November 26, 2009

Weekend preview of the SEC

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THE SCHEDULE
Friday
Alabama at Auburn, 2:30 p.m.
Saturday
Clemson at South Carolina, noon
Ole Miss at Mississippi State, 12:20 p.m.
Florida State at Florida, 3:30 p.m.
Arkansas at LSU, 7 p.m.
Tennessee at Kentucky, 7 p.m.
Georgia at Georgia Tech, 8 p.m.
This is the 20th anniversary of Alabama's first visit to Auburn's Jordan-Hare Stadium, and the host Tigers hope this year's result is similar.

In 1989, Alabama arrived in Auburn 10-0 and ranked No. 2 in the nation. Auburn was 9-2 and ranked 11th but pulled a 30-20 upset. Alabama still tied for the SEC title and went on to represent the SEC in the Sugar Bowl, where it lost to eventual national champion Miami.

This season, Alabama will arrive in Auburn 11-0 and ranked No. 2 in the nation. Auburn is 7-4 and unranked. While the Tide already have clinched the SEC West title and will play Florida in the SEC championship game next weekend, they need to beat their archrival to keep their national title hopes alive.

"This is one of the best rivalry games in football, two great schools in a state that have had the opportunity to play for 100 years now," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "...There is nothing, really, outside of this game that really matters this week. You can throw out the records, rankings, awards - nothing else really matters."

Alabama has run the ball well this season, and that should continue against Auburn. The Tigers have struggled against teams that have made it a priority to run the ball.

The Tide dominated last season, winning 36-0 in what turned out to be Tommy Tuberville's last game as Auburn's coach.

New Tigers coach Gene Chizik said he watched the film of last season's game.

"I have looked at it, of course," he said. "We don't put a whole lot of stock in the past, but you want to look at it and see what went on. ... You know that 36-0 was the final result. There were opportunities in the game that, I think, were missed. Other than that, that is pretty much what you see - missed opportunities and Alabama did a great job."

Alabama's victory last season snapped Auburn's six-game winning streak in the series. That was the second-longest streak in series history, to Alabama's nine in a row from 1973-81.

KEY MATCHUP: LSU rush offense vs. Arkansas rush defense. The Tigers really have struggled to run the ball this season, ranking 11th in the SEC and 84th nationally in rushing offense at 128 yards per game. Now, they're down to their fourth-string back because of last week's injury to Keiland Williams. Charles Scott and Richard Murphy were hurt earlier in the season. LSU coach Les Miles said there was some consideration given to playing true freshman Michael Ford, but it's hard to see LSU removing Ford's redshirt at this point in the season. Steven Ridley is the new starter at tailback, and Williams' injury should mean more carries for Russell Shepard out of the "Wildcat" formation. Good news for the Tigers is that Arkansas is not that good against the run. The Hogs also struggle against the pass, but LSU still wants to have some semblance of offensive balance and not rely solely on the passing game.

PLAYER ON THE SPOT: Kentucky WR Randall Cobb. Cobb's athleticism adds a different component to UK's offense. His play in the "Wildcat" formation spices up UK's attack and gives the Wildcats hope they can do some damage against Tennessee's defense. The Vols had all sorts of problems with Ole Miss' version of the "Wildcat" two weeks ago, and Cobb's ability to throw makes him difficult to defend. UK hasn't beaten Tennessee since 1984, and Cobb - who grew up right outside of Knoxville -could be the catalyst as the Wildcats hope to break the streak.

NUMBERS GAME: Last week's win at Georgia gave Kentucky its seventh victory of the season. This marks the fourth season in a row the Wildcats have won at least seven games. The last time UK won at least seven in a row in four consecutive seasons? Try 1909-12.

WHAT THEY'RE SAYING:

"Certainly I mismanaged the back end of the Ole Miss game. It's my responsibility. I'm the head coach." - LSU coach Les Miles

"It's a very good system. Paul [Johnson] calls a game without a [play]sheet. He doesn't have to reinvent it every week. He's got it right in his mind, and he's done it so often that he knows how people will defend it: 'If they do this, we are going to do that.' It's a matter of not only what they are doing, but how well they execute it and how well Paul understands it to be able to make any adjustment he needs to make." - Georgia coach Mark Richt, on Georgia Tech's offensive system

"I think every defensive coach that has Georgia Tech on the schedule, they're all talking. They probably ought to have a little convention in the offseason, just get everybody together and see what they can figure out." - Richt, again, on Tech's offense

"All I know is that with a win, that puts us in second place in the SEC East. With that comes a little different picture in the end-of-the-season scenario. If we lose ... we would finish tied for fourth. Tied for second and tied for fourth is a lot different at the end of the rainbow, let's put it that way. ... Understanding that 4-4 and finishing second is not like finishing 7-1 or 6-2 and finishing second, but one of the reasons that you see so many teams clumped below Alabama and Florida is that the bottom-feeders don't like the bottom, and they are not as bad as the bottom-feeders used to be." - Kentucky coach Rich Brooks, on what it would mean to beat Tennessee on Saturday

"Dexter makes everyone better. Our linemen don't have to hold their blocks as long. The threat of a run - when the linebackers and a safety have to keep an eye on No. 22, it just helps everything. It is a quarterback's best friend - take the ball from the center and hand it to No. 22. What an awesome ally." - Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt, on what Dexter McCluster means to the offense

"People always think in recruiting about making your own team better. But if you miss on a guy and he goes within your conference and you don't take him, then it's a double-whammy. Not only is he not playing for you, but then you have to play [against] him every season. This is a situation of that. Not only would he make us better and be playing for us and scoring touchdowns for us, but also he wouldn't be on their team. You are talking about potentially a 14- to 21-point difference in one player about whether he signed with Tennessee or went to Kentucky." - Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin, on Kentucky star Randall Cobb, who went to high school just outside of Knoxville

ETC.: SEC teams are running the ball on 43.1 percent of their offensive plays; that's the highest percentage of rushing plays since 2004, when it was 44.4 percent. Only one SEC player, Ole Miss' Shay Hodge, has more than 50 receptions this season; he has 57. And only six others have at least 40 catches. ... The past two Arkansas-LSU games have been decided by a total of three points. Arkansas won 50-48 in triple overtime in 2007 and 31-30 last season. ... The average margin of victory in an SEC game is 13.8 points; that's the third-lowest in the nation, behind the Big Ten's 12.4 and the ACC's 13.5. ... Georgia could be without WR A.J. Green for Saturday's game at Georgia Tech. Green has an injured shoulder and likely will be a game-time decision. Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo told reporters that even if Green didn't practice this week, he could play were he physically fit. ... Alabama has outscored foes by 72 points in the fourth quarter; that leads the league. Florida is second at 65 points. Vanderbilt is at the bottom, being outscored by 39 in the period. ... Florida's Tim Tebow has a great chance to set the SEC career record for total offensive yards (rushing and passing yards combined). He has 11,078 yards. Florida's Chris Leak (2003-06) is the leader with 11,350, and Georgia's David Greene (2001-04) is second with 11,270. ... Arkansas leads the SEC in red-zone TD rankings, having scored touchdowns on 76.2 percent of its opportunities (32-of-42). Florida is eighth at 48.1 percent (25-of-52) and Alabama is 11th at 43.2 percent (19-of-44). ... Only three SEC teams have road winning streaks - Florida at 12, Alabama at nine and Kentucky at three. ... Rebelsports.net reported that Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said he thought about four recruits did not attend last week's game with LSU because there was a KKK rally scheduled on campus before the game. News reports said about 10 KKK members - wearing robes and hoods - marched for less than 10 minutes because there was a student-organized counter-rally. Nutt said he didn't think the fallout would negatively affect Ole Miss' recruiting. ... Before Saturday's Georgia-Georgia Tech game in Atlanta, Tech baseball players will be collecting money to help defray the medical expenses for Georgia freshman second baseman Chance Veazey, who was paralyzed from the waist down Oct. 28 when he drove into a car while on his motor scooter.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.




 

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