Two Conference Games to Watch
LSU at Tennessee (3:30 ET/CBS) –
LSU continues its march to a possible national title berth this weekend as it travels to Knoxville to face a Tennessee team decimated by injuries to its top two offensive weapons – Tyler Bray and Justin Hunter. Tennessee hasn’t been able to muster a serious offensive attack in some time, and the best remedy for that can’t be going up against the nation’s top two defenses over the next two weeks. That’s exactly what’s on deck, though. LSU, meanwhile, seems to be on cruise control until Nov. 5. Remember, though, that the only thing that prevented Tennessee from marching into Baton Rouge last season and pulling the upset to end all upsets was Dooley going more “Les Miles” than even Les Miles could conceive in the game’s final 10 seconds. If this game is as close in the final minute as it was last year, it would be the best coaching job by anyone in the SEC all season, and it wouldn’t be close. Perhaps the only thing that could break LSU’s focus right now is if UT boards up the Tiger locker room at halftime and forces them to watch the Pride of the Southland’s historically awful Wizard of Oz halftime show, unveiled last week against Georgia.
We could forgive any slip-ups for anyone subjected to such a musical atrocity.
Can Tennessee mentally recover from the hangover of losing Tyler Bray for at least four weeks? The loss of Bray, even if only for a brief part of the schedule, could potentially derail the Vols’ season if Derek Dooley can’t get his team to regroup now. The defense is hanging on by a thread, and without any hope that its offense can stay on the field, it might fall apart if Matt Simms and Co. can’t sustain a few drives. They can’t be expected to march up and down the field or light up a scoreboard at this point, but they have to show some sign of life. It gets no easier for UT as they travel to Alabama next weekend, followed by dates with South Carolina and Arkansas later in the year. A passing attack that suddenly lacks teeth and a running threat that never existed could spell doom for the Vols’ chances of pulling any upsets from here on. Consider that Tennessee – a program once built on running the ball and stopping the run – ranks 114 out of 120 teams netting only 84 rushing yards each game, and the recent setbacks for the passing attack are magnified. The running game is just astoundingly bad. The trump card for any team who loses a star quarterback is shortening the game by running the football and forcing the opponent to run the ball or attempt low percentage passes. The Vols will have to force a few turnovers to have a chance, and that’s not likely to happen This one could be a carbon copy of the Tigers’ game in Week 6 against Florida…over early.
OKTC Prediction: LSU 35, Tennessee 13
Florida at Auburn (7 ET/ESPN) –
Both teams limp into this primetime matchup coming off blowout losses on the road, and both desperately need a win as they hit the meat of similarly difficult October slates. Florida rolled over and played dead at LSU in a 41-11 loss, with insult being added to injury when LSU’s punter pranced into the endzone on a fake punt that elicited an unsportsmanlike penalty to negate the touchdown. It didn’t matter, though, as LSU did whatever it wanted on both sides of the ball against a Gator team clearly headed into a tailspin during a transition year. The unfortunate injuries on offense are one thing, but perhaps the most troubling sign has been the Florida defense. A group once thought to be among the top three in the SEC suddenly looks very ordinary. Conversely, Auburn put up more of a fight in taking a 14-7 lead midway through the second half at Arkansas, but the Razorbacks came back with a vengeance running off 31 unanswered points.
Can Auburn win moving forward with Barrett Trotter, or is it time for a permanent change at the quarterback spot? Both Auburn and Florida have quarterback concerns, but at least Florida’s have been created out of sheer necessity. Jacoby Brissett looks to be the starter again for the Gators as John Brantley and Jeff Driskel battle injuries. Brantley has been officially ruled out for this one, with Driskel likely being a game-time decision because of a sprained ankle.
On the other sideline, Auburn appears poised to trot out Barrett Trotter again despite a notable drop in efficiency and confidence from the junior in the past month. Trotter has now thrown for fewer than 200 yards in each of the last five games, and at least one of his passes has wound up in the hands of the other team in each of those contests. His production has been on a steep downhill slide seemingly since the end of the loss at Clemson, with his last two outings punctuated by passing outputs of 112 and 81 yards. During those two games he’s thrown one touchdown against three interceptions. So the question is – how long is the leash on Trotter, and what are the other options?
The coaching staff has done an admirable job of not rushing Kiehl Frazier into the mix too quickly, but as Trotter’s production wanes, the freshman’s playing time may go up. Frazier provides the running game an element that made it nearly unstoppable last year (with Cam Newton) and that it’s sorely lacked with Trotter at the helm, but expectations for Frazier may be outpacing his learning curve. Not surprisingly, he doesn’t seem to have a full grasp of the offense yet as evidenced by two untimely interceptions against Arkansas. Both passes were textbook errors for a young player – Frazier missed a checkdown read on the first and stared down a primary receiver without recognizing safety help into the boundary on the second. He’ll learn from those mistakes, but it will be interesting to see if the coaches give him more looks this week with a date at LSU looming. As Florida showed, Baton Rouge is no place for a young quarterback to earn his stripes, so regardless of what lip service Auburn’s coaches may be paying in regards to Trotter, expect Frazier to see his workload increase in the friendly confines of Jordan-Hare this week.
Even with Trotter’s issues, this feels like a game Auburn should win. Florida suffered its worst conference loss in almost 40 years against LSU, and fell by almost as wide a margin in the prior week against Alabama. The Gators are reeling, and with a win Auburn can cement itself as one of the top 5 teams in the SEC. Auburn has won three of the past four games in the series, two in a row at home, and the Tigers hold a 25-8-1 record against the Gators in Auburn. The Tigers’ young defense is making a resurgence, and that should be the difference in a close game.
OKTC Prediction: Auburn 20, Florida 14
Other quick reads:
Alabama at Ole Miss – Randall Mackey has emerged as Houston Nutt’s top option in Oxford. Nutt’s best option on Saturday, though, might be to find a way to keep Alabama’s buses in Tuscaloosa. Or to cancel the game. A week off may allow the Rebels to show Alabama a few new looks, but it’s doubtful that this one is close in the second half.
OKTC Prediction: Alabama 31, Ole Miss 10
South Carolina at Mississippi State – A bizarre week so far in Columbia has seen the dismissal of troubled quarterback Stephen Garcia (again) and a bitter rant by Steve Spurrier against a local beat reporter. Is there a more unpredictable or erratic team in the league? The Gamecocks are talented, but it’s nearly impossible to figure out what may happen next with a group that dominated Georgia, struggled with Navy, fell to Auburn and then blew out Kentucky. Mississippi State was uninspiring in a lifeless win against a winless UAB, and the Bulldogs are rapidly becoming the disappointment of the year in the SEC.
OKTC Prediction: South Carolina 27, Miss. State 17
Georgia 27, Vanderbilt 14
Byes: Kentucky, Arkansas
Season Prediction Record: 22-7
Season ATS: 13-15-1