It's a big week in the SEC, as Missouri and Texas A&M open conference play with huge matchups. The Tigers begin their debut season in the SEC with a key showdown against Georgia, while the Aggies host Florida. Washington travels to LSU for an interesting non-conference matchup, while Auburn and Mississippi State square off in an important SEC West showdown.
Other Week 2 conference storylines
SEC's Top Storylines to Watch in Week 2
1. Texas A&M starts a sophomore and a redshirt freshman at cornerback: Can Florida take advantage?
Some have maintained that Florida played it close to the vest offensively in its Week 1 win over Bowling Green. That may be true, but we still saw nothing from this team that would suggest its offensive problems from a year ago have been solved. Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett combined to connect on 13-of-21 for 145 yards, with only one completion going for more than 18 yards. To have success this weekend in College Station, Florida will have to take advantage of a suspect A&M secondary that is especially green at the corners. It’s time for guys like Quinton Dunbar and Franklie Hammond Jr., or even true freshman Latroy Pittman, to emerge as playmakers.
2. LSU’s defense vs. the tight end
The plan for LSU this week is simple: Contain tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Washington’s 6-6, 266-pound sophomore is among the best players at his position in the nation. He caught nine passes for 82 yards in the Huskies’ 21–9 win over San Diego State and is one of few proven playmakers on the UW offense. Washington figures to have a tough time running the ball against the LSU front seven — especially now that junior Jesse Callier is out with a torn ACL — so the Huskies will lean heavily on the passing attack. Sophomore receiver Kasen Williams is a potential All-Pac-12 talent, but Seferian-Jenkins is emerging as Keith Price’s favorite target. If the Tigers can shut him down, the UW offense will struggle to move the ball with consistency.
3. Georgia is road tested
It’s one of the most highly anticipated games in the history of Missouri football. The crowd at Faurot Field will be at a fever pitch on Saturday afternoon when the Tigers play their first-ever SEC game. But don’t expect Georgia to be spooked by the atmosphere. This is a program that has made a habit of winning in the most difficult environments in the nation under Mark Richt. The numbers are staggering: Georgia is 30–8 in true SEC road games (doesn’t include the Florida games in Jacksonville) the past 11 years, and three of those losses came in one season (2010). “I like away games,” Richt said earlier this week. “I enjoy the travel with the team, and I enjoy the single purpose of the mission. There really aren’t a lot of distractions on the road — at least when it comes to travel, and the night before, and the time before the game. Now when the game kicks off, there is distraction with the crowd noise, but other than that I enjoy away games.”
4. David Yost vs. Todd Grantham
It is, as the saying goes, about the jimmy’s and joe’s, but the X’s and O’s also matter, especially in college football. And we have an intriguing matchup this week of David Yost’s spread offense at Missouri vs. Georgia’s 3-4 defense coordinated by Todd Grantham. “It’s fun to game-plan against good defenses,” Yost said in Wednesday’s Columbia (Mo.) Tribune. “It's fun to game-plan against good defensive coordinators that you know are going to keep bringing stuff at you. You know what you see on the first drive isn’t what you’re going to see all game. They’re going to keep pulling stuff out, so you’ve got to constantly be on your toes.” Georgia ranked fourth nationally in total defense last season — Grantham’s second at the school — and was equally stout against the run and the pass. The Dawgs feature playmakers at all three levels of the defense, highlighted by All-America outside linebacker Jarvis Jones. Missouri will counter with a dual-threat quarterback in James Franklin, who threw for 2,865 yards and rushed for 981 in 2011, his first season as the starter.
5. Vanderbilt’s offense vs. Northwestern’s defense
One week after struggling to move the ball with consistency against South Carolina, Vanderbilt hopes to flex its muscles against a Northwestern defense that gave up 596 yards in a win at Syracuse. The Wildcats allowed 23 plays of 10 yards or more, seven of 20 yards or more and four of 30 yards or more. The NU defensive backs struggled to play the ball and were whistled three times for pass interference and once for defensive holding. Look for Vanderbilt to take advantage of some favorable matchups on the outside with big receivers Chris Boyd (6-5) and Jordan Matthews (6-4). And if the Commodores have success in the passing game, tailback Zac Stacy should be productive running the ball. It could be a big night for the Vanderbilt offense.
6. Can Auburn stop the run in Starkville?
Auburn gave up 320 yards rushing in its 26–19 loss to Clemson in Atlanta in Week 1. The Tigers allowed nine runs of at least 10 yards, including two of at least 40 yards. Gene Chizik and his staff were disappointed with the play of the defensive tackles (failed to get much push) and the safeties (missed too many tackles). Mississippi State isn’t as talented offensively as Clemson, but the Bulldogs have been a very good running team under Dan Mullen, ranking fifth, second and first in the SEC in rushing the last three seasons. Auburn is staring at an 0–2 start if it doesn’t make some significant improvements against the run.
7. Can South Carolina beat East Carolina without Connor Shaw?
Shaw is questionable for Saturday’s home opener after suffering a bruise to his left (non-throwing) shoulder against Vanderbilt. If Shaw can’t go, sophomore Dylan Thompson would be the next man up. The South Carolina offense sputtered with Thompson in the game last Thursday. He went 0-of-3 (and didn’t come close) and was sacked twice. “We’re trying to get his confidence up,” coach Steve Spurrier said on Tuesday. “It’s a struggle. He works at it. He works hard. Sometimes too hard. We have to loosen him up a bit.” That doesn’t sound like a coach who has much confidence in his backup quarterback. If Thompson is forced to start, expect to see a heavy dose of tailback Marcus Lattimore, who looked good in his first game back from a serious knee injury. Despite being favored by more than three touchdowns, the Gamecocks could be in for a serious fight on Saturday if Shaw is not in the lineup.
8. Can Ole Miss avoid an upset?
Ole Miss won in Hugh Freeze’s debut as the head coach, but there were some anxious moments in Oxford. Central Arkansas led 20–14 until midway through the third quarter before the Rebels seized control by scoring twice in a three-minute period. This week, Ole Miss hosts a UTEP team that went toe-to-toe with Oklahoma into the fourth quarter before losing 24–7. The key to avoiding the upset for Ole Miss will be slowing down tailback Nathan Jeffery, who rushed for 177 yards on 21 carries vs. Oklahoma. Last season, Ole Miss allowed at least one 100-yard rusher in 10 of 12 games (and that doesn’t include the LSU game in which five Tigers rushed for at least 50 yards).
9. How many Alabama tailbacks will run for 100 yards vs. Western Kentucky?
Alabama’s tailback rotation, for now, goes four deep, and all four figure to get plenty of carries this week against Western Kentucky. True freshman T.J. Yeldon, the most physically gifted of the group, rushed for 111 yards on 11 carries in the opener against Michigan. Jalston Fowler, Eddie Lacy and Dee Hart all received at least eight carries vs. the Wolverines. Don’t be surprised if three of the four run for at least 100 yards against the Hilltoppers.
10. Can Maxwell Smith continue to shine?
Lost in Kentucky’s disappointing loss at Louisville on Sunday was an outstanding performance by sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith. The California native completed 35-of-50 passes for 280 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Obviously, the UK staff doesn’t want to have its quarterback throw the ball 50 times, but offensive coordinator Randy Sanders would love to have Smith keep his completion percentage up in the 60 percent range and not turn the ball over. Kent State clearly won’t present the type of resistance Smith will face once the Cats enter SEC play, but the Golden Flashes are one of the better defensive teams in the MAC. It would be another positive sign if Smith played well once again this weekend.
Week 2 SEC Predictions
Auburn at Miss. State (-3)
Miss. State 24-20
Miss. State 24-20
E. Carolina at S. Carolina (-22.5)
South Carolina 38-6
South Carolina 34-13
South Carolina 34-10
South Carolina 28-10
Florida at Texas A&M
W. Kentucky at Alabama (-40)
Georgia State at Tennessee
UTEP at Ole Miss (-7.5)
Ole Miss 28-20
Ole Miss 31-20
Ole Miss 17-14
Washington at LSU (-23.5)
UL Monroe at Arkansas (-30.5)
Kent State at Kentucky (-7)
Georgia (-2.5) at Missouri
Vanderbilt(-3) at Northwestern
by Mitch Light