Thursday, October 13, 2011
What to watch in the SEC: Week 7
By Edward Aschoff
We're at the halfway point in the college football season, so teams will be a little more on edge from here on out.
Conference races are really heating up and things will only get more and more exciting.
We start the second half in the SEC with the countdown to the Nov. 5 slugfest between Alabama and LSU, but we also start with some quarterback controversy lurking within the league.
Here is some more exciting stuff to keep an eye on this weekend:
1. Musical quarterbacks: Outside of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and LSU, there are quarterback issues in this league. Florida and Tennessee are playing without their starters (John Brantley and Tyler Bray, respectively) due to injuries, while Mississippi State and Vanderbilt have opened up their quarterback competitions. South Carolina benched Stephen Garcia for Connor Shaw, then officially said goodbye to Garcia earlier this week. Shaw showed off last week against Kentucky, but the depth behind him is beyond worrisome. Auburn will play both Barrett Trotter and Kiehl Frazier against Florida, but the more athletic Frazier has been getting more and more snaps with each game and coach Gene Chizik is having to answer more questions about Trotter's status as the starter. And Ole Miss is hoping that Randall Mackey is the guy from here on out. But wasn't Barry Brunettithe guy before Zack Stoudt was?
2. Mr. 100: I guess Trent Richardson really was ready to take over as Alabama's workhorse in the backfield. The junior running back has had his hat thrown into the Heisman ring and it doesn't look like it will be coming out anytime soon. That makes sense, considering the tear he's currently on. Richardson has rushed for 100-plus yards in five straight games and he's looking to get to six straight this weekend. Well, Alabama faces an Ole Miss defense that is giving up 193 rushing yards per game, so things appear to be in Richardson's favor this weekend.
Though he remains the backup, Jordan Jefferson should see his role increase in LSU's offense.
3. More Jefferson: While LSU coach Les Miles continues to say that there is absolutely no quarterback controversy in Baton Rouge, Jordan Jefferson will continue to get more snaps behind Jarrett Lee. As he should. Jefferson brings another element to the offense that Lee doesn't -- his feet. Jefferson's touches went up from four in his first game back to eight in his second and his numbers should increase this weekend against Tennessee. But make no mistake about it, Lee is the starter until something unforeseen happens. Both players want to be the starter, but Lee has earned it and he deserves to keep it. The Tigers are just as successful with the Jefferson element on the field and having both play isn't hurting the team, so Jefferson's role should continue to expand going forward.
4. Swing game on the Plains: Auburn and Florida will play a season-defining game this weekend. A win for either team could be the difference between a winning record and a .500 record. Auburn's youth has shown at times, but so has its heart, which has carried it to three close-call wins this season. The Tigers still have LSU and Georgia on the road before the Iron Bowl comes back to Auburn, so getting a win this weekend will definitely go a long way. As for Florida, the Gators will be equipped with two true freshmen -- Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel -- getting the snaps at quarterback until senior Brantley comes back. That could be for the Georgia game, but Saturday, it's up to the kids. A Florida win would keep the Gators in the East hunt and give them momentum going into the bye. A loss could send this team really scrambling.
5. Shaw's second go-round: Connor Shaw will make his second start in a row for South Carolina this weekend and he'll do so on the road against a tough Mississippi State secondary. This won't be easy by any means, and this will be the first chance we get to see the sophomore perform on the road this year. He was calm and composed against Kentucky, but he'll be going against a team desperate for a conference win and a fan base looking for some sort of hope this season. Can Shaw duplicate last week's outing? Can he at least be consistent for the Gamecocks for two weeks in a row? The team thinks so, but Davis Wade Stadium isn't the easiest place to maneuver if you're a young quarterback.
6. Simms begins the gantlet:Matt Simms was in this position last year when he had to start against Tennessee's toughest opponents before Bray took over for him. With Bray out for an extended period of time, Simms' number has been called yet again and his first opponent is the No. 1 team in the country in LSU. It's an LSU team carrying the league's second-rated defense and a host of defensive playmakers. It won't be easy for Simms, but he says he's ready. However, this is just the first step for the senior. He'll still face Alabama (on the road), South Carolina and Arkansas (on the road) in the next four weeks. That's tough for any quarterback. Starting off with an impressive debut will help the psyche of this team. He doesn't have to be perfect, but does have to be effective enough to inject some confidence into this team for the road ahead.
7. Like brother ... like brother? Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers could make his first start for the Commodores this weekend against Georgia and if he's anything like his Super Bowl-winning older brother, Aaron, Vanderbilt's fan base should be stoked. Now, this wouldn't exactly be the best game for him to really kick off his Vandy career in, with Georgia giving up less than 180 passing yards a game, but if he does get the start, there will no doubt be a little more excitement in the air in Nashville. Larry Smith hasn't gotten the job done for the Commodores, so it might be time for a move. Vanderbilt needs to shake things up on offense and starting Rodgers could be a way to do that.
8. Mississippi State's lost offense: The Bulldogs have a mound of offensive problems. They haven't seen the dynamic duo of quarterback Chris Relf and Vick Ballard do much of anything since Week 2 and the offensive line is a mess. The execution has been lacking and this team is scrambling to figure things out when it has the ball. After Tyler Russell rescued an offense that went scoreless against UAB in the first half, he's in a battle with Relf for the starting spot. Would starting Russell provide a spark for this reeling offense? And would it matter against a revamped South Carolina defense? The Gamecocks love to bring a lot of pressure and could make either quarterback's day miserable Saturday.
9. Florida's rushing defense: If you're Auburn running back Michael Dyer, you have to be pretty happy with your odds of clearing the century mark against the Gators Saturday. Florida has given up a total of 464 rushing yards in the last two games and both Alabama's Trent Richardson (181) and LSU's Spencer Ware (109) went into triple digits in the rushing department. Dyer has rushed for more than 100 yards four times this season. We might have given Florida's front seven way more credit than it deserved to start the year, as the last two weeks have been far from nice for this unit. With Dyer's blend of power and speed, Florida's defense has yet another tough runner to keep in check this week.
10. More of the Honey Badger: The legend of LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu grows larger and more fantastic with each week. Those Honey Badger T-Shirts floating around LSU's campus are easily the best in the sport right now and he really does take what he wants. This weekend, he faces yet another backup quarterback making his starting debut for the season. Yes, Simms is experienced, but the Honey Badger doesn't care (or don't care). He will no doubt make Simms' day that much more frustrating because of his ability to somehow pop up wherever the ball is on the field. Just remember, he takes what he wants.