SEC Week 7 Preview and Predictions

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Tennessee's desperate for a big win in Starkville

<p> The South Carolina-LSU showdown in Baton Rouge might be the biggest game in the SEC in Week 7, but Tennessee's visit to Starkville to battle Mississippi State might be the most intriguing game of the weekend. The Vols desperately need a big win to take heat off of head coach Derek Dooley, while the Bulldogs are looking to prove themselves against a qaulity opponent.&nbsp;</p>

The South Carolina-LSU showdown in Baton Rouge might be the biggest game in the SEC in Week 7, but Tennessee's visit to Starkville to battle Mississippi State might be the most intriguing game of the weekend. The Vols desperately need a big win to take heat off of head coach Derek Dooley, while the undefeated Bulldogs are looking to prove themselves against a qaulity opponent. 

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Week 7 SEC Storylines and Predictions

1. Can Tennessee take some pressure off its coach and win a big game?
It’s not an overstatement to say this is the most important game in Derek Dooley’s tenure at Tennessee. With Alabama and South Carolina looming, the Vols, who have lost nine of their last 10 SEC games, simply cannot afford to lose in Starkville. Tennessee showed signs of being balanced offensively in its loss at Georgia two weeks ago. The Volunteers rushed for 197 yards vs. Georgia, their best effort in an SEC game since running for 226 yards vs. Kentucky in November 2009. If the Vols can complement their potent passing attack with an adequate running game, they should be in position to win in Starkville. Mississippi State is playing well and deserves its national ranking, but the Bulldogs have not played a difficult schedule. They have faced Jackson State, Troy and South Alabama in non-conference action, and Kentucky and Auburn — two of the worst teams in the SEC — in league play. Tennessee will be by far the best offensive team Mississippi State has faced.

2. Can Texas A&M pass another road test?
The Aggies made a big statement last week by rallying from 10 points down midway through the fourth quarter to beat Ole Miss 30–27. Beating the Rebels, even in Oxford, isn’t necessarily cause for celebration, but Texas A&M showed the type of resolve and mental toughness that this program has lacked in recent years. Redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel bounced back from his first two interceptions of the season to lead A&M on two fourth quarter touchdown drives. Now, the Aggies step out of conference, but the quality of opponent will be better. Louisiana Tech, nationally ranked in both polls after a 5–0 start, has scored 44 points or more in every game and is averaging 523.4 yards. The Bulldogs, however, have struggled on the defensive end. Texas A&M has the weapons to outscore Louisiana Tech. The Aggies also have the leadership both at quarterback and with the head coach — something that wasn’t always the case in recent years. 

3. Can Auburn generate some offense in Oxford?
After scoring a total of 20 points in its first two SEC games — losses to Mississippi State and LSU — Auburn’s offense was hoping to flex its muscles against an Arkansas defense that had given up 34 points or more in each of its last four games. Didn’t happen. The Tigers scored seven points, had 321 total yards and were sacked eight times in a demoralizing 24–7 loss at home. Starting quarterback Kiehl Frazier was benched at halftime in favor of Clint Moselely. Auburn coach Gene Chizik had not named a starter of Wednesday but did say earlier in the week that his team needs to make a concerted effort to run the ball better. In the loss to Arkansas, no Auburn tailback had more than seven carries. This week, the Tigers head to Oxford to face an Ole Miss defense that is vastly improved statistically from a year ago but is still a unit that will give up some yards. In three games vs. AQ conference opponents, the Rebels are allowing 43.0 points and 487.3 yards.

4. Will Missouri hit the 200-yard mark vs. Alabama?
Missouri picked up 395 yards in a loss at home to Vanderbilt last week, but the Tigers struggled to move the ball after James Franklin was sidelined by a knee injury (that will keep him out for at least one more week). Mizzou averaged 9.5 yards per play in the two drives with Franklin in the game and 4.2 yards for the final three-plus quarters after Corbin Berkstresser took over. This week, the Tigers will face an Alabama defense loaded with future pros at every level. The Crimson Tide lead the nation in total defense, only allowing 191.6 yards per game and 3.3 yards per play. Good luck, Mizzou.

5. Is there something that Alabama doesn’t do well?
Alabama is the consensus No. 1 team in the nation, and it’s easy to see why by looking at the stats. The Crimson Tide lead the nation in total defense and scoring defense; they’ve scored 33 points in every game and allowed 14 points or fewer in every game; they lead the nation in turnover margin (plus-2.40 per game); and they’re solid in all special teams categories. Offensively, their yardage numbers don’t jump out initially — they rank 68th in the nation in total offense with 401.0 yards per game — but keep in mind that it’s often difficult to post up big yardage totals when you force so many turnovers (and work with short fields). They rank 79th nationally in passing offense (212.8 ypg), but they don’t have to pass much because they are so often nursing a big lead, and when they do pass, they do so efficiently (fourth in the nation in passing efficiency). This is a team that is clearly capable of winning another national title.

6. Can Florida keep its focus?
Florida’s trip to Nashville is sandwiched between two of the Gators’ biggest games of the season — last week vs. LSU (a win) and next week’s home date with South Carolina. Will Muschamp’s task this week is simple: Keep his team focused on Vanderbilt. The Gators are clearly the more talented team, but Vanderbilt is good enough to make Florida sweat. Last year, the Commodores rallied from 17–0 in the first half to cut the lead to 20–14 (with the ball) in the fourth quarter before losing 26–21 in the Swamp. Expect Florida to lean on tailback Mike Gillislee. Vanderbilt ranks 33rd nationally in total defense but has struggled to stop the run against the better teams on its schedule.

7. Can Ole Miss break through with an SEC victory?
They are still looking for their first SEC win of the season, but the Ole Miss Rebels are clearly an improved team under first-year coach Hugh Freeze. Through six games, Ole Miss ranks 42nd in the nation in total offense and 56th in total defense; last year, through six games, the Rebs ranked 117th and 106th. Rebel fans are no doubt pleased with their team’s statistical improvement, but they also would like to see some SEC wins — or at least one win. It could happen this week with struggling Auburn in town. The Tigers are 1–4 overall with the lone win coming in overtime against ULM. They rank 12th in the SEC in total defense and last in total offense and are last in the nation in turnover ratio at minus-2.20 per game.

8. Can South Carolina run on LSU?
LSU’s defense has been among the finest in the nation statistically through the first half of the 2012 season. The Tigers rank third nationally in total defense (221.0 ypg) and eighth in scoring defense (33.5 ppg). But LSU has struggled to stop the run the last two weeks, giving up 188 yards on 40 carries to Towson and 176 on 58 carries to Florida. That brings us to South Carolina and its star tailback Marcus Lattimore. The junior leads the SEC in conference games in both rushing (106.0 ypg) and rushing touchdowns (seven). The Gamecocks will need Lattimore to be at his best to win in Baton Rouge — something that has happened only once (in 1994) in South Carolina’s 11 trips to Tiger Stadium.

9. Can the LSU offense score more than a touchdown vs. an SEC foe?
Only one team nationally that has played more than one conference game has only scored one TD in league play. That team is LSU. The Tigers have scored a total of 18 points in two SEC games, 12 in a win at Auburn and six in a loss at Florida. Zach Mettenberger was expected to upgrade the passing attack in his first season as the starter, but LSU ranks 98th in the nation in passing offense and has had trouble throwing the ball down the field with consistency. The bigger concern, however, was the Tigers’ struggles in the running game in the loss at Florida. In the past few years, Les Miles could always count on his cadre of tailback to produce, even when his team’s quarterbacks were struggling. But on Saturday, LSU’s three top running backs combined to rush for 51 yards on 17 carries. The Tigers cannot compete for an SEC title with that type of production in the running game.

10. Can Arkansas win two games in a row?
Arkansas finally broke through with its first win vs. an FBS opponent, rolling past Auburn 24–7 with surprising ease. The Arkansas defense, which had been atrocious through its first five games, limited Auburn to 321 total yards and sacked the two Tiger quarterbacks a combined eight times. Now, the Hogs have a great opportunity to win their second straight game with a wounded (both physically and mentally) Kentucky team visiting Fayetteville. The Wildcats dropped to 1–5 with a 27–14 loss at home to Mississippi State last week. Kentucky’s best two quarterbacks, Maxwell Smith and Patrick Towles, are out with injuries, leaving true freshman Jalen Whitlow and senior Morgan Newton as the only two options for Joker Phillips. Arkansas is favored by 17 points — a big number for a team with only two wins — but don’t be surprised if the Hogs cover with ease.
 

  David Fox Braden Gall Steven Lassan Mitch Light

Auburn (+6) at Ole Miss

Ole Miss 21-17 Ole Miss 31-24

Ole Miss 27-24

Ole Miss 27-20

Alabama (-21.5) at Missouri         

Alabama 48-10 Alabama 34-14 Alabama 45-7 Alabama 30-10

Florida (-8) at Vanderbilt         

Florida 28-10 Florida 27-21 Florida 27-13 Florida 24-14

Kentucky (+16) at Arkansas         

Arkansas 24-14 Arkansas 30-20

Arkansas 41-17

Arkansas 38-17

South Carolina (+2.5) at LSU         

South Carolina 17-14 LSU 20-17

South Carolina 20-17

South Carolina 17-13

Tennessee (+3) at Mississippi St.         

Mississippi State 24-21 Tennessee 30-24

Mississippi State 27-24

Tennessee 30-24

Texas A&M (-8) at Louisiana Tech

Texas A&M 35-28 Texas A&M 38-34

Texas A&M 38-34

Texas A&M 44-37
Last week: 3-3 2-4 2-4 2-4
Season:  46-11 48-9 48-9 27-10

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