Thursday, September 30, 2010
What to watch in the SEC: Week 5
By Chris Low
You’ve got Ali vs. Frazier III, Rocky III and even Hank Williams III.
On Saturday, it’s Alabama vs. Florida III. Only this time, it’s the regular-season variety.
After epic showdowns in each of the past two SEC championship games, the Gators and Crimson Tide meet for the first time since 2006 in the regular season.
That primetime affair highlights Week 5 in the SEC. Here’s a look at what to watch:
1. Meyer vs. Saban: Between them, they’ve won four of the past seven BCS national championships. Nick Saban won in 2003 at LSU and last season at Alabama. Urban Meyer won in 2006 and 2008 at Florida. Since Saban returned to the league in 2007, they’re a combined 45-10 against SEC competition. Meyer is 23-5 and Saban 22-5. Meyer is 19-6 against nationally ranked foes at Florida. Saban is 13-5 against nationally ranked foes at Alabama. Meyer has won 27 of his past 28 games overall at Florida. Saban has won 31 of his last 33 games overall at Alabama, including 18 in a row.
Nick Saban is 13-5 against nationally ranked opponents -- including last week's win at Arkansas -- since becoming the coach at Alabama.
2. Dareus’ health: Alabama is second in the SEC in total defense and has yet to give up a touchdown in the second half, and that’s with very little production from its best defensive player. Junior end Marcell Dareus was suspended for the first two games and only has two tackles in his two games back. He injured his left ankle in the second quarter last week against Arkansas and played in the second half, although he was limited. The Crimson Tide are still good up front defensively without him, but have a chance to be dominant when they get him back full speed. Dareus is rated by ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper as one of the top three defensive line prospects in the country.
3. Brantley in the pocket: For the first time all season, Florida quarterback John Brantley looked comfortable in the pocket all four quarters last week in the 48-14 win over Kentucky. He’d had his moments earlier in the season when he threw some nice balls, but against the Wildcats he stood in there consistently, didn’t hesitate and delivered strikes to his receivers. That’s a good sign going into the Alabama game this weekend, especially with the kind of pressure he’ll see from the Crimson Tide.
4. Making plays: Meyer is confident that running back Jeff Demps will play Saturday against Alabama even though he was in a walking boot earlier in the week. Even so, Meyer doesn’t think the Gators will have to lean on Demps as much the rest of the way because of what he’s seen from some of the Gators’ younger playmakers in practice the past two weeks. “Last Wednesday, they came out of their shell. They all had their best practice as Gators, the guys around John (Brantley). That’s still the main focus, being better surrounding him,” Meyer said.
5. Block that kick: Winning on special teams will be vital for the Gators if they’re going to leave Bryant-Denny Stadium with a win on Saturday. They blocked a field goal attempt last week against Kentucky, their 29th blocked kick since Meyer’s arrival in 2005. That’s the most in the country during that span. The Gators are also a perfect 8-for-8 on executing fake punts under Meyer. They popped one for 36 yards earlier this season against Tennessee to change the complexion of that game. What's more, Florida leads the SEC this season and is 12th nationally in net punting at 41.5 yards per punt.
6. Third and long: Nobody in the SEC has been as consistently good on third-down defense the past couple of seasons as Alabama. The Crimson Tide are the class of the league again this season when it comes to stopping people on third down. Opponents are 15-of-56 against them (26.8 percent), and one of the reasons they’re so good on third down is that they love to get you in third-and-long and then tee off. In last week’s 24-20 win over Arkansas, the Hogs were 2-of-10 on third down. Four of those third downs were third-and-11 or longer.
7. Playing with the lead: LSU hasn’t trailed since the second quarter of the season opener against North Carolina, a stretch of 14 straight quarters. The Tigers have been suffocating on defense and have done it with very little help from the offense. In fact, LSU’s defense set up one of the two touchdowns the Tigers scored last week in the 20-14 win over West Virginia. As long as the Tigers continue to struggle in their passing game, they’re going to need short fields set up by their defense and big plays on special teams. The last thing the Tigers want to do right now is fall behind and have to win the game throwing the football in the second half.
8. Newton’s Law: Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton has been amazing in the Tigers’ first four games. South Carolina simply couldn’t tackle him last week, and that seems to be a recurring problem for opposing defenses. With Louisiana-Monroe coming up this Saturday, don’t be surprised if Newton takes it easy with his running. He already has 75 carries in his first four games and is on pace to carry it 243 times over a 13-game season. As a comparison, the most rushes in a season by former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow was 217 during his senior season. He ran it 210 times for 895 yards during his 2007 Heisman Trophy season.
9. Hartline’s response: This is a big bounce-back game for Kentucky on Saturday at Ole Miss and a big bounce-back game for senior quarterback Mike Hartline. He made all the right decisions in the first three games. But last week against Florida, he had his first two interceptions of the season and both were costly. One was returned 52 yards for a touchdown to make it a 21-0 game, and he was intercepted at the Gators’ 15 on the previous possession. He gets a chance to get back on track against an Ole Miss defense that has given up eight touchdown passes this season and is still looking for its first interception.
10. Going Green: Even if he doesn’t reach the end zone, A.J. Green’s return this weekend after a four-game suspension should be a huge boost for Georgia. Just the emotional lift the Bulldogs will get from having back out there on the field is the kind of thing this team needs. Green has vowed to be a more vocal leader and says there shouldn’t be any rust. He practiced the entire time during his suspension, and Georgia coach Mark Richt said he went after it as hard as he ever has. “I’m glad he’s back. That’s for sure,” said Richt, whose Bulldogs will look to snap their three-game losing streak when they visit Colorado on Saturday.