Y'all Play Nice: The SEC Staple, Week 7
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 6?
We could go with Florida's Mike Gillislee and his 146 rushing yards against LSU on a healthy 34 carries, plus two touchdowns… Actually, that's who we're going with: Mike Gillislee. Sure, he was aided by 7-8 linemen and an LSU offense that couldn't stay on the field, but he still bludgeoned LSU into submission...a very rare feat for one man. We nearly went with LSU's superstar LB Kevin Minter, he of the 20 tackle game – 17 solo, 2 sacks, 3 tackles for loss…in trying single-handedly to keep LSU in it. If not for missing parts of the second half to cramps, Minter might have shattered some records. Somebody block Kevin Minter. We could have gone with SC's Connor Shaw...but he has yet to hit a receiver that's been covered. Very complete game by Shaw, but he'll face the third most efficient pass defense in the nation this Saturday in Red Stick. Since Vandy, the most efficient pass defense Shaw has faced was Georgia's, which is 55th in the nation/9th in the SEC. More on that below.
There were a lot of great performances this week, but Gillislee really stood out for the Gators. Listed at 5-11, 209-pounds, he is not a particularly big back; in fact, he is smaller than all of the ones LSU used. But over the course of 34 carries, he and Florida's offensive line wore down the LSU defense. Yes, the Tigers are suffering through attrition like they're at Gettysburg, but it takes a real effort to be effective for 34 rushing attempts, even scoring both of the team's touchdowns in the second half when Gillislee had to have been exhausted. It's not a stretch to think Florida would have blown LSU out if the game went an extra quarter or two.
(ii) Mid-term Report Cards
Mitchell & Harper:
STAR PUPIL: Mitchell: The competition might not have been that stout, but how do you not take Bama's A.J. McCarron? Alabama's second in the conference in passing efficiency and have yet to throw an interception – the only team in the conference that can make that claim. (With a minimum of 15 passing attempts per game, the only two other quarterbacks have zero interceptions: WVU's Geno Smith and La Tech's Colby Cameron. Hellooooooo TAMU.) McCarron's the fifth most accurate passer in America. A Nick Saban rushing offense with a passer this efficient is a frightening thing. Harper: TAMU's Johnny Manziel is quickly developing into a star in this league. He's just a freshman and is already getting major hype...and likely to get that much better. If this keeps up over the next few years, the rest of the conference will hate him long after he's gone to the NFL. He gets a lot of the credit for the Aggies being much better this season than anyone expected, although it remains to be seen if he can keep it up against a much tougher "class" schedule in the second half.
IN DETENTION: Mitchell: No, it's not Kentucky. This was supposed to be a long football season for the Wildcats, and the injuries haven't helped – particularly those to the offense. Instead, Auburn is racking up demerits like a PEZ dispenser. Keep it up, Tigers, and you'll cost your coach his job. Harper: Whether or not it was a good idea for Jeff Long to fire Bobby Petrino in April (and Mitchell adamantly argues it wasn't), it clearly was a bad idea to hire a bankrupt coach known mostly for wacky YouTube videos as his interim replacement (RM note: As some of us shouted from the rooftops in late April. OK, I'm done). Arkansas was expected to contend for the BCS and instead is hoping to just become bowl eligible. It's the definition of detention.
MOST LIKELY TO BE EXPELLED: Mitchell: If Auburn goes 0-8 in SEC play, Gene Chizik will be fired – and 0-8 is a lot more likely than you might think. That said, it's hard to see a world where Joker Phillips is still coaching Kentucky football next season. Phillips has been dedicated to Kentucky since his playing days. He's a fine coach and a good man, but this Wildcats program is moving in the wrong direction – particularly in terms of recruiting. Harper: Missouri spent a year trying to convince anyone who would listen that they were SEC-ready, and will start out 0-4 in the conference after getting dissected by Alabama on Saturday. Is West Virginia's application still on file?
BEST UNIT: Mitchell: You know this is going to be a defensive line, and while there are many to choose from (LSU, Bama, Florida…), the unit playing the best football in the SEC right now is Carolina's DL. They are the glue that's carrying this team. SC is ranked first in sacks (fourth in the nation), a fact that is materially helping this inexperienced secondary. Its second best in rush defense (ninth nationally) and third in total D (11th nationally)…all of which takes a tremendous amount of pressure "off" its offense. Harper: SEC law requires us to say Alabama's defense here, right? Will there be a lawsuit if anything else is mentioned? Where are the Fox lawyers??? The Crimson Tide defense has been ferocious, only giving up seven points per game so far; best mark in the country.
MOST IMPROVED: Mitchell: Florida's defense. We don't want to fawn too much with only the LSU offense and three second half performances to gauge from, but the maturity of this Gators' defense is impressive. Solid coaching has played a significant part in this turnaround. Harper: They haven't really played anybody yet, but Mississippi State has looked sharp in going undefeated. Of course, if Tennessee had played the Bulldogs schedule, the Vols could also be undefeated right now. But that's just how college football goes. We'll see which of those two schools is actually more improved this week.
(iii) What every SEC fan should be talking about after Week 6, but isn't?
Well, that leaves out anything to do with how badly UGA played in Columbia, how much worse LSU's offense is this year vs. last, or just how quickly the folks in Auburn can pass the plate for $7.5M... (i) Breaking my own rule here, and starting off all-things War Eagle. Auburn is looking down the barrel at an 0-8 SEC season. They'll lose to Ole Miss on Saturday, and you haven't been watching the Rebs this year if you think otherwise. Ole Miss's offense can score against good defenses; they'll score in bunches against Auburn. And while the Rebs' defense has struggled, that's come more defending against the pass than the run…and the Tigers are dead last in the SEC in pass and pass efficiency offense. Ole Miss is also fourth in the SEC in sacks…they have to be licking their chops to get after this Auburn O-line. After that it's Vandy on the road before TAMU, Georgia and @ Bama… (ii) While we're at it, don't look now, Auburn, but Alabama A&M is undefeated and playing some good FCS football. Six wins and impressively ranked in the top three of every Southwestern conference statistical category except net punting. Don't think they get a lot of practice punting. Tick. Tock… (iii) The first half of the LSU/Florida game went exactly as expected. Even being repeatedly pinned deep inside its own 10 yard line by the Gator's talented punter Kyle Christy (49 ypp on seven punts), LSU's defense absolutely crushed this Gators' offensive line (figuratively) and quarterback Jeff Driskel (literally). The SEC player of week 6 wasn't a player at all…he was a coach. Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease came out for the second half with the strategy, "Well, passing didn't work…let's line up seven or eight and just run it like a red-headed step mule." Mass kicks ass, indeed. The Gators would only attempt four passes in the second half in outscoring the Tigers 14-0. In fact, after going up 7-6 midway in the third, Florida wouldn't throw another pass again. You see that, Spurrier?... (iv) Hey, Johnny Football, great comeback in the final seconds last Saturday to claim A&M's first SEC road win. Now time for a splash of cold water – that was Ole Miss you should have lost to. If Hugh Freeze's Rebs had just a little more experience closing teams out, you lose by 10 in Oxford. Sure, it was something to build on, and you can start by learning how to hold onto the ball. Six turnovers, Aggies??? Don't look now, but y'all are back on the road again to play a very good Sonny Dykes La Tech program that can score a lot of points too (and surrender a lot of yards). After that it's LSU, @ Auburn, @ State and @Bama… (v) If LSU loses to SC, it puts a bit of a damper on the big Nov. 3 Bama game, doesn't it (since even with one loss, Bama would advance)... and (vi) The SEC currently has three teams ranked in the top 25 in total offense (TAMU 12, Tenn 17 and UGA 24), and five teams ranked in the top 25 in total defense (Bama 1, LSU 3, SC 11, Florida 12 and State 25)…
READ all ten things SEC fans should be discussing, but aren't.
They may not control their own destiny, but Georgia still has the easiest road to Atlanta. Despite being destroyed by South Carolina, the Bulldogs just have to beat Florida to be favored to finish 7-1 in the conference. The Gamecocks still have to go to Baton Rouge and Gainesville (they may not be favored in either game) before hosting Tennessee and Arkansas. After a team loses as badly as Georgia lost last week, it's easy to write them off, but it's still very possible that they could back-door their way into Atlanta.
IN FOCUS: Which SEC Coach/Player is in the Week 7 Spotlight?
Steve Spurrier, Head Coach, South Carolina. Have you watched the LSU/Florida game, coach? Against UGA you only attempted ten passes, but that's because you jumped up 21-0 at home. That's quite unlikely to happen in Death Valley on Saturday. So, you're going to be tempted to chuck the ball with your all-world-everything quarterback. FIGHT THAT URGE, COACH. Run and punt. On Saturday, the Tigers might be playing four offensive lineman who weren't starters for game one. Run the ball and punt. You're defensive will be able to stop this very suspect LSU offense, particularly given your line will have Tigers' quarterback Zach Mettenberger looking over his shoulder all night. Run. The. Ball. And. Punt. You'll be 7-0 for your trip to the Swamp.
Les Miles, Head Coach, LSU. This is just the second game in a stretch of five consecutive games against ranked teams for the Tigers. They've looked horrible over the last three weeks and it's worth wondering if Les Miles can keep the team and fan base together if they lose again. A lot of people have forgotten that fans were getting restless with Miles back in 2009 and early 2010 before they began this dominant run. They don't want to rebuild again, and their recruiting classes make it look like they shouldn't have to. Not much has gone right for LSU since the National Championship Game, and Miles needs to put a stopper on this leak before it sinks the S.S. Bayou Bengal.
SEC POWER RANKINGS
1 Alabama – A. Would like to see them challenge themselves a bit more; need AP classes
2 Florida – A. Losing at the half of all 3 tough SEC games; great study habits pay off in 2H
3 South Carolina – A. 6-0, including an absolute thrashing of rival Georgia
4 LSU – Incomplete. Speaks for itself
6 State – B. So far excelled at remedial classes
6 A&M – B. Surrendered nearly 500 yards of offense to Ole Miss; tough 2H class schedule
6 UGA – B-. Failing to reach potential; loud thud you heard…hope crashing into reality in Athens
8 Tennessee – C+. Needs extra credit
9 Ole Miss – C. Homework paying off; defense playing tougher
10 Vanderbilt – C-. Had higher expectations for offensive backfield; disappointing
13 Missouri – F. Needs more time to adjust
13 Arkansas – F. Adult supervision needed; guardian's wisdom lacking (Jeff Long)
14 Auburn – F. Attention Deficit Disorder. Too immature in OL. In danger of flunking out
14 Kentucky – F. Absentees adding up; folks are getting their Joker jokes ready
1 Alabama – B. Really talented student but hasn't reached full potential
2 Florida – A. Just passed their gifted and talented exam
3 South Carolina – A. Dominated the last test.
4 LSU – C. Missed a lot of school due to medical issues. Falling behind a bit.
5 UGA – C. Wasting valedictorian ability
6 A&M – B+. New kids are excited to be here
7 State – B. Passing freshman-level classes, ready for advanced work
8 Tennessee – C+. Showing improvement but still needs more time in study hall
9 Ole Miss – C. They're finally doing homework this year
10 Vanderbilt – D. We expected more
11 Arkansas – F. Foster child. Hasn't been the same since parents left
12 Missouri – F. Clearly having trouble adjusting to a new, much more difficult school
13 Auburn – F. Having trouble learning cursive
14 Kentucky – F. Joker is the class clown once again (RM note: And there you go.)
THREE GAMES TO DVR
1. South Carolina vs. LSU, Saturday, 8:00 PM ET I ESPN. This game is full of IF's… IF LSU loses this game, the collective cry of anguish at CBS HQ will be louder than any from Baton Rouge (Nov. 3, Bama at LSU, 8 PM kickoff…on CBS). IF Spurrier can battle his internal demons and simply run the ball, Spurrier wins. But the biggest IF is this: If LSU LT Alex Hurst suits up, LSU wins. When was the last time you heard that about an offensive lineman...but it's true. We're going on the likelihood that somebody will reach this young man before Saturday night, and he'll be dressed for kickoff. With C P.J. Lonergan nursing an injured back and RG Josh Williford dealing with lingering concussion issues from the Florida game, the Tigers have been practicing this week with only one lineman that started the season. Hey! Look who's strolling into Red Stick this weekend…perhaps the conference's most lethal defensive line. Without Hurst's experience and leadership anchoring this line, Mettenberger will be chased all day. With no threat of a passing game Carolina will crowd the box, and LSU will lose, 20-13. However, WITH Hurst, LSU's line will be proficient enough. Night games in Tiger Stadium carry their own weight, as does the fact that Les Miles is 10-1 following a loss…it's been four years since the Tigers have lost back-to-back games. With the nod to Matt Moscona of 104.5 ESPN in Baton Rouge, when Mettenberger is in the shotgun he's a far better passer (not that it seems to help his receivers from dropping passes). Against Florida, Mettenberger was 5/12 for 114 and an INT from the shotgun. Not that good, you say – perhaps. Until you factor that four of those incompletions were dropped passes; from the shotgun, Mettenberger's efficiency is closer to 9/12. Quick note to Carolina: that's against a Florida defensive that likes to play fast/aggressive football. Expect to see a lot of Hurst and a lot more of Mettenberger in the shotgun. Not to mention a lot of running out of the shotgun, particularly in the second half. Moreover, this is the best defense Connor Shaw has ever played against…on the road…at night…vs. a wounded Tigers team that's backed into a corner…growling… Good luck with that…
Pick: LSU 20, South Carolina 14
2) Tennessee vs. Mississippi State, Saturday, 9:00 PM ET I ESPN2. Dooley missed part of this week with hip surgery; he'll coach from the booth Saturday. We wish coach well, but this is a career game for Dooley. The natives are restless in Knoxville; with Bama and at Carolina up next, lose this one and slip gently to 0-5 in conference play, and that's about it for Derek. You're supposed to lose to Bama…couldn't you have waited five days and done a "hip surgery" on Sunday? The Vols have had the bye week to prepare, but State had Kentucky…so it's a wash. The Bulldogs have surrendered quite a few yards defensively through their first five games, and Tennessee can move the ball. The problem for the Vols is that State's a better than average, very balanced team that plays a good pass defense. While Tennessee has found its running game again, Dooley & Co. still like to chuck the pigskin. (Can you chuck a pigskin???) Regardless, this is the first real test for State, and I expect Tennessee to give them fits in the first half. But a very balanced MSU team playing to the roar of the cowbells will slowly pick apart Tennessee. Keep an eye on turnovers – next to Bama, no one is better at holding onto the ball than State…
Pick: Mississippi State: 28, Tennessee 21
3) Florida vs. Vanderbilt, Saturday, 6:00 PM ET I ESPNU. We called the upset last season, which would have been the first time Vandy had beaten the Gators in Gainsville since the 1940s. Sigh – woulda, coulda. These two programs are going in opposite directions. Florida is maturing under second year head coach Will Muschamp, while even with a senior-laden backfield, Vandy cannot seem to match its offensive production of 2011. Some of that blame should be directed to the offensive line, but Vandy's seasoned receiving corps needs to do more to help out Rodgers. It won't happen against this defense, and no, Florida won't be sleeping…
Pick: Florida 31, Vanderbilt 10
1) South Carolina vs. LSU, Saturday, 8:00 PM ET I ESPN. South Carolina looked so unbeatable against Georgia that people have forgotten they trailed Kentucky at halftime and struggled with Vanderbilt. This is a test to see if the Gamecocks are really as good as they looked last week. As mentioned earlier, LSU needs a solid win as soon as possible during this stretch of games against ranked teams…
Pick: South Carolina 17, LSU 14
2) Tennessee vs. Mississippi State, Saturday, 9:00 PM ET I ESPN2. This is pretty much it for Dooley, isn't it? He desperately needs to beat a ranked team at some point, and with Alabama and South Carolina looming over the next couple of weeks, this is the best chance he'll have. Tennessee should be favored in each of their last four games, but none of those opponents present opportunities for victory that Dooley needs to win over any doubtful Vol fans. Maybe coaching from the booth after hip surgery this week will be a good thing for him. It worked for Paul Petrino and Arkansas last week.
Pick: Mississippi State: 38, Tennessee 31
3) Florida vs. Vanderbilt, Saturday, 6:00 PM ET I ESPNU. We're only picking a third game this week because we have to. Both of these teams are coming off wins, so both schools should be playing with confidence. Florida isn't particularly explosive for a top 5 team. They are 10th in the SEC in total offense, averaging just 373.4 yards per game (Vandy averages 366.2 by comparison) and a low scoring game should give the Commodores a puncher's chance.
Pick: Florida 24, Vanderbilt 10
Russ Mitchell is the lead SEC columnist for CFN. Follow him @russmitchellcfb
Doc Harper covers the SEC for CFN. Follow him @doc_harper