1. What will Alshon do for an encore?
SEC CENTER STAGE
What: Arkansas at Auburn
When: Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala.
Time: 3:30 p.m. EDT
Line: Auburn by 3 1/2
Series: Auburn leads 10-8-1
Arkansas wins if ... : The Razorbacks find something to complement Ryan Mallett. Be it defense, be it a running game, be it a couple of special-teams plays — whenever Mallett can get some help, Arkansas is flat-out tough to handle. The most likely candidate to aid Mallett’s cause is a Hogs defense that is better than its sullied reputation. The last two years Arkansas has allowed 31.2 and 25.1 points per game, forcing the offense to try to outscore people. This season, the Hogs have allowed 15 points a game and are ranked third in the league in total defense.
Auburn wins if ... : The Tigers can disrupt Mallett and Co., which have one of the nation’s top passing attacks. Auburn’s passing defense is among the nation’s worst (91st in yards allowed) because the Tigers play soft zone coverages in trying to limit big plays. It has worked for the most part this year, but if Mallett is allowed to sit in the pocket and pick the Tigers apart, he will sit in the pocket and pick them apart. Auburn’s offense will be fine Saturday; the game will be decided — good or bad — by the Auburn defense.
Prediction: Arkansas 34, Auburn 30
According to most NFL draft experts, Georgia’s A.J. Green is the top pro prospect in the SEC and the top receiving prospect in the nation for the 2011 draft. Right now, though, Green, who spent the first four games in the NCAA doghouse, is not even the baddest wideout in the SEC East. South Carolina’s Alshon Jeffery showed out in last week’s stunning win over Alabama, and while Stephen Garcia’s efficient quarterback play may have surprised Nick Saban and Co., Jeffery has been as reliable as he’s been spectacular. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound sophomore averages 125 receiving yards a game, and he’s averaging 7.3 catches for 140.7 yards with four touchdown grabs in three SEC games this year.
2. Letdown in Lexington
Two teams on opposite ends of the emotional roller coaster arrive at Commonwealth Stadium this weekend. Jeffery and South Carolina are arriving on an upswing as high as any in program history. Kentucky fought No. 7-ranked Auburn to the wire before falling 37-34 on the game’s last play after an epic 19-play drive that was the longest in Tigers history. Now what? Well, Randall Cobb and the Wildcats will fight, and they’ll likely keep it close, but Kentucky’s defensive struggles in the red zone have been painful in its current three-game skid. Wildcats opponents have made 22 trips inside the UK 20 and have scored 22 times. Now comes South Carolina, which leads the SEC in red-zone success — scoring on 19 of 20 trips inside opponents’ 20, with 17 touchdowns. Those are some startling numbers. (I know, that seems like some actual research for the SEC Blitz, but don’t get spoiled.)
3. “Oh, Dan Mullen, we (heart) you” — Gators fans everywhere
UF offensive coordinator Steve Addazio is not exactly in line to be the next mayor of Gainesville. The Gators — yes, the Gators of the Fun-’n’-Gun, Spread, Tim Tebow time, jump-pass offenses of the past — are 11th in the SEC in offense this year and grasping for answers. Now comes a visit from Mississippi State and Mullen, who guided the Gators’ O in the run to the 2008 national title. The Bulldogs are rolling, too, after running for more than 400 yards last week in a blowout of Houston. If the Gators struggle early and Mullen’s troups start quickly, it could be an ugly reaction from the passionate fans in the Swamp on Saturday.
4. Dont’a Hightower, pick up the courtesy phone. Dont’a Hightower to the courtesy phone, please.
SATURDAY'S BEST BETS ON TV
Love this week’s slate because there is a lot of balance — games starting at various times throughout the day. Now the good thing about more games is, well, more games. The bad thing is that when the schedule expands, the announcing pool is stretched pretty doggone thin. And let’s face it, the announcing pool was not overly deep to begin with. (Seriously, NBC, you have Notre Dame and Tom Hammond is the best you can do for play-by-play? Seriously? What, was Tom Wopat busy?) All “Dukes of Hazzards” references aside, here’s my Saturday plan, and remember the complete schedule of the weekend’s sports on the air is on D2. Happy watching:
Boston College at FSU, ESPN, noon
This one figures to be a blowout, but it’s a good place to start to see if the Seminoles continue to build on the momentum started in last week’s blasting of Miami. FSU looks like the class of the ACC; BC’s offense looks like the class clown.
Vandy at Georgia, SEC Network (WDSI), 12:21 p.m.
The SEC Saturday routine at the SEC Blitz compound is getting familiar. Get up, eat lunch, watch Georgia in the formerly-known-as-the-Jefferson Pilot game. Sorry, Vandy fans, A.J. Green is back, and that means so is Georgia. Hey, look for some pregame jitters from UGA VII, though, it being his first start and all.
Arkansas at Auburn, CBS, 3:30 p.m.
Speaking of routines, the crack research staff at the SEC Blitz (i.e., David Paschall) informs us that the Hogs-Tigers matchup starts a CBS doubleheader that has not been around since November 2007. Next week’s CBS game is Auburn hosting LSU, which means CBS will go back-to-back weekends without Alabama or Florida for the first time in almost three years. Bad news for Auburn fans: The last time Alabama and Florida went half a month without being on CBS, Auburn lost to Georgia on a blackout Saturday a week before LSU beat Ole Miss on the way to the national title. Rest easy, Gators and Tide backers: The Florida-Georgia game is set for CBS for Oct. 30, and the Alabama-LSU game on Nov. 6 almost has to be the pick.
South Carolina at Kentucky, ESPN2, 6 p.m.
This starts the rapid-fire part of the day. Almost all of the night games have some form of intrigue, and this one qualifies. From here, keep the clicker handy.
Ohio State at Wisconsin, ESPN, 7 p.m.
OSU’s Buckeyes theoretically are playing an elimination game every week. This is one of the two realistically losable games on The Ohio State University’s schedule. Side note: That The Ohio State University stuff makes my teeth hurt. I’d rather hear Ron Jaworski and Jon Gruden argue about THE big story in THE National Football League for an hour while REM’s “THE End of THE World As We Know It” is playing on THE radio anywhere in THE United States of America than hear THE Ohio State Unviersity. Or maybe it’s me.
Alabama at Ole Miss, ESPN2, 9 p.m.
If Alabama comes in irritated, look out, Ole Miss Rebel Black Bears. That’s right, the Rebel Black Bear edged Rebel Land Sharks and Rebel Hotty Toddy to replace Colonel Reb as the team’s on-field mascot. Alabama does not know if Julio Jones, who had surgery on his broken hand, will be ready to go. Did you see the pins and procedures that Jones went through? It looked like Luke Skywalker’s replacement hand in “The Empire Strikes Back.” Of course, after a friend of mine who is a Bama backer saw the new apparatus for Jones, who has battled some drops the last couple of years, his response was, “When are they going to replace the other hand?” Nice.
The SEC Blitz was all about some John Brantley of Florida and Alabama’s Hightower. Yes, they were asked to replace the top players in the league in recent memory — Gators star Tebow and Tide stud Rolando McClain — but still. Brantley’s chore and the accompanying struggles have been well-documented. But Hightower, who reportedly looked unblockable in the preseason, has floundered. Hard. Through six games, Hightower has the same number of sacks, tackles for loss and forced fumbles as you do — assuming you are not a college football player and have not had at least one of any of those stats. And Saturday in the Tide’s first regular-season loss since falling to Auburn in 2007, Hightower had all of two tackles.
5. What more can Les do?
OK, the LSU Tigers should manhandle visiting McNeese State this weekend, right? Something along the lines of 45-3 or so. But the SEC football “tree falling in the forest” question is if the Tigers are not in a close game, can LSU coach Les Miles make the final seconds of the game edge-of-your-seat exciting? I say yes, because if we’ve learned anything about the Mad Hatter, it is that he can accomplish the unthinkable. Untimed downs, bounced fake field goals — and that’s just in the last two weeks — you name it and Miles can make it happen.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL MAILBAG
Very good article (the SEC midseason report in Wednesday’s Times Free Press) with one exception.
When I first heard that Gene Chizik was to be the head coach at Auburn, I thought they were scraping the bottom of the barrel to choose him. His performance has certainly proved me wrong.
The exception in your article is mentioning Les Miles in any way as a good coach in the SEC. He has got to be the worst coach in the conference. Yes, his record is good because he has recruited good athletes, but he has made glaring mistakes year after year. Certainly Chizik and [Steve] Spurrier are great coaches, but Miles should not be mentioned in the same breath with them.
Thanks for the feedback and the positive words.
While I certainly see your point about Miles — and he has got away with a couple of, let’s call them unorthodox finishes against a few SEC teams in recent years, too — his team is unbeaten. And in the SEC that is something. It’s everything, in fact.
Plus in college ball, having a talented team is part of being a head coach since you do the recruiting, too.
Again, thanks for reading and for the feedback.
I felt the need to comment regarding your remarks (last week’s SEC Blitz) on what Coach [Lou] Holtz had to say about the Alabama-South Carolina game on Saturday.
I have long been a fan of his, and although he often makes outlandish predictions about Notre Dame, he made the correct call about that game. Regardless of his methodology (NCAA baseball programs?), please don’t put his opinions or him out to pasture just yet. Nothing wrong with naps. Just thought you would like to know that your readers are paying attention.
Dave Pierman, ND ’68
You are spot on, and while my sarcastic comments were pointed at Coach Holtz’ reasoning his end result was dead-on the money. And in the end, that’s what people remember.
And for the record, I am a big fan of naps. I love that our readers are paying attention. Dave, your e-mail was not the only comments about my comments about Coach Holtz’ comments. See now I’m confused.
I need a nap.
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Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...