Tag:Chris Rainey
Posted on: November 23, 2011 12:41 pm
Edited on: November 23, 2011 12:47 pm
 

ACC-SEC Grudge Week Preview



Posted by Jerry Hinnen and Chip Patterson


There's no formal conference-vs.-conference challenge in college football, but this week is as close as we're going to come: four contests matching up SEC and ACC opponents, all of them competitive matchups on paper. Here, our resident ACC and SEC bloggers break down why each team can (or should) expect to win and offer their predictions.

No. 13 Georgia at No. 23 Georgia Tech, 12 p.m. ET. TV: ESPN

THE CASE FOR GEORGIA: Regardless of motivation or prep time (neither of which favors the Bulldogs, admittedly), the antidote to Georgia Tech's triple-option is the same as it's always been: a powerful defensive line and a running game that keeps the Tech offense off the field. In immovable nose tackles John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers and whirling-dervish 3-4 outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, the Bulldogs can put a check mark by the former, and the combination of Crowell and a rapidly improving offensive line should be able to provide the latter. If the Dawgs are at all focused, they've got the better, more talented team. But are they at all focused?

THE CASE FOR GEORGIA TECH: While the in-state athletes have made a point to do their barking in the media, I'm not entirely sure the Bulldogs will have their total focus on Georgia Tech.  With the SEC Championship Game a week away, some have suggested that Mark Richt rest banged up players like star running back Isaiah Crowell to keep them fresh for the SEC West representative in Atlanta.  Georgia Tech is out of the ACC Championship Game hunt, and now has refocused on a goal of achieving a 10-win season.  With the game in Atlanta, it just seems like the Yellow Jackets have more to play for and less to lose.

Jerry's Pick: Georgia 28, Georgia Tech 27
Chip's Pick: Georgia 31, Georgia Tech 24

Vanderbilt at Wake Forest, 3:30 p.m. ET. TV: ESPNU

THE CASE FOR VANDERBILT: A 5-6 record is a fine, fine start for James Franklin, but even more impressive is that the 'Dores have arguably been even better than that record: their last four SEC losses have come by a total of 19 points. Jordan Rodgers has been a revelation since taking over as starting quarterback, and potential All-SEC corner Casey Hayward leads a top-notch secondary that will pose major matchup problems for the Deacon passing attack. That Vandy's been better at home than on the road (and that the same goes for Wake) could be troubling, but this Commodore team is easily good enough to be a bowl team, and they should be plenty fired up to prove it.

THE CASE FOR WAKE FOREST: Wake Forest can expect to get Vanderbilt's best shot, particularly with bowl eligibility on the line for James Franklin's squad.  Perhaps the best matchup for Wake Forest is neutralizing one of the Commodores' strengths.  Vanderbilt has an opportunistic defense that has forced 17 interceptions on the season (T-1 in the SEC), but Tanner Price has one of the best quarterbacks in the ACC at taking care of the ball.  Price has thrown for 19 touchdowns and just six interceptions, and has nearly doubled his 2010 output with 2,646 yards on the year.  Still, especially after last week's debacle against Tennessee you have think Vanderbilt will be an inspired team on Saturday.

Jerry's Pick: Vanderbilt 30, Wake Forest 27
Chip's Pick: Vanderbilt 34, Wake Forest 31

Florida State at Florida, 7:00 p.m. ET. TV: ESPN2

THE CASE FOR FLORIDA: The (surprisingly difficult) win over Furman got the Gators into a bowl, but the only way to genuinely salvage Will Muschamp's rocky debut season is to beat the 'Noles, and Muschamp's team knows it. Playing hated FSU at home should wake up the dormant Florida Field crowd, and it's not like the Gators don't have the talent to win this game: a healthy John Brantley at quarterback, the Chris Rainey/Jeff Demps tag team at tailback, Jelani Jenkins at linebacker. The Gators' top-20 defense should be plenty enough of a match for an FSU offense that's scored a total of 36 points the last two weeks. If the 'Noles can lose to Virginia at home, they're certainly vulnerable enough to lose to the motivated Gators in Gainesville.

THE CASE FOR FLORIDA STATE: Unlike the Gators, the Seminoles have shown the potential of a Top 10-caliber team when they are healthy and have all the pieces working together.  Unfortunately for Florida State, they are like Florida with their inconsistent performances throughout the season.  When EJ Manuel has time to throw and is able to get in rhythm, the Seminoles becomes dangerous and potent very quickly.  The Gators' defense presents arguably their toughest challenge on the schedule, but at least Florida State has played at an elite level at times this year.

Jerry's Pick: Florida 24, Florida State 21
Chip's Pick: Florida State 28, Florida 16

No. 17 Clemson at No. 12 South Carolina, 7:45 p.m. ET. TV: ESPN

THE CASE FOR SOUTH CAROLINA: The Gamecocks haven't seen many offenses like Clemson's, but the Tigers also haven't seen many defenses like Carolina's. Melvin Ingram has been one of the nation's best defensive ends, Jadeveon Clowney has lived up to the hype and more, and what was one of the FBS's most flammable secondaries in 2010 has turned into one of its stingiest in 2011. The buttoned-down Gamecock offense won't put a lot of points on the board, but they should put up some against the roller-coaster Tiger defense. They could easily be enough opposite that defense.

THE CASE FOR CLEMSON: Sammy. Watkins. When healthy, his presence on the field changes so many aspects of the game.  The superstar freshman has been cleared to play after sitting out last week with a shoulder injury, and if he is at full speed Steve Spurrier will have some difficult special teams decisions to make.  The Gamecocks' kick coverage has been less than stellar, so OBC will need to figure out whether he'd rather set up the potent Tigers offense with a short field or put the ball in the hands of arguably the most explosive player in the ACC.  He returns kicks, punts, and offensive coordinator Chad Morris moves him all around in the offense.  The Tigers' offense was missing a spark in the loss to NC State, but he'll be ready to go for this rivalry game.

Jerry's Pick: Clemson 27, South Carolina 21
Chip's Pick: Clemson 45, South Carolina 38


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Posted on: November 12, 2011 3:49 pm
Edited on: November 12, 2011 4:32 pm
 

QUICK HITS: South Carolina 17, Florida 12

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

SOUTH CAROLINA WON: 
The Gators had to know that after the Gamecocks' struggles in the passing game the past three weeks, their offense at home today would be run-first, run-second, throw-third. But if they did, it didn't show in the first half: Carolina dominated Florida along the line-of-scrimmage in the first 30 minutes, eventually rolling up 215 rushing yards to the Gators' 142. Connor Shaw completed only 6 passes for only 81 yards, but picked up 88 on the ground and ran for two first-half scores that would be all the Gamecock defense -- and their four sacks -- would need.

WHY SOUTH CAROLINA WON: More than anything, their burst of physical running in the second quarter that gave the Gamecocks both their touchdowns, allowed them to play with the lead throughout the second half, and forced the Gators just that far out of their ground-based offensive comfort zone.

But 17 points shouldn't really be enough to win an SEC game, should it? Kudos are in order for the Gamecock defense, which hounded John Brantley in the pocket, kept the Chris Rainey/Jeff Demps largely under wraps, and gave the Gators nothing in the downfield passing game. (We're not sure if any individual SEC unit has improved as much from 2010 to 2011 as the Carolina secondary, so eminently flammable in 2010 but one of the league's better defensive backfields in 2011. Of course, facing a steady diet of SEC quarterbacks tends to make any secondary look good.) But it's become obvious that the Gators' offensive troubles -- which many pinned on Brantley's absence or poor health in their four-game losing streak -- go much deeper than the quarterback position.

Brantley may not be 100 percent, but he wasn't all that far off in Columbia, and he still finished the day a mediocre 13-of-21 for just 119 yards and no touchdowns, And between his line's struggles in pass protection, his receiver's occasional butterfingers, and the continued boom-or-bust nature of the Gators' less-than-physical rushing game, he didn't get a lot of help. End result for the Gator attack: just 261 total offensive yards, just 12 points -- the Gators' fifth time at 20 points or fewer in six games -- and a final SEC record of 3-5, the program's first losing league record since 1979. Dear Charlie Weis: year 2 had better be a lot better if you'd like to get out of Gainesville alive. 

WHEN SOUTH CAROLINA WON: Shaw basically made one important play all game in the passing department, but it was a biggie: facing first-and-15 at his own 37 immediately following a fourth-quarter Gator touchdown that cut the Carolina lead to two, Shaw threw deep to Ace Sanders for 46 yards. That was more than half of Shaw's passing total for the day, but more important it set up the Gamecocks for a short field goal and a 17-12 lead. The way the Gator offense had sputtered, asking them to score a second touchdown in the space of a quarter was always going to be too much.

WHAT SOUTH CAROLINA WON: A shot at the SEC East. If Georgia loses today to Auburn or next week to Kentucky (OK, if they lose today to Auburn), Carolina will go to Atlanta for the second time in two years.

WHAT FLORIDA LOST: a fifth SEC game for the first time in 32 years. Last week's win against Vanderbilt ensured the Gators won't miss a bowl game, but there's no way to color Will Muschamp's first season at the Gator helm as anything other than a disappointment now.

Posted on: November 9, 2011 4:01 pm
 

South Carolina expects Shaw to play against UF



Posted by Chip Patterson

With one conference game left on the schedule, Saturday's home game against division rival Florida is a must-win to keep South Carolina's SEC Championship Game hopes alive.  The Gamecocks fell a game behind division-leading Georgia in the standings after their loss to Arkansas. The game not only set them back in their quest for a second-straight SEC East crown, but also jeopardized the playing status of starting quarterback Connor Shaw. The good news out of Columbia this week was that Shaw (concussion) is expected to play against the Gators.

"We think Connor's going to be all right by the middle of the week," head coach Steve Spurrier told the media. "Clint Haggard, our trainer, gave him the test to see how he was doing; and he's been doing very well."

Florida's defense is among the best in the nation, and with the return of starting quarterback John Brantley the Gators were able to end a four-game losing streak against Vanderbilt. They are also expected to have both Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey healthy for the contest, meaning the Gamecocks should expect more offensive production from the opposing offense. Because of the injuries and dismissal of Stephen Garcia, the quarterback position is not especially deep for Ol' Ball Coach. Shaw's backup is redshirt freshman Dylan Thompson, who has only thrown two passes all season.

If South Carolina defeats Florida and Georgia loses in their contest to Auburn on Saturday, the Gamecocks will win the SEC East and return to the SEC Championship Game for the second year in a row. If the Gamecocks lose to Florida in the conference finale, they will need Georgia to lose their final two conference games to win the East. Otherwise the Bulldogs will make the short trip to Atlanta to face the winner of the SEC West.

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Posted on: November 8, 2011 5:01 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Florida at South Carolina

Posted by Chip Patterson


SOUTH CAROLINA WILL WIN IF
: The offensive line can protect Conner Shaw and open up lanes for the rushing game. Just a week after running back Brandon Wilds exploded through Tennessee's defense for 137 yards, the freshman was a non-factor against Arkansas picking up just 21 yards on ten carries. Shaw was sacked five times by the Razorback defense and struggled to find his receivers in space. Florida's defense will be looking to pressure Shaw into making mistakes, and the offensive line needs to deliver one their best performances of the season to keep the Gamecocks in the hunt for back-to-back SEC East titles.

FLORIDA WILL WIN IF: They continue to limit the penalties and mental mistakes. The Gators have been one of the most penalized teams in the country this season, but they were only flagged three times in the 26-21 win over Vanderbilt. Penalties were a common thread in Florida's four-game losing streak, and the return of John Brantley combined with mistake-free (or closer to it) football finally helped Will Muschamp's squad snap the slide. The division battle with South Carolina promises to be fast and physical, and the Gators must get disciplined play on all sides of the ball to knock off No. 13 South Carolina and reach bowl eligibility.

X-FACTOR: Chris Rainey's health. Rainey's absence did play a part in Jeff Demps running for a career-high 158 yards against Vanderbilt, but the Gators are a better team with both weapons suited up and ready to play. Rainey is expected to return against South Carolina, but his effectiveness could end up being one of the deciding factors in the division battle.

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Posted on: October 30, 2011 1:20 am
 

SEC Winners and Losers, Week 9

Posted by Jerry Hinnen



WINNER: Mark Richt. 
It's not just that the victory today was only Richt's third in 10 tries against the team most Georgia fans want to beat more than any other. It's not just that with the win, the Dawgs are two home victories over a middle-of-the-pack Auburn and far-below-the-pack Kentucky from a 7-1 SEC record ... and with a little help from someone vs. South Carolina, a trip to Atlanta. It's not just that after today, it seems close-to-impossible that Richt won't return for an 11th season on the Georgia sideline. 

It's that in many ways, this victory belonged to Richt. It was Richt who was able to keep his struggling team mentally afloat when the Gators took a 17-3 lead and the Dawg half of the stadium couldn't help but think "here we go again." It was Richt who made the calls to go for it on 4th-and-long inside the red zone once Blair Walsh showed himself unreliable, calls that resulted in two of the Dawgs' three scores in a game where points came as easily as pulled teeth. And it was Richt who showed enough faith in the flailing Aaron Murray -- who'd missed nine straight attempts -- to endorse a throw on 2nd-and-9 as the Dawgs tried to run out the clock.

That decision worked, as did nearly every move Richt made Saturday. That's what it was, and why Georgia won.

LOSER: Charlie Weis. We don't want to be too hard on Mr. Decided Schematic Advantage, since the quarterbacks he's worked with the past few weeks have been 1. true freshmen 2. still kind of hurt 3. more inherited than hand-picked. But still: between weapons like Chris Rainey, Jordan Reed, Trey Burton, Deonte Thompson and even a half-speed Jeff Demps, we're not sure there's excuses enough to explain 10 second-half points across four games, one first down in the second half against Georgia, or 175 total rushing yards in this four-game losing streak on all of 1.5 yards a carry. Weis arrived at Florida with a reputation for expertly handling quarterbacks and passing games but perhaps not having a good idea of how to operate a rushing attack with smaller backs like Rainey and Demps ... and with Brantley's downfield accuracy gone and the field shrunk, Weis has lived up to every bit of that reputation.

WINNER: Vanderbilt. We know, we know, they lost. But they also outgained the nation's No. 8 team (and one of its most explosive offenses) by 74 yards. Their years of wandering the wilderness at the quarterback position appears over, thanks to Jordan Rodgers' outstanding 15-of-27, 240 yard, 66 rushing yards, 3 touchdown, zero turnovers performance. They took over down 3 at their own 9 with 3 minutes remaining, a situation in which Vandy has accomplished nothing since the days of Jay Cutler, and promptly drove 80 yards for what should have been the game-tying field goal. Top-to-bottom, Vanderbilt was a better team than Arkansas Saturday.

In short, in so many, many ways, James Franklin's Vanderbilt is not the same old Vanderbilt

LOSER: Vanderbilt. Of course, there were even more ways in which Vanderbilt was precisely the same Vanderbilt they've been for decades. Shall we count the ways? The four or five easy interceptions which Commodore defenders let slip through their hands ... the backbreaking 15-point fourth-quarter swing as their best offensive player, running back Zac Stacy, fumbles the ball at the opponent's 3-yard line (without being touched) for a touchdown fumble return the other way ... with a chance to go in at halftime up 21-7 and in firm control of the game, the touchdown allowed with five seconds remaining ... and, yes, the shanked 27-yard field goal at the bitter, bitter end.

Until further notice: same old Vandy.

WINNER: South Carolina offensive tackle Cody Gibson. Gibson is a big fella: 6'6", 285 pounds. And when Tennessee's Prentiss Wagner picked off a third-quarter pass from Connor Shaw and bolted clear for the Gamecock end zone 56 yards away, Gibson probably could have been forgiven for ... well, not quitting on the play, but only making a token effort; the odds of the tackle being made by a tackle among the Gamecocks' receivers and running backs and the quarterback was insanely low, right? But Gibson made much more of an effort than that, going all-out in pursuit of Waggner until the corner cut back towards the middle of the field, cut again, had to slow up one last time ... and Gibson caught him, flattening him at the Gamecock 2-yard line. 

Against most offenses, that might not have mattered much. But vs. Tennessee's? It mattered a ton: only two plays later, Vol freshman QB Justin Worley threw an ugly interception, and Gibson's play had saved his team seven points in a game which only totaled 17. Instead of being down 10-7 with a wobbly Shaw in front of a fired-up Knoxville crowd, Carolina drove 98 yards for their own touchdown and (for all intents and purposes) the win. Gibson's play won't make him a star, but Saturday, there's no question it made him a winner.

LOSER: Barrett Trotter. This might a touch unfair to Trotter, who didn't even see the field Saturday. But whatever hope he had of reclaiming the starting quarterback job he lost at halftime of Auburn's win over Florida was extinguished for the foreseeable future by Clint Moseley's outing against Ole Miss. The redshirt sophomore (left)connected on 12 of his 15 attempts for 10.7 yards a pass and four touchdowns ... all without an interception. More importantly, the Auburn offense looked like the Auburn offense for the first time in weeks, rolling up 414 yards and 41 points on a Rebel defense that caused real problems for Arkansas last week. Remember those Snickers commercials? Where the Tiger pecking order under center is concerned, neither Trotter nor Moseley are going anywhere for a while.

WINNER: The Liberty Bowl. With LSU and Alabama surely off to the BCS and a pair of teams with precious little bowl eligibility hope in Kentucky and Ole Miss, the SEC was already in danger of not fulfilling all its bowl tie-ins ... and a Wildcat win against Mississippi State would have made things even more dire for the last couple of bowls at the end of the food chain, as that result would likely leave neither team in striking distance of the postseason. As is, the BBVA Compass Bowl is still likely out of luck, but the venerable Liberty can live in hope--the Bulldogs have both FCS patsy UT-Martin and the Rebels on the schedule.

LOSER: The rest of the SEC. It's now officially LSU-Alabama week. We'll see the other 10 of you next Sunday*.

*We're kidding, geez. Mostly kidding, anyway. 

Posted on: October 29, 2011 8:01 pm
 

QUICK HITS: No. 22 Georgia 24, Florida 20

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

GEORGIA WON: Objectively speaking, it wasn't a thing of aesthetic beauty, but we won't dare tell Georgia fans that any win over Florida ain't pretty. The Bulldogs fell into an early 17-3 hole, gained just 354 total yards, saw Aaron Murray miss nine straight passes in the second half, and committed far too many special teams gaffes to list in this short a space. But after a hot start, in the second half John Brantley played like the injured, rusty quarterback he was (missing 11 of 12 himself at one point) and the Gators were held to just three points after the break. A pair of fourth-down Murray touchdown tosses and a bruising four-yard TD run by Richard Samuel (pictured) early in the fourth quarter would be all the offense the Dawgs needed.

WHY GEORGIA WON: Because Florida simply cannot find the key to getting the ball moving after halftime. In eight second-half quarters since their win over Kentucky on Sept. 24, Charlie Weis's offense has scored a total of 10 points: seven against LSU on a lightning-in-a-bottle downfield bomb, and three today when Chris Rainey's long kickoff return meant the Gators could gain three yards in three plays and still kick a field goal. Across seven second-half possessions vs. the Bulldogs, Florida earned one first down, gained 12 yards, and started drives at the Dawg 26, 45, and 36 that totaled, yep, three points. While the Bulldogs deserve a lot of credit for putting the clamps down -- particularly outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, who finished with four sacks -- that kind of week-in-week-out futility isn't going to win many games in the SEC. Or anywhere.

A nod is also due to Mark Richt's aggressive red zone play-calling. After Blair Walsh missed a 33-yard chippie (his ninth miss of the season; he would add a tenth later), Richt twice passed on makeable field goals to have Murray throw to the end zone on 4th down. Results: 1. massive touchdown pass to Michael Bennett to close halftime gap to 17-10 2. equally massive touchdown pass to Tavarres King to tie game at 17 early second half. Without Richt's willingness to take those risks, the Bulldogs lose.

WHEN GEORGIA WON: A 24-yard punt by Drew Butler (we mentioned the special teams disasters, right?) set the Gators up at the Georgia 36 with just under 6 minutes to play. The ensuing drive: incompletion, incompletion, incompletion, sack. Even if the Gator defense had been able to get the ball back (they weren't), there wasn't any way the shellshocked Florida offense was getting a better opportunity than that.

WHAT GEORGIA WON: The inside track to Atlanta. Only home dates against Auburn and Kentucky stand between the Dawgs and a 7-1 SEC mark, and the only help they need if they win out is a single loss from South Carolina ... who's losing 3-0 to Tennessee as we type this and still have a road date against Arkansas to come. But if becoming the de facto East favorite wasn't sweet enough, that was just the Dawgs' fourth win over Florida in 21 tries and may have even saved Richt's job. Not bad for 60 minutes of work.

WHAT FLORIDA LOST: the Gators' fourth straight SEC game and any distant hope of winning the division. At 4-4 and with only one "gimme" left on the schedule (and dates vs. Carolina and Florida State still to come), Florida isn't even guaranteed of making a bowl game just yet.
Posted on: October 25, 2011 1:03 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Florida vs. Georgia

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

FLORIDA WILL WIN IF: John Brantley
is indeed back under center, and if he plays like the quarterback he had been this 2011 season before the high-ankle sprain against Alabama. The 10 quarters of football the Gators played without him against the Tide, LSU and Auburn were all the evidence we needed to dismiss their chances without him, but if Florida gets back the QB who'd posted a QB rating of 152.58 for the year (good for second in the SEC if he had enough attempts), they'll be able to get their licks in. Not necessarily because Brantley's going to go Robert Griffin on the Bulldogs or anything, mind--between the inevitable rust and the Dawgs' excellent secondary (top-10 nationally in both yards and opponent's QB rating allowed), the Gators are going to have to work for their passing yards no matter who's the quarterback. But with Brantley, that work should have some payoff, and that in turn should open some holes for Chris Rainey and the under-used Mike Gillislee. That balance could make a game of things, and if there's anything we've learned about the Cocktail Party over the years, it's that a tight game in the fourth quarter always favors the Gators.

GEORGIA WILL WIN IF:  The Dawgs play their game. On paper, this should be Georgia's year: they have the more coherent offensive identity, the brightest (or at least most consistent) offensive star in Isaiah Crowell, the steadier front seven now that Jarvis Jones has solidified the linebacking, and what appears to be an aerial edge on both sides of the ball. If the Bulldogs were preparing to face an opponent named the Schmorida Schmators in the World's Largest Outdoor Costume Party, we'd call them heavy favorites. But since it's Florida, and the Cocktail Party, all that on paper stuff doesn't matter much. The Dawgs almost never "play their game" against the Gators, with the 3 wins in 20 years to prove it. If Mark Richt can finally get his team right mentally, they'll get the win. But in this rivalry, that's always been a titanic "if."

THE X-FACTOR: the catastrophic quarterbacking error. Curiously, while Aaron Murray's overall performance hasn't regressed from his freshman year, the frequency of his "freshman mistakes" actually has; Stephen Garcia excluded, Murray's as many interceptions (seven) as any other SEC quarterback, and his backbreaking fumble against South Carolina doomed the Dawgs to defeat in that game. Brantley, likewise, may be more prone to the interception bug after his three-week layoff (not to mention facing a secondary in the national top-10 in picks, too). Whichever team can force the opposing singal-caller into a game-changing error is going to have a huge leg up.
Posted on: October 16, 2011 2:42 am
 

SEC Winners and Losers, Week 7


Posted by Jerry Hinnen

A handy recap of who (and what) really won and really lost in the SEC's Week 6.

WINNER: Trent Richardson. On a day when the SEC failed mightily to produce anything resembling a classic game -- of the league's five matchups, two were won in overpowering fashion by its resident pair of 500-pound gorillas, and the other three were all varying degrees of "slopfest" -- Richardson nonetheless delivered a classic performance. The career highs in yards (183 yards) and touchdowns (four) were nice, but lots of running backs can amass gaudy numbers. What made Richardson's night special was the fury with which he punished Ole Miss's defenders on his runs between the tackles, and then the startling elusiveness he flashed once he found the open field; this juke is going to be a staple of highlight reels for weeks to come. The statistic that best reflects Richardson's night? The 11.2 yards he averaged across his relatively meager 19 touches.

With Marcus Lattimore going down with an injury today (more on this in a moment) and Tyrann Mathieu having a quiet day by his standards despite the total domination shown by his LSU secondary (1 pass broken up, 1 tackle, nothing in special teams), Richardson is now the SEC's far-and-away most viable Heisman candidate. And if the Ole Miss game is any indication, his campaign might just be getting warmed up.

LOSER: the SEC East. Thanks to the decline of Mississippi State, the East's record vs. the West isn't quite as lopsided as it was last year. But that doesn't mean the top of the division is any stronger than it was last year; based on the evidence of Saturday, it's even worse. South Carolina scored a total of two touchdowns while wheezing their way to a four-point win over a State team in offensive disarray. Georgia collected four turnovers from Vanderbilt and outgained the 'Dores by nearly 100 yards and still came within one Hail Mary off a receiver's hands from losing in Nashville. And Florida gained all of 194 yards against the nation's 105th-ranked defense at Auburn. Sure, the East champion won't have a prayer against LSU or Alabama, but with two of its title contenders having already lost to Gene Chizik's team and the third barely any less convincing-looking, the East champion might not even be any better than fifth-place in the West. Still.

WINNER: Ted Roof. After his Tiger defense was eviscerated for more than 1,150 yards in just two weeks by Mississippi State and Clemson, Roof was the most unpopular person on the Plains this side of Harvey Updyke. But thanks to the rapid maturation of players like sophomore defensive end Corey Lemonier (three tackles-for-loss, two sacks, four QB hurries vs. Florida) and sophomore cornerback Chris Davis (five tackles, one pass breakup), Roof's unit suddenly looks in much better shape than celebrated coordinating counterpart Gus Malzahn's--and was largely responsible for both Auburn's win in South Carolina and over Florida Saturday. The Gators' quarterbacking woes no doubt helped, but short, quick running backs like Chris Rainey have given Roof's defenses fits in the past. In the present, Rainey was bottled up to the tune of just 33 yards on 16 carries.

LOSER: South Carolina's offense. Let's get the obvious out of the way first: if Lattimore's injury keeps him out for any extended length of time, that's a massive, massive blow for the Gamecocks. Players of the big sophomore's ability simply aren't replaceable in midseason (if ever), and Carolina doesn't have much depth behind Lattimore to begin with; his substitute against the Bulldogs was true freshman Brandon Wilds, who entered the game with all of eight career carries. 

But there's even more worries for Steve Spurrier past his running back situation. Connor Shaw's explosive performance against Kentucky looked like a mirage after he threw for an average of just 5.5 yards on his 28 attempts, with two interceptions; his banged-up offensive line opened holes for just 2.6 yards a carry, two weeks after Lattimore averaged less than 4 vs. Auburn; and Alshon Jeffery continues to be nearly invisible, collecting the game-winning TD vs. State but just four other receptions for all of 20 yards. If Spurrier can't fix things -- and likely do it without Lattimore -- his team may not win again until the Citadel visits on Nov. 19.

WINNER: Rueben Randle. Is anyone happier about Jarrett Lee's late-career renaissance than LSU's No. 1 receiver? The former five-star struggled to make an impact his first two years in Baton Rouge, but with Lee at the controls Randle has become one of the league's biggest deep threats. After 5 more receptions for 86 yards and a score against Tennessee, Randle is averaging an even 19 yards per reception--the best mark in the SEC for any receiver with more than 20 catches for the year.

LOSERS: Anyone who tuned away from Georgia-Vanderbilt. Though it was too sloppy by half to qualify as a good game, the ending of Bulldogs-Commodores was as wild as any game in the SEC this season. Up 33-28, the Dawgs drove deep into Vandy territory and looked to have the game salted away before Aaron Murray was picked off by Casey Hayward at the Vandy 2 with 2:30 to play. But Jordan Rodgers was only able to drive the 'Dores to their own 25 before being picked off himself with 1:10 left. The Bulldogs weren't able to run out the entire clock, though, and had their punt blocked, almost returned for a game-winning touchdown, and eventually recovered by Vandy at the Bulldog 20 with 7 seconds left. Rodgers' Hail Mary hit a falling Chris Boyd in the hands, but Boyd was unable to bring it in, and one final desperation play fell short ... after which Vandy head coach James Franklin and Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham nearly sparked a brawl by angrily yelling at each other at midfield. 

Not a bad bit of drama for a game the few people who were watching potentially turned off once Georgia went up 33-21 early in the fourth quarter.

LOSERS: Gamblers who took South Carolina to cover the 3.5 points against Mississippi State. The Gamecocks' voluntary safety on the final play of the game -- reducing a four-point margin to two and flipping the result of the game against the spread -- cost worldwide bettors as much as $30 million, according to one report. We're skeptical the numbers for your run-of-the-mill SEC game run quite that high, but we'd still advise Spurrier not to walk down any dark alleys this week.

WINNERS: Hearts belonging to fans of Alabama and LSU. While fans in Columbia and Auburn and Athens and Starkville have all had their turns reaching for the blood pressure medication (Auburn's more than once), those in Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge haven't had to worry. After winning their two games Saturday by a combined 90-14 score, the Tide and Tigers have now won their eight total SEC games by an average score of 37-8. The closest call? LSU's 19-6 "escape" at Mississippi State, which at the time was viewed as a disappointment for the Bulldogs.

Now, we're wondering if maybe they ought to put up a plaque to commemorate the achievement.


 
 
 
 
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