3 SEC QUESTIONS THAT NAG MORE THAN YOUR EX
(i) What was the best performance from last weekend (Team or Player)?
Well, we could go with SC's Stephen Garcia coming of age between the hedges, or with Florida's TimTebow – anyone who scores four passing TDs (6, 36, 33, 32), plus another one rushing in a little more than a half a game warrants some kudos, even if this isn't your Daddy's Troy (Trojans were dismantled 31-14 in Week 1 by a subway stop in lower Manhattan (Bowling Green)). We also considered giving it to LSU/Les Miles – 31 consecutive Saturday night wins in Death Valley is impressive by any standard. Until that standard recognizes that LSU often plays its weaker opponents under the soft rays of moonlight. Last year, the Tigers were 0-3 in SEC home day games. And we could go with Auburn's QB - ah, WR (?) - no wait - RB Kodi Burns, and his four TDs (three rushing, one passing). If he keeps this up, we'll have to start spelling his name without a space. Good for you, Mr. Burns.
However, is there really any doubt: it's deeper than just Burns. As we reminded SEC fans back in August (Most underrated team in the SEC West), there was a dearth of preseason ink circling the War Eagles, which was tough to understand given the talent base built from years of solid recruiting. And yes, it's only two games against average competition. But Auburn's offense has simply dominated. Don't kid yourself, MSU's problem is not defense – sure it's rebuilding, but it still ended last season ranked 35th in the nation. And yet Gus Malzahn & crew made it look like a middle-rung Sun Belt unit Saturday, notching nearly 600 yards and 49 points, off 8.3 /ypp and 6.6 /ypc. 600 yards against an SEC defense. But it's more than that. This team believes in this coaching staff – which believes in itself. After taking a 14-0 lead, the Tigers surrendered 17 straight points to start the 2Q. That would have been enough to derail last year's program. But not this one, which reeled off 28 unanswered point on its way to the blow out W. It's early, and there are absolutely bumps in the road for this program – there are simply too many moving parts. And there's time for its players to lose faith. But Auburn's offense has had the best performance in conference.
Did anyone really think Auburn was going to lose either of their first two games? Outside of the most biased Alabama fans, most expected Auburn to be 2-0. However, what is so shocking is how with virtually the same personnel as 2008, Auburn looks not only like a competent offense, but one that's pretty darn effective. Last week, Auburn beat Mississippi State 49-24, a team it defeated only 3-2 in 2008. This season's Auburn offense racked up nearly 600 yards – almost 400 of that rushing against an SEC defense. Yes, Mississippi State is a rebuilding program right now, but it is still an SEC team and they have SEC talent; so for Auburn to put up those kinds of numbers is significant.
Two games in and Auburn has the top two rushers in the SEC: senior Ben Tate and true freshmen Onterio McCalebb. Tate is the seventh ranked rusher in the nation, while McCalebb is ninth. The Auburn offense is ranked 2nd nationally in rushing at 345 yards /game, and 4th in the nation in total offense. Against the MSU Bulldogs, Auburn racked up six offensive TDs; it took four SEC games before last year's Tigers had scored 6 offensive touchdowns. Gus Malzahn is without a doubt a man with a plan. He has come in and identified the strengths (and weaknesses) of the offense, and his version of the spread works to the strengths of this team. But again, Auburn fans expected to win the first four games this season – October is where the tests truly begin. Though this strong start on offense has already made those games more interesting.
(ii) What is Lane Kiffin thinking right now?
Y'all remember the Great Florida Massacre of 2009, right? I know it wasn't the Gator nation's finest hour, given the butchery… But it bears remembering, if only to learn from Lt. Colonel Lane Kiffin's mistakes, and not repeat the horror. Not unlike the CiTrUs Revolts of 1995-7, in 2009 the Volunteers – a proud Cavalry unable to score "7", lacking a full complement of ammo, and guided by a youthful commander – found themselves in it way too deep (the Florida Swamp territory that is, settled by generations of Gators). Indeed, one could say they were over the top of Colonel Kiffin's rocky head.
You see, Colonel Kiffin had aggravated the Gators something fierce, by challenging/calling out their leader, Urban Little Feather, as a coward in battle. Not once, but twice! Oh my. Hell hath no fury like a Little Feather scorned. And so the Volunteer Cavalry marched – every one of them – straight into the snapping jaws of an obvious trap left by the Gators (who, to no one's surprise, sprung it!), in what was to become known as The Battle of Little Bigmouth… When the dust had settled, not a valiant Vol man, woman or child was left standing. All 45 - 0 survived. The carnage was so shocking – so disturbing, that the U.S. Government stepped in and, working with both the Gators and Volunteers, and the Southeastern Conference Council of Elders, established several laws to ensure that such carnage would never again stain our fair land. Chief among these being (i) boys under 35 years of age shall henceforth be forbidden from back-talking their elders – even if they're from a different "nation"; and particularly those elders who have already won one – not to mention two – National Championships.
For the sake of the UT faithful, we hope this is not Kiffin's Last Stand – and given the recruiting successes this past year (and weekend), and Big Papi's D coaching, we think that highly unlikely. But it will mark the end of Capt. J. Crompton, who will be stripped of his rank and command after this debacle. The Vols will want to put this nightmare far behind them, and move forward to a brighter day. It is perhaps this episode's greatest tragedy that a faithful but outclassed loyal soldier will bear the brunt of this Saturday's stain, and not Kiffin – who deserves it. But let's hope it stings enough to serve as a reminder the next time Lane wants to mouth off. Then again, it does make for good copy.
Lucky for me there is no thinking involved in this question. I know exactly what's in Kiffin's head, thanks to a hidden camera I placed in his office a couple months ago. Surprisingly, Kiffin sounded exactly like another Southern California icon, Jim Rome, as he addressed himself Tuesday standing before a mirror after the Volunteers' practice. The following paragraph was Kiffin's "Lou Holtz Pep Talk", as he tried to psyche himself up for the weekend. Sad.
"What's up LK! (Harbach Note: For some reason Kiffin refers to himself repeatedly as LK, or "The Kiff".) Great job getting Urban Meyer exactly where you want him for the game in Gainesville this weekend. It was an epic stroke of genius having J-Crompt toss all those picks against UCLA to lull Meyer into thinking we are a bad…ERRRRRRR…terrible football team. Your perfect plan is falling into place perfectly, beyond even your wildest wild dreams. The Gators think we're gonna walk in and lie down, but LK don't play that way – LK is all about the element of surprise... SURPRISE! And the Vols are going to SHOCK THE WORLD! You've got the players that Meyer wanted but couldn't get. You have the coaches Meyer wanted, but who didn't want to work for him. And forget the Heisman, bra' – you got a QB who's the low down best actor in the SEC, baby. Mr. Oscar! J-Crompt may look to the unsuspecting eye like a Q-B who can't hit water falling out of a boat, but LK knows better; he's about to go all Peyton Manning postal up inside ‘dem Gators. Manning was awesome at Tennessee; I bet he beat Florida a bunch of times. I should mention how awesome Manning was against Florida next time some scribe asks me how well J-Crompt's gonna play.
"They will be like…'LK, how is J-Crompt going to play?' And I am gonna bust out, ‘J-Crompt is Hella Cool, bra'. He's gonna go off all over the FLA just like Peyton Manning.' That oughta leave the media speechless. My Vols gonna run so many trick plays, so many fake punts, so many things Meyer ‘aint never heard of – Wish they all could be Califoniaaaaa moves! And LK's boys will be heading home from the Swamp with a victory in hand, and every recruit in the land!"
(iii) What every SEC fan should be talking about after Week 2, but isn't?
Well, that leaves out anything to do with Georgia's amazing Brandon Boykin, the massacre in waiting, or whether Auburn's offense can move the pigskin... (i) Let's start with this – UT didn't want that safety! 2 points meant nothing – the Vols still needed a TD, and 35 seconds would have been worth forcing a punt from the back of the end zone. UT would have gotten the ball in much better position to score – likely inside the Bruin's 40, instead of their own 40. And since moving the ball was an issue, distance trumped time. Sure, Neuheisel could have milked the clock and still had the punter step out the back of the end zone. But he's not that smart, and in the heat of the battle, based on the game decisions we witnessed Saturday, we doubt he'd have pulled that trigger, (ii) While we're on the matter of smarts – Crompton deserves all the blame he can shoulder, but where was the adult supervision there? Exactly what kind of "lessons" did Kiffin and Ed Orgeron learn about UCLA coaching in So Cal? Hard to imagine it was the HB Dive on two consecutive goal line plays. What kind of lurnin' was that, a remedial class? (iii) SC's Stephen Garcia in the 1Q of Saturday's contest between the hedges: 10-of-16, 103 yards, 2 TDs – plus a bomb TD that was called back. Welcome to the SEC, young man. Now don't steal anyone's computer, (iv) Staying with Garcia, is it just us, or does he look like he's stumbling when he runs? (v) Ole Miss's All-SEC DE Greg Hardy will likely be held out of Saturday's "Flu Who?" game, thanks to a sprained ankle. Such a shame it had to happen now, what with powerhouse Southeastern Louisiana storming Oxford. The horror, (vi) Wake us up when the Rebs play somebody with a pulse, (vii) ESPN on SEC – neat logo. As long as it doesn't have mouse ears. We're keeping a close eye on you, Mickey! Don't mess with our football!! (viii) Vandy lost two starters for the season in Red Stick: free safety Ryan Hamilton (co-captain and senior) to a torn pectoral muscle, and right tackle James Williams to a broken ankle. Is it just us, or does the Tigers' Defense regularly beat the snot outta people, even in losses? Not calling them dirty, and Lord knows we appreciate smashmouth football more than the next guy… But they do lift up the skirt a bit, (ix) Sticking with that LSU defense, for those trumpeting its demise, the Tigers held the Dores to 4-of-15 on 3rd down conversions, only 88 passing yards, and just one TD. Check please, and (x) Hotty Toddy, Gosh almighty! After spending much of last year with no presence in the Top 20 for Total Offense, at this moment we have four teams basking in the O glory (Florida 1, Arkansas 3, Auburn 4, & Alabama 14). ‘course, you say, for the most part we haven't started beating up on ourselves yet. Don't be a hater.
We have been sworn to secrecy for the last two weeks regarding this topic, so we haven't written about it yet. But why not break the rules today. Few fans in the SEC are really talking about Arkansas right now, and don't be surprised if the entire league is discussing them come Sunday. Sure, Russ has been high on the Hog since March, but who listens to him. Saturday could very well be Bobby Petrino's SEC coming out party, with a great opportunity to defeat an SEC blueblood. With two weeks to prepare and a glorified practice under his belt, rest assured Petrino will find the weaknesses in the UGA defense, and he has the offensive weapons now to execute his game plan. Ryan Mallett is destined for big things in this conference. Michael Smith is an All-SEC running back. And Jarius Wright is in dyer need for some national attention.
This game will come down to a single thing: can Joe Cox drive against an Arkansas defense in need of a statement game. The Razorback offense is good enough to score points on this Georgia defense (See: Saturday, Sep. 12, Athens). But the Hog's D still has a lot to prove. Last week it seemed obvious to all that the UGA/South Carolina game was going to be a low-scoring slugfest ("missed by that much"); this weekend we're expecting the outcome we eventually got last week. There will be 70 points scored in this game, and neither defense will look very good. Arkansas can win this game; they probably should, at least according to Vegas, who has them a one point fave. If they do, the under-the-radar Razorbacks will be gone, and the ranked-Razorbacks will be back in Hog heaven.
IN FOCUS: Which SEC Coach / Player is in the Spotlight this week?
Urban Meyer, Florida. Put the pedal to the metal. Really, there's little else to write here. We could break down the matchups – each Tennessee weakness and its corresponding Gator strength. But you've already read a dozen of those articles, and besides, it misses the point. None of that really matters. Florida's going to win. The real question is by how much? Lane Kiffin basically called you and your program a punk. Period. If you lose this game – actually, it's worse than that. If you don't embarrass Tennessee, which is what everyone's expecting, there's a good chance it will be perceived as a victory for the Vols. And if you pull up, you'll be branded weak. If either happens, Tennessee will make swift and deep inroads into Florida's fertile recruiting ground. It's happening already… The cupboards are thinner in Knoxville – better chance to see the field sooner, Mr. 5 star wonder. Kiffin and Coach O are masterful recruiters, and have never seen a recruiting rule they couldn't stretch like silly putty as good as the best of ‘em (and yes, you're near the top of that short list, Urban). And it's time to step aside, Saban – there is NO ONE coaching in the SEC whose word carries more weight in the NFL than Daddy Kiffin. This game Saturday is all about stature. It's about street cred. And ultimately, it's about recruiting - the lifeblood of championships. Florida needs to win, and win big. And when push comes to shove, Meyer's the man who must drop the hammer. Why do we think he won't be shy.
Urban Meyer, Florida. The one man to keep your eyes on this week is Urban Meyer and that may seem a little odd, but once again he is presented with an opportunity to do something to a team that he feels has wronged him. There is no point in rehashing what went on the last 9 months between Kiffin and Florida, but it will be interesting to see how aggressive Meyer is with his revenge. Everyone remembers the timeouts from last year against Georgia to run up the score, does Meyer do the same thing again against Tennessee? Does he forgo punting the ball and decide to go for it on 4th down all game or does he try to show some respect and act like the bigger man to the players on the Tennessee sideline who have said nothing? It will be very interesting to see how the game in the swamp plays out on Saturday.
SEC POWER RANKINGS
1 Florida – Anyone got a match?
2 Alabama – Must play better than that in conference
3 Ole Miss – Welcome back! Now just don't touch us
4 LSU – Is it a night game?
5 Arkansas – Arrrrre you reeeeaddddy to RRUUUUMMMBBLEEE???
6 Auburn – Will the real Auburn football team please stand up
7 Georgia – Tick. Tock.
8 South Carolina (up from 9) – Finally a QB! Or are we so desp. we're still early?
9 Vanderbilt (up from 10) – You hear that? V. expectations crashing to earth
10 Tennessee (down from 8) – CODE RED! Bring a crash cart
11 Kentucky – Bobby Petrino's Cardinal offen- Oh yeah. Cats win.
12 MSU – Quoting Harbach, "Play the Freshman. Play the Freshmen. Play the..."
1 Florida – Will Florida have more punts or 4th down attempts?
2 Alabama – Uninspiring in an OOC game again, but turned it on in the 2nd half
3 LSU – D woke last week against Vandy; offense napped on occasion
4 Ole Miss – SE Louisiana? Where is that again? Embarrassing, Reb fans.
5 Arkansas – Shh… Hogs may be for real, but we're supposed to be quiet
6 Georgia – The UGA wheels are shaking, but they haven't fallen off yet
7 Auburn (up from 8) –Same personnel as 2008, totally different results. How important is coaching?
8 SC (down from 7) – Good thing SC gets a bye; that loss will be tough to swallow
9 Tennessee – Thank you sir, may I have another?
10 Vanderbilt – Injuries are starting to pile up for a team that cannot afford them
11 Kentucky – How often does a team get to end the career of its rival's coach?
12 MSU – Let's be honest MSU, this is a rebuilding year. PUT THE FRESHMEN ON THE FIELD
THREE GAMES TO DVR
1) Georgia at Arkansas, September 19th. We called this game weeks ago, and we're now even more confident the matchups play in Arkansas' favor. Georgia gathers it walking and weary wounded and travels to Fayetteville for a nationally televised night game. Do they have television in R-Kansas? Settle down, Hog fan – I'm on the bandwagon. Been screaming about the promise of this season since the Florida game last year. That's right – when the Hogs showed us for three quarters they could compete – and with the eventual National Champion to boot. Just didn't have the horses for the fourth quarter. Well guess what, the stable's crowded now, Bucky, and UGA's no Florida. It's worth noting that QBs Mallet and Tyler Wilson combined for 447 yards passing in game one – breaking an Arkansas record. And they did so passing to 13 different receivers. Moreover, they have different styles – all of which means Georgia has some extra game planning this week. Tick tock. Is it Thursday already? My how time flies. It's a coming out party for the Hogs this Saturday – and Bobby's the Belle of the Ball. Bobby Ball. Hogs Roll. Roll Hogs Roll. (Note: If Arkansas dominates UGA like we expect, and baring injuries, we're on record – they beat ‘bama in Tuscaloosa next week.)
Arkansas 35, Georgia 17
2) Tennessee at Florida, September 19th. How many gassers do you think the Florida D will have to run for every point they allow? You mean you haven't thought about that yet?
Florida 45, Tennessee 0
3) West Virginia at Auburn, September 19th. Flash back a year ago – this was it. It was this game a year ago when we knew the wheels had fallen off. When it was clear we had ourselves a train wreck. This is a tough game to break down. We still don't know much about the Auburn defense, which found itself down to MSU at one point (though that included a Special Teams gaffe). And there are even more unknowns about WVU. Bottom line – we favor Auburn's competition and production. Not to mention this will be the first trip south of the Tennessee River for many of the Mountaineers; and the first time playing in an SEC stadium in a long while. Sorry D-Wade Stadium – Starkville doesn't really count this decade. (Sit down and be quiet until you prove it on the field.)
Auburn 38, West Virginia 24
Record 5-1 (Thanks J-Crompt, for that passionate display of excellence.)
1) Tennessee at Florida, September 19th. This score may look familiar to Georgia, since it was the spanking the Dawgs received after showing up Urban Meyer. That was a good but underachieving UGA team; this is a Tennessee team that couldn't beat UCLA at home. This game is going to be ugly, there are going to be lots of turnovers, lots of personal fouls, and lots of huffing at the other team. I don't envy the officials one second for having to handle this one.
Florida 49, Tennessee 10
2) Georgia at Arkansas, September 19th. This is a big test for Arkansas and Bobby Petrino. A win here means this team is ready for a big year, and is no longer a sleeper team in the SEC West. A loss means they are likely still a year away from being where they want to be. With a bye week, and Georgia already playing a game where it had to play its entire offense to win, Arkansas may be better prepared for this one than people think. A pumped up night crowd in Fayetteville will enjoy Ryan Mallett's national coming out party.
Arkansas 38, Georgia 31
3) West Virginia at Auburn, September 19th. Last year, this was the game when Auburn fans knew that Tommy Tuberville had lost his team. Auburn quit in the second half in a nationally televised Thursday night affair. Auburn gets a chance at revenge this year with a new staff, a new offense and a different atmosphere for West Virginia to play in. No sofas on fire down here, boys. The same formula the last two weeks will work in this game, Auburn will run the ball at will against an undersized WVU defense, and Kodi Burns will have another big game out of the Wildcat formation. This will not be the week the Auburn offense is slowed down.
Auburn 34, West Virginia 26
Yell at Brian: Brian Harbach
Yell at Russ: Russ Mitchell
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Two, September 10, 2009
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week One, September 3, 2009