SEC: Marquis Maze

Top SEC players who didn't get drafted

April, 30, 2012
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Among those SEC players who didn't get drafted were Alabama center William Vlachos, Alabama receiver Marquis Maze, Arkansas linebacker Jerry Franklin, and LSU offensive guard Will Blackwell.

Vlachos was a three-year starter for the Crimson Tide and first-team All-SEC center last season. The NFL is hung up on measurables, which is the reason Vlachos (6-foot) wasn't drafted. But here's betting that he makes a roster and ends up playing for a long time in the NFL. Vlachos agreed to a free-agent deal with the Tennessee Titans.

Franklin led the Hogs in tackles for four straight seasons and was extremely productive, so it was surprising that he didn't go in the latter rounds. The same goes for Maze, who made a lot of big plays for the Crimson Tide and is also a weapon on special teams. Blackwell made a couple of All-America teams last season, and was an integral part of that LSU offensive line.

Here's a list of some of the more high-profile players in the SEC who didn't get drafted. If they agreed to a free-agent deal, that team is listed in parenthenses:

SEC combine update

February, 27, 2012
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The NFL combine is wrapping up over the next two days in Indianapolis.

Here are some of the top SEC performers to date:

40-yard dash
Bench press
  • Georgia TE Orson Charles – 35 repetitions of 225 pounds
  • Georgia OT Justin Anderson – 32 repetitions
  • Georgia OT Cordy Glenn – 31 repetitions
  • LSU LB Ryan Baker – 30 repetitions
  • Auburn OT Brandon Mosley – 30 repetitions
  • Georgia C Ben Jones – 29 repetitions
  • Mississippi State DT Fletcher Cox – 30 repetitions
  • South Carolina DE Melvin Ingram – 28 repetitions
  • Tennessee RB Tauren Poole – 24 repetitions
  • Mississippi State RB Vick Ballard – 23 repetitions
  • Texas A&M RB Cyrus Gray – 21 repetitions
Vertical jump
  • Missouri WR Jerrell Jackson – 41 inches
  • Ole Miss RB Brandon Bolden – 38 inches
  • Arkansas WR Jarius Wright – 38 inches
  • Arkansas WR Greg Childs – 36.5 inches
  • Florida RB Chris Rainey – 36.5 inches
  • Arkansas WR Joe Adams – 36 inches
  • Tennessee RB Tauren Poole – 34 inches
Broad jump
  • Missouri TE Michael Egnew – 10 feet, 11 inches
  • Missouri WR Jerrell Jackson – 10 feet, 7 inches
  • Arkansas WR Greg Childs – 10 feet, 5 inches
  • Arkansas WR Joe Adams – 10 feet, 3 inches
20-yard shuttle
  • Florida RB Chris Rainey – 3.93
  • Arkansas WR Jarius Wright – 4.03
  • LSU QB Jordan Jefferson – 4.06
  • Missouri WR Jerrell Jackson – 4.11

SEC postseason position rankings: ST

February, 10, 2012
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We've come to the end of our postseason position rankings. Special teams don't get a ton of credit when things go right, but we all know how much grief they get when things go wrong. Just look at all those shanks we saw from kickers last season.

Fortunately, there are other aspects of special teams that involve more exciting plays, like returns that can change the dynamic of a game or are just really easy on the eyes (just take a look at what Joe Adams did to Tennessee last fall).

You can see how we ranked the SEC's special teams units before the season here.

Here are our final rankings:

[+] EnlargeTyrann Mathieu
AP Photo/John BazemoreTyrann Mathieu's punt return for a touchdown against Georgia turned the momentum in the game.
1. LSU: All-American punter Brad Wing averaged 44.4 yards per kick, had 20 punts of 50-plus yards and pinned 27 kicks inside the opposing 20-yard line. His long of 73 yards completely changed LSU's first game with Alabama. Tyrann Mathieu had two clutch punt returns for touchdowns against Arkansas and Georgia at the end of the season and was fifth nationally averaging 15.6 yards per return. Morris Claiborne also returned a kickoff for a touchdown and averaged 25.1 yards per return. Opponents averaged 3.7 yards per punt return and just 20 yards per kickoff against LSU. Drew Alleman led the SEC in field goal percentage (88.9), hitting 16-of-18 kicks.

2. Arkansas: Adams was one of the best punt returners in the country, averaging 16.9 yards per return and taking four to the house for scores. The Hogs were just as dangerous on kickoffs, as Dennis Johnson and Marquel Wade both returned kicks for touchdowns and ranked in the top five in the SEC in return average. Zach Hocker hit 21-of-27 kicks and led all kickers by averaging 9.1 points per game. Dylan Breeding led the SEC in punting (45.3) and downed 16 inside the 20. Arkansas was one of the best in the SEC in kickoff coverage, but did allow two punt returns to go for scores in the two biggest games of the season.

3. Auburn: Auburn had Onterio McCalebb and Tre Mason take kickoffs back for touchdowns, as the Tigers led the SEC in kickoff return average (24.7) and also in kickoff coverage. Auburn wasn't great returning punts, but punter Steven Clark was a Ray Guy Award finalist and pinned 33 punts inside the 20. Cody Parkey ranked sixth in the league in field-goal kicking, connecting on 13-of-18 kicks (72.2).

4. Florida: Even without Urban Meyer running the show, the Gators were still pretty successful in this department. Florida was first in the SEC and tied for sixth nationally with six blocked kicks. Two punt blocks went for touchdowns. Caleb Sturgis was a Lou Groza Award finalist, hitting 22-of-26 field goals, including three from 50-plus yards. Florida was also solid in kickoff coverage and got kickoff touchdowns of their own from Andre Debose, who was third in the league in return average, and Jeff Demps. Florida averaged 7.2 yards per punt return and averaged 39.8 yards per punt.

5. Ole Miss: If not for special teams, Ole Miss would have been even worse in 2011. Tyler Campbell averaged 43.6 yards per punt on his 72 attempts and pinned 28 inside the 20. The Rebels also had two different players -- Nickolas Brassell and Jeff Scott -- return punts for touchdowns and Ole Miss was near the top of the league in kickoff coverage and had a net punting average of 38 yards. Bryson Rose also hit nine of his 11 field-goal attempts.

6. Vanderbilt: It was a mixed bag for the Commodores when it came to special teams. Vanderbilt was second in the league in opponent punt return average (3.9), but allowed a touchdown, and gave up another touchdown on kickoff coverage. Vanderbilt also blocked two kicks. Missed field goals haunted Vanderbilt, as the Commodores missed two in the six-point loss to Tennessee and one at the end of regulation in a three-point loss to Arkansas. Andre Hal logged a kickoff touchdown, but Vandy was 11th in the league in punt return average.

7. Alabama: Before the national championship game, Alabama's field-goal kicking game received a ton of criticism, especially for the four misses in the 9-6 loss to LSU. But Jeremy Shelley redeemed the unit by hitting 5-of-7 in the rematch. Alabama's kickers missed 13 kicks. Marquis Maze only had 12 kickoff returns, but averaged 28.5 yards per return, was third in the SEC in punt return average (13.2) and had that nifty touchdown against Arkansas. However, Alabama was 11th in the league in kickoff coverage and 10th in punt average.

8. Kentucky: Punter Ryan Tydlacka was fourth in the league in punting (43.6), had 20 punts of 50-plus yards and had 19 of his punts downed inside the 20. Craig McIntosh connected on 12-of-14 field-goal attempts (.857). Kentucky was in the middle of the pack in kickoff coverage. The Wildcats weren't so good at returning kicks, ranking 11th in the SEC in kickoff returns and last in punt returns, averaging 1.8 yards per return.

9. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs were last in the league in kickoff returns and were the only team to average fewer than 20 yards a return. The Bulldogs were better on punts, getting touchdowns from Chad Bumphis and Johnthan Banks, and ranked fifth in the league in punt return average. Punter Baker Swedenburg ranked seventh in punting and pinned 19 punts inside the 20. Derek DePasquale hit 12-of-18 field goals.

10. Tennessee: The Vols didn't record any special teams touchdowns, but were fifth in the league in kickoff returns and seventh in punt returns. As far as defending returns, Tennessee allowed just 18.1 yards per return, but was 10th in punt return coverage and gave up a touchdown. Michael Palardy hit of nine of his 14 field-goal attempts and punter Matt Darr was 10th in the SEC in punt average (38.1).

11. South Carolina: The Gamecocks struggled in the kicking game, but did have a bright spot in Ace Sanders recording a touchdown on a punt return and South Carolina blocked two kicks. However, South Carolina was seventh and eighth in the SEC in kickoff and punt returns, respectively. South Carolina was last in kickoff coverage and gave up a touchdown. Jay Wooten missed four field goals and three extra points, while punter Joey Scribner-Howard was ninth in the SEC in punting, averaging 38.9 yards per punt.

12. Georgia: Outside of Brandon Boykin's 92-yard touchdown return in the Outback Bowl, his 22.4-yard average on kick returns and Drew Butler's 44.2 yards per punt, Georgia didn't do much at all on special teams. The group that was supposed to be first in the league allowed two kickoffs and punts to go for touchdowns and allowed a fake punt for a touchdown against South Carolina. Blair Walsh entered the season as one of the nation's top kickers, but hit just 21-of-35 kicks, including missing two in overtime in the bowl loss to Michigan State.

SEC players invited to NFL combine

February, 7, 2012
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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

SEC postseason position rankings: WR/TE

February, 3, 2012
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The receivers/tight ends are on the docket Friday in our SEC postseason position rankings. The top two spots were easy. But after that, it gets a lot harder.

You can see our preseason rankings here.

Here's what we came up with for the postseason:

[+] EnlargeJarius Wright
Nelson Chenault/US PresswireJarius Wright's 12 touchdowns and 1,117 yards led Arkansas' talented receiving corps.
1. Arkansas: An easy call here for the top spot. Even though Greg Childs was unable to return to his pre-injury form, the duo of Jarius Wright and Joe Adams was outstanding. Wright set school records with 66 catches for 1,117 yards and 12 touchdowns. Don’t forget about Cobi Hamilton, either, or tight end Chris Gragg, who was third on the team behind Wright and Adams with 41 catches. There’s younger talent on the roster coming, too.

2. Georgia: One of the reasons Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray spread it around so much this season was because of the depth of his receiving corps, and it’s always nice to have the top pass-catching tight end in the league. Orson Charles caught 45 passes, including five touchdowns. The Bulldogs had five different players with at least four touchdown catches. Tavarres King led the way with eight, and freshman Malcolm Mitchell is a budding star in this league.

3. Alabama: The Alabama pass-catchers didn’t rack up a bunch of touchdown catches, but they made plays when they had to. It was a deeper unit than given credit for as evidenced by the play of Kevin Norwood and Kenny Bell in the BCS National Championship Game. Marquis Maze was Alabama’s top playmaker at receiver and one of the more underrated players in the league, and the Tide had two good tight ends in Brad Smelley and Michael Williams.

4. LSU: Rueben Randle is the reason the Tigers are this high. He led the SEC in league games with an average of 78.6 receiving yards per game and also averaged 19.1 yards per catch. Odell Beckham, Jr. was one of the league’s best freshman receivers, and even though Russell Shepard only caught 14 passes, four went for touchdowns. Look for Jarvis Landry to play a much bigger role next season.

5. Tennessee: The Vols should really be loaded at receiver in 2012 if Justin Hunter comes back healthy. He was off to a great start this season, but injured his knee in the third game. Da'Rick Rogers led the SEC with 67 catches, including nine touchdowns, and tight end Mychal Rivera was second on the team with 29 catches. The Vols added top junior college receiver Cordarrelle Patterson on signing day.

6. South Carolina: Alshon Jeffery alone puts the Gamecocks in the top half of the league. His numbers were down from his fabulous 2011 season, but he still caught eight touchdown passes. Ace Sanders provided some help underneath, but the Gamecocks didn’t have enough depth at the position to keep teams from shadowing Jeffery.

7. Vanderbilt: The Commodores made a big jump from where they were ranked in the preseason (11th). Sophomore Jordan Matthews was one of the most improved receivers in the league and gave the Commodores that big-play threat down the field they’d been missing. He had five touchdown catches and averaged 19 yards per catch. Redshirt freshman Chris Boyd also had a big season with a team-leading eight touchdown catches, and Brandon Barden was a nice target at tight end.

8. Auburn: Injuries killed the Tigers, especially with Emory Blake and Trovon Reed being out at the same time during one stretch. When healthy, Blake is one of the most dependable receivers in the league. Reed has yet to prove he can stay healthy, and there was really nobody else to provide any firepower in the deep passing game. The Tigers get bonus points here for Philip Lutzenkirchen, who had seven touchdown catches and is a terrific pass-catching tight end.

9. Florida: The Gators would appear to more talented than they’ve played at receiver the last couple of years. Andre Debose did come on this season and catch a few deep passes for touchdowns, and Jordan Reed has the tools to be one of the best tight ends in the league. The bottom line is that the Gators simply didn’t make much happen in the passing game all season long. In fact, none of the wide receivers on the roster caught more than 21 passes.

10. Mississippi State: The receiver position is an area that Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen is still looking to bolster. Chad Bumphis hasn’t been the kind of difference-maker most predicted when he signed with the Bulldogs. Perhaps 2012 will be the season he changes that. Freshman tight end Malcolm Johnson showed a lot of promise and caught three touchdown passes, while Arceto Clark and Chris Smith each hauled in 30 or more receptions.

11. Ole Miss: Granted, the Rebels had issues at quarterback, which was a big reason they never established much of a passing game. But here’s the most telling stat: Ole Miss finished the season with nine touchdown passes, and six of those went to true freshmen Donte Moncrief and Nickolas Brassell. Opposing defenses are bound to see even more of those two youngsters next season.

12. Kentucky: Everybody beats up on the quarterback when the passing game is ineffective, but the Wildcats simply didn’t have a lot of guys consistently making plays at the receiver position. There were too many drops across the board, and even though La'Rod King did catch seven touchdown passes, he was quiet in SEC games.

The SEC's top 10 moments in 2011

January, 12, 2012
1/12/12
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As we take another look at the 2011 season, we'll check out the top 10 moments from the SEC's year.

It's not as easy as it looks, but someone has to do it.

I'm sure we'll think of a couple more as the days go by, but here are our top 10 moments from 2011 in reverse order:

10. Houston Nutt's dismissal:
Ole Miss said goodbye to its head coach after Nutt was fired toward the end of the season. After back-to-back nine-win seasons that ended with Cotton Bowl victories, Nutt was fired after two dismal seasons in Oxford. He coached the entire season, but ended his tenure with 14 straight losses to SEC opponents.

9. Kentucky's last stand: There wasn't much for the Wildcats to be proud of in 2011, but Kentucky's 10-7 win over Tennessee was truly memorable. It snapped a 26-game losing streak to the Vols (dating back to when Joker Phillips played at Kentucky) and eliminated Tennessee from postseason play.

[+] EnlargeMark Richt
AP Photo/David GoldmanMark Richt and the Bulldogs overcame an 0-2 start to the season to win the SEC's Eastern Division.
8. Georgia clinching the East: After starting the season 0-2, Georgia won 10 straight, but its ninth win meant the most. Georgia's 19-10 win over Kentucky on Nov. 19 clinched the SEC Eastern Division and sent the Bulldogs back to the SEC championship for the first time since 2005.

7. Vandy's bowl bid: Coach James Franklin promised change at Vanderbilt and he got it in his first year. The Commodores reeled off six wins and their 41-7 win over Wake Forest on the last weekend of the regular season sent Vandy bowling for the first time since 2008.

6. Richardson's run: Trent Richardson's Heisman moment came on a run and a move for the ages. Before he could finish off his eventual 76-yard touchdown run in the third quarter against Ole Miss, he had to embarrass defender Senquez Golson by cutting back and then immediately forward, leaving the rookie stumbling to the turf just before the end zone.

5. Adams' return: No plays were as exciting to watch in the SEC -- and probably nationally -- than Joe Adams' amazing punt return against Tennessee. Adams was scintillating, as he reversed field 10 yards and shook off five tackles before darting down the right sideline for what stood as a 60-yard touchdown return.

4. South Carolina's 11th win: Last year, the Gamecocks made history when they made it to their first SEC championship game. In 2011, South Carolina won 11 games in a season for the first time when the Gamecocks routed Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl. It also ended a streak of three straight bowl losses.

3. Reid's interception: When you think back at the 2011 season, Eric Reid's interception against Alabama at LSU's own 1-yard line has to be one of the first images you see. With the Tide running a trick play involving a pass from receiver Marquis Maze to tight end Michael Williams, Reid out-muscled Williams for the ball in midair. The play propelled LSU on its magical run and sent Alabama home with what seemed like a season-changing loss.

2. LSU's magical run ends: LSU was a win away from entering the "best ever" conversation, with eight wins over ranked teams, but LSU ran into a freight train named Alabama in the hated rematch in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game. LSU's offense fell flat as the Tide ran over the Tigers 21-0 in their own backyard of New Orleans.

1. Alabama hoists the crystal football ... again:
The state of Alabama clearly owns college football at the moment. Alabama's 21-0 win over LSU in the national championship gave the state three straight crystal footballs and was the second for the Crimson Tide in three years. Nick Saban admitted that this championship (his third) was the sweetest and you could tell because he actually smiled afterward and took his Gatorade bath like a true champ.
NEW ORLEANS -- Well, it looks like Alabama studied up on how to contain Jordan Jefferson better.

LSU's quarterback has carried the ball four times for just 5 yards and has a long of 6. His best run came up the middle, and Alabama has done a great job of taking away any sort of outside running for Jefferson.

Really, Alabama has eliminated any sort of outside running for the Tigers. LSU has just 10 yards on seven carries and has yet to convert a third down, although Jefferson has completed all four of his passes for 18 yards. Slants and screens will be Jefferson's best friend tonight.

As for Alabama, quarterback AJ McCarron has been as poised as he can be out on the field. He's avoided a few tackles and has been spot-on with his passes. He finished the quarter completing a nice 26-yard pass down the right sideline to Kevin Norwood. The pass somehow made it right over Tyrann Mathieu.

Marquis Maze looked to have injured his hamstring on a punt return, so it will be interesting to see who the Tide turns to there and how the passing game runs with him out.

Marquis Maze injured on return

January, 9, 2012
1/09/12
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NEW ORLEANS -- Alabama wide receiver Marquis Maze might have ripped off a nice 45-yard punt return, but it looks like he might have pulled a hamstring as well.

Maze came up lame at the end of the return and had to be helped off the field.

He was later helped to the locker room and walked with a considerable limp.

Kenny Bell has replaced him on the field at wide receiver.

Noise will be a factor tonight

January, 9, 2012
1/09/12
8:38
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NEW ORLEANS -- We are only a couple of minutes into the game, but you can already tell that noise is going to be a major factor in tonight's Allstate BCS National Championship Game.

Fans from both sides are letting the opposing offenses know that they are here. LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson has already struggled with trying to get plays changed and fumbled a snap with his back right up to Alabama's section.

This place erupted when Jefferson fumbled and it might have been even louder when Alabama wide receiver Marquis Maze was pushed out of bounds on a booming punt from Brad Wing. Both of these quarterbacks' ears will be ringing for days after this one.

Video: Maze looking to be playmaker

January, 9, 2012
1/09/12
4:06
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Chris Low interviews Alabama wide receiver Marquis Maze at the Allstate BCS National Championship game media day.

Five plays that got LSU here

January, 9, 2012
1/09/12
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NEW ORLEANS -- You've already read about the five plays that got Alabama to the Allstate BCS National Championship, so now it's time to take a look at how LSU ended up in Monday's title game:

1. Eric Reid's interception: With Alabama sitting on LSU's 28-yard line early in the fourth quarter, Tide coach Nick Saban reached into his bag of tricks and pulled out a play in which wide receiver Marquis Maze was supposed to take the ball and throw it to tight end Michael Williams. Maze, who was bothered by a sprained ankle, threw the ball up, but Reid wrestled it away from Williams at LSU's 1-yard line. Alabama never got inside LSU's 35-yard line again until overtime.

2. Morris Claiborne's kick return: After West Virginia scored to get within six of the Tigers late in the third quarter, Claiborne put the game away with some magic in the return game. On West Virginia's ensuing kickoff, Claiborne dazzled his way through Mountaineer players for a 99-yard touchdown return that put LSU up 34-21. That touchdown put LSU on a 20-0 run to close the game.

3. Brad Wing's punt: The drive after Reid's interception, LSU's offense failed to get much of anything backed up inside its 10-yard line. A normal punt would have given Alabama ideal field position to make up for its blown opportunity on the last drive, but Wing launched a kick from inside LSU's end zone that eventually traveled 73 yards to Alabama's 18-yard line after some very favorable rolling.

4. Tyrann Mathieu's return: Down 14-7 to Arkansas in the second quarter, the Honey Badger came through in the clutch on special teams. He took Dylan Breeding's punt 92 yards to the house and sent Tiger Stadium into a frenzy. That play paralyzed Arkansas, and led to a 34-3 run by LSU on the last Saturday of the regular season.

5. Mathieu's second return: Like the Arkansas game a week earlier, LSU was in need of a spark against Georgia in the SEC championship game. Down double digits early for the second straight game, Mathieu provided the momentum builder LSU needed when he took a punt 62 yards for a touchdown that made it 10-7 in the second quarter. The score, which sparked a 42-0 run, should have actually been overturned because replay showed that Mathieu clearly flipped the ball to the ref and out-of-bounds before he crossed the goal line.

Five plays that got Alabama here

January, 9, 2012
1/09/12
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NEW ORLEANS — In every season, there are a handful of plays that stand out.

Here’s a look at the five plays that got Alabama to Monday night’s Allstate BCS National Championship Game:

1. Maze’s punt return: One of the most electrifying plays of the year in the SEC, Marquis Maze weaved his way 83 yards through Arkansas defenders early in the third quarter to break the game wide open and send the Crimson Tide on their way to a 38-14 beatdown of the Hogs. Maze showed his speed, open-field running ability and knack for breaking tackles all on one dazzling return.

2. Upshaw’s interception return: With the game tied at 10 early in the second quarter, Alabama’s Nick Gentry came free up the middle and hurried Florida quarterback John Brantley, whose dump pass over the middle was intercepted by Courtney Upshaw and returned 45 yards for a touchdown. The Gators were never the same, and the Crimson Tide won easily, 38-10 at the Swamp.

3. The fourth-down stop: Tennessee had played Alabama to a 6-6 tie at the half, and the Crimson Tide looked sluggish. They answered with a long touchdown drive coming out of the break to go up 13-6 and then sent the Vols packing for good after Tennessee elected to go for it on fourth-and-inches at their own 39. Josh Chapman and Dont’a Hightower stuffed Tennessee quarterback Matt Simms for no gain. The Vols challenged the spot, but the call on the field was upheld, and Alabama scored a touchdown on its next play en route to a 37-6 romp.

4. McCarron’s lazor: It wasn’t AJ McCarron’s longest pass of the season, but it was one of his most impressive and came at a time in the Penn State game when Beaver Stadium was rocking. McCarron threw a bullet between two defenders on a 5-yard touchdown pass to tight end Michael Williams to silence the crowd and give the Crimson Tide a first-quarter lead they would never relinquish in a 27-11 victory over the Nittany Lions.

5. Going for a ride: Alabama running back Trent Richardson had so many spectacular runs this season that it’s impossible to pick just one. But a 16-yard run he had against Auburn says everything you need to know about him as a competitor. Auburn had just pulled within 24-14 on a kickoff return for a touchdown to open the second half, and Alabama needed to answer. Richardson exploded up the middle on a third-and-4 play and was met by a cluster of Auburn defenders at the 20. He dragged four of them with him for 7 more yards before they finally got him on the ground, setting up a Jeremy Shelley 28-yard field goal. The Crimson Tide never looked back in cruising to a 42-14 win.

BCS National Championship: Alabama keys

January, 9, 2012
1/09/12
10:45
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A look at three keys for Alabama in Monday night’s Allstate BCS National Championship Game:

1. Finish drives: Alabama moved the football in the first game, but hurt itself with penalties, negative-yardage plays and turnovers from the 30-yard line on in. Give LSU’s defense credit for some of that, but the Crimson Tide also have to make sure they’re doing the little things right to finish drives. They can’t repeatedly misfire on first down every time they move close to the red zone. And even if their drives don’t end in touchdowns, they need to give their kickers a better chance with 30- and 35-yard field goals as opposed to 45- and 50-yarders.

2. Play even in special teams: Nobody in Alabama’s camp is conceding the special-teams battle to LSU, but the Tigers kick and punt the ball better, not to mention cover punts and kickoffs better. What Alabama can’t have happen is a critical breakdown in the kicking game, or more precisely, to get pummeled in the kicking game the way the Crimson Tide did the last time these two teams met. Alabama doesn’t necessarily have to win the special-teams battle to win the game, but the Crimson Tide could sure help themselves by making a few plays in special teams and playing the Tigers to a draw. Return specialist Marquis Maze could be huge in this game.

3. Force Jefferson to throw: As much time as Alabama has had to prepare for this game, it would be a major surprise if LSU has as much success running the option as it did the last time. The Crimson Tide will do everything they can to put this game on Jordan Jefferson’s right arm (instead of his legs) and make him throw. They don’t think Jefferson can beat them throwing the ball from the pocket. In particular, Alabama wants to get Jefferson in a steady dose of third-and-long situations, which is where this defense is most lethal.

Lunch links

January, 6, 2012
1/06/12
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We're taking time out of our Big Easy schedule to check out some links from around the league.

Allstate BCS National Championship Game:
SEC:

Season report card: Alabama

January, 2, 2012
1/02/12
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The grade that counts for Alabama won’t come until next Monday night, but the regular-season grades have already been posted for the Crimson Tide.

OFFENSE: A-

Alabama wasn’t known this season for its offense, and there were times that the Crimson Tide looked limited in the passing game. But when you step back and look at the results (and the stats), Alabama deserves an A. The minus is for not being able to score a touchdown at home against LSU and for a passing game that was hit and miss. Nonetheless, the Crimson Tide were second in the SEC in total offense, averaging 433.4 yards per game, and their balance was what was so impressive. They were the only team in the league to average more than 200 rushing yards and 200 passing yards per game. Junior running back Trent Richardson led the SEC with 1,583 rushing yards, and the Crimson Tide turned the ball over only 12 times in 12 games. And against SEC competition, Alabama led the league in total offense (414 yards) and was second in scoring offense (33.9 points).

DEFENSE: A+

Perfection is what every football team seeks, and Alabama was about as close as it gets this season on defense. The Crimson Tide head into the Allstate BCS National Championship Game ranked No. 1 nationally in all four of the major statistical categories on defense -- total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense and passing defense. Oklahoma is the only school to accomplish that feat since the NCAA began keeping records in 1937. Alabama is allowing just 191.3 yards per game, which is more than 60 yards fewer than the second-place team nationally (LSU) is averaging giving up per game. What’s more, Alabama opponents are averaging just 8.8 points per game, making the Crimson Tide the only team nationally to hold foes to single digits. Defensively, Alabama didn’t allow more than 14 points in a game all season.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C-

It didn’t go the way Nick Saban would have drawn it up in the kicking game. It wasn’t all bad. Marquis Maze led the SEC in kickoff return average and was third in punt return average. He had an 83-yard punt return for a touchdown against Arkansas. But aside from Maze, the Crimson Tide had their struggles on special teams. They were ninth in the SEC in net punting and 11th in kickoff coverage. They gave up two kickoff returns for touchdowns and were 18-of-29 on field goals. Cade Foster, who handles the longer field goals, had seven of the Tide’s 11 misses. Of course, the killer for Alabama was missing four field goals in the loss to LSU.

COACHING: A-

The only glitch was special teams. Otherwise, Alabama was a balanced, disciplined, well-coached football team. The job Kirby Smart did on defense speaks for itself, as Alabama is chasing history on that side of the ball. The secondary went from a liability at times in 2010 to one of the strengths of the team this season. And on offense, Jim McElwain’s guys generated the kind of balance you rarely see. The Tide ran it pretty much when they wanted to and made enough plays in the passing game to keep defenses honest. Sophomore quarterback AJ McCarron didn’t have big numbers, but he played within himself and only threw five interceptions all season. When you play defense the way Alabama does, commit the fewest number of penalties in the league and only turn it over 12 times in 12 games, you’re going to win a lot of games.

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