SEC Week 5 Preview: It Is Now Or Never
Week four of SEC football was one of the most exciting to date. Narrow wins and comeback victories were plentiful in a week that was not expected to carry much surprise.
In case you missed any of the action, here is a quick recap for you:
- Vanderbilt avoided a would-be upset by defeating Western Kentucky in overtime, 31-30.
- LSU needed one more second to defeat Auburn, but they did not get the snap off in time. Auburn prevailed with a 18-13 win.
- A strong second half helped Tennessee overcome an 18-point halftime deficit in route to a 38-28 win over Florida. The win ended an 11-year losing to streak to the Gators.
- Arkansas and Texas A&M competed in an offensive shootout before the Aggies pulled away in the fourth quarter and won, 45-24.
We have reached that point in the season where lack of experience can no longer be used as an excuse. Every team has had four weeks to figure out what works best for them, so now is the time for each SEC team to show how far they will go this season.
This preview should guide you on where we believe each SEC team currently stands:
**All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com**
Arkansas' loss to Texas A&M was much closer than the score shows. The Razorbacks just made too many mental errors that the Aggies were able to capitalize on.
The good news for Bret Bielema is that his team has time to fix any problems before next week's big game against Alabama. It is safe to assume that Arkansas purposely scheduled an inferior opponent the week before they played the Tide in an effort to remain as healthy as possible.
Alcorn State has little to no chance of beating the Razorbacks unless they give the game away with costly errors. That likely will not happen, and with all due respect to Alcorn State, this game should be over before it even gets started.
Jim McElwain has to be extremely disappointed in his team's second half effort against Tennessee. The Vols not only came back, but they also dominated the Gators in the process. However, despite giving up 38 points to the Vols, Florida still has one of the best defenses in the country.
Defense cannot always be relied on to get the job done. It is nice to have a consistent offense to compliment a dominant defense. An injury to quarterback Luke Del Rio made Florida vulnerable. Despite this vulnerability, it is hard to imagine that Vanderbilt can capitalize.
The Commodores need to have a tremendous amount of success through the air just to be able to beat the Gators. Quarterback Kyle Shurmur does not have the talent around him to do so, and, plus, Vanderbilt ranks 112th nationally in passing offense. Meanwhile, Florida ranks 10th in pass defense.
Vanderbilt may can keep it close if they keep the clock moving by handing the ball to Ralph Webb and giving Florida little time to score. Either way, it is going to be tough sledding for the Commodores to pull off the upset even though the Gators are coming off an emotional loss.
Auburn's narrow victory over LSU was a much needed confidence boost that should benefit the Tigers in a positive way.
This does not mean that Auburn does not have issues to address. After all, the 18 points they scored on Saturday were all made via kicker Daniel Carlson. A well-oiled offense is the key to success on the Plains and no major progressions have been made from week one to now. The Tigers do rank third in the SEC in rushing offense; however, they have 28 more carries than the next closest team.
Fortunately for Gus Malzahn, Auburn will likely be able to carry the ball with relative success on Saturday considering Louisiana Monroe is next to last in the Sun Belt in rush defense. The Warhawks will try to win the game through the air with quarterback Garrett Smith who averages almost 250 passing yards per game.
In 2007, Louisiana Monroe upset Alabama. On Saturday they will try to do it to the Tide's arch-rival. An upset is unlikely, but it is possible if Malzahn does not establish an identity for this year's offense.
Kirby Smart got his first real taste of being a head coach in the SEC when he watched his team get obliterated by Ole Miss last Saturday. Losses like that can go one of two ways: 1) They can be an eye opener for your team and lead to improvement as the team tries to prove just how good they really are. 2) It can destroy a team's morale and lead to more disappointing victories in the near future.
The Bulldogs may not experience too many more disappointing in the Kirby Smart era, but they do have their work cut out for them against a Tennessee team that is riding high on its comeback victory over Florida.
The Volunteers passed for a season high 319 yards in the win and held the Gators to just eight total yards in the third quarter. This does not indicate that the Vols will dominate every quarter, but it does speak to their true potential.
It also could spell trouble for a Georgia defense that allowed over eight yards per play against Ole Miss. If the Bulldogs have any chance of winning then they will have to slow down Joshua Dobbs. That is what Florida did in the first half and that is what allowed them to go up by 18 at halftime. In addition, Georgia will also have to go back to a balanced offensive attack. You cannot win consistently in the SEC unless you can pass.
It is hard to see Tennessee dropping this game when their confidence is at an all-time high and Georgia's is at an all-time low. But it is still the SEC, so anything can happen.
If the first four weeks of college football have taught us anything it is that Will Muschamp inherited a mess at South Carolina. In fact, while the Gamecocks do have one SEC win this season, they still could finish dead last in the conference.
Right now, there is no reason to believe that South Carolina stands a chance of beating Texas A&M. The Gamecocks rank 124th nationally in total offense, and they have only scored six offensive touchdowns this season which is tied for the worst in college football.
Meanwhile, Texas A&M is proving to be Alabama's top challenger to win the SEC West. Quarterback Trevor Knight has ignited the Aggies offense through the air and on the ground. A&M has also shown drastic improvement on defense under second year coordinator John Chavis.
It was mentioned earlier that anything can happen in the SEC. While that is true, we are going to say that South Carolina winning this game would be one of the biggest shocks of the year. Texas A&M will almost certainly get another SEC road win.
Last season Memphis upset Ole Miss in what was probably the biggest win in the program's history. Now the two teams will meet again only this time the Tigers will try to win with a new team and a new coach.
Pulling off another upset against the Rebels may seem impossible, but it is actually very possible. Memphis has won each of its games by an average of 42 points. They have not allowed more than 17 points in a single game, and they are second in the country in turnover margin. Those factors alone make them dangerous even though they do not match up with Ole Miss talent wise.
The Rebels are, however, going into the game with some much needed momentum after humiliating Georgia by 31 points. Quarterback Chad Kelly has proven to be one of the best quarterbacks in the conference, and he alone will make it difficult for any team to beat the Rebels.
This game should not end an upset simply because Ole Miss will be going into this game with more caution. But Memphis does bring something to the table that gives one reason to believe that an upset is possible.
Concerns about Nick Saban starting a true freshman quarterback are finally starting to go away because Jalen Hurts has all but proven himself. Not only did he lead a come-from-behind victory in his first start against an SEC team, he is also completing over 62 percent of his passes.
Hurts may have a bigger workload to carry this week with running back Damien Harris being banged up. A larger workload should not be a problem against any team especially if that team is Kentucky.
The Wildcats are making efforts to improve their team's issues. Mark Stoops has decided to go with junior quarterback Stephen Johnson instead of Drew Barker. Johnson is 2-0 as a starting quarterback including last week's win over South Carolina. But Johnson does not have enough talent around him to pull off an upset against the number one team in the country on the road.
In addition, the Wildcats allow 463 yards of offense per game, which ranks dead last in the conference. Stoops will pull out all the stops to beat the Tide, but it will more than likely not happen.
The top storyline in the SEC was the firing of LSU head coach Les Miles. It did not necessarily come as a shock; however, many did not expect it to happen this soon.
LSU will now rely on Ed Orgeron to be the interim head coach. For those that do not remember, Orgeron was the interim head coach for USC a few seasons ago. He did such a nice job that there was a campaign for him to be named the head coach.
It would be too much to ask that Orgeron flip the team's success in an instant, but a new face should do some good. LSU will likely continue to ride the team's defensive success until Orgeron figures out what he should do with the offense. Defensive success could be an issue this week as Missouri comes to town following a 79-0 win over Delaware State.
Is Delaware State a quality opponent? Absolutely not. The win still could prove to be a boost in morale that could propel Missouri to a win during LSU's time of crisis. Missouri quarterback Drew Lock has already thrown for over 1,500 yards this season, and he may give LSU problems on Saturday.
The amount of overlying factors makes this game a tough one to call. In the end, do not be surprised to see LSU prevail through good old fashioned, hard nosed defense.