SEC Week 10 Preview: Return to Dominance
Week nine in the SEC went by the book for the most part. There was only one true surprise and all other favorites took care of business. However, it is important to be familiar with last week's outcomes because they will play role in determining what happens later down the road.
Just in case you missed any of the action, here is a recap:
- #14 Florida managed to outscore Georgia 24-10 at the World's Largest Cocktail Party (we refuse to accept the name "River City Showdown").
- Ole Miss blew a halftime lead for the third time this season as #15 Auburn escaped with a 40-29 win.
- Kentucky kept a hold of second place in the SEC East with a 35-21 win over Missouri.
- The lone wrinkle in week nine occurred when South Carolina upset #18 Tennessee, 24-21.
The release of the first College Football Playoff rankings further proved that the SEC West is carrying the load for the conference this season. It also proves that the conference is slowing returning to the dominance that everyone is accustomed to seeing.
Many teams will have an opportunity this weekend to show just how dominant they can be while others need will try to continue their already established dominance by surviving Saturday.
This week's preview will provide you with everything you need to know heading for this week's games.
**All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com**
It does not seem like things could get much worse for Ole Miss, but Hugh Freeze would find himself on the hot seat if the Rebels lost to Georgia Southern. Fortunately for Freeze, there is very little chance of that happening even though it is possible.
One cause for concern Ole Miss heading into this matchup is their rush defense. The Rebels rank 118th in total defense in the country, and the Golden Eagles are averaging over 236 yards per game. Freeze must find a way to keep his defense off the field and put the ball in Chad Kelly's hands.
All signs point to a win for the Rebels, but Georgia Southern will try to control the clock. If Ole Miss can just force one or two turnovers then you can expect them to put away the Golden Eagles without issue.
Texas A&M managed to find themselves in the driver's seat for the College Football Playoff after the committee decided to rank them in the top four. With it being likely that the Aggies won't make it to the SEC Championship, it is up to them to dominate their opponents in order to stay ranked in the top four.
Everything we know about both A&M and Mississippi State points toward a dominating victory for the Aggies. Quarterback Trevor Knight has continued the Kevin Sumlin tradition of being dominant through the air, while second year defensive coordinator John Chavis has established a new identity on the Aggies' defense.
The question that one must ask is if Mississippi State has enough talent to pull off a monster upset. Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald has shown signs of promise against mediocre opponents, but he has been wildly inconsistent. It is unlikely that his consistency improves while being pressured by Myles Garret and Daeshon Hall. The Bulldogs' defense will need to force turnovers in order to give Fitzgerald time on the field to find a rhythm.
Sometimes success is the biggest danger to a team because it allows them to lose focus on what lies ahead in the season. A positive ranking boosted the morale in College Station, but the Aggies cannot afford to overlook a conference foe. If A&M remains focused then we will likely witness a convincing win.
Auburn's season is a true testament to a team's ability to improve over the course of a few games. Gus Malzahn's seat had become quite warm through the first three games of the season. Now the Tigers have found themselves ranked in the top 10. Does Vanderbilt have what it takes to slow down this hot streak?
If anyone is going to slow down Auburn then they must stop their ground game. The Tigers are averaging over 300 yards per game on the ground alone, and running back Kamryn Pettway has averaged 199 yards per game in his last three games. Quarterback Sean White has managed to keep opponents on their toes due to his improvement through the air.
Vanderbilt certainly does not have the same run stop ability as a team like Alabama, but they are respectable in that aspect. After all, the Commodores held Nick Chubb and the rest of Georgia's offense to just 75 yards rushing. Vanderbilt's biggest problem is scoring. Auburn is known for scoring quickly and efficiently, and it will likely be difficult for the Commodores to match that ability.
Vanderbilt certainly has a chance to pull off the upset if they find a way to slow down Auburn's rushing attack. That task, however, is easier said than done. The only way the Tigers lose is if they shoot themselves in the foot.
Arkansas looked like a force to be reckoned with after after a win over Ole Miss and solid fights against Texas A&M and Alabama. We now know that Razorbacks may not be as strong as previously thought. On paper, Florida should now win this game with ease but that may not be the case.
The Razorbacks have one of the more consistent quarterbacks in the conference in Austin Allen. But Allen has not been provided with the best blocking as he has already been sacked 21 times this season. That is not a good stat when going up against a team that is averaging three sacks per game. However, Arkansas will not face a big offensive threat from Florida, so the Razorbacks may be able to battle in a low scoring affair.
This is not to say that this game will be a low scoring affair, but the Gators have only scored more than 24 points in three games. None of those opponents ranked in the top 60 nationally in total defense. While Florida may be leading the SEC East, they will be unable to make any kind of major run in the playoff unless they find more consistency on offense. For now, their defense will get the job done.
Arkansas has to once again prove that their program is heading in the right direction. They can do so with a win on Saturday. However, if the offensive line does not protect Allen then it will be a long afternoon for head coach Brett Bielema.
This game would have pitted the two weakest teams in the SEC against each other had it been played last week. That is no longer the case after South Carolina's upset win over Tennessee last Saturday. This will still be a matchup of two teams trying to dig themselves out of a hole, but the Gamecocks' win may have made things more interesting.
These two teams are complete opposite from a statistical standpoint. Missouri is averaging over 490 yards of offense per game. Drew Lock is averaging almost 300 yards per game alone. For South Carolina, there 142 total points scored this season is the fewest by any team in college football.
On defense, the Gamecocks have the clear advantage as they have only allowed 21 points per game. Meanwhile, Missouri ranks 117th in the country in total defense by allowing over 475 yards per game.
Struggles from both teams this season makes this matchup very even. The team that breaks away from their current struggle, whether it be on defense or offense, will likely be the victor in this one.
The Butch Jones era at Tennessee has hit an all-time low. Not only did the Vols lose to South Carolina last week, it was also recently announced that running back Jalen Hurd will transferring at season's end. This week's game will allow Tennessee to get back on track and put their struggles behind them.
There are no statistics or other factors that should make one believe that Vols will lose to Tennessee Tech. With all due respect to Tennessee Tech, they just do not have enough talent to compete with any SEC school. They may be able to keep it close early on, but Tennessee will pull away eventually.
Very few people could have imagined that Kentucky would be in second place in the SEC East after 10 weeks. If the Wildcats want to pull off the impossible and actually make it to Atlanta then they will need to win out in conference play. That may be difficult to do this week.
The Wildcats certainly would not be in this position if they had not improved over the course of the season. Kentucky has averaged 481 yards of offense per game since their last loss, and they are holding opponents to 125 less yards per game then they were in their first five games. Despite the improvement, there will still be a clear talent gap this weekend.
Georgia's talent gap has not helped them in recent games, so it may not help them in this matchup either. The Bulldogs are 1-4 in their last five games. Statistically speaking, it is hard to analyze the root of Georgia's problem. They are wildly inconsistent on both sides of the ball especially when it comes to offensive play calling. This game is still in their hands but not if they do not find some kind of rhythm.
Five years ago, the regular season matchup between Alabama and LSU was called "The Game of the Century." While the prominence of this game does not hold quite the same luster, the rivalry has stayed intact. This year's version will pit the number one team in the country against a revitalized LSU team in Death Valley.
Alabama has seemingly gotten better each week this season, and they certainly benefitted from a much needed bye week. However, the Tide will have to find a way to replace safety Eddie Jackson who is out for the season. Shifting around the secondary may leave them vulnerable, but the primary focus on defense will be stopping a healthy Leonard Fournette. The Tide did it last season, but it is a new year and a new venue.
Still, Ed Orgeron must plan ahead in case Alabama does shut down Fournette once again. After all, the Tide does have the nation's best rush defense. Quarterback Danny Etling must be effective through the air. The teams with the most success against Alabama are the ones that have attacked them through the air. This is true now more than ever with the injury to Eddie Jackson.
Alabama and LSU can do whatever they want to change their offensive or defensive schemes. It does not matter simply because this will be an old fashioned slugfest like it has been in recent years.