After South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney opened the week with a salvo that pegged which quarterbacks were scared of him, a response came back from one of them: Georgia senior quarterback Aaron Murray, who had a miserable game in a 35-7 loss to the Gamecocks last season.
“I think the word fear was misused for respect. I definitely have a lot of respect for him,” Murray said Thursday on the final day of the 2013 SEC Media Days. “He’s definitely one of the best players in the country, if not the best. He’s a guy you really do have to game plan for and set a plan for him. So I’m not scared, but I definitely respect him greatly for what he’s able to do on the field.”
Murray added that quarterbacks have to be prepared to handle punishment and trash talk.
“I enjoy getting hits,” he said. “I’m not scared of getting hit by anyone, but I’m not worried about who says what or this or that.”
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Georgia tight end Arthur Lynch, who’s likely to encounter Clowney on the field Sept. 7, defended his quarterback’s honor.
“There is no doubt that Clowney is one of the best defensive players in college football, and there might be some guys who are scared of him,” Lynch said. “I’ve known Aaron for a long time now, and if there is one thing Aaron won’t shy away from, it’s a challenge. He’s not the biggest guy and he’s not strongest guy, but he’s the most competitive and he’s the hardest worker, so he’s not afraid of Clowney or anyone else.”
And he then fired a little salvo of his own.
“I don’t think Clowney is that much of a horror show,” Lynch added. “If he is, we may be in for something we’re not expecting.”
Les Miles delivers
Les Miles doesn’t win every game he coaches on the field, but the LSU coach comes out the winner every time he takes the podium, especially in front of the big annual audience at the SEC Media Days.
Thursday morning at the Wynfrey Hotel, Miles started the event’s final day with an appearance that met all the expectations. Famed for his off-beat demeanor, he delivered one line after another that brought smiles to the assembled media members.
No coach or player can top him for sheer entertainment value. Let’s run through his most interesting observations.
... On what he did this summer: “I repelled down a building. I don't know that that was all it was cracked up to be. It was tall. It was up there.”
... On how he expects his team to match up against a challenging SEC schedule: “I like us. I like us in any game.”
... On how his coaches communicate with the team’s Australian punter: “Well, Australians have a higher voice (using an Australian accent). When you just speak regular English, it doesn't quite get across.”
... On his Twitter policy for players: “Well, it's an amazing thing. Twenty years ago, there was not a policy on Twitter. You know what? Twenty years ago, there was not a policy on Facebook. You know what? I'll bet you that 20 years ago no one did a Harlem Shake, you know what I mean?”
... On having to adapt to players using social media: “Well, again, it's kind of like saying, before they had cars, I'm not allowing any of my players to drive cars. Why? Well, I like the old buggy. It's safer. The horse is a problem, but as long as you keep the horse pointed in the right direction, you're OK.”
Keeping it fair
The inequity in scheduling continues to be a hot topic among the coaches. USC coach Steve Spurrier has beat that drum for several years as it relates to the difficulty of cross-divisional games.
Miles took up the topic this season, with his Tigers having to play Georgia and Florida, who went a combined 14-2 in the SEC last season, while West rival Alabama gets to play Kentucky and Tennessee, who went a combined 1-15 in the league a year ago.
“I'd have to say there's a repeated scheduling advantage and disadvantage for certain teams in this conference based on tradition and traditional matchups,” Miles said, while noting that LSU has had to play Florida and Georgia 19 times since 2000. “That makes a heck of a difference.”
Alabama coach Nick Saban hears what Miles is saying but notes that it’s important to the fans to keep the traditional cross-division rivalries going. He could see expanding the league schedule to nine games but states some inequity will always exist.
“There can never be an equal path to the championship. Unless everybody plays everybody, that's the only equal path to championship,” Saban said. “Everybody doesn't play everybody in the NFL. You rotate your schedule. We have to rotate the schedule.”
Commodores coming on
Vanderbilt coach James Franklin has the program reaching new heights as he enters his third season. One indication is the newfound respect from media observers, who picked the Commodores, a longtime doormat, to finish fourth in the SEC East, ahead of Tennessee, Missouri and Kentucky.
The energetic Franklin has remade the program’s image, beginning with the 2011 season, when he became the only first-year coach in school history to lead the team to a bowl game. Last season he guided the Commodores to a 9-4 mark, which matched the school record for wins, after finishing the year with seven straight wins.
He realizes the program must keep moving forward to signal true progress.
“Those are things of the past, and our focus is on where we’re going now,” Franklin said. “Probably our biggest challenge is handling the success. A lot of times when you’re taking over a program, adversity is probably a little bit easier to handle than the success. Making sure our guys understand that we’re going to have to play with the same type of emotion, passion, (and) chip on our shoulder that we’ve had in the past.”
Georgia coach Mark Richt understands there may be a few conflicted feelings when the Bulldogs play host to LSU on Sept. 28. Tammy Mettenberger, an administrative assistant in the Georgia football office, is the mother of LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger.
“She's been with us longer than I've been at Georgia. She's a mainstay there,” Richt said. “If she wants to take a week off prior to that, we might work that out. We know her, love her, and trust her. But I know she loves her boy, that's for sure.”
Zach Mettenberger, who was kicked off the Georgia team after pleading guilty to sexual battery charges in 2010, is excited about the prospect of facing his hometown team.
“It’s a dream come true,” he said. “I always thought I would play between the hedges, and now it’s just in a different color uniform.”