What I'm hearing about SEC teams in Rivalry Week
Each week, Matt Hayes uses his sources around the country to bring you insider knowledge about what’s going on in the SEC ahead of this week’s games.
This is what he’s hearing from SEC coaches and NFL scouts in Week 13 …
The key to slowing down Tua
The Alabama offense has shown flaws the past two SEC games, and the common denominator in those wins over LSU and Mississippi State is pressure from the front seven affected the play of Tide QB Tua Tagovailoa. Auburn’s front four is dynamic, spearheading a nasty pass rush that has accounted for 34 sacks this season. More good news for the Tigers in the Iron Bowl: DE Nick Coe, the team’s best pass rusher, has been cleared to play after sustaining a wrist injury two weeks ago against Georgia.
“Auburn’s front (four) is very active, a lot like Mississippi State,” an NFL scout told me this week. “So then you ask, ‘Can they cover?’ Not as well as LSU, but they’re solid. Defensively, Auburn can hang with Alabama and cause some problems. But there are other problems that could negate that.”
The same problem that has affected Auburn all season: a pedestrian, predictable offense.
If Auburn can’t throw the ball with a dynamic consistency – like QB Jarrett Stidham did in last year’s Iron Bowl win – the Tigers’ defense won’t last more than two quarters. “The same movie all season,” an SEC coach told me last month. Translation: The Auburn offense can’t score, and the defense gets tired and eventually succumbs. …
If Damien Harris can’t go, Alabama loses glue to offense
Alabama tailback Damien Harris, who sustained a concussion last week vs. Citadel, more than likely will be a late week decision. One NFL scout told me a potential loss of Harris – even with Alabama’s deep, talented depth at the position – will be felt:
“He’s so much more than a runner. He’s one of those do everything guys. Young guys are lined up wrong, he’s straightening them out. He’s keeping everybody’s head straight out there. He’s terrific in pass protection, he runs hard, he’s a lot faster than he looks and he has really good hands in the passing game. He may not be the talent of the other (Najee) Harris, but he’s so important to the overall workings of that offense.”
Tide coach Nick Saban says Harris sustained what trainers are calling a mild concussion, but clearly any head injury is serious. If Damien Harris can’t go, his carries will get spread out between Najee Harris and Josh Jacobs. “They’ll be fine strictly running the ball with either of those two guys,” the NFL scout said, “They’re both better prospects than (Damien) Harris. I just love the way Harris plays.” …
Vols in trouble if Guarantano can’t play
Another key injury in a rivalry game: Tennessee QB Jarrett Guarantano. He sustained an upper body injury (head and neck) in the first quarter of last week’s game against Missouri, and his injury could be the difference between the Vols gaining bowl eligibility.
Without Guarantano – and with backup Keller Chryst – the Tennessee offense was shaky and couldn’t consistently move the ball.
“The other kid (Chryst) is a statue in there,” an SEC coach told me. “Different team when he’s in there. (Guarantano) isn’t really a runner, but he can move and get out of trouble and he has a quick release that gets him out of jams, too. The other one, no, they’re not beating Vandy with the backup. (Vanderbilt coach) Derek (Mason) does a great job of finding your weakness and picking away at it with that defense. He’ll expose (Chryst).” …
NFL scout not impressed with Georgia defense. At all
Late last week, I got into a discussion with an NFL scout about Georgia’s chances of returning to the College Football Playoff. He laughed at first, and then went into a detailed discussion of what’s wrong with the Dawgs:
“I’m just not impressed at all with that defense. They don’t get pressure, they don’t have guys in the back end that can take away the opponent’s No. 1 receiving option and they’re really inconsistent in stopping the run. Look at their schedule. Who have they played this year that could push them defensively? Missouri? Florida? Please, stop with the LSU idea.
“(Georgia) hasn’t played an offense yet that can make them uncomfortable. I’m telling you right now, that SEC Championship Game is going to be brutal. Georgia won’t know what hit them. Hell, I think Georgia Tech might be able to make them uncomfortable if they can hold onto the ball. That’s always the big thing with (GT coach) Paul (Johnson) and that offense: when and how often do they hurt themselves with ball security.” …
An important prove-it game for Orgeron
The LSU-Texas A&M game has been wildly underplayed and overlooked, if for no other reason because of the state of the LSU program under coach Ed Orgeron.
An SEC coach of the year candidate, Orgeron needs a win this weekend at Texas A&M to keep positive momentum churning. If the Tigers lose in College Station, Orgeron will be 1-3 in the games LSU fans (and the university administration) want most: a last-second win over Auburn, and losses to Alabama, Florida and Texas A&M.
The win over Georgia, while impressive, is a once in a decade meeting. The other four are annual games and will – one way or another – dictate Orgeron’s tenure with LSU.
“Ed has to get players, and he has to get a quarterback,” one SEC coach told me last week. “Then those big rivalry games are a lot easier. There are no Odell Beckhams or Fournettes or Guices or Jeremy Hills on that team. He better improve that offense, or he’s in the same boat Les (Miles) was in – and he doesn’t have (a national championship) in his pocket as political capital.” …
Feleipe Franks under pressure
If Feleipe Franks is ever going to win over Florida fans, this is the week.
FSU’s pass defense is putrid (117th in the nation), and only five teams in the nation have given up more touchdown passes (FSU has given up 27).
“That’s a risky proposition, putting the game in (Franks’) hands,” an NFL scout said. “He clearly doesn’t see the game. That’s not a knock on that coaching staff, or even him, really. It just doesn’t come natural to some guys. He’s not in a flow out there, where he’s going through progressions and the game flows with him – it’s him fighting the game right now.
“He obviously has arm talent, and he’s still relatively young. He’s still at, what, 20 games? This is a big one for him. A game where he has to play well in a game they have no business losing.”