Monday, October 29, 2007

Random Thoughts About Week 9 Games

Another crazy weekend in the SEC. It was obvious that Kentucky had nothing left after 3 straight huge games. The injury-depleted Wildcats looked flat and listless from the opening drive Saturday against a pumped up Mississippi State team. With the amount of seniors on the ‘Cats team, I figured they would be able to put the last 3 weeks behind them and focus on beating a lesser opponent. Instead, they committed 6 turnovers, including a fumble of the opening kickoff in the 2nd half, and looked like the Kentucky teams of previous years. They get a week off before taking on a recharged Vanderbilt team. The extra time should give injured starters RB Little and WR Burton time to heal up.

As for the Bulldogs, they’re playing like anything but the MSU teams of recent years. Their run game was solid as usual – 200 yds on 51 carries – but FR QB Carroll provided them with a spark through the air, throwing for 152 yds and 2 TDS, but he didn’t turn the ball over and made a few big throws when they needed him to. The Bulldogs have already notched their highest win total since 2000, and need just one more win to become bowl-eligible. All three games – Alabama, @Arkansas, and Ole Miss – are winnable, though they’ll only be favored in the season-ending Egg Bowl. With 2 conference road wins already this season, I think they’ll get that 6th win.

Arkansas followed up a thrashing of the worst team in the conference by thrashing the worst team in the country. DMac scored 4 TDs to bolster an all-but-lost Heisman campaign and the defense forced 7 turnovers. Most significant was the return of WR Marcus Monk, who caught his first 2 passes of the season including one for a TD. Starting QB Dick was knocked out the game in the 1st half, but SO QB Emert filled in admirably. Dick should be ready to go for this weekend’s game against South Carolina, but it’s nice for HC Nutt to know his backup has game experience now.

After only being tied with Miami (OH) at halftime, Vanderbilt responded with one of its best defensive halves of the season, holding the Redhawks to 86 yds. Whether it was a hangover from the South Carolina last week or not, Vandy struggled early, but WR finally set the SEC record for most career receptions, pulling in 8 catches for 85 yds. He was held out of the end zone for the 6th time in the last 7 games, but with the Commodores only one win away from bowl-eligibility, I think he’ll take it. The remaining schedule is tough – all 4 teams are either ranked now or have been this season – so they’re not a shoo-in, but with a stout defense and one of the top WRs in the SEC, there is certainly reason for optimism.

I’m glad to know I’m not the only who had no idea what was going on when Georgia’s entire team stormed the field after the ‘Dawgs scored their 1st of 7 TDs against Florida Saturday. HC Richt’s quote at halftime about “being mad at” his players if they didn’t get a 15-yard penalty after the TD. While the Gator Nation may not have liked it, it certainly got UGA fired up and they turned the tables on a Gator program that has dominated them in recent years. Saturday’s game showed how dangerous the ‘Dawgs can be when they play a complete game. RB Moreno is all but a lock for SEC Freshman of the year.

As for the Gators, the fears about replacing 9 starters off a ferocious defense are really manifesting now. UGA rolled up 413 yds, including 2 TDs of 50+ yds. The offense played well, but lacked its usual explosiveness with QB Tebow favoring his non-throwing shoulder throughout the game. The Gators never really settled into a comfortable rhythm in this game, particularly after the ‘Dawgs’ 1st TD celebration. Tebow was sacked 6 times, and held to -15 yds rushing, and the Gators lost 2 fumbles. Tebow won’t get much rest this weekend, as the Gators take on Vanderbilt, which leads the conference in sacks.

What a season it’s been for Ole Miss. They rank last in nearly every statistical category in the conference, they’ve scored 3 rushing TDs all season, are the only team in conference with a losing record, are likely to be the only team at the end of the season that’s not bowl-eligible, and now they’ve suspended DE Hardy, the SEC’s leader in sacks and TFLs. He missed Saturday’s game against Auburn, but his “indefinite suspension” was not announced until today. He was missed against the Tigers, but likely would have made no difference, as the Rebels had the ball for only 23:27 and mounted only 2 drives longer than 8 yds.

For the Tigers, it was just another day at the office. They pounded the ball on the ground (48 carries, 231 yds), dominated the time of possession and got a solid game from QB Cox. It was their 5th win in 6 games and kept them in line for a Cotton Bowl (or equivalent) bid after the regular season ends. RB Lester rushed for a career high 96 yds and a TD and RB Tate chipped in with 72 yds. The keys to their late season success will be to continue to play solid defense, keep pounding the ball on the ground, and find a way to ignore the annual barrage of Tommy Tuberville is headed to insert school name here.

The up and down season continued for Tennessee as Lady Luck helped guide them to a win over South Carolina. A few plays after fumbling the ball forward about 10-12 yards and recovering it, the Vols missed a 43 yd FG, but got a 2nd chance after the Gamecocks were unable to decline a false start penalty. In addition to salvaging a blown 21-0 lead, it also kept Tennessee in position to make a run at the SEC Title game, a proposition that seemed unlikely after last week’s blowout loss to Alabama. When this Vol team is on, they’re good enough to overcome a spotty defense, but when they’re off, they’re really off. I don’t know if they can play consistently enough down the stretch to win the East, but the Fire Fulmer gang will have to hold their peace for at least a week.

As for the Gamecocks, what started out as a season full of potential has spiraled away from them quickly, having dropped back-to-back games in their own division. Their underwhelming statistics appear to finally be catching up with them. But they dominated the game Saturday, nearly across the board. They had nearly 200 more yds than UT and held the ball for 13 more minutes, but turned the ball over 4 times and missed a couple of easy throws that would have resulted in big plays. Their run defense played better, limiting the Vols to 101 yds, but with a weekend jaunt to Fayetteville looming, the front 7 will be again be tested.

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