Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Nine
Who wants to see another Cam pic?
Every Thursday, CFN's Brian Harbach and Russ Mitchell break down the SEC games you need to watch, the SEC questions you want answered, and of course, the SEC Power Rankings. All things SEC from two different SEC writers, with two different SEC points of view. One of 'em always right. Now y'all play nice.
Quick side note – been rocking with a smile on my face for a week now. Recently introduced to Lavay Smith & Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers. If you're a blues fan, run, don't walk. ;) Start with their cut of Walk Right In, Walk Right Out. Hm... If he goes pro after his Heisman and BCS trophies, it could be Cam's theme song. Just saying. RM
Russ Mitchell covers the SEC (and apparently the Blues) for www.CollegeFootballNews.com. Please follow him on Twitter @russmitchellsec or email him at email@example.com
Brian Harbach covers the SEC for www.CollegeFootballNews.com. Please follow him on Twitter @harbabd or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
3 SEC QUESTIONS THAT NAG MORE THAN YOUR EX
(i) Who had the best SEC performance this past weekend (Team or Player)?
We could go with Georgia's RB Washaun Ealey, for his 28/157, 5 TD performance… ‘cept the bigger story was his going two straight games without a fumble. We could go with Tennessee's Tauren Poole, who became the first RB in 41 consecutive games to rush for more than 100 yards against Alabama (14/117)… ‘cept the obvious. We can tell you who we're NOT going with, and that's anyone from Miss State – yes, even you LaDarius Perkins, and your 131 yards on 18 carries. And you know exactly why. UAB? Are you kidding us? After all the praise we've been heaping on you, and you go out and nearly lay the mother-of-all-eggs. What do you think this is, the ACC? C'mon son(s), step up. But is there really any doubt – actually, YES! For the first time this season, there is. We're giving the nod to two players, both from the same team but different sides of the ball – Auburn's QB Cameron Newton and DT Nick Fairley. How good is Cam, you ask? Well DT Drake Nevis, LB Kelvin Sheppard and CB Patrick Peterson are the best LSU has; all three will go day one of the NFL draft. And on one play Saturday, Newton ran through all three of them. Smoke that if you got it, Sunshine. Still, with that in mind, the most interesting thing we took from the Tiger-on-Tiger game was Mr. Fairley might have been even more important to Auburn's victory than Newton. And that's saying something.
The best performance from a week ago was the Auburn running game, but the love needs to go to the blockers up front. We aren't just talking about the offensive line here; the Auburn receivers, H-backs and linemen deserve much of the credit for running up 440 rush yards against one of the best defenses in the country. We have to respectively disagree with ESPN's Jesse Palmer –shocker – because LSU nor its defense is overrated this year; this is a typically physical and fast LSU front four with very good players and depth, that laid an egg tackling against Auburn. And that happened because nearly every time an Auburn runner got into space there was another Auburn player making a key block. All of Newton's rushes up the middle were escorted by one of two guards; he looked like he had a Secret Service patrol around him. Who knew Mike Berry or Byron Isom could run ten yards down the field that fast? Onterio McCalebb's game winning 70 yard end around was brilliantly blocked by Kodi Burns and Terrell Zachary. Even the rudimentary Mike Dyer off tackle runs saw key blocks by Philip Lutzenkirchen and Lee Ziemba. Teams can't put up those kinds of stats without some great downfield blocking, and that was the reason for Auburn's big day.
(ii) What injury has been the most impactful this season?
That's an interesting question, because "most impactful" can be taken as either a good or bad thing. For example, watching Tyler Wilson come off the bench for an injured Ryan Mallett sure opened a lot of eyes, from Fayetteville clear across to Gainesville. (Not to mention more than a few NFL eyebrows, who as we noted last week now have to wonder how much Ryan's numbers are a result of Petrino's system, or Monsieur Mallett's promise/talent.) Wilson was very good, and made a lot of folks in the Toothpick State breathe a sigh of relief should Mallett depart early for NFL riches.
But to us the most impactful injury so far has been the twisted ankle of Carolina's electrifying RB Marcus Lattimore, for everything it tells us not just about the Gamecocks, but Mr. Lattimore himself. Remember, before being injured Lattimore was running circles around the Wildcats. In the first half he'd amassed 71 yards and two TDs on just 13 carries, and up 28-10, with his defense having just forced another three and out from UK to start the second half, Marcus was getting ready to run Kentucky off into the sunset. One twist of an ankle later, and the wheels fall off the cart.
What had moments before been an absolutely dominating "National Championship" contender, coming off its signature win in program history, not to mention 63 points in three halves, couldn't score even a single point with everything hanging in the balance. Remember, this is a team that has one of our conference's most potent offensive weapons in receiver Alshon Jeffrey (at least with Lattimore on the field), and its only loss up to that point was by three @ Auburn. It's not a stretch to say this was a National Championship contender resting at halftime in the vistors' locker room at Commonwealth Stadium, up comfortably, content with their place in the SEC East, with Vandy and Tennessee up next... It's clear this true freshman is the lynch-pin of the Carolina team – a team that (with Lattimore healthy) remains in the driver's seat to win the East. Which along with $3.85 will buy you a latte at Starbucks.
There are two that stand out: the first is Marcus Lattimore going down in the first half of the Kentucky game with South Carolina up big and eventually doing nothing the second half. That injury took South Carolina from a national darling back to the Return of the Chicken Curse; thirty minutes without Marcus Lattimore destroyed 60 minutes of brilliant football against Alabama. The second choice and correct answer is the Jeff Demps injury that has derailed the Florida offense to the point that Steve Addazio is getting heat about his future with the Gators. Demps' injury has had the biggest impact in the SEC this season, for minus Chris Rainey (with Demps healthy, no way that kid still dresses – and that should raise an eyebrow) the Gators have no running game and no big play threat.
Florida's offense is built on misdirection, play action and homerun threats that can score from any point on the field, but without Demps (injured) and Rainey (suspended), the Gator offense has stalled. The homerun threat is gone, and without it the Gator offense becomes predictable and stagnant. Put simple, who fears the Florida read option anymore? Teams can over-commit to the less speedy Gator running backs, and know they can easily catch John Brantley from behind in the rare occasion he does keep the ball. Without Demps, Florida has been unable to control drives, unable to pick up big chunks of yardage, and have become one dimensional. In fact, that's not even correct – the Gator offense is no dimensional right now because it's even struggling throwing the ball. A healthy Demps fixes these problems. On a team that recruits better than anyone in the country, it is shocking that one injured player can take down the entire offense. Urban?
(iii) What every SEC fan should be talking about after Week Eight, but isn't?
Well that leaves out anything about what's wrong with the term "The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" in the first place, how we're supposed to look our children in the face and tell them to always tell the truth if we're not going to call it "The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party", and that making such a fuss has simply drawn more attention to the fact that it is, indeed, (say it with me) "The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party"… (i) Following the beat down Newton & Co. hung on LSU Saturday, the Bayou Bengals' Run Defense plummeted from 6th in the nation and 1st in the SEC, to 38th and 7th, respectively. Ouch! (ii) Yet as an overall defense it remains best in the SEC and 8th in the nation. Begs the question: just how good IS this Auburn offense? (iii) How'd you like to be Gus Malzahn's agent right about now? (iv) Break up the Bulldogs! Georgia has scored 40 or more points in each of its last three consecutive games, all SEC affairs (the first time that's happened in Georgia's history, according to dogbytesonline's Marc Weiszer), (v) Those three games in question? Tennessee, with its 88th Total Defense, Vandy (82nd) and Kentucky (50th), (vi) Florida's Total Defense? 14th, (vii) The Gators rank second in the conference in Passes Intercepted with 13, however, Georgia is better at overall Turnover Margin (18th in the nation to Florida's 43rd); (viii) It's not 2009 and he's not a freshman (See: fumbles) – it's time for LSU's Russell Shepard to line up beside Peterson returning kickoffs. Stop. Imagine that. Continue… (ix) Trap this! LSU comes off a big Out of Conference win over WVU, and plays terribly in the near loss to UT. SC comes off a big win over Bama, and plays terribly in the loss to UK. MSU comes off a big win against Florida, and plays terribly in the near loss to UAB. Auburn comes off a big win against LSU, and… (x) The Graduation Success Rates (GSR) are out again – whoopee! The four year rolling tally has Vandy #1 (91%), UGA #2 (68%) and a three way tie at third between LSU, Florida and Bama (67%). Dragging knuckles? Tennessee (53%), and (xi) No changes in Total Offense/Defense – the conference still has only two teams ranked in the Top 25 in O (Auburn #10 and Arkansas #12), and four in Total Defense (LSU #8, Alabama #12, but Florida (#14) and Georgia (#19) have swamped places… Interesting timing).
Georgia is getting a lot of love this weekend going into the Cocktail party, as it has turned around a disaster start and now sit at 4-4. It is good to see UGA righting the ship, but with wins over SEC East bottom dwellers Kentucky, Tennessee and Vanderbilt, it is hard to be completely sold on the Dawgs. This brings us to Urban Meyer's record after a bye week. Frankly, the stats are stunning. When Meyer has more than a week to prepare for a game his record at Florida is 16-1, and overall he has been dominant in his career with a record of 31-3. Of course, that includes season openers and bowl games but no matter how you look at it, it's impressive. Throw in the fact that ever since the stomping incident, Meyer appears to have extra motivation come the end of October. It says a lot about a coach who can take advantage of extra preparation time, and it should ease the minds of Gator fans who are antsy after three straight losses. Give Meyer an extra week to prepare and he will give you a victory.
IN FOCUS: Which SEC Coach/Player is in the Spotlight this week?
Urban Meyer, HC, Florida – Play with the hand you're dealt. Two weeks ago Meyer's protégée Dan Mullen rolled into Gainesville and played ball control offense (212 yards rushing, 33 passing), in handing his mentor perhaps his worst moment since joining the Gators – a third consecutive defeat. In fact, Meyer has never before lost three straight as a head coach. Remember, this is Mullen – if not a pioneer of the Spread Offense, he was certainly on the second wagon out. What's the lesson to be learned? Play with the hand you're dealt. In 2005, coming off a loss to LSU and a much-welcomed bye week, Meyer did exactly that. He utilized a traditional set, with a fullback and a blocking TE, and the Gators ran for more yards (158) than they passed (108), in a big win over then undefeated and #4 ranked Bulldogs. They did it with RBs DeShawn Wynn, Markus Manson and Eric Wilbur all rushing for more yards than Chris Leak. If Meyer's going to beat a surging (cough) Georgia football team, then he's going to have to fit his offense to work with the personnel he has. Don't kid yourself – there's a ton of talent in Gainesville, and it's got nothing to do with poor practices, Trey. You've simply got to do a better job of playing the hand you have, instead of the strategy and/or hand you wish you had. Stop being stubborn and adapt.
Urban Meyer, HC, Florida – The Cocktail party was just another big game to Urban Meyer until the stomping incident three years ago. Of course the Florida/Georgia rivalry is not some anonymous event to coaches/fans/players, but it wasn't more important than Florida's yearly matchups with LSU, South Carolina or Tennessee. After that moment, however, Meyer has had a bone for Richt. Look at him when he's asked about it, even today. It's important to him; perhaps too important, but whatever works. That's why with a bye week to prepare and a very long memory, he will bring the kitchen sink to Jacksonville this weekend. On top of which Meyer is desperate to avoid losing four straight games, and will run trick plays on offense and special teams from kickoff to final whistle (and keep the Florida fans excited about this game). There'll all big, but this is bigger for Meyer; there probably isn't another opponent he would want out there right now more than UGA. Particularly after a bye. A loss this week could very well mean a 6-6 season for the Gators. (RM Note: Stings when you see it like that, doesn't it.)
SEC POWER RANKINGS
1 Auburn – Getting better with every snap
2 Alabama (up from 3) – W during the bye week; CBS gives LSU 2:30 kickoff
3 LSU (down from 2) – Perhaps the best loss in America; still, 440 yards?
5 Arkansas – Defense has now surrendered 89 points in last two games
5 Mississippi State – That was ugly; not chew your off arm ugly, but close
5 South Carolina (up from 6) – Lattimore is back, & not a moment too soon
7 Georgia (up from 8) – Is Florida as bad as UT, Vandy, and UK?
9 Florida – Stop making excuses; injuries, practices… Just coach
9 Kentucky (down from 8) – What? Couldn't get to Ealey's ankle?
9 ole miss – You can't spell "Morale Victory" without Masoli
11 Tennessee – Y'all know it's a 4 quarter game, right (Take three or four - can't remember).
12 Vanderbilt – (crickets) (Note to Bob G. from Nashville – not Cricket the sport, but crickets (plural) the animal, that you can hear when there's nothing going on. Now, Cricket actually has wickets, which is plural. But even at a 91% GSR, I don't want to tax you anymore than you already are.)
1 Auburn – BCS #1 is nice; 6 years too late for Tiger fans
2 Alabama (up from 3) – Controls own fate in the SEC/nation
3 LSU (down from 2) – The score we expected, but the LSU defense wasn't
4 Arkansas – Razorbacks fall under the radar until the SC game, and even that's lost its shine
5 Mississippi State –Shocking that MSU fans are ringing cowbells at inappropriate times
6 South Carolina – 2nd straight sleeper this week; last 2 SEC games look interesting
7 Florida – Over/Under on the amount of onside kicks Meyer attempts: 1.5
8 Georgia (up from 9) – Black facemasks? Socks? Or just reg silver britches?
9 Kentucky (down from 8) – Looking for redemption in Starkville
10 Vanderbilt – Would be nice if Vandy could keep Caldwell for a few years; dude is hilarious
11 Ole Miss – Masoli lit up the Arkansas defense; are we supposed to be impressed?
12 Tennessee – "Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?" (RM Note: Hell no!)
THREE GAMES TO DVR
1) Florida vs. Georgia; Saturday, October 30th | 3:30 PM EST | CBS. Both unranked for the first times since a long time ago. Everyone's back on the UGA bus, and that includes the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network boys, the majority of prognosticators we've heard/read, and everyone wearing a Florida jersey. (Come on, Gators, it's a joke. Don't be so sensitive). And most importantly, the fellas in Vegas. Hi fellas. Traditionally, a key to this game has been the team coming off a lone bye week wins. Florida has had that edge for most of the past decade, and the Gators have it again this Saturday. The last time Georgia had the lone bye week heading into Jacksonville? You guessed it – 2007. The Cel-e-brate-Good-Times game. (Neither team had a bye in 2004, UGA's only other win this decade.) Since 1990 when the Ol Ball Coach first took the reins, Florida is 17-3. That's pretty shocking. As Harbach noted, Meyer is 91% in his career when having extra time to prepare, and he's virtually perfect in orange/blue (16-1). Moreover, we're still not sold on Georgia's offense – Florida's defense is exponentially better than anything the Bulldogs have seen in October. In fact, the only defense that UGA has faced this season ranked better than 50th in the nation is MSU (#35). Only two others have been in the 50's – SC (#52) & Arkansas (#54), and the Bulldogs lost all three of those games. Florida's Total D is ranked #14. Also, kicker Caleb Sturgis is back; had he been healthy, he might have been the difference against both LSU and MSU. That and injured RBs Jeff Demps, Mike Gillislee, and Emmanuel Moody are all expected to play – though we question how healthy the trio is since they're saying Chris "SheHateMe" Rainey's going to get some snaps in the backfield. But it won't matter – between the four of them, plus Trey Burton, there'll be enough traditional rushing power to get the job done in Jacksonville. Look for Meyer to learn from his 2005 experience (See SPOTLIGHT above)… Pick Florida 17, Georgia 14
2) Kentucky vs. MSU; Saturday, October 30th | 7:00 PM EST | ESPNU. Dogs v. Cats – who would you take? In a low scoring affair, MSU leverages its home field and solid rushing game (#15 in the nation) for 300+ time-eating yards, plus its pretty decent Pass Efficiency defense (#39) will be enough to slow down the Hartline Express. Hartline might be the surprise of the season. Won't matter. MSU in a meat grinder… Pick MSU 24, Kentucky 21
3) Auburn vs. ole miss; Saturday, October 30th | 6:00 PM EST | ESPN2. Jacksonville State led by its true freshman QB rang up 355 yards against this ole miss defense, which is actually statistically worse today then after that debacle (#64 v. #62). Hell, last week ARKANSAS nearly rushed for 200 yards against it, and the Hogs are barely in the Top 100 in Rushing. That's enough… Pick Auburn 42, ole miss 24
1) Georgia vs. Florida; Saturday, October 30th | 3:30 PM EST | CBS. What better time than now for Georgia to rise up and beat Florida! The Gators are struggling on offense, having just lost three straight for the first time under Meyer. Yes, UGA was handed its win over Kentucky with the Wildcats sloppy play, but the Bulldogs continue to improve. Still, they aren't there yet. The Bulldogs will rattle Brantley – my dogs would rattle Brantley too. But, Trey Burton will get more playing time this week than he has all season. Expect the Florida offense to be limited, but the defense to play inspired, plus a few Special Teams wrinkles that will be the difference… Pick Florida 24, Georgia 21
2) Kentucky vs. MSU; Saturday, October 30th | 7:00 PM EST | ESPNU. A year ago MSU and Anthony Dixon took Kentucky's man card as they rushed for 348 yards (252 of them were by Dixon). The Wildcats a year ago were not nearly as good as MSU; now the Bulldogs are better and Kentucky was rocked at home last week. This game has numerous matchup problem for the Wildcats, starting with Chris Relf being the physical QB that Kentucky struggles to defend. Plus the fact that UK's on the road and the Bulldogs are pretty darn good this season. It's hard not to like MSU in this one… Pick MSU 34, Kentucky 20
3) Auburn vs. Ole Miss; Saturday, October 30th | 6:00 PM EST | ESPN2. Frankly it's hilarious this is considered a trap game for Auburn even with Houston Nutt having some success with ranked Auburn teams in the past. Auburn has always played well against Ole Miss, especially in Oxford, having lost but twice in the last twenty years to the Rebs there. The Ole Miss defense is giving up both yards and point like they're going out of style, and that won't change this weekend. The Rebel Black Bears will have success against the Auburn defense and score some points but once again Auburn will own the fourth and pull away… (RM Note: Honestly, can you ever see yourself calling this team the Bears?) Pick Auburn 41, Ole Miss 31
Don't forget to read CFN's Barrett Sallee Three & Out: SEC Preview every Wednesday.
Russ Mitchell covers the SEC for www.CollegeFootballNews.com. Please follow him on Twitter @russmitchellsec or email him at email@example.com
Brian Harbach covers the SEC for www.CollegeFootballNews.com. Please follow him on Twitter @harbabd or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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