Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Seven
Florida's Chris Rainey
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.
3 SEC QUESTIONS THAT NAG MORE THAN YOUR EX
(i) Who had the best SEC performance this weekend (Team or Player)?
We could go with Hog QB Tyler Wilson and his impressive performance against the defending champions...‘cept Auburn has the worst pass efficiency defense in the conference. Or we could go with Bama's A.J. McCarron and his stellar job tattooing the Vandy defense for 23/30, 237, and four touchdowns…‘cept it was tight until the second half, when Bama's superior depth/size wore down Vandy and made the pickings far easier. Same for MSU's Tyler Russell and his scorching second half...against UAB. Or we could go with fill-in-the-blank-LSU-or-Alabama-defensive player…‘cept that's almost starting to get boring. Almost. But is there really any doubt – South Carolina's Connor Shaw, starting in just his second game, showed the country that, yes Virginia, SC does have a passing game. True, it was Kentucky, but few (including this writer) saw Shaw lighting up the Cats for 26/39, 311 yards and four touchdowns to zero interceptions. That's a 168 quarterback rating. Given all the pressure swirling around Shaw and Columbia, for a young quarterback that was an award winning performance.
Full steam ahead on the Tyler Wilson Wagon... Sure, Russ might accuse me (probably doing so right now) of being biased towards the best quarterback in the SEC (RM NOTE: Second best to UT's Tyler Bray (more below), and only faced two SEC defenses), but there is no argument that after losing an NFL talent like Ryan Mallett, Arkansas has not skipped a beat. The Razorbacks are headed for back to back ten win seasons and are still in the hunt for the SECCG and a BCS bowl. This is all after their best player, Knile Davis, went down with a season ending injury before taking one snap. Everyone got excited about Wilson's potential after he filled in nicely for an injured Mallett last year at Auburn, and while some were more convinced of Auburn's poor secondary than Wilson's skill, they were wrong.
The numbers against Auburn were good, not the 500 yards against Texas A&M good, but good enough to put Auburn away quickly and just run the ball in the second half. Wilson completed 24-36 passes for 262 yards and two scores; he also had a rushing touchdown in the game. Tyler continues to improve under Bobby Petrino, who seems to be able to turn any person with two legs and one arm into an All SEC caliber QB. There is a lot of football left, but for a second consecutive year, we can say that Arkansas is still very relevant in the SEC race at the midway point.
(ii) Was that egregious celebration by LSU punter Brad Wing or not?
Right. Next we're going to start handing out participation trophies.
If THAT'S egregious, we're in trouble. If that's egregious, games are going to have a fraction of the normal points. On Saturday, I counted more than a half-dozen acts of pre-scoring showboating that were as egregious, if not more egregious/unsportsmanlike, than Wing's...in the SEC alone. Moreover, if the true purpose of this new rule is to somehow mitigate taunting in college football, I counted more than a dozen acts of taunting in just the Florida v. LSU game that far exceeded Wing's behavior, yet none of those were called for their appropriate unsportsmanlike violations.
So basically the referees were looking to make that call. If so, they were trying to make themselves part of the game, and when that happens it's always bad for the game.
Given the fallout from Saturday, this is likely to be the first and last time this penalty is flagged in 2011, baring something truly egregious, and the rule will quietly go away after this season. If so, this will be the second time LSU has borne the brunt of such a silly rule, except the first time it cost the Tigers a game.
Recall the Auburn "Extra Point" game, September 18, 2004, when LSU DB Ronnie Prude was called for a Leaping penalty for landing on an Auburn player with 1:14 to play, after Auburn missed an extra point to take the lead. Auburn got to kick again, and won 10-9. That was the first and last time that penalty was ever called…let's hope it's the same for this misguided rule.
What Brad Wing did on his touchdown run against Florida was exactly what any other punter would have done when that opportunity is presented. He celebrated, he bragged a little, he showed up the Florida punt return team with a short "prime-time" display... But it should never have been called a penalty by the officials, because if it wasn't the punter it would have been ignored. Wing's problem was that he was the punter, and when a punter does something different to draw attention to himself it is magnified one hundred times compared to a typical position player about to score.
This is nothing more than punter profiling, and we will not sit quietly by and allow SEC officials to blatantly single out punters when this stuff is happening all over the conference (and the rest of CFB for that matter). If Wing's arms had been held out the entire trip down the sideline or if he decided to high-step the last 15 or so yards there would have been more of an argument to throw the flag for egregious behavior, but give me a break. Even though Les Miles uses his special teams players more than any other coach in the country in those kinds of situations…how many times is Wing going to get a chance to score a touchdown? Isn't college football supposed to be fun? We will give Wing credit for the score, but what is up with LSU and celebration penalties. The AJ Green/Charles Scott incident from 2009 still leaves a nasty taste in the mouth of some UGA fans, and many think that game was the impetus for this rule. Maybe this is karma for LSU...still, if this was egregious, CFB is about to get boring.
(iii) What every SEC fan should be talking about after week six, but isn't?
Well that leaves out anything to do with November 5 (x3), LSU's Tyrann Mathieu, a honey badger (really any kind of badger), and anything to do with Stephen Garcia… (i) Speaking of Mr. Garcia…we don't know what demons that young man is struggling with, but we hope he finds some peace and resolution before moving on with the next stage of his life, (ii) We at YPN aren't sure what it is with Tennessee QBs and LSU redemption, but recall one Rick Clausen, himself previously an LSU Tiger, entering the Monday night game in September 2005 (the delayed Hurricane Rita game), down 21-0, and leading a furious second half comeback victory. All the more impressive given Les Miles has only lost two night games in Death Valley (the second being the 13-3 defeat to then #1 Florida in 2009). After last year's bizarre participation penalty and Tiger victory after time expired in regulation, Matt Simms will get the chance for redemption given the broken thumb of Tyler Bray. I said a chance, (iii) How important is Bray? He leads the conference in offensive yards with 304 /game. The next best is Arkansas' Wilson with 298, after which it drops to UGA's Aaron Murray at 219. But it's not just total yards…(iv) Bray also leads the conference in passing efficiency with a 165 QB rating, good enough for 11th best in the country. The next best is, again, Mr. Wilson, who is 12 points lower at 153. To give you an idea of that gap, there are five SEC quarterbacks in a 12 point range between Wilson's 153 and A.J. McCarron's 145… (v) How important is Bray, take three: in its two SEC games to date, the Vols have rushed for negative 29 yards. That's not a typo, and no, I haven't been drinking, (vi) The Vols next three games are LSU, @ Alabama and South Carolina…three of the SEC's top four defenses; the recently played UGA being the fourth. Talk about brutal stretches… (vii) Speaking of UGA, the Dawgs will only face three ranked teams in 2011 (Auburn's unlikely to stay ranked with LSU up next week), and they will likely lose all three. Shades of 2008… (viii) If UGA backs into the SEC championship game to face either LSU or Alabama, they will lose all four, (ix) In SEC games, no team has given up more first downs than Florida - course, they're one of only three teams to play four conference games. Ole Miss, Arkansas & Tennessee have only played two – which might have something to do with Bray's and Wilson's stats, now that you mention it), (x) Wow, Ole Miss still has six conference games to go, (xi) For those of you waiting for this LSU defense to graduate, grab a chair… More than 50% of LSU's 22 man, 2-deep defense is comprised of underclassmen (12-14, depending on who's roster you believe). By comparison, Bama has just five underclassmen on its 22 man, 2-deep... Could that experience be the difference on Nov. 5? And (xii) Once again, the conference has only one team ranked in the Top 25 in total offense (Arkansas #23), but still has six in total defense (Alabama #3, LSU #5, UGA #6, SC #9, Florida #11, and Vandy #21).
The Stephen Garcia era is over in Columbia, and while many Gamecock fans are glad he is gone, it is unfair to cast all the blame in one direction and not look at the big picture. While I am ultimately a big believer in personal responsibility, Steve Spurrier and Eric Hyman did an absolute disservice to Garcia while he was a member of the Carolina football team. Many people want to know why it took so long to boot Garcia and the reason is simple: Spurrier needed him.
Look at the eight years of quarterbacks Spurrier has started while in Columbia: Tommy Beecher, Stephen Garcia, Blake Mitchell, Syvelle Newton, Connor Shaw and Chris Smelley. That's six quarterbacks in eight seasons who have started games for South Carolina. When you look at that list it's easy to see why Garcia was kept around. Because Garcia was needed, he was never dismissed when he clearly should have been. As my colleague Russ wrote earlier this week, Garcia struck out...twice (five suspensions before being kicked off the team). Some players - some people - need to know there are serious consequences to their actions in order to correct the problem, and the longer that lesson takes the more damage is created; which often then takes the person longer to unravel. If South Carolina had dismissed him earlier in his career he might be a very different person today. He might have become a better player for a different team. Certainly it also could have turned out worse, but the simple fact is South Carolina did not cut him loose because of his arm strength and experience. And that's pretty sick given the number of offenses...even in our jaded world of SEC football.
After eight years in Columbia, the quarterback situation is still a train wreck for Steve Spurrier. At Carolina he has failed time and again to develop any consistency at the position, and that forced him to keep Garcia. The problems are owned by Garcia, but the discipline was non-existent and was a big part of the problem. The Garcia chapter is a sad one; everyone could have done something different, and Spurrier and the Carolina Athletic Department deserve an equal amount of scorn. Now all the HBC can do is coach up Connor Shaw, hope he stays healthy and move on; SC has a big game this week, and there is no time for pity in the SEC.
IN FOCUS: Which SEC Coach/Player is in the Spotlight this week?
Chris Rainey, Florida Running Back – Ok, stop talking, tweeting and texting, and listen. This is it, kid. You don't have a ton of goodwill to begin with, in case you're living under a rock, and in the last two games your production has dropped off a cliff. A 57-yards-on-24-carries (2.38 ypc) cliff. However, you feasted on poor run defenses in the month of September, and guess what? Up next is the Auburn Tigers, whose run defense is ranked a woeful 103rd in the nation (11th in the SEC). That's considerably worse than Tennessee's (55), and you gouged them for 108 yards on 21 carries. Of course, the difference is without John Brantley under center, it stands to reason the Tigers will sell out to stop you. That and head coach Will Muschamp has made it clear you'll be sharing snaps with backup Mike Gillislee. It's now or never…step up and shine, or be an also ran. Literally.
Tyler Russell, Mississippi State QB – It is Russell's time. Against UAB last week, he threw the ball with some authority and showed good touch and arm strength. With a ranked South Carolina team coming to town and Dan Mullen needing something to spark his team, Russell's chance has to be this weekend. For his career, Chris Relf has been great for MSU. He helped turn the program in the right direction and led the offense exactly how he was asked...but he is too limited as a passer to take MSU to the next level. Tyler Russell is the future, but is he the now? He needs a solid performance at home to prove he's ready to be the BMOC. He is going up against a South Carolina secondary that has played better than expected this year, mostly due to a great Gamecock defensive line; so Russell will be challenged at every level of the defense. State fans should be excited to see what he can do; the rest of the SEC should pay attention as well.
SEC POWER RANKINGS
1 LSU – In six games, LSU's punt coverage team has allowed just five yards…total
1 Alabama – Stay focused. Injuries happen when you lose focus…
4 South Carolina – Welcome Mr. Shaw
4 Arkansas – Given the faults on both lines, a great season so far
5 Georgia – All's well in Athens
7 Florida – Third straight physical game…
7 Auburn – Can they rebound from 1st SEC loss since 2009 Iron Bowl?
9 Miss State – Might be time for Russell; 268 QB rating in 2H last week
9 Tennessee – This is what it must feel like to be tied to train tracks
10 Vandy – At some point, your offense IS going to have to score points again
12 Ole Miss – Would be lower, but have only played two SEC games
12 Kentucky – 4 of last 5 SEC games against Miss St, UT, Vandy and Ole Miss. Look above.
1 LSU – Contrary to some Gator's opinion, the LSU secondary is that good
2 Alabama – Steamrolling through October until the LSU game
3 Arkansas – Tyler Wilson…man crush
6 Auburn – There is no difference between any of the sixth place teams…listed alphabetical
6 Georgia – see Auburn
6 South Carolina– see Auburn
7 Florida (down from 4) – Mr. Burton, Mr. Rainey…please be quiet
8 Tennessee – We never thought we would see Mr. Simms again, but here we are
9 MSU – Chris Relf has represented MSU well and will do so as the backup QB
10 Vanderbilt – Here comes Aaron Murray
12 Kentucky – Winner on November 5th gets the 11 spot
12 Ole Miss – see Kentucky
THREE GAMES TO DVR
1) Florida vs. Auburn; Saturday, October 15th. Florida is one seriously banged up football team, physically and mentally. Now it must travel again, this time to the Plains of Auburn, for its fourth straight SEC game. Florida can't stop the run, and fortunately for Auburn it's the only thing they can do well. In his last two games (SC and Arkansas), Auburn's sophomore sensation Michael Dyer has rushed for 253 yards on 62 carries. Just as importantly, Auburn has zero fumbles on the year. Florida, by the way, is ranked second to last in the conference in turnover margin. If you want to focus on something this Saturday, watch how many yards Auburn's backs get after initial contact, and in particular, whether Florida's linebackers can halt their recent trend of getting bowled over. This is a tired Florida team and it will show down the stretch on Saturday…
Pick Auburn 20, Florida 13
2) South Carolina vs. MSU; Saturday, October 15th. Yes, Mississippi State has been beset by injuries, particularly on its offensive line, but everyone has injuries at the midway point – ask Tennessee and Florida. I was asked earlier this week who my biggest disappointment of the first half was, and it's Chris Relf. After the season opener against Memphis, the fifth year senior has shown none of the poise he developed as 2010 progressed. He's actually gotten worse with each game in 2011. It puzzles me why most folks think this game will be close. Outside of it being Shaw's first conference road start, Miss St is ranked eighth in the SEC in total defense, eighth in pass efficiency defense, eighth in run defense, will likely be starting a new quarterback against a SC team that's ranked ninth in the nation in total defense and fifth in pass efficiency defense. Where SC has had some issues is in stopping the run – though those numbers are largely skewed by the Auburn game and having to play Navy's run-happy wishbone offense…
Pick South Carolina 24, MSU 14
3) LSU vs. Tennessee; Saturday, October 15th. Do we really have to pick this game? What a light slate. Last week, LSU's defense held another new starting quarterback to just 32 yards of offense and zero points up to the final drive of the first half. They also forced two turnovers, had none themselves, and ran for 238 yards (5 ypc) against the same defense that held Tennessee to negative nine yards rushing. The Tigers' biggest worry in this "contest" will be complacency…
Pick LSU 45, Tennessee 9
1) Florida vs. Auburn; Saturday, October 15th. This has always been a fun series full of great games and crazy finishes. The last few Auburn/Florida games have been classic. Five years ago, Auburn upset Florida in Jordan Hare in a season the Gators lost just one game and won a BCS Championship. The next year in the Swamp, Auburn brought in three true freshmen offensive linemen and hit not one, but TWO game winning field goals to upset the Gators. This weekend looks like another classic, as both teams are evenly matched with similar issues. Both teams have problem at quarterback, both teams will have at least two players take snaps in the shotgun and both teams need a win badly - IF Auburn loses this, they'll likely lose three straight with a trip to LSU up next. Gene Chizik and Will Muschamp were defensive coordinators at Auburn before getting head coaching jobs, and both expect to win this game. Going with the home team this week by a field goal. The Gators are beaten up after two physical games with Alabama and LSU…
Pick Auburn 28, Florida 24
2) South Carolina vs. MSU; Saturday, October 15th. The Tyler Russell era should start this week unless Dan Mullen has decided he doesn't want to play in a bowl game this winter. MSU is desperate for a win and South Carolina is building on some good momentum after being a real offense against Kentucky last week. This one could go either way, but MSU has been playing poorly for six weeks and hasn't shown much of anything in wins or losses, minus the Auburn game. South Carolina is typically a poor road team, and they especially struggle on the road against SEC West teams, where they have only won one game in five years. That one win did come in the state of Mississippi against the Rebels in 2008; expect Carolina to get another W this weekend. A new quarterback and some awful football make it very hard to pick the home Bulldogs, but they will make it close…
Pick South Carolina 31, MSU 30
3) LSU vs. Tennessee; Saturday, October 15th. Not much to say about this one... but there are no other games worth discussing. No Tyler Bray, the best team in the country coming to Knoxville, a banged up Taureen Poole… Katy bar the door.
Pick LSU 41, Tennessee 10
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.