East meets West in Athens

East meets West in Athens
September 26, 2013, 7:30 am
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The final week of September brings us some great matchups involving Southeastern Conference teams. 

After this weekend we should have a better idea of the strength of the West as LSU goes to Athens to face Georgia. The Bulldogs are facing their third top-10 team and look to stay alive in the national title race.

Alabama and Ole Miss square off in Tuscaloosa and the Tide have yet to play a complete football game.

The Rebels have already won at Vanderbilt and at Texas in the first month of the season.

South Carolina travels to a dangerous UCF and a sold out crowd in Orlando. The SEC cannot afford another non-conference loss by one of its elite teams.

The other West showdown is in Fayetteville where Johnny Football makes his first trip to face Bret Bielema and the Razorbacks.

LSU at Georgia

I get the feeling this is going to be a high-scoring game. The league is looking to reestablish itself as the best defensive conference in football, but I don’t see it in this game. Two reasons: 1) these offenses are really good and the quarterback play has been amazing 2) the defenses are both young and new from last season and they are not quite ready to be dominant.

LSU has won eight of its last nine games against SEC East teams and its trip to Athens doesn’t come around that often. The last time they went was 2009, but these two teams did meet in Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game two seasons ago. 

The Tiger offense is flourishing under Cam Cameron, averaging 480 yards and 43 points per game. Zach Mettenberger is the No. 2-rated passer in the league behind Georgia’s Aaron Murray. Mettenberger already has 14 completions for over 25 yards this season after only 25 in 13 games last year.  Jeremy Hill already has six touchdowns on the season and his play has given the Tigers balance.

Georgia’s defense is improving against the run coming off a dominating performance against North Texas. They held the Mean Green to seven yards rushing. The Dogs had 10 tackles for loss last week, including two by playmaker Jordan Jenkins.

Georgia’s offense has picked up right where it left off last season. In three games they are averaging over 40 points per game and 570 yards per game.  Aaron Murray is completing 68 percent of his passes on third down and 71 percent in the red zone.

Todd Gurley has 13 runs of 10 or more yards in three games and leads the SEC in yards per game. The Dogs have three guys with 10-plus receptions and 11 guys have caught balls from Murray. LSU has not faced an offense like Georgia’s this season, but they are second in the league in pass defense. Jalen Mills is there best threat on the back end and he has two interceptions so far.

Key Stat: LSU has won 29 games in a row in September. 

Ole Miss at Alabama

The Rebels are 3-0 for the first time since 1989 and look to bring an up-tempo attack to Tuscaloosa. Hugh Freeze’s team is averaging 80 snaps per game and Bo Wallace has yet to throw an interception. Last season Wallace had no touchdowns and two interceptions in a loss to Alabama 33-14. 

The Rebels have won five in a row and their defense is improved over last season. The secondary will be tested by AJ McCarron who is completing 64 percent of his passes and has six touchdowns. O.J. Howard has emerged over the last two weeks, catching six passes at his tight end position.

The key will be whether the Alabama offensive line can run block and protect McCarron. The Rebel defense is better than the Aggies but not quite as good as Virginia Tech. The Crimson Tide has struggled to run the ball consistently and is last in the league in yards per game.

Key Stat: Ole Miss is 0-9 all-time against No. 1-ranked teams.

Rapid Fire

Texas A&M goes on the road for the first time to face former Southwest Conference foe Arkansas.  The Aggies have won eight consecutive road games.  Johnny Manziel should be licking his chops after Gary Nova lit up the Arkansas secondary in the second half last week.  Texas A&M has scored on its opening drive the last three games and 14 of 17 games under Kevin Sumlin.

Arkansas returns home where they are 3-0 on the season. Bret Bielema coached teams are 47-5 at home under his leadership.  Arkansas leads the SEC in sacks and will look to pressure Manziel with defensive ends Chris Smith and Trey Flowers. Brandon Allen may not play this week for the Hogs, but regardless, they must control the ball on the ground and rush for 200 yards if they are going to win.

Missouri can get to 4-0 with a home win over Arkansas State (game can be seen on CSS) for the first time since the 2010 season. The Tigers are seventh in the nation in total offense led by quarterback James Franklin who is 11th in the nation in total offense at 351 yards per game. The Tiger defense leads the nation with three interceptions per game.

Florida has won 26 in a row over Kentucky, and Tyler Murphy will make his first career start in Lexington. The last Gator quarterback to make his first start in Lexington was Chris Leak and he needed a fourth quarter rally to win.  The Gators lead the league in total defense and have forced 18 three-and-outs in three games.  The Gator defense has 19 tackles for loss and the offense leads the league in time of possession. Florida’s wide receiver coach Joker Phillips was the Kentucky head coach last season.

Kentucky has had an open week to get ready for the Gators and will look to throw the ball early and often. Maxwell Smith has not thrown an interception this season and the Cats are averaging 490 yards of total offense per game. Kentucky is fourth in the SEC in passing offense and has completed 60 percent of its passes with just one interception.

Tennessee looks to move over .500 with a win over South Alabama in Knoxville. Justin Worley is back as the starting quarterback and the Vols will look to get the ground game back on track. The Vols lead the SEC and rank third nationally with 12 turnovers forced.  Tennessee has won 10 games in a row against non-conference opponents.

South Carolina faces an unbeaten UCF squad led by quarterback Blake Bortles who has thrown a touchdown pass in 11 straight games. The Gamecocks will look to get pressure with Jadevon Clowney and the defensive front that is second in the SEC in sacks with 10. Connor Shaw has not thrown a pick this season and is completing nearly 65 percent of his passes.  UCF’s defense is ranked 21st in the country while South Carolina’s is just 47th.

Vanderbilt looks for its third win of the season at home against an overmatched UAB squad. The Commodore offense will look to get the ground game going against the Blazers who give up 428 yards per game on defense. Austyn Carta Samuels has thrown for 889 yards which is fourth best in the league and Jordan Matthews has 32 receptions which lead the SEC.

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