October 30, 2009
• Florida vs. Georgia.
Trumped-up grudge(s): Excessive celebration; Disputed ownership; Running up the score; Continued existence of adjacent states.
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I'm duty-bound to acknowledge Florida's relatively moribund offense, which is more than two touchdowns off its scoring average the last two years against SEC opponents, hasn't hit 30 points or 400 yards total offense since Tim Tebow's concussion at Kentucky, have struggled dramatically in the red zone, have benefitted from a couple sketchy calls that led directly or indirectly to crucial touchdowns, etc. All of that is true: Tebow is not playing like a candidate for Most Outstanding anything, and this offense doesn't look remotely capable of matching the merciless, 49-point barrage the Gators hung on Georgia last year.
None of those facts make the Florida defense -- currently ranking first or second nationally in pass, pass efficiency, total and scoring defense, and in the top 20 in every other significant category -- the slightest bit vulnerable to Georgia's offense, which is good at nothing except lobbing jump balls in the direction of A.J. Green, accumulating penalties and giving the ball away. UGA scored three points on essentially the same defense in 2008 with two first-round draft picks carrying the load in the backfield; even suggesting the Dawgs will double digits with Joe Cox and the tailback du jour here is pretty generous.
• Ole Miss at Auburn.
Trumped-up grudge(s): Work-place disputes.
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Houston Nutt and Gus Malzahn both claim there's no bad blood since Malzahn infamously fled Nutt's staff as resident offensive genius in Arkansas -- they both seem to be content with no blood at all, or at least value-neutral blood that basks in life's many rich ambiguities -- but there has to be some ego element when Malzahn's fast-sinking offense is on the field for Auburn, if only because ripping his old boss would make the end of the Tigers' accelerating slide that much sweeter. For Nutt, not much could be better than shutting down the whiz kid who played such a prominent role in the fallout that led to Nutt's hasty retreat from Fayetteville.
The problem for Malzahn is that the Tigers' obvious limitations at quarterback have boxed the offense into the same corner that doomed it to oblivion last year. Chris Todd doesn't have the arm to challenge SEC defenses downfield, and the running game, while fairly consistent, doesn't have the home-run hitters to make up the difference. Other than the third quarter rally with the game essentially out of reach already at Arkansas, Auburn has a grand total of 27 points in its three-game losing streak. Ole Miss, on the other hand, seems to have rediscovered the good Jevan Snead and made a firm commitment to getting Dexter McCluster (22 carries, 7 catches, 266 total yards) more prominently involved en route to blasting the Razorbacks last week. The Rebels are better on defense in the first place, and seem to be rounding into the form everyone expected in the preseason with one of the most lethally balanced offenses in the conference.
• South Carolina at Tennessee.
Trumped-up grudge(s): Existence of Steve Spurrier; Lame accusations.
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I look at close games as essentially toss-ups between evenly matched teams that are determined as much by circumstance or sheer luck as much as by talent or virtue, and razor-thing results tend to even out over time. If that's true, Tennessee is due for a win: The Vols are 0-3 in games decided by four points or less, including last week's gut-kicking loss at Alabama. On the other side, South Carolina is due for a loss: The 'Cocks are 4-1 in games decided by six points or less, including nailbiters over division whipping boys Kentucky and Vanderbilt. All you need to know about these teams' seasons is that South Carolina is 6-2 and Tennessee is 3-4, and the Vols are comfortable six-point favorites at home.
If that's too simple, consider Tennessee's burly power running game with Montario Hardesty and Bryce Brown plunging into the same defensive line that was massacred for 240 yards by Alabama's Mark Ingram two weeks ago (and for 205 by Kentucky the week before that), and that has consistently struggled through the years to hold up against the more talented running teams in the division. If Jonathan Crompton has actually entered the "competent game manager" phase of his embattled career, as the last two weeks and the fourth quarter of the loss to Auburn suggest, the Vols have to be able to grind one of these tough games into a win eventually.