Week seven is a big breath of fresh air. We turn the page to one of the most anticipated weekends in college football, featuring several sexy matchups as teams continue to battle for conference superiority.
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Here’s what’s at stake this weekend:
Start ahead and stay ahead: Outside of Virginia Tech, Kentucky will present a defensive front four that will be better than the Tide have seen in five weeks. Alabama looked efficient on offense last week and escaped with no injuries against Georgia State. Kentucky is a team that will hang around if you don’t put them away; the Tide need to start fast and stay fast the entire game. The Gamecocks let the Cats back in the game down 21 in the second half. Let’s see the identity the offense takes week-to-week and just how much they have evolved from the Colorado State game. Kentucky doesn’t present many challenges on offense; this has everything to do with the efficiency of the offense in helping create an identity for AJ McCarron, TJ Yeldon and the offense. WR Amari Cooper is getting healthier, and he must emerge for the offense.
Make bigger strides in the secondary: The key matchup for Arkansas against the Gamecocks is the secondary. The front seven, led by Chris Smith, have played particularly well, but the secondary has given up big plays in their three-game losing streak. And the Hogs lost CB Will Hines with a broken arm suffered against Florida. USC QB Connor Shaw has been very efficient and has shown pinpoint accuracy, completing nearly 70 percent of his passes for seven TDs and no INTs. The progression the secondary makes will decide Saturday’s outcome.
Related: SEC week 7 predictions
Improve the passing game: It’s still not decided whether QB Nick Marshall will play against Western Carolina. Credit Gus Malzahn and the rushing attack that’s producing over 242 yards per game of offense, but the passing game has struggled at times. The Tigers are 12th in the SEC in passing offense, averaging just 184 yards per game. Marshall has flashed his upside at times, while the air attack is a liability at other times. Offensive balance is what Malzahn ascribes to have, and a matchup with Western Carolina is a great opportunity to help find that.
Foot on the pedal: Les Miles knows his defense has struggled at times, particularly in the secondary. This isn’t the LSU defense we’ve come to know in the SEC. Florida will be able to run the football and will score. However, the Tigers must jump out to an early lead and keep their foot on the pedal against the Gators’ defense. It’s going to take a balanced attack with Jeremy Hill, Zach Mettenberger, Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landy to pull off a win. LSU wants to make this game a race to 30 points. If the Tigers don’t score 30, Florida may come into their house and pull off the upset.
No letdown: It’s Bowling Green, but this is a very solid 5-1 Bowling Green team. Dan Mullen has dominated lesser foes this season, outscoring them 113-14. While Mullen’s team may not be playing up to expectations overall, they don’t lose to unranked non-conference teams, right? Stopping the Falcons’ RB Travis Greene, who has rushed 120 times for 711 yards and three TDs, will be the biggest key. This is a must-win game for Mullen and the Bulldogs.
Backs against the wall: Ole Miss is the SEC’s ‘backs against the wall’ team this week. Before the outset of the brutal four-game stretch of Alabama, Auburn, Texas A&M and LSU, I argued there is a better chance for the Rebels to finish 2-2 than 0-4. However, it looks like they’ll finish 0-4 if things don’t change fast. Coming off two consecutive SEC losses, the Rebels are faced with starting 1-3 in the conference, losing to all three division teams. Let’s see how Ole Miss responds this week at home forced into a corner. Can the run defense bow up and stop the Aggies? Can erratic Bo Wallace return to his game manager form we saw early? We’ll learn a lot about the Rebels Saturday night.
Complete game: The Aggies are still looking to hang their hat on one complete game, and that falls solely on the defense. Now that DT Kirby Ennis is out for the season, how will the Aggies stop the run at all? We know about the explosive offense that’s putting up numbers every week, but a nine-game or an 11-game win season rests solely on the defense’s ability to improve. Currently, the defense is giving up over 30 points per game and over 214 yards rushing per game. The Rebels have the best offense not named Alabama they have faced yet, and the Aggies need to play a complete game Saturday night to beat Ole Miss.
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