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Around the SEC: Auburn-LSU, South Carolina-Tennessee, A&M-Florida

As we enter week seven of the college football season, life in the SEC is starting to become juicy as we have three legit playoff contenders and a handful coaches in hot seat territory. As we get deep into October, nearly every week is a big game and each program has a lot to play for each Saturday.

On the slate for this weekend, we’ll see if Auburn can win in Death Valley for the first time since 1999 and if either Florida or Texas A&M can bounce back after a brutal home loss. Arkansas and Missouri could be in for bludgeonings and Will Muschamp will look to improve to 6-0 against Tennessee.

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Gus Malzahn (USA TODAY Sports)

Game of the Week: #10 Auburn at LSU

It’s the battle of the Tigers in Death Valley as Gus Malzahn will be looking for his first win in Baton Rouge. Auburn has been rolling ever since the loss at Clemson and the Tigers are off to a 3-0 start in conference as they are averaging 48 points per game in league play. Meanwhile, it was a circle the wagons moment for LSU last week and they went to Gainesville and knocked off Florida in a big spot for Ed Orgeron.

After a slow start, the offense is starting to roll as quarterback Jarrett Stidham is completing 71% of his passes and is averaging nearly eight yards per attempt. Juniors Ryan Davis and Will Hastings have emerged as the top targets for the offense as the Tigers are beginning to hit on big plays in the passing game. The rushing game is starting to get rolling as well as junior Kerryon Johnson has scored 12 touchdowns and is averaging just under six yards per carry. Big back Kamryn Johnson is still attempting to recover from injury, but once Auburn gets him going this could become the best rushing attack in the country.

The defense has been the story for Auburn as defensive coordinator Kevin Steele is doing a phenomenal job in his second season. The Tigers are equally stingy against both the pass and run as their strength is limiting big plays. The linebacker trio of Deshaun Davis, Darrell Williams, and Tre’ Williams is as good as anyone in the country. The defensive line remains strong behind sophomores Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson while the secondary appears strong at each position. There are no weaknesses with this bunch.

In Matt Canada’s first season, the LSU offense has been able to stay on schedule but the ability to produce big plays has not been there. Danny Etling has been inconsistent at quarterback while the running game has been pretty pedestrian. Since running for over 100 yards in the first two games, Derrius Guice has been riding the struggle bus as he recovers from injury. DJ Chark and Russell Gage are two good receivers outside and Foster Morreau has been a bit of a surprise at tight end. The playmakers are there, but LSU just has to start making plays.

LSU is very young on defense and they’ve played like it in spots. The Tigers are coming off their best performance of the season last week against Florida and this should be a group that gets better with each outing. Takeaways have been an issue as LSU has only produced six turnovers and that must improve moving forward. Sophomore linebacker Devin White is averaging over 10 tackles per game and he’s been the best player on the defense.

Auburn has an advantage at nearly every spot in this game including the kicking game. Malzahn’s squad also got a nice draw getting this game in the afternoon and the typical crazy home field advantage will not be there for the Bayou Bengals. If Auburn can’t win in Death Valley here, I’m not sure it will ever happen.

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Butch Jones (USA TODAY Sports)

You Also Need to Watch: South Carolina at Tennessee

Things are getting ugly quickly for Butch Jones in Knoxville as the Vols are off to an 0-2 start in conference play and the fans are ready for the fifth year head coach to be given a pink slip. Now Will Muschamp and his South Carolina Gamecocks roll into town and he has yet to suffer a loss to the Big Orange. Saying this is a must win for Jones would be a significant understatement.

South Carolina is fresh off a huge home win over Arkansas as their defense produced three second half touchdowns and Muschamp has the Cocks at 4-2 on the season and 2-2 in conference. The offense was reeling a bit after losing Deebo Samuel for the season, but Jake Bentley has bounced back as the sophomore quarterback is completing over 60 percent of his passes and has tossed for 12 scores. Receivers Bryan Edwards and Shi Smith to go along with tight end Hayden Hurst are really good weapons for Bentley and this passing attack appears to be improving each week. The ground game is still a struggle as neither Rico Dowdle or Ty’Son Williams has produced a 100-yard game this year.

The rush defense has been much improved in Muschamp’s second season, but teams are having their way through the air against Carolina. Linebackers T.J. Brunson and Skai Moore have both been excellent while defensive linemen Dante Sawyer and D.J. Wonnum have created a lot of havoc. The Gamecocks have produced 13 takeaways and this has been a real bright spot.

It appears they’ve reached panic mode in Knoxville during the bye week as Butch Jones is turning to redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano at quarterback. The New Jersey native should provide a lift to this rushing game and the combination of him and John Kelly on zone reads could be a nightmare for opposing defenses. However, in limited snaps, Guarantano has really struggled in the passing game and this will be a downgrade from Quinten Dormady. At wide receiver, Marquez Callaway returns from injury and the sophomore’s presence is much needed. Ethan Wolf has been a reliable tight end while Brandon Johnson has emerged as the offense’s top target. The supporting cast must really step up to give Guarantano some help.

Second year defensive coordinator Bob Shoop’s unit has once again been held back by injuries and the product on the field remains suboptimal. This is, once again, one of the worst rush defenses in the country. Each FBS opponent has ran for at least 144 yards on the Vols as Tennessee has given up 11 rushing touchdowns. The pass defense has been solid and the Tennessee secondary is really talented.

The biggest weakness this Tennessee defense has is its run defense and this appears to be something South Carolina will not be able to take advantage of. Guarantano starting is a wildcard but as long as the Vols protect the football they should be fine. After the bye week, you should seen a refreshed football team and Tennessee should take care of business on Saturday afternoon.

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Kadarius Toney (USA TODAY Sports)

Sleeper Game: Texas A&M at Florida

For only the second time ever, the Aggies and the Gators will meet up in The Swamp. Both coaches on each sideline are feeling a little bit of pressure as each fan base expects conference titles and it appears neither staff will be able to fill that need at the moment. With the schedule stiffening for both clubs, this is a great opportunity for each team to pick up a win against a brand name program.

If you take outt the second half against UCLA, this Aggies squad has played some pretty good football this season. True freshman Kellen Mond has stepped up and provided the Aggies with adequate quarterback play as he’s tossed seven touchdowns with three interceptions and is completing just shy of 57% of his passes. This offense, however, goes as its skill talent goes and it starts with running backs Keith Ford and Trayveon Williams. The duo is one of the better backfield twosomes in the SEC as they’ve combined for 12 touchdowns. Williams is a big play back while Ford is used more in short yardage situations. Outside, wide receiver Christian Kirk will touch the ball in a variety of ways and he has five of A&M’s seven receiving touchdowns. This offense is going to become very dangerous if Mond’s development keeps up.

John Chavis is in his third season as the defensive coordinator in Aggieland and the Aggies have played pretty. Arkansas and UCLA lit the Aggies up in the air, but they have been able to come up with 13 takeaways to to bolster the unit. Safety Armani Watts is one of the best in the country while A&M’s 23 sacks are near the top of the FBS. This unit gives up some yards, but they’ve shown a consistent playmaking ability.

After playing some quarterback shuffle, redshirt freshman Feliepe Franks has settled in behind center as he’s completing 63% of his passes, only has one interception, and is averaging around seven yards per attempt. The emergence of true freshman Malik Davis has helped jumpstart this Gators rushing attack as the newcomer has 409 yards and is averaging over seven yards per carry. The next closest Gator back is averaging 4.4 yards per carry. When healthy, Florida has a nice group of receivers, but Tyrie Cleveland and Kadarius Toney are likely out for this week. Davis should be in line for 30 or more touches.

The defense has taken a step back under first year coordinator Randy Shannon and that was expected with all of the early departures that have occurred the last few years. Six of Florida’s top 10 tacklers are either freshmen or sophomores as this will be a group to fear in the future. For the first time since Jim McElwain has arrived, you can consistently move the ball against this defense.

They’ll be under the lights at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and both of these teams need a win. These two squads are a bit identical at the moment as they have opportunistic defenses to go with a freshman at quarterback and great special teams. Florida being out multiple skill players gives the Aggies an edge but that Alabama hangover is a real thing.

The Rest of the League

Outside of Mississippi State, the rest of the league is faced with conference games and there are some big opportunities waiting. Someone will break a losing streak in Oxford and there are a couple of bloodbaths scheduled for Saturday night.

In Starkville, the Bulldogs are coming off of a bye and they’ll be playing a BYU team that has been toasted by each Power Five team they’ve faced. The Mississippi State defense will get their mojo back after the Georgia and Auburn blowouts and Nick Fitzgerald should run wild against a bad BYU run defense.

In Oxford, Vanderbilt will be looking for consecutive victories over Ole Miss for the first time since 2011 and 2012. These may be the two worst rushing offenses in the SEC so expect both Shea Patterson and Kyle Shurmur to toss the ball all over the yard. Vanderbilt’s strong secondary and ability to take care of the football gives Derek Mason’s team the edge.

Arkansas heads to Alabama to take on the Crimson Tide who will be going for their 10th straight victory over the Hogs. The wheels are beginning to fall off in Fayetteville as Bret Bielema’s squad is off to 0-2 start in the league and quarterback Austin Allen is likely sitting this one out. It gets ugly quick at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Mizzou played their best game of the season last weekend as the Tigers took Kentucky to the wire at Kroger Field. Barry Odom is now 5-12 as the head man in Columbia and the Tigers face a tall task in Athens. Georgia will run wild over this opposing Mizzou defense, but I’ll be interested to see if Drew Lock and the vertical passing game can give the UGA secondary a scare. Georgia is ripe for a letdown performance.

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