November 25, 2010

Week 13 preview in the SEC

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Auburn at Alabama, 2:30 p.m.
Kentucky at Tennessee, 12:20 p.m.
LSU at Arkansas, 3:30 p.m.
Florida at Florida State, 3:30 p.m.
South Carolina at Clemson, 7 p.m.
Mississippi State at Ole Miss, 7 p.m.
Wake Forest at Vanderbilt, 7:30 p.m.
Georgia Tech at Georgia, 7:45 p.m.

While everyone is focused on the Iron Bowl (we'll have a complete breakdown on that game Thursday afternoon), there's an important league game being played in Little Rock a day after the titanic Alabama-Auburn showdown.

LSU (10-1) takes on Arkansas (9-2) in a game in which both teams are looking to keep their BCS at-large hopes alive. The past five games between the teams have been decided by a total of 13 points.

The game will be played on a Saturday for the second consecutive season after the teams met on the Friday after Thanksgiving every season from 1996-2008.

LSU is No. 5 in the BCS, the highest-placed one-loss team in the standings. Arkansas is No. 12. If Auburn goes to the national title game, it's extremely likely a second team from the SEC gets to the BCS - almost certainly, it would be the Sugar Bowl - and these look to be the top two contenders in that scenario.

"We are looking for 10 wins," Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett told reporters earlier this week. "Obviously, we were looking for 12 coming into the season, but since that's not possible, we're focused on getting to 10."

The Hogs come in on a five-game winning streak. During that span, Arkansas is averaging 44.8 points per game while allowing 22.0 points per contest. The Razorbacks have averaged 505.4 yards per game and have converted 33-of-64 third-down opportunities (.516) while allowing only 23-of-71 (.324) third-down conversions on defense.

Tailback Knile Davis has come on strong for Arkansas; he has rushed for 479 yards and six TDs in the past three games. He is just the 10th player in Arkansas history to post a 1,000-yard season. He has 1,031 yards and his average of 93.7 yards per game ranks third in the SEC.

Still, the Hogs are most dangerous when Mallett drops back to pass. Arkansas leads the SEC and is third nationally in passing offense, at 340.1 yards per game.

"Our secondary play is certainly going to be tested, as is our pass rush and our underneath coverage, because we are going to have to stop a very quality running game," LSU coach Les Miles told reporters this week. "That secondary has to play big in this game, but it is a different challenge and certainly something that I think they will look forward to."

LSU is fourth nationally in pass defense (151.8 yards per game) and 10th in pass-efficiency defense; the Tigers have allowed just two foes to pass for 200 yards (Alabama and North Carolina), and they have allowed just nine TD passes.

A victory would give LSU 11 victories for the sixth time in school history and the fourth time under Miles. In addition, a victory would mean Miles would join Alabama's Bear Bryant and Tennessee's Phillip Fulmer as the only coaches in SEC history to win 11 games at a league school in four seasons. Bryant did it 10 times (nine at Alabama, one at Kentucky), while Fulmer did it four times at Tennessee.

LSU is 4-1 against top-25 teams this season and Miles is 22-11 against ranked opponents in his six seasons with the Tigers.

Best matchup: Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn vs. Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart. Auburn has a relatively mediocre defense and is going to allow at three touchdowns. But can the Tide's defense slow Auburn's offense? The Tigers have had at least 424 yards of offense in every game but one, and has had at least 463 yards in eight consecutive games. Malzahn has the ultimate offensive chess piece in QB Cameron Newton. How will Smart defend Newton? Common sense calls for opposing defenses to creep up a safety, but Newton can take advantage of that with his arm. But if you don't bring up a safety, Newton can take advantage of that with his legs. Will Auburn look to throw early? Expect a wrinkle or two you haven't seen from the Tigers this season, whether it be a new formation, a tweak of an oft-used formation or even a trick play or two. Auburn wants to take the crowd out of it by scoring early, so Malzahn could go into his bag of tricks in the first quarter.

Player on the spot: Georgia QB Aaron Murray. The Bulldogs have to beat Georgia Tech to become bowl-eligible, and that's not going to happen unless Murray plays a steady game. Murray has thrown for 2,580 yards, third-most in the SEC, and 21 TDs, which is tied for third. With a 230-yard performance - right below his average of 234.5 yards per game - he would become the second-highest freshman passer in SEC history, behind only Kentucky's Jared Lorenzen (3,687 in 2000). Georgia Tech has allowed just 11 TD passes and only five opponents have thrown for more than 200 yards.

Numbers game: Tennessee has won 25 consecutive games against Kentucky, the longest active winning streak in any series in FBS. The Vols also have defeated the Wildcats in 27 of the past 28 and 30 of the past 32. UK's last win in the series came in 1984 in Knoxville.

What they're saying

"I don't think as a coach you really look at it that way; that's one of those external things that you don't want to affect you. You have to be disciplined in your approach to sort of stay focused on the moment - that play in the game, that situation in the game, that time in the game - so that you make good choices and decisions to help your team do the best they can." - Alabama coach Nick Saban, on whether rivalry games affect a coach

"It would be nice if everyone could go home and be with their own family, but we make it a family situation. We always practice in the morning, and then we'll have Thanksgiving dinner here and we have our families here for it. It's always a good time for our players to take a deep breath, be around each other, get the afternoon and evening off to watch football, and then we'll get up early Friday morning and drive to Little Rock." - Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino, on how the coaching staff will work around the holiday

"We have basically reversed roles this year with State. Last year, we were going to a bowl game, but this year we are not. This is a big ballgame. All summer long all I heard was people talking about the Mississippi State game. When your state is divided, you truly understand what a rivalry is. It's really big." - Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt, on the Egg Bowl against Mississippi State

"Our guys know that going on the road, it's going to be a tough environment. I know that not many people in Oxford, Mississippi, like me. I mean, there may be a couple who like our team, but not many." - Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, on the Egg Bowl

"I think we have a good, healthy rivalry with Clemson now. It was ugly about six years ago in that game at Death Valley. It was a terrible scene for our state of South Carolina. I don't sense any way that can happen with the coaching staffs that are in place now and the players that are in place. It will be a hard-fought game. I don't think there will be any trash-talk or late hits. There's no bad-mouthing in recruiting between Clemson and South Carolina now. I realize some fans don't want to hear that, but I think that's the way it should be and I think [Clemson coach] Dabo [Swinney] and his guys think that's the way it should be." - South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier

"I sure don't know. I have no idea, but I'm just going to keep working, going to work on things I can control. If it is my last game, I would be sad because I've enjoyed my time here at Vanderbilt. Hopefully it won't be, but if it is, I understand. This is the life of a football coach, unfortunately. We coach from one season to the next." - Vanderbilt coach Robbie Caldwell, on whether if Saturday's game against Wake Forest will be his last

"I'm never into a track meet. That's not what we want, but we have to play well defensively against a team like this or it would be a track meet. They certainly have the potential to make it that, so we're going to have to play really well on defense. ... I'd like it to be a track meet for our offense, but I'd like that every week." - Auburn coach Gene Chizik, on the potential for a lot of offense in Friday's Iron Bowl

"I'm embracing the fact that we are playing in the evening. We haven't played many night games, and this may be the first at home. I think our players will enjoy that. I think our players will enjoy the build-up to that. There usually is a little more electricity at night." - Georgia coach Mark Richt, on Saturday night's game with Georgia Tech

"You can't say it's just another game for either party. I mean, you can't go down there and find any person that will say it's just another game. You can't come here and find out [it's just another game]. It's a big game for both parties involved. We've got a chance to be 7-5. They've got a chance to be bowl-eligible. So it's a big game." - Kentucky coach Joker Phillips, on Saturday's game at Tennessee

Etc.: South Carolina beat Clemson last season but incredibly doesn't have back-to-back wins over the Tigers since it won three in a row in the rivalry from 1968-70. ... Auburn will be making just its eighth visit to Tuscaloosa, as the Iron Bowl used to be played in Birmingham. Auburn is 6-1 in Tuscaloosa and 4-1 in Bryant-Denny Stadium. ... Vanderbilt ranks seventh in the NCAA - and first in the SEC - in tackles for loss, ay 7.6 per game. Vandy CB Casey Hayward leads the nation with 17 pass breakups and is fifth with six interceptions. ... Tennessee RB Tauren Poole and Auburn QB Cameron Newton are tied for the SEC lead with six 100-yard games this season. Ole Miss' Brandon Bolden has five. ... Newton ranks second nationally in TD responsibility with 39; that is more than 62 FBS teams. ... Kentucky has won six games in five consecutive seasons, the first time that has happened since 1909-13. ... Mark Richt is 8-1 against Georgia Tech as Georgia's coach. ... Since 2000, Tennessee is 36-9 in November (.800 winning percentage). Since 1990, that record is 73-12 (.859). ... Florida is the only school in the nation that has four players with at least three interceptions (SS Ahmad Black, LB Jonathan Bostic, CB Jeremy Brown and CB Janoris Jenkins). ... Georgia has scored at least 30 points in six consecutive games; the Bulldogs are 4-2 during that stretch. ... Friday's game will mark the sixth time in the series that both Auburn and Alabama are ranked in the top 10 of The Associated Press poll when meeting. The last time was in 1994, when No. 4 Alabama beat No. 6 Auburn 21-14 in Birmingham. ... South Carolina is going for just the third nine-win season in school history. It also happened in 1984 and 2001. ... Ole Miss' Bolden has 13 rushing touchdowns this season, behind the school record of 14 held by Kayo Dottley, Deuce McAllister and Archie Manning. ... Alabama has won 20 consecutive home games, tied for the second-longest home winning streak in school history The longest is 57, from Oct. 26, 1963, to Nov. 13, 1982. ... This is the first Georgia-Georgia Tech game since 1996 in which neither is ranked. ... Mississippi State has four losses, and each has come to a team ranked in the top 12 in the BCS. ... Auburn has not allowed a first-quarter touchdown to Alabama since 1996. ... South Carolina leads the SEC and is No. 3 in the nation with a school-record 36 sacks (3.24 per game). ... Vanderbilt and Wake Forest are in the midst of a seven-year contract that runs through 2014. ... Florida QB/WR/FB Trey Burton has scored 12 touchdowns; that's the third-highest in school history for a freshman, two behind WR Jabar Gaffney (2000) and one behind RB Emmitt Smith (1987). ... ... South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore has scored 19 touchdowns this season; he needs just one more to tie Tennessee's Reggie Cobb (1987) for the SEC freshman scoring record. Alabama RB Shaun Alexander set the overall SEC single-season mark with 24 in 1999, and Lattimore has three more games left this season. ... Jeremiah Masoli needs just 11 yards rushing to break Norris Weese's single-season Ole Miss record of 542 rushing yards by a quarterback, set in 1972. ... Auburn is averaging 324.7 yards rushing against SEC opponents and has rushed for at least 300 yards against six consecutive league foes for the first time in school history. ... Eighteen of the past 22 Alabama-Auburn games have been decided by 10 or fewer points.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for He can be reached at

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