It may seem a bit much to call last week’s SEC action anticlimactic, but close games were not a common theme. Vanderbilt finally put one in the left column, though there were many tense moments at the end of their contest. Blowouts ensued in most other conference action, except for two specific games.
Kentucky lost to Florida 36-30 in a triple-overtime, er, questionable decision. The conference seemed to double down on that decision when questioned by the Wildcats. South Carolina clipped Georgia in a game in Columbia that seemed to take weeks to play, thanks to storms that affected everything from Friday night high school games to outdoor concerts. These results left the SEC East in flux — again — while setting the table for the conference schedule that will soon arrive.
There are just eight games this week, and we’ll take a spin around the conference slate. Before we do, though, it’s trivia time!
SEC Trivia, Week 4 (answer at the end of the column): Which SEC school has posted the longest active streak without pitching a defensive shutout?
Top of the Ratings
Florida (2-0, 1-0 SEC) at #3 Alabama (3-0, 0-0 SEC)
3:30pm ET, CBS
Last week’s episode: Florida 36, Kentucky 30 (3 OT); Alabama 52, Southern Miss 12
Program guide: This is the week for defensive battles, and you’ll see that as you continue through this column. The Gators and Crimson Tide are both renowned for their defensive prowess, though, and that will be on display this weekend in Tuscaloosa. Both schools are in the top 15 in total defense, with just 20-and-a-half yards separating the two. The Tide have led the conference in total defense each of the last six years, and are behind only LSU through three games this season.
The real focus, justifiably, is on Florida’s improved offense under the tutelage of Kurt Roper. The Gators have played just twice, but rank behind only Texas A&M among SEC teams in total offense. Florida is averaging 593 yards per game through their first two outings. Quarterback Jeff Driskel has been particularly impressive when given the freedom to be more creative in the offense. Driskel has completed 56 of his 88 passes for 543 yards, finding the end zone four times against just one pick. That translates to a 128.2 passer rating. Also, keep in mind that Driskel’s attempts per game are up over double from last year’s totals (20.3 last year, 44 thus far this year).
Alabama’s offense is still quite powerful — they rank third in the SEC in total offense — but there is still concern about the quarterback position. Though Blake Sims has been really good thus far, in terms of numbers (48-for-64, 646 yards, 4 TD, INT), there still seems to be a prevailing notion among some Alabama fans that the old phrase of “if you have two quarterbacks, you have none” plays in Tuscaloosa, as well. Sure, Alabama needs to mix in some more receiving weapons (Amari Cooper has 33 grabs for 454 yards and two scores, with no other ‘Bama receiver even in double figures in catches), but Sims’ worst (such as it is) performance came against Southern Miss on Saturday. Even still, Sims completed 12-of-17 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns. T.J. Yeldon has only been needed for 16 total carries over the past two weeks, which also helps, though he is battling a mild hamstring issue.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: This will be a much better game this year than it would have been last year. It’s so tough to win at Bryant-Denny, however. Close game.
#5 Auburn (2-0, 1-0 SEC) at Kansas State (2-0, 1-0 Big 12)
7:30pm ET (Thursday), ESPN
- Breaking through: The Wildcats have played Auburn three times, with the Tigers winning all three games. Auburn has won each game by 13 points or fewer, winning 45-32 in 1978, 26-18 in 1979 and 23-13 in 2007. Two of the victories came at Jordan-Hare, with the other in Manhattan.
- Running wild: K-State’s 20th-ranked rush defense will be put to the test on Thursday night. Auburn possesses the longest active streak of 200-plus yard rushing games (13). The Tigers are seventh in the nation in rushing offense, and place second to Arkansas in the SEC. Auburn carried 50 times for 358 yards and six scores in their last outing, a 59-13 victory over San Jose State.
- Since we were talking about shutouts: Kansas State has not been shut out since falling 12-0 to Colorado in Boulder on November 16, 1996. Only nine schools have longer active streaks.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: K-State has won 44 of 46 September home games under Bill Snyder. This will be a close one, but K-State must keep the ball away from Auburn.
Troy (0-3, 0-0 Sun Belt) at #13 Georgia (1-1, 0-1 SEC)
Noon ET, SEC Network
- Take two: Troy and Georgia have played only once in their history, with UGA taking a 44-34 decision in Athens in 2007. The Trojans outperformed Georgia in nearly every offensive category. Future pros Matthew Stafford (17-for-29, 217 yards, 2 TD, INT) and Knowshon Moreno (26 carries, 196 yards, 3 TD) had big games. Giants receiver Jerrel Jernigan hauled in 11 passes for 102 yards and two scores for Troy.
- Seeing double: Troy is tied for 105th in the FBS in scoring offense, scoring just 20.7 points per game. They rank 118th in scoring defense, allowing 40 points per game. While Troy allows 40 points per game, Georgia averages 40 points per game. The Bulldogs allow 29.7 points per game, good for 91st in the FBS.
- 36 of 37: Since Mark Richt’s arrival between the hedges, just one non-conference opponent has left Athens victorious. Georgia Tech defeated the Bulldogs 45-42 in the 2008 edition of Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate. Troy’s only road win against an SEC team — and only win against an SEC team while they were in the SEC — came at Mississippi State in 2001.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: An 0-3 Troy team facing off against an angry, hungry Georgia team in Sanford Stadium spells a horrendous outcome for the visitors.
#6 Texas A&M (3-0, 1-0 SEC) at SMU (0-2, 0-0 AAC)
3:30pm ET, ESPN2/ABC
- A new voice: June Jones resigned as the SMU head coach following the Mustangs’ most recent loss. Tom Mason will lead the club on an interim basis in Jones’ absence. Mason has never been a full-time head coach at the FBS level, but this is his second stint as an interim coach. Mason went 1-9 after replacing Pokey Allen at Boise State in 1996. Mason’s only win leading the Broncos was a 33-32 victory over New Mexico State on November 16, 1996.
- Long time, no win: SMU’s last victory over the Aggies came 30 years ago. The Mustangs defeated A&M 28-20 at Texas Stadium in Irving. SMU went 10-2 that season, en route to a Southwest Conference regular-season co-championship and an Aloha Bowl victory over Notre Dame.
- You don’t score until you score: A&M ranks second in the nation in points scored, tallying 163. The last time an Aggie club reached 200 after four games was 97 years ago (211).
Print that, tweet that, whatever: A&M has won 44 of 80 games against SMU. Though they were a bit sluggish at times against Rice, we’d be stunned if it weren’t 45 of 81.
Indiana (1-1, 0-0 Big Ten) at #18 Missouri (3-0, 0-0 SEC)
4:00pm ET, SEC Network
- What gives?: Indiana running back Tevin Coleman leads the FBS in average rushing yards per game, having accumulated 218.5 yards per game. Coleman did not play in the final three Hoosier games last season, but has rushed for 108 yards or greater in each of the last four games in which he has played. Meanwhile, Missouri has allowed greater than 200 yards rushing in a game just once since the beginning of 2013. Auburn compiled 545 yards on 74 carries in last year’s SEC title game.
- What else gives?: Mizzou holds the all-time record for yards gained by an opponent in Indiana’s Memorial Stadium, having gained 623 yards in a 45-28 win over the Hoosiers last season. That outing was one of four in the 2013 season in which Indiana allowed 600 yards or greater to an opponent. After holding Indiana State to 170 in their first game last season, the Hoosiers allowed 571 yards in a 45-42 loss to Bowling Green last week.
- Feeling Faurot: Indiana has never lost at Missouri’s Faurot Field. That said, it’s been a while since IU has traveled to Columbia. Indiana won back-to-back decisions in 1985 and 1986, outscoring the Tigers 77-41 in those games. The other two games at Faurot (1988 and 1991) resulted in ties (28-28 and 27-27, respectively).
Print that, tweet that, whatever: Coleman is a stud, but Indiana lost to Bowling Green last week. BGSU is fourth-from-last in total defense. Bad news for IU.
Northern Illinois (3-0, 0-0 MAC) at Arkansas (2-1, 1-1 SEC)
7:00pm ET, ESPNU
- A record of success: Whether Dave Doeren or Rod Carey are at the helm, the Huskies just continue to win. Doeren was 23-4 in his time in DeKalb, and Carey is 15-3 since taking over after Doeren’s departure for NC State. Only Oregon has more victories than does NIU over the last four years, with NIU recording 49 wins in that time. The Huskies have won 17 consecutive “true” road games. That said…
- .100 percent: Northern Illinois has defeated just one SEC school in ten tries. Interestingly enough, that win came against Alabama in Bryant-Denny in 2003. Michael Turner carried 27 times for 158 yards in the victory.
- Outrunning the competition: Arkansas and Northern Illinois each feature top-ten rushing offenses. The Razorbacks rank third (362 yards per game), while NIU is eighth (325.33). Arkansas logged 30 consecutive carries against Texas Tech last week, gaining 438 total yards on the ground. NIU, meanwhile, ranks 13th in the FBS in rush defense. Arkansas’ Alex Collins is tenth in the nation in rushing, averaging 137 yards per game, while his team leads the nation in average yards per carry (7.93).
Print that, tweet that, whatever: Arkansas is a two-touchdown favorite, but don’t be surprised if the final is closer than that. This will be a fun matchup.
Mississippi State (3-0, 0-0 SEC) at #8 LSU (3-0, 0-0 SEC)
7:00pm ET, ESPN
- Three is unfamiliar: This season is just the second since 2000 in which the Bulldogs won their first three games. The other season, 2012, saw Mississippi State start 7-0 before a 38-7 loss at Alabama. Dan Mullen’s club would lose five of their final six, including that loss.
- Sorry folks, end zone’s closed: LSU has posted two consecutive shutouts for the first time in 29 years, defeating Sam Houston State and ULM by a combined score of 87-0. No opponent has scored on LSU in their last 31 offensive possessions (nine quarters).
- Nation of domination: LSU has lost to Mississippi State just once in the teams’ 22 most recent meetings. Mississippi State defeated LSU 17-16 in 1999. The Tigers have won 14 straight against the Bulldogs since that game.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: As good as Dak Prescott has been, LSU owns a top-five defense by almost any measure. This is also a night game in Death Valley.
#14 South Carolina (2-1, 1-1 SEC) at Vanderbilt (1-2, 0-1 SEC)
7:30pm ET, SEC Network
- The HBC loves Vandy: Steve Spurrier got win number 201 as an SEC coach last week, tying him with Vince Dooley. This obviously means that Spurrier has had his share of success against the entire conference, but he’s especially effective against Vandy. Spurrier’s teams have won 19 of 21 games against Vanderbilt. Amazingly, this is only Spurrier’s second-best record against an opponent — his teams have defeated Kentucky 20 of 21 times. Vandy last defeated South Carolina in 2008.
- #VandyBoys: In what can be considered nothing less than just a glorious troll job — intentional or not — Vanderbilt’s baseball team will receive their 2014 College World Series championship rings at halftime of this game. The Gamecocks won back-to-back CWS titles in 2010 and 2011.
- The century mark: The key to Vandy’s turnaround will be getting out of the hundreds. The Commodores are currently 100th or lower in 15 statistical categories. VU finds itself in this predicament in every major offensive category, along with such statistics as time of possession (108th), turnover margin (119th) and third-down conversion percentage (109th).
Print that, tweet that, whatever: Spurrier’s team looked really good against Georgia, but still has defensive concerns. Those concerns shouldn’t matter in Nashville, but who knows.
Trivia answer: I asked earlier: Which SEC school has posted the longest active streak without pitching a defensive shutout?
Texas A&M has not shut out an opponent since blanking Wyoming 31-0 on September 11, 2004.
(Author’s note: There will be no Clear Your Schedules next week. I will be taking the time to mentally reboot and reconnect, and I cannot suggest enough that you do the same from time to time. Thank you so, so much for your continued readership, and we’ll catch up in Week 6.)