NCAA Football News

SEC Extra Points with Barrett Sallee: Todd Gurley Isn't X-Factor for Georgia

Todd Gurley's Return Is Great, but He's Not the X-Factor

Georgia will get star running back Todd Gurley back this week vs. Auburn after the junior sat out the last four games due to his suspension for taking money for autographs.

Great news for Georgia, right?

Of course.

Gurley is one of the top players in college football, and his return will allow head coach Mark Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo to keep Gurley and freshman Nick Chubb fresh, spread around carries and bring Gurley in as "the hammer" in the second half—just like they did vs. Clemson in the opener.

He's not the X-factor this week for Georgia, though. That moniker belongs to Georgia inside linebacker Ramik Wilson.

The senior has 72 tackles on the season—second on the team behind fellow inside linebacker Amarlo Herrera. Those two will have their hands full with Auburn.

The Bulldogs gave up 418 rushing yards two weeks ago in the 38-20 loss to Florida and 214 in the 63-31 win over Kentucky last week. Neither of those two teams come close to having as much eye candy in the backfield as Auburn does.

"The farther back you are from the line of scrimmage, the more you'll see those fakes and motions," Richt said on Wednesday's teleconference. "That's a part of what makes them good—the ability to get people not doing what they're supposed to be doing."

Wilson is a high-energy, fast-twitch linebacker who's capable of taking over games. However, Auburn's scheme has the ability to use the speed of linebackers against them.

Wilson's success, or failure, will determine the outcome of the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry.

 

Final Homecoming?

The 2014 season hasn't gone according to plan for South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier.

Picked as the preseason favorite to win the SEC East, the Gamecocks have sputtered to a 4-5 record and have two tough games against Florida and Clemson remaining on the schedule.

The struggles have made this season quite frustrating for the Head Ball Coach.

"Yes, it has been, because of our record," Spurrier said on Wednesday's teleconference. "We're sort of on pace to gain more yards and score more points than any team in school history, but we're doing the same thing on the other side. We've had some leads in the fourth quarter, and the entire team didn't finish the game."

His Gamecocks will travel to his old stomping ground this week to take on the Gators, and Spurrier was noncommittal on whether this would be the last game he coaches in The Swamp.

"There's a chance in just about anything in life," Spurrier said.

Spurrier told Josh Kendall of The State earlier this month that "the plan" was to stick around for the 2015 season.

Can that plan change? Sure.

A loss to Florida would give him five straight conference losses to close the season, and Kendall indicates it would mark the first time in his coaching career that he has lost five straight in the conference.

My gut feeling? With a defense-heavy recruiting class coming in next season, Spurrier will give it at least one more shot.

 

T.J. Yeldon Is Practicing, but Will He Play?

Alabama entered the season with one of the deepest and most versatile running back corps in the nation, with junior T.J. Yeldon, sophomore Derrick Henry and junior Kenyan Drake.

Drake was lost for the season in the loss to Ole Miss and Yeldon aggravated an ankle injury late in last week's 20-13 win over LSU.

Will Saturday afternoon's game against Mississippi State in Tuscaloosa be "The Henry Show" at Bryant-Denny Stadium? Don't count Yeldon out quite yet.

"He's practicing and, you know, doing well," Saban said on Wednesday's teleconference.

When specifically asked if he will play, Saban reiterated that "he's practicing and doing well."

It's an endorsement, but not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Yeldon at full strength would be huge for the Crimson Tide.

Mississippi State's front seven is loaded with studs like linebacker Benardrick McKinney and defensive linemen Preston Smith and Chris Jones.

They routinely rotate fresh bodies up front during games, and if Tide offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin can rotate his running backs to combat that depth, it will not only help out the offense but keep Dak Prescott and the Bulldog offense on the sideline.

There are other options for Kiffin if Yeldon can't go.

Sophomore Altee Tenpenny and freshman Tyren Jones would be available as backups to Henry, and while both have potential, neither has significant big-game experience to draw from.

 

An Imminent Return?

It didn't look good for Auburn wide receiver D'haquille "Duke" Williams when he was hit low and left in the second quarter of the 41-38 loss to Texas A&M on Saturday afternoon.

Williams won't be back for this weekend's matchup at Georgia but could be back for the Iron Bowl on Nov. 29 against Alabama.

"He is week-to-week right now, but we will see how he progresses," Malzahn said on Tuesday in quotes released by Auburn.

Williams' absence against Georgia will be felt. He's been a critical piece of the puzzle for the Tigers this year with 38 catches for 609 yards and five touchdowns.

He's been especially important for quarterback Nick Marshall on third downs. Thirteen of William's 15 third-down receptions have gone for first downs, and three of them have been touchdowns.

Auburn has gone old-school and focused more on the running game over the last three weeks, but Williams is Marshall's most reliable third-down outlet. His absence could impact the game on Saturday, especially if Georgia puts Auburn in 3rd-and-long situations.

 

A Weatherproof Offense

Snow games are great for fans watching on television, but for the players on the field, the elements could present major problems to game plans if the coaching staff doesn't properly prepare in advance.

Except if you're Arkansas.

The forecast for Fayetteville, Arkansas on Saturday for the Razorbacks' showdown with LSU isn't exactly promising, according to Ross Dellenger of The Advocate:

Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema doesn't care.

"Offensively, one of the reasons we go with this kind of offense is that it can play in all weather," he said on Wednesday's teleconference. "It can play dry in 100-plus degrees and can play wet in freezing temperatures."

What specifically will Arkansas do if the snow hits? The old-school Hogs will go even more old-school.

"If it's really bad, we might put every lineman we can on the field," he said. "We've run formations with eight or nine linemen on the field, and that's something that hopefully will be able to benefit us on Saturday."

Just make sure one of them throws a touchdown pass. That's the precedent Arkansas has set, and it's up to Bielema to follow the rules.

 

Quick Outs

  • Butch Jones calls his offensive line a "work in progress" and said that the addition of quarterback Joshua Dobbs' run game has helped it develop. In the process, though, Dobbs led the Vols to a win at South Carolina and has them sitting at 4-5. With games against Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt left, a bowl trip isn't out of the question. That'd be huge for this young offensive line, Dobbs and the entire Tennessee offense.
  • Just how good is Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett? He has already set the SEC freshman sack record with 11, and Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel compared him to former Tiger and current San Francisco 49er Aldon Smith. "Imagine what he's going to look like in another year or two," he said. 
  • Despite moving from rivalry weekend, LSU head coach Les Miles still considers Arkansas a bigger rival than Texas A&M. "There's never been that thought in my mind," he said. The Tigers will visit College Station to take on the Aggies on Thanksgiving night.
  • Bielema confirmed that his team won't do snow angels on Saturday night, regardless of how much it snows. Bummer.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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UCLA Football Practice Notebook: USC off Bruins' Radar, for Now

WESTWOOD, Calif. — Three letters one should not expect to hear around the UCLA football facilities this week are U-S-C. 

I made the mistake of mentioning those letters as they pertain to the impending rivalry contest following Tuesday's practice at Spaulding Field. Defensive line coach Angus McClure grabbed my shoulders and gave me a playful shake that was accompanied with a reminder: 

"It's not SC week!" 

No,  the No. 11-ranked Bruins are not devoting this week to preparation for USC. UCLA is on a bye and returns to action Nov. 22 against its Los Angeles counterpart. 

Additional lead-up time to the 91st installment of the Crosstown Showdown could mean more opportunity to strategize. But without another opponent for which to prepare, UCLA also faces more time to let the hype build. 

And there will be no shortage of hype. UCLA's two-game win streak over USC is at stake, and both teams could be playing for positioning in the crowded Pac-12 South championship race.

Wide receiver Jordan Payton put it simply: "Our next game's a big one." 

Rather than spend two weeks focused on the magnitude of this year's rivalry matchup, the Bruins are easing into the process. 

"Today, we did some generic stuff," Payton said. "All of us have started looking at the film...and getting a head start. That's what this bye week is really for.

"It builds up through the week," he added. "As the week goes on, more and more film will be watched. As you get to Sunday, that's when you really start game-planning." 

By Sunday, USC will have played its Week 12 game against Cal, and game-day prep can begin as it would on a normal week. 

In the meantime, UCLA is focused on building off the positive momentum established in wins over Arizona and Washington. 

Both victories came by double digits, with UCLA showing glimpses of being the title-contending team some projected before the season. Those performances were emphatic responses to an October in which the Bruins lost back-to-back games and sputtered to narrow wins over Cal and Colorado. 

"We kept fighting through each game, stayed resilient, and it's benefited us over the last two weeks through some big wins," Payton said.

The challenge for UCLA now is continuing that progress.

"Right now, we're playing our best football," he said. "Even today in a bye week practice, we looked really good."

The bye week is also an opportunity for the Bruins to heal from their collective bumps and bruises. UCLA last had a week off in mid-September, and plenty of wear and tear can pile up in the course of two months. 

No one knows that better than running back Paul Perkins. 

With 1,172 yards, Perkins is far and away the leader of UCLA's multifaceted rushing attack. But to gain such yardage, Perkins has been a workhorse. 

His 190 carries through 10 games are 30 more than any Bruin took on through all 13 contests a season ago and 56 more than Perkins himself took on in 2013.

"It's good to have a bye," Perkins said with a laugh. "Pretty much all I can say. It's a long season."

That long season is down to its stretch run. After USC visits the Rose Bowl Nov. 22, Stanford comes the following week. Anything beyond that is uncertain. 

And while the Bruins are not yet focusing on the USC game, Perkins said they are looking ahead to a milestone beyond facing the Trojans. 

"We have a clear goal to win out and go to the Pac-12 Championship [Game]," he said.   

 

UCLA Ranking Provides Insight into College Football Playoff Committee 

UCLA made the most significant jump in this week's College Football Playoff rankings, climbing seven spots from No. 18 to No. 11. That's three places better than its ranking in the Associated Press Top 25 and four spots better than the Amway Coaches Poll. 

In the playoff rankings, the Bruins are notably ahead of such teams as Georgia, one-loss Nebraska and the only team to beat the No. 16-ranked Cornhuskers, Michigan State. 

Michigan State fell after suffering its second setback, a 49-37 loss at home against Ohio State. 

UCLA's placement offers some insight into the committee's process early into the College Football Playoff's inaugural year. 

Quality of loss plays an obvious role in that UCLA—with defeats to two ranked opponents—is ahead of Georgia. The Bulldogs' losses to unranked South Carolina and Florida negated an impressive nonconference win over No. 19 Clemson. 

UCLA and Michigan State, however, have more comparable resumes.

The Bruins are 8-2 while the Spartans are 7-2. Both lost to No. 2 Oregon. Both defeated a ranked, one-loss opponent: No. 6 Arizona State for UCLA, Nebraska for Michigan State. 

Michigan State has the more impressive second loss by virtue of its falling to No. 8 Ohio State whereas Utah just barely remained in the rankings at No. 23.  

But UCLA landing a spot ahead of the Spartans suggests that talk of overall body of work isn't empty rhetoric.

The Bruins' nonconference slate lacked a marquee opponent of Oregon's caliber, but facing the Ducks in Pac-12 play compensates for Michigan State boasting that matchup on its schedule.

Meanwhile, UCLA played opponents from the ACC (Virginia), Big 12 (Texas) and the current leader in the American Athletic Conference, Memphis.

The remainder of Michigan State's nonconference schedule featured Football Championship Subdivision opponent Jacksonville State, perennial Mid-American Conference cellar dweller Eastern Michigan and a Wyoming team just one game ahead of New Mexico in the Mountain West Conference's Mountain Division.   

UCLA also benefits from the overall strength of the Pac-12 South, seeing as many ranked opponents within the division itself as Michigan State's played total. 

And aside from Clemson, Georgia has yet to even play, let alone defeat, any other teams currently ranked. 

So the lesson the committee is sending by rewarding UCLA is pretty simple: Better opponents mean better rankings.  

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics via CFBstats.com

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