SEC: Tharold Simon

LSU embraces playing freshmen

May, 28, 2014
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Les Miles has never been afraid to play a true freshman -- LSU’s sports information department reports that the Tigers have played 87 first-year freshmen in Miles’ nine seasons -- but it has become one of the program’s trademarks only in recent years.

The Tigers ranked among the nation’s top-five programs at playing freshmen in each of the last two seasons -- 14 freshmen in 2013 (third) and 15 in 2012 (fifth) -- and Miles has all but guaranteed at least 15 more will see the field this fall once a star-studded recruiting class arrives on campus.

It has quickly become a calling card for Miles’ staff on the recruiting trail.

[+] EnlargeTyrann Mathieu
AP Photo/Aaron M. SprecherTyrann Mathieu is one of many LSU players in recent years who've had a chance to contribute as true freshmen.
“I think kids like that about LSU,” offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. “They like our style, they like Coach Miles’ philosophy that young guys are going to play early, which we do. I think we’ve averaged maybe ... at least 15 freshmen a year playing. And so all that plays into recruiting.

“You can’t guarantee a guy he’s going to play, but if he knows he’s given the opportunity and he’s got confidence in his ability, the track record speaks for itself. Come in and help us win and here’s the key thing, I think, that I’ve learned since being here is our veteran players -- our juniors and sophomores and redshirt sophomores and so forth -- they expect young guys to come help them play. They’re not afraid of young guys coming in and playing with them.”

Considering its recent history at the position group, it should come as no surprise that LSU recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson traces the development of this trend back to the arrival of key players in the secondary. The wheels were set in motion when cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Morris Claiborne contributed as true freshmen in 2008 and 2009, respectively, but the freshman movement truly took off with the 2010 class that featured Tyrann Mathieu, Eric Reid and Tharold Simon.

Those players -- and several others who played bigger roles the next season when LSU won an SEC championship -- started to show what they could do in the second half of their freshman seasons, capped by an impressive win against Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl where Mathieu, Reid and Simon all intercepted passes.

“It really hit because we had three guys in the secondary because so many spread defenses came (along), so we played a lot of nickel and a lot of dime with five and six defensive backs there,” Wilson recalled. “So Tyrann Mathieu took to the field, Tharold Simon took to the field as well as Eric Reid, and then offensively Spencer Ware began to emerge, et cetera. So probably in that class, the class of [2010], it kind of hit a high point from that point on. These guys have relished and looked forward to the opportunity to contribute as freshmen, and we like it.”

Mathieu went on to become the 2011 SEC Defensive Player of the Year, a first-team All-American and a Heisman Trophy finalist thanks to his dynamic playmaking ability. Reid also became an All-American and first-round NFL draft pick. Simon didn’t earn the same level of acclaim in college, but he was still able to jump to the NFL after his junior season and become a draft pick himself.

All three players had eligibility remaining when they left LSU, which exemplifies the greatest contributing factor in the program’s recent trend of playing youngsters. No program has had more players enter the draft early in the last couple seasons than LSU, and those departures created holes that talented freshmen could fill.

LSU recruited toward that end for this year's class and cashed in on signing day when it landed the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class, one that featured the top overall prospect in tailback Leonard Fournette, the No. 1 receiver (Malachi Dupre), top guard (Garrett Brumfield) and 16 players who made the 2014 ESPN 300.

“We knew our needs, we knew what we wanted to get,” Wilson said of signing day. “We targeted certain guys, so there was never a panic on our part. We kind of knew early on by way of communication and feedback who we’re in good shape with and who we’re not and have a plan on people to place and sign in those positions.”

Tailback and receiver will certainly be manned at least in part by freshmen this season, and many other freshmen such as quarterback Brandon Harris, safety Jamal Adams and linebacker Clifton Garrett also might follow Mathieu, Reid and Simon’s lead by playing key roles this fall.

LSU isn’t the only school that relies heavily on young players, but it has quickly gained a reputation as a trendsetter in that regard.

“I think that’s a little unique,” Cameron said. “Sometimes guys are afraid of young players coming in and taking their position, but here I don’t sense that. I sense guys like the competition and they know we’re going to need everybody to win a championship.”

Inconsistency an issue for UGA, LSU

September, 24, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- For all the ink spilled over the numerous defensive holes that Georgia had to fill before this season, perhaps no defense in the country suffered greater losses than LSU.

Just as Georgia had 12 key defensive players to replace this fall, LSU actually set an NFL draft record with six defensive players selected in the 2013 draft's first two days. And just as the Bulldogs have discovered, it has been difficult for LSU to pick up exactly where it left off without players like Barkevious Mingo, Kevin Minter, Eric Reid, Sam Montgomery, Tharold Simon and Bennie Logan.

So as No. 9 Georgia (2-1) and No. 6 LSU (4-0) prepare to meet on Saturday, they do so with young in places defenses that have delivered uneven results. Neither group lack potential, but they both have dealt with the understandable lapses that typically arise when new players take over for established stars.

“I think our players are as talented as we've ever had and I think there's a maturity that needs to take place so they can play with their cleats headed north and south and ready to make a tackle and show the style of confidence, if you will, that other defenses that have played in this uniform have shown,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “I think that's coming. I see it, in last week, better in certain spots and certainly that's got to continue.”

In Saturday's win against Auburn, Miles' Tigers could not have been more impressive early. They limited Auburn to just 41 yards of offense in the first quarter in jumping out to a quick 21-0 lead. However, Auburn made it a more competitive game -- LSU still won 35-21 -- by generating 333 yards in the second half and running a whopping 85 plays against a suddenly reeling LSU defense that was facing its first legitimate test.

“Everybody probably mentally may have gotten a little bit down. We had a couple of calls that were questionable, but we've got to be able to shrug that off,” LSU defensive end Jordan Allen said. “We have a couple things happening and not sure what's going on and we're not communicating on some things and we'll get it straight.”

LSU's early schedule was much more generous toward its defensive rebuilding effort than was Georgia's. The Tigers played TCU, UAB, Kent State and Auburn in the first four games, with only the TCU game -- it was held at the Dallas Cowboys' stadium in Arlington, Texas -- being played away from Tiger Stadium.

Their defensive statistics reflect that advantage, as LSU is tied for third in the SEC in total defense (310 yards per game), is second against the pass (173.8 ypg), seventh against the run (136.2) and fifth in scoring (19.5 points per game).

Because its first two opponents were top-10 teams with impressive skill talent, Georgia's defense looks much worse on paper. The Bulldogs are 13th in the league in scoring defense (29.7 ppg), 11th in total defense (388.7 ypg), eighth against the run (143.3) and ninth against the pass (245.3 ypg).

However, they actually enter the LSU game after their best performance yet. In Saturday's 45-21 win against North Texas, Georgia surrendered just 7 rushing yards and 245 total yards -- nearly 400 fewer than the Bulldogs' offense generated that afternoon. Further, the Mean Green scored just one offensive touchdown -- the other two came on special-teams plays -- and otherwise sputtered on offense .

“I feel like we really stepped up this game,” Georgia sophomore safety Josh Harvey-Clemons said. “We had the off week to kind of get everybody in the right spot or whatever, and I feel like we're really jelling together and really getting that chemistry that we're going to need next week against LSU.”

It was still far from a perfect effort, but Georgia has now allowed opponents to score just 13 points in their last 18 drives, dating back to halftime of the South Carolina game when the score was tied at 24-24 before the Bulldogs pulled away for a 41-30 win.

“You want to have confidence,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said of his defense after the North Texas win. “I don't think this bunch is going to be overconfident after this game. I think they did begin to play well together and I think they can be proud of what happened. It was a very good performance. But LSU's a good team, and we want them as confident as possible, but we don't want them to think they've arrived, that's for sure, because we've got a long way to go.”

Miles' coaching staff can certainly empathize with that sentiment, particularly as it prepares to face a Georgia team that ranks sixth nationally in total offense at 574 ypg -- in the Tigers' first true road game of the season, no less.

Inconsistency has characterized both defenses over the first month of the season, but they realize that excuses over inexperience have nearly lost their shelf life. The defense that is better at minimizing its mistakes on Saturday will almost certainly win what should be one of the most impactful games either team will play this fall.

SEC lunch links

May, 2, 2013
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Making the rounds on a Thursday:
This marks the final year of the BCS, and you better believe the SEC would love to close the BCS era with eight straight titles. It would also ensure that the league has even more momentum going into the playoff, which starts during the 2014 season.

Colleague Travis Haney took a look at which conference has the best playoff path starting next year. He makes a pretty good case for the SEC, which should be able to get its conference champion in every year.

But who can wait for 2014 title talk? Yeah, me either, so why not take a look at SEC teams with the best BCS title paths in 2013? Spring practice begins this month, so we might as well throw out some very, very early thoughts on teams' championship hopes.

Let's take a look at which SEC teams have real BCS title shots in 2013:

ALABAMA

Pros: The Crimson Tide still have Nick Saban. That should be reason enough to make Alabama the odds on favorite to win its third straight national championship and fourth in five years. But there are many other reasons why Alabama tops our list. The offensive line might have to be rebuilt, but Alabama returns the nation's most efficient quarterback in AJ McCarron, who could have easily opted for the NFL after his junior year, a beast at running back in rising sophomore T.J. Yeldon, a host of talent -- and explosiveness -- at wide receiver, and most of the pieces to last year's top-ranked defense. Some big names have to be replaced on both sides, but this team really is reloading in 2013. Also, if the Tide can escape Virginia Tech (in Atlanta) and Texas A&M (in College Station) early, Alabama could go through the year unscathed, with road games coming against Kentucky, Mississippi State and Auburn.

Cons: Forget the pressure. Saban doesn't allow pressure to eat at his players. What Alabama has to do is replace three studs on that offensive line. Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker are all gone. Winning the battle in the trenches is essential to competing in the SEC, so Alabama's less experienced linemen have to grow up in a hurry. Also, no team can do it three times in a row, right?

TEXAS A&M

Pros: Johnny Manziel is back and last year proved that the Aggies are tough enough to compete in the big, bad SEC. Kliff Kingsbury might not be calling the plays anymore, but there is a lot of young talent on offense, including wide receiver Mike Evans and running backs Brandon Williams and Trey Williams, that should still give SEC defenses fits. A&M gets Alabama at home in Week 3 and trade Florida for Vanderbilt.

Cons: The Aggies lost a lot from their 2012 team. Left tackle Luke Joeckel is gone, along with receivers Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu, who combined for 98 catches for 1,398 yards and 15 touchdowns. The front seven has a lot to replace, including All-American defensive end Damontre Moore and linebackers Jonathan Stewart and Sean Porter. Kingsbury's sideline work with Manziel will be missed, and the Aggies have to play LSU, Ole Miss and Arkansas on the road.

GEORGIA

Pros: Georgia will be down wide receiver Tavarres King on offense, but it shouldn't be too hard to find someone to help make up for the loss of his production with all those talented receivers. "Gurshall" returns and so does quarterback Aaron Murray, who could become the first SEC quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards in each of his four years on campus. Bringing back the entire starting five on offense will also keep this offense trending upward.

Cons: The Bulldogs lost 12 players who either started or saw significant time on defense. Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree and Bacarri Rambo are just a few of the big names that are gone. There certainly is talent remaining, but replacing all those players would be tough for anyone. Also, look at that schedule. The Dawgs start the year with Clemson, South Carolina and LSU before September even arrives. Losing more than one game during that stretch could all but end Georgia's title hopes.

FLORIDA

Pros: The Gators lost some key players on defense, but coach Will Muschamp is bringing back a host of defensive talent that should do just fine in 2013. Marcus Roberson could be an All-SEC performer at cornerback, and incoming freshman Vernon Hargreaves III has the talent to start opposite him immediately. Ronald Powell returns to help out a young but very talented front seven that includes rising sophomores Dante Fowler Jr. and Jonathan Bullard. Also, the Gators should be very deep at running back and have a more complete offensive line in 2013.

Cons: No one is quite sure what to make of that offense. Sure, the Gators should be able to run the ball, even without workhorse Mike Gillislee, but what about throwing it? Jeff Driskel really struggled last year, and the Gators lost their best receiving option in tight end Jordan Reed. Florida will have to rely on five true freshmen to help at receiver, but Driskel has to increase his confidence and become a better presense in the huddle for this offense to improve at all. Florida also takes on Miami, LSU and South Carolina on the road.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Pros: The Gamecocks might be without Marcus Lattimore and Ace Sanders, but they should be very balanced on offense in 2013. South Carolina has two very capable quarterbacks to work with in Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson, a talented group of running backs returning, led by rising sophomore Mike Davis, and more experience at receiver. One-man wrecking crew Jadeveon Clowney is back, and could be a legit Heisman candidate. South Carolina also spends the final month of the season at home.

Cons: Replacing Sanders will be tough because he did so much on offense and special teams. Clowney will have help up front, but South Carolina must replace its two-deep at linebacker. That's going to be quite the chore. Also, stud safety D.J. Swearinger, Spur DeVonte Holloman and cornerback Akeem Auguste all have to be replaced. Right now, this staff will have to rely on a handful of youngsters to help out this spring. The Gamecocks must also go to Georgia, Tennessee and Arkansas.

LSU

Pros: The offense has to be more well-rounded in 2013. Cam Cameron is in at offensive coordinator, and quarterback Zach Mettenberger made major strides during the last month of the season. All of his receiving weapons are back, the offensive line should be better and there is a wealth of talent still at running back. The Tigers also get Florida, Texas A&M and Arkansas at home.

Cons: The defense was gutted after the 2012 season. The defensive line has to be rebuilt, someone has to step in for Kevin Minter at middle linebacker and the secondary must fill in the holes left by Eric Reid and Tharold Simon. There is a lot of young talent on defense, but guys have to grow up quickly in Baton Rouge this year. Playing Alabama and Georgia on the road will be very tough as well.

Lunchtime links

February, 25, 2013
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Congrats to "Argo" and "Django." Two great movies and both earned big honors last night.
Now that all of the early entries for this year's NFL draft are in, we decided to take a closer look at some of the players who decided to leave school early.

We're checking in on how teams were affected and who some of the winners and losers were from all of these early departures:

[+] EnlargeJoeckel
Brett Davis/US PresswireIt was a no-brainer for Luke Joeckel to take his talents to the NFL.
1. Biggest winners: Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel flirted with staying in school for his senior year, but it appears that would have been a major mistake for the nation's top left tackle. He was a guaranteed top-10 pick for most of the season, but with the draft creeping closer, Joeckel has a great chance of being the top pick come April. He definitely made the right decision to leave school early, and so did his teammate Damontre Moore. After a monster 2012 season, Moore could follow Joeckel as the second player taken off the board. He moved to defensive end last fall and is a very attractive pick for teams because of his versatility. Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones and Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner could also hear their names called very early in April, as they too could both be top-five picks.

2. Biggest loser: LSU was ravaged by the NFL draft, as ten underclassmen declared early. Some were pretty obvious, but others left people confused. It didn't shock anyone that defensive linemen Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo and Bennie Logan declared. Montgomery and Mingo could be first-round draft picks, while Logan could go within the first three rounds. Safety Eric Reid and linebacker Kevin Minter made sense as well, but seeing punter Brad Wing, cornerback Tharold Simon, offensive lineman Chris Faulk and running backs Spencer Ware and Michael Ford all leave was pretty surprising. The Tigers will be losing seven quality starters and basically their entire defensive line. LSU has a lot of quality youngsters who will be vying for major playing time, but losing all that experience will hurt the Tigers in 2013.

3. Head-scratchers: Ware, Ford and Simon could all have benefited from another year in Baton Rouge. Neither Ford nor Ware hit the 400-yard rushing mark and combined for just four touchdowns on the season. Maybe the emergence of freshman running back Jeremy Hill helped influence their decisions. South Carolina wide receiver Ace Sanders shocked everyone when he decided to turn pro at the last minute. Sanders was one of the league's top multipurpose weapons, and while he isn't going to get any taller (he's a generous 5-foot-8), he could use another year to improve his receiving skills. He'll be looked at as a returner first in the NFL and won't likely be drafted very high at all. Also, Florida linebacker Jelani Jenkins could have used another year of school as well. He was banged up in 2012, only playing in nine games, and registered just 29 tackles. He's a very smart player, but another year could have helped his draft status even more.

4. The replacements:

  • LSU loses a lot, but that doesn't mean that the Bayou is void of talent. Wing will be replaced by sophomore-to-be Jamie Keehn, who started in Wing's place for the Chick-fil-A Bowl. With Ware and Ford gone, Hill will be helped out by Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard in the run game. Junior-to-be Anthony Johnson should get more reps at defensive tackle with Logan gone, and he'll also be helped by Ego Ferguson. Jalen Mills and Jalen Collins both had solid seasons at corner, so expect more of each with Simon gone.
  • With Eddie Lacy leaving Alabama, rising sophomore T.J. Yeldon will now be the guy at running back for the Crimson Tide. With his 1,000-yard season, he's already proven that he can more than handle himself in this league. He'll also be helped by Dee Hart and Jalston Fowler, who are both returning from knee injuries, and Kenyan Drake, who looked impressive in mop-up duty last season. Also, keep an eye on incoming freshman Derrick Henry, who is already on campus and should be a factor in the run game.
  • Sanders' departure at South Carolina means Bruce Ellington is now the top returning receiver for the Gamecocks, and it also puts more on the shoulders of Shaq Roland, who was expected to make an immediate impact during his freshman year. Roland has the skills to be a big-time threat in the passing game.
  • Georgia lost some key juniors on defense, but no one will be missed more than Jones. Jordan Jenkins came on strong in his first year last fall, and will do his best to replace Jones' pass-rushing ability.
  • Florida only lost three underclassmen to the draft, but replacing safety Matt Elam and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd will be tough. There are a host of youngsters who could vie for Elam's spot (keep an eye on freshman Marcus Maye), while Damien Jacobs will help man the middle of Florida's line with Leon Orr.

SEC weekend movement

January, 7, 2013
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All the attention is on tonight's Discover BCS National Championship, but eyes were all over the SEC over the weekend, with a handful of players making decisions about their futures.

Here's a look at some of the movers and shakers from the weekend to check up on:

FLORIDA

Backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who was beaten by Jeff Driskel for the starting spot at the beginning of the season, and reserve running back Chris Johnson, who was primarily used on special teams, have decided to transfer. Brissett's decision didn't shock anyone. He was behind Driskel all year and played in just five games and his only start came late in the year when Driskel was out with an ankle injury. Johnson arrived at Florida as a safety, but moved to running back, where he was buried on the depth chart. His lasting image with the team was being ejected in the Gators' loss to Louisville in the Allstate Sugar Bowl for punching a Louisville player.

The loss of Brissett is significant when it comes to depth. After Driskel, the Gators will have three scholarship quarterbacks entering the 2013 season, but basically no experience. Tyler Murphy will be a redshirt junior, but has never thrown a pass at the college level, while Skyler Mornhinweg will be a redshirt freshman and Max Staver will be a true freshman. That means Driskel's health becomes the top priority in 2013 for the Gators.

GEORGIA

While Florida lost a quarterback, Georgia kept one, with Aaron Murray deciding to stay for one last year with the Bulldogs. Murray seriously considered leaving school early for the NFL, but will return for one final attempt at making a run to a championship. With the defense Georgia had in 2012, this past season felt like the best chance Murray had at winning multiple championships with the Bulldogs. Next year's defense will be gutted, so it will be back to the drawing board for that side of the ball.

One thing that has been counted against Murray when it comes to the pro level is his height. At 6-foot-1, he doesn't have ideal height for a quarterback, but what might have helped him in this year's draft was the play of Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who stands just 5-11, but has had a tremendous rookie year. Murray isn't going to get any taller, but he does have a chance to break even more records in a Bulldogs uniform and could improve his stock for the 2014 NFL draft.

On Friday, linebacker Jarvis Jones decided to enter April's NFL draft. No shocker at all, as he's No. 1 on ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.'s Big Board. Jones is a two-time All-American and has been right at the top of the list for the nation's best defensive player for the past two years. He would have been silly to come back for a final year at Georgia, and he's going to make himself -- and his family -- a ton of money. He was one of the league's most exciting players to watch, but it was his time to move on.

LSU

There was a mass exodus from LSU over the weekend, as eight underclassmen decided to leave the Bayou. It started with linebacker Kevin Minter last week. Then, safety Eric Reid, cornerback Tharold Simon, running back Spencer Ware and punter Brad Wing decided to leave LSU early Friday. On Sunday, sources told ESPN's Joe Schad that defensive linemen Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo and Bennie Logan would also enter the NFL draft.

Losing those linemen wasn't much of a surprise, as Mingo and Montgomery are projected to be first-round draft picks, and Logan is rated as Kiper's fifth-best defensive tackle among juniors. Wing's time in Baton Rouge seemed to be coming to an end, and his bowl suspension didn't help, but Simon and Ware could have benefited from another year of football. With the emergence of freshman Jeremy Hill, Ware saw his carries decline in 2012, while Simon still has some room to improve. He's rated the No. 15 cornerback by ESPN Scouts Inc., but didn't blow a ton of people away in 2012. He has great size and instincts, but it was surprising to see him leave early.

Mass exodus continues at LSU

January, 4, 2013
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The number of confirmed underclassmen leaving LSU early for the NFL draft is up to five, and that number could grow to eight before it's over.

LSU announced on Friday that safety Eric Reid, cornerback Tharold Simon, running back Spencer Ware and punter Brad Wing had joined linebacker Kevin Minter in declaring early for the NFL draft.

Defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo are also expected to come out, and Randy Rosetta of The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported Friday that there are indications that defensive tackle Bennie Logan is also leaning toward declaring for the draft.

If all eight players do come out, that would be six defensive starters leaving early, which even for a program like LSU that has raked in the talent, is a tough pill to swallow.

The good news is that the Tigers still have a lot of young talent in the program that they're high on defensively, and several of those -- cornerbacks Jalen Mills and Jalen Collins, defensive tackle Anthony Johnson and linebacker Kwon Alexander -- all played extensively this season as sophomores or younger.

Get ready to see a lot of new faces next season in bigger roles.

Another one of LSU's top defensive weapons is leaving, as the school announced Friday that junior safety Eric Reid will forgo his senior season and enter the NFL draft.

It's hardly a surprise that the All-American decided to throw his hat into the draft, but the Tigers will really miss their leader and ball hawk. Reid is ranked third among junior safeties by ESPN Insider Mel Kiper Jr. and is No. 42 overall by ESPN's Scouts Inc. He joins linebacker Kevin Minter and cornerback Tharold Simon as the LSU juniors leaving early for the NFL, but he probably won't be the last with all the top junior talent sitting on LSU's defense.

As the only returning starter in LSU's secondary this year, Reid finished the season with 91 tackles and two interceptions. During his three-year career, Reid started 29 games and recorded 194 tackles with six interceptions.

Reid wasn't just an outstanding player for the Tigers, he was a top-notch individual as well. The Baton Rouge native bled purple and gold long before he stepped on LSU's campus and he was the ultimate leader for the Tigers during his career. LSU will certainly miss that aspect of Reid's game and the Tigers will definitely miss his tremendous play as the last line of defense for them.

"I've been very fortunate and blessed to have been able to play football at LSU," Reid said in a news release. "It was always my dream to go to LSU and play football."

LSU's defense is expected to also lose junior defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo. Defensive tackle Bennie Logan and punter Brad Wing also are considering making the jump to the NFL.

Best/worst in 2012: LSU

December, 18, 2012
12/18/12
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LSU is up next in our look at the best and worst moments for all 14 SEC teams in 2012:

BEST

It was the third leg of what was the SEC's most grueling stretch of the season. It started with a 14-6 loss on the road at Florida, but LSU rebounded at home the next week with a 23-21 win over South Carolina. Then came a trip to Texas A&M the very next week, and LSU quickly fell behind 12-0. Kyle Field was rocking, and the Tigers looked like they were in huge trouble. But the defense rose up and forced five turnovers and kept Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel on the run in the second half. The Tigers intercepted him three times and generated enough big plays on offense to rally for a 24-19 win. The big blows were a diving 29-yard touchdown catch by Kadron Boone just before halftime and a 47-yard touchdown romp by freshman Jeremy Hill to put the game away with 3:12 remaining. Hill's touchdown came on the first play after Tharold Simon intercepted Manziel and returned it 10 yards into Texas A&M territory. It was the second straight gutsy win for the Tigers, who still had the fourth leg of their gauntlet remaining -- Alabama at home following a bye week.

WORST

There was so much that went right for LSU in its gut-wrenching 21-17 loss to Alabama. The Tigers fought back from a 14-3 deficit, a comeback that whipped the crowd at Tiger Stadium into a frenzy. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who had struggled all season along with the entire LSU passing game, came alive and began picking the Alabama secondary apart in the second half. When he hit Jarvis Landry with a 14-yard touchdown pass to put LSU ahead early in the fourth quarter, it looked like the Tigers were well on their way to handing the Crimson Tide their first defeat. But Alabama, which had been stopped in its tracks the entire second half, was able to muster one final drive, culminating with a 28-yard screen pass to T.J. Yeldon for a touchdown with 51 seconds remaining. Just like that, what had been one giant party on the Bayou turned into a huge downer for the Tigers and a second straight loss to the Crimson Tide.

Aggies hang with LSU, but fall short

October, 20, 2012
10/20/12
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Johnny ManzielRonald Martinez/Getty ImagesJohnny Manziel and Texas A&M hung tough, but LSU prevailed.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Are they good enough?

That is a question that many fans, observers and pundits posed or tried to answer when Texas A&M initially announced it was moving to the Southeastern Conference.

Are the Aggies good enough to compete with the best the SEC -- college football's premier league -- has to offer? There were many skeptics and there still will be some after the No. 18 Aggies' 24-19 loss to No. 6 LSU on Saturday at Kyle Field.

But if you watched closely, one thing became evident as the events unfolded in front of the 87,429 in the building. Not only are the Aggies good enough to compete with a top-10 team from the SEC, they're good enough to beat said team.

The Aggies lost for many reasons, some self-inflicted, some imposed by the Tigers. But it wasn't because they were outclassed or simply weren't good enough. The Aggies proved to be more than up to snuff against the physicality of one of the SEC's traditional powers, LSU, a two-time BCS champion since 2003.

Saturday was evidence that Texas A&M, by the looks of it, is ready to go toe-to-toe with the SEC's big boys. But it was also evidence that the Aggies have a long way to go.

"This one hurts a lot," senior center Patrick Lewis, a Louisiana native, said. "I know a lot of those guys on that team and it would have been real nice to get a win, not only for myself but for our team and for Kyle Field. It's a win that Texas A&M has needed for a real long time. But we've got to get over it. We have a lot of ball to play. We go on the road next week in another hostile environment. We're going to learn from the mistakes we made today and we're going to continue to get better."

The Aggies left points on the board when a chop block penalty on offensive lineman Jarvis Harrison and Luke Joeckel erased a throwback screen pass to Ben Malena that would have been a 34-yard first-quarter touchdown. That would have given Texas A&M a possible 13-0 lead fewer than 10 minutes into the game.

Instead, it had to settle for a field goal and it took until the 7:24 mark in the second quarter before the Aggies pushed the lead to double digits.

Redshirt freshman kicker Taylor Bertolet missed 2-of-4 field goals, one of which came from 33 yards in the fourth quarter after a 76-yard kickoff return by freshman Trey Williams. So after starting from the LSU 16-yard line and cutting into a 17-12 Tigers lead, the Aggies came away with no points.

"We left some points out there, obviously, with a couple missed field goals," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. "Against a team like that, you want to score touchdowns in the red zone."

And Saturday was also a learning experience for redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, who has dazzled onlookers with his ability to improvise and make plays with his legs and his right arm and appeared on the verge of taking college by storm.

The Kerrville (Texas) Tivy product still showed some of his signature playmaking ability, but LSU kept the young man dubbed "Johnny Football" from breaking the game open. The speed of the Tigers defense was able to run him down and prevent big ground gains (he finished with a season-low 27 yards on 17 carries) and when he tried to force passes while scrambling -- like the one Tharold Simon picked off with 3:20 to go in the game -- they made him pay.

Earlier this season when the Aggies defeated SMU, Manziel made one of many highlight-worthy plays when he was able to spin out of a sack, throw off one foot and complete a touchdown pass to Kenric McNeal. Against LSU, there was a moment where Manziel scrambled left, switch the ball to his left hand and threw it and was nearly intercepted by an LSU defender.

It was a learning experience for the young quarterback, who was appearing in just his seventh game.

"He learns from everything," Sumlin said. "He learns from every series. Every experience is a learning experience for him right now. This is game seven for him. It's a completely different environment. He's as hard on himself as we are as coaches. [Offensive coordinator] Kliff [Kingsbury's] doing a great job with him. We just have to keep getting better and he'll continue to do that."

Sumlin said the mistakes can be attributed to a combination of youth, lack of execution and the caliber of the Aggies opponent.

"Where we have to get over the hump is execution and being consistent," he said. "It's no different than what I've said from Game One. Against a very talented team the margin for error gets really, really slim. We made too many today."

It's clear that the Aggies aren't there yet, but potential for success against the SEC's elite is there if the mistakes made on Saturday are corrected.

"I think we're very close," Aggies senior receiver Uzoma Nwachukwu said. "We're a team that defensively, they're excited, they're jumping around, they're running to the ball. We have a great defense and offensively, the sky is the limit for us. We just have to focus down on the little things that make great things: turnovers, penalties and things like that. We have to harp on that and if we want to get to elite status, that's what we have to do."

Instant analysis: LSU 24, Texas A&M 19

October, 20, 2012
10/20/12
4:29
PM ET


COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Maybe Johnny Manziel and his Texas A&M Aggies aren't quite ready for their SEC coming-out.

Even in a game they dominated.

Two second-quarter turnovers led to two touchdowns and helped No. 6 LSU erase a 12-point second-quarter deficit for a 24-19 SEC win at Kyle Field on Saturday. Despite a 410-316 yardage edge for the Aggies, No. 18 Texas A&M had five turnovers, including three interceptions for Manziel, who completed 29 of 56 passes for 276 yards.

It was over when: LSU running back Jeremy Hill took a power run 47 yards for a touchdown with 3:12 left. The play was eerily similar to his 50-yard touchdown that gave the Tigers a 23-21 win over South Carolina last week. Manziel was intercepted by LSU's Tharold Simon on the play before -- Manziel's third of the game, doubling his season total.

Game ball goes to: Hill, the LSU true freshman running back who rambled for 127 yards on 18 carries, again breaking out the big run when the game was on the line.

Key stat: 5-0. The turnover margin. After LSU gave up a first-quarter touchdown drive and a field goal drive, the Tigers figured out A&M's spread offense, harassed slippery Manziel and forced turnovers. Texas A&M jumped to a 9-0 first-quarter lead that increased to 12-0 in the second quarter, but it did not score another touchdown until the game's final two minutes.

Key play: Zach Mettenberger's 29-yard touchdown pass to Kadron Boone with 11 seconds left in the first half. After the Aggies had dominated the half, Boone made a nice double move, then a diving catch to give LSU a shocking 14-12 halftime lead.
The touchdown was set up by a Ben Malena fumble, forced by Ronald Martin and recovered by Lamin Barrow.

What it means: Ready or not, LSU (7-1, 3-1) has its showdown with No. 1 Alabama in two weeks, and the Tigers will have a lot to work on in their off week. The Tigers had triple-digit penalty yards and, as has often been the case, could not move the chains consistently.

Texas A&M (4-2, 2-2) is now 0-2 against the SEC powers, both close losses at home. The Aggies have shown they belong, but maybe aren't quite ready for prime time.

Instant analysis: LSU 12, Auburn 10

September, 22, 2012
9/22/12
10:55
PM ET


No. 2 LSU entered Jordan-Hare Stadium as a 20-point favorite Saturday night against Auburn. Instead, the Tigers escaped by the skin of their teeth with a 12-10 victory.

Here's how it transpired in a classic, defensive SEC nail-biter on the Plains.

It was over when: LSU cornerback Tharold Simon intercepted Auburn quarterback Kiehl Frazier on a fourth down desperation heave to end Auburn's bid at a last-second miracle win.

Game ball goes to: LSU running back Spencer Ware announced his return to college football with a hard-nosed night in place of injured starter Alfred Blue. Ware beat up on Auburn for 90 hard-earned yards on 16 carries. He also caught two passes for 44 yards, one of which was a 33-yard gain on a crucial third and four late in the fourth quarter.

Game ball part II: You probably won't see a better performance from punters this season. LSU punter Brad Wing booted eight balls on the night for 338 yards -- a 42.3-yard average -- with three of those falling inside the Auburn 20. Auburn punter Steven Clark knocked seven punts of his own for 287 yards -- a 41-yard average -- with two of his punts downed inside the LSU 20.

Key stat: LSU committed nine penalties for 80 yards, several of them coming in dead-ball situations. The Bayou Bengals committed two costly turnovers in the first half, but they bounced back to force three Auburn turnovers in the second half.

Key stat part II: LSU scored its only touchdown of the night with 4:18 to play in the first quarter -- a one-yard run from running back Michael Ford. Auburn held the Tigers out of the end zone for the next 49 minutes of play after that.

What it means: This was LSU's first big test of the season -- the Tigers' first SEC game and their first trip outside the friendly confines of Tiger Stadium. To say they didn't live up to the No. 2 ranking is an understatement. The Tigers played ugly, and their offense at times displayed the same problems that limited LSU in 2011. That said, the LSU defense did its part by holding Auburn to a mere 183 yards of offense, and the Tigers got the all-important win.

Auburn showed resiliency in fighting to the end after a disappointing 1-2 start to the season. But moral victories don't count for much in the SEC, and Auburn is now an ugly 0-2 in SEC play. Frazier looked better than he did against Mississippi State, but he still only threw for 97 yards and threw two costly picks.

GeauxTigerNation links: Stopping Price

September, 5, 2012
9/05/12
11:54
AM ET
Gary Laney writes: LSU DE Barkevious Mingo and CB Tharold Simon expect different challenges as they try to stop Washington's wide-open attack led by QB Keith Price.

David Helman writes: 2013 QBs Anthony Jennings and Hayden Rettig keep a close eye on LSU, with Jennings liking the look of the offense under Zach Mettenberger in Week 1 and Retting tuning out calls from West Coast schools.

Note: Check back later with GeauxTigerNation for developments from this afternoon's practice.

GeauxTigerNation links: Blue, Muncie start

August, 29, 2012
8/29/12
6:04
PM ET
Gary Laney writes: Running back Arthur Blue and linebacker Luke Muncie are the two biggest surprise starters coming out of LSU’s preseason.

Video: Insider Muncie talks with Laney about making his first career start Saturday against North Texas.

Video: Insider LSU cornerback Tharold Simon talks with David Helman about the Tigers' attempt to balance preparation for both a game and a storm.

Laney/Helman: Insider Staff predictions for the SEC.

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