Northern Illinois at Alabama
Coach Mike Shula will welcome Northern Illinois to Bryant-Denny Stadium, but his welcome is not as hospitable as once planned. NIU defeated nationally ranked Maryland in overtime back in week one. Week three saw NIU put up 42 points in a win over Tennessee Tech. You'll have to forgive Coach Shula if he seems a little distracted right now. This NIU team could spell trouble for the Tide.
Alabama broke out in a big way against Kentucky last week. The Tide offense got another huge lift from HB Shaud Williams. Williams may be the player to watch on the young season. Williams has been selected SEC player of the week twice in three weeks. Williams will look to backfield mate QB Brodie Croyle for some help in the big play department. Croyle is averaging just over 200 yards passing, but in this offense that may be enough. The Shula scheme is a far cry from the 5 wide ring 'em and sling 'em offense Mike Price had planned. It will be interesting to see if the Tide will look to open it up a bit against the NIU secondary.
While this game may be a struggle for 3 quarters, Alabama will simply outclass NIU. To a man, the skill people are much, much better. The Tide defense appears to get stingier with every passing week. This may be a new season low in points. Look for the Tide to really send the heat, because the have the secondary to pull it off.
Alabama 24 NIU 7
North Texas at Arkansas
Somebody say Sooooooooiiiiiiiieeeeeeeeeeeee! Strike up the band, the Hogs are rolling! The defending SEC West champs showed that they have designs on getting back to the Georgia Dome this season with a convincing win over old nemesis Texas. One of the knocks on Longhorn football the past few years is that they lose a tough game early that costs them national recognition. Well, they didn't just lose to the Hogs, that got bullied all over the field.
Cedric Cobbs looks to be finally living up to his expectations. Cobbs has erupted and is currently one of the top backs in the nation. A couple more marquee wins and he may emerge as a darkhorse in the Heisman balloting. He has the potential. He'll get the touches. And behind the big offensive line, it could happen. If the Hogs want to make the return trip to Atlanta, they'll need more big play from Matt Jones. Matt Jones had a very nice 1st half and his success through the air kept the Longhorn defense honest. This combination could prove fatal for the other teams in the SEC West race.
The Hogs focus on another Texas team this week, in the North Texas Mean Green. NT has been to the New Orleans Bowl two straight seasons and look to make it a third this year. The defense has been feast or famine. They held Baylor to 14 and then gave up 34 and 37 in the other two contests this season. They have trouble against the run and the suddenly well-balanced Hogs should have no problem putting up 30+ again this week. Hogs need to stay healthy, look for the starters to be pulled sometime in the late 3rd quarter.
Arkansas 38 North Texas 10
Georgia at LSU
Georgia absolutely devoured South Carolina last week. USC had given UGA fits they last few years, but this one was pretty much decided by the halftime whistle. LSU led only 13-7 mid way through the 3rd quarter before exploding to a 35-7 blowout over Western Illinois. LSU must get a better start this week or the quick starting Bulldogs may put the Tigers in a come-from-behind situation pretty early.
The Bulldogs from Athens have only surrendered 17 points through 3 games. Their defense is led by SEC player of the year David Pollack. Pollack is the heart and soul of the defense and they all key off of his play. He will be all over the field in this one, running down plays from behind.
Matt Mauck, 8-1 as a starter, has shown exceptional efficiency thus far. His favorite target, Michael Clayton, is the league's top producing wideout to date. The running game is capable and Joseph Addai and Shyrone Carey will split time at back. Addai has had a little trouble with fumbles, but will certainly play. If Carey has similar results to last week's game expect to see him get the bulk of the work.
A huge key for LSU's defense will be how they handle the play action. David Greene has the best play action fakes in the nation. LSU's secondary is young and for the most part inexperienced It will be interesting to see how the safeties react. CB Corey Webster should be avoided by the Dawgs. He led the league in picks a year ago and already has taken the #1 spot again thanks to two more interceptions a week ago. This one will be a fight, but LSU is famous for playing bad in day games at home. I like UGA to pull out a close one behind the calm and steady Greene.
Georgia 24 LSU 21
Tennessee at Florida
This used to the conference's best game. The visitors have reigned supreme in the last few seasons, but Coach Phil Fulmer still can't get over the hump when it comes to the Gators. Fulmer is 3-8 all-time versus Florida. Last season was supposed to be the Vols coming out party, but they got shelled at home by Florida in the pouring rain. The team never really recovered from that loss.
Ron Zook has his offense clicking. They are putting up huge points and would be in the top 10 had it not been for a late rally by Miami. The Volunteer defense will put up a little more resistance then the FAMU Rattlers did last week. It will be interesting to see how the QB merry-go-round spins this week at Florida. Chris Leake is certainly the heir apparent, but if Martin can hang in there and get a win, Leake will just have to wait his turn.
The Vols need to run the ball with more success than Miami did. Tennessee has Casey Clausen, but he doesn't have the firepower to score points in bunches through the air. Clausen is a good QB and he will steady his troops this weekend. It will take his leadership and some breaks to pull this one out. UF collapsed in the national spotlight last time. They will redeem themselves this time. Look for UF to get up early and hold off the Vols late.
Florida 27 Tennessee 23
Kentucky at Indiana
Something is wrong at Kentucky! I don't now if it's the stress of probation or the new system, but something is definitely wrong. The Wildcats look lost out there. I know they miss Artose Pinner's running ability, but they are very predictable. A couple of more losses and UK may go into the tank.
The best thing for a struggling team is an old whipping boy opponent. UK has won 7 of 8 from the Hoosiers and will look for another win at Bloomington this weekend.
Indiana Coach Gerry Dinardo is 6-4 all-time against UK, but dropped last year's contest in Lexington. The Hoosiers need a win in the worst way. IU will enter Big 10 play in the coming weeks where they'll certainly get pounded. Things have been tough, but when former Notre Dame QB Matt Lovecchio transferred in things got a little rosier. Gerry D. has a proven passer, which is something he has never had in his collegiate career. Indiana rolled up 33 points last week behind the big arm of Lovecchio. He will need a nice game if IU looks to win this shootout.
Dinardo was always had a good scheme for UK. In fact he was 4-0 against the Cats while at Vandy. I look for the Hoosiers to win this one in front of the home crowd in a track meet of sorts. Both of these teams can throw and neither can play defense.
Indiana 42 Kentucky 31
Vanderbilt at TCU
Vanderbilt caught Auburn at the wrong time a week ago. The Tigers pounded the hapless Commodores unmercifully. Vandy won't get any time to lick their wounds as they face another physical team in the TCU Horned Frogs. The 19th ranked Frogs have a strong ground game similar to Auburn's, but lack the depth the Tigers do. If last week's running bonanza is any sign of things to come, the 'Dores can expect just about everybody to line it up and run it.
Vanderbilt will look for QB Jay Cutler to get back on track this week. Cutler had two very nice games in the first two weeks. He will need some improved play from his offensive line if Vandy is to keep this one competitive. Cutler ran for his life most of the day last Saturday. Vanderbilt may have some trouble running the ball. If they do, it could spell doom for a win against TCU. The Frogs are a little soft in the secondary and will bite on the play action, but you have to make them play run defense first. I don't think they will be able to keep the Horned Frogs honest without it.
TCU 28 Vandy 17
UAB at South Carolina
Watson Brown will lead his Blazers into Williams-Brice stadium where everyone in black and garnet are still wondering what happened last week. The 'Cocks blowout UVA one week and get blown out by a similar score courtesy of UGA the following week. The Gamecocks are young and unseasoned. USC is only completing passes at a dismal clip of 42%. One-dimensional teams can't compete in this league. They'll get to work on the passing game a good bit this weekend.
UAB has found the going a little rough. The Blazers are very young and are taking their lumps in hope of a better season next year. UAB has already lost to Southern Miss 17-12 and Troy State 20-9. The Troy State game saw the Blazers turn the ball over 5 times. These games have been competitive and some youthful mistakes have cost them dearly. This team has some talent, but just needs some reps.
Lou Holtz would like a much easier ride with this non-conference opponent than he got from UL-Lafayette in week one. Look for USC to open things up a bit to get some confidence back before beginning SEC play in earnest. This one should be an ugly one as QB Pinkins is learning on the fly. I won't be shocked if UAB actually leads in this game, but I would be shocked if they lead late.
USC 23 UAB 17
Mississippi State at Houston
As I made my way to my car in the Superdome parking lot last Saturday night, I thought to myself how distant my memories of the Snow Bowl had suddenly become. A 2000 team that beat two previously unbeaten top 10 opponents in successive weeks to a 2001 team that was pre-season top 10 in some publications to a 4th quarter collapse in a game versus a C-USA team that the young Bullpups should have won. Yes, my friends the Snow Bowl was a long, long time ago.
Contrary to popular belief, I think the Bulldogs are a much better team than last season's squad. The offense features a host of playmakers in Fant, Jenkins, Turner and Norwood. There seems to be no shortage of people on the offensive side of the ball that are willing and capable of making plays. 28 points against Tulane despite the Losman hype should have been enough to win.
Much has been made of the fateful drive after Tulane cut the lead to 28-21 that was low-lighted by long incompletions on 2nd and 3rd down. Hindsight is 20/20, but to be honest I thought we needed another score to win. Tulane had a full complement of time outs and we needed to run nearly 5 minutes of the clock. MSU only had one drive all night that lasted more than 5 minutes and that was a 13-play drive that ended in a field goal in the 2nd quarter.
I'm not trying to defend the decision to throw it, but I do understand the reasoning behind it. Averaging over 5 yards a carry, one would wonder why we would ever throw it. When the game is on the line people have to make plays. Nick the Quick had 20 carries and nearly 200 all-purpose yards. I would have ridden him and his hot hand until the game was in hand or he had to come out, but I have the luxury of hindsight. I actually thought the pass to Hargro on 3rd down was going to be caught. If that pass is completed the game, for all intents and purposes, is over. We had several more chances to make a play later in the game and just couldn't come up with one.
In my estimation the biggest area of concern is that despite having the SEC's leading tackler in T. J. Mawhinney, we lack playmakers on defense. When we needed a stop late, we couldn't get one. Now let's get one thing straight right out of the gate: The Bulldog defense played lights out compared to the performance against Oregon. Hats off to the coaches, but we still haven't played well enough to win. Our tackling could best be described as dragging people down as opposed to knocking people down. This week and the rest of the season I'd like to see the ball carrier fall backwards instead of forward. I'd like to hear the crowd wince in pain as a WR goes across the middle and gets cracked. I want to see some folks get hit and have to wait a second or two before getting up. I don't want to see anyone injured, but ringing people's bell is part of football. In fact, it is a huge part of football.
My position coach at Columbia High School, Chuck Lick, told me once that he didn't care if it cost us 15 yards early in the game, we were going to hit the QB. Not a cheap shot, but some contact to set the tone and let him know we would be back. I didn't get to play as much as I would have liked, but everytime I stepped on the field I remembered what Coach Lick said about hitting people with bad intentions and letting them know you were the better man. I think our Bulldogs may need to take a little of Coach Lick's advice. When you hit people let them know you mean it.
The Bulldogs travel to Houston, TX to play old rival Houston this week. The Cougars play in Robertson Stadium oddly enough. I know some people are saying this game is not a must win, but from where I sit, it certainly is. Our offense is clicking and our defense has played 3 quarters of football in two straight games. The one thing our offense must do better is eliminate the turnovers. The offense put the ball on the turf 5 times last week and lost three. They were all big plays and were all drive-killers, none more important than the others. We won't need a mistake-free football game to beat Houston, but it couldn't hurt our prospects one bit if we led the take-a-ways and left the give-a-ways to them.
One thing is certain for the Bulldog defense: They will be tested through the air again and again. Houston likes the deep ball, but struggle to hit it with any regularity. They have a Goliath of a QB and some cheetahs as WRs. We will have to bottle them up and hit the quarterback. Having defensive tackle Kamau Jackson back should help as we slide Tommy Kelly back outside.
The Cougar defense has been a little suspect against the run. If our O-line continues to gel, Nick Turner should have another huge day. The ground game will be central to our whole gameplan. We must control the line of scrimmage and the time of possession. In the 3rd quarter last week we did just that. If we can maintain some intensity for 60 minutes, we'll win this one.
MSU 31 Houston 21
Well folks, that's how I see them. I trust and hope this will be a better week for Bulldog fans everywhere. If you can make it to the game, do so. If we are to have a winning season or a .500 season, we have to win this one. 3 of the next 4 appear to be winnable. We have a real shot at being 3-3 at the halfway point, but we have to win this weekend for that to even be a realistic possibility.
Until next week,
Steve Robertson is a free-lance correspondent who writes The Robertson Report for the premium site portion of Gene's Page. Steve's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.