Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Twelve
Father Time grudge match!
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.
Follow Russ on Twitter @russmitchellsec or email at email@example.com
Follow Brian on Twitter @harbabd or email at firstname.lastname@example.org
3 SEC WEST QUESTIONS THAT NAG MORE THAN YOUR EX
(i) Who had the best SEC performance this past weekend (Team or Player)?
We're going to break with tradition and not waste anyone's time here. South Carolina is undefeated in SEC play when Marcus Lattimore gets at least 16 carries, so just to make sure, the Old Ball Coach decided to run him 40 times. That's a true freshman we're talking about, against a pretty good defense. On the road. For 200+ yards and three touchdowns. In single-handedly clinching his birth state's first legitimate shot at an SEC Championship. All in a day's work for one M. Lattimore.
Nothing demoralizes a defense more than a strong running game. Football is a physical sport; if you can out-physical your opponent, half the battle is over. South Carolina's offensive line got a little better this season, but its rushing attack was upgraded significantly when the best freshmen back in the country, Marcus Lattimore, showed up on campus. Lattimore gashed the Florida defense on Saturday. He was a one man wrecking crew, demoralizing the Gators carry after carry. After carry. Lattimore isn't running through holes that a car could fit through, he isn't getting the corner and racing down the sidelines… He is running right up the gut, over or through any defender that gets in his way.
He's great as a freshman, and he's only going to get better once he adds some more speed in the offseason. Think about how special a player he must be for Steve Spurrier to adjust his offense around Lattimore. Marcus is the very definition of a "game changer"; the only other player that has had a bigger impact than Lattimore on his team is Cameron Newton. Nearly every recruiting website had Lattimore and Mike Dyer as the top two backs, but Lattimore's impact is so surprising because of Spurrier's previous refusal to go all out running the football. And that about says it all: Lattimore is so good he got Steve Spurrier to change. And that's good. With that noted, who are we to doubt his greatness.
(ii) Are SEC officials doing enough to protect quarterbacks?
What do you mean "enough"? First, we already have the absolute worst rule ever invented in sport to protect QBs – namely, being able to throw the ball away as long as one's outside the pocket and the ball passes the line of scrimmage. WTF is that? Any rule that can't even pass simple playground law should be scrapped. If you were chasing down one of your buddies and he just chucked it out of bounds with no receiver around so he wouldn't get tackled, we can pretty much guess what you'd be calling him for the remainder of his natural life. And you'd be within your rights. Yet that's somehow acceptable in organized football? Would love to meet the coward who gave birth to that rule.
Besides, we allow quarterbacks to slide to avoid a hit. Then God help you if you even graze their helmets, and refs will blow the whistle early "in the grasp" to further protect these golden boys. There's more, but that's enough. Next up: Flag Football and Green/Red game day jerseys. You think we're kidding?
So yes, officials are doing more than enough to protect SEC QBs. If you are questioning whether the zebras are looking the other way a bit more than usual this year, then no that's not happening. And stop whining. Not that we're condoning cheap shots like the one Auburn's Nick Fairley laid on Georgia QB Aaron Murray on Saturday, with a very late spear in the back. But it's not badminton we're paying to watch, folks. You've actually been a bit of a bad boy this year, Nicky... You can expect a lump of coal in your stocking. Should balance nicely with that million dollar NFL contract.
This question comes the week after Fairley has been described as a dirty player for not playing two hand touch with Georgia QB Aaron Murray. Fairley physically abused the Georgia offensive line on his way to knocking around Murray, and was called for a personal foul that was more than deserved. The immediate reaction to a defensive lineman owning your offense would be the same to a team that is running up the score: stop him. If you can't stop him from hitting the quarterback, than you have no one to blame but yourself. But are SEC quarterbacks getting the protection they need from the officials to limit big hits?
Officials are doing everything they can to call flags on questionable quarterback hits, and for every flag they miss there are an equal amount thrown that shouldn't. Officials need to control the physical hits on quarterbacks, and for the most part have done that well this season. But similar to the NFL, the SEC needs to step in review dangerous hits after the fact if they are not called on the field, and suspend players.
Game officials cannot review a late hit - they have to make judgment calls in real time while seven or eight 300 pound men run at full speed trying to tackle each other. They are never going to make every call and often err on the side of not interrupting play - as they should. Unless a penalty is blatant (like Fairley's), personal fouls are often a judgment call. The SEC can review these plays after games are over and either contact the school to have Player A calm down or suspend them if the play was too egregious. The SEC cannot do this in 2010… you can't make wholesale changes in the middle of the season. However, if the SEC believes a player purposefully tried to hurt another player and was not acting in a way that is representative of the league, than he should be suspended at any time. However, that situation has not occurred yet this season.
(iii) What every SEC fan should be talking about after Week Eleven, but isn't?
Well that leaves out anything to do with Cam Newton, the dollar value of Nick Fairley's late hits (think "inexpensive"), and why the Tide can't get the ground game going (G3)… (i) Urban Meyer didn't suddenly forget how to coach, people. He has inconsistent QB play, and you are going to look like a bad coach with inconsistent QB play. Perhaps now folks in the Sunshine State will cut Les Miles a bit more slack for 2008/9. Here's a different way of looking at it - what makes a bowl year? ole miss and Tennessee are average teams if they had a good QB, but without one they tank. By contrast, Kentucky sports a good QB and as a result will likely end up the season average, but bowling. (ii) Alabama is dead last in the conference in sacks and tackles for loss, (iii) We recognize it's important to protect the secondary, Nick, but y'all better figure out a way to put some pressure on Newton come next Saturday, (iv) Georgia has the best Turnover Margin in the SEC (18th nationally), (v) Auburn's Rush Defense is 12th best in the nation. Pass Efficiency D? Not so good (79th), (vi) LSU's Pass Efficiency Defense and Pass Defense are both ranked in the Top 6 in the country – remember that, Reverend, (vii) Georgia's talented junior receiver A.J. Green said he's unsure whether he'll come back for his senior season. What? Green is the most talented WR to come through the SEC in decades, and sticks out in what might be one of the best crops of SEC receivers in history. Got two words for you, A.J.: Greg Romeus. Take the money and go honey hunting, (viii) Florida has the best "net" punting in the nation – Georgia is fourth best, (ix) We underestimated Tyler Bray at Tennessee, though much like people overestimated the Florida offense after playing Georgia and Vandy, we caution that neither ole miss nor Memphis are a particularly good barometer for excellence, (x) Another weak week of games, and (xi) The conference now has four teams ranked in the Top 25 in Total Offense (Auburn (6), Arkansas (7), Kentucky (21) and Bama (25)), and a matching four in Total Defense (LSU (5), Florida (11), Bama (14) and Georgia (24)).
If there is one consistent with this season it has been that Urban Meyer has been out-coached time and time again. Chuck Oliver of www.chuckoliver.net and radio host on 680 the Fan in Atlanta wrote a pretty telling story last month about Meyer the "Coach" and Meyer the "Offensive Coordinator". The bottom line: Meyer has never been an offensive coordinator - he has never called plays in a game, relying on other offensive gurus to lead his teams. "The question becomes is Urban Meyer only as good as the coaches around him, or is he really one of the elite coaches in the country?" It is a fair question when you see how poorly coached the Gators are on offense this year, and it isn't just because of Steve Addazio. Remember, it's not Addazio's first season as OC. Florida is one of the most talented teams in the country, and that isn't just some cliché writers throw out… Florida has more talent on its sideline than probably 95% of college football. John Brantley is a talented quarterback, and Florida's refusal to tailor an offense to his skill set says more about the coaching than it does about Brantley.
We don't believe Meyer is a bad coach; half of his job is diagnosing talent and putting coaches/players in the position to succeed. That is what leaders do; they let their employees do what they do best. It is a fair question though, one that we will be able to evaluate over the next couple of years as Steve Addazio stays on as offensive coordinator. A great leader evaluates talent, and Meyer believes that Addazio is the man to lead the Gator offense. A second year of this nightmare might severely harm Meyer's reputation, but we aren't at that point yet. Coaches have off years - look at Texas. How the Gators move forward from these tough times says more about Meyer's ability to lead than it does when everything is going great.
IN FOCUS: Which SEC Coach/Player is in the Spotlight this week?
Dan Mullen, MSU HC – Well, either the distraction of Nick Bell's passing and Cam-gate during the bye week were greater than many people thought, or MSU isn't quite ready for the bright lights. We're guessing it's the latter. Unfortunately for Mullen, those two issues haven't gone away, and now he has to regroup his team to host Arkansas after a particularly disappointing showing in Tuscaloosa. The Tide gave Bobby Petrino the blue book for beating the Bulldogs, however, we question whether Arkansas has the players to mirror Saban's game plan. On defense, anyway. Regardless, it's not the MSU offense we're worried about – it's their defense. Nearly 300 yards passing and 2 TDs by McElroy basically put this game out of reach. And don't look now but here comes a real passing offense. Mallett carved up UTEP last week for 5 TDs. Ok, but that was UTEP you say. Fine. The week before against SC, Arkansas went 303 yards and a TD, while connecting on ~66% of its 30 attempts. That game was also on the road, by the way. If Mullen and crew don't figure out a way to stop the deep ball, but quick, the Hogs are going to light up the Starkville night.
Chris Relf, MSU QB – If MSU is going to beat Arkansas this weekend it is going to have to score some points, and in so doing it cannot be one dimensional. Chris Relf must make some accurate throws down field, and allow his receivers to catch and run in space. Arkansas is not a team like Florida that is struggling to move the ball. The Hogs move the ball on everyone. If MSU cannot score in the 20's this week, they have no shot at winning. If they cannot take advantage of a banged up Arkansas secondary, they have no shot at winning. Running the ball will not be enough; Chris Relf has to get involved in the passing game.
SEC POWER RANKINGS
1 Auburn – What a shock - Cam played. As noted earlier, at this point AU's in for penny/pound
2 LSU – Offense about as consistent as running water in Tenn (we tease b/c we love)
4 Arkansas – Two more wins for a very good shot at a BCS game
4 Alabama – That's a little better
5 South Carolina (up from 6) – The wheels on the bus go round and round…
5 Mississippi State (down from 4) – Run. Focus. Fall flat on face
7 Florida (down from 6) – Any chance Tim still has a year of eligibility left?
8 Georgia – A week off to lick its wounds and prepare for GT, and a possible bowl
9 Kentucky – Bowling again… Thank goodness for out of conference games
11 Tennessee (up from 11) – Underestimated Bray
10 ole miss (down from 10) – Overestimated ole miss
12 Vanderbilt – Hey, did somebody say "Basketball"?
1 Auburn – The onside kick to open the second half against UGA was… memorable
2 LSU – Jordan Jefferson is going to look like Ryan Mallett this weekend
3 Alabama – You're welcome, Bill Curry (we think)
4 Arkansas – Hogs throwing wild!
5 South Carolina (up from 7) – Made winning in the Swamp look easy
6 Mississippi State (down from 5) – Some calling MSU overrated; beating UA ends that
7 Florida (down from 6) – Worst coached team in SEC right now; not a talent prob.
8 Georgia – Six losses with that talent is a crime
9 Kentucky – Two weeks to prepare for the Vols; they'll need it
10 Tennessee (up from 12) – Vandy on road and UK at home for a bowl shot
11 Vanderbilt (down from 10) – Still clinging to that W over Rebs to stay out of basement
12 Ole Miss (down from 11) – Nutt showing more fight in press conferences than team on field
THREE GAMES TO DVR
1) Arkansas vs. Mississippi State; Saturday, November 20th | 7:00 PM | ESPN. Reminds us a bit of the South Carolina game a few weeks back... Hogs on the road, against a quality opponent coming off a poor showing, with a suspect pass defense... We were a little surprised by MSU's weak secondary effort in Tuscaloosa, but if the Bulldogs thought McElroy was a threat, stand back. If MSU can't get its running game established and grind out the clock, it's going to be a long – and quiet – night in Starkville. We've been on the MSU bandwagon since August – not this Saturday… Pick Arkansas 31, Mississippi State 24
2) ole miss vs. LSU; Saturday, November 20th | 3:30 PM | CBS. Two steps forward, one step back. Perhaps LSU was just playing it close to the vest against UL Monroe, but its offense once again bordered on the pathetic. This coming a week after a fantastic showing against Alabama. Go figure. If LSU was ever going to get its passing game going, ole miss would be it. But it's nearly the end of the season, folks, and leopards don't change their spots – nor do Tigers; we know what we have with this LSU offense. 'Course, we also know what we have with that defense, and it's the SEC's best. More than makes up for the sub-par offense. Expect some payback, Rebel Black Bears… Pick LSU 28, ole miss 13
3) Appalachian State vs. Florida; Saturday, November 20th | 12:30 PM | ESPN3. In much the same way that it's impossible to look away from a train wreck… Pick Florida 35, Appalachian State 17
1) Arkansas vs. Mississippi State; Saturday, November 20th | 7:00 PM | ESPN. The Bulldogs have had a good season, they will play in a good bowl game. But they are not good enough to beat the elite teams in the SEC just yet. The offense while creative and physical is not enough of a threat to score when it gets behind, and it will be behind early against Arkansas. Ryan Mallett is playing for a trip to New York, a trip to New Orleans, and a bog pay day in April. That's a lot for a star to play for. He will be letting the ball fly all over the state of Mississippi this weekend. This will force Chris Relf to throw the ball, his biggest weakness. The Bulldogs have been good, but they are not beating great teams… Pick Arkansas 34, Mississippi State 20
2) Ole Miss vs. LSU; Saturday, November 20th | 3:30 PM | CBS. This is a great chance for LSU to work on its passing offense, as Ole Miss has done little all year for a pass defense. The LSU strength is running the ball, and the Rebels have done a good job stopping the run against most SEC opponents. They did a very good job against Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson on the road, and they will likely have similar success against the Tigers. But even if Ole Miss can slow down the LSU running game, it will have very little success moving the ball on the Fighting Tigers. Jordan Jefferson will have his best day of the year throwing the ball… Pick LSU 24, Ole Miss 10
3) Appalachian State vs. Florida; Saturday, November 20th | 12:30 PM | ESPN3. Dead bodies anyone? Expect the Boo-Birds to come out in droves as the Boys from Boone will make some noise early, but it won't be often… Pick Florida 30, Appalachian State 10
Don't forget to read CFN's Barrett Sallee Three & Out: SEC Preview every Wednesday.
Follow Russ on Twitter @russmitchellsec or email at email@example.com
Follow Brian on Twitter @harbabd or email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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