October 13, 2011

Week 7 preview in the SEC

MIDSEASON RECAP: League-by-league breakdown
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Heading into the season, a major storyline in the SEC was that the league was full of stud tailbacks but had a dearth of good quarterbacks.

At least part of storyline has been borne out, as the quarterback play league-wide has been mediocre.

South Carolina at Mississippi State, 12:20 p.m.
LSU at Tennessee, 3:30 p.m.
Alabama at Ole Miss, 6 p.m.
Georgia at Vanderbilt, 7 p.m.
Florida at Auburn, 7 p.m.
Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and LSU look fine at quarterback, though LSU could get into trouble if coaches feel obligated to get snaps for Jordan Jefferson.

At the league's other eight schools, though, quarterback play is or will be an issue. Let's take a look.

Auburn: Barrett Trotter opened the season as the starter, but he has struggled of late and true freshman Kiehl Frazier has worked his way into the mix. Coach Gene Chizik gave a less-than-enthusiastic endorsement of Trotter on Monday, and unless Trotter plays well against Florida, he could lose his job.

Florida: Given how poorly John Brantley played last season, this is going to sound somewhat strange: The Gators can't win without Brantley this season. He has missed the past six quarters with what likely is a badly sprained ankle (for some reason, Florida won't be specific, saying it's a "lower leg injury"). True freshman Jeff Driskel replaced Brantley in the second half of a loss to Alabama on Oct. 1 and struggled mightily. Driskel also suffered a sprained ankle against the Tide and missed last week's loss to LSU; instead, true freshman Jacoby Brissett got the call. Not surprisingly, given the competition, he also struggled mightily. One of the two true freshmen will start this week at Auburn and might also have to go against Georgia on Oct. 29.

Kentucky: Morgan Newton started for half the season in 2009 because of an injury to Mike Hartline. Newton sat on the bench last season, then won the job during the spring after Hartline's graduation. To say Newton has been bad is to be kind. He is completing just 45.7 percent of his passes and has more interceptions (seven) than TDs (six). UK is last in the SEC and 116th nationally in pass offense. True freshman Maxwell Smith now is in the mix, but he doesn't appear to be up to the task. He has thrown two picks in 19 attempts.

Mississippi: The Rebels have used three quarterbacks. West Virginia transfer Barry Brunetti started the opener, but he quickly lost the starting job and has played in just one other game. JC transfer Zack Stoudt played extensively in the first four games but has thrown six picks against two TD passes. Randall Mackey got the start last week and led the Rebels to a win at Fresno State. He is a good athlete who is raw as a passer; he was just 8-of-18 against Fresno, but the eight completions went for 214 yards and a TD. The odds that any of the trio will have success Saturday against Alabama? About the same as the Democrats choosing Rick Perry as their presidential candidate in 2012.

Mississippi State: Chris Relf was solid as a junior last season, rushing for 713 yards and five TDs and throwing for 1,789 yards and 13 scores. But he has regressed this season and looks lost in the offense. He ran for 157 combined yards in the first two games, but has managed just 73 yards in the past four. He has thrown for just 860 yards in six games and has more picks (five) than TD passes (four). He was benched at halftime Saturday against UAB, and Tyler Russell guided the Bulldogs to three second-half TDs and a 21-3 win. It wouldn't be a surprise if Russell started Saturday against South Carolina.

South Carolina: The Stephen Garcia era is over, and the job is now Connor Shaw's. Shaw looked good last week, throwing for 311 yards and four TDs. But that was against woeful Kentucky. Can he do the same - or at least play consistently - this week against Mississippi State? If so, you'd have to think coach Steve Spurrier is going to kick himself for not turning to Shaw earlier. As for Garcia, the guy played relatively well last season in leading the Gamecocks to their first SEC East title. This season, though, he reverted to his 2009 form. For a smart guy, he did a million dumb things on and off the field.

Tennessee: Sophomore Tyler Bray had been a bright spot for the Vols until he broke a bone in his hand in Saturday's loss to Georgia. He is expected to miss at least a month, which means backup Matt Simms - who lost the starting job to Bray midway through last season - now gets the call. The Vols have rushed for minus-29 yards in their two SEC games, and their next two SEC games are against LSU and Alabama. If the Vols can't run on Florida and Georgia with Bray in the lineup, does anyone truly think they can move the ball on the ground against the Tigers and Tide with Simms as the starter? That means it's all on Simms' arm. And you can bet he will see a variety of blitzes the next two weeks, starting Saturday, when LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis - who used to hold the same position with the Vols - likely will want to light Simms up.

Vanderbilt: Larry Smith has struggled throughout his career and - surprise, surprise - he is struggling again as a senior. For his career, he's a 49.3 percent passer, with 14 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. In the past 11 games, his highest passing total is 142 yards. Seriously, 142. In last week's loss to Alabama, junior Jordan Rodgers - Aaron's little brother - got most of the playing time. He was 11-of-18 for 104 yards and two picks. While coach James Franklin hasn't come out and said it, chances are Rodgers gets the start Saturday against Georgia.

[Midseason report: The good and bad from the first half of the 2011 season]

Best matchup: Tennessee WR Da'Rick Rogers vs. LSU CBs Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu. Rogers, a sophomore, has blossomed into a star this season, and is the one Vols offensive player who truly scares opposing defenses. But he will be working with a backup quarterback this weekend, and the rushing attack has done nothing in its two previous SEC games. In short, LSU knows that if it stymies Rogers, it will cruise to an easy win. It doesn't help Rogers that he will be going against the nation's best cornerback duo in Claiborne and Mathieu, who has been a big-play machine. Look for Tennessee to still try to get the ball to Rogers as often as possible. It's up to Claiborne and Mathieu to make sure that doesn't happen.

Player on the spot: Tennessee's linebackers. MLB Austin Johnson and OLBs A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt are new starters this season; both outside 'backers are true freshmen. LSU had one of its most productive rushing days of last season when it edged the Vols in Baton Rouge, running for 219 yards and two TDs. There's no way the Vols can allow the Tigers to be that productive on the ground this season, which means it's up to Tennessee's linebackers to be extremely active and physical.

Keep an eye on: Florida's defensive line. The Gators have been gouged on the ground in their past two games. They gave up 226 yards and four rushing TDs to Alabama in a 38-10 loss on Oct. 1, then surrendered 238 yards and three TDs in a 41-11 loss at LSU last week. Florida hadn't allowed any rushing TDs headed into the Alabama game. This week, the Gators get an Auburn team that is third in the league in rushing at 204.0 yards per game. The Tigers have rushed for 537 yards the past two weeks. Auburn is having all sorts of trouble throwing the ball, but that won't matter if it can run effectively against Florida's beleaguered front four.

Numbers game: South Carolina has won four in a row on the road and is going for a school-record fifth consecutive road victory Saturday at Mississippi State. The only other time the Gamecocks posted four consecutive road wins was 1914-15.

Quotes of the week

"We cannot taunt an opponent. It is an interesting rule. It is a rule that you can look at in a bunch of different ways. A game on Sunday where the celebration is excessive and does appear that there is not that rule - that is one thing. You look at it and go, 'What is the harm?' If you look at from the guy that is scoring the touchdown, that is his enjoyment. If you look at it from the opponent, who says, 'I really wish you had not quite done that,' that is the reason the rule is in place. If I am the official, I am making that exact call." - LSU coach Les Miles, whose team lost a TD in last week's rout of Florida when P Brad Wing was called for taunting before he got to the end zone

"I don't think anybody coaches turnovers, but it comes down to judgment. I don't know of any baseball managers that teach guys to swing at balls out of the strike zone, but some guys do it a lot more than others and it comes down to judgment. Ball security is an awareness, fundamentally, that every player that handles the ball has to have so that we don't have turnovers." - Alabama coach Nick Saban, on whether you can coach avoiding turnovers

[Yahoo! Sports Radio: LSU CB Tyrann Mathieu]

"You hate to wait all day to play a game, especially on the road because you know you are going to get back late. Thankfully, we have an open date after that, so it shouldn't affect us too much. You can get behind the eight ball in your sleep pattern. I know I'm a little behind the eight ball from this last one against Tennessee. I'm glad we have an open date to let everybody get some sleep when we get home." - Georgia coach Mark Richt, on the 7 p.m. Eastern kickoff Saturday at Vanderbilt. The Bulldogs had a 7 p.m. EDT kickoff last week against Tennessee

"I'm going to be very clear on this: It's hard for any quarterback to be as productive as you want him to be if everybody else around him is, at times, not productive as well." - Auburn coach Gene Chizik, on the recent uneven play of QB Barrett Trotter

"If you have 10 guys doing it right and one not doing it right, then you have an issue and a problem when you play against a really good football team. Those are the things that we need to work and look past. We had a couple of those situations ... where 10 guys were doing it right and one guy that doesn't do it right or how he's coached to be doing it. We have to do a better job coaching, or we have to find a better player." - Florida coach Will Muschamp, on defensive breakdowns the past two weeks

[Week 7 primer: Huguenin picks them all]

"I know him a little bit. ... The first year or so, we sat next to each other at [SEC] meetings. It's just like all you guys when you come to a meeting - you all sit in the same spots. At SEC coaches' meetings, he's usually sitting to my left." - South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, when asked how well he knows Mississippi State's Dan Mullen

"I don't have any doubts that Tennessee is going to be what Tennessee expects to be. But we also have to confront some tough, brutal facts that we are facing right now. Is it going to be tough? You're dang right. But you're presented with a set of circumstances every day and you can't change what has happened in the past. You can't worry about what might happen. You can't say, 'Well, this might happen if that.' You can't do any of that. You have to deal with the circumstances you are presented with and go after it the best you can." - Tennessee coach Derek Dooley

Poll watch: LSU is playing its third consecutive game while ranked No. 1 in the nation, the first time that has happened since the 1959 season. LSU is 16-3 all-time in games played as the nation's top-ranked team, which includes a 4-2 mark under Les Miles. LSU is at Tennessee on Saturday, but the Tigers are 2-11-1 in Knoxville

[Game tickets: Watch your favorite team in action]

Etc.: LSU has won seven consecutive games by double digits, one shy of tying the school-record streak set in 1936. ... Auburn has played 17 true freshmen this season; that's second-most nationally, one behind Texas. Tennessee has played 15, which is fifth-most. Florida and Georgia have played 13 each, which is tied for eighth-most. ... Steve Spurrier is going for his 50th win as coach at South Carolina. Only Rex Enright (64) has won more games at South Carolina. ... LSU hasn't trailed since the second quarter of the season-opener against Oregon. ... Vandy is the only SEC East team that hasn't lost a home game this season; the Commodores are 3-0 at home. ... Auburn has a new kicker and a new punter, but both have played well in certain facets. P Steven Clark has dropped 20 of his 35 punts inside the 20, a 57.1-percent rate that leads the SEC. And K Cody Parkey leads the SEC with 20 touchbacks on kickoffs. ... Georgia has allowed just two touchdowns in the past 16 quarters. ... Alabama has outscored its six opponents 52-8 in the fourth quarter. In addition, the Tide have outrushed their foes 523-116 in the fourth quarter. Alabama has attempted just 11 fourth-period passes. ... Vanderbilt leads the nation with 14 interceptions. South Carolina is tied for second with 12. ... Georgia and LSU are the only SEC teams to have scored first in each of their games this season. ... Auburn and Florida played annually from 1945-2002; Saturday's meeting will be just the third since '02. ... South Carolina QB Connor Shaw threw four TD passes in last week's rout of Kentucky. South Carolina quarterbacks had thrown just four TD passes in the first five games of the season. ... Saturday's game will be the 59th meeting between Alabama and Ole Miss, but only the 10th time Alabama has played the Rebels in Oxford. Alabama leads the series 48-8-2. ... Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt is 5-10 in his career against teams ranked in the top five. ... Georgia hasn't lost at Vanderbilt since 1991, a span of nine games. ... Vandy has made some changes on its offensive line. C Wesley Johnson has moved back to left tackle, the position he played last season. Ryan Seymour has moved from left tackle to left guard, and C Wesley Logan has regained his starting job after missing the first four games recovering from an undisclosed illness. ... Florida secondary coach Travaris Robinson was an Auburn cornerback from 1999-02. He also is a former student assistant (2006) and graduate assistant (2007) for the Tigers. ... Vanderbilt is last in the nation in third-down conversion percentage, at 18.5 percent (12-of-65). ... Georgia again will be without OLB Cornelius Washington, who is completing a two-game suspension. ... Tennessee coach Derek Dooley is one of four former LSU coaches (head coach or assistant) that the Tigers will face this year. LSU already has beaten Bradley Dale Peveto and Northwestern State (La.) and Will Muschamp and Florida. The last one will be Nick Saban and Alabama on Nov. 5.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.

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