Well, here we go again, with another interesting slate of games in the SEC East as we move into the final month of the regular season. Up to now, it’s been the year of the Dawgs. Georgia has already wrapped up the East division title, while other teams are hoping to end the season on a positive note. So, as we breakdown the weekend in the division, there are a few questions I have for Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee.
Can Florida get the train back on the tracks at South Carolina?
There’s no denying that the Gators are dealing with a lot of problems inside their program right now, specifically on the motivation front. This team has lost three of their last four games and put up only 13 points against Kentucky and 7 points against Georgia. Now, the Dawgs have given up only 5 TDs this season, so take that one with a grain of salt. But, if it weren’t for Anthony Richardson, there’s no way this team would’ve scored 42 points in Baton Rouge.
So, how do we trust this football team with Emory Jones, who has struggled to find an open receiver down the field this season? If Richardson can’t play (concussion), then the Gators will have to rely on their running backs and Jones to find the open spaces against the Gamecocks.
Florida is a 18.5 point favorite, for the 7:30pm ET kickoff on SEC Network.
This is one of those “must win” type of games for Dan Mullen. I don’t mean that he’ll be fired if he loses, but losing in Columbia would not be an easy thing to overcome with the base. Honestly, I don’t think it happens, as Shane Beamer is dealing with his own QB problems and the Gamecocks aren’t a threat on offense. But I am questioning what kind of offensive game plan we will see from Dan Mullen. This football team needs a win. Bad.
Will Kentucky be able to establish a rushing attack against Tennessee?
The Wildcats rushed for only 117 yards total against Mississippi State and Georgia. To make matters worse, Chris Rodriguez has been dealing with some kind of injury, which has stalled the Kentucky rushing attack. Last week, Mississippi State held Rodriguez to 34 yards on 8 carries, which isn’t going to win you many games in this conference. If the Cats don’t have momentum on the ground, they have to rely on Will Levis to throw the football, which won’t win them many games either. Levis threw three interceptions in the loss.
Kentucky is a 0.5 point favorite, for the 7:00pm ET kickoff on ESPN2
This Kentucky offense is built around establishing a rushing attack that will allow Levis to use the play-action to his advantage. Having Levis try to make plays with his legs can only go so far, especially with how opposing defenses have continued to bring pressure off the edges. This weekend will determine how the rest of the season goes for Kentucky. The Vols have been ok against the run, but we’ve seen this type of offense cause trouble for Tennessee in the past. If Mark Stoops can get a solid day out his run game, then the Wildcats will have success, especially when they open it up down the field against the Vols’ secondary. But this all relies on establishing the run, which I question at the moment.
Can Hendon Hooker be the X-factor for Tennessee this weekend?
We’ve seen two different types of Tennessee quarterbacks recently, one who can pick up yards down the field and one who sits in the pocket and waits for his receivers. The second part of this observation came in Tuscaloosa, where Hendon Hooker dealt with a knee injury that kept him mostly immobilized. Between Hooker’s knee and a banged up RB group, the Vols had to rely on the passing game more than usual.
We’ve seen what Kentucky can do on defense, especially getting pressure off the edge. So, can a healthy Vols offensive line, a rested Hendon Hooker and RB group be the X-factors this weekend?
The Vols rushed for only 64 yards against Alabama, though they could’ve had more if Hooker had been healthy. But can the rush offset what Kentucky will bring on defense with a healthy Tiyon Evans and Jabari Small? This is where Hendon Hooker comes in, especially with his ability to make plays when the offensive line collapses. If the Vols are going to upset the Wildcats on Saturday, they’re going to need Hooker to scramble and pick up first downs with his legs. The running part of his game is what separates him from others, so scrambling will be key in Lexington. Even the designed runs will need to be called more frequently, as Hooker could be the guy who confuses the Kentucky defense, especially in the RPO game.
Can Hooker be the one to lead Tennessee to the upset win in Lexington? We’re about to find out.