Last week, Kentucky came out and played Florida jaw to jaw for much of the first half of their contest with the top-ranked Gators in Lexington. And while the 'Cats finally succumbed to the Florida talent and speed, they showed the first signs of transition from a defenseless, offensively mad Hal Mumme team, to a disciplined, physical Guy Morriss squad. Defensive Coordinator John Goodner was superb at Texas Tech under Spike Dykes, and he will get the young Wildcat secondary off the mat sooner or later.
The recovery might indeed have to wait until later, however, as Eli Manning has taken control of the Ole Miss Rebel offense, burning Auburn for 21 second-half points two weeks ago on the Plains. He is going to be great, and his lightning-strike skills may be called upon again this Saturday afternoon as UK will try to turn up the heat early and often. OLE MISS 34, KENTUCKY 27
The Hogs and the Dogs will try to make a game of it Saturday Between the Hedges in Athens, and for both teams this one is a must-win. Georgia hasn't played in three weeks since they lost at home to South Carolina. Arkansas has traveled a miserable road in recent weeks, losing at home in the rain to UT and last week at Alabama during Coach Fran's SEC coming-out party.
Quarterback play is still killing the Pigs. Zak Clark appears to again be the player of last resort this week as Ryan Sorahan will sit out with a back injury sustained against the Tide. Running back is still sound, however. Sophomore Brandon Holmes looks to take up any slack left by Cedrick Cobbs and Fred Talley.
Freshman David Greene is no doubt the starting signal caller for Georgia, but he will be severely tested Saturday afternoon by a fiercely-quick Razorback secondary. The key to this game will be how the Georgia running game produces behind the efforts of talented sophomore Musa Smith. If Arkansas can control Smith and the ball, they could get the upset. GEORGIA,17 ARKANSAS 15
The Gators finally get to stretch their muscles on CBS Saturday afternoon against a team that pounded them senseless in Starkville last fall. Late in that game, however, freshman quarterbacks Rex Grossman and Brock Berlin, opened up a can of beat deep on the Bulldogs, wildly striking for several garbage-time touchdowns, while State Coach Jackie Sherrill watched uneasily on the sidelines.
State star running back Dicenzo Miller likely will not play because of injury, but it wouldn't matter if he did. The Gator aerial attack will be on like bombs on Baghdad, and it won't be during garbage time either. FLORIDA, 38 MISSISSIPPI STATE 20
Finally, LSU gets center stage Saturday night as ESPN prime time pits the Bengal Tigers of fire-eyed Coach Nick Saban against perennial conference powerhouse Tennessee. The Vols are playing without star receiver Donte Stallworth for a second straight game and will rely heavily on all-world, do-it-all talent Kelley Washington. Eric Parker is injured but should play, and Louisiana speedster Leonard Scott may give the Vols a big boost on both kickoff returns and at wideout.
Much-ballyhooed QB Casey Clausen is still wincing under heavy fan criticism for sloppy performances against Syracuse and Arkansas. The Vol running game has held steady behind senior Travis Stephens, and the defense has done its job as well, albeit against relatively anemic offensive teams.
LSU has done nothing out of the ordinary so far, as victories over Utah State and Tulane were fan-stroking, home-field butt kickers. Since the Bengals lost their early-season opportunity to show their stuff at home against Auburn two weeks ago, the season now begins in Knoxville. Much expectation and the hope for an SEC West Championship have been placed on the broad shoulders of senior QB Rohan Davey who hasn't disappointed yet, completing well over 60 percent of his passes in his first two games. Last winter, at the Georgia Dome, he lit up the highly-regarded Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket defense for a huge upset win. So the mountain road should not intimidate the Ragin' Rastafarian. This one should be a thriller, not unlike last year's overtime Bengal barn burner. TENNESSEE 32, LSU 30
In two tough SEC road wins at Georgia and Mississippi State, the 'Cocks have walked the straight and narrow, spawning hopes of a season now pregnant with possibilities of championships and bowl games. Those wins came in situations where the Gamecocks were the underdog aggressors, taking advantage of high home-field expectations. Well, maybe both sets of Bulldogs simply played the feminine roles of a couple of cheap dates, but the Cocks out-scored both of them nevertheless.
Saturday is a new day for Carolina, however, as Coach Fran makes like Hannibal, riding into Columbia on the backs of his rejuvenated Elephants, who plan a little bird hunt of their own. This field trial will not come unexpected, though, as South Carolina will not easily forget the cheating and the beating Bama put on them last year in Tuscaloosa. SOUTH CAROLINA 17, ALABAMA 16
For all the preseason talk of talent and determination, the youthful Auburn Tigers couldn't overcome the national sentiment and their own mistakes during last Saturday's 31-14 loss at Syracuse. Perhaps the best-disguised 1-2 team in America, The 'Cuse had poor offensive statistics coming in because it had played against the two Top-5 defenses of Tennessee and Georgia Tech. They also had played very well on defense in all three losses. Those things combined with the suffocating confines of the home-field Carrier Dome and new starting quarterback R.J. Anderson to do in the disappointed Tigers, who, nonetheless showed a little something of their own by out-gaining the Orangemen 354 yards to 300.
Saturday night in Nashville, Auburn will discover what kind of personality it will have as a football team in 2001. There will be time during the game for a young Tiger team to grow up against an underestimated opponent, led by senior signal-caller Greg Zolman, who will finish his career this fall as Vanderbilt's all-time leading passer. Commodore receivers M.J. Garrett and Dan Stricker will combine with senior running back Lew Thomas (nine yards per carry) to test the so-far somewhat inconsistent Tiger defense. Auburn will have to respond. The young Tigers have faster players and a deeper bench. But still, Auburn will have to respond.
The point of keen interest in this game will once again be the play of redshirt freshman QB Jason Campbell. Campbell has shown enormous talent at times already this season, and how he reacts to Vandy's "Woodyball" blitzing scheme will be a key to Auburn's success Saturday night. The Commodores have remedied the middle of their rush defense by moving redshirt freshman linebacker Pat Brunner into the spot held last year by All-SEC performer Jamie Winborn. Still, this defense is not as fast or athletic as last year's version, which held Auburn in check fairly well in the game played last fall.
Also, Tiger receivers should find opportunities to exploit the middle of the VU secondary, which has shown soft coverage in every game so far, for fear of a poor pass rush from the defensive line. The 'Dores have yet to face a true down-field passer this year, and they have looked terrible against the deep ball when it has been tried by MTSU and Richmond. For Vandy it will be live-and die-by the blitz. For Auburn, it should be a victory. And night time is the right time to play Vanderbilt. AUBURN 31, VANDERBILT 17.