SEC: Georgia Bulldogs

SEC Heisman watch: Week 3

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
12:00
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Despite Saturday's loss to South Carolina, Todd Gurley is still among the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy this season.

Georgia's stud running back did just about everything he could have to win that game Saturday. He broke through tackles, changed the field on a dime during a wild 17-yard gain, drug Gamecocks -- likely kicking and screaming -- on his back and legs, and flattened guys in his way inside Williams-Brice Stadium.

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesTodd Gurley did everything he could do to get Georgia a big road victory at South Carolina. Although the Bulldogs lost, he's still a top Heisman candidate.
Call this hyperbole if you want, but it wouldn't shock me if the lightning that delayed Saturday's game and the thunder heard in the distance that day wasn't linked to Gurley's presence in Columbia.

Still, it wasn't enough, but who knows what would have happened if he'd been given the ball on that first-and-goal from South Carolina's 4-yard line with 5:24 left in the fourth quarter. I know Bulldogs fans are wondering how the Dawgs went away from their workhorse back at such a critical moment ...

Through two games, Gurley is second in the SEC with 329 rushing yards on 35 attempts. He's averaging a whopping 9.4 yards per carry and has four rushing touchdowns. He also has a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

Gurley is your leader in the Heisman clubhouse nationally and the unquestioned one when it comes to SEC candidates. He has that special, rare blend of power, speed and agility that Playstation footballers wish they could compute.

But we already knew all that. So today, I thought we'd talk a little bit about the quarterbacks.

We can't have 10 legitimate Heisman candidates in the SEC. It's just not logical. But we can talk about a handful of guys who could throw themselves into the mix as the season goes on.

  • Kenny Hill, Texas A&M: Obviously, he's the leader out of the quarterback gate. He leads the SEC with 1,094 passing yards and has 11 passing touchdowns with zero interceptions. It doesn't matter who he's played since that phenomenal performance at South Carolina, the kid deserves Heisman love.
  • Dak Prescott, Mississippi State: He's the SEC's best dual-threat quarterback with his 696 passing yards and 273 rushing yards. Prescott has accounted for 11 touchdowns and looks much sharper as a passer in the pocket. The next step is seeing how he performs in SEC play. Oh, hello road trip to LSU.
  • Bo Wallace, Ole Miss: OK, so we never really know which Wallace we'll get in games, but when he's on, he's not too shabby. He's second in the SEC with 1,023 yards and has nine touchdowns to four interceptions (three in the opener). With his 316 yards in a blowout win over Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday, Wallace tied Eli Manning's mark of 10 300-yard passing games at Ole Miss, which is a school record. Wallace will break that record soon enough.
  • Maty Mauk, Missouri: It's pretty obvious that the Tigers are just fine at quarterback with Mauk. All he's done as the full-time starter is throw for 647 yards and a league-high 12 touchdowns. Mauk can run if he needs to, and has really improved his pocket footwork, but he'd rather just stand and throw down field, which he does really well.

Now, will all of these guys be in the Heisman discussion in November? No. In fact, there's a good chance that by October most of this list will be eliminated from serious contention. But at this early part of the season, it was necessary to mention what these guys had done so far.

Here are a couple of other players to watch when it comes to SEC Heisman chances:

  • Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama: Still the best receiver around. Leads the SEC and the nation with 33 receptions and has a conference-leading 454 yards with two touchdowns.
  • Arkansas RBs: Alex Collins leads the SEC 411 rushing yards and has five touchdowns. Jonathan Williams is third with 322 yards and leads the league with six rushing touchdowns. Honestly, just take your pick with either back because they are both averaging more than 8 yards per carry.
  • Cameron Artis-Payne, RB, Auburn: He was off this weekend, but is still fourth in the SEC with 289 rushing yards and has four touchdowns.
  • Travin Dural, WR, LSU: He was finally kept out of the end zone against Louisiana-Monroe, but is still second in the SEC with 370 receiving yards and has a league-leading four touchdowns.
  • Demarcus Robinson, WR, Florida: Through two games, he has 21 receptions for 339 yards and three touchdowns. If he's not on the field, Florida doesn't beat Kentucky Saturday.

SEC morning links

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
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It's a fact frequently brought up in Missouri circles but not necessarily around the league, and it's one I find fascinating. The Tigers continued their nation-long active streak of forcing turnovers to 47 consecutive games on Saturday and it started with an interception by Missouri defensive tackle Josh Augusta. That triggered a run that would see the Tigers collect four turnovers in a 38-10 rout of Central Florida. It was one of the highlights of a great day by the Tigers' defensive line, including a strong performance from Shane Ray, who was eventually named SEC Defensive Player of the Week. The Tigers continue to simply play well and win. They have one more non-conference game (Indiana) before getting their chance to defend their SEC East division crown.

If Florida wants to be successful defensively, pressuring quarterbacks is paramount. On Saturday against Kentucky, Dante Fowler Jr. did a good job of it but didn't have a ton of help. That has to change when the Gators play Alabama this week. The individual matchup involving Fowler should be interesting -- he is facing Alabama true freshman Cam Robinson, the No. 1 offensive tackle in the 2014 recruiting class. For what its worth, the Gators said they needed some adversity, like Saturday's game provided, before going to Tuscaloosa.

Days after its loss at South Carolina, Georgia is still the subject of much conversation. A lot of it centers around the offensive playcalling and coordinator Mike Bobo. My colleague Edward Aschoff said not giving the ball to running back Todd Gurley near the goal line late in the game was the wrong call. That topic was even the first question posed to Mark Richt by a caller on his weekly radio show and he admitted that “I think we were all thinking the same thing on the ride home.” The Bulldogs play Troy this week, so don't expect that chatter to calm anytime soon.

Read more here.

Around the SEC
Tweet of the day

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South Carolina quarterback Dylan Thompson thought he had just ended the game.

With 5:24 left in the fourth quarter, and the Gamecocks clinging to a 38-35 lead over sixth-ranked Georgia, Thompson gift wrapped an interception for Georgia cornerback Damian Swann. The veteran defensive back scooted toward the end zone and an illegal block on the Gamecocks gave Georgia the ball at South Carolina's 4-yard line after Swann was eventually tackled.

No one could possibly judge Thompson's immediate assumption about the outcome of the game. With Georgia holding the nation's best player -- running back Todd Gurley -- in its backfield, you just knew that the Dawgs would pull ahead.

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley
Jeff Blake/USA TODAY SportsTodd Gurley never got a chance to give Georgia the lead when the Bulldogs had a first down inside South Carolina's 5-yard line late in the game.
But when offensive coordinator Mike Bobo could have just handed the ball to his freight train running back 12 feet away from the goal line, he decided to give quarterback Hutson Mason the opportunity to shine. What ensued was a bizarre set of events that included a perplexing intentional grounding play -- on first down, no less -- and a missed chip-shot field-goal attempt by the very reliable Marshall Morgan.

Minutes later, the Gamecocks were celebrating and rushing through their own set of hedges in the end zone to mob their fantastic student section.

"We were meant to win this game, and Georgia was not," said South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, who improved to 16-6 all-time against Georgia.

That might be true, and though there were a lot of questionable calls and no-calls that helped the Gamecocks along the way (has anyone found the phantom hold that took away the early 54-yard Gurley touchdown?), not giving Gurley, who had 128 rushing yards to that point, the ball inside the 5 was a mistake of epic proportions. Everyone in the stadium expected No. 3 to get the ball, and he should have. Even if South Carolina had all 11 defenders stacked in the box, the first -- and only -- call you have to start the drive is to hand it to the best and toughest running back in the entire country.

Instead, Georgia gambled with the pass and Mason's penalty moved the Dawgs back 10 yards. Georgia eventually had to settle for a field-goal attempt that was missed.

"If I had to do it again we would’ve hammered it," Georgia coach Mark Richt said after the game.

Bobo wasn't made available to the media after the game.

At least Richt knows it wasn't the right call, but there is nothing that can be done about it now. You learn and move on, but this one will sting. There will be a lot of finger-pointing by fans, as the Bulldogs dive into the teeth of conference season. And this play could come back to haunt the Bulldogs if they don't make it to Atlanta for the SEC title game in December.

Forget all the craziness that certainly didn't help Georgia on Saturday, that first-down call will leave a sick feeling in Athens for months if the Bulldogs continue to look up in the SEC East standings.

We don't know if Gurley, who had already made a handful of dazzling/gritty plays before that drive even began, would have punched the ball in on first down, but he was without a doubt the best option in that situation.

At first glance: SEC Week 4

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
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What do we know about the SEC right now? Not as much as we thought we did on Friday, before Kentucky put a triple-overtime scare into Florida, South Carolina toppled Georgia and other conference teams gave us reason to doubt previous assumptions about the SEC hierarchy.

The uncertainty is part of what makes following the league fun, though. With a couple more SEC teams jumping into conference play this week, we should soon gain a better understanding of where things actually stand within the conference. But for now -- with a couple of key SEC games and a huge nonconference matchup on Thursday ahead -- let’s celebrate how many SEC fan bases truly believe their teams have a legitimate chance to make it to Atlanta in December.

A quick look at the week ahead:

Game of the week: Florida at Alabama
Little did we know before the season that Florida’s first major challenge of the fall would come from Kentucky and not from Nick Saban’s juggernaut in Tuscaloosa. Will Muschamp’s team (2-0, 1-0 SEC) needed an all-star performance from receiver Demarcus Robinson (15 catches for 216 yards and two touchdowns) and an assist from the back judge who was minding the play clock on a key fourth-down play to beat the Wildcats (2-1, 0-1) in overtime. The Gators need to make a lot of progress in a little time if they’re to have a chance against No. 3 Alabama (3-0), despite the Crimson Tide’s over reliance on dump-off passes to Amari Cooper and occasionally shoddy pass defense. Florida has the ability to make this a competitive game, but it must look a lot more like the team that destroyed Eastern Michigan, 65-0, two weeks ago than the one that easily could have lost to Kentucky.

Player under pressure: Dak Prescott
Mississippi State’s quarterback has been great against three overmatched teams so far (Southern Miss, UAB, South Alabama). When they visit No. 8 LSU this weekend, Prescott and the Bulldogs will gain their first real opportunity to prove they’ll be more than a middle-of-the-pack program in the SEC West this season. LSU hasn’t allowed a single point in nine quarters and has outscored opponents 108-0 since falling behind Wisconsin, 24-7, early in the second half of the opener. The Tigers traditionally win comfortably in this series, so the pressure is on Prescott to keep the Bulldogs afloat against by far the best team they will have faced to date.

Coaches under the microscope: Georgia coordinators Mike Bobo and Jeremy Pruitt
A longtime Mark Richt assistant, Bobo has fielded some of the most productive offenses in school history in recent seasons, but he has taken plenty of heat for not handing the ball to Todd Gurley on Saturday with Georgia knocking at the South Carolina goal line with the chance to take a late lead. That decision blew up in Bobo’s face when the drive sputtered and normally solid kicker Marshall Morgan missed a chip-shot field goal. Meanwhile, newcomer Pruitt’s defense was atrocious, surrendering 447 yards of total offense following a solid debut two weeks ago against Clemson. This Saturday’s matchup against Troy shouldn’t provide a major challenge for the Bulldogs, but it will be their next opportunity to get bad tastes out of their mouths.

Storyline to watch: Auburn’s travel schedule
Playing a Thursday night game halfway across the country can’t help but be disruptive for Gus Malzahn’s No. 5 Auburn Tigers (2-0, 1-0). It might be a competitive challenge, too, as the 1,000-mile trip to Manhattan, Kansas, will culminate with Malzahn’s team facing No. 20 Kansas State (2-0). The sunny side of the unusual trip is that Auburn was off last weekend, so it will not play on short rest. Plus the Tigers will have nine days until they host Louisiana Tech on Sept. 27, so they have extra recovery time built into the back end of this trip and a relatively easy nonconference game between K-State and a huge SEC matchup with LSU on Oct. 4. Nonetheless, this odd piece of scheduling will probably create a couple of headaches for Malzahn and his staff.

Intriguing matchup: Arkansas running game against Northern Illinois defense
Fresh off a 438-yard outing in Saturday’s win at Texas Tech, Arkansas’ impressive rushing attack seems to rank among the nation’s best. Jonathan Williams (22 carries, 145 yards, four TDs against Texas Tech) and Alex Collins (27-212, 2 TDs) might be the best tandem in the SEC and the Razorbacks’ offensive line is doing fine work. Let’s see how they fare on Saturday against a Northern Illinois defense that ranks 13th nationally against the run, surrendering 81 yards per game and 2.4 yards per carry. The Huskies posted those numbers in wins against Presbyterian, Northwestern and UNLV, so they certainly haven’t seen the likes of Arkansas’ running game yet. It seems highly likely NIU’s opponent averages might rise a bit after Saturday’s game.

SEC morning links

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
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Arkansas' 49-28 win at Texas Tech was a big one for the Hogs in the Bret Bielema era, perhaps the biggest to date. It's a sign of a program showing improvement after a rough 2013. In the aftermath, much of the discussion focused on the Razorbacks' running game, led by Alex Collins, Jonathan Williams and that big Arkansas offensive line. Rightfully so. But what is easy to overlook is the performance of the Razorbacks' defense, which took some body blows early but had an impressive second half, holding the high-powered Red Raiders to just seven points. New defensive coordinator Robb Smith's crew stood up to the challenge Texas Tech presented and helped Arkansas score a seminal win as a result.

Though they lost, Kentucky opened a lot of eyes on Saturday night in the Swamp. Taking Florida to three overtimes in a 36-30 loss is notable for a program that has been a cellar dweller. One of the reasons for the Wildcats' ability to compete is the increased talent on the field they've gathered in recruiting under coach Mark Stoops. Several of those young Wildcats, especially receiver Garrett Johnson, give Kentucky reason for hope in the future.

Alabama coach Nick Saban is often cited as one of the most detailed-oriented coaches around. That may be true, but it doesn't apply to every part of the game, apparently. Asked after Saturday's win over Southern Mississippi about the play of left guard Leon Brown, Saban admitted that he doesn't pay much attention to the offensive linemen. As a former quarterback and defensive back, he focuses on the skill players. He emphasized that the linemen are important but that he doesn't even "watch them during individual [drills]." You can see the video, where Saban smiles and jokes his way through the soliloquy, here.

Around the SEC
Tweet of the day

SEC bowl projections: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
8:00
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We're creeping closer and closer to the meat of conference season in the SEC. That just means things will get a little clearer in the bowl picture for the league.

We had a major shakeup at the top of our predictions with South Carolina's 38-35 upset win over Georgia, but we're still going with one SEC team making the College Football Playoff and 11 teams from the league making it into the postseason:

College Football Playoff semifinal (Rose Bowl): Alabama
Orange Bowl: Texas A&M
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: South Carolina
Capital One Bowl: Auburn
TaxSlayer Bowl: LSU
Outback Bowl: Ole Miss
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Georgia
Belk Bowl: Missouri
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: Mississippi State
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Florida
Birmingham Bowl: Tennessee

Best of the visits: SEC

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
1:25
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There were some great games around the SEC over the weekend. Several prospects attended games and used social media as a platform to share their experiences. Here's a look at some of the top social media posts:

The No. 2-ranked inside linebacker in the country, Roquan Smith, visited South Carolina for its 38-35 victory over Georgia. The Under Armour All-American tweeted out a picture of his family in Williams-Brice Stadium. Georgia is one of Smith’s favorite schools, while South Carolina has fallen behind. A big win against the Bulldogs could have given the Gamecocks a boost.



Former Florida defensive back commit Marcus Lewis is still considering Kentucky and Florida. The four-star prospect might not have attended the game, but Lewis was definitely watching on TV. The ESPN 300 prospect tweeted out his thoughts on how Kentucky looked.



David Womack tweeted a picture of his son, Matt Womack, an LSU commit, with Alabama head coach Nick Saban. Womack has been committed to LSU since July, but it appears the Alabama offer could give this three-star offensive lineman something to think about.



Five-star defensive end CeCe Jefferson, despite suffering a shoulder injury Friday night, visited Florida for the third consecutive week. In this photo he tweeted out, Jefferson is in the Florida locker room holding a “Chucky” doll. The doll, which is usually taken through the Gator Walk prior to the game, is a recent Florida defensive tradition started by New England Patriots defensive tackle and former Florida player Dominique Easley and passed down to defensive end Dante Fowler Jr.



ESPN Junior 300 quarterback Brandon McIlwain poses with his mom for a photo in front of Williams-Brice Stadium. McIlwain has narrowed down his choices to South Carolina, Duke, Florida, Auburn, Penn State and Virginia Tech. The strong-armed quarterback is one of the top signal-callers in the country for 2016.



Miami running back commit Dexter Williams visited Florida for its thrilling 36-30 victory over Kentucky. Despite his commitment to the Hurricanes, the Gators have continued to pursue Williams. Williams tweeted about his time in Gainesville.



2017 OL prospect Jack Anderson, who already holds offers from Arizona State, New Mexico, Texas Tech and UAB, visited Texas A&M for its 38-10 victory over Rice on Saturday night.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
1:35
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Triple overtime in the Swamp? An upset in Columbia that was literally decided by inches? What more could you ask for? And it was only Week 3 in the SEC.

[+] EnlargeMaty Mauk
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonQuarterback Maty Mauk showed his mettle in Missouri's win over Central Florida on Saturday.
1. The SEC East race is wide-open: Had the ball been spotted an inch the other way, Georgia would’ve had good field position and one last chance to tie or win its game against South Carolina. It wasn’t meant to be. With the 38-35 loss, the Bulldogs are no longer the top team in the SEC. They’re not even the top team in their division right now. Technically, that spot belongs to Florida. The Gators are 1-0 in conference play after Saturday’s thrilling win over Kentucky, but they didn’t play like the East’s top team. Maybe it’s Missouri, which rolled over Central Florida at home. The Tigers are 3-0, and Maty Mauk might be the SEC’s best quarterback. Or maybe South Carolina is back after that much-needed win over Georgia. What happens if the Gamecocks run the table? At this point, nobody knows what’s going to happen. That’s why you play the games.

2. Gurley is still a beast and a Heisman front-runner: All week, everybody talked about Todd Gurley and how he’s the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy and how he was going to run all over South Carolina. Well, he delivered. The junior rushed for 131 yards and a touchdown, averaging 6.6 yards per carry in the loss. Those numbers might seem pedestrian for Gurley’s standards, but it was the broken tackles and yards after contact that were so impressive. Although Georgia lost the game, Gurley is the SEC’s top candidate to win the Heisman. The real head-scratcher came in the fourth quarter, when Georgia had the ball on first-and-goal from the South Carolina 4-yard line and tried to pass. Why not give it to Gurley? The star back should pad his stats in a favorable matchup at home against Troy next week.

3. Either Kentucky is much-improved or Florida is in trouble: The game wasn’t even over, and there were people already calling for Will Muschamp’s head. Florida obviously hung on for a 36-30 win, saving Muschamp's job for now. But what does the outcome say about the two teams? For starters, Kentucky is not the same team it was a season ago. The Wildcats came in confident, their defense played lights-out in the first half, and they were a play or two away from snapping their 27-game losing streak to the Gators. Don’t be surprised if Mark Stoops’ bunch ends up in a bowl game this season. With that said, it still didn’t look pretty for Florida. The Gators survived against Kentucky, but what happens when they travel to Alabama next week or when they have to play LSU and Missouri in back-to-back weeks in October?

4. Bielema isn’t going to change, nor does he have to: It was classic ground-and-pound football for Arkansas on Saturday, and Bret Bielema loved it. The Razorbacks flat-out dominated Texas Tech up front while Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams proved why they might be the best running back tandem in the SEC. Collins rushed for 212 yards and two touchdowns, Williams had 145 yards and four touchdowns, and as a team, Arkansas racked up 439 yards on the ground in its 49-28 victory. That’s a lot of yards regardless of the opponent. And no, Texas Tech is not an SEC defense, but Arkansas did the same thing in the first half against Auburn before falling behind by two touchdowns in the third quarter. This is Bielema’s identity. He’s going to run the ball until it works or until he gets fired.

5. Don’t sleep on the two Mississippi schools: Quietly, Ole Miss and Mississippi State keep winning games, and still nobody is talking about them. It was easy pickings Saturday against Louisiana-Lafayette and South Alabama, respectively, but both Magnolia State schools handled their business. Rebels quarterback Bo Wallace threw for 316 yards and four touchdowns in Ole Miss' 56-15 victory, and since the first half against Boise State, he is now 58-of-72 for 857 yards and eight touchdowns. Mississippi State's Dak Prescott threw for 201 yards, rushed for 139 yards and scored twice in Saturday’s 35-3 win. Don’t worry, we’ll find out soon about these two teams. The Bulldogs travel to LSU next weekend, and Ole Miss hosts Alabama in three weeks.
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COLUMBIA, S.C. – The rumors of South Carolina’s demise will have to be put on hold for at least another week.

Left for dead on the side of Interstate 77, the Gamecocks headed into Saturday’s supposed beating as an afterthought in the SEC race. Forget Atlanta; South Carolina was just hoping it could play in another January bowl game.

After a 52-28 opening loss at home to Texas A&M, it seemed only logical that Georgia, a team many had tabbed as the nation’s best after its Week 1 thrashing of Clemson, would thump the Gamecocks right out of the SEC East picture.

But college football has a funny way of making us all look foolish and making the Head Ball Coach smile. After an hour-and-a-half weather delay pushed kickoff back to 5:05 p.m. ET and the skies opened up during the game, the 24th-ranked Gamecocks (2-1) held strong for a thrilling 38-35 win over No. 6 Georgia (1-1).

“Some wins are better than others,” said a chipper Spurrier, whose Gamecocks have won four of five against Georgia. “This one was better than most others.”

It was an instant classic that few saw coming, and now the Gamecocks are right back in the SEC race. In fact, with the schedule South Carolina has been blessed with, the Gamecocks are back in the conversation as the favorite in the SEC East.

Move over, Georgia, because again you’re looking up at South Carolina, and the Gamecocks on Saturday played like they weren't on the same planet as the team that sputtered around Williams-Brice Stadium during the first two weeks of the season.

[+] EnlargePharoh Cooper
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesSouth Carolina's Pharoh Cooper scores on an 8-yard catch in the first quarter Saturday.
“You have no idea how close this team is. It truly is unbelievable,” said South Carolina quarterback Dylan Thompson, who threw for a game-high 271 yards and three touchdowns. “… Even in the game when everyone was writing us off, we still love each other and we’re going to battle. That’s just the way that we play.

“I love this team. I love my brothers.”

The Gamecocks were far from perfect, but they were gritty. They were passionate and hopped up on "Sandstorm," played on six fantastically timed occasions.

Thompson picked apart Georgia’s secondary with ease. The middle of the field was wide open for most of the game, something Thompson admitted he saw on a lot of film during his game preparation.

Georgia running back Todd Gurley was his normal beastly self, but his 131 rushing yards weren’t enough. While South Carolina’s defense had a lot of bend with the dazzling Mr. Gurley, it refused to break at key moments and managed to contain him.

Gurley was going to get his yards, regardless, but what South Carolina did was put the game on Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason’s shoulders. Mason's inability to complete -- or really attempt -- big plays downfield allowed the Gamecocks to fill the box and put pressure on him, and he eventually had a costly intentional-grounding penalty in the fourth quarter.

Think about this: South Carolina gave up an average of 416 passing yards through the first two weeks, but allowed just 191 Saturday. That’s quite an improvement.

“I’ll tell you one thing: When we had to stop them, somehow or another we stopped them,” Spurrier said.

And things just kind of went the Gamecocks’ way in other situations. Georgia kicker Marshall Morgan set an SEC record with 20 consecutive made field goals and then missed two straight, including a 28-yard attempt to tie the game with 4:24 remaining.

As Spurrier replayed the moment in his mind, he couldn't help but briefly pause and look toward the sky while talking about such a historic pair of misses.

“Then their kid -- I guess he hadn’t missed a field goal in two years or something like that, 20 in a row -- and missed two tonight,” Spurrier said. “Sometimes, all you can say is it was our turn to win. We were meant to win this game, and Georgia was not.”

There’s no doubt that South Carolina has to get better, especially on defense. Opponents have converted 23 of 41 of their third downs, and this secondary is still susceptible to big plays. The Gamecocks' pass rush still has a lot of work to do, as well, which could put more pressure on the secondary.

But improvements were made in a game that saved South Carolina’s season.

The Gamecocks still have three opponents on their schedule that are currently ranked -- Missouri, Auburn and Clemson -- and there’s a trip to Gainesville, Florida, in November, but Alabama and LSU aren’t on the slate. The road to Atlanta isn’t open, but it’s not as congested as once thought.

This team will only get better, and we’ll be talking about the Gamecocks more than we thought we would before Saturday’s game.

“We still have all of our goals set,” running back Mike Davis said. “That one loss did not define us as a team.”

SEC viewer's guide: Week 3

September, 13, 2014
Sep 13
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Noon ET

UMass at Vanderbilt, FSN
When these teams met last season in Foxborough, Massachusetts, it was a competitive game before a Vandy team that would win nine games locked down a 24-7 victory. UMass gave Colorado a scare before falling 41-38 last weekend, so reeling Vandy had better come to play or it might be on upset alert.

Central Florida at No. 20 Missouri, SEC Network
When last we saw UCF, the Knights were suffering a heartbreaking 26-24 loss to Penn State in their season-opening matchup in Ireland. Mizzou is a 10-point favorite over the Knights, who won the Fiesta Bowl last season before stars Blake Bortles and Storm Johnson jumped to the NFL, but the opener made it clear that UCF can still compete with Power 5 opposition.

3:30 p.m. ET

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley, Georgia
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsTodd Gurley and No. 6 Georgia are looking for a second consecutive win over No. 24 South Carolina.
No. 6 Georgia at No. 24 South Carolina, CBS
Georgia's visits to South Carolina are almost always must-see TV, although these trips are rarely much fun for Mark Richt's Bulldogs. Even when Georgia has won in Columbia -- and it has lost its past two trips to Williams-Brice Stadium -- the outcome has frequently been in doubt even in the final seconds. Heisman Trophy candidate Todd Gurley should get plenty of work for Georgia in this one.

Arkansas at Texas Tech, ABC
Here's a fun clash of cultures for a national TV audience, which will see Bret Bielema's ground-and-pound face Kliff Kingsbury's passing attack. Texas Tech has a couple of nail-biter nonconference wins on its resume, while Arkansas is coming off a 73-7 drubbing of Nicholls State. The home team is a narrow favorite here, but this could be a good one.

4 p.m. ET

Louisiana-Lafayette at No. 14 Ole Miss, SEC Network
This looked like a sneaky good game before the season, with ULL coming off three consecutive bowl appearances. But the Ragin' Cajuns absorbed a 48-20 beating from Louisiana Tech last week and Ole Miss dominated Vanderbilt in Nashville, so it doesn't look like an upset is in the cards for this one.

Mississippi State at South Alabama, ESPNEWS
This will be the first time an SEC opponent has played at South Alabama and excitement is high in Mobile -- particularly after the Jaguars opened the season with a win and Mississippi State struggled to put away UAB for a while last Saturday. Bulldogs quarterback Dak Prescott and company need to turn in a complete performance with a trip to LSU ahead next week.

6 p.m. ET

Southern Mississippi at No. 3 Alabama, ESPN2
Alabama gets another opportunity to kick around an overmatched nonconference opponent, just as it did last week against Florida Atlantic. The good news for the Crimson Tide, a 48-point favorite, is that most of the starters should be watching from the sideline in the second half, resting up for a visit from Florida next Saturday.

7 p.m. ET

Louisiana-Monroe at No. 10 LSU, ESPNU
Les Miles is a perfect 11-0 against in-state opponents and most of those games have been blowouts, so there is little reason to believe this will be a close contest. That said, the Tigers' secondary should face a reasonable challenge from the Warhawks' no-huddle spread attack.

7:30 p.m. ET

Kentucky at Florida, ESPN
Wildcats running back Jojo Kemp (a native Floridian) poked the bear this week when he made comments about how good it would feel to beat a couple of his former high school teammates -- and current Gators -- and rub it in their faces. Kentucky looks to be a greatly improved team, but it will be a major upset if this game is still close in the fourth quarter, and Kemp's comments probably didn't help the Wildcats' cause.

8 p.m. ET

Tennessee at No. 4 Oklahoma, ABC
As with Kentucky, this is a major measuring-stick game for an improving Tennessee team -- going on the road to face an opponent that virtually nobody expects the Volunteers to challenge. Butch Jones' Vols have been impressive so far, but their inexperience along the line of scrimmage will be their undoing in this one.

9 p.m. ET

Rice at No. 7 Texas A&M, ESPN2
For the second straight Saturday, the Aggies can help SEC viewers get to sleep by drubbing an in-state opponent in a late-night matchup. Rice, a 31-point underdog, might put up more of a fight than Lamar did in losing 73-3 to Texas A&M a week ago, but it won't be much more of one. Kenny Hill and the Aggies win big again.

SEC's top recruiting visits 

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
10:00
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There are much better games on tap this weekend in the SEC than last. Without question the top game this weekend happens on Saturday when the Georgia Bulldogs head to Columbia, South Carolina to take on the Gamecocks. There will be many recruits taking unofficial visits and even a few taking a few official visits. Here is a closer look at some top expected visitors.

Georgia at South Carolina

With 27 verbal commits South Carolina is pretty much full for its 2015 class except for maybe a few remaining spots. One big unofficial visitor this weekend will be Roquan Smith, the No. 2-ranked outside linebacker in the ESPN 300. Georgia is one of his top teams, so he could just be going to see the Bulldogs, but any chance a school gets to have a top recruit on campus, there is always a possibility he could be impressed by what he sees. With their 2015 class almost full, South Carolina will turn to their 2016 class. Three junior prospects, all ranked in the top 50 of the ESPN Junior 300, are expected to be in attendance. The trio consists of quarterback Brandon McIlwain, tight end Isaac Nauta and athlete Mecole Hardman.

The 2016 season can’t get here soon enough. That’s when the SEC mandate for at least one Power 5 nonconference game will go into effect. But how will the SEC fare when that day does arrive? Exactly how good is the conference outside its own borders? And how does its scheduling practices match up with others?

Bowls are only one thing

The SEC went 7-3 in bowl games last season. Since 2000, the league is a robust 26 games above .500 in bowl games, which is a better win-loss differential than the ACC (minus-5), Big 12 (even), Big Ten (minus-23) and Pac-12 (plus-5).

Go ahead, fans of the SEC: Thump your chest at that.

But don’t go too far. Because bowls are only one piece of the puzzle, and it might not be all that significant in the first place. Given the long delay between the end of the regular season and the start of bowl season, coupled with the lack of motivation to play for a better tomorrow, is it really a fair sample to draw from?

If you think so, don’t try telling that to Alabama coach Nick Saban, who said it was a challenge to get his team to “try to play a consolation game” against Oklahoma in the 2014 Sugar Bowl.

Besides, the real test of scheduling isn't who you were selected to play, but who you decided to play of your own free will.

[+] EnlargeDan Mullen
AP Photo/Butch DillDan Mullen and Mississippi State are among the teams that schedules a lot of FCS opponents historically. But that only tells part of the story.
Last Saturday was horrific for fans

Saturday came and went without a single game of consequence in the SEC.

A week after scheduling nonconference games even Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops would qualify as “toughies” -- West Virginia, Wisconsin, Boise State, Clemson -- the SEC reverted to form and ordered up a bunch of cupcakes.

Alabama dominated Florida Atlantic, LSU trounced Sam Houston State and South Carolina survived East Carolina. Kentucky walloped Ohio and Missouri thumped Toledo. Florida saw Eastern Michigan’s troublesome cinder block wall and launched the Eagles right through it. All told, SEC teams outscored opponents by a cannon-wide margin of 462 points.

It certainly helped that none of those opponents were from Power 5 conferences. Sadly, one wasn’t even an FBS-level program, which we’ll have to get used to as teams pay for the right to beat teams like Western Carolina and Chattanooga.

Since 2004, SEC teams have scheduled 121 FCS opponents. Only four times have they lost. The average margin of victory: 31.5 points per game.

The top five worst offenders at scheduling games against teams outside the major conferences since 2004: Mississippi State (35), Ole miss (33), Arkansas (30), Alabama (30) and Tennessee (30). Outside of SEC newcomers Texas A&M and Missouri, Georgia had the fewest such games with 21.

During the regular season, the SEC is still king

It’s easy to poke fun at the SEC scheduling. When you’re on top, criticism comes with the territory.

But when it comes to scheduling nonconference games against Power 5 opponents, the SEC isn’t afraid to pull the trigger, contrary to the buzz outside the Southeast.

According to ESPN Stats and Info, the SEC has played 111 total regular-season games against Power 5 schools since 2004. Its 69-42 record is the best of the all Power 5 conferences, ahead of the Pac-12 (53-42), the Big 12 (42-42) and the Big Ten (36-45).

Over that time, the SEC has gone 42-23 against the ACC, 12-7 against the Pac-12, 9-8 against the Big 12 and 6-4 against the Big Ten.

Simple math says the SEC hasn’t shied away from playing its Power 5 brethren. The ACC leads the way with its 117 such nonconference games, but the Pac-12 (95), the Big 12 (84) and the Big Ten (81) all lag behind the SEC’s 111 total Power 5 matchups.

It’s going to get better -- sort of

Mark your calendars. Clear out your entire day on Sept. 3, 2016.

College football will (hopefully) be reborn on that day. Why? Because all the talk about improving strength of schedule will finally come to fruition. Alabama will play USC, UCLA will take on Texas A&M and Notre Dame will go to Texas. And those are just the games inside the Lone Star State. LSU and Wisconsin will do battle at Lambeau Field, and Clemson and Auburn will kick off in Atlanta.

It’s going to be a great day for college football fans. Just don’t expect it to last all season. Because while teams are beginning to go all in on premier nonconference games, it’s important to remember that it’s in the singular sense of the word. As in, only one per regular season.

According to FBSchedules.com, the week after Alabama plays USC, it hosts Western Kentucky. LSU, in the six weeks after playing Wisconsin, is set to welcome Southern Miss, Jacksonville State and South Alabama to Baton Rouge. And Auburn? It will be so exhausted with Clemson that it has to play Arkansas State in Week 2.

Unless something changes between now and the opening week of the 2016 season, Mississippi State will start out against South Alabama while Florida hosts the mighty UMass Minutemen. In Week 2, the Gators get the North Texas Mean Green.
Todd GurleyScott Cunningham/Getty ImagesTodd Gurley leads the nation in yards per attempt with 13.2 yards per carry.
It's a question that perplexes defensive coordinators and causes players to laugh: How do you stop Georgia running back Todd Gurley? Better yet, how do you stop this Todd Gurley?

Clemson certainly couldn't do it. After getting into the best shape of his life leading into the 2014 season, Gurley embarrassed Clemson's defense with a career-high 198 rushing yards and three touchdowns on -- wait for it -- 15 carries. Really? Fifteen carries?

Oh, and in the middle of all that foolishness, he returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.

Sorry folks, but Gurley isn't a human being. I don't know if he's a cyborg or even from this planet, but there's a reason he played a character resembling Superman in teammate Chris Conley's "Star Wars" movie.

This version of Gurley, who is eerily elegant in the way he either bulldozes opponents or sprints right past them, looks unstoppable. So unstoppable that even Gurley wouldn't want the task of trying to tackle himself.

"Watching film and seeing how other guys get tackled, I'm not sure guys like tackling me," Gurley said. "I watch Clemson, and saw how they were tackling [South Carolina running back] Mike Davis and other backs, and it wasn't the same. I don't blame them. I'm 6-1 and 230 pounds. DBs are 5-10 and 180 [pounds]. Why would you want to tackle a guy as big as me?"

Step right up South Carolina, because that's your responsibility Saturday.

"I don't know if I've faced a back of Gurley's capability and is big, strong, fast, can run around you, can run over you, breaks a lot of tackles, has great hands out of the backfield," South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said of Gurley. "I can't say that I've faced a complete back like Gurley."

But can Gurley be stopped Saturday, especially with South Carolina's defense limping in and allowing 150.5 rushing yards (5.0 yards per carry) so far this season?

How exactly do the Gamecocks intend to stop one of the nation's best running backs Saturday afternoon?

"I don't know," South Carolina safety Brison Williams said with a chuckle. "… He's showed that you can't game plan against him."

In one respect, Williams is right to be hesitant with a real answer. How do you stop a train?

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Gurley registered a career-high 102 yards after contact and seven rushes that gained at least 10 yards against Clemson. In Gurley's career, he has averaged 46 YAC per conference game (2.8 YAC per carry) and has 89 rushes of at least 10 yards (which is tops in the SEC over the past three seasons).

That means you have to put a lot of hands on Gurley at the same time in order to bring him down and stop those tree trunks he calls legs from churning.

Do you push him outside or keep him running through the middle? Well, that's a tough one to answer when you consider this: According to ESPN Stats & Information, over the past two seasons, Gurley has averaged the fourth-most yards nationally per rush (6.0) inside the tackles (minimum 100 attempts) and fifth most outside the tackles (7.6).

"We have to have 11 hats on the ball," said Ward, who wants to stack the box more when Gurley is in. "We can't be tackling one-on-one, we have to have gang-tackling all day."

Through two games, the Gamecocks' defense has been a shell of its former self, allowing the fourth-most yards in the nation (1,133). South Carolina has been atrocious against the pass, allowing the most yards after the catch (454) of any Power 5 defense, according to ESPN Stats & Information. You think that will get Gurley more involved in the passing game Saturday?

Gurley has been stopped before. South Carolina proved that in 2012, holding him to 39 yards. He has missed out on 100 yards in 11 of his 25 career games. It must be noted -- and this isn't taking anything away from teams that legitimately contained Gurley -- that nagging injuries and the fact that Georgia just hasn't needed to run Gurley down in every game have played a part in that.

There's a very, very good chance that if Gurley were allowed to go all Playstation on teams (not leaving games ever), that number would be much closer to 25.

"He can do just about anything he wants to do back there, and that's what makes him dangerous," Georgia coach Mark Richt said of Gurley.

Gurley is just that good. Despite the nagging injuries that he has dealt with during his career, Gurley entered the 2014 season with 2,374 career rushing yards and 27 touchdowns on 387 carries.

You think that's impressive? Well, ponder this for a second: Add his season-opening numbers, and he has rushed for just 50 negative yards on 402 carries.

"He's a horse, man," Williams said with a laugh. "He runs the ball real hard. He's a physical runner, he runs down field, he's fast and big. We can't have no one-on-one tackles, it has to be a group of guys tackling him."

Good luck.

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Remember the "pop pass" from Nick Marshall to Sammie Coates in last year's Iron Bowl that tied the game with 32 seconds left? Auburn fans (and Alabama fans) sure do. Anybody who watched that game and also saw last week's NFL opener, a 36-16 win for Seattle over Green Bay, saw a strikingly familiar play when Russell Wilson hit Ricardo Lockette for a 33-yard touchdown. Turns out Pete Carroll copied that play from Gus Malzahn (something Carroll noted afterward). Asked about it on Wednesday, Malzahn called it "pretty neat" to see at the NFL level. I'm a fan of seeing the game evolve and seeing the college game influence the pro game and as more coaches who are successful in college make their way into the NFL, I think it's fascinating to see certain concepts pop up at the highest level, like this particular one did. And kudos to Carroll, who noted, "We'll go anywhere to find a play."

As you might have seen in Wednesday's morning links, Kentucky running back Jojo Kemp stirred the pot a little before the Wildcats clash with Florida. When asked about some of the familiar Gators (Kemp is a Florida native and has high school teammates on the Gators' roster) he punctuated his commentary with "It's going to be fun walking out with a victory and rubbing it in their faces." When asked about it on Wednesday, Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said he was "furious" and "outraged" by Kemp's comment. Florida players responded swiftly and it wasn't long before Kemp's image and words were posted in the Gators' locker room. My take: It's all in good fun. We're talking about football, not life and death, and there's nothing wrong with a little trash talk going both ways. It makes the middle of the week fun and interesting and gives us something to talk about after the fact. The game will be won or lost on the field on Saturday, not with words on a Tuesday or Wednesday.

Georgia-South Carolina is the game that will garner the most attention this week and rightfully so. It will likely prove to be a factor in the SEC East race down the road and it pits two of the league's -- and the country's -- best running backs, Georgia's Todd Gurley and South Carolina's Mike Davis. The two are actually friendly -- Gurley came to Columbia a few times to hang out with Davis and other friends -- but this trip will be all business for Gurley and the Dawgs. Davis admitted that comparisons to other elite backs is something he thinks about constantly and no doubt the Gamecocks will be looking for a good day from him in hopes of pulling out a victory. Gurley in the meantime, looks to add to his case for the Heisman Trophy after getting a bang-up start on the campaign in Georgia's season-opening win over Clemson.

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ATHENS, Ga. -- Aaron Murray couldn’t do it.

Neither could Matthew Stafford.

Even David Greene wasn’t able to pull it off.

There is just something about Williams-Brice Stadium. Georgia has found a way to win its fair share of games there, but it’s never been by lighting up the scoreboard. D.J. Shockley, Quincy Carter and every Bulldogs quarterback since Eric Zeier can attest to that.

It was Zeier, way back on Sept. 3, 1994, who became the last Georgia QB to score more than 20 points in Columbia, South Carolina, winning a nail-bitter, 24-21.

“To think that the last nine times, the most amount of points was 20 — that shocked me when I read that stat,” said Georgia coach Mark Richt on Tuesday. “I knew what it had been for us when I’ve been at Georgia, but I didn’t realize it went back that far.”

[+] EnlargeHutson Mason
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsHutson Mason and the Bulldogs will need to be more balanced on offense to have success on Saturday.
Not many people did. But just about everyone can recall the last two matchups in South Carolina. Georgia lost both games, scoring one total touchdown and 13 points.

That was with Murray at quarterback. If the current SEC record-holder for passing yards, touchdown passes and total offense couldn’t manage, what makes anyone believe Hutson Mason will?

If Georgia hopes to stay undefeated and in the thick of the College Football Playoff hunt, Mason, a redshirt senior in his first year starting at quarterback, will have to come up big on Saturday and break the 20-year trend of 21 points or less in Columbia. While South Carolina may be reeling, its offense hasn’t been the problem as it’s averaged 437 yards and 30.5 points per game.

Mason and the Bulldogs will have to keep up -- and not rely exclusively on the running game.

A steady diet of Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall, Sony Michel and Nick Chubb beat down Clemson in Georgia’s impressive season-opening win in Athens two weeks ago. But the offense was predictably lopsided as Mason threw for only 131 yards and no touchdowns.

South Carolina's stack-the-box, dare-you-to-pass defense isn’t likely to be so susceptible. Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward has struggled the first two weeks of the season, but Richt called him an “outstanding coach” who has had “lights-out defensive teams over the years.”

Richt he expects a “bloody” game in Columbia. Both teams have “outstanding” running backs and “can pound” the football, he said.

“Everybody in the world knows we’re going to run the ball, and everyone knows South Carolina likes to run the ball,” said Georgia linebacker Amarlo Herrera.

But while Richt is looking for “a fistfight” and Herrera is eager for a battle in the trenches, there has to be some balance, and Mason and the Georgia receivers must be the ones to provide it.

Mason said he can sleep easier knowing Jadeveon Clowney won’t be on the Gamecocks' sideline, but he might struggle after being told of the 20-year streak of offensive futility on Tuesday.

“I probably could have gone without knowing that," he said.

More realistically, though, it doesn’t mean much to him.

“The past couple of years I’ve been here I can recall what those games were like,” he said, “... but I’m not going through the film library looking at the 1997 Georgia vs. Clemson game."

Mason does expect some stress on Saturday, however. The noise will play a big factor, he said, as will South Carolina’s expected defensive tendencies.

“You can’t be naive,” he said. “Teams are definitely going to understand that Todd is our biggest weapon.”

“When we get those one-on-one opportunities against South Carolina, we have to be able to take advantage of them,” he added. “If we don’t, we may still be able to find a way to win. But I don’t really like our chances if we can’t throw the ball effectively.”

It’s going to be tough sledding, especially with Richt announcing that wide receivers Justin Scott-Wesley, Jonathon Rumph and Malcolm Mitchell aren’t expected to play.

Despite that, Chris Conley believes his fellow (healthy) receivers will perform. He said to count on Isaiah McKenzie, Kenny Towns and Blake Tibbs stepping up.

With South Carolina playing primarily a one-high safety scheme, he said, “You force people to throw the ball.”

“That’s just a basic fact of football,” he explained. “... Scheme wise, there are going to be those opportunities to throw the ball, but it’s going to come down to us executing the game plan and being on the right page.”

Even with so much of the focus directed on stopping Georgia's running game, don’t look for coaches to air it out.

“I just want us to execute what we call,” Richt said. “We’ve got a long track record of throwing the ball extremely well around here, but I know our number one goal is to win and do whatever it takes to win.”

“That particular trend [of not throwing a lot] wouldn’t bother me if we didn’t have to,” he continued. “And I’ll say this: Hutson’s main goal is to win. He doesn’t need to put any pressure on himself other than doing the things that will help Georgia win.”

Load the box, center David Andrews said. He dares anyone to do it.

“We still need to be able to run the ball even if they do load the box,” he said. “If not, that opens up our passing game. It’s just a win-win all the way around.”

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