Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Five
How good is UF's rushing attack really?
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 QUESTIONS THAT NAG MORE THAN YOUR EX
(i) Who had the best SEC performance in Week Four (Team or Player)?
We could go with LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu who simply defies description. He’s a DB who plays all over the field and dominates – at 5-8, 185 pounds. He also regularly scores points…except that he was stopped a yard short of doing so last weekend. Or we could go with Florida’s Jeff Demps and his 157 yards on 10 carries, plus two touchdowns…except that it was against Kentucky and their 103rd Run Defense (more on that to come). But is there really any doubt…so there’s where you’ve been hiding, Mr. Trent Richardson. The Bama back had more than 200 combined yards in a stellar performance opening Alabama’s SEC slate. Now let’s see you do it on the road, Mr. Richardson; and please, no speeding tickets on the way there.
A lot had been expected from Trent Richardson this season, and up until last Saturday he had yet to live up to the hype of being a “better” version of Mark Ingram. Then Arkansas came to town. A combined 211 rushing and receiving yards and Richardson is now starting to play like the back we expected in the preseason. Once he gets momentum going forward he is very difficult to bring down. The way he bounces off of would be tacklers is fun to track, and while Marcus Lattimore gets a lot of credit for his yards after contact, Richardson deserves some attention as well. The difference between Lattimore and Richardson is that Trent looks for contact and bulls through defenders, while Lattimore absorbs the hits and keeps on going; two different styles but two very effective running backs. It was good fun watching Richardson put on such a great performance in his first SEC game of 2011; unless, that is, you’re a Hogs fan.
(ii) What would it mean for the SEC if, going forward, more than two conference teams were eligible to play in the BCS Bowls?
We’ve been discussing this on radio from Hawaii to Florida all week… Before you even start debating whether the BCS will relax its two teams per conference restriction, when the SEC expands to 14 (or 16), the Big Ten will lose the virtual monopoly it has had on the second BCS Bowl bid. Since its inception in 1998, the Big Ten has received the most BCS Bowl invitations (23); Commissioner Jim Delany has wielded his considerable power to see to that. This in spite of the fact that the SEC has by far the most victories (15) and highest winning percentage (.714; the B1G is .455).
Given its overall BCS success, combined with having won five consecutive national championships, when the SEC expands, it is going to be exponentially more difficult for the conference not to automatically receive that second bid – which by itself is worth nearly $20 mln annually for the conference, not to mention millions more in free publicity. If the powers-that-be remove the restriction on two teams per conference, as it stands today, the SEC is in position to reap the most rewards.
Not that it matters…the BCS is a dead man walking. Maybe not tomorrow. Maybe not even after 2014. But in its present shape and form, it is not long for this earth. As it exists today, the BCS will be gone before the end of this decade…and given the current pace of conference realignment, perhaps exponentially faster than that.
More than two teams from the same conference should have always been allowed to play in BCS games, so you bet once conferences expand to 13, 14 or more teams they should get rid of the limitation on BCS games. The bigger argument is that the BCS should be putting the best teams into the big games instead of awful conference champions…yes I am pointing at you ACC and Big East. The best teams should always get into the best games and if the SEC doesn’t have two quality teams to put into the BCS than they shouldn’t get two in.
Tell us how much you loved that UCONN v. Oklahoma Fiesta bowl or how about Tim Tebow’s last game against Cincinnati and who can forget the classic Stanford v. Virginia Tech Orange Bowl. These garbage football teams have no business playing in a BCS game, and we are the ones who get penalized for it. This isn’t an SEC thing or anything against the little guy…Boise State would have been a much better fit in the Fiesta bowl last year. But BCS conference automatic bids ruin everything. If the SEC has three of the top five teams in the BCS…put them in a BCS game, the same goes for any other conference.
(iii) What every SEC fan should be talking about after week four, but isn’t?
Well that leaves out anything to do with Houston Nutt’s job status, Ole Miss AD Pete Boone’s job status, or the overreaction by Ole Miss chancellor Dan Jones in publicly stating he would not be deterred by anonymous death threats… You want to see some real hate mail, Dan, try writing about SEC football instead of “chancelloring” over it. Buck up... (i) YPN Rule #694 – if you’re an SEC coach and your team is an underdog to a non-BCS team that’s not ranked in the Top 25, and your mascot’s not named Mr. C, you should be fired on the spot. On principle, (ii) Remember, Florida was 4-0 this time last season, after putting up a ton of points, (iii) Sure, Florida’s offense has improved, but so has the Bama defense that returns 10 starters from a squad that held the Gators to two FGs last year, (iv) The Gators are only passing for 15 ypg more this season than last…it’s the rushing that’s been different – nearly 100 ypg more. Care to guess how stout the run defenses are of the four opponents the Gators have played so far? Collectively they average 93rd in the nation (Florida Atlantic: 83rd, UAB: 118th, UT: 67th (before and after matchup), and UK 103rd). Good rushing opens up the passing game…which, as noted, is up only 15 ypg over 2010. (v) As for the “dominant” Florida Front 7, care to guess how good the Gators’ four opponents have been running the ball this year? Florida Atlantic? 120th – dead last. UAB? 114th. UT? 112th. And Kentucky? 90th, (vi) And no, these programs were bad at run defense and offense long before and after they met Florida, (vii) Remember also that Bama’s destruction of Florida last season was in spite of its abysmal offensive production. Ingram: 47 yards, Julio: 19 yards, McElroy: 11/17 for 84 yards, 0 TDs. A pulse on offense will be an improvement over 2010, (viii) When Florida is unable to run like it has in its first four games, and pressure starts stacking up on quarterback John Brantley to execute, with a suspect corps of wide receivers, against a Bama secondary with perhaps the best safeties in the country and two NFL CBs, all while still digesting a new offense… Yeah, that’s what we thought, (ix) Now think about this: LSU would beat Bama if the two teams played today, and after Bama the Gators must travel next week to play the Tigers in Death Valley, and (x) The conference has only one team ranked in the Top 25 in Total Offense (Florida #22 (Bama is next at #27)), but a whopping six in Total Defense (Alabama #2, Florida #5, UGA #13, Vandy #17, LSU #20 & SC #23).
The game-plan Bobby Petrino and his offensive staff came up with for the Alabama game was atrocious; some of the laziest preparation the SEC has seen in a long time. Not often do I take Petrino to task for on the field problems, but he squandered an opportunity to challenge Alabama and make a statement to the SEC. Not taking anything away from Alabama because they went out and won that football game, but after the first quarter it was obvious Arkansas was ill prepared to beat the Crimson Tide.
Petrino seemed to prepare his offense as if the Razorbacks were at home and equally matched, but that is naïve. Alabama is vastly more talented than the 2011 Hogs and to think the Razorbacks were going to line up and challenge the best defense in the country on the road was lazy. The biggest surprise was Petrino’s refusal to challenge Alabama vertically. Tyler Wilson has a strong arm and can make any throw; to consistently call underneath routes against a very disciplined defense that also rarely misses a tackle showed unimaginative, poor form. Wilson threw 35 passes for only 185 yards. He completed a little over five yards an attempt, and no wide receiver had more than 37 yards.
Bama was the better team and was going to win that game, but Petrino didn’t give his team a chance…and that is why the score was a blowout instead of a closer loss like it was a year ago. If after four years there is still that big a gap between the best teams in the SEC and Arkansas, Petrino may not be done jumping jobs. He isn’t recruiting well enough to keep up with the SEC elites and he sure didn’t coach well enough to help his team against Alabama.
IN FOCUS: Which SEC Coach/Player is in the Spotlight this week?
John Brantley IV, QB, Florida – It’s easy to hit the open receiver when your rushing offense is one of the best in the land. As noted above, Florida’s stats (and performance) here are inflated. This Saturday, Brantley will face one of the best defenses of his college career, and the Gators are not going to run the ball like they have been. This will likely drop the burden straight on the shoulders of IV, who will have to prove he’s really changed. Florida’s Passing Offense is ranked 79th, but that’s a bit misleading – its Passing Efficiency is much better. At 55-of-86 for 752 yards, with four TDs to two INTs, Brantley is ranked as the 36th most efficient passer today (fifth best in the conference). His stats through his first four games last year? 73-of-114 for 700 yards, six TDs to one INT. Hm… He completing 64 percent of his passes in 2011, versus…64 percent of his passes in 2010. On Saturday against the Crimson Tide defense, Brantley is going to have to be better than he was in 2010.
Dan Mullen, MSU Head Coach – Not much is on the line for anyone in the SEC’s headliner in Gainesville this weekend, but Dan Mullen is once again front and center. There are more important games left on the schedule for Mullen this year (Alabama and Arkansas), but if MSU loses in Athens and starts a year with so much promise 0-3, there will be serious grumblings in Starkville. Not the same grumblings that are going on in Oxford or even Georgia for that matter, but it will be the start of a very hard look at what Mullen has really done for the Bulldogs. If Georgia wins, MSU could be looking at a 6-6 season. That would be a serious setback for a coach that was more than willing to discuss the program moving in the right direction. A win over Georgia isn’t so much a big deal from a program standpoint, since UGA is no world-beater right now. But to lose to a middle of the road SEC team for the second time in four weeks says volumes about where MSU truly is in year three under Mullen.
SEC POWER RANKINGS
1 LSU – Gave up 533 yards and still decimated a Top 20 team on the road…scary
2 Alabama – Keep an eye on A.J. McCarron, Part II
4 South Carolina – Over/Under on Lattimore carries: 36.5. Take the over.
5 Florida – Have to run at their average or it’ll be a long night in the Swamp
6 Miss State – A patchwork O-line already; not good for Ballard
7 Arkansas – Exposed in Tuscaloosa; going to be a step back year
7 Georgia – Watch Crowell’s right hand
8 Auburn – Moving Auburn down ahead of the SC loss
8 Tennessee – O-line needs to push Buffalo off line of scrimmage in 1Q
10 Vanderbilt – Road loss to SC not embarrassing; 77 yards of total offense is though
11 Kentucky – Tweedle-dum
12 Ole Miss – If blown out by Fresno St, Nutt should find his own way home
1 LSU – 3 wins against ranked opps away from Baton Rouge in 4 weeks…’nuff said
2 Alabama – That is the Richardson we expected this year
3 Arkansas – Still expect big things from Arkansas even with poor performance in Tuscaloosa
4 Florida (up from 5) – Gators looking like the class of the East right now
5 South Carolina (down from 4) – Teetering on the edge of disaster
6 Auburn – Brutal October begins with offensive struggles and tackling issues
7 MSU– What happens if Mullen starts 0-3 in the SEC
8 Tennessee – Derek Dooley on CBS and no shower references…FAIL
9 Georgia – Been pointing to this game since the Carolina loss
10 Vanderbilt – No harm in losing on the road to the Gamecocks, still love Franklin
11 Kentucky – Wildcat schedule heating up but the team is certainly not
12 Ole Miss – Any time, any team, any place is never an easy opponent
THREE GAMES TO DVR
1) Alabama vs. Florida; Saturday, October 1st. Florida will be lucky to rush for half of its 2011 average on Saturday against the Tide. Absent that, Florida’s passing attack is only generating 15 yards per game more through four games than it did in 2010, and Brantley’s completion percentage is identical. Florida’s performance on both offense and defense has been amplified by the quality of its competition, which is about to take a massive step forward. It won’t be the blowout it was last season, but Bama pulls away in the second half and wins by at least ten. We’ll be impressed if Brantley finishes the game…
Pick Alabama 27, Florida 17
2) Mississippi State vs. Georgia; Saturday, October 1st. On Wednesday, MSU head coach Dan Mullen said he would pick his starting offensive line on Saturday morning. That wasn’t Mullen trying to be tricky – he truly had no idea who his starting five would be. It’s hard to win the SEC without good line play (ask Arkansas), but it’s even more difficult for a team that relies on the legs of senior RB Vick Ballard and fifth year senior QB Chris Relf. Georgia’s got its own issues – more player defections and injuries at linebacker; the latter of which would be more dangerous if State had blockers that could get past Georgia’s defensive line. MSU has also really missed its linebackers from 2010, all three of whom were lost to graduation. We picked Mississippi State to win the game before the season started, but as long as Crowell is 100%, Georgia will control the clock and ultimately the game…
Pick Georgia 24, MSU 20
3) Texas A&M vs. Arkansas; Saturday, October 1st. Forget the SEC drama, and focus on the trenches. The Hogs had questions marks and precious little depth on the ends of both its offensive and defensive lines. Star DE Jake Bequette missed the Bama game and will likely not play against TAMU, and starter Tenarius "Tank" Wright is out 4-6 weeks with a broken arm suffered in Tuscaloosa. Meanwhile, Arkansas’ offensive tackles were exposed against the first defense it faced with a pulse. The Hogs were unable to sustain either a running or passing attack, and much of the blame falls on the shoulders of its offensive line. You can expect few material improvements here before the Razorbacks head down to play Texas A&M in Jerry’s World...
Pick Texas A&M 35, Arkansas 21
1) Alabama vs. Florida; Saturday, October 1st. Last year was the most overhyped, ridiculous game between Alabama and Florida. A game with so much potential and so much talented was over well before halftime and we were robbed of one of the best games the SEC usually has to offer. That won’t be the case this year. Alabama is better, Florida is better and we get a night game in the swamp to decide a game that we have seen so many times in the Georgia Dome. The Florida defense has played inspired football early but they are not as good as the Crimson Tide. John Brantley has not been asked to do much for the first month but the kid gloves have to be taken off this week to score on Alabama. It is very difficult to see Brantley breaking out this week against such a deep secondary and linebackers. Alabama is going to force a ton of turnovers and push the Gator offense around most of the game, Florida gets a score from special teams to keep it close …
Pick Alabama 24, Florida 20
2) Mississippi State vs. Georgia; Saturday, October 1st. The last couple weeks these two Bulldogs have been going in different directions. Georgia has wins over two weaker opponents but MSU hasn’t looked good since their season opener against Memphis. UGA is playing better but not by much and MSU is the better team even on the road in Athens. It is very difficult to see Georgia stopping MSU from running the football and Chris Relf should have a big day on the ground. Ballard and Perkins should be used quite often as Dan Mullen tries to control the clock and keep Aaron Murray off the field. MSU needs the win and they get it…
Pick MSU 31, Georgia 27
3) Texas A&M vs. Arkansas; Saturday, October 1st. This game is all about Arkansas, sure A&M is ranked and playing in their home state once again but the Razorbacks are out to prove last week was a mistake. The Aggies could be reeling from a heartbreaking loss to Oklahoma State and will be much more hung-over than Arkansas losing to Alabama. While we can’t consider this an SEC game yet, it is the first time these two will play as presumed SEC rivals. Tyler Wilson will have a huge game under the big screen TV in Arlington…
Pick Arkansas 42, Texas A&M 35
Follow Russ on Twitter @RussMitchellCFB and Brian @HarbachCFN
Don't forget to read CFN's Barrett Sallee Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes every Wednesday.