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Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Two
"A little help?"
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.
By Russ Mitchell and Brian Harbach
3 SEC WEST QUESTIONS THAT NAG MORE THAN YOUR EX
(i) Who had the best SEC performance this weekend (Team or Player)?
We could go with anyone on the LSU defense and/or special teams for stopping the Oregon offense cold and/or simply taking the ball from the Ducks, 'cept we’d like to pick a single player to start off the season. Or we could take a single player from that group and go with The Talented Mr. Tyrann Mathieu and his 10 tackles (5 solo, 1 TFL), 2 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble, 3 Punt Returns (8 yrds per), and a TD, 'cept we’re still trying to figure out how a 5-10, 175 pound true sophomore can be that dominant. But is there really any doubt – Mississippi State’s Vic Ballard gets the nod for Week One, with his 10/166 yards and 3 TD performance on the road in Memphis. Yes, the Tigers aren't exactly world beaters…but 17 ypc for ten road carries by the SEC’s most underrated player will turn heads. Watch how many Auburn defensive linemen heads turn to follow him on Saturday.
Two guys stand out for their fantastic play last week, Vick Ballard and Tyrann Mathieu, but Mathieu has to get the nod based on the opponent and pressure on LSU. Ballard had a great week and fans should not marginalize that performance because it was against Memphis. Ballard is terribly underrated in a conference that is stacked at running back, but Mathieu had an impact nearly the entire game and had as many tackles (10) as Ballard had carries. LSU’s entire defense was better than expected against Oregon, and Mathieu is its leader.
It looks like LSU didn’t take long to replace Patrick Peterson, and Tyrann is just a sophomore...so the SEC is stuck with him for at least another year. It probably doesn’t matter how long he stays, because LSU produces defensive backs like they do horses in Kentucky. It must be in the water because DB’s show up at LSU ready to play out of the gate, and ready to dominate. He was a stud as a true freshmen; he looks like an All American as a sophomore.
(ii) Is there anything wrong with Alabama’s offense?
It’s a bit early to be sounding alarm sirens, but (i) we know teams are going to stack the box against the Tide this season, but Trent Richardson – C’mon son, we need to see better than that – the south side of 3 ypc against Kent St, at home – and if you factor out the three short touchdown runs thinking you’ll help, the ypc average actually drops, (ii) four interceptions to one TD – did we mention it was Kent St. – these two young men are trying too hard to impress, Nick – pick one, (iii) speaking of Saban, he was none too pleased with his inexperienced wideouts; Maze, not surprisingly, was steady, but the rest failed to get consistent separation and the #2 receiver was a tailback.
On a positive note, PK Jeremy Shelley was 2-2 on FGs, and 6-6 on XPs.
Seriously, the offense put up nearly 500 yards and dominated this game, but our Grandmother’s could have suited up and kept this one competitive. There are more issues on offense that remain to be ironed out than you’d normally expect to see for a national title contender heading into week two. Fortunately for the Tide, they get a PSU squad that's very weak on both the offensive and defensive lines, whose offense (particularly at QB) we expect to flounder against this terrific Alabama defense; which means the Lions’ D should be spent by the start of the fourth quarter.
Bama’s defense may in fact bail out its offense on a number of occasions, but to ask them to do it in every game through January may be asking too much. For the Tide’s sake, let’s hope things start to settle in the near-term.
When a defense looks that good and has that many players expected to be great, it is easy to overshadow a good offense. There are many new faces on offense for Nick Saban, starting with the quarterback position that will continue to be a two man job until further notice. Recognizable players like Mark Ingram, Julio Jones and Greg McElroy are gone, but equally talented players like AJ McCarron, Trent Richardson and DeAndrew White are filling those spots. After one game it is difficult to question the results against a team like Kent State; Alabama deserves a pass until it becomes a trend. One game does not a trend make.
The turnovers are a concern, but when you split reps between two quarterbacks that's the risk you take. When Alabama decides on one guy you can expect those picks to decrease, but there is no reason to worry about Richardson not rushing for three yards a carry. It isn’t a bad thing to come out of week one with plenty to work on and plenty of film showing your starters what they did wrong. If the turnovers continue and Richardson isn’t able to break loose in the next two games with the best offensive line in the country, then ok it is time to freak out. After one week it isn’t too big of a deal.
(iii) What every SEC fan should be talking about, but isn’t?
Well that leaves out anything to do with Georgia, Head Coach Mark Richt, and just how hot his Haggars are… (i) HEADLINE: Arkansas approached by the Big 12 – asked if Hogs know how to fix holes in ships? Hogs say pigs don't have thumbs, can't hold hammers. Sorry, (ii) Kent St. had only 6 first downs against Bama, including -9 yards rushing, and yet had greater Time of Possession, (iii) In Other Big 12 Longshots: Japanese Women's Soccer Team approached by the Big 12 – hope to leverage feel good, never say quit, story; Japanese too busy rebuilding north country (God bless), (iv) Steve Spurrier announced that fifth year senior Stephen Garcia would not only start in Saturday’s game between the hedges, he’d be a team captain; Shocker. Guess taking over in the second quarter down 0-17 with a dejected offense and putting up 56 points goes a long way towards identifying “leadership”, (v) While we’re on the topic of leadership, Spurrier, no more homespun country wisdom to mask bonehead coaching decisions – as we noted earlier this week, you’re sitting on a Ferrari – please drive it responsibly, (vi) In Other Big 12 Longshots: Green Bay Packers approached by the Big 12, (vii) Anyone got a LB they can loan Georgia for the weekend? Anyone? Beuller? No? How ‘bout an experienced RB? OL that can pick up a blitz or protect Murray on third downs? A different jersey number for Crowell? Ok…how ‘bout an OC. C’mon, help a brother out. Where’s Crowton?, (viii) In Other Big 12 Longshots: Maria Shriver approached by Big 12 – asked to reconsider divorce, (ix) Just how well does Mullen know McGarity?, and (x) One week in and the conference has two teams in the top 25 for Total Offense (Miss St #4, Bama #24 (stats never lie)), and four for Total Defense (Alabama #1, Florida #6, Arkansas #8 & Kentucky #19) – ok, maybe it’s too early.
No one is paying attention to expansion… Ok, seriously, everyone is paying attention to the SEC’s newest "member", Texas A&M, but no one is talking about the potential involved with 16 teams. The assumption is that the SEC will keep the 16 teams in two divisions, simply adding teams to the East and West, but why can’t the SEC go in another direction. Why can’t the SEC go to a NFL format and have four divisions with four teams in each?
Is your mind blown yet? What is to stop Mike Slive and the SEC from doing something that the NCAA is unwilling to do and create their own playoff? Think of the money the SEC could create if they had a semi-final and championship game within their own league. The Georgia Dome could hold one semi-final; Texas Stadium could hold the other and the Super Dome could be the championship game. Actually any combination of those three stadiums could be used, or the semi-final games could be played at on-campus stadiums.
At this point there is no way to know what the SEC will look like in the next 12 months, there is no way to know who will stay in what division and what rivalry games will no longer be played every year or as often as they should be. Change is coming, drastic change, and those who have argued in favor of a playoff for so long could very well get one that includes four SEC teams each season. It is an interesting thought, and probably as crazy as someone saying two years ago that Texas A&M will be a member of the SEC soon.
IN FOCUS: Which SEC Coach/Player is in the Spotlight this week?
Mark Richt, Georgia – Everyone that reads CollegeFootballNews.com on a regular basis knows I’ve been hard on UGA since the start of the 2008 season. I’ve also been right. UGA hasn’t had a signature SEC win since 2007. The program has been in steady decline since then in nearly every facet; from defense to running back and OL performance to injuries to W/Ls…it seems the only things that have been trending up have been off the field issues and, recently, suspensions. I made the argument this summer that Georgia should have pulled the trigger on Richt after his team showed up so limp for the UCF bowl debacle; I’m still plucking the arrows. But why the huge uproar after the loss to BSU? You were supposed to lose that game; moreover, better, more experienced talent will often make another team look disjointed and listless. You’ll lose this next one to the Gamecocks too – they’re a better team in nearly every match-up except QB & TE. In his press conferences this week, Richt looked like a man who knows the end is near. If ever there was a Saturday to pull a rabbit out of the hat, to rally the troops, to put together one of the brilliant offensive game plans we came to take for granted in the first five years, this is the weekend, Mark. Take over the play calling responsibilities; quietly if you have too, but take back the reins. It’s often said being a head coach means you’re just renting a whistle, and as nice a person as he might be, Richt is no different than the rest. If this year is in fact going to be your last run, Mark, go out the front door with both barrels.
Mark Richt, Georgia – For the second week in a row the focus is on Mark Richt, and any Georgia fan will tell you this isn’t the biggest game he has coached the Dawgs in. Fine, but it is the biggest game in Richt’s career. Everything was in Georgia’s favor this year…soft schedule, wide open division and an opportunity to open up with the second biggest game in the country in their backyard. Then the wheels started coming off the cart this offseason - suspensions, defections, injuries... Week one was a disaster - actually it was more of the same, and THAT is Georgia’s worst nightmare. As a result, Richt has to beat South Carolina this weekend. A loss will probably seal his fate and end his career in Athens, while a win puts the Dawgs in the driver seat for the East. The line between accomplishing team goals and the unemployment line is very thin, but Richt is toeing it right now. So many questions will be answered in Athens this weekend, and Mark Richt is in control of nearly all of them.
SEC POWER RANKINGS
1 LSU (up from 2) – You can eat anything when your 16-3 with a week+ to prepare
1 Alabama – Travel north of the Mason-Dixon to visit a legend, & bury him (not literally)
3 South Carolina (up from 4) – Where's the secondary
4 Miss State (up from 5) – Yes. The Bulldogs
4 Arkansas – Wake us up when you get to Tuscaloosa
7 Florida – God help us, but we’re starting to believe
7 Georgia – Should eventually jump Florida when Oct’s over, but lots of turmoil right now
8 Tennessee (up from 9) – Those Montana DBs that Bray lit up in 1st 17 min aren’t bad
9 Auburn (down from 7) – 227 yards rushing to Utah State??
11 Kentucky – (INTENTIONALLY LEFT BLANK)
11 Ole Miss – Stoudt gives you the better chance; BYU’s not bad – should beat UT in Austin
12 Vanderbilt – Hope springs eternal!
1 LSU (up from 2) – When not much is asked of Jarrett Lee, good things happen
2 Alabama(down from 1) – QB controversy starting in 3…2…1...
3 Arkansas – No Comment until after week four
4 South Carolina (up from 5) – Just admit Garcia was suspended for a quarter
5 Mississippi State (up from 7) – Yes it was Memphis, but you play your schedule
6 Florida (up from 8) – Boom failed to fulfill his cursing quota in week one; we expect better
7 Auburn(down from 6) – Amazing onside kick, but why did it come down to that
8 Tennessee (up from 9) – Quietly Tyler Bray had a great game…contenders?
9 Georgia(down from 4) – You can’t even use Boykin as a decoy?
10 Ole Miss – Houston Nutt’s new favorite SEC coach is Mark Richt
11 Kentucky – That was tough to watch
12 Vanderbilt – Still waiting…but cautiously optimistic
THREE GAMES TO DVR
1) Mississippi State vs. Auburn; Saturday, September 10th. Don’t tell me about vanilla defensive scheme; like Auburn was still running a simple package in the second half while it was losing at home to Utah State. A team that went 2-6 in the WAC last year. Auburn might have a W in the record books, but this was a loss on the field. 227 yards rushing to Utah State. 227 YARDS! Let me just pause and regain my composure. Vic Ballard is the most underrated player in America, not just the SEC. Auburn’s secondary must come up to the line to help out, and when it does, a fifth year quarterback will pick them apart with five yard slants and TE sprints. Play action is a bitch, Tito. TOP is going to be Auburn’s second worst enemy on Saturday, behind Ballard...and everything is going to be behind Ballard. Vegas has Auburn a seven point dog – I say it’s worse than that...
Pick MSU 35, Auburn 25
2) South Carolina vs. Georgia; Saturday, September 10th. Yes, Garcia is 4-10 on the road. He’s inconsistent, looks to run too often, and really, he’s Garcia. SC’s had a ton of turnovers in its last three games, the secondary still has not returned to its 2009 form (and Murray will abuse this IF he has the time), and a true freshman is going to start at one of the DE spots. Keep Marcus Lattimore under 16 carries and like every SC game last year, you have a shot at beating them. Ok, you ready? Outside of QB and TE, the Gamecocks are better than the Dawgs at every single position, including coaching, they sport the nation’s best receiver and the running back of a generation, freshman Jadeveon Clowney is starting at DE over Melvin Ingram - a Coaches Preseason All-SEC Second Teamer, Richt sounded dejected this week, complaining of his teams’ lack of motivation/energy in practice (smokescreen?), this will hardly be your father’s Georgia home crowd if this game turns south, and we have no confidence left in UGA’s OC Mike Bobo. If Lattimore gets 20 carries, SC wins by seven; if he gets 30, by 14; 40, by 21. We’re expecting ~33 carries. This game will put the ugly in UGA…
Pick South Carolina 31, Georgia 13
3) Alabama vs. Penn State; Saturday, September 10th. If you could only hang your college football hat on one maxim, it should be this: line play trumps everything; if you watched the LSU Tigers absolutely dismantle the Oregon Ducks last Saturday, and we know you did, than you witnessed it firsthand. Enter Beaver Stadium, and the Alabama Crimson Tide…
Pick Alabama 35, Penn State 3
1) South Carolina vs. Georgia; Saturday, September 10th. There isn’t a coach in the country that likes to kick a Dawg when he is down more than Steve Spurrier. After serving his one quarter suspension (Spurrier thinks we are dumb enough to believe Garcia wasn’t suspended but no one is buying it) Garcia turned a seventeen point deficit into a convincing win. So much is on the line for both programs; South Carolina needs to validate their hold on the division and Georgia needs to save their coach’s job. These games are typically low scoring and sloppy, expect more of the same this year…
Pick South Carolina 24, Georgia 14
2) Mississippi State vs. Auburn; Saturday, September 10th. Auburn couldn’t look any worse in week one while MSU could not have played any better. MSU comes in ranked and ready to cement their place as a contender in the West while Auburn tries to prove last week was an aberration. The early kick is never nice to the home team but Auburn has won 17 or 18 SEC openers and should have a chip on their shoulder after falling out of one of the polls. State looked like a team in midseason form at Memphis and Vick Ballard is tired of being overlooked after a great 2010. This one will be won in the trenches and if Auburn gives up the same rushing yards to MSU, they will lose. Look for Auburn to try and force Chris Relf to win the game, if that happens Auburn will win…
Pick Auburn 37, MSU 34
3) Alabama vs. Penn State; Saturday, September 10th. The only game of the week with both teams ranked in both polls includes two legendary programs but no one is talking about it. Penn State is going through so much turnover and it is hard to take them seriously as a contender against Alabama. The Tide defense should have no problems against the young PSU group. Alabama starts to shorten their QB rotation and AJ McCarron plays much smarter…
Pick Alabama 27, Penn State 12
Follow Russ on Twitter @RussMitchellCFB and Brian @HarbachCFN
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Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notesevery week.