SEC Previews and Predictions: Week 8

SEC preview and predictions for Oct. 22


Last week's record: 4-0 (100.0%)

Season record: 40-9 (81.6%)



Game within a game: Tennessee DL vs. Alabama OL

They say big games are won in the trenches, and the reason that particular cliché gets repeated over and over is because it's the dead-bang truth. Nowhere will it be more important than in Tuscaloosa this weekend, as Alabama's success – and any chance the Crimson Tide has of beating Tennessee – will rest on the shoulders of Alabama's five offensive linemen. Against Florida, Alabama's offensive line pass blocked expertly and gave Tide running backs good lanes all day. Against Ole Miss, the story was much different. Center J.B. Closner and right guard B.J. Stabler, in particular, had very rough days against the Rebels. If there's a silver lining to that cloud, it's that Ole Miss has a veteran, quality defensive line that is actually deeper than Alabama's defensive line and has been reasonably stout against the run for much of the year. But the guts of that cloud tell you Ole Miss' defensive line can't hold a candle to Tennessee's front group, which is not only tough against the run, but can rush the passer as well. Alabama's first offensive test since the loss of WR Tyrone Prothro yielded mixed results. The passing game didn't completely bog down, but it lacked a degree of spark, and if D.J. Hall is limited by a back injury this week, things will be even more blasé. On top of that, RB Kenneth Darby couldn't get going, thanks largely to the aforementioned breakdowns in offensive line play. But Tennessee is not a team hitting on all cylinders. The Volunteers come into this game off a dreadful 27-14 home loss to Georgia in which the Vols looked as listless and confused as they ever have. Without CB Jason Allen, Alabama's receivers may actually find this game to be easier sledding than last week. On top of it all, Tennessee is getting horrid performances week in and week out both from its quarterbacks and its special teams. The game figures to be an ugly one, and two weeks ago, it's one I would have said Alabama should win. But Tennessee is still a significant step up, physically, from Ole Miss and Florida, and with Alabama a couple of weapons short, the Tide may come up short. Tennessee 17, Alabama 13



Game within a game: Arkansas RBs vs. Georgia DL

Arkansas brings the sixth-best rushing offense in the country into this game, but the Razorbacks are very one-dimensional and it has caught up to them in big games. Arkansas gave Alabama trouble throughout its game with the Tide, then watched Alabama pull away late and win. The M.O. was the same against Auburn, where the Hogs actually led at halftime only to see the more complete Tigers come roaring back in the second half. Georgia has the eighth-best rushing defense in the country, so this game is going to be strength-on-strength. Arkansas is going to have success running the football at times in this game, and Georgia should be prepared to accept that fact, but the key for the Bulldogs is to limit the number of big runs and the number of big gainers on first down. If Georgia's DL can consistently pin Arkansas into third-and-five situations and worse, UGA should win in a rout. Defensively, Arkansas is poor against both run and pass, and Georgia is ranked 27th nationally in both categories. It's going to be a long day for the Razorbacks unless they can use their running game to gain control of this one early and hold onto it. But with the game on the road and Georgia smelling an SEC championship and possible perfect season, don't look for Arkansas to be successful. Georgia 28, Arkansas 13



Game within a game: Ole Miss DL vs. Kentucky RBs

As Alabama fans got an up-close look at this week, Ole Miss' defensive line is capable of stepping up and taking a game over, if not for the entire length of the contest. Still, that should be enough to gain control of this game against a Kentucky squad that is doing its best to simply hang on. Mercifully, Kentucky had an off-week to heal up and try to forget its 44-16 loss to a mediocre South Carolina team, while Ole Miss nearly missed taking out undefeated Alabama before losing on a last-second field goal. This may be a game that comes down to whoever's head is more in the contest. Kentucky is on the verge of collapse, but Ole Miss is the team dealing with sudden heartbreak. And while it would seem impossible for the 2-4 Rebels to overlook anyone, Kentucky is getting no respect and the Rebels have hated Auburn coming up the following week. As far as the Xs and Os go, however, if Ole Miss' defensive line shows up with anywhere close to the same effort it put forth against Alabama last week, it will shut down Kentucky's only semblance of an offensive threat at the moment, the running game, and stop the upset before it starts. Ole Miss 23, Kentucky 14



Game within a game: South Carolina QB Blake Mitchell vs. Vanderbilt secondary

Actually, this game probably comes down more to a battle of wits between South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier and Vanderbilt head coach Bobby Johnson than it does the players on the field. Vanderbilt has two legitimate shots left to get six wins, South Carolina and Kentucky. If Vandy loses here, the season is likely lost. The same is true for the Gamecocks – to get to six wins, South Carolina has to beat three more teams, and only Vanderbilt, Arkansas and Clemson look beatable if you're a USC fan. So what we'll see in this one is a battle of which coach can motivate his team better. On the field, it will come down to whether a Commodore secondary that is pretty bad can stop South Carolina QB Blake Mitchell or not. Vanderbilt is ranked 72nd in pass defense and 88th in pass efficiency defense, and South Carolina is ranked 45th in passing offense and 18th in passing efficiency. There's little question Spurrier is a more talented coach than Johnson, but Johnson has gotten tremendous clutch performances out his team this year and even had his overmatched Commodores looking respectable for much of their last two games against Georgia and LSU. Were this game in Nashville, Vanderbilt would be a solid favorite, but it's going to be an upset for the Commodores to win in Columbia. Does Vandy believe in itself? Here's saying they do. Vanderbilt 24, South Carolina 23



Game within a game: LSU secondary vs. Auburn QB Brandon Cox

Auburn QB Brandon Cox has thrown for 13 touchdowns and more than 1,500 yards so far this year, but he's also tossed 8 interceptions. The bulk of those came in Auburn's two toughest games to date, against Georgia Tech and Arkansas. LSU will be Auburn's toughest test by far this year, and the biggest question is how good LSU's secondary really is. The Bayou Bengal backfield is a mediocre 58th in pass defense at the moment, but is 11th in pass efficiency defense. LSU has five interceptions, four of them by defensive backs and one by a linebacker. Another game-within-a-game is the LSU DL versus the Auburn OL. This will be the most physical defensive line Auburn has seen since its opener against Georgia Tech, and the Yellow Jackets largely controlled the pace of that game. If Auburn hasn't yet learned from the experience, this game with LSU could get ugly. Auburn has lots of speed on offense, but the Tiger running game hasn't been tested the way it will be tested against LSU. This game will expose both teams for what they really are – whatever that might be. Go with the home team if you're betting. LSU 27, Auburn 21



Game within a game: Mississippi State secondary vs. Houston passing game

Houston comes into this game extraordinarily balanced offensively (28th in rushing, 21st in passing), but at the same time, the Cougars haven't done much in the win-loss column. Houston is 3-3, with understandable losses to Oregon and UTEP and a head-scratcher against Memphis last week. The Cougars have very little rush defense, so expect Bulldog RB Jerious Norwood to have a big day. But the real test will be whether MSU's pass defense – which started the year strongly but has been losing ground swiftly over the past month – can shut down Houston's passing attack. If Mississippi State can, they'll beat Houston easily. The Cougar rushing attack is more of a finesse attack set up by the pass, and without the pass to set it up, the whole machine stops working. But if Houston can throw the ball effectively, Mississippi State will find itself in a track meet, and the Bulldogs probably won't win one of those. The Bulldog secondary must step up. Mississippi State 28, Houston 24


IDLE: Florida  

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