The Robertson Report

It's hard to believe the SEC football season is already half over. The conference slate is now in full swing. This Saturday is judgement day for some of the front runners in the SEC West race as well as a few teams scrambling to keep their bowl hopes alive. Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Mississippi State all must win this weekend or their bowl hopes, as well as prospects for a winning season, will nearly be extinguished.

Arkansas @ Georgia

It will be a homecoming for Arkansas linebacker Sam Olajubutu as the Hogs visit Athens. Olajubutu has proven to be a very big bright spot in a season of disappointments so far. The Hog offense may be ripe for a QB change, as Robert Johnson has struggled to provide any type of threat offensively. The running game is more than formidable, but the Razorbacks just don't have enough firepower to compete with Georgia in a shootout.

Georgia's offense just keeps rolling along. D.J. Shockley continues to impress and his willingness to use the tight end has kept defenses off balance. Big tight end Leonard Pope may be the best tight end in the conference. He is big, strong and has soft hands. He punishes tacklers and doesn't have a problem dragging people into the end zone. Just ask Mario Bobo.

This week it is probably too much to expect Arkansas to play with Georgia. The Hogs need a win in the worst way, but it's tough to see Arkansas staying with Georgia unless the Bulldogs turn the ball over a few times. Georgia might be caught looking ahead to the "Cocktail party" next week, but considering how poor Florida has been on offense the Bulldogs should be able to maintain their focus to knock off the Hogs.

Georgia 28 Arkansas 13

Kentucky @ Mississippi

Rich Brooks issued a fiery declaration earlier in the week that he was in no way stepping down as the head football coach at Kentucky. The Cats have been plagued by injuries all season and are still struggling to find the right mix on offense. The Wildcats are last in the SEC in time of possession at just over 25 minutes per game. They will need more cohesiveness if they are to win another game this season. Kentucky is fresh off a bye week and you have to believe the Cats think this is a game they can win.

The Rebs from Oxford enter this weekend's contest hurting from the win that almost was last week over Alabama. Those type of excruciating losses tend to have a lingering effect. Ole Miss seems to be playing up or down to the level of competition. Even the game with the Citadel was a game at the half. If the Rebs continue that trend they may find themselves in some trouble with the Cats. If the Rebs let the Cats hang around and let them begin to believe, then they could lose another one.

These two teams are very similar on both sides of the ball. Andre Woodson and Michael Spurlock are both very mobile and athletic quarterbacks. On defense the Rebs are led by LB Patrick Willis and SS Jamarca Sanford. The Wildcats will counter with their own LB/SS combination of Wes Woodyard and Muhammed Abdullah. This game will probably be too close for most Reb fans' comfort, but the Rebs should find a way to win and keep their slim bowl hopes alive.

Ole Miss 20 Kentucky 17

Tennessee @ Alabama

Finally, Phil Fulmer finds his way back to Tide town after his comments to the NCAA were made public. Fulmer might be the target of some insults and certainly a chorus of boos, but this game is more about the teams on the field isn't it? In the south, college football is a religion and what Fulmer did, some Tide fans consider sacrilege. There probably hasn't been a win the Crimson Nation has wanted more than this one in many years. This one is personal.

Alabama has lost nine of the last ten to the Volunteers and that's a pretty big roadblock on the Tide's road to Atlanta. This one will certainly be emotional and if the Tide doesn't come out pressing too much they should be more than a little okay. They just need to protect the ball on offense and let their defense take over. The Vols haven't played anyone who will hit you in the mouth like Bama will.

After seeing Tennessee play a few times this season it's a somber reminder that the preseason hype that we've all fallen victim to at some point, yours truly included, is just hype. Tennessee looks to be a middle of the road team in the SEC that was lucky to beat LSU. Alabama won't let them hang around, but this may be the most physical football game you see all season.

Alabama 28 Tennessee 17

Vanderbilt @ South Carolina

The glass slipper for the Cinderella Commodores has begun to crack under the weight of the prospects of another losing season. This game is a must win for both teams and the chances of the loser going bowling would be remote with the remaining schedule. Vanderbilt must win this game. Looking ahead you'd have to think the Dores can beat Kentucky, but it would take an upset win on the road of either Florida or Tennessee to get the elusive sixth win.

South Carolina finds themselves at .500 and needs three more wins to get over the hump. The Cocks got Blake Mitchell back last week and it certainly showed as the Cock offense put up 44 points. They may need a similar performance this week. This one could turn into a real barn-burner. The Gamecock defense has been up and down this season and Cutler could provide some unique challenges.

As even as these teams are, it should boil down to whoever protects the ball. During Vandy's four game win streak to begin the season, they averaged thirty points per game. During the current three game losing streak, the Dores are averaging just over twelve points per. They will need to find the magic from earlier in the season to run with the Carolina version of the "fun n' gun".

South Carolina 31 Vanderbilt 20

Auburn @ LSU

This game may not be the marquee match-up that some bill it as. Auburn could be exposed as pretenders this week if LSU can cut down on the turnovers and silly penalties. Auburn is the only team in the SEC that has not played a nationally ranked opponent. The three SEC wins for Auburn are against three teams who have combined for one SEC win. With pastings of Ball State and Western Kentucky to their credit, the Tigers have yet to be challenged.

LSU continues to win despite committing five turnovers against Florida a week ago. LSU is the most penalized team in the SEC. That stat must change if the Tigers hope to run the table. LSU has the league's top rushing defense, which could spell trouble for Auburn's Brandon Cox. If LSU can make Auburn one dimensional like Georgia Tech did, you should see Cox have another tough day.

One of two things will happen this week. LSU will either put it all together and play like a dominant team or the Tigers habit of living dangerously will catch up with them. The home team has won the last five in this series and that shouldn't change this week. Auburn has only ventured off of the plains once this year and it took a second half surge to win that contest. This week it may be ugly, but LSU should win this game and go on to set up a blood letting against Alabama for all the marbles.

LSU 31 Auburn 17

Houston @ MSU

The SEC's most anemic offense will look to get on track against the homecoming visitors of Houston. MSU has only scored eleven touchdowns all season. Only Ole Miss has scored less with nine. If the Bulldogs have any hopes of a winning season they must win this week. Besides the game with Alabama the Bulldogs should have a fighting chance in every game the rest of the way.

Conventional wisdom should tell you that an SEC team should be favored to win over nearly any team from Conference USA, but MSU is 3-3 in the last three seasons against teams from C-USA, including a loss to Houston back in 2003.

In the loss to Houston two years ago Kevin Kolb had a big night. In fact the Cougars got on track early on a deep touchdown pass from Kolb on Houston's first play from scrimmage. The Houston offense seems tailor made to give the Bulldogs trouble. The Cougars like to run a full battery of screen plays and the Bulldogs have had trouble defending them. The Bullies have improved, but if the Bulldogs expect to win this game they must have some success early in slowing down if not stopping the Cougars from screening them to death.

Houston has become a bit more two-dimensional thanks in large part to the emergence of running back Ryan Gilbert. Gilbert had a field day against the same Tulane defense that our own Jerious Norwood found the going a little tough against.

The Cougar defense has caused the offense to have to outscore opponents. Houston gives up over 27 points per game. The Cougars are giving up over 400 yards per game and most of that is through the air. The Cougars are 9th in total defense, 9th in rush defense and 7th against the pass.

As close as the two teams appear to be it may boil down to field position. The punting game will be key and this is an obvious advantage for MSU. Freshman punter Blake McAdams is 2nd in the SEC in net punting at just over 42 per punt, while Houston is averaging a meager 27 net yards per punt.

The MSU offensive line should find some success giving Omarr Conner some time to operate. Houston has recorded just eight sacks on the season and that should prove to be big for the Dogs. Omarr has spent most of the season running for his life. And if the O-line can get a reprieve this week against the Cougars, Omarr and his receiving corps could have a nice day.

Houston has also helped opponents with some untimely penalties. In fact Houston is the most penalized team in Conference USA. By comparison though, Florida and LSU are the most penalized teams in the SEC. They were able to find away to defeat the Bulldogs rather handily in the second half, but those teams are in another league from a talent standpoint than Houston.

The number one thing a struggling offense needs is a struggling defense. The Bulldogs are a point favorite in this game. On paper the Bulldogs should be more. The Bulldogs certainly won't take anything for granted in this one and you know this is a game all Bulldogs counted as one we have to have. The game will boil down to how effective the MSU defense can be against the Cougar spread offense. If the Bulldogs can be reasonable on third down and the Bulldog offense can win the time of possession for a change the Bulldogs will win this game and could win by two possessions.

On offense the Bulldogs must give Omarr time and avoid obvious passing downs. If Norwood ever needed a big night this one is it. It couldn't be scripted better for him. Based on the poor punting of Houston, Jerious may not get many chances in the open field on punt returns, but he should be able to run the ball with some authority, especially if the Bulldogs can complete some balls down the field early.

These games are not played on paper and looking back over the last several weeks the Bulldogs have not made the most of their opportunities. If the Bulldogs don't shoot themselves in the foot they're leading Florida and tied with LSU at the half. All of these years rooting for the Bulldogs I have come to expect us to shoot ourselves in the foot on occasion, but for the life of me I can't figure out why we keep reloading the gun.

MSU 28 Houston 20

Well that's the week. It should be a great week to watch football as nearly every game is very evenly matched. Next week, more of the contenders get into some high cotton. The season is beginning to take shape and the West race could not be more exciting. With Tennessee and Florida wilting Georgia seems head and shoulders better than both. The West has three teams that seem capable of playing toe to toe with Georgia. We'll find out in the coming weeks.

Until next week,

Steve Robertson
John 3:16


Steve Robertson writes The Robertson Report for the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website. Steve's email address is therobertsonreport@hotmail.com.

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