We’re back! Between Mizzou’s Thursday night game, schoolwork, and traveling to Stillwater, Oklahoma last week, we didn’t get up a SEC Preview for Week 10. I can promise this one will more than makeup for it and be the piece-de-resistance of my weekly previews so far.
On a different note, I would like to mention the situation at the University of Missouri, and since I know it’s swamped the 24-hour media news cycle, I’ll make it brief. I’m currently a student at Mizzou, and it’s been a brutally stressful week, and I’m not even involved with the protests. I live on-campus, and had to sleep off campus Tuesday night because of shooting threats to the campus, some of which were to groups not even associated with ConcernedStudent1950. Regardless of where you stand with the whole ordeal, hope for a swift end to all the threats to students who are on edge right. A little bit of Jesus and a lot of respect is what this campus needs, and it needs to come quickly.
With that aside now complete, let’s jump into the SEC matchups this weekend. As always, games are listed in order of kickoff time.
Georgia at Auburn
I think the dreaded noon kickoff time is all you need to know about this game. Both Auburn and Georgia were considered contenders to make the College Football Playoff at the start of the season, and come November they’re getting slotted for TV time usually relegated to teams like Iowa State or Kansas.
Against Kentucky last week, Georgia ended rough 1-3 stretch by coming out and smacking Kentucky 27-3. Kentucky has had stretches where they’ve been just as bad as post-Chubb Georgia, but a 24 point win over a conference team always lifts morale. The Dawgs got back to their early season formula of a dominant run game, running the ball 52 times as a team, compared to only 19 passes. It worked as Georgia gained 300 yards on the ground, including a pair of rushing touchdowns.
Switching over to Auburn, you see a much more balanced offense coming off a win that looks better on paper than Georgia’s. Auburn just beat Texas A&M 26-10 on the road, and they did it with quarterback Jeremy Johnson looking much more confident than he did to start the season. Auburn ran an offense that called 35 pass plays and 38 run plays, vastly different from Georgia.
I’m going to take Auburn in this game because of a multitude of reasons. First, they get this game at home, where they’ve got three wins so far this season. I think both teams have reached the point where if they have to go on the road, they’re just flat out losing the game. Secondly, if I’m the Auburn defensive coordinator, I’m looking at Georgia’s past three games and loading the box with eight defenders. Georgia had 52 rush attempts last week, 45 against Missouri, and when they tried to come out and throw the ball against Florida, they lost 27-3. Load the box, call plenty of blitzes, and let the Greyson Lambert/Brice Ramsey duo try to beat you (hint: they won’t).
Finally, Johnson knows that this will be his chance to lock up the starting quarterback job for the rest of the season. Sean White has been out with a knee injury, but he failed to put up points on the board, only scoring one touchdown (rushing or passing) in five games. Johnson had a decent game against Texas A&M (13/17, 132 yards, 1TD), and if he keeps the offense moving this week, I don’t know why Gus Malzhan would want to make any changes.
#11 Florida at South Carolina
Don’t be deceived by South Carolina’s near-win last week over Tennessee. Tennessee pulled a classic Butch Jones move and gave up a 17 point lead, allowing South Carolina to tie the game up at 24 points near the end of the third quarter. Had South Carolina’s Jerell Adams not fumbled the ball trying to gain extra yards in Tennessee’s redzone, the “Fire Butch Jones!” crowd was louder than ever.
Here’s the difference between Florida and Tennessee: Jim McElwain. McElwain has proven he can actually coach a football team up to their talent level. Florida’s offense has been much maligned in recent weeks, but that’s more on Treon Harris’s lack of passing ability than it is on McElwain. Will Grier’s suspension completely changed the dynamics of the offense, and to switch from a quarterback who can make a difference in the pocket, to a read-option quarterback, would be hard for even an offensive wizard like Kevin Sumlin (who tried to do this against Auburn and lost). Interestingly, we’ll see two offenses in this game who are very similar. Both teams rely upon the read-option in order to force feed their quarterbacks easy passes. The main difference is the fact that it actually works for South Carolina, whose leading rusher averages over five yards per carry.
So we’ve got two largely ineffective offenses, but why Florida? South Carolina did just put up 24 points on a Tennessee defense that has plenty of future NFLers. Well, the difference is mostly the secondary. Tennessee’s secondary has gotten burned in the second half of games this season, we saw it against Oklahoma and Florida, and now South Carolina adds to that list.
Florida on the other hand, they sport one of the best cornerback tandems in the nation in Vernon Hargreaves III and Jalen Tabor. Hargreaves currently projects as a top five draft pick, while Tabor has been blessed with elite athleticism and size. Good luck having Perry Orth or Lorenzo Nunez complete more than 20 passes against those two. Florida will be able to leave Hargreaves on an island with Pharoah Cooper, and other than him Cooper, there aren’t any other talented receivers on the South Carolina roster (Cooper has DOUBLE the amount of receiving yards of the next closest receiver, who’s actually tight end Jerell Adams). Florida’s defense will blitz the hell out of whichever quarterback South Carolina decides to employ, meaning for a long day for him.
If Florida can score more than three points (which they might not), they’ll win this game.
Featured image: h/t CBS Sports
Tennessee vs. North Texas
Forgive if my blurb on this game is considerably shorter than the previous two. North Texas sits at 1-8 on the season, and Chip Kelly isn’t walking through the door. Really, the most important thing for Tennessee in this game is to make sure nobody gets hurt before they go on the road against Missouri and then play a feisty Vanderbilt team at home.
Mizzou runs almost as anemic an offense as South Carolina, and they’ll be looking at what exactly South Carolina did against Tennessee to score points. You can be sure Gary Pinkel and staff will start looking at that tape come Sunday morning. In the meantime, it’s Butch Jones’s job to correct any mistakes in practice this week and make sure they’re implemented against North Texas.
Much like the early non-conference games for Tennessee this year, this game will be able about “what the hell did we do wrong, and how can we fix it.” Get your starters out there and fix any issues you corrected in practice, put up some points, and then get the B-teamers in there.
#2 Alabama at #17 Mississippi State
The most interesting game of the week right here. I’ll admit I was wrong earlier in the season when I said Mississippi State would eventually fade out of the polls. I was also wrong when I said Dak Prescott need a quality running back as a crutch to be successful. Prescott has taken his game to the next level scoring ten touchdowns over the past two weeks.
Alabama going on the road doesn’t concern me as much as one might think. Davis Wade Stadium only seats about 60,000 people, a far cry from the 101,000 occupancy of Bryant-Denny. Also, Mississippi State doesn’t have nearly as much talent as it did when they lost 25-20 last year in Tuscaloosa. Two of their top defensive players, Bernardrick McKinney and Preston Smith, are now gone, as is running back Josh Robinson and his 1,500 all-purpose yards. Without McKinney and Smith to help contain Derrick Henry, it’ll be a tall task to keep the top Heisman contender in check.
Prescott and receiver De’Runnya Wilson are the saving grace for this Bulldogs team that gives them a puncher’s chance. Wilson is listed as six-foot-five on the Bulldogs roster, and after watching him play last week, he’s all of it. Wilson and Prescott seem to have developed a nice chemistry lately, as Wilson has topped 80 yards receiving in his last four games. Mississippi State will have let Wilson and Prescott bully their way through the Alabama defense until they can’t stop it.
Herein lies the problem with that philosophy, and it’s the fact that Alabama front seven might be the best in the nation. This team held Leonard Fournette to 31 yards rushing, an amazing feat considering he’s averaging 172 yards per game, even after that performance. Prescott’s ability to make things happen with his feet when plays break down is what keeps this offense alive. The Crimson Tide’s linebackers and defensive ends matchup in talent and physicality with Prescott, making it that much harder for Prescott.
Considering they just came off a big victory over LSU, a lot of people have been calling this a trap game for Alabama. I don’t believe that’s the way Saban operates though, he’s very much from the Belichickian-cut of “On to the next one.” Alabama rolls into Starkville, does their business, and leaves with a victory. It might not be pretty or exciting, but come Sunday morning, I’ll bet Alabama is sitting at 9-1.
Kentucky at Vanderbilt
My “bold-not-that-bold” prediction of the week: Vanderbilt gets another conference win. Kentucky mustered a grand total of three points against Georgia’s defense, and they go against an even better one at Vanderbilt. According to Football Outsiders Defensive S&P, Vanderbilt currently ranks 11th in the nation, second in the SEC behind only Alabama.
A popular storyline this season has been the eliteness of Mizzou’s defense in contrast to the not-so-eliteness of their offense, and Vanderbilt’s story mirrors Mizzou’s almost perfectly. Vanderbilt comes in at 119th in Offensive S&P, and Mizzou ranks 125th. On the other side of the ball, Mizzou ranks 14th in Defensive S&P, three spots lower than Vanderbilt. So, in terms of Offensive and Defensive S&P, Vanderbilt actually grades out better than Missouri’s team.
By the numbers Mizzou and Vanderbilt are comparable, and Kentucky did beat Mizzou 21-13 in September, but that came when now suspended Maty Mauk was manning the helm for the Tigers. The biggest thing for Vanderbilt here will be to get Johnny McCrary back on track after his brutal 3-of-14 passing performance against Florida. Florida sports as talented a defense as Vanderbilt, and McCrary won’t be confused for Vanderbilt alum Jay Cutler, but he has to be better than three completions.
As for Kentucky, this game will be all about finding their mojo again. Kentucky is two wins away from being bowl-eligible and Vanderbilt is beatable. Patrick Towles can be a capable quarterback and has some nice pieces around him, but his confidence has to be at an all-time low. The Wildcats are on a four-game losing streak and has thrown six interceptions against one touchdown. Ease him into the game against Vanderbilt, and have Stanley Williams shoulder the load early on, which he’s shown he can do.
If I’m Mark Stoops I tell my team we’re two games away from being bowl-eligible, and we have Charlotte next week. If the Wildcats can get a win here, Charlotte will be a piece of cake for them. Besides, it’s Vanderbilt, the SEC cellar-dwellers. Conversely, if I’m Derek Mason, I’m telling my team that this is a pivotal moment. Win here, and Vanderbilt has momentum going into the final part of the season. They almost beat eleventh ranked Florida, and a win against Kentucky would be a great way to keep that energy going.
Right now, Vanderbilt is favored by field goal at home, but I could see this flip-flopping either way.
Texas A&M vs. Western Carolina
The most popular guy on the team is always the backup quarterback, and last week that happened to be Jake Hubenak. Murray threw three interceptions in their loss to Auburn last week before he was replaced by Hubenak in the third quarter when Murray left with an injury. Sumlin stated that if Murray were healthy he’d be the starting quarterback this weekend.
Murray’s injury seemed like a convenient way to remove a struggling freshman from the game, and Hubenak has apparently moved up the depth chart considering he and Kyle Allen were splitting second team reps in practice this week. This says a lot about the downfall of Allen, who as of a month ago, was still the starting quarterback for a top-10 team. Allen didn’t even get in the game against Auburn, an interesting fact considering Hubenak is a former walk-on at Oklahoma State before transferring to Blinn College, his last stop prior to being recruited to College Station.
The sparkling future of an offense led by Allen while Murray learned the ropes seems to have been replaced by the fact that Murray isn’t fully equipped to be the prodigy he was made out to be. Down the road, Murray could in fact be the next great Aggie quarterback, but it doesn’t appear so right now. Auburn’s defense isn’t that spectacular, and Murray couldn’t get anything going against them. Allen’s demise is equally as dark considering he was supposed to be the one leading Texas A&M to a playoff spot.
The swagger that Texas A&M previously had is now gone, taken away by a tough October schedule and boneheaded mistakes. The Aggies will need to use this game as a bounceback to their early season mojo. After their game this weekend against the Catamounts, they travel to Vanderbilt. Talent-wise, A&M is better than both those teams. They could be 8-3 going into their final game of the season against LSU. Considering how badly the train has come off the rails, I’d take that as an Aggie fan.
#9 LSU vs. Arkansas
Even with their loss to Alabama, there’s still a scenario where LSU can make the College Football Playoff. If Alabama loses another game, they’re out. If LSU won out they would get to play Florida in the SEC title game, a team they’ve already beat once this season. The Big 12 cerberus of Oklahoma-Oklahoma State-TCU has already begun to beat up on one another, and it’s doubt any of those teams come out unscathed enough to make the playoff. That leaves Notre Dame, Iowa, and Stanford ahead of the Tigers, and Iowa ain’t played nobody. If all the cards fall right, LSU can still make it.
That’s why I believe LSU will manhandle the Hogs this Saturday. They go back to Death Valley, pissed off after a bad loss to Alabama, but still aware they can control their own destiny. Plus, if you don’t think Leonard Fournette will have one of those classic “Fuck you” games to all his Heisman haters, then you’ve got another thing coming. Remember what he did to Auburn? Just a casual 228 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries, that might be what’s in store for this weekend. Start shaking in your boots, Bret Bielema.
Before we start with the whole “But they’ve won their past two conference games in OT!” talk, remember neither of those teams are the same quality of opponent as LSU. Sure, Ole Miss is a good football team, but it took a miraculous play to win that game, and Ole Miss hasn’t played outstanding in more than two games this year. The other opponent, Auburn, currently sits at 5-4 with a quarterback problem. Not exactly great teams. LSU sat comfortably in a playoff spot until last week. So, calm down Razorback fans.
An interesting storyline to follow will the quiet greatness of Alex Collins, Arkansas’ running back who has 12 touchdowns and over 1,000 rushing yards for the third straight year. If Collins can at least keep pact with Fournette somewhat, he’s well on his way to moving into the Darren McFadden-tier of great Arkansas running backs.
BYU at Mizzou (neutral site)
This game is actually being played at Arrowhead Stadium, a mere two hours away from Columbia. An appropriate comparison here would be like when Georgia travels down to Atlanta in the Georgia dome. This game gets a prime time kick more so because of the venue rather than either team’s performance, and the TV schedules are released two weeks ahead of the games, so well before Mizzou became a national story.
My thought is that this game could two ways. Number one, Mizzou comes into this game with a lot emotional energy from everything that’s happened this week. They come out, leave it all on the field, and scratch out a victory against a decent BYU team.
The second road this game could take would be an utter annihilation of the Missouri Tigers. Being a student on campus right now is stressful, and the must be magnified even more so on the football team. Yes, they went on strike Saturday and it was resolved by Monday, but they had to deal with all the media and uncertainty, which I imagine would be pretty emotionally draining. Add to the fact that this isn’t a true home game and the team has to travel for it, and I could see this team coming out flat.
My hope is that this doesn’t happen, and a 30 for 30 gets produced later about all the events that transpired this week and how the football team capped it off with an emotional win. However, I’m a realist, and this Missouri football team hasn’t played good football in more than a handful of games this season. BYU beat some quality teams this year, and any coach would be happy to have Tanner Mangum as their quarterback. I’m picking BYU here, but hoping for Mizzou.