SEC West Notebook
Published 7:53 pm Wednesday, September 10, 2008
ALABAMA: The Crimson Tide’s youth movement is getting more prominent each week.
Three freshmen made their debuts against Tulane — linebackers Jerrell Harris and Courtney Upshaw and placekicker Corey Smith. That makes 12 who have seen action in the first two games. Only Florida State (22), Arkansas (15) and SMU (13) have put more freshmen on the field.
Linebacker Don’ta Hightower and wide receiver Julio Jones were instant starters and tailback Mark Ingram is the Tide’s leading rusher.
“They didn’t know what to expect the first game,” coach Nick Saban said. “Obviously they made some mistakes and played with probably some high anxiety. I think some of those guys made a huge improvement.”
The biggest surprise might have been Ingram, who jumped over Terry Grant and Roy Upchurch on the depth chart. He has been splitting carries with Glen Coffee.
If a freshman might have to get on the field, Saban wants it to happen early. He took that lesson from what happened with LSU defensive back Travis Daniels.
“We redshirted him the whole year,” Saban said. “We get in the SEC championship game against Tennessee and we lose three corners in the game and we had to put the guy in and play him the second half to win the game.
“He lost his year over one half of a game after 12 games of not playing.”
ARKANSAS: Coach Bobby Petrino was concerned about special teams after the season opener.
In Game 2, a concern became a crisis.
“The second quarter was a meltdown by our special teams,” Petrino said.
Arkansas gained more than twice as many yards as Louisiana-Monroe in the first half Saturday night, but the Razorbacks trailed at halftime and had to rally for a 28-27 win. The Hogs’ early momentum came to a halt thanks to a series of mistakes on special teams.
—Kicker Alex Tejada missed two field goals in the first quarter and an extra point in the second.
—Tejada was also called for delay of game on a kickoff, then kicked the ball out of bounds for another penalty.
—Jeremy Davis’ punt was blocked, giving Louisiana-Monroe the ball at the Arkansas 21-yard line.
—Freshman Dennis Johnson fielded a kickoff near the sideline and accidentally stepped out of bounds at the Arkansas 5.
That was all before halftime.
“We should have been up by 14 or 21 points and we weren’t,” Petrino said. “That always comes back to haunt you.”
In the third quarter, Louisiana-Monroe’s Robert Williams ran a kickoff back to near midfield, where Davis — who had kicked off — needed to make a strong tackle to prevent an even longer return.
In the fourth, Shay Haddock came on and made two extra points for the Razorbacks.
Arkansas beat Western Illinois 28-24 the previous weekend. In that game, freshman Elton Ford fumbled away the opening kickoff, and Petrino was dissatisfied with Davis’ distance on kickoffs.
“One of the problems we’re having is that we have so many young guys that are playing on regular offense and defense,” Petrino said. “And then all of a sudden they’re on special teams too and they’re getting a little overwhelmed.”
AUBURN: Jason Bosley hadn’t played tackle since his freshman year in high school, and only had a couple of days to refresh his memory.
The converted Auburn center didn’t seem too rusty after making the midweek switch to right tackle before the game against Southern Miss, swapping spots with Ryan Pugh. Bosley was named the Southeastern Conference offensive lineman of the week and had the highest grade of Auburn’s linemen.
A bum shoulder had made it harder for the senior to handle the shotgun snaps, which is pretty much all Auburn uses these days.
“It was great. The biggest thing is that Pugh is a better snapper,” offensive coordinator Tony Franklin said. “It made our whole offense run better. Bos did a great job at tackle. Bos is the ultimate team player. We walk up to him two days before and tell him we’re thinking about doing this. He says, ‘Hey, if it helps us win let’s do it.’ You get 85 guys like that, you win every game.”
Bosley said he felt more confident about the switch after matching up with Auburn defensive end Antonio Coleman in practice. He believes the move will be permanent.
“I just kind of looked at it as a new challenge, and that I’ve got to learn how to do it,” he said. “I was really, really nervous before the game because I was worried about the speed when we were doing pass protection. I went against A.C., and I did fine. I was like, ‘OK, if I can block him, I can block anybody.'”
Pugh played both center and tackle in high school.
LSU: With its Southeastern Conference opener at Auburn looming on Sept. 20, LSU desperately wanted to get in this weekend’s game against North Texas and was willing to play in Texas to do it if Hurricane Ike threatened Baton Rouge.
With Ike now headed toward Texas, LSU announced Wednesday that Tiger Stadium, repaired since being battered by Hurricane Gustav a week earlier, would host the North Texas game this Saturday at 7 p.m. as scheduled.
That leaves coach Les Miles with one less thing to worry about as he tries to get new quarterbacks Andrew Hatch and Jerrett Lee more work.
Hatch started the opener against Appalachian State, but Lee played as well and ended up with more yards passing. Hatch was 7-of-14 for 77 yards and a touchdown. Lee was 6-of-10 for 116 yards and two TDs. Lee also was intercepted.
That turned out to be plenty of production in a game dominated by LSU’s rushing attack, but Miles needs to get comfortable with his team’s passing game as LSU’s SEC schedule approaches.
Hatch’s longest completion against Appalachian State went for 19 yards. Lee’s longest completion was 39 yards when Brandon LaFell got wide open behind the defense. The majority of successful pass plays involved quick throws on short routes.
LSU was supposed to host Troy last weekend, but that game was postponed by Gustav until Nov. 15, leaving the North Texas contest as the Tigers’ final chance to tune up for SEC play against a heavy underdog — LSU was favored by 41½ points Wednesday.
“We want to throw the ball down the field more than we did” against Appalachian State, Miles said. “It’s something that was not specific to our quarterbacks trying to force the balls. I think it was more specific to the calls, and now I think we’re ready to take the next step and throw the ball down the field.”
Whether North Texas provides a good gauge of how well LSU can really throw the ball could be debated. The Mean Green has given up 726 yards passing through their first two games.
MISSISSIPPI: The Rebels offense looks nothing like the muddled mess of the last five years and much of that has to do with the rapport built between new quarterback Jevan Snead and receiver Shay Hodge.
Hodge has caught three of Snead’s six touchdown passes this season and at least one in five straight games.
“He’s a guy that Jevan really trusts,” coach Houston Nutt said.
The Rebels are averaging 34.5 points a game — more than two touchdowns better than last season — and are fourth in the Southeastern Conference in total offense and third in passing offense.
Hodge leads the Rebels with 145 receiving yards and an average of 20.7 yards per catch. And he’s third in the conference with 72.5 yards receiving per game.
While he’s excelling on the football field, Nutt said it’s Hodge’s experience as a high school basketball player that makes him effective in scoring situations.
“If you notice some of his catches in the end zone are timing jump balls,” Nutt said. “He’s got good jumping ability, good hands, he’s physical.”
The 6-foot-1, 207-pound junior from Morton, Miss., spent the spring and summer working with Snead to get to this point. Hodge said he’s elated that Snead chose to transfer to Ole Miss from Texas and believes the Rebels’ troubles are behind them.
“I feel like we’ve got a real quarterback,” Hodge said. “Dude makes all kinds of good plays and keeps us in situations. When the play breaks down we know he’s going to make something happen. That’s the sign of a real good quarterback.”
MISSISSIPPI STATE: Sylvester Croom decided to give starting quarterback Wes Carroll a vote of confidence after Mississippi State was stunned in its season-opening loss to Louisiana Tech, and that seems to have made a difference for the sophomore.
After throwing three interceptions in that 22-14 loss, Croom announced Carroll would play exclusively until the game was out of hand, rather than rotate with backup Tyson Lee. Carroll rebounded in the 34-10 win over Southeastern Louisiana and believes he’s about to lead the Bulldogs offense to new ground with No. 9 Auburn coming to Starkville on Saturday.
“We can do great things this year offensively and I think we’re on the verge of having a breakout game,” Carroll said.
Carroll had a marvelous freshman season. He opened his career with 137 consecutive passes without an interception, setting a school record and falling one shy of the NCAA mark.
Carroll has completed 27 of 48 passes for 330 yards and three touchdowns. He was expected to play a larger role in the team’s offense this year, but faltered at the outset. Croom believes changes made between games helped Carroll last weekend, but still sees one area Carroll should work on.
“Sometimes Wes will try to do more than he should,” Croom said. “We are trying to help him understand what he is capable of and do that well. It is still a growing process to make the right decisions consistently.”