NCAA Football

LSU Football: Will Tigers Finally Figure out Their QB Conundrum vs. Florida?

LSU has no clue what to do at quarterback. 

The Tigers are in another quarterback controversy under head coach Les Miles. Miles has not had one since 2011, as Zach Mettenberger had firm reins on the position for the last two seasons. 

LSU began the season with sophomore Anthony Jennings, who won his first three games as a starter in 2014. Jennings would subsequently wither against Mississippi State and collapse versus New Mexico State. 

Brandon Harris played spectacularly against the Bulldogs and Aggies in relief of Jennings. Harris was given the starting job last week before playing Auburn. The true freshman was a miserable 3-of-13 for 58 yards against his Tiger counterparts and was eventually pulled after suffering an ankle injury. 

The Tigers are now stuck between two players who have yet to perform admirably as starters in conference play. LSU travels to "The Swamp" this weekend to play Florida's talented defense. 

The good news for LSU is Florida's quarterback quandary is messier. Jeff Driskel has regressed this season and was yanked after three interceptions against Tennessee. Driskel was replaced by true freshman Treon Harris, who then led the Gators to victory. 

Harris was suspended indefinitely due to allegations of sexual assault, as reported by David Jones for the Pensacola News Journal. Driskel will remain the starter, which is a plus for the Tigers.  

Driskel is completing just over half of his passes and has been sacked five times. His six interceptions have outnumbered his five touchdown passes. Billy Gomila of AndTheValleyShook.com went even further to break down the junior's struggles.  

Late nite studying...Gator fans...#feels for y'all. Driskel's 5.0 YPA, that's a full yard lower than any of LSU's bad QBs in '10.

— Billy Gomila (@ATVS_ChefBilly) October 8, 2014

Florida's quarterback issues will be a sigh of relief for Miles as much on offense as they are on defense. Harris and Jennings forced the action and played with poor mechanics in an effort to keep up with Mississippi State's Dak Prescott and Auburn's Nick Marshall. Driskel will not perform to the level of Prescott or Marshall, so expect the young Tigers signal-callers to play with more comfort. 

Florida's defense is arguably the best in the SEC East. The Gators have future pros on all three levels of the defense, especially in the trenches. For LSU's quarterbacks to have success, they must have good pass protection and a successful running game. 

LSU's offensive line, which returned four of five starters from last year's team, has not played well in their five road SEC games since 2013. Florida pass-rushers Dante Fowler Jr. and Bryan Cox Jr. are as good as any the Tigers have faced. The Tigers will need left tackle La'el Collins and right tackle Jerald Hawkins to play at a high level for the offense to succeed.

LSU's receivers will also play a gifted Florida secondary. Vernon Hargreaves III could be the most talented corner in the country. But the group is penetrable, as Alabama and Kentucky amassed a combined 814 passing yards against the Gators.

The best positional unit on LSU's team has been the receivers. Travin Dural and Malachi Dupre both rank in the top 20 in yards and touchdowns. If Dural and Dupre have time, they will eventually get open. Both Harris and Jennings' best aspect of their passing game is the deep ball. Look for offensive coordinator Cam Cameron to give them ample opportunities to air it out.

Miles said he has seen good things from both his quarterbacks, per Ross Dellenger of The Advocate:

Les Miles, post-practice: "Both quarterbacks are improved. Throwing the ball well this week." #LSU

— Ross Dellenger (@DellengerAdv) October 8, 2014

Miles said it is likely both will play against Florida, per LSU Football on Twitter, but he still must make a decision over who will start. Harris has more potential, yet his minor ankle injury could give Jennings the upper hand. Either way, it is hard to believe either will play dominant football against an improved Gators defense at home. 

LSU's quarterback play will be better on Saturday, partially because it is not hard to beat how Harris and Jennings performed against Auburn. But that may not necessarily end the quarterback battle for the Tigers. 

 

Stats, rankings and additional information provided by CFBStats.com and LSU Sports Information. Recruiting information provided by 247Sports.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower.

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Oklahoma's Blake Bell's Strange Journey from Gunslinger to Grunt

If Oklahoma's Blake Bell had been paying attention to the quarterback trend in college football, he would have woke up the morning after the Sugar Bowl he didn't play in and started getting his walking papers in order. He would have said, "Heck with you, OU," and started plotting to find another school. He was a cult figure, he was "The Belldozer" for crying out loud. He was the next Tebow, an over-sized quarterback with willpower. He was not going to be anybody's backup.    

That is how many quarterbacks think these days, and who can blame them?    

But this quarterback woke up the morning after the Sugar Bowl he didn't play in and had to ice his face because his grins had been so wide they had to hurt from the celebration the night before. Bell was in all the post-game pictures in the take down of mighty Alabama joyfully looking like he was the guy who threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns, not Trevor Knight, the guy who benched him.

Bell wasn't going anywhere.

The essence of Blake Bell is not as a quarterback, it is as a football player, it is as teammate, it is as a Sooner through-and-through. He wasn't going to be The Man at Oklahoma, so instead of transferring to make himself The Man somewhere else, he decided he change positions to something Man-lier: tight end.

He refused to transfer when he got dumped to second string. A lot of people thought Trevor Knight was only adequate as a quarterback—and still do—and Bell should at least try and take the job back in spring drills. Bell wasn't one of those people.

"The grass isn't always greener," Bell said outside the Sooners locker room after their 45-33 win over West Virginia. He wasn't going to transfer.

Perhaps that should be a lesson to some of the quarterbacks who parachute into new programs as transfers. The grass they plop down on isn't always greener. Sometimes it has needles. Alabama backup Jacob Coker, who left Florida State, comes to mind, but he still has another year to get his considerable talent on track.

Rob Bolden left Penn State for LSU and sat as a reserve and transferred to Eastern Michigan. Gunner Kiel committed to LSU, then Indiana, then enrolled at Notre Dame. He's now at Cincinnati. The list of unfulfilled quarterbacks on the move goes on and on.

Bell was hitched to the Sooners for the long haul. He wasn't there just to be the star. Sure, it was fun being the guy with the ball, the guy who quarterbacked the win at Notre Dame in 2013, the guy who rallied the Sooners past Oklahoma State for the Big 12 title with 19 seconds left.

But there is more to it than being the first name on the marquee, he said.

"I tell people I like playing quarterback, but I also tell them I really like being an Oklahoma Sooner," Bell said. "I have been here with them four years and I wanted to finish with them. That meant something to me."

In the December workouts before the Sugar Bowl, Bell went to see offensive coordinator Josh Heupel and asked for a chance to play tight end. Bell saw that Knight was going to be the quarterback, even after Bell's big hand in the big win over Oklahoma State. The "program" could have balked and said, "Dude, you are too valuable as a backup QB if Knight gets hurt; stay where you are."

Instead, Heupel said, "OK" to the position switch.

Bell admits he looked across the fence at the green grass other quarterbacks jump for when they are dumped to No. 2. He thought about leaving. Bell completed 60 percent of his passes in 2013 and had a quarterback efficiency rating of 132.2. He was more than a mule taking snaps. As a senior in high school in Wichita, Kansas, Bell passed for 2,792 yards and 32 touchdowns.

"I got a few phone calls about going to play quarterback somewhere else, and I was definitely considering it," Bell said. "There was an option to leave. But I wanted to stay here and win a championship and be with my friends."

Bell stayed and went through spring ball practicing as a tight end. He graduated in May with a degree in communications.

Mark Bell thinks it pretty slick that his son could be a quarterback for a top 10 team (2013) and also a starting tight end for a top 10 team. It's a quite a legacy, which adds to the family legacy. Mark played at Colorado State, was a fourth-round draft pick in 1979 and played six seasons in the NFL. Blake's uncle, Mike Bell, played at Colorado State, was a first-round pick of the Chiefs in 1979 and played 12 seasons as a defensive end.

Of course, not every quarterback is 6'6", 260 pounds and can just meander from the quarterbacks meeting room down to the tight ends meeting room. Bell could do it, but it has not been a smooth transition. He is not suddenly, magically Tony Gonzalez.

He has to learn how to block down, scoop block to find a linebacker and block in space. In the Sooners' 45-33 win over West Virginia, Bell could handle turning his shoulders left, then squaring up and blocking down on an offensive tackle. He had more trouble with the linebacker on the move, lunging several times and blocking just air in a whiff.

Bell has the right mentality, though. He is willing to work. And he has the right ride, too, for a lineman. It is a 2005 black Tahoe. It's tricked out like a lineman would do it. Big wheels, big tires. 140,000 miles. That's more fitting of a tight end than quarterback anyway. A quarterback would use wax for a smudge on the paint; Bell probably uses spit.

Bell has six receptions for 71 yards and one touchdown going into Saturday's game with Texas in the Cotton Bowl. He is playing nearly 90 percent of the snaps a game and has handled himself well as a blocker. He is lined up either as a tight end, or split out as part of three-wide as the middle receiver, or as an H-back.

And, oh yes, the Belldozer made a return. On a 3rd-and-2 play from the West Virginia 21-yard line and the Sooners ahead 31-27, Bell took a snap. WVU mucked it up with some penetration, but the Belldozer fell forward for two yards and the first down.

The next snap he was back out of the spotlight; he was back on the line.

For the record, Bell officially made the transition from quarterback to tight end when he lined up for the iconic Oklahoma Drill. Every college football team does this drill. It was invented by the legendary coach Bud Wilkinson. It is head to head in a confined space. You hear the whistle then try and run over the guy in front of you. Quarterbacks don't do the Oklahoma drill and had never done it.

Bell called his father the night before for some coaching. "First man off, wins," Mark Bell said. "Got to get your mean on."

Bell was lined up against a badass, Geneo Grissom, a 6'4", 252 pound linebacker. "Blake won big," his father said proudly.

It was official then. He had gone from the Belldozer, to the bulldozer, another grunt on the line. The Sooners replaced a cult figure with a different kind of hero, one simply named Bell.

 

Ray Glier covers college football for Bleacher Report. He has covered college football and various other sports for 20 years. His work has appeared in USA Today, The New York Times, CNN, The Washington Post and Al Jazeera America. He is the author of How the SEC Became Goliath (Howard/Simon & Schuster, 2013).

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Braxton Miller Injury: Updates on Ohio St. Star's Shoulder and Recovery

The Ohio State football team received some good news Wednesday, via star quarterback Braxton Miller’s Instagram account, where the player posted the accompanying message to his picture, "Finally out of the sling!"    

Miller reaggravated a shoulder injury that he suffered in last season’s Orange Bowl during preseason practice and will miss the entire season. Ohio State Athletics had originally released the news of the diagnosis in August:

Dr. James Andrews performed surgery on Miller, and it is clear from this latest update that the quarterback is recovering well. Head coach Urban Meyer shared the presumed recovery time, via Ozone Communications, in the immediate aftermath of the injury, so the removal of the sling appears to be the next step:

Miller’s injury was certainly a jarring one for an Ohio State team that had College Football Playoff aspirations, even after losing four starting offensive linemen and star running back Carlos Hyde.

Miller was a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate after throwing for 2,094 yards and 24 touchdowns and running for 1,068 yards and 12 more touchdowns in 2013.

It was clear that Ohio State missed its signal-caller in the early-season loss to Virginia Tech, but redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett has impressed in three straight dominating victories.

It will certainly be interesting to see if Barrett can lead Ohio State back into playoff consideration with so many upsets happening in college football, but Buckeyes fans are probably just relieved to see Miller on the road to recovery during a bye week for the team.

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Cyrus Jones Is Alabama's Biggest Surprise so Far in 2014

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Cyrus Jones wouldn’t say one way or the other whether or not he grabbed I’tavius Mathers’ facemask on his strip-fumble returned for a touchdown.

“I mean, you could argue it both ways,” Jones said in a Tuesday media session. “I didn't even realize that I hit him in the facemask when I was going, it happened so fast, and I looked at it, you could have called it. Because I didn't really grab it, I just hit it and knocked my hand down. But I didn't get it, thankfully.”

Afterwards, Jones stood up and smiled, shaking his head saying, “I knew that question was coming.”

Whether Jones should have been flagged on the play or not is up for debate, but it’s that kind of instinct that has made him Alabama’s best cornerback this season.

The 5’10” Jones faced some adversity last season, getting thrown into the fire at times at cornerback. But he’s grown from it and now gone toe to toe with some of the best wide receivers in the country.

And his play has made him Alabama’s biggest surprise so far in 2014.

“Cyrus has been our most consistent corner, in my opinion,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “He's a lot more confident. He knows what to do. He's got a lot better discipline in terms of eye control and because of the experience he got playing last year, I think he's a lot more mature about how he approaches playing because he understands what it takes to play well.”

Jones, a junior, was credited with two pass break-ups against Ole Miss on Saturday. The official play by play only lists him in coverage for two completed passes, which went for a combined 28 yards.

One of those was a second-quarter, 16-yard completion to Laquon Treadwell, one of the SEC’s best wide receivers, that Jones was actually called for pass interference on. It was just a great play by Treadwell.

Later in the fourth quarter, Jones broke up a pass intended for Treadwell to get even.

Jones’ emergence at cornerback has been a welcome consistency, along with safety Landon Collins, in a secondary that has otherwise mixed and matched for various reasons all year. Jones and Collins are the only defensive backs who have started all five games so far for Alabama.

Saturday, when he held his own against Treadwell, may have been Jones’ best game of the season.

I think I definitely proved something, not really to myself, but a lot of people. Just because he's one of the better receivers we have in our conference. I know that the DBs on our team, we get kind of ridiculed a lot, so it was good to come out and play well against one of the best receivers in our conference and make plays. I was glad that I played well against him, but I'm definitely not satisfied because I know I can get better and we all can get better.

Jones initially played wide receiver when he came to Alabama. His freshman year (2012), he played receiver in garbage time and returned a few kicks and punts. Then he made the switch to cornerback as a sophomore.

His first major action was against Texas A&M, where he grabbed an interception in the end zone and had his ups and downs facing Mike Evans and Johnny Manziel. Jones ended up starting five games that year as Alabama struggled to find a No. 2 cornerback and Jones couldn’t really catch on either.

But this season, Jones is easily Alabama’s best cornerback. He plays in front of two fan favorites, Eddie Jackson and Tony Brown. When Brown came into his own and Jackson got healthy, most fans expected Jones to get bumped out of the starting rotation, but he got the start against Ole Miss and excelled.

He’s taken what he learned in his trial by fire and been better off for it in the end.

“How you prepare for a game, how you study the receivers, how you understand our game plan, understand what patterns and blocking schemes they're going to run in certain formations—all those things that we try to teach guys, they don't first of all have maybe sometimes the kind of appreciation or see the importance in it,” Saban said.

“But after they play some, they actually see where this could be very beneficial and I think it's just called competitive maturity. Cyrus has really played well, has been very consistent, he's a really good athlete, he's got good ball skills, can tackle well, he's tough and he's done a pretty good job of covering for the most part.”

Jones should start there the rest of the season, barring an injury. It’s been an unexpected emergence in a secondary that desperately needed one.

And the most pleasant surprise of 2014.

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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