Who the @*&*# is Bryan Rose? If you're going to write about a team, at least do them the courtesy of actually caring to get the details right.
There’s plenty of action around the SEC this weekend, but only three of the games hold any real bowl interest. We’ll give a bit more info on the good games and a bit less on the bad. Consider this our protest of the nonsense games SEC schools line up against FCS teams. In fact, we feel it would be rather amusing to watch one of the David’s slay a Goliath tomorrow.
Without further delay, your game previews…
Mississippi State (4-6) at Arkansas (3-7) in Little Rock
TV: 12:21pm ET on SEC TV
Opening Line: MSU -2
Current Line: MSU -2
One To Watch: MSU QB Damian Williams. Dak Prescott missed last week’s game with an injury. Tyler Russell left the game late with an injury of his own. If neither of State’s veteran quarterbacks can go, expect the freshman to get the nod. Dan Mullen says it will be a gameday decision.
This And That:
1. Mullen has quickly fallen out of favor in Starkville. At least with a sizable chunk of the MSU fanbase he has. Losing to an Arkansas team on a seven-game schneid would make life even tougher on the man. On the other hand, wins over the Hogs and rival Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl would land State back in a bowl for the fourth time in five years under Mullen. MSU has never gone to four straight bowl games. So, yeah, this one’s a biggie for MSU’s coach.
2. Arkansas loves to run the football. The Razorbacks are third in the SEC is rushing offense this season (209.7 yards per game). But Mississippi State has the league’s fifth best run defense (147.1 yards per game allowed). Take a closer look, however, and you find that while Arkansas is averaging 5.2 yards per carry (fourth best in the SEC), MSU is allowing 4.3 yards per carry. That’s just the 10th best number in the SEC. Teams have only run on State 335 times thru 10 games, which is the third-lowest total in the league. Expect Arkansas to attack on the ground, not through the air (as most other teams have done versus the Dogs). If the Dogs can fend off the run, expect MSU to notch its first-ever win in the state of Arkansas.
3. Of the 13 SEC quarterbacks with 158 or more pass attempts, UA’s Brandon Allen ranks dead last in passer rating (106.1). He’s played through injuries and he’s not gotten a ton of help from those around him, to be sure. Still, a 46.7% completion number at this stage of the season is unacceptable. Ironically, if Williams starts for State, Allen — stats be damned — would still figure to be the better of the two quarterbacks on the field tomorrow.
Prediction: Mississippi State 28, Arkansas 27
Coastal Carolina (10-1) at #11 South Carolina (8-2)
TV: 1:00pm ET on Pay-per-view
Opening Line: USC -34.5
Current Line: USC -34.5
One To Watch: Some other game on television. And folks wonder why attendance at SEC games is dropping.
This And That:
1. South Carolina is still playing for a BCS bowl bid. If the Gamecocks reach the SEC title game (thanks to a Missouri loss over the next two weeks), USC will play for a Sugar Bowl bid. Carolina has never been to the SEC’s longtime, Big Easy partner.
2. Steve Spurrier plans to play Dylan Thompson at quarterback tomorrow in an effort to light a fire under Connor Shaw. Shaw — the savior at Missouri a few weeks ago — completed just 50% of his passes against Florida last week.
3. With Clemson and a possible SEC Championship Game still on the agenda, tomorrow is no time to risk injuries to players like Shaw, Mike Davis, Jadeveon Clowney or Kelcy Quarles. If the Gamecocks get a nice lead on the Chanticleers, expect Spurrier to substitute liberally. (Gotta love the fact that two schools in the Palmetto State have chosen roosters to be their mascots.)
Prediction: South Carolina 38, Coastal Carolina 14
Georgia Southern (6-4) at Florida (4-6)
TV: 2:00pm ET on Pay-per-view
Opening Line: UF -27.5
Current Line: UF -27.5
One To Watch: Some other game on television. There is no reason for an SEC behemoth to play an FCS pipsqueak.
This And That:
1. Redshirt freshman QB Skyler Mornhinweg is expected to get his second start in place of the injured Tyler Murphy. He threw just 13 passes (completing 10) at South Carolina last week. Tomorrow he should be asked to fling he ball around a bit more.
2. In 2011, Alabama beat Georgia Southern 45-21. GSU’s point total was the largest given up all year by the national champion Crimson Tide. GSU’s 302 rushing yards doubled the next best rushing team to face Bama that year (LSU gained 148 on Bama, no one else gained as much as 108). Florida, beware of Georgia Southern’s option attack.
3. Will Muschamp got a vote of confidence — “1,000%” confidence — from Florida’s AD and president last week. Even if he loses to Florida State badly next week, he’ll likely return for 2014. However… if the Gators somehow stumble around and lose to Georgia Southern (a la Michigan/Appy State, Ole Miss/Jacksonville State)? Forget it. Muschamp might not make it to sundown.
Prediction: Florida 28, Georgia Southern 14
Chattanooga (8-3) at #1 Alabama (10-0)
TV: 2:00pm ET on Pay-per-view
Opening Line: UA -49
Current Line: UA -49
One To Watch: Some other game on television. It is truly embarrassing for the #1 team in the nation to play FCS-level Chattanooga… after already playing first-year FBS team Georgia State. Pathetic.
This And That:
1. Alabama’s lackluster, flat performance at Mississippi State probably doesn’t bode well for the Mocs. You can be certain that Nick Saban has beaten his team over the head with last weekend’s game film, from Sunday right on through to today.
2. When playing an FCS foe the most important thing is to escape in good health. Plenty of backups should see action for Bama tomorrow. With the Iron Bowl next week — and Auburn enjoying an open date on Saturday — Saban will probably want to rest his starters as much as possible.
3. Did ya know that Alabama’s defense has actually been more effective this season than last? The Red Elephants are allowing just 11.9 points per game in league play. Last year that number was 13.1. Of course, playing all three of the SEC’s “total rebuild” projects — Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee — has helped this year’s scoring figures..
Prediction: Alabama 50, Chattanooga 0
#12 Texas A&M (8-2) at #22 LSU (7-3)
TV: 3:30pm ET on CBS
Opening Line: LSU -4
Current Line: LSU -4.5
One To Watch: LSU QB Zach Mettenberger. We know that Texas A&M’s defense is terrible and that Jeremy Hill should be able to run all over the Aggies. But can LSU’s quarterback carry his share of the load? In the Tigers’ first five games, Mettenberger threw 13 touchdown passes and just one interception. Over the last five games, he’s thrown just seven TDs with six INTs. To win a shootout with Johnny Manziel, Les Miles will need the best from his signal-caller.
This And That:
1. Last season, LSU held Manziel to just 276 yards of total offense, a 51% completion percentage (his worst ever), and they picked him off three times in a 24-19 win over the Aggies. Unfortunately for John Chavis, most of the guys on his defense last year are in the NFL this year. The Tigers are giving up 46 more yards and six more points per game this season. In other words, don’t expect LSU to have as much success against Johnny Football this year.
2. This one is a biggie for A&M for several reasons. First, it’s a chance for Manziel to show off for Heisman voters against a traditional LSU powerhouse. More importantly, his Ags are still able to dream of a potential BCS bowl bid at this point. A loss would end those hopes.
3. Expect to see plenty of offensive fireworks tomorrow. A&M leads the SEC with 76 plays of 20 yards or more in 2013. Second in the league is LSU with 70 such plays. LSU’s defense is a tad better and that could be the difference in the ballgame. Could be.
Prediction: LSU 44, Texas A&M 41
Kentucky (2-8) at Georgia (6-4)
TV: 7:00pm ET on ESPNU
Opening Line: UGA -24
Current Line: UGA -24
One To Watch: Kentucky QB Jalen Whitlow. Mark Stoops and company determined midway through the season that Whitlow — when healthy — is the Wildcats’ best option at quarterback. But Whitlow has been pedestrian the last two weeks (though he lacks playmakers around him). In losses to Missouri and Vanderbilt he’s completed 31-of-55 for 345 yards total. Last week in Nashville he made matters much worse by hurling four picks (one on a Hail Mary). UK’s coach said this week: “We missed some throws we’ve got to make. We really did. We have to make those throws.” Can Whitlow make throws against Georgia that he couldn’t against Vandy?
This And That:
1. Where is Georgia psychologically? They’ve dealt with a rash of injuries. The coaches have been frustrated by some officials’ calls. And last week they lost on fluke of a Hail Mary pass at Auburn. Mentally, are the Dawgs going to bounce back in the hopes of winning eight games and going to a mid-tier bowl?
2. If you look at Rivals.com’s national recruiting rankings, you’ll see Kentucky ranked #8 in the country just behind Florida State and Ohio State and just ahead of Notre Dame and Texas. That’s pretty good company to keep, especially when talking about Kentucky football. But the Cats — as of yet — haven’t been able to create a “feel good” moment on the field this season. A win over Georgia would certainly qualify, but…
3. Tomorrow will be Senior Night in Athens. While UGA might not be gung-ho about its bowl prospects, it’s hard to imagine quarterback Aaron Murray — the all-time leader in several SEC passing categories — stumbling too badly in his final game at Sanford Stadium. Especially when his team has so much more talent than Kentucky.
Prediction: Georgia 41, Kentucky 10
Vanderbilt (6-4) at Tennessee (4-6)
TV: 7:00pm ET on ESPN2
Opening Line: UT -3
Current Line: UT -2.5
One To Watch: The turnover battle. Tennessee is 0-5 when they lose the turnover battle and 4-1 when they’re even or ahead. UT is plus-one for the season. Vanderbilt is now plus-nine on the year and plus-eight in its last two games. The Dores have won the turnover battle in their last four games and have gone 3-1 as a result (beating Georgia, Florida and Kentucky while losing to Texas A&M). In their two wins over UF and UK, Vandy has scored on touchdown drives covering 26, 10, 22, and four yards. If Tennessee hopes to beat the opportunistic Commodores (and keep its own bowl hopes alive), the Volunteers will need to protect the football.
This And That:
1. Keep an eye on VU’s record-setting receiver Jordan Matthews. He’s the best playmaker on James Franklin’s team and he’ll be going up against the SEC’s 13th-ranked defense. Now, against SEC foes, Tennessee’s pass defense actually leads the conference (just 167 yards allowed per game). But Vol opponents have only thrown on them 137 times, easily the fewest passes an SEC team has faced versus its SEC rivals. So why aren’t teams throwing on the Volunteers?
2. Because UT’s run defense is dreadful. Tennessee is allowing 276 yards on the ground versus SEC foes. That’s dead last in the conference. But guess who can’t run the ball. Vanderbilt is 14th in the league in rushing yards per game (137.4) and 13th when factoring in SEC games only (119.0). Tennessee’s lack of speed has been exploited by spread teams like Oregon, Missouri, and Auburn, but that’s not Vandy’s game. Tomorrow, Franklin would be wise to throw a little Wildcat at UT… and to throw plenty of passes in the direction of Matthews (which brings us full circle).
3. Freshman quarterback Josh Dobbs hasn’t been aided his offensive teammates since taking over as starter against Missouri. This week, UT’s all-world offensive line — which really hasn’t played like a group of future NFL stars — should be the focal point of the Vol attack. If ever there was a game for Tennessee’s O-line to step up, this would appear to be it. If the Volunteers can take the pressure off of Dobbs, their chances for victory will rise.
Prediction: Tennessee 27, Vanderbilt 24
#8 Missouri (9-1) at #24 Ole Miss (7-3)
TV: 7:45pm ET on ESPN
Opening Line: MU -3
Current Line: MU -2.5
One To Watch: Missouri QB James Franklin. For four weeks, freshman quarterback Maty Mauk has steered the Tiger offense. He played well enough to lead Mizzou to a 3-1 record. Now, somewhat controversially, Mauk will head back to the bench while Franklin returns to the field. Franklin is clearly the superior passer, but how much rust will he have and how much leash will he be given if he struggles early? Now that fans have seen Mauk perform well, you can be sure some will call for his introduction into the game just as soon as Franklin throws his first incompletion. Question is: How many incompletions will Gary Pinkel watch before he calls for Mauk. Remember, the SEC East title is Missouri’s if they can win their final two games.
This And That:
1. Bo Wallace has done a great job of protecting the football in 2013. He’s thrown only five interceptions all season long. But Saturday he’ll likely feel a bit more heat from Mizzou’s pass rush. The Tigers lead the SEC with 34 sacks on the year. That’s 3.4 sacks per game. Under duress, Wallace will have to make smart decisions… just as he has for much of the season.
2. The pass rush will need to make an impact up front for Missouri because Mississippi would seem to hold the advantage deeper down the field. The Rebels rank third in the SEC passing yards per game (297.4). The Tigers, meanwhile, are anchored to the #14 spot in pass defense (allowing 274.9 yards per game). Mizzou’s gotta pressure Wallace and keep him out of a rhythm.
3. If this one comes down to kicking, give the edge to Ole Miss. Andrew Ritter has hit 13 field goals in 16 tries this season (81.3%), including the late game-winner versus LSU (the last top 10 team Ole Miss beat at home this year). Missouri kicker Andrew Baggett — who took way too much heat after the Tigers’ loss to South Carolina — has hit on 13 of 19 field goal attempts (68.4).
Prediction: Missouri 31, Ole Miss 30