Georgia WeekLast year, the surprise, feel-good story in SEC football was us. But that wasn't true after six games. We were 2-4 at the mid-point in 2012, before clicking off seven consecutive wins en route to a historically successful season. Given the imposing games left on our schedule, the odds of another seven game season-ending winning streak are fairly slim this year. But with aspirations tempered a bit, qualifying for a third straight bowl appearance is still a fair and reasonable expectation.
At the half-way point of the season, we are slightly behind where we expected to be. It seemed likely we would beat either Ole Miss or Mizzou and stand at 4-2. Instead, we came within a whisker of beating Ole Miss and Missouri turned out to be even better than anticipated. But the truth is, even at a respectable 3-3, our defense has been much weaker than advertised - we are giving up over 40 points per game in SEC play. That will not beat anybody. The bye week was a time for adjustment and probably a little soul-searching.
The good news is, before the season began, the odds of taking out Georgia, Texas A&M and Florida seemed low; now, none of those teams appear to be unbeatable. Georgia is ravaged by injuries - especially on offense. They are coming off a deflating and season-altering home loss. Prior to last week, Georgia fans could legitimately imagine winning out and claiming a National Championship. That dream came crashing down in a thorough beating at the hands of Missouri in Athens. It will be interesting to see how the Bulldogs respond this week. They remain wracked with injuries - and the 11 a.m. time slot is notorious for producing sluggish road efforts for favored teams. Will we face angry Georgia or sullen Georgia?
Meanwhile, we made great improvement after our bye last year - and we had much to fix in the week off this year. We, too, have had our share of injuries, and the week off will help a lot of banged up players heal - especially on the o-line. I look for our o-line to be much improved this week after a pretty rough outing against Missouri. Notably, too, our defensive front will face an excellent QB - Aaron Murray is the best pure passer in the conference - but, for the first time in league play, we defend a QB who is not a dual threat to run. This has been our single haunting issue on defense. We have also had a recurring problem with "underneath" routes and gaps in zone coverage - but with a week off to brainstorm and without a running quarterback to deal with, hopefully we will have some answers. Expect more nickel packages and disguised coverages this week. In the first half of the year, our D has been a bit of an open book - and opposing offensive coordinators have read it in advance.
My guess is few players on our roster have forgotten the 48-3 massacre administered by Georgia last year. Saturday's nationally televised game offers an opportunity for redemption.
Around the conference, numerous big games abound. Both of the current "feel-good" teams from the first half of SEC play - Mizzou and Auburn - receive serious tests. In the case of Auburn, their 5-1 record has had a lot to do with scheduling - and A&M, Bama and LSU still await to bring them down to earth. They get Texas A&M this week at College Station and they are rightly 14 point underdogs. Mizzou was the real deal with James Franklin at QB - but he is out, and that made a night-and-day difference last year for the Tigers. While freshman Maty Mauk acquitted himself well in emergency duty in Athens - he has had a whole week to think about Florida. The Gators' defense, amazingly, has not allowed more than 21 points in an SEC game since 2011. Florida's offense remains challenged - and the Gators are dealing with their own rash of injuries. Florida is favored by three, but they may need a defensive or special teams score to win this one. This is really a fascinating match-up with an over/under of 44.
SC is coming off a complete de-pantsing of Arkansas. It is hard to imagine Steve Spurrier would let the Gamecocks take UT lightly. Nonetheless, UT's stout outing versus Georgia got Vegas' attention - the line is only SC by seven. On paper this seems low - but UT is also coming off a bye and seems to be playing better. I think the Gamecocks will cover. Ole Miss ill-advisedly tries to rebound from last week's heart-breaking loss to A&M - by facing LSU. Their front-loaded schedule gets easier after this week - but perhaps too late. LSU is, at least, also coming off an emotionally draining and physically bruising contest with Florida. An LSU let-down is possible - a very high scoring affair is likely. Alabama should throttle Arkansas. Mississippi State and Kentucky get the week off.
Word on the street is Georgia will once again be going without their star RB Todd Gurley this week. We will see. Expect a spirited effort from the home team coming off a bye - sometimes one outstanding effort can turn an entire season.