The SEC takes center stage this Thursday night with a nationally televised contest between two squads scratching for their 1st SEC win of the year. Both of these squads still have Vanderbilt left on the schedule, so all is not lost for the loser.
USC has had a tough time on offense. Earlier in the season they destroyed nationally ranked Virginia. Since that time the Gamecocks have had trouble moving the football. Two weeks ago USC suffered another bitter loss at the hands of Tennessee. They've had the bye week to put the loss behind them and to refocus on the rest of the season. Holtz and company need an ugly game in order to keep it close.
The Wildcats have had their own share of heartache. Despite outplaying Florida for 3 and half quarters, the Cats took a loss. One thing Kentucky has done this season is limit the big play. They'll need to generate some big plays of their own to win on the road. This one will be close and these squads are pretty close to even. In close games things like special teams make the difference and when you look at special teams you have to give UK the nod thanks to Derek Abney.
Kentucky 21 South Carolina 13
Arkansas State at Mississippi
Arkansas State makes their trip to Oxford this year as a sacrificial lamb. This game is basically already over it's just a question now if someone is going to get hurt. I won't waste a lot of time analyzing this match-up, but I would like to point out that the Rebels are now tied for 1st in the SEC west. It is difficult to imagine them remaining at the top, but this could be the year the Rebels get over the .500 mark in the SEC. You have to expect they'll upset somebody, but in order to get to 5-3 they'll have top upset two teams and win the Egg bowl. I don't think they'll do either, but I didn't think they'd beat Florida. What will be most interesting is whether or not the Rebels can stop teams that can run the football. They'll find out soon enough. At this point I think they can beat Alabama and the Egg bowl is a toss-up. That leaves an upset or two. Don't be surprised if Eli keeps the undermanned Rebs in the race for a few weeks.
Mississippi 42 Arkansas State 10
Florida at LSU
The natives here in Baton Rouge get real restless when their ball games get rescheduled to day games to accommodate television. I can't imagine they'll mind too much, since the last time CBS came to town the Tigers upset previously unbeaten Georgia. This game is not as eagerly anticipated, but the folks down here still hate Florida. Steve Spurrier made quite an impression on those who bleed purple and gold. In a lot of ways this one's still personal.
Florida is a team trying to figure out who they are and if they have a realistic chance of going to a major bowl this season. This weekend's game will go a long way in determining the Gator's holiday plans. Ron Zook and his staff are under fire from all angles. A big loss this weekend and the Swamp may become infested with even more hostile fans. The only problem for Zook and company is that they may be the Gatorbait.
If LSU can get an early lead in this game it could get ugly. Chris Leak is learning on the fly and there are a lot more forgiving places than Death Valley. Florida needs a good start and need to establish a running game. This will take the pressure of Leak. LSU has had two full weeks to get ready for this contest. Their blitz package should have a few new wrinkles. If Leak is forced to win this game he won't. He just can't at this point in his development. He is very smooth with his delivery, but he throws into coverage way too much.
LSU will be without jitterbug Shyrone Carey. This is huge. He is the only tailback to not have problems fumbling the football. Addai will get the start and hard charging Vincent will be the number 2. If LSU can get man-to-man coverage in the secondary look for another big game for Devery Henderson as Michael Clayton gets most of the attention.
LSU 28 Florida 17
USM at Alabama
This game has normally been very hotly contested. This weekend both teams will take the field with back-up QBs at the helm. Alabama has had some major problems winning at home. Hosting USM may be the last real chance the Tide has to win a home game. Things are that bad and seem to keep getting worse.
This game will boil down to the play of two players: Alabama's Brandon Avalos and USM's Rod Davis. The more snaps Avalos takes the better the chances are for the Golden Eagles. Alabama must stay away from Davis if they hope to win. If Davis can cause a commotion it will free up his teammates to pressure the young Avalos or the injured Croyle. Shula is playing the cards real close to the vest, but I expect Avalos to start since this is a non-conference game. While Alabama isn't eligible for a bowl game a winning season is still expected in Tuscaloosa.
This game will be an ugly win and will basically go as Shaud Williams goes. If Shaud Williams has a big game like last year then the Tide may be ok. If USM can stop the run and force the Alabama QB committee to beat them they have a great chance. I think the Alabama defense will rise to the occasion. It won't be fun to watch, but this one will be a close one.
Alabama 17 USM 13
Navy at Vanderbilt
The chances for the Commodores to win a game are rapidly disappearing. The Vandy faithful had last weekend's game with MSU earmarked as the game to end their horrid SEC losing streak. The game certainly could have swung their way. Many folks left scratching their heads as to why the 'Dores didn't kick the field goals. I don't know if the kicker was hurt, he looked ok on the extra points, or what the deal was. All I know is that the MSU losing streak is over.
Navy can run the football. They run the ball almost exclusively. The Midshipmen got a win last week over rival Air Force. They'll need a similar effort this weekend to win at Nashville.
I expect the Commodores to come out on fire after last week's loss. If they don't come out hot they may get run over. Cutler and company need to make sure they hang on to the football this week, because it will be very difficult to win time of possession. Vanderbilt must take full advantage of their possessions. They will not get as many chances as they did a week ago.
Vanderbilt 28 Navy 17
Auburn at Arkansas
The Hogs are running wild. Arkansas has had the Tigers number the last couple of years in a big, big way. Last year's blowout win over Auburn was the springboard to a very strong second half of the season that saw the Razorbacks make it to the SEC Championship game.
Auburn has the bugs in the offense worked out. For three straight weeks the Tigers have moved the ball at will. Last week, with the game on the line, the Tigers rode Carnell Williams to victory. The stable of tailbacks at Auburn will need to control the tempo again this week if they expect to keep the momentum going the way of the War Eagles.
Arkansas is due for a let down. Auburn is streaking and playing with renewed confidence. The Tigers basically shutdown the Volunteer running game and limited Casey Clausen to only a few series of any success. Call it a gut feeling, but I like the Tigers in the upset. I don't think Arkansas is ready to run the gauntlet of the SEC west and the Auburn defense will limit the Matt Jones free-lancing.
Auburn 28 Arkansas 24
Georgia at Tennessee
The winner of this game will win the SEC east. Both teams control their own destiny, but the loser will need some help especially if it's Georgia. Tennessee already has Florida behind them and the Dawgs still have their annual meeting in Jacksonville in a few weeks. This race is down to two teams already. Florida will be essentially out of the race after this weekend and Vandy, USC, and UK never really were contenders.
The Vols need a strong rebound and need to find some offensive firepower. Despite being outplayed by Florida through three quarters the Vols won. Despite a poor showing with USC the Vols won. A poor showing last week resulted in a loss to Auburn. A poor showing this week and the Vols might get blown out. Casey Clausen and company must find a way to put the ball in the end zone and not be content to move it between the 20s.
The Vol defense will get a lift of sorts as Tyson Browning makes his 1st start at tailback for the Georgia Bulldogs. The Dogs have been bit hard by the injury bug, and the attrition has forced some reserves into the fray. UGA doesn't pretend to be as balanced this year, but anything Browning can give them will help. The game will be won or lost on Georgia's ability to throw the football. David Greene will not be intimidated with Neyland stadium and he always seems to play well in big games.
Georgia 24 Tennessee 17
Memphis at Mississippi State
Memphis begins a three game road trip this week with a visit to Starkville. It will be a homecoming of sorts for former defensive coordinator Joe Lee Dunn. It's hard to ignore the sub plots, but they are secondary to the actual game. Despite anyone's personal feelings this game will have a winner and loser. Many folks have suggested that this game is huge for Coach Jackie Sherrill and Joe Lee Dunn. To them it may be, but they won't meet at the 50-yard line for a duel, an arm wrestling contest, or a battle royal. The players will do battle and this is where the true emphasis belongs.
The biggest match-up in this game will be Memphis QB Danny Wimprine against the Ron Cooper defense. Memphis likes to sling it and MSU has had some problems with teams that are a little trigger-happy. The MSU D line should have an athletic advantage over the Memphis offensive line. This battle will go a long way in deciding this game. If the Tigers can give Wimprine time this one could become a shootout. If Tommy Kelly and friends can get some pressure on the QB it will make the secondary's job much easier.
DeAngelo Williams will be a huge factor in this contest. MSU must limit his production and must be able to control him with the front seven. If the safeties have to pull up to play run defense it opens up the play-action. Our young secondary has had more than it's share of problems with play action. One sign of hope is that Odell Bradley has done a much better job of staying with his man and as a result has limited some of the big plays.
How will Kevin Fant play against the JLD defense? Kevin had the chance to study this system first hand for three years, so he is probably more prepared than any Quarterback outside of Baton Rouge to compete against this system. Kevin's ability to check into the correct play will make or break this team. I almost can smile a bit when I think of Justin Jenkins being covered one-on-one by a Memphis Tiger.
Joe Lee will get his plays and Kevin will get his. The biggest thing to consider is that Joe Lee doesn't have the athletes at Memphis he had at State. That's not a backhanded comment about the Tiger's players it's just that the players at State were hand picked for the JLD defense. The Tiger's don't quite have the personnel to be proficient in this system, but they will sooner rather than later.
The JLD system has always been great against the run. Nick Turner and Jerious Norwood will have to bring a huge effort to mirror their early season success. The blitz pick-ups will be a huge part of the game-plan especially on 3rd down. The chess game between Morris Watts and Joe Lee Dunn will be well worth the price of admission. These two teams know each other very well almost too well. One would have to wonder if Coach Watts telephoned his old friend Nick Saban to help crack the code of the JLD system.
This one, last year withstanding, is usually a close one. I expect a similar game and it's tough to know which team will show up for MSU. Turnovers were better last week, but still far from flawless. The MSU offense will be tested and audibles will be a huge factor. The MSU defense will be tested and pass coverage and pass rush will decide the game. I think the Dogs will be way up for this game and will make enough plays to win the game. You have to remember while Joe Lee Dunn has had this game circled on his calendar since he took the job at Memphis, there were about 100 people wearing maroon and white who circled it the same day!
MSU 31 Memphis 21
Well folks that's how I see them. Let's get behind these kids and reward them for a hard fought victory last week with a capacity crowd this week. A win this week and 6 wins are still a possibility. The Bulldogs must show some improvement and build on last week's success if they are to continue winning.
I got to hear Coach Felker speak last year and he told a story about how when he was a player how much it meant to him to sit in that locker room and hear those cowbells ring before a game. The fans do make a difference! This week it may come down to the home crowd advantage. These Dogs want to win just as badly as we all do and probably more so. I know I was at home in the a/c when these kids were out there during two-a-days. They need us now!
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.