While Alabama continues its chase for perfection in a Saturday afternoon battle with Mississippi State and Auburn-Georgia renew the South’s oldest rivalry on Saturday night for ESPN, there are several other rivalries of note, including Kentucky-Tennessee and LSU-Arkansas. One other interesting matchup has former Florida coach Will Muschamp, now at South Carolina, taking his Gamecocks back to Gainesville.
The meeting at Waffle House: The Arkansas-LSU game features a pair of intriguing notes about the opposing head coaches. LSU coach Ed Orgeron got his first coaching job as a volunteer assistant at Arkansas, while first-year Razorback coach Chad Morris got his first offer to coach in college from Orgeron after following recruit Jevon Snead to Ole Miss and meeting then-Rebel coach Orgeron for a job interview at the Waffle House in Oxford.
“I recruited Jevon Snead and I interviewed (Morris) at the Waffle House in Oxford,” Orgeron recalled. “I ended up hiring Hugh Freeze instead.”
“I remind him every now and then, when I see him, that he didn’t hire me but he said it worked out pretty good anyway,” Morris said. “Coach has done a fabulous job wherever he’s been.”
Winning in the clutch: Florida is favored by six points, but head coach Dan Mullen is wary of South Carolina, a team that has made a habit of winning close games this season. Since being blown out by Georgia early in the season and following up with a lopsided win over Vanderbilt, the Gamecocks are 3-1 in their last four games with all four decided by a combined 12 points.
“The biggest thing I see from them is they’ve been able to win close, tight games this year,” Mullen said. “When the game’s on the line, they find a way to make plays and win the game. Offensively, they have some skilled playmaking wide receivers on the perimeter, but they do a great job with the balance. Their ability to block people up front and their backs run hard and their ability to keep that balance allows them to make opportunities on the perimeter.”
On the Bulldogs’ offensive line: The Bulldogs are coming off an impressive performance against Kentucky that featured the conference’s top-rated rushing offense, a testimony to Broyles Award candidate Sam Pittman, the offensive line coach.
“A lot of that credit goes to Sam Pittman,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “Here’s a guy who has recruited at a high level. He’s got a good group of guys that are very versatile and when you sign athletic linemen, sometimes they can play multiple positions and that allows your puzzle pieces to fall into place.”
Tennessee improving: Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said his team needs to shake off last week’s disappointing loss to Georgia and get back to work. His team is favored by just six points over a struggling Tennessee team, but one that is improving each week under first-year coach Jeremy Pruitt.
“They’re different, they’re definitely different,” Stoops said. “You see Jeremy’s fingerprints all over the defense. They’re getting better with every opportunity and they’re playing extremely hard. That’s a credit to him and his staff. Offensively, they’re different. They’re trying to put the right pieces in position to be successful but they have some dynamic receivers who are getting better.”
Hangover-free football: The Tigers have struggled over the years in their first game after playing Alabama, but head coach Ed Orgeron promises that Saturday’s opponent has his team’s attention as the Tigers travel to Arkansas for a 6:30 p.m. kickoff.
“Frist of all, it’s going to be about taking care of the football,” he said. “I don’t know what the weather is going to be, but it’s obviously going to be cold and in our guys’ minds, we have to block that out. We have to get back on track. LSU has struggled after the Alabama game. We need to be careful about having a hangover, respecting Arkansas. They put 31 points on Alabama, we didn’t put any.”
Shorthanded: Ole Miss coach Matt Luke opened his Wednesday discussion in the SEC teleconference by noting his team has just 15 days remaining in the season, which will be quickly followed by intense work on the recruiting circuit as the Rebels try to erase the past couple of years of NCAA investigations and restrictions that have left them shorthanded.
“I think it’s going great,” Luke said. “We had some really positive news with all the recruiting restrictions lifted so when you think big picture, I think we have an opportunity to go recruit to something. I think the people see the opportunity to play on defense right away and then obviously there are a lot of people that want to be involved in our offense and what we do. Big picture wise, there’s no doubt we’re ahead of schedule. We’re down about 12 scholarships and we’ll have the opportunity to get back to full strength for the first time in five years. That’s exciting to me.”
Who’s the nickel? The Bulldogs continue to struggle at the “star” position after first Brian Cole, then Jaquarius Landrews have battled through injuries at the position, but head coach Joe Moorhead he’s not worried about filling the position as the Bulldogs travel to Tuscaloosa for a 2:30 matchup with top-ranked Alabama on Saturday.
“(Landrews), Marcus (Murphy) and then both (cornerback Chris) Rayford and (safety) C.J. Morgan are guys with positional flexibility who have been working throughout the year at the ‘star’ position,” Moorhead said. “I think he’s progressing nicely each day. We’ll get him out there (Wednesday) afternoon and see what he can do but we’re cautiously optimistic and hope he continues to make improvements heading toward Saturday.”
The leadership of Crockett: Junior tailback Damarea Crockett is the oldest of the three tailbacks that line up behind Drew Lock in the Missouri backfield, which may be the reason he took it upon himself to show more leadership in the wake of a disappointing loss to Kentucky two weeks ago, leading to a big 38-17 win over Florida last week.
“Damarea has had a solid year for us,” Missouri coach Barry Odom said. “Like a lot of our guys, (he) was really hurt after the Kentucky loss and I had a conversation about what we can all do more of and he had a voice in the locker room after the game and I thought it was a great message. Then he and I spoke and I said we need that, we need more of that. Keep going, keep pushing and lead our team.”
On the return of Allen-Williams: He’s one of the conference’s most disruptive defensive players, which is why Gamecock coach Will Muschamp is patient with Bryson Allen-Williams. The fifth-year senior didn’t practice on Wednesday morning as he continues to recover from an ankle injury, but that doesn’t affect his status for Saturday’s 11 a.m. game at Florida, Muschamp noted.
“He knows what we do and how we do it,” Muschamp said. “We’ll see how he continues to progress throughout the week.”
Allen-Williams ranks seventh in the conference in tackles for loss with 10 this season and also leads his team in quarterback hurries with five. He was set for a big year in 2017 before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in September and redshirting.
Playing the 12th man: You won’t find Kentucky quarterback Terry Marshall’s name anywhere in the conference statistics, but the transfer has taken on more of a passing role in the Wildcats’ last two games and his ability to run the ball on the read option makes him particularly dangerous, Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt said as he prepared for Saturday’s 2:30 game with Marshall and the Wildcats.
“Well, you know, it’s kind of like playing with 12,” Pruitt said. “You always have to be wary of where he’s at, what kind of run game are they presenting when you have a quarterback that’s athletic, that can read folks. That’s one less you’ve got to block so a lot of times it’s almost like playing the triple option.”
Losing momentum to Auburn: Texas A&M controlled last week’s game with Auburn for much of the second half before faltering late as the Tigers scored two touchdowns to pull out a 28-24 victory. Now, Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher hopes his team can bounce back in Saturday’s 11 a.m. matchup with Ole Miss.
“If you’re in the game long enough, you have things like that happen,” Fisher said. “I was actually on a team one time where they were having a hard time and they found a few plays at the end. It’s very rare, it’s hard to do because momentum like that is hard to swing. We have to learn not to give that inch or so to give them life in that situation. It’s a tough situation but hopefully we’ll learn from it and move on.”
Scouting Missouri LB Cale Garrett: The Tigers’ junior linebacker ranks among the conference’s best in tackles with 87 this season, but there’s more to Missouri’s defense than just Garrett, Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason noted as he prepared for Saturday’s 11 a.m. game with the Tigers.
“I thought he played extremely well (against Florida, recording 12 tackles),” Mason said. “I’ve been impressed with their defense overall. Him and (defensive tackle Terry) Beckner have played extremely well. When you look at (linebacker) Terez Hall, I think he’s been a monster with all the TFLs. Garrett had his best game (last week) but I think he’s got a group of guys playing well around him.”