September 13, 2007

Tide ready to be tested

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MEGARGEE'S SEC PICKS
Saturday's games
Auburn 24, Mississippi State 7
Georgia 41, Western Carolina 10
Florida 31, Tennessee 27
Alabama 24, Arkansas 21
Vanderbilt 17, Ole Miss 14
South Carolina 41, South Carolina State 7
Louisville 45, Kentucky 34
LSU 45, Middle Tennessee 7
Questions answered?: Two of the biggest questions surrounding the SEC before the start of the season were how defending national champion Florida would replace nine starters on defense and how Nick Saban would fare in his first season at Alabama. This week's action should go a long way toward answering both. Florida's explosive offense has helped make things much easier for its defense thus far, but the Gators face their first major test Saturday when Tennessee comes to town. And after knocking off Vanderbilt in his first SEC game with the Tide, Saban's team faces a much tougher challenge Saturday as he tries to figure out a way to contain defending Western Division champion Arkansas' explosive rushing attack. Kentucky also can prove its surprising success last season was no fluke by upsetting Louisville in a game that features two of the nation's top offenses.

Best matchup: Louisville passing game vs. Kentucky pass defense: One of the most interesting stories of the first two weeks has been the emergence of Kentucky's pass defense. After ranking 118th of 119 Division I-A teams in pass defense last season, the Wildcats are sixth this season. Is it the product of an easy schedule or the sign of legitimate progress? Kentucky faces a huge challenge Saturday against Heisman contender Brian Brohm, who has thrown nine touchdown passes without an interception this season. Louisville tight end Gary Barnidge has caught four touchdown passes, and Harry Douglas and Mario Urrutia form one of the nation's top receiving duos. Brohm went 19-of-34 for 254 yards and a touchdown pass against Kentucky last season while leading the Cardinals to a 59-28 victory.

Pressure is on: Auburn QB Brandon Cox: The senior quarterback has thrown eight interceptions and five touchdown passes in his past five games. He has completed barely half his passes, with four interceptions and two touchdowns, through two games of this season. Although Cox remains the Tigers' starter, Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville has indicated that true freshman backup Kodi Burns might see some playing time. If Cox struggles Saturday against Mississippi State, Burns' appearances could become much more than cameo roles.

Who's hot: Alabama redshirt freshman TB Terry Grant has rushed for 307 yards and five touchdowns in his first two games. Florida QB Tim Tebow has thrown six touchdown passes without an interception and also has rushed for three scores while averaging 6 yards per carry. Tebow is ranked second in the nation in passing efficiency. Tennessee QB Erik Ainge and Kentucky QB Andre' Woodson have thrown five touchdown passes without an interception. Tennessee WR Lucas Taylor has compiled at least 103 receiving yards in each of his first two games this season. Kentucky WR Keenan Burton has caught at least five passes in nine consecutive games. He has 11 touchdown catches during that stretch. LSU RB Keiland Williams is averaging 10.3 yards per carry. LSU SS Craig Steltz leads the nation with four interceptions.

Who's not: Kentucky TE Jacob Tamme caught 11 passes in his final two games of the 2006 season, but he has just three receptions this season. Auburn QB Brandon Cox has thrown four interceptions and two touchdown passes. Alabama QB John Parker Wilson hasn't thrown a touchdown pass this season.

Keep your eye on: Florida WR Riley Cooper had four receptions for 122 yards and two touchdowns in a season-opening victory over Western Kentucky, but he didn't have a catch against Troy last week. With a knee injury sidelining Andre Caldwell for the next two weeks, look for Cooper to have an expanded role in the passing game. Tennessee SS Jarod Parrish has returned to the starting lineup because of a season-ending injury to CB Antonio Gaines. True freshman Eric Berry moved over from safety to fill Gaines' spot in the starting lineup. Tennessee FS Jonathan Hefney entered the season as an All-America candidate, but he received plenty of criticism after missing numerous tackles in a season-opening loss to California. A big performance against the defending national champions could help Hefney earn redemption. Vanderbilt QB Mackenzi Adams could get more playing time Saturday because starter Chris Nickson has a hamstring injury that leaves him questionable for the Ole Miss game.

Numbers game: The road team has won the first three conference games of the season. Road teams own a .469 winning percentage in SEC games since 1992. Kentucky has gained more than 200 rushing yards and 200 passing yards in each of its first two games. LSU has outscored teams 157-7 in the first quarter of its 15 home games during Les Miles' three seasons as coach. The Tigers have outscored teams 113-7 over their last 10 quarters overall.

Freshmen to watch: The obvious answers are to go with Alabama TB Terry Grant and Tennessee DB Eric Berry, who moves from safety to cornerback this week and must try to contain Florida's high-flying offense. But we've already mentioned both those players in this category earlier in the season, so we'll try to point out someone else. Auburn WR Chris Slaughter has been working out with the first team occasionally in practice this week and could see an expanded role as the Tigers attempt to rejuvenate their passing attack. Georgia RB Knowshon Moreno rushed for 104 yards in a losing cause last week and could have another big game Saturday against outmanned Western Carolina. Florida CB Joe Haden is one of three new starters in the Gators' secondary, which faces an experienced quarterback in Erik Ainge this week. And Gators G Maurkice Pouncey will get his sternest test thus far against the Vols' defensive line.

SEC STANDINGS
EAST DIVISION
TeamConf.All
South Carolina1-02-0
Florida0-02-0
Kentucky0-02-0
Tennessee0-01-1
Georgia0-11-1
Vanderbilt0-11-1
WEST DIVISION
TeamConf.All
LSU1-02-0
Alabama1-02-0
Arkansas0-01-0
Mississippi0-01-1
Auburn0-01-1
Mississippi State0-11-1
Injury update: Arkansas WR Marcus Monk and TE Ben Cleveland probably will miss the Alabama game. Monk is recovering from knee surgery, while Cleveland has a pinched nerve in his neck. Monk's absence puts a big crimp in the Razorbacks' passing attack. Auburn P Ryan Shoemaker will miss the Mississippi State game with a dislocated elbow. Auburn LB Tray Blackmon and S Aairon Savage are expected to return after missing the loss to USF with ankle injuries. Florida WR Andre Caldwell will miss at least two weeks with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee. Florida OT Phil Trautwein has a foot injury that will prevent him from playing this week. Kentucky DT Ricky Lumpkin is out indefinitely with a hip injury. Kentucky DT Myron Pryor is questionable because of a strained pectoral muscle. LSU QB Matt Flynn is questionable for this weekend with an ankle injury. ... Ole Miss LB Jonathan Cornell has a shoulder stinger that will keep him from playing this week. Ole Miss WR Dexter McCluster has a shoulder injury that will cause him to miss his third consecutive game. And Ole Miss DE Kentrell Lockett will probably miss his third consecutive game with an undisclosed injury. Tennessee CB Antonio Gaines is out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Vanderbilt QB Chris Nickson is questionable for the Ole Miss game with a hamstring injury.

They said it: "I think this game is a huge statement for both programs, but I think it's a bigger game for us. We feel like we can compete with them now. In the past, we did feel like they were above us. But we've been trying to turn this program around for a while, and we definitely feel that we now have the weapons, the athletes, the coaches."
- Kentucky QB Andre' Woodson on Saturday's game with Louisville.

"It appears to me that it would be unfair to talk about another school. I'm at a great school with a great team. I'm at a place that I love. I'm not going to talk about another school. It would be a waste of productive time for my team. I'm worried about Middle Tennessee. I know you guys want me to get into it, but I'm not."
- LSU coach Les Miles on his possible interest in the Michigan job if it became open. Miles is a former player and assistant at Michigan.

"It wasn't like they were some big, powerful team. They've actually lost five in a row to Eastern Division opponents. Kentucky and Vandy beat them last year."
- South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier about Georgia, on his weekly TV show the day after a 16-12 victory over the Bulldogs, according to a report in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Etc.: Georgia CB Ramarcus Brown returns this week after serving a two-game suspension for a violation of team rules. Arkansas DE Marcus Harrison is expected to play this week after serving a one-game suspension in the season opener. Alabama senior WR D.J. Hall needs just 33 receiving yards to pass Ozzie Newsome as the school's career leader. Kentucky TB Rafael Little is the fourth player in SEC history to compile 2,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in his career. He joins Florida's Errict Rhett, LSU's Dalton Hilliard and LSU's Garry James.

MORE WEEK 3 BREAKDOWNS: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10



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