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November 1, 2006
How good are the Hogs?: Arkansas followed up its stunning 27-10 victory over Auburn with three consecutive blowout victories over Southeast Missouri State, Ole Miss and Louisiana-Monroe. This week begins a tough three-game stretch that will determine whether the surprising Western Division leaders can reach the SEC championship game. After traveling to South Carolina this week, the Razorbacks close the regular season against Tennessee and LSU. Speaking of Tennessee and LSU, those two teams square off in Knoxville in a must-win game for each, as they attempt to surge to the top of their respective divisions.
Best matchups: The Tennessee-LSU game features plenty of talent all over the field, but the matchup that could determine the game will take place on each sideline. LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini has helped the Tigers lead the nation in total defense. Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe has given the resurgent Volunteers the SEC's top-ranked passing offense. LSU DT Glenn Dorsey should shut down Tennessee's inconsistent running attack, so this game may come down to how Tennessee QB Erik Ainge fares against LaRon Landry and that outstanding LSU secondary. ? Another interesting matchup with much less star power takes place in Lexington. Georgia is ranked 90th in the nation in total offense and has struggled to score points all year. Will that change against a Kentucky squad that is ranked 118th out of 119 Division I-A teams in total defense?
Worst matchup: Arkansas State is averaging less than 16 points per game and got blanked 29-0 last week by Florida Atlantic. That doesn't bode well for the Indians as they prepare to face an Auburn team that is ranked ninth in the nation in scoring defense. Auburn DE Quentin Groves should be licking his chops this week because Arkansas State has allowed eight sacks in its last three games while facing the likes of Florida Atlantic, Memphis and North Texas.
The pressure is on: LSU QB JaMarcus Russell. When LSU is facing one of the lesser teams on its schedule, Russell looks like the best quarterback in the nation. He has completed 78 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns and just one interception in LSU's six victories this year. But he failed to throw a touchdown pass against Auburn and was picked off three times in a loss to Florida. This weekend gives Russell an opportunity to shed the reputation that he doesn't perform well in big games.
Upset alert: South Carolina was driving for a potential tying touchdown before falling short at home against Auburn. The Gamecocks led Tennessee in the second half last week before the Volunteers rallied for a win at Columbia. We're guessing this is the week that South Carolina finally closes the deal and pulls an upset at home. If you want to stay away from this game, Tennessee also looks promising as a three-point underdog playing host to LSU.
Most to gain: Tennessee. The Vols can go a long way toward staking a claim to a BCS invitation ? even if they don't earn the conference title ? if they win each of the next two weeks against LSU and Arkansas. And that would represent quite an accomplishment for a team that didn't reach a bowl game last season.
Most to lose: Alabama coach Mike Shula. The Crimson Tide close the regular season against LSU and Auburn, so they need to beat Mississippi State to guarantee themselves a winning record. Alabama already needed overtime to beat Ole Miss at home. If the Tide struggles against the Bulldogs, it will only intensify the pressure on Shula heading into that demanding two-game stretch.
BCS implications: Arkansas owns a commanding lead in the Western Division, but a loss to South Carolina could change things in a hurry because the Razorbacks still must face Tennessee and LSU. Florida must beat Vanderbilt to continue controlling its own destiny in the Eastern Division. A victory over LSU would boost Tennessee's hopes of earning a BCS at-large invitation if it doesn't win the East.
Who's hot: Tennessee CB Jonathan Wade has intercepted two passes and broken up four more in his last three games. ? Alabama CB Simeon Castille has a pair of interceptions and a fumble recovery in his last two games. .. . ? After returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown against Ole Miss, Arkansas RB Felix Jones rushed for 141 yards on just nine carries against Louisiana-Monroe last week. ? Ole Miss LB Patrick Willis made a career-high 15 stops last week and has recorded double-digit tackles in 15 of his last 17 games. ? After allowing five sacks each to Florida and Arkansas, Auburn hasn't given up a sack in its last two games. ? Arkansas FS Michael Grant picked off three passes against Louisiana-Monroe. ? Georgia LB Tony Taylor has recorded an interception in three consecutive games. ? Vanderbilt WR Earl Bennett has caught 31 passes in his last four games. ? South Carolina PK Ryan Succop has made field goals from at least 50 yards away each of the last two weeks. Succop has gone 10-of-11 on field-goal attempts this season while also serving as the Gamecocks' main punter.
Who's not: Georgia QB Matthew Stafford has thrown five interceptions in his last two games. ? Florida PK Chris Hetland has gone 1-of-7 on field-goal attempts this year. ? . ? Kentucky is giving up 455.6 yards per game and is ranked 118th out of 119 Division I-A teams ? ahead of only Louisiana Tech - in total defense. ? Ole Miss QB Brent Schaeffer has completed more than half his passes in just one game all season. ? Florida QB Chris Leak has gone just 23-of-45 through the air in his last two games.
Must-see TV: LSU at Tennessee (CBS): Tennessee tries to keep its BCS hopes alive, while LSU tries to prove it belongs among the nation's elite.
Newcomer who could have an impact: Kentucky RB Alfonso Smith. This redshirt freshman probably will make his first career start Saturday because of injuries in the Wildcats' backfield. Rafael Little opened the year as the starter before undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery last month. Tony Dixon stepped in for Little and injured his hamstring last week in the first half of a 34-31 victory at Mississippi State. That leaves Smith, who rushed for 92 yards and had two catches for 57 yards after replacing Dixon last week.
Key stat: Eighteen of the 31 SEC intra-conference games this year ? 58.1 percent - have been decided by 10 or fewer points. No other conference in the nation has that high a percentage.
Take the line: Kentucky delivered ? albeit barely ? for us last week by covering a two-point spread in a 34-31 victory at Mississippi State. So we'll stick with the hot hand and pick the Wildcats to cover against another group of Bulldogs this week. Georgia is a seven-point road favorite, but the Bulldogs haven't beaten anyone by that much in their last six games. Kentucky may not win Saturday, but the Wildcats should at least keep it close. Season record: 6-4.
They said it: "One of the things that I am going to talk to (the players) about is team. As you look around the country, I see a lot of teams that have a lot of 'I' in them. When somebody makes a tackle, they almost have to honor themselves. I don't want that. I want us to stay a team. I had a good long talk with Darren McFadden last night. I made him promise me, I don't want any more flexing in the end zone. I don't want that. The reason we got to this point is because we have been unselfish. Hand the ball to the official and go back to the sidelines. Celebrate with your teammates. Our seniors have really taken ownership of 'one game at a time.' That's all you can handle. We have a chance to win a championship in the toughest conference in America when no one gave you a chance. Let's do everything we can to prepare for that. Let's be the most unselfish teammates you can possibly be."
Injury update: Alabama QB John Parker Wilson hopes to play Saturday despite having a sore left ankle. ? Auburn C Joe Cope is expected to return Saturday after missing the Tigers' last five games with a sprained knee. ? Kentucky RB Tony Dixon is questionable for the Georgia game with a hamstring injury. Dixon has been starting in place of Rafael Little, who has missed the last two games after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. Alfonso Smith will start at tailback for the Wildcats this week. ? Kentucky OG Trai Williams suffered a high ankle sprain last week after replacing OG Jason Leger, who missed the game with a shoulder injury. Leger is questionable for the Georgia game. The injuries to Williams and Leger should result in more playing time for OG Hayden Lane, who came in last week after Williams got hurt. ? Ole Miss DE Chris Bowers injured his shoulder on the opening kickoff last weekend, leaving his status uncertain for Saturday's game with Northwestern State. ? Mississippi State TB Arnil Stallworth, TB Brandon Thornton and FB Casey Rogers will probably miss the rest of the season with knee injuries. Anthony Dixon will start at tailback and Brandon Hart will start at fullback this week. ? Mississippi State OG Michael Gates is doubtful for the Alabama game with an ankle injury. ?Tennessee QB Erik Ainge expects to play against LSU despite spraining his right ankle last weekend. ? Tennessee RB LaMarcus Coker will miss Saturday's game with a knee injury. ? Vanderbilt OG Josh Eames might come back this week from the knee injury that has sidelined him for the last two games.
Worth noting: Georgia TE Martrez Milner has been benched after dropping a number of key passes in a 21-14 loss to Florida last week. Tripp Chandler will replace Milner in the starting lineup. Georgia DT Dale Dixson also has won a starting job this week. ? Arkansas has scored 145 points in its last three games. That represents the Razorbacks' highest point total in a three-game stretch since 1970. ? Florida ran the ball seven times without ever handing the ball to a running back in its opening series against Georgia last week. ? Michael Henig threw for 384 yards last week to post the first 300-yard game for a Mississippi State quarterback since Kevin Fant threw for 360 yards in a 42-35 loss to Houston on Sept. 20, 2003. Henig has 618 passing yards in the last two weeks, which marks the second-highest total over a two-game span in school history. ? Tennessee has outscored opponents 85-20 in the fourth quarter this season. The Vols have come from behind in the fourth quarter to win their last three games. ? Vanderbilt QB Chris Nickson rushed for 150 yards and passed for 250 yards last week in a 45-28 victory over Duke. Nickson had the highest single-game rushing total by a Vanderbilt quarterback since Van Heflin ran for 167 yards in a 30-29 loss to Air Force on Nov. 17, 1979. ? SEC players of the week for last weekend's games included Nickson (offense), Tennessee CB Jonathan Wade (defense), Kentucky WR/KR Keenan Burton (special teams), Arkansas OG Stephen Parker (offensive lineman), Florida DT Ray McDonald (defensive lineman) and Auburn FS Aairon Savage (freshman).
Looking back: Andre Caldwell had one touchdown run and one touchdown catch as Florida outlasted Georgia 21-14. ? Erik Ainge threw a pair of touchdown passes to Bret Smith as Tennessee rallied to win 31-24 at South Carolina. ? John Vaughn kicked two field goals in the last eight minutes of Auburn's 23-17 victory over Ole Miss. ? Chris Nickson ran for three touchdowns and threw for two scores in Vanderbilt's 45-28 triumph over Duke. ? Andre Woodson threw for 284 yards and three touchdowns as Kentucky edged Mississippi State 34-31. ? Alabama scored three touchdowns on offense, one on defense and one more on special teams in a 38-3 trouncing of Florida International. ? Felix Jones and Darren McFadden combined for 270 rushing yards as Arkansas whipped Louisiana-Monroe 44-10.
Freshman who impressed: Auburn FS Aairon Savage collected a team-high six tackles in Auburn's 23-17 victory over Ole Miss. Savage also recorded an interception that led to an Auburn field goal.
Bowl watch: Alabama (6-3), Arkansas (7-1), Auburn (8-1), Florida (7-1), Georgia (6-3), LSU (6-2) and Tennessee (7-1) are already bowl eligible. South Carolina (5-3) needs one more victory to become eligible for a bowl invitation. Kentucky (4-4) can become bowl eligible by winning two of its last four games. Vanderbilt (4-5) must win two of its three remaining games. Ole Miss (2-7) and Mississippi State (2-7) are out of bowl contention.
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