AROUND THE SEC

Compiled by Ray Cox

GAME OF THE DAY | NO. 17 FLORIDA AT NO. 10 LSU, 3:30 P.M., CBS

It started with a whisper: Murphy better than Driskel?

The whispers out of Florida are that junior Tyler Murphy may be a better fit at quarterback for the Gators than injured Jeff Driskel.

Florida (4-1, 3-0) will know much more about Murphy when the Gators play at LSU (5-1, 2-1), but so far, so good since he stepped in a month ago after Driskel sustained a broken right leg last month against Tennessee and is out for the season.

Murphy has played with poise in finishing the Volunteers’ game and leading Florida to victories over Kentucky and Arkansas.

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said of Murphy: “He’s a dang good player. His throwing motion is beautiful. He can move around in the pocket. You’d never think the young man hadn’t played but two, three games.”

Gators coach Will Muschamp sings his quarterback’s praises as well.

“I think we’re just taking care of the football,” Muschamp said. “And Tyler’s been a guy that’s been able to create some off-rhythm plays for us. Defensively, that’s very difficult to defend.

“We’ve improved ourselves as a scrambling team. We’ve improved ourselves throwing the football overall to start the year, and we’ve continued to improve. We’ve taken steps forward in the passing game every week.”

This season, Murphy has completed 72.2 percent with five touchdowns and one interception. Murphy is the SEC’s third-rated passer (181.5) and has one turnover in close to 12 quarters of football. Driskel has a 135.5 rating and five turnovers in just more than nine quarters in 2013.

Murphy, who hadn’t taken any meaningful snaps until the Tennessee game, also has rushed for 135 yards and two touchdowns.

Now he starts at Death Valley in a hostile atmosphere. A victory may force a recalibration of the SEC East race.

AN EVEN PROPOSITION

Florida is 3-3 in its past six trips to Baton Rouge, La.

; ;                                Rankings

Year; Result; Fla/LSU

2001; W, 44-15; 2/18

2003; W, 19-7; NR/6

2005; L, 21-17; 11/10

2007; L, 28-24; 9/1

2009; W, 13-3; 1/4

2011; L, 41-11; 17/1

— Blair Kerkhoff, Kansas City Star and Edgar Thompson, Orlando Sentinel

No. 9 Texas A&M at Ole Miss, 8:30 p.m., ESPN

Center for Aggies adds to family legacy

Texas A&M sophomore center Mike Matthews was still a year from becoming a future Pro Football Hall of Famer’s fifth child when his prominent pop, Bruce Matthews, opined on the Houston Oilers’ inventive no-huddle offense.

“It has its advantages, but if we’re moving the ball, we should huddle up,” Bruce told the Houston Chronicle in December 1992. “It’s all about ball control, and keeping the other offense off the field.”

More than two decades later, the outlook on the up-tempo offense has evolved quite a bit among the Matthews clan.

“Every week we say, ‘We’ve got to go faster — you can always go faster,’” said Mike, who was born in January 1994 as one of Bruce and Carrie Matthews’ seven children.

The Aggies, 4-1, 1-1 under second-year coach Kevin Sumlin, lead the SEC in scoring, passing and total offense. And the young man grasping the ball first in the Aggies’ fast attack is in his first year of doing so full time and, like the no-huddle, evolving just fine.

“He’s really progressed in his ability to diagnose (the defense), get us lined up and get us going in the right direction,” Sumlin said of Mike, who played sparingly as a freshman behind then-senior Pat Lewis last season. “He’s ahead of the curve when you’re talking about a first-year starter in this league as a center.”

That’s simply part of the deal for the famous Matthews football family. Mike is the third of Bruce’s sons to play at A&M, following in the sizable cleats of Kevin and Jake, offensive linemen all. They’re also cousins with current Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews III, son and grandson to former NFL players of the same name, and Philadelphia linebacker Casey Matthews (Clay’s brother).

It helps tremendously that his older brother, Jake, is two men down from him at left tackle.

“It’s a huge deal to play with my brother in college,” Mike said. “How many times is that going to happen? It’s awesome.”

As for Ole Miss, consecutive road losses to No. 1 Alabama and Auburn have sent the Rebels (3-2, 1-2) crashing back to reality.

“A lot of us got a little complacent after that 3-0 run,” Ole Miss linebacker Serderius Bryant said.

Ole Miss should get a boost by returning home to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. The Rebels played four of their first five games on the road, but have the next six at home.

— Brent Zwerneman, San Antonio Express-News and David Brant, Associated Press

No. 1 Alabama at Kentucky, 7 p.m., ESPN2

McCarron on track for ultimate goal

Kentucky (1-4, 0-2) might face more athletic quarterbacks or ones with bigger names this season. But the Cats won’t face another like Alabama senior AJ McCarron.

“He’s just your overall total package of a quarterback,” Kentucky safeties coach Bradley Dale Peveto said of McCarron. “It’s everything you want in one right there. He proves it down after down. He proves it game after game.”

McCarron probably won’t win a Heisman Trophy, but it doesn’t matter to him. This does: He has a chance to become the first quarterback in the modern era to hoist three crystal footballs given to the national champion. His team will be halfway there with a victory, as Alabama stands 5-0, 2-0.

In his three seasons as the top-ranked Crimson Tide’s quarterback, he has gone 30-2 as a starter. His 93.8 winning percentage is a league record. McCarron has collected more championship rings (he also got one as a redshirt freshman) than losses.

Last season, he threw 30 touchdown passes and three interceptions.

In his career, he’s connected on 67.4 percent of his passes. He’s improved that number so far this season, completing 71.4 percent. His 59 career touchdown passes are an Alabama record. McCarron, who statistically throws an interception only every 74.2 attempts (the best in SEC history), doesn’t force things.

— Jennifer Smith, Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader

No. 14 South Carolina at Arkansas, 12:21 p.m., WPCH

Despite ailments, Shaw on record-setting pace

South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw, of Flowery Branch High, is on track to lead the Gamecocks to their best offensive season in program history. And he’s not going to let injuries stop him.

Shaw has a 21-4 career mark as a starter. He’s four wins shy of surpassing Todd Ellis’ school record of 24 victories. Shaw has completed nearly 69 percent of his passes this season and hasn’t thrown an interception.

He’s helped the Gamecocks (4-1, 2-1) average a school-best 476 yards per game, and they’re on track to surpass 6,000 yards of offense for the first time.

Yet, Shaw’s season looked in jeopardy two weeks ago after a hit on his throwing shoulder sidelined him in the first quarter of South Carolina’s 28-25 win at Central Florida. Shaw came out of the locker room with a grimace on his face, his arm in a sling and ice bags on what looked like a badly damaged shoulder.

“When he came off the field, it looked like he was out for the season maybe,” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said.

The Gamecocks said Shaw would be out 2-3 weeks, but two days later, the quarterback confidently threw passes more half a football field. Shaw started the next game, Saturday night’s 35-28 win at Kentucky, and threw for 262 yards and a touchdown. He’ll look to pad his numbers at Arkansas (3-3, 0-2).

“It was my senior year. I didn’t want to miss another game,” Shaw said. “I just knew I was going to be able to play.”

Shaw injured his shoulder in the 2012 opener at Vanderbilt, but returned late in the game to direct the game-winning drive in a 17-13 victory. He hurt his foot on the final series against Tennessee on Oct. 27 and needed pain-killers to make it through the second half of the season, missing only South Carolina’s 27-17 win at Clemson to close the regular season.

— Pete Iacobelli, Associated Press

Western Carolina at Auburn, 2:30, pay-per-view

Therezie finds a home in Tigers’ secondary

Robenson Therezie has gone from a forgotten man in Auburn’s defense to one of the Tigers’ biggest playmakers.

Therezie has thrived at the Star position he took over with a preseason injury to Justin Garrett. He enters the game against Western Carolina (1-5) leading Auburn (4-1) in tackles and interceptions to help fuel a defensive resurgence.

He was an in-between player who didn’t quite fit in at cornerback and at 5-foot-9, 204 pounds was undersized for a safety. Therezie has thrived in the hybrid linebacker/safety position in new defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson’s system.

“I don’t know I would have thought that he was going to lead the team in tackles, but I thought he could be a really good player at that position,” Johnson said. “We watched him at corner, he struggled at some of the things.

“But he had some explosiveness and some speed and some physical strength, and I just thought he was a natural when we moved him. Justin was playing so well at that time, you wondered how are we going to get both of them enough work?”

That problem was resolved when Garrett, who had drawn heavy praise from coaches during the spring, went down in the preseason with a foot injury. Garrett is not yet ready to play, but is working at linebacker.

Therezie has 28 tackles and is in a six-way tie for the SEC lead with three interceptions, returning one 78 yards for a touchdown against Mississippi. He had three tackles in 10 games under the former coaching staff.

— John Zenor, Associated Press

Bowling Green at Mississippi State, 7:30 p.m., SPSO

Shaky defense may get tested

Mississippi State (2-3) has two good quarterbacks and one shaky defense.

The Bulldogs looked good with Tyler Russell and Dak Prescott sharing time under center, but they’re trying to correct some problems on defense that allowed LSU to score eight touchdowns — including four in the fourth quarter — in a blowout loss last week.

Coach Dan Mullen said Mississippi State’s main problem was taking unnecessary risks, especially in the second half, when the Tigers reeled off 31 consecutive points.

“I think we’re just trying too hard to make plays at times,” he said. “When that happens on the defensive side of the ball, you get out of position.”

Bowling Green (5-1) should provide a decent challenge. The Falcons have won three games in a row and are one of the favorites to win the Mid-American Conference.

Mullen’s first full-time coaching job was at Bowling Green, when he worked as the quarterbacks coach under Urban Meyer in 2001 and 2002.

— David Brandt, Associated Press