The Week 8 shedule in the SEC his highlighted by South Carolina's trip to Gainesville to battle Florida, but the Texas A&M-LSU showdown in College Station will be fun to watch as well. Can the Tigers' defense slow down Johnny Manziel? Stay tuned.
Other Week 8 Previews and Predictions
SEC Top Storylines to Watch in Week 8
1. Can Johnny Manziel make plays against the LSU defense?
Texas A&M leads the league in both total offense (543.7 ypg) and scoring offense (47.0 ppg) and is led by redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, one of the most exciting players in college football. Consider this stat: Texas A&M has played in one less game than LSU, yet Manziel has almost twice at many total yards (2,356 to 1,220) as Tiger quarterback Zach Mettenberger. Manziel, however, has yet to see a defense as formidable as LSU. In the opener against Florida, the only other top-flight defense A&M has faced, the Aggies were held to 17 points, and Manziel had a season-low 233 total yards. This should be a fascinating battle between two vastly different styles of play.
2. Can the LSU offensive line hold up?
An LSU offensive front that was expected to be among the nation’s finest struggled early in the season. Sure, injuries played a part — left tackle Chris Faulk was lost for the season after one game — but there is no denying that this unit underperformed at key times. That, however, was not the case Saturday night. The line played arguably its best game of the season, especially when you factor in the quality of the competition. South Carolina entered the night ranked ninth in the nation in rushing defense and had not given up more than 120 yards on the ground in any game. Led by freshman Jeremy Hill, LSU powered its way to 258 yards and two scores on 53 attempts. And that was with Alex Hurst, a preseason All-American, and Josh Williford out with injuries, and center P.J. Longergan slowed by a back injury. Only one player, left guard, La’El Collins, has played in the same spot in every game this season. We often to point to depth as what separates programs like Alabama and LSU from the rest of the league — and country, at times. LSU needs its depth on the offensive line to shine in the second half of the season if it hopes to remain relevant in the national title chase.
3. Who will play quarterback for Auburn?
Auburn has yet to announce a starter for its game Saturday at Vanderbilt, and it’s possible that all three scholarship quarterbacks will see action. Clint Moseley, making his first start of the 2012 season, received the majority of the snaps in last week’s loss at Ole Miss. The junior started strong, completing 8-of-8 for 80 yards in the first half but he went 3-of-10 for 32 yards the rest of the way. True freshman Jonathan Wallace did not attempt a pass but had six carries for 14 yards out of the Wildcat formation. Sophomore Kiehl Frazier, the starter in the first five games, did not play — due in part to injury and in part to his early season struggles. As a team, Auburn was held to 213 total yards against an Ole Miss defense that had been allowing an average of 379.8 yards per game.
4. Can Vanderbilt handle the role of the favorite?
Vanderbilt finds itself as a 7-point favorite over Auburn this Saturday. It’s only the seventh time in the past 10-plus years the Commodores have been favored by at least a touchdown against an opponent from an AQ conference. They are 3¬–3 straight up in those previous six games, with wins vs. Kentucky (-13) in 2011, Duke (-8) in 2006 and Mississippi State (-12.5) in 2003 and losses to Mississippi State (-9) in 2009, Duke (-9.5) in 2008 and Kentucky (-8) in 2006. Overall, Vanderbilt is 6–11 straight up as the favorite vs. AQ conference opponents in the past 10-plus years, including a 2–2 record under James Franklin.
5. Can South Carolina win if it’s forced to pass?
Connor Shaw has proven himself to be one of the top quarterbacks in the SEC. But it’s clear that South Carolina is a better team when Shaw is asked to do less in the passing game. It’s no knock on him as a player — it’s just the way this team is constructed. I realize the sample size isn’t huge, but consider the Gamecocks’ last two games: Shaw attempted 10 passes in a 35–7 win over Georgia; he attempted 34 in a 23¬–21 loss at LSU. Against Georgia, South Carolina jumped out to an early lead and leaned on tailback Marcus Lattimore, who rushed for 110 yards on 24 carries. In the loss in Baton Rouge, Lattimore and Shaw both struggled to run the ball, which forced South Carolina to rely on its passing attack. The results weren’t favorable. Shaw completed a season-low 55.9 percent of his passes and was intercepted twice. Obviously, a lot of teams are going to struggle against LSU, but it will be interesting going forward — starting with this weekend against Florida — to see if South Carolina can beat an elite opponent by throwing the ball.
6. Can Florida hold Marcus Lattimore to under 100 yards (if he plays)?
Name the last player to top the 100-yard mark against Florida. If you said Jerodis Williams (133 yards in Week 11 last season) from Furman, you’d be correct. The Gators have now gone eight straight games without allowing a 100-yard rusher. That streak will be tested this weekend when Marcus Lattimore and South Carolina visit Gainesville, provided Lattimore overcomes a hip injury to play against the Gators. Lattimore is coming off his worst game of the season (35 yards on 13 carries against LSU), but he is still one of the elite backs in college football. He missed the Florida game last season with an injury, but had one of his finest moments of his career two years ago against the Gators when he ran for 212 yards and three touchdowns on 40 carries in a 36–14 Carolina victory. Florida currently ranks 20th in the nation in rush defense, allowing 107.5 yards per game. The Gators did a great job against LSU two weeks ago, but had some trouble at times stopping Vanderbilt’s power rushing attack last week in Nashville. The Commodores’ two primary tailbacks combined to run for 152 yards on 34 carries.
7. Is AJ McCarron hurt? If so, can Alabama still win at Neyland Stadium?
The short answers: Who knows, and yes. McCarron has been one of the more underrated quarterbacks nationally in the last year-and-a-half. He’s done a masterful job doing what needs to be done as the leader of the Alabama attack — complete a high percentage of his passes (66.5 for his career) and not make mistakes (five interceptions in 338 career attempts). There have been reports this week that McCarron is dealing with a knee injury. He is still expected to play against Tennessee, but Alabama is built as well as any team in the nation to succeed with a backup quarterback. Sure, it would be nice to have a completely healthy McCarron this Saturday night in Knoxville, but the Tide will be fine if they are forced to turn to Blake Sims.
8. Will Tennessee find new ways to get Cordarrelle Patterson the ball?
Justin Hunter might be the Tennessee’s most polished offensive player, but Patterson has emerged as the Volunteers’ most dynamic playmaker. Last week against Mississippi State, Patterson caught three passes for 57 yards and a touchdown, carried the ball three times for 57 yards and had a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. For the season, Patterson, a junior college transfer, is averaging 15.5 yards on his 34 offensive touches. The task for Tennessee offensive coordinator Jim Chaney is to get the ball in Patterson’s hands — either on direct snaps out of the Wildcat, conventional handoffs from the quarterback or quick-hitting passes. He is simply too good not to get at least 10 offensive touches per game.
9. Can Mississippi State avoid the letdown?
One of the biggest wins in the Dan Mullen era, a 41–31 victory over Tennessee, has set up one of the biggest games in the history of the program … if Mississippi State beats Middle Tennessee on Saturday. An MSU win over the Blue Raiders coupled with an Alabama win over Tennessee sets up a showdown of 7–0 teams in Tuscaloosa in two weeks. Before that dream matchup becomes a reality, the Bulldogs must focus on a Middle Tennessee team that has a 49–28 win at Georgia Tech on its 2012 résumé. The Blue Raiders, however, will make the trip to Starkville without running back Bennie Cunningham, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in last week’s 34–30 win at FIU. Cunningham had two 200-yard games this season, including 217 and five touchdowns in the win over Georgia Tech.
10. Can Kentucky hit the elusive 250-yard mark against Georgia?
Kentucky’s offense has been beyond bad over the last month. Forced to play with either a true freshman (Jalen Whitlow) or a senior who was buried on the depth chart at the beginning of the season (Morgan Newton) at quarterback, the Wildcats have failed to gain more than 250 yards in any of their four SEC games. In fact, UK ranks last in the nation in total offense in league games, averaging 215.0 yards in SEC play. This week, Whitlow will get the start against a Georgia team that is eager to get back on the field after having a bye last week. The Bulldogs have a ton of talent on defense but gave up a total of 79 points in their last two games — a win vs. Tennessee and a loss at South Carolina. Yards figure to be very difficult to come by for the Wildcats.
Week 8 SEC Predictions
Week 8 SEC Games
LSU (-3.5) at Texas A&M
Texas A&M 28-24
Auburn (+7) at Vanderbilt
South Carolina (+3) at Florida
South Carolina 24-17
Alabama (-18) at Tennessee
Georgia (-27.5) at Kentucky
Middle Tennessee (+19) at Mississippi State
Miss. State 35-7
Miss. State 30-20
Miss. State 38-14
Miss. State 34-20
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