November 11, 2010

Week 11 preview in the SEC

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THE SCHEDULE
Ole Miss at Tennessee, noon
Vanderbilt at Kentucky, 12:20 p.m.
Georgia at Auburn, 3;30 p.m.
UTEP at Arkansas, 7 p.m.
Louisiana-Monroe at LSU, 7 p.m.
South Carolina at Florida, 7:15 p.m.
Mississippi State at Alabama, 7:15 p.m.

Steve Spurrier won six SEC championships as Florida's coach. Saturday, he'll try to win South Carolina's first SEC East title in the stadium where he became famous.

Florida plays host to Spurrier's Gamecocks with the SEC East crown on the line. The Gators are trying for their third division title in a row and their 11th overall; South Carolina is trying for its first title of any kind since 1969, when it won the ACC.

"Obviously, it's a big game coming up for us and for Florida," Spurrier said on the SEC coaches' teleconference earlier this week. "At the beginning of the season, one of our goals was to win the Eastern division. I'm sure Florida had the same goal. We feel fortunate to be in the final game.

"We haven't played extremely well lately, but our record is the same as Florida [6-3 overall, 4-3 in the league]. The winner will be the champion and go to Atlanta to represent the East and have a shot at the SEC [title]."

South Carolina is 2-2 since it upset then-No. 1 Alabama on Oct. 9. The Gamecocks are coming in off a 41-20 home loss to Arkansas last week; the only two wins of late are over Vanderbilt and Tennessee, which have a combined one league win. The other loss in that span was to Kentucky, a team Florida beat by 34.

Florida has won two in a row since snapping a three-game losing streak. The Gators' wins are over Georgia - which also lost to South Carolina - and Vandy. But the Gators come in off their two of their three best offensive performances of the season. They rolled up 450 yards against Georgia and a season-high 480 against Vanderbilt last week.

Florida used three quarterbacks against the Commodores - junior John Brantley, redshirt freshman Jordan Reed and true freshman Trey Burton - and that seems likely to continue.

"One's ... a single-wing quarterback who can throw [Reed]. I mean that's very clear. One's an option quarterback [Burton], and one's a dropback quarterback [Brantley]," Gators coach Urban Meyer said on the teleconference.

Reed signed with Florida as a quarterback but was moved to tight end and likely will see time at both positions against the Gamecocks. He is more closely aligned with what Florida wants from its quarterback. But he's a better runner than passer, and South Carolina's defensive weakness this season has been its pass defense, not its work against the run. To best take advantage of the Gamecocks' secondary, the Gators need Brantley to produce.

South Carolina, meanwhile, likely will use just one quarterback, Stephen Garcia, a junior from Tampa, which is about two hours from Gainesville. The Gamecocks' most important player, though, is true freshman TB Marcus Lattimore, who has been bothered by a sprained ankle and a sprained knee of late. He missed the Vandy game on Oct. 23, ran for 184 yards against Tennessee on Oct. 30, then had just 11 carries for 30 yards last week.

"I'll be ready Saturday," Lattimore told gamecockcentral.com.

Spurrier enjoyed great success at Florida Field while he was at Florida, and he's the one who nicknamed it "The Swamp." Meyer's team has lost twice at home this season, but he expects a raucous crowd Saturday.

"I'd like to see this stadium absolutely out of control," Meyer said. "We have the best home-field advantage in America; let's use it to a maximum."

Spurrier knows how loud it can be.

"The crowd noise will be a little different," he said. "I think we've only had one loud [road] game all year and that was Auburn. We'll use a lot of hand signals and all that stuff. ...

"We haven't been in this position until this year. We'll see what we can do."

Meanwhile, Auburn can clinch the SEC West title with a victory over visiting Georgia.

"Everybody knows what's out there," Auburn coach Gene Chizik said on the SEC teleconference. "Everybody knows as you keep winning, the stakes get higher. There isn't a lot of rhetoric between myself and the team about what's out there. I think they know that."

We'll have a more detailed breakdown on that game Friday.

Best matchup: South Carolina wide receivers vs. Florida secondary. In Alshon Jeffery, the Gamecocks have one of the nation's best wide receivers. In Janoris Jenkins and Ahmad Black, the Gators have one of the best cornerbacks and strong safeties, respectively. It's the other guys in those position groupings who have to make some plays Saturday night. Florida is 13th in the nation in pass defense and ninth in pass efficiency defense; the Gators have 17 picks, which is tied for the national lead, and have allowed 12 TD passes and a completion percentage of just 51.9. Florida's pass rush is nothing special, which means that tight coverage is a big reason for the Gators' success against the pass. Jeffery and fellow WR Tori Gurley have combined for 95 receptions and 11 TDs. Their size and physical nature could hurt the Gators. Florida must beware of the play-action pass if - and only if - Gamecocks TB Marcus Lattimore is healthy.

Player on the spot: Auburn QB Cameron Newton. There continue to be a barrage of items regarding Newton's recruitment and his time at Florida; can he shake them off? He put up huge numbers last week against FCS member Chattanooga, but now has to do it against Georgia. Newton, the Heisman frontrunner, leads the SEC in rushing at 114.6 yards per game and has scored 15 rushing TDs; he also has thrown 19 TD passes. He'll be going against a Georgia defense that ranks 13th against the run and 15th overall. Still, the Bulldogs gave up 231 rushing yards and 34 points to Florida, whose offense isn't in the same zip code as Auburn's.

Numbers game: SEC teams are scoring 30.9 points per game this season, the most for the league since expansion in 1992.

What they're saying

"[Daughter] Kristen had a hard time understanding that one, too. I understand that I didn't do a very good job of articulating. When your daughter questions you on what you said, you know you didn't do a very good job of articulating. Not that she doesn't question me about a lot of things a lot of the time, especially when it has to do with what time she has to be home at night." - Alabama coach Nick Saban, trying to explain an answer he gave last Saturday after his team lost at LSU

"The way the schedule falls, maybe it's good for us to have this late non-conference game. The league games are so intense, and we've got a grind ahead of us. It also challenges you to have maturity in your preparation, have leadership, prepare and stay focused." - Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino, on playing UTEP on Saturday

"I've said for years the teams that win the close games become champions. They've had some close games, about six of them that were probably within a score or so. At least one went into overtime, and another one almost did. They've been in tight ballgames, but they have found a way to win those tight ballgames. Because of that, they're where they are today." - Georgia coach Mark Richt, on Auburn, who plays host to the Bulldogs on Saturday

"It depends on how far you go back, but when I played, they gave you a couple of aspirin and sent you back onto the field. It is much different now. Even in the 1980s, I don't remember the full attention to detail with concussions as we have now. Things are much different, much more tested, and much more thorough. You can't go back to practice the next day. It does not work that way anymore." - Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt, who maybe without starting QB Jeremiah Masoli this week because Masoli suffered a concussion last week

"You look at some of the big things in the game, first of all defensively - five turnovers and five sacks. I don't care who you play; when you have that kind of stat line, you're probably going to have a lot of success." - Tennessee coach Derek Dooley, on last week's rout of Memphis

Etc.: Alabama has won 18 in a row at home, tied for the third-longest streak in school history. ... Kentucky's Joe Mansour and Arkansas' Alex Tejada lead the league with 15 touchbacks on kickoffs. ... Kentucky, not Arkansas, leads the SEC in touchdown passes. Kentucky has 24, one more than the Hogs. Auburn leads the league with 32 rushing touchdowns, and the Tigers are the only league team with more than 20. ... Mississippi State's six-game winning streak is the longest for the Bulldogs since the 1999 team opened the season with eight consecutive victories. It's also just the eighth time in school history the Bulldogs have won six in a row in the same season and only the second time since 1955. ... Alabama, Florida, Georgia and LSU are the only SEC teams to sell out every home game thus far this season. ... Georgia has scored more than 30 points in each of its past five games, the first time that has happened in school history. ... Kentucky leads the SEC when it comes to converting red zone opportunities into touchdowns; UK has scored TDs on 30 of 41 red zone chances, a 73.2 percentage. Arkansas is the only other league school above 70 percent (24 of 33, 72.7 percent). LSU (14 of 30, 46.7) and Tennessee (12 of 27, 44.4) are the only schools below 50 percent. Unfortunately for Kentucky, it is last in the SEC in keeping foes out of the end zone once they have reached the red zone. Foes have scored TDs on 28 of 36 red zone forays (77.8 percent). ... Alabama's loss at LSU last week dropped the Tide's Greg McElroy to No. 2 among all SEC quarterbacks in career winning percentage as a starter. McElroy is 21-2, a percentage of .913. Former Tide QB Jay Barker (1991-94) is first at .934 percent (35-2-1). Florida's Danny Wuerffel (.903) and Georgia's Buck Belue (.900) are the only others with a percentage of at least .900. ... Vandy has just four field-goal attempts this season, but the Commodores also have 72 punts through nine games. The school record for punts in a season is 81, set last season. ... Tennessee started seven true freshmen in last week's rout of Memphis ; the number of true freshmen is believed to be a school record. ... Auburn is looking to complete just its second-ever 8-0 home season; the first came in 1988. ... Early offensive success has been a barometer for Mississippi State this season. The Bulldogs have at least one first-quarter touchdown in each of their seven victories this season. ... Georgia has won four in a row over Auburn for the first time since the Bulldogs won five in a row from 1944-48. ... LSU has won 32 consecutive regular-season non-conference games, the longest such current streak in the nation. In addition, LSU has won 30 consecutive non-conference games at home. Coach Les Miles is 22-0 in regular-season non-conference games while at LSU. ... Florida blocked two punts in last week's rout of Vanderbilt; it's the second time in three seasons that the Gators blocked two Vanderbilt punts in the same game. ... Auburn's Michael Dyer needs just 31 yards to break Bo Jackson's school freshman rushing record of 829 yards. ... Mark Richt is 4-2 against top-10 foes on the road while at Georgia.

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




 

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