Posted on: October 3, 2011 5:24 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
This week's polls have been released. Here's how the SEC fared, from the top of the polls to the bottom, and what it means.
Who says tough nonconference scheduling doesn't pay? The Tigers had arguably the least-impressive performance amongst the top three teams in the polls, getting precious little going on the ground in the first half against Kentucky and needing another Tyrann Mathieu defensive touchdown to crack 30 points ... at home ... against a Wildcat defense that had yielded 48 to Florida the week before in Lexington. The Tigers' Week 3 defensive lockdown of Mississippi State looked a little less impressive, too, after Georgia made Dan Mullen's offense look nearly as impotent and LSU had.
But the voters remained more concerned with the Tigers' nonconference scalps of Oregon and West Virginia than more recent results. The AP kept LSU a relatively firm No. 1 (40 first-place votes to Alabama and Oklahoma's combined 20) while the Coaches broke last week's second-place tie with the Tide in favor of the Tigers (if only by two points). It's not what you'd expect looking at this week's results, but judging by LSU's overall body of work and continued defensive dominance, their poll positions remain entirely defensible.
Let's get this out of the way: how the Tide managed to go on the road, beat a previously undefeated Florida team by four clear touchdowns, and somehow move down a spot in the Coaches Poll is the kind of mystery Robert Stack used to try and ask home viewers to help solve*. (Or not: as we'll find out looking at South Carolina and Auburn, sometimes the Coaches Poll is just like this.)
But at least the AP was paying attention, moving the Tide up another rung on the ladder to set up a potential 1-vs.-2 showdown against the Tigers if both teams stay undefeated through Nov. 5. And with all due respect to an excellent Oklahoma team, that's how it should be. 10-point wins over Florida State and Missouri are nice; 24- and 28-point wins over Arkansas and Florida are something much, much nicer. It doesn't make much sense -- and we're speaking to you directly here, coaches -- to anoint a team No. 1 in the preseason and then refuse to move them down when the only thing that made them No. 1 in the first place was sheer hypothetical guesswork.
The good news is that no amount of voting silliness will matter once the Tide and Tigers actually meet on the field; if Alabama wins out, it'll wind up where it deserves to be.
It's a flying leap forward for the Razorbacks as they vault eight spots in the AP and six in the Coaches from last week's consensus 18th. That's quite the reward for beating a Texas A&M team whose list of victims-to-date consists of nothing more than SMU and Idaho, not to mention giving up more than 600 yards of offense in the process. In this case, we'd actually side with the Coaches--with undefeated records and decent-to-quality wins under their belts, Texas and Michigan (Nos. 10 and 11 according to the Coaches) deserve the higher slots, even if we'd take the Razorbacks over either head-to-head.
Take a good look, folks: while the AP and Coaches always have their little differences, particularly early in the season, an eight-spot difference of opinion over an SEC team five weeks into the season is something you just don't see every day ... or year ... or maybe even decade.
But that's what we've got thanks to the Tigers' highly uneven 2011 season so far. On the good side of the ledger, there's the home win over a (still) likely bowl-bound team in Mississippi State and now the road victory over an undefeated, previously top-10 team in South Carolina. Those are two solid-to-excellent wins, though they have to be balanced against the narrow escape over Utah State, the decisive loss to Clemson (albeit one on the road to what appears to be a top-notch team), and the sleepwalk past FAU. Any particular spot between that No. 15 slot and the No. 23 slot would work fine.
But one thing we do know about the Tigers is that they ought to be ranked ahead of the Gamecocks, right? Team A beating Team B on Team B's homefield while both teams have the same record and Team A's only loss was to an unbeaten top-10 team makes this a very simple decision, doesn't it? Not for the Coaches; they somehow have Auburn nine spots behind the same South Carolina team they just defeated. Go figure.
After ranking 12th in both polls, the Gators slid five and six spots, respectively. It's a fair assessment for a team that still has a comfortable win over Tennessee and the resume, but didn't look all that sharp vs. Alabama after the game's opening 15 minutes and now could be without John Brantley for an extended period of time. With a road trip to LSU on the docket this week, the Gators could land the win that vaults them all the way into the top 10 ... or exiles them from the balloting until further notice.
18/14. South Carolina.
Thanks to the Gamecocks' wins over Georgia and Vanderbilt (not to mention a Navy team that should still make the postseason), Carolina certainly deserves to remain ranked, and probably even in the top 20. Just not ahead of Auburn.
*You know you want to hear the theme song. Here you go.
Tags: Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Clemson, Dan Mullen, FAU, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Idaho, Jerry Hinnen, John Brantley, Kentucky, LSU, Michigan, Mississippi State, Missouri, Navy, Oregon, Poll Reactions, Robert Stack, SEC, SMU, South Carolina, Tennesee, Texas, Texas A&M, Tyrann Mathieu, Utah State, Vanderbilt, West Virginia
Posted on: October 2, 2011 1:32 am
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
The gap between the Big Two and the Smaller Ten is even wider than we thought. Last week in this space, we wrote that Alabama and LSU were the top two teams in the SEC and that no one else was close. That's not exactly right; the Crimson Tide and Bayou Bengals are indeed the top two teams, but no one else is even within the same stratosphere.
After all, if there was ever a situation where one team or the other was going to be challenged, it was going to be Saturday night in Gainesville, right? The Tide were on the road, at an undefeated Florida team, in prime-time, in an atmosphere just about as hostile as it's possible to have in college football and they fell behind 7-0 in the first 20 seconds ... and casually laughed all of it off on their way to a 38-10 romp.
So who's going to challenge either of those Big Two? The Gators have already been crushed by one and may not have John Brantley for the other. Arkansas? Kudos for their resilience today, but they also looked overmatched in their one attempt and gave up 381 yards rushing (628 total) vs. Texas A&M. South Carolina looks totally lost (see below), but not so lost they couldn't beat Georgia in Athens. Tennessee? Lost to Florida. Auburn? Still the same team that needed a miracle to beat Utah State.
We don't want to write things that look silly later, so for now we'll hold off on declaring the potential college football Game of the Year Nov. 5 between the Tide and Tigers a mortal lock to decide the SEC champion. But it may not be long until it looks silly to write anything else.
The Sports Illustrated curse has its first victim, and that victim is South Carolina. Back in August, we detailed how teams that have a player or players appear on the Sports Illustrated college football preview cover wind up limping to disappointing seasons more often than not. Unfortunately for the Gamecocks, Alshon Jeffery was one of those players this year.
And so surprise, surprise, guess who's well on their way to playing out exactly that disappointment. It's not just the loss to Auburn, either; after the big first-half deficit to East Carolina, the wheeze past Navy, the "putrid" offensive display against Vanderbilt, the only thing left to complete the Gamecock backslide was the nigh-inexplicable loss at home to a double-digit underdog coming off a 316-yard display against hapless FAU. Arguably the most surprising thing about the Tiger victory today was how unsurprising the rest of Carolina's season had already made it.
2011 was supposed to the confirmation of the lessons of 2010, that the old bait-and-switch Gamecocks were gone and the new East-winning, top-15, nationally-relevant Gamecocks were here to stay. Instead, 2011 has seemed to confirm that South Carolina is still South Carolina: talented, dangerous, capable of big things ... but always too erratic, too unfocused to accomplish them. It must particularly rankle to have that confirmed against Auburn, which beat Carolina twice last season. That the Tigers lost seemingly half their roster while the Gamecocks returned the likes of Jeffery, Marcus Lattimore, Devin Taylor and the incredible Melvin Ingram -- not to mention a senior quarterback coming off his best season yet -- should have turned the tables. But even at home, even with Auburn committing four turnovers, even with Barrett Trotter utterly unable to complete a pass longer than five yards downfield, the tables stayed unturned.
There's still time to turn things around and get to Atlanta, thanks to John Brantley's injury potentially crippling the Florida offense and the tiebreak over Georgia. But if not? If we're a Carolina fan, we're blaming SI.
Mississippi State is in a similar, even-leakier boat. The Bulldogs were also looking to 2011 as the season they proved their old haunts at or near the SEC West cellar were behind them, thanks to an offense that returned nine starters and had another year of Dan Mullen's tutelage under it. But that offense hit its lowest point yet in what looks like another ho-hum season, going without an offensive touchdown at Georgia and scoring just three points in a dispirited (and dispiriting) 24-10 loss. Coming only a week after only putting up 20 regulation points against Lousiana Tech -- and given that Georgia's not exactly a defensive juggernaut just yet -- something appears to be seriously amiss with Mullen's unit. When the schedule still offers visits from Carolina and Alabama and a trip to Arkansas, he'd better have it fixed in a hurry--or his team could be one upset loss from missing the postseason entirely.
The SEC's roster of Heisman candidates goes much deeper than Marcus Lattimore. One less-than-overpowering performance from the big sophomore shouldn't douse his Heisman hopes too badly, but it did open up the floor for the rest of the league's stars to make their statements ... and they did.
Trent Richardson put his slow 2011 start even further behind him with a punishing 181-yard, 2-touchdown performance. Tyrann Mathieu further cemented his status as the leading defensive candidate with another highlight-reel play -- a quarterback strip, fumble recovery, and touchdown return -- as well as keying another lockdown performance from the LSU secondary. Tyler Wilson isn't on anyone's shortlist yet, but a few more 510-yard passing days might change that. Melvin Ingram had an absurd game, collecting 3.5 sacks, 4.5 tackles-for-loss and an interception. And it seems unfair to mention Lattimore without also mentioning Michael Dyer, the Auburn running back who outrushed him 141-to-66 Saturday -- grinding out many of those yards in the face of poor blocking and a second-half ankle sprain -- and has now outrushed him 305-183 over their three head-to-head meetings.
For all that, if the Heisman vote were held today, Lattimore would still likely top the SEC's list. (As badly as his team is struggling, where on earth would it be without him?) But the SEC's roster of stars is deep enough that that could change as soon as next week.
Houston Nutt won't be fired this week. He still has a long way to go to guarantee himself a spot on the Ole Miss sideline in 2012. But flying cross-country to get a 10-point win over a likely bowl team in Fresno State isn't a bad first step.
Tags: Alabama, Alshon Jeffery, Arkansas, Auburn, Barrett trotter, Dan Mullen, Devin Taylor, East Carolina, FAU, Florida, Fresno State, Georgia, Houston Nutt, Jerry Hinnen, John Brantley, Louisiana Tech, LSU, Marcus Lattimore, Melvin Ingram, Michael Dyer, Mississippi State, Navy, Ole Miss, SEC, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Trent Richardson, Tyler Wilson, Tyrann Mathieu, Utah State, Vanderbilt, What I Learned
Posted on: September 15, 2011 2:24 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Each Thursday we demand the SEC give us answers to its most pressing questions. Here those are:
Mississippi State: can you finally avoid losing an SEC West game with turnovers and/or special teams breakdowns? More than a few wags skeptical of Dan Mullen's burgeoning reputation in Starkville have noted that he has yet to beat any division opponent other than downtrodden in-state rival Ole Miss, dropping to 0-9 after last week's loss in Auburn. But that agonizing defeat wasn't the first time Mullen has come tantalizingly close to making the breakthrough, and never has he been closer than LSU's last visit to Starkville.
In that 2009 meeting, the Bulldogs outgained the Bayou Bengals 374-263, held LSU to one (1!) yard per their 31 carries, and enjoyed a first-and-goal at the Tiger 2, down six, with under three minutes to play. But that possession ended with quarterback Tyson Lee tackled at the 1 on a botched option play (sound familiar?) and the Bulldogs fell 30-26. While much of the postgame chatter focused on that late goal-line failure, the larger story was State's four critical turnovers (one of them an interception returned for a touchdown) and a punt that bounced inside the 10 and was somehow still returned by LSU's Chad Jones for a backbreaking touchdown.
Those kinds of breakdowns have been a recurring theme for the Bulldogs, as last week's performance proved again. Chris Relf maybe could have scored on the game's final play, but the Bulldogs wouldn't have even been in that situation if Relf hadn't bounced a first-quarter pass off a defender's helmet (a pass eventually picked and housed), or if the Bulldogs hadn't allowed Auburn kick returner Tre Mason to repeatedly set his team up in excellent field position. Even in last year's 29-7 loss to LSU, the Bulldogs played the Tigers to a dead heat in the box score ... except for the 5-to-1 negative turnover margin that broke the game open.
With LSU's offense again unimpressive statistically in their week 1 win against Oregon (273 yards total, 3.9 yards per-play), Jarrett Lee unlikely to make major headway against a veteran Bulldog secondary, and State getting a boost from what should be a rabid Thursday night home crowd, the Bulldogs seem a good bet to once again play an SEC West opponent to a statistical stalemate ... or better. But if they once again lose the turnover and special teams battle that Les Miles's team specializes in winning, it's not going to matter any more than it did the first nine times.
Tyler Bray: can you do to the Gators anything like what you did to Cincinnati? Let's be up front about this: Florida is going to score points against Tennessee Saturday. The injury-ridden, inexperienced Vol front seven gave up an incredible 6.4 yards per-carry against Cincinnati, and the combination of a revitalized-looking Gator offensive line and the Jeff Demps-Chris Rainey tag-team is far more fearsome than anything the Bearcats had to offer. And the Vols likely won't be able to answer with a strong ground game of their own; despite having faced Cincy and FCS Montana their first two weeks, Tennessee ranks dead-last in the SEC in yards-per-carry. Facing the Gators' loaded defensive front -- now including the newly-reinstated Sharrif Floyd -- is hardly going to be the cure for those issues.
Which means whatever hope the Vols have of keeping pace rests firmly on the shoulders of Bray. But to look at his remarkable performance last week -- 34-of-41, 405 yards, 4 TDs, no INTs -- he might be capable of fulfilling that hope all the same. It won't hurt that the matchup of dynamic sophomore duo of Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers against a Gator secondary starting two true freshman is one that overwhelmingly favors the Vols.
Attempting to win a shootout on the road with a one-dimensional offense isn't the typical recipe for victory in the SEC. But if Bray comes out as on fire as he has been the first two weeks of this season, we're not going to put it past him.
Auburn's defense: are you actually improving? Ask any Auburn fan (or coach, or maybe even player) about the team's defense before the season, and they'd have told you that with just two starters back and underclassmen all over the two-deep, it was going to be a work-in-progress. But no one expected it to be quite as much "in progress" as it's been through two weeks; the Tiger D ranks last in the SEC in yards allowed per-game by nearly 100 yards over next-to-last-place Georgia.
Some of that is the quick pace of the Auburn offense, but much more of it is the Tiger defense's near-total inability to get off the field. Utah State converted a mind-boggling 13-of-20 third- and fourth-downs, and Mississippi State wasn't far behind after going 12-of-21. The result? Auburn's D has been on the field for 181 plays already this season, the highest total in the nation. Until the Tigers start getting some stops on third down -- despite the presence of pass-rushers Corey Lemonier and Nosa Eguae, Auburn has just two sacks on nearly 70 opponents' dropbacks -- the defense isn't going to get legitimately better, and eventually an opponent is going to make the Tigers pay for that weakness.
Clemson may or may not be that opponent; the South Carolina-bred Tigers have flashed issues of their own in sluggish wins over Troy and Wofford. But Chad Morris's Gus Malzahn-like offense should provide a good measuring stick regardless.
Also worth asking: Is Ole Miss, Vanderbilt or Kentucky the SEC's worst team? (With the Rebels and Commodores battling in Nashville and the Wildcats taking on a reeling Louisville team, someone is going to be a definitive No. 12 by the weekend's end.) What does Arkansas look like against an opponent that almost-sorta has a pulse? (Troy isn't great, but they're better than Missouri State or New Mexico. The Hogs should break a sweat, at least. Anything more could spell trouble down the road.) What on earth is Georgia going to do at inside linebacker? (Coastal Carolina won't be anything more than cannon fodder, but the Dawgs have to figure out what they have at their injury-gutted ILB positions.)
Tags: Arkansas, Auburn, Auburn, Chad Jones, Chad Morris, Chris Rainey, Chris Relf, Cincinnati, Clemson, Coastal Carolina, Corey Lemonier, Da'Rick Rogers, Dan Mullen, Florida, Georgia, Gus Malzahn, Jarrett Lee, Jeff Demps, Jerry Hinnen, Justin Hunter, Kentucky, Les Miles, Louisville, LSU, Mississippi State, Missouri State, Montana, New Mexico, Nosa Eguae, Ole Miss, Oregon, SEC, Sharrif Floyd, Tennessee, Tre Mason, Troy, Tyson Lee, Utah State, Vanderbilt, Wofford
Posted on: September 11, 2011 3:55 pm
Edited on: September 11, 2011 4:16 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
This week's polls have been released. Here's how the SEC fared, from the top of the polls to its bottom, and what it means.
ALABAMA/LSU. Entering this week, there was some expectation that a comprehensive performance from the Crimson Tide in Happy Valley might allow Alabama to retake the No. 2 slot in the media poll and consolidate their lead on the Bayou Bengals -- scheduled for what was little more than a light scrimmage against Northwestern State -- in the Coaches.
Thanks to getting that comprehensive performance, the Crimson Tide did indeed leapfrog the Tigers into No. 2 in both polls--but their margin for error in either balloting remains thinner than Nick Saban's patience for unforced mistakes. In the AP, Alabama has eight fewer first-place votes but a miniscule six-point lead all the same (1,422 to 1,416); in the Coaches, the margin is 38 points, less than half the gap between LSU and fourth-place Boise State.
Frankly, this is how it should be; both teams have decisive victories over quality opponents (though Oregon does look a good bit stronger than the Lions at the moment), both have overpowering defenses and a few offensive questions, and both spent one week dallying against lesser competition. If it looks like the pollsters are pslitting hairs at the moment, that's because those hairs ought to be split.
SOUTH CAROLINA. Interestingly, the team just ahead of the Gamecocks in each poll -- Virginia Tech -- happened to face the same team in Week 2 -- East Carolina -- Carolina had faced in Week 1. So between the Gamecocks' road victory over a desperate Georgia team and Tech's weaker performance against the Pirates, it's only fair that Steve Spurrier's team jumped the Hokies in both polls, going from No. 12 to No. 11. The Gamecocks are even within striking distance of the top 10 in the AP, sitting only five points back from Nebraska.
Too bad the Gamecocks won't have much of a chance to make an impression the next two weeks--they take on Navy and Vanderbilt.
ARKANSAS. The Hogs blasted New Mexico, but given that the Lobos may not be much better than Arkansas's Week 1 FCS opponent Missouri State, there can't be any complaints out of Fayetteville about staying at No. 13 in the Coaches and No. 14 in the AP.
FLORIDA. The Gators blew past overmatched UAB in a second straight tune-up, but thanks to Mississippi State's loss and Ohio State's ineffective performance against Toledo, the Gators moved up anyway to No. 17 in the Coaches and No. 18 in the AP. That's a jump of four spots from the Gators preseason rank in each poll, just for beating the hapless Blazers and even-more-hapless FAU--sometimes scheduling cupcakes pays, apparently.
AUBURN. Weclome back to the AP poll, Tigers; Auburn's win over previous No. 16 Mississippi State has the defending national champions re-included at No. 21 in the AP and up three spots to No. 19 in the Coaches.
It's not a bad reward, but there's an argument to be made that the AP could do even more for the Tigers, though, and are still overreacting to the Week 1 escape against Utah State. After all, look at Florida--the media started the season with Auburn just one spot behind the Gators. Since then, Auburn has beaten two teams better than either of Florida's opponents--and now sit five spots behind the Gators.
MISSISSIPPI STATE. The Bulldogs can thank their New Year's Day Gator Bowl pounding of Michigan for just remaining in both polls this week, clinging to the No. 25 rung; without that emphatic victory, there's no doubt MSU doesn't enter this past week at No. 16/17, and (in turn) even less doubt they lose that top-25 spot. At this point, it's not like beating Memphis (47-3 losers to Arkansas State) should be worth anything in the voters' minds.
TENNESSEE. It's time for the voters to pay more attention to the Vols. After throttling a likely bowl team in Cincinnati, Tennessee has accomplished more in the win column and looked more impressive in doing so than, say, West Virginia, which beat Marshall in Week 1 and somehow trailed middle-of-the-road FCS program Norfolk State at halftime in Week 2. But the Mountaineers are ranked 20th in the Coaches and 18th in the AP, while the Vols limp along deep in the "Also Receiving Votes" category.
That's not to say the two teams should necessarily be switched; the young Vols still have a lot to prove. But there's no way the gap should be that wide given the results on the field.
Tags: Alabama, Arkansas, Arkansas State, Auburn, Boise State, Cincinnati, East Carolina, FAU, Florida, Gator Bowl, Jerry Hinnen, LSU, Marshall, Memphis, Michigan, Missouri State, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nick Saban, Norfolk State, Northwestern State, Oregon, Poll Reactions, SEC, South Carolina, Steve Spurrier, Tennessee, Toledo, UAB, Utah State, Virginia Tech, West Virginia
Posted on: September 11, 2011 2:16 am
Edited on: September 11, 2011 2:20 am
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
1. Mark Richt is in deep, deep trouble. But he's not finished. It would be different if the Dawgs had lost Saturday the way they lost against Boise State, getting overwhelmed in the trenches and wilting in the second half. It would be different if Richt's team hadn't shown such drastic improvement from Week 1 to Week 2--not just on the scoreboard, but in everything from run blocking to tackling to special teams work. It would be different if Georgia hadn't had every opportunity to win the game Saturday. And most importantly, it would be different if the Dawgs were facing a different schedule.
But they are facing the schedule they're facing, which includes one tricky true road date (at Tennessee), the annual Cocktail Party showdown against Florida, two challenging home games against Auburn and Mississippi State ... and six other winnable games. Saving Richt's job won't be easy; we projected earlier it would take nine wins to do it, meaning Richt would have to go 3-1 in the games above and sweep the remaining six.
But it's certainly possible. His team hasn't thrown in the towel. He has a star on his hands in Isaiah Crowell, who in the Dawgs' next big game we'll wager won't carry only 16 times. He has a quarterback who remains one of the SEC's best, despite his serious mistakes against the Gamecocks. He has a defense that only really gave up 27 points and should be even better against anyone who's not Marcus Lattimore. He's not dead yet.
2. Alabama is a national title contender. This is something we've had confirmed, rather than outright "learned," but there's no other way to look at the Tide's strangle job on the Nittany Lions. AJ McCarron wasn't impressive statistically (just 5.3 yards per attempt), but that "zero" in the interceptions column is really the only statistic that matters. Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy combined for 196 yards on the ground. And after generously allowing Penn State a first-quarter field goal, the Tide defense barely let the Lions breathe again until the game was entirely out of reach.
Considering all of that was on the road against a quality Big Ten team, yes, the Tide deserve to be in the same breath with LSU and Oklahoma at the top of the polls until proven otherwise.
(A random aside: is it time for Lacy to start borrowing a few more of Richardson's carries? He's gotten only 19 attempts in two games to Richardson's 37, but boasts a per-carry average of 7.5 yards to Richardson's 3.8. Food for thought.)
3. Whatever else they are, Auburn is dangerous. Given that they share a division with the Tide, LSU and Arkansas, it's hard to see a team that's given up 979 yards in two games (one of them against Utah State) go on to win a division title. But focusing entirely on Auburn's defensive problems means missing the fact the Tigers have started the year with 83 points in those two games--42 in the first, 41 in the second. And that's before Gus Malzahn's attack has really put it all together, too. The run game sputtered in Week 1; the passing game was inconsistent in Week 2.
Combine a potentially even more lethal offense with a much-improved special teams (led by freshman kickoff return weapon Tre Mason and redshirt frosh kicker Cody Parkey), and there may not be any single game on Auburn's schedule where they couldn't erupt for 40-45 points and win.
4. Speaking of dangerous: Tyler Bray is, too. That 5-of-30 performance in the Vols' spring game is far, far behind the sophomore now. Bray tore the visiting Cincinnati defense to pieces, completing 34 of his 41 passes for 405 yards, 4 touchdowns, and -- perhaps most importantly for a player whose coaches have occasionally accused of being too loose with his decision-making -- zero interceptions. Like Auburn, the Vol defense may not be strong enough to insert Bray's team alongside the Gamecocks and Gators in the SEC East race (the Bearcats ran for a whopping 6.4 yards on their 26 carries) ... but they might make things awfully interesting all the same.
5. Florida and Arkansas need to play someone. Full credit to the Gators and Hogs for dispatching lightweights UAB and New Mexico by a combined 88 points Saturday. But it's tough to know exactly how seriously to take either team playing cream-puff opponents like these or respective week 1 fodder FAU and Missouri State. (At least the Gators get serious next week against the Vols; the Hogs have to wait until a Week 4 showdown with the Tide.)
6. Vandy won't be an embarrassment. It remains to be seen how much headway they can make in the win column against their SEC slate, but that doesn't mean we should overlook that James Franklin's 'Dores already have as many wins in 2011 as they had in either 2009 or 2010. Thanks to a legitimately stingy defense that held UConn to fewer than 200 total yards, Vandy should be far more competitive than the 2010 squad that was outgained by 245 yards per SEC game.
Tags: AJ McCarron, Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Auburn, Boise State, Cincinnati, Cody Parkey, Eddie Lacy, FAU, Florida, Georgia, Gus Malzahn, Isaiah Crowell, James Franklin, James Franklin the Vanderbilt coach not the Missouri quarterback, Jerry Hinnen, LSU, Marcus LAttimore, Mark Richt, Mississippi State, Missouri State, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Penn State, Tennessee, Tre Mason, Trent Richardson, Tyler Bray, UAB, UConn, Utah State, Vanderbilt
Posted on: September 10, 2011 4:48 pm
Edited on: September 10, 2011 5:16 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
WHY AUBURN WON: Because even without Cam Newton and four three-year starters, Malzahn still knows how to put together a run game. With a week to lick their wounds from their Utah State struggles and shake up their offensive line (senior A.J. Greene was returned to the starting lineup), the Tigers rededicated themselves and tore through the Bulldogs' veteran defensive front for 235 rushing yards on just 36 carries--a team average of 6.5 yards per-carry. Sophomore star Michael Dyer picked up 150 of those on 8.3 yards an attempt, including a pivotal 52-yard dash that took the Tigers out of the shadow of their own goalposts late in the third quarter and set up his team's final score.
Thanks to the running game, Auburn was able to open up just enough space for the Tiger passing game (though he threw for just 146 yards, Trotter also threw two long touchdown strikes) and leave State with just too little time to accomplish what would have been a stirring comeback.
Some measure of credit may also be due the Auburn defense, which despite another brutal day in the box score -- 531 total yards given up, 333 of them on the ground, 97 plays faced as State converted 11-of-20 third downs -- rose up and got the two goal-line stops they had to have to keep their nation-best 17-game winning streak intact.
WHAT AUBURN WON: A return to the AP poll, no doubt, and a week after looking like the sort of team that might struggle to make the postseason, a simple "2" in the win column is not close to being something to sneeze at. But the Tigers also served notice that despite the vast personnel losses, the Week 1 embarrassment, and a defense that bends so badly it seems as if it must have already broken long ago, their remarkable knack for making just enough plays to earn victory is every bit as intact as it was in 2010.
WHAT MISSISSIPPI STATE LOST: This was supposed to be the season the Bulldogs were something more than just "scary" or a "sleeper"; this was supposed to be State's chance to surge past the likes of the green, inexperienced Tigers to cement themselves a legitimate player in the West, their opportunity to surprise one of the consensus top three teams and maybe start to sniff Atlanta. But with the Bulldogs now stuck again behind Auburn in the current West pecking order, those dreams are going to have to be put off at least until they pull one of those LSU-Alabama-Arkansas-type upsets.
More practically speaking, the Bulldogs also saw starting tackle James Carmon go down with a knee injury and stretchered off. With LSU coming to town this Thursday, there won't be much time for him to get better.
Posted on: September 9, 2011 3:02 pm
Posted by Tom Fornelli
The Saturday Meal Plan is a helpful guide put together for you to maximize the results of your college football diet. Just enough to leave you feeling full, but not so much you spend your entire Sunday in the bathroom.
Admittedly the menu this week is not as artery-clogging as last week's, but that's probably a good thing. After the five-day all-you-can-eat buffet that was the first week of the season, we should all eat a bit lighter this week. Of course, just because we won't be feasting on meals guaranteed to shorten our life spans, that doesn't mean there aren't some tasty entrees at our disposal.
Let's take a look at what we have to dine on this Saturday.
#8 Wisconsin vs. Oregon State - ESPN 12pm ET
It's hard to imagine two seasons starting in such opposite directions. Oregon State dropped an overtime thriller to Sacramento State, while Wisconsin breezed to victory over UNLV. If these teams play at the same level tomorrow, this could be a historic blowout. And we all like watching touchdowns by the bucket, don't we? - Adam Jacobi
#17 Michigan State vs. FAU - ESPN2 12pm ET
Howard Schnellenberger's five-game road trip to kick off his farewell season rolls into Detroit to face a Spartan team looking to rebound from a sluggish start. This was supposed to be a home game for FAU, but with the $70-million stadium in Boca Raton still under construction the contest was moved to Ford Field. After coaching from the press box last week due to complications from hip surgery, Schnellenberger will return to the sideline and try to inspire more than 137 yards of offense for the Owls. Michigan State fans will also want to see more cohesion out of the Spartans, who committed eight penalties and never really hit their stride against an inferior Youngstown State squad. - Chip Patterson
Auburn vs. #16 Mississippi State - SEC Network 12:21pm ET
It won't have the divisional title implications of the Georgia-South Carolina matchup, but both the Tigers and Bulldogs will be fighting every bit as tooth-and-nail for a victory here as their Eastern counterparts will later in the day. Dan Mullen's State team wants to cement its status as a legitimate West division factor but simply can't without a win over the brutally inexperienced Tigers; Auburn, meanwhile, is in desperate danger of being branded a one-year wonder if they follow up their escape from Utah State with a loss in one of the most winnable games on their SEC slate. - Jerry Hinnen
#23 Penn State vs. #3 Alabama - ABC 3:30pm ET
If Penn State fans want some respect from the national media for this team, the Nittany Lions are going to have to earn it on the national stage, hosting No. 2 Alabama. The Tide is loaded again this year, but like PSU, there's some QB drama at Bama. Watch to see if McCarron or whoever else the Tide throws out there on Saturday can handle what promises to be a maniacally loud Beaver Stadium. - AJ
#13 Oregon vs. Nevada - FX 3:30pm ET
After getting embarrassed by LSU's defense in the opener, I expect Mark Helfrich to have the attack meter all the way turned up against the Wolf Pack. Darron Thomas, LaMichael James, and Co. have not derailed from their 2010 form, it just seems these massive SEC defenses are the Ducks' kryptonite. After a frustrating loss, coaches will want to take advantage of every single snap against their next opponent. You will want to watch this game because Oregon will put the foot on the gas pedal (Cliff Harris!) and never let up for four quarters. - CP
Air Force vs. #25 TCU - Versus 3:30pm ET
You can be sure that TCU didn't exactly enjoy having the entire country see Baylor tear its defense apart last Friday, and the unit is going to look to save some face against Air Force on Saturday afternoon. This game will also mark the beginning of the final year of Mountain West conference play for the Horned Frogs, and I'm sure they'd like to go out with quite a bang. - Tom Fornelli
Georgia vs. #12 South Carolina - ESPN 4:30pm ET
Well, this is it: the defining game of Mark Richt's Georgia tenure. Lose it, and any shred of momentum from the "Dream Team" offseason or hope of a divisional title (most likely) is gone. Win it, and the Dawgs suddenly sit in the East catbird seat with the SEC's easiest schedule on tap. It's either the miserable end for one of the sport's most visible coaches, or the giddy start to a stunning reclamation project, with no in-between ... and Stephen Garcia's involved, too. A must-watch. - JH
#24 Texas vs. BYU - ESPN2 7pm ET
The Big 12 of the future! Does BYU win the game in hopes of gaining a Big 12 invite, or does it show its true Big 12 street cred by allowing Texas to walk all over it? Tune in to find out! Seriously, though, this will be a much better indication of how improved Texas is this year than last week's game against Rice. BYU is fresh off a nice road win against Ole Miss and should provide a much tougher test for the Longhorns. - TF
USC vs. Utah - Versus 7:30pm ET
The Pac-12 officially kicks off conference play and it should be a good one as former BCS busters Utah will try and prove they can play with the conference's most storied program from the get-go. USC's record-setting pair of quarterback Matt Barkley and wide receiver Robert Woods won't have much time to throw the ball around as the Utes have a very good front seven this year. Old friend Norm Chow also returns to the Coliseum, this time with a solid quarterback in Jordan Wynn, so it should be a fun league opener. - Bryan Fischer
Michigan vs. Notre Dame - ESPN 8pm ET
The first night game in the history of the Big House has plenty to offer everyone. How will Michigan's defense perform this week now that it might have to play an entire 60 minutes, and do so against a Notre Dame offense that features a lot more weapons than Western Michigan's did. Also, will Denard Robinson have an encore performance of his game against the Irish last year? That's the one that made him a household name last September when he accounted for 502 yards of total offense and 3 touchdowns. - TF
LATE NIGHT SNACK
UCLA vs. San Jose State - 10pm ET
Rick Neuheisel cares. He might be the only one at UCLA who cares, but he really does care passionately about his alma matter. The Bruins hope to turn things around after their disappointing loss to Houston in which the defense looked like a mess. San Jose State isn't the most appealing opponent but it's the only late night game on Saturday and the Bruins should get the offense going no matter who's in the backfield. - BF
Tags: Adam Jacobi, Air Force, Alabama, Auburn, Baylor, Big 12, Big Ten, Bryan Fischer, BYU, Chip Patterson, Cliff Harris, Dan Mullen, Darron Thomas, Denard Robinson, FAU, Georgia, Howard Schnellenberger, Jerry Hinnen, Jordan Wynn, LaMichael James, LSU, Mark Helfrich, Mark Richt, Matt Barkley, Michigan, Michigan State, Mississippi State, Mountain West, MWC, Nevada, Norm Chow, Notre Dame, Ole Miss, Oregon, Oregon, Pac-12, Penn State, Rice, Rick Neuheisel, Robert Woods, Sacramento State, San Jose State, Saturday Meal Plan, SEC, South Carolina, Stephen Garcia, TCU, Texas, Tom Fornelli, UCLA, UNLV, USC, Utah, Utah State, WAC, Western Michigan, Wisconsin, Youngstown State
Posted on: September 8, 2011 3:58 pm
Edited on: September 8, 2011 5:44 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Each Thursday we demand the SEC give us answers to its most pressing questions. Here those are:
Mike Bobo: do you know what you're doing with an up-tempo shotgun offense? After rumblings from fall camp that Georgia would unveil a no-huddle spread offense gainst Boise State, the Bulldogs didn't quite go the full Dana Holgorsen ... but they definitely flirted with it, breaking away from their traditional pro-style I-formation look for a multitude of quick snaps, multi-receiver sets, and shotgun handoffs. The results were occasionally spectacular (see Brandon Boykin's 80-yard touchdown run) but more frequently sputterrific (see the other 25 rushes for all of 57 yards, or Boise's six sacks).
So why the change? "We wanted to get more plays, which we didn’t do on Saturday,” Bulldog coordinator Bobo said. “But we’re committed to doing it, and more plays equals more opportunities, and more chances to score.”
This is true, technically speaking. A faster tempo does lead to more possessions and plays packed into a game, and more scoring chances. But that's true for both teams, not just the one running the no-huddle; barring onside kick shenanigans or the occasional odd break at the end of a half, possessions in football are always going to be equal. For seasoned practitioners of the no-huddle like Holgorsen or Gus Malzahn, tempo is partially about giving their offense as many opportunities as possible, but it's also about making it more efficient by keeping an opposing defense off-balance and wearing it down over the course of 60 minutes.
Bobo is not one of those seasoned practitioners. As the Athens Banner-Herald points out, in 2010 Georgia ran fewer plays than any other team in the SEC. Suddenly lurching into a part-time, only-half-committed shotgun spread outfit seems from here to be a good way to neither execute that plan well nor the Bulldogs' traditional power-running and play-action bread-and-butter. One Georgia blogger has cleverly referred to Bobo's plan as the Cheesecake Factory offense--one that attempts to do everything, and in the end does none of it well enough to win.
Mark Richt, for what it's worth, is firmly on board with Bobo's approach. But if it doesn't pay far more dividends against South Carolina than it did against Boise (and if there's a bigger red flag than giving up six sacks to the Broncos the week before facing Devin Taylor, Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney, we haven't seen it), Richt may pay for that support with an 0-2 start and the hottest seat in the country.
Auburn's defensive line: what can you do with Mississippi State? The surprising thing about Utah State's 84-play slice-and-dice job on the Tiger defense wasn't the 22-of-31 passing from true freshman Chuckie Keeton, or the resulting 13-of-20 mark for the Aggies on third- and fourth-down conversions; Ted Roof's Tiger teams have always had issues with a tight, controlled passing game like USU's. But they've also usually been stout enough against the run to make up for that Achilles heel -- Auburn led the SEC in rush defense last year -- making the true stunner the Aggies' 227 yards on the ground.
Unfortunately for Roof and the Tigers, things only get tougher this week. State boasts the league's best dual-threat quarterback in Chris Relf, a veteran line featuring three senior starters, Dan Mullen's tried-and-true option schemes, and one of the nation's most underrated tailbacks in Vick Ballard. Even Auburn is obviously a far cry from Memphis, but the 309 rushing yards and 8.1 yard per-carry average racked up by the Bulldogs in Week 1 still make for a hell of a warning shot across the bow of the Tiger front seven.
That front seven should get a boost with the return of suspended senior linebacker Eltoro Freeman, and Roof's long track record of run-stuffing success suggests some level of improvement is due. But the Tiger front remains so young -- all four starting defensive linemen are sophomores -- that it will take a major, major leap forward for Auburn to avoid getting steamrolled. Are they up to it?
Alabama: is your offense good enough to stake a claim to No. 1? Maybe we'll be proven wrong about this. But the guess here is that despite the change of venue to Happy Valley, there won't be any more competitive drama in Saturday's Alabama-Penn State clash than there was in last year's 24-3 Tide throttling in Tuscaloosa. Nick Saban's loaded roster of future pros dominated the Nittany Lions physically in nearly every aspect of the 2010 meeting, and that's not a problem we see Joe Paterno repairing in the space of one offseason.
Which means the burning question is one of degree: does the Tide offense have the chops to go on the road and put together a performance worthy of putting the team in the top-of-the-polls discussion? Underrated though Kent State's defense may be (10th in FBS total defense in 2010), the Tide still looked surprisingly sloppy on attack, despite the 48-7 final. The quarterbacks threw four interceptions; the offensive line missed a handful of assignments; the Tide receivers and quarterbacks put the ball on the ground four times.
Were those opening-week jitters ... or something more serious that might deprive the Tide of championships once the 2011 season is finished? A dominant performance against a Lion team with plenty of questions of its own in the front seven would go a long way towards affirming it was the former.
Also worth asking: Can Tennessee's Janzen Jackson-less secondary hold up against Cincinnati's lively passing game? (The league's most underrated Week 2 matchup could be decided here.) Can Vanderbilt look like a real team another real team? (Despite their 45-14 win over FCS Elon, the 'Dores were outgained by 14 yards. Jury's well out.) Will Kentucky or Ole Miss show any signs of life on offense? (If the 'Cats and Rebels can't get better against Central Michigan and Southern Illinois, respectively, it's going to be a long season.)
Tags: Alabama, Auburn, Boise State, Brandon Boykin, Central Michigan, Cheesecake Factory, Chris Relf, Chuckie Keeton, Cincinnati, Dan Mullen, Dana Holgorsen, Devin Taylor, Eltoro Freeman, Georgia, Gus Malzahn, Jadeveon Clowney, Jerry Hinnen, Joe Paterno, Kent State, Kentucky, Mark Richt, Melvin Ingram, Memphis, Mike Bobo, Nick Saban, Ole Miss, Penn State, SEC, SEC Interrogation, South Carolina, Southern Illinois, Ted Roof, Tennessee, Utah State, Vanderbilt, Vick Ballard