Boom or Bust: Three players who will shine in Week 6, and three who won't
With six intra-conference matchups on this weekend’s slate of games, some have already begun calling Week 6 “Separation Saturday,” as the SEC’s contenders aim to distance themselves from the pretenders.
Just like the teams they play for, some SEC stars will play like studs this weekend to help their teams rise in the conference standings. Others, meanwhile, are sure to play like duds, holding their teams back on the most important weekend of games so far this season.
Here are this week’s candidates to “boom” and to “bust” around the SEC:
- Cameron Artis-Payne: The Auburn tailback is primed to have a big day against an LSU defense ranked 12th in the SEC against the run. Artis-Payne carried the ball 26 times for 177 yards and a touchdown in Auburn’s only other SEC contest of the year, a Week 1 win over Arkansas. The Bayou Bengals, meanwhile, allowed two Mississippi State Bulldogs (Dak Prescott and Josh Robinson) to rush for more than 100 yards in a loss in their last SEC contest. Gus Malzahn will run the ball right at LSU, and Artis-Payne will be the man to lead the charge with another big day on the Plains.
- Kenny Hill: Hill had arguably his worst game as a starter last week, and still threw for more than 380 yards and 4 touchdowns in a come-from-behind win over Arkansas. This week he faces a Mississippi State defense with a nasty front seven but a vulnerable secondary that has been beaten over the top in almost every game this season. The Aggies possess two of the top five wideouts in the SEC when it comes to receptions of at least 30 yards, and Mississippi State has allowed more 30 yard completions than any other team in the conference. Look for Hill to spread the ball around and take a few shots down the field to help A&M steal a win in a tough road environment.
- Landon Collins: Collins is the only Alabama player who ranks in the top 50 in the SEC in total tackles, which could be a sign that the Tide’s defense does not allow itself to stay on the field for long stretches, but also a sign that Collins is the most active and able defender on the ‘Bama roster. He’ll have his work cut out for him against an athletic Ole Miss offense, but with a suspect offensive line, a limited rushing attack and a turnover-prone quarterback, Collins should have plenty of opportunities to make big plays as the leader of Alabama’s defense. Whether it be a turnover, a dynamic play in coverage, a strong stuff at the line of scrimmage in the run game or a little bit of everything, fans can expect to hear Collins’ name often on Saturday.
- Brandon Harris: Harris appears to be LSU’s best option at quarterback in favor of sophomore Anthony Jennings, but the true freshman has his work cut out for him in his first career start in a tough road game against Auburn on the Plains. Auburn has allowed just 222 yards per game through the air, which will complicate things for Harris as he continues to gain control of the offense. Furthermore, Auburn is third in the SEC against the run, allowing just 90 yards per game on the ground, so it’s unlikely Harris will receive much help from his run game to balance the offense and open up the middle of the field. Harris nearly saved LSU in its loss to Mississippi State two weeks ago, and he dazzled last week against lowly New Mexico State, but he’ll face his greatest challenge as a collegiate in facing Auburn, as the Bayou Bengals aim to avoid a second straight SEC loss.
- Robert Nkemdiche: The Rebels’ star defensive tackle has been quiet in recent weeks, recording only one tackle in last week’s win over Memphis, and he is a likely candidate to be silenced again in facing a stout Alabama offensive line. The Tide has allowed just 3 sacks and 18 tackles for loss in four games, among the fewest in the entire SEC. Nkemdiche will need to get a big push up the middle to collapse the pocket and blow up the Alabama run game, but it is unlikely he will be able to get that push consistently. The Tide is not only stocked with dynamic weapons, it also has one of the sturdiest lines in the SEC, and Nkemdiche is going to fight an uphill battle in the trenches on Saturday.
- Tra Carson/Trey Williams: The Texas A&M tailback tandem is due for a letdown after picking up steam in recent weeks, and this weekend’s showdown with Mississippi State is the most likely time to experience that letdown. The Bulldogs rank second in the SEC in stopping the run, and with a fierce front seven they are not going to let A&M beat them on the ground. The Aggies’ pass attack is explosive, but it’s not quite as explosive if you can make their offense one-dimensional. That’s exactly what MSU will do if it can silence Carson and Williams early, allowing the defense to spread itself out in obvious passing situations to counter A&M’s spread offense. Kenny Hill and his wideouts will inevitably hit their numbers, but they won’t be able to make an impact in doing so without a run game to keep Mississippi State honest. The Bulldogs will eliminate the threat of the run early, which is bad news for Carson and Williams in the backfield.