Thursday, September 8, 2011
What to watch in the SEC: Week 2
By Chris Low
LSU made the SEC’s biggest splash in Week 1, while Georgia hardly splashed at all in a disappointing 35-21 loss to Boise State in the Georgia Dome.
Now, it’s on to Week 2, which is highlighted by a couple of key conference clashes, one of those involving Georgia.
Here’s a look at what to watch this weekend:
QB Aaron Murray, center, and Georgia face a huge game Saturday against SEC rival South Carolina.
1. Georgia’s shot at redemption: As disappointing as the Boise State loss was last week, a win against South Carolina would go a long way toward giving the Bulldogs a new lease on life. In fact, when you survey Georgia’s remaining SEC schedule, you could make the case that the Bulldogs would emerge as the favorite to win the East if they can take down the Gamecocks on Saturday at Sanford Stadium. That’s how quickly it can change in this league. Georgia, which would own the head-to-head tiebreaker against South Carolina, doesn’t play Alabama, Arkansas or LSU from the Western Division this season. It’s just one game, but it’s a game that could completely change the complexion of the Bulldogs’ season.
2. Lassoing Lattimore: South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore introduced himself to the SEC, and in particular Georgia, last season with 182 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 37 carries. The Bulldogs simply couldn’t tackle him, which has been a recurring problem for just about everybody who’s faced Lattimore. The Bulldogs get another shot at him on Saturday, but will be shorthanded. Starting inside linebacker Alec Ogletree fractured his foot in the opener and will miss the next four to six weeks. Georgia coach Mark Richt said Lattimore gains yards after contact as well as anybody Richt has seen in a long time.
3. Garcia to the rescue: This week, it’s Stephen Garcia’s show, at least until he takes a sack or throws it somewhere he’s not supposed to. Steve Spurrier almost seems to revel in playing two quarterbacks. He’s quick to remind you that he’s played two quarterbacks on four of the eight conference championship teams he’s coached. And while sophomore Connor Shaw started the opener last week against East Carolina, South Carolina had more success on offense once Garcia entered the game in the second quarter. So it’s Garcia’s turn to start this week at Georgia. Tune in Saturday to see if he finishes the game.
4. Going on the road: There’s still no definitive answer on which quarterback gives Alabama the best chance to win. Nick Saban is content, for now anyway, to keep playing AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims, which means they will get their road indoctrination this weekend at Penn State. Going against the Nittany Lions’ defense in a hostile environment should provide a much clearer picture of who’s best equipped to lead the Tide’s offense right now. McCarron looked comfortable throwing from the pocket in the opener and finished with 224 passing yards, but he also threw two interceptions. So did Sims. Four more interceptions this weekend could make for some long faces at the Capstone, where they’d almost forgotten what an offensive interception looked like. Greg McElroy threw just five interceptions in 313 attempts a year ago.
5. Maroon-faced crowd: There’s no such thing as a welcome mat being laid out for any visiting team in the SEC, but Mississippi State’s sure to get an extra nasty reception Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Remember, it was Mississippi State that went to the NCAA about Cecil Newton’s solicitation of money from Mississippi State boosters in order for his son, Cam, to sign with the Bulldogs. What ensued was a firestorm of controversy with Newton being declared ineligible for a day and then having his eligibility reinstated by the NCAA in time for the Tigers’ stretch run to a national championship. Newton won’t be around this weekend, but you can bet some bad blood still remains … on both sides.
6. Tennessee air show: By now, it’s safe to say that sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray has established that he can throw the football. Dating to last season, he’s thrown 18 touchdown passes in his past six games. He’s yet to go against any juggernaut defenses as a starter and won’t again this Saturday against Cincinnati, but the Vols are going to need him to continue stretching the field to help get their running game going. They were just OK running the ball against Montana in the opener, and as talented as Bray is, they don’t want to get into the kind of rut where they’re having to throw the ball 40-plus times to have a chance against the better teams.
7. Two-way Hayward: One of Vanderbilt first-year coach James Franklin’s priorities was to find more playmakers on offense. He might have found one … on defense. Casey Hayward, the Commodores’ All-SEC senior cornerback, had a 23-yard run on offense in the opener. It’s a package that Franklin would like to see expand. Hayward, who had six interceptions last season, also had a 22-yard interception return in the opener. One of the best all-around athletes on the team, Hayward could help fill the void on offense with junior running back Warren Norman slowed by a sore knee. Norman didn’t play in the opener, but is expected to return against Connecticut.
8. More touches for Clemons: Watching Kentucky’s listless performance on offense last week was one thing. But listen to coach Joker Phillips, and the disappointment in his voice drives home just how bad the Wildcats were in the opener on the offensive side of the ball. Help might be on the way. Phillips wants to get true freshman running back Josh Clemons more touches after Clemons was one of the few offensive players to show a spark last week. He had a 14-yard touchdown run and had four of Kentucky’s seven runs that were 5 yards or longer. Phillips felt before the season that Clemons had a chance to be special, and the Kentucky coach has seen enough one game into the season to know that the 5-10, 200-pound freshman needs to be a bigger part of the Wildcats’ offense.
9. Quarterbacking the Rebels: The Ole Miss quarterback situation remains murky. Barry Brunetti started the opener and wasn’t very effective, although he threw the ball just three times. Zack Stoudt entered the game late in the second quarter and went the rest of the way. He’s the Rebels’ best pocket passer and gave them a lift, but also fumbled the ball away when he was sacked late in the game. Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said Stoudt would open the game as the starter Saturday against Southern Illinois, but there’s also a chance that Randall Mackey could see his first action. Mackey gives the Rebels a run-pass dimension and was impressive in the preseason. He was arrested, though, in August and charged with disorderly conduct, and Nutt suspended him for the opener.
10. Touchdowns to go around: Four different players scored touchdowns for Arkansas in the opener, including Joe Adams on a pair of punt returns. That number is only going to go up, which is one of the reasons the Hogs are so explosive on offense. Defenses have to make tough choices on who to shadow. Jarius Wright had two touchdown catches last week, and you know it’s just a matter of time before Greg Childs and Cobi Hamilton get into the act. The Arkansas staff also has big plans for freshman receiver Marquel Wade. The Hogs’ longest run in the opener was 14 yards by De’Anthony Curtis, so you can bet that they’ll be looking for a few more explosive plays in the running game Saturday against New Mexico.