- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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We should know by 3:30 p.m. on Saturday if Georgia still has a heartbeat in the Eastern Division race.
The same goes for Arkansas’ defense and whether or not the Hogs are for real.
Their noon showdown highlights Week 3 in the SEC. Here’s a look at what to watch:
1. Heisman hopes gone?: Alabama’s Mark Ingram returns this Saturday against Duke after missing the first two games while recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery. His chances of repeating as the Heisman Trophy winner probably went out the window when he underwent surgery. But ensuring that he’s going to be 100 percent for the bulk of this season will only bolster Alabama’s chances of repeating as national champion. Ingram would choose the latter every time. Just getting him back out there for some live game snaps this week is important, especially with that Arkansas, Florida, South Carolina stretch upcoming. The big thing you look for out of Ingram this weekend is how he cuts on the knee and if he still has that same burst through the hole.
2. Georgia’s running game: It’s disappointing enough for Georgia to be 0-1 in the SEC. But to see the Bulldogs at the bottom of the league's rushing statistics two weeks into the season is not the tone this team wanted to set offensively. It’s also a tone the Bulldogs had better change if they’re going to beat Arkansas at home Saturday and stay alive in the Eastern Division race. Getting junior tailback Caleb King back from an ankle injury will help. He and Washaun Ealey really had it going at the end of last season. But this one Saturday is on the Georgia offensive line. The Bulldogs are better up front offensively than they played last Saturday at South Carolina, and it’s time they showed it.
3. High on the Hogs: All offseason, Arkansas’ defenders answered questions about whether or not this defense would be improved enough to make a legitimate run at an SEC championship. The Hogs are ranked fourth nationally in total defense entering Saturday’s game at Georgia. A bigger question might be: Are the Hogs ready to step up on the road? They were a different team at home last season as compared to the road. In fact, they didn’t win a true road game. For that matter, they’ve lost seven consecutive true road games going back to the 2008 season. Their lone road win under Bobby Petrino was a 25-22 victory against Auburn in 2008. A year ago, they averaged 46.7 points in their seven home games and only 18.5 points in their four road games. It’s a trend the Hogs will obviously have to change if they’re going to contend in the West this season.
4. Urban and his rivals: Florida’s trip to Tennessee on Saturday gives Urban Meyer another shot at one of the Gators’ traditional rivals. He’s owned them to this point with a 15-1 record over the foursome of Tennessee, Georgia, Florida State and Miami. The only loss was to Georgia during the 2007 season, the infamous end zone celebration game by the Bulldogs. Meyer is looking for his sixth straight win against Tennessee. The Vols have scored just two touchdowns against the Gators in the past two seasons, and the combined score of the past three meetings is 112-39 in favor of Florida.
5. Evans’ slow start: Kentucky lost a ton of talent on defense last year, but the feeling around the program was that one of the Wildcats’ most talented players was returning. Defensive end DeQuin Evans racked up 12.5 tackles for loss, including six sacks, in his first season in the SEC a year ago. He was being counted on to be the anchor of the Wildcats’ defensive line this season. But through two games, he’s still looking for his first sack – and his first tackle. The Kentucky coaches aren’t worried and are confident Evans will come on, and he needs to if this defense is going to reach its potential this season. He’s that dynamic finisher off the edge that makes everybody better.
6. Masoli’s show: There’s no more easing Jeremiah Masoli into the position. Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt has decided to ride with Masoli as his quarterback and give him the full set of keys to the Rebels’ offense heading into Saturday’s game with Vanderbilt. Nutt likes Masoli’s ability to move around and make plays and his knack for improvising when something’s not there. Masoli’s only thrown one touchdown pass to this point to go along with two interceptions. But with the Rebels still struggling to find some stability in their offensive line, it makes sense to go with the more mobile quarterback and the quarterback with the most experience.
7. Starting a new streak: After 42 straight quarters, an Alabama offensive lineman has finally been penalized for holding. It happened in the Penn State game last week, and the guilty party was sophomore guard Chance Warmack. Alabama offensive line coach Joe Pendry let him have it pretty good. But, hey, it was going to end at some point. To go 42 quarters at this level without being called for holding in the offensive line is a testament to how well coached the Crimson Tide are up front. OK, maybe they were a tad lucky too, because what constitutes holding can at times be subjective. After all, it’s only holding if you’re caught. But Pendry’s influence on this offense shouldn’t be underestimated. Don’t be surprised if Alabama starts another long streak this weekend.
8. Lattimore’s encore: He’ll take a break from SEC competition, but South Carolina freshman running back Marcus Lattimore will take another crack Saturday at turning a group of defenders black and blue when the Gamecocks take on Furman. In rushing for 182 yards against Georgia last week, Lattimore had more than 100 of those yards after contact. And don’t think he’s the least bit satisfied. After watching the tape from the game, Lattimore said he left a bunch of yards on the field. For those wondering who has the South Carolina single-game record for rushing yards, it’s not Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers. Brandon Bennett had 278 yards against East Tennessee State in 1991, and Bennett was only a freshman at the time.
9. Going by feel: For the time being, it sounds like Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen will play it by ear (or feel) with his quarterbacks. The Bulldogs will continue with their rotation of junior Chris Relf and redshirt freshman Tyler Russell this Saturday at LSU. Neither was real effective in throwing the ball in the loss to Auburn. Relf started the game, and he was also the one Mullen decided to go with on the final few possessions when the Bulldogs had a chance to either tie the game or take the lead. Relf and Russell combined to complete just 45.7 percent of their passes against Auburn. Russell has the bigger upside as a passer, but never found a rhythm in the last game. If the Bulldogs fall behind again in this game, it will be interesting to see which quarterback Mullen goes with in the second half.
10. LSU’s sack party: LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis felt good about his defensive line coming into this season, even though the Tigers were going to have several new faces up front. He’s not caught up in sack numbers, but he did want to get more pressure on the quarterback after LSU finished with just 21 sacks a year ago. So far, so good. The Tigers have 10 sacks in their first two games, which leads the country. The enforcer in the middle of that defensive line has been senior tackle Drake Nevis, who already has 3.5 sacks and is playing the best football of his career. Not many people have blocked him to this point. But the Tigers have also spread the wealth. Seven different players have at least half a sack heading into Saturday’s home opener against Mississippi State.
14hGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough