- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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Anybody feeling toasty?
For that matter, anybody got the chills?
It’s our weekly gauge of the temperature around the SEC. You know it as Hot and Not:
Georgia’s defense: Kudos to Todd Grantham and his entire defensive staff, and kudos to Georgia’s players. The Bulldogs are playing without their best defensive player (inside linebacker Alec Ogletree), but they’ve been at their best during their four-game winning streak. Georgia shut down Tennessee’s high-flying passing game last week in a 20-12 win in Knoxville and has allowed just two defensive touchdowns during its four-game winning streak. Even when you go all way the back to the opener against Boise State, the Bulldogs’ defense has given up just 10 touchdowns in six games, and two of those were set up by a long punt return in the Boise State game and a long fumble return in the South Carolina game. This is a defense that believes right now with a big, physical line that’s winning most of the battles up front. The Bulldogs hope to get Ogletree back for the Florida game on Oct. 29, which should really make them a load up the middle defensively.
South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw: Getting his first start at quarterback since the season opener, Shaw threw four touchdown passes last week in the 54-3 demolition of Kentucky. That’s the same number of touchdowns Stephen Garcia had thrown in his first five games combined.
Jeff Demps’ durability: His speed is unquestioned, and Demps has made a lot of big plays for Florida. But he simply can’t stay healthy. His latest ailment is an ankle injury, suffered against Alabama. In his last two games, Demps has carried the ball five times for 7 yards.
Alabama’s defense: Is anybody going to score another touchdown against these guys. Obviously somebody will, but the Crimson Tide have now gone seven straight quarters without allowing a touchdown. They’ve given up just one rushing touchdown all season and are allowing opponents a paltry 3.2 yards per play.
Kentucky’s offense: The antithesis of Alabama’s defense has been Kentucky’s offense. The Wildcats have scored just two touchdowns in their last three games and are ranked 119th nationally in total offense out of 120 FBS teams. Where have you gone Randall Cobb?
LSU’s offensive line: Everybody talks about LSU’s defensive front. The Tigers’ offensive front hasn’t exactly been shabby. They’re averaging 183.5 yards on the ground, are second in the SEC with 17 rushing touchdowns and lead the SEC with only four sacks allowed in six games. Remember, too, that the Tigers are playing without one of their best offensive linemen, guard Josh Dworaczyk.
Barbara Dooley: Her “baby” boy has enough problems right now with his starting quarterback (Tyler Bray) and star receiver (Justin Hunter) both going down with injuries. The last thing Derek Dooley needs to be worrying about is something his mother said on the radio. But she is right. There’s no way Dooley should be on the hot seat.
Arkansas’ focus: The Hogs spent a lot of time and effort this summer pointing toward that Alabama game the fourth week of the season. So to lose it as convincingly as they did would have sent a lot of teams spiraling into a funk. But not this team. The Hogs have come back strong with a pair of victories over nationally ranked teams and have a great chance to win 10-plus games again this season.
Alabama’s kicking: If you’re looking for a chink in Alabama’s armor, it might be their kicking. The Crimson Tide are 11th in the SEC in net punting, and Cody Mandell is averaging just 38.6 yards per game. What’s more, the Tide are ninth in the league in kickoff coverage and have just one touchback all season.
Tennessee’s running game: When you run the ball as poorly as Tennessee has this season, it truly is a team effort. The Vols aren’t very physical up front in the run game and don’t come off the football the way a good run-blocking team does, and their running backs simply haven’t made much happen when there has been room to run. Tennessee has plummeted to 114th nationally in rushing offense and is averaging just 84.8 yards per game. In their two SEC games this season, the Vols have minus-29 rushing yards. They finished with minus-20 last Saturday in their 20-12 home loss to Georgia. Last season, they averaged just 109.2 rushing yards per game and have averaged more than 140 yards on the ground in a season only one time going back to 2005. This is a program with a proud tradition of running the football. The list of great running backs to come through Tennessee, just in the last 25 years, goes on forever – Jamal Lewis, Charlie Garner, James Stewart, Chuck Webb, Travis Henry, Reggie Cobb, Jay Graham, Travis Stephens, Montario Hardesty and Arian Foster. But those names are just a distant memory now, and this is a program that’s lost its edge when it comes to lining up and running the football.
4hEdward Aschoff and Greg Ostendorf