Blog Entry

SEC Interrogation, Week 6

Posted on: October 6, 2011 3:33 pm
 
Posted by Jerry Hinnen

In which we demand the SEC give us answers to its most pressing questions. Here those are:



Florida's running game: can you give your quarterback(s) any breathing room?
Any team that can start Chris Rainey or Jeff Demps at tailback and then substitute the other in for the first is going to be a threat on the ground, regardless of who their team faces; when the tiniest sliver of a crease could equal an 80-yard touchdown before the coaches have their headsets correctly adjusted, the Gator ground game is where a defense's focus is going to start ... and probably finish.

That probably goes double for LSU this Saturday, since with John Brantley out and some combination of true freshman Jeff Driskel and other true freshman Jacoby Brissett taking over at quarterback, the Gators' passing game is the most glaring of question marks. But it doesn't matter how badly the Tigers stack the box, how fearsome LSU's defensive front is, how well John Chavis has his charges prepared--Florida must find a way to get Demps, Rainey, and possibly Trey Burton moving forward on the ground. Even with Brantley looking as sharp as he ever has in the first half, the Gators still couldn't rush the ball at all vs. Alabama; Rainey, Demps, and Mike Gillislee carried 17 times for 13 yards, and the end result was zero points over Florida's final 10 drives.

If Driskel and Brissett have any prayer of completing passes consistently against the carnival of athletic freaks that make up LSU's secondary -- in Baton Rouge, no less -- that secondary is going to have to be not just concerned but downright obsessed with the Florida running game. That won't happen if that running game doesn't pick up some good early gains, maybe break a 20-to-30-yarder somewhere, and keep the Gators out of anything but the occasional third-and-long. Otherwise, Chavis's Tigers will spend all afternoon teeing off on the newbies under center and generally choking the life out of Charlie Weis's attack. Weis failed miserably in his first attempt at finding a way to run the ball against an elite SEC defense; a second failure will equal a potentially even-more-miserable defeat.



Barrett Trotter: are you up to giving Auburn a passing attack again? The Tigers' 4-1 record and road upset of South Carolina has helped mask a major, major flaw in the Tiger offense, and a surprising one given Gus Malzahn's track record: Auburn's vertical passing game has all but vanished. In the five quarters since the start of the second half against Clemson, junior QB Trotter has completed just 52 percent of his passes, for only 5.9 yards an attempt, while throwing 4 (often ugly) interceptions to just 3 touchdowns. That's not to mention the eight sacks taken by Trotter the last two games or that neither FAU nor the Gamecocks are going to be mistaken for having world-class secondaries any time soon.

Judging by Arkansas's efforts to stop the run against Texas A&M (or lack thereof), Trotter should get plenty of help from Michael Dyer and the Auburn running game. But that alone won't be enough for the Tigers to keep pace with the Hogs, not given the way Bobby Petrino's quarterbacks have shredded the Auburn defense the past two seasons (702 combined yards, 7 touchdowns) and the kind of form Tyler Wilson and Jarius Wright are in right now. With the Tiger secondary as flammable as ever (provided your quarterback isn't Stephen Garcia), Arkansas is going to score a boatload of points.

Which is why the injuries to receivers to Trovon Reed and Emory Blake couldn't have come at a worse time for Auburn. Trotter already needed to take a substantial step forward to keep the Tigers within striking distance on the road; now he'll have to do it without two of his top three receivers. If there was ever a week for Malzahn to earn his substantial assistant's salary, this looks to be it.



Georgia secondary: are you for real? When Kellen Moore gouged the Bulldogs for 28-of-34 passing and 3 touchdowns Week 1, it looked like the Bulldog defensive backs had regressed back to their dark Wille Martinez-led days. But with safety Bacarri Rambo returning from suspension, the Dawgs have held their last four opponents to team QB ratings under 86 and rank 11th in the country in opponent's pass efficiency despite the Moore carpet-bombing.

Those past results are no guarantee of future performance, since facing Tyler Bray in Neyland Stadium represents a vast step up in competition from the likes of Garcia, Zack Stoudt, the slumping Chris Relf and whoever it was Coastal Carolina trotted out. But it's worth remembering that the Vols still have next-to-nothing going on the ground; even after totaling 199 yards against Buffalo, the Vols rank a horrid 109th in the country in yards per-carry. If the Dawg defensive backs can slow down Bray at all, the Vol offense could grind to a halt ... and barring another turnover-fest from Aaron Murray, Georgia should be able to walk out of Neyland with the victory.

So: can those Dawg DBs slow down Bray or not? The evidence to date is encouraging, but with the memory of Moore's night at the Georgia Dome still lingering, it's not compelling just yet.

Other SEC questions worth asking: How does AJ McCarron look against the Vanderbilt secondary? (Don't laugh; this is the best set of defensive backs McCarron has faced yet. A strong showing would further cement the belief that the Tide have no Achilles heels.) Can Marcus Lattimore keep pace in the Heisman race? (Sure, most of the attention on Carolina is focused on new quarterback starter Connor Shaw. But a second straight subpar outing against a Kentucky defense that kept LSU's ground game bottled up for a half would put the sophomore badly behind at the midseason mark.) Does Mississippi State have any fight left? (The Bulldogs have looked utterly listless and deflated ever since losing to LSU. Is there any indication that could change down the road vs. UAB?)

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