Marshall: AU Vulnerable Vs. Vandy?

Columnist Phillip Marshall analyzes this week's SEC football matchups.

Once the celebration of Auburn's 20-17 victory at Florida last Saturday ended, Auburn coaches began to worry. How would their team, with so many young players, respond to such an emotional victory? Would they be emotionally prepared for this Saturday's game against Vanderbilt at Jordan-Hare Stadium?

With the game just a day away, there is still concern. One coach referred to Auburn's practices this week as "sluggish." If the Tigers are sluggish Saturday against Vanderbilt, all that good feeling from beating Florida could evaporate.

Vanderbilt is a good team. It lost to Alabama when quarterback Chris Nickson was severely hobbled and couldn't effectively run with the ball, the biggest part of his game. The Commodores have cruised to wins over Richmond, Ole Miss and Eastern Michigan.

Nickson and record-breaking wide receiver Earl Bennett, both Alabamians snubbed by the in-state schools, will certainly be driven to pull an upset in their home state. The Commodores have plenty of experience. They have more athleticism and speed than at any time in recent memory.

The Tigers, on the other hand, are severely beaten up. Defensive end Quentin Groves won't play. Neither will tailback/kick returner Tristan Davis. Linebacker Merrill Johnson is doubtful. There are others who will play at significantly less than full-speed.

The Commodores have to believe they are catching Auburn at the best possible time--coming off a bruising win over Florida and awaiting back-to-back trips to Arkansas and LSU. And they might be right.

Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson is looking to lead the Commodores to their first victory over Auburn since 1955.

I expect this to be a nail-biter that won't be decided until the final minutes. If Auburn reverts to its early-season habits and turns the ball over a lot, Auburn will lose. If not, Auburn should win.

My guess is the Tigers get just enough done to escape with a win.

Auburn 23, Vanderbilt 17.

Your fearless picker was 6-2 last week, missing on Florida State's win over Alabama and Auburn's win over Florida. For the year, the record is 30-11.

HOUSTON (2-2) at ALABAMA (3-2): The good news for the Cougars is they average 33.5 points per game. The bad news is they give up 30.5 points per game.

Houston will score some points, but Alabama's offense, which has struggled the past two games against Georgia and Florida State, should get well against that defense. Alabama 38, Houston 21.

FLORIDA (4-1, 2-1) at LSU (5-0, 2-0): Everything points to an LSU victory. LSU is very, very good on defense. Florida is good on offense only when it can hit big plays. LSU is pretty good offense. Florida is not all that good on defense. The game is in Tiger Stadium.

But something tells me this one isn't going to go the way most people expect it to go. I thought Florida was beatable last Saturday and I think LSU is beatable this Saturday.

Call it a hunch...Florida 27, LSU 24.

GEORGIA (4-1, 2-1) at TENNESSEE (2-2, 0-1): Volunteer coach Phillip Fulmer needs a big win in the worst way. His job could depend on it. The Vols had an open date last week to heal up and get ready. The problem is that they aren't a real good team.

I picked Georgia in the preseason to win the East. Georgia 31, Tennessee 21.

LOUISIANA TECH (1-3) at OLE MISS (1-4): Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron needs any kind of win, a big one or a little one. The Rebels have lost four straight since squeezing past Memphis 23-21 in the opener.

It won't be easy, but the Rebels should break through in this one. Ole Miss 28, Louisiana Tech 21.

UAB (1-3) at MISSISSIPPI STATE (3-2): Don't be surprised if this one is close. In fact, don't be surprised if UAB pulls off an upset. Mississippi State 21, UAB 20.

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