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Friday, November 21, 2008
What to watch in the SEC: Week 13


Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

It's a quiet week in the SEC, as only seven teams are playing. The LSU-Ole Miss contest (aka the Magnolia Bowl) is the marquee matchup. The winner will move to the top of the list for a Cotton Bowl bid. If Vanderbilt can beat Tennessee, the Commodores will solidify only their second winning season in SEC play in the last 48 years. Alabama is off and has Auburn at home on Nov. 29. Think there's any chance Nick Saban might take a peek at some Florida tape this weekend? The Gators might as well be off. They face The Citadel at home. Here's a look at what to watch in the SEC in Week 13:

1. Peria Jerry: When the season began, the defensive tackles around the league getting most of the ink were LSU's Ricky Jean-Francois and Auburn's Sen'Derrick Marks. Turn on the tape from the last several games, though, and find a better tackle in the SEC right now than Ole Miss' Peria Jerry. You can't. He's been dominant, and it's obvious that he's healthy after undergoing surgery in the preseason to repair meniscus damage in his knee. The 6-foot-2, 290-pound Jerry is second among all SEC defensive tackles with 10.5 tackles for loss and will be a huge key if Ole Miss is going to end its six-game losing streak Saturday against LSU.

2. LSU's O-line vs. Ole Miss' D-line: This has to be one of the best matchups of the season. LSU has had its problems this season, but they haven't been on the offensive line. The Tigers have at least two future pros in tackle Ciron Black and guard Herman Johnson. One of the keys, though, will be senior center Brett Helms, who's not 100 percent and trying to gut it out. The Rebels also have two or three future pros in their defensive line and are finally healthy. Even enigmatic defensive endGreg Hardy looked like his old self last week. Ole Miss won't hold anything back, which is why the Rebels have an SEC-leading 80 tackles for loss this season.

3. Showcase for Snead: His numbers suggest he's one of the best young quarterbacks in the league, maybe the best. But to really make this a season to remember, Ole Miss sophomore quarterback Jevan Snead needs to lead his team to a big win on the road. Here's his chance against storied rival LSU. Ole Miss offensive coordinator Kent Austin has done a nice job of bringing Snead along at just the right pace. But like all first-year quarterbacks in this league, Snead has blown hot and cold at times. He seems to be hitting his stride now and will no doubt take his shots against an LSU secondary that has given up its share of big plays this season.

4. Hold on tightly: The surest way for Ole Miss to go into Tiger Stadium on Saturday and lose the football game is to turn it over a bunch of times. The Rebels know that drill well. They turned it over 15 times in their four losses this season, but have lost just one turnover during their three-game winning streak. Forcing turnovers hasn't been LSU's forte, either. The Tigers have forced just 14 turnovers this season, which is tied for next to last in the league along with Georgia. That's in direct contrast to LSU's ball-hawking defense from a year ago. The Tigers forced 36 turnovers on their way to the BCS national championship in 2007.

5. A brotherly thing: Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino won't make a final call on his starting quarterback for the Mississippi State game until later in the day on Friday. It sounds like he's leaning toward making a change and going with the younger of the Dick brothers, redshirt freshman Nathan. Casey, a senior, has started 28 consecutive games, but left the South Carolina game two weeks ago with a concussion after throwing three interceptions. Petrino said there's a chance that both of the brothers could play in the game and that they've been energized by the competition this week in practice. For Nathan, it's a chance to generate some momentum going into the offseason. He'll need to play well if he's going to beat out Michigan transfer Ryan Mallett for the job next season.

6. Malcolm who?: The offensive linemen who've gone against Arkansas defensive tackle Malcolm Sheppard this season know who he is. Still, the 6-foot-3, 277-pound junior is one of the more underrated defenders in the league. He's tied for second in the SEC with 11.5 tackles for loss and leads all defensive tackles in that category. He also has 5.5 sacks, which is an SEC-high for defensive tackles. Sheppard, one of the Arkansas team captains, has helped to keep a defense together that went through a brutal three-game stretch in which it gave up 139 points to Alabama, Texas and Florida. The Hogs have played more respectably on defense ever since, and Sheppard has been a big reason why.

7. Croom's future: The fans at Mississippi State are growing increasingly more restless each week, and many of them are calling for Sylvester Croom to hit the road. Yep, the same Sylvester Croom that won SEC Coach of the Year honors last season and led the Bulldogs to eight wins and a Liberty Bowl victory. Mississippi State (3-7, 1-5 SEC) needs to show some improvement these last two weeks, especially on offense. Croom may shake it up some Saturday against Arkansas. He wants to get both redshirt freshman quarterback Chris Relf and redshirt freshman running back Wade Bonner on the field, while J.C. Brignone will return to center and Michael Gates will move to left guard.

8. Tennessee defensive pride: It's been a horrible season for the Vols. There's no way to sugarcoat it. But through the agony of it all, John Chavis' defense has continued to play with pride and deserves far better than how this thing is going to end up. Tennessee enters Saturday's game at Vanderbilt ranked No. 7 nationally in total defense, which is remarkable when you consider how little help the defense has received from an offense that has been held to single digits in its last three games. Chavis has had better defenses at Tennessee, but few have played with more resolve than this group.

9. Less orange in Vanderbilt Stadium: This may actually be an honest-to-goodness home game for Vanderbilt, which hasn't beaten Tennessee in Nashville since 1982. Traditionally, the orange in the Vanderbilt Stadium stands when these two teams meet is as prevalent as the black and gold. There have been years when it almost sounded like a home game for the Vols. But not this year. Tennessee is putting the wraps on one of the worst seasons in school history, while Vanderbilt is headed to a bowl game for the first time in 26 years. "I hope we have a huge black and gold advantage in our stadium," Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson said.

10. 50, 60 and counting: How many points will Florida score on The Citadel, and how long will Urban Meyer play his starters? It's really one of those games that the Gators get very little out of, particularly this late in the season. In fact, you know Meyer and his staff will be holding their breath the entire time hoping somebody doesn't get rolled up and injured. It's no time to play scared, but you can bet that Meyer will be smart about how long he leaves guys like Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin and Brandon Spikes in the game. Florida hasn't lost to a current non-FBS school since losing to Villanova in 1946.