Tag:Tyler Bray
Posted on: November 13, 2011 1:58 am
Edited on: November 14, 2011 5:25 pm
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SEC Winners and Losers, Week 11

Posted by Jerry Hinnen



WINNER: Atlanta ticket brokers. Not that there's ever any shortage of demand for the SEC championship game, but with the A-T-L's biggest college football team (sorry, Georgia Tech) officially on their way to the Georgia Dome, that hometown demand should drive prices clean through the roof.

Wait, whaddya mean, "not officially"? The only thing standing between Georgia and their trip to Atlanta is a home game against Kentucky, the same team that spent its Saturday getting drilled 38-8 by Vanderbilt. It's more likely some sort of bizarre last-minute eligibility scandal -- Bacarri Rambo busted for selling prime Sanford Stadium hedge clippings, or something -- keeps the Dawgs from the East crown than the Wildcats do. Arrange the days off, book the hotels, scalp the tickets--for the first time since 2005, Georgia's going to play for the SEC title. 

LOSER: The ghost of Willie Martinez. So why have the Dawgs made the leap? The friendliest possible league schedule has had a lot to do with it -- if Georgia goes to Arkansas and it's South Carolina who gets to visit Ole Miss, the Gamecocks are booking their tickets today -- but it's also true that as much hand-wringing as there's been over the Dawgs' struggles since 2005 at quarterback, the offensive line, running back, play-calling, etc, their biggest problem has always been on the defensive side of the ball. And in his second season after replacing the exiled, despised Willie Martinez as Georgia's defensive coordinator, Todd Grantham has those problems nearly solved. His unit ranks in the national top 10 in rush defense, pass defense, and total defense, and showed why vs. Auburn. Clint Moseley got no time to throw, Michael Dyer found precious little room to run, Rambo made the biggest play of the game with a pick-six, and the bottom line was that a Tiger offense that had scored 41 points two weeks earlier got none after their opening drive.

After that performance, it's safe to declare the specter of Mr. Martinez's failures fully exorcised.

WINNER: Hangovers. You play the Game of the Century one week, maybe it shouldn't be a surprise you don't quite play with your hair on fire the next. So even though they're LSU and Alabama, LSU and Alabama still took their leisurely time putting away outmatched opponents in Western Kentucky and Mississippi State, respectively. (The Hilltoppers a little more outmatched than the Bulldogs, obviously.) No one's immune to the week-after effect, apparently.

LOSER: The Rematch Resistance. Hangovers or no hangovers, though, LSU-Alabama II: Rematch of the Century took a big step closer to reality Saturday with both Stanford and Boise State falling from the ranks of the unbeaten. With Oregon unlikely to be any more palatable a rematch opponent for the Tigers than the Tide is, the only hurdle for Alabama to clear appears to be whichever team wins Bedlam: Oklahoma State would be undefeated and home-free, of course, but Oklahoma might also stake a claim with plenty of computer power and the voters' aversion to a sequel. But with that Texas Tech loss looking less and less explicable by the day, the educated guess here is that a Sooner win would send the Tide on for a second crack at the Tigers.

WINNER: Joe Adams. Because seriously:

LOSERS: Ole Miss supporters. Facing a substantially less-talented Louisiana Tech squad at home Saturday, the Rebels had a terrific opportunity to 1. rally for their fired head coach Houston Nutt 2. snap their six-game losing streak 3. show some kind of pride in their program and themselves regardless of the off-field distractions and coaching turnover. Instead they lost to the visitors from Ruston by three full touchdowns in what has to go down as the worst, most embarrassing nonconference loss for an SEC team this season. The Rebels still have two games to play this season -- at home to LSU and at Mississippi State -- and we don't envy anyone from Oxford compelled to watch either one.

WINNER: Steve Spurrier. The Gamecocks won't be going back to Atlanta. They won't make any kind of dent in the national title race. They won't go down in history as some great team gone unrewarded, not having now won three SEC games in which they scored 17 points or fewer and having been the only SEC team to host Auburn and not blow the Tigers out of the water. Marcus Lattimore won't win the Heisman, Alshon Jeffery won't be named All-American or even All-SEC (today's tally: 2 receptions, 17 yards), and the less said about Stephen Garcia the better. 

So on many, many levels, this 2011 season is a disappointment ... and on the other, even for all of those struggles, the Gamecocks have just won 6 SEC games for the first time ever. As Spurrier noted, they've gone 6-0 the past two seasons vs. their main East rivals at Georgia, Tennessee, and Florida. And in players like Jadeveon Clowney, Brandon Wilds and tackle Cody Gibson, there's still plenty of young talent to groom. The specific goal was to win another East title, and Spurrier failed at that. But maybe the larger, more important goal was to prove that 2010 wasn't a fluke  --  that the old annual November swoon, perpetual also-ran Gamecocks were gone for good -- and on that count Spurrier has succeeded, without question. If he wasn't already the best coach in the Gamecocks' history, this 2011 season means he is now. 

LOSER: Derek Dooley. Any talk of removing the second-year head man at Tennessee is wildly premature; if Tyler Bray and Justin Hunter are still healthy, who knows what the Vols' record is? And Dooley of course had nothing to do with a schedule that handed his team LSU, Arkansas, and Alabama out of the west. But it's one thing to lose a lot of games -- even SEC games, even six such games in a row -- and another to look as hopeless as the Vols did in their drubbing at Arkansas. Dooley's already been more good than outstanding on the recruiting trail, and if he loses next week to James Franklin and Vandy, the knives are going to really come out among the Vol faithful ... and that recruiting job is only going to get harder. 

(Gene Chizik isn't in the same boat, but he deserves a mention here all the same. The 4-3 SEC record isn't bad, but in the non-Ole Miss portion of the schedule, those three wins have come by a total of 21 points and the three losses by 97. With a defense that Chizik has a major hand in the main culprit, those blowouts suggest last year's national champion has a lot of work to do between now and 2012.)


Posted on: November 8, 2011 3:42 pm
Edited on: November 8, 2011 3:43 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Tennessee at Arkansas

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

TENNESSEE WILL WIN IF: Tyler Bray finds the broken thumb miracle cure between now and Saturday. The Vols' sophomore starter hasn't played since his team's loss to Georgia Oct. 8, and though he got his hard cast off this week, it doesn't sound like he's going to be nearly ready to play against the Hogs. But the Vols might not have a prayer without him: in the three SEC games Bray has missed, backups Matt Simms and Justin Worley have combined to complete 39.5 percent of their passes and post a 0-to-5 TD-to-INT ratio. Yes, those three SEC games came against teams with far better defenses than Arkansas's -- LSU's, Alabama's, and South Carolina's, in fact -- but two of them also came at home. It's also not like the Vols' 118th-ranked rushing game (fresh off averaging all of 2.67 yards per-carry vs. Middle Tennessee State) is going to be much help. Unless Bray can find a witch doctor or mad scientist or special magnetic wristband that fixes his thumb in time, it's awfully hard -- and just about impossible -- to see the Vols winning this game.

ARKANSAS WILL WIN IF: they can just avoid catastrophic mistakes. Maybe easier said than done, of course, if you saw Tyler Wilson do this vs. Carolina last Saturday:



Wilson isn't the only Hog to have turnover issues of late: Dennis Johnson's fumbles helped keep both Vanderbilt and Ole Miss in those respective games. If Wilson, Johnson or any other butter-fingered Hog set the Vols up with short fields or throw away scoring opportunities, the Vols have shown -- in their 6-6 halftime tie with Alabama -- that they can hang around with better teams, even on the road.

Hang around long enough to win it? Probably not, but where turnovers are involved, never say never. Wilson and Co. have to make sure they aren't.

THE X-FACTOR: Jake Bequette. The Razorbacks' preseason All-SEC defensive end had suffered an injury-plagued and disappointing season until last Saturday, when he roared to life with three sacks of Connor Shaw and the game-clinching forced fumble. If Bequette terrorizes poor Worley or Simms the way he terrorized Shaw, the Vols really, really have no hope.

Posted on: October 31, 2011 12:50 pm
Edited on: October 31, 2011 1:02 pm
 

Vol S Brewer, UGA OL Lee both done for year

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

From Marcus Lattimore to John Brantley to Tyler Bray, the SEC East race has in many ways already become a battle of attrition. And last Saturday's action did nothing to change that, with both Tennessee and Georgia losing starters to injury for the remainder of the 2011 season.

The news is worse for Derek Dooley, who confirmed Monday that starting strong safety Brent Brewer tore his ACL against South Carolina and is done for the year. The sophomore had recently been moved into the starting lineup after injuries and poor play had already necessitated a reshuffling of the Vol secondary, and responded with 24 tackles and three tackles-for-loss.

Brewer will likely be replaced by freshman Brian Randolph, sliding over from free safety. That hole will by filled by experienced junior Prentiss Waggner, who's already moved from safety to corner this season is moving back again. There are few places where the Vols could less afford to sustain an injury like Brewer's -- struggling corner Marsalis Teague is likely to draw back into the starting lineup -- but that's the way the season has gone for Dooley, unfortunately.

"We've got to move some guys back in at corner and they need to play better," the Vols' embattled head coach said.

Meanwhile, the Vols' rivals in Athens will have to play the rest of the regular season, at least, without starting redshirt sophomore guard Dallas Lee. Lee broke his ankle against Florida and will not be able to help the Dawgs' push for a division title, but could be able to return for the postseason.

“I would think he’d have a very good opportunity to play in the bowl, would be my guess," Mark Richt said.

Fortunately for the Dawgs, Lee has a highly-experienced backup in Kenarious Gates, who began the season in the starting lineup before an injury dropped him to the second-string. Gates replaced Lee during the win over the Gators and is expected to get the start Saturday when the Dawgs host New Mexico State.


Posted on: October 24, 2011 12:25 pm
Edited on: October 24, 2011 12:25 pm
 

Justin Worley is Tennessee's starting quarterback

Posted by Tom Fornelli

Tennessee freshman quarterback Justin Worley was supposed to redshirt this season, but after an injury to Tyler Bray and an ineffective performance from Matt Simms against Alabama on Saturday, Worley found himself on the field late in Tennessee's 37-6 loss. Worley didn't throw a pass while in the game, but I guess Derek Dooley has seen enough of Matt Simms.

When the new Tennessee depth chart was released on Monday, Worley's name was listed as QB1 with Simms backing him up.

"I know (QB) will be the main storyline. It's just something we have to do," said Dooley. The Tennessee head coach also went on to say that he doesn't "know what it will look like on Saturday."

Neither do we, but it won't be easy against a South Carolina defense allowing less than 20 points a game and gets after the quarterback.

Still, considering that Tennessee is now 0-4 in the SEC this season and Worley's redshirt has already been burned, Dooley and the Vols might as well see what they have in the freshman. He's already seen plenty of Matt Simms the last two years, and he hasn't been enough.
Posted on: October 13, 2011 1:21 pm
Edited on: October 13, 2011 6:36 pm
 

Man vs. Woman vs. Machine: Week 7



Posted by Tom Fornelli


Man vs. Woman vs. Machine is a feature that runs every Thursday afternoon. It is here that Tom Fornelli fights against the rising tide of female empowerment and technology to ensure that men everywhere can at least claim that college football is still theirs. He does this by picking a set of games against the spread against his girlfriend, Lynn, and his Playstation 3.

I've made a huge mistake.

The last few weeks, as I was clawing my way back into the race and approaching Woman, ready to pass her, I got overconfident. Sometimes the problem with being Man and being awesome is that it gets hard to control the ego once in a while. I did a terrible job of this last week, and because of it, I'm back in second place. I've now dropped a game behind Woman in the race, but it's okay. All I have to do is spew some cliches and I figure I'll be right back in this.

You know, going to take this competition one game at a time. Give them all 110%. So let's get to it for this week.

Michigan State (-3 1/2) vs Michigan - Saturday, 12pm (All times Eastern)

Man - This is a tough one to call. Michigan has played really well so far this season, but since 2008, Michigan State has had the Wolverines number. Combine that with the fact that the game is being played in East Lansing, and it makes me lean towards Sparty. And as I'm leaning, I remember that the Michigan defense has improved a lot stronger than any of us expected, and I remember how Michigan State's offense looked against Notre Dame. So I'm taking the points and saying that Michigan takes the state back on Saturday. Pick: Michigan

Woman - "Thank goodness, life at Michigan is back to normal, more Bo and Lloyd than Rich and Rod. But that doesn't mean no bumps in the road. Today's game is that bump. Spartans will win. Not as certain they'll cover." Pick: Michigan

Machine - It's a clean sweep as The Machine sees Michigan pulling off what looks to be quite the thriller. Fitzgerald Toussaint scores a touchdown in the final minutes to tie the game, and then scores a couple more touchdowns as Michigan wins 41-37 in double overtime. Pick: Michigan

Texas A&M (-9 1/2) vs. Baylor - Saturday, 12pm

Man - This one seems so simple to me that I'm actually a bit scared of it. Like Vegas knows something that the rest of us don't. Baylor and Robert Griffin have been lighting secondaries up all season long, and Texas A&M's secondary has been lit up all season long. I don't know if Baylor wins, but I have to think it covers that spread. Pick: Baylor

Woman - "Baylor will exact revenge on the field as well as off for the Aggies SEC defection. (Based on this secret video of the last Big 12 meeting between the schools' attorneys, it's gonna get real, y'all.)" Pick: Baylor

Machine - The Machine sees Texas A&M putting together its most complete game of the season as the Aggies take care of Baylor 38-21. Pick: Texas A&M

Mississippi State vs. South Carolina (-3 1/2) - Saturday, 12:21pm

Man - Sure, Connor Shaw isn't playing Kentucky this week, so life may not be as easy for him replacing Stephen Garcia this time around, but he still has Marcus Lattimore to turn around and give the ball to. Combine that with the fact that Mississippi State's offense has looked anything but potent this year, and I have to go with the Gamecocks. Pick: South Carolina

Woman - "Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier dumps his troubled QB mid-season, then bans a reporter for not towing the party line.  What the Gamecocks got is failure to communicate." Pick: Mississippi State 

Machine - Bring back Stephen Garcia! The Bulldogs roll 37-13. Pick: Mississippi State

Tennessee vs. LSU (-15 1/2) - Saturday, 3:30pm

Man - Tennessee doesn't have Tyler Bray and it has to face the LSU defense? My prediction here is that Phil Simms is going to be really mad at Gary Danielson on Sunday. Pick: LSU

Woman - "Still riding Miles' Magical Mystery Tour. (Vols' loss at home last week to Georgia makes the ride easier.)" Pick: LSU

Machine - The Machine seems to have more faith in Matt Simms than either Woman and I do, but it's still not enough as LSU wins 28-17. Pick: Tennessee

Texas vs. Oklahoma State (-7 1/2) - Saturday, 3:30pm

Man - Texas was a bit exposed against Oklahoma last week, and I'm pretty sure that Oklahoma State noticed how well Landry Jones performed against that Longhorns defense. I see no reason why Brandon Weeden can't do the same this week, and although I feel that Texas will have more success on offense, it won't be able to keep up with the Cowboys. Pick: Oklahoma State

Woman - "Here's a stat from Burnt Orange Nation: In thirteen years at Texas, Mack Brown has never lost the game after the Red River Shootout.  Between that and points..." Pick: Texas 

Machine - The Machine sees a lot of angry Texas fans in the future. Oklahoma State tears Austin apart, winning 48-20. Pick: Oklahoma State

Illinois (-3 1/2) vs. Ohio State - Saturday, 3:30pm

Man - Is there an Option C? I mean, I either have to rely on an Ohio State offense that has looked terrible for most of the season to finally put together a complete game, or I have to give up points with a team that is coached by Ron Zook. Illinois has only beaten Ohio State once under Zook, but that was the year the team ended up in the Rose Bowl. Well, Illinois isn't going to the Rose Bowl this year. Pick: Ohio State

Woman - "Illinois is 6-0 with 2 division wins. Ohio State is .500 with two division losses. So this should be easy.  But I'm just waiting for that fateful day when Illinois pops a Zook. Like, this Saturday." Pick: Ohio State

Machine - Well it looks like Illinois' unbeaten season is coming to an end this weekend, as The Machine has Ohio State winning as well, 31-17. Pick: Ohio State

Wake Forest vs. Virginia Tech (-7 1/2) - Saturday, 6:30pm

Man - I haven't seen a whole lot of Wake Forest this season, but I have seen enough from Virginia Tech to be a bit leery about giving up over a touchdown on the road. I'm not sure if the Deacons knock off another ACC favorite this weekend, but I think they can keep it close. Pick: Wake Forest

Woman - "Wake Forest has quietly laid down four impressive wins in a row, and is 3-0 in the ACC.  Meanwhile, Virginia Tech,1-1 in the ACC, was last seen playing for its life against NFL farm club the Hurricanes.  Upset alert: The Hokies aren't going to see Wake Forest coming. (For the sake of illustration, let's say Virginia Tech is the TV news producer and Wake Forest is the turkey.)" Pick: Wake Forest 

Machine - Sorry, Wake Forest, but The Machine does not believe in Cinderella. Virginia Tech 48-10. Pick: Virginia Tech

Texas Tech (-3 1/2) vs. Kansas State - Saturday, 7pm

Man - As I said last week, I've become a firm believer in Bill Snyder and what the Wildcats are doing. Until they let me down, I'm not picking against them, especially if I'm getting points. Throw in the fact that Texas Tech has lost Eric Stephens for the season, and it only makes me more confident in this pick. Pick: Kansas State

Woman - "Texas Tech's at home and out to avenge a painful loss to the Aggies last week.  Kansas State has yet to experience the agony of defeat this season. You're about to land in a tangled heap at the bottom of a ski slope, Wildcats." Pick: Texas Tech

Machine - The Machine sees Kansas State's unbeaten season coming to an end this weekend, but it has no knowledge of the Kansas State bus being covered in anything. Texas Tech wins 31-17. Pick: Texas Tech

Auburn (-1 1/2) vs. Florida - Saturday, 7pm

Man - I'm not comfortable at all with this pick, as neither team has done much to instill any confidence the last few weeks. Yes, Florida wasn't exactly facing the easiest competition in the world, but I'm not sure either quarterback is capable of taking full advantage of the Auburn secondary. That being said, I don't have much faith in the Auburn offense either. So I guess I'm just going with homefield advantage. Pick: Auburn

Woman - "I looked for something trending in either of these teams and none of it's very good.  The one thing that stands out is how Florida couldn't put more than one touchdown on the board either of the last two weeks.  That doesn't speak too well for its QB-by-committee approach and I can't see how that'll change in a hostile Jordan-Hare." Pick: Auburn

Machine - Chris Rainey saves the day for Florida with a 73-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter to give the Gators a 27-21 win. Pick: Florida

Oregon (-15 1/2) vs. Arizona State - Saturday 10:15pm

Man - This game would normally be easy for me to pick because, aside from Stanford, I just don't think there's anybody else in the Pac-12 that can hang with the Ducks. The problem is that Arizona State kept things close enough against Oregon last season, but that game was played in Tempe, and Autzen Stadium is a different beast entirely. I also worry about the absence of LaMichael James, but the Ducks have enough weapons on offense and know how to use all of them that James' absence may not be a major problem. So I'm going with the Ducks, even if I had to think about it a little. Pick: Oregon

Woman - "Forget football, who's going to win the Style Bowl? Two fashion dynamos go padded shoulder to shoulder this weekend and like everyone knows, in football, as in fashion, one week you're in and the next, you're OUT.  Oregon has shown an ability to transform even basic black into something original, and last week's eye-popping green with the retro duck made everything old seem new again.  ASU, on the other hand, is stuck with a hopelessly dated color palette and when they tried doing something different with black? Well, auf wiedersehen, ASU. But before you air kiss Heidi, I'll take the points." Pick: Arizona State

Machine - There are going to be a lot of points scored in Eugene on Saturday night, but The Machine sees the Ducks getting the majority of them. Oregon wins 55-38. Pick: Oregon

Standings

Season Record (Last Week)

1. Woman 41-24 (7-3)
2. Man 40-25 (6-4)
3. Machine 34-31 (5-5) 
Posted on: October 9, 2011 10:30 pm
 

Tyler Bray out for six weeks with broken thumb

Posted by Adam Jacobi

Tennessee's bowl hopes took a hit this week with the announcement that QB Tyler Bray will miss most, if not all, of the rest of the regular season. Bray suffered a broken thumb in the 4th quarter of the Vols' 20-12 loss to Georgia on Saturday, and according to RapidReporter Daniel Lewis, the team expects Bray to miss six weeks with the injury.

The injury puts a halt to what had begun as a brilliant sophomore campaign for the Vols' signal-caller; Bray is currently ranked 11th in the nation in passing efficiency, having thrown for 1579 yards, 14 touchdowns and just two interceptions on 116-176 passing for the year.

Matt Simms came on in relief of Bray during Saturday's loss, and he wasn't bad; coming into the game cold with the ball on Georgia's 23 yard line, Simms kept the touchdown drive going -- even converting a first down after an intenional grounding penalty gave Tennessee a 2nd and 25. At the same time, it took Simms seven plays to get those 23 yards. Yes, that's a small sample size, but we're still not talking about a great deal of efficiency here.

If the six-week figure is accurate, that means Bray won't be healthy until the season finale, when Tennessee travels to Kentucky with what might well be bowl eligibility on the line. Tennessee is 3-2 right now, and it's unlikely (though not impossible) that the Vols get any wins out of the upcoming stretch of LSU, @Alabama, and South Carolina. If Bray's under center, perhaps that changes, but he won't be. At an rate, if Tennessee loses its next three, it's 3-5, and needing to get three wins out of Middle Tennesse State, @Arkansas, Vanderbilt, and the aforementioned @Kentucky. That's certainly doable, but it's going to be at least incrementally more difficult with Simms at QB until Simms proves otherwise.

So while it's pretty much a dead lock that Bray can return in time to lead Tennessee in its bowl game, it's also going to be up to Matt Simms to get the Vols there in the first place. 
Posted on: October 9, 2011 3:43 am
 

SEC Winners and Losers, Week 6



Posted by Jerry Hinnen

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

WINNER: Les Miles.

For years, college football fans have come up with excuse after excuse for why Miles has been less than a terrifiic head football coach, despite his gaudy records and 2007 national title. He's just lucky. Anyone can recruit that kind of talent to LSU. His clock management is terrible. Never lost fewer than two games in a season. He can't get his offense fixed. Did we mention he's lucky? This offseason, one prominent blogger went so far as to place Miles No. 1 on a list of "the Worst Coaches in College Football."

But after today's dominating 41-11 win over Florida and the Tigers' 6-0 start to the 2011 season -- a start that includes wins over four different ranked teams -- even Miles's most ardent detractors have to admit the Mad Hatter has put together the kind of upper-upper-echelon team that can't be explained by recruiting or luck or happenstance alone. Yes, it helps to have Ryan Baker and Tyrann Mathieu and Michael Brockers around, but even superstars like those don't make the kind of terror-inducing defense LSU has today without the guidance of John Chavis, who Miles recruited to Baton Rouge personally. Yes, it's tough to not have a strong running game with Spencer Ware and a veteran line, but that running game wouldn't be nearly so effective if Jarrett Lee hadn't shaken off a career's worth of failures to become exactly the steady, accurate (and vs. the Gators, bomb-tossing) quarterback the offense needs--a development that can be directly traced to Miles's much-derided hire of Steve Kragthorpe as his team's new quarterbacks coach. The Tigers have been special teams killers for far too long under Miles to dismiss their contributions as mere "luck," as evidenced once again Saturday when punter Brad Wing noticed the lack of a Gator punt safety and took off for what should have been a 44-yard touchdown.

In short: to watch the Tigers' rise to 6-0 and their dismantling of the Gators and not see Miles's fingerprints all over them is an exercise in willful ignorance. Luck can explain some of his successes, and the natural advantages of being LSU does explain a little more. But these Tigers? They are only explained by having a coach at the very, very top of his field.

LOSERS: Auburn's wide receivers.

Tiger quarterback Barrett Trotter hasn't played well of late, and has the numbers to prove it--6 of 19 for 81 yards and a pick against Arkansas, to be specific. But he also hasn't gotten much help from his wideouts with leading receiver Emory Blake out ... if he's gotten any at all. Remove a 44-yard reception for Travante Stallworth on a second-half flea flicker completion, and Auburn's wideouts combined for all of three receptions for 21 yards. DeAngelo Benton had a particularly rough evening, dropping one late first-half pass that could have set up an Auburn field goal, getting called for a hold that would eventually force an Auburn punt, and letting a late Trotter pass whistle through his hands for the aformentioned interception.

WINNERS: Backup quarterbacks.

Jacoby Brissett aside, it was a good day to be a current (or recent) second-stringer in the SEC. Connor Shaw cemented himself as the new South Carolina starter and then some with his 311-yard, 4-touchdown, zero-pick performance vs. Kentucky. Mississippi State's Tyler Russell came off the bench to complete 11 of his 13 passes, three of them going for second-half touchdowns that turned what had been a 3-0 halftime deficit into a 21-3 win over UAB. Vanderbilt's Jordan Rodgers didn't have much of an impact statistically (11-of-18, 104 yards, 2 INTs), but led a couple of decent drives and looked as composed vs. the Alabama pass rush as you could hope.

And then there's Lee, who you'll remember was not only Jordan Jefferson's backup with just days remaining before the season, but many fans' favorite to drop to third-string behind JUCO transfer Zach Mettenberger. Against Florida Lee completed only 7 passes--but he also only attempted 10, and those 7 completions averaged a gain of 22 yards.

LOSER: Stephen Garcia.

The career of one of the SEC's most recognizable stars, magnetic talents, and frustrating enigmas appears poised to end not with a bang, but with a whimper. Though you can't ever say never with Steve Spurrier, Shaw's confident command performance against Kentucky suggests he's going to be the Gamecock quarterback for quite some time to come. There's going to be much more difficult opponents ahead for him than the hapless Wildcats, but does it matter? Spurrier's surprising patience with Garcia through his awkward start to this season now looks poised to be turned against him as Spurrier lets Shaw work through the same rough patches Garcia endured.

Which means that in the end, Garcia's senior season hasn't been undone by the off-field troubles that so many have expected to be his downfall. It's gone south because he simply hasn't produced on the field, because aside from one half against East Carolina, he's never looked as good in 2011 as Shaw looked Saturday. It's not how we expected things to come to an end for Garcia (if this is the end), but nothing about Garcia's time in Columbia has ever played out as expected, has it?

LOSERS: Kentucky fans.

The Wildcats kicked off to open their game against the Gamecocks, forced a fumble on the return, and recovered just outside the Carolina 20. Cue the shots in the stands of overjoyed Kentucky fans high-fiving each other and celebrating the best possible start.

60 minutes later -- and only 96 Wildcat yards, 6 Wildcat first downs, and 3 Wildcat points which came immediately following that fumble recovery later -- those same fans had to be some of the most miserable in the country. It's one thing to watch a poor football team; it's another to watch a team that seems so hopelessly outmatched on offense and doesn't seem to be showing any kind of week-to-week improvement. After failing to top 300 total yards against Louisville or Florida, the Wildcats have now failed to top 300 yards in their games against LSU and Carolina combined.

So about that kickoff: were those fans happy to have that one moment of joy? Or all the angrier for that joy being so completely misleading?

WINNER: Georgia's defense.

Before the game, we asked if the Bulldog secondary could live up its gaudy post-Boise State numbers against the likes of Tyler Bray and Da'Rick Rogers on the road at Tennessee. The answer: mostly. Bray and late-game injury replacement Matt Simms did throw for 290 yards at a perfectly respectable 7.3 yards-per-attempt clip, and without an interception.

But they never did throw a touchdown, either; in fact, the Volunteers were kept out of the end zone entirely until Simms snuck in from a yard out with only 2:45 to play in the game. Thanks to the Dawg defensive backs keeping the Vols in front of them, and the UGA front seven stuffing the pathetic Tennessee ground game to the tune of .4 yards per rush (yes, .4), Bray and Co. finished the game with all of 12 points on the scoreboard. The Bulldogs offense wasn't much to write home about -- Isaiah Crowell didn't even hit the 60-yard mark on the ground, the red zone offense sputtered, and like his Vol counterparts Aaron Murray threw neither an interception nor touchdown pass -- but after years of seeing their team score like a pinball machine only to lose after another lackluster defensive display, we expect Dawg fans will take it.

LOSER: Clarity in the SEC East.

South Carolina was the preseason favorite. They were the favorite after they beat Georgia. But then Garcia struggled and Florida beat Tennessee, and the Gators were the favorite. And then Carolina lost to Auburn and Florida lost to both Alabama, and lots of people considered Georgia as the new favorite. But now that Shaw looks to have healed the Gamecocks' Achilles heel ... are they the favorites? Or is Georgia, still, after beating Tennessee? Or is Florida just ripe to return once their schedule eases up? All we really know is that none of the other three teams is winning the division, and that the East winner is going to be a two-touchdown underdog to the West's come December. Past that? your guess is as good as ours.

WINNERS: Everyone who loves college football. Let's not go crazy by saying something like "LSU and Alabama isn't going to be the only game that matters in college football this season"; with Wisconsin, Stanford, Clemson, Boise State and of course Oklahoma all looking at potential undefeated seasons, it's too hasty to even lay claim to LSU and Alabama as the nation's best two teams.

That said: if you're a college football fan, and you've watched Alabama and LSU play this season, and you know how good they are, and you've considered how much fun it would be to watch them meet, undefeated, with a trip to Atlanta on the line on Nov. 5 ... then every week that passes with the two of them still unblemished is a good thing. This was one such week.





Posted on: October 6, 2011 3:33 pm
 

SEC Interrogation, Week 6

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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