Gainesville Alligator Sauce Piquante’—Death Valley Style
The SEC Riviera Roundup – Week 7
By Chris Warner
October 15, 2015
Undefeated LSU has been called the “luckiest team in college football. “ Given a free pass during week one due to inclement weather and having faced three backup quarterbacks in a row, with a fourth slated for this Saturday night in Tiger Stadium against Florida, there are many who feel the Tigers are as overrated as they are fortunate—because they really haven’t played anyone—as of yet. All of that changes Saturday night when they entertain the also-undefeated Florida Gators in what is sure to be an exciting and fierce SEC clash. The Gators will be without their star quarterback Will Grier, but they bring a defense ranked among the best in the league in stopping the run. Can the Gators in a hostile environment slow down the vaunted LSU rushing attack and its improving passing game while managing to score with its second string quarterback, sophomore Treon Harris? Or will the Gators succumb to the inevitable, like so many other visiting teams, and wind up fodder for the evening soiree’, its winning dreams dashed in a purple and gold sea of booze, noise and pain? The football Gods are undoubtedly hungry, having served up a forecast for cool, fall weather and a healthy portion of Gainesville Alligator Sauce Piquante’—Death Valley Style. Mmm, ca c’est bon! Laissez les bon temps roulez!
In this exclusive, weekly column for all things SEC West Football, we’ll take our regular armchair quarterback tour through the nation’s toughest sub conference, tagging winners and losers on our way to redefining the SEC Western Division race and previewing the two biggest matchups of the weekend.
Around the SEC West
Alabama – Nick Saban’s team defeated a struggling Arkansas squad last week in pedestrian fashion, allowing the Hogs to hang around until dismissing them in the second half. The Aggies, their opponent this week, had the week off and were undoubtedly watching intently, noting tendencies and points of interest leading to an extra week of preparation for the Tide, who beat them unmercifully, 59-0, last season. Saban appears to have regained control. If the Tide protects the football they should again have their way with the upstart Aggies, who will be sky high in their new football digs at Kyle Field.
Arkansas – The 2-4 Razorback Hogs have the week off. This is likely a good thing for their weary players, but certainly for their embattled coach, Bret Bielema, who has come under great scrutiny lately for his petulant mouth and uncharacteristic on-the-field antics. Bielema defended himself this week for allegedly instigating a flag during the Bama game, which his team lost 27-14. Bret’s tenure in Fayetteville has been disappointing. Hog fans can only hope he becomes bowl eligible. He will need a different approach and multiple upset wins against Western Division teams to make that happen. The Hogs host Auburn next Saturday in Fayetteville.
Auburn – The Plainsmen are an underdog on the road against Kentucky tonight. Gus Malzahn has painfully realized that he needs a mobile quarterback to successfully run the read option offense that allowed him to defeat Alabama in the greatest game ever played. Kick sixes aside, as of late there is not a whole lot to cheer about regarding Malzahn’s tenure. His team looks lackluster and its prospect of playing in a big-time bowl game postseason is as unlikely as SEC Coach of the Year honors for the head man. After having been tabbed the favorite to win the West, the Tigers are battling the Hogs for last place in the West. They host Ole Miss after Arkansas. One has to wonder how much gas remains in the Gus Bus and whether it will make it the distance without again sputtering.
LSU – The Tigers have played one less game than the Florida Gators due to the lightning storm to start the season. From the onset it appeared the missed game was a disadvantage for LSU, evidenced by the close call in Stark Vegas. However, on the back end it may prove to be a boon, as it means the Tigers’ legs will be four quarters fresher than their opponents. Les Miles is 44-4 in night games at LSU and has won 22 straight when his team rushes for 200 or more yards. The emergence of Derrius Guice, who has rushed 29 times for 261 yards (9.1 ypc), could be the difference for LSU this weekend. LSU is not a one man team, despite their detractors’ insistence.
Mississippi State – The 4-2 Bulldogs host Louisiana Tech this weekend before hosting Kentucky next. Win those two and the Bulldogs are again bowl eligible and in a great position to spoil heading down the stretch, as anything can happen in the wild, wild West. Dak Prescott is the reason State can beat anyone remaining on their schedule, which includes Mizzou, Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss. Merlins has done a fine job at State and has solidified a reputation as a capable coach and play caller. Kudos to him.
Ole Miss – Chaz “Machine Gun” Kelly and his black bears will travel to Memphis this Saturday to take on the undefeated Memphis Tigers. This is the last warm-up game for the bears before they take on the meat of their SEC Western Division schedule that includes everyone except Alabama, whom they defeated for the second year in a row. Hugh Freeze remains bent on being one dimensional in a league that dictates at least being average in running the football. While he has apparently created an offense and a team capable of beating Alabama, his team has trouble matching up with other SEC teams.
Texas A&M – All that oil money and bravado is on the line this weekend in College Station. The Aggies and their faithful will showcase for the college football world their monument to winning football—a new and improved Kyle Field—produced at the cost of some $600 million—chump change for the oil barons pushing the Aggie Football Program. The new stadium boost may not be enough to spur winning championships, however, as Johnny Football is now in the pros, and Alabama remains their toughest test in a season still young in terms of tough games played. Look for Alabama to impose their physical might at the point of attack against the Aggies.
Bama at Texas A&M
This is one of the better matchups in the league in some time. Bama embarrassed the Aggies a year ago and one would think that if it happens again Coach Sumlin may find his marching orders at the end of the year, as Aggie fans will clearly see he is not the guy to lead them to coveted SEC Championships. However, win the game and it will send a clear signal that he perhaps is the guy to return pigskin pride to College Station. Much is on the line this weekend. Look for some trickery on the part of Texas A&M to keep the Crimson Tide off balance early, giving them an opportunity to keep the game close heading into the later quarters, unlike last year, when the game was over in the first. Saban has at times struggled with spread offenses, if the Aggies can keep it close they certainly have a chance.
Florida at LSU
With over 1,000 rushing yards in five games Leonard Fournette has already proven he is the nation’s best player. Saturday night will be his best opportunity yet to solidify his first Heisman Trophy at year’s end. Florida’s run defense was suspect against Tennessee. LSU’s offensive line and running backs are much more talented than the Volunteers’. One has to think that the Tigers will pound the ball early and wear down the Gator defense so they can exploit them late, just like they did against South Carolina. Florida had a tough week, losing its starting quarterback to PED’s and a key special teams player to a felony count for putting a gun to his girlfriend and mother-to-be of his child’s head. Overcoming all of that, Leonard Fournette and company and a fun-soaked night crowd in Tiger Stadium, may just be too much to ask of first-year coach Jim McElwain, and second string QB Treon Harris.
Until next time…
*Chris Warner is double graduate of LSU and holds a doctorate from the University of New Orleans. He has blogged about SEC Football for 17 years running and is the author of over 20 books, including the popular “Tailgater’s Guide to SEC Football Volume IV” and “SEC Sports Quotes Compendium,” along with “The Wagon to Disaster,” “Bushwhacked at the Flora-Bama, Volume II” and “Saved at the Alabama-Florida Line,” a novel set at the iconic watering hole in 2010. He is currently writing, “Captured by the Brit Who Fooled Baton Rouge,” the life and times and hideous crimes of one Richard Scott Rogers, an insidious pedophile who masqueraded as a TV talk Show host for 12 years in Baton Rouge before his deserved demise at the hands of his gay lover and son-in-law in August 2014.