ATHENS — Georgia defensive tackle Jeff Owens is off crutches and eager to get back on the field.
Until then, he’ll be only too happy to do some refereeing on the side.
A vocal leader of the Georgia defense, Owens tore up his right knee in the season opener and underwent surgery that put him out for the year. In the past week, he was able to ditch the crutches and step up his rehab. He’s now working out twice a day, hoping to speed his recovery.
“It’s coming along quite well,” said Owens, who looks to start jogging soon. “It’s a slow process. You’ve just got to keep grinding and keep pushing.”
He’s been a regular at practice, wearing his jersey and trying to provide whatever encouragement he can from the sideline.
“Maybe I’ll start running with him like I’m the referee,” Owens quipped. “I’m doing everything I can to stay with it. Maybe I’ll try throwing some flags or something.”
In a way, he’s already provided a valuable contribution this season. After Owens was hurt, he encouraged close friend Corvey Irvin to take over a leadership role. Irvin has done just that, making five starts at Owens position for the No. 8 Bulldogs (7-1, 4-1 Southeastern Conference).
“He was a vocal leader for us,” Irvin said. “We needed someone to step up. He told me to step up and be the leader I can be.”
Owens would love to be on the field Saturday when the Bulldogs take on bitter rival Florida (7-1, 4-1). The Bulldogs won 42-30 last season, and this year’s winner will emerge as the favorite to win the SEC East.
“It hurts a lot,” said Owens, a Florida native. “We beat ‘em last and I wanted to help continue that trend and beat ‘em again. It’s going to be tough. They’re a great football team, the best team we’ve faced all year. I wish I could be our there playing with the boys, help our team get out on the field and dominate.”
Alabama coach Nick Saban, whose team could very well be involved in the next BCS controversy, would like to see college football change the way its national champion is decided.
The second-ranked Crimson Tide are among a handful of unbeaten teams still standing in the BCS conferences, and the possibility of an undefeated team being left out of the championship game in Miami on Jan. 8 could mean another call for change — which is not coming any time soon.
Saban said he has long favored a plus-one method — proposed by Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive in May — where the top four teams meet in two bowl games and the winners play a week later for the title.
“I’ve always been an advocate of the plus-one system since 1997 when Michigan and Nebraska got in a situation where they couldn’t decide the national championship,” Saban said. “I just feel that only having two teams sort of takes a lot of teams out of it.”
But, he added, “there wasn’t a lot of support” for the SEC’s proposal rejected by Football Bowl Subdivision conference commissioners in May.
Even after No. 1 Texas and No. 6 Texas Tech play this weekend in the Big 12 Conference, that could still leave three BCS conference unbeatens, including No. 3 Penn State (Big Ten).
“I’m still not happy with that,” Saban said. “In most situations when you’ve had issues they would have been resolved because it usually involves three teams, maybe four. Not to say that you still wouldn’t have issues. If you pick four, there’s always going be a debate on the fifth team.”
Saban has experience with such debates, having led LSU to the BCS national title in 2003, while Southern California finished atop the Associated Press rankings.
LSU coach Les Miles seems ready to give third-string freshman quarterback Jordan Jefferson a chance to show what he can do.
“I think Jordan Jefferson probably comes into play here a little more readily,” Miles said this week.
No. 15 LSU (5-2, 3-2) gets a perceived “break” in the schedule when the Tigers host struggling Tulane (2-5). Jarrett Lee is expected to start as he has in each of the past four games.
Miles still has high hopes for Lee, a strong-armed redshirt freshman from Texas. However, Lee has been wildly inconsistent. His three interceptions in a 52-38 loss to Georgia led to 17 Bulldogs points. Two were returned for touchdowns. Lee has thrown nine interceptions this season, with four being returned for scores.
Even when Lee has been playing well, Miles has sought to insert Andrew Hatch as a change-of-pace option threat. However, Miles, without getting specific, said Hatch hurt his left leg in last Saturday’s 52-38 loss to Georgia. If Hatch is unable to play against Tulane, Jefferson could end up getting what would have been Hatch’s snaps.
A highly sought recruit out of Destrehan High School in southeastern Louisiana, Jefferson has been in for one play so far this season — an option run near the goal line against Mississippi State, which failed to produce a touchdown and left the quarterback with a bruised shoulder.
Put me in coach
Mississippi receiver Mike Wallace has discovered how to get his way with Mississippi coach Houston Nutt.
First Wallace asked Nutt to have back his kickoff return duties. Then he asked again. Then he asked again. And again.
“I think eventually he just got tired of me nagging him and he just put me back there,” Wallace said.
Wallace was the Rebels’ main playmaker in 2007, but was a nonfactor for a while this season as he struggled to find his place in Nutt’s schemes.
After gaining 222 all-purpose yards and catching a crucial touchdown pass in Ole Miss’ 23-21 win over Arkansas, it’s clear Wallace the playmaker is back.
When Nutt gave Wallace his kickoff return duties back against Vanderbilt earlier this season, he responded with a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
And when Nutt announced recently that he wanted to make Wallace a factor in the passing game again, Wallace felt like he’d been rediscovered.
“Now it’s my turn to make plays,” Wallace said.
Wallace had 171 all-purpose yards in his first three games. In the five games since he’s had 900. That includes a school-record 238 against Vanderbilt that was fourth in the Southeastern Conference record books.
He hasn’t had fewer than 111 all-purpose yards since the Vanderbilt game and is finally gaining a connection with quarterback Jevan Snead.
The pair just missed on several big plays early in the season and Snead turned his attention to receivers Shay Hodge and Dexter McCluster.
But Wallace has had 120 and 124 yards receiving in the Rebels’ last two games and expects more as Ole Miss hosts Auburn this weekend.
“Now coach has told me I’m going to get more opportunities and I’m going to try to make the best of them,” Wallace said.