The SEC slate in Week 5 of the college football season is highlighted by the Arkansas-Texas A&M matchup in College Station and Tennessee’s trip to Georgia. On paper, neither game is expected to be too close — both home teams are favored by about two touchdowns, but these are still compelling matchups.
Other Week 5 Previews and Predictions
SEC Top Storylines to Watch in Week 5:
1. Can James Franklin get it going on the ground
James Franklin emerged as one of the top young quarterbacks in the nation last season because of his ability to hurt defenses with his arm and his legs. In his first season as the starter, Franklin threw for 2,865 yards and 21 touchdowns and added 981 yards and 15 scores on the ground. Nationally, only four quarterbacks rushed for more yards than Franklin in 2011. This year, however, the running element has been missing from his game. He has netted only 70 yards and has failed to rush for a touchdown in three games. Part of this can be blamed on his lingering shoulder injury (though he has 35 rushing attempts in his two games vs. FBS competition) and part can be attributed to the quality of competition he has faced. Franklin picked up 39 yards on six carries in the opener against Southeastern Louisiana but gained a combined 31 yards on 35 carries in SEC games vs. Georgia and South Carolina, two of the elite defensive teams in the nation. Both the Bulldogs and Gamecocks were able to get pressure on Franklin without blitzing too often, which allowed the defenses to drop seven players in coverage, and thus limited Franklin’s ability to find openings in the secondary when he was flushed out of the pocket. The question moving forward: Will he enjoy success running the ball against teams not named Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama? The next two games will serve as a barometer. The Tigers head to UCF this week and then host Vanderbilt on Oct. 6.
2. Can Knile Davis return to form?
You might not have noticed — because there are so many other problems with the Arkansas football program — but Knile Davis has been alarmingly unproductive in 2012. A first-team All-SEC back in 2010, Davis missed the entire ’11 season due to an ankle injury. But he was declared 100 percent healthy over the summer and was expected to be a key cog in the Razorbacks’ attack. Hasn’t happened. In four games, Davis has rushed for 208 yards on 64 carries for an average of only 3.3 yards per carry. There are 26 players in the SEC (with at least 30 carries) who have a better yards-per-attempt average than Davis. This week, Davis and the Hogs face a Texas A&M defense that gave up only 106 yards rushing to Florida in its only game vs. an AQ conference opponent.
3. Can the Aggies kill a wounded Hog?
This appears to be a great time to play Arkansas. The Razorbacks, a preseason top-15 team, have lost three straight games and are under the “leadership” of a lame-duck coach who has no chance of being retained once his 10-month contract expires. So, easy win for the Aggies? Maybe not. Arkansas is still a talented team that might actually benefit from leaving the Natural State for the first time this season. There are no distractions on the road. The Hogs can take an “us against the world” mentality into Kyle Field and play with nothing to lose. Meanwhile, there is considerable pressure on Texas A&M to win this game. Beginning with next week’s trip to Ole Miss, the Aggies play five of their next six on the road, and the one home game is against LSU. A&M cannot afford to drop to 0–2 at home in SEC play if it hopes to remain relevant throughout the 2012 season.
4. Can Tennessee limit the big play?
We were told not to be surprised if the Tennessee defense gave up some big plays while making the transition to Sal Sunseri’s 3–4 scheme. Well, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. Through four games, the Volunteers have allowed 20 plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more, which is tied with Arkansas for the most in the SEC. Included in those 20 “big plays” are three that went for at least 70 yards. Only Washington State has allowed more nationally. This could spell trouble this weekend in Athens. Guess who leads the nation in offensive plays of 20 yards or more? That’s right, Georgia with 35. The Bulldogs currently rank 13th in the nation in total offense (530 ypg) and have scored 41 points or more in all four games. Tennessee is a 13-point underdog at Sanford Stadium. The Vols must find a way to limit Georgia’s big plays to keep things close.
5. Can Marlon Brown contribute on a consistent basis?
Marlon Brown arrived at Georgia as one of the elite recruits from the Class of 2009. The Memphis native was ranked as the No. 2 wide receiver and the No. 14 overall prospect by Athlon Sports. Through three seasons, Brown was largely considered a bust. He had a total of 18 catches for 291 yards against SEC opponents, with 121 of those yards coming in one game (at Vanderbilt last season). This season, however, Brown has emerged as one of Aaron Murray’s favorite targets. The senior has 16 catches for 264 yards, including 13 for 222 and three touchdowns in the Dawgs’ two SEC games. The key now will be for Brown to maintain this level of production as the season progresses.
6. Can South Carolina continue its dominance against Kentucky?
We all remember the Saturday night in Lexington two years ago when Kentucky stormed back from a 28–10 deficit in the third quarter to steal a 31–28 victory from South Carolina, ranked No. 10 at the time. That, however, is the only time the Gamecocks have lost to Kentucky since the turn of the century. Carolina has won 11 of the past 12 vs. the Wildcats, highlighted by last season’s 54–3 beatdown in Columbia. The Gamecocks outgained UK 639-to-97 and limited the Cats to five total first downs. Following the game, Steve Spurrier offered the following assessment of his opponent: “Kentucky has a heck of a punter, I know that.” There was a time, however, when Kentucky had the upper hand in this rivalry. UK won five of the first eight after South Carolina joined the league in 1992.
7. Who will take snaps for the Wildcats?
Entering last weekend, Kentucky ranked 13th in the nation and first in the SEC in passing with 322 yards per game. But with starter Maxwell Smith sidelined with a shoulder injury, the Wildcats’ offense struggled mightily. Morgan Newton, a senior who stepped in for Smith, had a nightmarish stat line: 7-of-21 for 48 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions. The Wildcats are optimistic that Smith will be back, but one thing is clear: Newton, a former 4-star recruit, will not be receiving meaningful snaps. True freshman Jalen Whitlow received all of the work with the second team this week and will get the start if Smith has a setback. Whitlow had been receiving a lot of work with the second team in practice since the season-opening loss to Louisville, but the coaching staff felt more comfortable sending Newton, who has 17 career starts, to play against Florida at the Swamp. “When Max went down, we just felt like he (Jalen) wasn’t ready, wasn’t quite ready to go in (and play) in that type of environment,” UK coach Joker Phillips said earlier this week. “I’ve been down there when we put a freshman quarterback in there, and it’s pretty tough. And we just felt like we wanted to start Morgan. And we did. Didn’t work out. Didn’t play as well as we would have liked. But we still think that that was the right decision.”
8. Can LSU develop a consistent passing attack for the upcoming stretch of games?
There has been some consternation in Baton Rouge about LSU’s offense — specifically the passing attack. Zach Mettenberger, expected by many (including me!) to be the missing piece at quarterback, has been rather ordinary through three games. He has by no means been bad; he just hasn’t been a difference-maker. The Tigers rank 98th in the nation in passing with 194.5 yard per game, but that is a bit misleading. When you run the ball as well as LSU does — and when you are so often nursing a big lead — there isn’t much of a need to fling the ball all over the field. This week, LSU should have no problem moving the ball — either on the ground or through the air — against the mighty Towson Tigers, the alma mater of former New York Giant Dave Meggett. But take a look at the Tigers’ upcoming schedule, a five-game stretch that features road trips to Florida and Texas A&M and home dates with South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi State. LSU will have to be balanced on offense to navigate that brutal stretch without a loss.
9. Can the Ole Miss defense stop the run?
At first glance, it would appear Ole Miss has done a decent job stopping the run. The Rebels rank 40th in the nation and seventh in the SEC in rushing defense, allowing 125.3 yards per game. That, however, doesn’t really tell the story. In its only game vs. a quality opponent (Texas in Oxford), Ole Miss gave up 350 yards on the round. That’s an alarming number for a team that is preparing to visit Tuscaloosa to take on the mighty Crimson Tide. The Alabama offense is quite capable of throwing the forward pass with efficiency, but the Tide are at their best when running the ball with their stable of outstanding tailbacks. It will be considered a victory for the Ole Miss defense if Alabama rushes for less than 250 yards on Saturday night.
10. Can Bama stay perfect in the red zone?
The Alabama offense has entered the red zone 18 times this season. And 18 times the Crimson Tide have put points on the board. Eleven other teams in the nation have been perfect in the red zone, but only Oklahoma State, with 20, has more trips inside the 20-yard line. Prior to last week, Alabama had scored a touchdown on all but one of its 12 red zone opportunities, but the Crimson Tide were forced to settle for field goals on three of their six trips inside the 20 in a 40–7 win vs. Florida Atlantic.
By Mitch Light
Missouri (+3) at UCF
Arkansas (+13.5) at Texas A&M
Texas A&M 35-28
Texas A&M 34-28
Texas A&M 34-27
Texas A&M 41-20
Tennessee (+13) at Georgia
South Carolina (-20.5) at Kentucky
South Carolina 42-7
South Carolina 37-10
South Carolina 38-10
South Caroina 27-6
Towson at LSU
Ole Miss (+31) at Alabama