NCAA Football News

Nebraska Football: This Fall's Injury Bug Isn't as Bad as You Think

Last week I was ruminating on a few things Nebraska would need to have happen in order for the Cornhuskers to have success in 2014. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong staying poised in the pocket and avoiding mistakes was there, as was a young but athletic defense holding steady in key situations. I even considered Nebraska's inability to perform well against top teams when it mattered the most.

At the top of the list, though: avoid injuries.

This is not a new mantra for this Cornhusker team. For the final play against Northwestern last year, Nebraska was without the services of six offensive starters, including offensive guards Spencer Long and Jake Cotton, receivers Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner and, of course, four-year starting quarterback Taylor Martinez.

It was the ultimate Hail Mary. It worked, but Nebraska fans would rather have seen the familiar faces racing down the sideline as time expired.

Many of those faces return for the 2014 season, but the injury bug has already struck one week into fall camp.

First there was the report of junior defensive back Charles Jackson, lost for the season when he sustained ligament damage to his left knee the second day of fall camp. Jackson, a confident player who looked to replace departed senior Ciante Evans as the nickelback in head coach Bo Pelini's complex defensive system, displayed great athleticism in the first two days of practice before his injury.

Three days later, sophomore linebacker Michael Rose tore his ACL in a non-contact injury. Rose was looking to build on a freshman season that ended on a high note, as he totaled 25 tackles in Nebraska's final two games, including 16 in a loss to Iowa.

On Monday, the Associated Press (via Fox News) reported that redshirt freshman running back Adam Taylor broke his ankle on Saturday and would miss a significant amount of time. 

Add in the season-long suspension of sophomore safety LeRoy Alexander, and you've got yourself some Nebraska fans needing some heart medicine. 

Fear not, Children of the Corn. There is no need to despair. While injuries are never good news, the positions could have been worse. 

Adam Taylor would have been fighting for carries behind All-Big Ten running back Ameer Abdullah, junior wrecking ball Imani Cross and sophomore speedster Terrell Newby. This is a position stocked with talent, and incoming freshman Mikale Wilbon (Chicago) only adds more depth. It is another setback for the talented back, but the cupboard is far from bare.

Michael Rose was looking to pick up where he left off, leading the way as the starting middle linebacker. It appears on the surface as though this injury could hurt badly, but this is another position where Nebraska has depth. Sophomore Josh Banderas split time with Rose in the spring and the first week of fall camp, and senior Trevor Roach, who missed 2013 with an injury, has had playing time at the position. David Santos and Zaire Anderson return as the starters at the other linebacker positions.

Losing Charles Jackson and LeRoy Alexander does leave the biggest dent, but Nebraska has the depth to fill both positions. Pelini has always stocked up on talent in the defensive secondary, and it will be used in 2014.

Sophomore Nathan Gerry, who excelled at the safety spot in high school, has moved from linebacker to fill the void and will likely start alongside senior Corey Cooper. Junior-college transfer Byerson Cockrell, who has played the nickelback position since enrolling at Nebraska in January, appears likely to stake claim on the starting spot. While this is not ideal and leaves an apparent vacancy at corner, the depth is there. 

Juniors Jonathan Rose and Daniel Davie, along with redshirt freshman Boaz Joseph, will vie for the spot opposite junior returning starter Josh Mitchell. None have notable experience, but their athleticism and knowledge of Pelini's defensive schemes will allow the loss of prospective starters to be minimized. 

It is also important to remember that, as of now, there are no significant injuries to any players in the trenches. As mentioned, Nebraska was cycling players through the offensive line much of the 2013 season, and it showed against teams with healthier bodies. The defensive line, thought to be the strength of the team heading into the 2014 season, is healthy.

The quarterbacks are healthy. Probable starter Tommy Armstrong Jr. did wear a green non-contact jersey on Monday after getting dinged pretty hard Saturday, but it's a safe bet he'll be at full strength for Nebraska's August 30 opener against Florida Atlantic. That's huge news for the Cornhuskers, a team that doesn't want to rotate quarterbacks like last season.

So take heart, Nebraska fans. Injuries happen. It's never fun to hear about them, but they happen. Contrary to popular belief, not every one is the end of the world. The players, and the depth, are there. This is the deepest and most athletic Nebraska has been at multiple positions since Pelini arrived in Lincoln. 

This also provides depth moving forward. The young players with an opportunity to move up and practice with the starters or even start now will have gained so much moving forward. They will then compete with those who were injured this season.

That should put a smile on the faces of prognosticators. After all, the "key" players lost now will be around for another year to wreak havoc on opposing teams.

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5 Things We've Learned About Georgia Through Fall Camp so Far

The first week of fall camp is in the books and the Georgia Bulldogs are inching closer to August 30, which is when they host the Clemson Tigers in the season opener.

After the first week, there have been a lot of good things when it comes to players executing, and there are some areas where the Bulldogs still need more work.

Regardless, the Bulldogs still have a long ways to go to get to where they want to be, and this week will be another long one, as they will continue two-a-days to get physically and mentally ready.

Here are five things we learned from the Bulldogs through fall camp so far.

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Nebraska Football: Ranking Huskers' Top 10 Players Heading into 2014 Season

Nebraska football fans know how close the 2014 season is, and fans are already looking forward to seeing their heroes on the field.

While the roster is full, there are some players who stand above the others as players to watch. When combining athletic ability with opportunity to play, here are the top 10 Huskers for 2014.

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Breaking Down Texas' Latest Depth-Chart Moves Midway Through Fall Camp

Texas football is entering only Week 2 of fall camp, but there are a lot of questions that remain unanswered for the Longhorns in head coach Charlie Strong's inaugural season in Austin. 

Strong and his staff are diligently working to figure out which rotations will work for the Longhorns, and it's a task that has not been solved in just one week.

 

Offensive Line

Offensive line coach Joe Wickline is often regarded as one of the best O-line coaches in college football. And he has his work cut out for him this season.

Aside from center Dominic Espinosa, all of the positions are still being battled for on the line. But that is just the way Wickline likes it.

"There's going to be a lot of shuffling in camp, especially if you're trying to develop a new offense and trying to put in new schemes, new techniques and fundamentals and you're trying to figure out what you have on hand," Wickline said. "We're going to move guys pretty often until we find the right combination."

The tackle position seems to be in better shape than guards, but nothing is set in stone just yet.

"Particularly at the tackle position, we have some things that we think are good and some things that we need to work on," Wickline said. "We have some young players and some guys who have some experience, but as a whole, we're not ready to call practice off yet."

Junior Kennedy Estelle and senior Desmond Harrison have been discussed as potential starting tackles. Sophomore Kent Perkins is a guy who can play both tackle or guard but is still trying to learn the offense and the fundamentals. And guard Sedrick Flowers has shown the talent to possibly nab a starting role.

But with all things considered, Wickline has remained consistent in saying each linemen's job is up in the air with every practice.

"This is kind of a different deal for some, but there are no permanent spots on the line until well into the season," Wickline said. "There are some ideas. I understand about chemistry, I understand about continuity and I also understand that we would like to know who's going to be playing at right guard and what jersey number he's going to be in every game. But at the end of the day, that's not important. What's important is did you get your best five on the field and did you block the opponents."

 

Wide Receiver

The Longhorns have two of the receiver roles secured with senior Jaxon Shipley and junior Marcus Johnson. But Shipley's recent hamstring injury and the loss of Montrel Meander and Kendall Sanders has allowed for other players to show what they can do for the Longhorns young receiving core.

Wide receivers coach Les Koenning knows he has two starters in Shipley and Johnson, but he is watching for the younger players to step up and take some meaningful reps in fall camp.

"We have got to get the number of reps for those kids so they can be successful," Koenning said. "It's not really a first- or second-team thing. We know Marcus is first. We know Shipley's first. We know that. But we're going to move those kids around so they can get an ample amount of reps, so they can be successful."

Sophomore Jacorey Warrick is one receiver who has made a name for himself among Strong and the coaching staff. Warrick saw limited playing time during his true freshman season, but he has caught the attention of his coaches and team throughout spring and fall practice.

"Jacorey Warrick has done a really good job now," Strong said. "He has been working really hard at the wide receiver position."

The Longhorns also have junior Daje Johnson as an option at receiver. At times, Johnson has proven he can be one of the most explosive players on the field. But he has also been in Strong's doghouse and will be suspended for at least the season opener, if not more, for violating team rules.

"We're playing him at the inside receiver and the outside receiver," Koenning said of Johnson. "He's really made a big difference. He's always been the type of guy who would move from the inside slot to tailback. Now we have the ability to play him in the outside lane as an outside receiver. We've been direct with Daje. We have told him what we want and what we expect, and if he cannot do it, we will find somebody else."

Strong signed five talented freshmen wide receivers in the 2014 class. Although they are gradually learning the system, the transition to college has not been easy for some.

"The transition from high school to college has been tough for some of them," Koenning said. "In high school, they're the stud, they're the guy. Now they come to us and there are a bunch of guys there. So you really have to show what you can do because you're competing for a position."

There are a lot of ifs that follow the wide receiver's this season, but the positive note for Texas fans is the Longhorns have the numbers to fill the position.

 

Safety

Safety could be a position of concern for the Longhorns. Senior Mykkele Thompson will likely get a starting nod due to his amount of experience, but who will play opposite of him may still be up for debate.

The Longhorns have two viable options in junior Josh Turner and sophomore Adrian Colbert. However, Turner was one of three players who will be suspended for at least one game this season for violating team rules. And Colbert saw limited playing time last season.

One player who has been making a name for himself is walk-on defensive back Dylan Haines, who is also the son of former Texas and NFL defensive tackle John Haines.

Haines first caught the public's attention during the Longhorns spring game when he picked off Tyrone Swoopes in the first-team offense's first drive of the game. But Haines caught the eye of the coaches before the spring game.

"He has done a good job. He came out in spring ball and really showed up," defensive backs coach Chris Vaughn said. "We didn't know much about him prior to spring ball, but he made some plays and showed he could be tough. He runs well; he is accountable. So, all of those things kind of spilled over. We have some young guys who are trying to learn, and here is a guy who kind of came out of nowhere."

Vaughn also made it a point to say if he was a starter, he would take Haines' progress as a challenge to step up his game.

"If I was a scholarship guy, I would [take it as a challenge]. The one thing about our staff is it doesn't matter where you are or what you play. If you are a good player, you are going to play."

As it stands, the safety position is probably still up for grabs. But it would not be a surprise if the position gets shuffled around a bit before the season begins.

There are a few positions that are filled and will likely stay that way until the start of the season. It has been clear that the quarterback position is David Ash's to lose, and his backups are nowhere close to taking the gig from Ash.

The same could be said for the running backs. Senior Malcolm Brown and junior Johnathan Gray have secured the No. 1 and No. 2 roles for the Longhorns, respectively. However, how they will split the reps is to be determined.

One thing is for sure: Strong and his staff have their work cut out for them and not a lot of time to figure out how to once again make the Longhorns a college football contender.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow her on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.

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Missouri Tigers Linemen Twerk to 'Wiggle' During Practice

Here's something you probably never expected to see: football players twerking during practice.

Missouri's offensive linemen broke it down to Jason Derulo and Snoop Dogg's hit "Wiggle." Even some of the staff got in on the action.

The rest of the Tigers appeared to get a big kick out of the dancing.

[Mizzou Football, h/t Lost Lettermen]

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Oklahoma LB Frank Shannon Suspended for 1 Year by School

After an internal investigation stemming from sexual assault allegations, Oklahoma Sooners linebacker Frank Shannon has been suspended by the school for one year.   

Bryan Fischer of NFL.com tweeted the news Monday:

University president David L. Boren released this official statement on Monday afternoon, via Fischer:

The University of Oklahoma has been asked repeatedly by the media about the outcome of the internal disciplinary proceedings relating to Frank Shannon. As permitted by Federal privacy laws in matters such as these, the University is allowed to disclose its institutional processes and its final decisions. This process includes the Title IX Office inquiry, a hearing panel comprised of faculty and staff, and an appeal to the chief student affairs officer. This process was completed on June 18th. The final decision of the internal disciplinary process was suspension of the student for one year. Federal privacy law and other legal considerations prohibit me from discussing the case further.

The Sooners have taken the case to the Supreme Court according to Jason Kersey of The Oklahoman

The first is that Shannon’s appeal is based on Oklahoma’s Administrative Procedures Act, which was amended by the state legislature 13 days before his suspension to exclude OU and all public universities from its purview.

The second is that the district court’s stay “was an unconstitutional invasion of the University’s powers” to self-govern, and the third is that Shannon wasn’t expelled; he was suspended, meaning it doesn’t fall under the district court’s purview.

Shannon was initially accused of assaulting a female at an off-campus apartment in January, according to Jason Kersey of The Oklahoman. Kersey added, "Cleveland County District Attorney Greg Mashburn declined to prosecute the case, but the university is obligated by federal law to conduct its own investigation."

During the process, Kersey reported Shannon's ability to appeal the university's ultimate decision, according to an interview with open records officer Michael Purcell:

The University followed a very stringent process with both sides, and under the Administrative Procedure Act both sides have an ability to appeal any decision reached by the University to a district court. The University takes very seriously its obligation in cases like this. Under federal law, since this matter is still pending, the University cannot release further information.

While all parties involved wait for the situation to unfold completely, Shannon is still allowed to practice with the team, via Guerin Emig of the Tulsa World:

Shannon's expected absence this season will impact the No. 3-ranked Sooners in a big way. Last season, he recorded two sacks and one interception while his 92 total tackles led the team, according to Chris Level of RedRaiderSports.com:

The 6'1", 238-pound linebacker will be difficult to replace, and Oklahoma may have to rely on Eric Striker at the middle linebacker position. Last season, Striker accumulated 50 tackles and was very disruptive in the backfield, accumulating 10.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks.

The Sooners are expected to take a nice step forward defensively this season due to the expanded level of experience on that side of the ball. Last season, the team finished 22nd in the nation in scoring defense and 20th in total defense. Without Shannon in the lineup, improving on those numbers becomes increasingly difficult.

Head coach Bob Stoops isn't afforded a large amount of time to make adjustments, as the team begins its regular season on Saturday, Aug. 30, against Louisiana Tech.

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4 Things We've Learned About Nebraska Through Fall Camp so Far

With Week 1 of fall camp in the books, a few storylines have begun to take shape for head coach Bo Pelini and the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

Unfortunately, injuries plagued most of the practice talk during Week 1. Thankfully, that's not all Nebraska had to show, though. From the quarterback position to the offensive line that will protect the starter, there has been plenty to watch. So, what did fans see during the first week?

Here are the four things we have learned about the Huskers during fall camp so far.

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LSU Football 2014: Schedule Breakdown and Predictions

After a strong 10-3 season, ending in a 21-14 win over Iowa in the Outback Bowl, the LSU Tigers are looking to take the next step in the SEC.

Watch as B/R's experts break down the 2014 campaign and predict where the Tigers will finish.

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Michigan Football 2014: Schedule Breakdown and Predictions

It was a rough 2013 season for Brady Hoke and the Michigan Wolverines, as the team struggled to a 7-6 record.

Michigan will want to get back to its winning ways in 2014, so watch as Bleacher Report's experts break down the Wolverines heading into the season.

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Florida Football 2014: Schedule Breakdown and Predictions

After a 2013 season that saw the Florida Gators go 4-8 and 3-5 in the SEC, head coach Will Muschamp is hoping for better results in 2014.

Watch as B/R's experts discuss the Gators and their upcoming campaign.

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Johnny Frasier to Florida State: Seminoles Land 4-Star RB Prospect

Florida State landed one of the most dynamic players in the class of 2015 today as it received an official commitment from running back Johnny Frasier, the running back confirmed on his Twitter account:

Frasier is a four-star prospect from Princeton, North Carolina, per 247Sports, and he increased his stock significantly with an incredible 2013 season.  

As a junior, the 5'11", 200-pound back rushed for over 3,000 yards and racked up 50 total touchdowns, according to 247Sports. That put him on the radar of most top collegiate programs and gave him an opportunity to choose from a multitude of great options.

While major college interest might make some players nervous and adversely affect their performance, that wasn't the case with Frasier last year. Per D. Clay Best of the Smithfield Herald, Princeton High School head coach Derrick Minor believes it caused Frasier to rise to the occasion even more.

"He's taken it the way you'd want any potential Division I athlete to take it," Minor said. "He's using it to motivate him more. He wants to prove to them that he’s the real deal. ... He's not going to let those coaches or anybody else down. He wants to impress people with his results."

To say that he impressed would be a gross understatement. Frasier's numbers in 2013 were out of this world and one can only assume that he will be even better in 2014, which is an extremely scary thought for his opponents.

In fact, putting this decision behind him could conceivably allow him to play more freely. Despite using the recruiting situation as motivation in 2013, Frasier even admitted that all of the college talk was starting to weigh on him to some degree:

Knowing that Frasier will be attending a marquee college in 2015 and knowing what he did in 2013, however, it can be argued that Frasier will feel the need to put the entire team on his back and prove his worth.

Leading up to the 2014 campaign he received a major honor as he was named the North Carolina Preseason Player of the Year, according to Tim Stevens of The News & Observer.

With so many accolades to his credit, the expectation will likely be for Frasier to immediately make the jump to the college ranks and be productive in 2015. That is far from guaranteed, but running back seems to be the easiest position to make the transition from high school to college.

A number of freshman backs put up big numbers on a yearly basis and Frasier is as talented as any of them. He also undoubtedly has the speed needed to thrive in major college football as he runs the 40-yard dash in 4.45 seconds, per 247Sports.

If Frasier can continue to build upon his other skills such as power, vision and elusiveness, then the sky is the limit for him. Even if he isn't an instant star in college, it is difficult to imagine him failing when he ultimately receives the chance to carry the load.

He has been a true bell-cow back throughout his high school career and would likely welcome that role at the next level as well. He may have to adjust to being part of a committee at first, which could be difficult, but there is every reason to believe that he will be great.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

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Oregon Football 2014: Schedule Breakdown and Predictions

Last season, a campaign that began with national championship hopes fizzled out and ended with a victory in the Alamo Bowl.

This year, Marcus Mariota and company are back and looking to finish what they started. Watch as B/R's experts examine the Ducks ahead of the 2014 season. 

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UCLA Football: Ranking Bruins' Top 10 Players Heading into the Season

Jim Mora and his staff have done a wonderful job of building up the UCLA football team over the past few years. The depth on this team has not been seen in quite a long time. 

There's considerable star power at the top, not to mention an impressive collection of talent littered throughout the defense. 

This piece will detail the top 10 players on the roster heading into this season. The piece will gradually narrow down to the best football player on the team.

Honorable mentions: Ishmael Adams, Devin Lucien, Devin Fuller, Jordan Payton, Randall Goforth, Alex Redmond.

 

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5 Key Takeaways from the Ruling Against NCAA in Ed O'Bannon Case

All things considered, Friday's ruling in the Ed O'Bannon antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA served more as a compromise than an outright victory for the plaintiffs or a loss for the NCAA. 

In a 99-page document, Judge Claudia Wilken determined that the NCAA violated antitrust laws by restricting compensation for the use of an athlete's name, image and/or likeness (NIL). It's a monumental ruling, to be sure. Until now, college athletes have never been given a piece of the revenue pie for television broadcasts or paid for the purchase of their "jersey number." 

Though Wilken's decision cited those restrictions as unlawful, she also created a set of rules by which athletes could cash in on those revenue streams:

  • Players at every position will be paid equal shares for their NIL rights from a trust fund after they leave college. It is not a free-market system where the star quarterback can make more than the backup linebacker. 
  • Though the NCAA can cap that amount, it cannot prevent schools from offering at least $5,000 per athlete per year. Once the cap has been set—the NCAA would likely keep it at $5,000—schools can choose to participate if they want. This is done to promote competition in the "marketplace" of college athletics. 
  • The NCAA is also free to cap stipends, so long as they don't fall below the actual cost of attendance.
  • Wilken prohibited athletes from making money for endorsing products/services. 

Wilken's ruling takes effect on July 1, 2016. Here are five takeaways from that decision. 

 

 

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Breaking Down How to Stop Georgia RB Todd Gurley

The first draft of this article was shorter. It was supposed to be a thorough breakdown of how to stop Todd Gurley, but the whole text just read: prayer, cheating and dumb luck.

There's a reason that was my initial thought. When healthy, Gurley is the scariest running back and perhaps the scariest offensive player in college football. Even when he's not healthy, as he was for the second part of last season, he ranks somewhere near the top 10.

At 6'1", 226 pounds, with good speed, great vision and rare downhill power, Gurley is the closest thing college football fans have seen to Adrian Peterson since Peterson himself left Oklahoma. Coming out of school, AP was a little bit taller (6'1.5") but actually slighter (217 lbs) than Gurley, per his NFL draft profile at ESPN.com.

Alas, there is no such thing as an unstoppable player, no matter how close Gurley might at first appear. It's incredibly difficult to implement, but there is a game plan for at least slowing him down.

It just takes a special defense to execute it.

 

Winning the Line of Scrimmage

The best thing Gurley does is keep Georgia's offense on schedule, converting successful plays on first and second down that lead to either a new set of downs or an auspicious third down try.

What makes him so good at this is the ability to fall forward. He is the quintessential downhill runner who picks up steam as he gets to the second level, and often when he reaches even the linebackers, he is moving too fast to be driven backward. The safety or linebacker might make the tackle, but Gurley will initiate the contact.

Here is an example where he shakes Ryan Smith and drags Jermaine Whitehead for 14 yards against Auburn in 2013:

And here is perhaps the best possession of Gurley's career, which came against Alabama in the 2012 SEC Championship Game:

Obviously, having linebackers that can drive Gurley backward would be a huge boost in stopping him and theoretically could have been included in this breakdown. But linebackers capable of doing so are either exceedingly rare or non-existent, which would have made it feel wrong. We can't just tell a team to produce the next Ray Lewis.

More realistically, though, a team can win the battle at the line of scrimmage and force Gurley off of his intended path.

Every movement he makes east-to-west instead of going downhill gives him less force to break tackles and fall forward. If a defensive line—which is the key unit to stopping Gurley—can get a good push off the snap, force the offensive linemen backward and perhaps even get a hand on Gurley, they have a shot at bringing him down.

Here is a good example from last year's Clemson game:

Georgia might be vulnerable against the best defensive lines it faces this season after losing three quality starters (Kenarious Gates, Dallas Lee and Chris Burnette) from last year's offensive line.

In this regard, the Week 1 game against Clemson will be a fantastic litmus test. Gurley ripped the Tigers up (despite in-game injuries) for 154 yards on 12 carries last season, but this year they return one of the best, most experienced defensive lines in the country: a unit that ranked No. 10 on my list of best national position groups.

Players such as Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett and Corey Crawford will be jacked up to prove they can bring down the nation's best running back—although, of course, that is nothing new for Gurley to have to deal with. He is the Kentucky basketball of defensive line opponents, eliciting the A-game of whomever he goes up against.

"I would love to hit Todd Gurley," said Missouri defensive end Markus Golden at SEC media days, per Matt Maddux of AL.com. "I can't wait to play him…I love playing against players like him."

"Todd Gurley is definitely a running back that I'm ready to go up against," added South Carolina defensive tackle J.T. Surratt, who is no stranger to defending the Georgia star. The Gamecocks actually did an admirable job corralling him (albeit in a loss) last season, holding him to 132 yards on 30 carries, and Surratt had a half tackle for loss on a play where his defensive line dominated the point of attack:

Here is another example from that game where Kelcy Quarles beats his blocker one-on-one to disrupt the play and bring Gurley down:

Unfortunately, later in that game, South Carolina failed to execute another key tenant of stopping Gurley.

 

Coverage Out of the Backfield

Although it is tempting, a team cannot forget about the nation's best runner once they realize he will not be "running" on that play. Gurley defies the archetype of a typical downhill power back by making himself a versatile receiving threat out of the backfield.

Here he is looking like an actual wide receiver against the Gamecocks:

And here he is flashing out of the backfield for a 72-yard touchdown on a coverage breakdown against Florida later in the year:

Strangely, this means opposing linebackers might be more important in coverage against Gurley than in run support. At least with regard to "stopping" instead of "mitigating" his impact, this seems true.

As discussed earlier, it is the defensive line that stands the best chance of actually shutting down Gurley on rushing plays, whereas the linebackers' biggest duty is to attenuate his solid gains from becoming more-than-solid gains. Pass coverage is where they stand the best chance of eliminating Gurley entirely.

Screens and flares are basically extensions of the run and are best combated with swarming speed and gap discipline, but as seen in the videos above, Georgia trusts Gurley to run less-basic route concepts.

Because Georgia has so many other talented weapons in the passing game, a defense cannot spare a defensive back on Gurley in coverage, which means the linebackers must be able to keep him in check.

Here's a great job by Georgia Tech's Quayshawn Nealy, who runs with Gurley on an out route and forces a bad throw (at 1:51:45):

Hutson Mason got his feet wet last season—note: he is actually the quarterback in that above clip—and has a ton of experience running Mike Bobo's offense in practice since arriving at Georgia in 2010.

Still, one mustn't forget that he's a first-year full-time starter, and that in addition to a quality running game, something less-experienced quarterbacks tend to rely on is short, checkdown passes.

Gurley is as capable as any short, checkdown target in the country, and as he proved against Florida in 2013, he can take a reception the distance when the defense forgets to account for him.

Defenses should never forget to account for him.

 

Taking Away Cutback Lanes

Outside of pass coverage of solid downhill tackling, there is one more thing linebackers must do to against Gurley.

Rather than over-pursuing him and flooding in one direction, they must remain mindful of the cutback lanes and stay at home.

Bleacher Report contributor Cian Fahey, here writing for Rotoworld, did a great job breaking this down in July, highlighting a few instances where Gurley's combination of vision and explosiveness led to cutback opportunities on plays that should have been stuffed.

This jump cut against Clemson was one that stood out in particular:

"Considering his size, this is a phenomenal physical achievement," Fahey wrote in assessing the play. "Only one back in the NFL can boast to be as big as Gurley, as powerful as Gurley, as explosive as Gurley and be able to execute a jump cut as impressive as this. 

"That player rushed for 2,000 yards in 2012."

Of course, Fahey is referring to Peterson, and that is not the last time you will hear those two compared this season. Personally, I see Gurley as more of a Marshawn Lynch, but that is splitting hairs.

Either way, he is one of the toughest backs to stop of the past decade.

Still, there's a way to stop him if a defense executes properly. Every part of that execution is easier said than done—winning the battle in the trenches, mitigating Gurley's yards after contact, covering Gurley out of the backfield, filling up the cutback lanes—but it's not impossible for a defense with both talent and discipline.

Other than that, though, the best a team can hope for are exterior factors such as injury (which spared LSU, Tennessee, Missouri and Vanderbilt last season) or weather (which aided Nebraska in the 2014 Gator Bowl) to prevent being shredded by Gurley. And I suppose that skews pretty close to my original thought:

You might need a steady diet of prayer and dumb luck.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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SEC Football: Power Ranking Top 15 Players Heading into 2014 Season

Pads are popping, depth charts are being sorted out and the 2014 season is almost upon us.

But before toe meets leather and we begin the most exciting three months in sports, let's take a look at some of the stars in the nation's top football conference.

Quarterback turnover from a year ago has diminished the star power around the SEC, but there's plenty of talented players returning—many of whom will be in the thick of the discussion for the Heisman Trophy.

Who are the top stars in the SEC? We rank the top 15 in this slideshow.

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Florida State Football: Charles Kelly Brings Stability to 'Noles Defense

Florida State will have its third defensive coordinator in as many years when the Seminoles take the field in 2014.

Mark Stoops left FSU after three seasons to become Kentucky's coach in December 2012. FSU coach Jimbo Fisher hired Jeremy Pruitt in January 2013, and he helped direct the nation's No. 1 defense (allowed 12.1 points per game). Pruitt then surprisingly left FSU to become Georgia's defensive coordinator in January.

So Fisher opted to promote Charles Kelly from linebackers coach to defensive coordinator/defensive backs coach. While such turnover could be viewed with raised eyebrows, especially for a program looking to repeat as national champion, Fisher feels that promoting Kelly makes sense for the team.

"You don't always want change," Fisher said Sunday at FSU's media day. "It all reflects to how your players react to him, and that's been tremendous. (Kelly is) a tremendous football coach and tremendous guy."

"Hire good people, people are going to want them," said Kelly. "When you do a good job, people are going to come after your (coaches). I think that says a lot about Jimbo. I think it says a lot about his being able to recognize people that can do the job that he wants done and work within the system."

Kelly said that he had wanted to work with Fisher for the past few years. The two actually coached together for a season in 1993 at Auburn (Fisher was the quarterbacks coach, and Kelly was a graduate assistant). They faced off a few times in the ACC when Kelly was an assistant at Georgia Tech from 2006-12.

Georgia Tech's defense was struggling midway through the 2012 season, and coach Paul Johnson fired defensive coordinator Al Groh after a string of three straight losses to Miami, Middle Tennessee State and Clemson. Ken Sugiura of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted that the Yellow Jackets allowed an average of 46 points and 573.3 yards in those losses.

But Kelly became the interim defensive coordinator and turned things around. Georgia Tech won four of its last six regular-season games and reached the ACC Championship Game.

FSU defeated Georgia Tech 21-15 to win the league title, but Kelly's Yellow Jackets defense shut out the Seminoles in the second half, and E.J. Manuel was held to just 134 passing yards on the night. And Georgia Tech went on to dominate Southern California 21-7 in the Sun Bowl, as the Yellow Jackets held the Trojans to 205 offensive yards.

Just a few months later, Fisher hired Kelly. Fisher said he didn't promise Kelly that he could one day be the defensive coordinator, but Fisher did mention it as a possibility. Then, it became reality; Pruitt left Tallahassee a week after the national championship, and Fisher promoted Kelly in February.

"I've always been the type where if you work hard at what you do and do your job, things will take care of themselves," Kelly said. "I believe that. I'm very honored and very grateful for the opportunity."

Kelly is set to begin his 25th season as an assistant coach, and this is his biggest opportunity. He has been a position coach or coordinator at schools like Jacksonville State, Henderson State, Eufaula, Nicholls State and Georgia Tech.

But he is now leading what could again be the nation's top defense. While FSU lost an All-American corner in Lamarcus Joyner as well as defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, safety Terrence Brooks and leading tackler Telvin Smith, the Seminoles' recent recruiting success has ensured that there is plenty of depth.

The Seminoles return Mario Edwards Jr., a versatile, 300-pound end who can also slide inside and play tackle or drop back into coverage. Terrance Smith had 59 tackles last season and has emerged as a leader at linebacker. And the defensive backfield is loaded between corners like Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams and safeties like Jalen Ramsey, Nate Andrews and Tyler Hunter.

So far, the transition has gone well.

"The main thing for me is that, first of all, I work with a great group of guys," Kelly said. "Everybody has a job to do, and everybody does that job very hard. It's great working with Jimbo because it's a team—it's not offense, special teams, defense. We all work together to get better."

Kelly said he has relied heavily on his assistant coaches—Odell Haggins (defensive tackles), Sal Sunseri (defensive ends) and Bill Miller (linebackers). Haggins, Sunseri and Miller have a combined 87 years of experience as college coaches, including three national titles for Sunseri and two for Haggins.

"You think about Odell Haggins and how many national championship games he's been in," Kelly said. "You think about Sal, how many national championships he's been in and won. Bill Miller has been a coordinator at some really good places and been very successful. You have that to work with? That, to me, just helps you out as a coordinator." 

The other advantage for Kelly is that the players already knew him. He coached the linebackers in 2013 but kept tabs on the rest of the defensive players. So when Kelly was promoted, the transition felt smooth.

"I knew coach last year when he coached the linebackers," Darby said. "He was always a great dude, come talk to you, say, 'You're doing a good job.' Now that he's my coach, I see why the linebackers liked him so much. He's a great coach."

Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bob on Twitter.

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Breaking Down Notre Dame's Latest Depth Chart Moves Midway Through Fall Camp

After Notre Dame's first week of fall camp, Brian Kelly's Irish squad is beginning to come into focus. With the team spending their first five days at the Culver Military Academy, the Irish returned to campus on Saturday for two practices, strapping on pads as the depth chart begins to emerge. 

As you'd expect, camp has helped unearth a few surprise contenders for starting jobs, while also separating the pack at some crowded positions. 

Let's take a run through some of the interesting depth-chart battles and update the ongoing competition as kickoff against Rice on August 30 approaches. 

 

Quarterback

Just about every first team rep has gone to quarterback Everett Golson. But this week will be an important one for Malik Zaire. After spending much of last week simply installing the system, Zaire will get his opportunity to step forward, with evaluations starting to take place as the offense evolves. 

"Look, if you're making the decision in these five days, you already knew who your quarterback was," Kelly said over the weekend. "I wanted to get the installation in, and then we'll really start to focus on who the guy is this week because we'll put them in those competitive situations in 7-on-7 and in our team [drills] that will allow them to make those kind of decisions."

Kelly has been consistent in his message that both quarterbacks will get their shot at winning the job. But unless Zaire takes a big step forward this week, it's feeling more and more like a matter of when Golson is named starter, not if.  

That's not to say that Zaire won't play. The more the sophomore quarterback gets comfortable, the more Kelly will give him an opportunity to play a supporting role in the Irish offense, with the staff likely giving Zaire a chance to get comfortable taking live game reps on their own schedule.

  

Running Back

With three candidates capable of handling starting duties, depth and competition is welcome during camp. While senior Cam McDaniel is a steady performer who will continue to play a role in the Irish offense, Kelly talked at length about what he's seen from sophomores Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston through their first week of work. 

For Bryant, the sophomore might still be trying to do too much, eager to make up for a lost freshman season that earned him a medical redshirt. 

"I think with Greg, mental errors and trust of his offensive line," Kelly said, identifying some areas where improvement is needed. "To give you an example, you have to be patient to let those linemen move to the second level. Greg will have a tendency to just spurt out without that block setting up. Cam does a great job of setting that up and then hitting it.

"Greg's gotta trust his linemen and not just let his athletic ability take over because that will work sometimes, but when you need it in those crucial situations, he's gonna run into an out. So learning the playbook and knowing all the ins and outs of what we do, and then trusting the blocking schemes."

Kelly's criticism of Folston speaks to the promise the young back has already shown. While most already assume a key role for all three backs, Kelly continues to push Folston to believe that he's capable of being the team's lead back. 

"Tarean, I think just, take it over, you know?" Kelly said. "At times I'd like to see him be more than just who he is. It almost seems like you have to push him a little bit more than I'd like. I'd like to see a little more, 'Hey, I'm gonna take this position over.' He's really talented, and it looks like we have to push him a little bit. I'd like to see a little bit more from him that, I want to be the starter and I don't want to share the ball with anybody. I think he's just got to decide every day that he's going to be the guy."

 

Offensive Line

In a change from spring drills, left guard has been manned by senior Matt Hegarty, while sophomore Steve Elmer has been outside at right tackle. That's left sophomore Mike McGlinchey as odd man out, one of the big surprises entering fall camp. 

But after a week of mixing and matching, Kelly talked about using this week as the one to start putting together a cohesive unit. 

"Monday, we've probably just gotta say, 'This is the five' and start to build," Kelly said. "We've been in a lot of different lineups out there. We're trying to find the right matches there. We're probably gonna have to start kind of settling in.

"When you guys see us again next week we're probably gonna be close to finding those five. We'll have an in-depth conversation, and that will probably be our No. 1 conversation as an offensive staff this week."

That means finally deciding what to do with Elmer, who has bounced between tackle and guard so far in his young career. After spending most of last season and all of the spring on the interior, flexing back outside hasn't been easy for the sophomore. 

"He has all the tools, but he's playing like he's a guard at tackle right now," Kelly said. "That's why it's important that we kinda settle in on where he is."

 

Finding a Role for Tyler Luatua

If there's been a surprise on the offensive side of the ball, it's been tight end Tyler Luatua. The Southern California native looks like a versatile battering ram for the Irish, giving Kelly a weapon in both the run and pass game. 

"He's gonna play. We're gonna feature some backfield sets that will allow him to really use his size," Kelly said. "He's close to 270 pounds, and when he brings it, he's a heavy load. We haven't had that kind of downhill physicality that changes the pace. We can still play fast and then play down hill. He gives us some really good flexibility. He's a fullback/H-back that gives us some versatility that we would like to have."

Notre Dame beat out Alabama for Luatua, and while his recruiting profile seemed to diminish throughout his senior season, he's a unique player who could pull the fullback position out of extinction in Kelly's spread offense. 

 

Young Talent Has a Chance to Help the Front Seven

If there's a place where young talent has a chance to step in and contribute, it's in the front seven of Brian VanGorder's rebuilt defense. On Saturday, Kelly identified four key freshmen who will likely make an impact off the edge. 

"I can tell you the guys that will help us. Jhonny Williams will help us. [Jonathan] Bonner will help us. [Daniel] Cage will help us. Let's see. Kolin Hill will help us," Kelly said. "Those four guys have shown an ability to pass rush on third down. Now they're probably not going be every down players, but they can come off the edge for us."

Two other high profile youngsters will likely be given a chance. Defensive end Andrew Trumbetti likely didn't qualify as a freshman in Kelly's mind, with the early enrollee already taking part in spring practice. Veteran center Nick Martin told Bob Wieneke of the South Bend Tribune that Trumbetti has stood out to him.  

It's too early to count out linebacker Nyles Morgan, though the young linebacker has a ton to learn as he tries to absorb the playbook at middle linebacker. 

"We're trying. It's a lot. We're bringing him along," Kelly said. "Brian [VanGorder] and [linebackers coach] Bobby Elliott are doing a great job, it's just a lot of work to get there. We had Manti Te'o, and in his freshman year...I said this when I watched him on film, he had a long way to go after his freshman year. And he was a five-star and one of the best players in the country."

 

*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand. 

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Debunking the Myth That Nick Saban Defenses Can't Stop the No-Huddle

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama coach Nick Saban has taken flak recently for a perceived weakness against teams that run some form of a hurry-up or no-huddle offense.

This was particularly brought to attention last year, when Alabama escaped a massive shootout with Texas A&M, lost to Auburn and then ended the season with a surprise loss to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.

Maybe that’s why on Saturday, after the team’s first scrimmage of the fall, Saban sought to put an end to that perception when asked an otherwise innocuous question about working to combat such teams.

“But, you know, in all honesty, guys, you all make way too much of this,” Saban said. “I mean, the last game the team (Auburn) had 21 points against us with 30 seconds to go in the game, and I don’t think anybody held them to 21 points all year long. I saw them score 60 in the SEC Championship Game, or whatever."

Saban continued: “We shut Ole Miss out here. We had four turnovers against Oklahoma that led to 28 points ... So when you look in it deeply relative to how the other teams do, do we need to play better or do we play as well against those teams as maybe some other teams? I guess you could make the case for that.”

There’s no denying that Alabama struggled against those three teams last season. According to D.C. Reeves of TideSports.com, 41.7 percent of the Crimson Tide’s yards given up in 2013 came against Texas A&M, Auburn and Oklahoma.

But can you blame those results on Saban and Alabama struggling with uptempo teams? A closer look at the numbers and circumstances in those three games tells a different story.

Alabama actually gave up the most yards all season (and in school history) in its win against Texas A&M. So while it didn’t blemish the Crimson Tide’s record, it still raised concerns about their ability to stop these high-octane teams.

But Alabama’s performance against Texas A&M was more about talent than scheme.

Wonder Boy Johnny Manziel made magic on several occasions. And he had the benefit of a huge mismatch on the outside.

A&M wide receiver Mike Evans was listed at 6’5”, 225 pounds last season. His coverage for most of the day? 6’0”, 186-pound John Fulton and 5’10”, 194-pound Cyus Jones.

That led to the 279-yard performance he had against the Crimson Tide, not the system he was operating in.

When it has the talent advantage—like it did against Ole Miss—the opposing offensive game plan isn't a problem.

“How about keeping the ball away from them? How about controlling the ball on offense so they don’t have the ball so much?” Saban said on Saturday about the Texas A&M game. “That’s something that we did in the A&M game. We didn’t play very well on defense in that game, in my opinion.”

Alabama actually contained Auburn pretty well.

The Crimson Tide held the Tigers to just 393 yards of total offense—well below their season average of 501.3 yards per game. And their 28 (offensive) points were similarly low compared to Auburn’s 39.5-points-per-game season average.

(Saban pointed out that it was only 21 points with 30 seconds to go. With all due respect to Saban, Nick Marshall’s game-tying touchdown to Sammie Coates came with 32 seconds left on the clock, and you can’t just selectively omit points scored against.)

Alabama was gashed, to be sure, just not as much as Auburn had been doing to teams all year. And it squandered plenty of opportunities that had nothing to do with defensive preparation for tempo.

There were field-goal misses of 44, 33 and 44 yards. Amari Cooper dropped a touchdown in the end zone. T.J. Yeldon failed to pick up a 4th-and-1 in the fourth quarter that could have iced the game.

Offensive and special-teams execution issues (including untimely field-goal return coverage) doomed Alabama in the Iron Bowl, not its defense.

And in the Sugar Bowl, an uninterested Alabama team met a highly motivated Oklahoma.

The motivation excuse can seem convenient, and it certainly doesn’t excuse a loss. But it could be a better reason for the defeat than weakness against a certain scheme. (And it did start a pretty entertaining back-and-forth between Saban and Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops.)

Saban noted the challenges he faced from an attitude perspective.

And from the players’ point of view, it’s hard to get up for a game like that when a national championship has become the standard.

Star wide receiver Julio Jones was in a similar scenario. The 2008 Alabama team lost a 31-17 dud Sugar Bowl to Utah after a tightly contested 31-20 loss in the SEC Championship Game. Jones noted the similarities in the two Sugar Bowl losses.

“You see, the Sugar Bowl, when we're there, it's like championship or not,” Jones said in a recent video interview with Sports Illustrated. “Sugar Bowl? Nobody cares about playing in the Sugar Bowl."

Saban’s point about the turnover margin in that game was true, too. Twenty-eight of the Sooners’ 45 points were scored off turnovers. Twenty-one of those points came off turnovers where Oklahoma took possession inside UA territory and includes a fumble recovered for a touchdown where the Oklahoma offense didn’t even see the field and an interception back to the 13-yard line.

That’s a problem with the offense putting the defense in a bad position to succeed, not a defensive weakness.

Alabama had defensive problems last year, to be sure, and gave up big plays at inopportune times. The Crimson Tide dealt with some entitlement issues and lack of execution on offense that was just as much, if not more, a reason for its two losses than the defense.

It’s easy to create a narrative based on wins and losses, but a closer look shows that Alabama facing uptempo offenses was not the main problem last season.

“I think we need to improve on defense period,” Saban concluded on Saturday. “I think we need to improve in coverage. I think we need to improve in mental errors. I think we need to improve how we strike people up front. I think we missed too many tackles today, so we’ve got to tackle a whole lot better. And we can’t give up big plays. And we’ve got to be able to pressure the quarterback better. So I think if we can do all those things better we’ll probably play against everybody better.”

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats come from cfbstats. All recruiting information comes from 247Sports.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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Breaking Down Team Michigan's Latest Depth Chart Moves Midway Through Fall Camp

Position battles were a hot topic Sunday at Michigan’s media day. Brady Hoke and his coordinators, Doug Nussmeier and Greg Mattison, held court and entertained questions from the media in attendance.

Here’s an update on the position battles of interest as Michigan heads into the second week of camp and prepares for Saturday’s public scrimmage.

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