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 Tennessee's ten-thousand yards of offense. Or with Terrance Toliver (WR, LSU) and his stellar day in Seattle (4 recs for 117 yards, and 2 TDs as a starter). We reminded YPN readers in August (Who emerges from the SEC West Shadows) that Toliver was averaging about the same ypc as both of his younger contemporaries receiving much greater publicity: Julio Jones (Alabama) and AJ Green (UGA). Toliver made a statement Saturday.
However, the best performance goes to Alabama's Mark Ingram (RB), who lifted his sleepwalking team with a gutty Q4 performance in Atlanta. Ingram carried 26 times for a buck-fifty (85 of them in the last frame), and a TD. In so doing, the sophomore set a career high for rushing (previously 118 last season against Arkansas St.). Not satisfied with that, he added three receptions for 35 yards and another TD. Both TDs came in the fourth quarter, which the Tide entered losing 16-17. Ingram did leave late in the fourth with a sprained knee, and is apparently suffering with a case of the flu (likely a reoccurring theme this season: read below) - but both appear to be of minor concern.
I traveled to Raleigh to watch the NC State/South Carolina game last Thursday night. While it may not have been the prettiest game of the weekend, I left Carter Finley Stadium thinking two things: First, the Gamecock defensive line is wicked good, and second, why in the world did Carolina red-shirt Devin Taylor. Maybe Taylor was undersized last year, or maybe he had some kind of injury that I am unaware of (Gamecock fans let me know), but he played like a man among boys. Please keep the ACC jokes to a minimum with the man vs. boys stuff - because what Eric Norwood, Cliff Matthews, Taylor, Nathan Pepper and Travian Robertson did to that team was borderline assault.
The Gamecock line racked up 6 sacks, gave up fewer than 2 yards per carry, and harassed last year's ACC Freshmen of the Year Russell Wilson all game, and into the post-game party. After watching the Georgia offensive line, Steve Spurrier had to be drooling while thinking of this match-up. This is the most exciting match-up of the week, and whichever unit plays better will come out of Athens victorious. Keep your eyes on the trenches Saturday night; it is going to be a great battle.
(ii) Bigger concern…Georgia Offense or LSU Defense?
Georgia's offense. Yes, the 478 yards LSU allowed was more than any game last season. Perhaps more concerning was the 25 first downs they surrendered, and the Tigers' inability to stop long third down conversions (UW was 11-for-19, and at one point, 8-for-10). And please stop emailing us all these excuses – "LSU traveled 2,500+ miles (longest road trip ever)…", or "The game started at nearly 10 PM local time for the Tigers…" Don't kid yourselves – we saw it with our own eyes: the Tigers D looked dazed and confused. And yes, "sleepless" (thank you). However, (i) minus UW's final drive inside the last minute, which LSU (up by 15) didn't seem particularly interested in stopping, the Tigers held UW to only ~100 yards and a FG in the 2H, (ii) LSU's defense has greater seniority/experience and overall talent depth than UGA's offense, and (iii) John Chavis is an experienced and successful SEC DC. Odds are given (i) and (ii), he rights the ship.
UGA's offense on the other hand… In the long run, it'll be ok. Overlooked in the loss were 16 first downs (to OSU's 17), and a comparable amount of total yards. However, outside of the opening 80-yard drive, Georgia's offense never looked steady. The RBs need three or four more games to get some real-time experience. Same with Joe Cox (QB), of whom we'll be optimistic and suggest his lethargic performance was the result of a struggle with the flu. ? However, as we've now pointed out repeatedly, (i) there's a frightening dearth of experience in this backfield, (ii) the O-line is simply overrated, and injury prone, and (iii) with at best marginal talent across from Green, he can expect double (even triple) teams for the remainder of the season. And Cox can expect to see a whole heck of a lot more blitzing. Moreover, there were numerous miscues and an INT and two fumbles to go with a paltry 95 yards rushing. Again, these issues will be resolved, but they'll take time – which the Dawgs don't have. They'll win at home this Saturday, but as we called it last Friday on Sports Talk w/ Bo Mattingly – UGA will lose to the Hogs in Fayetteville.
Neither one of these two units looked very good, but Georgia has to be extremely concerned with how poorly they played last week. The Oklahoma State defense is bad. Really bad. To put up only ten points against one of the worst defensive teams in the country is pretty shocking, and there is too much talent on the Bulldog sideline to have that happen. Obviously Joe Cox had a rough game, and the offensive line got pushed around quite a bit; but OC Mike Bobo failed to make adjustments and the team never stepped up.
LSU got beat because they were essentially sleepwalking through the game and didn't take seriously a team that had lost 14 straight games. The game was well in hand going into the fourth quarter, and LSU fans shouldn't be too concerned unless this starts happening in bigger contests this season. The Georgia offense should have played better, its coaches should have coached better, and it should have won that game. The numbers weren't pretty, and Joe Cox must have a much better game Saturday for the Bulldogs to get past Steve Spurrier and his Gamecocks.
(iii) What every SEC fan should be talking about after Week 1, but isn't?
Well, that leaves out anything to do with Alabama's overrated victory over an outmatched Tech team, LSU's defense, or whether anyone in Athens has found a way to stop time so UGA's backfield can get in a few more reps... (i) Terrible news about Andre Debose (WR, Florida). We were really looking forward to watching the electric freshman this season; but the comparisons to Harvin continue, who was banged up his frosh year, (ii) More to file under "Red Cross"... Perhaps the greater shame finds Trinton Sturdivant (OT) down with yet another season-ending knee injury. Time to juggle the O-line at Georgia – stop us if you've heard this before, (iii) People are only just now giving it play, but as one team after another goes down with the flu/H1N1 virus, it's going to need its own dedicated weekly report. And take it one step further - say you're playing a rent-a-win team that's suffering from a material outbreak of the flu, with a powerhouse opponent up next… Do you play your starters and risk them getting sick? Talk about intangibles, (iv) Just how cold was it in Seattle last Saturday night? Significantly colder than the bayou in early Sep., that's for sure, (v) Try getting cell phone reception 20 miles outside of Seattle metro. Talk about the sticks, (vi) West teams hold five of the top six spots in our SEC POWER RANKINGS below, (vii) Vandy's kicking game looked as shaky as Cox's passing, (viii) Four freshman rushed for 100+ last week: Onterio McCalebb (Auburn), Bryce Brown (UT), and Warren Norman / Zac Stacy (both from Vandy), (ix) Arkansas QBs Ryan Mallett and Tyler Wilson combined for a school-record 447 yards passing in the 48-10 win against Missouri State, with Mallett missing on just five attempts, and (x) Speaking of the Hogs, what's up with WRs, collarbones, and Arkansas? Senior receiver London Crawford broke his on Saturday – this after Lucas Miller did the same in August. Crawford started 11 games last season, though we point out the Hogs had 13 different receivers catch passes last week. This Bobby Ball is going to be fun.
One topic that seems to be causing problems for at least one SEC school, could end up being a much bigger deal if it begins to be passed around the SEC. Ole Miss has nine starters and 27 athletes right now that are out with the flu; Dexter McCluster was hospitalized Tuesday night and released Wednesday. Good thing they don't have a game this weekend. Don't go jumping to conclusions about the type of flu; in this case it appears to be just a bug that's going around right now, and it's just Ole Miss' turn. Last week Joe Cox had to make the trip to Stillwater late with flu symptoms, and this could end up becoming a bigger story throughout the season. And what about players who may be sick coming into close contact with other teams?
Coaches need to be responsible in this situation, and hold kids out of games if there is a risk the player(s) will infect teammates or players from the opposing teams. I expect coaches to act responsibly here, because their own players would also be at risk; but just imagine how bad this could get if a star SEC player gets sick and has to miss a big game. This is a serious problem and it needs to be addressed by the commissioner before someone gets seriously sick, or an entire team gets sick.
IN FOCUS: Which SEC Coach / Player is in the Spotlight this week?
Cox (QB, UGA). Sorry to beat a dead horse here, but if Cox and Co. lose to South Carolina on Saturday – which they shouldn't – they'll be 0-3 after the trip to Arkansas. Given USC's inept offensive performance last Thursday (who's their "genius" offensive mind, again?), Georgia's solid D should keep the Gamecocks under 14 points between the hedges. But that means the Dawgs offense will have to score five more points than it did in Stillwater, and do so with a banged up O-line and a confidence-stricken backfield, against a coach who just loves beating UGA - and he got an extra couple days to game plan. All while playing against one of the best defenses in America (when is Ellis Johnson going to get a head coaching job???). There's nothing like home cookin' to heal a burdened heart, and Cox should get just enough of it – combined with USC's poor offense – to earn his team the W. But two or more turnovers and UGA likely loses – particularly if the Gamecocks turn one or more into D points.
South Carolina Defensive Line. The match up that every SEC fan should be paying attention to on Saturday will be the UGA Offensive line against what looks like one of the best and deepest Defensive Lines the SEC has seen in years. There are four linemen on the Gamecock defensive front that could start for any team in the SEC (Devin Taylor, Eric Norwood, Travian Robertson and Cliff Matthews). If there is one matchup to focus on, it's whoever lines up across from Taylor. He is one of the fastest linemen in the SEC, and should have a huge game against the young UGA tackles replacing injured Trinton Sturdivant. South Carolina had a league best 6 sacks last week, and they will significantly increase their totals in Athens.
SEC POWER RANKINGS
1 Florida – Debose loss hurts more than you think
2 Alabama – Must play better than that in conference
3 Ole Miss – Bye week comes just in (cough) time
4 LSU – Haven't lost to Vandy at home since Truman was in office
5 Arkansas (up from 6) – An extra week off to prepare for a battered UGA
6 Auburn (up from 7) – A step down in competition this week
7 Georgia (down from 5) – Will end up higher once West beats up on itself
8 Tennessee – Exciting, and solid coaching; now beat a team with a pulse
9 South Carolina – Is this the best defense in the SEC?
10 Vandy – Another solid D; can they hold on in Death Valley?
11 Kentucky – Yeah, were 4-0 last season too
12 MSU – 238 yards rushing w/o (burp) Dixon; but against Jackson St.
1 Florida – I admit it, I wagered beer the Gators would cover the 73
2 Alabama (up from 3) – Looked physical on defense last weekend
3 LSU (down from 2) – Jordan Jefferson looked great; the D, not so much
4 Ole Miss – Same as last week; no comment until they play a real game
5 Arkansas (up from 6) – Told not talk Ark. this wk; I'm a good listener
6 Georgia (down from 5) – UGA wheels shaking, but they haven't fallen off yet
7 South Carolina – Can the Gamecocks get another upset road W?
8 Auburn – The Tigers have not scored a TD against MSU in 6+ quarters
9 Tennessee – 63 points not like last yr; 2 Crompton picks looked familiar
10 Vanderbilt – Vandy's offense looked better in Week One than all of last year
11 Kentucky – Brooks listened to me, but Cobb needs more than 8 touches
12 MSU – 4 fumbles (2 lost), and 152 penalty yards against FCS Jackson St.
THREE GAMES TO DVR
1) South Carolina at Georgia, September 12th. Last year in Columbia, South Carolina rushed for just 18 yards in losing 14-7. That's unlikely to repeat. EDGE USC. UGA had much more offensive talent (and leadership) last season, while USC is pretty comparable on both sides of the ball. EDGE USC. This season it's between the hedges, however, the Old Ball Coach has typically worked wonders against Georgia. EDGE TIE. Given an extra couple days to prepare, and a beaten up UGA team licking its wounds, could the Gamecocks pull off another road upset? Nope. (Caveat: Unless USC gets +2 takeaways, and at least seven points directly from one of them.) But SC will cover the spread. We're least confident about this prediction, but with a resting Arkansas up next, UGA should be playing desperate (as Mr. Harbach points out). Kicker Blair Walsh will pull (kick) out the W in the end.
Georgia 16, South Carolina 14
2) Vanderbilt at LSU, September 12th. Vandy is a far better team than folks outside of this column realize, with significantly better depth than it's had in… perhaps ever. The D-line is talented and mean, and its secondary might be just as good as last year's squad, despite losing D.J. Moore (Chicago Bears) and Reshard Langford (Philadelphia Eagles). However, LSU's running game will be bruising, and Jordan Jefferson threw for three TDs last Saturday. Toliver had a career game, but All-SECers Brandon LaFell (WR) and Richard Dickson (TE) had relatively quiet nights, and superstar recruits Russell Shepard and Reuben Randle never even caught a pass. Uh oh. Vandy's improved offense won't be enough, as LSU pulls away in the 2H.
LSU 35, Vanderbilt 21
3) UCLA at Tennessee, September 12th. We're not too sure about Tennessee's offensive explosion last week, nor how successful all these freshman will be against SEC competition. But we are sure about one thing – Monte Kiffin's defense rocks the party. Another thing we're sure of – a freshman QB is not coming into Knox-Vegas and doing anything to spoil Kiffin's D, or his party. Party on Wayne. Party on Garth. Party on Monte.
Tenn 24, UCLA 13
1) South Carolina at Georgia, September 12th. Does anyone remember the classic Auburn/MSU game last year that ended 3-2? Don't put it past these two teams to play that kind of ugly football this weekend. While it won't be as low scoring, it will be a defensive struggle. The home team also happens to be the more desperate team, and those two reasons are enough to give the edge to the Bulldogs.
Georgia 13, South Carolina 10
2) MSU at Auburn, September 12th. That previous pick was a great set up for this one considering they played the aforementioned ugliest game in SEC history last year. Dan Mullen and Gene Chizik will be coaching in their first SEC game and both teams should expect to win this one. How often can we say that Auburn has the more stable quarterback situation, that is enough for Chizik to earn his first SEC win.
Auburn 24, MSU 20
3) Vanderbilt at LSU, September 12th. The SEC home opener for LSU might seem like a tough one with the pesky Vanderbilt Commodores coming to town, but after the terrible effort last week from the defense expect Miles to push his guys to play better. Not to mention how fired up that crowd in Death Valley will be to welcome the Fighting Tigers back to Baton Rouge.
LSU 38, Vanderbilt 20
Yell at Brian: Brian Harbach
Yell at Russ: Russ Mitchell