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Y'all Play Nice: The SEC Staple, Week 5
Vols' Derek Dooley
Every week, CFN's Doc Harper 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.
Russ Mitchell is the lead SEC columnist for CFN. Follow him @russmitchellcfb
Doc Harper covers the SEC for CFN. Follow him @doc_harper
3 SEC QUESTIONS THAT NAG MORE THAN YOUR EX
(i) Who had the best performance in Week 4?
We could go with Bama quarterback A.J. McCarron and his 15/25 for 212 yards and three touchdown performance…’cept it was against some team called Florida Atlantic (as opposed to Florida Pacific???). Or we could go with Bama running back Eddie Lacy and his 15 carries for 106 yards (7.1 ypc) and a touchdown…’cept See: McCarron above. Or we could go with USC’s Connor Shaw and his stellar 20 consecutive completion afternoon…’cept it was against a woeful Mizzou secondary and SC continues to struggle getting its WRs involved in SEC play. But is there really any doubt…Georgia’s talented freshman running back Todd Gurley rumbled for 130 yards on just 16 carries (8.1 ypc) and two touchdowns against divisional foe Vanderbilt. Vandy entered the game with the 58th best run defense in the country…and now, thanks to Gurley and crew, it’s the 93rd “best”.
How can one not be impressed with South Carolina’s Connor Shaw. After having shoulder problems the last few weeks, Shaw carved up Missouri’s defense like he was playing a Big 12 team. He was 20/21 for 249 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for 41 yards on twelve carries (and that includes the times Mizzou’s Sheldon Richardson was able to harass him in the backfield). Even more impressive, his one incompletion was his first attempt of the game, so he completed his last 20 passes. The Tigers’ secondary isn’t particularly threatening, but completing 20 consecutive passes is hard to do even if you’re just running drills in practice.
(ii) From top to bottom, is the SEC East now better than the West?
Still hard to say. We told you before the season started that the East would take a step up, primarily in there being greater parity this year versus
last. Florida is playing solid football thanks in large part to a stout defense and mature offensive line, and while the jury’s still out on Tennessee, its offensive line appears to be doing a better job pass and run blocking in 2012. Vandy may have taken a step back, but not nearly as great as the one taken by Arkansas in the West – the Hogs will make it four straight losses when they travel to College Station and the 12th Man this Saturday. Ole Miss has taken a step forward, offensively at least, while Auburn fans might be in for a longer season than expected. Speaking of undecided…State is off to a nice start, yet they’ve actually surrendered almost as much yardage this season as they’ve gained; when will that catch up to the Bulldogs?
Alabama and LSU would still go 14-0 against the East, and it’s difficult to get that out of your head. So you’re talking about Florida, Tenn, Mizzou, Vandy and Kentucky against State, TAMU, Arkansas, Auburn, and Ole Miss. It’s a lot closer to even than last season, but we’re not ready to give the East the nod just yet.
I’d say at the top and bottom it’s pretty much a wash. I know it’s heresy and I’ll now burst into flames, but I’m not totally convinced Alabama is the hands-down best team in the country, or even the conference for that matter. Now that the ‘Dawgs are getting players back from suspension for doing the stupid things people do, they ripped poor Vanderbilt to shreds. They still haven’t gotten Bacarri Rambo back yet, either. Both divisions are stuck with embarrassments that lost at home to Sun Belt teams. The East might be stronger in the middle, Auburn’s moral victory over LSU notwithstanding. South Carolina and Florida are good teams. Tennessee has talent if they don’t quit on their coach, which they may. The Mississippi schools are improved but they’re not as good as the middle of the East’s lineup.
(iii) What every SEC fan should be talking about after Week 4, but isn’t?
Well, that leaves out anything to do with LSU being "over-rated", whether or not Missouri's offensive is going to "roll over" the SEC, or if anyone can just “take care of” this Harvey Updyke embarrassment... (i) UGA & SC have now both played Vandy and Mizzou. Congratulations. The two smallest defensive lines our conference has to offer, to go with offenses that are hardly dynamic (Vandy’s total offense is 11 in the conference, while Missouri’s is 13). You too, Bama; the toughest program you’ve played to date is Western Kentucky. Yes, the Hilltoppers… (ii) Which is to say there’s a lot more football needed before we’ll really know what SEC cards we have… (iii) Connor Shaw looked great with his 20 straight completions, but more than half went to his running back and tight end and rarely was anyone covered tightly. The Gamecocks have been unable to get their receivers involved in either SEC game – that’ll have to change against the better defenses. The offensive line is near the bottom of the conference in sacks allowed and has done a poor job opening lanes for Marcus Lattimore (SC’s rushing attack is ranked 63 in the nation/10 in the SEC). SC’s run defense is as special as we all knew it would be, which is good since its pass defense is ranked 71 in the nation/12 in the SEC. After Kentucky, SC has the following four game “Schedule of Truth”: UGA, @ LSU, @ Florida, and Tennessee. Wake me after the Vols… (iv) UGA, what are you doing ranked ninth in the conference in turnover margin? You’ve played Buffalo, Missouri, Florida Atlantic and Vandy. Too many turnovers, particularly given the D has provided six takeaways... (v) As nicely as Florida’s offensive line has been playing, we continue to have reservations about quarterback Jeff Driskel’s consistency. Versus Kentucky, Driskel’s pass protection was excellent, and yet he was either hit or miss badly…no reliability. There were at least six passes where his receivers had to materially adjust their routes on the fly, or quite literally stop and wait for the ball. You can do that against Kentucky and get away with it; do it against a secondary like LSU’s and it’s a three interception afternoon... (vi) Speaking of the Tigers, the difference between 2012 and 2011 is at the offensive line. Last year, LSU lost time with virtually all five starting linemen at some point in the season, but the backups had material SEC starting experience: Will Blackwell, T-Bob Hebert, etc. This year, while there’s talent, it’s lacking that starting SEC experience… (vii) A note to Auburn fans: No. There are no moral victories in the SEC. Stop it. My three year old daughter’s soccer team doesn’t even celebrate moral victories. How far has this program dropped just two years removed from the BCS title that they’re even thinking about moral victories? … (viii) Mizzou’s Saturday in Columbia was worse than it looked, and it looked like a dumpster fire. On Saturday, if not for that layup 75 yard drive at the game’s end, down 31-3, Missouri’s stat line for the first 55 minutes was 11-of-18 passing for 92 yrds, no touchdowns or interceptions, and 29 carries for 88 yards rushing, and a fumble. Hardly a Show Me performance… (ix) In our weekly installment of “Introducing the World of CFB Outside the South”: my dark horse team this year, the Utah State Aggies, are primarily known for being the alma mater of the late, great Merlin Olsen. It’s also very cold there. Oh yeah…bring your own bourbon… and (x) The SEC currently has three teams ranked in the top 25 in total offense (UGA 13, Tennessee 17 and Ole Miss 24), and six teams ranked in the top 25 in total defense (Bama 3, LSU 4, TAMU 12, SC 19, Florida 20 and Missouri 23)…
Ole Miss is 3-1 and it feels weird. Yes, they’ve been cupcakes, but the Rebels haven’t even struggled much in those three wins, which is unusual. No way last year’s team would have cruised over Tulane 39-0. Not a chance. And there are enough winnable games left on the schedule (Auburn, Arkansas, Vanderbilt) to give them a realistic shot at – wait for it – becoming bowl eligible. No, you didn’t have a small stoke; if quarterback Bo Wallace stays healthy, the Rebs have an outside shot at playing in a bowl game. Ole Miss is averaging 260 yards on the ground per game, and even though the Texas scout team is still scoring points in Oxford, the Rebs did manage to put up 31 points on Manny Diaz’s Texas defense. Not too shabby. Hugh Freeze is off to a great start in Oxford. Of course, Alabama could annihilate them this weekend and they may never recover. Such is life in the SEC.
IN FOCUS: Which SEC Coach/Player is in the Week 5 Spotlight?
Kevin Sumlin, Head Coach, Texas A&M: Arkansas limps into Kyle Field a stuck pig. After years of butting heads in other conferences, the odds makers, analysts and other “experts” have all chalked this up as A&M’s first SEC win. And why not? The Razorbacks have a vacuum of leadership on the sideline and on their defense, and their star quarterback is hardly 100%. Arkansas ranks in the SEC top ten in just passing offense, net punting, and sacks allowed. Its total defense is dead last. Its passing efficiency defense is ranked dead last. Its pass defense, scoring defense and turnover margin are all dead last in the conference. And even sporting Knile Davis and a veteran backfield, Arkansas’ run offense is dead last in the SEC. This is a no win situation for Sumlin…knock out the Hogs and everyone says, “You want a cookie?” Lose, and the spotlight will be painfully bright.
Johnny Manziel, Quarterback, Texas A&M: I don’t think most people understand just how badly Johnny Manziel could destroy Arkansas on Saturday. At this point, it’s not much of a story that Arkansas could be embarrassed, but this could be a historic curb-stomping. Manziel has accounted for 11 touchdowns in the last two A&M games…without playing the full 60 minutes either time. Meanwhile, Rutgers came into Fayetteville with the 103rd ranked passing offense and the Razorbacks allowed them to gain 397 yards through the air. What’s going to happen when Arkansas goes on the road and faces a competent passing attack? Manziel is only a freshman, so he hasn’t gotten a chance to introduce himself to everybody yet; but he could put up some Playstation stats on Saturday that will force every SEC fan to take notice. On the flip side, the reason the spread on this game is 13.5 has to be because folks are paranoid A&M will blow another second-half lead. Come to think of it, this game could be a litmus test to see exactly how many first-half points it takes for the Aggies to hold a second-half lead.
SEC POWER RANKINGS
1 Bama – Alabama’s Summer of Love schedule slips into the first week of Autumn
2 LSU – Just keep walking…maybe nobody saw that
3 Florida – Driskel will have to be much more consistent to beat LSU’s secondary
4 Georgia – Win the turnover battle and beat UT by 14+
5 State – 4-0, but barely have more yards than they’ve surrendered
6 SC – Haven't lost an SEC East game since Lexington 2010
7 TAMU – The SEC is a second half conference, y’all
8 Tennessee – Bray is very good, but Sat is all about running/stopping the run
9 Auburn – Morale victories, Auburn???
11 Ole Miss – Hold the LINE!!!! Hollllllllllllldddddddd. OK, just keep Bo healthy.
11 Missouri – Chin up
11 Vanderbilt – Run defense now barely ranked in the top 100
13 Arkansas – Got your short list of ADs yet?
14 Kentucky – Get QB Max Smith back; is that a good thing vs. SC DL???
1 Bama – Who did Saban hurt after Bama gave up its first TD in 3 games last week
2 Georgia – Going to be some cheesy Rambo headlines this week? Tenn = First Blood?
3 SC – Spurrier is happy with his QB. Repeat: Spurrier is happy with his QB!
4 LSU – Injuries nearly cost them against Auburn. How many more players can LSU lose?
5 Florida – Get second bye week in a row after “playing” Kentucky last week
6 State – Taking a breather, after feasting on Auburn and other cupcakes in September
7 TAMU – Do the Yell Leaders have anything special planned for 1st SEC win?
8 Tennessee – Can Dooley just move into his childhood home in Athens after the game.
9 Missouri – Beware of the non-conference road game…
10 Ole Miss – Dominated Tulane. Will not dominate Alabama.
11 Auburn – A moral victory is like cheap, warm beer, & AU has to sit on it an extra week.
12 Vanderbilt – James Franklin must really want to stay at Vandy
13 Arkansas – Tried to fix problems by wearing white helmets. Failed. Now what?
14 Kentucky – And the hits keep rolling…
THREE GAMES TO DVR
YPN Disclaimer: There are not three games worthy of DVRing this Saturday. If you have yard work that’s piled up, this is your weekend to do it. Carry on.
1) Arkansas vs. Texas A&M, Saturday, 12:21 PM ET I SEC Network. We touched on this one under the SPOTLIGHT above. Suffice to say that Arkansas is ranked dead last in the conference in six statistical categories. This isn’t your Bobby Petrino’s Arkansas Razorbacks...
Pick: Texas A&M 41, Arkansas 21
2) Tennessee vs. Georgia, Saturday, 3:30 PM ET I CBS. The more time you spend breaking down this game, the worse things look for the Vols. Sunseri’s defense has been giving up big running plays in bunches, and here comes the Dawgs’ Todd Gurley. Tennessee’s rushing offense has been good, but hardly elite – currently ranked eighth in the conference. Ironically, run defense might be UGA’s only weak spot right now (currently ranked eighth in the conference), but between the hedges we expect Tennessee’s coaching brain trust to once again think it’s a Big 12 team and abandon the run. Bray will be the better quarterback on the field Saturday and he’ll get his 300+…but he doesn’t play defense. Keep an eye on UGA’s turnovers…that’s UT’s slim chance to win this game…
Pick: Georgia 38, Tennessee 21
3) South Carolina vs. Kentucky, Saturday, 7:00 PM ET I ESPN2. Two years ago SC lost in Lexington when its lone offensive weapon, Marcus Lattimore, left the game early in the third quarter up 28-0. Final Score, Kentucky 31, SC 28. This isn’t the 2010 Wildcats team. Kentucky has less offensive talent and is a beaten team. It looks like starting quarterback Maxwell Smith will play with his injured shoulder – unfortunately for him and Joker Phillips, SC has the second best defensive line in the conference in terms of sacks. Moreover, if the injured Gamecocks quarterback Conner Shaw goes down, SC still has Marcus Lattimore (no matter how spotty the offensive line is playing right now). This looks like a long evening for Big Blue…
Pick: South Carolina 35, Kentucky 9
1) Tennessee vs. Georgia, Saturday, 3:30 PM ET I CBS. The Vols had the Gators on the ropes before they ended up punching themselves in the face. If Derek Dooley is going to keep his job, he’s going to have to beat some decent teams this year. Georgia looked really good last week and Tennessee spent the first half trying to keep up with Akron. Doesn’t sound good for the Vols…
Pick: Georgia 41, Tennessee 24
2) Arkansas vs. Texas A&M, Saturday, 12:21 PM ET I SEC Network. This is going one of three ways: A&M sets a modern SEC record for points in a game, Arkansas scores enough points to keep it at least respectable, or Arkansas hangs around enough that A&M reprises its role as second-half choke-artists. Arkansas’ only hope for this game, or any other game this season, is to get the running game going with Knile Davis and Dennis Johnson, but it doesn’t seem to be close to happening. I think the Aggies will score enough points to Aggie-proof themselves…
Pick: Texas A&M 56, Arkansas 28
3) South Carolina vs. Kentucky, Saturday, 7:00 PM ET I ESPN2. It’s hard to believe, but the Gamecocks haven’t lost an SEC East game since the last time they went to Lexington two years ago. At the time, people thought that win might be a catalyst for the Joker Phillips era at Kentucky… But, alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Two years later, the Wildcats are even bigger underdogs than they were then, and Kentucky won’t have Stephen Garcia to take advantage of like they did in 2010…
Pick: South Carolina 31, Kentucky 7
Russ Mitchell is the lead SEC columnist for CFN. Follow him @russmitchellcfb
Doc Harper covers the SEC for CFN. Follow him @doc_harper