October 14, 2010

Week 7 preview in the SEC

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Vanderbilt at Georgia, 12:20 p.m.
Arkansas at Auburn, 3:30 p.m.
South Carolina at Kentucky, 6 p.m.
Mississippi State at Florida, 7 p.m.
McNeese State at LSU, 7 p.m.
Ole Miss at Alabama, 9:15 p.m.

The SEC is known for its - to use a throwback term - "rock-ribbed" defenses, but Saturday's West Division showdown should feature a lot of points.

On one side is unbeaten Auburn, which leads the league and is 10th nationally in total offense, averaging 483.0 yards per game. The Tigers lead the league and are eighth nationally in rushing offense at 276.0 yards per game; they also average 207.0 passing yards per game and are second in the league with 12 TD passes.

Auburn (6-0 overall, 3-0 in the SEC) has rushed for at least 300 yards three times this season and five times in two seasons under coordinator Gus Malzahn after having just four 300-yard rushing games in the six previous seasons combined.

"They do a good job," Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said. "They can run the ball ... and they can throw the ball deep. They can throw the ball deep, and they've got good receivers that can go up and make catches. They had a couple of big plays against Kentucky the other day when they needed to go score. They present you problems with their personnel."

On the other side is Arkansas (4-1, 1-1), which is second in the league and 19th nationally in total offense, at 462.8 yards per game. The Hogs get most of their yards through the air, ranking third nationally in passing offense at 354.0 yards per game. Arkansas is the only league school in the top 30 nationally in pass offense. The Hogs are last in the league in rushing offense, at 108.8 yards per game, and have a league-low six rushing touchdowns.

Both are led by junior quarterbacks who began their careers elsewhere.

Auburn's Cameron Newton is a junior college transfer who began his career at Florida, in the same signing class as current Gators starter John Brantley. Newton leads the league in rushing and is showing a better-than-expected touch when he throws it. Newton averages 112.0 rushing yards and 189.7 passing yards per game, and has had a hand in 21 touchdowns.

Arkansas' Ryan Mallett is a transfer from Michigan. He leads the league in passing at 349.6 yards per game and has thrown a SEC-high 13 touchdown passes.

"Obviously, he is a great quarterback, and collectively as a group, they have to be one of the best, if not the best, group of receivers in the country," Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. "Those are two pretty potent entities there when you put a quarterback and three or four wide receivers together that are that good. Obviously our challenge is huge."

This is the first time in 20 meetings that both teams have been ranked at kickoff, and the road team has won six of the past eight games in the series.

This is a must-win contest for Arkansas if it wants to stay in the running for the division title. Auburn, meanwhile, is playing in the first of two huge back-to-back division games. The Tigers get LSU at home next week. But while Auburn is involved in what should be a titanic struggle this week, LSU gets FCS member McNeese State.

Best matchup: Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett vs. Auburn QB Cameron Newton. While they won't be on the field at the same time, this is a must-see quarterback duel. Mallett and Newton must be sharp if their team is to win, and both defenses have issues. The winning quarterback becomes the SEC's leading Heisman contender. Malzahn loves Newton's competitive attitude: "He's a great competitor, very physical. We've got to get him where he runs out of bounds more. ... He looks up people. That's pretty unusual for a quarterback." Auburn knows how important it is to pressure Mallett. "You let him stand back there like he's the Statue of Liberty, he's going to make it happen," Tigers LB Josh Bynes toldauburnsports.com . "We're just going to go out and play football, try to rile him."

Player on the spot: Kentucky WR Randall Cobb. If UK is to upset South Carolina, it depends on Cobb, who is having a superb season. Kentucky's defense is going to have trouble handling the Gamecocks' offense, so a shootout looms. The Wildcats will be without RB Derrick Locke, which should lead to more touches for Cobb, whether it be on the perimeter as a runner or receiver or in the "wildcat" formation as a quarterback.

Numbers game: LSU is 6-0, but the Tigers haven't started 7-0 since 1973. They should reach that mark this week against FCS member McNeese State. In addition, LSU owns the nation's longest non-conference regular-season winning streak, at 31. The Tigers haven't lost a non-conference regular season game since falling to Virginia Tech to open the 2002 season.

What they're saying

"It is extremely valuable. I think there are three games that we've won by three points, and I think, as I've said many times, it does matter how you win them." - Auburn coach Gene Chizik, on the Tigers' penchant for winning close games. They have won four games by single digits, including three games by three points

"It's our job now to hopefully build off of the momentum that we've created with last week's victory. I think when you lose games, people tend to think that everything is going wrong and not much is going right. Then when you win games, maybe they think everything is going right and not much is going wrong. I think as we were going through that losing streak, we were improving in a lot of areas." - Georgia coach Mark Richt, whose snapped a four-game losing streak last week with a rout of Tennessee

"Everybody has sort of responded the right way. You win a lot of games and you're not as anxious to do things the right way ... Sometimes when you lose, people respond better to the things you've got to do." - Alabama coach Nick Saban, on how his team has reacted to last week's loss

"I have seen bye weeks work both ways. When you've been in this league long enough, you see them go both ways. What I mean is that sometimes bye weeks are disruptive. In our case, we needed it because we have never had this many concussions and injuries. We had a lot of things happening, so we needed it. It came at a really good time for us. Each team is different, but I'm glad we had a bye week." - Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt

"We talk. I am not the kind of guy walking around with the phone strapped to my ear. I talk to my wife, the players and the staff pretty regularly, but outside of that, I am not frequent with a lot of other people. But we will talk, I am assuming more after we get this game out of the way because they roll off of our schedule for a couple of years so we won't have to worry about that." - Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, on his friendship with Florida coach Urban Meyer, his former boss

"We do have a chance to win the East. We have a chance. We may not. We may fall on our face. I don't know what will happen. This is the year for opportunity because Florida has lost a couple. The opportunity is there if we can really go play well. The opportunity is there because we're not a lot better than those teams but we can play with those teams we're facing. Whether or not we can get ourselves ready and play well remains to be seen." - South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier

"I don't care how they come, as long as they come up as a 'W.' As I said a few weeks ago, that 'W' train rides a whole lot better than the 'L.' " - Vanderbilt coach Robbie Caldwell, on last week's easy win over Eastern Michigan

"Me personally, I am getting tired of losing. After the loss, I got on the computer and looked at our roster and we have a young team. I don't like to make excuses. I don't make them for myself. They got recruited to play Division One, just like Georgia's players did, but experience really overpowers youth. And it's showing." - Tennessee WR Gerald Jones, to Volquest.com

Etc.: Alabama has not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 40 games. ... Auburn's Wes Byrum kicked the game-winning field goal from 24 yards as time expired to give the Tigers a 37-34 victory at Kentucky last week. It was the fifth game-winning field goal of his career and third in Auburn's past seven games. It also was his 51st career field goal, which sets a school record. ... Florida's Chas Henry averages 49.8 yards per punt, which leads the nation; he doesn't have enough punts to qualify for the rankings, though. He had three 50-yard punts in last week's loss to LSU. ... Mississippi State has won three in a row for only the second time since 2000 and are looking for their first four-game winning streak since 1999. ... South Carolina has beaten the nation's top-ranked team in all three major men's sports in the calendar year 2010. On Jan. 26, South Carolina beat Kentucky in men's basketball 68-62. On June 22, in Omaha, Neb., the Gamecocks' baseball team eliminated Arizona State 11-4 en route to the College World Series championship. Last week, the Gamecocks beat top-ranked Alabama 35-21 to hand the Tide their first loss in 19 games. ... The 52 points scored by Vandy in its win over Eastern Michigan last week was the Commodores' highest total since a 58-point outburst against The Citadel in 1999. ... Kentucky has allowed at least 37 points in each of its losses. ... Alabama is having injury issues. OT D.J. Fluker (groin) will miss the Ole Miss game, and WR Julio Jones (broken hand) is questionable. ... South Carolina QB Stephen Garcia is 11-2 at home as a starting quarterback but 1-5 on the road. The win came at North Carolina State in the 2009 season opener. ... Petrino was the offensive coordinator at Auburn during the 2002 season. Chizik was Auburn's defensive coordinator that season. Malzahn played wide receiver at Arkansas in 1984-85, and was the Razorbacks' offensive coordinator during the 2006 season. ... Ole Miss leads the league in scoring offense at 37.2 points per game and also is the least-penalized team in the conference, with just 21. ... Uga VIII begins his reign as Georgia's mascot Saturday, which is the school's homecoming. Uga VII died last year, and a bulldog named Russ has served as the interim mascot since. ... Steve Spurrier never has lost to Kentucky as a coach; he was 12-0 vs. UK at Florida and is 6-0 with South Carolina.

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


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