This weekend will separate some of the pretenders from the contenders. One of those teams I'm most curious about are the young Tennessee Vols, who have piled up points in their first two games, albeit against suspect competition. On Saturday, they face another intriguing team that has polished off some inferior opponents, Florida and the Vols will enter very hostile territory in The Swamp.
I spoke to Vols OC Jim Chaney on Wednesday to get a better sense of UT. Chaney, who has helped groom several NFL QBs from his days at Purdue, said about a month ago sophomore QB Tyler Bray seemed to get locked in. Something clicked with Bray, where he understood "I need to get totally invested." "Up till then, he was playing quarterback and now he gets that there's more to it than just saying 'set - hike'," Chaney explained. "He understands the position."
While Bray may not quite have the same arm strength, Chaney compares the young QB's laid-back demeanor to former Purdue standout Kyle Orton. Bray also has really good football instincts, Chaney said. On top of that the 6-6 Californian has the luxury of playing with two outstanding young WRs, Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers.
Chaney admitted he is concerned about the Vols ground game ("We can't run the ball") and how his still-green O-line will do against a pretty fierce group of Gator defensive linemen on the road. "Whenever something changes in front of them (the Vols sophomore-dominated OL), it's like the whole world changes," he said. Obviously, expect UF to do a lot of that shifting and disguise to try and confuse an inexperienced bunch. Also, keep in mind Bray's two road starts were at Memphis and Vandy. This is a whole different deal
Asked what he's most curious to find out Saturday Chaney said: "I want to see how they handle things when the lights come on--are they gonna be able to slow down and think?" Then again, the Gators have a lot of inexperience too. Will Muschamp's got a young secondary trying to cope with the UT passing attack, but he has a pretty good answer, writes Rachel George.
"We need to get pressure with four guys rushing," the Gators' coach said this week. "That's the best pass defense in America."
*I was impressed by LSU Thursday night handling Miss State on the road. I don't know how you couldn't be wowed by this LSU D. They completely short-circuited a dangerous Oregon offense in the opener, keeping the Ducks from having a single 20-yard play the whole night. Against, MSU, they completely bottled up a very talented back in Vick Ballard and suffocated a good running team.
The Tigers may not have Patrick Peterson or Drake Nevis, but they come at you in waves. They just don't have 11 guys. They have about 20 that come after you, and it almost looks like all 20 are out there on the field at the same time. They had a whopping 15 TFLs. Bennie Logan had 3.5. Michael Brockers had three. Freshman stud Anthony Johnson had two. Kiki Mingo had one. Tyrann Mathieu had one And so on.
Jarrett Lee was solid on the road and did a lot more good than bad. Aside from one late pick, he was very sharp and efficient. They can compete for a BCS title with that kind of performance, especially since Spencer Ware and Michael Ford run so hard. *With six straight games now scoring under 30 points (counting Arizona, Oregon State, Notre Dame and UCLA to finish last season), USC is approaching the record of eight games in a row under 30 points last chalked up in the 1984-85 seasons under Ted Tollner for teams that finished 9-3 and 6-6, writes Dan Weber of USCFootball.com.
*UCF and FIU have more at stake than undefeated records when the two up-and-coming teams clash Saturday night in Miami, writes Brendan Sonnone. Namely recruiting pull.
"FIU is in the same place UCF was a couple years ago," Miami Central coach Telly Lockette said. "They're starting to get the marquee guys now in Dade and Broward counties. It won't be long until they're a household name."
With both rising programs eager to keep signing South Florida athletes, Saturday's matchup could have a significant impact on the schools' reputations on the recruiting trail.
"There's definitely a little bit of status [for UCF] to lose," Florida-based recruiting analyst Corey Long said. "They have a nice space down in Miami now. Kids know about them down there. If they go down there to FIU and lose, [players] start wondering, FIU might be where I need to go. It's definitely one that under-the-radar prospects will be looking at real closely."
*One program has a coach on the hot seat. The other program, the one the blue-chipper is committed to, has a coach dealing with a huge NCAA investigation. Will UGA be able to flip the commitment of Miami LB recruit Raphael Kirby, Michael Carvell asks.
The 6-foot, 210-pound linebacker from Stephenson High School will make an unofficial visit to UGA for Saturday’s game against Coastal Carolina.*Kirk Cousins is one the real class acts in college sports. He really is as impressive as they come whenever he speaks, to either a group of people, his peers or the media, as you get a sense of in this take, via Joe Rexrode when he talks about embattled Notre Dame CB Gary Gray, who Michigan State faces Saturday.
Kirby made the decision to take the last-minute recruiting trip after talking with UGA recruiting coordinator Rodney Garner on Thursday night.
“We had a long conversation and Coach Garner said he wanted me to come up for a visit soon; I told him that I’m not really doing anything this weekend, so I’m going on Saturday,” Kirby told the AJC.
“I view them as the first three quarters," Kirk Cousins said. "I don’t pay a lot of attention to the fourth quarter. I think a couple of those balls, if No. 4 turns his back around it’s an interception. So it’s great for Michigan to win the game but I don’t view it a whole lot as their defense is terrible and Michigan’s offense is amazing. I view it as, if that guy turns around, the game’s over long ago. So I expect them to be a very, very tough defense.”
No. 4, by the way, is senior cornerback Gary Gray. He's getting the Jaren Hayes treatment, circa 2004, in South Bend. Reporters are coming up just short of asking Brian Kelly if he plans to sit Gray in the corner for a two-week timeout. Here's what Kelly said Tuesday about Gray:
"It's unfortunate that people look at that one position because it's not just Gary Gray that we put this loss on," Kelly said. "There's a lot of situations. If we don't turn the ball over, Gary Gray's name is not even brought up. Gary is going to be fine. He's a senior. He'll bounce back. He had a great game last year against Michigan State, and he's been really solid for us. So we need Gary Gray to come up and play good football this weekend against Michigan State."Cousins obviously saw the Gray mistakes and is aware of the criticism, but he's not looking at Gray like a weak link. Really, he isn't. “It’s unfortunate for him, I think he’s a very, very good corner," Cousins said of Gray. "He’s played a lot of football for them. So when you’ve played that long, I feel like he’s gonna be ready. And obviously he had an off night last week, but he’s right in position. It’s not like he’s getting beat deep. I mean he’s right there to make the play, so that shows he’s in position and has the athleticism to cover people, and I think it’s probably a little undeserved criticism on his end. And I expect him to come back this week and play at a much higher level. So I don’t think it’s something where we’re saying, ‘Let’s pick on him, we think he’s weak.’ I think that across the board they’re a much better defense than maybe that last quarter showed against Michigan.”