First lets start with the UK game. As much as everyone says "It was just Kentucky" when describing the beat down that took place at Williams-Brice on Saturday, this was a huge game. Conner's confidence has to be sky high after throwing for four touchdowns and 311 yards. Watching Conner was a breath of fresh air after the first five games with Garcia. For the most part he hit all his check downs, and got rid of the ball when he needed to. The only negatives that I saw were that Conner hung on to the ball a little too long several times, taking two sacks that weren't necessary and the near pick that he threw. Otherwise his decision making was good, and it was highlighted at times by athleticism (turning that would be sack into a solid gain).
The offense as a whole looked healthy. Alshon finally got some passes thrown his way that he didn't have to come back and fight for. HBC took my advice from the article I posted last week and ran some option, and threw some screen passes (I am sure no one else at all contributed to the decision to call these plays). What really surprised me, however, is how much he let Shaw air the ball out, and how effective Shaw was in doing it. During our first set of downs my thought process was "What the hell are you doing Steve?" but this quickly turned into "He's still got it!" That Emory and Henry formation has a lot of potential and I like to think that Spurrier has a lot more plays to run from it than what he showed us this week. The offensive line played poorly, especially considering the final score. There was almost no push for Lattimore early on, and a good part of his yards came form the Wild Cock (or whatever we are calling it) formation. Penalties also hurt us from the O-Line, once again. False starts at home with a cooperative crowd are troubling, especially on the eve of a three game SEC road trip. Still the pass protection was adequate, and obviously the penalties didn't kill us against Kentucky. We won't be able to say the same thing for Arkansas, Florida, or Clemson.
The defense was once again spectacular (again with the caveat that we were playing UK). Holding any team to less than 100 total yards is impressive, no matter who they are. Well I know that comparing games isn't usually beneficial, our defense did a better job against the 'Cats than LSU's vaunted D. Everyone played well in this game. I only wish we could have had more pressure on the QB from Clowney and Co., but considering the fact that one of the best defensive lineman in the country only playing a few plays, I am still pleased. Watching the UK QB duo showed me what it must of felt like to be an Auburn fan last week.
Special teams continues to disappoint. Did we even try to return a punt Saturday? The punt return team should be called the fair catch team. In my opinion if we are only ever going to fair catch or avoid the punt, we should at least go after the kick and hope for a block. Why have two returners if they never run the ball? Add to the less- than-spectacular punt return game the kickoff fumble by Bruce that led not only to UK's only points, but to their only plays in our half of the field. Can't have that to open the game, but everyone makes mistakes and Bruce made up for it later with his long touch down run from the Wild Cock formation. Another missed PAT was pretty disturbing, this is a trend we need to stop immediately. Missed extra points usually come back to haunt you in close games, and we can't afford them going forward.
So what do we have to look forward to? See after the break.
We have three SEC road games in a row with a bye week thrown in for fun. No matter who you are playing, road games in the nation's best conference are always tough.
Mississippi State: We should win this game. The rowdy atmosphere and cow bells that Starkville fans are known for should be abated somewhat by the fact that the game is at 11:20 am local time. This is probably the best situation for Shaw to start his road SEC career. The Bulldogs were shut out in the first half by a winless UAB team, and ended up winning 21 to 3 after a change in QBs. With a bye next week, there is no excuse to get caught looking ahead and the Cocks should take care of business in Starkville. USC 31 MSU 13
Tennessee: I'll be making my first trip for a game in Knoxville, and if my personal support is not enough to ensure a Gamecock win, then Tennessee's complete lack of an offense should do it for us. With the loss of Bray and Hunter the Vols no longer have the aerial attack that they once did. They also have no running game whatsoever. Our defense should be able to handle UT, and even the Curse of Neyland shouldn't stop us this year. With our now balanced offense (which will continue its appearance at MSU next week) Tennessee's defense won't be able to stack the box against Marcus, and I expect him to have a big day. USC 28 TENN 3.
Arkansas: This is the big one. This will most likely be a 3:30 game in Fayetteville and our boys need to bring their A game. This will be Shaw's fourth start, and the previous three should work to bolster his confidence. The fact that we have a QB now who can get the ball downfield to Alshon will put the Arkie defense in an awkward spot. They won't be able to stack the box, and we will start out pounding Marcus until they are forced to look run, and finish up throwing deep to Alshon once they do. Mix this in with a little option and a little screen action, and the Razorbacks should be nice and confused. The real key here is to stay strong on defense. We need Ingram and Clowney in the backfield, and we need the DBs to keep up the good work they've been doing the last couple of games. The LB's need to tackle well and clean up the running lanes that will be left open by our DL living in their backfield. This is one of those games where we can't afford special teams mistakes, as it will likely be a close one. This score is harder to predict, but I am going to say USC 24 ARK 20.