By: Barrett Sallee
In an attempt to move on from the absurdity of discussing a penalty that DIDN'T cost Georgia a football game, Three & Out looks ahead. Week six is where the SEC really kicks into high gear with some of the most anticipated matchups of the season. Can LSU upset the mighty Gators at home? Can Ole Miss re-establish itself as an SEC West contender? Is Auburn capable of handling pressure the newfound target on their backs? Here are the three biggest story lines to keep an eye on in week six:
Missing The Point
Everyone hopes that Florida QB Tim Tebow is healthy and able to play vs. LSU Saturday night. And, if he's not cleared by the doctors, he needs to take a seat on the bench. A concussion is not something to mess around with. The 24/7 Tebow Watch is a bit much; but hey, the guy is one of the greatest college football players of all time and his team is going on the road in their toughest game of the year. So, I'm not as annoyed by the coverage as others seem to be. But the focus on Tim Tebow has drawn attention away from what will be the number one factor in the Florida/LSU game Saturday night – will the Tigers be able to move the ball on the Gators?
Not a chance.
Want proof? Take a look at where the two units rank in the SEC. The LSU offense currently ranks last in the SEC in total offense (321.6 ypg), Florida has the best defense in the league (212.8 ypg). The Tigers are 10th in scoring offense (27 ppg), the Gators top the league in scoring defense (7.2 ppg). LSU is 10th in rushing offense (135 ypg), Florida is second in rushing defense (92.8 ypg). The Tigers are ninth in passing offense (186.2 ypg), the Gators boast the best pass defense in the league (120 ypg). LSU is seventh in the league in first downs (18.6 per game), Florida has allowed the fewest in the league (12.5 per game). The Tigers are the 10th most efficient team in the league in the red zone, scoring 77.8 percent of the time; Florida is the third-stingiest team in the league in red zone defense, allowing their opponents to score points 71.4 percent of the time.
Last year, the LSU defense took the blame for the Tigers tailspin down the stretch. They rectified that problem during the off-season, hiring former Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis to lead the defense back. For the most part, he's been okay. The Tigers are 40th in the nation in total defense. But, while the defense has been improving, the LSU offense has obviously regressed.
Playing night games in Baton Rouge is as an intimidating environment as any in college football. But the numbers don't lie, the offense of No. 4 LSU is grossly out-matched by the defense of No. 1 Florida. If the Valley shakes on Saturday night, it will take an performance of epic proportions from the Tiger offense.
Losing when you're a top five team against an unranked opponent is bad. Losing when you're a top five team against an unranked opponent on national TV is worse. Losing when you're a top five team against an unranked opponent on national TV when you're the only game on TV is devastating. That's exactly what happened to Ole Miss two weeks ago; and the speed in which they were forgotten by the public and the pollsters made tire marks similar to Doc Brown's DeLorean.
Welcome back to the national spotlight Rebels. A better performance this week would be helpful.
Ole Miss hosts Alabama on Saturday afternoon in a game that still holds title ramifications for both teams. Despite the loss to South Carolina, Ole Miss is still alive and well in the SEC West race. With only one loss and all five SEC West opponents remaining on their schedule, the Rebels control their own destiny.
Ole Miss enters this game sputtering a bit on offense. Second team All-SEC QB Jevan Snead hasn't had the greatest start to his season, completing only 51.4 percent of his passes. But, the junior got off to a slow start last year too, entering week six with as many interceptions (8) as touchdowns. If the Rebels want to seriously contend for the SEC West title, he's going to have to improve upon that completion percentage.
A valiant Ole Miss comeback fell short against Bama last year, in a 24-20 Rebel loss in Tuscaloosa. That was in mid-October...and was the last loss of the Rebels 2008 campaign. This year, the Rebels really need to turn that L into a W; or, at the very least, come up with a competitive performance. Otherwise, they will fade back to a place where they've spent the majority of their existence since the divisional split in 1992 – SEC obscurity.
From The Hunter, To The Hunted
The No. 17 Auburn Tigers continue their October gauntlet with a high-noon battle against Arkansas on Saturday afternoon. New head coach Gene Chizik has harped all season on the theme that every game is only one round of a 12-game fight. Now that Auburn is winning the fight, how will they react?
A full calendar year has passed since the Auburn Tigers last made an appearance in the national polls. My, how things have changed since then. Chizik has led his team to a 5-0 start, and within one game of bowl eligibility. But, during all five of those games, the Tigers were fighting for respect. Chizik has proven that his team can play as underdogs. What's yet-to-be-determined how his team plays with the target on its back. With the exception of 2004, Auburn had a tendency to drop games they shouldn't during the Tuberville regime (often to Arkansas). We'll find out soon enough if Chizik has reversed that curse.
Auburn's game vs. Tennessee last weekend pitted strength against strength, with the Tigers' high-powered offense squaring off against stout D of the Volunteers. Auburn's game this week vs. Arkansas is the exact opposite. Both Arkansas and Auburn feature potent offenses, but questionable defenses.
The Tigers defense showed signs of improvement last weekend vs. Tennessee. Granted, a middle school defense could look good vs. the Volunteers, so that's not much of a compliment. But still, while the stat sheet doesn't look overly impressive on the defensive side of the ball, the Tigers defense controlled the game from the opening whistle. Nearly half of the Volunteers 410 yards were gained in the fourth quarter while the Tigers were playing with a sizable lead. What should be concerning for Auburn fans, however, is that the Tigers defense, which is predicated on playing aggressive and forcing turnovers, managed only one against the Vols. Need I remind you that Jonathan Crompton still plays for them?
The Razorbacks are coming off a dominant 47-19 win over Texas A&M. Or was it? The Razorbacks were out-gained, out-first downed, passed for fewer yards, forced fewer turnovers and held the ball for a shorter period of time than the Aggies...and won by four touchdowns. Hey, whatever works.
While all the attention this week will be focused on the offenses of these two clubs, defense will be the most important factor. As the old axiom goes, "defense wins championships." Even though neither of these teams boasts a championship-caliber defense right now, that adage will, once again, hold true.
Barrett Sallee covers the SEC for www.CollegeFootballNews.com. He can be reached at email@example.com, or on Twitter at http://twitter.com/BSallee_CFN
Three & Out Archive:
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – October 7, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – October 4, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes - September 30, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes - September 27, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes - September 23, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes - September 21, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes - September 17, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes - September 13, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes - September 10, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes - September 7, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes - September 3, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Media Days, Day 3 – July 24, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Media Days, Day 2 – July 23, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Media Days, Day 1 – July 22, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – April 16, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – April 12, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – April 9, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – April 3, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – March 30, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – March 26, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – March 18, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – March 15, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – March 11, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – March 7, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – March 3, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – February 28, 2009
Click here for the 2009 blog archive