Three & Out appears every Sunday and Wednesday in 2010 to give you three SEC thoughts, news and notes. In today's edition, we take a look at a potential key player for the Crimson Tide, Georgia's start to the season and a mismatch in the South Carolina/Auburn game.
Heisman hopeful Ryan Mallett has been getting a lot of media attention this week, as his Razorbacks prepare take on No. 1 Alabama in Fayetteville Saturday afternoon. But another quarterback playing in Fayetteville this weekend might be the key to the game – Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy.
With NFL talent like Mallett, Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, Marcell Dareus and Greg Childs stealing most of the headlines in this matchup, McElroy has gone overlooked a bit. That shouldn't be the case. After all, the senior leads the SEC in passing efficiency, 14 points higher than Mallett.
We've all seen what kind of player McElroy can be in big games. He earned SEC Championship Game MVP honors in 2009, completing 12-of-18 passes for 239 yards and a touchdown in Alabama's 32-13 win over Florida – breaking two ribs in the process. Plus, he hasn't lost a football game as a starter in like 94 years, and there's no reason to believe that he will start now.
Alabama's game plan is really simple – try to run it down your throat with Ingram and Richardson. But even bad defenses have good days, as proven by Auburn's performance vs. the Crimson Tide last season. If the Razorbacks can find a way to neutralize Alabama's running game, Nick Saban has no problem putting the game in the hands of McElroy.
On the other hand, Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino's philosophy is simple, let Mallett go win the game. If that doesn't work – which it typically hasn't in big games – there isn't a proven Plan B (aka, proven running game). Advantage: Alabama.
DOWN…BUT NOT OUT
After two losses to two top 20 teams, some pundits are ready to put Georgia head coach Mark Richt on the hot seat – which is beyond ridiculous. There's no shame in losing to Arkansas and South Carolina; plus the schedule lightens up big time for the Bulldogs starting Saturday in Starkville.
The next four weeks of the season, Georgia faces Mississippi State, Colorado, Tennessee and Vanderbilt, before heading to Lexington to take on the high-powered Kentucky offense. Despite being an underdog to Mississippi State this weekend, there's a reasonable chance that Georgia will be 5-2 after completing that stretch, and everyone will have forgotten about this ridiculous hot seat talk.
Georgia will get running back Caleb King back this weekend, after the junior missed the last two games with a sprained ankle. King's presence will be a huge boost to the Bulldogs' offense, which has struggled in his absence. The King/Washaun Ealey duo is a better-than-average SEC running back combo, while the Ealey/Carlton Thomas duo that Georgia has been using these past two weeks is, at best, mediocre.
Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo (who is on the hot seat) blamed quarterback Aaron Murray for holding on to the ball too long and taking too many sacks in Georgia's loss last weekend to Arkansas. That should also be fixed this weekend. Ealey's pass blocking is utterly woeful (which is being kind), but King has been able to step up and take on a blitzing linebacker on occasion, which should cure Murray's happy feet.
Is Georgia good enough to win the SEC East? Of course not. They weren't before the season and they aren't now. Having to break in a redshirt quarterback, replace six starters on defense and install a new defensive scheme aren't easy tasks, and that's been proven by the start to the Bulldogs' season. But they aren't pushovers either, and are certainly capable of going to Starkville and "upsetting" Mississippi State.
HOW'S THE WEATHER UP THERE?
Auburn's defense has been much, much better this season than it was in 2009. They Tigers already used their defense to beat Mississippi State, and relied heavily on it to keep the game with Clemson within reach until the offense got going. That defense will get tested again this week, with the resurgent South Carolina Gamecocks headed to the Plains.
While most of Auburn's defensive attention will be focused on Gamecock true freshman running back Marcus Lattimore, keep an eye on how South Carolina lines up its receivers vs. Auburn's secondary. Aside from slot back Ace Sanders, the Gamecocks' top four wide receivers (Alshon Jeffery, Tori Gurley, Jason Barnes and D.L. Moore) are all 6-4 or taller, carrying a significant height advantage over Auburn cornerbacks Neiko Thorpe (6-2) and Demond Washington (5-9).
South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia takes his share of criticism, but he's shown flashes of brilliance at times during his career. Expect Auburn to stack up to stop the run and pressure Garcia on passing downs. If he can get enough time to find his receivers – which, granted, has been a problem in the past – it might be the difference in the game Saturday night.
Barrett Sallee covers the SEC for www.CollegeFootballNews.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at
Don't forget to check out "Y'all Play Nice" from CFN's Russ Mitchell and Brian Harbach every Thursday during the season.
2010 Three & Out Archive