Thursday, October 27, 2011
What to watch in the SEC: Week 9
By Edward Aschoff
The giants are off this week, but the SEC -- and the country -- goes on.
Here's a look at what to watch in Week 9:
Gators quarterback John Brantley could see his first game action since being knocked from the game against Alabama.
1. John Brantley's effectiveness: Florida coach Will Muschamp seems pretty confident that quarterback John Brantley will play this weekend against Georgia. But some are wondering how effective he'll be after having two weeks off to nurse a leg injury. Florida's offense is completely different with Brantley under center and if the Gators are going to end their losing streak, Brantley will likely have to be under center against this tough Georgia defense. If he can play like he did before he was injured against Alabama, the Gators' offense will match up much better against the Bulldogs' defense.
2. Faster start for the Razorbacks: Arkansas has had a few sluggish starts this season, and last week's slow start against Ole Miss almost cost the Razorbacks. Coach Bobby Petrino made it clear that his team won't come out looking lazy against a talented Vanderbilt team. Arkansas is still very much in the BCS race and the Hogs' matchup with LSU at the end of the year could determine if they play in a BCS bowl and could actually knock the Tigers out. But Arkansas has to keep up its winning ways before then. A slow start against Vanderbilt in Nashville this weekend could be dangerous for the Razorbacks.
3. Guaranteed conference win: When everything is said and done in the Kentucky-Mississippi State game, one team will have its first conference win of the season. Both have trudged along on offense for most of the season, but that could change this weekend as well. Kentucky had an offensive revival against Jacksonville State last week, but the key is keeping that momentum going, and it won't be easy against the Bulldogs' defense, especially that secondary. As for Mississippi State, the Bulldogs had a bye week to get their offense together and the Wildcats don't possess the most daunting defense.
4. Momentum for the Rebels: Ole Miss might have lost a heartbreaker to Arkansas, but what the Rebels got out of that game might go a long way in a tumultuous season. We saw more fight out of this Ole Miss team and for the first two quarters, the Rebels looked like the better team. Now, holding up was an issue, but coach Houston Nutt believes his team gained more confidence after taking a top-10 team down to the last minute of the game. Ole Miss' next challenge is getting a win at Auburn. The Tigers are coming off a blowout loss to LSU, but they are at home and Auburn is a different team in front of that home crowd.
5. Arkansas' passing game vs. Vandy's secondary: This has the makings of being a pretty fun matchup to watch. Arkansas enters the weekend with the SEC's top passing game (322 yards per game), while Vanderbilt is giving up just 191 passing yards a game and has a league-high 15 interceptions. This will be the Commodores' toughest task when it comes to stopping the pass and coach James Franklin said it's already been tough to duplicate what the Razorback wide receivers can do because of their speed and athleticism. As for the Hogs, they are looking to rebound through the air after quarterback Tyler Wilson was held without a touchdown against Ole Miss.
6. Ending the Cocktail pain: History has just not been kind to Georgia against Florida. Fans in Jacksonville might be split up the middle, but it has felt much more like home to the Gators. The Bulldogs have lost three in a row to Florida and 18 of the last 21. Even when this game was played in Athens, Ga., back in 1995, Georgia couldn't get the job done. Now, Georgia enters this game with the East championship squarely in its sights, while Florida is reeling during a three-game losing streak. If John Brantley can return for the Gators at quarterback, Florida's offense should be much improved. But Georgia's defense has been one of the hottest in the league of late. The Bulldogs are third in the league in total defense and this unit could give Florida headaches and keep the Gators on their downward spiral.
7. Worley's first start: Tennessee's freshman quarterback was expected to redshirt this season, but with Tyler Bray going down with a thumb injury and Matt Simms struggling to get much going, coach Derek Dooley felt it was time to get Worley out there. He was the Gatorade National Player of the Year his senior year of high school after throwing for 5,315 yards and a state-record 64 touchdowns. Even though he played his high school ball in South Carolina, Steve Spurrier didn't recruit him to play for the Gamecocks. Will that be something that motivates Worley as he makes his first career start against South Carolina? Who knows, but he probably won't feel much love from the Gamecocks' fast, aggressive defense.
8. Moseley's second start: Auburn quarterback Clint Moseley had a solid second half against Florida two weeks ago, but he struggled to get much going against LSU last week. That was to be expected, considering what LSU has done to opponents this year, especially when those opponents are throwing out a new starting quarterback. But this is a chance for Moseley to redeem himself and grow more as a player. Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said this week that he'd like to take a look at how he rotates Moseley and Kiehl Frazier, which should help Moseley get into more of a rhythm out on the field against Ole Miss Saturday.
9. Life without Marcus Lattimore: Saturday will mark the first time this season that we see South Carolina operate without the help of bruising running back Marcus Lattimore, who is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury. Former fifth-string freshman Brandon Wilds gets the nod at running back, where depth is very sparse. Receiver Bruce Ellington should get some Wildcat work as well. The Gamecocks will have to rely on the arm of Connor Shaw, which means South Carolina wide receivers not named Alshon Jeffery have to step up. Plus, we need to see the passing game open up some for Shaw. The Gamecocks are going to have to throw the ball more and more effectively in order to get this offense going from here on out.
10. Mississippi State's offensive rebound: The Bulldogs have fallen well below expectations this season and a lack of offensive firepower has been a major reason why. After scoring 93 points and averaging 588 yards in the first two games of the season, Mississippi State's explosive offense has disappeared. Since Week 2, the Bulldogs have cleared the 20-point mark and the 300-yard mark just twice, going 2-3 in the process. With a week off, the Bulldogs surely got some things tightened up on offense. Facing a Kentucky defense that is giving up almost 400 yards a game could be the recipe for offensive success the Bulldogs need.