FOOTBALL: Around the Southeastern Conference

With SEC Championship visions on the mind of respective teams in the SEC, we go "Around the Southeastern Conference," to see what's up with each program heading into Saturday's matchups


While the Gators can point to several reasons for their subpar play which has led to the firing of coach Ron Zook, the offense is not apparently one of the major problems.

Florida racked up 458 yards in last week's 31-24 loss against Georgia in Jacksonville, giving the Gators 400 or more total yards in seven of eight games this season. Against the Bulldogs, Florida also managed 211 yards rushing, easily the most allowed by Georgia this year.

But defense? That's been a different story.

"We've given up the big plays, that's the biggest thing," Zook said. "That happens with young people. It doesn't matter what system you play, your players have to execute.

"We're improving slowly. You just try to keep them out of tough situations."

At 4-4 overall and just 2-4 in the SEC, Florida needs two wins in its last three games to become bowl eligible. The Gators visit Vanderbilt Saturday before closing out the season with games against South Carolina and Florida State.

With last week's 31-24 victory against Florida, David Greene tied former Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning for the most wins by a starting QB. Greene is now 39-9 in his career as a Georgia starter and can break the record this week when the Bulldogs play host to Kentucky at 11:30 a.m.

"I don't personally know David Greene but playing against him the last few years, he has shown tremendous leadership," said LSU coach Nick Saban. "He competes with tenacity, he helps his team beat other people because of who he is and how he is. He played fantastic against us."

Greene also set a school record last week in touchdown responsibility with 72 for a career and tied a school mark with 67 career TD passes.

Another Bulldog, defensive end David Pollack, set a school record as well by recording two sacks against Florida to give him 31 for his career.

The Wildcats continue to have little success offensively. Last week, Kentucky managed to keep things close despite scoring just once before two late scores allowed Mississippi State to pull away, 22-7.

"We are a team coming off a loss at Mississippi State that we had a chance to win," said Kentucky coach Rich Brooks. "A game that was close turned into a easy win for State in the last three and a half minutes.

"It was a very disappointing loss and now we're playing a very good team in Georgia. It is a very tough match-up for our very young team."

The Wildcats (1-7, 0-5) have lost 13 of their last 14 meetings against the Bulldogs, with the last win coming in 1996 in Lexington (24-17).

Holtz said he is discouraged by negative-yardage plays, missed assignments and red zone failures that have hampered the Gamecocks. So the sixth-year coach decided to grade Tuesday's practice.

"After last week, the one thing is, we just have to be far more consistent," Holtz said. "It's one guy here and one guy there. We graded every single play at practice yesterday. We graded out 58 percent as a team."

Holtz said he's trying to emphasize that any mistake, major or minor, could be detrimental to South Carolina's quest for bowl eligibility. He said there were mistakes on 42 percent of the plays Tuesday and intended to share the information with his team before Wednesday's practice.

"The one position that did not perform well (Tuesday) was our quarterback," Holtz said. "They just threw the ball absolutely horrendous."

Quarterbacks Dondrial Pinkins (shoulder) and Syvelle Newton (ankle) have been nursing injuries this week, but should be available. In fact, quarterbacks coach Skip Holtz said "you'll see both of them on Saturday."

Tailback Cedric Houston -- a Clarendon native -- rushed for a career-high 190 yards in the Vols' 43-29 win at South Carolina last week. Houston moved up to ninth on the all-time Tennessee rushing list with 2,246 career yards with the performance.

The Volunteers (6-1, 4-1) -- ranked No. 9 in the latest Associated Press poll -- host Notre Dame at 2:30 p.m. Saturday on CBS. It is the first meeting against the Fighting Irish since 2001, when Tennessee won at South Bend, 28-18.

"Our preparation (for this week) to this point has gone fine," said Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer. "Obviously we have a good challenge with Notre Dame, a really good football team. It will be a great setting in Knoxville with a story book team like Notre Dame coming in."

With their latest loss -- a 24-7 setback at LSU -- dropping the Commodores to 2-6 overall, any hopes of a bowl bid in 2004 are out the window.

So what is the toughest part of coach Bobby Johnson's job right now? Keeping his players up for each game? Johnson believes a tough slate on the horizon should keep his team focused down the stretch.

"It's easier because you look at the film and we're playing some quality teams," Johnson said. "You challenge your guys to play hard and get ready for some very tough games which we will face.

"It's tough, but you've got to keep our heads up."

Vanderbilt hosts Florida this week.

"We're coming off a tough loss at LSU. We played well in the first half and did some good things offensively," said Johnson. "We will get ready for a Florida team that can give you some trouble. It will be a tough task for us but we're looking forward to it."


The Crimson Tide were off last week after a 17-13 loss at Tennessee. And Alabama coach Mike Shula thinks the extra practice may come in handy now that a suddenly fired up bunch from Mississippi State will visit Tuscaloosa on Saturday in a game being televised on ESPN2 at 5:30 p.m.

"Our guys are really focused on getting themselves ready to play a good game," Shula said. "Mississippi State is a hot team right now, so we're going to have to be at our best.

"We'll just go out there and put our best foot forward."

Shula believes much like his first Alabama team a year ago, State has just needed some time to adjust to new coach Sylvester Croom's philosophies. But as time has rolled on, the 'Bama coach has seen a big difference in these Bulldogs.

"They are playing with lots of confidence and with a lot of momentum. The sideline is much more enthusiastic," Shula said. "They are much more fundamentally sound and not making as many mistakes defensively. They aren't making the mental mistakes.

"They're getting use to the new system. I think Sly's done a great job getting them a roll right now. That's what you want as a coach is to get your team on a roll and that's what he's done."

Health was a big issue for the Razorbacks in their last couple of games. But with a bye week leading into Saturday's trip to South Carolina, the Hogs appear rested and ready.

"Our guys have had an outstanding week of practice," said Arkansas coach Houston Nutt. "We re just about healthy and that's the biggest thing the open week has given us."

The Razorbacks should have quarterback Matt Jones and fullback Peyton Hillis at or near full strength against the Gamecocks, after both were limited in Arkansas' 20-14 loss against Georgia two weeks ago.

Arkansas has won five of the past six meetings against South Carolina and is 8-4 against the Gamecocks since joining the SEC in 1992.

Last week's 35-14 win at Ole Miss guaranteed No. 3 Auburn at least a share of the SEC Western Division title as well as a spot in the SEC Championship Game.

The Tigers (9-0, 6-0) are off this week before a huge showdown with Georgia takes place in Auburn on Nov. 13.

"We've started preparation for Georgia," said Tigers coach Tommy Tuberville. "We took Monday off and had a good practice (Tuesday). We're trying to get healthy physically and mentally and want to get our game plan down as much as possible before Thursday."

As the third-ranked team in the latest BCS rankings, Auburn needs either some help from Oklahoma or USC or some help from the polls to get a shot at playing for a national championship. But with a tough schedule still remaining, Tuberville thinks things will work out.

"I think people will watch us. Our next three games are on national television so we'll get a lot of publicity," Tuberville said. "We'll wait until after these next two games. I know it will be very interesting as we go through it but these things tend to work out."

Tigers coach Nick Saban believes his team will be best remembered not for what they've done so far, but what they can do from here on out.

"We are very encouraged by the way we played against Vanderbilt. I was encouraged by the spirit we played with, we didn't finish some things but we made some good plays," said Saban. "This team will be remembered on how we finish the season and that starts with the Alabama game."

LSU (6-2, 3-2) has two weeks to prepare for the Crimson Tide after defeating the Commodores, 24-7, last week in Baton Rouge. The Tigers could actually still finish tied atop the SEC West if Auburn were to lose to both Georgia and Alabama.

With back-to-back wins, the Bulldogs are obviously coming along in first-year Sylvester Croom's system. But Mississippi State will try to tackle a whole new challenge when it visits Alabama on Saturday.

"We're coming off the Kentucky win last week. Our defense played well but the offense didn't play well and we're concerned about that," Croom said. "We have some players that are beat up and that is a concern. We don't have as much depth as some.

"We won two SEC games in a row but we haven't won a road game. It will be a difficult task and a great challenge and we're looking forward to it."

Last week's 22-7 victory against Kentucky gave the Bulldogs back-to-back wins against SEC opponents for the first time since the 2000 season. State's 419 yards last week were also the most in a conference game since totaling that same number against Ole Miss in 2002.

Ole Miss will be well-rested when it visits Arkansas on Nov. 13 for a 11:30 a.m. game which will be broadcast on Jefferson Pilot Sports. The Rebels are open this week and are off for the second time in the last three weeks.

"We're practicing Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of this week. Yesterday's practice was real good and I hope it shows what the rest of the week will bring." said Ole Miss coach David Cutcliffe.

With last week's loss to Auburn, the Rebels (3-5) must win out to qualify for a bowl game this season. After visiting Arkansas, Ole Miss closes out with LSU and Mississippi State.

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