Mississippi State spit on Superman's cape and almost got away with it.
After a week of national honors and
accolades, Mississippi State's defense did something the LSU
defense will find both very interesting and very encouraging.
The Bulldogs held Arkansas tailback Darren McFadden to 89 yards and no touchdown on 26 carries, with most of those yards
coming late in the game. That's an average of 3.4 yards per carry with no run
longer than 16 yards.
"I planned on putting our frontline
against their frontline all week, and have our linebackers meet McFadden in
those gaps, which is what we did," Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom said.
"We had our mind made up to stop
McFadden," Mississippi State linebacker Quinton Culberson said.
"Others couldn't stop him so we watched film and took some notes, and I thought
we did a pretty good job on him."
Of course, McFadden still returned
a kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown and completed his only pass attempt for 15
yards, giving the No. 5 Razorbacks a 28-14 win and the SEC Western Division
title, so it's not like the Bulldogs did LSU or Auburn any great favors on Saturday.
Still, it's hard to imagine LSU not
doing everything it can to win this game. After Saturday's near-miss 23-20
overtime home win over Ole Miss it should be a matter of pride for the Tigers,
especially a defense that will most likely be intent on proving a point against
McFadden and the Razorbacks.
At the same time, LSU will probably
be better off watching film of McFadden's performance against Tennessee the previous
week when offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn pulled out all the stops and played
McFadden for 14 snaps at quarterback.
The Razorbacks made the most of
those 14 plays, gaining 121 yards and scoring three touchdowns, including a
12-yard touchdown pass from McFadden to wide receiver Marcus Monk. By the time
McFadden was done with Tennessee he had lined up at tailback,
quarterback and receiver and carried 30 times for 181 yards and two touchdowns
in a 31-14 victory over the Vols.
"The thing that bothered us most is
when he played quarterback and took the direct snap," Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said. "Having that extra blocker and the misdirection that went with it,
he did a great job.
"It takes more than the front four
to stop that. We committed a lot of guys to defend it and we ended up paying for
it when he threw a touchdown pass. It takes eight or nine (defenders) to fill
the gaps. And then you have to worry about the perimeter. It's unique and
different and very tough to stop."
McFadden's performance on national
television led to a week of national honors and acclaim and a rise to the second
or third spot on some credible Heisman Trophy lists.
"They know what they're doing,"
Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "They
got some very fine offensive linemen, tight ends, backs who're willing to get
after it. It's just the talent level at the running back position. McFadden's
been off the charts in my book. There aren't many guys that can dominate the way
he's dominated. Most guys when they're in the process of making someone miss, it
slows their momentum. This guy makes people miss so cleanly. I saw him catch the
ball for what should've been a one yard gain and he took it to the house. This
guy is fantastic."
Florida coach Urban Meyer, whose team will play Arkansas in the SEC
championship game on Dec. 2, said, "I think that offense. ... I don't think you
can stop it. With a guy back there like him, doing that and throwing the ball,
that's one offense that's impossible to stop. If he's not the best tailback in
the country ... I have not seen one better."
Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville
added, "Oh, this guy can play. He's as good as we've seen in this league in a
while. He has the size, speed and quicks. You look at (former Auburn tailbacks and first-round picks) Ronnie Brown and
Carnell Williams. Those two were great. But neither one had the burst after five
yards that this kid has got. He's got the total package. He's one of those guys
that rarely come around. It's going to be fun watching him when we're not
playing against him."
As far as Croom is concerned,
McFadden can move on as soon as possible.
"I'm going to recommend (the NCAA)
change the rule and big guys can go after their second year so he can leave this
year," Croom said.
That isn't going to happen, but as
Croom's defense showed, there might be a way to at least slow McFadden down.
If any SEC can do it, it's LSU. No
SEC defense brings the kryptonite quite like the Tigers.
"They did a great job of coming off
of the edges," Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said. "They pretty
much forced us to throw the ball deep, because they were living in out
backfield. The interior linemen of their defensive line deserve a lot of credit.
They were beating us off of the ball in the first half. In the end, I feel like
we made some changes, and we got back to ourselves."
Things to consider this week as the
Tigers and Razorbacks prepare to play in Little Rock on Friday:
Did Mississippi State catch Arkansas looking ahead to LSU or are the
Bulldogs just that much better than they were back on Sept. 30 when LSU beat the
Knowing Arkansas had already won
the SEC West, did LSU have a difficult time getting up for Ole Miss? Will it
happen again this week?
Now that Arkansas has won the
West, will the Razorbacks be ready for one more big game this Friday?
"We've still got some other things
we can strive for than just winning the West," Arkansas senior defensive tackle Keith Jackson
Jr. said. "We going to sneak up and try and win the SEC championship and the
national championship if we can. We're on a roll and we don't want to stop
Or, as offensive guard Robert Felton said, "Nothing can cool us off, not a cold shower, not ice. We're hot,
Note to LSU athletic officials:
think twice about any plans for a special DVD of this season's LSU victory at
Vanderbilt sold a "Victory in
Knoxville" DVD of its 28-24 win at Tennessee in 2005 and it
came back to get the Commodores last Saturday in a 39-10 home loss to the
"They made videos about us last
year," Tennessee receiver Robert Meachem said. "That
stuck in our mind. ... They beat other teams, but the only video they made was
us... We're not going to make any videos."
Note to Vandy athletic officials:
You might want to reconsider that "Victory in Athens" DVD that fans are already
Alabama will most likely give coach Mike Shula
another season to show what he can do but Shula has a lot of work to do to prove
Shula is 0-4 against Auburn after Saturday's 22-15 home loss to the Tigers and
that's not going to sit well with anyone associated with Alabama football.
Overall, the Crimson Tide has now lost five consecutive games to Auburn, as well as six of
the past seven. It has never defeated the Tigers in Tuscaloosa.
Now add that to the fact that
Alabama is 6-6, 2-6 in the SEC and not
guaranteed of a bowl bid and it's no wonder why many Alabama fans want changes
made – whether it's the head coach, the entire coaching staff or just certain
members of the staff.
"This was not the script we had for
this season," Shula said. "We've got to make sure we do everything we can do
coaching our players. There is a lot of accountability."
After the Auburn game Shula said he would evaluate every aspect of
the program, starting with his own performance and then moving on to his
coaches, players and overall plan. At the same time, Shula admitted he "hasn't
even thought" of a timetable to determine the future of his assistants.
University president Robert Witt
and athletic director Mal Moore have publicly expressed their support of Shula
in recent weeks but neither one was much help protecting quarterback John Parker Wilson or providing some room for the running game against Auburn.
Shula continues to preach about a
better day coming in the near future, insisting, "We're not far off," but
have to wonder when and if that time is truly on the horizon and if Shula can
take the program to that point.
If Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer gets fined by
the SEC this week, he'll probably consider it money well spent.
Fulmer wasn't saying anything the
other SEC coaches aren't thinking when he criticized SEC officiating after the
"I don't think I'll get fined for
this, but I think we've got to look hard in our conference (at) our officiating.
There were two or three things that just ... ," Fulmer said.
And it wasn't just the Vanderbilt
game that bothered Fulmer. He is still upset about what he insists was a fumble
by LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell on the Tigers' game-winning drive in a 28-24
loss to LSU on Nov. 4.
"That last turnover against LSU was
a fumble," Fulmer said. "They don't ever get the last four or five plays (if
it's ruled a fumble). That's the reason I'm so adamant about a couple of calls
"Against South Carolina, we punted
it down there, and they called us lined up in a bad formation. We weren't in a
bad formation. It was a poor call. It could have been a big difference in the
ballgame, but we ended up winning the game.
"I'm hopeful that everybody will
look really strong at what we're doing and whatever needs to be
The SEC can reprimand Fulmer for
publicly criticizing officials, just as it did with South Carolina's Steve Spurrier last week. It can even fine him. Or the SEC can take a serious look at
the officiating in the conference and make sure it's doing everything it can to
help the officials live up to the quality of the coaches and players in the
Richard Scott is a Birmingham,
Ala.-based sports writer, author and freelance columnist for Tiger Rag. Reach
him at firstname.lastname@example.org.