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July 26, 2013

SEC Preseason Power Rankings: Day 6

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

It’s Day 6 of our preseason power rankings poll among teams in the SEC, which will end Saturday as the two teams at the top of the league entering the fall are unveiled. Until then, we’ll count down the teams, two at a time, from worst to first. The format will involve a “best-case/worst-case” scenario for each team, taking our cues from former War Eagle Extra beat writer Andy Bitter’s piece from three years ago.SEC_new_logo

With 10 teams down, there are only four to go. How will the rankings shake out from here?

Let’s continue answering that question now. (And please, as Bitter said in his preseason power rankings article from 2010, remember all scenarios “are meant to be hyperbolic.) …

4. TEXAS A&M

An argument can be made that no team was playing better at the end of last season than Texas A&M. The Aggies ended the year on a six-game win streak, with one of those over eventual national champion Alabama. And that 29-24 win came on the road in Bryant-Denny Stadium. Texas A&M also romped over former Big 12 rival Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl. Eleven wins in its initial season in the nation’s toughest conference — and in the first year of Kevin Sumlin’s tenure in College Station — is nothing to scoff at.

Oh, and did you hear the Aggies’ quarterback won the Heisman Trophy? His name is escaping me at the moment. Don’t worry, it will come to mind soon enough.

In all seriousness, the best thing Texas A&M has going for it is its redshirt sophomore signal-caller, Johnny Manziel. He returns after an incredible 2012 season which saw him throw for 3,706 yards and 26 touchdowns and run for another 1,410 yards and 21 scores. His 5,116 yards of total offense set a single-season SEC record, bettering fellow Heisman winner Cam Newton’s tally of 4,327 in 2010.

But “Johnny Football” had quite an interesting offseason. For the sake of length, I’ll refrain from referencing any specifics, since those stories have been repeated ad nauseam. What really matters is what he does on the field for an encore performance.

The Aggies have to replace a pair of starters on the offensive line (Luke Joeckel and Patrick Lewis) as well as their second-leading receiver in Ryan Swope. Defensively, the Aggies lost their top two tacklers from 2012 in Damontre Moore and Jonathan Stewart.

As long as it has Manziel, though, Texas A&M has a chance. It’s just a matter of how far he and the offense will be able to take the team if the defense doesn’t improve on its middle-of-pack rankings in total defense (390.23 yards per game; 9th in SEC) and scoring defense (21.77 points per game; 7th in SEC).TAM-Logo

  • Best-case scenario: Texas A&M was great in 2012. But it is even better in 2013. The Aggies, led by none other than Manziel, run through the season undefeated, capturing the school’s second national championship, the first since 1939. The Aggies are tested by Alabama in Game 3, but pull out a 27-24 victory within the confines of Kyle Field. LSU presents yet another challenge when Texas A&M travels to Baton Rouge, La., on Nov. 23, but the Aggies once again leave victorious, winning 37-27. But the most memorable contest of the season comes in the SEC Championship Game against South Carolina. Arguably the two best players in the country square off against each other in Manziel and Gamecocks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. They both take their best shots at each other — with Clowney notching three sacks and Manziel countering with three touchdowns himself — but the Aggies come out on top. On the game’s final drive, Manziel eludes Clowney on a third-and-goal from the 7-yard-line, scrambling away and finding Mike Evans in the back of the end zone, putting Texas A&M’s go-ahead and game-winning touchdown on the board in a 31-27 victory. In the BCS title game, Ohio State hangs with A&M for a half before Manziel outduels the Buckeyes’ Braxton Miller in the final 30 minutes, as the Aggies pull away for a 38-24 win. After the season, Manziel holds a press conference to announce his future intentions. In a shocking decision, he decides to come back to College Station for another go-round. Because when you’re the biggest celebrity college football has ever seen, why not? College bars across the nation rejoice. And a split-second after Manziel utters, “I’m back,” both Twitter and ESPN implode upon themselves.
  • Worst-case scenario: The Aggies are good. Just not great. With a year of film on Manziel, defensive coordinators in the SEC are able to devise schemes to knock the Aggies’ quarterback, and in turn, the entire offense, down a few pegs. Texas A&M eases past Rice and Sam Houston State in the first two weeks, but those warm-up games are far from what it needs to properly prepare for Alabama. The Crimson Tide return the favor from the year before, beating the Aggies in front of their home crowd 30-17. Texas A&M rights itself by beating overmatched Southern Methodist and Arkansas squads. But the Aggies drop their second game of the season as they go on the road in front of a record crowd in Oxford, Miss., and fall to the Rebels 34-31. Texas A&M puts together a four-game win streak (Auburn, Vanderbilt, UTEP and Mississippi State) before its next defeat, traveling to Tiger Stadium and losing to LSU 27-14. The Aggies whip the Missouri Tigers in their regular season finale 55-14, but even with nine wins, the year has fallen short of expectations. Texas A&M heads to Atlanta — it’s just for the Chick-fil-A Bowl, not the SEC Championship Game. Awaiting them is a motivated Florida State team coming off a listless showing in the ACC title game. The Seminoles outplay the Aggies for the win, taking a 34-28 victory in the final game of the 2013 calendar year. Fed up with college life, Manziel declares for the NFL Draft. Though the Aggies still sign a solid recruiting class on National Signing Day, it’s trumped by their sworn enemy, the Texas Longhorns, who snag 2014′s top class on the heels of their victory in the BCS Championship Game.

3. GEORGIA

For all the things Georgia accomplished last season — setting numerous school records on offense, winning a division title for the second straight year and capturing 12 wins for only the third time in school history — it couldn’t help but feel it left so much more on the table. With five more yards in the SEC Championship Game against Alabama, the Bulldogs could have had a shot at entering this fall as defending national champions. It was not to be, however.

The Bulldogs are expected to be back in the national title hunt this season after bringing back 10 starters from its record-setting offense, headlined by senior quarterback Aaron Murray and the sophomore running back duo of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall.

But there are question marks defensively after losing seven starters to the pros, consisting of linebackers Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree, defensive linemen Abry Jones and John Jenkins and defensive backs Bacarri Rambo, Shawn Williams and Sanders Commings. Two other players who made numerous stars during their career — defensive lineman Kwame Geathers and cornerback Branden Smith — also departed.

If the Bulldogs are to finally end their national championship drought that dates back to 1980, an experienced offense will have to continue setting a torrid pace while a young defense works to steady itself.UGA

  • Best-case scenario: The Bulldogs finally “finish the drill,” to borrow a team motto from year’s past, winning it all in Mark Richt’s 13th season in Athens. Georgia beats Clemson on the road in a Week 1 shootout, leaving Death Valley with a 48-42 victory. The South Carolina Gamecocks and arch-nemesis Steve Spurrier have Georgia’s number for the fourth consecutive season, nipping the Bulldogs 21-17 in Sanford Stadium. Georgia finishes the regular season with a flourish, however, winning its next 10 games in dominant fashion, with every victory in that span being by double-digits. The one that brings the biggest smile to the face of the Bulldog faithful is a 48-14 pasting of the Florida Gators in Jacksonville, Fla. It marks Georgia’s third straight victory in the series (the first time that’s been done since a similar three-year run from 1987-89) and the biggest margin of victory versus Florida since a 44-0 shutout in 1982. In the SEC Championship Game, Georgia gets a rematch against Alabama. This time, it is the Bulldogs, not the Crimson Tide, who move on to the national title contest. Consequently, the Bulldogs’ 34-24 win ends the Crimson Tide’s quest for three consecutive national championships. In the BCS title game, Richt faces former foe Urban Meyer, now leading Ohio State. But as Meyer quickly finds out, his old conference has this “winning national championships”-thing down pat. The Bulldogs and Buckeyes exchange the lead four times in the first half, but it’s a different story after halftime. Georgia’s balanced offensive attack keeps Ohio State caught off-guard on nearly every play, and the Bulldogs roll to a 41-21 victory. While Murray has finally used up his eligibility, it just means more carries for Gurley and Marshall in 2014. Speaking of 2014, the national title helps the Bulldogs ink the top-ranked class in the country on National Signing Day. Georgia fans are equally pleased to see both of their arch-rivals, Florida and Georgia Tech, fail to break .500 after entering their respective bowl games at 6-6 and losing.
  • Worst-case scenario: The offense can’t do everything. Though the Bulldogs are in contention to win against Clemson, South Carolina and LSU in the first four games of the season, the youthful defense makes mistakes at key moments late in all three contests, which costs Georgia dearly. After four games, the Bulldogs’ record stands at 1-3. Georgia rebounds to win seven of its last eight games in the regular season, but it shouldn’t be hard to figure out who the lone loss was suffered to — Florida. Yes, the Bulldogs’ two-year win streak over the Gators is snapped in the final minute of the game. With Georgia driving toward a game-winning score, Murray is blindsided by defensive lineman Dominique Easley, fumbling the ball away to Florida. A furious Richt even musters a “Dadgummit!” on the sidelines as he watches the clock run out in the Gators’ 21-17 victory. Georgia doesn’t lose again until it heads back to Jacksonville for the Gator Bowl. The Bulldogs are far from thrilled to make a return trip to EverBank Field, and it shows in their play. Murray’s career ends on a sour note, losing to the Michigan State Spartans in a bowl for the second time in his career. The Spartans force the senior into throwing three interceptions as they beat the Bulldogs 28-17. An 8-5 record is a massive disappointment for Georgia considering the expectations it had entering the fall. Recruits in the Peach State take note, as Georgia whiffs on many of the state’s top 2014 prospects. It doesn’t help that Georgia Tech ends the season with one more win (nine to eight) than Georgia, but there is one thing even harder to stomach: Florida wins the national championship behind the worst offense in the history of modern college football. Of course, Gators fans couldn’t care less, as they tout winning their third national championship in the BCS era (and fourth since 1996) over the Bulldogs’ heads.

July 15, 2013

Auburn Season Preview: Scouting Georgia

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

With the 2013 season drawing closer by the minute, it’s never too early to begin taking a look at Auburn’s opponents in the coming campaign. On the sixth and final day of our series, we begin with the Georgia Bulldogs. The Tigers will host the Bulldogs for the second straight season in Game No. 11 this fall.

Who: Georgia

When: Saturday, Nov. 16UGA

Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium (87,451) | Auburn, Ala.

All-time series: Series tied 54-54-8

When last they met: It was a dismal night for Auburn when Georgia came to town last season. With an opportunity to play spoiler and prevent the Bulldogs from winning the SEC Eastern Division title for the second straight year, the Tigers could get nothing going offensively, never scoring in a 38-0 loss. Georgia’s defense was playing better than it had all season, as the shutout against Auburn came after allowing nine points and 10 points to Florida and Ole Miss, respectively, in its previous two games. While the Tigers’ offense couldn’t score, the defense was unable to find an answer to slow down the Bulldogs’ balanced attack. Georgia ran for 289 yards — with freshmen phenoms Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall combining for 221 yards and a touchdown apiece — while quarterback Aaron Murray was coolly efficient, completing 75 percent of his attempts (18 of 24) for 208 yards and three scores. The Bulldogs’ shutout was the first in the series since they won 28-0 in 1976, and the victory evened the all-time record in “The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry” at 54-54-8. The only cheer of the night from the Tiger faithful came when Jordan-Hare Stadium’s video board put the end of the Alabama/Texas A&M game on the screen just before kickoff against the Bulldogs. When the Aggies completed the upset to snap the top-ranked Crimson Tide’s 13-game win streak, Auburn fans were given a brief moment to revel in their arch-rival’s defeat.

The coach: Mark Richt (118-40 record in 12 seasons at Georgia)

2012 record: 12-2, 7-1 SEC (won SEC Eastern Division title; lost to Alabama 32-28 in SEC Championship Game; beat Nebraska 45-31 in Capital One Bowl)

Total offense: 467.64 ypg (22nd in Division I, 3rd in SEC)

Scoring offense: 37.79 ppg (19th, 3rd)

Total defense: 357.79 ypg (32nd, 6th)

Scoring defense: 19.64 ppg (18th, 6th)

2012 Year-in-Review: In nearly any other season, and at nearly any other school, 12 wins and a bowl victory would be cause for massive celebrations. But Georgia’s feelings on those accomplishments were subdued, since it knew how much greater last season could have been. Coming within five yards of beating Alabama in the SEC Championship Game in a 32-28 defeat meant the Bulldogs saw their dreams of playing in the BCS National Championship Game dashed in the most agonizing way possible. The Bulldogs started out the season with two of their best defenders — free safety Bacarri Rambo and inside linebacker Alec Ogletree — on the sideline for the first four games after reportedly failing drug tests. The defense, not surprisingly, was an up-and-down unit in their absence, usually putting one good half together in each of the team’s first five games, all victories. Then came South Carolina. The Gamecocks dominated the Bulldogs in every facet of a 35-7 demolition, making a laugher out of a game that pitted the No. 5 (Georgia) and No. 6 (South Carolina) teams in the country heading into the weekend. Two weeks later, Georgia got by SEC doormat Kentucky by the skin of its teeth in a 29-24 win, causing strong safety Shawn Williams — who rarely made himself available for interviews —  to call out his defensive teammates in front of media members for “playing soft” two days later. Coincidentally, Williams made his comments during the week of the Florida game. That lit a fire under the Bulldogs’ defense, as it allowed only 45 points over its next five games. While the defense took until the midway point of the season to find itself, Georgia’s offense was in a rhythm seemingly from the get-go. The Bulldogs set numerous records on offense on the arm of Murray and the two-headed tandem of Gurley and Marshall at tailback, including most points in a season (529) and highest average per game (37.8). After Georgia lost the SEC Championship Game to Alabama, it rebounded to beat Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl 45-31, the Bulldogs’ first bowl victory since the 2009 Independence Bowl against then-Big 12 member Texas A&M.

Biggest area of concern: Many may look at the linebacking unit and see that both master-of-havoc Jarvis Jones and Ogletree have taken their services to the NFL, and from there, draw conclusions that the unit was in serious trouble this fall. And that line of thinking couldn’t be more wrong. Yes, Jones and Ogletree were key contributors on the defense, but Jordan Jenkins, who roomed with Jones on every road trip last season, was being groomed to take Jones’ place whenever the Columbus native left. Jenkins proved it on the field, finishing second on the team in sacks (five) — behind his mentor, of course. Another starter at linebacker, junior Amarlo Herrera, will also be back to provide additional leadership. No, the area of greatest concern for the Bulldogs this season is the secondary. Losing three senior starters in Williams, Rambo and Sanders Commings — as well as longtime starter Branden Smith, who was knocked out of the starting lineup by Damian Swann last year — leaves the back end of Georgia’s defense to young, inexperienced players. Aside from Swann at one cornerback spot, the other three positions in the secondary are still fluid heading into the Bulldogs’ preseason camp.

Key returning player/unit: Undoubtedly, the most important piece back for the Bulldogs is their fifth-year signal-caller, Murray. He returns for one last go-round in the SEC on the verge of breaking nearly every passing-related record in league history. In 2012, he became the first SEC quarterback to pass for 3,000-plus yards in three straight seasons. He needs just 1,438 yards to break David Greene’s school and conference record for passing yards (11,528) and with 95 touchdown passes, Murray is only behind former Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel (114) on the SEC’s all-time list. To knock Wuerffel out of the top spot, Murray must toss 20 touchdown passes this season. Given what he has returning on offense — the Bulldogs are bringing back 10 starters from last season — it’s a good bet the Tampa, Fla., native becomes the record holder in both departments as long as he stays healthy.

Extra point: Georgia’s 12 wins last year marked only the third time in school history it had recorded that many victories in a single season. The other two teams (1980 and 2002) both won the SEC title. The 1980 team also won the national championship that year, while the 2002 squad set a school record for most wins in a season with 13.

PREVIOUS ENTRIES

Washington State

Arkansas State

Mississippi State

Florida Atlantic

Arkansas

Tennessee

November 28, 2012

SEC Power Rankings: Bowl Season Edition

AUBURN, Ala. – I need a break from the words “Gene Chizik”, “sources”, “buyout”, “decommit”, “Bobby Petrino”, “sources” again, “Kirby Smart”, “Jetgate”, “SportsbyBrooks”, “Charles Barkley”, “show cause penalty” and “sources” a third time just because, yeah, seriously, it’s getting repetitive.

We interrupt this lead-in to inform you because I successfully used all those words in one sentence, and tagged this blog post as such, this is now the eighth-highest clicked article in Internet history. (The first seven all just list the word ‘Tebow’ over and over again.)

Anyway, you’ll find none of those words in my final SEC Power Rankings of the year. Enjoy the reprieve. I know I will. It won’t last long.

By the way, unless a new coach is named Friday (don’t do it, Auburn), I will be at the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta, joined by L-E preps writer David Mitchell (@leprepsports) and supplementing the already-fine coverage of Mark Edwards (who covers Alabama at @DailyEdwards) and Seth Emerson (Georgia, @SethEmerson). So follow along for that.

It should be a fantastic game. At least, I was told so by reports from an unnamed source with information close to the situation.

Aaron Brenner, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer 

**All rankings BCS**

1) No. 2 Alabama (11-1, 7-1 SEC); Last week, 1

Last week: beat Auburn 49-0

The back eight seems impenetrable. There’s really any number of ‘player of the year’ candidates on this team, which I will go ahead and name for each of the SEC squads. C.J. Mosley, Dee Milliner, Robert Lester, it’s just an uber-dominant defense. Good luck out there, Aaron Murray.

Next: SEC Championship Game vs. No. 3 Georgia (11-1, 7-1), 3 p.m. CT | CBS

Player of the Year: C.J. Mosley, jr., LB

Bowl prediction: BCS National Championship

2) No. 3 Georgia (11-1, 7-1); LW, 2

Last week: beat Georgia Tech 42-10

Oh, but Murray will have plenty of help. Todd Gurley’s the SEC’s best back, Keith Marshall’s the best backup back in the league, Jarvis Jones is maybe the best linebacker in the country. This should be a phenomenal game at the Georgia Dome.

Next: SEC Championship Game vs. No. 2 Alabama (11-1, 7-1), 3 p.m. CT | CBS

Player of the Year: Aaron Murray, jr., QB

Bowl prediction: Capital One Bowl

3) No. 9 Texas A&M (10-2, 6-2 SEC); LW, 3

Last week: beat Missouri 59-29

Manziel, not Boyziel. Despite not speaking once to the media during the year, he’ll handle himself brilliantly in New York City a week from Saturday.

Player of the Year: Johnny Manziel, fr., QB

Bowl prediction: Cotton Bowl

4) No. 4 Florida (11-1, 7-1); LW, 5

Last week: beat No. 10 Florida State 37-26

The Gators have not allowed a single rushing gain longer than 24 yards all year. Filthy. And now they just hung 37 on the Seminoles in Tallahassee? You earned your Sugar Bowl trip.

Player of the Year: Marcus Roberson, so., DB

Bowl prediction: Sugar Bowl

5) No. 7 LSU (10-2, 6-2); LW, 4

Last week: beat Arkansas 20-13

So it sounds like Les Miles will not leave the Bayou for a ridiculous, bluff-type offer at Arkansas. Hopefully LSU gave Miles that raise because he earned it, not because a desperate league rival wants to play poker. Said LSU athletic director Joe Alleva Wednesday: “It’s been my plan all along to give coach a longer contract, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Player of the Year: Kevin Minter, jr., LB

Bowl prediction: Outback Bowl

6) No. 10 South Carolina (10-2, 6-2); LW, 6

Last week: beat No. 11 Clemson 27-17

The Gators and Gamecocks are basically twins this year. Except, well, Florida won the matchup. Which is why South Carolina is the sixth best team in its own conference, and can’t even book a New Year’s Day date in a historically top-heavy league.

Player of the Year: Jadeveon Clowney, so., DE

Bowl prediction: Chick-Fil-A Bowl

 

*****big gap here*****

 

7) Vanderbilt (8-4, 5-3); LW, 7

Last week: beat Wake Forest 55-21

If I were to tell you two teams in the SEC have six-game overall winning streaks (currently the longest in the conference), and gave you five guesses, I bet many of you would miss one. Georgia is one. The other is not Texas A&M, it’s not LSU, it’s not South Carolina. The Vanderbilt Commodores have not lost since losing gamely to Florida on Oct. 13.  They’ll trounce someone in a lesser bowl.

Player of the Year: Jordan Matthews, jr., WR

Bowl prediction: Gator Bowl

8) Ole Miss (6-6, 3-5); LW, 9

Last week: beat Mississippi State 41-24

Great bounceback effort after a three-game losing streak, sealing that long-awaited bowl eligibility. How about Bo Wallace, teetering on losing his job earlier this year, and responding by throwing five touchdowns in his biggest game of the year?

Player of the Year: Donte Moncrief, so., WR

Bowl prediction: Liberty Bowl

9) Mississippi State (8-4, 4-4); LW, 8

Last week: lost to Ole Miss 41-24

Chad Bumphis, 12 TDs. For a defensive conference, this certainly was a year for top receivers. Very little momentum though for the Bulldogs, losers of four in their past five.

Player of the Year: Darius Slay, sr., DB

Bowl prediction: Music City Bowl

10) Arkansas (4-8, 2-6); LW, 10

Last week: lost to No. 7 LSU 20-13

Eight months, the school has had, to make a decision on a long-term hire. Offering Les Miles the world shows you where the Razorbacks are at. This is by far the weakest of the three remaining SEC openings.

Player of the Year: Cobi Hamilton, sr., WR

11) Missouri (5-7, 2-6); LW, 11

Last week: lost to No. 9 Texas A&M 59-29

Talk about slinking away quietly. Not a lot of positives to build on going into year two of SEC football. Maybe the Big Ten should have gotten a longer look.

Player of the Year: Kendial Lawrence, sr., RB

12) Tennessee (5-7, 1-7); LW, 12

Last week: beat Kentucky 37-17

Next season hinges heavily on Tyler Bray’s decision whether or not to return.

Player of the Year: Cordarrelle Patterson, jr., WR

13) Auburn (3-9, 0-8); LW, 13

Last week: lost to No. 2 Alabama 49-0

“The Auburn people don’t deserve that.” said a certain former head coach. Was he talking about the three-hour slaughter just finished on the field, or the three-month disaster preceding it?

Player of the Year: Tre Mason, so., RB

14) Kentucky (2-10, 0-8); LW, 14

Last week: lost to Tennessee 37-17

Best of luck, Mark Stoops. If you last three years, it’ll be a modern marvel.

Player of the Year: Avery Williamson, jr., LB

November 9, 2012

Behind Enemy Lines: Breaking down the Bulldogs by Seth Emerson, Macon Telegraph

All right, Emerson. Finally, we meet.

I shared my five (okay, six) thoughts on Auburn’s side of the ball for the Macon Telegraph. Likewise, @SethEmerson was gracious enough to lend some Georgia insight on five (fine, six) burning topics going into the 116th installment of the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry.

Why six this week? Why not, I say. It’s rivalry week. Whatevs.

Aaron Brenner, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer: Alabama and LSU just played the Game To End All Games, and Texas A&M’s getting more and more pub as Johnny Manziel’s legend grows. But then, there’s Georgia over in the SEC East … seems like it’s kind of lurking. After the Florida upset and Ole Miss rout, is this definitively the Bulldogs’ peak so far this year? 

Seth Emerson, Macon Telegraph: Definitely, although it took until the second half against Ole Miss for that rout to happen. The Bulldogs have still yet to put together a well-played complete game on both sides of the ball, with the exception of the Vanderbilt game. Despite that, they are the highest-ranked one-loss team nationally, and still have an outside shot at a national title. Now that’s predicated on beating Alabama in the SEC championship game, which if it were Saturday I wouldn’t give the Bulldogs much of a shot. But they don’t play them Saturday, so they have three weeks to iron out things.

Brenner: How have the two freshman backs, Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, had so much success as young centerpieces? And do you see Marshall breaking out of a big of a funk recently?

Emerson: Gurley and Marshall – or “Gurshall” as they’re being called – have been good for a number of reasons, starting with their ability to stay on the field. (As in, not get suspended or hurt.) They’re also different than what Georgia has had lately because they have that second gear that allows them to break off long runs. Even Isaiah Crowell seemed to have a problem getting into the secondary and past the safety. But Gurley and Marshall have been able to break open some long ones. Marshall (520 yards, 6.1 yards per carry) hasn’t really been in a funk, he just pales in comparison to Gurley, who now has six 100-yard games, and is the SEC’s top tailback rusher. (Manziel is the only one better in the SEC.) Gurley has a lot of skills, but what stands out to me is how rarely he gets tackled by the first guy. Besides that burst, the kid is also really hard to bring down.

Brenner: Tavarres King and Malcolm Mitchell will obviously have to step up with Marlon Brown’s career over. Is this receiving corps still more than capable against a young Auburn secondary?

Emerson: Yes. While Brown was tied for the team lead in catches, King is a senior who’s proven, and Mitchell would probably be leading the team in all receiving categories if he hadn’t been on defense the first four weeks of the season. The question, with Brown now joining Michael Bennett on the out-for-season list, is how much receiving depth will be a concern. Chris Conley, a sophomore with seven catches last year, showed a lot of promise last year, but got kind of lost in the shuffle this year. I think he’s the guy who will benefit now in terms of snaps.

Brenner: Jarvis Jones is looking at a second straight All-American campaign, all the more impressive since he commands more attention without Abry Jones around. He’s projected as a top-of-the-draft type of guy. Does he get better in clutch moments, like against Mizzou and Florida?

Emerson: I wouldn’t say there’s much deviation between the big and not-so-big games. He was also held sack-less against South Carolina, and this past weekend against Ole Miss. But he was held out of Florida Atlantic and Kentucky because of injuries, which were prime opportunities to pad his sack total. Either way, he’s on track to break David Pollack’s school record of 14. (Jones has 8.5). Jones is the real deal, a complete player who Georgia will move back into coverage when necessary and is also proficient against the run. Two years ago they had Justin Houston in the OLB spot, and Houston led the SEC in sacks until the postseason, when Nick Fairley overtook him. But Jones is a better all-around player.

Brenner: Speaking of Jones, Auburn OL Chad Slade was complimentary of Jones, but added “he can be stopped. It’s not that hard.” A Twitter follower of mine mentioned Georgia plays better when it’s called out, when the Bulldogs have a chip on their shoulder. Do you agree?

Emerson: Oh yeah. That was the story of the season until last week: Why the team got up for certain games because of outside motivation. Against Missouri, it was the “old man football” comments by a Mizzou player. Against Vanderbilt, it was last year’s postgame shenanigans between Todd Grantham and James Franklin. And against Florida it was their own player, safety Shawn Williams, calling out the unit. Those were Georgia’s best three games of the season. I’ll be curious if Slade’s comments ended up resonating. As you said, he was overall complimentary. But Jones was made aware right away – that day on the practice field – of what was said. Thing is, Jones doesn’t usually need the extra motivation. Georgia would have preferred that Slade say everyone on the defense was easier to block. In any case, Mark Richt seemed sure that the team didn’t need extra motivation anymore, so perhaps he’s right. We’ll see.

Brenner: BONUS QUESTION: Any chance Georgia screws this up Saturday, against its rival, with an SEC Championship game berth on the line?

Emerson: Before last week I pointed to the Auburn game as potentially more dangerous than Ole Miss, simply because it wasn’t in Athens, and the rivalry aspect of it. Then Georgia found itself down 10-0 at home to Ole Miss, before rallying. My sense is that game still has some trap qualities for the Bulldogs, especially if the Tigers get a decent home atmosphere and stay in the game for awhile. But on a simple Xs-and-Os level, I don’t see how Auburn scores more than, say, 17 points, while Georgia’s offense would seem to have a floor of 20 points. So there would have to be some wackiness, whether it be turnovers or special teams mistakes – which is certainly possible with Georgia. But the Bulldogs do seem to be on an upward trend.

November 6, 2012

Chad Slade gives props to Jarvis Jones, but “you can stop him. It’s not that hard.”

AUBURN, Ala. — For the most part, Auburn sophomore right guard Chad Slade had only good things to say about Georgia junior outside linebacker Jarvis Jones.

But Slade threw in four words that might end up on a bulletin board or two in Athens.

On how to deal with Georgia’s 3-4 defense, Slade said, “You’ve got to know how to identify each front and make each call. Jarvis Jones, you know that he’s going to be one of the strong keys of their defense. As long as you know where he’s at and what the front is, we should be all good.

“You’ve got to be able to get your hands on him, block him. He’s a good player, but you can stop him. It’s not that hard. You’ve just got to go out there and make the calls, go out there, execute the calls and know that he’s probably going to be on the side where the tackle will be made. He’s the type of player who will be one of the impact players.”

Many Georgia foes haven’t been able to say “it’s not that hard” to slow Jones, a consensus All-American from Carver High who transferred from USC after the 2009 season. Projected as one of the top picks in next spring’s NFL draft, Jones is one of two players nationally with five forced fumbles, ranks tied for sixth in the country with 15 tackles for loss and tied for ninth with 8.5 sacks.

Jones had two sacks in last year’s 45-7 demolition of the Tigers, who totaled fewer than 200 yards in the beatdown at Sanford Stadium.

Auburn has allowed 72 tackles for a loss, sixth-worst in the country.

Jones recently had 13 tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles in Georgia’s 17-9 victory over Florida, catapulting the Bulldogs (8-1, 6-1 SEC) into the driver’s seat for an SEC East championship and berth in the league title game.

Only one team stands between Georgia and that craved trip to Atlanta: Auburn (2-7, 0-6.) The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry renews Saturday at 7 p.m. at Jordan-Hare Stadium on ESPN2.

“Having a lot of family from Georgia, having a cousin, Stacy, play in the Alabama-Georgia rivalry: I know how big it is,” said Slade, a lifelong Auburn fan. “I have some family that are Georgia fans and most of my family are Auburn fans because of Stacy. It’s just like the Iron Bowl.”

No fear: Georgia’s defense is a far cry from New Mexico State, so true freshman and Central-Phenix City product Jonathan Wallace can expect a tougher challenge in his second career start.

“It’s night and day,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. “The bottom line is he’ll study it, and he’ll know where they’re coming from. The speed and intensity with which they blitz and pressure and move around will be completely different than last week.

“But he won’t go out there and be fearful in any way, shape or form.”

So young, so good: The SEC All-Freshman squad should be a doozy to craft.

From Georgia tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, to Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and Auburn commit turned Alabama tailback T.J. Yeldon, it’s been a year for youngsters to shine.

“I think this is a little bit of a unique year,” Chizik said. “Many young guys have come in and played very, very well. I think the level of skill from some of these guys coming out of high school in this league talent-wise is why the SEC is what it is.”

The 6-foot-1, 218-pound Gurley’s 95.2 yards per game leads SEC running backs. Marshall (5-11, 216) has cooled off in the past four weeks with just 92 rushing yards on 33 carries, but Auburn is wary of both freshman threats.

“The two young running backs are very explosive,” Chizik said. “I think they’ve really complemented each other well because one guy doesn’t have to carry it 35 times a game. They’re a little bit of a change-up. One’s a little bit bigger than the other, but they’re both extremely fast.”

Injury report: Tight end C.J. Uzomah will likely remain out with a broken finger this Saturday, while backup quarterback Clint Moseley is slowly regaining movement with his ankle in practice.

Cornerback Chris Davis (concussion) is “still on the bubble”, per Chizik. As for guys with undisclosed injuries, defensive end Dee Ford is returning to full strength while defensive tackle Jeffrey Whitaker “has got a chance” to return from a three-game absence.