Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Nine
UGA QB Aaron Murray
Every week, 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 Brian's pick and take anyone and everyone on LSU…'cept it was against an Auburn team starting a rookie quarterback on the road. Or we could single out LSU's Rueben Randle and his two touchdowns receptions and 106 yards to put the game away in the second quarter…'cept for that Auburn pass efficiency defense, currently ranked 71st in the nation. Or we could go with Vandy's Zac Stacy and his 198 yards on 21 carries (~10 yards per) and three touchdowns…'cept it was against Army. But is there really any doubt – Hellooooo Arkansas' Dennis Johnson…where have you been hiding, son? If not for Johnson's 52 yard touchdown run with 5:11 to play in the second quarter, the Hogs go into halftime down 17-0. On a day that quarterback Tyler Wilson will likely soon forget, Johnson's 15 carries for 160 yards (10.7 ypc) and one TD saved the day.
A lot of attention has been paid to LSU this season, for good and bad reasons, but the results don't seem to change. The more curveballs that get tossed at Les Miles, the more his team seems to adapt and roll. A week before the season, his starting QB gets suspended…back up Jarrett Lee steps up. Three starters suspended for synthetic weed against Auburn, including a former Heisman contender…no problem (on the field at least). The performance over Auburn this weekend was brutal and typical of what we expect to see from a Miles' team. LSU is consistently laid back and rolls with any punches that come their way, the same way Miles seems to handle the press. The next curveball is the time change in next week's likely classic between Alabama and LSU, now a night game; it won't surprise anyone to see LSU show up and play well.
(ii) Boom or Richt…who needs a Cocktail party win more?
It's certainly not Gator coach Will Muschamp. Everyone wants to win, and going winless for a month in your debut season is a quick way to spoil a honeymoon. But reasonable observers of the Florida program knew there would be an adjustment period to the new coaching schemes, particularly given the turnover entering the season. That combined with a brutal slate and an injured starting quarterback have made for a tumultuous October.
Instead, given where expectations now sit, we'll go with Georgia's Mark Richt. Most expect the Dawgs to win this game – including the boys in Vegas, who currently have Richt's crew giving three to the Gators. Georgia enters the game ranked higher in passing offense, scoring offense, total offense, run defense, pass efficiency defense, total defense, sacks, tackles for loss, and perhaps most importantly, are significantly better in turnover margin (21st to Florida's 109th). Moreover, we don't think for a minute Florida quarterback John Brantley is back to 100%, and neither should you (more on that in SPOTLIGHT below). (You might not think it but the Gators actually do a better job of protecting their quarterback, giving up far fewer sacks (UGA's currently ranked 75th in the nation in that department)…and at least in terms of passing attempts, Florida's remained fairly consistent before/after Brantley went down.)
Still, even banged up after a hellacious October, Florida will be by far the best team UGA has faced since losing to South Carolina in week two. The Dawgs will have to be much more prepared for this game than they were their last (Vandy).
Boom is fine regardless of what happens in this game; he will not take any heat whatsoever if Florida loses close or loses big. Muschamp is a first year coach with an offense that doesn't have a quarterback capable of beating the Dawgs, so even though 0-for-October is not something any coach wants to think about…it doesn't matter. On the other hand, for his job security Mark Richt had better win this game. As perfectly as the stars aligned for Steve Spurrier and South Carolina a year ago, the same thing seems to be happening for Mark Richt in Athens. A banged up Gator team rides from Gainesville, Marcus Lattimore's injury has effectively ended South Carolina's season and the path is clear for the Dawgs…as long as they win this weekend.
Last year the Georgia loss to Florida was painful, but the Dawgs were a worse team a year ago. Trey Burton abused UGA all afternoon - if that isn't posted on every Bulletin Board in Athens this week, we'd be shocked. Georgia let Burton dominate them a year ago and the same situation repeats itself in 2011. This time John Brantley is coming back from an injury and it will take smoke and mirrors to beat the Dawgs once again. Mark Richt better not get caught looking at his reflection too long because there will be no forgiving another loss to Florida. A first time head coach with a three game losing streak, no quarterback, a banged up defense, a struggling special team unit, a hurt kicker and Charlie Weis means Georgia has to win this game. Mark Richt has to win this game. The "Or Else" will be ugly next week if Florida pulls off another shocker on Richt's watch.
(iii) What every SEC fan should be talking about, but isn't?
Well that leaves out anything to do with November 5, or as our friends everywhere else in the world call it, 5 November. (i) What team has allowed the fewest sacks in the SEC so far this season? Wait for it…LSU. Last season the Tigers ended the season fifth in the conference in sacks allowed, and the year before that, were 11th, (ii) With Dennis Johnson emerging on the scene last week, the Hogs rushing attack vaulted forward ten spots to 73rd in the nation, (iii) Tennessee held Alabama to 35 rushing yards in the first half last Saturday, selling out to stop Trent Richardson. Think LSU saw that? The Tigers have the bodies to keep that up for four quarters, (iv) Take it with a grain of salt, Tiger fan – it's not like Bama was running anything but the most vanilla of schemes vs. Tennessee. It'll be a different package come November 5, (v) Moreover, it doesn't matter if you can't score. Bama's defense didn't allow Tennessee a first down in the second half. Merciful Heavens, (vi) Arkansas has only recovered one fumble this season. Auburn, meanwhile, has only fumbled once – on a kickoff return last week in Baton Rouge. Discuss, (vii) Halfway (or so) through the season, four teams are still looking for their first SEC win (Tenn, Kentucky, Ole Miss, MSU), (viii) LSU leads the conference in passing efficiency, and are top ten in the nation. Seriously, that's not a joke, (ix) Vanderbilt has 15 interceptions to lead the conference. Up next for the ‘Dores? Arkansas, the SEC's most pass-prolific offense…in Nashville. That alone makes this game interesting, and (x) The conference still has two teams ranked in the Top 25 in total offense – and with the same ranking as last week (Arkansas #23 and Bama #24), and return to six teams in total defense (Alabama #1, LSU #3, UGA #6, SC #7, Florida #11, and Vandy #23).
A week and half ago former Ole Miss quarterback Romaro Miller wrote an article on Rebel Grove venting the frustrations that some former players have with the program. If you take a couple minutes to read through his column you can feel the passion and disappointment coming from a former player who loves his university and team. For those of us who saw Romaro play (I did twice), we remember a gutsy player who knows what it is like to go through a coaching transition. Tommy Tuberville left for Auburn before what was Miller's junior season. He's not someone who wants to put the Ole Miss players through a change just for the sake of change…he honestly feels for the players and cares about them.
It takes onions to do what Romaro did and write what everyone is thinking; it is one thing for a professional writer to do it, but quite another for a former player. It's another nail in the coffin of this athletic department. Sure people assume Houston Nutt will be fired, but he won't. Nutt is a survivor; he will take another job well before the administration decides what to do with him. Jimmy Sexton is too smart and will have an option for Nutt if he doesn't want to be fired and take the buyout. Pete Boone, however, will be shown the door.
Based on the topics that Miller brings up in his column, no one is exempt from the pain that will be brought this winter. When former players and a divided fan base are this upset…bad things happen. Miller didn't do this because Ole Miss is losing football games…he talks about the school spirit being gone, coaches who will never think about working at Ole Miss based on word of mouth and he wants things better for the players. It is a risk to talk about your alma mater so honestly in the public and there will be some backlash in the short-term from some. But what Miller has done will have a bigger impact long-term on the University of Mississippi. I commend him for his words and respect his love for his school.
IN FOCUS: Which SEC Coach/Player is in the Spotlight this week?
John Brantley, Florida QB – Since Harbach took our pick, we'll take the other sideline. He's a senior – what else was he going to tell his coaching staff. "Sorry Coach, I know this is my last chance to play in this, arguably the biggest SEC rivalry we have, but I'm not at 100% yet; I'll pass." Right. Brantley may not be 100%, but he's still the better option over the freshmen Muschamp and Weis have had to make due with in his absence. Remember, it's not like John was known for his mobility to begin with; if I'm UGA DC Todd Grantham, I blitz Brantley like the kid's an amusement ride. This is it, John – the last ride. Win this game and Gator fans will forever remember you for it…a moment frozen in time. Lose, and you already have an idea how they'll remember you. No pressure, John.
Aaron Murray, Georgia QB – The pick in overtime a year ago sealed the win for Florida, and was another painful reminder of how hard it is to win in Jacksonville for the Dawgs. This year with true freshmen stud Malcolm Mitchell doubtful and many people questioning exactly who UGA has beaten this year, the familiar match up with the Gators looms large for the Georgia quarterback. Murray has not been great this year but he hasn't been terrible either. He almost has as many picks already as he did all of last year, and far too many have come in the second half of games where UGA has a lead and is trying to close the game out. It is very hard to see Georgia winning the game if Murray doesn't improve his play, but there is a lot of pressure on someone with limited weapons and the expectation to beat an over-matched opponent.
SEC POWER RANKINGS
1 LSU – No truth to rumor Miles has locked the Honey Badger in his dorm room
1 Alabama – #1 Defense in America
4 Arkansas – Don't look past this Vandy defense…
4 South Carolina – Defense will win this game for SC
5 Georgia – Red Zone a landmine field for the Dawgs
6 Auburn – Three losses to teams with a combined one loss
8 Florida – Drink every time a Gator defender gets trucked
10 Miss State – Lose this, and a disappointing season becomes a train wreck
10 Tennessee – Raise your hand if you think Worley starts after UGA if not for schedule
10 Vandy – Two wins away from Bowling in Franklin's first season
12 Kentucky – They can't all be Jax State
12 Ole Miss – The Houston Nutt Farewell Tour continues; next stop: Auburn
1 LSU – Don't focus on Auburn, LSU is just that good
2 Alabama – Showcase game for leagues best RB vs. leagues best DL
3 Arkansas – Sleepwalking in Oxford was a dangerous idea for Tyler Wilson
4 Auburn – Only thing to take away from loss in BR was Moseley played pretty well
5 Georgia – Must win, must win, must win
6 South Carolina– Brandon Wilds is the starting running back…wow
7 Florida – Give Russ some credit for calling Florida's 0-For-Oct this summer
8 Tennessee – A true freshmen against a nasty D-line and improving secondary…ouch
9 MSU – If Mullen chokes this weekend he shouldn't even fly back to Starkville
10 Vanderbilt – Will Arkansas be asleep at the wheel two weeks in a row?
12 Kentucky – Thank goodness for FCS opponents
12 Ole Miss – Mutiny is on its way
THREE GAMES TO DVR
1) Georgia vs. Florida; Saturday, October 29th. IF he plays, Brantley's going to be running for his life. Expect the Bulldogs defense to put as much pressure as possible on the recovering Florida QB, for without him the Gators chances drop precipitously. Both squads started the season with a lot of youth, but at this point the green should be off the horns. We called it back in July, and we'll stick with it here – quarterback Aaron Murray's experience and Florida's plummeting run defense will ultimately be the difference in this game…
Pick Georgia 27, Florida 24
2) South Carolina vs. Tennessee; Saturday, October 29th. South Carolina will be playing a fifth string true freshman running back and a sophomore quarterback starting his fourth game, on the road, before 110,000 screaming Vol faithful, with a suspect offensive line against a front seven that held Bama to 35 yards rushing in the first half, in Tuscaloosa. Expect Tennessee to blanket SC wideout Alshon Jeffery, and how exactly are the Gamecocks going to score any points? I'll tell you how, they're defense will score points. Tennessee is starting a true freshman at quarterback in Justin Worley. Against a front four that most of which will be playing at the next level when their time in the SEC is over…
PickSouth Carolina 21, Tennessee 16
3) MSU vs. Kentucky; Saturday, October 29th. MSU has been a disappointment this season, no more so than to anyone on this Bulldog team. Quarterback Chris Relf entered the year after closing out 2010 on a high, and the expectations for running back Vic Ballard were significant. Then the wheels came off after two physical losses to Auburn and LSU. Word out of Starkville is the Bulldogs used the bye week to get healthy and prepare whole-heartedly for Kentucky, the latter of which will be the key to this game. Kentucky is simply not playing good football right now, and it showed even in the win against Jax State. The Cats are ranked dead last in the conference in passing offense, scoring offense and total offense…
Pick MSU 28, Kentucky 14
1) Georgia vs. Florida; Saturday, October 29th. The Cocktail Party is one of the greatest spectacles the SEC offers each year; if you don't get goose-bumps looking at the overhead shots with the stadium split between red and black and orange and blue you are probably dead inside. Georgia looks to be down its best receiver and Florida's Brantley is returning from an injury he suffered against Alabama. Right now, Georgia is better than Florida on Offense and Defense, but both special teams groups are atrocious. The biggest difference will be the quarterback play as Aaron Murray looks to make up for last year's mistakes. The only reason this one is close is because of history…which won't be enough for Florida…
Pick Georgia 34, Florida 31
2) South Carolina vs. Tennessee; Saturday, October 29th. Many people have argued that losing Lattimore before a bye week will help South Carolina prepare for the life without him. I disagree; the last two weeks were spent watching a running game that was elite turn into what Carolina fans saw pre-Lattimore days. Brandon Wilds is a nice kid but an SEC running back he is not. There are some things in Carolina's favor like Tennessee starting a freshmen at quarterback but on the road against a desperate team the wheels might finally fall off. Neither team is going to need a lot of points to win and this defensive struggle goes to the home team…
Pick Tennessee 20, South Carolina 16
3) MSU vs. Kentucky; Saturday, October 29th. This game is not going to be pretty and it is not going to be fun to watch. Kentucky has struggled all year with offense and MSU has been a train wreck since week three. Neither team has won a single game in the SEC but that is going to change this weekend. While the Bulldogs haven't exactly played good football this season you can at least say they lost to some good teams. Auburn, Georgia, LSU and South Carolina are all bowl teams and are a combined 24-6 but MSU was not supposed to be 0-4 in the SEC at this point in the season. Dan Mullen needs a good performance this week, a dominant performance and while it seems odd to predict that after what we have seen in seven games, it is time…
Pick MSU 38, Kentucky 13