SEC Notebook: Six conference matchups set for Saturday

Auburn takes the week off, but the other 13 Southeastern Conference teams are in action this weekend. Vanderbilt has an afternoon matchup with Nevada-Las Vegas but the remaining 12 teams will square off in six important conference matchups.

Alabama returns to action with an afternoon game at Texas A&M, while Florida, fresh off its win over Auburn, travels to Tiger Stadium for a prime time matchup with LSU. South Carolina travels to Georgia in a renewal of the annual border war, Mississippi State heads to Neyland Stadium, Arkansas visits Kentucky and Ole Miss travels to Missouri.


Similarities to the 2015 Tiger-Gator matchup: The last time an LSU-Florida game received this much hype was in 2015, when No. 6 LSU defeated No. 8 Florida on the strength of a fake field goal.

“I just loved the atmosphere leading up to the game,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron recalled. “It was my first LSU-Florida game. I learned how much of a rivalry it was. I didn’t really know about it until I got inside here and heard the players talk.”


No rushing TDs allowed this season: The Bulldogs are the only team in FBS that hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown this season, but head coach Kirby Smart said there’s more to good defense than stopping the run.

“It’s always a point of pride,” he said. “I think every defense in the country would tell you they don’t want to allow people to run the ball in but I don’t want them to throw it in, either. We want to keep people out of our end zone all together. We’re proud of the fact that we haven’t given up a rushing touchdown but there has not been a lot of opportunities, unfortunately, because some of the times they’ve scored, they scored from further out.”


Comparing this year’s Tiger offense to last year’s group: Florida coach Dan Mullen was asked if this year’s LSU offense is different from last year’s group. The scheme is roughly the same, he said, but the ball is distributed a little differently to the playmakers.

“I’ve paid more attention to this year and I pay more attention offensively and they didn’t change coordinators on defense,” he pointed out, “but I do think they’re doing a really good job this year of utilizing personnel. When you have playmakers on the perimeter, one thing you’re trying to do is isolate or create advantageous matchups to get them the ball in space and they’ve done a really good job of that. And they’ve got a really good running back can make you miss, can play power football, can break tackles and get the tough yards and obviously the quarterback is comfortable with what they’re doing.”


Correcting mistakes: After last week’s disappointing loss to Ole Miss, Commodore coach Derek Mason said his team has gone back to work on fundamentals, but should be improved as injured players return to the lineup.

“We’re getting guys back, little by little,” Mason said. “We’ve had injuries in the linebacker corps and in the secondary. Right now, this football team is 1-4 and has the opportunity to play a UNLV team that has talent, that has struggled as well, but our group is focused on the things we need to do to play well on Saturday. As our depth starts to come back … execution is definitely at a premium.”


Moving Quavaris Crouch inside: The Volunteers are working true freshman linebacker Quavaris Crouch both at the inside and outside linebacker positions, figuring an athlete of his size (6-1, 246) can handle both positions.

“When we recruit linebackers, we would like to sign guys that are ‘four for four,’ which means they could play any of the four (linebacker) positions,” Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt said. “That means they’re instinctive enough to play behind the line of scrimmage at inside linebacker, have awareness to diagnose plays and have ability to drop into coverage and play man to man, are good blitzers. He’s a guy that can do both.”


Getting healthy: Arkansas coach Chad Morris believes his offense should be more productive as injured players return to the lineup, allowing the Razorbacks to build some chemistry.

“We’ve really had just one game where we’ve had our wide receiver corps with Treylon (Burks) and Trey (Knox) and (left tackle) CJ (Colton Jackson) with (quarterback) Nick (Starkel), playing a complete game together,” Morris said. “What that does is give us depth and give us an opportunity to build on what we saw in the Colorado State game and get these guys the ball in space. It’s really good to get those guys back this week. It’s been a great week of practice.”


No game manager, just a great quarterback: South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said Georgia will present a grwat challenge to his South Carolina offense this weekend, but the hardest issue for Muschamp is to devise a strategy to throw Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm off track to give the Gamecocks a chance.

“He’s an extension of what they want done on the field as coaches,” Muschamp explained. “He’s going to get them in the right look in the run game, he’s going to get them in the right protection, he’s going to take the ball to the right place and he’s going to be very accurate with the ball when he throws it. As far as running their offensive football team, he does a fantastic job. And I hate to use the word ‘manage,’ but he does a phenomenal job of managing their offensive football team.”


Preparing for Kelly Bryant: Missouri quarterback Kelly Bryant was a little banged up last week and left the game, putting his status in jeopardy for this weekend’s game with Ole Miss. At least, that’s the theory for some college football insiders. For Ole Miss coach Matt Luke, there’s only one player his Rebels are preparing for at quarterback this week.

“Our mindset is to get ready for Kelly, because that’s our belief,” Luke said. “From everything we’re hearing, he’s going to play. We’re going to prepare for him and then we’ll have to adjust from there.”


Facing Tua: Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher knows the challenge facing his Aggies is slowing down the Alabama offense. To do that, he must figure out a way to slow quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who raced past the Aggies in 2018.

“He had a tremendous year (in 2018),” Fisher said. “I know he had a couple of (tough) games at the end, but it’s hard to maintain for 14 games and play at the level he was playing at. He does a great job of anticipating, getting the ball out of his hand. I think he processes the information, pre-snap and post-snap, very well and that allows him to make quick decisions. And he’s a very good athlete. His balance and body control allows him to get his feet to where he has to get them to. When you combine those things with knowing what to do and where you’re going and how you’re doing it, he doesn’t miss very often.”


Refocus after bye: The Wildcats needed an open date to refocus on their goals after opening the season with three consecutive conference losses.

“It wasn’t difficult to get guys energized and focused,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “Our team has a lot of pride and takes pride in doing things right and being prepared. The results have been the results, there’s no denying that, so you’ve got to start with taking a good look at yourself and leading yourself and making sure you’re doing the things you need to do to be successful.”


Playing both quarterbacks: Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead turned a few heads earlier this week when he indicated he would play both graduate transfer Tommy Stevens and true freshman Garrett Shrader at quarterback this week as the Bulldogs seek their first win at Neyland Stadium since 1986.

“Both were nicked up with lower body things so we’re trying to get them healed up so they can be just as much a factor in the run game as they are in the pass game,” Moorhead said, an indication that he would play both when asked on Wednesday but no hint as to which would start.


Relating to Matt Luke’s struggles at Ole Miss: Missouri coach Barry Odom was asked if he could relate to the struggles Matt Luke has faced as head coach at Ole Miss. Odom said he knows a lot about Luke’s situation because the two are longtime friends from their college days.

“I’ve gotten to know Matt really well,” Odom said. “Back in the late 1990s, we were both selected by our schools to go and represent at an NCAA clinic. He was there for Ole Miss, I was there for Mizzou, so we were there for about seven days for “Youth Education Through Sport.” Then we both got into coaching, so we go way back.

“We’ve shared a lot of ideas over the years and I have a lot of respect for the way he coaches and runs his program and his mark is showing up on the way they play – toughness and a lot of the things he played with as a student-athlete.”