Russ Mitchell covers the SEC for www.CollegeFootballNews.com. Please follow him on Twitter
Brian Harbach covers the SEC for www.CollegeFootballNews.com. Please follow him on Twitter
3 SEC QUESTIONS THAT NAG MORE THAN YOUR EX
(i) Who had the best SEC performance this past weekend (Team or Player)?
We could go with MSU's RB Vick Ballard who rushed for 98 yards on 20 carries deep in the Swamp… ‘cept it was Florida, for whom the wheels are falling off. Or we could go with Kentucky's Mike Hartline and his fantastic 2H/4 TD effort, plus an absolutely clutch fourth down TD pass to beat SC… ‘cept the only reason he even had the ball was Marcus Lattimore's 3Q injury. Or we could go with Hog backup Tyler Wilson, with 300+ yards and four TDs… ‘cept for two costly INTs. Or we could go with Stephen Garcia, who when the chips were down proved that it wasn't merely a true freshman TB carrying this team… Wait. Sorry. But is there really any doubt – Auburn's Cameron Newton takes home the nod once again. It may be getting boring for some, but this is the most dynamic offense in America, and "Neutron" IS the offense. 4 TDs (3 rushing off 188 yards), and 10/14 passing for 140, with no INTs or fumbles. He'll face a real defense on Saturday for the first time this season. It won't matter (more detail on that below). Nothing's stopping this kid – not LSU. Not Bama in Tuscaloosa.
Even in a loss, Arkansas' Tyler Wilson put on the best performance of the weekend. Cameron Newton was amazing as usual, but who didn't expect Newton to go off against the Razorbacks? Exactly. Wilson on the other hand made the entire Auburn crowd scream for Ryan Mallett to come back out. Coming off the bench for the concussed Heisman contender, Wilson completed 25 of 34 passes for 332 yards and four touchdowns. Crazy numbers for a backup. That's what people were expecting from Mallett against the Auburn secondary. That unit may be struggling, but there are two reasons a player like Wilson can come in and light up an SEC defense the way he did.
First, he was so ready to play because Bobby Petrino is the best quarterback coach in the country. Forget any bias you might have against the man... Petrino can flat out coach quarterbacks; he will continue to have a great passing game wherever he is coaching and with whomever is taking snaps. Case in point: Casey Dick threw for more than three hundred yards in two games back in 2008, and 282 yards in a third game (none of which went into overtime). Never underestimate a Petrino passing attack.
Second, Wilson played so well was because he went through the entire spring practice running the ones when Ryan Mallett was hurt. Wilson spent time getting to know the receivers, knowing how they ran routes and where they liked to have the ball thrown. Wilson wasn't getting all these yards against busted coverage in Auburn – he was putting the ball on the money where the receiver could make a play and run after the catch. The touch on the wheel route to Ronnie Wingo, the zip on the ball for Greg Childs' second TD and the hole into which he laced the Joe Adams TD pass had nothing to do with an Auburn defender slipping… Wilson knew where to put it, and got it there. If as many expect, Mallett leaves early for the NFL, Arkansas fans may have been worrying their offense would take a step back. One game and Tyler Wilson has cemented his name in the 2011 starting lineup for the Razorbacks.
(ii) Is Auburn the favorite to win the SEC?
Not just the SEC. We called it late Saturday night - Auburn will win the 2010 National Championship. Nothing is stopping this team, not even its woeful secondary. We've always believed Defense wins Championships, but as long as Newton is healthy, how do you stop his team? How many points can you put up on the board? 35? 45? It simply doesn't matter – whatever you put up, Auburn's going to put up more. And the scary part is they're getting better.
Since the Clemson OT, Auburn rushing attack has improved from 259 yards per game to 284 – up 10%. They've gone from ringing up 32 ppg to 41 – up 28%. They've gone from the 21st best offense in the nation, to ninth. Remember, Cam's only now beginning to get his arms around this offense – there's still much room to improve. And today he's ranked #2 in the nation in Passing Efficiency.
Yes, they've only won their two road games by 3 points each. And yes, the secondary is pathetic. But they have a solid front seven (ranked third in the SEC in rush defense), led by talented Junior Nick Fairley. And put up enough passes, and that troubled secondary will eventually intercept some of them. Not that defense seems to matter... As it continues to improve, who's keeping up with this offense?
Auburn is not the favorite, and they will not win the SEC this season. In order to be the best, you have to beat the best, and Alabama is still the reigning SEC Champion. The SEC West goes through Tuscaloosa… Literally. Auburn is the highest ranked SEC team in the polls and the BCS, but the Iron Bowl is in Tuscaloosa this year and very likely will decide the West. By no means should Auburn be overlooking LSU this weekend, but Auburn has the softer schedule of the two remaining SEC unbeatens – LSU travels to Auburn and Arkansas while playing Alabama and Ole Miss at home. Auburn closes with Georgia and LSU at home, along with Alabama and Ole Miss on the road.
People aren't talking about Alabama as the favorite because they are stupid; Alabama is still a great team capable of beating every team remaining on its schedule. Even if Auburn beats LSU this weekend, they will likely need LSU to help them out by beating Alabama in Baton Rouge on November 6th. Possible, but the Tigers will likely be an underdog at home for that game. Auburn has been playing with fire all season – sloppy turnovers, poor defense and untimely penalties. Nearly every game has had these issues, and while the offense has been able to overcome the mistakes, they have yet to play an elite team (they have played good teams). Frankly, after seven games you are who you are. It is hard to see this Auburn team beating Alabama, though of course it's hardly out of the question. Though they will probably need some help.
(iii) What every SEC fan should be talking about after Week Seven, but isn't?
Well that leaves out anything to do with Meyer's Magical Carpet Ride, what a genius Spurrier is (take two), and how impossible it is to try to predict LSU's offensive performance… (i) It's the big game of the weekend… Since they became permanent SEC opponents following 1991, LSU and Auburn have usually faced each other in September. There have only been five October games – Auburn won in 2002, and LSU has won the rest (2003, 2005, 2007, 2009). What does it all mean? (ii) We don't know. If you're Auburn you say "we own evens", while LSU will say "we pretty much own October". Though remember, most of those October games were in Baton Rouge, (iii) Don't look now, but little Aaron Murray's is maturing nicely. The freshman is now 18th in the nation in Passing Efficiency, and in his last three games he's 48/76 (63%) for 774 yards, with 7 TDs to 1 INT, plus he's got 90 yards on 20 carries (4.5 per), and two TDs, (iv) Ok, reality check – his last three games were against Colorado, UT and Vandy. Not exactly Murderer's Row, (v) No truth to the rumor that Auburn is changing the name of its "secondary" to "tertiary", (vi) Did Wilson's great performance Saturday damage Mallett's draft stock (as in "...it's the system")? (vii) Leading to its offense's woes, LSU is worst in the conference in Fumbles Lost (9) and tied for Interceptions Thrown (8), (viii) The top five teams in the SEC come from the West, (ix) The conference has four teams ranked 90th or worse in Total Offense (Florida #91, LSU #92, UT #97 and Vandy #102), and (x) The conference has only two teams ranked in the Top 25 in Total Offense (Auburn #9 and Arkansas #10 – shocker), but four in Total Defense (LSU #3, Alabama #11, Georgia #14, and Florida #16).
Since Auburn won the game against Arkansas last weekend, all everyone wants to talk about are the two questionable plays that were not overturned by Instant Replay and thus went the home team's way. There were actually three Instant Replays in that game that raised eyebrows, but few are discussing the myriad of other terrible calls by Penn Wagers and his crew. The Fannin touchdown was impossible to review; it was called a touchdown on the field (not sure how), but the replay was hardly conclusive. On a fourth down pass to Arkansas TE DJ Williams, the refs gave him a pretty generous spot that was not overturned on review. And the fumble by Broderick Green returned for a TD by Zac Etheridge had to stay as called on the field as well. Again, everyone wants to bang on the replay official, but the real problem lies with the calls on the field.
Prior to each of those three reviews there was no referee huddle or group discussion; we have to assume there was one after the Fannin TD/Fumble because we never saw a TD signal, but it was such a quick discussion that no one watching had any idea what was going on. It's almost as if SEC officials believe it's ok to get the call wrong on the field, and then just have it reviewed to fix their mistake. In this game specifically, the video was not conclusive enough, so the call on the field becomes that much more important. Get together, work it out and make the right call on the field first …Quit relying on the replay booth to clean up your mistakes. SEC officials continue to be a topic of discussion and ridicule, however every year we see the same guys screwing up that did the year before. Being a ref is a difficult job, that much is obvious, but it isn't hard to take an extra 30 seconds to discuss a big play and make sure you have the right call before it goes upstairs. That should be Mike Slive's challenge to officials.
IN FOCUS: Which SEC Coach/Player is in the Spotlight this week?
Jarrett Lee & Jordan Jefferson, QBs, LSU – Last week Ryan Mallett was in this spot, and we know what happened there. This week Auburn welcomes the dynamic duo of Lee and Jefferson. Yes, that's sarcasm. LSU's offense is going to score; Girl Scout Troup #429 would score against this Auburn defense. And since Lee has taken more snaps, the offense has improved. But the key to this game is stopping Cam Newton, and while the first line of defense is LSU's league leading D, the second is keeping the ball out of Newton's hands. To that end, Lee and Jefferson must be efficient, with no three and outs, and most importantly no turnovers. LSU is ninth in the SEC in turnover margin, and Jefferson has a fumble or interception in every game this season except Miss State (not surprisingly, that 29-7 thumping was perhaps LSU's most complete game). As a result, don't be surprised to see Lee get even more reps. Though Jefferson will still get a lot of snaps, to run off clock and show Ted Roof's defense some different looks. (Which leads us to our back-up choice for this category: Auburn's DT Nick Fairley. Watch if he can put pressure on LSU QBs and anchor the run defense.)
Steven Clarke, Auburn, Punter – We all know the strength vs. strength stats, with the Auburn offense against the LSU defense. And the weakness vs. weakness, as the porous Auburn secondary faces an equally terrible LSU passing game. But what about the hidden yards that really matter? Auburn special teams have been vastly improved over a year ago, but the punting is still lacking. Auburn is dead last in the SEC in average yards per punt, but it hasn't hurt too much because they have punted the second fewest times in the league. The LSU defense will force Auburn to punt more than normal this weekend, and that lost yardage could give LSU better field position in what will likely be a very close game.
SEC POWER RANKINGS
1 Auburn (up from 3) – Run Cam Run!
2 LSU – It's a knife fight Saturday; better show up with the right attitude
3 Alabama – Tip toe, through the (Tennessee) tulips…
5 Mississippi State (up from 6) – Vick in the nick of time
5 Arkansas (down from 3) – Thanks for playing!
6 South Carolina (down from 3) – One trick pony. Named Lattimore
8 Kentucky (up from 10) – Maybe you can twist Murray's ankle too
8 Georgia (up from 9) – It was UT & Vandy; don't get too excited
9 ole miss – Better than Florida. Wow.
9 Florida (down from 7) – Question: is the "bitch" Addazio?
11 Tennessee – Stop the run, focus on the… Whatever.
12 Vanderbilt – (crickets)
1 Auburn – Here by default last week; this week it has been earned
2 LSU – "Cam Newton would be our third quarterback." Les Miles ;)
3 Alabama– Sadly, the game against UT isn't even on the SEC radar anymore
4 Arkansas – If you didn't think Wilson was going to light up Auburn, shame on you
5 Mississippi State (up from 7) – Dan Mullen, a man who knows the strengths and weaknesses of his team
6 South Carolina (down from 5) – Lost a game it had no business losing. Shocker
7 Florida (down from 6) – Urban Meyer, a man that misses Dan Mullen (and Timmy)
8 Kentucky – Kudos to Randall Cobb for calling out Kentucky fans; if you want respect and bigger bowls, Wildcat fans, SHOW UP WHEN YOUR SQUAD IS HOSTING THE #10 TEAM IN THE COUNTRY
9 Georgia – How to get right as a team: play UT and Vandy back to back. At home
10 Vanderbilt – Is it turkey farming season yet?
11 Ole Miss – We would like to say that the defense is being wasted by poor offense, but after the JSU loss…
12 Tennessee – We would like to talk about basketball, but Bruce Pearl is legally required to tell you he can't use his cell phone
THREE GAMES TO DVR
1) LSU vs. Auburn; Saturday, October 23rd | 3:30 PM EST | CBS. Last week we said Auburn needed to knock Mallett out of the game, and they did. Wilson played like a man possessed, but in a game of unbridled offense, it was the backup's 4Q mistakes that eventually stalled the Hogs. Switching gears quickly on the Plains, here come the Bayou Bengals with the SEC's #1 Defense. "Defense wins Championships", or so we say, and LSU's is physical, fast, deep, fast, and plum angry all the time. And fast. Still, it has struggled against a Spread QB (go back and watch the tape on Florida's Trey Burton v. LSU; and Burton's Cam-light). LSU's best chance to win this game is by beating the living daylights out of Newton. Easier written than done – first you have to catch him, and then he's probably the biggest man in the collision anyway. Plus for a large guy he does a superb job of eluding the big hit. Therefore, it's in the backfield where LSU is likely to get its best shots. In the 1H, LSU's DEs must focus on Newton on every Zone Read, giving up some yards to the RBs in exchange for a free hit on the QB. Take every shot with malice – preferably focusing on the legs to maximize the wear. And play more man coverage – it's ok to give up some 1H receptions for the chance to hit Newton. Even if it's close, take the shot. If in the process the home crowd gets a couple Roughing the QB calls, that's the cost of doing business. What? We're not endorsing cheating, but it's a brutal sport, ladies. For any shot at winning, LSU must make it as brutal an afternoon for Cam as possible. Giving up a TD or two early to Dyer in exchange for wearing down Newton is the way to beat Auburn. It might be the only way. Remember, this game will be decided in the 4Q when players get tired, however, it will be decided in Auburn's favor (hopefully not by Instant Replay). LSU was not efficient enough last week against McNeese State, and therefore didn't get as much rest as Miles had likely wished. As a result, while Newton will receive more punishment Saturday than he has in his football career, the Heisman front-runner will prove too elusive, and it will be LSU's albeit deep defense wearing down late. Auburn owns the fourth quarter, and scores on its final two drives – which will be the difference… Pick Auburn 27, LSU 20
2) Georgia vs. Kentucky; Saturday, October, 23rd | 7:30 PM EST | ESPN GamePlan/ESPN 3. Murray has improved with every game this season, but the Georgia defense has been padding stats against the absolutely inept duet from the state of Tennessee. Kentucky's a little nicked, but Hartline will throw up a ton of yards against this secondary, and Cats will put up points playing at home. Moreover, after being suitably chastised by its star player, we expect the fans to be out in force. As for Georgia, even with the improvement, Murray's still a freshman. He's 0-3 on the road, and against a defense with a pulse he'll make at least one big mistake – and it'll burn Georgia in what will be a close game…
Pick Kentucky 27, Georgia 24
3) Ole Miss vs. Arkansas; Saturday, October, 23rd | 12:30 PM EST | MSG (HD)/ESPN 3. It doesn't matter who the quarterback is – Arkansas is going to feast on this ole miss defense. The Hogs are a bit banged up after leaving the state of Alabama, but so are the Rebel "Louisiana Black" Bears (whose idea was that one?). Look for Arkansas to have its best rushing day (in conference) so far this season...
Pick Arkansas 42, Ole Miss 17
1) LSU vs. Auburn; Saturday, October 23rd | 3:30 PM EST | CBS. The LSU defense is well coached, aggressive and talented, but it has yet to go up against an elite offense in either the SEC or any of its OOC games. That's not taking away anything from the great job John Chavis has done, but which offense have they dominated that grabs your attention? Florida, Tennessee, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt maybe West Virginia… It just isn't there. Here comes an Auburn offense that has been on fire. They have roughed up every opponent so far this season and are playing at home. Auburn will continue to run the ball even though LSU will have more success stopping it than any other team this season. But "containing" Newton is not "stopping" him…
Pick Auburn 30, LSU 24
2) Georgia vs. Kentucky; Saturday, October, 23rd | 7:30 PM EST | ESPN GamePlan/ESPN 3. The road has been a struggle for Georgia this season, with three of their four losses occurring outside of Sanford Stadium. The Bulldogs have looked good the last two weeks feasting on SEC bottom dwellers Tennessee and Vanderbilt, so we aren't completely sold on the "UGA is back" crowd. If Kentucky can put together a four quarter defensive plan that works, the Wildcats have a great chance to win the game. Kentucky has given up 59 points in the first half the last two weeks, but just 6 points in the second half of those games. Georgia needs a fast start so they can hold on for dear life in the fourth…
Pick Georgia 27, Kentucky 24
3) Ole Miss vs. Arkansas; Saturday, October, 23rd | 12:30 PM EST | MSG (HD)/ESPN 3. The Ole Miss defense has been a serious disappointment this season. It has let them down in all of their losses, and even in the wins it has not been as dominant as expected. Traveling to Fayetteville where Houston Nutt will be making his second trip home with the Rebels, it looks like Arkansas has a chance for some revenge (after two straight losses to their former coach). Arkansas can score fast, so this one could get ugly; but the poor Razorback run defense will allow Ole Miss to control the clock and keep the score closer than it should be…
Pick Arkansas 31, Ole Miss 17
Don't forget to read CFN's Barrett Sallee Three & Out: SEC Preview every Wednesday.
Russ Mitchell covers the SEC for www.CollegeFootballNews.com. Please follow him on Twitter
Brian Harbach covers the SEC for www.CollegeFootballNews.com. Please follow him on Twitter
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Seven, October 14, 2010
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Six, October 7, 2010
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Five, September 30, 2010
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Four, September 23, 2010
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Three, September 16, 2010
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Two, September 9, 2010
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week One, September 2, 2010