Welcome to our Thursday List, a look at the three SEC position units that will be most on the spot for the upcoming weekend. If these units play poorly, their teams have no chance of winning.
3. Texas A&M offensive line
The skinny: The Aggies might not have one highly touted o-lineman, which they’ve had the past few seasons, but this is a solid unit, headed by RT Germain Ifedi (a definite early-round NFL guy) and C Mike Matthews. As a whole, the group is better blocking for the pass than the run. Saturday against Alabama, it’s the run-blocking that bears attention. Ole Miss proved that Alabama can be beaten even if you don’t run for 100 yards. A&M, though, can get to 100 if the guys up front do their jobs. Senior TB Tra Carson, a 233-pounder, is a physical runner who doesn’t fit the mold of a spread offense tailback. If he can have success between the tackles, A&M’s chances for the win improve greatly.
2. Florida linebackers
The skinny: The Gators have two legitimate stars at linebacker in Jarrad Davis and Antonio Morrison. As for the Gators’ other ‘backers? Hmmm. Truthfully, there really aren’t any because of injuries. The Gators have used mostly nickel sets this season, but the presence of Leonard Fournette on Saturday means the Gators must have another physical presence in the box; SS Keanu Neal is the liklely canddiate. He is a big hitter and does a great job of finding the ball. Ultimately, though, it’s not a stretch to say the play of Davis and Morrison — who have combined for 87 tackles and 13 tackles for loss — could determine the outcome of the game.
1. Alabama secondary
The skinny: As every Crimson Tide fan knows, Texas A&M is a spread-offense team. And spread teams with good athletes have given Alabama’s defense a ton of problems lately. In each of the Tide’s past three games against high-level spread offenses (Auburn and Ohio State last season, Ole Miss this season), it has allowed at least 42 points and at least 443 yards; it surrendered at least 537 yards in two of the three games. What should scare the Tide is that A&M has better receivers than Auburn, Ohio State and Ole Miss. Can Alabama’s defensive backs — specifically the corners — hold up? Nickelback Minkah Fitzpatrick figures to see a lot of Aggies slot receiver Christian Kirk, who is sixth in the league in receptions and leads in reception yards. But A&M also has a legit deep threat in Josh Reynolds and a big, physical possession guy in Ricky Seals-Jones. Tide CBs Marlon Humphrey and Cyrus Jones need to be prepared for a fusillade of A&M passes, and some big plays by Ss Eddie Jackson and Geno Matias-Smith would be helpful, too. So would a consistent pass rush. The Tide has 16 sacks, but six of them came against Louisiana-Monroe.
(Follow Mike Huguenin on Twitter @MikeHuguenin)
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