Tag:Aaron Murray
Posted on: November 5, 2011 3:43 pm
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QUICK HITS: No. 18 Georgia 63 New Mexico St. 16

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

GEORGIA WON: 
No scholarship running backs, no problem. Despite missing Richard Samuel to injury and three other tailbacks -- including Isaiah Crowell -- due to one-game suspensions, the Bulldogs had the very definition of "no problem" with visiting New Mexico State, scoring six second quarter touchdowns and coasting from there. (The 42 points in a quarter is an FBS high this season.) With the tailbacks out, corners Branden Smith and Brandon Boykin both got time on offense and both scored long touchdowns, Smith on a 56-yard run and Boykin a 42-yard pass reception. The Bulldogs finished the game with 628 offensive yards.

WHY GEORGIA WON: "They're Georgia, and the opponent was New Mexico State" pretty much covers it. But whatever hope the Aggies had of making this a competitive game likely required Aaron Murray to have been as erratic and scattershot as he'd been the previous week in the Bulldogs' win over Florida. No such luck for NMSU: Murray only played the first half, but that was long enough to go 18-of-23 for better than 10 yards an attempt and five touchdowns without an interception.

Obviously, Auburn's pass defense is going to offer a lot more resistance than NMSU's when the Dawgs host the Tigers next week. But Murray's big day has to give his team a lot of encouragement after his lackluster outing vs. the Gators.

WHEN GEORGIA WON: Oh, just pick a second quarter touchdown. We'll go with the Brandon Harton four-yard TD run to push the lead to 14-3, since it was immediately preceded by a questionable pass interference flag on a 3rd-and-4 incompletion. You knew that if NMSU couldn't even catch a break from the officials, they weren't going to hang around long.

WHAT GEORGIA WON: An entire second half of rest for their starters, and for a team with as many thin areas as the Bulldogs, they couldn't ask for anything more than that from this game.

WHAT NEW MEXICO STATE LOST: Lost? We suspect Dewayne Walker will wish his team had been more competitive and much sharper defensively, but no doubt the check from Georgia will soothe a lot of ills.

Posted on: November 1, 2011 3:11 pm
Edited on: November 1, 2011 3:12 pm
 

Georgia RB crisis: Samuel out, Crowell suspended

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Ever dreamed of toting the rock for the Georgia Bulldogs, random UGA student? Now may be your chance.

In the space of one afternoon, the Bulldogs have lost four scholarship tailbacks for this Saturday's game against New Mexico State. Starter Isaiah Crowell and backups Carlton Thomas and Ken Malcome have all been suspended for one game for a violation of team rules, the program has announced.

But even that's not the worst news of the day from the Bulldog tailback perspective. Mark Richt announced earlier Tuesday that Richard Samuel, Crowell's immediate backup and the Dawgs' initial 2011 starter, underwent surgery on his ankle Tuesday morning and will miss the remaining four games of the regular season.

Samuel scored the winning touchdown against Florida last Saturday in the junior's career highlight to date, then was injured in the game's closing moments.

"We don't know exactly when he'll be back, but it obviously won't be anytime soon," Richt said. ""Richard really had probably his finest performance, in a really big game. For it to happen on the last play is just sad for him."

With all the absences, the tailback job will likely fall to redshirt sophomore Brandon Harton, a former walk-on who received a scholarship this fall. Harton has 11 carries for 33 yards this season, all against Coastal Carolina. Another former walk-on, senior Wes Van Dyk, could see time; Van Dyk has two career carries, both vs. FCS competition.

Against the 3-5 Aggies, all the running back absences shouldn't matter too much (though NMSU does have one BCS conference scalp to their credit this year ... if you count Minnesota, and we're not sure you should). The Georgia line should still be able to open holes nearly anyone could run through, Aaron Murray should still have little problem finding receivers, and or Jarvis Jones should still live in the Aggie backfield. We shouldn't oversell the damage here as long as the suspended three return as expected for a potentially make-or-break visit from Auburn Nov. 12.

But losing Samuel hurts -- his surge against the Gators might have taken him back into the starter's role -- and a topsy-turvy first several months in Athens has made Crowell seem less-than-100-percent reliable. Georgia's OK for the present, but the future looks much murkier than it did 24 hours ago.

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.


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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