Sunday, October 30, 2011
What we learned in the SEC: Week 9
By Edward Aschoff
We had some interesting games in the SEC this weekend, so here is what we learned after Week 9:
1. The East might be Georgia's to lose: Sure, South Carolina owns the tiebreaker between these two teams, but without running back Marcus Lattimore, the Gamecocks don't have much of an offense at all. South Carolina managed just 14 points against a banged up Tennessee team, and it's going to need a lot more than that to walk out of Fayetteville next week with a win. Georgia slipped by Florida to knock the Gators out of the East race, and now the Bulldogs' toughest conference game is at home against Auburn. That is a losable game for the Bulldogs, but chances are that if they win out, the Bulldogs will be headed back to Atlanta for the SEC championship game. South Carolina will have to lean heavily on its defense from here on out, and we just aren't sure that the Gamecocks have enough on offense to keep up with Arkansas. Florida still looms, and while the Gators have nearly hit rock bottom, a healthy John Brantley might make a play or two against that South Carolina defense in a few weeks.
John Brantley struggled on the field after struggling with injuries off of it.
2. Florida's troubles stretch well beyond the quarterback position: During Florida's three-game slide, most of the attention was on the fact freshmen Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel were taking the snaps at quarterback. Both struggled considerably when they were in, so most of the blame for Florida's mishaps rested on the quarterbacks. But after watching Florida's offense collapse in the second half against Georgia, with Brantley back, it became obvious that Florida has a lot more issues than just the health of its quarterback. Brantley was hobbled, but he still made a few plays with his arm in the first half, including a clutch fourth-down touchdown pass to Jordan Reed, but in the second half everyone around him fell apart. Outside of Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps, the Gators have no playmakers. And even those two weren't very effective on offense Saturday. Georgia pounded Florida's young offensive line and rarely did much in the secondary because there aren't any receiving threats on Florida's team. The Gators' offensive woes have returned this season, and it cost the Gators a chance in the East.
3. Vanderbilt really isn't going to be pushed around anymore: The look on James Franklin's face when Carey Spear shanked the 27-yard field goal that would have tied Arkansas late in the fourth said it all. He expected to take this game into overtime, and I'm sure he expected to win. But when that kick never came close to even hitting the goal post, Franklin had a look of disgust on his face. It wasn't a look that said Vanderbilt was so close. It didn't say that the Commodores will get it the next time. Franklin looked angry because he expected another chance at a stunning victory. Whether that would have happened in overtime will never be known, but for most of the day he had the better team on the field. Yes, Arkansas' talent level is greater than Vandy's, but it didn't play like it until late, giving the Hogs their fourth game this season with a halftime deficit. This Vanderbilt team is much different and better than the Vanderbilt teams we're accustomed to. Some of the sloppy mistakes that have haunted this program in the past returned Saturday, but overall this program is headed in the right direction. Vanderbilt is no longer a pushover with Franklin in charge.
4. Steve Spurrier needs to open up his passing game: Running back Brandon Wilds did a tremendous job filling in for Lattimore against Tennessee. He rushed for 137 yards and carried the ball 28 times for the Gamecocks. He's a tough runner and doesn't seem to run out of effort. But South Carolina just can't seem to throw the ball anymore. Quarterback Connor Shaw passed for just 87 yards and Alshon Jeffery caught three passes for 17 yards. That just isn't going to cut it going forward. South Carolina has the duty of keeping up with the SEC's best offense in Arkansas next weekend, and still has games with Florida and Clemson left. Shaw isn't mistake-prone like Stephen Garcia was, and he's more than capable of slinging the ball around, but for some reason that part of the playbook has been lost. Wilds was good against Tennessee, but who knows how long he can keep that up against better defenses. South Carolina is going to need to throw the ball much more and get more creative if it is going to beat Arkansas next week.
5. The winner in the East doesn't stand much of a chance in Atlanta: The big boys were off this weekend, but after watching Georgia and South Carolina sneak by, it became more and more obvious that the SEC title game will be won by the West. Even if Arkansas somehow slips into the championship game, it's a pretty fair assumption that the Hogs would take the crown inside the Georgia Dome in early December. The two left in the East race just have too many issues to be able to stand tall against an Alabama or an LSU. Neither will play the Crimson Tide or the Tigers before then, so we won't get a preview of the potential Atlanta matchup, but that's probably a good thing. Two bad losses like that could do a number on a team's psyche. The mistakes that these two make on offense will be capitalized on again and again by the West champ. At this point, it's safe to say that the SEC crown will remain in the West for a third straight year.