What to watch in the SEC: Week 10

November, 4, 2010
11/04/10
10:49
AM ET
You wanted a little November drama in the SEC divisional races. Well, you get it.

Both sides are still up for grabs.

Here’s a look at what to watch in the SEC in Week 10:

Nick Saban
AP Photo/Wade PayneCoach Nick Saban and Alabama are preparing for another late-season push to the BCS title game.
1. BCS watching: It was about this time a year ago, coming out of a bye week, that Alabama took off and played its best football of the season. The Crimson Tide were dominant defensively down the stretch. Well, here they are again. They might not be quite as high in the BCS standings, but they’re in position after moving up to No. 6 this week. Their remaining schedule is demanding, with three Top 20 teams, but they need that if they’re going to continue moving up the BCS standings into one of those top two spots. In Alabama’s last five games a year ago, counting the SEC championship game, the Crimson Tide didn’t give up more than 21 points and held teams to an average of 10.4 points. We find out starting Saturday at LSU if the Tide can go on one of those runs again.

2. Discovering the pass: It’s a familiar theme for LSU, at least this season. Can the Tigers find enough firepower in their passing game to keep Alabama’s defense honest? LSU coach Les Miles said the Tigers would again rotate Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee at quarterback. Combined, they passed for just 89 yards in their last game against Auburn. Alabama will load the box and dare LSU to throw the football. The Tigers don’t have to throw for 250 yards to win, but they do need to hit a few big plays in the passing game to spread out that Alabama defense. That's easier said than done. LSU is ranked 113th nationally in passing offense and has just five touchdown passes and nine interceptions in eight games.

3. Julio vs. Peterson: Sit back and enjoy, because this will be the last time you see them on a college football field together. Alabama receiver Julio Jones and LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson have been going at it since they were freshmen. They’re two of the best at their positions in all of college football, and they’re also fierce competitors. Jones made a key catch over Peterson as a freshman to set up the winning touchdown. Peterson shut Jones down last season … with one exception. Peterson was out of the game with cramps, and Jones took a short swing pass and raced 73 yards for a touchdown to turn the game around. Get ready for Round 3 on Saturday. The next round will be in the NFL.

4. Fresh legs for Ingram: More than ever, Alabama running back Mark Ingram should have fresh legs for this final month of regular-season games. Not only are the Crimson Tide coming off a bye week, but he’s only carried the ball 85 times all season, averaging 14.1 carries per game. His backfield partner, Trent Richardson, has carried it even less. Richardson is averaging just 10.7 carries through eight games. A year ago, Ingram carried the ball 271 times and averaged nearly 20 carries per game. You can bet that Alabama will look to get both Ingram and Richardson cranked up these last four games, which should open up the passing game that much more.

5. Answering the call on ‘D’: South Carolina is better defensively than it’s shown. The Gamecocks are more talented in their secondary than they’ve shown. It’s time they start playing that way if they want a shot at an SEC championship. Ellis Johnson’s defense has done some things very well this season, like stopping the run. The Gamecocks are first in the SEC in rushing defense and have only given up four rushing touchdowns all season. But they’re last in passing defense, which will be where Saturday’s game with Arkansas is decided. Getting pressure on Ryan Mallett will be a must; fortunately for the Gamecocks, rushing the passer has also been a strength. The Gamecocks lead the SEC with 30 sacks. It’s covering people that has been their problem.

6. Playing without Childs: Losing a receiver the caliber of Greg Childs would take its toll on any team. He was easily one of the best four or five receivers in a league full of great receivers. But if any team can overcome such a loss, it’s Arkansas. The Hogs like their group of young receivers, and they’re hopeful Joe Adams has recovered enough from the ankle injury that sidelined him last week to be able to play Saturday against South Carolina. Sophomore Cobi Hamilton and freshman Julian Horton might have to play bigger roles against the Gamecocks, but both are extremely talented. The other thing is that quarterback Ryan Mallett naturally spreads the ball around. He completed passes to eight different players last week.

7. Keeping them guessing: South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier isn’t really saying who’s going to call the plays Saturday, or for that matter, the rest of the season. The Head Ball Coach said a couple of weeks ago that it was going to be more of a “community effort” among the coaches. He came back after that and said he needed to be the one calling most of the plays these last few weeks. Now, he’s saying nobody’s really going to know because different coaches specialize in different parts of the offense. For example, offensive line coach Shawn Elliott is heavily involved in all the zone-read run stuff. “Maybe we’re better off if we don’t say who’s calling plays,” Spurrier said.

8. Prepping for the Gamecocks: Florida can’t completely overlook Vanderbilt, not when the Gators have struggled as much as they have for much of this season on offense. But their new-look, no-huddle attack with rotating quarterbacks pumped some life into that offense last week in the win against Georgia. Now, we see if they can keep it going with John Brantley, Trey Burton and even Jordan Reed all playing a little quarterback. It does look like the Gators are getting well at the right time. Jeff Demps’ foot is getting healthier, and running backs Mike Gillislee and Emmanuel Moody were both back at practice full speed this week after missing the Georgia game.

9. Bray’s time: Tennessee coach Derek Dooley resisted going with true freshman Tyler Bray any earlier. For one, Matt Simms had played gallantly despite taking a beating. But with the easiest part of the schedule looming and Bray playing well when he got a chance last week against South Carolina, he moves in as the starter Saturday against Memphis. Dooley conceded that it’s never easy for a coach to go down this path, but the time is right and the competition level is right to see what Bray’s got. He’s already shown a big arm and the ability to step up in the pocket and make the throw. We’ll see over these next four weeks if he has all the other intangibles to be a big-time quarterback.

10. Remembering Bell: Mississippi State won’t be playing a football game this weekend. The Bulldogs are off. But they will be remembering their fallen teammate, Nick Bell, who will be laid to rest Saturday. Bell, 20, died Tuesday after a short bout with cancer. His funeral will be held at the Faith Chapel Christian Center in Birmingham at 1 p.m. ET on Saturday. On Thursday night, there will be a memorial service on campus. Coach Dan Mullen and several of Bell’s teammates are scheduled to speak.

Chris Low | email

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