September 8, 2011

Week 2 preview in the SEC

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It's just the second week of the season, but Georgia still may be at a crossroads.

The Bulldogs were beaten up along both lines in last week's 35-21 loss to Boise State. As bad as it was, though, it wasn't a conference setback.

THE SCHEDULE
Central Michigan at Kentucky, noon
Mississippi State at Auburn, 12:20 p.m.
Alabama at Penn State, 3:30 p.m.
Cincinnati at Tennessee, 3:30 p.m.
South Carolina at Georgia, 4:30 p.m.
Southern Illinois at Ole Miss, 6 p.m.
New Mexico vs. Arkansas at Little Rock, 7 p.m.
UAB at Florida, 7 p.m.
Connecticut at Vanderbilt, 7:30 p.m.
Northwestern State at LSU, 8 p.m.
This week, there is a conference foe, and it's South Carolina, the preseason pick to win the SEC East.

A 0-2 start to the season could mean it spirals out of control for a young Bulldogs squad. It also would increase the heat being felt by Georgia coach Mark Richt, who isn't buying the doom-and-gloom talk.

"I view it as a very important game," he said when he was asked on the SEC teleconference if this was a "pivotal game" for he and his team.

South Carolina is aiming for its first back-to-back wins over Georgia since 2000 and '01, and a victory in Athens would give the Gamecocks a boost as they seek their second consecutive division title.

"I've said it before: We have a strong dislike for a lot of teams and there's a lot of rivalry games, and South Carolina's definitely one of them," Georgia tight end Aron White said at the Bulldogs' weekly news conference. "In the series, historically, we've been playing as big brother, and the tables are turned this year and that's fine with us. We've gone into games underdogs before and come out on top, and that's what we plan on doing this week."

The underdog role didn't work out so well last week, and Richt needs his team to play with a lot more consistency this week. What surprised him the most in the opener, Rich said, was his team's lack of execution: "I would've expected more than what we had."

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier - who is 13-5 as a coach against Georgia, but just 2-4 with the Gamecocks - wasn't buying any downplaying of the game.

"Obviously, it's a big ballgame this week," he said. "Georgia Bulldogs and South Carolina. I guess in the preseason, most of the experts picked either us or Georgia [in the division]. I don't know if anyone picked some other teams, so it's a huge game."

Spurrier also had some fun when hyping the game: "I don't know if all our guys know Georgia is in our division. I hope they do."

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One player Spurrier is likely to count on is sophomore tailback Marcus Lattimore, who had a huge game (37 carries for 182 yards and two TDs) in last season's 17-6 victory.

"If he's running for six or seven yards a carry like last year, obviously he may get 35 [touches]," Spurrier said. "They'll stack the box. I'm sure they watched tape of the run-blocking schemes we used. You have to figure they'll try to get more guys in the box and defend against Marcus.

"Maybe we need to throw the ball better than we did last week, pass-block better and run better routes. That may be the key for us to beat them. Who knows? Or maybe we can keep running it. Who knows?"

While the Gamecocks would get a leg up in the East with a victory, they have tougher inter-division games than the Bulldogs. Georgia faces West Division teams Auburn, Mississippi and Mississippi State, while South Carolina has Arkansas, Auburn and Mississippi State.

Of the other SEC East contenders, Tennessee has the toughest inter-division games with Alabama, Arkansas and LSU. Florida has Alabama, Auburn and LSU.

Seven of the past 10 meetings in the Georgia-South Carolina series have been decided by seven or fewer points. In addition, the winning team has failed to score even 20 points in six of the past seven games.

BEST MATCHUP: Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain vs. Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley. Two of the nation's best coordinators match wits. McElwain will look to get more production from TB Trent Richardson this week. It would help if Alabama could settle on its five best linemen. G Barrett Jones is one of the best players at his position in the nation, but he also had to play left tackle and center last week. Look for Bradley to do everything he can to force Alabama to the air. Bradley knows his unit holds the key to any upset hopes.

PLAYER ON THE SPOT: Mississippi State QB Chris Relf. Relf played well against a shoddy Memphis defense last week. This week, he goes against an Auburn defense that struggled mightily against Utah State last week. Mobile Aggies QB Chuckie Keeton hurt the Tigers. Relf also is mobile, and unlike Keeton - a true freshman who was making his first start - he has a lot of experience. Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen would prefer to rely on his rushing attack behind Relf and TB Vick Ballard. When Relf does pass, he needs to hit some big plays deep and avoid egregious mistakes. Relf never will be a great passer; this week, as long as he's a good runner and an adequate passer, Mississippi State can win on the Plains.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Tennessee's linebackers. The Vols seem likely to again start two true freshmen linebackers, Curt Maggitt and A.J. Johnson. In addition, MLB Austin Johnson is a converted fullback who also made his first career start last week. Cincinnati has a potent offense, led by TB Isaiah Pead and mobile QB Zach Collaros. Look for Collaros to try to take advantage of the Vols' inexperience at linebacker. Cincy's defense is going to have problems stopping Tennessee's offense, so the Bearcats have to have big games from Collaros and Pead if they're to pull the upset.

NUMBERS GAME: Auburn's 16-game winning streak is the longest in the nation and is the only double-digit streak. Stanford is second with a nine-game winning streak, while Nevada and Ohio State each own seven-game streaks. The second-longest winning streak in the SEC is Mississippi State, at three.

QUOTES OF THE WEEK

"Most of the new players that played - most of - did not play as well as what we had anticipated or hoped. Whether it's anxiety, first-game jitters or whatever, we need to make an improvement in that area." - Alabama coach Nick Saban

"I am ready to move on. It just counts one. My wife says that I wish it counted for more than one, but it doesn't." - LSU coach Les Miles, on getting ready for this week's game after beating Oregon in the opener

"I think it was a mixture of some things. I think we weren't as physical as we needed to be. I don't think there's any question about that. I feel like there were some mental errors out there that really kept us from getting off the field several times, in terms of anything from alignments to leverages, technique. Really, just top-to-bottom, a lackluster performance." - Auburn coach Gene Chizik, on last week's 42-38 win over Utah State

"It's always good and rowdy. The fans are always ready to go. It's just a fun atmosphere to play in. I always look forward to it." - Arkansas QB Tyler Wilson, on playing in Little Rock this week

"I'm expecting them to be a much, much better football team than what we saw last weekend. And I still think we saw a very good, talented, explosive football team that scored 42 points and found a way to win a football game." - Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, on Auburn, which plays host to the Bulldogs on Saturday

"I hear we didn't play 'inspired.' You don't think our defense and special teams played inspired? We played inspired football. We didn't play good on offense. We played pathetic on offense." - Kentucky coach Joker Phillips, on his team's opening 14-3 win over Western Kentucky

POLL WATCH: LSU was behind Alabama in both preseason polls; the Tigers jumped ahead of the Tide in The Associated Press poll and stayed behind the Tide in the coaches' poll after Week 1. Georgia fell out of both polls, while Auburn fell out of the AP poll. The SEC has seven teams in the coaches' poll and six in the AP poll.

ETC.: Ole Miss has changed starting quarterbacks, going to JC transfer Zack Stoudt instead of Barry Brunetti. Stoudt will be part of a new-look backfield for the Rebels, as starting TB Brandon Bolden (ankle) and second-teamer Enrique Davis (knee) are hurt. Bolden is out for this week's game against FCS member Southern Illinois, while Davis likely will miss the game. Jeff Scott would get the start. WR Korvic Neat and Ss Chief Brown and Cody Prewitt were moved to running back this week. ... Tennessee named Dave Hart as its new athletic director Monday. He is a former Florida State AD who was an assistant AD at Alabama when he was hired by Tennessee. "Nick [Saban] had nothing but good things to say about him, and that's good enough for me," Vols coach Derek Dooley said. Hart replaces Mike Hamilton, who resigned over the summer. ... Notre Dame transfer Dan Wenger started at guard for Florida in its opener. Wenger is a former Irish center who has had concussion issues; he was not medically cleared by Notre Dame doctors. ... Alabama expects to play in front of the largest crowd in school history Saturday. A crowd of about 110,000 is expected at Penn State. The biggest crowd to have seen the Tide is the 107,722 who were in attendance at Tennessee's Neyland Stadium in 2002. ... Mitch Smothers became the first true freshman in Arkansas history to start the season opener on the offensive line when he opened against Missouri State at tackle. Smothers was a three-star recruit from Springdale (Ark.) High. ... Mississippi State starting DT Fletcher Cox, who was suspended for the opener against Memphis, will play this week against Auburn. ... Kentucky LB Danny Trevathan made 13 tackles against Western Kentucky, his 10th consecutive game with double-digit tackles. ... Mississippi State opens its season with three consecutive games against teams nicknamed "Tigers." The Bulldogs won at Memphis last week, play at Auburn on Saturday, then play host to LSU next Thursday. ... Arkansas WR Joe Adams has made at least one catch in 35 consecutive games, the longest such streak in the SEC and the fifth-longest nationally. ... Tennessee fumbled six times in last week's win over FCS member Montana, but recovered all six. ... Alabama DL Quinton Dial has some butterflies about this week's game at Penn State. "I'm kind of nervous about getting on that plane. I've never flown before," he said. ... Auburn is 8-0 in games decided by four or fewer points under coach Gene Chizik, including 4-0 in SEC contests. ... Kentucky has won a school-record 20 consecutive regular-season non-conference games. It is the fourth-longest active streak in the nation. ... Arkansas is trying to have back-to-back 2-0 starts to the season for the first time since 2002 and '03. ... LSU plays host to FCS member Northwestern State (La.) on Saturday. The Delta Demons are coached by former LSU co-defensive coordinator Bradley DalePeveto. ... The Connecticut-Vanderbilt game features both of Maryland's coordinators from last season. Vandy coach James Franklin was the Terps' offensive coordinator last season, while UConn defensive coordinator Don Brown held that position at Maryland. ... Florida started two true freshmen in the secondary last week - CB Marcus Roberson and FS De'Ante "Pop" Saunders. It was the first time in school history that two true freshmen had started an opener in the secondary.

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



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