After Saturday’s games, we will have reached the midway point of the season.
Did I just write that? I believe that I did.
And you know what? Almost six weeks in, we still have at lot more questions than answers about the SEC. But we’re having a lot of fun finding the answers.
And so on that note, here are my Five Burning Questions for Saturday, Oct. 10:
1. Any chance for an “Upset Special”?
I would keep an eye in the direction of Columbia, Mo. Florida (5-0 overall, 3-0 in the SEC) has put together back-to-back emotional wins over Tennessee and Ole Miss. People now are talking about Florida as the favorite to win the SEC East. As I wrote earlier this week, if we were picking a coach of the year for the first half of the season, it would be Jim McElwain.
But Missouri (4-1, 1-1) is one of those pesky teams that is efficient and well coached.
Example: Florida quarterback Will Grier has five touchdown passes of at least 30 yards. The Gators had only five such scoring throws during the entire 2014 regular season. But Missouri’s defense has given up only two plays of 30-plus yards this season.
Missouri will give true freshman quarterback Drew Lock his second start as Maty Mauk remains suspended. Lock was 21-of-28 last week against South Carolina. But he hasn’t seen a defensive front like Florida’s.
The only time the Gators went on the road, it was a struggle to beat Kentucky 14-9. McElwain says he’s looking forward to finding out if the Gators are “a one-hit wonder.”
I will say this: If the Gators beat Mizzou, then next week’s game at LSU will be rather large.
2. So, who wins this week’s “Desperation Bowl”?
For the second consecutive week, Neyland Stadium will play host to two teams and two coaches that really, really, really need a win.
I was in Knoxville on Monday and the quality of life for Tennessee coach Butch Jones has not been good. His Volunteers have seen double-digit leads disappear in losses to Oklahoma, Florida and Arkansas. A lot of people on social media and talk radio now think he’s in over his head when it comes to game management. There is only one way to fix that perception: You have to win.
Ditto for Georgia’s Mark Richt. After a huge buildup for last week’s home game with Alabama, the Bulldogs got hammered 38-10.
Still, Georgia can get to the SEC championship game by running the table, which is exactly what the Bulldogs did in 2012 after losing to South Carolina 35-7. That Georgia team came up 5 yards short in the SEC championship game against top-ranked Alabama.
Arkansas ran the ball effectively against Tennessee. I would expect Georgia to do the same.
3. Can LSU’s Leonard Fournette keep it rolling against South Carolina?
Oh, I think you can count on it.
If Fournette and LSU didn’t already have a huge advantage in this game, the contest has been moved from Columbia to Baton Rouge because of the extensive flooding in South Carolina.
Fournette has posted three consecutive 200-yard games and has 864 yards in four games. With 136 yards on Saturday, Fournette will become the 10th player in FBS history to reach 1,000 yards in five games (it has been done 10 times, by nine players).
And we may be talking about this next week, when Florida goes to Baton Rouge: The FBS record for consecutive 200-yard rushing games is five. (That record is shared by three players: USC’s Marcus Allen in 1981, Oklahoma State’s Barry Sanders in 1988 and North Texas’ Jamario Thomas in 2004.)
Now if that wasn’t enough bad news for the Gamecocks (2-3, 0-3), who are out to avoid their worst start since 1999, there is this: True freshman quarterback Lorenzo Nunez missed three days of practice this week while his shoulder recovers from the beating it took last week at Missouri. So coach Steve Spurrier will have to go with junior Perry Orth, who lost the job to Nunez a couple of weeks ago. This one could get ugly, folks.
4. Arkansas has found its identity over the past two weeks. Can the Hogs keep it at Alabama?
Two weeks ago, Arkansas lost to Texas A&M 28-21 in overtime, but the results were encouraging if you pull for the Hogs. That’s because after three weeks of the passing the ball to excess, Arkansas remembered who it was. The Hogs re-established their running game (232 yards) and balanced it with the passing game (225 yards). They had almost 20 more minutes in time of possession. The Aggies ran only 48 offensive plays. That is the way Arkansas should play.
It paid off last week in Knoxville, when the Hogs erased a 14-0 deficit, then controlled things the rest of the way to win 24-20. Tennessee only had four possessions, which totaled a bit more than eight minutes, in the second half.
Now Arkansas (2-3, 1-1) travels to Alabama (4-1, 1-1), which is coming off a great performance on the road at Georgia. Alabama gave up 193 rushing yards to the Bulldogs, but that stat is misleading because 83 of those yards came on a touchdown run by Nick Chubb late in the third quarter.
If Arkansas, which has 735 rushing yards in its past three games, can’t run and control the clock, the Hogs can’t win.
5. Is there a reason to care about New Mexico State at Ole Miss?
If you’re an Ole Miss fan, there are a couple of big reasons to care. After watching his secondary get torched by Florida last week (Will Grier was 24-of-29 and threw four TD passes), coach Hugh Freeze is doing a major shakeup of his personnel. I’m not going to bore you with all of the position changes, but needless to say that the Rebels miss safety Tony Conner, who is out with an injury.
The Rebels (4-1) need to address this because next week they go to Memphis (5-0) and face another good quarterback in Paxton Lynch. Then, they face the high-flying offense of Texas A&M.
Here’s another reason to watch: Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly, who leads the SEC in passing yards per game (295.6), will be going for his fourth 300-plus passing game of the season. That would tie the school single-season record currently held by Eli Manning and Bo Wallace.
(You can follow Tony Barnhart on Twitter @MrCFB)
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