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The Official Website of the Southeastern Conference

Barnhart's burning questions for Week 7

220 days ago
Tony Barnhart | SEC Network

A little perspective on the state of SEC football, 2018:

In this week's AP Poll, eight SEC teams (Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Florida, Kentucky, Auburn, Texas A&M and Mississippi State) are ranked in the Top 25.

No other Power 5 conference has ever done this.

The SEC has done it 14 times.

And now, as mid-October arrives, all of these SEC teams are going to start playing each other. Buckle up. This is going to be fun.

So here are Five Burning Questions for Saturday, Oct. 13:

How much of the Bulldog Nation makes it to Baton Rouge?

Last season, Georgia got a big boost when an estimated 40,000 Bulldog fans showed up at Notre Dame Stadium. It was nothing less than an invasion of South Bend.

Georgia won the game 20-19 and used it as a springboard to an SEC championship and a spot in the CFP National Championship Game.

While admitting it would be nice to see that much red and black in Tiger Stadium, Georgia head coach Kirby Smart is not expecting such a crowd when the No. 2 Bulldogs (6-0, 4-0) play at No. 13 LSU (5-1, 2-1) on Saturday.

First of all, Georgia received an allotment of only 6,000 tickets for its fans. Those, as you might imagine, were snapped up quickly.

Someone asked Smart if he was hoping for a large Georgia crowd to "level out" LSU's famed home-field advantage.

"I don't know if level out is the right word," Smart said with a smile during his press briefing on Monday. "They are not going to be giving away home tickets, I can promise you that. We'll have a lot of fans there. They may not have tickets. It shows the passion and energy from our fan base."

A little shine has been taken off this game because LSU lost 27-19 at Florida last week. Otherwise, this would have been a top-five matchup.

It is only the 12th time in history these two teams have met in Baton Rouge.

Jake Bentley is expected to return as South Carolina's starting quarterback. How effective will he be against Texas A&M?

Bentley (knee) could not go against Missouri last week but his backup, Michael Scarnecchia, made the most of his first career start, throwing for 249 yards, three touchdowns, and leading the drive that set up South Carolina's winning field goal with only two seconds left. The 37-35 win was a big lift for South Carolina after losing to Kentucky (24-10) the week before. The Gamecocks (3-2, 2-2) could really use a win over Texas A&M (4-2, 2-1) heading into an open date.

Bentley, a junior, was told early this week that if he was healthy and mobile he would be the starter against the Aggies.

"I'll be ready to go," said Bentley, who has completed 63.6 percent of his passes for seven touchdowns. He also has six interceptions, more than any quarterback in the SEC.

Texas A&M has the SEC's No. 1 rush defense, but the No. 11 pass defense. Bentley is going to have to play well for the Gamecocks to win this one.

Will Florida come out flat against Vanderbilt?

Florida's 27-19 win over LSU last Saturday at The Swamp was big time. The No. 14 Gators (5-1, 3-1) have next Saturday (Oct. 20) off to rest and get ready for the big game with Georgia in Jacksonville on Oct. 27.

But this Saturday, the Gators go to Vanderbilt (3-3, 0-2), a team which, for reasons yet unclear, has traditionally played Florida tough:

  • Last season, the two teams were tied at halftime, 17-17. Florida pulled away in the second half to win 38-24.
  • In 2016, Florida was outgained by Vanderbilt in Nashville 265-236, but the Gators found a way to win 13-6.
  • In 2015, Florida needed a field goal with 2:22 left to beat the Commodores in The Swamp, 9-7.

Coach Dan Mullen has warned his team of a potential trap game.

"For our guys to have any thought, except for how hard I can go on the next play, would be us taking a step back as a team," Mullen told the media this week.

How will the loss of CB Trevon Diggs impact Alabama's secondary against Missouri?

Alabama knew it was going to be talented, but very young, in the defensive backfield this season. That youth showed up last week against Arkansas, which threw for 233 yards with the No. 90 passing attack in the country. It didn't matter as the Crimson Tide won 65-31.

And now comes word that Trevon Diggs, Alabama's best cornerback, will be out for the season with a broken foot.

Alabama has the No. 8 passing defense in the SEC (197.8 ypg), and that was with Diggs. Missouri has the No. 3 passer in the SEC (Drew Lock).

There were communication problems in the secondary against Arkansas. Those can get fixed, but it does complicate matters a bit when Missouri runs a breathless tempo of 85 plays per game.

Now, none of this is going to impact who wins on Saturday. Alabama is averaging a ridiculous 56 points per game. Georgia is a distant second in the SEC at 42.8.

But at some point the Alabama secondary will have to grow up. It will be interesting to see if Alabama can hold Lock under his average.

If things don't go well against Tennessee, will Auburn try quarterback Malik Willis?

There is no nice way to say this: Auburn's offense is bad, bordering on historically bad.

The Tigers were held to under 100 yards rushing for the third consecutive game, a 23-9 loss at Mississippi State. Starting quarterback Jarrett Stidham continues to struggle because the rebuilt offensive line has not jelled and thus there is no running game to keep the opposing defenses honest. In short, it's really not his fault. Stidham was a perfectly good quarterback last season when Auburn had four seniors on the offensive line to block for Kerryon Johnson, the SEC's leading rusher.

The numbers don't lie: the Tigers are 12th in the SEC in rushing offense (163.8 ypg) and 10th in passing offense (200.3 ypg).

But if the line can't block for the running game and protect the quarterback, does Gus Malzahn have to try a dual-threat quarterback?

I don't think so.

"Jarrett's our guy," offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey told Auburn Undercover this week. "So like I said, we are committed to him and really no other thoughts about that."

On the season, Willis has thrown two passes and run the ball four times.

Tennessee (2-3, 0-2), which has the No. 8 defense in the SEC, has had a week off to get ready for the trip to Auburn.