The two biggest surprises in the Southeastern Conference have to be Missouri and Auburn. The two schools they call the Tigers have turned their 2012 misfortunes into gold by ramping up their offense.
Both teams have improved their scoring offenses as much as anyone in the country. Missouri is averaging nearly 20 points more per game this season than 2012. Auburn has improved by over 17 points a game. The addition of head coach Gus Malzahn at Auburn and the changes on staff at Missouri are big reasons why these two offenses keep clicking. Both teams average over 6.8 yards per play and rank second and third, respectively, in total offense within the SEC.
Missouri will get another chance to prove the doubters wrong this weekend against South Carolina at home, where believe it or not the Tigers are underdogs. Both teams like to run the ball with the Gamecocks third in the league at 224 yards per game featuring tailback Mike Davis and the Tigers second at 234, rotating several guys.
Henry Josey really impressed me last week as a fast one-cut running back who is tough to defend on the inside zone. This will be the first time since 2009 that the Tigers have faced three-straight ranked opponents.
The key to this game will be turnovers. South Carolina is last in the league with 14 fumbles. However, the Gamecocks haven’t thrown a lot of interceptions which is what Missouri likes to get. Connor Shaw is out, so it will be incumbent on Dylan Thompson to take care of the football. Thompson in limited action has thrown two of the three Gamecock interceptions. Missouri leads the nation with 14 interceptions.
Key Players: South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney, who has two sacks, must show up big. For the Tigers it’s Michael Sam. Missouri leads the league with nine sacks and leads with 13 tackles for loss.
Alabama and Tennessee will meet in Tuscaloosa and while the nation isn’t giving the Vols much of a chance, I think they’re just scrappy enough to get this game to the second half or deeper. The key is Justin Worley, and he cannot turn the ball over. If he does the Vols will get routed. If not they might be able to hang around.
The Volunteer defense has overachieved this season and done it but being opportunistic. Tennessee has forced 17 turnovers this season which is second most in the SEC. Alabama’s run defense has improved every week and it is now holding opponents under 100 yards a game on the ground. They have allowed a nation low two rushing touchdowns all season. The Crimson Tide offensive line is improving and has not allowed a sack since the third quarter of the Ole Miss game (13 quarters).
Mississippi State takes on Kentucky in a rare Thursday night SEC game. The Bulldogs have averaged 499 yards of total offense in their four home games. Mississippi State has scored 22 out its last 25 trips to the red zone and the ground game should be good against a weak Kentucky defense. The Cats give up 213 yards per game on the ground, so I expect Dak Prescott to have a big day.
Kentucky has played the sixth toughest schedule in the country to this point in the season. They have not been good against the run but have forced a league high six fumbles. The Wildcats must be better on third-down conversions. They are last in the SEC and 121st in the country at just 25 percent. The offense does have more explosion than last season with 11 plays of over 30 yards or more already this season, and that is more than the entire year in 2012.
LSU will look to clean some things up this week in its final non-conference game against Furman. The Tigers are coming off a subpar defensive performance, especially on third down. The Tigers now give up 61 percent, putting them eighth in the league in third-down defense. John Chavis’ defense has not been ranked that low in the league since 2009. Offensively the Tigers had 45 big plays of over 20-plus yards before the Florida game, but after consecutive weeks of just five they are at 55. Look for more explosives this week in the passing game.
Ole Miss gets a breather this week after a tough stretch of games as they take on Idaho. Bo Wallace is fourth in the SEC in total offense at 278 yards per game, while Laquon Treadwell has set an Ole Miss freshman record with 39 receptions already. Jaylen Walton had a career high 105 yards in just his second career start. Idaho is coached by former Arkansas quarterbacks coach Paul Petrino, brother of Bobby.
Auburn takes on FAU in its final non-conference game of the season. The Tigers should have their way with the Owls whose offense averages just 22 points per game which ranks 100th in the nation. Auburn leads the SEC in rushing offense at 300 yards per game and average 6.27 yards per carry. Nick Marshall has not thrown an interception since the LSU game.
Vanderbilt faces off with Texas A&M in the first ever meeting between the two schools. The game will feature the top two receivers in the league in Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews and Mike Evans of Texas A&M. Patton Robinette could play and has good mobility and finished 9 of 15 passing last week.
Texas A&M will lean on a banged up Johnny Manziel to lead the Aggies against Vanderbilt. I would expect the Aggies to run the ball more this weekend with Trey Williams and Ben Molena. Mike Evans is still part of the reason the Aggies are No. 1 in passing offense in the league. Evans has had two 200-yard receiving games and two 100-yard receiving games.