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 the Hog's Mike Smith, who fought through a hamstring injury to rush for 145 yards on 18 carries, plus a TD, against Auburn. Or with Alabama's Amazing Mr. (Mark) Ingram; along with Leigh Tiffin's 5 FGs, Ingram's 190 all-purpose yards (and the game's only TD) pretty much summed up the Tide's offense - in the big win over Ole Miss. Or with the Florida defense, which manhandled LSU under the lights in Baton Rouge; except they were aided by hyper-conservative play calling by the Tiger coaching staff. Or LSU's D, which held Florida to its lowest offensive output in the Meyer reign; except oh yeah, they lost. And lastly, we could even go with reader Susie T. from Ft. Pierce, FL, who was so confident her beloved Gators would triumph, she risked painting her hair purple and gold. But is there really any doubt: the best performance of Week Six was UT QB Jonathan Crompton! Yes, we realize UGA's D has now gift-wrapped three "career best" days (Ryan Mallett, Stephen Garcia and JC), but Hotty Toddy, Gosh Almighty, where have you been hiding that, boy? 20/27 for 310, and 4 TDs (w/ 1 INT).
Russ and I write a lot during the week, and as there's always a lot to discuss, we often save topics for specific columns. I got a lot of heat this week for leaving out the incredible job Florida's Defense did in Baton Rouge, but it was being saved for this spot. Hands down the most impressive performance put on last weekend was the dominant Gator D, that took a very talented, but yes young, LSU offense to the woodshed. Brandon Spikes looked like the leader we all expected him to be when he came back for his senior year. He had a ton of tackles to go with 2.5 sacks. But what really stood out was the play of the defensive line, especially defensive ends Jermaine Cunningham and Carlos Dunlap.
Jordan Jefferson still has a way to go until he is an elite SEC passer, but LSU's offensive line and running game should be near the top of any list in the country. Yet the Gator defensive line held LSU to 66 rushing yards, and that inability to run the football is why LSU lost the game. Watching the game plan that Les Miles and Gary Crowton unveiled, it was obvious the Tiger Duo expected to be able to run with some success. But the Gators were having none of it. LSU expected to shelter Jefferson with their mammoth O-line and stable of backs, and in so doing, keep Tebow and Florida off the field. Obviously that never happened, and the Florida D-line was the biggest reason why. Brandon Spikes is successful because he is great, but it doesn't hurt to have a line eating up blocks. That defense is the reason I have Florida as the top team in the SEC, and they will ride it to another SEC and National Championship.
(ii) What has been the biggest surprise of the first half of the SEC Season?
Don't! You better not say UGA's poor performance, given we've been pointing out their weak rushing attack and O-line to you since the Spring game. (Though the Dawgs D woes have been a bit of a puzzle.) Same thing with Auburn's strong performance; given the depth of talent on both sides, the Tigers were grossly under appreciated by the national media this preseason. And Alabama's offense? Are you kidding me, Brian? They've played only two teams with a defensive "pulse" (Va Tech and Ole Miss); McElroy was average against both, the unit scored only one TD against Ole Miss, and it was losing in the 4Q against Tech. Bama's D has been the savior (and Ingram's 2H performances), and yes, defense does win championships. And no, ‘bama's not winning a championship. Don't forget your history – in 2008, the Tide played only two great teams (Florida and Utah), both at season's end, and they lost both. Once again, it appears the Tide will play their toughest games at season's end, and with a less mature QB. Va Tech? Please. You are supposed to beat a team starting a true freshman at RB on day one, unless that back's named Herschel. We ascribe to the belief that the tougher the challenges leading up to the championship, the tougher the team. While we're here – Va Tech's great D? Ranked 48th against the rush, 33rd against the pass, and 50th in sacks. Frightening. Alabama's challenges so far have been… Well, use whatever adjective you want.
But we digress. The biggest surprise of the 1H has been Tennessee's relatively decent performance. What, you say?! Tennessee?! Jonathan Crompton has been woeful! Look at their record! THEY LOST TO UCLA! All true. But with just decent QB play, Tennessee might have been playing for a New Year's Day Bowl. Don't believe us – do the homework. Even with Crompton's woes, the Vols rank in the top half of the SEC in 13 of the 17 major statistical categories. Now THAT'S surprising. Only in KRs (11th) and Sacks (10th) do they rank near the bottom. In fact – brace yourself – if you average Tennessee's ranking across all 17 categories, they're sixth best in the SEC (5.9) and 44th in the nation (out of 119 teams). Don't look now, SEC fans… The Vols might not be as far away as you think. Tick, tock, Urban.
There are a couple that stand out, including the disappointing start to the UGA season, Auburn starting the year 5-1, and LSU's inconsistency. But the biggest surprise has been the Alabama offense and Greg McElroy. No one doubted the Crimson Tide defense because Saban was returning so many players, and it was a huge strength for the 2008 team. But the offense was being led by a new starting QB with very little SEC experience, the offensive line was replacing two SEC elite players (Andre Smith and Antoine Caldwell), and Glen Coffee left early to play in the NFL. Six games in, each of those question marks in looks like a high point for this Alabama team; they are physically dominating teams on the offensive side of the ball.
While I don't think it makes sense to talk about Mark Ingram in a Heisman discussion now, he is one of the best running backs in the country, and the offensive line is playing as physical as Ingram is. McElroy was supposed to manage the game, but instead of just managing it, he is out there making plays with a very underrated group of wide receivers. And the offensive line has only given up seven sacks this year. The offense which was once thought to be a liability for Alabama now looks like a huge reason why they are today the SEC West favorite. Alabama is on its way to a second straight division title, and the 2009 team seems more likely to win the SEC than the 2008 team did. And that's huge.
(iii) What every SEC fan should be talking about after Week Six, but isn't?
Well that leaves out how great ‘bama is, whether LSU will ever again have a QB older than 19, and how great ‘bama is… (i) Hey, what am I supposed to do with all this Jevan Snead for Heisman gear? (ii) Guess who leads the conference in Passing Attempts? Arkansas by a mile, right? Nope. The Hogs are tied with Georgia, at 185. But what's really interesting is they're not alone: South Carolina (184), Tennessee (182) and Auburn (177) are right there. Hm…, (iii) LSU has a well-deserved reputation for playing the sport with one eye on the W, and the other on inflicting the maximum amount of pain possible. Cajun kids. Whatever. But other than Washington, every team LSU has played this season has lost the following week; and U-Dub? They played the Idaho School for the Football Impaired. Up next for Florida? Arkansas, (iv) Given the lack of press this is receiving (relative to last week), you might not be aware, but I think Tim Tebow had a terrible brain injury recently. Can't remember… Lace ‘em up! (v) Speaking of Timmy, wonder what the Almighty thinks about his roommate (and WR) Riley Cooper cheating on that TD pass? Where was the outcry from the Ref Police (Read: UGA fans). If LSU holds Florida to a FG going into the half (quite likely, given how poorly the offenses played in that game), then LSU is only down six points in the 2H. A single TD wins it. Which means there's likely more 4Q energy in the stadium, the crowd's more juiced (ah, you know what we mean), the kids are feeding off it… STOP. It didn't matter, the better team won. Just saying – stop whining about referee calls. Or move to California, (vi) Percey Harvin was injured for much of his freshman season, yet still managed to get 75 touches. LSU's freshman sensation Russell Shepard was even more highly recruited than Harvin, is uninjured, and halfway through the season has touched the ball just 20 times. He's leading the Tigers in yards per rush by ~2 yards (6.2 v. Charles Scott's 4.4). Yes, like a freshman, he struggled in the UGA game, having to call two TOs on his six plays. But given LSU was desperate for a spark against Florida, Shepard's zero touches stands out, (vii) How good is Florida? Halfway in, the Gators are ranked #1 in the nation in Pass Defense, Scoring Defense, Total Defense, and Pass Efficiency Defense (did I pick Arkansas???), #2 in Rushing O, #3 in KRs and Passing Efficiency, and are in the top ten in Rushing D, Total O, Scoring O. Oh my, and (viii) Georgia has played six games, and has had a different back lead the team in rushing five times; the most recent being Carlton Thomas in Knoxville (30 whole yards). Not surprisingly, the Dawgs rank last in the SEC in Rushing Offense (and 104th in the nation).
For all the hate Georgia seems to be getting lately for the play of its football team, they made a smart decision by shutting down Georgia Tech's attempt to move the "Good Old Fashioned Hate" game from the end of the season to the season opening Chick-Fil-A Classic. I don't usually have a problem with stadiums that are split with tickets; I love the Cocktail party because it is a 50/50 ticket split. But UGA agreeing to move that game to the beginning of the season would be a joke. What is Georgia Tech thinking trying to pull that off? Do they want the game to become Colorado/Colorado State or Louisville/Kentucky? State rivalry games should be played at the end of the season, no excuses.
IN FOCUS: Which SEC Coach / Player is in the Spotlight this week?
Michael Smith, Arkansas RB. After being one of the most dominant runners in the SEC last season, Smith has taken a bit of a back seat to the aerial explosion that is Bobby Ball. QB Ryan Mallett now leads the SEC in categories, with Smith going somewhat overlooked. Though certainly not to the Auburn faithful – Smith carved them up in 2008 (35/176, 1 TD), and then was even more efficient last Saturday (18/145, 1 TD). However, he watched the final seconds of the game from the sidelines, after suffering (and playing) through a hamstring strain. IF Smith is able to perform this weekend in Gainesville – and by that we mean if he is able to run for more than 100 yards, he'll take pressure off Mallett and keep the ball out of the hands of Tebow and the Gator offense. If that happens, Arkansas pulls off the major upset. How's that for a spotlight, Mr. Smith.
Stephen Garcia, South Carolina QB. Stephen Garcia is 1-and-1 on the road this year with one great performance in Athens to go along with a pedestrian outing in Raleigh against NC State. If South Carolina is going to have any chance to upset Alabama, he has to have the same type of effort he had in Athens. If not, South Carolina will be blown out of the stadium. Garcia can't make mistakes, he has to throw the ball away under pressure instead of making poor decisions with the football, or South Carolina has no chance. The running game will do very little and the Gamecock O-line won't be able to give SC room to run. Garcia is the only way South Carolina stays in this game, and he just might give them a chance to pull off an upset.
SEC POWER RANKINGS
1 Florida – Wake up! The Hogs are coming
2 Alabama – Smothering D will stifle Spurrier and sons
3 LSU – Use the time to figure out how to get Russell Sheppard the ball
3 Arkansas – Let's hope that secondary makes the flight down to Gainesville
3 Auburn – So that's what a good offense looks like
3 South Carolina – Blitz. Run Blitz. Blitz. Run Blitz. Blitz.
7 Ole Miss – Looks like I won the over/under on INTs (3.5)
8 Tennessee – What was that?!?
9 Georgia – Play the backups.
10 Kentucky – We get to see if Cobb should have been playing QB all along
11 MSU – Way to embarrass the conference
12 Vanderbilt –I don't want anything to happen to (you) while my mother's alive.
1 Florida – The Gators gave up 3 points to LSU in Death Valley; are you kidding me?
2 Alabama – Can't wait to see Mark Ingram rush against that Gamecock D-line
3 LSU – The Fighting Tigers scored 3 points in Death Valley; are you kidding me?
4 Auburn – D liabilities need fixin' if AU expects to beat the good SEC teams
5 Arkansas (up from 8) – Mallett with time is deadly; will he have it this week?
6 South Carolina – What does the OBC have up his sleeve for a 2nd top 5 upset?
7 Tennessee (up from 9) – Great job Crompton; 4 TD passes and only one pick
8 Ole Miss (down from 7) – One step from a meltdown, but 1st more filler: UAB
9 Georgia (down from 5) – Fans want red blood, but will settle for a Willie Martinez pink slip
10 MSU –The Bulldogs have been competitive in their last 2
11 Kentucky – No Mike Hartline means no bowl game, the streak will end at 3
12 Vanderbilt – Road loss to Army, not what Bobby Johnson needed this year
THREE GAMES TO DVR
1) South Carolina at Alabama, October 17th. Bottom Line: I have more faith in the ‘bama D making Garcia cry than I have in Norwood & Co. getting to McElroy. Even with a true 'bama freshman (Nico Johnson) getting a starting nod at linebacker. Bama will just give the ball to Ingram – watch for that being the difference. Plus that Bama D will account for 3+ takeaways and at least seven points.
Alabama 23, South Carolina 14
2) Arkansas at Florida, October 17th. As we noted above, every team that's faced a decent opponent after playing LSU has lost. Have you looked at the Florida injury blotter this week? Moreover, we don't have faith in the Florida offense right now to win in a shootout (specifically Tebow). Yes, Ryan Mallett is inexperienced, but he has put up big numbers and is improving every week. Speaking of improving every week… Exhibit 1 – the Hog D, which has made big leaps forward since October began (particularly the secondary). Yes, we are concerned about a banged up WR corps, but more so the talented Arkansas TB Michael Smith, whose production has dropped off substantially against last season. But he still managed to gain 145 yards on 18 attempts, and a TD against Auburn, and is ninth in the conference in rushing. If Smith's hamstring improves well enough to be a difference – specifically, if he can gain more than 100 yards, thereby keeping the ball away from Florida, Arkansas will defeat a beaten up Gator team. (Follow-up: Keep your other eye on Hog KR specialist Dennis Johnson – he, not Florida's Brandon James, leads the conference in KR average.)
Arkansas 28, Florida 24
3) Kentucky at Auburn, October 17th. Kentucky was 2-6 in conference play last year. This year they're an 0-fer (yes, against three ranked SEC squads). They're playing a backup QB (don't care that its Cobb), on the road, in conference play, against a D that was embarrassed last week. On the other side of the line, Kentucky doesn't have the horses to keep up with this Auburn offense. Finally, the Cats are banged up and demoralized after losing a game they could have won in Columbia. Watch this game – but watch it for Cobb, perhaps the conference's most electric player. It won't be enough; Auburn bounces back with a conference win.
Auburn 35, Kentucky 13
1) South Carolina at Alabama, October 17th. SEC fans should be excited to watch the Alabama running game versus the South Carolina defensive line. This might be the only game all year where Eric Norwood gets overshadowed by another defensive player, because this is the type of game where Rolando McClain can shine. I see a lot of turnovers in this one, but most of them coming from South Carolina. The Gamecocks will give a good effort, but in the end they don't have the players to keep up with the Tide.
Alabama 31, South Carolina 16
2) Arkansas at Florida, October 17th. This game comes down to one match-up, and that is Ryan Mallett vs. the Gator Defensive Ends. If Mallett has time to throw, the game will be close. But if LSU can't give Jordan Jefferson time to throw, don't expect Ryan Mallett to have much. Expect to see a version of Mallett that showed up in the Alabama game. Florida will score a lot of points quickly and Arkansas won't be able to keep up.
Florida 49, Arkansas 21
3) Kentucky at Auburn, October 17th. Even with a back up QB, Kentucky is going to score some points on Auburn. Randall Cobb is the type of player that is almost impossible to game plan against, and with Mike Hartline out, it means more snaps for Cobb under center. That is not good for Auburn. However, the Tiger offense should have no problem scoring, and no problem controlling the ball with its running game. Expect a game that the final score looks closer than it actually will be.
Auburn 42, Kentucky 24
Yell at Brian: Brian Harbach
Yell at Russ: Russ Mitchell
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