By: Athlon Sports | 9/23/10, 7:06 AM EDT
After watching Florida flounder a time or two, and Georgia lose a time or two, many are ready to say the SEC East is South Carolina’s to lose.
Ah, minor problem: There are seven league games remaining on the Gamecocks’ schedule, beginning this week at No. 17 Auburn and then followed two weeks later at home against No. 1 Alabama. It’s time to see what South Carolina is worth.
Here’s a reason to believe things could be different: Marcus Lattimore. With a respectable run game, the offense has a chance to achieve a balance it didn’t demonstrate in Steve Spurrier’s first five years in Columbia.
An interesting stat: Junior quarterback Stephen Garcia hasn’t thrown for 200 yards in a game yet this season, despite the team’s 3–0 start. Hardly a Spurrier-like stat.
Neither are these: Tops in the SEC in third-down conversions (56.4 percent) and 12-for-12 on red-zone trips. The offense hasn’t executed nearly this well since Spurrier returned to the SEC.
It had fallen flat in the past because of a lack of a run game. Lattimore, currently third in the SEC in rushing (111 yards a game), provides a punch that wasn’t there before. (The Gamecocks were last in the league in rushing each of the past three seasons.) Lattimore has five rushing touchdowns in three games. The team’s leader a year ago, Brian Maddox, had six all season.
Interesting sidenote this week: Lattimore’s second choice was Auburn. Now he visits the Plains with the 12th-ranked Gamecocks.
With opposing defenses respecting Lattimore, and game-planning for him, the passing game should open up for Garcia and All-SEC receiver Alshon Jeffery.
In three games (and really throughout his whole career), Garcia’s made great throws and made really poor ones. He’s capable of more. If he puts it together (and he could), look out.
The defense has been a tough one to figure early in the season. Third in the league in total defense a year ago, it’s currently sitting in 10th — and dead last in pass defense, a category it owned a year ago.
But, get this: South Carolina is still fourth in the league in scoring defense, and it’s only allowed two touchdowns all season. (One was in garbage time against Southern Miss, and the other came Saturday on a Furman trick play, a halfback pass.)
Let’s see how the defense fares this week against Cam Newton and Auburn, which is currently leading the league in rushing.
Arkansas 31, Georgia 24
Vanderbilt 28, Ole Miss 14
Alabama 62, Duke 13
Florida 31, Tennessee 17
Auburn 27, Clemson 24 (ot)
Kentucky 47, Akron 10
LSU 29, Mississippi State 7
South Carolina 38, Furman 19
• Six SEC teams are among the top 15 in the country, according to the coaches’ poll. That’s the first time that’s happened since the league expanded in 1992. But don’t get too used to it, with Alabama (1) playing Arkansas (10) and Auburn (14) tangling with South Carolina (15).
• Is Kentucky any good? We’ll find out this week, when it plays Florida. Wins against Louisville, Western Kentucky and Akron were impressive, sure, but mitigated by the fact that those teams are bad. Really bad. The Wildcats piled up 544 total yards against the Zips last week — even though do-it-all guy Randall Cobb didn’t play the second half. Derrick Locke, currently leading the league in rushing, had a career-high 166 yards.
• Credit Gene Chizik and Auburn for not panicking despite being down 17–3 at the half to Clemson. The Tigers (Auburn variety) are a run-first team, and they didn’t get away from their game plan. Newton completed only seven passes all night, and yet Auburn came back to get the win in overtime. Very impressive. The Palmetto State’s other team, South Carolina, is next at home.
• As much as it was a shame-on-Ole Miss moment, give credit to Vanderbilt and Robbie Caldwell for the Commodores’ win in Oxford. He inherited this program exceptionally late, and it’s already got one more SEC victory than, for starters, Tennessee and Georgia. So that’s something. Not sure how many more the Commodores will get, but they’ll always have Oxford. It’s a solid building block for Caldwell. A lot of teams in the conference would like to have versatile back Warren Norman.
• Georgia’s defense stopped Arkansas’ run game, but, well, the Hogs don’t really have a run game. Giving up nearly 400 yards to a quarterback, even if he’s as talented as Ryan Mallett, is inexcusable. More than that, how do you completely botch coverage in the final seconds, when you know Arkansas is throwing? The tackling is just horrendous in Athens right now. It’s difficult to believe defensive coordinator Todd Grantham came from the NFL. Then again, Grantham was once fired as the DC in Cleveland. That part does add up.
• Mississippi State’s black uniforms were pretty horrendous. Were the Bulldogs hopeful of blending into the night air at LSU? The offense sure did. Dan Mullen may have to turn that thing over to Tyler Russell and live with it. Chris Relf isn’t getting it done. Good news for MSU? That sorry Georgia defense is coming to Mississippi State. One flavor of Bulldogs, either UGA or MSU, is about to get well for a week.
• Has a Florida-Tennessee game ever come and gone without anyone really noticing it? The Gators sort of slogged through another one, failing to impress anyone. How many weeks in a row are we going to see that? John Brantley seems as if he’s got combustible energy, but when does that combustion happen? As for Tennessee, unfortunately for the Vols, that’s probably as well as the team could’ve played. Tauren Poole disappeared, but David Oku looked decent in the backfield. For the second straight week, you saw nothing to make you believe this isn’t going to be a long season for the Vols, who have serious depth and personnel issues. Too many walk-ons playing too much — especially in September. What’s that say about November?
Stud of the Week
Ryan Mallett, Arkansas QB
Mallett makes his debut in this space, but it likely will not be his final stop here. He might’ve made it sooner, but the Hogs weren’t playing anyone when he was rolling up big numbers. Georgia’s defense might be pretty sorry, but 380 yards against an SEC team? Impressive, no matter how it’s cut. Mallett checked into overdrive for that final drive, including the game-winner to Greg Childs. He’s the real deal; you knew that already. This is why.
Dud of the Week
Houston Nutt, Ole Miss coach
How has Nutt allowed things to get so bad so quickly at Ole Miss? Losses to Jacksonville State and Vanderbilt are far from the way you’d want to start a season. It only gets worse from here. Question: What does Ole Miss do well, exactly? Another question: What young Rebels cause you to believe things will get better, sooner or later?
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