Whilst doing my research for the Week Nine installment of the Tire Fires blog, my eyes could not be averted from the potential defensive wreckage in the SEC this weekend. Last week, I pointed to the Missouri-Georgia game with both teams prone to scoring and surrendering big numbers. We’ll continue that trend, but in particular, let’s focus on the atrocious run defenses being trotted out against a pair of teams who are quite efficient on the ground. Nothing silences a large, raucous crowd better than Tire Fire defense being burnt to a crisp by the opposing team’s run game, and that’s exactly what we’re hoping for.
Mike Davis and the Gamecocks gon’ eat…
…when they visit Neyland Stadium at noon on Saturday. Tennessee has been dreadful against the run, especially against competent teams, sitting at No. 80 in rushing defense. Bad news is, South Carolina is more than competent, bordering on Beast Mode. Gamecock partisans have been clamoring for Mike Davis to get more attention on the national scene, and maybe even a bit of Heisman buzz. They claim he’s the best running back in the country, and while I believe that title currently rests with Washington’s Bishop Sankey, they have a case.
Davis is averaging an SEC-leading 123.7 rushing yards per game, only missing the centennial mark once this season, and he’s getting it done on about 18 carries per game. He also co-owns the league lead in rushing touchdowns with nine, tied with LSU’s Jeremy Hill.
Like any proper Heisman candidate, his “put the team on my back” moment came in week four with the Gamecocks down 10 on the road to UCF. In the second half, Steve Spurrier altered his game plan and decided to feed Davis. It paid off quickly, with Davis ripping off a 53-yard touchdown run on the first drive, finishing the afternoon with 167 yards and three scores.
On top of that, don’t sleep on dual-threat quarterback Connor Shaw who’s averaging about 15 carries in his five games of action, good for 4.3 yards per carry. Together, Shaw and Davis account for 11 of the team’s 15 rushing touchdowns.
All of this bodes horribly for a Tennessee team that is giving up 175.7 yards a game. Against teams not named Austin Peay or playing in the Sun Belt, Tennessee is giving up an average of 223 yards per game, a number that sticks them between Air Force and Kent State for 113th in rushing defense.
Against a banged-up Georgia offense, the Volunteers were gashed for 129 yards by Todd Gurley’s freshman backup J.J. Green and even let Aaron Murray scamper for 53 yards. Florida’s green quarterback Tyler Murphy was able to run for 84 yards, and Oregon was able to spread the love around and accumulate 216 yards with eight different ball carriers.
It’s not looking good with the SEC’s leading rusher and a mobile quarterback coming to town. And on the heels of an emotional overtime loss to Georgia, expect the Gamecocks to set the field ablaze.
Texas A&M has a dirty secret…
…well, maybe it’s not a secret, but amidst the Johnny Football hype, the messy Texas A&M defense is often glossed over. The Aggies have given up at least 30 points four times and had FCS Sam Houston State knocking on that door, with the Bearkats scoring 28 in Week Two. Shocker: They rank at the bottom of the barrel in scoring defense, giving up 32 points a game, bested in the SEC only by Georgia’s mark of 33.7.
Texas A&M is even worse than Tennessee against the run, giving up 201 yards per game, clocking in at No. 104 in the nation and 13th in the SEC.
The defense has become a huge liability, alarming for a team that relies so heavily on its Heisman Trophy winning quarterback, and even more so with the SEC’s top rushing attack coming to College Station.
The Auburn Tigers average 287 yards on the ground, with four different players – including quarterback Nick Marshall – owning 100-yard performances. Gus Malzahn’s return to Auburn has completely reinvigorated the offense and especially the running game. Last year’s side averaged a paltry 86 yards a game and only 2.6 yards per carry. Malzahn has been able to flip that into the aforementioned 287 yards and 6.3 yards per carry, both good for tops a prolific offensive league.
The rushing attack thrives on having multiple play makers to move the ball, but it’s the resurgent offensive line that’s leading the charge. After allowing 37 sacks last year, the Tigers have only allowed four through six games. The Aggies defensive front seven is littered with inexperience, listing 10 underclassmen on their depth chart. They’ve only recorded five sacks on the season failed to tally any last week against Ole Miss.
All of this is to say the Auburn offensive line should be able to dominate. Expect to see a lot of running lanes for Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant, as well as ample time for Nick Marshall to throw the ball or do his best Cam Newton impression on the ground.
Unfortunately, with a healthy Johnny Manziel, I can’t see Auburn pulling off the upset. But rest assured, there will be a pair of smoldering defenses occupying Kyle Field Saturday. The biggest flames on the field are sure to come from the Aggie run defense.