ball goes to: Marshall. Auburn's quarterback was the central figure in Auburn's early onslaught. He accounted for four touchdowns (two rushing, two passing) in the first half and finished the night 14-for-22 for 207 yards and two touchdowns, plus 119 rushing yards and two more scores.

What it means: Combined with the massive shakeup that occurred elsewhere in the Top 25, Auburn is poised to make a jump in the polls. Malzahn's Tigers were already ranked fifth in the AP Top 25 before this week's losses by Nos. 2-5 Oregon, Alabama and Oklahoma and No. 6 Texas A&M. On the other sideline, Les Miles' LSU team once again fell flat on a national stage. LSU will have to improve significantly to avoid finishing last in the SEC West.

Playoff implication: Auburn's sitting pretty right now. At 5-0 overall and 2-0 in SEC play, Auburn is one of three unbeaten SEC clubs alongside teams it will play in two of its next three games: Mississippi State and Ole Miss. Auburn faces one of the nation's most difficult remaining schedules, but if Malzahn's team keeps playing like it did Saturday, Auburn has to like its chances. LSU's loss, its second in two SEC games, has put its playoff hopes on life support.

Best play: Sammie Coates made an impressive 56-yard touchdown catch from Marshall to give Auburn its first touchdown of the night. Coates boxed out LSU cornerback Rashard Robinson to make a circus catch and then tumbled past Robinson and safety Jalen Mills into the end zone to give Auburn a 10-0 lead.

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What's next: Get ready for another huge showdown, Auburn fans, this time at Mississippi State's Davis Wade Stadium. The Bulldogs are coming off two straight routs of SEC opponents (LSU and Texas A&M) and are playing as well as anybody in the nation. LSU, meanwhile, must regroup before another road test at Florida on Saturday.
Leonard FournetteAP Photo/Jonathan BachmanLSU freshman running back Leonard Fournette was criticized for striking the pose.

BATON ROUGE, La. -- All of his life, Leonard Fournette has been ahead of the athletic curve, so naturally he was disappointed when his first college game didn't go according to plan.

In LSU's season-opening win against Wisconsin, Fournette ran eight times for 18 yards and returned five kickoffs for 117 yards, while senior Kenny Hilliard instead carried the Tigers' running game. It was an OK debut for a typical freshman running back, but not for the player who was ESPN's No. 1 overall prospect in the 2014 recruiting class, whom many college football analysts had compared to the greatest college running backs of the last 20 years.

"I was kind of hard on myself because I was so used to having 200-plus rushing yards in a game and I didn't have that, so I was kind of disappointed," Fournette said. "But I talked to Coach, talked to my father and my mother and they were like, ‘This is college now. It's not going to happen [in college] like it used to happen.' "

Maybe that early disappointment also made Fournette want to fast forward his collegiate development. A week later came Fournette's most memorable college moment to date -- one that brought more criticism than praise.

After a 4-yard touchdown run against Sam Houston State, Fournette's first college score, he struck the Heisman Trophy pose in the end zone. LSU coach Les Miles immediately gave Fournette an earful over the freshman's me-first moment and he later apologized to his teammates for what could easily be called a premature celebration.

All of a sudden, he was the subject of national ridicule -- a rude awakening for a player who had been roundly praised since middle school.

"I prayed on it, my parents talked to me, Coach Miles talked to me and just told me, ‘Don't worry about it,' so I got over it," Fournette said of the Heisman backlash.

Ever since then, Fournette has quietly shown steady improvement. Other SEC freshmen like Tennessee's Jalen Hurd and Texas A&M's Myles Garrett have made bigger national splashes, but last Saturday's win against New Mexico State marked the fourth straight game that Fournette led No. 15 LSU (4-1, 0-1 SEC) in rushing.

Each week since the Wisconsin game, Fournette has averaged at least 5 yards per carry, which he believes is a result of improved patience.

"We'll be in the meeting room and watching practice and I'll be seeing [senior running back Terrence Magee] making cuts like I used to make in high school," Fournette said. "I'll just be like, ‘Man I wonder why I can't do that?' I'm always rushing, so I feel like I've just got to be patient, slow down. I've been taking all that to heed and I've been slowing it down and the cuts will be there for me."

Running room and cutback space were certainly available last weekend against New Mexico State, when Fournette broke the 100-yard barrier for the first time at LSU. He finished with 122 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries, all career highs, and credited his offensive line and seniors Magee and Hilliard afterward -- exemplifying another lesson in humility that he learned from the Heisman hoopla.

"Thanks to Kenny, thanks to Terrence, like they're really my mentors. Anything I have a problem with, I come to them," Fournette said. "I never really had a big brother on the football team. I always was the big brother, so I have them and they help me a lot."

The veterans, in turn, credit the rookie for his personal growth. Making the transition from high school legend to SEC freshman can be difficult, but Magee said Fournette adjusted his expectations to fit what LSU has asked of him thus far.

"Every game you're not going to go out and rush for 200 yards, 100 yards, so I think he's a lot more comfortable than what he [was] now and starting to relax and just play his game," Magee said.

That said, Fournette has not fully tapped into his massive potential yet. As Fournette mentioned, he hasn't hit holes decisively at times and, for a player listed at 230 pounds, he has been surprisingly ineffective at breaking tackles.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Fournette ranks 11th in the SEC and 59th nationally with 3.48 yards per carry before making contact with a defender. And yet he's fourth among regulars in his own backfield in yards after contact. Freshman Darrel Williams (3.64 ypc after contact) and Magee (3.18) both rank in the SEC's top 10, but Fournette's average of 2.27 ypc also ranks behind Hilliard (2.53) among LSU regulars.

His game remains a work in progress, but it is easy to envision a game-breaking finished product on the occasions when Fournette accelerates past defenders or leaves one in the dust with a well-placed stiff-arm, as he did on his first touchdown run against NMSU.

Those brief flashes are signs that Fournette is coming along fine, even if he didn't achieve instant superstardom like some expected.

"That's hard, especially with those expectations," center Elliott Porter said. "I don't think nobody in the last 10 years faced quite that much hype."

SEC Freshman Tracker: Week 5

October, 1, 2014
Oct 1
10:00
AM ET
Led by LSU's Brandon Harris and Leonard Fournette and a big group from Tennessee, true freshmen again grabbed the spotlight in the SEC last weekend.

Here are five who stood out (and five more worth mentioning) from Saturday’s SEC games:

QB Brandon Harris, LSU

[+] EnlargeBrandon Harris
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesAfter Brandon Harris' 11-of-14 performance against New Mexico State, the Tigers named him the starter against Auburn.
What he did: Harris came off the bench in the second quarter and led LSU’s offense to seven touchdowns in seven possessions in a 63-7 rout of New Mexico State. He was 11-for-14 for 178 yards and three touchdowns and also ran for 36 yards and two scores.

What it means: This is a huge week for Harris. He won SEC Freshman of the Week honors and LSU coach Les Miles announced that Harris will make his first college start on Saturday against Auburn. He’s played mostly in mop-up duty so far, but Harris looked great against Mississippi State and NMSU. His starting assignment makes Saturday’s game exponentially more intriguing.

RB Leonard Fournette, LSU

What he did: Against NMSU, Fournette set new season highs for rushing attempts (18) and rushing yards (122) and scored touchdowns of 17 and 5 yards. He also made a 33-yard reception. It was Fournette’s first 100-yard game at LSU.

What it means: Fournette has quietly been LSU’s leading rusher in each of the past four games. He hasn’t been putting up huge numbers, but the Tigers have spread around the carries between four backs, too. Nonetheless, with LSU entering the bulk of its SEC schedule, expect to see more of Fournette in key situations.

DE Marquis Haynes, Ole Miss

What he did: With Ole Miss leading Memphis just 10-3 in the fourth quarter, Haynes sacked quarterback Paxton Lynch and forced a fumble that Isaac Gross recovered at the Memphis 23. The Rebels scored on the next play to go up 17-3 and put away their surprisingly narrow win.

What it means: Ole Miss probably beats Memphis even without Haynes’ big play, but victory was no certainty at that point. Getting the win helped Ole Miss stay undefeated and set up a huge game this weekend with No. 3 Alabama.

RB Jalen Hurd, Tennessee

What he did: Hurd build off of his strong outing against Oklahoma with his first 100-yard game in a 35-32 loss to Georgia. The freshman ran 24 times for 119 yards and a touchdown -- all of which set or matched Hurd’s season highs -- and caught three passes for 19 yards.

What it means: The freshman back and his inexperienced offensive line are starting to find their way. It has been tough sledding in that department for Tennessee, but Hurd’s recent big games have been bright spots.

RB Stanley Williams, Kentucky

What he did: The versatile Williams ran five times for 27 yards, led the Wildcats with 39 receiving yards on three catches and returned two kickoffs for 56 yards, including a long of 36 in a win against Vanderbilt.

What it means: Unfortunately we won’t see Williams on Saturday against South Carolina since he and three teammates were suspended for reportedly firing air pistols in a campus residence hall. Williams has already become a valuable contributor in the Wildcats’ lineup and they need all the help they can get against the Gamecocks.

Other notables:

RB Nick Chubb, Georgia: Ran 11 times for 32 yards and caught a 20-yard touchdown pass in Georgia’s win over Tennessee.

WR Malachi Dupre, LSU: Caught three passes for a team-high 54 yards, including a 27-yard touchdown, in the win against NMSU.

S Todd Kelly Jr., Tennessee: Recorded four tackles and made a leaping interception in Tennessee’s loss against Georgia.

TE Ethan Wolf, Tennessee: Returned from injury and had his most productive game yet, finishing with five catches for 69 yards against Georgia.

LB Tre Williams, Auburn: Played most of the Louisiana Tech game because of injuries to Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy, recorded seven tackles and nearly intercepted a pass.

Auburn, LSU swap roles from 2013 game

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
12:00
PM ET
AUBURN, Ala. -- Every championship team faces adversity at one point or another. For last year’s Auburn team, it came in the form of a September road trip to Death Valley.

The Tigers began the season 3-0, snapping their SEC skid against Mississippi State along the way. But in the first half at LSU, Auburn simply looked outmatched. It was pouring rain; the offense couldn’t move the ball; the defense couldn’t stop Jeremy Hill; and it was 21-0 after the first 30 minutes. It felt like the team should get back on the bus and head home.

Auburn didn’t, though. As the rain tapered off in the second half, Gus Malzahn’s team fought back and nearly made it a one-possession game before eventually losing 35-21.

Looking back, the game can be remembered two different ways. On one hand, it was the lone blemish on an otherwise flawless resume heading into the BCS title game and a contest Auburn would rather forget. On the other hand, it was a turning point for Auburn, a loss that would create momentum and ignite a nine-game winning streak.

As for the players, all they remember is the rain, or the “very stiff, wind-driven dew,” as LSU coach Les Miles so eloquently put it.

“It was raining in Death Valley, and that’s always a good time,” Auburn center Reese Dismukes said. “It was a night game. I remember that was kind of our turning point in our season. We lost the game, but it really showed that we had fight. It came down to the wire at the end.”

“Wet, rainy,” running back Corey Grant said. “Started off slow. Came back second half, made some adjustments and we kind of got back on track, but it was a little bit too late.”

“I kind of remember the rain a lot,” defensive tackle Montravius Adams said. “It was really slippery. It was my first road game as a college player and I didn’t know I was going to play that much, but coach put me in so I tried to do what I could.

“And I remember losing. That’s the big thing I remember. I think it’s going to be better this year. I hope we get the win.”

“We didn’t really come out the way we should’ve,” cornerback Jonathon Mincy said. “We didn’t have that edge. By the time it was time for us to adjust, we didn’t really put the proper points on the board or we didn’t make the correct stops, fill in gaps.”

It’s been more than a year since that game, and Malzahn admits it still leaves a bitter taste in his mouth. To this day, it’s his only SEC loss as a head coach.

However, he also remembers the second-half comeback and how it was a defining moment for Auburn last season. He remembers how the players responded after halftime and how they were an onside kick away from making things interesting.

“Our guys came back,” Malzahn said on Monday’s Tiger Talk radio show. “They responded like champions in the second half, and it gave us momentum the rest of the year.”

This is a new year, though, and the roles have reversed. Auburn is the overwhelming favorite at home against a young, inexperienced LSU team that has a quarterback in Brandon Harris who is making his first road start in a hostile environment. Sound familiar? Nick Marshall made his first road start in Baton Rouge last year.

The good news for Harris is there’s no rain in the forecast this year. The bad news is Auburn is hungry for a win.

“I haven’t beat them all four years and I’m coming up on the last time playing them, so I’ll be excited and especially motivated to play those guys,” Dismukes said.

"We lost last year in their house," added Adams. "They’re coming to our house now, so we’re going to try and get that win."

Week 6 roundtable: Game of the week

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
11:00
AM ET
This will be “Separation Saturday” in the SEC West. Three games -- Alabama-Ole Miss, Mississippi State-Texas A&M and Auburn-LSU -- will pit top-15 teams from the West against one another, so we should soon know more about who will emerge as legitimate contenders in college football’s toughest division.

Considering all that will be at stake on Saturday, here are our SEC writers’ picks for the games most worth watching on Saturday.

Edward Aschoff: I mean, it’s “GameDay” in the Grove -- the nation’s best tailgating spot. I’m ready for chandeliers at tailgates, sport coats, sun dresses and the finest Southern hospitality this side of the mighty Mississippi. This is a chance for Ole Miss to prove it really deserves to be in the conversation with the premier teams, not just in the SEC but in the entire country. On the flip side, this is going to be the toughest test for Alabama thus far, and the Rebels’ up-tempo offense certainly presents an issue for an Alabama defense that has struggled against that style in recent years.

Alex Scarborough: Give me Oxford. Give me The Grove. Give me one team seeking to regain its spot atop college football and another team poised to break through into national prominence. Give me an SEC West showdown with actual playoff implications. Give me a quarterback with something to prove. In fact, give me two of ‘em. Give me two of the most talented receivers in the country, two tenacious defenses and two coaches who sit on opposite ends of the spectrum, philosophically. Give me one game: Alabama-Ole Miss.

Jeff Barlis: I have a feeling my choice will go against the grain: LSU at Auburn. I still think Auburn is the top team in the SEC, until proven otherwise. The Bayou Bengals, on the other hand, are just starting to get their talented true freshmen, RB Leonard Fournette, QB Brandon Harris and WR Malachi Dupre, integrated into the game plan. Expect this one to be a shootout that will force LSU coach Les Miles to turn to Harris, who has been the team's best signal-caller. This game could be one that decides the West Division. And remember, LSU was the only SEC team to beat Auburn last year.

David Ching: I’ll agree with Mr. Barlis here. If I had to answer this question at the end of the first quarter Saturday, I definitely wouldn’t have picked Auburn-LSU. LSU’s offense was sputtering against New Mexico State, and Anthony Jennings had been a turnover machine. Harris' joining the starting lineup is intriguing, though. A touted true freshman making his first start on the road against the defending conference champ? That’s fascinating stuff. How will LSU’s defense fare against Auburn’s running game? Dak Prescott and Mississippi State embarrassed the Tigers’ defense two Saturdays ago, and Auburn’s offense is no less dangerous.

Sam Khan: The other games are nice, but Texas A&M-Mississippi State looks to be the most hotly contested one of the bunch. The cowbells will be ringin' fiercely at Davis-Wade Stadium. The anticipation for this game in Starkville will be at a fever pitch, considering the Bulldogs are undefeated, ranked 12th in the country and coming off a landmark win at LSU. The past season, these teams combined for 92 points and 1,092 offensive yards in a game A&M won 51-41. Two of the SEC's best quarterbacks (Kenny Hill and Prescott) will be on display, and there are SEC West and even Heisman Trophy implications in this game.

Greg Ostendorf: The atmosphere I’d pay most to see? The Grove for Alabama-Ole Miss. But the game I’d pay most to see? That’s two hours away in Starkville. I’m still not sure what to make of the Aggies after Saturday, but I’m not turning down a chance to see Hill. Besides maybe Todd Gurley, Hill is the most exciting player in the conference. That said, it’s hard not to root for Prescott after all he has overcome. It’s the best quarterback matchup of the day, and I expect it to come down to the wire. Sign me up.

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