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SEC Game Previews – 11/8/13

mrsec game previewWeek 11 of the SEC season will get off to a very early start tomorrow.  Five league games will kickoff between noon and 12:30.  That’s to make room for the CBS double-header tomorrow night… the one that includes the much-anticipated renewal of the Alabama/LSU rivalry.

Below are the issues, odds, stats and views on all seven games that you need leading into the second Saturday in November.  Enjoy.

And good luck to your favorite team tomorrow!


Vanderbilt (4-4) at Florida (4-4)

TV:  12:00pm ET on FSN

Opening Line:  UF -7.5

Current Line:  UF -10

One To Watch:  Vanderbilt QB Patton Robinette.  The redshirt freshman had a tough first start at Texas A&M two weeks ago.  He was 15-of-28 for 216 yards, one TD and two interceptions.  Even with multiple injuries Florida’s defense is better than A&M’s.  Robinette will need to show big improvement in the Swamp…

This And That:

1.  The Commodores haven’t shown the kind of rushing attack that can alleviate the pressure on a young quarterback.  Vandy ranks dead last in the SEC in rush offense (141 yards per game).  Inside the league they’re averaging just 118 rushing yards per contest.  Florida still ranks second best at stuffing the run (107 yards per game allowed).

2.  At what point does Florida collapse due to injuries?  We — along with some other sites — count nine season-ending injuries for the Gators.  Others claim 10.  Whatever the number, it’s a lot.  Too many for most team to survive.  Yet Florida showed a lot of grit by shutting out the Georgia offense in the second half of last weekend’s contest.  But which D will Vandy see?  The one that allowed UGA to build a 23-3 lead?  The one that buckled down and allowed the Gators to creep back into the game, 23-20.  Or the one that couldn’t get Georgia’s offense off the field for the final eight minutes of the game?  And keep in mind, Vanderbilt’s offense isn’t Georgia’s.

3.  Both teams need two wins to reach a bowl game.  The Commodores have an easier path the rest of the way (Kentucky, Tennessee, and Wake Forest).  The Gators still have dates with Georgia Southern, South Carolina and Florida State.  This is much more of a must-win game for Will Muschamp’s bunch.

Prediction:  Florida 24, Vanderbilt 17


#8 Missouri (8-1) at Kentucky (2-6)

TV:  12:00pm ET on ESPNU

Opening Line:  MU -13.5

Current Line:  MU -14

One To Watch:  Missouri’s Starting QB.  Whoever that may be.  Gary Pinkel said last week that he thought James Franklin would be ready to go this week.  But Maty Mauk could get another start to allow Franklin even more time to heal up his bum shoulder.

This And That:

1.  Kentucky’s pass defense ranks 10th in the SEC against league competition (allowing 269 yards per game).  This week they’ll face a tall test — pun intended — from Missouri receivers Dorial Green-Beckham (6-6), Marcus Lucas (6-5) and L’Damian Washington (6-4).  Whoever gets the start behind center for the Tigers should see some open targets at Commonwealth Stadium.

2.  Mizzou has picked off a league-leading 17 passes this season.  But Kentucky has thrown just two picks all season and starter Jalen Whitlow has only tossed one.  If Kentucky is to have any chance on Saturday, Whitlow and his Cats will need to protect the football while dinking and dunking their way down the field.  (Whitlow’s 6.7 yards-per-attempt average is one of the worst for a starter in the SEC>

3.  In SEC play, Kentucky has allowed an average of 33.7 points per game while scoring an average of 16 points.  Missouri’s got one of the league’s best offenses, but Kentucky has a healthy quarterback.  So…

Prediction:  Missouri 38, Kentucky 20


#9 Auburn (8-1) at Tennessee (4-5)

TV:  12:00pm ET on ESPN

Opening Line:  AU -7

Current Line:  AU -7.5

One To Watch:  Tennessee QB Josh Dobbs.  A week after putting 10 points on Alabama in half — not many have done that –  the Dobbs-led Volunteer offense managed only a field goal at Missouri.  Dobbs, however, had one sure TD pass dropped and another lost in the lights.  His receivers and UT’s run game will need to give the true freshman a bit more help against yet another top 10 team.

This And That:

1.  No SEC team runs the ball better than Auburn.  The Tigers are averaging 306 yards per contest (fifth best in the nation) and 6.26 yards per rush attempt.  Gus Malzhan’s crew was so effective on the ground last week that they needed only nine pass attempts (along with 46 rush attempts) to pummel Arkansas 35-17 on the road.  Tre Mason, quarterback Nick Marshall, Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant all rank among the SEC’s 18 best rushers.  This week they’ll face the league’s worst rush defense in Tennessee.  The Vols have allowed 200+ rush yards to their last four foes including 339 at Missouri last weekend.

2.  Tennessee has struggled on third-down defense for much of the season, including the last two weekends as Alabama and Missouri converted 17-of-30 thirds into firsts.  Auburn is fifth in the league at converting third downs (45.6%).  A possible bright spot for the Vols?  UT ranks 13th in the league in third-down D on the road (allowing 59.0%) but eighth in the SEC while at home (35.2%).  That’s a huge difference.  And in UT’s hard-fought games games with Georgia (overtime loss) and South Carolina (upset win), John Jancek’s group allowed just eight-of-27 conversions (29.6%).

3.  Here’s another key stat to watch — Auburn leads the league in rush attempts with 440.  They’ve run 637 plays total thanks to their hurry-up attack.  Through all those carries and all those plays the Tigers have lost just seven fumbles on the season.  That’s one fumble lost every 91 plays.  Any underdog needs turnovers, but the Vols aren’t likely to get them from Auburn.

Prediction:  Auburn 35, Tennessee 17


Arkansas (3-6) at Ole Miss (5-3)

TV:  12:21pm ET on SEC TV

Opening Line:  UM -17.5

Current Line:  UM -16.5

One To Watch:  Ole Miss DT Robert Nkemdiche.  The true freshman blue chipper will move from defensive end to defensive tackle this week and the move could be permanent.  Bryon Bennett will flip-flop spots on the Rebel D-line.  With Nkemdiche down to a 280-pound frame, the move is a bit of a gamble, especially against a ground n’ pound team like Arkansas.  He’ll either be an explosive player on the interior or his lack of girth — for a defensive tackle — will be exploited.

This And That:

1.  Yes, we pay a great deal of attention to turnover margin, but only because it’s so darned important in SEC matchups.  When you spot an upset, check the turnover battle and you’ll almost always see that David used turnovers rather smooth stones to slay Goliath.  In this game, David’s out of ammo.  Ole Miss is plus-three in turnover margin on the season.  Arkansas is minus-nine.  Inside conference play, the Rebels remain plus-three but the Hogs tumble to minus-12.  If Hugh Freeze’s team wins the turnover battle tomorrow, this one could get ugly.

2.  Mississippi’s pass defense ranks fifth in the SEC against BCS-level foes.  The Rebels picked off AJ McCarron once, Johnny Manziel once and Zach Mettenberger three times.  That would appear to be bad news for banged-up Razorback quarterback Brandon Allen.  The sophomore’s completion percentage in road games is just 36.4%.  He’s yet to throw a TD on the road (though he’s tossed three picks).  To be fair, he’s not gotten a ton of help from this receivers as Arkansas is averaging just 5.9 yards per pass attempt.

3.  Since getting snuffed by Alabama, Ole Miss has rung up 464, 462, 525 and 572 yards of offense in its last four games.  Against SEC foes, Arkansas is allowing 462 yards per game (11th in the league).  They’ve also been much worse on the road, allowing 65 more yards per game away from Fayetteville.  Toss in that pesky morning bus ride that Bret Bielema complained about this week and the Rebels should be able to move the ball with ease.

Prediction:  Ole Miss 40, Arkansas 17


Appalachian State (2-7) at Georgia (5-3)

TV:  12:30pm ET on Local Television

Opening Line:  UGA -31.5

Current Line:  UGA -40

One To Watch:  Not this.  Yes, we know that Appy State won at Michigan a few years back but there’s still no reason for an SEC program to schedule an FCS program.  None.  It’s embarrassing and it hurts the Southeastern Conference’s reputation.  (This Appy State team is just 2-7 on the year, by the way.)

This And That:

1.  One is back, one is out, and one, well, we’re not sure about.  Receiver Mike Rumph is expected to return to action this week after missing the Dawgs’ first eight games due to a preseason hamstring tear.  That’s a good thing with UGA still being down three receivers.  Tight end Arthur Lynch is going in the other direction.  After bruising his ribs (and his ego on a game-changing lateral-turned-fumble), Lynch is expected to miss tomorrow’s game.  Finally — and perhaps most controversially — running back Todd Gurley is expected to play against the Mountaineers.  Gurley was less than 100% in his stellar performance against Florida last weekend, having missed the Bulldog’s three previous games.  If Gurley plays and is injured in any way, expect to hear the loudest howl out of Georgia since Cump Sherman marched his boys from Atlanta to Savannah.

2.  Do I really have to come up with two more bulletpoints on this game?  Appy State’s losses this year have come to Montana, North Carolina A&T, Charleston Southern, The Citadel, Samford, Furman, Chattanooga, North Carolina at Winston-Marlboro, Norfolk Southern… OK, the last two we made up.  The others were real.  And yet the Mountaineers will take the field in front of what I bet will be less than an rip-roarin’ crowd in Athens.

3.  Another?  Appy State is being led by first-year coach Scott Satterfield after Jerry Moore was fired.  Moore was the Southern Conference Coach of the Year in 1991, 1994, 1995, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2010.  He won three straight national FCS titles from 2005 through 2007 and led the school to that historic win at Michigan.  His last two teams finished 8-4 so the 73-year-old coach was pitched overboard for one of his former players.  So if you start to feel sorry for the Mountaineers as Georgia kicks their teeth in tomorrow, remember… they deserve it.

Prediction:  Georgia 45, Appalachian State 10


Mississippi State (4-4) at #15 Texas A&M (7-2)

TV:  3:30pm ET on CBS

Opening Line:  A&M -19

Current Line:  A&M -19

One To Watch:  MSU’s Starting QB.  Whoever that may be.  Dak Prescott has been seeing the majority of action for the Bulldogs in recent weeks, but his mother passed away last weekend.  Dan Mullen has said the decision to play or not play is Prescott’s.  If he’s not up to playing then Tyler Russell will return to the starter’s role that he owned before a first-game concussion sent his senior season into a bit of a tailspin.  We suspect Prescott will play.

This And That:

1.  Tomorrow will probably bring the curtain down on the brief but brilliant career of Johnny Manziel in College Station.  The redshirt sophomore is expected to turn pro next spring and Saturday’s game versus Mississippi State will be his last game at Kyle Field this season.  For his career he has thrown for 6,573 yards and 52 touchdowns (against just 17 interceptions) while rushing for 1,974 yards and 29 more TDs.  Not bad for a not-yet-complete two-year career that’s included a record of 18-4.  Think Aggie fans will cheer him tomorrow?

2.  It’s also possible that redshirt sophomore receiver Mike Evans will be making his final appearance in College Station.  Evans leads the SEC in receiving with 1,147 yards and 12 touchdown catches.  He’ll face the SEC’s fourth-best passing defense in MSU.

3.  A&M’s defense is bad.  Mark Snyder’s unit has looked better the last two weeks against Vanderbilt and UTEP, but we’re not sold yet.  Rice, Sam Houston State, Alabama, Arkansas, Ole Miss and Auburn all scored 28 or more points against the Ags.  If State protects the football — a big if as they’re 11th in the league in turnover margin — Dan Mullen’s team should be able to score points regardless of who starts at quarterback.  Enough points to keep it close with A&M?  Probably not.

Prediction:  Texas A&M 48, Mississippi State 28


#13 LSU (7-2) at #1 Alabama (8-0)

TV:  8:00pm ET on CBS

Opening Line:  UA -10.5

Current Line:  UA -12.5

One To Watch:  LSU QB Zach Mettenberger.  The pressure is on the underdog.  Mettenberger started the season flying high, throwing 13 touchdowns against just one interception in the Tigers’ first five games.  But in LSU’s last four games, the senior has thrown six TDs and six INTs.  Tomorrow he’ll face the league’s top pass defense.

This And That:

1.  Alabama and LSU are cut from the same cloth.  They share the same DNA.  Toss in any other cliche you like here ___________.  Both teams like to play a smashmouth style on offense and smother you with good defense.  Only, the script has changed a bit this year.  LSU ranks third in the SEC in passing offense.  Their defense, while good, has not been as good as recent Tiger teams (mainly due to the youth on that side of the ball).  Alabama’s stats look a little wonky, too.  The Tide ranks a mere fifth in the conference in rushing.  And while their defense has destroyed weaker foes of late, it’s hard to forget the 42 points Texas A&M posted against Kirby Smart’s troops.  In other words, don’t expect another 9-6 slugfest like the one we saw two years ago in Tuscaloosa.

2.  Expect both squads to try an lean heavily on their ground attacks.  LSU — whether it should or not — boasts Jeremy Hill on its roster.  He’s averaging 115 yards per game, just two yards behind South Carolina’s Mike Davis, the SEC rushing leader.  Bama splits its carries between TJ Yeldon (91 yards per game) and Kenyan Drake (70 yards per game).  But the Tide’s rush defense has been stronger than LSU’s.  Is that a product of a somewhat easier schedule to date?  Hey, LSU hasn’t played Kentucky, Arkansas and Tennessee yet.  We’ll know a lot more about the Crimson Tide’s defense by Sunday morning.

3.  Yep, you know we’d go here — turnover margin.  Bama is plus-five.  LSU is minus-two.  The Bayou Bengals have surrendered the football twice as many times as the Tide (14 to seven) on the season.  The Tigers will need to play a very clean game tomorrow to pull the upset.

4.  One bonus nugget.  Pay close attention to the pass rush.  Yes, both teams will want to run the ball, but when they do drop back to throw, which QB will have a full pocket to step up into and deliver his passes?  LSU has recorded 20 sacks on the season already compared to Alabama’s 11.  Two of the Tigers top sack men happen to be cornerbacks Jalen Mills (3 sacks) and Dwayne Thomas (2 sacks).  But just how many blitzes will John Chavis dial up against a senior AJ McCarron?  His quick release and Bama’s O-line have resulted in only seven sacks allowed in 2013, best in the SEC.

Prediction:  Alabama 31, LSU 21




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