SEC Previews and Predictions: Week 10

Alabama hosts Mississippi State, and South Carolina squares off with Arkansas, while Notre Dame visits Tennessee. Jess Nicholas runs down the games and gives his predictions

Last week: 4-1 (80.0%)

Season: 51-13 (79.7%)


Game within a game: MSU RB Jerious Norwood vs. Alabama front seven

Whether Alabama beats Mississippi State or not is likely to come down to one match-up: MSU RB Jerious Norwood versus the Alabama defensive front. A few weeks ago, nothing was working for Mississippi State on offense or defense. But recently, Norwood has emerged as a go-to guy and his success makes the offense run. Mississippi State still can't pass the ball effectively, and even though QB Omarr Conner is back from injuries that kept him out of some earlier action, he needs Norwood to be able to run in order to cause problems for the Bama pass defense. But Alabama has been making a habit of shutting down running backs who otherwise were having good years. Both teams find themselves inhabiting common ground statistically on offense; both teams run well but can't pass, but Alabama has a substantially better defense. MSU's linebackers are a liability as a group, the Bulldogs don't defend big plays in the passing game well and they also have trouble stopping the run. If Alabama can shut down Norwood, this game is over. Alabama 24, Mississippi State 10


Game within a game: Tennessee running backs vs. Notre Dame's team speed limitations Looking at the statistical breakdown between these two teams, Tennessee does not match up well at all with Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish pass the ball well, have an emerging star in running back Darius Walker, and have the country's 12th best rushing defense. Notre Dame doesn't stop the pass well, but Tennessee lost QB Brent Schaeffer to injury against South Carolina and fellow QB Erik Ainge is prone to fits of unreliability. Meanwhile, the Vol defense doesn't like having to face good passing attacks, and Phil Fulmer isn't likely to outcoach Ty Willingham. But speed is a great equalizer, and it's something Tennessee has that Notre Dame does not. Notre Dame is a handful of athletes short of being able to put serious pressure on Ainge, or get free of a Tennessee cornerback downfield, or consistently stop Tennessee RB Gerald Riggs behind the line of scrimmage. Notre Dame does, however, have enough speed and talent to stay close to Tennessee, close enough that if the Volunteers make a key mistake or two down the stretch, Notre Dame could steal this game. Notre Dame is also playing for bowl eligibility, and Tennessee may be overlooking this game as it prepares for the SEC Championship Game at season's end. This game could surprise a lot of people. Tennessee 24, Notre Dame 20


Game within a game: Arkansas QB Matt Jones vs. South Carolina pass rush

As is the case with most Arkansas games, this one will boil down to how well the opposition can stop QB Matt Jones. In South Carolina's case, the likely answer is not very well. South Carolina has put up gaudy pass defense numbers (5th nationally in pass efficiency defense, 13th in pass defense) while ranking a mediocre 42nd against the run. Those numbers seem to indicate South Carolina could shut down Jones, but the Gamecocks' pass rush, which is good off the corners but not so hot up the middle, isn't consistent enough to contain Jones. Worse yet, South Carolina has been stumbling ever since the win over Alabama. USC's quarterback situation is troubling, with both Dondrial Pinkins and Syvelle Newton hurting. Arkansas has had two weeks to prepare for this game. The stakes are high, because bowl eligibility is on the line for both teams. South Carolina's Lou Holtz likely can't survive yet another five-win season, which if he loses here, is what he'll likely get. South Carolina closes with Florida and Clemson. Arkansas, meanwhile, has a second game-within-a-game challenge – stopping South Carolina's rushing attack. The Razorback defense has been porous on all fronts in 2004. Look for Houston Nutt's group to pull the upset here. Arkansas 33, South Carolina 30


Game within a game: Vandy late-season "bounce" game vs. Florida players' emotional stamina It's about time for two things to happen – Vanderbilt's signature late-season game where the Commodores scare the pants off the opposition, and Florida to start to go into a hole now that the Georgia game is over (and lost) and the reality of Ron Zook's predicament starts to sink in with players still loyal to him. No, Vandy isn't likely to win this game. Florida has many, many more athletes than does Vanderbilt, and the Commodores aren't likely to shut down the conference's top passing offense. Aside from Florida's passing numbers, neither team really stands out in any statistical category, at least not in the good sense. Look for a sloppy game, particularly with Florida on the road, but look for QB Chris Leak to help Zook pull it out of the fire late. Florida 28, Vanderbilt 22


Game within a game: Georgia pass defense vs. Kentucky quarterbacks Kentucky couldn't score in a brothel with a fistful of $20s. Kentucky put up 51 points against Indiana in week two and have scored 60 points total in their other seven games, all losses. Last week, the Wildcats did the impossible, as they failed to reach double digits against Mississippi State. The only chink in the Georgia defensive armor so far this year has been pass efficiency defense, where the Bulldogs rank 77th nationally. But by the same token, Georgia ranks 11th in raw pass defense. Kentucky has two hopes here – hope that Georgia is worn out after winning tight games over Florida and Arkansas the last two weeks, and/or hope the Bulldogs are looking past Kentucky to Auburn. If Kentucky can get a couple of cheap scores early, they might catch the Bulldogs sleeping, something that has happened far too often already this year for the boys from Athens. What's more likely to happen is a blowout – even if Georgia was to play its scout team. Georgia 52, Kentucky 10

IDLE: Auburn, LSU, Ole Miss

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