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What we learned in the SEC: Week 6

10/9/2011

Now that we’re six weeks into the season, we can answer a few more questions about teams, players, matchups, etc.

Here’s a look at what we learned in the SEC:

1. Plotting the collision course: We’re that much closer to THE game, and it’s scary how dominant the two teams look each week. Alabama’s physical beatdown of Florida two Saturdays ago sent tremors throughout the league. Nobody goes into the Swamp and whips the Gators 38-10. But then you watch LSU chop down the Gators to the tune of a 41-11 rout, and it’s difficult to decipher who was more dominant. The collection of athletes on both defenses is stunning, and scoring points on offense hasn’t been a problem, either. Nov. 5 can’t get here soon enough.

2. Hogs No. 3: There’s no debating the separation between Alabama and LSU and everybody else. But there is a little debate about who is No. 3 in this league. Arkansas the past two weeks has stepped front and center into that spot. After rallying from an 18-point halftime deficit to beat Texas A&M last week, the Hogs turned a close game against Auburn into a 38-14 blowout on Saturday thanks to another impressive second half. Arkansas gave up just a field goal after halftime in the win over Texas A&M. Against Auburn, Arkansas shut the Tigers out for the final three quarters. It wasn’t just the defense that came to life, either. Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson completed 19 straight passes at one point and is playing at an extremely high level right now. The Hogs (5-1, 1-1) are off this coming week, but could be on the verge of reeling off a bunch of wins in a row just like they did a year ago, when they won six straight to close the regular season. In fact, it’s very possible this team goes into that finale at LSU on Nov. 25 carrying a 10-1 record.

3. Shaw to the rescue: South Carolina looked like a different team with sophomore Connor Shaw at quarterback. The Gamecocks rolled up 639 yards in total offense in their 54-3 battering of Kentucky, and while Shaw didn’t do any of the blocking, didn’t take any handoffs and didn’t run any pass routes, his presence clearly made a difference. His four touchdown passes were as many as Stephen Garcia had thrown in the previous five games combined. It wasn’t just the touchdown passes, either. He threw to his tight ends. He kept the ball out of harm’s way, and he made sure to involve Alshon Jeffery early. Jeffery had been the country’s most talented decoy the past few weeks, but had two touchdown catches by halftime on Saturday. As a team, the Gamecocks responded to Shaw, and that’s what you want when you make a quarterback change. South Carolina’s going to play against better teams than Kentucky the rest of the way. That’s a given, but this was something to build on for an offense that had lost its way.

4. Winning the East: We’re at the midway point of the season, and all but two teams in the Eastern Division have at least two conference losses. Who would have thought back on Sept. 10 that Georgia would be one of those two? The Bulldogs have won four straight games since opening the season with back-to-back losses and are positioned nicely for this stretch run after winning 20-12 at Tennessee on Saturday. Florida, which has taken it on the chin the past two weeks against LSU and Alabama, will still have a prominent say in who wins the East. The Gators face Georgia on Oct. 29 in Jacksonville and then travel to South Carolina on Nov. 12. The Gamecocks won the East with three losses last season and still have three road games in the conference remaining, including one to Arkansas the week before the Florida game. If Georgia and South Carolina finish in a tie, the Gamecocks would get the nod based on head-to-head competition.

5. Wildcats hit bottom: Allegedly, it can always get worse. Try telling that to Joker Phillips and his Kentucky football team right now. The Wildcats’ 54-3 loss to South Carolina on Saturday was about as ugly as it gets and comes on the heels of a 35-7 loss to LSU a week earlier and a 48-10 loss to Florida the week before that. Not that anybody in the Bluegrass wants to add up the damage, but that’s a combined score of 137-20. It’s one thing to lose to good teams in this league. It’s quite another to be embarrassed and not even be competitive. The Wildcats aren’t competitive right now, particularly on offense. When you turn it over six times, you’re not going to be competitive. A lot of the fingers will point in the direction of quarterback Morgan Newton, and it’s a fact that he’s not playing well. He’s not the only one, though. Nobody on offense is playing well, and the Wildcats haven’t come close to replacing the playmakers they’ve lost over the past few years. Phillips and his staff have an open week to come up with some answers. The truth is that they’re going to need a lot longer than a week.