SEC Previews and Predictions: Week Six

Jess Nicholas gives his thoughts on Alabama versus Kentucky and other games this week around the Southeastern Conference

Last week: 5-2 (71.4%)

Season: 32-8 (80.0%)


Game within a game: Alabama QB Marc Guillon vs. Kentucky secondary

Head coach Mike Shula will be faced with an interesting conundrum – run the football almost exclusively, as it is clearly the Crimson Tide's offensive strength, or take the opportunity to build QB Marc Guillon's confidence by having him throw against a disappointing, injury-depleted Kentucky secondary. Kentucky's defensive backs, particularly safeties Mike Williams and Muhammad Abdullah, were expected to help guide the Wildcats through a difficult season. It hasn't turned out that way. Kentucky is ranked 76th in pass defense, 84th in pass efficiency defense and 93rd in total defense. Injuries have contributed greatly to the problem, claiming cornerbacks Bo Smith and Warren Wilson, along with linebacker Dustin Williams. Alabama still figures to be able to run the ball well, because the Wildcats are ranked 92nd in rushing defense to complete their dedication to mediocrity. But this may be the chance Alabama needs to develop a rhythm in the passing game before being faced with the much saltier defense of Southern Miss next week. Kentucky QB Shane Boyd, the poor man's Matt Jones, hasn't been the threat that was advertised in the preseason, and injuries to a key running back (FB Rock Johnson), two wide receivers (Keenan Burton and Tommy Cook) and OL Ernie Pelayo have neutered the Cats' attack. Alabama may be struggling, but the Tide should still get by Kentucky, even if it figures to be an ugly game. Alabama 21, Kentucky 12


Game within a game: Louisiana Tech RB Ryan Moats vs. AU defensive line

Upset specialist Louisiana Tech is at it again, this time coming off a win at home over Fresno State, thought by many to be a "BCS Buster" of the first order this season. Can LaTech do it two weeks in a row? Doubtful, because for all of the heroics from RB Ryan Moats – the #2 running back in the country at the moment behind Texas' Cedric Benson – the Bulldogs don't have a defense that can stop any one facet of the Auburn offense, much less all of them put together. LaTech's only chance for a win will be if Moats goes into a phone booth and comes out as Superman, which isn't out of the realm of possibility considering the Tigers' defensive line is good, but not great. But for every touchdown Moats scores, figure Auburn to score two. Auburn simply has too many horses. Auburn 41, Louisiana Tech 21


Game within a game: LSU quarterbacks vs. Florida secondary

It's almost mind-bending that the loser of this game is out of the running for a division title, but that's the reality of the situation. LSU got hammered by Georgia last week with surprising ease. Florida did its usual under head coach Ron Zook – looked great, then terrible, then good again against an inferior opponent. LSU comes into this game desperate for a conference win, and it will come down to how well Marcus Randall or JaMarcus Russell manage to perform against what has been to this point, a very mediocre Florida pass defense. The Gators are ranked 60th in pass defense and don't have much experience, but LSU has been only marginally able to move the ball through the air against better teams. LSU's ranking of 32nd in passing offense is as much a factor of its schedule as anything else. Look for home field advantage to mean a lot in this game. Florida 30, LSU 24


Game within a game: Georgia RB Danny Ware vs. Tennessee linebackers

Watching Auburn hammer Tennessee last week is the very definition of hollow victory for many Alabama fans. While it was probably good therapy to watch the hated Volunteers get whipped at home, the flip side of it was that it was hated Auburn doing the whipping. The assignment doesn't get any easier for Tennessee this week, as the Vols are on the road for the first time this season, taking on a Georgia team that woke up in a big way against LSU. The key to the game for Georgia will be not how it stops whatever freshman quarterback Phil Fulmer decides to put under center for Tennessee, but how well young RB Danny Ware can move the ball against an injury-depleted Volunteer front seven. If Ware is successful, it will further open up a passing attack that will be pitted against one of the conference's worst secondaries. Top that off with the inevitable pressure UT quarterbacks Erik Ainge and Brent Schaeffer are likely to feel playing in Athens, and this game could get ugly for Tennessee very quickly. Georgia 28, Tennessee 17


Game within a game: South Carolina safeties vs. Ole Miss QB Ethan Flatt

Like Alabama's Marc Guillon and Spencer Pennington, young Ole Miss QB Ethan Flatt has had a problem getting picked off in 2004. He'll be facing a very opportunistic defense this week, and it will likely be too much to overcome. Ole Miss is ranked a horrid 107th in passing efficiency, while South Carolina is ranked 11th in pass defense and 5th in pass efficiency defense. Ole Miss RB Vashon Pearson had a strong performance against Arkansas State last week, but when he doesn't have a passing game to keep a defense honest, Pearson is unlikely to break a game open single-handedly. South Carolina, though, isn't making many mistakes on offense. A long season for Ole Miss is likely to get longer. South Carolina 27, Ole Miss 13


Game within a game: UAB QB Darrell Hackney vs. MSU secondary

Mississippi State can't run, can't pass and haven't stopped much on the defensive end. MSU's strength – if there is one – appears to be pass defense, where the Bulldogs have managed a respectable ranking of 30th so far, although they are ranked 96th in pass efficiency defense. UAB QB Darrell Hackney isn't going to make anyone's quarterback all-star lists, but he is a tough competitor and can make plays on the ground or through the air. How well Mississippi State manages to contain Hackney will likely determine whether the Bulldogs are able to avoid a 10-loss season. Defensively, UAB is stout enough to contain the weak State attack. The biggest question of all, though, may be whether MSU head coach Sylvester Croom has lost his team's confidence. The Bulldogs haven't played with any kind of fire recently, and if they lose to UAB, it will be hard to imagine the Bulldogs bouncing back. UAB 25, Mississippi St. 14


Game within a game: Vandy's mediocrity vs. Rutgers' imbalance

Vanderbilt is the definition of mediocre, finding itself in the middle to just below the middle in most NCAA statistical rankings. But Rutgers' score sheet looks like it suffers from bipolar disorder. The Scarlet Knights are ranked 10th in passing offense, but 106th in pass defense. Total offense comes in at 40th, while total defense ranks just 89th. Vanderbilt – particularly with the home field advantage counted in – should play a more fundamentally sound game, and QB Jay Cutler ought to be able to direct time-eating drives. But Rutgers has the big play ability Vanderbilt lacks, and the coaching at Rutgers seems to have been markedly better than it has been in Nashville. Vanderbilt is really hoping to bring home this win, as it would give the Commodores two in a row and perhaps set up some kind of second-half push. But with the Commodores' historic penchant for throwing away a close game late, look for Rutgers to do something spectacular in the game's final minutes. Rutgers 38, Vanderbilt 35

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