SEC: No. 7 LSU felt vindicated by Washington upset

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - It was as if No. 7 LSU won two games in one weekend.

At the very least, the Tigers felt they had their season-opening win at Washington validated by the Huskies' upset over Southern California last Saturday.

Shortly before LSU (3-0) kicked off against Louisiana-Lafayette - a game the Tigers won easily, 31-3 - the announcement of the Washington result drew one of the loudest cheers of the night in Tiger Stadium, an acknowledgment that maybe LSU's 31-23 victory over the Huskies was more impressive than initially thought.

"After that game, people were ready to write us off, saying we were half-stepping, didn't look impressive, but now they understand we went into a hostile environment and took care of business," LSU defensive tackle Charles Alexander said.

When LSU first returned from the West Coast, players and coaches found themselves constantly defending their performance against a team that had gone winless a season ago.

Now, of course, it's easier to swallow with the Huskies ranked 24th in the AP Top 25 poll.

"It makes you feel good," offensive lineman Lyle Hitt said. "I was talking to a friend of mine last week and watching TV and the prediction stuff ... and they showed the USC-Washington matchup, and I kind of nudged my friend and said, 'Washington's going to play them close. Washington has a good team and USC better be on their toes.'

And sure enough, they came away with the upset."


JULIO RETURNS: Julio Jones is still the go-to guy in No. 3 Alabama's receiving corps, he's just not the only one anymore.

Jones returns against Arkansas after missing the past seven quarters with a bruised right knee. The Crimson Tide receiver has just five catches for 55 yards.

His absence increased the roles for Mike McCoy, Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks.

"Obviously you never want to have a guy out like Julio. He's a fantastic player. He can change a game at the snap of your fingers," Tide quarterback Greg McElroy said. "One of the good things of him sitting out the last couple of games is getting some other guys experience. That increases their confidence."

Jones started all 14 games in 2008 and had the most prolific season by any Alabama freshman receiver, with 58 receptions.


SAMUEL SLIPS UP: Richard Samuel is expected to get another start at tailback when No. 21 Georgia hosts Arizona State Saturday night.

Samuel ran for 104 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown, but also fumbled twice in a 51-42 victory over Arkansas. The Bulldogs (2-1) aren't going to keep handing the ball to someone who has trouble holding on to it.

"We're not too thrilled about it," coach Mark Richt said. "I'm not sure we're ready to move him out of the No. 1 position. But if that kind of things continues, we'll really have to consider whether he should start for us. You can't have two fumbles a game, that's for sure."

Samuel knows he can't afford another slip-up, especially with Caleb King showing he is finally over a hamstring injury.

"I need to be more focused on what I'm doing with the ball and how I'm controlling and handling the ball," Samuel said. "You don't want to play anyone who's fumbling the ball. I've got to keep that in mind."


TIM'S TIME? Auburn receiver Tim Hawthorne returned against West Virginia, several weeks earlier than expected after breaking a bone in his right foot in a July workout.

"It felt great," Hawthorne said. "Really, it was a big relief for me because it seemed like I had been waiting for so long from the latest injuries that I've had."

Hawthorne's broken foot was hardly the toughest obstacle he has had to overcome. A friend was killed when the sports utility vehicle they were riding in flipped several times in March 2007. He sustained a broken arm the following spring.

Hawthorne, who averaged 25.4 yards on eight catches last season, doesn't feel snake-bitten.

"You can walk outside and have something hit you in the head," he said. "I won't say I'm unlucky, but I have had my share of ups and downs."


ACTION JACKSON: Tennessee All-American safety Eric Berry is good - very good - but in some ways, freshman safety Janzen Jackson is better.

Jackson "actually has looser hips," coach Lane Kiffin said. "Eric is a straight-ahead hitter sometimes. He can cover and hit and do everything, but Janzen's got phenomenal hips."

Those hips give him the mobility and versatility to play cornerback too if needed.

Kiffin expects the former five-star recruit to eventually be an All-American player too if Jackson stays healthy.

Jackson had six tackles against Florida and drilled Gators wide receiver Brandon James to break up what would have been a touchdown pass.

"His dad's done a great job raising him," Kiffin said. "His dad is a ball coach that very tough on him and very demanding, and Janzen gets it."


GOOD OL' DAYS: South Carolina players don't just watch film of their games or their opponents - sometimes coach Steve Spurrier will pop in a tape of his classic Florida Gators teams.

Receiver Tori Gurley loves to watch Spurrier's old Gator teams, led by Danny Wuerffel or Rex Grossman, especially when they pour it on.

"One of my favorite games was when Florida played LSU. The score was like 50-to-something, and coach Spurrier was still throwing the ball downfield with second- and third-team players. They were going out and making plays," said the freshman, who was 4 years old when Spurrier won his first Southeastern Conference title with the Gators in 1991.

Gurley didn't say what year the game was from and there are two candidates - Florida beat LSU 58-3 in 1993 and 56-13 in 1996.


ARE WE THERE YET? Coach Bobby Johnson tried to warn everyone that reaching, and winning, a bowl game didn't mean that Vanderbilt had arrived in the SEC.

Now that the Commodores are off to a 1-2 start, Johnson essentially is saying, I told you so.

"I've told everybody quite often that if we ever get it as good as we can at Vanderbilt, we are going to have to fight every game that we play. It is going to be a battle and if we don't execute, things like what happened Saturday night could happen," Johnson said of a 15-3 loss to Mississippi State.

Last year's 5-0 start dims with every game, and Vanderbilt now must visit Rice (0-3) in a must-win Saturday.


AP sports writers Paul Newberry in Athens, Ga.; John Zenor in Tuscaloosa, Ala.; Will Graves in Lexington, Ky.; Teresa Walker in Nashville; Beth Rucker in Knoxville, Tenn.; and Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, S.C., contributed to this report.


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