Lost in the hoopla surrounding the Nick Saban vs. Paul Finebaum dust-up, Dan Mullen talking himself into a corner regarding the decision to suspend 5-star defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons and the barrage of NCAA-related questions that followed Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze last week at SEC Media Days, are some actual football-related nuggets that you should pay attention to.
Most notably of which was the health of Auburn defensive end Carl Lawson.
The redshirt junior was a big part of the Tiger defensive line rotation in 2013, when he notched 7.5 tackles for loss and four sacks for a team that won the SEC title and came within 13 seconds of a national championship.
Then the injuries started.
Lawson missed the 2014 campaign with a torn ACL, and after a solid quarter-and-a-half vs. Louisville in the 2015 season opener, he missed nearly two months with a hip injury.
When he came back, he was far from his normal self.
“Last year, I wasn’t 100 percent. I was probably about 60 percent coming back from the hip injury,” Lawson said. “Coming off the Birmingham Bowl and having time to rest, going through this offseason and having a full spring, I feel like I’m faster and stronger.”
Hold up…60 percent? As in, slightly above half-speed for a team that, with him in the lineup, gave up just 339 yards per game over the last five games of the year?
That’s not just scary, that’s “high-budget horror flick” terrifying.
Head coach Gus Malzahn commented on that momentum as well during his time in the main ballroom.
“We played well in the second half of the season,” he said. “There’s a lot of carryover, as far as our defense last year and defense this year, which I think is important. And I think we got a chance to have one of the best, if not the best, defenses we’ve had at my time at Auburn, which I think is very important.”
It seems like it’s a knee-jerk reaction ever since Tommy Tuberville left as head coach of the Tigers after the 2008 season to just assume that Auburn’s defense is horrible. But it really wasn’t with Lawson in the lineup last year. For all but one half, Lawson was a mere shell of himself by his own admission.
When healthy, he could not only prove Malzahn‘s words to be more than lip service, but he could also transform Auburn’s defense into a power and set himself up as a high draft pick—if he chooses to come out.
Evolve While Objecting
Remember when Alabama head coach Nick Saban was one of the most outspoken proponents of the so-called “10-second rule,” which was a proposition a few years ago that would have called a delay of game on teams that snap the ball within 10 seconds of the play clock being wound?
While objecting to “hurry-up” teams, Saban also evolved.
The Crimson Tide ran 72.53 plays per game last year—the fourth-most in the conference. That’s a mark of nearly four more plays per game than intrastate rival and traditional tempo-based team Auburn, which ran 68.62 according to CFBStats.com.
Now he has turned his attention to an increased focus on the illegal lineman downfield rule, which is rarely called unless blatantly obvious. The rule allows teams to take advantage of “run-pass options” (RPOs).
As was the case with tempo, though, he’s perfectly content taking advantage of these rules himself.
“For us to not use those plays is a disadvantage for us,” Saban said. “So even though we may not philosophically agree that this is the way football was meant to be played or should be played, if it creates issues for the other team and for the defense, and pace of play has been something that I think has done that, so have all of these run pass option plays that people run, then we need to use those things, too, or we’re creating a disadvantage for ourselves.”
That’s the beauty of Saban.
He understands that, while sometimes objecting quite loudly to how things are done, he needs to continue to evolve with the game in order to maintain his edge.
A “Big” Problem?
Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze spent the majority of his morning at media days answering questions related to the ongoing NCAA investigation.
He did drop some knowledge about his actual football team that you should pay attention to.
Whether it be due to injuries or the seven-game suspension to tackle Laremy Tunsil last year, offensive-line issues have been a fact of life for Freeze for about two years.
Because of that, the loss of three starting offensive linemen—including Tunsil—off of last year’s squad shouldn’t be as much of a hindrance as it appears to be on paper.
“Laremy sat seven games last year, so that allowed us to get a lot of young kids, like Sean Rawlings, and Javon Patterson, and Rod Taylor, and Jordon Sims and we get the return of Robert Conyers, who—what a great story,” Freeze said. “I mean, The kid’s got his degree in hand, has had three surgeries, but wants to finish his career playing and can’t wait for him to get back and hopefully experience a successful senior season.
“I think this offensive line group, Alex Givens we redshirted last year, I think has a chance to be really good. [True freshman] Greg Little is a very talented offensive lineman.”
Don’t be tricked into thinking that the sky will fall on Ole Miss sans Tunsil. Freeze knows how to call games around his deficiencies, including in last year’s win over Alabama when—without Tunsil—the Rebels used a lot of three-step drops and neutralized Alabama’s front seven to a point where they could only try to bat down passes.
A Namath-Like Guarantee
Former Alabama quarterback Joe Namath became a national celebrity when he guaranteed that his New York Jets would beat the Baltimore Colts three days before following through in Super Bowl III.
Vanderbilt running back Ralph Webb is, evidently, the sequel to Namath.
The junior running back for the Commodores rushed for 1,152 yards a year ago, and thinks that his team will come out with a vengeance in the season-opener on Thursday, Sept. 1 at home against South Carolina.
“It’s the first game of the season, and of course every game is a big game,” Webb said. “[We] definitely want to get the ball rolling and get some momentum. We’re definitely going to go in there and get the ‘W.'”
That quote, which happened on the first day of SEC media days, had already made it to Columbia by the time the Gamecocks made the rounds on Day 4.
“Of course we’ve seen it,” said South Carolina defensive end Marquavius Lewis. “It’s the SEC and you should have self-esteem.”
While it might seem crazy that a Vanderbilt player would make such a guarantee based on the rather lackluster history of the program, Las Vegas seems to agree with Webb. According to OddsShark.com, Vanderbilt has moved from a four-point underdog to a three-point favorite.
A seven point swing in just a few months with Gamecock linebacker Skai Moore’s season-ending injury being the only major development on either side is very significant. It shows that a lot of people are buying into what Webb is selling.
- Tennessee cornerback Cam Sutton doesn’t do much trash-talking, but linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin picks up the slack for him. “When Cam has a pick, I don’t even want to talk to him, I want to talk to the receiver,” Reeves-Maybin said. “It’s like I’m his muscle or something.”
- It looks like Auburn will want to go with a more mobile quarterback, but that doesn’t mean that the one who started at the beginning of last season—Jeremy Johnson—can’t be that guy again. “With Jeremy, I think he developed more of a running ability [this offseason] more than last year.”
- South Carolina wide receiver “Deebo” Samuel, whose given name is Tyshun according to his South Carolina bio, confirmed that he was given his nickname by his father after the neighborhood bully on the movie Friday.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.
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Source: Bleacher Report -SEC Football