A week after two top-ten battles, Vanderbilt’s first SEC victory, and losses by the two divisional cellar dwellers to push them both to 0-3 in the conference, the SEC (except for Georgia) returns to play this weekend with some great — and not so great — match-ups.
Let’s take a spin through those match-ups and tell you what to put on your calendar for Week 7 of the SEC.
Top of the Ratings
#3 South Carolina (6-0, 4-0) at #9 LSU (5-1, 1-1), 8:00 pm ET, ESPN
Last week’s episode: South Carolina 35, Georgia 7; Florida 14, LSU 6
Program guide: What many expected to be a close game in Columbia last week got out of hand in a hurry, as the Gamecocks jumped out 21-0 on Georgia before they even got off the bus. The Gamecocks had two TD passes from Connor Shaw and a 70-yard punt return from Ace Sanders with 5:56 left in the first quarter, then let their defense take over, holding Georgia to 224 total yards. Shaw only had to attempt 10 passes through the course of the game, completing six for 162 yards and those two scores.
LSU’s third-ranked defense will look to not only avoid a repeat of that performance in Baton Rouge on Saturday night, but also a repeat of their performance last week in Gainesville. The Tigers took a 6-0 lead to the locker room on the strength of two Drew Alleman field goals, but never scored in the second half. Mike Gillislee toted the rock early and often, accounting for both Gator scores in the second half. Gillislee racked up 146 of Florida’s 237 yards on offense on 34 carries.
Ronald Reagan was completing his first term as President the last time South Carolina started 7-0, and the Gamecocks have not defeated LSU since an 18-17 victory in Baton Rouge in 1994. If the Gamecocks want to reverse those trends this year, it will require a heavy dose of Marcus Lattimore. Lattimore has rushed for 549 yards and nine touchdowns in Carolina’s six games, and his average (91.5 YPG) is close to what LSU allows to opposing rushers (98.5 YPG). This is the case because, as good as LSU’s run defense has been, their pass defense has been that much better. LSU allows 122 yards per game passing, and though Connor Shaw completes 75.7% of his passes, he may need to use his legs to set up the passing game and pick his spots.
LSU will find slightly less resistance in the Carolina defense, though the Gamecocks only allow 194.2 yards per game passing. The front seven is the defensive key against LSU, as the crew led by Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor allow only 2.41 yards per carry to opposing ball carriers. The Tigers rush for almost five yards per carry, so it will be an interesting battle to see who flinches first. If Zach Mettenberger can improve on last week’s performance (11-for-25, 158 yards, INT) and get back to his typical self (89-for-144, 1174 yards, 6 TD, 3 INT), LSU may be able to loosen up the Gamecock defense enough to let his run game break one or two.
#22 Texas A&M (4-1) vs. #23 Louisiana Tech (5-0), 9:00 pm ET, ESPNU
Last week’s episode: Texas A&M 30, Ole Miss 27; Louisiana Tech 58, UNLV 31
Program guide: It is never a good thing when a hurricane appears. This goes without saying. There may be a small silver lining on the football side, however, as this game that was postponed due to Hurricane Isaac now gets national attention. Both teams are nationally-ranked, and Louisiana Tech is the “new” Boise State, with the potential to run the table and “bust” the BCS.
The Aggies, conversely, will look to “bust” the dreams of an undefeated season for the Bulldogs in Shreveport. Though they lost their season and conference opener 20-17 to Florida at Kyle Field, A&M has outscored their last four opponents by the eye-popping total of 206-54. Redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel has certainly been up to the task, serving as the team’s leading rusher in addition to his passing duties. Manziel possesses a 162.3 QB rating, completing 69.3% of his passes for 11 touchdowns, while rushing for just under 500 yards and seven scores. Ben Malena serves as a punishing complement to Manziel (18-142-1 vs. Ole Miss), and Mike Evans, Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu provide play-making threats on the outside.
The one area where Texas A&M has shown it can be exploited is in the passing game — the Aggies have the 86th-ranked pass defense in the FBS — and Louisiana Tech quarterback Colby Cameron will look to use this to his advantage early and often. Cameron has generated some Heisman buzz with his start, completing 122-of-179 passes for 1,447 yards in his first five starts of 2012. Even more impressive is his tally of 13 touchdowns against zero interceptions. Should the Wrecking Crew defense limit Cameron, the Bulldogs will turn to the rushing tandem of Kenneth Dixon (424 yards, 8 TD) and Tevin King (369 yards, 5 TD) to try to move the ball on offense.
If Tech is somehow able to get past the Aggies here, the schedule favorably lines up for them the rest of the season. The Bulldogs head into WAC play after this one, with home games with Idaho, UTSA, and Utah State and road trips to New Mexico State, Texas State, and San Jose State. Bulldog fans need to be careful about putting the cart before the horse, but with both teams having high-powered offenses and great quarterbacks, this is a must-see affair.
Set Your DVR
#1 Alabama (5-0, 2-0) at Missouri (3-3, 0-3), 3:30 pm ET, CBS
Program guide: It is a sharp understatement to say that Missouri’s first SEC season has not started as anyone has anticipated, but the Tigers have the opportunity to erase a lot of that as the top-ranked Crimson Tide make their first SEC trip to Columbia. A lot will have to go right for Mizzou, though, as quarterback James Franklin will miss the game with a knee injury. This means redshirt freshman Corbin Berkstresser gets the keys to the offense again, and he will need to build on last week’s 9-for-30 outing against an Alabama defense that ranks in the top five in the FBS in every major category. Berkstresser’s job will not be made any easier by Missouri’s numerous injuries on their offensive line. Senior running back Kendial Lawrence (487 yards, five TD) needs to find some holes to keep Alabama’s pass rush off Berkstresser.
Missouri has a top-30 defense of their own, but Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron will look to effectively manage the game for the Tide while finding his own weapons. McCarron is a yard shy of a thousand through the air this season, throwing for 12 scores and no picks. The Tide has a solid one-two punch in the backfield in Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon, with those two combining for over 600 yards and six trips to the end zone for Alabama this season. One would imagine this tandem will see a lot of work in this game, especially if the Tide find themselves staked to an early lead.
#4 Florida (5-0, 4-0) at Vanderbilt (2-3, 1-2), 6:00 pm ET, ESPNU
Program guide: Vanderbilt scored their first SEC victory of 2012 last week, defeating the aforementioned Missouri Tigers 19-15. Zac Stacy rushed for 72 yards and two scores last week, while Vandy quarterback Jordan Rodgers completed 14-of-24 for 182 yards. The Commodores’ only other win this season came against Presbyterian of the FCS, so getting on the board last week is large for James Franklin’s squad. The Vanderbilt offensive line absolutely must keep Jordan Rodgers protected (13 sacks thus far) against a Florida defense that has at times struggled to get pressure on opposing passers. Vanderbilt’s turnover margin is back to even on the year, so forcing a couple of turnovers while preventing their own would also be a huge help.
We’ve discussed Mike Gillislee’s tremendous performance from last week’s LSU game, but this is far from his first great performance this season. Gillislee has rushed for 548 yards and seven scores in 2012, and he will look to continue that trend against a mediocre Vanderbilt rush defense. The Commodores allow 179 yards per game on the ground, and this might be their undoing in this one. Gator quarterback Jeff Driskel has completed over 69% of his passes this season, but has only thrown for four touchdowns. Florida’s passing offense is ranked 115th in the FBS, averaging only 158.6 yards per game. Look for the Gators to utilize the short passing game to allow it to serve as an extension of their run game.
Tennessee (3-2, 0-2) at #19 Mississippi State (5-0, 2-0), 9:00 pm ET, ESPN2
Program guide: Much was made of Tennessee’s 35-21 victory over NC State in the Kickoff Classic in Atlanta. This was thought to be the start of Derek Dooley’s turnaround on Rocky Top, the salvaging of a lost 2011 season. The Volunteers have only gone 2-2 since then, with victories over Georgia State and Akron. NC State, as you know, is coming off a defeat of Florida State at home. The Vols will look to bounce back from a wild 51-44 loss to Georgia two weeks ago on the road in Starkville. Quarterback Tyler Bray went 24-for-45 against the Bulldogs, throwing for 281 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. Though Mississippi State allows 200 yards per game through the air, Tennessee cannot afford interceptions or fumbles against a Bulldog team that is +2.2 per game in turnover margin.
Mississippi State has #1 Alabama looming on the horizon in two weeks, but this does not mean that they will — or should — take Tennessee and next week’s opponent, Middle Tennessee, lightly. The Bulldogs featured a balanced attack in last week’s 27-14 victory against Kentucky, and will look for similar production from quarterback Tyler Russell (23-39, 269 yards, 2 TD last week), running back LaDarius Perkins (25 carries, 110 yards, TD) and wide receiver Chad Bumphis (9 catches, 104 yards, TD) in this week’s outing. Mississippi State faces two inferior defenses in their next two outings. Tennessee is 89th in the FBS, while Middle Tennessee is 91st. The Bulldogs will look to this advantage to take them to 7-0 when they make the trip to Tuscaloosa.
Auburn (1-4, 0-3) at Ole Miss (3-3, 0-2), 12:21 pm ET, SEC Network
Program guide: Of all the games to feature on the league’s network this week, we get to see this one. Auburn looked to be in line for their first conference victory against Arkansas last week, facing a Razorbacks team that had been outscored 110-10 in their previous SEC contests. This was not to be, however, as the Tigers turned the ball over five times and lost 24-7. The Tigers’ lone victory came against ULM on the plains, kicking a winning field goal in overtime after the Warhawks missed their attempt. Auburn quarterback Kiehl Frazier has struggled all year, completing just 54.4 percent of his passes, with two touchdowns against eight interceptions. Clint Moseley figures to see more time for Gene Chizik’s team as they look to salvage what is, right now, a lost season.
Ole Miss played Texas A&M extremely close last week, as mentioned earlier. The Rebels got a 100-plus yard effort from Jeff Scott on the ground against the Aggies, while Bo Wallace threw for 305 yards. Wallace threw two interceptions in the game against one touchdown, squaring his touchdown and interception totals at eight on the year. Auburn’s 77th-ranked defense allows 409 yards per game, and Ole Miss will look to make that number that much worse on Saturday in Oxford.
Kentucky (1-5, 0-3) at Arkansas (2-4, 1-2), 7:00 pm ET, FSN (regional)
Program guide: Kentucky played last week without quarterback Maxwell Smith, and will do so for the rest of the year. The Wildcats employed a quarterback tandem last week, using true freshmen Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles under center. Whitlow completed 10-of-21 attempts for only 73 yards, though he did rush for a touchdown in their loss to Mississippi State. Towles was 5-of-6 for 71 yards and a score through the air, and the platoon might actually play to Kentucky’s benefit going forward. Kentucky’s lone win came against Kent State, and they will look to make it two against a similarly struggling Arkansas team. The Wildcats bring a 106th-ranked offense and 72nd-ranked defense to Fayetteville, though, which will pose a considerable problem.
Arkansas experienced a bit of a return to the Razorbacks of old last week, winning by 17 at Jordan-Hare. Tyler Wilson completed 22-of-29 for 230 yards against the Tigers, while Dennis Johnson knifed through the Auburn defense for 76 yards and two scores. The Razorbacks’ defense employed a bend-but-don’t-break approach last week, allowing 321 yards of total offense to Auburn. They did, though, hold the Tigers to 4-of-12 on third down and force five turnovers. Auburn also rushed for 40 yards last week, a number which will have to improve for Kentucky to stay close in this one. Is Arkansas back, or was this a one-week thing? We may not know after the final whistle of this one, or even after the Razorbacks’ upcoming games against Ole Miss and Tulsa at home, but we will certainly find out when Arkansas closes their schedule at South Carolina, at Mississippi State and at home against LSU.
Brian Wilmer is a contributor to FBSchedules.com. Follow him @sportsmatters.