3 SEC QUESTIONS THAT NAG MORE THAN YOUR EX
(i) What was the best performance from last weekend (Team or Player)?
First off, it's not Monte Kiffin's defense. We've been praising poppa K all season, and yes, his front seven did a great job being aggressive and not missing tackles. But as we told you Sunday/Monday, Urban Meyer's right (ow, that hurts): UT did not come to Gainesville to win, but rather to keep the score close (as they darn well should have – See below "What everyone should be talking about"). The Vols' defense played back in coverage, basically taking away the long pass, in favor of giving up 4-5 yards per run (UF averaged 4.7 /ypc). Yes, not being able to get the big play did frustrate Tebow. However, Florida's inability to run up the score had as much to do with UT's "bend-but-don't-break" defense as it did Lane's decision to run (and/or toss short dump passes/screens) 4:1 vs. long throws downfield. UT ran out the clock along with its (remote) opportunity at a W.
However, the best performance goes to Arkansas's QB Ryan Mallett, who in the loss to UGA announced himself as arguably the best QB in the SEC. 408 yards (more than UGA's QB Joe Cox), 5 TDs with no INTs (one less than Cox) against a (marginally) better secondary than Cox faced. Remember, he's not a freshman in terms of years, but this kid doesn't have that much experience – and he just lit up Georgia. It's been two years since Mallet has seen any real action, and that was a few starts as a Michigan backup. In two games at Arkansas, he's almost equaled all of his freshman passing yards (717 vs. 892) and TDs (6 vs. 7), with less INTs (0 vs. 5). Yes, Mr. Mallett, you made a good choice transferring to Arkansas. And the season just got a whole lot more interesting.
Even in a loss, the most impressive performance this weekend was Monte Kiffin's defense that held the heralded Florida offense in check, to the tune of 23 points and a little more than 300 yards. Of course this was the revenge game where Urban Meyer was going to make Lane Kiffin pay for all his smack talk, but Kiffin senior had a different idea. He wasn't going to let the big bully Meyer mess with his little boy. The UT defensive effort was the fatherly equivalent of going over your kid's best friend's house and telling the parents their boy is being too rough on your son. Tebow was pressing too much and Tennessee was extremely well prepared to play against Meyer's spread. If you thought that the 29 point spread was going to be surpassed by halftime, you were not in the minority; but a great defensive effort made a bunch of bookies rich, and helped Lane Kiffin earn some respect from his fan base. At least until he opened his mouth again in the middle of the week.
(ii) Is there something wrong with LSU?
We don't know. You mean right now, or later in the season? There's definitely something wrong with their fans, who seem to want a just-turned 19 year old with five CFB games under his belt to play like a fifth year senior. However, it's hard to ignore that three games in something just ‘aint clicking. Which could pretty much be said about every SEC team outside of Auburn, but LSU – with all that talent – is playing like a caged Tiger (sorry, had to). LSU is right on the cusp of greatness with virtually every unit, but something tangible is missing from all of them. Perhaps that's the story of this LSU team – they're good across the board, but lack that one great unit to hang their hat on. It's deeper than leadership/experience at QB. But whatever "IT" is, this team doesn't have it. It's not coaching either.
Specifically, LSU can't get its running game going, and we've seen lots of sophomoric mistakes from QB Jordan Jefferson (not surprising, given he's a sophomore), like throwing late in the route, struggling on short timing passes (he should have had 4 INTs last Saturday), not always throwing to the right receiver, etc... And the receivers aren't exactly coming back for passes - though that's nitpicking.
On defense, LSU's DTs aren't getting enough pressure on the QB, there are some gaping holes on crossing routes behind the LBs (likely given adaptation to a new defensive scheme), and the Tigers are surrendering way too many 3rd down conversions. And as we've written previously, there's no reason at all this team should be dead last in the nation in KR yards.
Not that there's reason to panic. LSU will have a better season then last year. They've had three opponents who are better than most folks realize. Jefferson's got a whale of an arm, he goes through his progressions well for a young QB, and he's got great size/strength/speed. And we imagine LSU's been keeping some wrinkles in the tank for later in the season. Still, the Bayou Bengals will have to find what's missing to make it to Atlanta; and on that, we're skeptical.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with LSU right now, and the biggest reason why fans should not be concerned is that their QB is only starting his sixth career game this weekend. When fans hear "returning starter", it is usually a positive, but with Jefferson being so young and only starting 2 games in 2008, that's a bit of a red herring. LSU has the most important position on the team played by a kid with five career starts, plus a defense that is learning a new scheme under new Defensive Coordinator John Chavis. It will take some time before they become a dominant force in the SEC.
While it may take some time, LSU is going to be a dominant team before the end of this year. The Tigers should start to hit their stride this weekend against MSU, and begin to build confidence after a solid win in Starkville. They haven't had to be great so far this season to win (you heard me Washington fans), but with the schedule starting to pick up after this weekend, LSU better pick it up as well. The first three games of October are @ Georgia, and home games against Florida and Auburn. LSU will be just fine, and they will turn it on starting in October because there is just too much talent on the field (and just as importantly, the sidelines) to not be a great SEC team each year. Be patient LSU fans, this team could break out at any moment.
(iii) What every SEC fan should be talking about after Week 3, but isn't?
Typically we use this space to highlight a number of small items that aren't getting, but deserve, attention. However, this week we're going Bizarro YPN, and instead pointing out two issues that everyone is talking about, but missing the nail: the deification of Alabama QB Greg McElroy, and the importance of last weekend's Florida/Tennessee game. First Mr. McElroy. Please please please somebody stop the Greg McElroy love train. Every ‘expert' with a yellow #2 pencil trying to sell a newspaper is calling this newbie the next Joe Namath. "Steady under Fire" read one column. Really? I thought fire was supposed to be, you know, hot? McElroy struggled against a VA Tech defense that just let Nebraska ride it like a rented, red-headed step-mule – in Blacksburg, no less. After which he was serviceable in two home games against the Tweedle bros. – Dee & Dum. He's also unlikely to get tested this weekend against Arkansas, as the Hogs proved on Saturday that, yes, there are two sides to a line of scrimmage. And remember, ‘bama's 2009 schedule had a paltry .420 winning percentage in 2008. We at YPN think it a wee bit early to send out the Heisman invitation. McElroy has been average to steady against average to unsteady competition.
As for the Florida/UT game, Meyer, for Pete's sake, zip it@! You're making it worse. This game was all about stature, as we wrote in this column last week. And like it or not, you lost that battle. Sure, maybe your boys were sick, and the Vols were dogging it, and maybe your mom didn't kiss you. But whatever, you look like more of a punk when you make excuses. Just be quiet. Bottom Line – that recruiting machine at UT is in hyper-drive right now pointing out that you're a whiney little you-know-what that rhymes with witch. WHAT ARE YOU DOING??? Stop making excuses. You won the game. Move on.
Though don't kid yourself – a month ago Florida was built up higher than Viagra, and now Kiffin and crew are going to be all over the state of Florida saying, "We're THIS close; all we needed was a (fill in the blank position) like you and we'd have won that game." To go with, "They won't have Superman next season", "Momentum's with us", "You have a better chance seeing the field sooner in Knoxvegas," and "Nobody has connections with the NFL like my daddy Monte." Not to mention that witch thing. Saddle up, Gators. (So yes, playing American Revolutionary War-like, just keeping it close but retreating and yielding the battle, and frustrating the opponent, might in fact just win the war… You think his dad taught him that?)
No reason ease into this one… Florida is going to lose a game this year, and they should no longer be considering a lock to win the SEC Championship. The obvious puzzle piece missing from the Gator this season is the go-to receiver on the outside. Last year there was Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy; this year it's Riley Cooper, David Nelson and Deonte Thompson. Who? Lacking that threat on the outside is hurting the offense, and Florida was exposed by a good physical SEC defense. Florida looked like any other SEC team over the weekend when challenged by a team of SEC athletes. A month ago Florida was built up so much, and after one game it seems that they have been brought back to reality.
No SEC team has won a National Championship in an undefeated season since Tennessee in 1998, and that's because this league is just too tough to go unbeaten. If Florida is not on their A game every week, they will get snake bit at some point. With tough games like @ LSU, Georgia and a very good Arkansas offense, the Gators could struggle if their offense does not start getting big plays on the outside. Right now, Alabama looks like the most complete team in the league, and if Florida got a rematch of last year's SECCG, it could be a toss-up. The SEC is up in the air again, and so is the National Championship for that matter. Florida is still a serious threat in the SEC and BCS, but the rest of the SEC should feel better after three weeks.
IN FOCUS: Which SEC Coach / Player is in the Spotlight this week?
Steve Addazio, Florida. This Offensive Coordinator thing is a lot tougher than running the O-line, isn't it Stevie. Back in the spotlight again. We know the Andre Debose injury set you back on the outside, along with the "Percy Harvin" plays, but come on – ever heard of a game time adjustment?! Run more quick slants to force the secondary to move up. Bang bang, Steve. Do something, brother – we think it's fair to write your career is on the line. With great players come great expectations, and none greater than for this season at UF. Mullen could do it, and the cupboards aren't exactly bear at the skill position. Or you could just keep riding Tebow, who now has more rushes than most of the star TBs in the SEC. That's a recipe for disaster, Stevie. Go back and check out the game tapes from 2007 – particularly Superman's shoulder in that year's Cocktail Party. Best of luck to you. We'll be watching. As will Gator Nation, who's expecting a heavy scoreboard in Kentucky this weekend, Steve. Steve? Best not disappoint.
Jevan Snead, Ole Miss QB. Finally Ole Miss has a game worth watching, and more importantly, worth talking about. Last year Snead turned the ball over twice in a South Carolina victory, one pick and a fumble that was returned for a touchdown by South Carolina defensive linemen Nathan Pepper. The Carolina defense is better this year, and the Rebel O-line is not as good - so it will be up to Snead to limit mistakes and make good decisions. If Snead turns the ball over twice this game, Ole Miss will lose. If he turns it over fewer than two times, Ole Miss might win. Thursday night games in Columbia are not easy; Auburn played as a top 5 team back in 2006 on a Thursday night and barely sneaked out with a victory. Snead has to play well tonight for the Rebs to get the W.
SEC POWER RANKINGS
1 Florida – Shhh. Instead, spend the time helping your rookie OC
2 Alabama – We should expect the McElroy for Heisman ads after this D
3 Ole Miss – What? Are they finally playing someone?
4 LSU – Will the real LSU please stand up
5 Auburn (up from 6) – Time to rest up before a trip to test Monte's D
6 Georgia (up from 7) – No truth to the rumor students are applying for DB jobs
7 Arkansas (down from 5) – The other Maginot Line
8 South Carolina – Been a long Sept for the 'Cocks
9 Tennessee (up from 10) – "Hey Urban, can you hear me now?"
10 Kentucky (up from 11) – To have a chance, Cobb better get 30 touches
11 MSU (up from 12) – Like 1 for 17 against LSU. Make that 1 for 18
12 Vanderbilt (down from 9) – You hear that? Vandy's expectations crashing to earth (x2)
1 Florida – How does Meyer end up making Kiffin look better after a loss?
2 Alabama – Looking stronger ea. week; SEC opener should be a statement
3 LSU – Give us the complete game this weekend, Fightin' Tigers
4 Ole Miss – No comment until they beat a decent team
5 Georgia (up from 6) – Mallett just threw another TD against your D
6 Auburn (up from 8) – Look capable running/throwing; cake this week, UT next
7 South Carolina – Third gut check game for Spurrier in September
8 Arkansas (down from 5) – Cox just threw another TD pass against your D
9 Tennessee – How does Kiffin ruin his first chance to be the bigger man?
10 Kentucky (up from 11) – Randall Cobb = stud.
11 MSU (up from 12) – 1st SEC win for Mullen; A. Dixon is fun to watch
12 Vanderbilt (down from 10) – The QB situation looked like a strength in August; now, not so much
THREE GAMES TO DVR
1) Arkansas at Alabama, September 26th. We knew Arkansas's secondary was going to be weak, but more than half of Georgia's TDs were for greater than 20 yards – with a few 40 yarders thrown in for good measure. This is for certain – you're not winning a shootout against Alabama's defense. Anywhere; let alone at Bryant Denny. Buckle that chinstrap, Mallett.
Alabama 38, Arkansas 17
2) Ole Miss at South Carolina, September 24th. In a weekend full of tough games to handicap (around the country), this one might take the cake. In large part because given the weak competition they've played to date, we really don't know much yet about this Reb team (think Arkansas's secondary before last week). Still, SC's D has been inconsistent, and with stud LB Eric Norwood banged up, and given the skill position players on the Ole Miss offense, we're going with the more experienced QB.
Ole Miss 24, South Carolina 21
3) LSU at MSU, September 26th. All eyes will be on Starkville – not to see if the Bulldogs can win, but to see if the Tigers wake up from their sleepwalking. This is UT/Florida all over again (margin of victory watch), minus the side show. (Keep an eye on the LSU D-line, which is a bit banged up.)
LSU 28, MSU 10
1) Arkansas at Alabama, September 26th. The most consistent theme with Arkansas football this year is going to be offense, offense from the Hogs and offense from their opponents. I felt that the defense was going to improve with an extra year under Petrino and that was a flat our wrong assumption. While Alabama is not going to throw the ball the same way that UGA did last week, they are going to out physical the Razorbacks en route to a blowout victory.
Alabama 37, Arkansas 21
2) Ole Miss at South Carolina, September 24th. Would you rather be a team that has been tested or a team has the confidence of a top five team and favorite? In this match up I like the team that has played two tough road games and has been tested two ways. The Carolina defense has had to hold onto a lead in the fourth quarter and they have had to drive the length of the field for a winning TD. That experience will give the Gamecocks the edge over a team that has played no one this year and we don't know a thing about. .
South Carolina 28, Ole Miss 27
3) LSU at MSU, September 26th. Is this the week that LSU puts it all together? We have seen glimpses of great defense and glimpses of great offense, but similar to UGA, they have not put together a complete game. This is the week they put that great game together, MSU is coming off a road win over Vandy and should be playing with some confidence after being away from Starkville for two weeks. Expect Rahim Alem to have another breakout game and he sets the tone for a defense that will not give up a TD.
LSU 31, MSU 9
Yell at Brian: Brian Harbach
Yell at Russ: Russ Mitchell
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Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Two, September 10, 2009
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week One, September 3, 2009