- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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After this weekend, there will only be one unbeaten team remaining in the SEC.
Auburn and LSU get it on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Both teams are 7-0 and ranked in the top 10.
Here’s a look at what to watch in the SEC in Week 8:
1. Defending Newton: The truth is that nobody really has put the clamps on Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, who’s leading the SEC in rushing and making a serious run at the Heisman Trophy. But in LSU's defense, he will go up against the best defensive line he’s faced all season, some of the fastest linebackers he’s faced, as well as some of the best-tackling defensive backs. LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis will pick his spots in coming after Newton, and Chavis also has confidence in his cornerbacks, namely Patrick Peterson, to leave them back there alone in man coverage and devote more defenders to stopping Newton in the running game.
2. LSU’s passing game: Jarrett Lee is likely to see the most action he’s seen all season at quarterback for the Tigers, who know they have to take advantage of Auburn’s deficiencies in defending the pass if they’re going to win this game. LSU did throw for 224 yards and two touchdowns in the 33-29 win over Florida. But those are the only touchdown passes the Tigers have thrown this season other than the two Jordan Jefferson threw in the opener against North Carolina. And in four of their past six games, the Tigers have finished with 112 or fewer passing yards. Making some big plays in the passing game will be critical for LSU if the Tigers are going to win this game.
3. Fourth-quarter prowess: It’s pretty well established by now that Auburn loves the fourth quarter. The Tigers have outscored teams this season 72-21 after the third quarter, which also counts the overtime period against Clemson. Even more impressively, Auburn has forced seven turnovers in the fourth quarter against the last two nationally ranked teams it’s faced -- Arkansas and South Carolina. How has LSU fared in the fourth quarter? Not bad. LSU has outscored teams 55-36 in the fourth quarter, but just about all of those points by the opponents have come in two games. North Carolina scored 14 points in the fourth quarter in the opener, and Florida scored 15 points in the final quarter two weeks ago.
4. Freshmen of influence: Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray and South Carolina tailback Marcus Lattimore have been the two best freshmen in the SEC so far, even though Lattimore isn’t expected to play Saturday against Vanderbilt after spraining his ankle last week. Several other freshmen are also having big seasons. Among them: Auburn running back Mike Dyer, Florida quarterback Trey Burton, Arkansas defensive tackle Byran Jones, LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, Tennessee offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James, Vanderbilt safety Kenny Ladler and Mississippi State safety Nickoe Whitley.
5. Nutt returns to Arkansas: For the second time since leaving there as head coach following the 2007 season, Ole Miss’ Houston Nutt returns to Arkansas on Saturday. He’s beaten the Hogs each of the past two seasons. Nutt downplayed going back this second time, saying all that other stuff was sort of yesterday’s news. Maybe so, but Nutt is still a polarizing figure in that state. Fans either love him, or they loathe him. There’s not much middle ground for the guy who took the Hogs to two SEC championship games in 10 seasons at Arkansas.
6. Georgia’s ‘D’ coming on: It looks like Georgia is starting to get it defensively and is playing much more instinctively in Todd Grantham’s scheme. The staff has tweaked a few things, in particular shuffling around some personnel in the secondary, and the Bulldogs have also tackled better. They will get a stiff test in that category on Saturday at Kentucky. Randall Cobb has been a touchdown waiting to happen every time he touches the ball, and Cobb’s fellow receiver, Chris Matthews, has also made several plays after the catch. The Bulldogs may get a break, though, when it comes to dealing with Kentucky star running back Derrick Locke. He’s doubtful for the second straight game with a shoulder stinger.
7. Elimination in the East: Unless the Eastern Division champion ends up with four losses, which isn’t out of the realm of possibility, the loser of Saturday’s Georgia-Kentucky game can pretty well count itself out of the race. The winner, though, still has a shot. Georgia would need South Carolina to lose two more games. The Gamecocks have a home game with Arkansas and play at Florida. The Wildcats, who own the head-to-head tiebreaker over South Carolina, could win the division if the Gamecocks lose to Arkansas and then beat Florida. Another favorable scenario for the Wildcats would be Georgia beating Florida and then Florida beating South Carolina. Kentucky can’t finish in a tie with Florida and win the division, because the Gators beat the Wildcats earlier this season. All of these scenarios are predicated on the winner of the Georgia-Kentucky game winning out.
8. Revving up the running game: All of a sudden, Alabama’s running game has looked mortal the past couple of weeks. In fact, Mark Ingram hasn’t rushed for more than 60 yards in any of his past three games. Trent Richardson’s highest rushing output in his past five games was 85 yards against Arkansas. This may be the game the Crimson Tide get that running game cranked back up again. Not only is Tennessee thin up front in its defensive line, but the Vols’ top interior lineman, Montori Hughes, has been slowed by an injury and might not be able to play.
9. Bray’s time? Tennessee coach Derek Dooley says he wants to get freshman quarterback Tyler Bray into the game Saturday against Alabama. Bray showed some flashes toward the end of the Georgia game two weeks ago, and Dooley said he deserves to play. There isn’t a specific plan, and Dooley said it will be more by feel when Bray plays and how much he plays. It’s not so much a reflection on Matt Simms and his performance this season, either, as it is on Tennessee’s inability to score points. Tennessee and Vanderbilt are tied for last in the SEC with 17 touchdowns.
10. Dealing with success: Mississippi State has won four games in a row for the first time under Dan Mullen. The Bulldogs are nationally ranked for the first time in nine years. Everybody will expect them to just show up this Saturday and automatically make it five in a row with a win over UAB. It’s never that easy, though, and we’ll find out a lot about the leadership and the maturity in this program. This is new ground for the Bulldogs, who need to be able to handle this success and keep pushing forward. After UAB comes a home game against Kentucky and then a bye the week before Alabama, so the schedule sets up nicely if the Bulldogs can take care of their business and not get caught up basking in what they’ve done to this point.