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 Rebs' RB/WR Dexter McCluster, with his 203 yards of total offense, including 186 yards rushing (8.5 /per) and a 79 yard TD scamper; but they lost (though it was hardly his fault). Or we could go with LSU's RB Charles Scott, who broke the 100 yard mark (112) with 2 TDs; but it was 2-6 Tulane. Or we could go with Florida's Tim Tebow, who rushed for 84 yards and 2 TDs, to go with 164 yards passing and 2 TDs; but it was Georgia. But is there really any doubt – not last weekend there wasn't. MSU's Anthony Dixon rushed for a school record 252 yards and 2 TDs in the upset road win against Kentucky. It was also the 15th highest rushing total in SEC history. Good on ya, Mr. Dixon.
We don't often enough discuss a particular unit as the "best performance" of the weekend, but there are two separate defenses I want to single out. Auburn and Tennessee put on masterful defensive performances against their opponents, and were chiefly responsible for their team's victories. Tennessee has developed into a consistent defensive force the last month; that unit has bailed out the offense on more than one occasion. The game against Alabama was impressive, but it ended with a close loss. The game against South Carolina was dominating on both sides of the ball, but the defense put Jonathon Crompton in a position to make plays. The Vols forced 4 turnovers, three on the first five Carolina drives, which helped put Tennessee up 21-0 before Steve Spurrier knew what golf course he was playing on Sunday. As has been the Tennessee M.O. all year, they have given up yards, but not points. South Carolina actually out-gained the Vols 365 to 341, but Tennessee still won by 18 points.
As far as the Auburn defense, they gave up their fewest points of the season against Ole Miss, surrendering only 14. They coughed up a 94 yard opening drive to the Rebels, and a 79 yard rush to Dexter McCluster... But for the rest of the game the Tiger front 4 dominated the Rebels offensive line. They forced turnovers, pressured Jevan Snead into terrible throws all afternoon, and stood up in the fourth quarter when they needed to. Antonio Coleman looked healthy for the first time this season, and ended the game with four TFLs, including two sacks. Both of these two defensive units put on great efforts this weekend and were the reason for their victories.
(ii) Is too much being made of the Brandon Spikes eye-gouging incident?
You think? First, if a man wants to gouge your eyes out, merely closing your lids is not going to stop him. So Mr. Easley's comments aside, it's clear Spikes intent was not to permanently damage the Georgia freshman. So why do it then?
If you watched the game closely – particularly the first quarter – then like us you saw the UGA offensive linemen (plural) and FB repeatedly stick their hands into Spikes' facemask, and for the life of me, I have no idea why no one has brought this up. They went so far as to rip his helmet off twice; it was so blatant that on one of the initial drives, it resulted in a personal foul that stopped a promising advance. So, does that justify poking another man's eyes? Nope. And the guy who retaliates always gets the grief. But that wasn't Spikes' point.
When I was ten, and my brother 7, we were sitting one afternoon watching cartoons. Think mid-70s, orange shag carpet time frame. So I get this weird feeling, and glance over to see my kid brother staring at me with this "Damien" look on his face, as only kid brothers can do. Suddenly, he slaps his hand on the sofa with a loud POP, and begins writhing around the floor in "agony". I just sat there, dumbstruck. Ma ran in, clapped her hands together and yelled, "Russell!" And that's all she wrote. Straight to my room. No dinner. Emboldened, he pulls this stunt again, with similar results.
The third time, however, as my ma was grounding me, I calmly rose from my chair, and as I passed the sofa, I nailed that kid with a full-on punch right to the solar plexus (dutifully observing Mitchell Brother Rule #1: No punching above the shoulders). As he lay gasping for breath, and knowing I had but seconds before my mother reached me, I leaned forward and calmly whispered into his ear, "Next time will be harder."
Now, was what I did right? Probably not. You shouldn't hit people. Same to Mr. Spikes. But Spencer never pulled that stunt with me again. Nor do I think anyone will stick their hands inside the helmet of Brandon Spikes in the foreseeable future.
Do you know what the difference between the incidents with Brandon Spikes and Oregon's Lagarrette Blount is… Intent. Blount was embarrassed after the Oregon loss, antagonized by a Boise State player after the game, and he erupted into a bevy of inappropriate behavior. Spikes' action was premeditated retaliation against Georgia for what was happening to him during the game. You can't tell me he didn't think about poking Washaun Ealey in the eye. Sucker punching someone in the face is an instant reaction, sticking your fingers through a face guard to gouge a player's eye is not a heat of the moment incident. Based on what I think of the situation, it is pretty obvious Urban Meyer made a fool of himself, the University of Florida, and the SEC with his "half game" suspension.
As someone who loves SEC football, the half game suspension upsets me on so many levels it is a challenge not to go off on an incomprehensible rant. Simply stated, it is beyond embarrassing. It wouldn't matter if Tim Tebow did the eye gouging, you suspend the player for at least a game in this situation, and that is probably letting him off lightly. This particular situation was served up on a silver platter for Meyer to knock out of the ballpark: the Gators play Vandy this weekend… Spikes can't get suspended for the entire Vandy game?? I could understand (not condone, but understand) the weak suspension if it was a Championship game, or a game where the entire team needed to be ready to play. But how much was Spikes going to play in the second half of this blowout anyway?
Why would you not suspend him for the entire game? It doesn't matter what Eye Gouged Running back Washaun Ealey says or thinks about the situation, a serious suspension was warranted. Not the joke Meyer handed down that the SEC office felt was appropriate. It is nice that Spikes felt it was necessary to take himself out of the second half, but the player should not be the one making that decision, it should have been the coach.
(iii) What every SEC fan should be talking about after Week Nine, but isn't?
Really, who has time for this with perhaps the regular season's biggest contest finally here! LSU/Bama! Particularly given the average weekend that was, and the ridiculously weak slate we have on Saturday. Who's doing the scheduling anyway? Can we get more than three conference games the first week in November? There you go - that's what every SEC fan should be talking about, but isn't.
Since I went pretty heavy on the previous section, this one will be short and sweet: how about those bowl games! We still have a month left in the season, but the bowl talk is heating up, and has been turned on its head this week. It is quite likely the SEC will fill all 9 of its bowl slots (with Kentucky probably sneaking in to the Papa John's bowl at 6-6). What's amazing right now is that 3 teams have a shot at the BCS games (Alabama, Florida, LSU), but every other bowl game left is literally up for grabs. Ole Miss could end up in the Capital One bowl or the Independence Bowl. Tennessee could play in the Outback or the Music City. MSU could play in the Cotton Bowl or the Independence Bowl. It is limited who will be in Atlanta for the SECCG, but part of the fun of college football is there is still something for everyone else. There are so many possibilities right now for SEC teams' postseason travel, it is going to be a blast to discuss over the next couple weeks.
IN FOCUS: Which SEC Coach / Player is in the Spotlight this week?
Jordan Jefferson, LSU QB. So this is it. Jefferson's been improving these past few weeks, as 19 year olds are wont to do. And with his improvement, so has LSU's offense. Not to throw cold moonshine on the Tiger love fest, but if you've actually been watching LSU games this October, it's hard to miss Jefferson repeatedly throwing his passes late. This is because the talented, if inexperienced, QB is waiting for his receivers to get open; it's why they're often at a virtual stand still or slowing down when the ball arrives. You can get away with that against the Auburn or Tulane defense, but not Florida. And not Alabama. The game's about to speed up something fierce, Jordan. LSU's offense has improved, yes – but it's still ranked only #100 in the nation. And ‘bama's D is ranked #2. If LSU could get a running game going… But the worst kept secret in Tuscaloosa is Saban's going to take away the run just like last year, when LSU's Jarrett Lee (himself then an inexperienced 19 year old) threw four INTs, including the game's most important in OT. Nope, this game is going to fall on Jefferson's arm – which to date has been a bit erratic, and late to the party. Plus, and we're just guessing here, but it's possible we'll see some blitzing on Saturday; and LSU Oline/QB haven't particularly shinned in that department. Right now McElroy is average at best, but Saban will do what he always does, and just take the ball out of the QB's hands. So McElroy will be a non-factor. The spotlight will be shining on Mr. Jefferson. Is he ready for his close-up? Did we mention he's just 19 years, 2 months?
Greg McElroy, Alabama QB. After the Arkansas game it looked like McElroy was ready for a break out year. To quote the late Humphrey Bogart (loosely), "He'll always have Arkansas." I said it was loose. Since that September game, McElroy has regressed each and every week. Going up against what some believe (me) is the best secondary in the SEC, he must bring his A-game – because 120 yards isn't going to cut it against a team like LSU. He has to push the safeties away from the line by completing passes downfield and testing the great LSU corners. LSU is going to put 7-8 men in the box to stop that run until McElroy proves he can complete passes down the field. If that happens, expect the flood gates to open, and the LSU defense to start giving up big plays in the run game, and perhaps even a big play or two to Julio Jones (who is in desperate need of a breakout game). Julio? He plays wide receiver for the Tide.
SEC POWER RANKINGS
1 Florida – Another Saturday, another step forward in the Tebow recovery
2 Alabama – Do you think Ingram could get 50 carries?
3 LSU – What's the Tigers' record in day games again?
4 Tennessee – Hard to believe this is the same team we saw playing UCLA
8 Arkansas – Will the real Arkansas football team please stand up
8 Auburn – Running with scissors
8 South Carolina – Ring around the rosey, pocket full of posies…
8 Ole Miss – Really, has there been a more crushing disappointment than Snead?
11 MSU – Nicely done. Now string two Ws together
11 Georgia – See. Right where we said you'd be
11 Kentucky – We dated a girl like you once; rhymes with 'please'
12 Vanderbilt –
1 Alabama – Is there enough time in a bye week to fix this offense?
2 Florida – No truth to the rumor "A Christmas Story" is Meyer's favorite movie
3 LSU – The Mad Hatter is looking for revenge (and a trip to Atlanta) this weekend
4 Tennessee (up from 7) – You can't spell Outback without UT
5 Arkansas (up from 6) – 2 desperate teams playing this weekend
6 Auburn (up from 9) – Whose defense was that last Saturday?
7 South Carolina (down from 4) – The Culliver injury is huge for the Gamecocks.
8 Ole Miss (down from 5) – It's not polite to laugh, Hog fan
9 MSU (up from 10) – Where would this team be with a competent QB?
10 Georgia (down from 8) – AJ Green is hurt… the hits keep coming for Tubervile, er, I mean Richt
11 Kentucky – Even with the loss to MSU, a 4th straight bowl game is possible
12 Vanderbilt – Hey, Jay Cutler sure looked great for the Bears last weekend
THREE GAMES TO DVR
1) LSU at Alabama, November 7th. Not happening, Tiger fans. LSU was actually ranked higher statistically in Total O, Rushing O, and Rushing D when they played the Tide last year, at home, and lost. LSU's O is simply too erratic to beat ‘bama's D, particularly in Tuscaloosa. Along that vein, LSU always seems to get wrung up with penalties when they play any school in Alabama. Last time LSU visited Bryant-Denny, they received 14 penalties to ‘bama's 2. :) The previous three contests between these two have been very close – two OTs and one that should have ended there. Nick Saban coached teams always bring the house, and given LSU's difficulty defending the blitz, we should expect a healthy dose of it Saturday. Hey, want a way to stop the blitz? Line up 5 wide and force the Tide to defend with 6-7 DBs. Then make the quick pass when they do blitz. Easier said than done – particular when Alabama has so many blitz packages, and the Tigers have an inexperienced signal caller. No, the only thing that will save LSU is a Greg McElroy meltdown, and there's NO WAY SABAN will allow that to happen. He's going to take the ball out of his QB's hands, as he always does in tight games. Look for a lot of third down runs from ‘bama, and a whole lotta punting…
Alabama 16, LSU 13
2) South Carolina at Arkansas, November 7th. We're passed the point of no return for the Gamecocks, and this is usually where they implode. Y'all watched last week's cluster performance in Knoxvegas, right? The past few years, South Carolina has won with a stifling defense. With Matthews and Culliver out, on the road, against a team that wins with its offense…
Arkansas 34, South Carolina 17
3) Vanderbilt at Florida, November 7th. Well, that's about it. Two games. How does that happen? Vandy usually plays Florida tougher than folks realize. Particularly when they have the Gators playbook. Not this year...
Florida 61, Vanderbilt 6
1) LSU at Alabama, November 7th. Giving Russ a shot to gain on my lead, but there is some method to the madness in picking LSU this weekend. Let's start with the fact that LSU has not lost in Tuscaloosa since 1999, 4 straight victories in Bryant Denny including a 1-0 record against Saban on the road. Still not convinced? In their last three SEC contests, LSU has scored 3 more points per game than Alabama. Les Miles has never gone more than 2 seasons without playing in an SEC Championship game. The Fighting Tigers take a step closer to punching that ticket this weekend with, you guessed it, a three point victory.
LSU 16, Alabama 13
2) South Carolina at Arkansas, November 7th. South Carolina is minus two defensive starters in this game, and they are probably two of the most important positions in a game against Arkansas. Mallett has to be pressured or he will pick a defense apart, and being without Cliff Matthews really hurts South Carolina's pass rush. Add in the fact that Arkansas has one of the best vertical passing attacks in the conference, and oh yeah, Gamecock safety Chris Culliver won't be playing either. The last early kickoff home game the Razorbacks had, they blew out Auburn; South Carolina defense is definitely better than Auburn's, but the result will be the same.
Arkansas 35, South Carolina 23
3) Vanderbilt at Florida, November 7th. Due to my disappointment with Urban Meyer's lack of disciple, and the fact this game is a total dog, I will give a score and score only. Gators romp.
Florida 56, Vanderbilt 9
Yell at Brian: Brian Harbach
Yell at Russ: Russ Mitchell
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Nine, October 29, 2009
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