SEC: Rohan Gaines

SEC plays of the week: Week 13

November, 23, 2014
Nov 23
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There were plenty of memorable plays in Saturday’s games involving SEC teams, but here are five of our favorites:

Vols’ fake field goal
When Tennessee lined up for a 48-yard field goal against Missouri on Saturday, the Tigers clearly didn’t expect a fake. But that’s exactly what the Volunteers threw at them, with holder Patrick Ashford raising up to hit wide-open Alex Ellis down the middle of the field. The 31-yard touchdown pass gave the Vols a 10-7 lead with 11:14 left in the second quarter.

video Holmes’ strip, fumble recovery TD
Mississippi State scored in all kinds of ways against Vanderbilt, but perhaps the Bulldogs’ most exciting touchdown came from its defense. Linebacker Christian Holmes tracked down spinning Vandy receiver Latevius Rayford in a crowd at midfield and stripped the ball from the Commodores receiver’s hands. Holmes then picked up the fumble and raced down the sideline, diving into the end zone for a touchdown that put the Bulldogs up 20-0 in the second quarter.

video Conley’s diving touchdown catch
Georgia’s 55-9 win over Charleston Southern didn’t include much drama, but it had plenty of moments that belonged on a highlight reel. The prettiest play came in the second quarter when quarterback Hutson Mason launched a pass down the middle to senior receiver Chris Conley, who layed out to make a diving 23-yard touchdown grab in the back of the end zone. Conley’s acrobatic catch gave the Bulldogs a 38-0 lead with 4:18 left before halftime.

video South Carolina trickery
South Carolina got off to a slow start against South Alabama, but the Gamecocks essentially iced their win over the Jaguars by resorting to some trickery. Wide receiver Pharoh Cooper took a direct snap, with quarterback Dylan Thompson lined up outside to his right. When Cooper rolled right, Thompson’s defender ran Cooper’s way and left Thompson alone in the end zone to make a 7-yard touchdown reception that put South Carolina ahead 30-9 early in the fourth quarter.

video Gaines goes the distance
Ole Miss was still trying to hang around against Arkansas when the Rebels drove close to the Razorbacks’ goal line late in the third quarter. But Arkansas safety Rohan Gaines jumped in front of a floating Bo Wallace pass at the goal line for an interception, then zig-zagged his way down the sideline for a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown that put the Hogs up 27-0 and all but secured their second straight SEC win.

SEC lunchtime links

August, 23, 2013
8/23/13
12:00
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Just think, the next time you click on the SEC lunchtime links post it will be Monday of the first game week of the college football season. Ready or not, it's that time again.
  • Tennessee lost two defensive ends over the course of the preseason and spent much of the past week or so looking for their replacements. In 6-foot-5, 260-pound Jordan Williams, the Vols may have found their man to start.
  • Damiere Byrd is already the fastest player on the South Carolina roster. Now the speedy wide receiver wants to make the biggest plays in the biggest situations.
  • Matt Elam was a playmaker and an All-American at safety for the Gators last year. Marcus Maye, his replacement, worked with Elam this offseason and has impressed coaches with his work ethic so far. With the season nearly underway, Maye hopes to be the same type of presence on defense as his predecessor.
  • Vanderbilt's seniors Kenny Ladler and Javon Marshall have so much familiarity with one another that they rarely need to speak. The Commodores are hoping that experience and comfort level pays off as the two form what could be a stellar safety net for the secondary.
  • It won't be easy, but Missouri's defensive linemen must replace Sheldon Richardson's disruptive presence on the Tigers' defense.
  • Arkansas struggled to defend the pass last year, finishing dead last in the SEC in passing yards allowed. Eric Bennett and Rohan Gaines are hoping to change that. The two safeties expect big years.
  • Keihl Frazier surprised many when he dropped out of the quarterback race to start over in the Auburn secondary at safety. That move happened less than two weeks ago. And ready or not, he'll need to be ready to play just over a week from now when the Tigers host Washington State in their season opener.
  • Arie Kouandjio was starting at guard for all spring and most of preseason camp before an abrupt move to tackle last week. Austin Shepherd experienced the same thing, switched from tackle to guard in a position experiment by the Alabama coaching staff. Now, it appears that those experiments are over and the Tide can get to the job of establishing chemistry.
  • The Egg Bowl is months away, but Mississippi State went ahead and released its new snazzy uniform combination for the rivalry game against Ole Miss.
  • D.J. Welter and Lamar Louis are expected to start, but how do the rest of LSU's inside linebackers stack up?
Someone has to chase down all those speedy skill position players, and the SEC is well equipped with some fine secondaries this fall.

Here's how they rank going into the 2013 season:

1. Florida: The Gators will have arguably the nation's best cornerback duo in potential future first-rounders Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson. Purifoy is viewed by many as the nation's top cornerback. He's still raw, but he's a tremendous athlete, has great speed and is getting better at being a pure cover corner. Though Roberson isn't as athletic, he's more polished and has real lockdown ability (14 passes defensed in 2012). Sophomore Brian Poole made tremendous strides this spring at corner, and many think incoming freshman Vernon Hargreaves III has the ability to play now. At safety, veterans Jaylen Watkins and Cody Riggs have moved from corner. Coach Will Muschamp wants to see more from this position, but has plenty of bodies to help Watkins and Riggs, starting with Marcus Maye and Jabari Gorman.

[+] EnlargeHaHa Clinton-Dix
AP Photo/Butch DillHaHa Clinton-Dix could emerge as one of the best safeties in the nation.
2. Alabama: First-round corner Dee Milliner and reliable safety Robert Lester are gone, but there's a wealth of young talent in the secondary. Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is poised to be an All-American and could be the top safety in the country. Deion Belue emerged as a very reliable cornerback and should be one of the top players at his position in the SEC this year. Sophomore Geno Smith matured quickly last year and was solid this spring, so he shouldn't have a problem stepping into a starting role. Vinnie Sunseri gives Alabama a veteran leader at safety, while sophomore Landon Collins might be ready go from special teams workhorse to starting safety for the Tide.

3. Vanderbilt: Andre Hal is one of the best cornerbacks in the SEC, while Kenny Ladler ranks near the top at the safety position in the SEC. Hal was second in the SEC with 14 pass breakups and added two interceptions last season. Ladler figured out a way to be all over the field last year, leading the team with 90 tackles. His safety partner, Javon Marshall, is back. Marshall and Ladler tied for the team lead with 60 solo tackles and will be one of the league's best safety duos. Replacing Trey Wilson won't be easy, but there are plenty of options, starting with senior Steven Clarke, who was the primary nickel corner.

4. LSU: The Tigers have to replace Eric Reid and Tharold Simon, but have the bodies to make things right, starting with corners Jalen Mills, Jalen Collins and safety Craig Loston. Mills and Collins were thrown onto the field early last season after Tyrann Mathieu's dismissal and grew up in a hurry. Mills started all 13 games and defended seven passes with two interceptions. Loston had trouble reaching his potential early in his career, but has really turned the corner and should be one of the top SEC safeties. Junior Ronald Martin should be fine at the other safety spot, while sophomores Micah Eugene and Corey Thompson are solid backups. Freshman Jeryl Brazil is a freak athlete who should help at corner.

5. Ole Miss: The Rebels gave up more yards and touchdowns through the air than they would have liked last season, but this group showed good flashes here and there. A good spring and a healthy dose of experience should go a long way this fall. Senior Charles Sawyer was very steady at corner after moving from safety and is the leader of this group, while hard-hitting sophomore safety Trae Elston has what it takes to be a top safety in this league. Junior Cody Prewitt leads the charge at the other safety spot, while Senquez Golson will start opposite Sawyer. Highly-touted freshman Antonio Conner could enter the season as the starter at the hybrid "Husky" position. There is a ton of depth in the secondary, starting with big-play machine Nick Brassell, who is back after a juco stint. Quintavius Burdette and Chief Brown provide good reserve options at safety.

6. Texas A&M: What was a young unit in 2012 is all grown up now. The top player back there is corner Deshazor Everett, who became a national name after his game-sealing interception against Alabama. While Everett could be a star, he and top safety Floyd Raven are dealing with legal issues after they were arrested in connection with an April incident at a College Station apartment complex. Getting them on the field is critical for the Aggies. De'Vante Harris enjoyed a solid freshman campaign and proved he can be a shutdown corner. Safety is stacked with veterans such as Raven, Howard Matthews and Toney Hurd Jr., so this unit should be drastically better in 2013.

7. South Carolina: The Gamecocks lost a top-flight safety in D.J. Swearinger and an experienced corner in Akeem Auguste, but they bring back a lot of athleticism and speed. It starts with junior corner Victor Hampton, who has turned into one of South Carolina's best overall players. Jimmy Legree moved back to corner from safety last season and tied for a team-high three interceptions and six pass breakups. Talented sophomore Ahmad Christian will also push to get on the field. Brison Williams is solid at strong safety, while sophomore T.J. Gurley could be a stud at free safety. He'll have to battle with the much-improved Kadetrix Marcus, but Gurley is one of the team's most talented players. There's a lot of inexperience behind the main guys, and the staff is hoping to get more out of former top safety recruit Chaz Elder.

[+] EnlargeTray Matthews
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsTray Matthews could crack the starting lineup in time for the season opener.
8. Georgia: The Bulldogs lost a ton of production here, but defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is excited by the talent his youngsters have, especially safety Tray Matthews, who might already be one of the top players at his position in the SEC. He covers a lot of ground, has great instincts and hits with the best of them. There's "old man" Damian Swann, who excelled as both a nickel and boundary corner last year. He's now the guy at corner. Sophomore "Star" Josh Harvey-Clemons might be the most talented player in the secondary and he'll work at both safety and linebacker in certain packages. Sophomore Sheldon Dawson left spring as the other starting corner, and the coaches are excited about his potential, while talented early enrollee Reggie Wilkerson will miss the season after suffering an ACL injury. Sophomore Devin Bowman should help at corner, along with true freshman Shaq Wiggins, a former ESPN 150 member.

9. Mississippi State: Jim Thorpe Award winner Johnthan Banks, top interception man Darius Slay and longtime starter Corey Broomfield are all gone. It hurts, but the Bulldogs aren't lost in the secondary. Senior Nickoe Whitley has loads of experience, while fellow safety Jay Hughes really stepped up as a valuable leader this spring. Jamerson Love is the most experienced corner coming back and the coaches expect him to break out very soon. But a lot of attention is going to juco transfer Justin Cox, who might be the team's fastest player and looks ready to step right in and be a shutdown corner. The top four guys seem solid, but there is a lot of inexperience behind them.

10. Auburn: Auburn has a lot of experience coming back to a unit that ranked eighth in pass defense last season. That number should be better this year, especially with Ellis Johnson taking over the defense. Corner Chris Davis might have only played nine games last season, but Johnson thinks he could be a special player. Corners Jonathon Mincy and Josh Holsey also saw plenty of time last year, while Jonathan Jones provides solid depth. Safety is covered by the high-flying Demetruce McNeal and Jermaine Whitehead, who were two of the Tigers' top tacklers last year. This group has to be more consistent and has to generate turnovers. Auburn had just two interceptions last year, with one coming from reserve safety Trent Fisher.

11. Missouri: Senior corner E.J. Gaines is one of the best cover corners in the SEC. What he lacks in size, he makes up in athleticism, speed and toughness. He has 27 pass breakups and three interceptions in the last two seasons. Randy Ponder had a solid spring and should start opposite Gaines. He has played in 25 games with five starts. Safety Braylon Webb is back after starting 12 games last year at free safety, while senior Matt White should hold down the other safety spot. Only Gaines and Ponder return with interceptions from last year (one each) and this unit surrendered an average of 333.3 passing yards per game last November.

12. Tennessee: The Vols do bring back experience, but this same group contributed to Tennessee owning the SEC's second worst pass defense (282.5 yards allowed per game). So that means these players have to grow and simply get better on the field. It won't come over night, but the experience gained last season should help. Safeties Byron Moore and Brian Randolph, who is coming back from an ACL injury, provide a solid foundation at safety, while returning starting corner Justin Coleman has to be much better than he was in 2012. Fortunately for the Vols, Coleman made very good strides this spring. Juco transfer Riyahd Jones could come in and start immediately.

13. Arkansas: This is another group that returns a lot of experience, but it was also the SEC's worst pass defense last year. The Razorbacks surrendered 8.2 yards per pass, 285.8 passing yards per game and gave up 24 touchdowns with six interceptions. All four starters -- corners Tevin Mitchel and Will Hines and safeties Eric Bennett and Rohan Gaines -- but all of them have to get better. Mitchel and Gaines have the potential to be big-time players, but they have to be more consistent. This unit should get a boost from juco transfers Tiquention Coleman and Carroll Washington, while redshirt freshman Jared Collins had a pretty good spring.

14. Kentucky: The Wildcats lost two quality starters and are now stuck with a lot of young players. Coach Mark Stoops wasn't too pleased with the play of the secondary this spring, so this won't be a quick fix. Junior safety Ashely Lowery has the playmaking ability Stoops wants back there, but he just resumed working out after his horrific car accident from earlier this year. Youngsters Daron and Zack Blaylock, J.D. Harmon, Cody Quinn, and Fred Tiller all saw good time last season, but their growing pains lasted for most of the season. There was some improvement this spring, but this unit has a long way to go before fall.

SEC lunchtime links

April, 10, 2013
4/10/13
12:00
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If you haven't seen Jurassic Park in 3-D, I highly recommend it. I'm just saying it should probably be in the running for a few Oscars ...

Returning tacklers in the SEC: West

March, 12, 2013
3/12/13
2:00
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Now that we’ve examined who's bringing back what defensively in the East, let’s take a look at the schools in the West.

It was a mixed bag on defense in the West last season.

Alabama and LSU both had top 10 defenses nationally. Texas A&M had one of the more underrated defenses in the league. The Aggies finished 26th nationally in scoring defense, and after the Louisiana Tech debacle, put together an impressive stretch of defensive football to close out the season. Most of the points they gave up came after the outcome had long since been decided, but a lot of the players who played key roles on that defense are gone.

Here’s a closer look at the West:

AUBURN
  • Eight of the Tigers' top 10 tacklers return.
  • Leading returning tackler: Safety Demetruce McNeal was second on the team with 90 total tackles. He tied for the team lead with seven tackles for loss.
  • Gone is linebacker Daren Bates, who was the Tigers’ leading tackler last season. Auburn returns six of its top seven tacklers among defensive linemen, including end Dee Ford, who led the team with six sacks. Also back is tackle Angelo Blackson, who had seven tackles for loss to tie with McNeal for the team lead.
OLE MISS
  • Eight of the Rebels' top 10 tacklers return.
  • Leading returning tackler: Linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche led the team with 82 total tackles as a redshirt freshman.
  • The Rebels return their top six tacklers. That includes all three players who had double-digit tackles for loss last season -- Nkemdiche (13), linebacker Mike Marry (10.5) and tackle Issac Gross (10).
ALABAMA
  • Seven of the Crimson Tide's top 10 tacklers return.
  • Leading returning tackler: Linebacker C.J. Mosley led the team with 107 total tackles and was third with eight tackles for loss.
  • The Crimson Tide return three of their top five tacklers as well as outside linebacker Adrian Hubbard, who led the team with 11 tackles for loss. End Ed Stinson was second with 8.5 tackles for loss, and he also returns.
ARKANSAS
  • Six of the Hogs' top 10 tacklers return.
  • Leading returning tackler: Safety Rohan Gaines was second on the team with 75 total tackles as a redshirt freshman.
  • The Hogs lost three of their top four tacklers. Defensive ends Trey Flowers and Chris Smith led the team in tackles for loss with 13 apiece, and they both return in 2013. Smith was fourth in the SEC with 9.5 sacks.
MISSISSIPPI STATE
  • Six of the Bulldogs' top 10 tacklers return.
  • Leading returning tackler: Middle linebacker Benardrick McKinney was second on the team with 102 total tackles as a redshirt freshman.
  • Starting defensive backs Johnthan Banks, Darius Slay and Corey Broomfield are gone, and all three were among the Bulldogs’ top 10 tacklers last season. Also gone is linebacker Cameron Lawrence, who led the team in total tackles (120) and tackles for loss (10). End Denico Autry is back after finishing second on the team with 9.5 tackles for loss last season.
LSU

  • Four of the Tigers' top 10 tacklers return.
  • Leading returning tackler: Linebacker Lamin Barrow was second on the team with 104 total tackles, including 7.5 tackles for loss.
  • The Tigers return three of their top five tacklers. Gone are linebacker Kevin Minter and ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, who combined for 36.5 tackles for loss. Five of LSU's top six tacklers among defensive linemen are gone. Tackle Anthony Johnson was third on the team with 10 tackles for loss, and he's back.
TEXAS A&M
  • Three of the Aggies' top 10 tacklers return.
  • Leading returning tackler: Safety Toney Hurd, Jr. was fourth on the team with 67 total tackles.
  • The Aggies lost their top three tacklers and five of their top six. End Damontre Moore left early for the NFL draft. He led the team and was second in the SEC with 21 tackles for loss. Nobody on the team returns who had more than 4.5 tackles for loss last season.

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