3 SEC QUESTIONS THAT NAG MORE THAN YOUR EX
(i) What was the best performance from last weekend (Team or Player)?
We could go with LSU's QB Jordan Jefferson, who was a fumble through the end zone away from a Tebowian performance against Auburn (21/31, 242 yards, 2 TDs, plus 50 yards rushing w/ 1 TD); however, that fumble at the goal line hurts. We could go with USC's QB Stevie Garcia (22/33, 312 yards, 2 TDs), but they were losing at home in the 4Q – to Vandy. Or we could go with the Mountain Man Child that is ‘bama DT Terrence Cody, for his game saving blocked FG; however, he had zero solo tackles to go with just two assists, it was 3-4 Tennessee, in Bryant-Denny, and everyone outside the 205 knows Alabama should have lost that one. But is there really any doubt: the Reb's Dexter McCluster set career rushing and receiving marks in the Ole Miss win over Arkansas. 260 combined yards, though it was more than just the numbers. His performance was simply deflating for Arkansas. Right from the first series, he nearly single-handedly won this game. Don't believe Jevan Snead's numbers – if you watched this contest, you know it was all about Dexter.
The Reverend Houston Nutt finally had his prayers answered last weekend, as he figured out the key to the Rebs' offense – the player that makes Ole Miss go is Dexter McCluster. A consistent knock on Nutt has been his inability to develop quarterbacks (see Jevan Snead, 2009), to go with his not getting the ball to his playmakers enough. McCluster is the best offensive threat Ole Miss has, and against Arkansas he recorded his first touchdown since the season opener. He also had twice as many touches (29) as he has in any other game this season, which resulted in 137 yards receiving and 123 rushing.
The Razorbacks had no clue how to handle McCluster, as he busted them up for big play after big play, including a screen pass he broke open for a 64 yard TD. Dexter is one of the most dynamic playmakers in the SEC, and his lack of touches up to last Saturday has been frustrating. Don't expect him to be ignored any longer, since Jevan Snead has taken three steps back this season, after his one step forward in 2008. Against Auburn, McCluster should surpass his yardage total from last week, as long as he gets similar reps. If he doesn't get 25 touches, Houston Nutt may not be allowed back to the state of Mississippi.
(ii) Over the last month what has been more disappointing… Tim Tebow or the Alabama Offense?
While he should absolutely be off everyone's Heisman list, how can you be disappointed with Tebow given his concussion, and the fact Florida's offense is basically him this year? Just go back and look at his pre/post-concussion production. Frack that – look back at 3.5 YEARS OF PRODUCTION – now, compare that to post-concussion. He's not healthy, and don't let anything Mr. Tebow tells you (or tells his doctors for that matter) convince you otherwise. Don't be shocked to see Tebow improve gradually over the next five weeks, as things become clearer to the concussed superstar.
The most disappointing, if not unexpected, SEC development in the past month has been Alabama's offense, particularly its passing game. To best appreciate the decline, it's important to break the season to date into halves. After a relatively easy start, the Tide's O rankings have dropped each week (outside of Ingram); for example, Alabama is now ranked 84th in Passing (from 33rd after 4 games), and 34th in Total (from 8th after 4 games).
Yet at this point in the 2008 season, Alabama was actually worse statistically in Passing and Total Offense, if it was playing better. So, what's different? Why does it appear Alabama is playing materially worse on offense?
Clearly, the weaker first half is skewing the numbers/perception, but it's more simple than that. Last year, ‘bama had the much more experienced (if not more talented) John Parker Wilson under center, and teams (including ‘bama) don't respect Greg McElroy the way they did JPW. JPW was far from perfect, but he had seen many an SEC defense, and was able to make the crucial throw when it counted – something McElroy has proven unable to do. By extension, JPW was able to get Julio Jones involved – again, something McElroy has been unable to do. Which gets LBs off the line... (Imagine how good Ingram would be with a passing game?) Outside of the kicking game, this lack of confidence in McElroy has dynamically affected Alabama's complete offensive performance – not just the passing game.
We have been cautioning SEC fans since before the season began not to get too excited about Alabama, given its weak schedule and one-dimensional offense. Fortunately for ‘bama fans, they face only one more tough defense before a potential rematch with Florida in the SEC Championship game. However, what you have been witnessing the past four weeks is the real Alabama offense. McElroy is unlikely to improve materially in the next four weeks. Doubts about his ability will persist. It is unlikely this great defense alone will be enough to beat a top ten bowl opponent on a neutral field, let alone Florida.
Tebow is going to be given the benefit of the doubt on this one because of the concussion, and the inability of the Florida receivers to threaten downfield the way they have in the past. However, Alabama's struggles with offensive production this past month have been concerning, primarily because there is an abundance of talented players at the skill positions. Pre-season All American receiver Julio Jones has defined the term "Sophomore Slump", with only 229 receiving yards and a single touchdown. Jones had two receptions or fewer in four of the seven games he's played (he missed the North Texas game), including ZERO against South Carolina. Aside from Jones, there is a ton of talent on the Alabama offense. In fact, Mark Ingram is being touted as the best Alabama Heisman candidate since 1993. And there are the other gifted pass catchers, like Marquis Maze, Colin Peek and Darius Hanks – all of whom are good SEC players.
The failure of the offense sits sadly on the shoulders of first year starter Greg McElroy, who seems to have regressed immensely in the month of October. McElroy isn't hurting Alabama, but he sure isn't helping them. And it's only because his defense (and Ingram) have saved him. Nine touchdowns and 3 interceptions are decent numbers for a team that is rushing as well as Alabama. However, McElroy has not passed for more than 148 yards since the Arkansas game in September, and the Hogs are last in the conference in both Pass Defense and Total Defense. During that four game stretch (as Russ notes, against tougher opposition), McElroy has 2 TD passes and 2 interceptions, and perhaps just as importantly, there have been zero big plays out of the Alabama passing game. It appeared after the Razorbacks game that McElroy was poised for a break-out season; perhaps he was reading too many of his own press clippings. Perhaps all of us were. Regardless, the defense and running game are good enough to play in a BCS Championship, but the quarterback position is too flawed at this point to make them a favorite for any championship.
(iii) What every SEC fan should be talking about after Week Eight, but isn't?
Well that leaves out anything to do with Alabama's offense, the World's Largest Outdoor Adult Beverage Party, and I hope we're finally done whining about officiating… (i) Q: Why do so many folks think Florida and Alabama will play in the SEC Championship Game? A: They're both ranked in the top two of of the conference's Total Offense / Defense, and Scoring Offense / Defense, (ii) Q: Why do so many folks think Florida will win? A: The Gators are ranked #1 in all four, (iii) Oh wait – that's right. That was before the Tennessee game. The Tide has now fallen out of #2 in both Offensive categories, (iv) LSU's defense has intercepted a pass in nine straight games. Helloooooo Mr. McElroy, (v) Only one SEC player made the final cut (of 16) for the Campbell Award, which goes to the nation's top scholar athlete. That player? TimTebow. ‘natch. Someone go get his cape, (vi) Should he win, Tebow should have ample time to accept the Campbell, since he doesn't deserve to be in New York for the Downtown Athletic Club presentation, (vii) LSU's QB Jordan Jefferson was back at practice Thursday after missing the first part of the week due to "illness". Riiiiiiight. Anyone care to guess how much of that illness was related to the crushing (if helmet-on-helmet) sack Jefferson absorbed from Auburn's Eltoro Freeman? The one that for all intent and purpose ended the QB's night in the fourth quarter Saturday, (viii) Yes, we're a week early, but calm down Corndog – regardless of the improvement, there's no way an offense ranked 106th in the nation is beating that Alabama defense – especially in Tuscaloosa, (ix) The conference only has one team ranked in the Top 25 in the nation in both Scoring Offense and Total Offense (Florida, #1 and #1), but six teams ranked in the Top 25 in Scoring Defense and Total Defense (Florida, Alabama, South Carolina, LSU, Tennessee, Mississippi) – Vandy just missed in Total D, or we'd have had seven, and (x) For what it's worth, Florida would be ranked #1 nationally in Scoring and Total D were it not for the fact the Gators are just #2 in Scoring D. Hellooooooo Cocktail!
Former Auburn Tiger, and current Ole Miss Rebel, Patrick Trahan, will be making his first trip back to Auburn since "leaving" the school in 2007, after being ruled academically ineligible. When Trahan departed the Plains, there were a lot of ugly comments flying back and forth between Trahan's family and AU. Trahan has a learning disability, and he and his family believe he wasn't given the necessary support to succeed. Auburn felt that Trehan wasn't doing a good enough job informing the tutors and support staff what he needed.
As in all things, there's likely mutual responsibility. The good news is that Trahan has been given another shot in the SEC, which rarely happens to players who leave due to academic issues. He returns to Auburn as a starting linebacker for Ole Miss, third on the team in tackles, to go with four sacks. It appears Trehan is not intent on getting any kind of revenge in this game; publicly he has said he just hopes to play well and has a little extra motivation. Ole Miss uses him a lot to blitz the QB, and with the way Chris Todd has been holding onto the ball an extra beat, there is a good chance the former Auburn linebacker will reacquaint himself with the current Auburn quarterback Saturday afternoon. What was once a sad situation turned into a good one for Trahan, and it will likely become a bad one for Auburn around 11:30 Central time.
IN FOCUS: Which SEC Coach / Player is in the Spotlight this week?
The Georgia R"By" Committee. Florida's dismantling of UGA last year had far less to do with payback for the Dawgs' "So You Think You Can Dance?" tribute than to Matthew Stafford's continuing to throw interceptions into the fourth quarter. That won't happen this year. Still, in order for Richt to play "Tennessee Ball" and keep the game close, his Keystone Kops RB corps will have to shoot straight, and grind out some rushing yards (See: game clock). Up to the bye week, Georgia has played seven games and has had a different back lead the team in rushing five times; the most recent being freshman Washaun Ealey in Nashville (71 yards). Stop. Think about that. Continue. And only once has one of them passed the century mark (Richard Samuel; 104 yards @ Arkansas). Not surprisingly, the Dawgs rank last in the SEC in Rushing Offense, and 103rd in the nation. Keep the ball out of Tebow's hands, and salvage some team (and recruiting) pride. Don't, and lose ugly.
Mark Richt, Georgia. This might be the first time I am going with a coach this season, but there is not a coach in the SEC with more pressure on him this weekend than Richt. The Georgia defense has been taking a beating this season from the media (not to mention SEC teams), while Richt makes the same old statements about DC Willie Martinez. Florida has hardly looked like world beaters, so if Georgia gets blown out, it will be viewed very poorly by the Bulldog faithful. UGA has too much talent to allow another loss like the one it suffered last year to the Gators, and quite frankly, last year's loss should never have happened. Is this a must win game for Richt? Of course not. But UGA better show up big and put on a great effort in a rivalry game – particularly with two weeks to prepare.
SEC POWER RANKINGS
1 Florida – Just get Tebow healthy for the Championship game
2 Alabama – How many kicks coulda woodchuck block of a woodchuck were 6'5", 370 lbs?
3 LSU – Can make scoring 31 points look uncomfortable
4 Ole Miss (up from 7) – Mighty Mite to the rescue!
5 South Carolina – Y'all, it was Vandy. Hush now.
8 Arkansas – What's a couple dropped passes among friends?
8 Tennessee – What's a couple more yards among friends?
11 Kentucky – Beat MSU and you're a solid 8
11 Auburn – Rushing D's ranked 89th. Good luck stopping Dexter
11 Georgia – We'd rank you higher, but you're just gonna be here next week
11 MSU – Stop bitching
12 Vanderbilt – Oh, the weather outside is frightful… What? Too early?
1 Alabama – Did Bama just have their Clint Stoerner moment against Tenn.?
2 Florida – Best medicine for a struggling offense: the Georgia Defense
3 LSU – Jordan Jefferson might be the calmest soph. QB we have ever seen
4 South Carolina (up from 5) – Can SC's program step forward this weekend?
5 Ole Miss (up from 6) – Who knew? That's right, everyone but Nutt.
6 Arkansas (down from 4) – Arky receivers just dropped another pass
7 Tennessee (up from 8) – Kiffin has followed close losses with great wins this yr
8 Georgia (up from 9) – Might help UGA that the UF passing game is struggling
9 Auburn (down from 7) –Todd could be in for a long day in Jordan Hare
10 MSU – The ‘Dogs keep racking up those moral victories
11 Kentucky – Playing as many as 3 QB's a game with Hartline out
12 Vanderbilt – Typical Vandy team this year: playing hard, but hardly winning
THREE GAMES TO DVR
1) South Carolina at Tennessee, October 31st. South Carolina's talented Secondary is likely to make Tennessee focus on the running game – and with two pounding backs sharing the work load, the Vols will get their yards, and eventually open some passing lanes. This will be the toughest defensive scheme that Garcia sees all year, and he will struggle. Tennessee enters this game with the confidence of having nearly beaten a great ‘bama defense on the road, and the chip from giving it away…
Tennessee 17, South Carolina 16
2) Ole Miss at Auburn, October 31st. Unlike Brian, we don't think Dexter McCluster will equal his record breaking performance of last week, but he'll do fine against what has been a surprisingly porous Tiger defense of late. His success will open things up just enough for Snead. Given the pressure/angst that's simmering right under the surface on the Plains, we expect to hear the boo birds early, which should rattle Todd. And a rattled quarterback is not good for a spread offense. Don't believe us? Watch the AU/LSU game tape…
Ole Miss 28, Auburn 17
3) Georgia at Florida, October 31st. The third game of the weekend… In the preseason, we predicted Florida would win this game by more than 40 points, or we'd paint our hair red. (BH Note: Ahem.) Correction – I'd paint my hair red. (BH Note: Thank you.) Fortunately, we added the caveat that Tebow be healthy, a factor that is not in play. Nevertheless, there's no way Joe Cox & a RB by committee does better against the same D than Stafford and KnoMo. Even with a banged up Tebow. This is going to be a blowout – with Florida's defense causing three turnovers and scoring twice. Almost 40…
Florida 38, Georgia 9
1) South Carolina at Tennessee, October 31st. There is something about this Tennessee team that makes me very confident they can win this game. In the last two weeks, Jonathon Crompton has thrown five TD passes to just two INTs, and has completed 65% of his passes. (RM note: Stop the presses.) It looks like he is starting to be the QB Tennessee had hoped for early in the year, but he is going up against a very good South Carolina defense that puts a ton of pressure on the quarterback. Stephen Garcia has played well on the road this year, but the running game won't have the gas to control the ball.
Tennessee 16, South Carolina 13
2) Ole Miss at Auburn, October 31st. It is impossible to see anyway for Auburn to win this game, first it is an early kickoff, second their offense has been awful this month, third the Ole Miss defense is totally underrated and fourth the Tigers can't tackle. The tackling or lack there of will be Auburn's downfall this weekend because Houston Nutt has realized the man to lead the Rebel offense isn't under center, he is behind that guy. Dexter McCluster goes off for another 200+ this weekend and two long scores to continue the Auburn losing streak to 4 games.
Ole Miss 27, Auburn 17
3) Georgia at Florida, October 31st. The Florida offense seems to be a good match up for the Georgia defense this year with their lack of a big play passing game. Of course UGA seems to allow every team to get big plays out of the passing game so maybe they can help Florida out this week. Richt knows this game is huge and with a bye week last week he should have had plenty of time to coach up the defense and come up with some good ideas for Jox Cox and company. It is still very hard to see UGA winning this game, but they give Florida more than they want for 4 quarters this week.
Florida 31, Georgia 24
Yell at Brian: Brian Harbach
Yell at Russ: Russ Mitchell
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Eight, October 22, 2009
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Seven, October 15, 2009
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Six, October 8, 2009
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Five, October 1, 2009
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Four, September 24, 2009
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Three, September 17, 2009
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Two, September 10, 2009
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week One, September 3, 2009