South Carolina beat Georgia 35-7 last season. (Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports)
It’s only week two in the Southeastern Conference, and we’ve already had a wacky conference contest, a lightning delay, a quarterback benched for taunting and an upset. Saying this is par for the course in the SEC is probably a bit much, but the premier league in college football will always have a little extra juice each week.
That juice is in full effect in week two, with a match-up of preseason top-ten teams between the hedges headlining the schedule. We will also unveil the new Keyword Search feature this week, giving you some of the key storylines to keep an eye on throughout the league slate. Eleven games are on tap for the weekend (along with the Florida-Miami game, chronicled in the ACC version of Clear Your Schedule), and we’ll take a look at all of them right after this trivia question!
SEC trivia, week 2 (answer at the end of the column): Two Ohio Valley Conference teams travel to face SEC opponents this week. Who was the last SEC squad to be defeated by an OVC team?
Top of the Ratings
#6 South Carolina (1-0) at #11 Georgia (0-1), 4:30 pm ET, ESPN
Last week’s episode: South Carolina 27, North Carolina 10; Clemson 38, Georgia 35
Program guide: The Gamecocks kicked off their season last Thursday, and the final almost seemed inconsequential in comparison to the main storyline. That storyline didn’t involve the first passes thrown by both Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson for the 2013 season going for touchdowns, Mike Davis carrying for 115 yards and a score or South Carolina holding Tar Heel rushers to less than three yards a carry. The focus, instead, was on Jadeveon Clowney’s conditioning, or apparent lack thereof.
Clowney managed just three solo tackles and three quarterback hurries against North Carolina, and looked gassed through most of the game. This unfortunately takes the attention away from what Clowney’s counterparts on the defensive line did to back him up, as Kelcy Quarles, Gerald Dixon, Jr., Darius English, Kelsey Griffin and Chaz Sutton all logged three or more tackles. Quarles and Dixon also recorded a sack each. The true focus for the Gamecocks this week needs to be constant pressure on Aaron Murray, as they held a similar quarterback (in style, if not talent) in Bryn Renner to just 4.5 yards per attempt. More pressure in the Georgia backfield will not allow time for plays to develop downfield, where Carolina is more vulnerable.
Georgia is left without one of its key weapons to make those plays, as receiver Malcolm Mitchell is out for the year after suffering an ACL injury against Clemson last week. This is a devastating blow, to be sure, but the injury opens the door for targets like Chris Conley and Michael Bennett to make increased contributions in Mike Bobo’s offense. The two combined to snare eight catches for 132 yards last week, and one would imagine these looks will continue to increase. Todd Gurley also had his usual tremendous outing last week, rumbling for 154 yards and a score, but a new option emerged in fullback Quayvon Hicks. Hicks carried just three times for 38 yards, but logged a touchdown and had a 37-yard drive-saving run. Hicks’ blocking also helped clear space for Gurley to run.
The Bulldogs’ defense gets another crack at an athletic quarterback this week, as Connor Shaw will be under center for Steve Spurrier. The combination of Shaw, Davis and Brandon Wilds will need to be contained by a Bulldog defense that allowed 4.28 yards per carry last week to Boyd, Roderick McDowell and the Clemson rushing attack. Georgia’s defense needs to get up the field just like South Carolina, as the Bulldogs managed just three hurries and three pass deflections on Tajh Boyd last week.
With the talent level between these two clubs and the obvious sense of urgency on Georgia’s side, this has the potential to be one of the top five games of the regular season, in any conference.
Miami (OH) (0-1) at Kentucky (0-1), noon ET, FSN/ESPN3
Righting the ship: Miami started their season by getting clobbered by Marshall 52-14 in week one, while Kentucky lost to the school Wildcat fans often derisively refer to as their “little brother”, Western Kentucky. Both teams need to turn things around in a hurry, as Miami plays in the still-winnable MAC, while Kentucky faces a brutal SEC schedule ahead.
Ground and pound: This game is a tale of two teams who experienced different levels of success running the football last week. Miami was behind throughout the game, but they still only managed 2.18 yards per carry on 34 attempts. Just three of their nine first downs came on the ground. Kentucky, meanwhile, gashed the Hilltopper defense for 216 yards and two scores, averaging 6.75 yards per carry.
Get off the field!: Kentucky’s defense was on the field for 75 plays last week against Western Kentucky. This seems like a huge number, but it still pales in comparison to Marshall’s output against Miami last week. The Thundering Herd offense was on the field for 94 plays against the RedHawks.
Western Kentucky (1-0) at Tennessee (1-0), 12:21 pm ET, SEC Network
Efficiency: The Hilltoppers and Volunteers combined to go 11-for-12 in red zone opportunities during their week one wins, and both teams will need to visit the checkerboard end zones every chance they get on Saturday. The Vols look to have an edge here, but WKU did complete 27-of-34 passes last week.
Third is the word: Western Kentucky converted just 2-of-10 third down attempts against Kentucky, while Tennessee was considerably more successful. The Vols were 7-for-11 on third down in their defeat of Austin Peay. Western needs to keep their offense on the field and the Vols on their heels.
2-0: WKU could go to 2-0 against SEC competition with a victory on Rocky Top. This means very little in the grand scheme of things, but two victories against the conference would go a long way in preparing for the Sun Belt schedule and bowl competition.
Toledo (0-1) at Missouri (1-0), 3:30 pm ET, ESPNU
Back-to-back: The Rockets take the field for the second straight road game at an SEC school, having fallen to Florida 24-6 last week. If Toledo loses in Columbia, they will have fallen in both lifetime outings against SEC opponents.
The Franklin factor: Missouri’s offense mightily struggled at times during their maiden voyage in the SEC, but James Franklin returned to his old self last week. Franklin completed 26-of-38 passes for 314 yards and three scores against Murray State, adding 44 yards on the ground. If the Franklin of old has returned, Toledo may be in trouble.
Balance: Mizzou tallied 32 first downs last week, with 16 on the ground and 16 through the air. The Rockets allowed 22 first downs against Florida last week — an equally balanced 12 rushing and 10 passing.
Alcorn State (1-0) at Mississippi State (0-1), 3:30 pm ET, CSS
Home of the Braves: Probably best known as the alma mater of former Titan and Raven Steve McNair, Alcorn State defeated Edward Waters 63-12 in week 1. Alcorn participates in the SWAC conference at the FCS level.
Getting untracked: LaDarius Perkins carried 16 times for just 50 yards in a loss to Oklahoma State last week. The Bulldogs averaged 3.0 yards per carry against the Cowboys. MSU averaged 4.42 yards per carry in 2012, good for tenth-best in the SEC.
2-for-16: Mississippi State converted just two of their 16 third-down tries in last week’s outing. The sledding gets a bit easier this week, so this number should improve.
SE Missouri State (0-1) at Mississippi (1-0, 1-0 SEC), 7 pm ET, PPV
Out like a lion: SEMO suffered a brutal season-opening loss to the SE Louisiana Lions, falling 45-7. SE Louisiana tallied 494 yards of total offense in the contest, while SEMO passers combined to complete just seven of their 19 attempts.
37?!: Ole Miss carried the ball 37 times against Vanderbilt last week, knifing through the Commodores for 206 yards and five touchdowns. Rebel quarterbacks Barry Brunetti and Bo Wallace visited the end zone twice each, with running back Jeff Scott adding the fifth, along with 138 yards on 12 carries.
Going solo: Many critics of SEC scheduling cite the numerous FCS opponents played by the league, but Hugh Freeze’s club will play only one such team this year. That game will take place this weekend.
#4 (FCS) Sam Houston State (1-0) at #7 Texas A&M (1-0), 7 pm ET, PPV
Bear down: The BearKats played in back-to-back FCS national title games in 2011 and 2012. They suffered losses to North Dakota State in both games, but they present a formidable opponent for the Aggies.
It’s all about the Benjamins: This is the first chance many will have to see Johnny Manziel after his benching for making money gestures, taunting Rice players and blowing off coach Kevin Sumlin after doing so. Manziel apparently apologized to his team and his coach after the game, but all eyes will still be on the Aggie star.
Don’t mess with Texas: The Aggies don’t leave the friendly confines of Kyle Field until a neutral-site contest against Arkansas on September 28th. Their first game outside of Texas takes place at Ole Miss on October 12th.
UAB (0-1) at #9 LSU (1-0), 7:00PM ET, ESPNU
On the road again: UAB hits the road to Baton Rouge on Saturday, one of their five road games in their first seven contests. UAB fell 34-31 at Troy last week, and will play at LSU, Vanderbilt, Florida International and UTSA, while facing Northwestern State and Florida Atlantic at home before the calendar turns to November.
Continued growth: Many eyes were on LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger coming into the Tigers’ 37-27 victory over TCU. New offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s scheme figures to be more favorable to Mettenberger. Early returns were mixed, with Mettenberger completing 16-of-32 passes for 251 yards and a score.
Playing keep-away: LSU limited TCU to just 13 first downs last Saturday, while winning the time of possession battle by a 36:01-23:59 margin. This should equate to fewer chances to strike for UAB, so the Blazers must make the most of every opportunity.
Samford (1-0) at Arkansas (1-0), 7 pm ET, PPV
Can Truss It: Bulldog running back Fabian Truss is one of his team’s playmakers. Truss broke the 100-yard plateau five times in 2012. He is also a star on special teams, returning the opening kickoff 100 yards for a score in a 31-21 victory over Georgia State last week. However…
Born to (not) run: Arkansas held Louisiana-Lafayette’s vaunted rushing attack to just 85 yards on 32 carries last week. Star running back Alonzo Harris only received 10 carries, accounting for 56 rushing yards and a score.
No Tyler, no problem: With quarterback Tyler Wilson having moved on to the Raiders’ practice squad, his replacement performed quite well against ULL. Sophomore Brandon Allen completed 15-of-22 passes for 230 yards and three scores in the Razorbacks’ 34-14 victory.
Arkansas State (1-0) at Auburn (1-0), 7:30 pm ET, FSN
You look familiar: Auburn coach Gus Malzahn gets to face off against his former team on the plains on Saturday. Malzahn spent just one year in Jonesboro, going 9-3 and leading the Red Wolves to a berth in the GoDaddy.com Bowl.
Outstanding O: Even with Malzahn gone, ASU thumped in-state opponent Arkansas-Pine Bluff 62-11 to open the season. The Red Wolves rushed 57 times for 509 yards and eight scores in the contest. Auburn racked up 45 carries for 297 yards and two scores on the ground in Malzahn’s first game as the Tiger head coach, a 31-24 victory over Washington State.
Important firsts: Washington State secured 28 total first downs against Auburn last week, with 18 of those first downs coming via the pass. Auburn’s defense will get a great test in the high-octane Red Wolves offense, and limiting conversions will allow the Tigers to control the tempo.
Austin Peay (0-1) at Vanderbilt (0-1, 0-1 SEC), 7:30 pm ET, CSS
1987: This year marked the only victory registered by the Govs against an FBS opponent. APSU defeated Kansas State 26 years ago, going 0-12 against teams at the top level after that victory. Tennessee defeated APSU 45-0 last week.
1904-05: James Franklin has earned 15 victories in his first two years at Vanderbilt. The last time a coach reached that win total leading the Commodores was in 1904-05. That coach was Vanderbilt Hall of Famer (and namesake of the athletics center on campus) Dan McGugin.
5: With a win, Vanderbilt would secure their fifth-straight victory against a non-conference opponent. The streak began last season with a 58-0 victory over Presbyterian on September 15th, 2012. The Commodores had lost 23-13 at Northwestern the week prior.
Trivia answer: I asked earlier: Two Ohio Valley Conference teams travel to face SEC opponents this week. Who was the last SEC squad to be defeated by an OVC team?
Jacksonville State defeated Ole Miss 49-48 in double overtime on September 4th, 2010. Calvin Middleton caught a two-point conversion pass from Coty Blanchard to seal the victory for JSU.