Friday, November 12, 2010

Friday Conference Call - SEC Style

CFRT SEC Contributor

Game of the Week

No.23 South Carolina at No.22 Florida

Spurrier's back in the Swamp and fighting for an SEC East title.

This is the match up we have been waiting for ever since Steve Spurrier took the South Carolina Head Coaching job.
The Head Ball Coach, as he likes to be called now, against his old Gator team for all the marbles in the Eastern Division of the SEC.
This match up has fans on both sides doing some emotional flip-flopping in anticipation of Saturday’s game. 
Whether a Gator or a Gamecock, you are feeling excited at the spoils that come with a victory, yet, at the same time, apprehensive as to what team will run out on that field for the kickoff. 
A win by either team puts them in Atlanta on December 5 for the SEC Championship game.
That is a goal set at the beginning of the year by players and coaches on both sides.
A goal perhaps taken for granted by the young Gators feeling entitled to be Beasts of the East every year. 

South Carolina true freshman tailback Marcus Lattimore.

While Spurrier felt he had his best overall team since arriving in Columbia and we all saw he has the tailback in Marcus Lattimore to switch the Fun & Gun to the Run & Gun.
His wide-open passing game has evolved into more of a spread attack. 
And with the downfall of the Tennessee Volunteers, this was the game everybody pointed to. 
It just didn’t happen exactly how it was supposed to.
These two teams have each been on their own unique roller coaster rides to land at this spot this season.
Florida quickly plummeted from No.4 to start the year, to unranked for the first time ever under Urban Meyer after three losses in a row to Alabama, LSU and Mississippi State. 

After three straight losses, Meyer tweaked his offense and now have the Gators rolling with two straight wins.

But after a much-needed bye week, Meyer tweaked his offense and re-energized his team.
The roller coaster the Gators have been on has pretty much been a downhill ride until the past two games.
Taking the team and fan base to depths never imagined at the start of the year.
But when you hit bottom, the only direction is up and that is the attitude of this Gator team.
They hit that bottom hard and now have the momentum from a two-game bounce to land them back in the Top 25 at No.22, and perhaps back in Atlanta for the SEC Championship game for the third year in a row.

Like the Gamecocks, the Gators are just one win away from capturing an SEC East title.

The Gamecocks have had a pretty bouncy ride after starting outside the Top 25.
After climbing as high as No.12, they were beaten by Cam Newton and Auburn in a game they let slip away and could have won. 
A few weeks later, they propelled themselves into the Top-10 after beating the undefeated and No.1 Alabama Crimson Tide, only to turn around and lose to unranked Kentucky the very next week.
Lattimore has been a key in the losses and wins this season.
Spurrier’s “spread” opens up with Lattimore driving the running game.
When he is limited by injuries, the Carolina offense becomes predictable and desperate.
The keys for both teams just might boil down to defense.
When South Carolina has the ball you will have the leading receiver in the SEC (Alshon Jeffrey 1,034yds/7TDs) and the second leading rusher with Lattimore (752yds/11TDs).

As one of the best play-callers in the country, Spurrier will be directing South Carolina's offense.

Plus, you have a seasoned and mobile quarterback Steven Garcia on the field along with one of the greatest game-time signal callers in college football directing traffic.
If a defense presents a weakness, Spurrier will spot it and exploit it.
What worries me for the Gators is their linebacker play so far this year.
It is a talented, athletic unit, but still showing its youth this deep in the season.
This should play into the Gamecocks strength of their hybrid spread offense that will find every hole in the second level of the Gators’ defense.
To augment the shortcomings in the linebacker corps, the Gators safeties will be playing aggressive. 

Ahmad Black has been one of the Gators' defensive MVP's this season.

This is especially true for Ahmad Black, who in the Georgia win had more tackles than the entire linebacker unit, (12 tackles/1 sack).
The Gators will need to be cautious about getting too aggressive.
Spurrier has his old “Fun & Gun” playbook committed to memory, and if they leave the deep-third open they’ll be watching Jeffrey crossing the goal line before they can say “Ol’ Ball Coach.” 
Sometimes good things come out of desperation…err…urgency as Meyer has put it. 

Spurrier made the "Fun & Gun" offense famous during his time at Florida.

Even back when the “Fun & Gun” was a staple in the Swamp, Spurrier – then the Gator OBC – perfected the two-headed quarterback system to knock No.1 FSU out of the title game back in ’97, with Doug Johnson and Noah Brindise alternating on each play.
In the extra week between Bulldog games Meyer must have been boning up on his Greek Mythology. 


Where else would the inspiration for a three-headed monster at quarterback have come from?
Cerberus Bonsai!
Go ahead look it up.
The loose translation is Three-Headed Monster No Huddle.
It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but it has seemed to have awakened this lethargic Gator offense.  In the first seven games, Florida averaged just 329.0 yards of total offense.
In these last two games, since unleashing the Trident Beast (there, that sounds better), the Gators have averaged 465.0 total yards, running and passing for more than 200 yards in each outing.
Another significant event to the Gators recent success has been the return of Chris Rainey. 

Since his return from suspension, the Gators have been a different team with Chris Rainey in the lineup.

He has been Mr. Everything so far.
Whether you agree with him being allowed on the team, he has had a profound impact not only in production on the field, but he has had a positive injection in a leadership role off of it. 
The team has a different attitude with him being a part of it.
Although still listed as probable and trying to get back in full stride with a bum foot is Jeff Demps.
I think he could have played last week if the team needed him.
But with the cold, and a game well in on the way to a rout, it was a smart move holding him out.
I expect to see Demps in the backfield toting the rock this week.
And if his foot can hold up to the pounding, he will definitely contribute.
South Carolina has a good defensive front, but they too have issues once you crack that next level.
Their pass defense is 109th in the nation and starting cornerback Chris Culliver (shoulder) is out for the season and Culliver’s replacement, C.C. Whitlock, is recovering from a concussion. 
Like I said, the key will be which defense can make the most stops in a game that I feel will showcase offenses on both sides.

Can Florida retain the title of Beasts of the East?

And that is a funny statement considering what this Gator offense looked like a few short weeks ago. But I think the Beast in the East has been awakened.
Florida, 35-21.

The Other Matchups

No.17 Mississippi State at No. 11 Alabama

Alabama will have to find a way to play for something other than shiny rings and a crystal football now.

These two teams come into this game with identical records, but very different mental states. Alabama is in unfamiliar territory after coming off back-to-back undefeated seasons and as defending National Champs. This season was supposed to be a victory lap on the way to a BCS repeat. At 7-2, and coming off a loss to LSU, that pretty much knocked them out of any chance at an SEC title – much less the BCS – this Tide team will find out if they still have the will to win when the only thing on the line pride.
Mississippi State is riding a six-game winning streak with its only losses coming to No.2 Auburn and No.5 LSU. They have been grinding teams down with dedication to the running game and good defense. Dan Mullen has his team playing a physical style of ball that can take the steam right out of an already emotionally spent team. And if you come out flat against these Bulldogs, they do not provide many opportunities to get back on track. Crimson Pride, 24-17.

UTEP at No.15 Arkansas

Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett.

The Miners’ bring quarterback Trevor Vittatoe into Fayetteville with similar numbers to Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett. Each has 19 TDs and 8 INTs. What Vittatoe doesn’t have is as balanced an attack as Arkansas has now that Knile Davis is averaging 122 yards a game. Arkansas ought to have an easy day with UTEP, which has only scored six touchdowns in their last six SEC matchups, and should hand the Miners their 25th loss in a row to a ranked team. Arkansas, 42-10.     

Georgia at No.2 Auburn

The South's Oldest Rivalry.

Wow, thought I would be doing nothing but waxing poetic about Auburn QB Cam Newton’s exploits on the field. Sad to say that all the news coming out has me taking a step back from piling on adoration right now. It’s not that I feel or know Newton has done anything to warrant the cold shoulder, I just want to let things play out. I have concerns with the possibility Newton was shopped around, that is where I would have a problem. Anything that transpired at Florida is a moot point. He was not expelled and his eligibility was not in question while still a Gator. With that said, I think it would be wrong to pre-judge Newton on hearsay and allegations. It feels as if we would judge him by the actions of others and that is not fair. I say let’s just sit back and watch the show.
And what a show it should be. Both offenses are hot and have some of the conference’s best playmakers on the field with Newton on one side and Georgia’s receiver A.J. Green on the other.
Both teams have a lot on the line to close out the season. Georgia only has two chances left to become bowl eligible.
Auburn knows if they win out, they are a lead-pipe lock for the BCS title game. No pressure, right? After Georgia they only have Alabama in the Iron Bowl and then an East team that should finally have momentum on their side in the SEC Championship game; which could describe either South Carolina or Florida.
Regardless of what team they face, there will be plenty of faces familiar to the SEC Championship game on the other sideline. Florida has the experience of playing in the SEC Championship 10 times and Spurrier took part in seven of those. 
Georgia Head Coach Mark Richt had the quote of the week on Newton, saying “Just when you thought Tebow left town, he showed up again in another jersey.”
Being this is one of the oldest rivalries in the Deep South, it is appropriate that defense will play a part in this one. It will come down to which defenses can make the big stop and cause the most disruptions, returning the ball over to their powerful offense. I have to believe the edge goes to Auburn and Nick Fairley, who is playing like the second coming of Warren Sapp at defensive tackle. Auburn, 38-24.


Vanderbilt at Kentucky (a.k.a.: The Cellar Dweller Bowl) 

New coaches, same old stories. No matter how much things change they always seem to stay the same. 
Vanderbilt just isn’t healthy this time of year. Last week it seemed somebody in gold pants got carted off the field every time a tackle was made on a Gator. Kentucky has had flashes of greatness but just doesn’t have the defense needed to beat teams consistently. Kentucky, 28-7.

Louisiana-Monroe at No.5 LSU

No fourth-down tries needed this week…uh, well…Les Miles is coaching, so scratch that. Seems like a good time of year for a scrimmage to work on weaknesses and come down from an emotional win over Alabama. By the time this game kicks off, the Auburn/ Georgia game should be wrapping up, a Bulldog win and this game becomes a four-quarter party. A loss and the Tigers may be taking out their frustrations on the Warhawks. Either way, Tigers will romp. LSU, 47-10.

Ole Miss at Tennessee

Ole Miss’ Jeremiah Masoli’s concussion is the big storyline to this game. If Masoli does not end up playing, or can’t play to his usual level, I believe Tennessee has a good shot at their first conference win of the season.  But if Masoli is fully recovered and plays his game, it is the same old story for the Volunteers – play tough for three quarters and run out of gas in the fourth, especially against this Ole Miss offense. It’s wait ‘till next week for that first SEC win. Ole Miss 35-21.

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