Eli Manning enters the Swamp for the only time in his career this weekend. The task has been compounded by a couple of factors, the first being that Florida has settled on a quarterback. Chris Leak had his moments Saturday, but was plagued by inconsistent play by his wide-outs. Leak did not have a stellar game, but played well enough to lead the Gators back to a win despite trailing 21-3 late. The second hurdle that Eli Manning has to overcome is the play of an abysmal defense. The Rebels, as advertised, have had some major problems stopping their opponents. A secondary like this will certainly help Chris Leak settle in this weekend. He has the 1st start jitters behind him and should settle down this weekend. The main thing the Gators want to avoid is a shoot-out. While Mississippi has had their challenges on defense, their opponents have faced similar struggles slowing down the Eli express. Had it not been for a couple of last minute interceptions, the Rebels would be undefeated.
This one should be an extremely fun game to watch. The Gators have more talent overall and that should be enough to prevail. The task is made a little more difficult by the fact that LB Channing Crowder and DT Kenny Parker are out for this weekend's clash. The Gators should be able to generate a pass rush despite the losses. That will be key in this contest. If Manning is given time to survey the secondary, he will find someone. Last year's game was a 17-14 turnover filled slopfest. Expect much better play this year especially from the Gators.
Florida 31 Mississippi 27
Tennessee at Auburn
This is a great chance for Auburn to get back some of their national credibility. They have a high ranked opponent on their home field again. Let's hope this time they can score. Auburn got the offense going again last week in a blowout win over Western Kentucky. The Tigers bullied the Hilltoppers from the opening gun and forced them to throw the ball, which is certainly not the WKU strong suit.
Tennessee looks good according to early returns. The defense is as fast and as athletic as Volunteer teams are known for being. Casey Clausen is not trying to do too much and his cause is aided by a tremendous running game. Cedric Houston and Jabari Davis have formed a 1-2 punch that can rival any tandem in college football today.
The question in this one is who can establish the run and win time of possession? This one is an old fashioned 3 yards and a cloud of dust type game. Auburn will counter with Williams and Brown, but at some point Jason Campbell must make a play. Coach Tuberville and staff are just hoping Jason Campbell doesn't make a play to cost them the game. They don't want him carrying the load, but what will happen when Campbell must make a play? The biggest difference right now in Auburn's hopes (4-0) and reality (2-2) is the play of Jason Campbell and his disappointing offensive line. The good news is that the Tigers have found themselves in the last few weeks and are 2-0 since the pressures of being a national contender have been taken away. This week will really test the mettle of this team and I don't think they are up to it.
Tennessee 24 Auburn 14
Alabama at Georgia
This ballgame may feature the two most beat up teams in the conference. Alabama has DE Antwan Odom out for the game and MLB Derrick Pope doubtful. Pope will be evaluated Thursday and Friday after practice. His play is made even more valuable with LB Cornelius Wortham also being slowed by injuries. The most notable injury may be to QB Brodie Croyle. Croyle got popped last week and piled upon as he fell awkwardly to the ground. Spencer Pennington got a little relief time and moved the ball a bit against Arkansas. Croyle returned, but could not pull off the upset. Croyle is still hampered by the shoulder, but will play this Saturday. Pennington will be prepared to step in should Croyle not be able to go.
Georgia's injuries are simply too numerous to list. Despite having an off week after the LSU game, the Dawgs are still banged up. The receiving corps has been especially hard hit, but top Dawg Fred Gibson returns this week. The off week gave the Bulldogs an extra week to prepare for the Tide, but also gave them another week to lament the bitter loss at LSU. The Bulldogs are anxious to hit the field and erase the memory of the poor execution the last time out.
Alabama has a huge depth problem. That in itself is nearly enough for the Bulldogs to win this one, especially if it boils down to a battle of attrition. While I think the Bulldogs could run on Alabama, like everyone else has, they will throw it and test the Alabama secondary. David Greene and company need a win to keep pace with Tennessee who are the lone unbeaten in the SEC East. UGA can still control their destiny with a win over UT. They will need a win this week just to make it to that point. Look for Greene and company to get a lead early and run Cooper late.
UGA 27 Alabama 17
Vanderbilt at Mississippi State
A lot of folks have asked me, "Have we have hit bottom yet?" My response is almost always the same, "Well, we haven't lost to Vandy yet!" This weekend features the bottom two teams in the conference and both teams are extremely hungry for a win.
Many folks expected a blowout loss to LSU and many folks got what they expected. Take nothing away from LSU, who looks better every week, but the Bulldogs did themselves in again. An impressive opening drive ended in a turnover. Despite the early adversity the secondary got the ball back and put the offense back on the field. The MSU offense just couldn't put anything together and when a drive showed some promise the turnover bug reared his ugly head.
Despite being put into bad situations most of the night, the much maligned MSU defense came to play versus LSU. The defense only looked like they quit on one play all night and that was on the long pass to Henderson right after a turnover. This game of football is still measured in wins and losses, but the Bulldog defense showed some progress against a very stout Tiger team. LSU had 163 yards rushing and 76 of those yards were on two plays. MSU also held Michael Clayton in check for the most part with the highly regarded receiver making 3 grabs for 31 yards.
The Bulldogs must now take their efforts to a more consistent level and eliminate the turnovers. The Bullies are 114th in the nation in turnover margin and each week this continues to be a problem. Nick Saban stated before last week's game "If MSU can eliminate the turnovers they will be very dangerous." Those are nice sentiments and while I do agree with them, the Bulldogs must do a better job hanging on to the ball.
The real chances to win a few games are diminishing right a long with the players' confidence. It's times like these, teams find out what kind of fans they have. Much has been made over the South Carolina fans support for their team during their losing streak a few years back. Now they can compete with anyone on their schedule. Coach Holtz has remarked over and over about how great the fan base is in South Carolina. We should follow their example and get behind these kids.
I cannot convince myself that MSU can continue to be this unlucky with the bounces of the ball. From a talent standpoint the edge goes to MSU, but the Commodores are expecting to come to Starkville and end their SEC losing streak. They may have the edge in confidence and that makes a huge difference. If the Dogs can reduce the penalties and turnovers their talent should be enough. If it's the same old problems this week as there have been the last several we'll have the same old result. I just don't see that happening. In the event that we lose to Vandy, I'd have to say we've hit bottom, but hey, we've always got the Egg Bowl to look forward to.
Mississippi State 31 Vanderbilt 17
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 email@example.com.