SEC: Rashad Johnson

More vocal McClain will let results speak for themselves

September, 2, 2009
9/02/09
1:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


Alabama finished tied for third nationally last season in total defense and rode the coattails of that suffocating unit to an unbeaten regular season.

The leader of that defense, safety Rashad Johnson, is gone.
 
 David Brown/Icon SMI
 Coach Nick Saban asked Rolando McClain to be a more vocal leader on defense.


But the talent hasn’t gone anywhere, and the guy who’s stepped in as the leader of the Crimson Tide’s 2009 defense might be the most talented of all.

If you’re looking for the quintessential inside linebacker in all respects -- size, speed, production, smarts and leadership -- Rolando McClain is at the very front of the line.

And if Alabama is going to indeed take it to another level defensively this season, he knows that he will have to take his leadership duties to another level.

Alabama coach Nick Saban challenged McClain to be a more vocal leader soon after last season ended.

“I was always a leader by example and wanted people to see how hard I worked and go by that,” said McClain, who led Alabama with 95 total tackles last season. “But I’ve taken it a step further by saying more to teammates and being a guy who affects practice in a positive way.

“That’s not my personality naturally, but I’m doing it to better my team. Personally, I’m a laid-back guy, and I like to do my thing and go about my business. I’m a stubborn guy and don’t like people to say things to me. But this team needed more from me. They needed me to be that kind of leader, and that’s what I’m going to be.”

The one thing that won’t change with this defense is its personality.

“We’re a smashmouth defense,” McClain said. “We like to hit teams in the mouth. That’s just how we’re going to play and we'll see if other teams can match our intensity.

“We’re hard-nosed, and we’re going to play hard every snap for every game. That’s our identity. Our goal is to have every team that we play walk off the field, whether we win or lose, and say, 'We never want to play that team again.'"

The 6-foot-4, 258-pound McClain will let the results speak for themselves as to whether this Alabama defense can be even better than the one a year ago.

There certainly appears to be more depth in the front seven, and it’s debatable whether there’s a better linebacker tandem in the country than McClain and sophomore Dont’a Hightower.

In many ways, the talent on this defense is beginning to resemble what it looked like at LSU when Saban left there following the 2004 season.

But the only thing McClain is interested in is the here and now, which in his words is a one-game season with Virginia Tech.

He already thinks like Saban on the field and is now starting to sound like him.

“Personally, I’m not worried about a championship, and I don’t think the rest of my teammates are,” McClain said. “Of course, that’s our goal always. We want to go into the season and win championships. That’s what everybody wants, the big picture. But what we’re doing now is just trying to perfect our craft and get ready for Virginia Tech.

“You can’t just skip to the championship game. That’s not the way it works, at least not the way it works at Alabama.”

Kicking it with Alabama's Terrence Cody

March, 18, 2009
3/18/09
11:16
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

One of the most compelling stories of the 2008 SEC football season was Alabama nose tackle Terrence Cody.

 
  Kelly Kline/Icon SMI
  "Mount Cody," aka Alabama nose tackle Terrence Cody, is a cult figure on campus.
Most people know him now simply as Mount Cody.

He's a mountain of a man, the ultimate run-stuffer and returns as one of the most dominant interior linemen in all of college football. The 6-5 Cody says he's down around 365 pounds again after getting up close to 375 when last season ended.

His progress was impeded by a sprained MCL in his right knee that caused him to miss two games. When he returned, it took him a while to regain confidence in the knee, and he wasn't nearly as effective.

This is Cody's first spring practice at Alabama, as he came straight from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College a year ago. Nobody really knew what to expect out of him. He only played two years of high school ball in Fort Myers, Fla., and wasn't recruited by anybody out of high school because he weighed more than 400 pounds.

Even out of junior college, there was only passing interest in him, but Alabama coach Nick Saban loved his agility for such a big man and felt like he could be a dominant nose tackle in the Crimson Tide's 3-4 scheme if he got his weight down.

Sure enough, Cody lost about 30 pounds before he ever arrived at Alabama (per Saban's orders), and a legend was born.

Here's our Q&A with Cody, who says he's in even better shape now than he was a year ago when he earned consensus All-America honors for the Crimson Tide:

How did you lose all that weight, and what was the highest you ever got?

Terrence Cody: I was 385 when I came to Alabama, but I actually lost a lot of weight before I got here. I got up every day and did my own program and worked harder than I ever had in my life. I knew I wouldn't make it here at 400 pounds. I gained too much weight in junior college. The most I was up to was around 420.

Do you have a target weight you want to get to?

TC: At least 350 by the time the season starts and hopefully 345.

When's the last time you've been under 350 pounds?

TC: Probably my junior year of high school, but I wasn't too far off from 300 when I was a freshman.

How much difference can you tell now that you're nearly 40 pounds lighter than you were in junior college?

TC: Just how I move and that I'm much more agile. I'm not nearly as stiff as I was when I was carrying that weight.

Will the knee limit you this spring?

TC: I'm full go this spring. My knee is a lot stronger than it was, but I can get it even better.

Did you exceed your expectations last year?

TC: When I came in, I didn't think I was going to do what all I did last season and dominate like that. But my mentality when I got here was that I wasn't going to let anybody block me. I wasn't going to let anybody block me one-on-one. I wasn't going to let anybody drive me off the ball. I just kept working, and when the season started, I came out with that same mindset. I wasn't going to let anybody beat me, and I used that as my motivation every game.

How many double teams did you face?

TC: Pretty much every game. But my first game back against LSU after I got hurt, I really didn't feel comfortable on my knee. Once I started playing in that game, it felt weird trying to do the things I was doing before I got hurt, and I know I wasn't as hard to block.

How much better can you be in 2009, and what can fans expect to see from you?

TC: They can plan to see me on third down. They were taking me out on third down and passing plays last year. That's one of the main reasons I worked so hard this offseason, getting in better shape, getting better at pass-rushing and sustaining it the whole game. Instead of playing on two downs, I want to play on three downs this year.

Fans love the big guy, especially one who's as dominant on the field and as good-natured off the field as you are. You sort of became a cult hero at Alabama, didn't you?

TC: Any store or restaurant I walk in, everybody knows me. I sign autographs and take pictures and stuff. Everybody thinks it bothers me, but it really doesn't. I like the fans here and the way they've treated me. I wasn't really used to that at junior college. But then I got up here, and it was crazy. Everybody started calling me Mount Cody.

What's the funniest encounter you've had with fans?

TC: The funniest ones are always after games, because you've got the fans there who've been doing a little drinking and they'll say anything. They're already acting crazy, and then when you autograph something for them, they go even crazier. I've had a few people come up to me and say, 'I can take you on.' I look at them and laugh.

Losing Rashad Johnson at safety was a big blow, but can you guys take it to another level defensively next season?

TC: I think we can be even better next year than we were this year. We've got a lot of good players returning and a lot of younger players who didn't play as much who're going to be a year better. They've been working hard this offseason, and you can tell they're ready to show what they can do this year. You saw it in the first practice of the spring.

In your eyes, who will be some of the younger guys to watch on defense next season?

TC: Marcel Dareus, Courtney Upshaw, Jerrell Harris, Chris Jordan and Robby Green. They've all been looking good this offseason. We've got a lot of guys hungry to get on the field, and that's going to make us all better.

How did you come to settle on Alabama?

TC: Coach Saban was what sold me. I know some people think he's a little bit crazy, but the way he coaches is that he wants to bring out the best in you. That's why we go through this tough offseason. It teaches you not to give up, because you never quit playing if you're going to play for him.

Did you ever seriously consider turning pro last year?

TC: I told Coach Saban I didn't even want to get (an evaluation from the NFL draft advisory committee). He asked me if I wanted to, and I said, 'Nah, because I already had my mind made up when I signed that I was going to stay both years,' and I didn't see any reason to change. I know some people had me going high in the draft, but I didn't think I was ready yet.

Is it true you can dunk a basketball?

TC: Any way you want me to.

Browsing the SEC combine numbers

February, 24, 2009
2/24/09
2:29
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Several former SEC players helped themselves at the NFL combine.

The fastest 40-yard dash time to this point from an SEC player was turned in by Ole Miss receiver Mike Wallace, who ran a 4.33. It's also the second-fastest time of the combine so far for any player.

South Carolina tight end Jared Cook had a huge workout, finishing first among all tight ends in the 40-yard dash (4.5 seconds), vertical jump (41 inches) and broad jump (10 feet, 3 inches).

Georgia fullback Brannan Southerland was third among all running backs with 28 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press.

Georgia tailback Knowshon Moreno did 25 reps on the bench, but didn't finish in the top 10 among running backs. His two 40 times officially were 4.55 and 4.62.

The defensive backs ran Tuesday morning, and Alabama safety Rashad Johnson turned in a 4.52 in the 40, the second-fastest time among safeties.

Vanderbilt cornerback D.J. Moore didn't run a particularly fast time. He was clocked at 4.54 and 4.58 unofficially in the 40-yard dash.

Some of the other unofficial times for former SEC defensive backs were South Carolina's Captain Munnerlyn (4.44), Auburn's Jerraud Powers (4.47), Kentucky's Marcus McClinton (4.53), LSU's Curtis Taylor (4.59) and Mississippi State's Derek Pegues (4.62).

Here are a few other notables:

40-yard dash

  • Georgia's Matthew Stafford, third among quarterbacks, 4.81 seconds
  • Alabama's John Parker Wilson, seventh among quarterbacks, 4.87 seconds
  • Alabama's Glen Coffee, ninth among running backs, 4.58
  • Florida's Percy Harvin, tied for sixth among receivers, 4.41
  • LSU's Demetrius Byrd, eighth among receivers, 4.42
  • Florida's Cornelius Ingram, fourth among tight ends, 4.68
  • South Carolina's Jasper Brinkley, sixth among linebackers, 4.72
  • South Carolina's Jamon Meredith, second among offensive linemen, 5.03

Bench press

  • Ole Miss' Jamarca Sanford, second among safeties, 29 reps
  • Georgia's Asher Allen, tied for sixth among cornerbacks, 22 reps
  • Florida's Percy Harvin, fifth among receivers, 19 reps

Vertical jump

  • Ole Miss' Mike Wallace, fourth among receivers, 40 inches
  • Vanderbilt's D.J. Moore, third among cornerbacks, 39.5 inches

Broad jump

  • Alabama's Antoine Caldwell, first among offensive linemen, 9 feet, 3 inches
  • Ole Miss' Mike Wallace, third among receivers, 10 feet 9, inches
  • Georgia's Mohamed Massaquoi, fourth among receivers, 10 feet, 7 inches
  • Alabama's Glen Coffee, tied for fifth among running backs, 10 feet, 1 inches

3-cone drill

  • Georgia's Knowshon Moreno, second among running backs, 6.84 seconds

Alabama's Scott moving to defensive back

February, 20, 2009
2/20/09
3:57
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

It looks like Alabama will find some defensive back help next season from the offensive side of the ball.

B.J. Scott is moving from receiver to the secondary and will practice there in the spring, his high school coach tells Gentry Estes of The Mobile Press-Register.

Scott, who played sparingly last season at receiver and caught only two passes, could fit in several different places in the Alabama secondary. The Crimson Tide are looking for safety help now that Rashad Johnson is gone, but Scott could also get a look at cornerback or nickel back.

When the 5-11, 188-pound Scott signed with Alabama last year as a highly rated prospect out of Prichard, Ala., Alabama coach Nick Saban said at the time that Scott was talented enough to play on both sides of the ball. He did it in high school and was rated by Scouts Inc. last year as the No. 1 athlete in the country.

So it's not a huge surprise that Scott is moving. The Tide lack depth in the secondary, and Saban said on signing day that they could have used one more defensive back.

Scott is apparently that guy.

SEC has 22 players invited to the Senior Bowl

January, 13, 2009
1/13/09
11:15
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

The SEC has 22 players who've been invited to play in the 60th Senior Bowl on Jan. 24 in Mobile, Ala.

Alabama and LSU lead the way, each with four invitees. Quarterback John Parker Wilson, tight end Travis McCall, center Antoine Caldwell and safety Rashad Johnson are on the list for the Crimson Tide, while fullback Quinn Johnson, receiver Demetrius Byrd, guard Herman Johnson and linebacker Darry Beckwith are slated to represent the Tigers.

Ole Miss and Tennessee each have three. Offensive tackle Michael Oher, defensive tackle Peria Jerry and linebacker Ashee Palmer are the Rebels' invitees. Running back Arian Foster, offensive guard Anthony Parker and defensive end Robert Ayers are the Vols' invitees.

Florida, which had very few senior players this season, placed offensive tackle Jason Watkins and receiver Louis Murphy on the invitation list, while receiver Mohamed Massaquoi and defensive tackle Corvey Irvin were invited from Georgia.

Rounding out the selections were Arkansas center Jonathan Luigs, Auburn offensive guard Tyronne Green, Mississippi State safety Derek Pegues and South Carolina receiver Kenny McKinley.

National stage suits Alabama just fine

December, 30, 2008
12/30/08
10:19
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

It's been nine years since Alabama last walked among college football's elite in the BCS bowl bonanza.

Chances are it won't be another nine years or even another three or four years. Chances are the Crimson Tide are here to stay.

"This is where Alabama football is supposed to be," Alabama senior center Antoine Caldwell said. "This is where everybody associated with the program made a commitment to get it to, and the foundation is in place to keep it here."

 
 Marvin Gentry/US Presswire
 John Parker Wilson hopes to finish his college career with a win in the Sugar Bowl.

Alabama, which spent the month of November as the country's No. 1-ranked team, will do its best Friday night against Utah in the Allstate Sugar Bowl to put a cap on what's been a memorable season.

The suspension of star left offensive tackle Andre Smith on Monday was a downer, and so was the bitter 31-20 loss to Florida in the SEC championship game.

Still, this is the kind of season you build on, the kind of season that proclaims to the rest of the college football world that you're indeed back.

But there is one caveat, according to the Alabama players.

Winning this game is a must if the Crimson Tide are going to make that proclamation stick.

"We've had a great season up to this point, something we'll all remember," Alabama senior quarterback John Parker Wilson said. "But I think if we don't go out and win this game, it's going to be all for nothing. We're looking at this as a one-game season, that we're going to go out and take care of business and kind of put a cap on our legacy as seniors.

"It's a huge game. We're playing in the Sugar Bowl. We're putting a lot on this game."

(Read full post)

The SEC's 15 best plays in 2008

December, 22, 2008
12/22/08
6:21
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

You guys were all pretty much in agreement with the games of the year in the SEC. But ranking the 15 best plays was a much more difficult undertaking. There were so many nominations (and so many good ones), which is a reminder that we all have our own ideas as to what makes a great play. Is it sheer athleticism? Is it coming up clutch in the final seconds? Is it a bone-jarring hit? Is it a circus catch? The label on the SEC this season was that it was all defense and no offense. Fittingly, our top three plays all came on the defensive end. So here goes, and I'll include some honorable mentions at the bottom:

1. Brandon Spikes' hit on Knowshon Moreno: On the second play from scrimmage in Florida's 49-10 rout of Georgia, Spikes set the tone for the game and rest of the season when he shot through the hole and leveled Moreno for no gain. Spikes landed right on top of Moreno and could be seen woofing at him as they lay facemask to facemask. Moreno was held to 65 yards after torching the Gators for 188 yards the year before.

2. Ole Miss' stop of Tim Tebow on fourth-and-short: Nobody stops Tebow on fourth-and-short. It's the surest thing in college football. But Ole Miss tackle Peria Jerry and a host of his teammates would have none of it back in September when they swarmed Tebow under on fourth-and-short from the Ole Miss 32 with just under a minute to play, silencing the crowd at the Swamp and sealing the Rebels' 31-30 upset of the Gators.

3. Eric Berry sending Marquis Maze spiraling: Berry, one of the few bright spots for the Vols this season, shot across the field on a short crossing route and looked like a missile when he launched his body at Maze. The collision sent Maze into a 360-degree spin a couple of yards back in Alabama's 29-9 win over Tennessee.

4. Casey Dick's game-winning touchdown pass to beat LSU: Coming off the bench in his final college game, Dick connected with London Crawford on a 24-yard touchdown pass on fourth down with 22 seconds to play, sending Arkansas to a 31-30 win over LSU in Little Rock. The Hogs were out of timeouts, and coach Bobby Petrino decided to gamble with a go route and Dick delivered a strike to Crawford in the corner of the end zone.

5. Rashad Johnson's overtime interception against LSU: It was Johnson's third interception of the game, a textbook play with the senior safety coming over to help on a Jarrett Lee heave into the end zone. Alabama took over on its possession and promptly scored to remain unbeaten in Nick Saban's return to Baton Rouge.

6. Eric Berry's hit on Knowshon Moreno: Berry laid out a few players this season, but not many defensive backs send Moreno airborne the way Berry did in Georgia's 26-14 win over Tennessee. A video of the punishing hit can be found all over the Internet.

7. Jason Barnes holds on: The South Carolina freshman receiver took a wicked hit in the back of the end zone from Ole Miss' Marshay Green, sending Barnes' helmet skidding across the turf. But a woozy Barnes held on for a 20-yard touchdown reception from Chris Smelley to spark the Gamecocks to a 31-24 win on the road.

8. Knowshon Moreno's hurdle: It wasn't a scoring play, and it didn't come at a critical time in the game. But Moreno's hurdle over a Central Michigan defender and 29-yard run is the kind of play that leaves you speechless every time you see it.

9. A.J. Green's catch to beat Kentucky: On third-and-goal from the Kentucky 11 with just under two minutes to play, Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford scrambled right to avoid the pressure and lofted a pass to the corner of the end zone. Green skied over three defenders to bring the pass down and held on despite being drilled, helping the Bulldogs escape 42-38 against the Wildcats.

10. Stephen Garcia tackled by the umpire: In what had to be one of the most bizarre plays of the season, Garcia went down after a forearm shudder from umpire Wilbur Hackett Jr. in the LSU-South Carolina game. It was unintentional on Hackett's part, but sure doesn't look that way when you see a replay of it.

11. Chris Marve's strip to save Vanderbilt: Ole Miss' Dexter McCluster looked like he was going in for the go-ahead touchdown with 2:40 to play, but Marve stripped him of the football just outside the goal line and D.J. Moore recovered in the end zone -- one of six turnovers the Commodores collected in a 23-17 win.

12. Julio Jones' overtime catch to set up Alabama's winning touchdown against LSU: It was one of those 24-yard catches that included a little bit of everything that makes Jones so special. The route was outstanding. He used his strength to get open. He went up and snared the ball with his hands and showed incredible body control to adjust while the ball was in flight. The best part for Alabama fans is that he's only going to get better.

13. Percy Harvin's tipped touchdown catch against LSU: Tim Tebow's second pass of the game was a deep ball to Harvin that was underthrown. LSU's Danny McCray tipped the ball, but it ricocheted right to Harvin, and he outran two defenders to the end zone for a 70-yard touchdown.

14. Brandon James' punt return against Tennessee: Florida coach Urban Meyer called it the best he's seen. James broke at least three tackles in Houdini-like fashion and turned on the jets for a 78-yard touchdown, the fourth punt return for a touchdown of his career.

15. Knowshon Moreno's high-wire act against Arizona State: Once again demonstrating his freakish athletic ability, Moreno vaulted from the 4-yard line and landed 2 yards deep in the end zone for Georgia's first touchdown in its 27-10 win over Arizona State.

BEST OF THE REST

  • Ole Miss' Kentrell Lockett blocking Florida's extra point attempt in the Rebels' 31-30 win.
  • Ole Miss' fake field goal against LSU, keeping alive an early scoring drive.
  • Brandon Spikes' 52-yard interception return for a touchdown against LSU.
  • Florida's Chris Rainey breaking free with a spin move on a 75-yard touchdown run against Arkansas.
  • Florida's Joe Haden returns an interception 88 yards against Georgia to break open the game.
  • John Parker Wilson's picture-perfect 22-yard touchdown pass to Julio Jones in the corner of the end zone to end the first half of Alabama's 41-30 win over Georgia.

The SEC's 10 best games in 2008

December, 22, 2008
12/22/08
9:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

The ballots have come in from near and far. I even received one from Heidelberg. With your help, I've managed to rank the top 10 games and the top 20 plays from the SEC this season. So sit back and enjoy a look back at a year that just may produce the fourth national champion from this conference in the past six years. We'll do the games first and then the plays a little bit later in the day. Thanks again for all you input. Here goes:

 
 Dale Zanine/US Presswire
 Quarterback Tim Tebow led Florida past then-No. 1 Alabama in the SEC title game.

1. Florida 31, Alabama 20, Atlanta, Dec. 6: In one of the most anticipated SEC games of the last quarter century, Florida played a near-perfect fourth quarter to rally past previously unbeaten and then No. 1-ranked Alabama in the SEC championship game. The showdown between two teams that had won a combined 20 straight games was essentially a play-in for a berth in the FedEx BCS National Championship Game. Florida earned that right and will take on Oklahoma on Jan. 8 in Miami. The game was extremely well-played. The only turnover was a meaningless one and came in the final seconds. Alabama's offensive line and Florida quarterback Tim Tebow each had points where they took over the game, but two long drives by the Gators in the fourth quarter after falling behind 20-17 were the difference. Tebow finished with three touchdown passes, and all three came on third down. The Crimson Tide only had the ball for six offensive plays in the fourth quarter, as Florida defensive end Jermaine Cunningham had a key third-down sack of Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson. The Gators showed their mettle by winning without their most dynamic playmaker, Percy Harvin, who missed the game with a sprained ankle.

2. Alabama 27, LSU 21 (OT), Baton Rouge, Nov. 8: The return of Nick Saban to Baton Rouge was pretty uneventful off the field, but the game itself was filled with drama. It was a disappointing season for the defending national champion Tigers, but they were ready to play in this one. The two teams slugged it out for four quarters, and Alabama had a chance to win it with three seconds left in regulation. But LSU's Ricky Jean-Francois blocked Leigh Tiffin's 29-yard field goal attempt. With Tiger Stadium rocking, LSU redshirt freshman quarterback Jarrett Lee put a damper on things by throwing his fourth interception of the game on the Tigers' first possession in overtime. Fittingly, Alabama safety Rashad Johnson was there in the back of the end zone to collar the pick. It was his third of the game, and he took one of those back for a 54-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Alabama went right to freshman receiver Julio Jones on its first play in overtime, and Jones went up high and made a sweet adjustment in the air for a 24-yard catch at the 1. Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson plunged in for the touchdown to keep the Tide unbeaten and clinch a trip to the SEC championship game.

3. Ole Miss 31, Florida 30, Gainesville, Sept. 27: The upset of the year in the SEC doesn't look like quite the shocker now that it did back in September. The Rebels, who were a three-touchdown underdog when they went into the Swamp, ended the season on a five-game winning streak and head to the Cotton Bowl playing some of the best football in the league. But nobody saw their upset of the Gators coming. They'd just lost to Vanderbilt at home a week earlier. Quarterback Jevan Snead, though, grew up in a hurry with two touchdown passes, including an 86-yarder to Shay Hodge, with 5:26 to play, and the Rebels came up big on special teams and defense in the final minutes to snap a 14-game SEC road losing streak. Kentrell Lockett blocked the Gators' extra point attempt when it appeared they had tied the game with 3:28 left, and then Peria Jerry and a host of his Ole Miss defensive mates smothered Florida quarterback Tim Tebow on fourth-and-short at the Rebels' 32-yard line with 41 seconds remaining to seal the upset. Tebow and the Gators were fueled by the gut-wrenching setback and haven't lost since. In fact, nobody has come within double figures of them.

4. Arkansas 31, LSU 30, Little Rock, Nov. 28: After being decimated by Alabama, Texas and Florida earlier in the season, the Razorbacks hung on under first-year coach Bobby Petrino and improved greatly during the second half of the season. They caught an LSU team that was teetering on the Friday after Thanksgiving, and senior quarterback Casey Dick came off the bench in his final college game to deliver a memorable performance. A starter for the first 11 games of the season, Dick relieved his younger brother, Nathan Dick, who'd been injured. Casey Dick entered the game in the second half and rallied the Razorbacks from a 30-14 deficit. His 24-yard touchdown pass to London Crawford on a fourth-down play with 22 seconds remaining won it for the Hogs, who still had to sweat out a Colt David 63-yard field goal attempt with 2.4 seconds to play that was no good.

(Read full post)

Sizing up the SEC's best games, plays in 2008

December, 19, 2008
12/19/08
1:19
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

I'm asking for your expert advice, which I get plenty of and appreciate during the season. Well, at least the G-rated advice.

Anyway, how would you rank the best five games of the season in the SEC, and how would you rank the 10 best plays of the season in the SEC?

The games have to be between two SEC teams. However, the play can come from any game involving an SEC team this season.

I'll go ahead and throw my top game out there, and I think it's pretty obvious. Florida's 31-20 win over Alabama in the SEC Championship Game really did live up to the hype, which is saying something when you consider how much hype surrounded that game.

It was the kind of game -- so well-played with two great coaches and players all over the field coming up clutch -- that you wanted it to go on for two or three more quarters.

As for the plays, I'll throw a few out there that grabbed me this season:

  • Knowshon Moreno's hurdle over the Central Michigan defender on his way to a jaw-dropping 29-yard run.
  • Ole Miss' stop of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow on fourth-and-short to clinch the Rebels' 31-30 win over the Gators.
  • Rashad Johnson's interception in the back of the end zone in overtime to clinch Alabama's win over LSU in Nick Saban's return to Baton Rouge.
  • Ryan Hamilton's 79-yard interception return for a touchdown, one of three interceptions he had in Vanderbilt's 23-17 win over Ole Miss.
  • Brandon James' 78-yard punt return for a touchdown against Tennessee that included at least three broken tackles and prompted Urban Meyer to say it's the best return he's ever seen.
  • South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia going down in the LSU game thanks to the "tackle" of umpire Wilbur Hackett Jr.
  • Kentucky freshman Randall Cobb moving over to receiver and hauling in the game-winning, 21-yard touchdown catch in the final minutes to beat Arkansas. It was Cobb's second touchdown grab in the waning minutes.
  • Tennessee safety Eric Berry's head-jarring hit on Knowhshon Moreno, sending Moreno spiraling airborne to the turf.

Now, these are just a few I came up with in a short period of time. So think about it, get back to me through the mailbag, and let's come up with a top 10 for the season.

Check back Monday, and we'll have the finished product on the games and plays of the year in the SEC.

The SEC's 25 best players, postseason edition

December, 17, 2008
12/17/08
2:15
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

It's time to check back on how I did ranking the SEC's Top 25 players in the preseason.

I'll give you one hint. The guy I ranked No. 1 back in August is still No. 1 -- Florida quarterback Tim Tebow.

After that, it gets ugly.

My biggest miss was LSU defensive tackle Ricky Jean-Francois. I had him No. 3 in the preseason, but he was a huge disappointment this season and didn't even make my updated list.

Ole Miss defensive end Greg Hardy was another whiff by me. He was No. 7 on the preseason list. And while he played lights out in the win over Florida, he didn't make the final list.

Alabama led the way on the postseason list with seven of the 25 players. So much for the theory that Nick Saban was doing it with mirrors, huh? Then again, maybe he's just that good when it comes to developing players. LSU's five players were the most on the preseason list.

All told, 15 of the players I had on my preseason list didn't play well enough to make the postseason list.

I know, I know. With that kind of batting average, I'm going to be a lifer in the minor leagues.

The guy who made the biggest job from preseason to postseason was Ole Miss defensive tackle Peria Jerry, who had a fabulous senior season and led the SEC with 17 tackles for loss. I had Jerry No. 3 on my postseason list.

He was nowhere to be found on the preseason list, and that one's on me. He was easily one of the SEC's best 25 players coming into this season. I just blew it.

Anyway, here's my updated Top 25 list of the SEC's best players based solely on their performances this season. I've included the preseason list underneath:

Postseason Top 25

1. Tim Tebow, QB, Florida
2. Andre Smith, OT, Alabama
3. Peria Jerry, DT, Ole Miss
4. Eric Berry, S, Tennessee
5. Knowshon Moreno, RB, Georgia
6. Percy Harvin, RB/WR, Florida
7. Brandon Spikes, LB, Florida
8. Matthew Stafford, QB, Georgia
9. D.J. Moore, CB, Vanderbilt
10. Antoine Caldwell, C, Alabama
11. Michael Oher, OT, Ole Miss
12. Rashad Johnson, S, Alabama
13. Terrence Cody, NT, Alabama
14. Rolando McClain, LB, Alabama
15. Herman Johnson, OG, LSU
16. Eric Norwood, LB, South Carolina
17. Trevard Lindley, CB, Kentucky
18. Robert Ayers, DE, Tennessee
19. Antonio Coleman, DE, Auburn
20. Glen Coffee, RB, Alabama
21. Jevan Snead, QB, Ole Miss
22. Charles Scott, RB, LSU
23. Michael Smith, RB, Arkansas
24. Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
25. A.J. Green, WR, Georgia

Preseason Top 25

1. Tim Tebow, QB, Florida
2. Knowshon Moreno, TB, Georgia
3. Ricky Jean-Francois, DT, LSU
4. Percy Harvin, WR, Florida
5. Sen'Derrick Marks, DT, Auburn
6. Andre Smith, OT, Alabama
7. Greg Hardy, DE, Ole Miss
8. Eric Berry, S, Tennessee
9. Brandon Spikes, LB, Florida
10. Michael Oher, OT, Ole Miss
11. Matthew Stafford, QB, Georgia
12. Tyson Jackson, DE, LSU
13. Rolando McClain, LB, Alabama
14. Derek Pegues, S, Miss. State
15. Jonathan Luigs, C, Arkansas
16. Darry Beckwith, LB, LSU
17. Kenny McKinley, WR, South Carolina
18. Arian Foster, RB, Tennessee
19. Antonio Coleman, DE, Auburn
20. Jasper Brinkley, LB, South Carolina
21. Cornelius Ingram, TE, Florida
22. Demetrius Byrd, WR, LSU
23. Jeremy Jarmon, DE, Kentucky
24. Ciron Black, OT, LSU
25. Geno Atkins, DT, Georgia

AP All-America team has an SEC flavor

December, 16, 2008
12/16/08
4:15
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

The SEC had eight players named first-team All-America by the Associated Press on Tuesday, including three from Alabama.

The Crimson Tide placed offensive tackle Andre Smith, center Antoine Caldwell and defensive tackle Terrence Cody on the first team. The other SEC first-team selections were Ole Miss offensive tackle Michael Oher, Ole Miss defensive tackle Peria Jerry, LSU offensive guard Herman Johnson, Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes and Tennessee safety Eric Berry.

Making second team were Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno, Florida running back/receiver Percy Harvin, Vanderbilt cornerback D.J. Moore and Alabama safety Rashad Johnson.

Third-team honors went to Florida quarterback Tim Tebow and Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain.

Below are all three teams:

FIRST TEAM

Offense
Quarterback -- Sam Bradford, sophomore, 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, Oklahoma.
Running backs -- Shonn Greene, junior, 5-11, 235, Iowa; Javon Ringer, senior, 5-9, 202, Michigan State.
Wide receivers -- Michael Crabtree, sophomore, 6-3, 214, Texas Tech; Dez Bryant, sophomore, 6-2, 210, Oklahoma State.
Tackles -- Andre Smith, junior, 6-5, 330, Alabama; Michael Oher, senior, 6-5, 318, Mississippi.
Guards -- Duke Robinson, senior, 6-5, 330, Oklahoma; Herman Johnson, senior, 6-5, 350, LSU.
Center -- Antoine Caldwell, senior, 6-3, 305, Alabama.
Tight end -- Chase Coffman, senior, 6-6, 245, Missouri.
All-purpose player -- Jeremy Maclin, sophomore, 6-1, 200, Missouri.
Kicker -- Louie Sakoda, senior, 5-9, 178, Utah.

Defense
Ends -- Aaron Maybin, sophomore, 6-4, 236, Penn State; Brian Orakpo, senior, 6-4, 260, Texas.
Tackles -- Terrence Cody, junior, 6-5, 365, Alabama; Peria Jerry, senior, 6-2, 290, Mississippi.
Linebackers -- James Laurinaitis, senior, 6-3, 240, Ohio State; Rey Maualuga, senior, 6-2, 260, Southern California; Brandon Spikes, junior, 6-3, 243, Florida.
Cornerbacks -- Alphonso Smith, senior, 5-9, 190, Wake Forest; Malcolm Jenkins, senior, 6-1, 201, Ohio State.
Safeties -- Taylor Mays, junior, 6-3, 230, Southern California; Eric Berry, sophomore, 5-11, 195, Tennessee.
Punter -- Kevin Huber, senior, 6-1, 220, Cincinnati.

SECOND TEAM

Offense
Quarterback -- Colt McCoy, junior, Texas.
Running backs -- Knowshon Moreno, sophomore, Georgia; Donald Brown, junior, Connecticut.
Wide receivers -- Austin Collie, junior, BYU; Jarrett Dillard, senior, Rice.
Tackles -- Eugene Monroe, senior, Virginia; Andy Levitre, senior, Oregon State.
Guards --Brandon Carter, junior, Texas Tech; Trevor Canfield, senior, Cincinnati.
Center -- A.Q. Shipley, senior, Penn State.
Tight end -- Jermaine Gresham, junior, Oklahoma.
All-purpose player -- Percy Harvin, junior, Florida.
Kicker -- Graham Gano, senior, Florida State.

Defense
Ends -- Everette Brown, junior, Florida State; Jerry Hughes, junior, TCU.
Tackles -- Gerald McCoy, sophomore, Oklahoma; Mitch King, senior, Iowa.
Linebackers -- Scott McKillop, senior, Pittsburgh; Brian Cushing, senior, Southern California; Aaron Curry, senior, Wake Forest.
Cornerback -- Victor "Macho" Harris, senior, Virginia Tech; D.J. Moore, junior, Vanderbilt.
Safeties -- Rashad Johnson, senior, Alabama; Trimane Goddard, senior, North Carolina.
Punter -- T.J. Conley, senior, Idaho.

THIRD TEAM

Offense
Quarterback -- Tim Tebow, junior, Florida.
Running backs -- Kendall Hunter, sophomore, Oklahoma State; Jacquizz Rodgers, freshman, Oregon State.
Wide receivers -- Kenny Britt, junior, Rutgers; Jordan Shipley, senior, Texas.
Tackles -- Jason Smith, senior, Baylor; Phil Loadholt, senior, Oklahoma.
Guards -- Louis Vasquez, senior, Texas Tech; Rich Ohrnberger, senior, Penn State.
Center -- Alex Mack, senior, California.
Tight end -- Rob Gronkowski, sophomore, Arizona.
All-purpose player -- Derrick Williams, senior, Penn State.
Kicker -- Kai Forbath, sophomore, UCLA.

Defense
Ends -- Nick Reed, senior, Oregon; George Selvie, junior, South Florida.
Tackles -- Fili Moala, senior, Southern California; B.J. Raji, senior, Boston College.
Linebackers -- Mark Herzlich, junior, Boston College; Sean Witherspoon, junior, Missouri; Michael Tauiliili, senior, Duke (tie); Rolando McClain, sophomore, Alabama (tie).
Cornerback -- Vontae Davis, junior, Illinois; Mike Mickens, senior, Cincinnati.
Safeties -- Myron Rolle, junior, Florida State; Nic Harris, senior, Oklahoma.
Punter -- Pat McAfee, senior, West Virginia.

Alabama season review

December, 16, 2008
12/16/08
8:30
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Before anybody says they saw Alabama's dream season coming this year, stop and think about what last November was really like at the Capstone.

The Crimson Tide lost to Louisiana-Monroe. They lost to Mississippi State. They lost to Auburn.

It was a team that unraveled, which makes this season all the more remarkable.

Nick Saban's message finally started to get through during the offseason. His approach took hold. The seniors bought in, and some of the newcomers were even better than advertised.

What ensued was an improbable 12-0 run by Alabama that didn't end until a 31-20 loss to Florida in the SEC championship. Even then, it took a perfect fourth quarter by Florida to keep the Crimson Tide out of the BCS National Championship game.

Still, it was a season to remember and one that announced loud and clear that Alabama (12-1, 8-0 SEC) is most assuredly back under Saban, who was named Home Depot's National Coach of the Year.

The defense was rock-solid all season. The offense relied on a physical running game, the steady leadership of senior quarterback John Parker Wilson and timely plays on the perimeter from freshman receiver Julio Jones, who only scratched the surface of how good he's going to be.

Offensive MVP
Too bad we can't give this award to an entire unit because Alabama's offensive line was dominant. So we'll give it to the best player on that line, junior left tackle Andre Smith. Go back and look at how many times the Tide ran right behind the Outland Trophy winner on key downs. He's one of the best left tackles the SEC has seen in a long time.

Defensive MVP
Few defenses in the country were any stronger up the middle than Alabama. Nose tackle Terrence Cody and middle linebacker Rolando McClain were a big reason why, but senior safety Rashad Johnson gets the nod based on his leadership and performance. He led the team with five interceptions and 11 passes broken up and was second with 82 total tackles.

Turning point
Alabama demonstrated in the opener against Clemson that it was better than most people thought. But in the first half against Georgia a few weeks later, the Crimson Tide served notice that they were a championship-caliber team in jumping out to a 31-0 halftime lead on their way to a 41-30 road victory.

What's next
The Crimson Tide will face unbeaten Utah in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2 and still have a chance to finish in the top three in the final polls. In only two years, Saban has restored this program to national prominence, and his track record suggests this is only the start.

SEC mailbag: Jones gets the nod over Green ... barely

December, 10, 2008
12/10/08
2:15
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Now that the BCS National Championship Game has been set and all the bowl matchups are locked in, what else is there to talk about? In the realm of the SEC mailbag, there's always something:

Preston in Athens, Ga., writes: Explain to me how Julio Jones deserved Freshman of the Year honors over A.J. Green when Green outgained Jones by 104 receiving yards and scored twice as many touchdowns (8 to 4). And I forgot to mention that Green led the entire SEC in receiving yards, but I guess that doesn't cut it. My God a Freshman!

Chris Low: First of all, love the Larry Munson impersonation. Secondly, I'm one of those who voted for Jones over Green. Both had fabulous freshman seasons. Both have unbelievable futures. What it came down to for me was that Jones was simply a better player, the toughest one-on-one cover in the league and the guy nobody could tackle after the catch. I realize Green had better numbers, and I'm not taking anything away from his season. But the Bulldogs threw it nearly 100 more times than the Crimson Tide this year. Had Jones been in Georgia's offense, his numbers would have been comparable, if not better, than Green's. The real story here is that the SEC has two of the better freshman receivers in the country and two of the better receivers I've seen come into this league in the same year in a long time.


Joe in Greenwood, S.C., writes: Mr Low, you're usually very accurate with you stories and blogs, so I was surprised when claimed Chris Smelley would be starter for the South Carolina/Iowa game in your bowl preview blog. Steve Spurrier announced Stephen Garcia as the starter shortly after the Clemson game. Part of the draw for the Outback bowl selecting South Carolina was because Tampa is Garcia's hometown.

Chris Low: Joe, you are 100 percent correct, which is why I count on you guys to keep me straight. Spurrier did indeed announce Garcia as the starter for the bowl game soon after the Clemson loss. Granted, the Head Ball Coach still has the rest of this month to change his mind, and he's never been one to change his mind, right? Honestly, he's gone back and forth so much between quarterbacks this season that I lost track a long time ago. You can see the frustration oozing out of him any time the Gamecocks' quarterback play is mentioned. He's not giving up on Garcia, especially since he's only a redshirt freshman. But Garcia had better become more of a student of the game and respond better to Spurrier's coaching if he wants to be South Carolina's quarterback of the future. Thanks again for the heads-up. I heard from several in the Gamecock Nation, and I've since clarified in the Outback Bowl preview that Garcia will be the starter. I also realize this means I probably won't be allowed back into my hometown of Rock Hill again. Maybe they'll take me in Fort Mill or Lancaster or even Great Falls.


Nat in Atlanta writes: No offense to the Oklahoma offensive coordinator, but Stacy Searels was robbed when he didn't win the Broyles Award. I guess he wasn't as visible because Georgia wasn't in the running for a conference or national title. With all the O-line injuries and youth, and for that offense to be as explosive as it was, Searels had a lot to do with it and deserves at least some sort of recognition.

Chris Low: You're preaching to the choir. Searels would get my vote as the SEC assistant who did the best job this season. For that matter, he did a terrific job in 2007 when he was starting three freshmen. The Bulldogs were again young this season, but injuries forced them to play four different left tackles. They also had four different starters to miss games this season, and Searels probably quit counting at five or six as far as the number of different combinations he had to use up front. Through it all, the Bulldogs never really skipped a beat offensively. Any time you have a quarterback that throws for more than 3,200 yards, a running back that runs for more than 1,300 yards and two receivers who have more than 900 yards in receptions, the guys up front -- and their coach -- are doing something right. Now, if we could just get Searels to tell us how he's done it these last two seasons. He doesn't speak to the media.


Jason in Valdosta, Ga., writes: Can you give me a valid reason why Rashad Johnson isn't in the running for the Jim Thorpe award? I'm not going to throw stats at you because I want you to look at them for yourself, 12-1 in a "rebuilding" year and Alabama still gets no respect. Call me a homer if you want, but this isn't right.

Chris Low: Rashad Johnson is easily one of the best three or four safeties I saw in college football this season. When the Thorpe semi-finalists came out and his name wasn't included, I immediately wrote that it was a sham. That next week, Johnson intercepted three passes, including one he returned for a touchdown and one that sealed the game, in a 27-21 overtime win against LSU. Had they waited a week later, there's no question in my mind that he would have been included and still deserved to be anyway. He's an example of everything that's good about college football. Nobody recruited him out of high school, and he wasn't on all the recruiting lists. He walked on at Alabama, made a name for himself on special teams and is now one of the best defensive backs in the SEC and a senior leader on an Alabama team that returned the Tide to national prominence this season.

2008 All-SEC team

December, 10, 2008
12/10/08
11:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

The ballots are in, and we're pleased to announce the "official" All-SEC team for the 2008 season. Interestingly enough, 16 of the 22 position players are underclassmen. All of those players won't be back for their senior seasons. Still, there's a lot of young talent in this league:

OFFENSE

QB: Tim Tebow, Florida
RB: Knowshon Moreno, Georgia
RB: Glen Coffee, Alabama
WR: Percy Harvin, Florida
WR: Julio Jones, Alabama
TE: D.J. Williams, Arkansas
OL: Andre Smith, Alabama
OL: Michael Oher, Ole Miss
OL: Ciron Black, LSU
OL: Phil Trautwein, Florida
C: Antoine Caldwell, Alabama

DEFENSE

DE: Carlos Dunlap, Florida
DE: Robert Ayers, Tennessee
DT: Peria Jerry, Ole Miss
DT: Terrence Cody, Alabama
LB: Brandon Spikes, Florida
LB: Rolando McClain, Alabama
LB: Eric Norwood, South Carolina
CB: D.J. Moore, Vanderbilt
CB: Trevard Lindley, Kentucky
S: Eric Berry, Tennessee
S: Rashad Johnson, Alabama

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Colt David, LSU
P: Tim Masthay, Kentucky
KR: Tristan Davis, Auburn
PR: Brandon James, Florida

Nine SEC players earn AFCA All-America honors

December, 4, 2008
12/04/08
2:47
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

The SEC was well represented on the AFCA coaches' All-America team, as nine of the 25 spots were taken up by players from this league. The Big 12 was second with six players selected.

Alabama had four players to make the team, more than any other school in the country. They were offensive tackle Andre Smith, center Antoine Caldwell, nose tackle Terrence Cody and safety Rashad Johnson. Florida placed linebacker Brandon Spikes and running back/receiver Percy Harvin (as an all-purpose player) on the team.

Also selected were Tennessee safety Eric Berry, Ole Miss offensive tackle Michael Oher and Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno.

Here's a look at the whole team:

Offense
Pos.NameHt.Wt.Cl.SchoolCoachHometown (High School)
WRMichael Crabtree*6-3208So.Texas TechMike LeachDallas, Texas (Carter)
WR Dez Bryant6-2215So.Oklahoma St.Mike GundyLufkin, Texas (Lufkin)
TEChase Coffman6-6255Sr.MissouriGary PinkelPeculiar, Mo. (Raymore-Peculiar)
OL Andre Smith6-4330Jr.AlabamaNick SabanBirmingham, Ala. (Huffman)
OL Brandon Carter6-7350Jr.Texas TechMike LeachLongview, Texas (Spring Hill)
C Antoine Caldwell6-3305Sr.AlabamaNick SabanMontgomery, Ala. (Lee)
OL Michael Oher 6-5318Sr.MississippiHouston NuttMemphis, Tenn. (Briarcrest Christian)
OL Andy Levitre6-3317Sr.Oregon St.Mike RileyBen Lomond, Calif. (San Lorenzo Valley)
QB Graham Harrell6-3205Sr.Texas TechMike LeachEnnis, Texas (Ennis)
RB Knowshon Moreno5-11208So.GeorgiaMark RichtBelford, N.J. (Middletown South)
RB Shonn Greene5-11235Jr.IowaK
irk Ferentz
Sicklerville, N.J. (Milford Acad. [Conn.])

Defense
Pos.NameHt.Wt.Cl.SchoolCoachHometown (High School)
DL Brian Orakpo6-4260Sr.TexasMack BrownHouston, Texas (Lamar)
DL Terrence Cody6-5365Jr.AlabamaNick SabanFort Myers, Fla. (Riverdale)
DLGeorge Selvie*6-4242Jr.South FloridaJim LeavittPensacola, Fla. (Pine Forest)
DLMichael Johnson6-7260Sr.Georgia TechPaul JohnsonSelma, Ala. (Dallas County)
LB James Laurinaitis*6-3240Sr.Ohio St.Jim TresselHamel, Minn. (Wayzata)
LB Rey Maualuga6-2260Sr.USCPete CarrollEureka, Calif. (Eureka)
LBBrandon Spikes6-3245Jr.Florida Urban MeyerShelby, N.C. (Crest)
DBEric Berry5-11195So.TennesseePhil FulmerFairburn, Ga. (Creekside)
DBRashad Johnson6-0186Sr.AlabamaNick SabanSulligent, Ala. (Sulligent)
DB Malcolm Jenkins6-1202Sr.Ohio St.Jim TresselPiscataway, N.J. (Piscataway)
DB Alphonso Smith5-9190Sr.Wake ForestJim GrobePahokee, Fla. (Pahokee)

Specialists
Pos.NameHt.Wt.Cl.SchoolCoachHometown (High School)
P Kevin Huber6-1220Sr.CincinnatiBrian KellyCincinnati, Ohio (McNicholas)
PKLouie Sakoda5-9178Sr.UtahKyle WhittinghamSan Jose, Calif. (Branham)
AP Percy Harvin5-11195Jr.FloridaUrban MeyerVirginia Beach, Va. (Landstown)

*-2007 All-American

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