Friday, November 5, 2010

Friday Conference Call - SEC Style

CFRT SEC Contributor

Game of the Week

Alabama's Nick Saban and LSU's Les Miles shake hands after their 2007 meeting.
No.6 Alabama at No.10 LSU
A good place to start in describing the passion between these two schools in this, their 74th meeting, would be with the coaches. 
Alabama was used to having its way with LSU and still holds the series lead of 45-23-5 going into this game and an impressive 25-8-2 record on LSU’s home turf in Tiger Stadium. 
But things changed when the Tigers hired Nick Saban in 2000 when LSU beat Alabama in Baton Rouge 30-28. 

Saban has guided both Alabama and LSU to national titles since 2003.
Saban became LSU’s most successful coach against the Tide, winning four out of five meetings from 2000 to 2004, his last season before moving on to the NFL in 2004. 
It was in 2003 that Saban also brought LSU its first National Championship since 1958. It was his first of two, one with LSU (’03), the other with Alabama (’09).  
In stepped current LSU Head Coach Les Miles, who continued the tradition of dominating Alabama after Saban bolted for the Miami Dolphins. 
Miles would win the next three games against the Tide, including the game in 2007 when the Tigers won their second BCS title of the decade. 

Miles took over for Saban and led the Tigers to the BCS Championship in 2007.
That year also marked Saban’s return to the SEC, this time as Alabama’s head coach. 
And, it looks like Saban has turned the winning trend back in the Tide’s favor, winning the last two meetings between these rivals.
Both coaches will refuse to accept that this game is a matchup is about them. 
They point to the fact that this game is about the players and is won with speed, strength, execution and the skill of two highly talented football teams. 

LSU's Patrick Peterson and 'Bama's Julio Jones battled the last time these two met.
And the highlight match up of individual skills will be between perhaps the best cornerback in the nation in LSU’s Patrick Peterson and one of the best wide receivers in Alabama’s Julio Jones.  
As far as team play, the focus will be on the Tigers’ ability to defensively shut down the Tide’s explosive and well-balanced offense. 
Alabama’s offensive philosophy is “Start Fast-Finish Strong”, preferring to jump out early in games with big plays and then wear down the other team in the fourth quarter.  

The Tide have outscored the opposition 38-10 in the fourth quarter this season.
This year they have outscored opponents 72-30 in the first quarter and finished teams off by outscoring opponents 38-10 in the fourth. 
LSU is confident, however, that they can stop Alabama with a defense that is 7th overall in the nation that is allowing only 15.6 points a game.
But the Tide counters with a pretty darn good unit as well, with a defense that is nationally 11th overall and 2nd in scoring, allowing only 12.5 points a game. 
That should prove to be tough sledding considering LSU’s offense has not been nearly as good or balanced as Alabama’s this year.
Tiger fans are optimistic that by Les Miles spending considerable time in the off-week finding more consistency and production out of an offense that utilizes a dual quarterback attack than what they have seen all year. 
With that extra time to prepare, I look for a wrinkle or two out of Miles. 
Considering the below average production out of LSU quarterbacks Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson, I wouldn’t be surprised to see former QB and current WR Russell Shepard earning some snaps from the shotgun.  

LSU's Russell Shepard
LSU needs help to manufacture scoring opportunities and Shepard could be the jolt they need.
Perhaps the reason for the Tigers’ optimism lies with Miles’ record in games following a loss.
Under Miles, the LSU is 14-1 following a loss, including a perfect 5-0 when at home. 
Topping that, they are also 5-0 after the Auburn game, including 2007 when they beat Alabama, 41-34. 
That year also marks LSU’s last victory against the Crimson Tide; as well it was the year LSU last won the BCS title.  
It will take more than good defense, history and luck to beat this Alabama team this year. It also takes a good offense. 
The question is, was Miles able to find one in the last two weeks? 

Alabama, 34-17.

Other SEC Match-Ups

Florida at Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt is fresh off giving up 409 yards passing a week ago against Arkansas. 
For a team that is tweaking and experimenting with their quarterbacks, this is good timing to continue perfecting the three-headed QB system Florida’s Urban Meyer dreamed up in the bye week before Georgia. 
Meyer has publicly committed that the up-tempo, no-huddle offense that utilizes three different quarterbacks will be in place the remainder of the season. 

Florida quarterback John Brantley.
John Brantley is the Gators’ primary, throwing quarterback that allows the passing component to work in Meyer’s offense. 
Brantley’s more versatile teammates, Trey Burton (two passes against UGA) and Jordan Reed provide the ground support out of the quarterback position. 
Burton, with tailback speed and receiver’s hands, plays multiple positions and is often on the field with Brantley, keeping defenses guessing. 

The Gators' Jordan Reed (11) carried the ball just three times in last week's win over Georgia, but gained 19 yards for a solid 6.3 yards per carry average.
While the physically-imposing Reed possesses the bull-you-over-style running that made former Florida QB Tim Tebow so dangerous – often lining up as H-back or in the tight end position, much like Aaron Hernandez last year. 
Meyer admitted we will see more of Reed in at quarterback and will be expected to get some throwing opportunities. 
I think the Gators may have found the answer to a question that has lingered since draft day – it takes three football players to replace one Tebow.

Florida, 42-10. 

No.18 Arkansas at No.19 South Carolina
In years past, this game was a guaranteed track meet. 
The best passer in the league is coming into Columbia to face the worst pass defense in the league. 
And “Fun & Gun” Steve Spurrier on the other sideline would have the play book wide open and turned to the Aerial Acrobatics chapter. 

Spurrier still has that chapter earmarked, but he has learned to take a different approach. 
It’s amazing what a great tailback will do to a fellow. 
Spurrier prefers to use the rushing attack to set up his passing game these days, controlling field position and the gameclock. 
There will still be a good acrobatics show to watch here, don’t worry about that. 
Given that last year South Carolina prevented Arkansas QB Ryan Mallet from throwing a touchdown pass, the only time that has happened in his career. 
Look for redemption from Mallett.  

South Carolina freshman runningback Marcus Lattimore.
And if Gamecocks freshman tailback Marcus Lattimore has success running, it will open up passing plays for QB Steven Garcia and wide receiver Alshon Jeffries for South Carolina. 
Spurrier may slow the tempo down a bit, but that does not mean he’s looking to win by three points. 
He will try and put the Razorbacks away with a statement. 
He needs his team going into next week’s game against Florida with a win and playing as a confident team. 
It is that game that determines if the Gamecocks will be making their inaugural trip to Atlanta this year.  

South Carolina, 42-31. 

Idaho State at Georgia
Georgia needs a patsy after such an emotional letdown last week against Florida. 
Maybe if they blur their eyes they will think they are playing the LSU Tigers, and not the ISU Bengal Tigers. You never know what Richt will use to try and boost his team’s confidence.  
This should also provide a game to practice better sportsmanship among the coaching staff. 
The 1-7 Tigers shouldn’t give the coaches any reason to “lose their cool in the heat of the moment.”  
No lame excuses needed in this one.

Georgia, 48-9. 

Charleston Southern at Kentucky
This shouldn’t be much trouble for Kentucky, who has dropped two straight games against both Bulldogs of the SEC. 
More good news for the Wildcats is that they get their top runningback Derrick Locke back from a shoulder injury that has kept him out of the line-up. Locke has been limited in practice, but should play.

Kentucky, 52-21.

Chattanooga at No.2 Auburn
Auburn showed last week there is more to this offense than QB Cam Newton tucking the ball and running. This is a good thing if you want to keep winning in this league. 
Ole Miss came into the game determined to limit Newton’s running threat. 
And they succeeded, snapping Newton’s five-game streak of gaining 170 or more yards by only allowing him 45 on the ground. 
The Tigers responded by showing they have more ways to beat you than the QB run keep option. 
Newton also catches touchdowns, and at 6’5” is a match up nightmare! 
Auburn’s Kodi Burns – a former quarterback turned WR – threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Newton on the opening drive. Life is not fair in the SEC.

Auburn's Cam Newton.
But this week, look for Newton to be utilized as he was against Louisiana-Monroe, where the coaches did not allow Newton to run the ball to avoid unnecessary hits on their MVP. 
It was all passing for Newton, completing 14-of-19 passes for 245 yards. He was only credited for one rushing stat which was a sack that lost 11 yards.
With Georgia next week, and the Iron bowl against Alabama on Nov. 13 to close out the regular season, taking care of their QB’s health is a key to make it to Atlanta for the SEC Championship game.  

Auburn, 34-10.

Louisiana-Lafayette at Ole Miss
Ole Miss is hurting on defense and will be without their two leading tacklers on a defense that ranks 107th in the country. 
But, the Cajuns’ defense is even more porous and against lesser competition in the Sunbelt Conference. Mississippi has had its struggles this year with lesser teams, even losing to Jacksonville State. 
But the Rebel Bears have a good shot at bowl eligibility and have an offense clicking with Oregon-transfer Jeremiah Masoli at quarterback.

Ole Miss, 52-17.

Tennessee at Memphis 
This is a good in-state rivalry. 
Memphis has won a few that they shouldn’t have and Tennessee has been guilty of overlooking this team. 
This year I do not think the Vols can afford to take anyone lightly, especially not a Memphis team that smells an opportunity. 
Tennessee doesn’t have the depth to keep pace with their SEC brethren, but should be able to outlast the 1- 7 Tigers.

Tennessee, 42-17.

Extra Points

Gator Legacy Interrupted?

Could another “son of a preacher man” have been the fourth Florida Gator Heisman Trophy winner? 
It all started with Steve Spurrier in ’66, then in ’96 with Danny Weurffel and of course the scripture-embossed, eye-black wearing Tebow in 2007.
In the world of “what ifs,” Auburn’s Cam Newton could have been the fourth such Florida play to be awarded the Heisman. 
But an ankle injury, arrest and suspension had a way of foiling a story line fit for Hollywood, leading Newton to transfer and no longer remain a Gator. 

Spurrier 1966
Spurrier, Weurffel, Tebow and Newton may each be known for their unique playing styles and personalities, but all four share some unique similarities as well. 
All four were sons of ministers. 
All four are former Gator quarterbacks.
And, each has National Championships to their credit. 
Spurrier’s, Weurffel’s and Tebow’s all came with the Gators.
After transferring from Florida, in the midst of his aforementioned troubles, Newton earned his ‘09 NJCAA Championship with the Blinn Junior College Buccaneers. 

Weurffel 1996
And now has his Auburn Tigers on track to a potential trip to Glendale for this year’s BCS Championship game.
With the season Newton is having so far, the Heisman Trophy is a distinct possibility. 
Meyer recruited Newton as the heir-apparent to Tebow’s team and for good reason. 
Each has been touted as that “once in a lifetime” impact-type player. 
Tebow with an edge on pure power, Newton with speed, balance and escape ability. 
To make a case for Newton to win the stiff-armed bronze statuette is as simple as comparing his stats to Tebow’s the year he became the first sophomore to win the coveted trophy.

                            ATT        Yards       Avg.      Long        TDs      
2007 Tebow         210          895          4.3          25            23
2010 Newton        168        1,122         6.7          71           14

                         Comp       Att       Pct       Yds      Avg     TD     Long     INT      Rating
2007 Tebow      234         350       66.9    3286     9.4         32       66         6         172.47     
2010 Newton      108         162      66.7    1573     9.11       15       94         5         172.6

2010 Newton      2 catches   42 yards    22 long    21 Avg.    1 TD

Keep in mind, Tebow’s stats are from a full season, and Newton still has roughly a third of a season to go, meaning his numbers will only grow with each game played. 
And in a stat that does not show up in a quantitative way where you can compare columns of yards and TD’s, but falls into the intangibles category. 
It defines that singular important attribute for Heisman consideration. 
How important is a player to his team? 
The best way is to compare the status of their programs without them. 

Tebow 2007
Look at what the Florida has turned into after Tebow left. 
The Gators are now finding themselves unranked and survived a three-game, mid-season losing skid.
Florida was 13-1 in Tebow’s senior year, also having contributed to a BCS Championship his freshman season and leading them to another his junior year. 
Auburn was 8-5 (3-5 SEC) last year without Newton. 
Auburn found ways to lose, not win. 
Not until the injection of Newton into the lineup did they become a team with the confidence to feel they could beat anybody and the ability back it up.
There are many in the Gator Nation, if not around the Nation, that can’t help but wonder; What if? 
What if Newton remained with the Gators?  
Would the Gators be undefeated? 
Obviously there is no way to tell if he could have become the same dominant, mature player with Florida as he has with Auburn. 
Would he have reached this level of maturity if not for seeking out a fresh start with a personal commitment to developing himself as a better player and person? 
Maybe not. 
Would the Florida offensive coaches utilize Newton’s athleticism the same ways as Auburn’s Offensive Coordinator Gus Malzahn? 

Newton 2010
It’s not inconceivable, but maybe if Newton had stayed, he wouldn’t have beaten out John Brantley as starter and becomes the best Tight End/ H-back and redefines that position instead? 
Who knows?
One thing I do know, I have not seen a better player in college football this year than Newton, period. 
For that, barring injury or scandal, is why he would have my vote if I had one for the Heisman. 
If he continues on this incredible trajectory, we will more than likely see Newton behind the podium at the Downtown Athletic Club giving a heartfelt acceptance speech. ESPN then cues up the Great Dusty Springfield song “Son of a Preacher Man” and Gators everywhere exhale a collective “What if?” 

1 comment:

  1. I am not an Auburn fan, but I have enjoyed watching the Cam Newton highlight reel all season. What a great athlete. But I suppose with everything else that has happened in sports lately. I am not shocked about the rumor that came out yesterday @ a "representative" of Newton soliciting payment for his services. No telling if that is the case for Auburn and reason he chose the Tigers. I'm hoping it was because he could how well he would flourish in Gus Malzon's offense. But if true, what a disapointment and buzz kill.


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