Posted on: November 2, 2011 5:22 pm
Edited on: November 3, 2011 1:58 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Counting down to LSU-Alabama with a daily dose of analysis and news.
DAYS REMAINING TO KICKOFF: 3, or .6 yards less than Alabama outgains their opponents on an average play; the difference between their 6.8 yards gained per-play and 3.2 allowed is the widest in the nation. LSU's per-play margin checks in at an impressive +1.6 (5.6 offensive, 4.0 defensive), and it's worth noting that that number has come against a tougher schedule than Alabama's ... though that 2.0-yard gap between the teams is still, statistically speaking, an enormous one (and explains why the Tide have been established as the Vegas favorite). 3 is also the number worn by Tide freshman DB/LB Vinnie Sunseri, and that Richardson kid everyone's always going on about.
QUESTION OF THE DAY: We know about the stars on both teams. But of course not every player who'll make an impact on the game will be a star. Who are some of the under-the-radar players that could/should shine Saturday?
Before we answer that, let's note that when we say there are stars on both teams, we mean it. Take a look over this excellent breakdown of the two teams' NFL draft prospects by CBSSports.com draft analyst Rob Rang, and it's obvious that -- despite a light crop of NFL prospects in the Tigers' senior class -- what's "crystal clear as the BCS trophy is that Alabama and LSU are loaded," as Rang writes.
(Maybe the most interesting nugget from Rang's piece? That LSU's Morris Claiborne is "arguably the elite cover corner in the SEC." Wonder what Dre Kirkpatrick, Casey Hayward and even LSU teammate Tyrann Mathieu would say about that.)
But as much fun as it is to discuss the Trent Richardsons and Rueben Randles of the world, we know there's always 22 players on the field and better than 80 on each roster. Saturday's game won't be decided by the draftable athletes alone. So here's three players from each team whose impact could outshine their press clippings:
Anthony Steen, RG. Steen took some heat from Tide fans after struggling mightily with Nick Fairley during his team's collapse from 24-0 ahead in the 2010 Iron Bowl, but the sophomore has rebounded nicely to help the Alabama running game reestablish itself as one of the best in the nation. If Steen can show exactly how much he's improved by handling LSU's powerful tackle tandem of Michael Brockers and Anthony Johnson, the Tide will have taken a big step towards keeping that run game going.
Jesse Williams, DT. The Australian native and former JUCO standout (pictured at left) took a bit to find his feet in Tuscaloosa, but has come on in recent weeks and played a major part in stuffing Arkansas with five tackles overall and two for loss. If he shows similar big-game flair Saturday, LSU will have a tough time moving the ball on the ground.
DeQuan Menzie, CB. The de facto fifth Beatle of the Tide secondary, Menzie will no doubt have just as much to do as his more celebrated teammates, whether it's helping on Randle, gang-tackling Spencer Ware or Michael Ford, or tracking the likes of Odell Beckham Jr. The way Jarrett Lee has been playing, if Menzie plays like a weak link in the Tide defensive backfield, the Tigers will take advantage.
Odell Beckham Jr., WR. Speaking of the true freshman Beckham, Randle can't be the only legitimate threat in the Tiger receiving corps or Barron and Co. will squeeze him out of the game. Beckham (right) and tight end DeAngelo Peterson must make their presence felt.
Will Blackwell, RG. Moving the Tide's front seven out of the holes needed for the LSU running game won't be easy, but if any of the LSU linemen are up to it, it's got to be the agile 6'4", 303-pound senior. It's going to take both power and guile to maintain any running consistency vs. the Tide front, and we like Blackwell's combination of those qualities as much as anyone's on the LSU front.
Kevin Minter, LB. We mentioned two days ago that the LSU linebacking corps hasn't been quite as special as most of the other units on the team, but that doesn't mean this fast-rising sophomore and fellow 'backer Ryan Baker don't have the potential to rise up and play over their heads. They may have to to keep Richardson in check.
THE LATEST HERE AT CBSSPORTS.COM: In addition to Rang's draft breakdown, there's a metric ton of cool LSU-Alabama content here at CBSSports.com. Dennis Dodd has taken a look at the LSU defense under John Chavis and Bruce Feldman the Tide's linebacker-driven D. Bryan Fischer has profiled LSU's budding 2012 recruiting class with Alabama due the get the same treatment at Eye on Recruiting later Wednesday. The Free Bruce Podcast Wednesday with Feldman previewed the game with special guest Paul Finebaum. And here's CBS Sports Network's Jason Horowitz and Spencer Tillman offering their takes on the game:
Tide fans, though, will want to make sure they read Tony Barnhart's Q&A with Nick Saban, as well as watching the video of the interview below:
THE LATEST FROM TUSCALOOSA: We've got some bad news for LSU: Dont'a Hightower says that the Bryant-Denny Stadium crowd has already shown itself capable of hampering opposing offenses ... and maybe even the Tide's own?
"They did an excellent job at Tennessee," Hightower said. "Even when our offense was on the field, they were so loud I couldn’t really hear or know what Coach (Kirby) Smart was saying." That's quite the accomplishment, and considering that the crowd should be much livelier for a game it knows could propel their Tide into the BCS national championship ... well, let's just say we're hoping LSU has practiced their silent counts.
Is Richardson not the only Heisman candidate on the Tide roster? Center William Vlachos revealed Tuesday that he, too, has received a Heisman vote ... from Heisman winner and former Tide star Mark Ingram. "Seriously," Vlachos said. "Seriously." We believe you, William.
Also: Saban compares telling his players to ignore the hype to setting down ground rules for a son or daughter's date ... Williams talks about his tradition of painting his face for games ... Duron Carter is playing the part of Jordan Jefferson in practice ... Richardson says Mathieu is a "tremendous player."
THE LATEST FROM BATON ROUGE: Apparently it's not just the Tigers' Australian punter Brad Wing who could use a crash course in the history of their opponent this week; end Sam Montgomery admitted Tuesday he thought of Bear Bryant as a Tide player and said "I don't know anything" about the Alabama legend. We might chalk this up as some kind of odd smack talk if Montgomery didn't also admit to not recognizing Steve Spurrier when the Ol' Ball Coach paid Montgomery's high school a recruiting visit.
We already gave you Saban, so here's Les Miles talking to Tim Brando about the game:
Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal and Alabama governor Robert Bentley have made the politicians' traditional food-based bet on the game, with Bentley offering a Tuscaloosa sandwich shop's "13 National Championships BLT" (with 13 strips of bacon) vs. Jindal's Louisiana seafood dinner. Frankly, as much as we like bacon, we think Bentley's coming out a bit ahead here. But Jindal sonds by far the more confident of the two.
“He (Bentley) is a nice man and a good friend,“ Jindal said. “But we expect to beat them and treat them badly. We will not be gracious guests.“ Oh snap!
Also: Miles suggests his team ignore their social media for a week, saying "we needed no Twitter personalities in this game" ... Mathieu, speaking publicly for the first time since his suspension for the Auburn game, says he "let a lot of people down ... Miles said that Jefferson will "play a key role" and be "oiled up and ready."
Tags: Anthony Johnson, Anthony Steen, Arkansas, Bear Bryant, Bobby Jindal, Brad Wing, Casey Hayward, DeAngelo Peterson, DeQuan Menzie, Dont'a Hightower, Dre Kirkpatrick, Duron Carter, Jarrett Lee, Jerry Hinnen, Jesse Williams, John Chavis, Jordan Jefferson, Kevin Minter, Kirby Smart, Les Miles, LSU, LSU-Alabama, LSU-Alabama Daily, Mark Ingram, Michael Brockers, Michael Ford, Morris Claiborne, Nick Fairley, Nick Saban, Odell Beckham Jr., Paul Finebaum, Robert Bentley, Rueben Randle, Ryan Baker, Sam Montgomery, SEC, Spencer Ware, Steve Spurrier, Trent Richardson, Tyrann Mathieu, Vinnie Sunseri, Will Blackwell, William Vlachos
Posted on: November 1, 2011 6:06 pm
Edited on: November 1, 2011 6:07 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Counting down to LSU-Alabama with a daily dose of analysis and news.
DAYS REMAINING TO KICKOFF: 4, or the number of special teams and defensive touchdowns scored this season by LSU: two fumble returns for scores by Tyrann Mathieu, a kickoff return by Morris Claiborne, and pick-six by Ron Brooks. The Tide have three: a Marquis Maze punt return, and pick-sixes by Courtney Upshaw and DeQuan Menzie. Also the number worn (as you can see) by Tide All-American safety Mark Barron, who (despite our raving about the Alabama linebackers yesterday) leads the Tide defense in solo tackles with 25.
QUESTION OF THE DAY: We know both these teams can run the ball. But which one does it better?
You might be surprised just how decisively the statistics will tell you that answer is "Alabama."
Yes, the Bayou Bengals have an out-and-out stud carrying the ball in Spencer Ware, a veteran offensive line loaded with former blue-chips playing its best football in years, solid backups in Alfred Blue and Michael Ford (not to mention bruising freshman fullback Kenny Hilliard, who collected 65 yards and two touchdowns vs. Auburn), and a successful vertical passing game to keep defenses honest. But it hasn't added up to statistical dominance just yet: the Tigers rank a respectable-but-not-spectacular 31st in rushing offense, but a downright middle-of-the-pack 55th in yards per-carry. Ware's 73 yards per-game rank him 66th in the country, sandwiched between Nevada's Cody Fajardo and USF's Darrell Scott.
The Tide, meanwhile, have the numbers to back up Trent Richardson and Co.'s reputation: 14th nationally in rushing yards, but sixth in yards per-carry at 5.84 an attempt and fourth in touchdowns with 27. Richardson ranks seventh at 123 yards per-game, third in touchdowns, and first in yards per-carry (6.64) among backs with more than 125 attempts. And given that backups Eddie Lacy and Jalston Fowler are averaging a fairly ridiculous 7.6 yards per-carry between them, it's not just the Heisman candidate guy; Barrett Jones and the rest of the Alabama offensive line are, as the kids say, bringing the wood.
So would we agree with the numbers that this is that major an edge for the Tide? Not in the slightest, for two reasons:
1. LSU's stats are being dragged down by an usually slow start to the season; through their first five weeks, the Tigers were averaging just 3.96 yards per attempt despite facing the likes of Kentucky and FCS Northwestern State. That's changed in a big way over their past three games, with the Tigers gashing Florida, Tennessee and Auburn to the tune of 216 yards per game and 4.8 yards per-carry. That 4.8 is even more impressive when you consider ...
2. the Tigers simply don't get huge gains on the ground. The Tigers have just one run of 30 yards or more this season, tying them for the lowest mark in the SEC. 20 yards or more? They're still ninth, and those numbers are despite attempting the second-most runs in the league.
The Tide, by contrast, already have 12 30-plus yard runs; only four teams nationally have more, and two of them are option squads. When comparing the two sides, yes, it's fair to say that Richardon's explosiveness and LSU's confirmed lack of an out-and-out breakway threat make the Tide more likely to bust a long one.
But how likely is one of those long ones? Given the quality of both teams' secondaries in run support, not all that likely. Which running game gets the upper hand is going to come down to which team can slug forward for four, five, six yards at a time, which line can create just the slightest creases for their backs, which backs can consistently wriggle and drive for the extra yard here and there.
No one in the SEC -- not even Alabama -- does those things better than a focused Ware and the Tigers. We still have to give the Tide's ground game the slimmest of edges due to Richardson's extraordinary ability and the higher likelihood of a big gainer ... but in a game like this one, we do mean "slimmest."
THE LATEST FROM BATON ROUGE: Judging from his Twitter feed, Mathieu already plays with a decent-size chip on his shoulder. So we're curious to see how he responds to being snubbed from the list of 15 semifinalists for the Jim Thorpe Award, announced Monday. The Thorpe is given annually to the nation's best defensive back, and while all 15 are worthy candidates, it's hard to see how Mathieu isn't one of them ... unless the Thorpe organization is punishing him for his recent drug-related suspension. Fair or not, we wonder if a big day Saturday won't result in some Thorpe-related chirping from Mathieu in the near future.
Speaking of chirping, remember when Claiborne said he'd go for Richardson's legs if asked to tackle him one-on-one? Ryan Baker doesn't sound quite so impressed:
"Oh yeah, I can tackle him. I can tackle anybody in the country," Baker said of Richardson. "Don't need any help."Wonder if Mr. Richardson will make any note of that. Other LSU defenders, for what it's worth, were not quite so brash. (For more from Baker, check out this well-done brief interview clip from the SEC Digital Network.)
If anyone ever decides to make another Australian fish-out-of-water comedy, we'd suggest they start with the story of LSU punter Brad Wing. Not only did Wing express bemusement at the exorbitant sums now being requested for tickets to the game in which his punting could make a dramatic difference -- "I think a Grand Final ticket in Australia might be 200 bucks. That’s crazy" -- but he's also getting a quick education in the history of the game he's stumbled into. Asked about Bear Bryant, Wing responded that the name "sounds familiar" before asking "Should I know [him]?"
Actually, Brad, it's more funny if you don't.
VIDEO BREAK: CBSSports.com's Tony Barnhart appears on the Tim Brando Show to preview the game:
THE LATEST FROM TUSCALOOSA: Taking cues from their head coach, the Tide players have been admirably steadfast in their refusal to say anything other than boilerplate one-game-at-a-time-LSU's-a-great-team comments to reporters.
Examples from Monday: "We want to win every game, and LSU is the next team standing in our way, but I wouldn’t say ‘revenge'"; "They have a great defense. They also have a great offense, and we have a great offense and a great offense. It’s just about going out there and playing at our standards and not anybody else’s standards"; "I pay no attention to who the (LSU) coaches play (at quarterback). Having other factors at play just kind of throws us off, and we don’t want that to happen."
Richardson also had praise for the Tiger defense, saying they "don’t back down for anyone. They are going to come for me." But he also admitted that the game is hugely important to him personally--not just because of the stakes involved, but because he wasn't able to help prevent last year's defeat in Baton Rouge.
"I tore an abdominal muscle and I had a slightly torn MCL," he said. "This game means a lot to me, because I didn't get to play in it last year except for about one quarter. So I really can't wait to showcase what a healthy Trent can do in this game."There's a lot of people, we would guess, that would love to see what a healthy Trent can do in this game. As for what his coach might do, we wrote Sunday that we shouldn't be too shocked if Nick Saban defies his reputation and pulls a trick out of the bag. So we were intrigued to find out that former Tide player and current Houston Texan DeMeco Ryans told the Sporting News that he wouldn't be surprised, either:
"I think the X factor could be a trick play. If you look at coach (Nick) Saban's history, he's got some tricks up his sleeve. I could see him calling a fake punt or an option pass or something like that to break open a close game. He's known for doing that. I hate to admit it, but when I played, he got me on one (fake punt) of those (when Saban was at LSU). As a defensive player or a special teams player, you've got to be aware of the possibility, but you can't let it affect your aggressiveness."Ryans was one of four current NFL players and LSU/Bama program alums to offer their take on the game; you'll be shocked, shocked to learn that all four picked their former teams to win the game.
Tags: Alabama, Alfred Blue, Auburn, Barrett Jones, Bear Bryant, Brad Wing, Cody Fajardo, Courtny Upshaw, Darrell Scott, DeQuan Menzie, Eddie Lacy, Florida, Houston Texans, Jalston Fowler, Jerry Hinnen, Jim Thorpe Award, Kenny Hilliard, Kentucky, LSU, LSU-Alabama, LSU-Alabama Daily, Mark Barron, Marquis Maze, Michael Ford, Morris Claiborne, Nevada, Nick Saban, Northwestern State, Ron Brooks, Ryan Baker, SEC, Spencer Ware, Tennessee, Trent Richardson, Tyrann Mathieu, USF
Posted on: February 16, 2011 5:17 pm
Edited on: February 16, 2011 5:55 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Georgia has the Hedges, Ole Miss the Grove, and at Auburn Tiger fans have the 130 year-old live oaks that sit at famous Toomer's Corner and are "rolled" after Tiger victories. But sadly, thanks to the work of one unknown vandal, Auburn may not have them much longer.
The University announced this afternoon that the trees have been intentionally poisoned with a lethal dose of herbicide, and though every effort is being made to save them, are unlikely to survive. A police investigation has been launched to identify the vandal.
In the biggest twist behind the story, the only-in-Alabama tip that alerted Auburn authorities to the poisoning may also become the lead towards apprehending the culprit:
The university learned that a caller to The Paul Finebaum Show, a nationally syndicated radio show based in Birmingham, on Jan. 27, claimed he had applied the herbicide. As a precaution, soil samples were taken the next day ... and sent to the lab at Mississippi State University in Starkville, Miss., to expedite results.
Though not officially confirmed by the Auburn release, the caller is widely believed to be an aggrieved Alabama fan. For weeks, fan chatter in the state has discussed the possibility of "retaliation" for Auburn fan pranks that included placing a Cam Newton jersey on the on-campus statue of Bear Bryant, later affixing an AU national championship sticker on the statue, and somehow growing this year's Iron Bowl score in the lawn outside Bryant-Denny Stadium (though news of the latter only surfaced after the call to Finebaum). Such is the atmosphere that the release includes a message from Auburn president Jay Gogue asking Tiger fans to refrain from any acts of retaliation of their own:
"It is understandable to feel outrage in reaction to a malicious act of vandalism," Gogue said. "However, we should live up to the example we set in becoming national champions and the beliefs expressed in our Auburn Creed. Individuals act alone, not on behalf of anyone or any place, and all universities are vulnerable to and condemn such reprehensible acts."
Though, again, Alabama isn't mentioned, the reference to other universities makes it clear that Gogue knows where the ire of Tiger fans will be directed.
Whether the motivation for the vandal was indeed revenge against Auburn or not, what's certain is that someone has committed an act of vandalism that will be virtually impossible to repair. With any luck -- for both the feelings of Auburn fans stung by the news and for the efforts to make sure this incident is the last on either side -- that person will be apprehended soon.UPDATE: Finebaum has re-released the audio from the call in question , in which "Al from Dadeville" expresses his anger at the Newton jersey prank and the almost certainly apocryphal story that Auburn fans rolled Toomer's when Bryant passed away. He then claims to have poisoned the trees, and signs off with "Roll Damn Tide." Unless this is an astonishing coincidence, the answer to the question at the top of this post is "yes."
Posted on: February 4, 2011 4:14 pm
Posted by Tom Fornelli
Former Mississippi State head coach and current St. Louis Rams running backs coach Sylvester Croom met with Nick Saban last weekend to talk about the lone opening on the Alabama coaching staff, as wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator. While it seemed that Croom had a good shot at landing the job, he told the Tuscaloosa News on Friday that he was no longer in the running and would be staying with the Rams.
"It was a very intriguing opportunity that Coach Saban and I discussed," Croom said. "My visit was more of a get-to-know-you with Coach Saban and the staff. It was a great visit. I really enjoyed it.
"I mentioned to him if certain possibilities developed I would be interested. That's how the visit came about. Just looking at the possibility when I was down there, he was not positive which way to go with the position that was open."
Croom, of course, played at Alabama under Bear Bryant and then spent a few years as an assistant on Bryant's coaching staff as well. According to the report, current Louisville quarterbacks coach and former Alabama grad assistant Mike Groh is now the frontrunner for the job.
Posted on: January 31, 2011 7:10 pm
Posted by Adam Jacobi
The Virginia Tech-centric blog Gobbler Country posted an interested study today, examining the breakdown of championship-winning coaches' ages in the modern era of college football. The question raised is "how old is too old," and excepting some obvious outliers, the answer is "younger than you think."
What's even more unsettling to programs with older coaches is the breakdown of championships by age bracket:
Not only is there a precipitous dropoff from the early 50s to 60+, those five titles were won by just three coaches: The aforementioned Bowden with two, Bear Bryant with two, and Joe Paterno -- the three most celebrated coaches of the modern era of I-A football. What's more, Bryant had won his first title at the age of 50, while Paterno won his first at 56. Bowden didn't win his first until he was 64, but that was after six straight top-five finishes in the final poll for Florida State. In other words, each of those three coaches firmly established his national championship bona fides before his 60th birthday, while every other coach who ever hit 60 in the last 50 years was quite evidently past his prime.
It's not really surprising, then, to have seen Maryland jettison longtime head coach Ralph Friedgen, who was 63 at the end of the 2010 and who clearly wasn't about to win a title at such a mediocre football school (no offense, Terps, but let's be honest). Incoming coach Randy Edsall will have just turned 53 at the outset of the 2011 season, and while one might joke that Maryland's only got two seasons of Edsall in his prime before it all goes downhill, it's not as if he's got 15 years in front of him with the Terrapins.
So with all this in mind, here are a few more notable coaches and their ages as of the start of the 2011 season. It would be incorrect to say there's a "new generation" of coaches on the move (seven years or so doesn't really constitute a generational gap) but it's pretty clear that a few of these guys aren't lasting much more than five years -- especially if they're not winning 10 games a year anymore.
Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech, 64
Now obviously, not all of these schools are going to win national championships in the next 5-10 years. But by and large, most of these schools do pay their coaches a gigantic salary -- to the point that the expectation of competing on a national level is inevitable. If a coach is struggling in his fourth or fifth year with a program, is an athletic director going to be more apt to fire the coach if he's 57 instead of 47? Is that age discrimination, or common sense?
Tags: Al Golden, BCS Championships, Bear Bryant, Bo Pelini, Bob Stoops, Bobby Petrino, Brady Hoke, Brian Kelly, Chip Kelly, Chris Petersen, College Football Coaches, Dan Mullen, Frank Beamer, Gary Patterson, Gene Chizik, Jim Tressel, Joe Paterno, Joe Paterno, Kirk Ferentz, Kyle Whittingham, Lane Kiffin, Les Miles, Mack Brown, Mark Richt, Mike Gundy, Mike Leach, Nick Saban, Will Muschamp
Posted on: November 10, 2010 11:58 am
Posted by Tom Fornelli
Ever since Minnesota fired Tim Brewster, the school's head has been in the clouds when considering who to hire to replace him. Names like Chris Petersen, Gary Patterson, Jim Harbaugh, and somebody at the school has probably wondered about Bear Bryant too. The thing that all these coaches have in common -- well, not the late, great Mr. Bryant -- is that if they were to leave their current jobs to take over at Minnesota, they'd be taking a step backward. Which Minnesota just doesn't seem to get.
Which is why I was somewhat relieved to see the latest name to come up in the Gophers coaching search, because this one actually seems sensible. According to a report in the Pioneer Press, Brady Hoke of San Diego State is now on the list of "serious" coaching candidates. Which just makes sense, so kudos to you, Minnesota.
Hoke has experience in the Big Ten, spending eight years at Michigan as a defensive coach and is from Ohio. He also led Ball State to a 12-1 mark in 2008 before moving on to San Diego State. Now, in his second season there, Hoke has the Aztecs at 7-2 with a chance at a Mountain West title if they can pull off the upset of TCU this weekend.
In other words, he's a coach that has had to work his way up the ladder, and had success everywhere he's been. You don't think he'd be interested in coming back to the Big Ten -- most certainly a step forward for him -- and taking over the Minnesota job? The most important thing for Minnesota to consider, though, is that it's not the the only school who has likely taken notice of Hoke. Colorado has an opening right now, too, and it's likely going to turn its attention to Hoke soon as well.