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October 2017

The SEC Report Players of the Week 10/23/17: Week 8

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Noah Gardner:

Nick Fitzgerald, QB, Mississippi State, 45-7 W vs. Kentucky

18-26 155 YDS 1 TD, 12 CAR 115 YDS 9.6 AVG 2 TD

In terms of determining the SEC hierarchy, this game was as important as it gets. Nick Fitzgerald stepped up to the task at hand and performed impressively against Kentucky. With 270 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns, Fitzgerald led Mississippi State to their most impressive offensive performance in SEC play where they scored 45 points.


Jeff Holland, BUCK, Auburn, 52-20 W at Arkansas

3 TKL, 2 SOLO, 1 SKS, 1 TFL, 2 FF, 1 FR

Jeff Holland harassed redshirt freshman quarterback Cole Kelley the entire game. With a sack and two forced fumbles, Holland was able to wreck the Arkansas offense and make his presence known. He made impact plays throughout the entire game, and he ruined any hopes that Arkansas had for getting into a rhythm offensively.



JJ Jackson:

Derrius Guice, RB, LSU, 40-24 W at Ole Miss

22 CAR 276 YDS 12.5 AVG 1 TD, 1 REC 9 YDS

Guice rushed for 276 yards on 22 carries with a TD and helped LSU pick up a big win over Ole Miss Saturday. Guice had a lot of Heisman hype entering this year for LSU. However, injuries have slowed Guice and Saturday’s performance is exactly why his name should be in the conversation. Derris Guice is now the only player in SEC history with three 250-yard rushing games in a career.


Montez Sweat, LB, Mississippi State, 45-7 W vs. Kentucky

7 TKL, 3 SOLO, 1.5 SACKS, 2.5 TFL

Sweat had 7 tackles and 1.5 sacks during MSU’s 45-7 win over Kentucky. Watching the game, it felt like Sweat was in on every single play and his presence was certainly felt in another great performance for Mississippi State’s defense.



Painter Sharpless:

Kamryn Pettway, RB, Auburn, 52-20 W at Arkansas

11 CAR 90 YDS 8.2 AVG 3 TD

Auburn’s leading returning rusher has struggled to see the field because of injuries and a short suspension this season. When he found the field, Auburn’s primary running back from 2016 looked sluggish. Against what appeared to be an overwhelmed Arkansas defense Pettway rediscovered his powerful burst and knack for contact by busting open for three touchdowns and 90 yards on 11 carries.


Daniel Bituli, LB, Tennessee, 45-7 L at Alabama

9 TKL, 3 SOLO, 1 INT (97 YDS), 1 TD

The Antioch, Tennessee native had nine tackles and added a pick six that were the Volunteer’s only points. Bituli’s interception return broke a fourteen-quarter touchdown drought. There was little Tennessee fans could smile about Saturday. Bituli’s teammate Rashaan Gaulden let Alabama fans have a piece of his mind immediately after the defense’s touchdown. Meanwhile, Butch Jones’ squad was outmatched, but his defense held tight during most of the first half. Bituli’s efforts were a small bright spot for the careening Vols football program.


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As you’re no doubt aware, Auburn took a 20-0 lead in the second quarter against the LSU Tigers in Baton Rouge (where they haven’t won since 1999) before LSU rallied to win the game 27-23. Auburn’s fast start was as remarkable as its collapse was astonishing; its offense was a machine operating at full power until the plug was suddenly pulled.

The Tigers gained 290 yards of offense in the first half and 64 in the second. Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson-powered run game, seemingly unstoppable in the first quarter, stalled out after LSU adjusted – leaving the Auburn offense flustered and unable to gain any ground. Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham, after three conference games in which his accuracy was pinpoint, only completed 3 of his final 18 pass attempts in Tiger Stadium after completing 6 of his first 8. Auburn’s play calling on offense succeeded at keeping LSU off-balance at the beginning of the game, but when Auburn had to gain yardage and keep its defense off the field to protect its lead, it couldn’t.

The loss is devastating for Auburn. The Tigers entered their road trip optimistic that they could go into their November 11 meeting with Georgia 6-0 in conference play and still firmly in the thick of the hunt for a spot in the College Football Playoff. Instead, they have to dust themselves off, beat a pair of conference foes on the road, and hope that they’re provided enough help to remain in contention for the SEC West as games against its most hated rivals approach.

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn came to college football as a visionary. At its full potential, his hurry-up, run-heavy spread offense was a thing of beauty. If he isn’t retained by Auburn after the season is over, it won’t surprise me at all if he is able to find another job as a head coach (or perhaps even as offensive coordinator at a powerhouse); Saturday just appeared to be the breaking point for many fans willing to give him the benefit of the doubt after disappointing losses in recent years. This season seems critical for Malzahn if he is to continue as Auburn’s coach, and a loss like the one Saturday, in which Auburn’s offense became overly conservative and ineffective at the worst possible time, did considerable damage to his case.

Smarter people than I have wondered if a quarterback who represents a genuine threat as a runner is required for Gus Malzahn to operate his offense at its true potential. Nick Marshall and Cam Newton were particularly special talents who excelled in Malzahn’s offense, efforts to replace them have led to crucial games in which Auburn’s passing game falls apart and plays a role in a narrow loss. Against LSU, attempts to run the ball in the second half were stymied (perhaps because the quarterback himself is no threat to run), and attempts to throw the ball were frequently at a difficult down and distance – leading Stidham to throw several passes that were very nearly intercepted. Stidham had thrown sensational passes in previous weeks, but LSU’s inspired and aggressive defensive effort in the second half prevented him from ever getting comfortable.

Fans who have questioned play calling choices, and specifically the choice to run exclusively on first down and throw several deep passes on third down, were reminded of Auburn’s game against Clemson, in which the team started out moving the ball effectively only to stall out on drive after drive after the opponent changed its approach. Offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey, who called some ingenious plays to spark Auburn’s 20-0 lead, couldn’t figure out how to successfully attack LSU once it started to bottle up Johnson on first down.

Malzahn, who suddenly needs a win as desperately as any coach in the conference, heads to his home state of Arkansas on Saturday night with the #21 Tigers to take on Bret Bielema’s Arkansas Razorbacks, who are somehow playing their first conference home game of the season. If Auburn jumps out to the same fast start that it has for four consecutive SEC games, the frustration and disappointment of the Arkansas faithful will be loud and clear. If Arkansas’s offense can sustain drives and attack Auburn’s banged-up defense, and the game remains competitive for much longer than Auburn would like, there’s potential for an upset that would simply be catastrophic to Auburn’s season.



– With rain forecasted for Fayetteville on Saturday night, Auburn will likely play its first game of the season in inclement weather. Deep passing attempts have become a hallmark of Auburn’s offense over the last few weeks, but the elements could detract from those efforts. Will stormy, windy conditions play into the hands of the Razorbacks, who will start a backup quarterback and would assuredly prefer a low-scoring game with few pass attempts from either side?

– Auburn’s defense had its worst game of the season on Saturday against LSU, surrendering more big plays than it had all season. The Tigers have played every week since the season started without a bye, so it’s fair to wonder if fatigue is a factor. Auburn will be off the week after the Arkansas game, so Auburn fans must hope that the team isn’t already thinking about what they’ll be doing with their free time over Halloween weekend.

– The aforementioned backup quarterback for Arkansas is the gargantuan Cole Kelley, who appears to be in the neighborhood of eight feet tall and 450 pounds. Kelley is responsible for much of the excitement about Arkansas’s future, and the buzz around the freshman will only increase if he’s able to secure a home win against a heavily favored opponent on Saturday night.


PECK’S PICKS: Last week: 3-2, YTD: 22-17

– SMU -7.5 @ Cincinnati – SMU head coach Chad Morris is increasingly mentioned as a candidate for a job in the Power Five, and the Mustangs will have plenty of opportunities to raise his profile even further as they square off against UCF, Navy, and Memphis in November. I expect them to throw the ball up and down the field against a struggling Cincinnati team on Saturday. PECK’S PICK: SMU -7.5

– USC +3.5 @ Notre Dame –  The Irish are running the ball extremely well and face off against a USC team that has played quite a few close games and surrendered more points than head coach Clay Helton would like. This is a de facto elimination game in the College Football Playoff race, and I expect the Trojans to get a big game out of quarterback Sam Darnold to stay alive in the hunt. PECK’S PICK: USC +3.5

– Boston College +6.5 @ Virginia: Virginia is getting better every week and will be a team to watch in the ACC next season, particularly if a program is able to lure away Virginia Tech’s Justin Fuente. Boston College pulled off a remarkable upset at Louisville but Virginia’s passing game will present a different set of problems for the Eagles. PECK’S PICK: VIRGINIA -6.5

– Maryland +24 @ Wisconsin: Wisconsin is powering towards an undefeated season and a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game, while Maryland looks deflated and will have little interest in continuously tackling Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor. PECK’S PICK: WISCONSIN -24

– Syracuse +17 @ Miami – Syracuse qualifies as another team playing better football every week, while Miami has been good and lucky. PECK’S PICK: SYRACUSE +17

– Auburn -15.5 @ Arkansas – BYU, Mississippi State, Syracuse, Troy, and Florida all lost the game after the LSU game. It might be a strange coincidence, but perhaps there’s something to the idea that LSU plays an extremely physical game that drains opponents and prevents them from having their best stuff a week later. Auburn certainly qualifies as beaten-up and drained, and Arkansas could be there to take advantage. PECK’S PICK: ARKANSAS +15.5


Enjoy the games!

Dan Peck
Co-Host, THE DRIVE (4-6PM, ESPN 106.7 FM,
Host, AFTER THE GAME (Immediately following Auburn University football games, Wings 94.3 FM,

The SEC Report Players of the Week 10/16/17: Week 7

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Noah Gardner:

Shea Patterson, QB, Ole Miss, 57-35 W vs. Vanderbilt

22-35 351 YDS 4 TD, 7 CAR 8 YDS 1 TD

Ole Miss got their first conference victory of the season behind the arm of Shea Patterson. The Rebels’ offense relies heavily on Patterson’s ability to be efficient in the passing game. 351 yards and four touchdowns is about as efficient as it gets, and he added a rushing touchdown. Patterson’s performance spearheaded the rout of Vanderbilt on Saturday.


Devin White, LB, LSU, 27-23 W vs. Auburn

15 TKL, 6 SOLO, 1 SKS, 2 TFL

Despite giving up 20 points early, LSU’s defense rebounded and held Auburn to zero points in the second half. Devin White was a force all afternoon in defending the Auburn rushing attack. It was obvious LSU made adjustments, and White executed them well. With 15 tackles and two of them being for a loss, White was the key to LSU’s defensive improvement.



JJ Jackson:

Nick Fitzgerald, QB, Mississippi State, 35-10 W vs. BYU

19-30 241 YDS 2 TD 2 INT, 15 CAR 103 YDS 6.9 AVG 2 TD

Nick Fitzgerald benefitted from Mississippi State’s week off as he threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more. He showed how dynamic he can be in the Mississippi State offense. Fitzgerald was impressive in the Bulldogs 35-10 win over BYU.


Marquis Haynes, DE, Ole Miss, 57-35 W vs. Vanderbilt

8 TKL, 5 SOLO, 3 SKS, 3.5 TFL

Marquis Haynes helped a struggling Ole Miss defense make the plays necessary to win against Vanderbilt. The senior totaled eight tackles and three sacks of Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur. Haynes helped Ole Miss pick up their first SEC win of the year.



Painter Sharpless:

D.J. Chark, WR, LSU, 27-23 W vs. Auburn

5 REC 150 YDS, 2 PR 83 YDS 41.5 AVG 1 TD

DJ Chark had five receptions for 150 yards. He also added a crucial punt return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter against Auburn. His 150 receiving yards would have been enough for most, but his special teams effort ultimately gave the Bayou Bengals the spark needed to topple Auburn.


D.J. Wonnum, DL, South Carolina, 15-9 W at Tennessee

6 TKL, 6 SOLO, 2 SKS, 2 TFL

DJ Wonnum had six tackles and added two sacks. He helped the Gamecocks defeat Tennessee in a defensive battle that gave South Carolina its second straight win.