SEC Notebook: LSU looks for stability, old friends battle in Texas

Kentucky and Mississippi State get a week off, but the Southeastern Conference’s other 12 teams are in action, including home games for both Auburn and Alabama. The big matchup is in Baton Rouge, where Georgia plays LSU, while another big game pits a pair of old friends, South Carolina’s Will Muschamp and Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher, who first teamed up as assistants at Auburn before joining Nick Saban’s staff at LSU.


Finding the right combination up front: A total of seven different players have started on the offensive line this season for the Razorbacks, with three different players starting at left tackle while Colton Jackson missed the early part of the season recovering from back surgery. Now, head coach Chad Morris hopes, the different combinations have provided some valuable depth.

“Once we got the rotation that we felt was our best five and then we had to try and build on it just in case something comes up,” Morris said. “And with Brian Wallace going down last week, Dalton (Wagner) came in and you can definitely tell the way we have practiced him – not just him, but all of our offensive linemen – that he did some really good things. So I think that’s allowed us, he and Austin Capps, to grow our depth. We’re not anywhere near where we need to be, but we are getting better in that area.”


Getting comfortable with Feleipe: He isn’t a household name among SEC quarterbacks, but sophomore Feleipe Franks is getting better each week, his coach said. And as Franks gains confidence, so goes the Gator offense.

“One, he’s worked to learn our offense and worked to be a good decision maker out there on the field,” Florida coach Dan Mullen said. “I see him continue to grow in that role. I think, playing quarterback, it’s so much about processing the information and decision making. How fast you can process information, how fast you can make decisions. Obviously, the more reps you get, the better you’re going to be at doing it and I think he’s getting more comfortable every week within our system and becoming a better decision maker every week within our system.”


Stepping in for Nick and Sony: There were concerns before the season about the status of Georgia’s running attack with the loss of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel but D’Andre Swift, Elijah Holyfield and Brian Harrien have picked up where Chubb and Michel left off, making Georgia number one in rushing offense in the Southeastern Conference at 245.2 yards per game, marking the first time Georgia has ever been 6-0 in consecutive seasons.

“Those three kids really work hard and throw James (Cook) in there and they work hard each day on their protections, catching the ball out of the backfield, getting their runs right and being physical,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “Protecting the ball has been critical. It’s important that we don’t turn the ball over, especially against a team like LSU.”


Self-scouting: With an open date, Kentucky coach Mark Stoops addressed his offensive concerns after a close loss at Texas A&M, saying the Wildcats needed to improve their passing game in order to create more big plays on offense.

“Just some consistency offensively and creating some big plays,” Stoops said. “We’ve been ‘off’ just a bit, sometimes very little, as far as creating big plays, whether it be protection, getting some guys open, creating some big-play opportunities for our offense. We felt like we’ve really done a good job of being physical and running the ball and need to continue to work on the passing game.”


Who’s at left tackle? The Tigers have used a different offensive lineup in each of its first six games, giving OL coach James Cregg his share of headaches because of injuries. Eight different players have started this season on the offensive line. Lloyd Cushenberry, Damien Lewis, Badara Traore, Austin Deculus and Donavaughn Campbell are all first-time starters.

“It’s been difficult,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. “Coach Cregg, I think he gets home at 12 o’clock and he’s back here at 3 in the morning. He’s been working very hard. It’s different because you have to make so many calls up front and the guy that hurt us was Garrett Brumfield (who started the first four games before going down with injuries). He was kind of like our captain up there and was making all the calls, so we had to switch to Cushenberry and we had some new guys getting in there, so the communication and the continuity has been the toughest part. Hopefully, we’ll have the same line as we had last week and we can play better.”


The unsung Phillips: When people talk about the explosiveness of the Ole Miss offense, they mention the receivers or maybe the quarterback but rarely does anyone ever mention Scottie Phillips, who ranks third in the conference in rushing yards per game (106.2) behind Texas A&M’s Traveon Williams and Kentucky’s Benny Snell.

“I think he’s done a really good job of maximizing his opportunities,” Ole Miss coach Matt Luke said. “He’s very elusive, quick through the hole and has the ability to get some yards after contact by running through people. We knew it was going to be a struggle to replace Jordan Wilkins, a 1,000-yard rusher from a year ago, but Scottie has done an outstanding job, not only carrying the ball but he has catches out of the backfield.”


Running with Nick: Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald became the all-time leading rusher for a quarterback in the Southeastern Conference last weekend and head coach Joe Moorhead said he never could have envisioned the weapon he had when he took over the Bulldogs this season.

“This past game against Auburn was really representative of his ability to run the football successfully,” Moorhead said. “He’s shown good decisiveness, good physicality, a lot of yards after contact. Certainly, when you can compile that many yards over time in this conference, it speaks volumes to his ability.”


Passing game’s not a Lock: Heralded Missouri quarterback Drew Lock has now gone 157 minutes without a touchdown pass but head coach Barry Odom said there’s no cause for alarm.

“We ran the ball for over 300 yards last week, so we leaned on that side more than anything because that’s what we had going,” Odom said. “We had a couple of injuries at an already-depleted position, at wide receiver, so we weren’t able to stretch the field vertically. And then the monsoon that came into Columbia. Really, we had two, maybe three, dropped touchdown passes or opportunities. I think Drew’s all right. He’s a competitive dude so he wants to make sure he does everything he can for this team.”


Ready for Bentley: South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said he thought Jake Bentley would be ready for this weekend’s game with Texas A&M after sitting out the Missouri game with a knee injury. In his place, Michael Scarnecchia completed 20 of 35 passes for 249 yards and three touchdowns in his first start at quarterback.

“He’s going to have to wear the knee brace,” Muschamp said. “I thought he had progressed from Tuesday to Wednesday and we’ll see him again (today) and see how he moves around. Certainly, he and Michael will be ready to go.”


Improving against the run: It’s not something that’s easy to notice, but slowly and surely Tennessee’s defense is improving. The Volunteers are currently ranked 10th in the conference in rushing defense, allowing 158 yards per game. At the same point last year, the Vols were dead last in the conference, surrendering an average of 252.6 yards per game.

“I think if you look at our games, there are too many times the pile moves the wrong way,” Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt said. “A lot of hidden yardage out there, we’ve given up a couple of explosive runs. We’re improving. We’re nowhere where we need to be, but I think we’re headed in the right direction. This week will present a tremendous challenge.”


Facing Muschamp: The Texas A&M-South Carolina game will pit two friends against each other as Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher coached with South Carolina’s Will Muschamp at both Auburn and LSU. But having coached alongside Muschamp years ago doesn’t give either coach an edge, Fisher noted.

“There’s certain things and standards in which you know they’re going to play with,” Fisher said. “They’re going to be physical and tough and well coached and sound, but their schemes and things always evolve and that’s what good coaches do. So from that standpoint, after you get away from somebody for a while, I don’t know if it helps you. You particularly don’t like going against friends because one guy’s got to win and one guy’s got to lose.”


Guarding against the trick play: Florida has used trick plays in each of the past two games to pull out close wins against Mississippi State and LSU, but Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said he can’t be worrying about what Florida might do when the Gators come to town for Saturday’s 11 a.m. matchup.

“They’ve got trick plays, we’ll have our own,” Mason said. “I think what you’ve got to do is let the rules be the rules. If you go chasing trick plays …. As soon as they let down, that’s when it comes. For me, as a defensive coordinator having seen a fair share of trick plays in my time, the idea is to make sure you keep sound edges, play top down, keep the ball in front of you and with that, you get it on the ground.”

Just because he’s used a tr ick play the last two weeks doesn’t mean Dan Mullen will use one Saturday. On the other hand, the Gators may be starting a trend.

“There’s so many plays and so little time,” Mullen said. “Give me a pen, I can draw up probably a thousand. Now, you can’t teach all of them, but we have libraries of them.”