GAME OF THE DAY
Tennessee (4-4, 1-3) at No. 9 Missouri (7-1, 3-1), 7 p.m., ESPN
Missouri knows how it feels to lose a veteran quarterback to injury. Tennessee now knows, too.
Freshman Joshua Dobbs will make his first career start Saturday for the Volunteers, who haven’t defeated a ranked opponent since 2006 and have lost 18 consecutive road games. Dobbs is from Alpharetta High.
“You have to be locked in,” coach Butch Jones said. “You can’t let the crowd, you can’t let the clutter and distraction creep into place. It’s a mindset. That’s the next phase for this football team and this football program.”
Dobbs replaced injured junior Justin Worley (thumb) in the second half of last week’s 45-10 loss at Alabama and led two scoring drives for Tennessee’s only points. He completed five of 12 passes for 75 yards and ran three times for 19 yards.
That might sound familiar to the Tigers.
Three weeks ago, Missouri redshirt freshman Maty Mauk entered a 41-26 victory at Georgia in the final quarter for senior James Franklin (shoulder), leading two touchdown drives to seal the victory.
Franklin has been upgraded to questionable for Saturday’s game against the Vols, but Mauk is expected to make his third career start after his team collapsed in the fourth quarter last week against South Carolina. The Tigers led 17-0 with 15 minutes remaining but lost 27-24 in double overtime, trimming their lead to one game in the SEC East with four to play.
Did you know: Tennessee will need to protect Dobbs in his first collegiate start, and the good news is that the Vols have has only eight sacks, and Dobbs is mobile. But Missouri, led by Michael Sam with an FBS-high 10 sacks, has an SEC-best 25 sacks as a team and is eager for the freshman to step on the field. The Tigers also have an FBS-high 62 tackles for loss and have forced an SEC-high 21 turnovers. … One more Missouri loss puts South Carolina back into the SEC East race. Two more Missouri losses can put Georgia back into the race. The Tigers follow Tennessee with games against Kentucky, Ole Miss and Texas A&M.
No. 11 Auburn (7-1, 3-1) at Arkansas (3-5, 0-4), 6 p.m., ESPN2
Return to home state
no big deal to coach
Everyone seems to think Gus Malzahn returning “home” to Arkansas this weekend is a major story — except for the coach.
As the man in charge of Auburn’s program would point out, this isn’t the first time he’s been back to the place he grew up — in fact, the matchup will be the fourth time he makes an appearance in Razorback Stadium on the opposing sideline. The only difference between Saturday’s matchup and the previous three? This time Malzahn’s title reads “head coach” instead of “offensive coordinator.”
Malzahn is more concerned about Arkansas the team than Arkansas the state.
“I think if you ask our players and our coaches, I get excited no matter who we’re playing,” he said. “I try to be very consistent. This is a big game, going on the road, another road test for us. They’ve had a week to prepare. … So we expect it to be a tough one.”
Of course, Malzahn isn’t the only coach on Auburn’s staff with ties to “The Natural State.” His right-hand man, Rhett Lashlee, played at Arkansas from 2002-04 as a backup quarterback, which followed his two years as Malzahn’s starting signal-caller at Shiloh Christian High School in Springdale, Ark., in 1999-2000. He stayed close with Malzahn when he jumped to the college ranks, serving as a graduate assistant in 2006 when his mentor was the Razorbacks’ offensive coordinator.
But with Saturday marking his third return to Fayetteville, Ark., in a coaching capacity, Lashlee said the newness of the “homecoming” angle wore off a long time ago.
“I may have some different feelings, but when we start playing the game, it’s not going to matter,” he said. “The way I prepare this week, it really won’t matter. They are a good football team, and it’s an SEC road game.
“I do know this: There are a lot of people back there in that state that think a lot of him, and he’s earned a lot of respect.”
The same could be said of yet another Auburn coach with long-time ties to the Razorbacks, Tim Horton, who taught some of the most gifted ball carriers Arkansas’ program has ever produced.
Darren McFadden. Felix Jones. Peyton Hillis. Dennis Johnson. Knile Davis.
And he did it in a compressed period of time, with all of those players coming through in the past six years. Now in his first season working with the Tigers’ tailbacks, Horton has shown his magic touch hasn’t worn off, with the team leading the SEC in rushing with 315.4 yards per game, nearly 90 yards clear of runner-up Missouri.
Did you know: The Razorbacks’ five-game losing streak is the longest of Bielema’s eight-year coaching career, including seven seasons at Wisconsin. … The game is Arkansas’ fifth in a row against a ranked opponent.
Mississippi State (4-3, 1-2) at No. 14 South Carolina (6-2, 4-2), 12:21 p.m., WPCH
leads to hot streak
Fittingly, Steve Spurrier Jr. turned to a basketball metaphor to describe the fourth-quarter performance by Bruce Ellington against Missouri.
“If a guy’s hot, let him shoot,” said Spurrier, South Carolina’s wide receivers coach. “If a guy’s hot, throw it to him. The other day was certainly one of those days for Bruce.”
One week after the 5-foot-9 junior wide receiver from Moncks Corner, S.C., who has spent significant time dinged up with injuries, went without a catch against Tennessee, Ellington caught a career-high 10 passes for 136 yards and became the go-to wide receiver during a furious rally against Missouri.
And it means he has to be a focus for the Mississippi State defense in the early SEC game Saturday.
“Every time I go out there, I want the ball. When the ball comes to me, I am going to try to make a play,” Ellington said. “You are not thinking you are going to lose. As a team, we did what we had to do to win the game.”
“Bruce does have a knack of catching the ball, no matter what the situation is,” the ole Ball Coach Steve Spurrier said. “We did call his number a little bit more, probably should have been calling it more earlier in the year, to tell you the truth.”
Ellington is South Carolina’s leading receiver, with 31 catches for 468 yards. Meanwhile, the Gamecocks’ basketball team gets ready to begin another season without one of the better basketball players on campus available.
“I am not thinking about if I am not going to play or I am going to play,” Ellington said when told that one of his hoops teammates used the word “if” in discussing his return to the hardwood. “Right now, I’m just focusing on football.”
The ‘other’ kicker knows
misery is one kick away
South Carolina freshman Elliott Fry made his 40-yard field goal, while Missouri sophomore Andrew Baggett watched his 24-yard attempt bounce off the left upright to result in the Gamecocks’ comeback victory last week, and both had a much different 24 hours after.
As Fry celebrated the win on the field with his teammates, Baggett retreated to the solitude — of the locker room, where he sat with a towel draped over his head. Fry said he knows their roles could have been reversed, so he felt sympathy for his counterpart, who was blistered by some disappointed Tigers fans on social-media outlets.
“There’s not a kicker who goes through his career that hasn’t missed one,” Fry said.
Fry referenced the hold on Baggett’s kick, where the laces were facing him, which can make it more difficult for kickers to connect solidly. Fry said the same thing happened to him on a missed extra-point attempt against Georgia this season.
Did you know: South Carolina is trying for its 15th consecutive home victory, which would tie the school record set between 1978-80. … Mississippi State has won its past four games against SEC East teams.
Texas-El Paso (1-6) at No. 12 Texas A&M (6-2), 9 p.m., ESPN2
As Texas A&M gets a break from the high-pressure SEC with a nonconference game against UTEP, coach Kevin Sumlin took time to reflect on his two star players.
It came after quarterback Johnny Manziel and receiver Mike Evans were chosen as semifinalists for the Maxwell Award.
Then he wondered why only Manziel was being touted as a Heisman Trophy contender.
He said: “I’m puzzled why Mike Evans isn’t in the Heisman race. I think he’s as good a player as there is in the country.”
The 6-foot-5 Evans will be a challenge for a UTEP secondary that doesn’t have a player taller than 6-1. Evans ranks second in the nation with 1,101 yards receiving, and the Miners have allowed 218.1 yards passing per game.
Manziel, who may well repeat as the Heisman winner, has 2,594 yards passing with 22 touchdowns and 497 yards rushing with six more scores. And the Aggies have scored more than 40 points in 11 consecutive games.
The Miners have lost five in a row and are 46-point underdogs.
Did you know: UTEP will start Blaire Sulllivan at quarterback because former Texas A&M signal-caller Jameill Showers is out with a shoulder injury.
Alabama State (6-2) at Kentucky (1-6), 7:30 p.m., CSS
Crowell, Hornets pose
challenge for Wildcats
Kentucky is trying to be careful not to look past its homecoming opponent — and with good reason.
The Hornets, an FCS team, bring a six-game winning streak, an offense that averages 42 points per game and former Georgia running back Isaiah Crowell into the game and look like a determined opponent that could give the Wildcats some trouble.
“I wouldn’t think our players would feel overconfident about anybody we’re playing,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “We’re worried about ourselves. I can see our players doing that. I think we’re trying to get better as a program. They (Alabama State) should be feeling good about themselves.”
Kentucky, which has a penchant for falling into early deficits, definitely can’t fall behind Alabama State, which has averaged nearly 478 yards per game, including 262 rushing. The Hornets also are plus-6 in turnover margin and have 38 sacks.
“Anybody that thinks that we can just roll out there because we’re an SEC team and win this game, you’re sadly mistaken,” Stoops said. “They’ve got playmakers. … We’ve got to manage the things we can control. That’s our preparation, how we’re doing things and getting better.”
Did you know: Crowell has rushed 123 times for 833 yards and 12 touchdowns, while Malcolm Cyrus has 740 yards and six touchdowns on 122 attempts. The Hornets also have 38 sacks.
The game-by-game rushing statistics for Alabama State’s Isaiah Crowell, a former UGA running back:
Date; Att.-Yds.; TDs; Opponent
Aug. 31; 11-93; 0; Jacksonville State
Sept. 7; 18-183; 1; Jackson State
Sept. 14; 29-177; 2; Ark.-Pine Bluff
Sept. 21; 14-135; 2; Grambling State
Sept. 28; 19-136; 4; Alcorn State
Oct. 5; 14-77; 1; Texas Southern
Oct. 12; 7-51; 2; Prairie View A&M
Oct. 26; 11-30; 0; Alabama A&M
Compiled by Ray Cox