Week Nine is already underway — congrats to Mississippi State for last night’s win; kudos to Kentucky for showing continued fight — which means it’s time for our weekly SEC football primer. Included are TV listings, Vegas odds, statistical comparisons, game keys, opinions and predictions. It’s everything you need for Saturday’s six-pack of SEC contests.
And as always, good luck to your favorite team…
Vanderbilt (4-3) at #16 Texas A&M (5-2)
TV: 12:21pm ET on SEC TV
Opening Line: A&M -18.5
Current Line: A&M -17
One To Watch: Vanderbilt QB Patton Robinette. The redshirt freshman will make his first career start after subbing for an injured Austyn Carta-Samuels last week. Robinette — who initially picked North Carolina over Vanderbilt — finished nine-of-15 last week with 41 yards and an interception. He also had a nine-yard touchdown run. Texas A&M’s defense is bad. Can Robinette take advantage and keep the Commodores in this one?
This And That:
1. A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is expected to play tomorrow despite injuring his throwing shoulder against Auburn last weekend. He was clearly in pain as he led A&M’s last-gasp drive and he was in a sling earlier this week. It’s hard to imagine Johnny Football sitting this one out, but some are wondering if he should play, even if he’s cleared. Fair question. But from a football point of view only, Manziel at 75% is still better than most quarterbacks at 100%.
2. We know the Aggies will surrender yards and points (they’re 14th in the SEC in both categories), but can Vandy slow Kevin Sumlin’s offense? The Dores have been up and down on D all season allowing: 489 yards to Ole Miss, 139 to Austin Peay, 579 to South Carolina, 248 to UMass, 362 to UAB, 523 to Missouri, and then just 221 to an injury-riddled Georgia offense. Against SEC foes only, VU ranks 10th in yards allowed and 12th in points allowed. Chances are, A&M will get theirs.
3. On the road against a ranked opponent that loves to go up-tempo. Giving a quarterback his first start ever at rocking Kyle Field. Those are the kinds of things that would normally lead a coach to rely on his run game and try to eat clock. But Vandy’s strength is throwing the ball (#6 in pass offense in the SEC), not running it (#14 in rush offense). So can the Commodores (4.1 yards per carry, #13 in the SEC) produce enough of a ground game against A&M’s shoddy defense (#14 in the SEC versus the run) to take some of the pressure off Robinette?
Prediction: Texas A&M 47, Vanderbilt 27
Tennessee (4-3) at #1 Alabama (7-0)
TV: 3:30pm ET on CBS
Opening Line: UA -26.5
Current Line: UA -28.5
One To Watch: Tennessee QB Justin Worley. During Tennessee’s 3-2 start, the junior from South Carolina tossed eight TD passes and six interceptions. In an overtime loss to Georgia and in an upset of Carolina last week, Worley has thrown two touchdowns against zero picks. It hasn’t been pretty, but it has been effective. If the Volunteers are to have any shot at all against Alabama, they’ll need for their quarterback to protect the football once more. That won’t be easy against Bama’s D.
This And That:
1. Alabama has been tested exactly once this season and they passed it with a 49-42 at College Station. In the Tide’s other six games, they’ve won by a combined score of 236-26. That’s a 39-4 average score, a five-touchdown margin of victory on average. The best game anyone’s given Nick Saban’s team since its win over A&M? Well, Ole Miss came within 25 in a 25-0 shutout loss. Anything’s possible as we saw last week, but Bama is not the team any school wants to see on its schedule right now.
2. Keep an eye on the red zone success for both squads. Neither team is particularly good inside the opponents’ 20 (UA is #7 in the SEC while UT is #8). Both teams are good when it comes to red zone defense. Alabama is tops in the conference allowing scores just 63% of the time. Tennessee ranks third best in the SEC allowing just a 73% conversion rate. The difference? Foes have only reached the red zone against the Tide 11 times all year (seven fewer than anyone else in the league). Vol foes have reached the red zone 30 times, which is the most in the SEC.
3. Turnovers played a major role in the SEC’s Upset Saturday a week ago. In fact, all six SEC games went to the team that committed the fewest turnovers. As mention above, the Vols have been better about giving the ball away in recent weeks, but UT is still 12th in the league in turnover margin (minus-two) when you look at conference games only. Alabama is third best (plus-three). Unless the Red Elephants get a sudden case of the whoopsies, the improving Vols’ chances just don’t look too good.
Prediction: Alabama 38, Tennessee 10
Furman (3-4) at #13 LSU (6-2)
TV: 7:00pm ET on Pay-per-view
Opening Line: LSU -47
Current Line: LSU -47
One To Watch: The turnstiles at Tiger Stadium. Much was made of the 15,000 empty seats at Tiger Stadium for the Florida game two weeks ago. That was Florida. This is Furman. Expect a smaller crowd. And — to be honest — that’s exactly what LSU deserves for scheduling an FCS program.
This And That:
1. It’s time for LSU to get its house back in order and the pushover Paladins from the Southern Conference should provide a perfect opportunity to do so. First on the agenda is getting Zach Mettenberger back on track. His numbers have slipped the past two weeks against Florida (win) and Ole Miss (loss). Overall, the senior quarterback 67.9% of his passes with a 186.9 passer rating in LSU’s victories. He’s completed just 60.0% of his throws and his passer rating has dropped to just 147.8 in the Tigers’ losses. Cam Cameron was being hailed a genius just three weeks ago. Time to win everyone over again.
2. The second area of concern for LSU is on defense. As in the whole defense. Ole Miss upset the Bayou Bengals 27-24 in Oxford last week and they rolled up 525 yards of offense in the process. The last team to hang 500+ on LSU was West Virginia (533) back in 2011. Only two other times in the last seven years (Auburn in 2010, Arkansas in 2007) has a foe hung 500 yards on the Tigers. To be fair, LSU is young on that side of the ball. But John Chavis’ unit has yielded 437 or more yards in four of the school’s five SEC games to date.
3. Les Miles said this week — after the loss to Mississippi — that it’s time to give some more young guys the chance to play. Is it any coincidence that he said that with Furman coming up this weekend? You’d better believe he’s going to be protecting as many starters as possible with #1 Alabama up next on the Tigers’ schedule. Miles got his youth in the game last year against tiny Towson and as a result the 38-22 score was a bit closer than most would have expected. Might we see something similar tomorrow?
Prediction: LSU 38, Furman 17
#21 South Carolina (5-2) at #5 Missouri (7-0)
TV: 7:00pm ET on ESPN2
Opening Line: USC -5
Current Line: MU -3
One To Watch: South Carolina RB Mike Davis. The Gamecocks have in Davis the SEC’s leading rusher. The 5-9, 215-pound tailback is averaging 6.6 yards per carry and 125.5 yards per game. Quarterback Dylan Thompson will be making his first start of the year for USC. It would be best to lean on Davis early and often and set up the pass with the run, right? One problem: Steve Spurrier loves to throw the ball. Carolina has thrown 198 passes on the season. A whopping 139 of those have come in the first half of games (versus only 59 in the second half). Run the ball, Steve.
This And That:
1. Maty Mauk and the Missouri offense didn’t stumble as the young QB made his first start (filling in for an injured James Franklin) last week against Florida. But while the Tigers did hang 36 on the Gators, Mauk’s completion percentage was just 50% (18-of-36) and he threw one TD and one INT. Franklin had completed less than 65% of his passes just once all season. Mauk will need to be more accurate to keep the chains moving against Carolina. (And speaking of Mizzou quarterbacks, third-stringer Corbin Berkstresser is out with a leg injury, meaning the Tigers have only true freshman Eddie Printz behind Mauk.)
2. Keep an eye on the pass rushers in this one. And, no, we’re not starting with Jadeveon Clowney. Missouri is the team with the SEC’s best pass rush. The Tigers have recorded 23 sacks on the season with nine coming from defensive end Michael Sam. Meanwhile, teams have been spending so much time doubling up on USC’s Clowney (who did have a “Clowney-esque” game last week), that it’s opened the door for defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles to get pressure up the middle. Quarles has five of USC’s 15 sacks. Clowney has two. Now, with Thompson making his first start of the season and Mauk making just his second start ever, pressure off the edge or a push up the middle and into the quarterback’s feet could cause either quarterback to get a bit too antsy. (In case you’re wondering, USC has allowed 14 sacks on the year while MU has allowed 15.)
3. Before last Saturday’s upset at the hands of Tennessee, Carolina had looked like one of the hottest teams in the league. Then, from out of nowhere, the Gamecocks laid an egg. That’s just how quickly things can change in the Southeastern Conference. Rolling one minute, tumbling the next. Missouri is playing better football than South Carolina right now. The Tigers’ success has not been a fluke. But at some point the bubble is bound to pop and USC has a balanced mix of offense and defense. The Cocks are due for a big win while the Tigers are due for a loss.
Prediction: South Carolina 35, Missouri 34
Florida Atlantic (2-5) at #11 Auburn (6-1)
TV: 7:30pm ET on FSN
Opening Line: AU -28
Current Line: AU -24
One To Watch: The Auburn trainers. The Tigers are on a nice roll and have jumped all the way to #11 in the BCS standings. The Plainsmen don’t need to get important contributors injured in a game with an FBS pipsqueak, though that’s usually about all these kinds of games are good for.
This And That:
1. Gus Malzahn has to be pleased with the improvement and development he’s seen from quarterback Nick Marshall on a game-by-game basis. In his first two starts, Marshall accounted for 163 yards per game of total offense. In his four starts since he’s averaged 300 yards rushing/passing per contest. He rolled up 336 yards of total offense (236 passing and 100 rushing) in leading Auburn to an upset win at Texas A&M. In addition, the juco transfer passed for two scores, ran for two others, and didn’t throw an interception.
2. Florida Atlantic has allowed 303 yards rushing to Miami (FL), 396 yards rushing to Middle Tennessee State, and 204 yards rushing to Rice. That’s probably not real good news with the Owls visiting Auburn. The Tigers are tops in the SEC in rushing offense with a per-game average of right at 300 yards. Expect Malzahn to pound FAU in the mouth, run up a lead, and then get the backups in.
3. On paper, the one Achilles’ heel for AU this year has been its secondary. The Tigers still rank dead last in the league in pass defense (allowing 282.0 yards through the air each week). But. Rival passers have a QB rating of 124.2 against Auburn, which is actually a middle-of-the-SEC-pack number. Yes, Ellis Johnson’s defensive unit has given up yards, but they’ve also had more passes thrown their way than any SEC team outside of Missouri. In fact, only five leagues teams have recorded more INTs than TDs allowed and Auburn is in that group. So while pass defense might look like a weakness, it’s not certainly not as bad as some of the numbers suggest. Beware, FAU.
Prediction: Auburn 42, FAU 13
Idaho (1-6) at Ole Miss (4-3)
TV: 7:30pm ET on CSS
Opening Line: UM -40
Current Line: UM -41.5
One To Watch: Another game on television, maybe? Idaho is an independent at the bottom of the FBS ranks. Like LSU/Furman, we have zero interest in watching this one. Bet Rebel fans feel the same way. Here’s guessing the Grove will have better attendance than the second half of this one.
This And That:
1. When talking about the UM offense, you have to start with Bo Wallace. The junior QB currently ranks fourth in the SEC in total offense, fifth in passing offense, and he’s taken much better care of the football in 2013. Last season, Wallace threw 22 picks against a miserable 17 interceptions. This season he’s cleaned that up to the point that he has nine scores and only three picks. You can win a lot of games with a quarterback who’s both a dual-threat and smart with the football.
2. Just how terrible is Idaho? The Vandals lost by 34 to North Texas, by 32 to Wyoming, by 10 to Northern Illinois, by 42 to Washington State, by 47 to Fresno State and by 24 to Arkansas State. Pity poor Temple, the one team the Vandals vanquished, 26-24. Idaho now goes on the long list of worst cupcakes lined up by SEC coaches and ADs this season.
3. How good of a job has Hugh Freeze done at Ole Miss in his first 1.5 seasons? When was the last time you can remember the Rebels being favored by 41.5 points versus anybody?
Prediction: Ole Miss 45, Idaho 10