Please follow Russ Mitchell on Twitter @russmitchellsec or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please follow Brian Harbach on Twitter @harbabd
or email him at email@example.com
3 SEC QUESTIONS THAT NAG MORE THAN YOUR EX
(i) Who had the best SEC performance this past weekend (Team or Player)?
Well, we could go with Auburn’s hefty QB Cam Newton… If we're only grading half a game. Or we could go with Alabama’s RB Trent Richardson, for his 22/145 + a TD day (and 46 more yards on four receptions) in a dominating win over PSU… Were this last year’s Penn State team. Or we could go with LSU’s QB Jordan Jefferson… Just joshin’. (Better be careful kid; you’re on the cusp of becoming the butt of a lot of jokes.) But is there really any doubt: South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore was simply breathtaking. The Old Ball Coach swallowed his pride and literally dropped a critical game on the freshman’s back, and the young man delivered in aces. We stopped counting the number of tackles behind the line of scrimmage Marcus broke. In our 30 years of following the SEC, on only three occasions have we been that enthralled with a freshman’s performance: Darren McFadden, Vincent "Bo" Jackson and Herschel Junior Walker. And for those of you (ah, SEC brass) that want to include Mr. Richardson’s weekend effort at par with Mr. Lattimore’s, stop embarrassing yourself. Marcus was playing in only the second game of his collegiate career, and in his first ever SEC match-up. Richardson is a sophomore with National Championship game experience, and was playing against a weaker (if not by much) foe. While a very solid performance in its own right, it’s not equal to Lattimore’s.
I am officially on the bandwagon. I had a feeling he would be a special player a couple of Thursday nights ago, and Russ was raving about him in August, but I am now officially convinced. Marcus Lattimore, barring injury, has locked up the running back spot on the Freshmen All SEC and All America teams, and it's not even late September. He has all the skills an elite running back needs: he drives his legs after contact, always falls forward and has a nose for the end zone. Against Georgia, Lattimore rushed for 182 yards and two scores on 37 carries. His longest rush was 24 yards, but he was a banging defenders on each play and kept on going after contact. He doesn’t look like a true freshmen that's only played in two games; he looks like a seasoned vet. Steve Spurrier has not had this kind of talent at running back while at South Carolina. If Spurrier doesn’t wear Lattimore out with 37 carry games, he could have a great rushing attack all year.
(ii) What team needs a big win the most?
Great question. Do you mean big or convincing? At this point, all wins are big. If you’re asking who needs a "convincing" win, then I think the folks down on the bayou are running short of patience with their offense, if that train hasn't already left the station. But I believe the key word in your question is “most”, and right now it's Georgia that most needs a big win. Growing up, my dad always told us that life’s all about expectations, and to manage them judiciously. Apparently, I’m not related to Mark Richt.
Freshman QB Aaron Murray looked just like that in his first SEC game last weekend (more on that in the below), the rushing game managed only 2.3 ypc (shocker!), and the defense looked plum tired down the stretch. And it wasn’t just Washaun Ealey’s fumble in the red zone; SC had its own turnover in UGA territory, and as noted, the Dawgs' O-line could neither open a hole nor could its defense stop Lattimore. Don’t look now, but if UGA loses Saturday to Arkansas, between its own hedges no less, then what? For all intents and purposes they’re 0-2 (sorry ULL, but let’s just call it what it is), traveling to play a tough Miss State team, then jet off about as far west as they’ve ever gone (Boulder, Colorado), only to return for a divisional grudge match against Tennessee. All but the last without the calming influence of upperclassman (and captain) AJ Green. Beat the Hogs, and Richt’s men embark on that three game stretch with some much needed confidence. Lose, and the wheels could come off the cart.
There are plenty of teams in need of a big win right now after tough losses. Georgia comes to mind, and Mississippi State is also 0-1 in conference play. LSU has to get its offense going in a big way to appease its fan base, but there is one team that can make a big statement this weekend that no one is talking about. The Arkansas Razorbacks need a big win and they need it now. Arkansas has started 0-2 in the SEC the last three seasons, and four out of the last five years. Historically, the Razorbacks start slow and build momentum throughout the season, but that will not cut it this year. Bobby Petrino’s crew needs to win this weekend in Athens - they need a signature win over a good program to legitimize their lofty ranking. On paper, they deserve this top fifteen ranking, but the first two wins this year have done nothing to convince anyone.
Arkansas is 1-6 against UGA since joining the SEC (overall they are 2-9), but that one victory came in Athens in 1994. Arguably the worst UGA team in a decade played at Arkansas last year with the Hogs having two weeks to prepare, and the Bulldogs still came out with a victory. That game was one of the more entertaining ones of last season, but it was not what Arkansas fans expected with so many intangibles in their favor. Which brings us to this year. Arkansas is the presumed better team, but Georgia is a 2.5 pt favorite. Not much respect, eh. But respect isn’t given, it's earned.
(iii) What every SEC fan should be talking about after Week One, but isn’t?
Well, that leaves out anything to do with some freshman running back from the Palmetto State, exactly what in the good name of all that’s holy is Alabama doing @ Duke, and which is the greater evil: Jordan Jefferson or “Pick Six” Lee? (i) How much longer until it’s safe to put Florida’s Andre Debose on the side of a milk carton? (ii) For the dozens of you who emailed us to say UGA’s Murray was "great", that it was “just the play calling” holding him back, Exhibit A: minus one very nice hitch-and-go pass (55 yards) and 40 yards in the final minute against SC’s prevent defense, Murray was 11/18 for 97 yards and zero TDs – not quite the Webster definition of greatness, (iii) Exhibit B: Perhaps more to the point, UGA was only 27% converting on third downs, arguably a litmus test of good QB play/leadership. Murray was directly involved in all but one of those 11 attempts, and failed to get it done (and 2 of the 3 conversions were on UGA's first drive, before SC's Ellis could get a bead on Murray), (iv) So for crying out loud, cut the kid some slack and quit jacking up expectations, (v) UGA fell out of the polls this week, marking their earliest absence from said polls since 2001 – Richt’s first season in Athens, (vi) We at YPN don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but ESPN, do you think you can mix some football in with your advertisements? At the start of fourth quarter of the UGA/SC game, we had already watched 4 minutes of ads before one minute of on-the-field action. Six minutes of ads after 3:11 of game clock. ~8 minute of ads after ~5 minutes of game clock. Put another way, we had 8 minutes of ads for about 7 minutes of live TV; not game clock, just live/non-commercial TV, (vii) At 10 receptions for 142 yards and 1 TD, Alabama’s (and preseason SEC first team) WR Julio Jones is on pace for 60 receptions, 852 yards and 6 TDs, this after a sophomore season of 43/596/4. And he was just 4/49/0 against PSU. This is first team all-SEC anything? (viii) Right now Jones is behind Joe Adams (9/214/2), Alshon Jeffery (14/209/0), Greg Childs (16/172/2), Markeith Summers (C'mon Son, buy another K; 5/165/1) and an UGA receiver not named Green – Kris Durham (8/159/1), and (ix) Don’t look now, and yes it’s early, but LSU’s defensive line appears to have found itself after a couple seasons spent lost in the abyss; the Tigers are currently ranked #4 in the nation in Rushing D (~44 yards/game).
The Big Ten network has been a good success for that conference, and when the SEC signed its deal with ESPN to essentially make the four letter network the SEC Network, I was skeptical. After hearing that Auburn/Clemson was named the Gameday location on Monday. my opinion has completely changed - Mike Slive is a genius for pulling this off. Gameday being in Auburn marks the third straight week that the popular college football program has featured an SEC program (LSU, Alabama, Auburn). There were really two reasons that Auburn was chosen for this week: the first being there are zero marquis games on the schedule. and the second that Auburn/Clemson is the third college football game to be shown in 3D.
This could end up being a record year for the SEC in terms of Gameday visits with a number of huge games left on the schedule. Arkansas/Alabama, Florida/Alabama, Florida/LSU, Alabama/LSU, South Carolina/Florida, Auburn/Alabama and others that will undoubtedly pop up during the season. Of course, ESPN will not go to all of these games. But you can bet that every week it looks like there will be an SEC game worthy of it, ESPN will be in town. If it were up to me, I would schedule Gameday with Bama for the next three weeks, with the Tide traveling to Arkansas on the 25th, heading home to play Florida on the 2nd, before playing in Columbia on the 9th. One team, three different sites for Gameday to put on the
IN FOCUS: Which SEC Coach/Player is in the Spotlight this week?
Aaron Murray, Georgia QB – I’ve been doing everything I could to take some of this insane pressure of ya, kid, but it’s time I concede that I’ve failed you. I’ve failed to show people that this rushing attack – ranked ~70 in the nation last year after conference play – was not much improved. I failed to convince people that your offensive line is once again grossly overrated for no reason other than that it now has three years of failed expectations under its belt, and is thus experienced in its failure. I failed in pointing out that you had only one proven offensive star at your disposal (Green), and little in the way of backup support (at QB). I failed in convincing folks that your defense was unlikely to bail you out, itself unable to stop the run, with a porous and paper-thin LBing corps made up in some part on RB retreads, and a secondary that was bombed last year more than David Hasselhoff. Oh yeah, and digesting an entirely new scheme (3-4) with a brand spanking new DC. I failed you, Aaron, and I’m sorry. For now, while the lion’s share of UGA fans seem to be opening their rose-colored eyes to the aforementioned hurdles, they are even more convinced that salvation must therefore reside in the arms of you – their inexperienced, 19-year-old freshman QB. And with those expectations, this week’s spotlight.
Todd Grantham, Georgia DC – Two games into his tenure as the Georgia DC and Grantham’s defense is already being accused of loafing on plays and not showing enough effort… That courtesy of senior Linebacker Darryl Gamble. Mark Richt admitted that the defense was “knocked back” against South Carolina. and wants his players to be less timid. Anyone describing an attacking 3-4 defense as timid means there is a serious problem. Ryan Mallett struggled in games a year ago when facing pressure; he is not a great passer when forced out of the pocket or on the run, and it showed in games against Alabama and Ole Miss. If Grantham’s D continues to play timid, Mallett is going to pick a questionable Georgia secondary apart. The Bulldog offense will score points, but can its defense stop the Razorbacks?
SEC POWER RANKINGS
1 Alabama – @ Duke? Who’s next? Princeton?
2 South Carolina (up from 3) – Run Lattimore, Run! All the way to Atlanta
5 LSU (down from 2) – Les, why can’t you find a QB?
5 Arkansas – We’ll leave the Hogs here, but we’re just guessing; played nobody
5 Florida – Statistically, one of the worst offenses in CFB
5 Auburn (up from 7) – So, which team are you? The 1H, or the 2nd?
7 Miss State (down from 6) – Yes, you Leon. Catch the ball, then run
8 Kentucky (up from 10) – What? You’re putting UGA here?
9 Georgia (down from 8) – A must win game in week three?
11 Tennessee (down from 9) – 3 consecutive embarrassments to the Pac 10
11 ole miss (up from 12) – Hardly inspiring against Tulane
12 Vanderbilt (down from 11) – Statistically, one of the worst offenses in CFB (Hey, just like UF!)
1 Alabama – Duke sold out its season tickets because of this game
2 Florida – If Demps doesn’t get 15-20 touches a game, Gator fans should scream
3 LSU – We’re this close to Jarrett Lee, followed shortly by the return of Jefferson
4 Auburn – Good offense week 1, good defense week 2. What, that’s not balance?
5 Arkansas – Possible coming out party for the Razorbacks in Athens
6 South Carolina (up from 7) – Lattimore’s a beast, but he’ll wear out @ 37 carries/game
7 Miss State (up from 8) – QB play is going to hold back MSU all season
8 Georgia (down from 6) – Take the handcuffs off Murray and let’s see what he can do
9 Kentucky – Another week, another great play by Randall Cobb. Love that kid
10 Ole Miss (up from 12) – It appears Masoli is Nutt’s man; Vandy up next
11 Tennessee (down from 10) – Derek Dooley has no offensive playmakers
12 Vanderbilt (down from 11) – Still struggling on offense; looking for answers at QB
THREE GAMES TO DVR
1) Arkansas vs. Georgia; Saturday, September, 18th. It’s hard to handicap this one, for what do we really know about Arkansas? They struggled in the first half against UL Monroe, but Petrino was running the most vanilla of offenses ahead of this matchup between the hedges. The Hog faithful are flying sky high for this game, and their team certainly has the emotional edge. And that will likely be the difference. That and the fact that UGA’s defense is plum bad, and its offense didn’t score a single TD last week. They’ll score some TDs Saturday, at home, but it won’t be enough to keep pace with the Arkansas passing attack…
Pick Arkansas 24, Georgia 21
2) MSU vs. LSU; Saturday, September, 18th. With even a B- QB under center, we think this Tiger team has the talent, particularly on defense, to give Alabama a run for the title. With Jordan Jefferson, there’s virtually no chance; unless we see remarkable improvement over the next eight weeks. Instead, expect to see backup Jarrett Lee come in at the first sign of trouble. Simply put, Jefferson has never been an accurate, nor decisive, passer, which was painfully clear last week against Vandy. But he’ll be enough to beat MSU. We believe LSU has won about 20 of its last 21 matchups against the Bulldogs. That’s impressive by any standard. MSU is improving under second year HC Dan Mullen, who has strong New Hampshire ties with LSU’s OC Gary Crowton. But under the lights in Death Valley, against that defense, MSU falters. LSU scores with either its special teams or D, but score it will...
Pick LSU 21, MSU 13
3) Florida vs. Tennessee; Saturday, September, 18th. Rivalry games are never easy to predict, and Florida has been anything but Gatoresque on offense through two games. But we watched in stunned silence as the Vols absolutely gave up against Oregon last week. Literally, mailed it in. We’re left with no alternative but to question this team’s pride, and team’s without pride typically don’t fare well in SEC play...
Pick Florida 30, Tennessee 14
1) Arkansas vs. Georgia; Saturday, September, 18th. There is a lot I don’t like about Georgia in this game… I don’t like an early kickoff after a tough loss. I don’t like the Bulldog secondary against the Arkansas receivers. And I really don’t like the Bulldogs chances of rattling Ryan Mallett. Even with those three crucial negatives, I still think Georgia will make this a four quarter game and have a chance for the win. It is almost a must win for both teams, but in the end the experience at QB will be enough for Arkansas to upset Georgia...
Pick Arkansas 35, Georgia 31
2) MSU vs. LSU; Saturday, September, 18th. If it wasn’t for the inconsistent play of Jordan Jefferson, this game would probably have an even wider margin of victory for LSU. The State quarterback tandem did not look accurate against Auburn, and frankly were just average against Memphis, despite some gaudy stats. A night game in Baton Rouge is not the environment that freshman Tyler Russell is likely to flourish in, and LSU should be prepared for Chris Relf running the option after watching him do it so often against Auburn. Jefferson won’t answer many questions this week throwing the ball, as MSU has a good secondary, but this isn’t the week we see Jarrett Lee...
Pick LSU 24, MSU 13
3) Clemson vs. Auburn; Saturday, September, 18th. It would be fair to take shots at the ACC in this spot, but an improved Auburn defense and Cameron Newton will take over this game and lead Auburn to victory. Expect Mike Dyer to get a lot of carries, Mario Fannin to play in the slot, and Onterio McCalebb to be the change of pace back. This week Newton should have fewer carries than the first two weeks, but he will still be effective with his legs. Kyle Parker is a gunslinger that likes to stay in the pocket a little too long, so the Auburn defensive line should get an opportunity to pressure him...
Pick Auburn 34, Clemson 24
Don't forget to read CFN's Barrett Sallee Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes every Wednesday.
Follow Russ Mitchell on Twitter @russmitchellsec or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Brian Harbach on Twitter @harbabd
or email him at email@example.com
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Two, September 9, 2010
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week One, September 2, 2010