Thursday, September 27, 2012
What to watch in the SEC: Week 5
By Edward Aschoff
Here's a look at what to watch in the SEC in Week 5:
1. Shouldering the pain: A handful of SEC quarterbacks enter the weekend with shoulder issues. We already know about Connor Shaw and James Franklin and their highly publicized shoulder pain, so we'll keep an eye on them. But there are a couple more QBs dealing with shoulder injuries in Ole Miss' Bo Wallace and Kentucky's Maxwell Smith. Wallace injured his shoulder last week against Tulane and missed practice Tuesday, but returned Wednesday. Smith was injured against Western Kentucky and missed last week's game against Florida. He's expected to play.
2. Lattimore's strength: We still haven't seen the Marcus Lattimore of old, but slowly he's starting to get stronger and stronger. He shed his knee brace last week and probably ran the hardest he has all season in the Gamecocks' win over Missouri. He carried the ball 21 times for 85 yards, scored two touchdowns and caught seven passes for another 60 yards. The hesitation we saw in some of his earlier runs seems to be disappearing and the more confident he is, the better he is. That has to be a scary thought for defenses, and Kentucky could be just another victim for Lattimore as he continues his comeback.
Vols RB Rajion Neal needs to be a factor to keep the Bulldogs' defense from pinning its ears back and rushing Tyler Bray.
3. Tennessee's running game: If the Vols are going to win at Georgia Saturday, they have to be able to run the ball. A one-dimensional offense won't beat Georgia and its defense. The Bulldogs will be trying to make quarterback Tyler Bray's day as miserable as possible by bringing pressure as much as it can. Bray hasn't done very well against the blitz, so Tennessee has to keep Georgia's defense honest through the running game. That means running back Rajion Neal has to run like he did against Akron. He has to get the tough yards, and he has to turn short runs into longer ones in order to extend drives. Bray can't do it all on his own.
4. Missouri's offensive confidence: It's pretty obvious that Mizzou's offense has stalled. It lacks creativity and it's having trouble getting much push up front. Injuries to the offensive line have contributed to that, but this line has to get tougher in order to help create more time for quarterback James Franklin and his skill players. T.J. Moe went as far as to say Mizzou's performance against South Carolina last week was "embarrassing." If this team is going to survive its first year in the SEC, the offense has to step up. UCF's defense has been solid, so this will be a good test for the Tigers before getting back to league play.
5. Mettenberger's rebound: Everyone is piling onto LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger after his subpar play against Auburn last week. He was off for most of the game and seemed to lose his confidence after his fumble at the 1-yard line early in the game. But that was his first SEC start on the road, and Auburn's defense played its best game in a while. Towson won't provide the same challenges, and this game should help boost Mettenberger's confidence. One thing that will help is if he starts to develop more of a downfield passing game. This team has to find some explosion at wide receiver and this could be the weekend Mettenberger starts developing more chemistry with his wideouts.
6. Tennessee's second-half push: Bray made it pretty clear this week that he wasn't very happy with the way the Vols played in the second half against Florida. He said earlier this week that the team "disappeared" in the second half and that the players met to discuss how they "crawled in a shell" in the last two quarters against Florida. That certainly can't happen in Athens this weekend. Georgia is built to play for four quarters and left Missouri behind in the fourth quarter earlier this season. Tennessee has to have a strong second half to keep up with the Bulldogs this weekend.
7. Aggies running wild: Arkansas coach John L. Smith said Wednesday that the two things that aren't working for the Razorbacks' defense are stopping the run and stopping the pass. Well, that's certainly not good with Texas A&M up next. The Aggies have played back-to-back cupcakes, but with a completely new coaching staff and offensive system, they have averaged 526.5 yards and 59 points in their past two outings. Arkansas is giving up a league-worst 458 yards and 36.3 points per game. Players have really picked up Kliff Kingsbury's up-tempo offense and Smith said keeping up with that offense is a major concern for the Hogs.
8. Where will they line up? Georgia coach Mark Richt is holding back from showing his cards when it comes to Malcolm Mitchell, Bacarri Rambo and Alec Ogletree. Mitchell has played all over the field for the Bulldogs this season, but he has received more reps on offense this week. He's listed as the starting boundary corner, but we could see more of him at receiver against the Vols. Rambo and Ogletree were suspended for the first four games, but are expected back this week. Richt isn't saying what their roles will be. Like the past four weeks, we'll have to wait until game time.
9. Manziel's maturation: Talk about a lack of jitters. Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel has been extremely fun to watch during his first season as a starter. After not taking a snap last year, Manziel has been one of the most productive quarterbacks in the league. He has passed for 641 yards with seven touchdowns and has carried the ball 32 times for 262 yards and five more scores. And what might be more impressive is that he hasn't thrown any interceptions. He'll face better talent this week than he has the past two, but Arkansas' defense is hurting, and Manziel has the ability to gut it.
10. Finding Bayou playmakers: Some of the criticism that has been thrown Mettenberger's way should be directed toward LSU's receivers. We haven't seen a go-to option for Mettenberger like we saw with Rueben Randle last year. Odell Beckham Jr. was thought to be that guy, but he has caught only 11 passes for 158 yards and no touchdowns. He caught two passes against Auburn. Jarvis Landry leads LSU with 17 receptions and 160 yards, but has only one score. Kadron Boone leads the team with three receiving touchdowns. If this offense is going to progress, someone has to step up as more of a consistent receiving threat.