SEC: Odell Beckham Jr.

SEC lunchtime links

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
12:00
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Plenty going on as spring practices continue in the SEC. We have pro days, coaching talk, players adapting to new positions and even reality TV news in today's lunch links:

SEC's Heisman hopefuls in 2014

January, 17, 2014
Jan 17
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The SEC did pretty well for itself in the Heisman Trophy balloting last year. Even though Florida State's Jameis Winston ultimately wound up hoisting the prize, three SEC players found themselves among the top six receiving votes.

All three of those players are gone. AJ McCarron, Johnny Manziel and Tre Mason are off to try their hand in the National Football League.

With that, we're left to wonder who will emerge as the SEC's Heisman favorites in 2014. With so many big names gone -- Aaron Murray, Jadeveon Clowney, Odell Beckham Jr., Zach Mettenberger -- the field of favorites is as wide open as ever.

Here is our list of the top five candidates to win the 2014 Heisman Trophy from the SEC:

Georgia RB Todd Gurley: Had Gurley stayed healthy, he may have had a seat in New York last year. Had he not missed all of October, he might have had the stats to support such a trip. Even so, the talented tailback averaged 98.9 yards per game and had one of the most impressive touchdown-to-rush ratios in the country at 6.1 percent, a full percentage point more than Boston College's Andre Williams, who finished fourth in the Heisman balloting. At the Gator Bowl, Gurley showed that even on a sore ankle he is one of the best backs in the country, racking up 183 total yards of offense against the Blackshirts of Nebraska. With a full offseason to heal and a new quarterback under center, Gurley could be asked to do even more in 2014.

[+] EnlargeNick Marshall
Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY SportsAuburn's Nick Marshall has been a Division I QB for just one season and is already one of the SEC's biggest playmakers. His potential is scary.
Auburn QB Nick Marshall: Gus Malzahn brought this point up an awful lot last season, but it bears repeating: Marshall became a Division I quarterback only some seven months ago. He didn't have the benefit of spring practice and still won the starting quarterback job at Auburn. After a few bumpy starts, he became one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the league. For the first six games of the season, he ranked 40th in the country in Adjusted QBR. From then on he would rank third in Adjusted QBR with 20 total touchdowns, two interceptions and an average of 231.8 total yards per game. Now imagine all he could do with that kind of momentum and a full offseason to prepare.

South Carolina RB Mike Davis: We entered last season touting the SEC's stellar class of young running backs with Gurley, Marshall and Mason. For a while we left out Davis, a relative unknown after staying in the shadow of Marcus Lattimore at South Carolina. But Davis let us know who he was right away, running for 115 yards in the season opener against North Carolina and 149 more in a prime-time matchup with Georgia. He wound up rushing for 100 or more yards in all but two of the Gamecocks' first nine games. He fell off the map some in his final three games, due in no small part to a nagging ankle injury. If he can get that corrected, he could be one of the league's most productive backs in 2014.

Alabama RB T.J. Yeldon: He's not thought of as an explosive back, but why not? Yeldon finished last season with an impressive 34 rushes for 10 or more yards, more than every running back in the SEC not named Tre Mason or Jeremy Hill. All told, Yeldon rushed for 1,235 yards and 14 touchdowns -- both improvements from his freshman year. With the help of Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake, Yeldon won't have to shoulder the load next season, but he'll still be the man with the most carries and the best shot at making it to New York.

Mississippi State QB Dak Prescott: He's a dark horse, no doubt, but don't count out Prescott. He didn't finish the season 10th in Adjusted QBR for no reason. The talented sophomore quietly put up some big numbers and ended the year strong, coming off the bench to lead a fourth-quarter comeback against Ole Miss and following that up with a five-touchdown performance in the Bulldogs' bowl win over Rice. With so many veteran quarterbacks of the SEC gone, he could quickly pick up the mantle as the league's best.
As this year's NFL draft creeps closer, we'll look more in depth at this crop of NFL talent in the coming weeks and months. ESPN NFL draft guru Mel Kiper is helping us out with his Mock Draft 1.0.

And if you're wondering why all that SEC talent bolted for the NFL, Kiper has the answer: So many players are projected to go in the first round in 2014. Real shocker, I know.

Of the 32 first-round picks, Kiper has 10 SEC players making the cut, including in the first three picks. Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is projected by Kiper to go first to the Houston Texans, while Aggies left tackle Jake Matthews is listed as going second overall to the St. Louis Rams (from Washington).

Right behind them? Yep, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who is projected to go to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

It looks like it's going to be another successful draft for the SEC. Here are where all 10 SEC players are projected to go, according to Kiper:

1. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M -- Houston Texans

2. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M -- St. Louis Rams

3. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina -- Jacksonville Jaguars

9. Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn -- Buffalo Bills

12. C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama -- New York Giants

13. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M -- St. Louis Rams

17. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama -- Dallas Cowboys

19. Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama -- Miami Dolphins

27. Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee -- New Orleans Saints

30. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU -- San Francisco 49ers
As expected, LSU junior wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry are making the early jump to the NFL, a source confirmed to ESPN's Joe Schad.

For all of us who enjoyed watching these two light up the stat charts, it's a sad day. But it certainly isn't a shock after they combined to catch 136 passes for 2,345 yards and 18 touchdowns during the 2013 season.

Landry was the do-it-all guy at receiver. He could beat you deep and wasn't afraid to be physical over the middle of the field as he led the Tigers with 77 catches.

[+] EnlargeJennings
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesAnthony Jennings won't have the luxury of a veteran receiver group as he takes over as LSU's starting quarterback.
Beckham was an all-purpose nightmare for opposing teams. He averaged 178.1 all-purpose yards a game and the third-team All-American also won the Paul Hornung Award as the nation's most versatile player.

This only makes things tougher for an LSU offense that is already losing senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger. Without the Tigers' top two receivers, quarterback Anthony Jennings, who made his first career start in the Tigers' 21-14 Outback Bowl victory over Iowa, inherits even more pressure to keep the offense going in 2014.

After LSU had one of the most prolific offensive seasons in school history, Jennings' job just got a lot harder with two of the SEC's top receivers jetting for the NFL. It doesn't help that senior Kadron Boone will also be gone, so this receiver corps is starting over from scratch. Freshman Travin Dural will return as the top receiver in 2014 -- and he caught just seven passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns this season. Dural hauled in the game-winning touchdown pass from Jennings in that thrilling win over Arkansas, when Jennings replaced Mettenberger, who tore his ACL.

LSU is used to reloading at positions, but it will be tough for the Tigers' youngsters to generate the sort of production Beckham and Landry provided in 2013.

Now, LSU will keep an eye on sophomore running back Jeremy Hill, who is three years removed from his graduating class and is eligible to leave early for the NFL as well. Hill was one of the SEC's best backs this season, pounding his way to 1,401 yards and 16 touchdowns. He was also third on the team with 18 catches for 181 yards.

SEC sleepers for Heisman in 2014

December, 19, 2013
12/19/13
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Now that Jameis Winston has been crowned this year's Heisman Trophy winner, it's time to take an early peak at the top candidates for next season. Our own Travis Haney did all the hard work for us earlier this week when he debuted his list of the top 10 candidates who should be up for the award in 2014.

Winston tops his list, but he also had four players from the SEC -- Georgia running back Todd Gurley, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall, Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon and Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham -- on there.

I like all four of those choices, and it should be noted that like me, he doesn't see Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel or Auburn running back Tre Mason returning to school in 2014. That's why you won't find them on his list.

I think Gurley might have the best chance out of this bunch because he pretty much proved that he's one of the country's best players -- regardless of position -- when he's healthy. And he really was never 100 percent after that ankle injury, yet still managed to finish with 903 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. He also caught 30 passes for 344 yards and five more scores.

In what could be his final year in Athens, Gurley could have a big, big year if he stays healthy.

So who are some other SEC players to keep an eye on in the Heisman race? Well it's way, way too early, but who cares? I'd love to have A&M's Mike Evans on this list, but I think after back-to-back monster seasons, Manziel's top receiving target is off to greener pastures.

[+] EnlargeMike Davis
AP Photo/John RaouxSophomore Mike Davis had five 100-yard games in SEC play.
Here are five other guys who you should pay attention to:

1. Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina: Because I think LSU running back Jeremy Hill isn't long for the SEC and will likely take his talents to the NFL, Davis gets my top spot. He's great between the tackles, can hit the home run play on the outside and isn't too bad in the passing game. He's fourth in the SEC with 1,134 rushing yards and has 11 touchdowns. He also has caught 32 passes for 342 yards.

2. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU: It might be hard for him to stay at LSU after a tremendous junior year, but if he does, he should get some early Heisman love. He'll have a new quarterback, but Beckham showed this season that he certainly has go-to talent and he'll get some extra Heisman attention with his play in the return game. Not only did Beckham catch 57 passes for 1,117 yards and eight touchdowns during the regular season, he registered 947 return yards.

3. Henry Josey, RB, Missouri: A year and a half removed from shredding his knee, Josey made the ultimate comeback with 1,074 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. He was one of the most explosive backs in the SEC and averaged 6.6 yards per carry. More than 700 of Josey's yards came in SEC play this season. DGB will get most of the preseason love in Columbia this fall, but Josey has everything it takes to be an elite back in this league.

4. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama: He had a relatively quiet regular season, but Cooper has what it takes to be a real superstar in this league. We saw major flashes of it during his freshman year, but nagging injuries cut his production in 2013. He caught 36 passes for 615 yards and four touchdowns, including a 99-yarder against Auburn. Cooper is a deep threat and can make the tough catches in traffic. If he's healthy, he could make a Heisman push, as he becomes the prime go-to guy for Alabama's new quarterback.

5. Maty Mauk, QB, Missouri: OK, so we've been down this path before. A lot of hype dumped on a relatively inexperienced player. Usually, it doesn't pan out. The good news for Mauk is that he got some valuable playing time during the regular season. He learned from James Franklin and then performed swimmingly in his place after Franklin missed a month with a shoulder injury. Mauk knows the offense backward and forward, is a threat to run and pass, and should still have some nice offensive weapons around him next fall. During the regular season, he threw for 1,039 yards and 10 touchdowns, and he rushed for another 156 yards and a touchdown.

Seven named to FWAA All-America team

December, 19, 2013
12/19/13
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More All-America teams are out, and there's more love for the SEC.

The Football Writers Association of America's 70th All-America Team was released on Wednesday, and seven players from the SEC made the first team and five made the second team. The SEC led the rest of the nation's conferences in first-team All-America selections.

Alabama led the nation with three first-team members, while Texas A&M had two. Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews was the only player to repeat as a first-team member this year.

Here's where SEC players were listed:

First team

[+] EnlargeJake Matthews
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsAggies senior Jake Matthews was the only repeat member of the FWAA's All-America Team.
OFFENSE

WR: Mike Evans, Texas A&M
OL: Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
OL: Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama

DEFENSE

DL: Michael Sam, Missouri
LB: C.J. Mosley, Alabama
S: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama

SPECIAL TEAMS

KR: Odell Beckham Jr., LSU

Second team

OFFENSE

QB: AJ McCarron, Alabama
RB: Tre Mason, Auburn
OL: Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State
OL: Greg Robinson, Auburn

DEFENSE

DB: E.J. Gaines, Missouri

SEC players to watch this bowl season

December, 19, 2013
12/19/13
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Bowl season is fast approaching and there are plenty of reasons to tune in, especially to your favorite SEC squads. Today, we take a look at five players to keep your eye on during the bowl games:

Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
Outback Bowl

[+] EnlargeOdell Beckham
Crystal LoGiudice/USA TODAY SportsOdell Beckham is a thrill a minute. The LSU wide receiver is a threat to score from everywhere on the field.
Beckham has been one of the best pure playmakers in the SEC this season. The receiver/return specialist excels in both of those roles, catching 57 passes for 1,117 yards and eight touchdowns while logging 806 yards on 30 kick returns, 141 yards on punt returns and a 100-yard missed field goal return for a touchdown. His all-purpose yardage total -- 2,222 -- broke LSU's single-season record previously held by Domanick Davis (2,120). As a result of his stellar season, the honors have rolled in for Beckham: third-team Associated Press All-American, first-team Football Writers Association of America All-American, and the Paul Hornung Award, which goes to the nation's most versatile player.

Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
Chick-Fil-A Bowl

He hasn't declared for the 2014 NFL draft yet, but many believe he will soon enough, which means New Year's Eve will be Johnny Football's last hurrah (how fitting is it that it's on the biggest party night of the year?). By several statistical measures (passing yards, yards per attempt, completion percentage, touchdowns), Manziel has been a better passer than he was in his Heisman Trophy-winning season and, let's be honest, you never know what he's going to do on the field. He puts on a show almost every time he's out there and provides great theater on top of his stellar play, which earned him a return trip to New York City as a Heisman finalist this year. He is in the top 10 nationally in eight different QB-centric statistical categories and is one of college football's best and most entertaining players in recent memory. Watch him while you can.

Tre Mason, Auburn
VIZIO BCS National Championship Game

Mason made a late run at the Heisman Trophy and earned himself a spot at the finalists' table, and deservedly so. When the games have been big, so have Mason's performances: 132 yards and two touchdowns at LSU; 178 yards and a touchdown at Texas A&M; 164 yards and a touchdown versus Alabama and a whopping 304 yards and four touchdowns in the SEC championship game against Missouri. Mason has 1,621 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns and finished the regular season as the SEC's leader in both categories, something virtually nobody predicted coming into the season. His running mate, quarterback Nick Marshall, has been stellar also, so watch both of them as they make a dynamic duo that has been difficult for most to defend.

AJ McCarron, Alabama
Allstate Sugar Bowl

This will be the senior quarterback's final game, and his list of accomplishments is impressive. He started at quarterback for two national championship teams, has a 36-3 record as a starter and has a career touchdown-to-interception ratio of 75-to-13. He has made plenty of big throws, led some critical drives, set records and won big games throughout his collegiate career. He hauled in several honors this season, including the Maxwell Award, the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, and finished second in the Heisman voting. After the Crimson Tide beat LSU this year, Alabama coach Nick Saban said of McCarron "All he does is win and he does what his team needs him to do to win ... I think he's the best quarterback in the country."

Michael Sam, Missouri
AT&T Cotton Bowl

Sam was named a first-team All-American on all five major All-America squads (only the second Mizzou player to achieve that feat) and was the SEC's Defensive Player of the Year. Those honors are well deserved as the senior finished the regular season with 45 tackles, 18 tackles for a loss, 10.5 sacks, nine quarterback hurries, two pass breakups, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. He was part of a Missouri defense that led the SEC in sacks (38) and was in the top 10 nationally in that category. He's one of those diamonds in the rough who came to Missouri as an unheralded two-star recruit and has turned into a bona fide star and one of the country's best pass rushers. He'll leave Columbia as one of the most decorated seniors in Mizzou football history.

18 from SEC named AP All-Americans

December, 17, 2013
12/17/13
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Now that the all-conference teams have rolled out, the Associated Press has unveiled its All-America teams, and they are very SEC-heavy.

Eighteen players from the SEC made the three teams, with six making the first team. The pick that might surprise people was Ole Miss safety Cody Prewitt making the first team over Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. But Prewitt had a very good season with the Rebels. He tied for first in the SEC with five interceptions in conference play, while totaling six on the season. He also defended 13 passes. Clinton-Dix, who projects as a high draft pick at the safety spot, defended six passes with two interceptions on the season.

Here are all the SEC AP All-Americans:

First team

OFFENSE

OT: Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
OT: Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
WR: Mike Evans, Texas A&M

DEFENSE

DE: Michael Sam, Missouri
LB: C.J. Mosley, Alabama
S: Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss

Second team

OFFENSE

QB: Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
RB: Tre Mason, Auburn
OG: Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State

DEFENSE

DT: Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina
S: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama

SPECIAL TEAMS

P: Drew Kaser, Texas A&M

Third team

OFFENSE

QB: AJ McCarron, Alabama
OT: Greg Robinson, Auburn
C: Reese Dismukes, Auburn
WR: Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
AP: Odell Beckham Jr., LSU

DEFENSE

CB: Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida

SEC lunchtime links

December, 16, 2013
12/16/13
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Yes, it's Monday and we've survived the Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award and everything in between. Maybe we can move on to the matter at hand: bowl season.

Alabama leads coaches All-SEC team

December, 10, 2013
12/10/13
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The SEC coaches have spoken, and Alabama has once again taken over their end-of-the-year All-SEC team.

The Crimson Tide led the rest of the league with nine representatives on the coaches' teams, including an SEC-leading five first-team selections. LSU followed with eight total representatives. Texas A&M had four first-team members, while Auburn and Georgia both had three each.

Twelve of the league's 14 teams had at least one player on the first team, while every team was represented on at least one team. Coaches weren't allowed to vote for their own players.

Here are the coaches' first- and second-team selections:

First team

OFFENSE
QB: Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
RB: Tre Mason, Auburn
RB: T.J. Yeldon, Alabama
AP: Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
TE: Arthur Lynch, Georgia
OL: Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
OL: Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
OL: Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State
OL: Wesley Johnson, Vanderbilt
C: Reese Dismukes, Auburn
WR: Mike Evans, Texas A&M
WR: Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt

DEFENSE
DL: Michael Sam, Missouri
DL: Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
DL: Dee Ford, Auburn
DL: Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina
LB: C.J. Mosley, Alabama
LB: Ramik Wilson, Georgia
LB: A.J. Johnson, Tennessee
DB: Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss
DB: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
DB: E.J. Gaines, Missouri
DB: Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida

SPECIAL TEAMS
K: Marshall Morgan, Georgia
P: Drew Kaser, Texas A&M
RS: Christion Jones, Alabama *
RS: Odell Beckham Jr., LSU *

Second team

OFFENSE
QB: AJ McCarron, Alabama
RB: Mike Davis, South Carolina
RB: Jeremy Hill, LSU
TE: Malcolm Johnson, Mississippi State
OL: La'el Collins, LSU
OL: Antonio Richardson, Tennessee
OL: Justin Britt, Missouri
OL: Anthony Steen, Alabama
C: Travis Swanson, Arkansas
WR: Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
WR: Jarvis Landry, LSU
AP: Marcus Murphy, Missouri

DEFENSE
DL: Anthony Johnson, LSU
DL: Chris Smith, Arkansas
DL: Ed Stinson, Alabama
DL: Trey Flowers, Arkansas
LB: Lamin Barrow, LSU
LB: Jordan Jenkins, Georgia
LB: Avery Williamson, Kentucky
DB: Andre Hal, Vanderbilt
DB: Chris Davis, Auburn
DB: Nickoe Whitley, Mississippi State
DB: Kenny Ladler, Vanderbilt

SPECIAL TEAMS
K: Michael Palardy, Tennessee
P: Cody Mandell, Alabama
RS: Solomon Patton, Florida

-- (*-ties)


TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Standing at the front of a cramped room filled with a throng of media members, LSU coach Les Miles gazed toward the back wall as he recalled two gut-wrenching plays that changed the complexion of Saturday night's game against top-ranked Alabama.

It appeared as though he was struggling with the images of a J.C. Copeland fumble at the goal line and an early snap that ricocheted off Zach Mettenberger before being scooped up by Crimson Tide linebacker Trey DePriest on back-to-back drives in the first quarter.

[+] EnlargeZach Mettenberger
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsZach Mettenberger and the offense were stifled in the second half.
They happened in an instant but would linger for three more quarters, as LSU dropped its third straight to Alabama with a 38-17 loss inside Bryant-Denny Stadium. The scoreboard showed a 21-point defeat, and those two plays easily could have cost the Tigers an early double-digit lead against the No. 1 team in the nation.

"Here we are, frankly going off left tackle here to take the lead 7-0," Miles said of Copeland's careless fumble on second and goal at Alabama's 3 with more than 8 minutes remaining in the first quarter.

LSU coaches were seen tossing their headsets after Copeland's turnover. Maybe it was because the miscue came on only his 13th carry of the season, or because star back Jeremy Hill wasn't in the game. Nevertheless, it played out like the same old story with this year's LSU team. Mistakes have crippled it in big games, leaving so many questions about what this squad could and should look like right now.

In the loss to Georgia, an Odell Beckham Jr. fumble on a punt return led to a Georgia touchdown that gave the Bulldogs a late third-quarter lead. Three weeks ago, Mettenberger dug his team into a major hole with three first-half interceptions at Ole Miss. Both games ended in LSU losses.

"Going back to every loss we've had this season, the turnovers have just killed us," said Hill, who ran for a season-low 42 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. "You take the turnovers away from us this season, and who knows what our record would be right now?"

On paper, Saturday's loss knocked 13th-ranked LSU to 7-3 on the season and 3-3 in SEC play. But when you look closer, it's tough to say where this team might be without those costly errors. Saturday night clearly showed that LSU can play with the best. The Tigers held Alabama to just 372 yards, grabbed the lead once and tied the game once before the Crimson Tide broke things open with a 14-point fourth quarter.

If Copeland doesn't fumble, the Tigers go up seven and put a damper on Alabama's raucous crowd. If Mettenberger and center Elliott Porter don't botch the exchange a drive later, Alabama isn't put in great position to take a 3-0 lead with Cade Foster's 41-yard field goal.

That's a 10-point swing that eventually changed everything.

"When you play in games like this, you just can't turn the ball over," receiver Jarvis Landry said. "We put ourselves into bad position.

"When you turn the ball over ... it's hard to beat a team like Alabama."

What made things that much more frustrating for the Tigers was the defense's inability to get off of the field. Alabama owned nearly 34 minutes of the clock, leaving LSU's potent offense to stew on the sideline. As badly as that unit wanted to make up for its early mistakes, it had to suffer through watching the Tide work like an efficient, mistake-free football team should.

It didn't help that penalties and missed tackles added to the offense's stay on the sideline. The defense's play was frustrating, but Landry showed his displeasure for calls that only added to his irritation.

"It was kind of sad and made me kind of mad looking at it from the sideline," Landry said. "There were a lot of calls toward Alabama's favor that were kind of questionable and kept their drives alive."

Landry can scoff at the officiating and vent about the defense's struggles, but the early offensive mistakes cost this team. The Tigers rebounded to an extent, but you could feel the deflation after both fumbles. This could have been a special night for LSU, but devastating turnovers only fueled Alabama and left the Tigers once again asking, "What if?"

"You can't turn the ball over," Hill said. "If we don't turn the ball over, there's no telling what this team could do."


When Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley looks at film of LSU's offense, he can find time to smile and grimace.

On one hand, Mosley likes the fact that the Tigers run a more traditional pro-style approach, but on the other, he's fully aware of the vast offensive improvements LSU has made.

"We already know what we're going to get," Mosley said. "They're going to line up and try to run the ball down our throats and, when they get the chance, go deep over our heads. It's not really too much that we haven't seen or something that they're going to do that we haven't seen before. It's all about who's going to be the most physical team."

That pretty much has summed up this game since Nick Saban and Les Miles joined this series a few years ago. Both teams are going to get punched in the mouth, bleed and limp out of the stadium.

[+] EnlargeJeoffrey Pagan, Jarrick Williams, Brandon Ivory, C.J. Mosley
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesSay what you will about Alabama's opponents of late. Its defense nevertheless has been smothering.
This year won't be any different, but Alabama's defense understands that it will have a little more work on its hands. For the first time in a while, the Tigers possess one of the SEC's most balanced offensive attacks. Heading into Saturday's showdown, the 13th-ranked Tigers (7-2, 3-2 SEC) sit in the top half of the SEC in rushing (200.6 yards per game), passing (279.4), total offense (480) and scoring (40.2).

"I think this is one of the best offensive teams, probably, we've faced all year," Saban said.

He's absolutely right. This will be the third time No. 1 Alabama (8-0, 5-0) has faced a team averaging more than 400 yards a game, and it's easily the most potent offense the Crimson Tide have played since Texas A&M.

This is an LSU offense that wants to bulldoze you up front then dismantle you with its vertical passing game. Running back Jeremy Hill is second in the SEC with 922 rushing yards, while quarterback Zach Mettenberger is second in passing, averaging 276.9 yards per game.

"Any chance you go out there and you're seeing yourself make these plays over and over again, it gets to a point where it doesn't matter who you're going against," LSU receiver Odell Beckham Jr. said. "It's just what we do, and it's what we're built to do."

Compare that to recent offenses the Tide have faced and it's not really close. Of Alabama's six opponents since A&M, only Colorado State and Ole Miss rank within the top 50 nationally in total offense.

Alabama's defense has taken full advantage of the schedule. Check out these numbers ESPN Stats & Information gathered about Alabama's last six outings:
  • Alabama has outscored teams 246-26, scored five more touchdowns (31) than opponents have points and allowed two touchdowns in 67 opponent drives (3 percent).
  • Alabama hasn't allowed any first-half points in its past six games. In three, opponents didn't run a first-half play in Alabama territory.
  • There have been nine first-half pass attempts by opponents in Alabama territory, with opponents throwing more interceptions (three) than completions (one).

Say what you will about Alabama's last six opponents (a combined record of 18-34), but the defense has done exactly what has been asked and then some.

"Every offense is good that we've played; we've just prepared to perfection," safety Landon Collins said. "We tried our best not to make any mistakes or give up any big plays. When we do that, that's the outcome of our defense. If we keep doing that and keep playing to our standards -- our Alabama way -- we all know what the outcome will be."

The Tigers might have two losses, but their offense will serve as a major test on the Tide's third-straight BCS title run.

"Their offense is explosive," Collins said. "Even though you know the play and you know what they're going to do, they're still going to execute to their full advantage. It's unstoppable sometimes."

LSU is second in the league at 7.4 yards per play and is averaging 106 more yards per game than last year and almost 130 more than 2011. One reason has been the maturation of Mettenberger, who had a breakout game against the Tide last year. He has flourished under new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and has more command and comfort in the huddle.

He also has Hill to hand the ball to and Beckham and Jarvis Landry to throw to. That receiving duo has combined to catch 106 passes for 1,891 yards and 16 touchdowns.

"Really, my job's easy," Mettenberger said. "I just have to get [the ball] to some of the best athletes in the country and let them go to work.

"It's just my job to get those guys the ball. It's just what I have to do."

The thing is that even when Mettenberger struggles, this offense is still deadly with its running attack. It creates the conundrum of when to play two high safeties or stack the box.

So stay glued to the big uglies. Watch the trenches, because that's where Alabama wants to own things and create mayhem for the run and pass. Alabama wants to win the physical game in order to limit LSU's explosiveness.

"We know it’s going to be a dogfight, and it’s like that every year," Alabama defensive lineman Jeoffrey Pagan said. "We want to try and come out and step on their throats, break their will and try and end the game as quick as possible and let some of our freshmen play."


TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- So much about LSU-Alabama is built around the physical style of play, and rightfully so. UA coach Nick Saban called the game a "heavyweight fight" where you have to show up in every round. His veteran defensive end, Jeoffrey Pagan, said it was a "dog fight" he looks forward to every season.

[+] EnlargeJarvis Landry
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsWith a powerful run game, plus Jarvis Landry (pictured) and Odell Beckham Jr. stretching the secondary, LSU's offense presents a bigger challenge to Alabama's depleted secondary.
But it won't be all smash-mouth football when the two teams meet in Tuscaloosa on Saturday night. Don’t be surprised if LSU coach Les Miles puts the ball in the air against the top-ranked Crimson Tide.

And given the Alabama's depth concerns in the secondary, why not? Eight different players have started there and two key pieces at safety -- Vinnie Sunseri and Nick Perry -- are out for the season with injuries. Deion Belue has been consistent, but who plays opposite him at corner hasn't been. John Fulton, Cyrus Jones, Eddie Jackson and Bradley Sylve have all tried their hands there and none have risen to the top of the pile. It's unclear who among them will start against LSU.

"We like the matchup," Miles said of getting the ball to his two star receivers, Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr., who rank in the top 10 of the SEC in receiving yards and have combined for 16 touchdown catches. "We think that we kind of give them some challenges on the perimeter. We got a quarterback, first of all, that can make the throw and several receivers that can get open in space.

"Again, who we're playing, they are a very good team, but we think there is a matchup there that benefits us."

LSU certainly has the pieces to hurt Alabama through the air.

Zach Mettenberger had his own personal coming out party against the Tide last season, throwing for a then-career high 298 yards in defeat. He carried that over to this year and has made the most dramatic improvement in opponent-adjusted QBR (+38.6) of any quarterback who qualified. His 85.7 opponent-adjusted QBR is seventh-best in the FBS, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

It helps that he's got two good ones to throw the football to.

"The combination of these two guys are as good a receivers as we've played against all year long," Saban said. "Not the same style as the Texas A&M guys, but very quick, very athletic. They have the speed to get on top. Very smart in terms of route runners. They do a good job of putting them in various positions that makes them difficult to cover and get the kind of matchups on that you'd like."

Beckham is as dangerous a weapon as there is in the SEC with his ability to create separation. He has premier top-end speed and the burst to make a guy miss and take it to the house. He's currently second in the country in all-purpose yards.

Landry, on the other hand, can go up and get it. He's listed as 6-foot-1, but plays much larger. He's sixth in the country in receptions (57), seventh in yards per catch (21.02) and fifth in creating first downs on a reception (40).

"They know how to run their routes, just like our receivers," UA safety Landon Collins said. "It’s hard to stick our receivers. They know how to run their routes and stick on a dime. Watching it on film, it’s going to be a pretty tough game sticking them, our safeties playing their wide receivers."

It won't help that LSU is so balanced. Alabama won't be able to help the secondary out by dropping many defenders back in coverage. There's simply no ignoring LSU's running game, headlined by Jeremy Hill, who ranks 13th nationally in rushing yards (922) and is tied for fourth in rushing touchdowns (12).

Given all that, the Tide secondary knows the task that lies ahead.

"They have very good wide receivers, very good quarterback," Collins said. "And their run game is tremendous. We just have to stay settled and stay watching our keys."

If you check Anthony Johnson's calendar, you won't find Nov. 9 circled. While special to most of the college football world, LSU's junior defensive tackle sees it as another day -- another game.

"I go week by week," Johnson said with a laugh.

Even though Saturday stands as annual Alabama-LSU day to college football purists, it's game No. 10 to Johnson. He insists that's no disrespect to No. 1 Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC), but Johnson said he doesn't focus on the crimson jerseys that will line up opposite him. That color has no effect on him.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Johnson
AP Photo/Jonathan BachmanAnthony Johnson says the Alabama game is just the next step for LSU.
"At the end of the day, you have to go in with that mindset that they are no bigger than we are, they are no tougher than we are," Johnson said. "It's man on man, team on team."

The No. 13 Tigers (7-2, 3-2) have seen all this before. They've won under the bright, intimidating lights of Bryant-Denny Stadium and they've been involved in plenty of games that have been at the center of the college football universe.

Alabama doesn't faze LSU. Yes, the Crimson Tide are No. 1 and closing in on possibly a third straight national championship. Yes, Alabama has won two straight in this series twice since 2007. Yes, the Tide have dynasty status, but it doesn't scare LSU.

Alabama isn't quite the red team to the Tigers, but it is just Saturday's team. As quarterback Zach Mettenberger put it, Alabama is "nameless and faceless" like everyone else on LSU's schedule.

"Obviously, we have a historical rivalry with Alabama, and we know what it takes to win this game," Mettenberger said. "I wouldn't say that teams fear them, but we're definitely not a team that's going to fear those guys."

If there's any team out there that has no reason to fear Alabama, it's LSU. Since coach Les Miles' first season in Baton Rouge in 2005, he's gone 5-4 against the Crimson Tide. He's 3-4 against Alabama coach Nick Saban, which is more wins than any other coach in the country has against Saban during his tenure at Alabama.

Even before the days of Miles and Saban, LSU wasn't threatened by Alabama, as the Tigers have won six of their last eight in Tuscaloosa.

And these two always seem to be very similar in the stat books. Currently, both rank in the top five of the SEC in scoring offense, scoring defense, pass defense and total defense. Both have running backs with more than 700 yards and at least 10 touchdowns, and quarterbacks with more than 1,800 passing yards and at least 16 touchdowns.

Alabama has won two in a row against LSU, but that doesn't seem to rattle the Tigers. Nothing really seems to unnerve this team when it comes to big-time games. The Tigers are more than used to it, as they've face Alabama yearly and Miles has had them traditionally play solid out-of-conference opponents.

Since Miles took over, the Tigers have gone 7-0 against ranked nonconference teams during the regular season, so big games and big stages aren't threatening. Forget that LSU has two losses this season, there will be ice water in the Tigers' veins when they step onto the playing field Saturday.

"It's in us. It's something we come here to do," wide receiver Odell Beckham said. "We come here to play in these big-time SEC games.

"When we line up, it's LSU versus whoever we are playing."

Beckham added that players have to be loose now and on Saturday. Stress can't trickle into preparation. Smiles and laughs should stick to players like shadows as they work. Being tense only leads to psyching yourself out.

It's why Miles began his weekly Monday news conference delivering a thorough scouting report on three of his children's athletic endeavors during LSU's bye week.

"Macy had two goals in a soccer game on Saturday," Miles said. "Long-legged, runs well, seems to defend [but] can't use her left foot as well as she'd like, but very enjoyable [to watch]."

That was six days before the game dubbed previous times as the "Game of the (fill in the blank)." It was lighthearted and amusing. That's just how LSU operates, even with a game approaching that will have major SEC Western Division and national championship implications.

It's not like the Tigers don't respect Alabama, but tensing up isn't their style. Players understand Saturday's importance and the high level of ball they'll see across from them, but they refuse to let this game's rhetoric impact them. The plan is to treat Saturday like, well, another Saturday.

"This game is no bigger than the Furman game," Johnson said. "This game is no bigger than the UAB game. It's the next step to trying to finish out with a great season. That's absolutely our biggest focus right now."
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Nick Saban eventually learned to take advantage of the bye week and relax. Through years of coaching at Michigan State, LSU and Alabama, he found that using two full weeks to prepare for a game was counterproductive. Players got tired of hearing the same things over and over again, he said, and by the time the game actually arrived they were "sort of mentally and psychologically drained."

[+] EnlargeLSU/Georgia
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsZach Mettenberger is one of the nation's most-improved QBs, a fact not lost on Nick Saban.
But Alabama's 62-year-old coach with four championship rings and plans on a fifth this season can only stick to his plan so much. He encouraged everyone on staff to go home and take the weekend off, to rest and recuperate before diving headlong into the task of preparing for LSU the following week. He said he looked forward to the change of venue -- "not come to work for the first time in six months" -- and added that he'd even watch some football on Saturday, especially if there was a good SEC game on.

Picturing Saban lounging on the couch with a cold drink and popcorn doesn't quite add up, though. Not with LSU on the horizon. The top-ranked Crimson Tide play host to the always dangerous purple and gold Tigers on Saturday. LSU will enter Tuscaloosa ranked 13th in the BCS, but more importantly as an underdog with a history of winning at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Their offense is potent, the talent unquestionable.

Should Alabama win, the Tide will remain favorites to win the SEC and reach the BCS National Championship Game for a third consecutive season. A loss would mean disaster, disappointment and a year's worth of questions.

The very thought kept Saban from enjoying the time off too much.

"I don't ever get too far from that computer, man," Saban told ESPN's Ivan Maisel on his podcast on Thursday. "It's just hard not to think about what's coming up and trying to prepare for it. Even though you get away, you never totally get away."

Though most of last week was spent looking at his own team, the matchup with LSU was impossible to ignore. Saban called it "the most challenging game" of the season and touted LSU's improved offense under new coordinator Cam Cameron, a coach he's familiar with dating to his days at Michigan State.

Zach Mettenberger has developed into one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC under Cameron's tutelage. His 85.7 opponent-adjusted QBR is seventh-best in the FBS, according to ESPN Stats & Information. His 38.6-point improvement from the season before is the biggest gain of any quarterback who qualified.

With Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry to throw the ball to, it's no wonder. The two starters rank in the top three of the SEC in yards receiving and have combined for 16 touchdown catches through nine games. Beckham ranks second nationally with 207.33 all-purpose yards per game.

And that's not to mention Jeremy Hill and LSU's stable of backs. Hill's 115.2 rushing yards per game is good enough for 15th nationally. Kenny Hilliard, his backup, has scored on 10.1 percent of his rushing attempts this season, trailing only Marcus Murphy and Kenyan Drake among SEC tailbacks.

"This is the most skilled group of receivers, combination of runners, combination of balance on offense, a good quarterback ... all the factors that I think are going to be the most challenging for us this season," Saban said.

There never has been a doubt about what the game means to everyone involved, Saban said, but he didn't want to "wear them out with it" last week. The Alabama-LSU rivalry speaks for itself. What's riding on this year's game is obvious.

But now that restriction is gone. It's Monday and it's time to start figuring out how to beat LSU.

Coaches and players know what to expect. Linebacker Trey DePriest called it a "physical, downhill-type team" that will line up and go right at you. Then the only thing left is "Can you stop it?" according to DePriest.

And the answer to that question means everything.

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