Here we go.
1. Les vs. Gus: Does the loser go home?
I was asked this question more than once this week. The short answer is “no” because there is too much football left. But the fan base of the losing team is not going to be happy. So what else is new?
Auburn is 1-2 (losses to Clemson and Texas A&M) and LSU is 2-1 (loss to Wisconsin). Both coaches are feeling the heat because their offenses are, by any measure, pretty average.
But LSU feels a little better about its offense going into Saturday night’s game at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Purdue transfer Danny Etling will get his second start after a 23-20 win over Mississippi State. Etling was 19-of-30 for 215 yards and, with his ability to manage the game, drew some comparisons to former LSU quarterback Matt Flynn, who guided the Tigers to the 2007 BCS national championship. That’s a bit of a stretch, IMO.
Gus Malzahn’s calling card is offense and, frankly, Auburn’s just isn’t that good. Auburn has scored only 29 points against two Power Five opponents (Clemson, Texas A&M). The Tigers have lost seven SEC West opponents.
“The fact is, we’re close,” Malzahn told reporters this week. “Matter of fact, we’re real closeand we’re gonna get this thing turned around.”
He knows the Auburn fan base is really restless. “I definitely feel their pain,” he said.
I said this all summer about Malzahn and will stick with it now: Barring a monumental collapse (1-7 in the SEC), I think Malzahn will be back next season. All you had to do was look at the schedule to know this was going to be a struggle. Auburn has recruited well and has their quarterback of the future in Woody Barrett, who is redshirting (we think) this season.
This isn’t a must-win game but it is a quality-of-life game for both coaches. The winner has a good quality of life for one week. The loser does not.
2. Can Tennessee hold on to the ball?
Everybody knows that Tennessee has lost 11 in a row to Florida. Everybody knows the Vols will face the Gators at Neyland Stadium on Saturday without two of their best defensive players – cornerback Cam Sutton and linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. But did you know that Tennessee has fumbled the ball 11 times in its first three games?
Tennessee has lost only one of those fumbles, which, to put it kindly, is a stroke of good fortune. The Vols recovered five of their own fumbles against Ohio.
“We’ve had way too many footballs on the ground,” coach Butch Jones said on the weekly SEC coaches’ teleconference. “And now we’re getting ready to play one of the best defenses we’ve faced since we’ve been here.”
Ironically, Tennessee leads the SEC in fumbles recovered from its opponent with five.
And did you also know that Tennessee is second-to-last in the SEC with 21 penalties in three games? Only Florida has more, with 25.
3. Will Texas A&M and Arkansas be able to settle their game in regulation?
Texas A&M has won all four of its meetings with Arkansas since joining the SEC in 2002. The past two games have been barnburners:
• In 2015 Arkansas controlled most of the game with its punishing ground attack. But the Aggies took advantage of a blown coverage to score a late touchdown and two-point conversion to tie the game at 21 and send it into overtime. In the second play of OT, quarterback Kyle Allen hit Christian Kirk for a touchdown and a 28-21 victory.
• In 2014. the score was tied at 14 right before the half when Arkansas turned a fake punt into a 51-yard touchdown run by Sam Irwin-Hill. And the Razorbacks led 28-14 going into the fourth quarter. But A&M’s Kenny Hill hit Edward Pope for an 86-yard touchdown and followed it up with a 59-yard scoring pass to Josh Reynolds to tie the game at 28 with 2:08 left. Hill hit Malcome Kennedy for a 25-yard touchdown on the first play of overtime. The Aggies got a defensive stop and a 35-28 win.
Arkansas meets Texas A&M Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
“This unit on film is as talented and as deep as any we’ve seen at Texas A&M,” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said. “We’re excited about the stage and hopefully we’ll play well.”
This will be Arkansas’ third game in a row against a team from Texas, which is prime recruiting territory for the Hogs; it will be the second played in the Dallas Metroplex (the other was at TCU).
4. Will Nick Chubb get back on track against Ole Miss?
He made a triumphant return from a terrible knee injury when he carried the ball 32 times for 222 yards in a 33-24 season-opening win over North Carolina in the Georgia Dome.
But over the past two weeks, Chubb has found tough sledding as opponents started sticking an extra defender in the box. Chubb was held to 80 yards on 20 carries against Nicholls State and 63 yards on 19 carries against Missouri.
Mizzou coach Barry Odom said this week that the Tigers were determined not to let Georgia control the game on the ground. The Bulldogs threw the ball 55 times and needed a 20-yard touchdown pass from freshman quarterback Jacob Eason with 1:29 left to win 28-27.
Despite those two games under 100 yards, Chubb is second in the SEC in rushing (121.67 ypg) and has averaged 5.14 yards per carry.
After giving up 343 yards rushing against Alabama, Ole Miss is No. 13 in the SEC in rush defense, allowing 242.7 yards per game.
“The respect we have for the Georgia running game is enormous,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. “They are so explosive. We played a lot of good snaps against Alabama, but we gave up too many explosive plays.”
5. Could things get much worse at Kentucky?
Unfortunately, they can.
Kentucky really thought it had all of the components of a bowl team this season after going 5-7 in each of the past two seasons. But now things are coming apart at the seams in Bluegrass Country.
The defense has just been awful, as it ranks No. 122 in scoring, giving up 43 points per game. It’s gotten so bad that coach Mark Stoops, a former defensive coordinator, has gotten heavily involved. After a poor practice Wednesday, Stoops verbally lit up the defense.
“Until we grow up and get a mentality about us and have some guys step up and get tougher, we’re going to look like the same bunch of crap,” he told reporters.
That’s not all. Stoops said this week that starting quarterback Drew Barker will be out for a “significant amount of time” with a back injury. Junior college quarterback Stephen Johnson will get the start and freshman Gunner Hoak will take off his redshirt if necessary.
The Wildcats play host to South Carolina on Saturday night.
(You can follow Tony Barnhart on Twitter @MrCFB)