SEC: Wes Brown
Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas: Completed 18 of 34 passes for 313 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions, leading Arkansas to a 42-21 win against Mississippi State. Mallett matched his own school record for touchdown passes in a single game with five. He also set school marks for touchdown passes in a season (28) and touchdowns responsible for in a season (30).
Sam Maxwell, LB, Kentucky: Collected a career-high 11 tackles, including one for loss, in the Wildcats’ 34-27 win at Georgia. In the final two minutes of the game, Maxwell made two game-saving plays for the Wildcats. With Georgia driving for the potential tying touchdown, he stopped Georgia tailback Caleb King at the 1-yard line. He also intercepted a pass, clinching the win for the Wildcats.
Javier Arenas, CB, Alabama: Set an SEC career record with his seventh punt return for a touchdown in Alabama’s 45-0 win against Chattanooga. His 66-yard return for a touchdown came early in the second quarter and gave the Crimson Tide a 28-0 lead. Arenas has 1,658 career punt return yards, which is second in SEC history.
Reid Neely, G, Ole Miss: Played a key role in Ole Miss gaining 426 total yards against LSU in the Rebels’ 25-23 win. Neely was credited with 14 finishes, four knockdown blocks and two pancakes, grading out at 98 percent in the run game and 94 percent in the pass game.
Wes Brown, T, Tennessee: Accounted for three total tackles, including a sack for minus-9 yards, an interception and a quarterback pressure in Tennessee’s 31-16 win against Vanderbilt. Brown returned the interception 25 yards for a touchdown on the game’s final offensive play.
Warren Norman, RB, Vanderbilt: Accumulated 152 all-purpose yards, breaking an SEC freshman all-purpose yardage record in the Commodores' 31-16 loss at Tennessee. Norman finished the season with 1,941 all-purpose yards, breaking a mark set by Georgia’s Herschel Walker in 1980.
Ole Miss running back Dexter McCluster: Had McCluster been this involved in the Ole Miss offense back in September, we might be talking about the Heisman Trophy front-runner right now. He’s run for a touchdown, caught a touchdown and thrown a touchdown this season. He’s 97 yards away from a 1,000-yard rushing season after racking up 148 Saturday against a rugged LSU defense in Ole Miss’ 25-23 win. He’s 88 yards away from a 500-yard receiving season. Here’s one for the SEC historians: When’s the last time a player had 1,000 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards in the same season. Has it ever happened?
Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett: Two of his first 20 passes were interceptions, and Mallett wasn’t as accurate as he had been in his previous three games, but how do you complain with five touchdown passes? The 6-foot-7 sophomore now has 28 touchdown passes on the season, breaking Clint Stoerner’s old record of 26 at Arkansas, and is having one of the best seasons for a first-year quarterback in the SEC in league history. His five touchdown passes went to four different receivers, and he carved Mississippi State apart in a 42-21 victory.
Tennessee defensive tackle Wes Brown: The gritty senior has been the inspirational leader for Tennessee’s defense all season long. He’s fought through aching knees, most of the time unable to practice because of the pain. But Brown has given the Vols everything he has and refused to call it quits. His final play at Neyland Stadium was one he won’t soon forget. He intercepted a Mackenzi Adams pass in the final seconds and dragged a Vanderbilt defender with him for a 25-yard touchdown to cap the Vols’ 31-16 win over the Commodores. “A dream come true,” is the way Brown explained his home finale.
Kentucky linebacker Sam Maxwell: You think Kentucky’s 34-27 win over Georgia meant a little something to Maxwell, a Hartwell, Ga., product? It had been 32 years since the Wildcats had won in Athens, and it’s fitting that a Georgia boy would seal the deal for Kentucky with an interception in the final minutes. Maxwell picked off Joe Cox’s short pass over the middle with 1:45 to play. And before that, he was all over the field for the Wildcats and led them with 11 total tackles.
Alabama cornerback Javier Arenas: For a guy who was supposedly too small to play at this level, Arenas has had one dynamite career. He played his final game at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday in a 45-0 rout of Chattanooga and bid farewell with the seventh punt return for a touchdown in his illustrious career. He took one back 66 yards to set an SEC record and also intercepted a pass in his home finale. Arenas might be known more for his punt return skills, but he’s developed into one of the better all-around cornerbacks in the league with his ability to blitz, play the run and the cover the pass.
He's a guy who has persevered all season on bad knees, but has refused to come out of the lineup. He'll definitely remember his last play in Neyland Stadium.
Vanderbilt quarterback Mackenzi Adams was being pressured
in the final seconds and threw one up that Brown intercepted. He lumbered in for the touchdown, carrying a Vanderbilt player with him the final 5 yards and lunging into the end zone.
A sea of orange piled on top of Brown to celebrate with him in the checkerboard end zone.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
|AP Photo/Wade Payne|
|Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin takes the traditional Vol Walk before Saturday's game against Western Kentucky|
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Never mind that it was a glorified scrimmage.
And never mind that Western Kentucky was probably the most outmanned team to come into Neyland Stadium since Louisiana-Monroe limped in here in 2000 and lost 70-3.
The Lane Kiffin era kicked off Saturday with a 63-7 massacre that produced more fireworks over the Tennessee River than were shot off all of last season.
“Yeah, it was Western Kentucky. But to us, that didn’t matter,” said Marsalis Teague, one of three true freshmen to score touchdowns for the Vols. “We didn’t care who the opponent was. We were going to come out and try to take it to them regardless of who we were playing. For us to get out there and do our thing … it just makes you feel great to be a Volunteer.
“Hopefully, we can have a lot more of these days.”
For Kiffin, it was finally a chance to put a product on the field after nine months of shaking it up off the field in the SEC.
It’s a product –- regardless of how helpless the Hilltoppers were for most of the day –- that bodes well for the future of Tennessee’s program, especially when you consider how many fresh faces were on the field and making plays.
Teague led the Vols in receiving with six catches for 86 yards. He was one of 10 Tennessee players to catch passes.
Freshman tailback Bryce Brown rushed for 104 yards on 11 carries. He was one of two Tennessee players to crack the 100-yard mark. Senior Montario Hardesty, looking as healthy and explosive as ever, had a career-high 160 yards rushing on 18 carries.
Tennessee finished with 380 rushing yards, its most in a game since rolling up 406 yards on the ground in 1994 against Vanderbilt.
“This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone. Coach Kiffin told us all that if we came here, we were going to get a chance to play,” said Brown, who scored the first of the Vols’ nine touchdowns on a 2-yard run. “Everybody showed up and did what they do.”
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
One of the unsung leaders on Tennessee's defense is fifth-year senior tackle Wes Brown.
He's been an inspiration with the way he's fought through throbbing pain in both knees. Not only did he slide inside to tackle this season from end for the good of the team, but he's been a shining example of what staying the course is all about.
Brown is hurting, and that's obvious. It was all he could do to finish Wednesday's practice, but he did.
"It's been a struggle, but my team deserves it," said Brown, who's had two surgeries on his knees in the past eight months. "This is my last year, so I want to get out there and have a good last year. It's going to be tough. I know there's going to be days when I'm going to be more sore than others, but I'm not done yet.
"I'm going to keep playing until the good Lord tells me I can't. I'm taking it day by day."
The reality is that the Vols will have to be pretty selective with Brown if they want to have him for the whole season. He's simply not going to be able to take the pounding day after day and play after play for the next four months.
Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin likened him to a 12-year NFL veteran and acknowledged that's the way they would probably treat him.
"We've really got to make sure we're getting the right stuff out of him and not overworking him," Kiffin said.
The Vols are already thin at tackle. If you take Brown out of the equation, it really gets scary.
This is a huge preseason camp for 6-foot-4, 312-pound redshirt freshman Montori Hughes, who was one of the stars of the spring. And more than ever, Tennessee needs incoming freshman Marlon Walls to get eligible.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
We start a week-long primer today that should further get you ready for the start of spring practice in the SEC.
The first topic: Who are the five players or coaches in the SEC that will be the toughest to replace in 2009?
Let's face it. There are some big shoes to fill in this league.
|Charles Sonnenblick/Getty Images|
|It won't be easy for Florida to replace Percy Harvin.|
1. Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith: This was an easy choice for the top spot. For one, Smith is one of the best left tackles to come through the SEC in the last decade. He was dominant in every way. But go back and look at what the Crimson Tide did (or didn't do) without him last season in the two games he missed. They struggled mightily against Tulane and were torched by Utah in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Retooling the offensive line will be a major undertaking for Alabama. Also gone are All-America center Antoine Caldwell and steady guard Marlon Davis. A couple of first-year players could be in line to replace Smith -- junior college newcomer James Carpenter and highly rated true freshman D.J. Fluker, who won't be on campus until this summer. If neither are ready, Alabama might have to move Mike Johnson over to left tackle from his guard spot. Johnson filled in for Smith in the bowl game before leaving with an ankle injury.
2. Florida running back/receiver Percy Harvin: How do you replace the most explosive player in the SEC, maybe the explosive player in all of college football? Harvin was a threat to go the distance as a running back and a receiver, and it didn't matter where you lined him up. The only knock on him was that he was prone to injury. He was coming back from a nasty sprained ankle in the FedEx BCS National Championship Game, but still managed to rush for 122 yards on nine carries, catch five passes for 49 yards and score a touchdown in the 15th straight game in which he'd played. Without him, Florida probably doesn't beat Oklahoma. Don't feel too sorry for the Gators, though. They still have plenty of speedy playmakers -- just nobody quite like Harvin. Some of the guys to watch are Deonte Thompson, David Nelson and incoming true freshman Andre Debose. Florida also redshirted three receivers last season who were all highly rated coming out of high school.
3. Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford: As great as running back Knowshon Moreno was, strong-armed quarterbacks like Stafford, who've started since their freshman season, are invaluable. His leaving early for the NFL draft also means Georgia will be going with somebody at quarterback (whoever it is) that has little or no experience in SEC competition. With Stafford's ability to make every throw, he kept defensive coordinators honest. He could beat you a number of different ways. Some of the Georgia fans got down on him at times because of untimely interceptions, but he led the SEC with an average of 266.1 passing yards per game last season and was second with 25 touchdowns, while completing 61.4 percent of his passes. Those numbers won't be easy to replace. Taking his shot will be fifth-year senior Joe Cox, who rallied Georgia past Colorado as a redshirt freshman in 2006. True freshmen Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger are already on campus and will go through spring practice, and sophomore Logan Gray is one of the best all-around athletes on the team.
4. Tennessee defensive end Robert Ayers: If you've been keeping up with the NFL combine, you're getting a feel for what kind of talent Ayers is. He was the second-best player on Tennessee's team last season behind All-American safety Eric Berry. The 6-foot-3, 270-pound Ayers was the kind of defensive lineman coaches love. He could play inside or outside and finished third in the SEC with 15.5 tackles for loss. Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith said Ayers was the best player he faced last season and was equally good as a pass rusher and against the run. The other thing that makes Ayers so difficult to replace is that the Vols are scary thin on the defensive line, and they certainly don't have a proven difference-maker at this point in Ayers' mold. This is a big spring for junior defensive ends Ben Martin and Chris Walker, but neither are big enough to slide inside and help. Senior Wes Brown may get a look inside after having a solid 2008 season at end. But other than senior tackle Dan Williams, there's not much there on the interior for the Vols.
5. Ole Miss defensive tackle Peria Jerry: The only reason Jerry's not a little higher up on this list is because Ole Miss does have some quality depth in its defensive line. Former Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron had recruited extremely well in the defensive line, and Jerry was the gem of that group. He was the SEC's most dominant defensive tackle during the last half of the 2008 season and completely took over games at times. He wrecked opposing teams' plays before they ever had a chance to get started and lifted the play of everybody else around him. Jerry was a first-team All-American who led the SEC with 18.5 tackles for loss from his tackle position, and that kind of player doesn't come around every day. He was also one of the leaders of the Rebels' defense. Ole Miss returns Ted Laurent, Lawon Scott and Jerrell Powe in the middle. Laurent and Scott both have star potential, and if the 335-pound Powe can keep his weight down, he also has a chance to be a real factor next season.