3 SEC QUESTIONS THAT NAG MORE THAN YOUR EX
(i) What was the best performance from last weekend (Team or Player)?
Like week eight (when Mark Ingram rushed for 246 against SC), there's no reason to go with our typical format for this segment, as last week, one performance so out-shined the rest. Ole Miss RB Dexter McCluster ran for 282 yards and 4 TDs against what at the time was the 3rd best rushing D in the conference. HC Houston Nutt made the commitment to go with McCluster full-time after giving him the ball just nine times in the loss to Alabama. In those three SEC contests since, the elusive back has rushed for nearly 600 yards (591), averaging 8.6 /ypc. For good measure, McCluster's added 196 yards receiving, for a total of 787 yards. That's nearly 10 yards each time he's touched the ball. Look for more of the same this weekend against LSU.
There was no debate in the SEC Blogger Review on Monday and there is no doubt here that Dexter McCluster had the best performance last weekend. The stats against Tennessee are not a surprise this late in the week, but just because we know how great he played doesn't mean they should be ignored. McCluster rushed for 282 yards on 25 carries, resulting in 4 touchdowns. In his last 3 SEC games, Houston Nutt's new Run DMC has totaled 787 yards and six touchdowns. He is averaging almost 7 yards a carry on the season, and is putting up these numbers against both good and bad SEC defenses. He is an equal opportunity offender; it doesn't matter if your D is poor or elite, he is running all over 'em. Which makes it all the more shocking he only got 9 touches in the Alabama game. He is unquestionably the best weapon Ole Miss has in its arsenal. Since Jevan Snead cannot be relied upon to win games right now, Nutt has realized the Rebel offense goes through McCluster.
(ii) Which SEC QB would give the SEC's best defense, Alabama, the biggest headache?
Ignoring for a moment that Florida's defense is actually ranked better statistically in every category except Rushing defense (specifically, that's Total, Passing, and Scoring), and are second behind ‘bama in Rushing D… But let's answer your question. It's too easy to go with the best statistical Offense/QB here – besides, that would be Arkansas and Ryan Mallett, ranked first in Total O, Passing O and Passing Efficiency (in fact, Mallett is now ranked third best in the nation in Passing Efficiency). However, we've already seen that rodeo. Yes, it was early in the season, but 12/35 for 160 yards with 1 TD/1 INT kind of sticks out. Like "FEMA in the Gulf Coast" sticks out. Not to mention the final score: 35-7.
SC's Stephen Garcia leads the conference in pass attempts with 373 (Mallet has just 294), but we know the answer to that one too. And he's ranked 73rd in the nation in Pass Efficiency. Jonathan Crompton (I know, just let me finish) is actually ranked in the top half of many conference statistical categories, is a senior, has more than 2,000 passing yards, and since October has thrown 18 TDs to 2 INTs. He also led his team to what should have been a win in Tuscaloosa. Close, but he's not the man.
To beat this great Tide defense, you need four things in a QB: (i) passing accuracy, (ii) running ability, (iii) experience and (iv) toughness. I wonder who that brings to mind? Alabama's Rush Defense is #1, but its Pass D is middle of the SEC pack. A QB must make his throws count to force the 'bama back seven off the line. Then he has to be able to run, both to keep the defense guessing as well as to avoid the blitz; the latter of which takes us to experience. Finally, he better be tough, ‘cause this defense will pound you right up to and past the letter of the rule book (which, personally, we love). So, you better come ready to battle. The second best QB in this mold would be LSU's Jordan Jefferson; he kept the game in Tuscaloosa close, but lacked the necessary experience/toughness. Tim Tebow won't have that problem on December 5th.
Florida would obviously refute this claim... Regardless, I believe Alabama's defense would win out. With that in mind, there is only one type of quarterback that would give the Crimson Tide defense problems, and that would be a quarterback who is mobile and accurate. The SEC has a good number of accurate passers, like a Jordan Jefferson and Ryan Mallett; but neither of them is truly mobile enough to avoid the Alabama rush. Jefferson looks more athletic than he really is, and he is a good pocket passer, but he isn't nearly as mobile as someone like Tim Tebow.
Unfortunately for Alabama, Tebow is the best type of QB to face the its defense because of his ability to make a play with his arm and his legs. Tebow is good enough to make a big throw downfield, and a strong, great escape artist in the pocket. The SEC's Superman will have a second straight SEC Championship game to go up against one of the most creative and disciplined defenses in the country, and he has all the tools to be successful. This Alabama defense feasts on quarterbacks that are just one dimensional - look what they did to Ryan Mallett, who seems to be the perfect pocket passer. And it destroyed Tyrod Taylor early in the season (who should be making more plays with his feet). If your team's QB is not capable of making plays with his feet and his arm, there is not a good chance he will be successful against the Alabama defense. Tebow is the best bet, and this year even he may not be enough to tame the Tide D.
(iii) What every SEC fan should be talking about after Week eleven, but isn't?
Well, that leaves out anything to do with the difficult late season games both Florida and Alabama have scheduled this weekend (good work, y'all!), where teams will go bowling, and anything to do with Dexter McCluster… (i) 6. With the shoplifting incident involving Tennessee's Nyshier Oliver, the revised over/under on how many of Lane Kiffin's first recruiting class will go toe-to-toe with the law before the end of this season? (ii) We know we said no writing about it… But really, how much time do you think Urban Meyer and Nick Saban devoted this week to game planning FIU and Chattanooga? Who wants to bet we just see last week's schemes? There's absolutely nothing any of us (including the team's themselves) are going to get out of the two games this Saturday – utter waste of time in mid-November, (iii) Quick - who's got the best Punt Return average in the conference? A: LSU. The Tigers average 16 yards per return, which ranks 4th in the nation; no other SEC school is even in the top 15, (iv) Quick - who's dead last in the nation in Kickoff Return average? A: LSU. Kind of stands out, doesn't it. Like Jay-Z with Beyonce (yeah, we know he's talented, but come on). The Tigers haven't returned many kickoffs (29) given their good defense, but it's still more than Florida (25), and the Gators are ranked best in the conference and 10th in the nation with 26 /ypr. LSU's average? 17 /ypr. Perhaps it's because the Tigers have returned more squib quicks on KOs which lowers the average, as teams attempt to kick away from LSU's Trindon Holliday. Nevertheless, best to worst?
Last week I got a great email from a Razorback fan ready to discuss the postseason All-SEC teams. Of course being an Arkansas fan, he was focusing on the 1st team QB spot. The email brought up a pretty great point: who is the first team SEC quarterback right now, and who should get that spot come December. Of course Tim Tebow is the first name that comes to mind, but is that because of what he has done in 2009 or because he could end up being the greatest college football player of all time? This raises the ever-present question in college football regarding the quarterback on the best team or the quarterback with the best stats. Looking at the stats, it seems pretty apparent there needs to be some serious discussion before we all anoint Tim Tebow to the first team spot. There are two players right now who have tossed 23 touchdown passes so far this year: Ryan Mallett and Jonathon Crompton. Yes, Crompton. Tebow has 22 total touchdowns when you combine his running, but he has thrown for 1,000 less yards than Mallett, and 400 less than Crompton.
Asking colleagues across the SEC landscape, it appears this race will come down between Ryan Mallett and Tim Tebow; Crompton just hasn't played well enough in big games to warrant a first team consideration, and closing out against Vandy and Kentucky won't help him in this regard. The difference between Tebow and Mallett is their teams. Tebow has won every game he has played this year, and Mallett is playing on a bowl bound Razorback squad that has lost 4 games already. There you have it. The discussion mentioned earlier - QB on the best team or QB with the best stats? Right now Mallett should get the nod over Tebow for the first team spot, but the only way the voters will do it is if he wins 8 games this year. (RM Note: And yet Tebow continues to get the Heisman nod from so many voters, which at this point is a joke.) A win over LSU will seal his first team spot. 7-5 won't cut it, and the more impressive stats will fall to the more impressive team.
IN FOCUS: Which SEC Coach / Player is in the Spotlight this week?
John Chavis, LSU Defense Coordinator. Dexter McCluster is averaging ~10 yards per touch in the past three SEC games. Bet that keeps a DC up nights. Most of those yards have come on the ground; LSU's defense hasn't allowed a rushing TD in six weeks, and just three on the season. So, what gives first? Lost in the headlines around backup QB Jarrett Lee's poor performance last Saturday, was LSU's defense surrendering beaucoup yards to a pair of slight but spry backs from La. Tech. More importantly though, most of those yards came in the first half; before the Bulldogs wore out, the Tigers were having a terrible time corralling the duo. McCluster is a material upgrade over these two, and unlike La. Tech, the Ole Miss Rebels have the horses to run with LSU for four quarters. Chavis can put together a great scheme, and he adjusts well at halftime... But the question remains - Can he stop McCluster?
The LSU Quarterback, LSU . The LSU QB situation at this point in the year is a mess; Jordan Jefferson is clearly not 100% and Jarrett Lee doesn't seem capable of getting over the mental road blocks he put up for himself in 2008. The only way LSU goes into Oxford and comes out with a win is if Jefferson is closer to healthy than we believe him to be, and he is able to avoid a very aggressive Rebel defensive line. That or Lee turns into an SEC quarterback over night. Neither of these two scenarios is likely, so for the second year in a row against Ole Miss, this position will be the key point for LSU's success or failure.
SEC POWER RANKINGS
1 Florida – Yawn
2 Alabama – Yawn (x2). Game planning Auburn or Florida?
5 LSU – Jarrett Lee: out of the frying pan, into…
5 Ole Miss – Keep. Ball. Away. Snead.
5 Arkansas – Great chance for a great bowl
5 Tennessee – Wow, that McCluster kid's FAST!
7 Georgia – Need this W to avoid going 6-6
8 Auburn – The bye week's not going to help
9 South Carolina – Our Father, who art in heaven…
11 MSU – So, we're not there yet
11 Kentucky – Bowling again, with two conference wins
12 Vanderbilt –
1 Alabama – How much Florida film did Saban watch this week?
2 Florida – Pretty sad match up against FIU so late in the season
3 LSU – Will we get Jefferson or Lee in Oxford this week? Will it matter?
4 Ole Miss (up from 8) – Why did it take Nutt 6 games to get McCluster all these reps
5 Arkansas – With 2 games to go, Mallett looking like an elite SEC QB
6 Tennessee (down from 4) – D looked distracted last week, for some reason
7 Georgia (up from 10) – AJ Green goes down and UGA wakes up on offense
8 Auburn (down from 6) – AU lacks the ability to win with TOs/penalties
9 South Carolina (down from 7) – Clemson game could define the OBC's Columbia career
10 MSU (down from 9) – Can't wait to watch this O with a competent QB next year
11 Kentucky – Cobb broke out against UGA last year; think they'll be ready for him
12 Vanderbilt – Basketball season is here. Awesome
THREE GAMES TO DVR
1) LSU at Ole Miss, November 21st. Really, what's challenging about this call? Heading into the game last week, Tennessee's rushing defense was better than LSU's, sported the best DC in CFB, and was keenly aware that Ole Miss was going to run McCluster six ways from Sunday. And he still put up nearly three bills and 4 TDs. Tiger supporters point to its rushing D having not surrendered a TD the past six weeks, including a great game against Alabama in particular, where the Tide amassed a scant 176 rushing yards. But in the ‘bama game, almost all of those yards came in the 2H, as the Tide barely rushed in the first. Besides, Ingram still averaged six yards on six 1H carries, and seven on 22 overall carries. With a banged up Jordan Jefferson to boot, look for a repeat of the Tennessee game this week in Oxford. That is, unless Jevan Snead throws three INTs. Who cares to wager that Nutt won't allow Snead to throw more than 20 pass attempts? If he does, that's a bad sign for the Rebs…
Ole Miss 35, LSU 21
2) Kentucky at Georgia, November 21st. Kentucky hasn't won three games in a row all season. In fact, the Cats haven't won three in a row since September 2008. Against an optimistic Georgia team fighting to finish above .500 (no, they're not beating Tech on the road next Saturday), Kentucky will head into 2010 without stopping that trend. Teams that have beaten UGA this year have done so two ways: putting up a lot of passing yards and getting to QB Joe Cox. Kentucky's Pass Efficiency is nearly dead last in the nation (111th), and the Cats have been virtually unable to put any pressure on the QB (last in the SEC in TFL and 2nd to last in Sacks)… That's about it…
Georgia 28, Kentucky 14
3) MSU at Arkansas, November 21st. Coming off a terribly disappointing performance at home, after a bye week, the Bulldogs are battered and reeling. Off they limp to Arkansas, bringing with them the conference's #10 Passing D, #9 Rushing D, and #11 Total D. To go up against, arguably, the SEC's most dynamic offense, which just happens to be firing on all cylinders. And rested, after simply dismantling Troy last weekend, 56-20. A Troy team, by the way, that had won seven straight and will likely win the Sun Belt Conference…
Arkansas 42, MSU 17
1) LSU at Ole Miss, November 21st. I apologize to Ole Miss fans for picking the Rebels in this one because in nearly every big game they have had this year, I have been wrong. It is just hard to see past the zone that Run DMC is in right now and the issues LSU has at the QB position. If Jarrett Lee starts this game it will be over by halftime, but Jefferson will give them a chance if he plays and is close to healthy. We saw what Mark Ingram did to this defense and McCluster will have similar success. Ole Miss controls this game from the opening drive and LSU plays catch up all afternoon.
Ole Miss 34, LSU 20
2) Kentucky at Georgia, November 21st. Randall Cobb nearly helped pull off an upset last year, but fell short. Willie Martinez and the UGA defense will be ready for him and he won't have nearly the success he did in Lexington last year. Joe Cox is looking to finish the season strong and he will bring a three game win streak into Atlanta when the Bulldogs face Georgia Tech.
Georgia 21, Kentucky 14
3) MSU at Arkansas, November 21st. Ryan Mallett is putting up great numbers each week and the turnover prone MSU offense will help boost his stats this weekend in Fayetteville. The Razorback defense is completely different when playing at home and they will limit the Bulldog rushing game and talented running back Anthony Dixon. The Bulldog postseason bid ends this weekend as the Razorbacks continue their fight for the Cotton Bowl in Baton Rouge next week.
Arkansas 34, MSU 20
Yell at Brian: Brian Harbach
Yell at Russ: Russ Mitchell
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Eleven, November 12, 2009
Y'all Play Nice. SEC Week Ten, November 5, 2009
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