Alabama Crimson Tide: Javess Blue

Hot and Not in the SEC: Week 7

October, 14, 2013
10/14/13
11:00
AM ET
We've reached the midway point of the season. And, well, some teams are hot while others are certainly not. Let's take a look.

GLOWING EMBERS

Missouri: Who knew? Prognosticators, both professional and amateur, are surely coming out of the woodwork by now, telling anyone who will listen how they had Missouri atop the SEC East before the start of the season. But tell those people to politely remove their tinfoil hats and drift slowly back to earth. No one had Missouri competing for a chance at the SEC championship. James Franklin hadn't even won the starting quarterback job entering fall camp. And the defense, without its best player in Sheldon Richardson, looked like a significant question mark. Sure, Gary Pinkel's bunch had to get better after all the injuries a year ago, but this? Pinkel's bunch is playing great football and we're only now starting to take notice after the way the Tigers throttled Georgia on the road 41-26. Missouri is in the top three in the SEC in scoring, passing and rushing offense, and most importantly the Tigers are leading the league in turnover margin.

[+] EnlargeMaty Mauk
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesMissouri is riding high after beating Georgia to remain unbeaten and climb to No. 14 in the AP poll.
HOT

SEC in the polls: The SEC set a record on Sunday for the most schools (eight) in The Associated Press college football poll. Though just Alabama remains in the top five, having so many teams scattered throughout the poll says something about the depth of the league. LSU and Texas A&M are both title contenders despite having one loss, and South Carolina isn't far behind at all. Florida, despite losing its starting quarterback, has maintained course, and Georgia, while seriously decimated by injuries, should remain in the top 25 this season. The surprises, though, are what make the league so special. No one had Missouri in the top 15 and very few thought Gus Malzahn could turn around Auburn so quickly, getting it back into the top 25 for the first time since November 2011.

NOT

Ole Miss: One team that would have made nine SEC schools in the AP Top 25, Ole Miss, dropped from the rankings two weeks ago when it lost to Auburn on the road. That defeat was bad enough. Losing at home to Texas A&M on a last-minute field Saturday night made it even worse. Sure, Ole Miss wasn't favored to win the game, but that didn't dull the sting of seeing another win slip away. Hugh Freeze told anyone who'd listen this offseason to expect some bumps in the road, that his team couldn't live up to the sky-high expectations being forced upon it. But Freeze couldn't help going 3-0 and beating Vanderbilt and Texas on the road. Now his team has come down from its early-season high and the holes we all expected -- offensive line, depth on defense, etc. -- are once again glaring. And with No. 6 LSU up next, things aren't getting any easier for the Rebels.

HOT

The Mad Hatter: Was Florida's defense that good? Was LSU's offense that bad? Did any of that matter? Nitpick all you want at LSU's 17-6 win at home over Florida, but the fact remains Les Miles' bunch won the game, improved to 6-1 on the season and remains right in the thick of the championship race. Yes, we all expected Zach Mettenberger, Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry to do more through the air, but like a pitcher on the mound without his best stuff, LSU found a way to survive the day with a W. Jeremy Hill proved once again why he's one of the best running backs in the country, and we may have seen LSU's embattled young defense take an important step forward.

NOT

Clowney the villain: I'm reminded of the Jay-Z song "Can I Live," and no, it's not because of the rumor that the rap mogul tried to sign Jadeveon Clowney before the start of the season. Instead, you have to look at South Carolina's embattled defensive end as a point of over-speculation. Let's just let the man live. No, he's not having the Heisman Trophy campaign many hoped for, but so what? How many defensive players win the trophy, anyway? Forget the missed snaps and missed practices and all of the talk that surrounds Clowney and just appreciate his talent. Remember, he'll be gone to the NFL soon. Maybe after weeks and weeks of harping on the negative with very little to show for it, we can just let him play the game and watch him like we would any other player.

[+] EnlargeAlabama Defense
AP Photo/Garry JonesThe Alabama defense had a streak of 14 quarters without yielding a touchdown snapped at Kentucky.
HOT

Alabama's defense: It took two defenders literally running into each other for Alabama to finally surrender an offensive touchdown. Against Kentucky, cornerbacks John Fulton and Jarrick Williams collided in coverage and both fell to the turf. UK wideout Javess Blue gladly caught the wide-open pass and trotted untouched into the end zone. And thus ended Alabama's streak of 14 quarters without allowing a single offensive touchdown. Alabama's defense, which garnered its fair share of criticism after being lit up by Texas A&M -- what defense hasn't? -- has played lights out since.

NOT

Kentucky's offense: The Air Raid 2.0 didn't get an inch off the ground Saturday in Lexington. Kentucky's young offense was dominated by Alabama, held to under 200 yards. It took a fluke play for the Wildcats to even score (see above). Converting on 2 of 12 third downs is bad no matter how you slice it. And to make matters worse, UK starting quarterback Jalen Whitlow looks like he'll miss some time after injuring his ankle. The good news is nothing was broken, but for a player who relies heavily on his mobility, coming back early isn't an option. Give Mark Stoops credit for what he has done on defense, but he has some work to do on the other side of the ball. You're not going to score many points in this league when you're starting a walk-on at wide receiver as UK did on Saturday night.

FREEZER BURN

Homecoming disaster: Steve Spurrier's words after the game said it all. "I do feel badly for Arkansas," the South Carolina coach explained. "That's not fun getting your butt beat at home, homecoming and all." Why Arkansas scheduled the Gamecocks for its homecoming game is anyone's guess. But whoever did it should be second-guessing himself or herself today. In front of alumni and fans, the Hogs jumped out to a 7-0 lead, only to see South Carolina score 52 unanswered points and win going away. The Gamecocks threw for 260 yards to Arkansas' 30 and held the football 43:25 to Arkansas' 16:35. Watching, it felt like there was barely enough time to throw a parade, let alone name a homecoming queen.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Trey DePriest was asked Monday whether he and the Alabama defense were preparing for two quarterbacks or just one when it faces Kentucky on Saturday. But UA's starting inside linebacker shrugged and said he hadn't even considered it. He hadn't even watched the film yet, he explained.

"The only thing I know about them is the teams they've played -- the bigger schools -- they've played tough: Louisville, Florida, South Carolina," he said.

And thus ended the pregame analysis from DePriest. But to be fair, it's hard for anyone to determine what type of team Kentucky is five games into the season. Mark Stoops is just beginning to make an impact on a program that's floundered for the better part of the past decade. It took until last week for the first-year head coach to settle on a quarterback.

[+] EnlargeJalen Whitlow
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesJalen Whitlow is a threat both running and passing, but Alabama says it will be ready for the Kentucky QB.
Jalen Whitlow, who led Prattville High (Ala.) to a state title game in Bryant-Denny Stadium in 2011, has the job now after beating out Maxwell Smith. The dual-threat passer took every snap in last weekend's game against South Carolina, completing 14 of 24 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns. He ran for another 69 yards and a score.

"He's a good runner," UA coach Nick Saban said, sizing up a player his staff once recruited. "He's really continued to improve as a passer and was effective last week in that regard."

Whitlow came on late last season, starting seven games. But he's one of only a few pieces on Kentucky's offense that isn't brand new. The Wildcats' top three receivers are first-year players: Javess Blue, who leads the team with 22 receptions for 275 yards, transferred from a junior college, and Ryan Timmons and Alec Montgomery are both true freshmen. Even Kentucky's leading rusher at tailback, Jojo Kemp, was playing high school football at this time last year.

Neal Brown was hired by Stoops to lead the offense in December. He helped orchestrate Texas Tech's "Air Raid" offense from 2010-12, helping the Red Raiders to top-10 finishes in passing offense each season. The high-powered air attack has translated to Kentucky with mixed results thus far. The Cats are 14th in the SEC in scoring offense despite averaging 388.8 yards per game. UK, though, already has more plays of 60 or more yards (6) than it did all of last season (4).

But the brightest spot on offense may have come this past weekend when Kentucky scored 21 fourth-quarter points against South Carolina.

"We need to come out and build," Brown told reporters in Lexington. "We had a good fourth quarter against South Carolina and we need to build off that."

Whitlow, who accounted for all three touchdowns in the failed comeback, is maturing every day, according to Brown. But Stoops recognizes that his young quarterback will face something of a brick wall on Saturday.

"They have no weakness in their defense," Stoops said. "They don't have any weakness on their team."

Saban, though, isn't taking Whitlow or any part of Kentucky lightly.

"We didn't play very well the last time we were on the road," he said, "so we certainly need to do a lot better job against a very different kind of offense in terms of what we've had to play against in the past, because it's such a good running quarterback and a good athlete at that position. It'll be a real challenge and test for us."

Alabama has faced its share of mobile quarterbacks already this season, first against Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel in Week 2 and then against Ole Miss and Bo Wallace a few weeks ago. Landon Collins, who will likely make his second career start at free safety this week in place of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, said the defense knows the drill.

"We played against a lot of dynamic quarterbacks like Johnny Manziel," Collins said. "Just playing sound and playing our defense, as a whole, we should be OK."

Said starting cornerback Deion Belue: "Well, you know, it’s just a scheme that we have to have for them. At the same time, the dual threat, Whitlow, you have to respect him because he can throw as well. He can throw as well as the dropback passer and then the other quarterback can also run, you really have to prepare for both of them the same. You can’t group the one as just passing and the other just running. You have to prepare for them the same."

Collins, who spoke with the media a day after DePriest, said he wasn't concerned with the idea of not knowing who Kentucky will put under center. Whether it's Whitlow or Smith, he feels the defense will be just fine.

"We just have to play sound defense," Collins said. "That’s what we’ve been playing the last few weeks. Once we do that, we’re playing against ourselves, really."

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