(NOTE: There are several matchups involving ACC and SEC teams this week. Those games where SEC teams are the home teams will appear in this piece. Any games with ACC teams at home will appear in the ACC column.)
The SEC emerges from a week against a lot of FCS competition to engage in rivalry games as the season approaches its end. The conference is again in the running to play for a national title after losses by #1 Kansas State and #2 Oregon last week. This week’s slate of games features two schools that have already fired their coaches playing each other, one more school who will be looking for a coach and another who might be looking for a coach. Two other teams are battling for bowl eligibility. There are future and present consequences in just about every game, giving us yet another must-see weekend — for the most part — of SEC football.
We’re ready to board the bus for the SEC tour, but not before we dive into some trivia!
SEC Trivia, Week 13 (answer at the end of the article): Jim Chaney was named Tennessee’s interim coach after Derek Dooley’s dismissal earlier this week. Who was Tennessee’s last interim coach?
Top of the Ratings
Georgia Tech (6-5) at #3 Georgia (10-1), noon ET, ESPN
Last week’s episode: Georgia Tech 42, Duke 24; Georgia 45, Georgia Southern 14
Program guide: The 107th installment of Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate takes place between the hedges this weekend, and the Yellow Jackets and Bulldogs will face off in preparation for trips to conference championships for both schools. Georgia Tech enters this game winless in their last three against Georgia, and only 1-10 in the last 11 contests. That lone win was a 45-42 victory in Athens in 2008. The Yellow Jackets continued their defensive resurgence — such as it is — against Duke last week, holding the Blue Devils to 275 yards of offense. Duke’s leading rusher, Jela Duncan, only managed to rush for 39 yards, while quarterback Sean Renfree was sacked four times by the Ramblin’ Wreck defense.
Tech’s offense put up another solid effort, as well, plowing through Duke for 330 rushing yards. Four Georgia Tech backs carried the ball at least ten times, with rushing totals between 62 and 72 yards. Quarterback Tevin Washington attempted just ten passes, though he completed six for 102 yards and three touchdowns. The Yellow Jackets have the third-best rushing offense in the country, averaging just under 325 yards per game. This would seem to favor Georgia Tech, as Georgia allows 150 rushing yards per game, but the advantage may not be as strong as one would think.
Georgia faced a very similar offense last week in Georgia Southern, and though the Eagles tallied 302 rushing yards, the familiarity should help the Bulldogs. GSU rushed 58 times against the Bulldog defense, and the Jackets should offer a similar look. Georgia’s three prior opponents all rushed for less than 100 yards, though, so the return to the defensive prominence the Bulldogs began during the Florida game is still in effect. To be fair, those 58 rushing attempts last week were more than the previous two weeks combined.
Aaron Murray put up another week of gigantic numbers last week, going 18-for-28 for 330 yards and four scores. Murray has tallied 29 touchdowns on the year against just eight interceptions, with his only sub-50 percent passing outing coming in the Bulldogs’ lone loss against South Carolina. He is joined by running back Todd Gurley, who is only the second 1,000-plus yard rusher as a freshman in school history. Georgia Tech’s pass defense is still only 86th-best in the FBS, despite defensive coordinator Al Groh having lost his job several weeks ago. That same defense gave up 50 to North Carolina just two weeks ago, and with a similar passing and rushing tandem on tap this week, that may be the case again.
Set Your DVR
Mississippi State (8-3, 4-3) at Ole Miss (5-6, 2-5), 7:00pm ET, ESPNU
Program guide: The Egg Bowl is the tenth-longest uninterrupted rivalry in college football, and another installment takes place Saturday night. There are considerable consequences for the Rebels, as bowl eligibility is on the line. Mississippi’s last win in the series came in 2008, with three straight decisions going to Mississippi State. Mississippi was in great position to score a defeat against LSU last week before allowing 21 points to the Tigers in the fourth quarter of a 41-35 loss. Two Jeremy Hill rushing touchdowns and an 89-yard punt return by Odell Beckham sealed Ole Miss’ fate. The Rebels also turned the ball over four times in the loss, with three of those coming on Bo Wallace interceptions. Wallace completed 15-of-35 passes for 310 yards with two touchdowns to accompany his three picks.
Speaking of turnovers, Mississippi State forced five of them in a 45-14 throttling of Arkansas last week. The Bulldogs intercepted Tyler Wilson twice, while forcing three fumbles. Tyler Russell led Mississippi State’s offense in a 19-for-32 effort, throwing for 274 yards and four touchdowns. Running back LaDarius Perkins added 91 yards of his own. Mississippi State’s three-game losing streak ended in style against the Razorbacks, and they will need the same level of production to continue their winning ways. The Bulldogs compiled 122 fewer offensive yards per game in those three losses than in their eight wins, while allowing almost 500 yards per game of total defense in those losses. Mississippi State allows just 332 yards per game on defense in their eight wins.
Missouri (5-6, 2-5) at #9 Texas A&M (9-2, 5-2), 7:00pm ET, ESPN2
Program guide: Missouri still stands within one game of bowl eligibility, but what a hurdle this is for the Tigers. Missouri faces off with the fifth-ranked Texas A&M offense, and that Aggie offensive unit has accumulated fewer than 400 yards in a game just once this year, in their season-opening loss to Florida at Kyle Field. The Tigers allowed 508 yards of offense in a 31-27 loss to Syracuse last week, capped by a wide-open game-winner to Alec Lemon with 37 seconds remaining. The Orange were 7-for-15 on third down against Mizzou, allowing them to continue drives and wear down the Tiger defense.
Kliff Kingsbury’s Aggie offense is much more of a quick-strike unit. A&M averaged 9.1 yards per play last week against FCS opponent Sam Houston State, and while many players saw action last week, Johnny Manziel was his typical self. Manziel completed 14-of-20 passes for 267 yards against the Bearkats, throwing for three scores and an interception. Manziel also contributed 100 rushing yards on 16 carries, scoring twice. The Tigers allow a painful 413 offensive yards per game on the road, and their defensive challenges may be compounded by their lack of quarterback and leader James Franklin — again — due to injury. Corbin Berkstresser has struggled in Franklin’s stead in 2012, including a 4-for-8 effort with a pick last week. Berkstresser has managed a 48.9 completion percentage thus far, balancing three touchdowns with six interceptions. If those struggles continue this week, it could be a tremendously long end to the 2012 season for Mizzou.
#7 LSU (9-2, 5-2) at Arkansas (4-7, 2-5), 2:30pm ET Friday, CBS
Program guide: The Battle for the Golden Boot has seen Arkansas emerge victorious in three of the last five showdowns, and while that seems highly unlikely to become four of six, there are still some things to watch in this one. We mentioned earlier in our recap of last week’s Mississippi State-Arkansas game that the Razorbacks struggled with turnovers, and that could again be the case in this one. Arkansas ranks last in the conference in turnover margin, while LSU’s ball-hawking defense ranks second. Tyler Wilson, Dennis Johnson and crew face a tremendously tough task against the Tigers. The Razorback defense has fared no better, allowing 496 yards per game in their seven losses this year. A 170-yard effort by Kentucky aside, Arkansas has allowed 321 or more yards to every opponent this year.
LSU continues to rack up rushing yards, running for triple digits in every game except for their loss to Florida. The Tigers have tallied 2070 yards on the ground in 2012, while the passing game has also hit its stride behind Zach Mettenberger. The Tigers have passed for 851 of their 2270 yards in the last three games. The one area of concern for LSU is their pass defense. LSU has allowed 300-plus passing yards in their last two games, both against Mississippi schools. Tyler Wilson figures to throw a lot in this contest, and the Tigers need to ensure that his yards are mostly empty yards, instead of the total Bo Wallace posted in nearly leading his Rebels to victory.
Kentucky (2-9, 0-7) at Tennessee (4-7, 0-7), 12:21pm ET, SEC Network
Program guide: Yikes. Let’s look for some positives in this game. The winner of this game will not finish the season 0-8 in SEC play. Interim Tennessee coach Jim Chaney could be 1-0 after the final whistle. Kentucky actually comes into this game off a victory, defeating FCS opponent Samford 34-3 in Commonwealth Stadium last week. The Bulldogs managed just nine first downs and 102 total yards of offense against Kentucky. The Wildcats converted 8-of-16 third downs in the victory. Despite this effort, though, Kentucky still ranks last in the league in scoring offense and total offense, while ranking 12th in passing and rushing offense. Kentucky ranks ninth in passing defense, and that defense will get quite the test from either Tyler Bray or Justin Worley on Rocky Top on Saturday.
Tennessee lost their coach after being hammered by their in-state rival, Vanderbilt. The Commodores worked over the Vols for 442 yards of total offense in a demoralizing loss. Many of the decisions and play calls in the game seemed suspect, at best, and a failed fake punt was even blamed on the punter’s arm not being loose enough to throw a pass. Tyler Bray was benched in the middle of an 11-for-29 effort. Bray threw for 103 yards, adding a touchdown and two interceptions. There are no doubts about Tennessee on the offensive side of the ball, as they rank second in the conference in total offense behind only Texas A&M. All signs would seem to point to the Vols finally getting well and notching their first SEC victory, but the instability around Knoxville may be a cause for concern.
Auburn (3-8, 0-7) at #2 Alabama (10-1, 6-1), 3:30pm ET, CBS
Program guide: How quickly things change on the plains. Two years ago, Cam Newton and Gene Chizik were at the top of the college football universe. Two seasons later, Chizik is 11-13 without Newton (4-11 in conference play), and is in danger of losing his job. Auburn has not gone winless in the SEC in 32 years, and the possibility of that result this year looms quite large. Freshman quarterback Jonathan Wallace has been rather effective — granted, against somewhat lesser opponents — since taking over the starting role at Auburn, and last week’s 10-of-18, 171-yard effort against FCS foe Alabama A&M continued his development. The Tigers featured two 100-yard rushers, as Tre Mason and Ontario McCalebb combined for 285 rushing yards and four touchdowns against the Bulldogs.
This is encouraging, sure, but the difference between Alabama A&M and Alabama is considerably greater than the trip between Huntsville and Tuscaloosa. Auburn allows 444.6 yards per game to conference foes, and they are facing a formidable Crimson Tide unit that continually piles up 400-yard offensive days. Last week’s 49-0 victory against Western Carolina was one of those days, as the Catamounts allowed 460 yards of Alabama offense. AJ McCarron only required six passes in the game, though he completed all six for 133 yards and a touchdown. Eddie Lacy and TJ Yeldon continued their hot ways, rushing for 154 combined yards and four scores. Alabama ranks second in the SEC in rushing offense at 209.36 yards per game. Auburn ranks last in rushing defense at 191.27 yards allowed per game. If this is to be Chizik’s last game at Auburn, he will look to go out in grand fashion in the Iron Bowl against his school’s most heated rival. The possibility of this becoming reality seems highly remote, however.
SEC Trivia: I asked earlier: “Jim Chaney was named Tennessee’s interim coach after Derek Dooley’s dismissal earlier this week. Who was Tennessee’s last interim coach?”
Answer: Phil Fulmer in 1992. Fulmer was 3-0 as Tennessee’s interim coach while Johnny Majors recovered from heart bypass surgery. The Vols defeated SW Louisiana 38-3, Georgia 34-31 in Athens and Florida 31-14 under Fulmer’s leadership. Fulmer became the full-time head coach before the 1992 Hall of Fame Bowl, a 38-23 victory over Boston College.